Hi all, here is the Venice update I promised. Thanks to free internet access at my hostel here in Zagreb, Croatia, I have completed this entry a little sooner than expected. I spent two days in Venice, and although it is very nice, it is also very expensive. Internet access there costed five euros for thirty minutes, which I why I waited to type the recent Rome and Venice updates. If you go to Venice, be prepared to drop some money into the lagoon that the city is slowly sinking into.
Venice actually got off to somewhat of a bad start on the day I arrived. I was trying to make arrangements for my travel from Venice to Ljubljana, but there’s no direct line so I had to line up a few regional trains to get there. However because I had had some trouble with regional trains in France, I investigated an alternative option, which was to take a bus to a town on the Austrian border and then a train from there to Ljubljana. This investigation became something of a wild goose chase as I couldn’t seem to get accurate information on the bus service and I ended up spending some time walking around the area by the train and bus stations trying to figure out the bus. In the end I got too frustrated, so I decided I would take my chances with the regional trains (when I post my Slovenia update you’ll get to read how this turned out). I remember being fairly unhappy at the end of that day, but Venice would win me over in the end.
The place I stayed in Venice was near the Rialto bridge. There are no cars in Venice (except at the parking garage where people park who have driven across the bridge from the mainland) so you walk everywhere. The city is not very large so that’s not really a problem, but the street layout is a complex web of small streets so you really need a map. I started day one by checking out the Rialto bridge and then moved on to San Marco square, one of the most famous squares in Europe. I spent some time just taking in the sights there and getting photos before going into the San Marco Basilica. The basilica ceiling is entirely covered with mosaics that range from old Byzantine styles to Renaissance ones. The terrace of the church also has good views of the square. When I finished with the church I went back outside to the square and looked around some more before catching a waterbus to San Giorgio island. Waterbuses are very expensive, at about seven euros for a one way ride, so I don’t recommend using them unless absolutely necessary. The waterbus to the island however only costs four euros for a round trip, so it wasn’t so bad. The island, and in particular the bell tower of the church have really good views of the main section of Venice. Once I returned to the main islands of Venice, I went east towards the tail of the “fish” (take a look at a map of the main part of Venice) where there is a large park. This is a good place to get away from the zoo of the touristy parts of Venice and recharge before jumping back into the fray. Leaving the park, I went back west and a little north to the old Arsenal of Venice, which used to be the town’s fort and shipyard. Today it is still owned by the Italian military and they were not allowing visitors. Moving on, I got a really late lunch at a place called Birreria Forst, which is on a street called Calle Rosse, I think. It’s a sandwich bar just east of San Marco square and one of the few cheap places to grab a meal near San Marco. They have some delicious ham sandwiches, and strangely good tasting Pepsi. After my meal I went back to my hostel for a little while before going out one last time for a night stroll back to San Marco square. On the way I got some good gelato from a place called the Gelato Boutique (great taste and big scoops; an award winning combination). San Marco square really is a different place at night with the buildings lit up and dueling bands playing at several of the outdoor restaurants. Although there are still quite a few tourists at night, it is much less than during the day and the place has a great ambiance to it. I got to hear one band perform the Titanic theme, and it was moving. I think going to San Marco is one of those definitive Venice experiences, and I strongly recommend doing it if you have the time.
Day two in Venice was about filling in some gaps in the city and also revisiting a few places from day one. Once again I started at the Rialto Bridge, because I realized that while I had taken pictures from the bridge, I had none of the bridge itself. I moved on to the Santa Maria dei Frari church after that, which has great Venetian artwork in it, but a no photo policy (booo!!!). Just around the corner from it is the even more impressive Scuola Grande di San Rocco, which is sometimes called Venice’s Sistine Chapel. The bottom floor doesn’t have too much, but go upstairs for large hall that will snap your neck from looking up so much. They actually provide people mirrors so that people don’t hurt themselves doing this. The place costed something like eight euros, but was worth every cent. Again no photos, which to me is just criminal with how photogenic that place is. I then worked my way south through the city to the area with the Accademia Museum, which I considered going into, but I decided against because I was trying to budget my spending. I’m told it is full of Venetian artwork from Venice’s glory days, so maybe I’ll go in next time. I then crossed the Accademia Bridge across the Grand Canal, and walked all the way to the Rialto Bridge and crossed that to find a pizza place I had read about that was not too far from my hostel. Alas, the place was closed when I got there, so I worked my way back to Campo Manin and ate a kabob instead. I then returned to San Marco square and visited the Correr Museum (Venetian artifacts) because a ticket to the museum also covers the more popular Doge’s Palace and allows you to skip the ticket line there. The Doge’s Palace starts out a bit sparse in the Doge’s apartments, but gets good when you reach the chambers used by the various Venetian councils and the arsenal rooms. Once again, no photos (what’s wrong with this city?!). When I finished with the Doge’s Palace I walked to the north end of the main islands and walked along the waterside walkway all the way to… a gas station for boats (which finally answered the question of where people get fuel for their boats). I then returned to the hostel, and on the way took my only gondola ride of my trip to Venice. The Grand Canal, which runs through the main part of Venice, only has three main bridges across it, so to fill in gaps there are larger gondolas (called Tronchettos) that carry people across for 50 cents. After eating dinner and resting a little, I decided to do San Marco square at night again, since I liked it so much the last time. Again I got gelato from the Gelato Boutique and went over to the square. Like the night before it was a great scene, and this time I heard a band do the music of the theme songs from both Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. Not a bad way to end Venice.
As stated earlier, this update is being typed from Zagreb, Croatia. I hope to have an update on my time in Slovenia in the next few days. After Zagreb I am moving down to the town of Split, which is on the Adriatic coast.