Italy trip report: Venice

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Jun 15th, 2006, 02:35 PM
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Italy trip report: Venice

This trip report is part 4 of a report that starts at:

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...2&tid=34821411

Starting at Ortisei (St. Ulrich) in the Dolomites, on Wednesday, May 31, we drove back down to the A22 (and I do mean DOWN, and DOWN, and DOWN), took it to the A4, and the A4 to Venice, where we drove the car as far as you can go with a car in Venice, and dropped it for good at the Piazzale Roma. There we had only to go out the back door of the AutoEuropa office to pick up a water taxi to our hotel. We could have taken a much cheaper vaporetto, but dragging our heavy (rolling) luggage, we instead paid 50 euros for a taxi directly to the hotel. After checking in, we walked around a bit, used an internet caffé to check our e-mail, and then had dinner at the Fiascheria Toscana � I had a classic risotto with peas, and scorpion fish with clams. We thought it was one of the best meals we had this trip.

This was our second visit to Venice, and it continues to astound me. It�s a city, with buses, taxis, fire engines, police cars, delivery trucks, construction cranes, hearses, garbage trucks, and all the other vehicles one needs in a city. Except the streets are canals, and these vehicles are all boats. Having been in Venice before, this time we stayed away from the primary tourist area around St. Mark�s square � we were there only once during our four days. Instead, we walked around a lot, and saw some of the sights we missed our first time there, back in October of 2000. One thing we didn�t see this time was aqua alta � the periodic flooding that inconvenienced us when we were there in October. It�s a seasonal thing, and no episodes of aqua alta occurred during this visit.

We stayed at the Ca� Amadi (http://www.caamadi.it/en/), in a dead-end alley not far from the Rialto bridge. I think the location was terrific, as it�s a bit removed from the crowds of St. Mark�s Square, yet not really all that far, if you want to walk it. In fact, being quite central, you can walk from there to most anywhere in Venice. It doesn�t look like much from the outside, but our room, overlooking a small canal, was enormous, particularly by Venice standards, with a towering two-story ceiling. Every morning, we�d open our window and watch a group of gondoliers set up for the day. They would then stand on the nearby bridge and try to draw in customers. The Ca� Amadi was once the home of Marco Polo in Venice, so the building was pointed out by all the passing gondoliers. If I was looking out the window at the time, people would sometimes call out, �Hey, Marco!�, or words to that effect. Perhaps Marco Polo once stayed in my room! The staff at the hotel were always very friendly and helpful. They could stand to improve their breakfasts � they need to add some cheese or other protein, and you got your own coffee from an automated brewer, instead of having it made for you on a real espresso machine, as in most of the other hotels we stayed at.

Thursday, June 1. Our first full day in Venice. We went to the Academia, which has a wonderful art collection, but a very low-tech audio guide. It�s a tape, which forces you to go through the rooms in a predetermined order (although you can stop it and start it to set the pace). If you get a guide for two people, you get only one tape player, and two headsets, which ties you together.

We then visited an exhibit of modern art in the Villa Grassi that has not been previously open to the public. Selections from the François Pinault collection entitled �Where Are We Going?�, it will be running in Venice through January 10, 2006. While some of the works were pretty startling (like two full-size genuine cows dissected into half a dozen segments, and displayed in huge tanks of formaldehyde), it largely served to remind Margie and me that there�s a lot of modern art that we don�t like very much.

We ate lunch at the Trattoria Ai Cugnai, where I continued my seafood theme with a mixed seafood antipasto, and crab served in its shell. Margie had a good omelet. To make it clear how she likes them, I looked up �well done� in the Collins dictionary on my PDA. It suggested �bravo�. But a bit more searching turned up the proper translation, �ben cotto�, literally �well cooked�. (And of course, �biscotto� means �twice cooked�, plural �biscotti�.)

The last time we were in Venice, we dutifully bought a three-day pass on the vaporetti, and carried it with us wherever we went, but in three days, it was never checked. That was not the case this visit. Our passes were checked after lunch on our first day, and they were checked several times after that. This stepped up enforcement has been noted on a recent Fodor�s thread.

We had phoned during the day, and made a reservation for dinner at La Zucca. On the way to the restaurant, walking down the Salizada di San Stae, we passed a shop displaying some unusual jigsaw puzzles in the window, and we stopped in. They were the work of the shop�s owner, Vanni Morandin. He displayed not only puzzles, but real works of art done in wood, using jigsaw and inlay techniques. Many were very beautiful, others more whimsical or humorous (one takeoff of a Salvador Dalí painting unexpectedly had Lisa Simpson in it). In her studies of French, Margie has been recently reading Le Petit Prince, and we bought a piece showing the Petit Prince on his planet, with its volcanoes and baobab tree. The circular planet is somehow weighted so that it stands upright on the table. There�s no obvious place that the weight could have been inserted, and Signore Morandin didn�t tell me the secret as he carefully custom-packed it in cardboard so I could carry it home un-damaged. The address of the store is S. Stae 1921, 30135 Venezia (Tel. 347-2482637).

Dinner at La Zucca was very good, pleasantly eaten outdoors. The name means �The Pumpkin�, and we each started with their famous pumpkin flan. We could have easily split one � it was a large and extremely rich concoction. The people at the table next to us engaged the waiter in lengthy discussion to select 100% vegetarian dishes. Not us; I had turkey in a curry sauce, and Margie had duck. Both were quite good.

For a city full of boats, one walks an awful lot in Venice. At the end of the day, Margie�s pedometer showed we had traveled 5.54 miles (8.92 Km) on foot. I think that was our highest mileage day for the trip.

Friday, June 2: We went to the train station to buy our tickets back to Milan. I accomplished the entire feat in Italian. I was rewarded by the sales attendant asking where we were from, and then commenting that I was the first American he had met who spoke Italian. My guess is that there were many others, but they take the easy way out when they discover that the attendant can speak English. We bought tickets for the early afternoon on Sunday.

Our intent was to go from the train station to the nearby old Jewish ghetto district for a synagogue tour, which we had missed on our previous trip to Venice. But we had the foresight to phone the Jewish Museum in the morning, and discovered that it was closed for a Jewish holiday �(Shavuos� � we looked it up later). Since it would of course also be closed on Saturday, that was it for this trip. I guess we�ll have to return to Venice some day. No problem � there are still several weeks worth of activities left for us in Venice.

Arriving instead at the Frari (�Santa Maria Gloriosa�), we found it closed until 13:00 for a wedding. We toured the �Scuola Grande di San Rocco� instead, and then ate lunch at the Tratoria da Silvio, in their very nice outdoor garden. The food was good, too. I had a great �Zuppa di Pesche�, and Margie had a pizza. By then it was after 13:00, and we went through the Frari, which was magnificent. Walking south to the San Toma vaporetto stop, we took a #1 boat around the bend to San Stae, and toured a Leonardo da Vinci exhibit that will be in the Chiesa di S. Stae until November, 2006. It was a small exhibit, but I wanted to see it, because with our afternoon train on Sunday, we would likely get in to Milan too late to see the da Vinci exhibit there.

We then basically headed back to the hotel, although via an internet caffé. Rather than going over the Rialto bridge, we instead headed to the Rialto market a bit north of the bridge, and took a traghetto across the Grand Canal. We were interested in doing this, since we had never used one of the traghetti before. As opposed to a traghetto in the lakes, which carries cars, a traghetto in Venice is a large gondola that carries only people, on a short ride across the Grand Canal from one side to the other, for half a euro each. The word �traghetto� means �crossing�, or, in the sense of a boat, �ferry�. The route back then took us via the Strada Nova, which proved to be a wide, popular shopping street. Although it was not far from our hotel, we had been previously unaware of it.

We had dinner at the Osteria della Botta, an favorite of Fodorite �Franco�. We were not disappointed. It�s a great hangout, noisy and packed with friendly locals. An overworked waitress patiently helped me with the menu. I had the classic �sarde con saor�, sardines in a sort of sweet and sour sauce.

Saturday, June 3, our last full day in Venice. We strolled up to the Santa Maria dei Miracoli, and toured the church, and then walked down to Santa Maria Formosa, and did the same. Then lunch at the Trattoria alla Riveta, which was packed, mostly with locals, but some tourists. We sat next to a table of gondoliers, and I observed how one of them managed to eat fried sardines: sort of like corn on the cob. He held each sardine at the head and the tail, and ate around it, ending up holding a bare skeleton.

We then walked to the vaporetto stop �San Zaccaria�, and took a boat to the Ca� Rezzonico (worth seeing), and went through it, after which we returned by vaporetto to the Rialto. On that trip, we spoke with a photographer who was taking pictures of the motley assortment of rowers we had seen around Venice during our stay. Some were rowing standing, gondolier style, others more conventionally, some in costumes, in a varied assortment of different types of boats. It hadn�t occurred to us to ask what they all were.

The photographer informed us that they were all preparing for an annual set of races called the �Vogalongo�, of various types of human-powered craft. She just happened to mention that this meant that on Sunday, the Grand Canal would be closed! We were rather astounded to note that there were no visible announcements of this event, which would clearly affect the entire city. And it would certainly affect us, since we were scheduled to take our heavy luggage to the train station at around noon. Well, apparently not on a vaporetto, nor on a water taxi. Inquiries at the hotel confirmed the photographer�s information, although the hotel hadn�t thought it worthwhile to inform us of it. An inquiry at the Rialto vaporetto stop confirmed that the vaporetti and the water taxis would stop running on Sunday at 7:30 am.

This episode struck me as typical of Italy, where there�s a certain �What the hell, people will manage� attitude. In discussing it with an Italian man, when I suggested that there were thousands of tourists in Venice, and it might have been nice to find ways to notify them of the disruption this event would cause, he replied something to the effect of, �but that would take a lot of coordination�. He rolled his eyes, as if to imply that such coordination was beyond the realm of possibility. I thought of the old story about heaven and hell, which I suspect all Fodorites have heard many times: �Heaven is where the police are British, the cooks are French, the mechanics are German, the lovers are Italian and it is all organized by the Swiss. Hell is where the police are German, the cooks are British, the mechanics are French, the lovers are Swiss, and it is all organized by the Italians.�

I don�t want to complain too much about this, as it didn�t end up being a major disaster for us, and when traveling, one has to be able to roll with the punches. But remember, we had only found out about it entirely by chance. A conceivable scenario would have been for us to appear at the Rialto vaparetto stop a safe half hour before our train departure, only to discover for the first time that neither the vaporetti nor the water taxis were running. At that point, it would have been impossible to make our train. Yet the trivial method of posting of signs at the vaporetto stops a few days before would have avoided this possible dilemma.

Thinking of what to do, I consulted a map, and counted seven bridges between us and the station, if we wanted to walk. The walk would certainly be possible, but each bridge meant dragging the luggage up and down a set of steps. Between the bridges, it�s level, of course, since all of Venice is just a meter or two above sea level (a little less each year). We decided to pack up that evening, and then to go down to the Rialto stop at 7 am, half an hour before the vaporetti were scheduled to cease operating. At the station, we�d try to change our tickets for an earlier train, but failing that, we�d just park our luggage in the �Left Luggage� room, and find some things to do near the station (such as watching the Vogalongo).

After packing up, we had dinner at �Il Milion�, which was good, although I wouldn�t say it was great. The service was quite slow towards the end, but the manager, who had been very helpful, realized that there had been a problem, and to make up for it, he didn�t charge us for our desserts and our limoncelli.

Sunday, June 4: We woke up at 6:15 am to get to the vaporetto stop before 7 am, and took a #82 boat uneventfully to the train station. We changed our tickets to a 10:20 am train, and dropped our luggage in the luggage depository. We then hung around and watched the confusion as tourists dragging their luggage off the various arriving trains discovered that the only way to get anywhere was to walk. This included some large tour groups, who, it seemed, were no more informed about this event than we had been. Their tour leaders consulted with the personnel at the ticket booth, their charges gathered around in large crowds as the situation was explained to them, and then they marched off on foot in one direction or another.

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Jun 15th, 2006, 02:47 PM
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This trip report continues with a report on Milan, and some final thoughts on the overall trip, at:

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...2&tid=34821421

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Jun 15th, 2006, 02:50 PM
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Wonderful report! I got here from your Dolomite thread---sorry you didn't have better weather there; it is such a beautiful place (when yo can see it!)

I'm curious to hear more about your experience at Ai Cugnai---I have read of some people finding them rude. But we had a great lunch there---the woman who served out table seemed to like us. We ordered in Italian, and she approved of our choices. And when she saw that my husband had eaten every bit of his meal with relish, she gave him a little hug around the shoulders and said, "Benedetto, Signore, benedetto!" before clearing his plate.

Then we watched her clear the adjacent table, and finish ALL the wine that had been left in the glasses. . . .
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Jun 15th, 2006, 03:00 PM
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Larry and Margie...superb report from fellow New Englanders...you were concise and not at all devoid of humor. Thank you.
I might add that most Fodorites like to have an idea of costs for lodgings, dining, transportation, etc. I always try to include this mundane (but important)data in my reports as do many of the Fodorites. I noticed that you had links to most of hotels, though.
Thank you again...and enjoy your retirement!! (I'm originally from Quincy (Emerson College and B.U.)..living in California since 1957 (transferred from Lincoln Lab to Santa Monica with Rand Corp.)

(My most recent report on Cote' d'azur, Provence and a canal barge venture)...

Stu T. ([email protected])
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Jun 15th, 2006, 03:29 PM
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Thank you for a lovely report - and some good ideas to keep on file!
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Jun 15th, 2006, 04:00 PM
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Very well done, Just-really enjoyed your report-I had done some reading on the Pinault exhibition-dissected cows in formaldehyde-oh, yes that's what I want to see! I remember last summer during the Biennale those ugly red penquins stuck up on the palazzi fronting the Grand Canal, and the even uglier fake rocket ship down near Giardini with the fake blue flame which you could see from Piazza San Marco. Uh, no thanks!

Absolutely unbelieveable what you related concerning the Grand Canal closure for the Vogalonga. Not a word anywhere to anyone. That's almost hostile, and worth an email or two to the mayor of Venice and his "assessore" for tourism.

The city, to quote the mayor "hasn't got a cent." They're in the process of selling off 32 palazzi owned by the city to the highest bidder in order to raise revenue for the city coffers. By treating tourists so carelessly - the ones who actually DO stay in the city and spend money, (as opposed to the day-trippers) does indeed contribute to the negative stereotyping about the chaotic nature of Italian government services.
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Jun 15th, 2006, 04:15 PM
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We experienced the very situation you were able to avoid due to the vogalongo! We checked out of the hotel, no one mentioned the closures, dragged our luggage to the vaparetto stop and after waiting for a long time managed to find out what was going on!

Love your report and the little Italian lessons!
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Jun 15th, 2006, 04:16 PM
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Terrrific report. You certainly took me with you on your wanderings around Venice. I've begun posting my trip report on Rome, Florence and Venice in parts, but so far don't think anybody has seen it.

Vera
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Jun 15th, 2006, 04:20 PM
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Folks, it's "Vogalonga" See, www.vogalonga.com
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Jun 15th, 2006, 05:15 PM
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Spygirl, thanks for the correction to "vogalonga". I perpetrated the original error, writing it as "vogalongo" in my notes, and copying it without thinking. A bit of reflection would have made me think twice, since "voga" (rowing) is feminine, so it would need to be modified by a feminine adjective. My question now is, why is it "longa", with an "o", since the Italian word for "long", in the feminine, is "lunga", with a "u"?

As for "Ai Cugnai": the woman who served us sounds very much like the woman you described. We also ordered in Italian, but she made it easy by showing samples of the various specials of the day. I found her quite friendly and helpful. But I should also say that when we ordered an additional salad at the end of our order, as she was taking away the menus, the large salad that we got proved to be, when the bill arrived, VERY expensive. I enjoyed the meal, but it came out very costly, particularly for a lunch. If you read Italian, the following will point you to an opinion that considers Ai Cugnai to be a "tourist trap":

http://viaggi.ciao.it/Ristoranti_ita...pinione_434867

So I'd be careful at Ai Cugnai. Be sure you know the price of whatever you order, so you don't get any surprises.

With my interest in linguistics, I spoke to our server as I was leaving, and asked her about the name of the restaurant. If I understood her answer, the name seemed to come from two sisters-in-law, and she seemed to indicate that that's what "cugnai" means. But the word for a sister-in-law is "cognata". Perhaps "cugnai" (one would expect the singular form to be "cugnao" or "cugnae") comes from some Venetian dialect. A web search on the word shows up mostly references to the restaurant, so I don't think it's a modern Italian word.

Tower, I'll take a look at your report on Provence, which will probably be our next European destination. We're thinking of renting a place and spending up to three or even four weeks in one spot. We'd want to choose a location with many things to see reachable by car in day trips. We'd love a small village, where we could walk to some of the local services (bakery, market, and so on). But this is a subject for me to raise in a different thread, under the "France" keyword.

SeaUrchin, I was sure that there must have been someone in Venice that day who only found out about the Vogalonga Grand Canal closure at the last minute, luggage in hand. But I hardly expected it would be someone who would post on Fodor's less than two hours after my report appeared. I hope you made it to your train, or plane, or wherever you were going, in time.

Vera, I'll watch for your reports.

- Larry
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Jun 15th, 2006, 05:25 PM
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Larry-
I think you hit the nail on the head, on both counts. I'm sure it's the Venetian dialect-"Venexiano"-which, you may not know-is considered to be a separate language to Italian. Carlo Goldoni, the famous Venetian playwright, wrote some of his most famous plays in Venexiano. (And where did I first learn that? Why, right here on Fodor's-our little language/country games).
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Jun 15th, 2006, 06:34 PM
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I'm curious about your problems in getting out of town. If the Grand Canal was closed to traffic, surely that did not include traffic on the southern and northern edges of the island? Would it have been possible to go to a vaporetto stop, say, Zattere, as though you were going to Giudecca, and taken a vaporetto there?
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Jun 15th, 2006, 06:41 PM
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Hi JR,

Lovely.

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Jun 15th, 2006, 08:46 PM
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Larry & Marge....A wonderful report!!!
Bravo, bravo!!

Sounds like your trip to Milano was easier than our DASH down the hill!!
lol
Hope to see you soon!!!
Linda
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Jun 15th, 2006, 09:13 PM
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Hi, Vera,

When we were there, I was never completely clear on exactly what portions of Venice would be closed by the race. Looking now at the link provided by Spygirl, http://www.vogalonga.com, it does look as if a path along the Canale della Giudecca from Zattere would have been in the clear. But our hotel was near the Rialto, so that wouldn't have helped us. Walking to Zattere would have been even a longer walk for us than walking directly to the railroad station.

I did look at a map of Venice, and considered whether there might be an "escape route" along some of the smaller canals. My hotel had a dock on the Rio del Fontego dei Tedeschi, for instance. A boat could have taken us from there to the Rio dei Miracoli, and thence to the Rio di San Canzian, into the Rio dei Gesuiti, and out the north side of Venice into the Canale delle Navi, near the vaporetto stop "Fondamente Nove".

But I had no idea whether boats would be restricted on the Canale delle Navi as well. Looking now at the web page, they probably would have been, since much of the Vogalonga took place to the north of the city. Besides, this idea would hinge on the ability of a water taxi to get up to the hotel dock in the first place. Where would it come from? Would a taxi from Rialto (where there's also a taxi stop) be allowed to go the short distance along the canal to the entrance to the Rio del Fontego dei Tedeschi? I had no idea.

Not knowing enough about Venice and about the event to work this out myself, I asked the hotel to phone a water taxi service to ask them what they could do to get me to the station around mid-day. They replied that they could do it, but that they couldn't give me the exact time until the day of the race. I took this to mean that either they didn't know the exact details of the closures, or perhaps they'd be juggling our departure with dozens of other people in a similar jam. Either way, I didn't want to put myself into that situation. Our solution, which worked well in the end, was to simply wake up early, and get out before the closure took effect. Getting up early also meant that if for some reason the vaporettos stopped running even earlier than had been announced, if all else failed, we could have taken the long walk to the station, dragging our luggage, at our leisure, stopping to rest as often as necessary.

SeaUrchin, when you found the vaporettos not running, where were you going, and how did you ultimately get there?

- Larry
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Jun 15th, 2006, 09:24 PM
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Hi, Linda,

When I looked at my last post, I saw yours just above it. We must have been typing at the same time.

We were thinking about you the day you left the Uhrerhof, and wondering if you had made it. When we found your e-mail, we were glad to hear that you had, but it sounds nerve-wracking. Nothing like putting your return flight in the hands of Italian traffic.

That's actually one of the reasons we took the train from Milan to Malpensa, instead of a taxi. Once you catch the train, your on-time arrival is virtually guaranteed. In a taxi in rush-hour traffic, you never know what might happen.

Hope to see you soon, as well.

- Larry
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Jun 15th, 2006, 11:30 PM
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Larry, it wasn't this year (I wish it were!) but after we waited and finally found out we were out of luck we ran back to the hotel and the clerk matter-of-factly said oh yes they are not running today but you can go to a stop way across past St. Marks and they will take you to the train station. So we ran, dragging the luggage over the bridges and caught the boat which took us the long way around, past the cargo ships and cruise ships to the station. We had reservations on a certain train that was going to Naples.

I am sorry we had to leave because I would have liked to have stayed and watched the race.
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Jun 16th, 2006, 09:26 AM
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Great report! Glad you made that train, although it does sound normal that nobody was notified of the closure!
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Jun 16th, 2006, 10:28 AM
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Your account of the vaperetto closure reminds me of our first trip to Venice. Waiting to depart from the train station, I saw a piece of paper tacked to the wall. On it was handwritten (in a purple felt pen) the announcement of a 48-hour train strike to start the next day. Most tourists would never notice the sign or be able to read the Italian.

Later in Florence we met people who had been dumped off the train in the middle of nowhere when the strike started at 1400h. I took to reading the local papers looking for scioperi.
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Jun 16th, 2006, 11:38 AM
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Larry:
Thanks for the explanation. This will certainly be valuable for anyone else traveling to Venice in June in the future.
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