Trip Start Jul 23, 2007
Trip End Aug 23, 2007

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

When I got off the train, the first thing I noticed was the winding queue for the tourist information. Never mind, I was sure I'd be able to get a map later. My hostel was a bit unusual in that, like Sarajevo, the reception managed various rooms across town. While this was good once I'd dumped my bag, I had to walk for a good 15 minutes or so past the infuriating crowds that crawled along filling the narrow streets to get there in the first place. I'm sure it was very nice for them to wander down the streets, stopping abruptly to look in shop windows etc but I had a 20kg bag on my back! Finally relieved of my worldly posessions, I set off to find another tourist information centre. I felt like I couldn't really appreciate anything until I knew what I was looking at, so wound up in St Mark's Square. Not too hard to find, you just follow everyone else. When I came out, all I could see was a sea of people. Oh and a few hundred pigeons as well, that bizarrely most people seemed to see as pets. Perhaps it's a British/London thing, but I cannot think of anything worse than having 6 pigeons sitting on you eating out of your hand- it's disgusting! And yet parents were taking pictures of their kids doing just this, before having a go themselves. Tourists from all corners of the earth were standing there, delighted to be surrounded by what we call 'flying rats'. Eugh. Anyhow I spent nearly half an hour just trying to find this tourist information office, and when I got there they just offered me a map for 2.50 euros and a list of churches and museums. How helpful.

Fortunately, when I was walking back to the other end of the square still feeling somewhat lost, I spotted a sign for 'self guided audio tours'. Now I would never normally consider doing guided tours, preferring to find the hidden parts of the city myself, but since I had no information whatsoever on Venice (and the internet cafes charged 8 euros an hour!) i decided it might be a good idea. The TI had tours twice a day, but they cost 20 euros- so i opted for an audio guide. For 6 euros, I got a phone-style headset for 4 hours, and a map with the corresponding numbers to key in wherever you were. While I can't say I remember that much, it without a doubt allowed me to see parts of Venice I would never have gone to- lots of churches, of course but a few hidden places too. It was quite interesting, and I was able to go at my own pace, not shuffling behind lots of other people or waiting for the guide to finish. Most of the churches now cost 2.50 euros to get in, and given the plethora of churches I have seen over the last few weeks, I normally just stuck my head in the door for a lingering glance before making a hasty retreat under the cashiers' steely glares. However, I picked one church to go in, the Friari (or something like that!), a huge brick building thats magnitude is breathtaking. Simple and fairly unadorned inside, the valuted domed ceiling is left bare and open, allowing you to appreciate the size and space.

Having toured most of Venice's main sights, I returned the guide and went in search of the cheap internet I had found earlier while walking. Of course, I couldn't find it anywhere, and spent at least half an hour walking up and down the same street to try and find this place, that was quite hidden away. I had also spotted a cheap place to go for dinner while I was doing my tour, which I returned to for my last meal. The pasta was fantastic of course! Since the charged me a pound for 2 bread rolls and some breadsticks, I took the remains for lunch tomorrow (again :)) I ended up going back to my room and going to bed quite early, despite a couple of the Americans I was staying with hitting some of bars later.

They came back at 1am, and crashed around a bit, but I managed to get a fair amount of sleep. I woke up quite early again, and went out to see the market setting up at 7:30. At certain trachetta points along the grand canal, you can pay 50c for a gondola ride across the river, which I did there and back (all 1 minute of it!) to save me going down to Rialto bridge again. I felt very conspicuous taking photos and tried to do it as secretly as possible but it was so nice to see people setting up their stalls and laying out an incredible array of fish. Again, wishing I had a kitchen so I could get some of the fish!

I went back to the room to back, and bought some cheap Italian food from the supermarket before going back up to leave my bags at reception and check out (right by the bus station, which would be handy for later!) Today I'd planned to take a trip down the grand canal- only by vaparetto mind, which was a bit cheaper than the 80 euros for a 40 minute gondola trip. Still, at 4 a trip, it was the most expensive 'bus' I'd ever taken! I didn't want to just sit on the boat and look at the buildings, so printed off an itinerary of sorts, explaining what to look at and a bit of a history of the buildings as you go down. I just missed a boat when I got to the ferry stop, but it worked out perfectly as it meant I was the first on the next one so sat right at the front, outside. That is, until it started to rain. I waited as long as I could, but then eventually sheepishly caved and put up my umbrella, only to be shouted at by some Italian behind me- I was blocking her view. It stopped before too long though, so I was able to follow the Venician river bank views despite the dismal weather. As I disembarked, the rains started again, and I went to go in Saint Marco's Basilica.

Unfortunately, there seemed to be a permanent queue to get in, so I grudgingly stood there in the rain (thankfully with an umbrella) and queued 20 minutes just to get into the church. The church itself is free, and is magnificant. I hadn't seen any photos or anything of it before, so didn't know what to expect, and the gold mosaics adorning every wall and ceiling is incredible. You had to pay extra to go the balcony and see the horses, again to see the gold alter, and again to go to the museum, so I literally just walked around for 10 minutes soaking up the grandeur and peace of the place, now well practiced at studiously ignoring the crowds. One guide in particular was particularly sympathetic to the reverence of the church, standing right in front of the 'Silence: it is forbidden to give explanatory talks within the church' as she told her large group all about the church and it's history.

When I was on the vaporetto earlier, I had spotted another grand cathedral St.Maria (I think) on the opposite side of the Grand Canal that I quite fancied going to. I got another gondola across the canal, and looked around. It's ornate marble facade was probably more impressive than the plain interior, but the dome was impressive and it was a good church to finish on. As I left, I checked the time, and found I had little more than 45 minutes until my bus left for the airport, so I made my way back along the maze of canals and alleyways to pick up my bag from the hostel reception. Fortunately I had already bought my bus tickets, as yet again, the bus left just after I boarded. 15 minutes later, I arrived at Marco Polo airport, and the check in desk hadn't even been announced yet! I was early for once. As it happened, it was quite a good thing as firstly I discovered the hand luggage liquid restrictions were for all flights originating in the EU, not just England as I originally thought. Now I'd been carrying this 1.5l bottle of wine from Croatia around for over a week, and had bought another bottle of wine from the supermarket along with some balsamic vinegar. I certainly wasn't going to leave any of it behind, so put them all in a plastic bag in the middle of my rucksack and hoped for the best. I wasn't sure what the pressure would do to the plastic bottle, but thought, 'What's the worst that could happen?'

Then when I tried to check in, there was a problem with my ticket, as I'd changed my flight from 5th September, but eventually it all got sorted, and I went through to the departure lounge with plenty of time. The flight was a little delayed, and the baggage reclaim hall was chaos, but I finally made it out, to be met by my mum at the barriers, ending what has been a great trip!
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