Ness' Italian trip report

Old Jan 29th, 2008, 02:32 AM
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I showed my ticket and he explained to me that my seat was right at the other end of the train, so I left everything behind and walked the length of the train, hoping and praying to see Rod on there somewhere. At last I did find him, and he was as panic stricken as me - still holding onto his food though! We found our seats and I sat down, while Rod went to retrieve all of our luggage.

I don't know what happened but someone was watching over me. The train was delayed an extra seven minutes for some reason, as so was the one bound for Milano. I was certain St Francis was watching out for me in that moment!

It took me most of the trip to calm down and recover. I felt physically sick and all I wanted to do was huddle under my wrap and close my eyes and think about nothing. But I would be sore for days from dragging around that huge amount of weight.

By the time we reached Venice, I felt better, calmer and extremely grateful that I was there at all, considering what had just transpired.

The train passed over the long bridge from Mestre on the mainland to the fish-shaped islands that make up Venice. It was very hot there, but as soon as we stepped outside the Santa Lucia station, we found ourselves caught up in a real holiday atmosphere, the kind we had experienced in Nice.

My first glimpses of Venice were of the many boats on the busy Grand Canal, the ornate palazzos that lined the canals and the bridges that seemed to be everywhere. Our first task was to purchase a vaparetto (water bus) ticket and we decided a 24 hour ticket would suit us the best - these cost 15 euros each.

We then waited for the correct number to arrive to take us to Fondamenta Nove - our stop, not far from the Hotel Casa Boccassini where we would be staying. Although the vaparettos give you a good view of Venice from the water and are a common mode of transport for locals, they are slow, cramped and always full. Very difficult with luggage.

At Fondamenta Nove we got off and followed the directions to our hotel, receiving our first look at Venice's charming and quaint grid of laneways that are a real tangle of life away from the canals. It is very easy to get lost in Venice, but that is also one of its charms, unless of course you have an appointment or reservation - then it can be a bit frustrating.

The hotel was fairly easy to find in the end and well signposted. I loved the place immediately and it became one of my favourites of the entire trip.
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Old Jan 29th, 2008, 06:08 AM
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Whew, glad you made it. I was holding my breath. I can't wait to hear more about my favorite place in Italy.
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Old Jan 29th, 2008, 04:05 PM
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Wow, Ness, I am out of breath just reading about that train experience! It's OK, though, because when you left us with the cliffhanger, I had imagined you being robbed of all your luggage.
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Old Jan 29th, 2008, 04:35 PM
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wow, did your train experience bring back memories! I was holding my breath for you and believe me I know the feeling.

I can't wait for more of your report.
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Old Jan 29th, 2008, 08:52 PM
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It really was quite traumatic and even though I know worse things could have happened to us, that was still the most horrible feeling to be lost and confused and thinking you have completely stuffed the holiday!

I'm convinced the visit to Assisi the day before had something to do with luck on the day.

And now back to glorious Venice where we spent far too much money but had too much fun to care about it in the least!
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Old Jan 29th, 2008, 08:55 PM
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Casa Boccassini really reminded me of someone's nonna's place - it had the cutest tiled courtyard filled with flowers and a water feature full of goldfish, crazy mosaic paving, and little white wrought iron breakfast tables featuring tasselled cushions and overhead, strings of coloured lanterns.

The best part was the scraggly white cat that meowed back at you - a real conversationalist and I would "talk" to it a lot as we passed in and out of the hotel to the amusement of some of the other guests there.

Our room was on the bottom floor, and looked out on the courtyard. It was also nonna-esque, with venetian glass light fittings, burgundy tasselled drapes and bedspread. Very cute - even the little man who ran the place looked the part, clad in white trousers, stripy top and shiny black shoes.

We checked in, and prepared to go out and "get lost" in Venice. We set off down a laneway, map in hand - although this lasted about five minutes, as following a map in Venice is ridiculously difficult.

We tucked it away in our bag and let ourselves be seduced by the place. Delving deeper and deeper into the maze, we were confronted with the city's 420 or so bridges, little campos with restaurants, artisan shops, workshops and of course the gondoliers, plying their trade everywhere.

We grabbed gelati on the way and continued to walk, approaching more and more commercial activity so we knew we were close to the hub of the place.

Until Venice, I'd resisted the urge to go crazy with shopping but I was excited to be here surrounded by venetian glass shops, and couldn't help but indulge. So I shopped for murano glass, looked at lithographs and paper/art shops, mask shops etc. I bought some earrings and pendants, and together, Rod and I chose two exquisite carnevale masks for the house.

We looked at quite a few shops and we were both amazed by the craftsmanship and also the variety available. It was quickly apparent to us that some of the mask shops were dodgy so with the help of guidebook info and by observation it was easy to seek out the reputable places.

I liked some of the more ornate designs with feathers and bells but in the end we settled for a pair of white, gold and silver decoration with sheet music used as part of the papier-mache construction. These were our most expensive purchase at 110 euros but we were both happy with them so that was the main thing.
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Old Jan 30th, 2008, 12:57 PM
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And so we kept wandering through the Venetian maze, all the time growing closer and closer to live music we could hear. Rounding a corner, we suddenly found ourselves in the famous and spectacular Piazza San Marco.

Venice is so deceptive and so small that you can find yourself at one end of it in no time at all. The square is crowned by the awesome St Mark's Basilica with its colourful frescoes, onion shaped domes and gothic features. The one thing that did strike me though, despite the beauty of it, you can't help but notice the mess left by the thousands upon thousands of pigeons that hang out in the square - consequently the buildings had a greyness to them.

That aside though, it was still a magnificent sight.

Next to St Mark's stands the imposing brick campinale. The square itself is lined with palazzos in Byzantine style and littered with very expensive cafes and shops.

The reason for the music we could hear was that Peter Gabriel was in the square doing a sound check for a concert he was playing later in the night. So bonus for us, we got to hang around for a bit and have a listen for free. We listened to a few tracks, including his hit song "Steam".
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Old Jan 30th, 2008, 05:48 PM
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Ness, I've been enjoying your report so much! The only thing about our upcoming trip to Italy that has me worried is the train travel!

What mask shop did you buy your masks from? Because of the exchange rate, we're not planning on buying much, but masks in Venice are definitely on the short list.
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Old Jan 31st, 2008, 03:54 AM
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If I took one thing away from my train travel experiences it was definitely to be early, all of the time and leave nothing to chance! If you are fully prepared you can't go wrong. In our case, we got a bit too relaxed about it and ended up in trouble.

I will see if I can find the name of the shop for you. Our masks had the signature of the artist inside and that is usually a good indication that they have been lovingly produced by an artisan...
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Old Feb 1st, 2008, 03:02 AM
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We continued to wander - this time in search for Campo Santa Margherita. I had heard a lot about this campo, and heard it was the nicest in all of Venice, so we thought it definitely worth a visit.

It was a little more difficult to find it, as we took a few wrong turns but when we found it, it was as pleasant as it had been described, with a couple of very large, shady trees, a laid back atmosphere, stall vendors and entertainers. There were also lots of kids playing games there that gave it more of a suburban feel, and less of a tourist attraction feel.

We settled in at Causin Cafe at one of the outdoor tables (this cafe is very old and has been operating continuously since 1928) and I had a cappuccino and an ice cream concoction that defied reason and was insanely delicious.

Rod ordered the same, along with his standard aqua minerale - non gassa! To describe it I'd have to say it was ice cream with dried fruit mixed through it - this doesn't sound that appealing, but it was unlike anything I'd tried before - fantastic.

We sat at Causin for quite a long while - it was relaxing, unhurried and we enjoyed watching evening fall as people went about their business. A lot of people passing through the campo seemed to know each other - walking their dogs, buying their fruit and veg and catching up over aperitivos and cigars at Causin.

The usual musicians were along in due course, and then, the onslaught of the rose sellers - these guys just kept popping up, so I started keeping a count of how many times we were approached by different rose sellers and by the time we left Causin, I'd counted six of them.

Rod went off to buy some postcards and stamps and we sent home some news while we continued to sit at Causin. We'd been there over two hours and it was approaching dinner time (8:30pm scrapes into the bottom end of reasonable dinner hours in Italy). So we decided to assess our options.
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Old Feb 6th, 2008, 11:29 AM
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This is my last update for a while as I'm off to New Zealand tonight for a week!

Will finish the report on my return.
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Old Feb 6th, 2008, 11:30 AM
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We decided on Antico Capon, also in Campo Santa Margherita as it looked nice - long rows of outdoor tables, with colourful tablecloths and dotted with odd indoor lamps, and very enthusiastic waiters. It was mentioned in ye olde guidebook, so we thought it worth a try.

I was a little sarcastic to the waiter who ushered us in - I think I just get cranky when you get spruiked at outside a place you've already decided to dine at!

He did however, humour my bad Italian eventually saying "You can speak in English if you want" - but I stuck to my guns and he persevered with me as I laboured through ordering in Italian and asking directions to il bagno.

We ordered an antipasti plate of pesche misto (mixed seafood) as fish is the local delicacy here and I just had to try it. I also ordered a napolitana pizza with anchovies and Rod also ordered pizza. I really couldn't fault the food - it was delicious, reasonably priced and the pesche misto was amazing.

We had a couple of glasses of vino and sat back and watched as a large group (of about 20) sat down, weren't fussed over quickly enough and so had a go at the waiter saying "We're not feeling the love here!!" Most of them got up and left, but a trio remained behind - good for them, as they probably enjoyed a great meal as we did, and attentive service.
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Old Feb 6th, 2008, 11:34 AM
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The walk back to our hotel was largely uneventful, St Mark's Square was blocked off because of the Peter Gabriel concert, so we were forced to use vaparetto to get back to Fondamente Nove - and it seemed to take forever.

We would have much preferred a stroll back via the Piazza, but it wasn't to be. That aside, Venezia really worked her magic today - I was loving the uniqueness of the place and looking forward to having another full day to explore it further.
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Old Feb 14th, 2008, 11:44 PM
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I've just gotten back from New Zealand so will finish the report over the weekend. Thanks all for being patient with this mega huge report of mine!
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Old Feb 23rd, 2008, 02:56 AM
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Day Nineteen Venice

Today, a full day lay ahead of us in Venice, bristling with possibilities. We had a lot of options, and the difficult thing would be whittling them down into some sort of feasible game plan.

This morning, we didn't rush, but got up and enjoyed the included breakfast in the cute breakfast area. It was just the standard Euro breakfast of coffee, rolls, jam and butter and the peculiar blood red orange juice. In most places, the coffee is served with hot milk, which seems to me an excellent idea although many of our travelling companions didn't seem to think so!

After breakfast we ventured out, with an initial plan to take a boat over to the island of Murano, where many of the glassblowing workshops are. Unfortunately we got on the wrong vaparetto and ended up at the Lido! This meant it would be very time consuming to get back to the right place for Murano, so we abandoned that idea.

We went back across to St Mark's, with another plan forming - of visiting the Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore, climbing the bell tower there and enjoying the views over Venice. But for the life of us, we could not locate the correct boat to take us over there, as it seemed a much less frequented island.

So instead we went back to St Mark's and joined a lengthy queue in the hot sun to go up to the top of the Campinale, such was our determination to take in an aerial vista of Venice. As there are no steps, the queue moved slowly, with limits placed on the number of people going up to the top at any one time.

Once up there, we discovered the views are largely obscured by fences and in the end we regretted the decision as a bad one, time consuming and frustrating. To get back down in the elevator, we had to queue for another 15-20 minutes...

We decided not to re-queue for the basilica, as the sun was extremely hot and we were keen for a bit of a sit down anyway. Instead, we decided to go to Florian, - one of the oldest cafes in the world (about 230 years old), and pay a small fortune for the privilege of sitting there for as long as we wanted!

To begin with, you pay a surcharge for sitting down at all, to cover the live classical music that is played there all day long. The classical music surcharge was certainly enough to send a lot of tourists scurrying, but the musicians were very skilled and it was nice to sit there and take all of that in, in one of the most famous squares in the world.

We figured if we stayed long enough, we would recoup the costs! I ordered a latte macchiato, and we both had huge icecreams that cost 16 euros each! Complete decadence. We really thought - bugger it, we've tried so hard to be frugal on this trip so we are going to lash out a little in Venice. So that is how we came to spend 60 euros on morning tea in Venice! But I will always remember it!
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Old Feb 24th, 2008, 03:15 AM
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After this indulgence, we decided it was time to go shopping. First, to find a small, hard cased suitcase on wheels to put all our bits and pieces and breakables in that we'd accumulated along the way. We bought the first one we came across, and as is Murphy's Law, everywhere we went after this, we saw more bags that were cheaper. But none were as pretty as this little "Carpisa" with its graffiti and turtle insignia - I thought to myself that "no way was I losing this thing on the airport carousel!"

We walked up to the Rialto Bridge and did some souvenir shopping along the market area, enjoying the fact that it was legal to walk around drinking beer - little mini cans of heineken, went down extremely well at that point.

We went back to the hotel, with some gelati and cold drinks and had a little siesta. Then we started thinking about how we'd spend the rest of the afternoon and evening.

In Venice, you can't just drop in and visit the churches. You need to pay for a series of entry fees. We really couldn't be bothered doing that and thought it was a bit rich that ALL churches in Venice are only accessible to those who pay.

By this stage we were also frescoed out, so we tended to stay outdoors wandering, shopping and eating. We saw these as being the real attractions of Venice.

We decided to go to Bacaro Jazz for dinner - but on the way there, we found ourselves lost in Castello! By this stage, Rod was completely over the whole "shopping for Murano glass" thing so we went home and changed for dinner, but not before getting some lovely photos of the quieter side of Venice.

We came across Bacaro Jazz by chance and the meal was good - although not quite as good as Antico Capon. I liked the place - it was covered in drawings and notes left by previous diners and the owners made groups feel very welcome. It is also decorated by underwear for some reason... bras hanging all over the ceiling. We again ordered the fish antipasti, and then Rod had lasagne while I ordered prosciutto e melone, as I was after something pretty light. We even managed a dessert this time, sharing a perfecto panna cotta!
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Old Feb 25th, 2008, 02:54 AM
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It was nearing 9pm so we went for a walk around the Rialto area and decided to do the stereotypical gondola ride, even though we knew we were being fleeced.

It was kind of a theme in Venice, a place often described as a real tourist trap - but we went into that eyes open. So I tackled my fear of boats head on and quite enjoyed gliding through the back canals, listening to the water lapping around us, the calls of the gondoliers as they rounded each corner, and the commentary of our gondolier who pointed out numerous sites of note.

I had to laugh though when he showed us "Venice's newest church - only 300 years old!" Funny for us anyway, given that the oldest building in Australia are much less than that!

So afterward, it was back to the hotel, where we packed for the travelling day ahead as we went from Venice to Vienna in Austria.
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Old May 8th, 2008, 06:04 AM
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Hi Ness!
I am a fellow aussie living in Sydney. My son is thinking of doing a Kumuka Tour of europe in December before meeting us ...Parents and sibling for a week in the French alps. Can you tell me how you found the Kumuka experience genarally.
Thanks for the help
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Old May 10th, 2008, 01:39 PM
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