About Me

I am a 45 year husband and dad, currently adjusting to life back in the United States after living in Italy for a little over two years. I love spending time with my family, cycling, model railroading, mosaics and watching TV and movies.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Venice! - Day 1

Venice. Oh, where to begin?

History: Venice was born in a lagoon 1500 years ago as a refuge from Barbarians. Over time it became an important trading empire. As the importance of Venice fell, decadence grew. Venice partied through the 17th and 18th centuries on the accumulated wealth of the earlier century. Today 62,000 people live in the old city of Venice, down from a peak of 200,000 during its dominant trading days. If you add the populations of the old Venice with the bigger mainland city, the area boasts a population over 500,000. Venice is very expensive to live in. A 120sq meter apartment can cost over e300,000. What draws tourists and romantics to Venice is its charm, its history and its canals. To residents, these things pose daily challenges. Everything must be boated into the island, then moved by hand over rough walkways and over bridges. The average age of Venetian residents is growing year by year. It is now almost 65 - Venetians who have lived on the island all their lives. Younger generations are finding it hard to deal with the daily challenges of living and raising families in such a old city in this modern world. Because of this, Venice is losing its population at a rate of almost 1000 per year. Some even fear its demise as a 'living' city in the near future, thinking it will eventually turn almost into a 'Disneyland' type of destination.

On a map Venice is shaped like a fish. It is divided into six districts: San Marco (most touristy), San Polo, Castello, Cannaregio, San Croce and Dorsoduro. It is said that over 20,000 visitors enter Venice every day. That said, 80% of the visitors tend to visit only 20% of the island. We found this amazing to believe since all the guidebooks suggest 'getting lost' in the alleys of Venice. See the neighborhoods. Get away from the crowds.

We woke up this morning around 7am so we would be out the door by 8am. We had to catch bus z221 to the Monza station. Its really not that unusual to see people on the bus with suitcases. We were travelling light: one small suitcase, one backpack and Katrina's camera bag.

We had originally planned to drive to Venice, but after almost everyone we knew told us to take the train, how could we resist. We were told by a couple of people that it was no big deal to buy the tickets at the station. Well, this may be the case some of the time, but not on a holiday weekend. The seats on the train were all sold out. We managed to buy train tickets after much discussion with the ticket agent. We could buy tickets and ride while 'standing'. We could stand in the train for 2 1/2+ hours to Venice. Now, this is not your ordinary commuter train where standing is no big deal for a short ride. This is a intercity train for long distances. It seemed a little odd to us, but we decided to go for it. In this case we were fortunate that we were not in the US, where tickets are usually only sold for seats. We also bought reserved seats for the trip home on Tuesday.

The 'commuter' train ride from Monza to Milan Central Station only took about 15 minutes.

We then caught the intercity train. Once on board we realized how it all worked. Many people buy tickets without seat assigments, and isn't any cheaper, but you get where you want to go.

Travelers don't stand in the aisles by seated passengers. They stand or sit on the floors in the corridors, entries, etc. We found a nice spot in a 'lounge' area, right by the windows. It really wasn't too bad of a trip. We were fresh and eager for our weekend vacation. Brandon made himself comfortable on the floor. Katrina sat on the suitcase and I stood. We watched the scenery and talked about what to do in Venice.

We arrived in Venice just after noon. The trains are connected from the mainland to Venice via a 2 mile causeway. Actually, cars and buses also travel the causeway to parking areas on the edge of Venice. Travelers exit the main station right out onto the Grand Canal. Its a very busy, crowded and happening place. We found the Vaporetto (water bus) ticket booth and bought 72 hour tickets. That way we could ride as often and wherever we wanted. We needed to catch Vaporetto #52 to get to our hotel. The closest stop was just to the right of the ticket booth. It took us a short way up the Canale della Giudecca (Grand Canal), then turned up the Canale di Carnereggio to head to the perimeter of the island where we followed the Canale delle Sacche and Canale delle Fondamenta Nuove (really just open water) to our stop at Ospendale. We exited and followed the directions given to us by our hotel.

Venice can be a difficult city to navigate. The narrows alleys and walkways twist and turn. There are few street signs and many that do exist are hard to find - they are usually posted on building walls at intersections. The best way to navigate is by major landmarks. Major landmarks, like St Mark's Square and the Rialto Bridge, have signs all over Venice pointing the way.

Our hotel, the Alloggi Barbaria was very easy to find. Its a small place, clean and basic, run by Giorgio, a lifetime resident of Venice.

We checked in and headed out in search of lunch. We found Antica Trattoria Bandieretta, in the Castello district. Brandon and I both had spaghetti pomodoro. Katrina had salmone crema porro. Very tasty!.

After lunch we wandered towards St. Mark's Square, the only square in Venice with the distinction of being called a piazza. This is one of the most famous and crowded areas of Venice. We wandered around the square the made our way to the Correr Museo. The displays inside the museo give an overview of Venetian history. Unfortunatley, as with most indoor places we visited, no cameras were allowed.

We stopped for some gelato, of course. Its our Italian indulgence. Its a good thing we walk almost everywhere in Italy.

Rick Steve's suggests that everyone do a self guided Grand Canal tour on the #1 Vaporetto. The canal is 2 miles long, 150ft wide, 15ft deep and VERY busy with boat traffic. We caught the Vaporetto at San Marco Square, one end of the Grand Canal, and rode it to the other end. The Rick Steve's guidebook even has descriptions of the buildings and sights along the way. The buildings along the canal are amazing. They range from excuisitely decorated mansions to run down deserted buildings. There are so many restrictions on remodeling buildings along the canal that some owners just abandon the oldest ones.

We rode the Vaporetto all the way to Piazzale Roma on the opposite end. Then we boarded Vaporetto #2 for the return trip to San Marco Square so that we could get the opposite views and more photography time for Katrina. I am just a regular person taking pictures of what I see. I try to make my photos interesting, but I'm not very skilled. Katrina is becoming a very skilled photographer and I enjoy seeing her photos, so taking extra time for her to take pictures is no problem.

Katrina busy working her magic.

The world famous Rialto Bridge.

The #2 boat makes less stops, so we made it back to San Marco a bit quicker. We wandered the streets looking in shops, taking pictures and checking out alleys. We finally stopped for dinner at a pizzaria, Bora Bora. Katrina and I each had pizza and Brandon had pasta pomodoro. The food was great as usual.

It was getting late and we were all tired. We wandered a bit more, but a lot of shops were now closed. We stopped for some chocolate dipped cookies, then headed back to the hotel.

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