Getting Lost in Venezia (2017 Edition)

DSCN8666

It seems everyone has heard of Venice, the Italian city of 264, 579 people (55,000 in the historic centre), 118 islands, and 400 bridges over its 177 famous canals. We all dream of romantic gondola rides through the city or having a gelato on the banks of the Grand Canal. We see it in films and read about it in books. Parece que todo el mundo ha oído hablar de Venecia, la ciudad italiana de 264.579 personas (55.000 de ellas en el centro histórico), 118 islas, y 400 puentes sobre sus 177 canales famosos. Todos soñamos con viajes de gondolas románticos por la ciudad o tomar un gelato en las orillas del Grande Canal. Vemos la ciudad en las películas y leemos de ella en los libros. 

DSCN8834

Although the city is prone to flooding (I saw parts underwater), tourists still are drawn to the city like a moth to a flame. I was in Venice once before for an afternoon in 2008, when it was so cold I spent more time ducking in for a cappuccino for the heat than I did exploring the beautiful city. I’ve always wanted to return, and as it was my mom’s dream to take a gondola ride on the canal, I had my opportunity. Aunque la ciudad suele sufrir inundaciones (vi algunas partes inundadas), la ciudad sigue atrayendo turistas como un fuego atrae bichos. Estaba en Venecia una vez antes, solo por una tarde, en 2008. Hizo tanto frío este día que la mayoría de mi tiempo allí estaba tomando cappuccino en los bares y no explorando la ciudad preciosa. Siempre he querido volver, y como era el sueño de mi madre hacer un viaje en una gondola en los canales, tenía mi oportunidad. 

DSCN8845

The original plan was a night in Venice and a night in Florence, but due to my mom’s newfound problem walking, we decided to stay two nights in Venice once we had arrived. The train left a rainy Milano Centrale at 9:45, and around noon it was arriving to a very grey skied Venice. El plan original fue una noche en Venecia y una noche en Florencia, pero dado al hecho que mi madre tenía problemas de caminar de repente, decidimos hacer dos noces en Venecia cuando llegamos. El tren salió de un Milano Centrale lluvioso, y sobre mediodía estaba llegando en una Venecia muy nublada.

DSCN8951

The train station goes over a causeway that reminds me very much of the Cedar Point Causeway in Sandusky, Ohio (26 miles/41,8 km from my childhood home) over Lake Erie. As motor vehicles are not allowed in the historic centre, the train and bus station (at Piazzale Roma) are the final parking points before entering the city of canals. La estación pasa por un puente tipo pasarela (pero por el tren) que me acordaba del Cedar Point Causeway en Sandusky, Ohio, a 41,8 kilómetro de mi hogar de juventud sobre el Lago Erie. Como los vehículos operados por motor no están permitidos en el centro histórico, las estaciones de autobús (Piazzale Roma) y tren son los últimos puntos para aparcar antes de entrar la ciudad de canales. 

DSCN8809

We took a vaporetto to arrive to our hotel. A single/one-way on the water bus costs 7.50€ in 2017, and a day pass costs 20€. My mom was so excited to see her dream, and I watched the city pass by from the deck. Cogemos un vaporetto para llegar al hotel. Un viaje de solo ida en el autobús de agua cuesta 7,50€ en 2017, y un bono de día cuesta 20€. Mi madre estaba muy emocionada ver su sueño, y vi la ciudad pasar por la cubierta. 

DSCN8763

I usually don’t recommend hotels here, but I have to recommend our Venice hotel due to the incredible staff who was very helpful with my mom’s problems with walking. The Locanda Ca Messner is a fantastic place to stay  and is located near the Basilica and Peggy Guggenheim collection. No suelo recomendar los hoteles en el blog, pero he de recomendar nuestro hotel de Venezia dado a los empleados geniales quien eran muy amables y nos ayudaron mucho con los problemas que mi madre tenía. El Locanda Ca Messner Hotel es un hotel fantástico para alojarse y está situado a lado de la Basilica y la Colección de Peggy Guggenheim. 

DSCN8772

After lunch and check-in, it was raining pretty heavily and the wind destroyed my umbrella. I went out for a little exploring around 6 p.m. and to have a caffé ginseng, my new fave Italian coffee. I found a nice caffé, Caffé Brasilia, but didn’t spend much time out and about as the rain picked up again. Another reason we added a night to our Venice stay. Después de comer y hacer el check-in, estaba lloviendo fuerte y el viento destrozó mi paraguas. Pude salir para explorar un rato sobre las 6. Tomé un caffé ginseng, mi caffé italiano preferido ahora. Encontré un buen caffé, el Caffé Brasilia, pero volví pronto al hotel como estaba lloviendo otra vez. 

DSCN8702

Monday morning, I slept in a bit, had a great breakfast at the hotel and set off to explore the city as my mom continued to rest. I debated on going to the nearby Padua but decided to stay in Venice to explore the incredible winding streets and canals. Lunes, dormí tarde, desayuné muy bien en el hotel y salí para explorar la ciudad mientras mi madre descansaba. Pensaba en visitar el cercano Padua pero al final me quedé en Venecia para explorar sus calles y canales sinuosas impresionantes. 

DSCN8984

My route was pretty random, and I tried not to look at the map too much. Granted, everywhere there are signs for Rialto (one of the bridges on the Grand Canal), Piazza San Marco and the train station, but it may not be the most direct route. I was grateful for better weather as I meandered the alleys and bridges. Mi ruta era más o menos al azar, y intenté no ver el mapa o Google Maps mucho. Vale, hay señales para Rialto (uno de los puentes del Canal Grande), Piazza San Marco y la estación de trenes, pero no siempre era la ruta más directa. Estaba agradecido por el mejor tiempo mientras deambulé las calles y puentes. 

DSCN8797

In the evening, I arranged for a wheelchair for my mom so she could see the city too and get back to the train station for the next part of our journey…Rome. Por la tarde pedí una silla de ruedas para mi madre para que pudiera ver la ciudad también y volver a la estación de trenes para la próxima etapa de nuestra viaje…Roma. 

DSCN8859

It was not fun having to push said wheelchair in the pouring rain the next morning through the flooded streets, nor rush back to return the wheelchair, then to the hotel to get the luggage and rush back to the train station in an hour, all through flooded streets. However, it was an adventure I would never forget, and hey…it was all in Venice so I can’t complain too much. No me divertí nada empujar la silla de ruedas en el diluvio la mañana siguiente por las calles inundadas, no correr para devolver la silla de ruedas y volver al hotel para recoger el equipaje y ir corriendo a la estación de trenes en solo una hora, todo por las calles inundadas. Sin embargo, era una aventura que nunca me olvidaré, y bueno, todo pasó en Venecia y no me puedo quejar tanto. 

DSCN8842

Nevertheless, even a four-hour train ride didn’t dry me out. Sin embargo, no estaba seco al final del viaje de trende cuatro horas.

DSCN8768

A continuación…

DSCN8824

DSCN8880

DSCN8885

Italia. Les Set Meravelles

I have been to Italia four times now (you can read about them here, here, here, here, here and here), and four trips have not done much to quench my thirst for exploring this country. I know I have a few more trips left in me to the bel paese, as I have to discover Sicilia and the south, Naples and Pompeii, Capri, Cerdeña (Sardinia in English) and its Catalan-speaking villages, Torino (Turin), Genoa, Bologna, Lago di Como, the country of San Marino…the list goes on and on.

However, in the four trips, I have managed to see quite a lot. It’s going to be hard, and I know as if I get to continue exploring these jewel of a country, these are apt to change.

So without any further ado…the Set Meravelles of Italia. I’m limiting myself to only two in Rome as if not, they might all be in Rome, which isn’t even my favourite Italian city! All of these are pretty touristy, I must admit. But they are all touristy for a reason! I’m just going to cheat and say the entire cities, as it’s hard to settle on just seven. And my beloved Fontana di Trevi is undergoing some reconstruction right now. I had to mention it as I am in love with that fountain, but it didn’t make the list this time.

Set Meravelles

Il Colosseo (Roma)

Italiabackup2 033

The Colosseum of Rome is one of the most famous monuments in the world. It was the biggest Colosseum and could seat between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators. It was named a New Wonder of the World in 2007 by the New Open World Corporation. Over the years, the damage has been done by earthquakes and stone robbers. It is well worth the 13€ I paid in 2008, and I’m sure it’s even more expensive now.

Vatican City (Roma)

midnight mass8

The Sistine Chapel in the Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s (San Pietro) Basilica are just two of the things to see in the Vatican. I was lucky enough to attend the Misa de Gallo (Midnight Mass in Spanish) in 2008 with the third best Pope in my life (there have been three Popes in my lifetime), which was an experience in itself. The Sistine Chapel is well worth the winding walk through the Vatican Museums, as it took my breath away. I did not take any pictures there.

Il Duomo (Milano)

IMG_0627

The Cathedral of Milan, dedicated to St. Mary of the Nativity, is a major architectural achievement. It’s the fifth largest church in the world and largest church in Italy and took over 600 years to finish (It was finally finished in 1965). While in Milano, also check out the painting of The Last Supper, but make sure you buy your tickets in advance. The tale of this famous painting is quite interesting, as the church it is in was heavily bombed during World War II, yet the wall it is on survived. Milano also has some famous fashion designers I hear…

Venezia

Venice23

Venice, the city of the canals, is located in 117 islands on the east coast of Italy. The entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The population is 260,000, but only 60,000 live in the area with the canals. Recent years have brought lots of flooding, and the city is said to be sinking. They are losing a lot of their art unfortunately. The day I went, I nearly froze to death. Fa freddo da cane, as the Italians say (It makes the cold of the dog, or it’s dog cold I guess.) I’d like to return to explore the romantic city again one day. But there are more pressing things to do at the moment.

Verona

IMG_0709

Oh, fair Verona, how beautiful you are, with your own colosseum, your Adige River, your House of Capulet, how you impressed me with everything you are. The city of 265,000 (and UNESCO World Heritage Site) is often ignored by tourists for more popular destinations, which is a blessing for me (fewer people!) and a curse (people are missing out!) It’s one of my favourite cities I’ve been to ever.

Firenze

Firenze Giorno 2 070

The famous Florence, which in While You Were Sleeping, protagonist Lucy dreamed of one day visiting, has so much to offer. Picturesque monuments, famous statues and incredible sunsets, and usually under the Tuscan sun. 379,000 habitants are lucky to call this beautiful city home. The historic centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre Giorno 2 298

Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, Riomaggiore. Some of the most spectacular coastline and mountains with these five unique villages mean another UNESCO World Heritage site. While you may no longer be able to have a tranquil Italian experience here, you can still find some peace and quiet on the lesser-known trails and no matter where you go in this National Park, you’re going to see beautiful sights. Bella Italia, grazie mille!

Italia, la dolce vita. (Part 1 of 2)

Firenze Giorno 2 070

Without a doubt, Spain is my favourite country and the place that feels most like home, despite not being born here. I have intentions of staying in Spain indefinitely, finding me a nice, intelligent, witty, cultured and cute Iberian Boy to settle down with and raise golden retrievers with when we’re not exploring the world together. However, that quote that I often refer to, if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans, is oh-so-true. If I ever had to leave The Best Peninsula in the World (Iberia, duh!), I would hope a plane or boat straight across the Mediterranean to another charming peninsula, the one shaped like a boot, that oh-so-gorgeous Italian peninsula.

Growing up, like so many people, I always dreamed of one day travelling to Italy. There is something about the food, the culture and, of course, the history that beckons us to visit. In university, when I found out that learning a third language would help my case when I made my Spanish minor a major, I immediately decided on Italian. I only have a A2 level, but with my Spanish and now Catalán background, when I find myself in Italia, it comes flooding back to me. And I have already found myself in Italia three times in my six years of Spanish living.

My first Christmas living in Spain, I took off to Italia for the holiday. At that time, I was pretty naïve about European travel. I thought “Oh, flying from anywhere in Spain is okay!” I was living in Linares in Andalucía and flew in and out of GIRONA. This meant an overnight bus trip from Linares to Barcelona and an overcharged bus from Barcelona to Girona. I also thought that travelling in Italia would be cheap and 700€ would go a lot farther than it does. Ay yi yi, youth.

Il Vaticano96

Christmas 2008, my Italian dream came true. I flew from Girona to Pisa. I had read the AAA guide book to death about Italia and thought I knew how the bus system worked. I read the directions to the hostel over and over and was so eager to try out my Italiano. I didn’t understand much, especially after my ear had spent the last three months trying to make andaluz into understandable Spanish. I somehow made it to the hostel, which was quite close to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. At the early hour of 20:00 (8 PM) , I found myself having my first Italian meal. I’m pretty sure it was pizza.

Pisa is a small town without much to see other than the Tower. At the time, I didn’t even know that you were supposed to take the photo pushing the Tower. My biggest travel regret ever is not paying to climb the tower. I figured that with Ryan Air, Italia would always be there and I’d be back soon to climb it when I was well-settled into Spain and had some money. It could be something I could do one day with that strong Iberian lad that is still out there waiting for me to conquistar his heart. Since then, if there is something like that, no matter how many touristy it is, it is well worth the money to go ahead and do it than have that regret in the back of your mind. I was feeling disappointed by Italia at that point in time. Pisa was not the best introduction to Italy.

Pisa Day Two Firenze Day One7

Another thing I learned that first trip is to pack lightly. I had a huge suitcase that I had to lug to the train station so I could go to Firenze (Florence). The train was about an hour, and I felt a rush of excitement listening to all the Italian on the train. I tried to pretend I was Italian, but reading in English gave me away. I fell in love with Firenze over the next few days. I paid the money to see the Davide at the Galleria dell’Accademia, ate a ton of great pasta, pizza and gelato, went window shopping and crossed the Ponte Vecchia a million times. My friend from a Mariah Carey message board came down from Genova my third day in Italia to show me places in the city I would have never found on my own. Firenze and Pisa are second on my list of places to return to after that return trip to Greece I have waiting for me.

Pisa Day Two Firenze Day One109

The next stop was Rome. Rome will never be a favourite city of mine because it feels more like an amusement park than an actual city. It is chaotic, and at the same time it is a city that everyone must see at least once in their life. I’ve been there twice now, and all those coins I’ve thrown in the Fontana di Trevi must ensure I’ll be back one day. (I am absolutely, positively obsessed with the Fontana di Trevi. La dolce vita a tutti!) My first stop that first visit was to the Colosseum, which is as amazing and beautiful and touristy as advertised.

Italiabackup2 033

I saw the Sistine Chapel and was mesmerized by the immense work. (I also wanted to smack the idiots taking photos of it, but the security guards berated them before I had the chance. It says no photos because any type of picture will ruin it. The Musei Vaticani should have lockers to place all electronic devices. Seriously. Respect the rules, folks.) I had gelato on a cold day in the Piazza di Spagna.

Italiabackup2 120

 

I also went to my first, and to date ONLY, midnight mass…at none other than St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican by the Pope. The nuns who gave me my reserved tickets warned me that if I really wanted to attend, to get there early to line up and then be prepared for a bunch of people to appear out of nowhere when the doors opened at 10 PM and also to be prepared to physically fight with Italian nuns to get in. “It’s okay. They see it every year, and they fight dirty.”

American nuns encouraging men to fight with Italian nuns who would probably win. This is Italia, la dolce vita.

midnight mass8

After four days in Rome, I had a long train to Milan that arrived late. I didn’t spend much time in Milan, just seeing the Duomo, and I’ll write about Milan in a future entry about my next trips to Italia. The first trip left me cold and wanting more. I then made my way to Venice to end this first 10 day trip to Italia. It was also cold in Venezia, but nothing prepared me for the fairy tale atmosphere of the city. The canals made the city even colder, and as I crossed the Gran Canal to get lost in its maze of streets and canals, I ducked in several cafés to order cappuccino to warm up. Another regret was not taking a ride on the gondola, but my bank account and wallet were just out of money.

Venice23

This first trip opened my eyes a lot. It taught me more about myself, having to get by in a country whose language I only spoke the basics of. It taught me a lot about budgeting. And it taught me that less is more, especially when packing for 10 days abroad. Now I am more likely to go to a country for less time and focus more on a few major places than try to cram in an entire country in 10 days. I’ve since returned to Rome to see more of it (they say three months in Rome sightseeing every day won’t give you enough time), and returned to Milan and went to Verona….to be continued.

And yet I feel that I have just scratched the surface of the world’s second greatest peninsula. Viva la bella Italia.