First stop Venice!
Ahhh back to Emirates (followers will remember the Etihad fiasco last time) – comfortable seats, great entertainment (big screen and so many movies even I couldn’t complain), good service and really quite good food…. All very welcome with a 14 (or was it 15) hour stretch from Brisbane to Dubai. Darling Karyn insisted on driving us to the airport so having checked in our 2 X 13kg bags we were relaxed and ready to go.
The only problem with the flight was that we didn’t sleep as well as usual – the plane had a very odd sideways shudder which was slightly unnerving and definitely disturbing but all in all it was fine - Dubai was easy and smooth (actually I slept for about 2 hours on one of their comfy couches, then the nice Indian staff at the IT shop helped us get online and, with a pure pomegranate juice we whiled away the time until the next flight happily.
Next Emirates flight to Venice was a smaller, older plane and not so lovely but hey, it was only 5 hours and they fed us and plied us with lovely drinks so we were happy.
And then we arrived in Venice!! Hmmm ATM’s at the airport not working (none of them??) so we had to take money out of the money exchange on our card – what a total rip-off! Don’t anyone do that! There must be another way. They charged us 246Euros for a total of 200Euros! Still it wasn’t much more than it would have cost us to take it out at Travelex before we left Brisbane. Honestly these money changers! No wonder Jesus threw them out of the temple in the old days.
Then a quick bus ride to Piazzale Roma (reduced price to E4 because we also bought a 3 day travel pass) and onto our first vaporetto. A great Tripadvisor contact had let us know in advance that our preferred vaporetto stop (San Samuele) was out of action so we knew in advance to get the no 2 and head to Santa Angelo stop – then it was a quick five minute stroll (with only one little bridge) to our home for the four nights – B&B San Stefano. Here we were greeted by our host Georgio and shown to our lovely room. What a find this place is!! A large comfortable room (with a large comfortable bed) in a great part of town. The kitchenette is stocked with everything we could possibly need for a fabulous breakfast (eggs, prosciutto, cheese, yogurt, fruit, etc etc etc) and to prepare other meals whenever we want. It is all so generous – even a whole fresh fruit tart waiting for us. Georgio sits us down and tells us all about where to go and where to eat and although we are starting to droop (there is after all an 8 hour difference) we try to take it all in and soon head out to find our way about. As it’s early evening we head across the Academia Bridge to the university area of Dorsoduro and find some of the little wine bars (bacaro) we had read about… there with a glass of the local wine and some chichetti (little snacks of all sorts) we start to feel more human and to fall in love with this lovely city. It’s holiday time and families are out in the streets and piazzas, children throw balls against ancient walls and the air is filled with happy voices… the evening is warm and wisteria perfume is everywhere. We stagger home after a lovely little meal and sleep heavily and well… this bodes well!
Up nice and early after a long and quite solid sleep – breakfast on all the lovely supplies our host Georgio has left here… then off through the little lanes and campos to San Marco before the tour groups arrive. It is empty and huge and lovely in the morning sun (although clearly the afternoon sun is the better aspect for good photos of the Basilica – we’ll be back). We are second in the queue for the Basilica (!!!) but then discover it doesn’t open until 9.30 and we have to be in Dorsoduro at 10.00 for our free walking tour… ah well there are other days. We head for the vaporetto and arrive early in the lovely little Campo San Polo to meet up with our guide, and archaeology student called Martina, and two other ladies, one from Mexico and one from Canada. A nice tight little group and Martina takes us down back lanes and shows us the usual sites (the Frari etc), some interesting spots the tourists might miss (like the haunted house – everyone who buys it dies, including the manager of The Who) and also great cheap places to eat real Venetian food. After three hours of strolling we end up near the Billa supermarket and head off to buy tasty snacks (to make our own cichetti), ravioli for dinner and other necessities like wine of course. Two tired, jetlagged people, we head home and eat well… but then simply crash out – no wandering the romantic streets in the evening for us – Tom’s head is falling onto the table and although he is only lying down ‘for a wee minute’ he sleeps soundly until 6 am…
It's interesting this Venice... strangely addictive but it's hard to say why.
Actually most of Tuscany is much prettier, and the churches and art more interesting as far as I can see. Sometimes I am reminded of Varanasi - everything is crumbling and really needs a lick of paint... but then there are the canals and the boats sweeping by and the quiet everywhere. It's quite amazing.
We have come home to rest this afternoon since it is raining lightly and it's afternoon snooze time - and the B&B is totally still. I can't hear anything anywhere - no traffic of course and not even the occasional passerby at this time in the afternoon... amazing for a busy city.
Had an interesting morning shopping at the famous Rialto market (which is much smaller than I had expected) and came home with scallops and salmon and asparagus and cheeses etc etc... a great dinner planned.
But then Tom checked the bank accounts (as you do) and saw some strange details on our NAB gold card – five strange deductions and we hadn’t even used the card uh oh! with lots of trouble we rang NAB. I tried the emergency numbers I had, ringing through skype, but only got through to a switch board and then had to 'press 2 to speak to an advisor' and the skype keyboard wouldn't work for that.... Getting a bit panicked by now, but Tom found another number on the website and we finally got through to a person.
Apparently the NAB fraud computer had already suspected something and blocked the account - there had actually been 15 fraudulent charges on it! Anyway we had a long talk (thank goodness for skype) and it seems to be sorted. We won't be able to use our NAB card at all (it will stay blocked) but it was only a backup anyway so that's ok. What a freakout though... I felt quite ill afterwards. Good old NAB for getting onto it straight away. We are both very perplexed about how it could have happened, we never use that card for any internet purchases and in fact have not used it for any purchases at all for over three months! Very strange indeed.
So once we calmed down a bit we rushed out to try and meet our second free walking tour guide but we were running late and the vaporetto stopped at every possible stop along the canal and and missed him - very sad... but then the drizzle started so we wandered a bit in Canareggio (not really know what to look at), looked at a few shops and headed home here for hot whiskeys and fresh pie. yummmmm
I love this B&B - to come home to this lovely fresh comfy room with lots of fresh supplies is just wonderful - and the more I see of Venice the more I think San Stefano is about the best area to stay too.
Lovely dinner as promised – scallops in garlic butter with onion and tomato plus a huge serving of asparagus and pecorino… light red wine (merlot) from the local shop where they sell the current ‘vintage’ in a plastic bottle for 5 Euros per litre… early night after a QI on the iPad and life is good…
Up early and after our usual generous tasty breakfast we are off to Piazza San Marco, via the lanes full of tempting (but expensive) shops to get in the queue for the Basilica. Tom doesn’t do queues well but we can take it in turns to wander and wait and really it is only just over 30 mins and we are in… the best free thing in Venice (about the only free thing). It is glorious! From the amazing mosaic marble floor to the walls and ceilings covered with exquisite glass mosaics of the saints. We had a glimpse of work like this in the Hagia Sofia and the Chora Church in Istanbul, but here it is in its restored and maintained glory, glittering in the few rays of sunshine that manage to peek through.
We pay the 5 Euros to go upstairs (well worth it!) to see the fabulous horses that decorate the outside and lots of museum pieces – old tapestries, ancient intricate calligraphy (those wonderful huge books like in The Name of the Rose – only hopefully not poisonous) and… the view from on high, both inside to the beautiful church and outside to the huge piazza now filling with tourists as the groups and boat loads arrive in droves.
After a couple of happy hours there we wander the back streets, happily losing ourselves amongst the shops and restaurants and canals… today the sun is shining and the gondoliers are out in full force, traffic jams in the narrower canals are common but the tourists take it well with lots of laughing and waving – it’s certainly not the romantic image you have of gliding silently through the canals, locked in an embrace while the gondolier sings sweet love songs – but they are having fun.
Back to the B&B for a bite to eat and a rest (and a chat with host Georgio who is a mine of information) and it’s out again – mainly because our 72 hour vaporetto pass is about to run out and we want to enjoy the sunny afternoon on the Grand Canal. We go from Academia to Piazzale Roma (the end of the line) and then simply come back again – this time managing to battle our way into the best seats at the front of the ferry (and I do mean battle… an old chap pushes past me and wants to save almost all the seats for his family who are coming later, but suddenly I am speaking fluent and florid Italian to argue that he can’t do that). What joy, a great way to see the crumbling palaces along the canal and watch the busy life on the water.
Back in our own little Piazza San Stefano we sit in the afternoon sun for a spritz and people watch for a happy hour before it’s back to our lovely room for pear and blue cheese followed by Atlantic salmon and a pile of asparagus, cheese, garlic, shallots… yummmy. This time we even stay awake for an after dinner stroll. The streets are so different at the different times of day… misty and damp when we go out early in the morning – deserted except for a few workers hurrying through, bustling and noisy with tourists throughout the day (even in San Stefano) until the tour groups go and people sit back for a late afternoon drink at bars and cafes, in the piazzas, by the canals. I love it then… Then the restaurants come into their own (they seem to appear from nowhere) and there is chatter and laughter spilling out everywhere… and then again the peace…
Early start again to get to the train to Milan. We are very early - at Ferrovia at 7.45 for an 8.50 train (which we had already booked on Trenitalia from Australia – look for the discounts – we are travelling on a Saturday and tickets were 2 for 1). But the canal is misty and quiet and lovely at that time – and it’s much better to find our way around the station in a relaxed way than to run in at the last minute like some of our fellow travellers. 2nd class is very comfortable, power to charge my flat camera and a table to write this report as we swoosh along through what looks like mainly agricultural land – some small crops and lots of grapes…
In Milan we have lots of time and I half jokingly suggest a nice park close by for our picnic – actually the very impressive central railway station seems to be surrounded by parks and we sit under a flowering tree and eat the last of Georgio’s generosity – cheese and prosciutto rolls with a emptiness drop of white wine – just lovely… we both then fall asleep on the airport bus and arrive early for our Easyjet flight to Heraklion… all very smooth and easy – so much easier than getting around by public transport in SE Queensland.
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First stop Venice!