Monday, April 30, 2007

Everyday is an Adventure

Piazza San Marco

Grand Canal View from Rialto
Ponte Rialto

Everyday here is an adventure, and some of them turn out to be more than I bargained for! That happened this weekend. The 1st of May is Italy’s liberation day, so Monday is a holiday, school is closed and everyone is traveling! (This is the 3rd holiday in the 3 weeks since I started school) Anyway, I decided to take a day trip to Venice on Sunday.

Venice is one of the most beautiful places in the world, and not like anyplace or anything that you have ever seen in your life! It is "enchanting" in every sense of the word. I feel like Alice in Wonderland stepping through the glass when I am there! Honestly, it is like a dream. I was very excited and got up early to catch a 10:00 train for the 3 hour ride to Venice. When I got to the train station to buy my ticket, the 10:00 train was sold out! That should have been my first clue for what was to come, but I went ahead and booked the next train out at 11:30 a.m.

Since the train I wanted was sold out, I thought I should go ahead and purchase my return trip so that I wouldn’t be caught on that end with a sold out train, and I booked a return trip at 5 p.m. I went and had breakfast, and wandered around the station waiting for time to board my train. As I wandered I decided that 6 hours on the train (round trip) was too long to only spend 3 ½ hours there, so made a change to my return ticket to come back later that evening.

The trip to Venice was very nice. It was a Eurostar train, which is express, and very nice and comfortable inside. I had two seats all to myself, and studied a lot, and did my homework on the way there. When I arrived, I was surprised to find that the train station is right on the Grand Canal, and it is beautiful! I located the vaporetta, which are the ferries that take you up and down the canal, and boarded one. I had decided to visit the Peggy Guggenheim Museum, which has a tremendous collection of American modern art.

When I got to the Rialto Bridge on the vaporetta, I couldn’t stand it anymore and went ahead and got off, even though my stop was further down. I just wanted to be in the city and to take some photos. I walked for about 2 miles to get to the Guggenheim. The gallery is unbelievable! There is a Picasso, a lot of Max Ernst, an entire room of Jackson Pollock, a Dali, Chagall, etc. If you are ever in Venice, it might be something you overlook, because why would an American go see American art is Venice.......but don’t! Believe me, you can only look at so many "Madonna and Child" paintings and stay sane, and this is a great diversion, and really one of the best museums I have been in. It is just the right size also......not so overwhelming!

After visiting the museum, I went through San Marco Piazza and sat down at one of the outdoor cafes and drank prosecco (Italian champagne) and listened to one of the bands that plays classical music on the Piazza. The piazza was crowded, and it was a beautiful day. By this time, is was already 6:00, and I decide to visit a restaurant I had heard about that specializes in fish. I have been craving fish since living in Florence. Florence is land locked (except for the river, which you would not want to eat out of) and they eat a lot of meat, but not much fish. This was the perfect opportunity to get a fix. The restaurant is called Al Conte Pescaor, and is located down a little street, and pretty hard to find. Venice is very easy to get lost in, but thankfully it is small, so you can’t get lost to badly. I found the restaurant, the menu looked fabulous, and I ordered octopus salad (Insalata polpiti) and Branzino Griglia con asparagi. (Grilled Sea Bass with asparagus). It was fabulous and there was an outside dining area, where I could continue to people watch.

All day long, I had been speaking Italian to people and doing pretty well. Being out and having conversations with people is the real test, so I think I will focus more on that than the tests in my classroom! Anyway, people actually thought I could speak Italian! They responded back to me, and most of the time, I could understand them. Progress!

Dinners in Italy take a long time, but because it was early, I finished in an hour and had plenty of time to get to the station for my train. I got to the station at 8:15 for an 8:44 departure. I pulled my ticket out of my bag, and then it struck me! Right there as plain as day, the ticket I had changed was from Florence to Venice, not from Venice to Florence. The ticket that I had from Venice to Florence was there, but that train had already left. I rushed over to the ticket machine to change the ticket for a departure from Venice, but there were no more trains departing Venice tonight! Great! That will damage my budget!

Thankfully, there are hotel booking agents in the train stations, which make it very convenient. I went ahead and changed my train ticket for Monday morning, and went into the office to secure a hotel room. The booking office was a madhouse. Just as I came in, the woman working there said there were no more double rooms in Florence because of the holiday, and the rooms she had were ½ hour train ride away. I thought that would be fine, and since I had no alternative, waited in line. When it was my turn, I told her I wanted a single room, and she was able to secure one in Venice. It was in the area of the Peggy Guggenheim, and cost $100 euro per night for a 2 star, single room. I took the room, and expected the worst. Hotels in Italy are small, and usually old, and not what we are accustomed to anyway. I had never stayed in a 2 star, but what the heck? I got back on the vaporetta and made my way down the canal.
The woman in the office had given me directions to the hotel, and said that if I wasn’t there in two hours, that they would give away the room. Venice is not big, but as I said it is easy to get lost, so two hours could easily be pushing it. It was a 40 minute ride in the boat down the canal at that time of night (9:30 p.m.) Nightlife just beginning.

The area where the hotel was located was absolutely beautiful. It is a residential area, very quiet, and near the Accademia and the galleries. There are beautiful homes and gardens there and even at night it was gorgeous. I found the hotel easily enough, and was very pleasantly surprised! I don’t know why it is rated as a two star, because it is much nicer than some places I have stayed. Anyway, I checked in, put my bag and jacket in my room, and then went back to the bar for a glass of wine. (Surprise!)

At this point, I am pretty happy. I have had a nice day, good entertainment, good weather, great food, and good luck with the hotel, so aside from being out a little more money than I expected, everything is good.

The next morning, I get up early, head to the station (take a lot of photos along the way) and wait for my train which is to leave at 8:45 a.m. and arrive in Florence at 11:30. When you are at the station, they post the track that the train will depart from about ½ hour before departure. At 8:20, there was no sign of my train on the postings, so I went to ask about it.

The ticket agent looked at my ticket and told me that the train I had booked left from the other Venice train station, and that I had to take the regional train there, but that I wouldn’t make it in time. Great! Here I am luck with these train tickets! I had to purchase another return ticket (this one could not be changed for some reason) for 37 euro, and change trains 3 times to get back to Florence at 1:00 p.m.! Ok, what else?

I board the train in Venice San Lucia, went to Venice Mestre, traveled from there to Bologna, and changed trains in Bologna to get to Florence. One thing that is odd about Italian trains, is that you have to know the routes. For example, the train that I got on in Bologna said that it was going to Napoli, and said nothing about Florence. There is a train number on the ticket, but they do not post them with those numbers which would be helpful. I started asking questions when I got to Bologna and didn’t see the Florence train, so that I was instructed to the Napoli train.

So, everyday is an adventure and out of every mishap, you can learn a few things. Here’s what I learned:

1. Book your ticket ahead of time on the internet if you can.
2. Pay attention to the stations in cities that have more than one train station
3. Get a train route map so that you know what the "end of the line" is.
4. You can get by wearing the same clothes for two days.
5. You can live without a comb and toothpaste.
6. If you laugh and learn and go with the flow, everything will turn out okay.
Oh yeah, when I got to the station, and ate breakfast, I really wanted to brush my teeth, but couldn’t find anywhere to buy a toothbrush so I opted for gum out of a vending machine instead. I had just enough change to put into the machine, and I put it in and pressed the button. The gum got hung in the machine! That was my laughing point.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Really liked this blog...felt like I was there. Thanks and keep it up.