In search of the winter sun.
Ask Nez where she likes to travel and without fail she would respond:  “A beach destination or somewhere warm.”  This being winter in Europe, there are very few places with warm beaches.  Nevertheless, conventional wisdom dictates heading in the southerly direction for a respite from the cold.  We have both been to Spain but Nez has not seen Italy, and any further south and we would be in Africa proper.  So, we ticked off a few names – Venice, Rome, Sicily – and inexplicably threw in Krakow for good measure because Poland seemed like a nice, exotic winter wonderland and Riot was afraid he would miss the sub-zero temperature.  And that was how we arrived upon our quest for the December sun and winter fun.
Holga Photos
See Venice in a different light:  It’s a whole new perspective on film. 
Be sure to check out the Holga photos of our trip!
DAYS  Day 1  Day 2  Day 3    Day 5  Day 6  Day 7  Day 8  Day 9  Day 10  Day 11  Day 12  Day 13  Day 14  Day 15  Day 16
Venice:  Goodbyes and the hanging clouds.
VENICE – 23 December 2009.  This morning, arrivederci was said with a thin, pervasive layer of fog that hovered over all of old Venice.  Gone was the bright blue sky with the occasional puffs of photogenic clouds of the last few days.  Today, it was also colder than usual as Riot made a quick dash down the now-familiar lanes to Bar Aperol (see Review) by the Rialto Bridge to pick up our lunch for the long train ride later.  Images of delicious, crustless, triangular sandwiches with an astounding variety of stuffings beckoned him back.

In between checking out at the hotel and boarding the Rome-bound train, we thought we would squeeze in a quick visit to the top of the Campanile.  However, a hastily handwritten sign at the front entrance put an end to that.  The tower was not open until noon but our train was scheduled to leave at 12:43.  So, it would have to be another time then, we thought, as we dragged our luggage to the nearby vaporetto stop.  We had done a lot in our three-and-a-half days here and we were sure of one thing:  It was just the right amount of time.  With that, we hopped on the No. 2 vaparetto for an express ride through the throng of water traffic – delivery boats, taxis, water buses, construction barges, and, of course, gondolas – on the winding Grand Canal.  The fine mist in the air gave the whole place a distant, aged look – exactly the way Venice was meant to be seen.

  While the local businessman started the day by checking his messages, Riot ran his early-morning food errand.



  The same tasty and tasty-looking sandwiches awaited at Bar Aperol (see Review).  The other passengers would turn green with envy when we ate our lunch on the train to Rome.



  Riot spotted the very same sushi/wine bar we went looking for our first day in Venice on the last morning in town.


At the station, we had time to kill and a good deed to be done.  Our 24-hour bus passes would not expire for another two hours so we thought we would give them to the first traveling couple we saw to save them some euros.  In execution, our simple plan took longer than we had expected.  We had to hover around the ticket booth like two novice scalpers for a while before spying a man and a woman engrossed, it appeared, in a discussion of the merit of taking the water bus over walking.

Riot approached them and started with, “Parla inglese?
“A little,” the man said.
“Do you want two tickets for the water bus?  It’s free.”  Riot said the free part again, with emphasis so not to be misunderstood.
“Uh, OK …”
“It’s good until two.  2 P.M.  Fourteen.”  Riot pointed to his watch-free wrist and signaled two with his fingers, using all the different ways he knew to convey the amount of time before the tickets expired.  Having done so, he suddenly realized that they might have thought he was trying to sell the tickets for two something.
“Two hours?” said the woman.
“Yes.  Two hours.”
“Uh, how about you?” said the man.
“We’re leaving on the train now.  These are yours.”
“Oh, thank you!” they both beamed huge smiles.  “Thank you very much.”
“You’re welcome.  Enjoy.”

  Everything we would need in those bags:  We gave ourselves kudo points for packing light on this trip.



  For a long stretch of the Grand Canal, we were the only passengers on this morning vaporetto and Nez the only one in the heated cabin.


We walked away with similar beaming smiles on our faces, sure of the fact that even a gesture this small would be as memorable as all of the large and small canals of this place.  We saw them walk onto the water bus platform and hoped that they would not somehow end up getting fined for some reason, reasons that did not and could not exist, as far as we knew.

Before boarding the train, we had time for a quick stop at the station’s cafeteria for a coffee at the bar.  We approached and gave our order to the bar attendant who had made his way over in a grudging manner and with a facial expression that seemed to say:  “Oh no, you see, you’ve got it all wrong.”  He waited for Riot to finish saying what we wanted before slowly raising his index finger and pointing in the direction of the cassa and telling us to go and pay for our order first.  Unfazed, we rolled our luggage over in that direction to repeat our order again to the cashier and then made our way back to the bar.  The same attendant came over to our spot and took the receipt from us.  His face now said:  “Yes, you see, that’s how it works here.”  We smiled a smile that could only convey, “Yes, of course,” as we drank our little potent espresso and cappuccino.  The latter was had, in correct fashion, within a loose definition of morning.  That was how we understood things to work here.

  A gondolier prepared his boat for another day of hunting for the dwindling supply of tourists.



  We could not resist a last photo of the gondolas, these sat against a backdrop of fog engulfing Giudecca and the Lagoon.



  A post card home:  Our attempted ascend of the Campanile this morning was thwarted by a today-only late opening.


Among the things we still don’t understand is how to complete a purchase of train tickets on the Trenitalia’s website.  Getting our train tickets from Venice to Rome was an ordeal in its own right.  Trenitalia has a nice and user-friendly enough website but when it came time to pay, our foreign credit cards (American and French) were rejected.  Apparently, this happened to a lot of people and their gripes are well-documented on the internet.  Trenitalia blamed it on our credit card companies while the latter said it was the train company’s problem.  We could always buy the tickets once we got to Venice but would also run the risk of having them selling out because of the holidays.  To avoid such a mishap from disrupting our tight schedule, we decided that it was best to buy the tickets in Paris.  However, there was no Trenitalia branch in Paris and the American Express agency in town did not sell train tickets.  In the end, we did track down Trenitalia’s agent in Paris with the help of the Italian Tourism Center and finally secured our transportation to Rome.  (Trenitalia c/o APG:  66, avenue des Champs-Elysées, 75008 Paris; Immeuble E, 2ème étage; Mon-Fri 9h-18h; 0825.800.329;

  Gone was the blue sky of the last few days.  We made our exit just as a blanket of fog rolled into town.



  Among the many palazzos dotting the Grand Canal is the 16th-century Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti done in the Venetian Gothic style.


With our refreshments consumed and our tickets in hand, we boarded the train confidently and carried our luggage to our reserved seats – Car 11, seats 52 and 53 – only to find two other travelers already sitting in them.  They thought they were in the wrong seats; we thought so too.  When it was determined that they were, in fact, in the correct seats, we all compared our collective tickets to see which couple had the invalid seat assignments.  Neither.  Serendipitously, we had been assigned the same exact car and seats while the rest of car No. 11 was virtually empty.  “I’ll ask the conductor when he comes,” said the man sitting in our/his seat, “I’m sure they will work this out.”  He spoke both English and Italian and so we took him up on his offer.  We were also sure that things would work themselves out in the end, although we secretly hoped that the train would start moving soon, which would make it more difficult to kick us off.  The assumption, not entirely unsound, was that it would be harder on one’s sense of humanity to throw someone off a moving train than a stationary one.  (Only later did we learn that the train would make several stops before reaching Rome, thus giving the conductors plenty of opportunities if we were to be thrown off.)

  The early fog draped over the Rialto Bridge and the morning restocking of the city’s restaurants and shops.



  Ever wonder how do they get all of the supplies into town without cars and trucks?  Boats, of course.  Gondolas do not have a monopoly of the water ways.


We need not have even worried.  The Trenitalia employees were as utterly professional in resolving the matter as they were equally perplexed by it.  Until it was resolved, however, all four of us sat nervously while the two conductors feverishly compared the two sets of tickets line by line.  Date, time, destination, car number, seat numbers, etc.  We knew we had valid tickets but that did not help allay the fear that perhaps, just perhaps, something was not right and we stood to look foolish or worse on a fast moving train.  In the end, perhaps the computers in France and Italy were not talking to each other and two sets of travelers got the same seat assignments.  The solution:  Human intervention in the form of a handwritten receipt sending us to the same exact seats two cars down.  Everyone was happy and the train rushed toward its final destination, the way everything should be.

  One of the four bridges spanning the Grand Canal:  The Ponte degli Scalzi near the train station.



  Like a true Italian, Nez ordered her cappuccino during the early part of the day, which today extended until noon.



  Our high-speed train to Roma Termini awaited at Venice’s own Santa Lucia station.


  A panorama of the square in front of the Santa Lucia train station.  Across the sliver of water, which is the Grand Canal, lies the district of Santa Croce.
DAYS  Day 1  Day 2  Day 3    Day 5  Day 6  Day 7  Day 8  Day 9  Day 10  Day 11  Day 12  Day 13  Day 14  Day 15  Day 16
Dine | Italy  Sleep | Italy

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