Giddy Up Europe

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Thursday, September 22, 2005

Venice and Verona, August 17 - 23


After my trek out to the north of Spain on the Camino de Santiago, I returned to Madrid (my European hub) for a few nights to eat a little hardier, meet some more backpackers, and go out on the town a little bit. I hung out there until I had to catch my flight to Venice to meet Tubes and his family, twins included.

So I had booked a campsite outside Venice for five nights, which was the cheapest I could find. Technically, I was there for six nights, but because my flight landed around midnight, I decided I might try to sleep in the airport until the next day. Well, there were no more flights arriving in the terminal and I didn't know how appropriate it would be if I was the only one there, so I headed to my campsite. I must say that the campsite was decent, but rather pricey (only two or so euros cheaper than well-loacated hostels in Spain). It did have a nice pool, bar, restaurant, pub, and market, but they were kind of monopolizing since you could only come back to the campsite by cab after about 23:30. But there were mostly English people there and at night, the pub had all the young people head over and the bartenders would get all the girls to dance on the tables. There was even a kebab stand open right next door. Kind of nuts.


Well, the next day after a dip in the pool, I took the shuttle into Venezia and started walking around. It's pretty sweet riding the shuttle because there's a causeway to the island of Venice and you immediately see a change of age and style. After getting dropped off at Piazza Roma (the bus terminal), you'll quickly notice that Venice is different from all other major European and maybe all cities because of its canals. Even though there are canals in Amsterdam, Venice does not allow for any cars, mopeds, or even bicylcles. This makes the city very quiet and everywhere you turn, there's another tourist. There's an intricate canal system and small bridges over the small ones. But the Great Canal spans pretty wide and there are only three places to cross by foot. This is a shot of the Ponte di Rialto, which is basically like the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, but much more grand. It's large and there are tons of shops along it. It's one of the only things I remember even hearing about in Venice, where in the Renaissance, merchants would come to trade and discuss ideas.


Well, here I am now on the Rialto bridge overlooking the Grand Canal also called Canalazzo. People say that Venice is one of the most romantic places and it really is pretty nice, especially at night. But beware the prices because it's definitely one of the most pricey in Europe and it becomes dead in certain areas at night, which may or may not be to your liking, depending on your mood. This is because there are so many tourists in Venice. You will almost never see true Venetians (there are only 60,000 left in the city) which is extremely low for a major tourist city. This, therefore, drives prices way up.


Here's a pretty nice shot at a canal with a gondola rolling through. There seem to be pretty typical routes that the gondola tours go through and to be sure, they are expensive. Save the money for your honeymoon, kids!


In the winding streets, you can make it to Piazza San Marco, the only piazza in Venice, but arguably the most grand in all of Europe. All other squares in Venice are called campos. The winding streets are difficult to navigate, also the street names are the same in different neighborhoods. But the city itself is relatively small, so if you are there for a couple days and simply wander around to get a feel for the city, you'll gain a sense of what is where. But once you make it to the piazza, you'll see the Basilica di San Marco, which is ornate on the outside. The mosaic exterior has kept very well and looks so much brighter and sparkling than other forms of decoration.


Right next door is the Palazzo Ducale, where the duke lived back in the day. Venice had a different system of government and the duke was not all powerful, in fact, his life was very guarded by different councils. The palace is pretty sweet inside, and if you get to the room with Bosch works, you'll find air conditioning and a super cute, tall, short-haired brunette, Italian, female museum attendant with a great smile. Good times.


Ever see Miss Congeniality? Well there's a guy who was making some water glass music. It looked cool, but I didn't try to figure out how that stuff actually works. Ya heard?


You might end up seeing a gonola canal jam once in a while. All the gondolas were piled up in the canal when this motor boat tried to get by. Maybe it would've helped if one of the gondola drivers wasn't too busy on his iPod. The tourists had a good laugh about this, but there was still a huge wait by one of the gondola stations.


In San Marco, you might find that there are ridiculous amounts of pigeons and there are carts that sell bird feed. So it's pretty bad and for some reason, everyone and their mother thinks it's the coolest thing to feed pigeons. Personally, I think it's pretty disgusting and you should too. Pigeons are scavangers and probably couldn't survive without humans feeding them all the time. My idea was to come up with pigeon hunters, who would be hired by historic buildings, and they would patrol the buildings and without harming the facades, capture pigeons. They could then sell these piegons to cart vendors outside, who could make different types fried or roasted or whatever pigeon. No shit on the statues, the vendors still make money, and the tourists still think they can get a local delicacy, hunted pigeon. I should be a billionaire.


In the lagoon right beyond the Piazza San Marco, you might find cruiseships rolling through, like this one, the Grand Princess. Yeah, it's kind of a big boat.


Inside the Palazzo Ducale, you might also find an armory section and this, a chastity belt. It's really quite terrible when you think about it. Unless you're into that sort of thing.


And from one of the balconies within the Palazzo Ducale, you can get a pretty decent shot of some of the square. This balcony is right from a room, which is right next to the largest assembly room in Europe. In it's time, it held over 2000 delegates when the duke called for a session.


Still within the Palazzo, you can peer out at an island out in the distance, where San Giorgio Maggiore lies. But better yet, tourists on a bridge!


Everyone needs a break once in a while, including gondola drivers. This is them in the morning playing some cards before the tourists start piling in.


I finally met Tubes and his family at their hotel, which was much nicer than my campsite, and went around with them and him for a while to see the sites. But Tubes insisted on heading to a bar or eight to grab some drinks and chips. A waiter trying to get us sit down at his place even told Tubes he was going to get these two blond chicks (I mean, female persons) to have a couple drinks with us. Tubes, naturally, declined, because he gets too much of that anyway. I've seen it. The kid is baller status.


It rained and was overcast most of the time when Tubes and the family was here, but still he and I headed up the Campanile to check out the view of the city. You can see pretty far and it's a little expensive, but worth it. This is the shot of the Piazza San Marco from above. While you can see far around, the narrow Venetian streets don't allow you to see any of the canals, even the Canalazzo.


You might also want to time your trip up the Campanile if you don't want to be there when the bells chime. There are several on the observation area and this is just one. The original Campanile spontaneously collapsed in the beginning of the 20th century after hundreds of years and the one that now stands was constructed on the original plans.


You can also look out to the lagoon, which is pretty tight. It's a fairly serene thing to look out at and you can stay up on the top for a while just checking out the view.


Here's Tubes finally taking some pictures of his trip. Sporting the Michigan gear, he's a true journeyman with the roll to boot.


More bells while we were waiting for the elevator down. Tubular Tubes.


With the Galopin family, we headed to a Murano glass blowing store, and got to see a master blower. Yeah, that might not be his technical job title, but it was pretty cool watching him make a vase. Venice has lots of sand, making glass products an important export back in the day. The same abundance of sand, however, means that Venice might be sinking, due to the building weight that has been piled on it.


Here are some of the finished products that sell for quite a lot, most pieces are priced at several thousand euros, which is more in dollars. If you buy Murano glass, be sure that it has the appropriate seal on it.


There is this little fountain near the Piazza San Marco with a simple floor-level bubbling jet that the pigeons loved by putting their tails over it. One in particular was trying to keep it to itself. I mean, this pigeon bidet is a great way for pigeon hunters to continually catch selfish pigeons. Fantastic!


So on the final night where the Galopins were with us, we ended up playing Euchre and drinking some wine by the Grand Canal. I had to catch my shuttle back to the campsite, but I played two games with Courtney against Tubes and Marty. Obviously, Courtney and I make a great team because we kicked their asses both times!


The next day I took a day trip to Verona, which is only a short ride from Venice by train. Heading to the center of town, you'll see the Arena, which is nice, but not so impressive when you've been to Rome. The square that it sits in is really nice, though and a good place to grab some food.


I was pretty amazed when I saw a guy who had been on the Camino de Santiago walking around in Verona. You can tell because he had a shirt that many pilgrims end up buying, which is blue and has a yellow arrow on it. The arrow is something pilgrims become accustomed to because they see it every hundred or so meters. They're everywhere and so are those who have made the journey.


In Verona, you will obviously have to visit the Casa di Giulietta and check out the famous balcony described in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. The story was slightly modified, but there was two families where the storyline was probably derived.


Entering the house is pretty extensive and there's a sweet courtyard below, where many people stay because they don't want to pay to enter. But the ivy around the courtyard is pretty awesome and it's definitely one of the main tourist spots in Verona.


Many a couple come to the balcony to kiss and be romantic and all that stuff, especially getting good photo documentation. I took a simple self-taken photo, where I'm sure I'm in the background of at least a few random tourists Verona memories. Girls are dorks, anyway.


Below, in the courtyard, you might see everyone surrounding this statue of Giulietta and trying to take a photo with her. Her right boob is pretty shiny because everyone for some reason grabs it, just like John Harvard's boot at the famous university. Adults, children, and elders alike participate in the fondling. It's really quite kinky, if you ask me.


Heading away from the city and crossing the Fiume Adige (the river running through Verona), you can get a pretty good view of the city, although there are some huge trees placed in the way. It's quite peaceful and there are couple great restaurants hidden in the hillside on the way to the Teatro Romano.


Here's a shot of the Duomo from across the river and through the trees. I ended up walking by, but not walking into most of the cathedrals because of the couple euro entrance fees. C'est la vie.


I also headed by the Casa di Romeo, which is now privately owned, so no one can enter it. It's not too far from the Casa di Giulietta and all you really get to do is walk by and read a plaque.


A little further away is the Tomba di Giulietta, where she and Romeo are supposed to have died according to the story. It's okay, but definitely not as exciting or well-traveled as the Casa di Giulietta.


I headed back to Venice after spending most of the day walking around Venice, including getting approached by a Jehovah's Witness who thought I worked at an Asian restaurant across the street and began talking to me in Chinese. Even after I told her I was American, she complimented my English speaking skills, which immediately made me tune her out. Anyway, here's San Marco at night. I was playing with my camera settings, therefore objects may appear brighter than they are.


Such is the case in thie shot of San Marco. Lights!


And the Campanile at night. Too bad it had still been raining because more people would have been around.


Remember that shot at the top with a typical gondola ride? Here's the canal at night.


Finally, here's one last shot of the view from the Rialto bridge at night. Tons of good, but expensive eating. Save your money, kids! And once again, I would be back in Madrid at the same time the next day.

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