Falking Off - Part II
27.09.2010 - 01.10.2010 22 °C
Venice (Sept 28 – 30)
Wow. We are back on the trail again and it feels GREAT. We departed Calgary and flew to Amsterdam. It is a great airport – simple and clean. We had a 4 hour layover and then flew to Venice. Upon arrival at the Airport, we took a bus to the Piazza Roma where we then transferred to a water bus. We purchased a 48 hour pass for $28Euro each. We were to get on Line 2 and get off at the Rialto station. Well...we got on Line 2 but it went in the opposite direction. So we took the outer route around Venice and then ended up in Saint Marco Square and the water bus ended. Not a big deal however as we were able to see a lot of the city along the water. We got off the water bus and quicly found another one that took us to Rialto Bridge. Our hotel was Hotel Rialto and was directly beside the Rialto bridge.
It is hard to describe that initial water bus ride through the Grand Canal. We have watched videos on it, seen thousands of photos and google earthed the location, but until you see it for yourself it just doesn’t prepare you. WOW and UNBELIEVABLE is all we could say. It truly is a wonder of the world. Your senses are overwhelmed with the colours of the houses, smell of citified sea water and the noise of gondola pilots, serenading their passengers. We instantly fell in love with this city.
We registered at the hotel, and eagerly went to our junior suite overlooking the canal. Our room was in pink and green – a large bed with sitting area all decorated in Venetian style furniture. We had 2 small terrace windows that open up with a view of the Rialto bridge and the water bus station. Our hotel actually encompasses three buildings, so it’s not just the pink building we saw in the photos. Our room was the last building and we were directly above a little bakery. So we awoke every morning at 05:00 to the smell of fresh pastry baking below us.
By the time we got settled in, it was 20:00 and we had been awake for over 30 hours. So we crossed the Rialto Bridge and went to the first restaurant. It was a perfect first dinner in Italy. I had Spaghetti Bolognese and Darwin had Veal Marsala. We split a Caprese Salad (tomato, mozzarella, basil, lettuce) and a bottle of Valpollicella. It’s great hear. The wine list just indicates the type of wine. Valpollicella, Brunello, Barolo. Those were our “Rosa” selections. They don’t offer any “brands”. You get what they have. It satisfied our thirst.
We were starving and thirsty. So the meal did not last long. We met a nice couple Scott and Meaghan from Chicago who have been travelling from Ireland-Italy for 3 weeks. We exchanged some good travel stories. They had just left Munich from Oktoberfest. They enjoyed a great night in the Bavarian tents and to save time, Scott decided to wash his clothes while he was in the shower. After a few pints of draft beer, this was not a smart move. He tripped and fell in the shower and was laying in pain. He yelled to his wife in the bedroom who is a nurse and knew she could help me. Well, she was sleeping and didn’t hear him, so it took him awhile to get out of the shower and into bed. It was a much better story when you saw his bruises. We had a good laugh and vowed not to wash our clothes in the shower after drinking too much wine.
Bedtime was early for us – around 22:00. We slept for a few hours and then were both awake at 03:30 (19:30 MST). We finally fell back to sleep around 05:30 and slept until 09:00. Continental breakfast is served at the hotel consisting of cereal, toast, meat, cheese, hard boiled eggs, yogurt and juice. It was perfect.
We walked around for a bit trying to find Darwin a cell phone company so he could buy a SIM card for his iphone (the new iphone 4 is “unlocked” which allows him to use his iphone instead of buying a local phone like we used to). We could not find any locations close to us so walked to Saint Marco Square to see St. Mark’s Basilica. It took awhile to figure out where to drop off your backpack before gaining entrance to the church (you need to go around the church and down a small alley). Once inside we listened to the Rick Steve’s podcast we had downloaded and it worked great. We got a detailed overview of the church without having to wait for an English guide. This saved time and money and we highly recommend this approach of using podcasts. The church is spectacular and the view from the terrace on the second floor overlooks the entire piazza. When we were leaving the church, the entrance point had changed because high tide was coming in and ground water was at the front of the church. It’s quite neat to see how the Venetians deal with high tides. They have catch basins (storm drains) located throughout the low spots in the City which allows the tide to back up and form puddles.
We had a snack on the piazza which consisted of beer, a half litre of Pinot Grigio and an ice cream sundae (hazelnut and pistachio gelato with whip cream and nuts). It was YUMMY. By no means is the high tourist spots cheap – the above items cost $63Euro (including an $11Euro charge to sit outside on the piazza that was paid to the band playing in the background). But when will we ever do that again? ... so it was worth every penny.
After our snack we went to the Tourist office and enquired about a cell phone office. We found the location and then took a water bus to the area, walked around for awhile and FINALLY got Darwin connected. It took some time but for $34Euro he purchased a SIM card and extra minutes for calling. Italy has strict regulations on data, so we are only allowed 250MB of data per week. This is the first country we travelled in where this has been restricted. We will find out how quickly we use it up.
We wandered around the back alleys and over the canal bridges for the afternoon. It is a great city to explore and get lost. The gondola pilots are great with their singing throughout the day and everyone was in a great mood. We checked out the farmer’s market where Casino Royale was filmed. We headed back to the room for a bit as Darwin had some work to do. We found a roof top terrace at our place, so took a bottle of wine and had fun taking photos of the bridge at night. We were going to head off for a gondola ride but needed some dinner first. So off we went over the bridge again and found another restaurant on the water. We had a great time with a couple from Palm Springs – Scott and Steve. We chatted it up for a few hours and then asked for our check. When we looked at our watch it was 23:30 and we looked on the water and the gondolas were gone.....yep we were in Venice and did not get a chance to take a gondola ride. Talk about LOSERS.....Well not much we could do about it. The City shuts down early. Just means we’ll be back sooner than we thought.
This is definitely one of our top 5 cities to visit in the world.
Assisi (Sept 30 – Oct 1)
We got up early and headed off to the train station for our 09:47 train to Assisi via Firenze. The water bus drops you off directly in front of the train station (10 minutes from our hotel). A great convenience for tourists. We were on a Eurostar reserved Coach train from Venice to Assisi. We found our seats and realized that seat number 74 and 76 are a window seat and an aisle seat across from each other(so we were not beside each other). We had 4 stops on this train. Boy does it go fast. From here we transferred to a Regional Train from Firenze to Assisi. This train made about 15 stops along the way but we got to see some great Tuscany/Umbria scenery. We arrived safely in Assisi and took a taxi to Hotel Minerva which is located at the entrance to St. Francis gate. We checked in and then wandered the City for the afternoon. What a neat medieval town. It was built in approximately the 1100’s and upgraded in the 1400’s and is very representative of the medieval era. We checked out Saint Rufino Cathedral, Centro Piazza, City Hall, and the Church of Minerva. This city is set high on a hilltop, so lots of climbing to see the various sites. We found a neat little wine bar at the main piazza. We had a couple beer, wine and split a caprese salad for $16E ($20CDN). Much better prices than Venice.
We went back to the hotel to do a bit of work and then decided to hit the sack early instead of going out for a late dinner. Got up and headed off to St. Francis Basilica. What a neat place. St. Francis’s remains are buried here. It’s not as elaborate as some Basilica’s we’ve seen but it certainly has presence in this town. From there we hiked to the top of the town to see Rocca Maggiore (town fort) built in 1174. And is quite large. We had a great view of the townsite from here. We certainly had no hesitation eating a large lunch after this excursion. We found a quaint courtside restaurant and had a great lunch. Darwin ate gnocchi, wild boar stew and salad. I had penne with sausage/beef stewed in vinegar and salad. We enjoyed our first bottle of Noble di Montapulciano and now understand why everyone says it’s a great wine. It was EXCELLENT.
Finished our leisurely lunch and headed back to our hotel. Took many pictures of public works related works going on which included paving, cobble stone repair, new telephone cables and a sanitary sewer upgrade. LL SHALLOW AND VERY OLD REPAIRS – LOOKS LIKE A TERRIFIC AMOUNT SPENT ON UPGRADING IN THE PAST FEW YEARS HOWEVER ON THE VERY NARROW STREETS.
We grabbed our luggage and took a taxi back downtown (6 km) and stopped at Saint Matia Degli Angeli Basilica (St. Francis’s favourite church) which is located close to the train station. Now we have an hour to kill at the station before our train arrive so doing up the blog and working up project notes and catching up on emails. We head to Rome and then to Naples tonight.