Loads of water... and decay

Trip Start Aug 14, 2007
Trip End May 23, 2008

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Flag of Italy  ,
Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Venice, Italy
GMT +1:00 hour

Italy. Il Bel Paese?
It wasn't too long before we crossed into Italy, a momentous occasion that was marked by the arrival in our carriage of some rough looking Italian wearing a blue vest and who's only responsibility, apart from throwing his weight around, was to make sure all passengers identified their luggage. We couldn't actually tell if he was some sort of customs dude or a security official... either way he passed us by without so much as a grunt and we were soon on our way again. Within minutes we were commenting on how unkempt, industrial and generally un-aesthetically pleasing Italy is compared to Switzerland (and even France). Granted, Switzerland is an unfair barometer against which to judge the beauty of other landscapes so we'll reserve judgment on Italy for now... but what is it they say about first impressions.

What the rest of the country looks like may be unknown for now but what we do know for sure is that Italy is a nation with an artistic and architectural legacy that few other countries can rival; the country has 40 World Heritage listed sites, more than any other nation, and the Tuscany region of the country alone has more classified historic monuments than any country in the world. We've quite a few reasons for coming here, all of them valid reasons in their own right. The first is for the artistic legacy we just mentioned, especially the paintings of the Renaissance period that Meg studied through high school and university. Another reason we're here is the food - we both love Italian food, or at least the stuff they dish up overseas as Italian. Is it the same? Time will tell. Another reason for coming here is the fact that neither of us have been here before. And of course, we can't overlook the fact that travelling through Italy will also be getting us that bit closer to Istanbul in Turkey, where we'll get our flight to Korea in a little over 3 weeks (September 22nd to be exact). Anyway, our first stop in Italy was Venice and we spent a large chunk of the 13th day of our trip on trains (4 in total) getting there.

Read any pamphlet on Venice and it'll tell you the same thing; that it's a unique city and every bit as beautiful and romantic as its reputation suggests. Which it is. But those same glossy pamphlets will fail to tell you that it's busy, expensive and it has a neglected look that is hard to look beyond. The city could be something of an independent state or republic (something it was for centuries before finally joining the then 5-year old Kingdom of Italy in 1866); economically and socially ossified, it's losing people by the year and playing virtually no part in the life of modern Italy. While in its heyday (12th to 16th centuries) The Venetian Republic was a major merchant power and a staging area for the Crusades (as well as a very important center of commerce, especially the spice trade, and art in the Renaissance), today its sole role, seemingly, is to amuse tourists. It's deluged by some 20 million of them a year - an amount that exceeds Venice's population two-hundredfold. What that means is that you certainly won't be alone in appreciating the cities' charms and we had to really get lost amongst the narrow Venetian lanes and canals to escape the crowds (something that's not hard to do and is well recommended). That was probably one of the highlights of our time in the city, another being the 20 minute Gondola ride we forked out €70 for (that's €210 an hour folks... not a bad payday if you can get it). We know, we know... but how wrong would it have been to have to answer the "Did you get a Gondola ride in Venice? question negatively, especially considering it's our honeymoon? Exactly, we thought so too.

I'm not going to wax on too much about our 2 days in Venice. Again the pictures uploaded here aim to tell the whole story. They also help keep these entries to a manageable size, something I strive for with each entry (honestly, do you think I want to slave over these entries any more then you wanna read them?). Anyway, enjoy the observations.

Day 13 & 14 Observations (August 26th & 27th 2007)

Squalor? Not quite
Italy has a reputation for fashion and image, with its people obsessed with looking good. It's a pity the same can't be said for their surroundings. If what we've seen so far of the Italian countryside and its cities (admittedly not much) they could do with a serious cleanup. The countryside from the Swizz boarder to Venice, the odd vineyard aside, was 'unappealing' and as for Venice itself. Well, it may be extremely picturesque but it's buildings are positively crumbling (some say it adds to the romantic appeal of the city... we say it just looks neglectful), its lanes are dirty and rubbish filled and there is graffiti (a real problem in Italy, it seems) everywhere, even on main tourist sights like the Rialto Bridge. About the only graffiti free objects in the city are the Gondolas. As Meg said, "doesn't the city care about its appearance?" Evidently not.

Euro railing rocks
Well, at least in France, Switzerland and Italy it does. Having now travelled on the Italian national railway system we can say it's just as good as the French (albeit not as fast) and Swiss (not as clean) systems. It's so easy to cover large distances in a reasonable amount of time, reasonably cheaply and in comfort.

Going somewhere?
As good as the train system is I can never understand why some people get ready to depart at the door of the train a full 10-15 minutes before the train is due to arrive at the platform. Not that this is a purely Italian thing, but it's something we both noticed when arriving in Milan and again in Venice yesterday afternoon - people leave their seats and stand in the aisles and by the doors for at least 15 minutes before arrival at the station. Weird.

It's Hot
Finally. Getting to Venice turned up the heat quite a bit. We're not sure what the ambient temperature is but it's a lot hotter than in Switzerland (admittedly we were in the mountains but still) and there's not a hint of rain in the air (on the downside it adds to the scorched, arid look of the countryside). But the best part is we expect it to heat up as we head further south.

My outboard is bigger than yours
This might be stating the obvious (and please don't think any less of us for putting this into text for all to read) but we found it interesting that the family car is replaced in Venice with the family boat.

Tourist ville
You know you're in tourist central when every restaurant has a special 'tourist menu', all of which will have the same tourist-modified Italian dishes - minestrone soup, pasta with tomato sauce, pizza, some sort of basic salad, tiramisu and coffee. The general advice is to avoid such places but on our first night in the city we found that hard to do. But that's okay; our touristy meal at least provided us with some sustenance and an assurance that we won't be eating like that again.

Italians are not known for their bread, and now we know why. As people who adore bread (not to mention having recently come from bread-heaven France) we can safely say Italian bread sucks.... or at least the stuff served in restaurants sucks. It's probably only good to use as food for the myriad of pigeons that seem to get in everyone's way, assuming of course, you can break it apart (good luck with that). It wouldn't be so bad if they at least served it with butter. Even margarine... anything.

We've already mentioned the pigeons. We encountered a few of them in Paris but here they seem to have a pigeon epidemic, another 'issue' the city doesn't seem to care about. Some folks like them, some can tolerate them (me) and others just can't stand them (Meg). She stood in St. Mark's Square yesterday and looked on in astonishment at the tourists letting the pigeons crawl all over them for food.

Gondola rides are expensive
Yep, that most quintessential of Venetian experiences will hurt your pocket. Our 20 minute ride through some of Venice's canals cost us €70 (CND$100). But it's a once in a lifetime thing to do, especially when you're on your honeymoon, right? We were actually quoted €100 for a ride from Rialto Bridge. Seemingly it's more expensive from the 'touristy' locations.

2 out of 3 ain't bad
We learnt an interesting fact from our Gondolier today and thought you might like to hear it - nobody lives on the first floor of Venetian residences. While most buildings have 3 floors, the threat of flooding means the 1st floor is nearly always uninhabited (it might be used for some sort of storage). We, at least, found that interesting.
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barpaza on

Its OK
I am sad that your trip to Venice was not as ¡§great¡¨ as you expected. As you can imagine the fact that so many people go visit the city makes it a bit crazy for locals.

While you are right about bread and service and many other things, you need to consider that being in Italy (by all means) is being where it all begun, in terms of western living.

Italy influenced more than just Europe, but the entire world. From the eye of the tourist it may seem to be not as neat and clean as France per say, but lets consider this; it soooo much older and it has many infrastructural problems because of this reason

If the French have good bread it¡¦s most likely because the Romans started making it and that is its legacy to France, just like art, ballet, music and much more that later was absorbed by other European countries and literally they took the credit away from Italy for all these things. (Not being picky about the bread thing fº)

And a city full of canals and art well what else can we expect it to give? I hope you have the chance to go back and enjoy the fact that the imperfection of the experience, is what makes it unforgettable and more beautiful.

I hope it didn¡¦t bother I posted and I promise I was not being insulting; my apologies for wanting to share.

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