Trip Start Nov 06, 2012
Trip End Dec 21, 2012

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Flag of Italy  , Veneto,
Monday, November 26, 2012

Day 18 - Sunday 25th November

After a hotel breakfast, we checked out and headed for Florence's Santa Maria Novella station where we boarded the train to Venice. The rail journey passed through Bologna, which is the location for the oldest university which still operates in the world (the University of Bologna), established in the eleventh century. The journey to Venice took just over 2 hours to complete.

The entry into Venice took us across a long bridge into the island city. Immediately outside the Venice station we were greeted by the grand canal, which is the equivalent to the Broadway of New York City for the Venetians. There are no roads or vehicles in Venice, only the canals and footpaths with linking bridges as a means of transport around the many islands which make up Venice. Its amazing to think that the city of Venice was built on a foundation of thousands of wooden pylons which were driven into the original islands that existed. Apparently these pylons have not rotted, but rather hardened like rock over time. It's amazing how to think what they built centuries ago is still used today as it was intended today! Choosing to be adventurous and walking to find our hotel in the San Polo district, we crossed the grand canal then navigated our way through a maze of pathways and town squares, and across many footbridges spanning narrow green colored canals with boats clinking the mossy, water-stained sides of tall buildings. Each building was different, showing various levels of wear and tear, worn down by the elements over centuries. The render often has fallen off in many places leaving a patchwork of brick exposed. Passing many restaurants, butchers, and grocers, we eventually found Hotel San Cassiano. It was a great introduction to experiencing Venice just by this task, which was made even more challenging by the map we had not showing enough detail with street names. There were a few times where we chose the fork in the road and had to retrace our steps! So much fun though!

Fortunately our room was ready so we could leave the bags behind, a relief after hauling them around all morning. We headed to a restaurant we had passed earlier, not far from the hotel, for lunch. From here we followed a windy path through the streets to the main bridge across the grand canal, the Rialto, which offers a good view down the grand canal. From here we could see that just about everything coming into the city centre of Venice arrives by boat. Alongside the gondolas, taxis and ferris, we saw fresh produce, construction materials, the mail, and even the garbage being collected and transported on the water! We got the impression that the Grand Canal is a very important stretch of water for the Venetians, not just for tourism but for everyday tasks.

From the Rialto we continued onto Piazza San Marco. Apparently called by Napoleon as "the greatest drawing room in Europe", it is an impressive town square with St Mark's cathedral with accompanying bell tower, and the Doge's Palace. We had a brief look into the cathedral, the ceiling gold covered and full of detail, but we would come back tomorrow as Sunday night mass was about to commence. Continuing on, we had a look along the San Marco waterfront. In the excitement of taking some photos of gondolas, Ash took one step to many on a very slimy step on the waters edge, and very nearly ended up in the drink with the camera and phone!

By now the sun was setting, so we made use of our last bit of light and explored the Castello district. A bit off the tourist routes, this area provided a maze of pathways to take past restaurants, houses and small bars. There were narrow alleys heading off in all directions, canals and small bridges. We grabbed a cappuccino and a slab of deep fried mozzarella, with an unknown suspicious dark fishy tasting object hidden within, which we later found with a bite! Could have been an anchovy, yuck!

We worked our way out of the Castello district maze onto the waterfront again, passing Piazzo San Marco for some night shots of the square and the grand canal. Both are stunning at night, particularly the square. Up and over the Rialto, onto the hotel side of the grand canal, we found a nice place for dinner and a peroni, not too far from our hotel. We headed back for a sleep, excited to explore Venice some more tomorrow; it's been a fun adventure just navigating through town!

Day 19 - Monday 26th November

This morning we sampled the hotel's breakfast, which was great, followed by a trip back across the Rialto to Piazza San Marco, where we stopped into St Mark's cathedral, nearly 1000 years old, and took a good look inside. The domed interior was stunning, especially the detailed roof. We also had a look inside the cathedral museum which is displayed Byzantine artifacts brought back from Constantinople. In a short summary, why these items ended up in Venice is because Venice was on there main trade route with the east. Venetians travelled widely and used to trade goods nearly exclusively with the Byzantines, who lived in Constantinople, until the Byzantine era ended in the 16th century. At some point there was a war (usually over trading) between these two cultures and during this time these artifacts were brought back to Venice.

We then took and elevator ride to the top of the cathedral bell tower (we actually asked where are the steps but there are none for the climb to the top!). From the top we got 360 degree views over Venice. It was a shame the low cloud was in but we still got a great view. In 1900, the bell tower actually fell over into a pile of ruins and had to be completely rebuilt! It's probably now the most modern building we've been up for weeks!

From here we caught a ferry from Arsenale to Rialto ferry stops. This took us firstly along the edge of the island in the bay, passing the port and many industrial docks, then we turned into the entrance to the grand canal. At the front of the ferry, withstanding the chilly winds earlier on the bay, was worth it as we got a great view up the canal and Rialto bridge. We completed our trip just as the camera battery went completely flat, so we had lunch just under the Rialto and then we all went back to the hotel for a quick recharge.

Raring to go again, we headed back to the Castello district to see this area again by daylight. As we walked along the canals, we could see and hear the gondola drivers shouting out to each other a they passed each other, sharing a laugh. Being a Monday, there was plenty of work happening around town, including lots of men fixing underground pipes which might have been damaged in the recent floods. Around the restaurants and markets, older men at their stall or shop stand around watching, smoking a cigarette and discussing news with their friends. It's a really relaxing place, seeming far away from any corporate business. We both wondered where all the accountants, lawyers and architects worked?

We found a cosy restaurant in the area near our hotel, and a nice meal. We find that the meal prices are cheap, but throw in drinks, cover charge per person and the service charge, the end price of your meal always ends higher than you think. But the meals sure are tasty! We capped off the night with a gelato and purchased a couple of souvenirs including a Venetian "carnival" mask, celebrated each year in January (much different to Rio's carnival too!). The festival originates from a victory of the Republic of Venice against another Northern Italy republic in 1162. Now participants dress up in traditional costumes and wear the various Venetian masks during the festival.

After a wonderful time in Venice, we were ready to pack up and prepare ourselves for tomorrow's long train journey to Innsbruck via Verona. Buonasere Italy, we've really enjoyed your culture, friendly people and food! Ciao!
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