Venice, Italy. D-Day plus 21

by - September 17, 2010

Venice, the last of the Overlord cities, was designed to be a bit of a treat to round off.  None of the four of us had ever been there before and it is a city that generates so much hype that it would be impossible to miss it out on any tour in the vicinity.  The journey from Ljubljana was interesting - four trains, a bus and a walk across the border, taking just over 6 hours in total.  This was perhaps our most complicated journey, but a particularly apt way to finish our time on the railways.

Arrival at Santa Lucia station in Venice is an experience in itself, as we travelled to it across a bridge over open water.  Upon exiting the station we were thrust immediately into the unique feel of the city, with the Grand Canal, and one of the only three bridges that traverses it, directly in front.  Our hostel was a five minute walk away from the station.  It was nothing special, but it soon became evident that in Italy’s most expensive city, even the distinctly average is extortionately priced.  After dumping our bags in our room, we headed out for our evening meal.  I have to be honest, that I was more alert when searching for somewhere to eat that in any other city.  It was clear that everyone was just trying to rip you off - restaurants with menus that were more expensive that they advertised outside, people standing outside trying to lure you in, an array of hidden service charges and just a general feel that no matter how hard you tried to act to the contrary, you were going to end up being a sucker.  We settled on a restaurant down a side street and had a selection of Italian dishes.  Daniel started on his great pizza crusade that would see him eat nothing else until England.

After the meal, we decided that we would follow another lonely planet suggestion and get lost.  We had no map and the warren of side streets and alleys meant that in no time we had no idea where we were.  We remained this way for several hours, though it was a nice night and we didn’t feel at all worried or threatened.  Eventually deciding that it would be unwise to get TOO lost Het asked a local for directions back to the station and within an hour or so we were back at the hostel, via a quick stop off for me to watch the highlights of the Man United match in a bar.

The next morning Het got up early due to over excitement and had seen two churches before the other three of us got up.  The first place that we went was the San Geremia church which was the namesake of our hostel and the square that they were both situated in.  This church included what Het called a “shrivelled saint”.  I don’t know if this is a technical term, but it was, rather grotesquely, the shrivelled corpse of the saint who the church was named after.  Apparently there are a lot of these in Venice - having seen three of John the Baptist’s hands this year on my travels, I have to admit I was slightly sceptical.  From there we headed for the station and the terminal for all of the waterbuses.  A lot of people who had been to the city before told us that the best way to see the Grand Canal, and therefore the core of the city was on a ‘bus’. Unfortunately a lot of other tourists had obviously been given the same advice and we were packed into the bus to the point where people couldn’t get off at the stops they wanted.  We didn’t have this problem however as most of us were heading for the same place - Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square) which I would guess is one of the most famous tourist attractions in the world.

We approached the square from the canal and amazingly found that there was no scaffolding. Eager to make the most of this before the builders turned up, we headed up the Campanile (Bell Tower) for views across the city.  This was fairly epic - the skyline and surroundings of Venice are so unlike anything anywhere else in the world.  It is a city that defies any kind of logic and I guess that is its charm.  We managed to time the climb to coincide perfectly with the ringing of the bells at midday.  We watched in horror as the bell slowly started up no more than a metre above our heads and had to put our fingers in our ears for the minute or so that the ringing lasted.  Quite an experience, but gave a headache.  The next stop was the Ponte del Sospiri (the Bridge of Sighs) and it was here that the builders had moved in - perhaps in the most amusing piece of scaffolding on the trip, we found that they had left a tiny bit left showing as a “taster”. Sigh.  It was at this point that Het went off to the Accademia, Venice’s world famous gallery, and Ellie, Daniel and I realised that we didn’t know what else Venice was famous for.  We went for lunch and then came to the conclusion that unless you were an art buff, there isn’t a lot to look at beyond the canals and St. Marks.  I think it is similar to Amsterdam in that it is the city itself that is the attraction, rather than any particular sites.  We spent the afternoon vaguely wandering around the city, going back to the hostel to catch up on the blog and get ready for dinner.

As it was our last dinner of the trip, we decided that we would just go for somewhere nice, regardless of price.  The food was very good, but it meant that my entire budget for the day had been spent on food.  Perhaps appropriately therefore our most costly day had been the last one.  To give an indication of just how much things were overpriced, the legendary litre beers that we had enjoyed in Munich for €6.50 cost a massive €12.00 in Venice.  Daniel and I couldn’t resist however and we introduced Ellie to what is definitely a major event in a person’s life. 

The next morning we got up and left the hostel at 10, knowing that we had 8 hours before we had to head to the airport.  Our first stop was the station to check out our link with the airport, and after this we found somewhere for a kind of all day lunch.  We settled on a pizzeria which had “maxi” pizzas.  These were so incredibly epic that we had our photos taken with them.  We were able to spend several hours in the garden of this restaurant finishing off the massive pizzas and in doing so completely wearing ourselves out.  Once we had finished and recovered a bit we headed for the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa del Frari.  I had read about this church in the lonely planet and Het was very keen on going there.  I figured that it would be a crime not to properly visit one of Venice’s major churches, though Het very nearly refused me entry after I pronounced Titian (whose most famous painting is found here) with two hard ts.  I have to say that as a complete Philistine when it comes to art, I was quite impressed by the inside of this church.  It included a lot of ornate tombs (including Titian’s) and some epic paintings.  I think I vaguely remember reading that the largest oil painting of all time is found there, but I didn’t see anything confirming this.

We now had a few hours before our bus to the airport left, so we went for one more stroll around the city, ending up at its most northern edge overlooking the expanse of water which surrounds it.  This was in the less touristy Castello district and it was nice to see what Venice was like without masses of people being around.  The major site was the church where most of the Doges (Kings) of Venice were buried.  I had the embarrassing experience of partially slipping into a canal when Het asked me to see how cold it was.  The steps were ridiculously slippery and I got water up to my shins.  As with most anecdotes it was greated with a “that can go on the blog”.  After our last drink of the trip we headed back to the hostel to pick up our bags and then went on to the airport.  As we were flying Ryanair we had to go to “Venice Treviso” which is a long way out of time.  It is a really horrible pokey little airport and was full of a lot of grumpy British people as most of the flights were delayed.  After a delay, a lot of standing, a scary aborted take off and more turbulence that I had ever experienced, we were airborne and on our way home, 22 days after the trip had begun.  Venice was definitely worth a visit, but in the grand scheme of the trip, it has stolen a lot of limelight from some other European gems.  We landed at about midnight GMT and made our way back to see our families.

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