Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Boats, canals, and escaping crowds in Venice

Ahhh Venice, I quite liked you. I'm totally fascinated by this city - both the history and how on earth it's still standing today. It's totally a tourist madhouse in the major sights, but once you get a few alleyways and little canals off the main spots like St Mark's square it's actually totally peaceful and serene. I do wonder what this place will be like in 20 or 30 years. Will anyone actually live here or will it be just a massive museum? Some say that's where it's headed given the cost of living and there's not that many young people actually living in Venice so as the older population dies off there aren't new people to take their place. Who knows, time will tell I suppose.

Here are all of my Venetian Pictures for viewing.

As I've been doing for much of my travels I booked my hotel totally last minute, like on Wednesday for a Friday arrival, so the options were limited unless I wanted to pay like $400 a night. That sounds lovely but now that I have no income I'm attempting to be a bit more budget conscious! I came across a great find though on the island of Lido just across the water from Venice. I hadn't heard of Lido until someone else told me that's where they stayed so I started looking. I found a great little B&B about a 5 minute walk from the boat dock and at a much better price point! Lido turned out to be fantastic and I highly recommend it if you're going to Venice. It's a ferry ride away from all the sights of Venice (and numerous boats go there so you're not really limited) but so much more laid back and quite. You can come and go into Venice as you please and escape it if you want. Lido is essentially the sandbar that protects Venice from the Adriatic Sea so it's eastern shore is the beach. It's not the best beach in the world but it was worth a good walk and I found some decent shells.

Given that I wasn't staying right in the heart of Venice, and since I just enjoy them tremendously, I took a lot of boat rides over the last three days. You can get a multi-day pass, I did the 72 hour one for EUR40, and ride as many times as you want in the time period. It's totally worth it considering that buying an individual ticket, that lasts 60 minutes, is EUR7. I probably rode 4-6 boats a day and didn't have to think about timing of my tickets or anything. I could just hop on and hop off different lines as I pleased.

Always looking for water taxis :)

What I did not do was a personal gondola ride. I chatted with a couple one night at dinner and their comment was that their daughter had likened the gondola ride to riding in a New York City taxi. And I'd have to agree with that a bit. If you ignore the ridiculous price the thought of the gondola ride sounds good and it looks nice when you catch them in the peaceful canals away from the Grand Canal or major sights. But, when you see them at some of the major intersections it is indeed like a traffic jam and the gondolas are having to maneuver around boats of all sizes and speeds. So no thanks on the gondola ride. I watched enough people taking them to have my fill and especially the daily rounds of Asian tour groups who would all get their gondola rides as the same time it looked like madness!

In terms of the sights of Venice I did some of them but mostly spent my time wandering or riding around. I knocked off St. Marks Square and Basilica on the first day to get that out of the way. I also went up in the bell tower right in St Marks Square to get a view over the city. The wait for that was long but since I had no agenda and the clouds were clearing as I waited it was worth it. I downloaded a Rick Steves audio guide for the Grand Canal so I hopped on the #1 boat which is the slowest through the canal, popped in the headphones, and listened as we passed all the sights along the way. It was actually quite interesting and a good way to see a number of things and have a sense of what I might want to go back and see up close. I also took a boat over to Murano to see the glass blowing in action and check out what was on display and for sale. I love Chihuly so I was interested to see what was going on in Murano - it's much more tame but the art work and craft is still amazing. I wandered around many of Venice's dead on the Cemetery island. It's an interesting combination of tomb stones and some larger mausoleums and then just rows and rows with many levels stacked high of remains.

Shot from cruising the canal

But as I said some of the best sights were away from the main drag and just wandering the alleyways. I spent a lot of time just turning down little streets as they'd dead end in one direction and eventually make my way into a plaza and then determine where to go next. Once you get away from the crowds Venice feels like to completely different place. It feels like somewhere you want to be whereas around the touristy areas it's like get me the heck out of here.

Two of the churches that I enjoyed the most were the Frari Church and St Giorgio Maggorie. Both of these were pretty much empty when I went in but totally fantastic. Frari has lots of art work inside and two crazy over the top tombs/memorials to Venetian artists Titian and Canova. St Giorgio is on the island that faces directly back at St Marks Square so it's got fantastic views and there's a bell tower that you can go up in for even better views. I liked this better than the one in St Marks and there were way less people. I walked right into the elevator and headed up, no waiting necessary. The views were fantastic looking back at Venice and then all the way around the other direction.

St Giorgio is also where I saw likely my favorite piece of art in Venice. It's an installation called Together by a Spanish Artist of a steel mesh head in the center of the church's nave and then a hand hanging just in front of the alter. The pieces are massive but they don't actually feel that large in the space and the light off of them from a few spotlights but also just the natural light of the few windows is quite nice. Having just a few other people in the church made the experience even better. There was a tour group that came in right behind me but they headed right to the elevators for the tower, luckily for me they weren't interested in lingering as I was.

I enjoyed some good food while in Venice, a few legitimate meals and lots of snacky things along the way. I have determined though that bread in Italy is terrible unless it's in the form of Pizza or toasted for bruschetta. It seems odd to me but bread served at restaurants with meals is stale and just bad, but I still tend to eat it, ugh. France definitely wins on the bread front! Tiramasu on the other hand is delicious. This is a dessert that I would have never ordered before and I've now had it numerous times in the last two weeks. I'm learning it's more about the cream and not so much the ladyfingers soaked in espresso. Some servings you get of it may have only a bite or two of the cake and loads of creamy deliciousness.

I went one night to what turned out to be a slightly more expensive dinner at Oliva Nera than I would have normally sought out but it was delicious so I got over it. I went on recommendation of the owner of a restaurant that I went to outside of Cinque Terra that was delicious so I figured he knew what he was talking about. When I read about it I knew it was going to be popular so if I went right when it opened for dinner I could hopefully get a table, and sure enough, yep. I arrived a few minutes before 7 thinking that's when it opened but there was already a group (of Americans of course) there. So I was seated and shortly after the entire outside section was full, all of English speaking folks - Americans, Canadians, Aussies. When the very nice owner brought me my bill, and a lovely bottle of Olive Oil to take, she said next time I needed to bring back a guy to pay for me. Yes, indeed she was right - for me alone it was EUR 77. Oops, and yum.

Oh, and I couldn't have an Italy post without talking about selfie sticks, could I? Of course not. I won't labor on the hatred, but I'll just have one picture that was too good to pass up. I didn't get the best shot because I was trying to be discrete, but I watched a couple each with their own selfie stick struggle to get them to work and take pictures of themselves. The point of the selfie stick is that you just need one camera, why do you each need one??

Yes, they're together and both have their selfie sticks out.

From the tourism hub of Venice and the Adriatic sea I'm heading into the mountains and I assume away from the masses of people. I had no plan until Sunday as to where I was going to go this morning after checking out of my lovely B&B. I debated a number of locations - Croatia, Greece, Spain, etc - but settled on staying in Italy for another few days at least and heading to check out the Dolomites. This is a mountain range in the Italian Alps and apparently supposed to be beautiful. We'll see how much of it I can actually see since I'm dependent on buses and am only going to really have two full days and I think it's supposed to rain. But if I can get a hike or two in I'll be happy. From here I'm going to Lake Como for 2-3 days and see the real Bellagio and if I'm lucky perhaps I'll run into George Cloney who has a villa in the town of Laglio :)

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