Sunday, 27 April 2014

Venice, Day Three

Venice, Italy

Bus story #1: Traveling in to Venice on our third day, we struck up conversation with a Swiss man who spoke five languages, including English to a high standard. He was vacationing for ten days, as he did every year. He had been to Venice before several times, and declared it to be good. 

Bus story #2: Lady on the water bus. Didn't buy a ticket or tickets for all her friends. The ticket inspector fined her €59 per person (and she had a lot of friends) for this oversight. As we alighted at our stop they were still in a heated argument. 

Church. The lady sitting on the steps didn't move the whole time we were there. She was real, though, unless she was a very lifelike robot. Convinced me. 

Waiting for Yannick to take a photograph of the above church. 

Lots of bedsheets. And how cool would it be to walk over this little bridge into your house? We happened to look at properties to rent in Venice, and were surprised to find that a loft apartment would be cheaper to rent than our flat in Wellington. Time to move to Venice! 

More bedsheets! This time high up. How did they get there? If they blew off in the wind you couldn't just chase them across the lawn and pop them back up. I wonder how many Venetians have lost their pants this way. 

The ghetto. The Jewish community was once restricted to this part of Venice. As it was a confined area and the population grew, they had to build higher and higher rather than outwards. Many buildings in the ghetto rise to five storeys. This picture shows a synagogue in one of these rickety buildings. Innovative. 

More pigeons bathing - this time with photographic evidence.

A tiny patch of grass! You have no idea how excited I was to see grass. Obviously there was grass at the campground, but I had seen absolutely none in Venice's historic centre.
While we sat on a bench here and tried to find out where to go next, I watched as a young boy walked his puppy. He was having some difficulty. It seemed that the puppy did not want to go for a walk. Eventually, after much pleading, the boy simply picked up the dog, but there was much whining and he had to put him down again. The boy sat sullenly on a bench, and the puppy sat sadly at his feet. I don't know why the puppy was sad.

Dozens of white statues looked down from this church. What we didn't catch in the photo were the Nordic walkers who wore bright colours and had mountaineering poles. Apparently they were on a treasure hunt as part of the annual carnival. Didn't know there was a carnival on at the time, although there were certainly hoards of crazy Nords.  

Burano. We took a fifty minute water bus ride to this little island known for its brightly painted buildings. 

It was a vibrant contrast to the main island. We had lunch here: more pizza. Near us was an Asian couple - she kept taking selfies and trying to pull him into the shot, but he seemed disinterested, as though this was a constant undertaking. 

The Leaning Tower of Burano.

As Pompeii has its funny shaped ambulance tractor with tall thin wheels, Venice has ambulance boats! 

For our last meal in Venice, we went in search of a restaurant. Our first choice was full up, so we found our second choice a little further down the bank. Initially it looked full as well, but then the server asked us if we would mind sitting outside. She took us to an outdoor courtyard by a canal, lit by candlelight. I had the carpaccio followed by pasta and veal. As we were sitting and enjoying our memories of the last three days in this place, digesting, a cockney man sitting behind us asked for vanilla ice cream. He was unsatisfied when the server explained that they didn't have any and suggested pistachio as an alternative. 
We travelled back to our tent with our bellies full, determined to return again some day. Three days is not enough. 

Monday, 14 April 2014

Venice, Day Two

Venice, Italy 

Starting the day with a quick water bus ride to the Gallerie dell'Accademia, we peered intensely at many of Leonardo da Vinci's doodles and sketches. We had seen advertisements for this exhibition all around Venice and our visit to the city happened to coincide. Quite fortuitous really. Wandering from room to room, we were amazed that we were able to see so much of his work in one place. His sketches were mounted in glass panes, allowing us to view both sides. Leo worked quite messily; he had used up all the available space on some pages, scribbling images and notes. Also, Vitruvian Man! 
After spending so long in the da Vinci section of the museum, we were incredibly hungry, but food was verboten. We hid from the security guard in a stairwell and tried not to crinkle the wrappers as we ate our muesli bars. I think he saw me at one point, so I quickly crammed the half-eaten snack into my handbag. 

Finding a place for lunch wasn't difficult, but finding a seat in such a place was. We were told that they did have a table free, but it was in the back room. Thinking that it wouldn't be so bad as long as the food made up for it, we agreed. What we got was a little table next to all the wines. It had a cellary feel about it, and we didn't regret for a second not being able to sit outside. 

I found it so strange that buildings just dropped like a cliff into the water.

We went to see this crazy spiral staircase in a palazzo, but it was closed so we sneakily photographed it through the railings. 

The were several towers on a slightly worrying angle in Venice. 

We went in search of this one's base and ended up in this quiet dead-end canal. 

One church had posters outside advertising a musical exhibition. Upon entering, we discovered that it was filled with an array of old string instruments. It turns out that this was Vivaldi's favourite church.

In the distance you can see one of the huge cruise ships that were harboured here. The cruise ships are in fact a major problem for Venice because the wash they generate churns up the lagoon bed, causing erosion that is harmful to the city. 

The night ended with pizza al taglio for dinner from a tiny pizzeria that had a queue out the door. We ate on a park bench in the square, watching rowdy Italians throw around colourful glow sticks.

Venice, Day Three

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Venice, Day One

Venice, Italy 

For our first daylight exploration of Venezia, we took a water bus (like a zippy little ferry) down the Grand Canal to the Piazza San Marco - a large and opulent square. 

On one side, it was flanked by a long line of shops seen behind endless archways. And, as Venice is all at sea level, there were puddles, though none too deep. 

The Basilica San Marco is an enormous cathedral, filled with gold and jewels and, strangely, pieces of dead saints (including St Roch's femur, St Mark's thumb, and someone's shriveled hand). Lonely Planet told us that the Treasury also held a lock of the Madonna's hair, but when I asked the attendant, he said that wasn't the case. I wasn't particularly disappointed, but Lonely Planet lied to me. 

The architecture is eclectic, with onion bulb domes and a Greek cross layout. 

We took a walk around the neighboring streets of Piazza San Marco, and found a cafe just starting to serve lunch. I ordered pasta, and Yannick got calamari. We had a bit of a giggle about the overtly American guy sitting behind me (pictured above), who told the waitress "Gimme some of those shrimp things". 

Some eateries were clearly only targeting tourists, like this one. I suppose it caters to tourists wanting hot dogs (except Italian food is amazing, and who would rather have hot dogs), but toast?!

Before we even came to Venice, we knew we weren't going to go on a gondola ride. Beyond the fact that it was completely overpriced, we wanted to explore the backstreets and hidden canals off the main tourist circuit. Wandering around, getting lost in the alleyways felt like a much more authentic experience than being shepherded around in a corny boat ride. And the gondoliers charged extra for singing. Hehehe. 

We took turns carrying around the bottle of water. We did this everywhere we went, as it got very hot in a lot of places. The worst were Spain and Greece, but also Rome, where we had to buy bottles of frozen water from vendors. The ice would gradually melt, providing us with ice cold water surrounding a bottle-shaped ice cube. However, we became so thirsty and the ice melted so slowly that we would try to speed up the process. We would press our hot hands to the bottle, or shake it vigourously, draining any new drops we could get. 

Flooding would occur in Venice in the winter months, and these platforms were stacked up on the roads for when that happened. They would have to be laid out to make a raised platform to walk on, and then stacked back up once the flooding had subsided. Some of these were laid out in front of the Basilica San Marco, to keep the queuing tourists' feet dry. While we edged along the platforms, with elderly American couples ahead and behind us, we watched pigeons washing themselves. 

The Ponte di Rialto, the oldest bridge crossing the Grand Canal. As you can see by the people lined up on it, it provided a great view. It also had many vendors of roses, knock-off handbags, and squishy toys you throw at the ground that make surprised sounds. 

A nice wooden-paneled boat.

Return of the colourful hanging bedsheets!
This is what the majority of the smaller streets looked like in Venice. Narrow, with tall buildings on all sides, and a bit dusty. I'm glad I didn't see more dog poo, as I did see dogs being walked. But the streets were clean for the most part.

Bakeries on the island of Cannaregio sold these large biscuits, with an array of flavours. We were too full from dinner, otherwise we would have had one.

As we made our way back to the bus that evening, we were farewelled by a fleet of gondolas and the last rays of sunlight hitting the Venetian rooftops. 

Venice, Day Two

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Venice, Day 0.5

Venice, Italy

Before I can begin the post, I have to tell you that this was another place we had trouble getting to. There were major road works going on and our GPS got confused and kept telling us to go places we couldn't go. We knew we had to go in a certain direction, but there was a train track that blocked our way, so we had to keep driving and hoping that one of the ways across wasn't blocked off. The more we drove and the more our GPS was telling us to "turn left in 200 metres", the more we worried that we would enter a Zona Trafico Limitato. Those dread signs ringed in red that threatened to fine us - and what's worse, not even telling us how much we'd be fined, meaning it was probably hundreds or even thousands of euro. But eventually we did find a road over the tracks and arrived safely at our camp ground.

We planned to spend three full days in Venice, starting the next morning, but we were too excited to wait. Catching a bus into the historic centre of Venice (the canally part), we went in search of a restaurant.

The bus deposited us at the bus depot. Buses and cars could go no further, because of all the canals. It was a cloudy night, and the map we had didn't show the little streets accurately - if there was a street that zig-zagged, for instance, it would just be shown as a diagonal line. Lazy cartographers, if you ask me.

We walked through the alleyways and along the waterways. Though this will sound cliche, Venice was like nothing I've ever seen before. The whole feel of it was magical. 
Having no reservation, we had to wait for a little while before we could be seated at the restaurant we found, so we kept wandering. We saw several masquerade shops selling the decorative Venetian masks. My mind ran away with me, and I could imagine noble men and women of Olde in frilly clothes twirling their way down the streets, dancing and running and laughing, all masked. 
The food was good, but the elderly English couple next to us had ordered much too much. They offered that I eat some of it for them, but by then I was full up. Very kind of them, though. The couple on our other side (also English) were just there for a few days for their honeymoon. It must be nice to fly somewhere like Italy for the weekend, but in New Zealand it's just not practical. You spend almost as long on the plane getting there. 

There was a church every way you turned, and many were ornate and expensive looking. The night made the lighting dramatic and grandiose. The churches were marked on the map with a cross symbol, and there were over one hundred in the historic centre. 

I'd like to think that everybody had their own personal boat. You couldn't even use scooters or bikes in Venice because of all the bridges across the canals. As you can see, they arch over the water to allow boats to pass underneath, and because of this they have steps. Most of the bridges hadn't been replaced or new ones built for over a hundred years. 

Venetian graffito (singular form of 'graffiti').
Also broccolo. And spaghetto. Italian is awesome.

It was a cloudy night, and before catching a bus back to the camp ground, we stopped to take this picture. It was very late, and I was tired, but so excited for the morning so we could return.

Venice, Day One

Friday, 4 April 2014

Confetti, Surprisingly Edible

Pescocostanzo, Italy

This little town was said to be one of the most beautiful in Italy. The white cobblestoned streets and baskets of red flowers were very pleasant, and it was almost deserted. 

Except for this guy fixing his roof. 

Sulmona, Italy

When we first arrived, we walked down the main street and were confused by all the fake flower shops. They looked garish, all bright colours and shiny petals. We soon learned that this was 'confetti' - almonds covered in a sweet layer. These sweets were originally handed out at weddings, lending to the English use of the word confetti. They were also delicious. 

We explored the square at night after getting some gelato (by now you should be expecting every Italian post to contain some mention of gelato). The guy in our hotel recommended the place, and upon being asked what the name of it was, he said something like "I don't know, we just say it's Roberto and Stephania's place." The aqueduct was lit up and many old men were sitting on park benches discussing their days. 
Upon returning to our hotel, we ate more confetti. It's seriously good. 

Thursday, 3 April 2014


Saepinum, Italy

Finding the little ancient Roman town of Saepinum wasn't easy. For one thing, it wasn't even called Saepinum on road signs, as the modern town was named Altilia. At one point, the GPS told us to turn down a narrow dirt road that did not look like it had a tourist attraction at the end of it. There weren't many people around, but there was an old woman putting her rubbish into a large dumpster at the start of this road. We stopped, and asked "Saepinum?" She replied by pointing down the dirt road. 
We drove down it, and arrived at a place to park. Entering the ruins, many fenced off farm dogs barked at us angrily. Unlike better-known preserved Roman towns like Pompeii, Ostia Antica and Herculaneum, Saepinum was a derelict village that was gradually transformed into a farm over the centuries. It was a strange feeling, like we were trespassing. It wasn't at all touristy as we were expecting, and in fact, there was hardly anyone around at all, including locals. 

What used to be a temple. Someone stuck the pillars back up so that you can get a slight idea of what it might have been like.

It makes sense - if you want to build a barn and you come across what used to be wall made of stone, why not use it? You'd need fewer materials. Here was a grape vine that ran alongside one of the roads that led into the town. 

Some of the shops and houses were still discernible by the shapes the remaining walls formed and whatever was made of stone left in them. In this picture, I stand in the compluvium and look up wondering where the impluvium has got to. A long time ago, this grassy area with stones in it used to be 'indoors'. 

The central forum area where townspeople would congregate was still very much identifiable, as the paving stones survived. One part that amazed me was the guttering in the forum. (I'm clearly far too excited about drainage systems.) The stones that made up the gutter could still carry water away from the forum so that it did not flood - a two thousand year old gutter that still works! 

As in Pompeii, there were stepping stones over the road (which was also a clever drainage system in itself). Most of the stepping stones had gone, but one remained. I used my imagination. On the right of the picture, you can see a more modern farm house. These buildings are still in use to this day by the inhabitants of Altilia. 

And yet more drainage systems. A grate! For draining away water! From that well! And the rain! How exciting. And you might not be able to tell, but the grate did go somewhere. Under the grate was darkness. Meaning that it would still be functional. In draining away water! From the well!

There were four gates into Saepinum, one for each compass point. These hadn't survived so well, but had been reconstructed more recently.

No Roman town would be complete without an ampitheatre. And indeed, no Italian town; this ampitheatre is the only one in Altilia, and they still utilise it when they put on plays. This had also been reconstructed a bit, but as things on the ground seem to last better than things that are more affected by gravity (such as impluviums), I imagine not much reconstruction was needed.

Old in the foreground, new in the background. Walking through this field to get back to the main road from the ampitheatre, we spotted this guy:

He was also walking through the field. But it was obviously his field. He just stared at us, and we took that to mean we should leave.