Posted in Photography, Travel

Day #13: Venice – Prague

Martedi 2 Gennaio 2018

We had decided to forego the train from Venice to Prague in favour of flying … mostly to make the most of our time in the Czech capital. It meant we had the morning in Venice, and so we spent it seeing some of the sights we hadn’t yet seen or that we wanted to return to after our photo walk with Vinnie.

Or that was the plan. Vinnie had told us of a great vantage point from which to look out over Venice … the top floor of the new shopping mall. We’d been two days before but the terrace was booked out (yes, you have to book) so this was our last opportunity. We arrived early, wandered through the shopping centre (gorgeous red escalator that Sakye would have loved), then headed for the 4th floor and joined the line.

There’d been lots of rain the day before and apparently the terrace was dangerously slippery and so they weren’t letting anyone out there. Too much of a risk, so no looking over the rooftops of Venice this trip it seemed.

Except we had a back up plan … Vinnie had taken us to a place we’d never have found by ourselves and we returned there, climbed the thousands of steps, and managed to see the rooftops of (some of) Venice.

We had worked out what time we needed to catch the vaporetto to the airport and from which ‘station’ … but what we didn’t bank on was the height of the tide. We’d seen people wearing plastic knee high boots over their shoes and thought they were being extra cautious – there was no water spilling over from the Grand Canal – but when we arrived at the vaporetto station we were told the boat couldn’t go from there because the tide was too high. We’d need to go to San Marco instead and catch the blue line rather than the orange line.

We had six minutes to get there.

The closer we got to St Mark’s Square the more crowded the streets became and the more people there were selling the plastic boots. We soon saw why.

The Square was flooded.

We made our way around the outside – the non-flooded bits – only to be confronted by more flood waters at the other end of the Square. There was no other way around it – we had to wade through ankle-deep water.

Luckily my knee high fur lined boots were waterproof – as were Tim’s, except his weren’t knee high and so he ended up with wet feet.

We made it to the vaporetto station just as the boat was leaving the wharf. The orange line, the one we’d planned on catching, took 15 minutes to get to Marco Polo airport. The blue line, the one we now had to catch, took over an hour. By this time it was after 12 and our plane left at 2:40. Tim had read that it’d take 2 hours to get through check-in/security/passport control and it’s safe to say that by this point he was slightly stressed.

We waited in line only to realise after 15 minutes of waiting that it was the wrong line. Climbing through the fence to the right line was ungainly, so I didn’t do it, instead choosing to hobble as quickly as I could, through the throng of people in the line, out the gate that thankfully were open, around the barrier and up the jetty to join the right line – just as the boat pulled in.

We had a lovely trip across the Lido, then to Fondamente Nove where we’d been the day before, across to Murano, and then … finally … we were on our way to the airport. I hasten to add at this point that Tim didn’t think it was a ‘lovely trip’ but I was feeling quite relaxed.

We (finally) arrived at Marco Polo, ran (yes, ladies and gentlemen, you read that right, I ran – Tim was walking fast but for me to keep up I had to run), and followed the signs to the terminal. It was a 10 minute walk we did in six minutes.

There was no one at the check in counter – they’d all amassed at the gate by this time – and things were proceeding well until the machine spitting out the baggage stickers got a baggage sticker stuck in it and it took the girl quite some time to get it unstuck. You can imagine Tim’s state of mind at this stage.

Finally, the stuck sticker came unstuck … but she now had to change the roll. Tim was tearing his hair out.

Right, baggage stickers stuck on our bags, away they went on the conveyer, and away we went to security. Remove my watch, my hat, my gloves, my buff, my shoes, my jacket … something still beeped so I was led away to be checked over more thoroughly.

I looked around to see where Tim was, and he was as pale as a ghost and looking decidedly sick. He’d lost his passport and boarding pass. He was in a mad panic, upturning the security bins, reefing people’s belongings out of them to see if his passport was underneath their jackets, scarves, gloves, computers. He’d left his bag with me, and that apparently looked suspicious because I was called over to the security guard for another personal check of my person and both bags.

A shout of jubilation … he’d found it!

I bade a fond farewell to my patter-downer and off we raced for the gate. The plane was late and we had fifteen minutes before we had to board! Time for a coffee to calm Tim’s frazzled nerves, and a toilet stop and we were on our way to Prague.

Not the best way to leave Venice it has to be said! It strengthens my resolve to train it when next we find ourselves in Europe.

Small plane to Prague – one of the ones with propellers – but very smooth and uneventful. We’d booked a shuttle to our accommodation – ‘there’ll be someone holding a board with your name on it’ I was told.

There were about a dozen men holding boards with people’s names on them, and at the back a massive Macedonian with my name on his board. I approached cautiously, but as soon as he smiled I could see he wasn’t anywhere near as scary as he looked.

This was no ordinary shuttle – this was a meet and greet service. Darko, for that was the name of the massive Macedonian, provided us with lots of information about Czech people, how to stay safe from pickpockets and those who might want to take advantage of our foreignness (Prague is the 6th safest city in the world, so there really isn’t too much to worry about), where to change money and which currency exchanges to avoid, which tram to take to get into the city, the best stop to get off when visiting the castle, which pharmacy is open 24 hours a day (just in case you need), where to buy food, which restaurants we should try … he even took us into the apartment to point our how to get in, how to get out, what to do with the key … it’s a fabulous service.

What a lovely way to be welcomed to Prague! It was especially welcome after the stress of leaving Venice.

Posted in Photography, Travel

Day #12: Venice

Lunedi 1 Gennaio 2018

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.

Posted in Travel

Musings from the train

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.

A jam Jim, but not as we know it.

 

The ‘stop/go’ man, keeping the traffic under control while something happens in the building above.

Stopping ‘traffic’ the Venetian way

I even saw a Venetian garage:

A garage of the Venetian variety

 

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

Picasso

Dali

Pollock

Modrian

Miro

Max Ernst

Modigliani

… 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.

The view from inside the Bridge of Sighs

 

This staircase would have some interesting stories to tell!

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).

I’m having  a blast!

Posted in Travel

And I think to myself …

There are so many people, but once you move past that and begin to see individuals rather than crowds, you see differently. There are young people, old people and then there are the children…

… dancing

This little girl was having a wonderful time dancing with her grandfather

 

chasing seagulls

This little girl was taking a breather from chasing seagulls

 

… playing dress-up

This little girl enjoyed wearing her Venetian mask

 

And I think to myself …

Posted in Travel

Just for Mum

Hi Mum,

I thought of you especially today when I was wondering around St Mark’s Square. There were loads of people and I wasn’t sure what to do. Other people were taking photos of themselves and each other in front of the basillica, or in front of anything really. Kids were chasing the pigeons, adults were being told off for feeding them (the pigeons, not the kids), some had pigeons sitting on their head or shoulders.

This man was told off repeatedly for feeding the pigeons.

I was asked by loads of people to take photos of them with their cameras. Others I just took with mine …

This couple asked me to take a photo with their camera too.

I became aware of music. There are cafes in the square with orchestras playing and gorgeous waiters in white coats and black bowties. I saw a couple dancing

What better way to move around the square.

I wandered closer to the cafe and looked at the menu. The prices were out of this world, but then I thought “If mum was here with me, we’d be in there like a shot” … so Mum, I played ladies and thought of you while I drank my Darjeerling tea with lemon and listened to the beautiful music.

Playing ladies with(out) Mum

How about next year we do it for real?

Love,

Sharon

Posted in Travel

For dog lovers

In Paris it isn’t at all unusual to see people walking their dogs. It’s not unusual to step over dog business or the streams of dog wee that seems to pour from buildings.

So I wasn’t surprised to see people walking their dogs in Avignon. But I was surprised to see dogs accompanying their owners on the train, or to a restaurant. One couple had a really big dog which somewhat surprised the lady at the next table when he showed a sudden interest in her food.

Imagine my surprise though, when I was walking up the Stada Nuova in Pavia the other day, to stop as a man and one golden retriever came out of a cafe. No, wait … not one … two. No hang on, there’s another one. Oh, and another one! Four! Four golden retrievers in the restaurant.

It seems the Italians love their dogs just as much as the French do. They take their dogs to Venice and sit with them in cafes in St Mark’s Square:

Moments before, the dog had been reading over the man’s shoulder!

 

And they include their dogs in self-portraits standing in front of the church.

The whole family has to be in the shot!

The dog didn’t really seem to care for that!

 

Posted in Travel

Rats … everywhere

We (I obviously include myself in this as I’m one of them) are like rats … crawling over the city, finding our way into narrow (narrow) laneways, into buildings, onto boats. We are everywhere. We arrive by train (like I did), by plane (like Sarah and Ben will tonight), by car and by cruise ship (there were three in the harbour when I came into the station).

The hordes invading Venice

I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I wasn’t expecting the noise – of the water hitting the boats (it was quite rough on the Grand Canal) and of the boats’ squeaks as they rub against the jetties, and of so many boats. The people noise I can shut out, but this other noise surprised me, caught me off-guard, made me feel a bit overwhelmed.

I called Nicola and we kind of managed to understand each other. I found the right vaporetto station (thanks Sarah for the instructions) and was pulled with the tide of people onto a boat. I found a place to sit – I was to get off near the end of the Grand Canal. Getting off meant fighting against the tide of people and in the end I had to stop being polite and I just pushed.

Nicola was waiting at Arsenale station for me. At each other train station in each other city I’ve visited I’ve had a print out of directions from the station to the hotel from Google maps. When I was home, on the other side of the world, it seemed like a good idea. Then I got to Avignon and the first direction said, “head west in the direction of the SS1”. That’s the equivalent of saying, “turn left where the BP service station used to be”.  I didn’t know what the SS1 was, let alone what direction I was facing! It made for some interesting (long) walks.

But Nicola was there waiting for me, and I don’t think any number of directions from Google street view would have helped. We went across to a street (Calle dei Forni – sounds like California, remember that) which was directly opposite the station, and we walk down that until we reach the photographer’s shop. We turn left and follow the church around. We turn left and go over the metal bridge. Sometimes when men have been fishing and catch something they bring it back and sit at the little table and chair there … and something I didn’t catch). So we walk along the canal, with the wall of the Arsenale on our right on the other side of the canal.

We then turn left, walk to the end of that street (I think you call them streets – but they’re about three feet wide, so I’m not sure) and go under a low arch which has an angel on it and turn right. Remember that when walking back the other way. We go to the end of that street, turn right, turn left, turn right, turn left, turn right, turn left, turn right, and we’re the house with the lion on it. The red house. (There is no alternative to the lefts and rights – that’s just the way the street goes.)

The house with the lion on it.

I did that walk three times yesterday – once with Nicola and twice by myself – the last time at quarter to ten after the Vivaldi concert. It is not in the tourist part of town, so is very quiet … and when a man coughs behind you, no matter how sore your feet are, you speed up!

*****

More of my adventures later – for now, breakfast is calling!