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Trip Report Italy Trip Report

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Where: 3 nights in Venice, 2 staying with a friend in Biella about 5 hours to the west, 2 nights back in Vicenza.

When: Middle of January. Cold, but probably the best time to go. I can't imagine what Venice is like in high season and wouldn't want to find out. January is the quietest time of year, but there are still plenty of tourists.

How: Delta from JFK to VCE. Service is decent, entertainment is woefully outdated. Food is OK. Flying back to JFK at Delta's Terminal 3 is a nightmare.

Weather: Cold. Whatever the actual temperature, it feels much colder, especially in the fog. The whole of northern Italy was covered in fog much of the time, and all the trees were covered in ice, which made for good photos. This was all before the big freeze of the last few weeks.

Accommodations: Stayed at the Hotel Fujiama in Venice for 60 euros per night. Location is great, 2 blocks from the Ca d'Oro vaporetto stop. Mostly a quiet residential neighborhood with everything within walking distance. Rooms are small, comfortable and with good hot water. The problem is it is unstaffed for much of the day, so if you have any questions, or the wireless isn't working, you're out of luck. And if something goes wrong, such as the fuse blowing out, and you don't have a phone to call anyone, you have to figure out how to fix it yourself.

In Vicenza, Bob and Jenny's bed and breakfast for 40 euros per night. This is a decent option. Luckily, I was the only one there, otherwise I'd have been sharing an apartment with strangers which I didn't realize until I got there, and would not have been happy about.

Getting around: Bought a 12 hour vaporetto pass on the first day, then walked quite a lot, and then opted for the boats again when I got tired of getting lost. If possible, arrive in Venice by train as the view when exiting the station is quite pretty.

General impression: I had a good time, although it is different than the type of travel I am used to in Asia or Latin America, where everything is cheap and where foreigners are more of a novelty. On the other hand, Italy is a place where you need not worry about being cheated, or about wandering around aimlessly late at night (in the north at least). Vicenza is fine for about one day. After that, there is not much to do.

Highlights: San Marco, Palazzo Ducale (take the Secret Tour) I Frari, Scuola di San Rocco, La Fenice (where the visit on that day included a chance to watch a rehearsal of Salome and the theater is really extraordinary), the small bridges, narrow canals and great views, and the #1 Vaporetto on the Grand Canal, in the sunlight, in the fog and at night. In Vicenza, the Teatro Olimpico is not to be missed. The Pizzeria Vittorio and the Spaghetteria in Vicenza are both excellent and friendly. Biella is a nice town, far off the tourist track. The Oropa Monastery is in the hills above the town, dramatically set against the backdrop of the Alps. It would probably be impossible to get there without a car.

Less exciting: The Accademia Gallery was no big deal and the Peggy Guggenheim house was under renovation so it was just a temporary exhibit which was a waste of money. Never made it to the Palazzo Grassi. I tried twice, but Lonely Planet says it's open daily, but it is actually closed Tuesdays. And they also say it's open until 7, but the ticket office closes at 6.

Surprises:

- Just because it is Italy, doesn't mean the food is good everywhere. I had a pasta bolognese at a bar that was burnt after having been microwaved, something I'd have thought would be illegal or immoral in Italy. Food is expensive just about everywhere. Only the wine is cheap. The gnocchi is good, as are the tomatoes.
- English is widely spoken, which was not what I remembered from my last visit in 1998.
- Service is friendly and people are always polite, though they are so accustomed to tourists that it is difficult to get to know anyone.
- Italians smoke an awful lot. Outside, smoke is everywhere, but thankfully, smoking in now banned indoors.

Next trip: Ecuador

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