Yes, it’s the New Year and we’re in Venice! I heard the fireworks last night as the sound bounced around the canals and streets from Piazzo San Marco, but didn’t manage to see them. We’d seen squads of police heading towards the Piazza late in the afternoon but we didn’t feel like joining them.
Murano and Burano were on the agenda for today. It was another drizzly day but we figured we couldn’t let a little drizzle stop us getting out and about so we walked to Fondamente Nove to catch a vaporetto to Murano. The tide was high and water was lapping very close to the edges of the streets – in some places spilling over the edges – but we managed to get through without getting our feet wet.
Murano was quiet – it was too early for the shops, and given it was New Year’s Day the glass factories weren’t open either. But it was lovely to get lost amongst the laneways and follow random strangers in case they knew their way out of the maze of streets, to see places tourists wouldn’t usually get to see, and to end up in a bar with a group of old men drinking wine like it was water and they were dying of thirst. It was fascinating to sit there and listen to their interactions, the ways they greeted each other, the ease with which they welcomed each newcomer into their circle, their comraderie and gentle ribbing, without understanding a word they said.
More and more visitors were arriving on the island and the shops and factories were opening. The water continued to lap at the footpaths and before long it was drizzling. We rushed into a restaurant to have an early lunch, then set out for Burano, the island of colourful houses and lace making. We hadn’t made it very far onto the island before the rain intensified … Tim managed a few shots (including the gorgeous one below), then we ran for the vaporetto station and a very welcome hot (and sweet) lemon tea.
I went back to the apartment to dry off while Tim explored the Doges Palace. I still haven’t made it into the Basillica. Perhaps next time.
Italian pizza for dinner – one more thing ticked off Tim’s bucket list, then back to the apartment to pack for the next leg of our journey.
Martedi, 9th Ottobre. Venice is about two hours behind me. I’m on the train heading to Germany, to see Elke.
It was strange coming over the bridge between Venice and Mestre (on the mainland); it was like coming into a new world. A world of cars and regular (Italian regular) houses and farms and industry and … regular life.
Venice is anything but regular. There are traffic jams, but they’re not regular ones. Gondolas rather than cars get caught in jams and on the big canals horns honk just as virulently as they do in non-water based cities; ‘stop and go’ men hold up red stop signs for pedestrians rather than cars. The rubbish collection isn’t regular – well, it happens on a daily basis (except Sundays) but instead of bins, people put out their bag of rubbish (and their recycling if they have any) on little hooks stuck into the walls. At 8am each morning the rubbish collectors move through the laneways pulling their rubbish carts behind them. Ambulances aren’t regular ambulances; police vehicles aren’t like regular police vehicles; delivery-men work tirelessly pushing and pulling their trolleys loaded with goods up and over bridges, through the laneways and into the shops. Everything is delivered on foot. It seems so obvious once you’re here, but it’s not something I had thought about previously. Furniture is moved by boat, then carried through tiny laneways to houses, grocery shopping is done on a daily basis because there are no cars to drive it home in. No lawn mowing is needed, no front gardens need tending; there are no grassy playing fields, no skate parks, no tennis courts, few trees. It’s a different world.
The ‘stop/go’ man, keeping the traffic under control while something happens in the building above.
I even saw a Venetian garage:
And then there’s the art. My goodness! Some I went to, knowing I was going to go; others I came across in my wanders. The Dali exhibition was one I just happened upon. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection was one I deliberately set out to see. Works by
… amongst others.
And then the older works contained in the Gallerie dell’Accademie. Paintings from the 12th century onwards, looking as though there were freshly painted. Titian, Bellini, Tintoretto and more. Room after room after room of amazement.
And of course the Doges Palace, which has one of (the?) biggest rooms in Europe in it. Again, amazement on every wall and ceiling. Furniture, paintings, wallpapers, frames: interpretation panels making sense of it all. Across (inside) the Bridge of Sighs and into the maze of the old prison. It made me think the convicts at Port Arthur were lucky, in their own way. The Giants Staircase, with the original rises from the 14th century; Aries and Poseidon continuing to guard it.
And then there are the churches and the islands … and the history.
And the music! On my first night in Venice I went to a Vivaldi concert in Vivaldi’s church. I Virtuosi Italiani were playing The Four Seasons, but they started with Pachelbel’s Canon. On the first note a tear trickled down my face and then as the music continued I couldn’t stop them; it was so beautiful. Tim will know the other reason. The concert was fabulous and if I hadn’t been caught in the infinite maze looking for the lavanderia I would gone to another one. Another thing to do on my next visit.
I know thousands/millions of people have ‘been there, done that’, have seen these galleries filled with beautiful old and new works, heard this music played live in Vivaldi’s church, and it’s not new for them (possibly for you), but for me it was new and it was wonderful. I walked the laneways thinking that people have walked these same laneways for hundreds of years – the cultural heritage here is so present, so evident, that it was easy to let my imagination go and think about the number of priests and noblemen and women (and not so noble ones) walking the same laneways over the years. So many other people, in so many different cultural evolutions, have walked where I walked; did they stop and admire the dome on a church on the other side of the canal? Did they marvel at the statues and ornate buildings in the same way I did? Was it at one time new and wonderful for them (you) too?
There was plenty I didn’t see: churches and museums and galleries and islands and concerts and St Mark’s Basilica from the inside … but it’s not too far from Prague, so I can go back during next year’s trip.
I have just passed through Trento and I have to say that the countryside is beautiful. The hills on either side are lit by the late afternoon sun which makes the rock faces shine. Vineyards take up every available space, a castle clings to the side of a mountain and I catch my breath with how beautiful the scene is. The rivers are wide and fast-running and the same kind of colour that rivers in New Zealand are. To me it suggests water that’s come from high in the mountains over particular kinds of rocks that turn the water almost green in its colourlessness. The landscape is amazing! Little villages are dotted here and there, the church steeple always the tallest structure. A road snakes steeply up/down the mountainside and the light flits across the tower of an old castle, making it glow amongst the green of the vines and the apple trees.
Fields of solar panels, as I’d seen in France, come into view and even old sheds have solar panels on their roofs. As we pull into a station I check the number plates of the cars to see if we’re still in Italy. We are. I wonder if I’ll know when we cross into Austria. It’s amazing that … that we can move from one country to another without having to fly or go on a hazardous boat ride. I suppose only Australians fully appreciate that; although I perhaps the English have some idea of what that’s like. Does driving to Scotland or Wales feel like going to another country, I wonder?
We have arrived in Bolzano Bozen, a place I never knew existed. There have been quite a few of those sorts of places on this trip. The German family leave and close the door to the carriage after them, dissuading others entering the train from coming in. Except one man, who nods to me as he enters, and then another who sits opposite but insists that I don’t have to move my bags out of his way. They both communicate with me in a way that suggests they both know that I’m not from round these parts.
Bolzano Bozen is beautiful; vineyards climb up and over the hills on one side of the train, while the hills on the right hand side are full of pine forests. It’s green, something I (oddly) missed while in Venice.
Another castle high on a hill, built on the very edge of a cliff. I wonder what OH&S would have been like when it was built. So far this is my favourite train ride yet. Twin waterfalls spring from a hole in the hill, about half way down; apple trees laden with fruit, tractors on the roads, flower boxes full of pink and white and red flowers adorn balconies and window ledges, the prevalence of church steeples, the green of the hills, dahlias in bloom in gardens beside the train line, scooters lined up at the station, fat cows with bells around their necks, touches of autumn colours, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu playing through my headphones (it somehow seems fitting) … what a wonderful way to spend the day.
It’s almost 6pm and I’m almost in Austria. I have to say that the northern part of Italy I just travelled through is beautiful. Sarah asked me where to after Prague next year … I think I just found it. Innsbruck is about 35km (by road) from here, and the train arrives in Munich at 8:25. We must be crossing a narrow part of Austria. I hope I get to see some of it before the light goes. There are patches of fog sitting at the tops of the valleys and smoke rises from chimneys at the bottom of valleys.
My trip is winding down and I feel sad about that. I’ve had a fabulous time; seen lots, travelled to many new (for me) places, ordered things off menus without knowing exactly what I was getting, seen more artworks in a week than I think I’ve seen in my life before, eaten ice cream just about every day, drunk French or Italian wine nearly every night, said Ja instead of Si (or even yes) more times than I should have (in fact I didn’t once manage to say Si), seen the Mediterranean and the Adriatic seas, been to four countries, found my way on and off trains, followed incomprehensible instructions to hotels in five cities, walked between four and six hours every day, spent time with my niece Sarah and her partner Ben … it’s been fantastic.
Two weeks has felt like a month, but it’s not over yet. A day with Elke, another train trip (to Frankfurt this time) and then the long flight home, via Kuala Lumpur (plus a night in Melbourne).
Trains. Go first class. Not that second class is bad, but go first class.
I travelled first class from Paris to Avignon. When I got to the station, and was starkly reminded of the soldiers with big guns who scarily patrol the stations (and decline to be photographed … no, I didn’t ask, but I saw a man ask and the soldier shook his head in a severe I’ve-got-a-very-dangerous-job-to-do kind of way), I noticed (well, I could hardly miss) hordes of people standing facing the same direction. I searched for the performers, thinking there was a spot of street performance happening, but couldn’t see anything, so searched some more for a reason for people to be standing in a crowd all looking at the same thing.
I followed their gaze and saw that they were looking at the departure board. I wondered why. Not long after, I found out. The voie (platform) the train leaves from is only posted about 10-15 minutes before the train leaves and so you have to watch the board and then scramble for your train (particularly if it’s at the end of the station, or if your carriage is at the other end of the platform).
So that’s one thing I learnt. Oh, and by the way, ‘voie’ in Italian is binari. Just as I learnt that ‘exit’ in French is ‘sortie’ while in Italian it’s ‘uscita’. It’s a very handy thing to know when you’re on the train station wondering which way to go. When a shop is open in Italy it’s aperto, when it’s closed it’s chiuso (the same goes for biglietteria), and when you have to push the door open you ‘spingere’ it (or in France you poussez – which is good to know when you’re in a tiny cabinet lift and the inner doors open and there’s another door with “poussez” written on it) and if you have to pull the door you “tirare” it.
Anyway, Paris to Avignon. In France the platforms and the trains are the same height, so you don’t have to step up to get into the train. In Italy, il binari are very low and there are three steps to get up into the train. This is a little difficult with a suitcase, a backpack and a handbag. Not impossible of course, just takes a special knack. The conductor – oh yes, that’s one thing I haven’t made it to yet – they have conductors on trains – anyway, the conductor at Pavia station (smoking) helped a man with his (very small in comparison) bag. I heaved mine, being the independent woman that I am, by myself while the conductor and the man he helped looked on. Grazie, for nothing … I said in my head.
Back to the Paris to Avignon train. The compartment was a one way compartment – meaning that you couldn’t walk through it, and it was quiet and felt secluded. ‘The bar’ (of the snack variety) was next door and the toilet was close by. The seats are comfortable and recline in such a way that doesn’t have the person behind you with a seat two inches from their face the way airplane seats in recline do. There’s a footrest and a table that folds down and a little rubbish bin just for you. There’s also space to store your luggage easily. The seats are wide and the headrests are a good size for resting your head. All in all a very comfy trip.
I was in second class from Ventimiglia to Pavia. The usual three big, narrow steps up to the train. Heave, push, got it. The train is like a Harry Potter train – it has an aisle down the right hand side and little compartments seating six on the left. Each little compartment has a door which you can shut off if you like. Three smaller seats face each other with enough space to play knee-sies with the person opposite. The chairs next to the window have little tables and there’s a little rubbish bin for the fairies who travel on the train. There are two sets of racks above – the bigger rack, for the bigger luggage, is the higher one (about six foot from the floor) and the smaller rack, for smaller luggage, is the closest one (about 1.5 metres from the floor). On the tips of my toes, using my head and my hands, I finally managed to get my big bag on to the big bag rack and then flung my backpack onto the other way. I’m an independent woman, travelling independently.
Unlike the pretty young thing with a tiny bag who got in at San Remo. Spray tanned to within an inch of her life, eyelashes weighed down with mascara, rings and bracelets and things that went jingle jangle when she moved … how long do you think it took the bloke next to me to help her with her bag? Oh about 0.42768 seconds! His girlfriend and I exchanged glances. Yup, we both agreed. He’s a chump.
So there we were. The Russian on my left, the pretty young Italian girl on my right, opposite her an older woman reading from what looked like a University reader and taking meticulous notes, a Moroccan or Algerian lad opposite me, and the Russian’s Japanese girlfriend. There was a ring-ring down the corridor and along comes a man with a cart selling food and drinks. No one bought anything. The Russian man read Russian things on his iPad and took photos of his Japanese girlfriend while she slept. The Italian girl read a love story in Italian and then watched a movie on her laptop. The older woman worked studiously, the Algerian/Moroccan boy listened to wailing kind of music in his headphones, but it was so loud we all listened as well, and the Japanese girl slept on and off. Lots of very long tunnels, and in between the periods of darkness were glimpses of the Mediterranean, beaches and some wonderful houses. Alassio caught my eye – I’d like to have a closer look some day. I travelled backwards until we reached Genova and then forwards from there to Pavia.
First class from Milan to Verona. A lady came around with a trolley and when faced with a blank expression gave me a refresher towelette, perhaps to help refresh my language skills. The drinks and food were free. First class is good!!
Bidets. I didn’t come across them in France but in each of the hotels I’ve stayed in in Italy there’s been a bidet in the bathroom. I have to say … I’ve become a bit of a fan. It’s quite simple really …there’s a plug (with a lever behind the tap so that you don’t have to put your hand in the water to pull it out) and a tap. I found that I didn’t need the plug – it was good just to have the water spraying. I can wriggle around to make sure it sprays all parts and I can control how hot/warm/cold the water is. It’s a good size and as the ones I’ve used so far have been opposite the toilet so I can sit on that while I wash them.
Yes, my feet you goose! What do you think the bidet’s for?
Renoir. I was walking up corsa Cavour in Pavia yesterday afternoon when I saw a banner advertising a Renoir exhibition. I noted the details and kept walking. I came across the university and was slightly puzzled. It turned out I wasn’t walking up corso Cavour at all, but was in fact walking up corso Strada Nuova (which happens to run at 90 degrees to corso Cavour so you can understand my puzzlement). I went in. To the university that is. It’s nothing like the university of Tasmania. UTAS might be the third or fourth oldest university in Australia, but the University of Pavia was founded in 1361 and there is mention of an institute of higher learning in Pavia in 825! There was a position (a chair, no less) in Italian eloquence in the early 19th century – how’s that for a role! I’ve put up a photo of UP on the Travel Photos page.
So, Renoir. Nothing to do with UP, but it was there I saw the banner. The exhibition was on at the Castello Visconteo, not far from where I was staying. Or so I thought. But it was an interesting walk. The Castello is an ugly building at first sight – it looks like a big (big) barn, but then the more I looked at it the more I grew to like it. There’s another building I came across in my wanders yesterday afternoon and that’s the Duomo, which is a very similar style. I’m not sure if either building has been rebuilt but the castello was originally built in 1361 or thereabouts.
Renoir. On the bottom floor – in the scuderie (the stables) – was the Renoir exhibition. There are signs on the outer walls so that sitting or leaning on the mangers was not allowed. It really was the stables!! A group of children (about 5 or 6 years old) was visiting the exhibition and being given very detailed information about the paintings. I wondered if it explained the amount of time the adults took in front of each painting – they didn’t just glance at it and walk on, they examined each piece, discussing aspects with those around them. There seemed to be a real appreciation for the works, and they didn’t mind getting up close and looking in detail.
When I bought my ticket I was given a little container of coffee and the girl explained that there are coffee machines where I could make myself a cup of coffee. Mum, they were like the machines at Helene’s last year. I didn’t make myself a coffee of course, but I thought it was a lovely gesture. I then went upstairs to the Museo Civici. It was amazing … no English interpretation so I couldn’t understand any of it, but the rooms were amazing – the frescos, the artefacts … amazing.
I’m now in Verona … and despite (my son) Daniel’s warning of gang violence (between the Montagues and Capulets) I feel pretty safe that there won’t be any biting of thumbs … not by me anyway.
As people in Australia are waking up, I’ll say buona notte. It’s a late one for me!!