Not Every Day is a Good Day

When you are travelling, it’s not always fun and games.  Yes, I know – you aren’t working and you’re living it up in cities around the world, how can it not always be a good day?

Well, let’s just say there can be tough days.

Like the day we left Venice.  We began trailing our suitcases down towards the waterfront, when a local bar owner stopped us.  “There are no boats today”, he said.  We looked at him, not exactly comprehending what he was saying.  “There are no boats,” he repeated, “there is a special race on the water and there are no other boats running”.  But how do we get to the train station? I ask.  “You will have to walk, there is no other way”.  Great.  Now I don’t have any problem walking, and in fact the walk wouldn’t have taken that long, but we had a backpack each and two large suitcases which we would have to guide up and down all the canal bridge stairways from San Marco to the train station and of course I was helping Mum to carry her suitcase up the stairs also.

It wasn’t a joyous start to the day, and when a tourist walked right across and stood in front of me to take photos while I was trying to lug my suitcase up the stairs, I lost my composure.  Are you kidding me right now?  I asked her.  “Why don’t you carry your suitcase a different way, it might be easier” she dared to say to me.  Because I am also carrying my mothers suitcase up and down all these stairs and this is the easiest way for me because I am starting to tire, I said, as if I had to explain myself.  Why couldn’t this rude, selfish woman just move out of the way?

Anyway, we finally made it to the train station, albeit tired, hot and a bit mad.  We managed to buy a ticket and find a train that was going to the next station in Venice (a task in itself) and settled in to ride the next two stops.

Arriving at Venice Mestro, we had some time to fill in before our train to Florence, so we headed out of the station and across the road to find some lunch.  We sat at a cafe, where we were served the most horrid meal but the most sour-faced, nasty waitress I’ve just about ever come across.

Time to board the train – just about every platform at the station had a lift from the ground floor up to the platform – except ours, so once more I lugged both suitcases up the stairs.

Our train eventually came and we boarded, but the luggage racks were all full already, so I tied the two together and left them in the passageway behind us, checking every now and again to make sure they weren’t in anyone’s way.

Finally, an inspector came along and said I had to move the bags – fair enough, but I said to him where shall I put them, there is no room.  He pointed to a small space left on the luggage racks high above our head and said “Put it there, or wherever, I don’t care”.  But I can’t lift them, they are too heavy!  “I don’t care, not my problem”.he said.

Soon a couple of the male passengers started talking in rapid Italian – I thought, great, they are thinking what a stupid Australian, not putting her luggage in the right place – I struggled to lift one suitcase onto the high railing, but of course, it could not fit, so I was obviously just going to have to stand there and hold it up for the entire trip.

But it turns out the Italian gentlemen couldn’t believe how rude the attendant had been and they began discussing how we could accommodate the bags.  They kindly helped me lift down the suitcase on the high luggage rack to a vacant chair after checking with the person sitting next to it and I had to lob the other one on top of a bunch of other suitcases, which no doubt enthralled the owner of those cases.

One of the Italian gentlemen begged us not to think of all Italians as being so rude and chatted to us on and off throughout the trip, even helping us down off the train with our bags once we arrived in Florence.  Some faith restored.

With a few minor hassles and some more rude Italian attitude, we finally got ourselves on to the tramvia and arrived at our hotel, only to lug our suitcases up another five flights of stairs.

Tomorrow will surely be a better day.

The Artisans of Venice

The outlook for today is miserable.  The note at the reception desk says thunderstorms and rain all day long with zero hours of daylight (I admit I was sceptical at the zero hours of daylight bit).  Great day for sightseeing, especially via boat, island hopping style.  NOT.

However, stepping our way outside the hotel, there isn’t any rain in sight yet, so we start navigating our way through the alley ways of Venice, until we come to our waterbus stop to make our way to the first of the islands – Murano – where the famous Murano glass is made.  When you arrive at Murano, you’ll notice there’s a number of glass factories where you can see glass blowing demonstrations – we turned left off the boat at the Coronna stop and kept going as far as you could to a pinky red coloured building to see their demo for no other reason than we could see lots of people lined up outside.  They weren’t very pushy and just suggested that you could kindly leave a tip for a beer or coffee for the glass blower on your way out or stop by the shop if you felt like it.

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Original Murano glass, handblown by authentic glass masters, is generally VERY expensive so you need to check around to make sure you are getting good value.  There is a huge difference in the quality and style of the works between shop to shop and obviously the more modern amazing pieces are set at a higher price, but justifiably so.

I’m not wiling to part with much, although if this was my last stop there would have been a few pieces I would have gladly paid big bucks for, so my treasure to take home is this little horse…

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Burano is the island best know for its brightly coloured homes.

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Oh, and its lace.  Sadly, very little original handmade Burano lace is available nowadays, and it is generally very expensive.  Much of the lace on sale in the shops on Burano is machine made lace imported from abroad (think the People’s Republic of China).

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We manage to find a shop that at least has a working lacemaker in it and which it turns out has been visited by Elton John (who owns a property along the Grand Canal).  Here, we buy a few pieces doing our bit to support the local economy, before boarding the waterbus back to the mainland.

It’s fun finding our way home through really quiet streets, devoid of tourists for a change (I know I am one, but I mean to say the groups of day trippers and tour groups that plague the streets every five minutes in the most popular parts of town).  Quiet and different from other parts of town, this is really enjoyable.

Another thing thing that is really enjoyable is our final night dinner, which we decide to take in at a local cichetti bar.  Cichetti is Spain’s answer to tapas or pinxos – small pieces of food.  With cichettti, you choose from the selection of warm food first, before finishing off with any number of cold dishes, all washed down with your selection of red, white or sparkling wine.  Our cichetti bar is small and locals seem to pop by for an evening drink before moving on.  It’s really lovely and a great experience to end our trip with.

Our evening ends as it was supposed to being – with thunderstorms (massive booms of lightning louder than I’ve ever heard in my life) and constant drizzling rain, but it doesn’t matter cause we are tucked up in bed watching Eurovision LIVE for the first time.

Tomorrow – we hit Florence!

Who Let the Doge Out?

Aside from being the home of Marco Polo, Venice was also the birthplace of a couple of other history greats.

Giacomo Casanova, one of the most famous lovers in history – in fact so famous that his name is now defined in urban dictionary as ‘a smooth-talking charmer who has mastered the art of finding, meeting, attracting and seducing beautiful women into the bedroom’ – was born in Venice in 1725.

He was a clever fellow, despite his poor childhood and ‘theatre parents’ and under the watchful gaze of his grandmother he entered the University of Padua at the age of 12, graduating with a law degree.

Not long after he began his career of debauchery, among other things.  He found his passion in life when he had an affair with a 16 year old girl and her 14 year old sister…ahem….at the same time.  Years later he was to meet one of the sisters again (in the bedroom) along with her daughter, who just happened to be his daughter…confused?

He was a womanizer, a scam artist, alchemist, spy, church cleric, a prisoner…..the list goes on.  But that’s what makes his story so intriguing.

Whilst working as a church cleric, his gambling debts landed him in prison.  After this, he tried his hand at military life, which was short lived when he discovered it be incredibly boring.  No worries, he became a violinist.  He started tawdry affairs with everyone from married women to nuns and virgins.  After escaping from prison once more, he fled to Paris where he pretended to be a 300 year alchemist who could create diamonds from scratch.  Given his ability to lie with a straight face, he was pegged for a short lived career as a spy.  He became a wealthy man for selling state bonds in Amsterdam, but lost it all spending his fortune on his lovers.

Casanova’s schemes worsened and worse they got, the broker he got.  He ended up duelling with a colonel in Warsaw over an Italian actress.  He returned to Venice in 1774, but after writing a vicious satire of Venetian nobility, he got kicked out once more.  Casanova died aged 73, after being seized by Napoleon Bonaparte.

And one place you could be almost sure to run into Cassanova back in the day was Caffe Florian.  Caffe Florian jointly holds the title of the world’s oldest café with a cafe in Paris.  It was the only café that admitted women at the time, so it’s no surprise to find out that Casanova spent a fair bit of time hanging around here.

It’s sprinkling on and off today, so we head for an inside activity by visiting the Doge’s Palace in San Marco.  A doge was the most senior elected official of Venice and his palace was not only his home, but housed many of the various government offices.  We weren’t really expecting this visit to be very exciting – the building from the outside is quite lovely, and the grounds inside have nice architecture (in particular there were some wonderful old columns that used to feature at the front of the palace)….

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…but it’s not until you go up the stairs and inside the actual palace buildings that you begin to wonder where the hell you are and how you got transported back to this brilliant period in time…

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There was also the Prison and the Bridge of Sighs – not named as I thought because of its astonishing beauty, but because it was a bridge through which prisoners saw their last glimpse of freedom.  We ended up really, really enjoying our visit to the Doge’s Palace and thought it was well worth the €18 entrance fee.

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They say that wet, rainy cities spawn great musicians.  Like Andy Wood was to Seattle, so was Vivaldi to the Venetian classical music scene.  A true showman, but with loads of pure talent, he loved nothing better than to show off his fiddling (so to speak).  It’s surprising then, that there’s not a single statue to commemorate Vivaldi in Venice.  There is one way to celebrate the life and times of Vivaldi whilst in Venice though, and that’s to see a classical concert.

There are several on at any one time.  Tonight, we venture up the stairs of the Scuola Grande di San Teodoro to hear a performance of Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’, as well as Pachelbel’s Canone.  Performed by I Musici Veneziani complete with period costumes, it’s a nice way to spend a few hours in this city, which becomes so much quieter once the day trippers and cruise boat groups leave.  We had a wonderful evening listening to some incredible music.

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Did I mention how exciting it is to visit these places where such amazing historical figures blazed their trails and wrote their fortunes?  So exciting.

The Tourist

Ever since I watched ‘The Tourist’ starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, I thought it would be cool to ‘arrive’ in Venice via water taxi.  Speeding along, the wind and water spray in your hair….

So after two flights, one from Nice to Lyon and then onwards from Lyon to Venice, we are boarding the orange line Alilaguna boat (not at all like Johnny’s transfer) to the Rialto stop and dragging our suitcases up and down the many stairways over the canals, and navigating the twisting turning alleyways towards our Venetian hotel.

For our time in Venice, we are staying in Locanda Ca’Amadi – a building that dates from the 13th century and was the house of Marco Polo between the 13th and 14th centuries.  Marco’s family apparently owned several buildings in town.  In fact the balcony that overlooks the canal from the breakfast room of our hotel dates back to the 13th century, as its delicate state proves.

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During the 15th century, the palace was the residence of Count Francesco Amadi (hence the name) – a family of merchants who had great prestige in Venice and included important members of the political and clerical life of Venice.

History never ceases to amaze me and the more I travel and explore, the more amazed I become.

So who was Marco Polo?  He was the son of Matteo Polo, himself an explorer.  In 1260 Matteo and his brother Niccolo had sailed from Venice to the near east, ending up in northern China.  They met the Mongol Emperor Kublai Khan, who was very curious about their homeland, asking them all sorts of questions.  He gave them a message for the Pop to send 100 Christian priests to China.  Unfortunately the Pope died before they got home and they had to wait almost two years to give the message to the new Pope.

At the age of 18, Marco left on a voyage with his father and uncle, where they discovered interesting things such as ‘a peculiar kind of spring that spat out a black, oily liquid’ (oil). People used it to smear onto rashes and for curing ulcers on animals.  They used sign language to communicate and ask directions.

Meeting back up with Matteo and Niccolo’s friend the Khan, Marco became the Kublai’s attendant, returning with him to Beijing. The Great Khan sent him to different parts of his empire to investigate and report on conditions.  He even followed the Khan onto the battlefield in Manchuria.

After 17 years, he became homesick, and in 1293 the three sailed back to Venice to find it at war with Genoa.  Marco somehow landed himself in prison, where he dictated his story to a cellmate, a romance author who later released the story to great acclaim.  Upon his release, he became a wealthy merchant, marrying and living happily with his wife and three children.

It would seem Marco became more of a household name than his father simply because of his luck in landing himself in prison – he had no intention of writing about his travels.

We will start to explore Venice tomorrow, but for this evening – a nice pasta in front of the Rialto Bridge is in store.

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