Italy 2014 - Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Venice - Click here for the slideshow (130 pictures)

Finished - September 11, 2014

The train ride from Rome to Venice on the high-speed rail line Italiotreno (Italian train) is peaceful, quiet, and, as long as you pay top dollar (we did) a well-needed respite from the maddening crowds. There is very little in the way of interesting scenery to photograph, so I spent the time reading. A word to the wise: buy bottled water before you board and something to eat. The on-board fare is disappointing, although the free cookies and muffins were okay; then again, any free cookie is okay for me.

Venice is truly a city of water and what could only be described as a pedestrian maze with bridges and narrow alleys. I'm certain that several tourists must slip into the fetid water of the canals on a daily basis, especially after a bottle or two of vino.

Una Hotel

The concierge recommended Trattoria Storica as a restaurant off the beaten path with a good selection of seafood. Off the beaten path was accurate - we made several wrong turns, asked directions four times, backtracked, and eventually found it. The food was a bit heavy on the olive oil, but tasty. Scallops for one appetizer, mixed fish bites (their term) for the other. One order of spaghetti and one of baked sea bass with potatoes that should have been called potatoes with a bit of sea bass thrown in for good luck.

Our first full day in Venice and we awaken to sound of the garbage truck (boat) collecting the hotel's trash below our window. There are no cars, no motorcycles, no Vespas, just boats. We start off in the direction of Piazza San Marco and are continually interrupted by shoe stores that pull us in. Finally reaching the piazza, we find... scaffolding. Okay, not on the entire Basilica, just half.

We got a free boat ride to a glass factory on the island of Murano and watched some glass workers create a multicolored leaf for a chandelier. You can see the action in the photos below. After that, we toured their store, bought nothing, and went next door to another glass factory that made commercial products (not one of a kind and much better prices.) 2 polar bears and 2 vases.

Day two in Venice and we're off to the Doge's Palace. Our first attempt was foiled by a flood in the Piazza San Marco. We backtracked around the rear of the Basilica, bravely fought the crowds, and rushed into the cool museum. You can see the photos on the slideshow (link above) but they don't do the glamour and glitz the power of seeing it firsthand. Magnificent ceilings, massive artwork, and collection of weapons that would scare the bellbottoms off Freddy Kruger.

We had lunch at a typical tourist trattoria, that was surprisingly good. Mixed seafood salad and a glass of red wine for me, tortellini with a nice bolognese sauce and a Coke for Suzi.

Something else we learned, Venice is a deep-water port. That means that cruise ships can dock here and discharge their huddle masses. If you travel to Venice, make sure you check the days there are cruise ships in port and go somewhere else.

The choice of a restaurant for dinner is difficult when you travel. For starters, you want to avoid the tourist traps. Is this one of them? We took a picture or two and then crossed the bridge for authentic Italian cuisine. Still a tourist restaurant, but they all seem to fit that classification. Great dessert, though. Millefoglie - similar to a Napoleon.

From past trips to Europe, I recalled that most Europeans eat dinner very late. This does not seem to be the case in Venice. We finished eating around 8:30pm and the restaurant was almost empty. By the way, leave your sport jackets and fancy evening duds at home. Everyone wears jeans.

Mixed seafood appetizer

Scallops appetizer

Veal Marsala

Veal cutlet with spaghetti

Millefoglie (before)

Millefoglie (after)

Our last full day in Venice is a boat failure and a museum success. We tried our best to use a ticket machine to board the city bus (boat) and couldn't get it to where we could purchase two 7 Euro tickets. A nice Italian lady tried helping us - using the Italian settings on the machine - and got us to the point where we needed to pay. The machine refused my debit card, my credit card, and my cash. It didn't like Suzi's cash either, so we marched back to the hotel and ordered a taxi (boat) for 60 Euros. The taxi took a half hour to get to us and ten minutes to get to the first museum. The nice Italian lady, who failed to get herself a ticket, muttered several profanities, and then, throwing her hands up in disgust said, "It's Italian."

The first museum - the Peggy Guggenheim Collection of Modern Art - was amazing. Jackson Pollack, Dali, Klee, and dozens of other artists who must have used dozens of unknown psychotropic products to create art that boggled the senses. The second museum - the Gallerie dell'Accademia - had gigantic old paintings, many of them wall-to-wall in rooms as large as an airplane hanger.

Leaving the Guggenheim museum, we found several interesting galleries on our way to lunch. In an area filled with museums, you never know where you'll find interesting and unusual creations. These two were part of a woodworking gallery. Unfortunately, the artist was closing for lunch and shooed us out the door before I could ask him the price. Ha!

Everything you see is wood.

A "leather" jacket out of wood.

A glass squirrel.

I think these are bicycles.

A poster we bought.

Until this meal, I had never had a really crappy meal in Italy. This one at some random trattoria near our hotel was designed for shoe repair rather than human consumption. I have a blister on my index finger from cutting the "steak". I'm still not 100% certain that it was beef. Suzi's chicken cutlet, in the background, was almost as tough but the bread crumbs actually aided in the cutting process. The potatoes, swimming in olive oil, were either burnt or crumbled. There is a McDonald's just up the street from this place - eat there instead.

Overall Impressions
  • Una Hotel - the first room they tried to give us was in the attic - low ceiling, huge exposed beams, stairs to the bathroom, several staircases to the room. The room we immediately switched to was huge, hard bed, but plenty of room. The bathroom was setup so that it was tough to sit on the toilet without banging some part of your body, but it was spacious. The location wasn't the best, but it was impossible to tell what was a good location with the maze of tiny streets and alleys.
  • Food - in a word: terrible. The only good meal we had was the first dinner at Trattoria Storica, the rest weren't worth calories. The pizza is thin and lacking flavor. I can't wait to get to Sicily for "real" Italian food.
  • People - several rude people, but just about anyone will give you directions. Everyone smokes and the whole place stinks from it. Sad to say, but eat inside a restaurant if possible, just to avoid the stench.
  • Getting Around - you are going to get lost, get used to it. There are no straight shots to anywhere. The city bus (boat) is cheap, crowded, and stops often. Private taxis (boats) are very expensive, but very fast. You just have to wait for them to come get you and make sure you ask the front desk at your hotel to get one for you, no other hotel will do it, and you can't flag one down.