Friday, July 8, 2011

the disneyland of europe and a renaissance capital - the middle of italy - venice and florence.

friday, 24 june 2011

we had to check out earlyish from the hostel, so we woke up around 7h30 and got ready for the day. we were all packed up and ready by 8h15. after a quick breakfast and some internet time, we paid and continued on our journey – and let me tell you, lugging my suitcase around over cobblestones is no picnic.. i so wish i had a nice backpacking backpack!! we got to the station in verona just in time to catch the super cheap train to venice – win! the trip took about 2 hours, but it was so beautiful! fields, hills, cute houses, the whole bit. we arrived in venice at 12h15 and our real adventure began. since my CS hunt had been largely unsuccessful, i had looked up several hostels in the city.. but made no reservation, figuring we’d just show up and hope for the best. so we got out of the station, walking into the disneyland of italy (possibly even of europe) – everyone lives there, no  one visits. 50,000 tourists PER DAY. that’s 588 tourists per actual resident per year. for comparison, there are only 9 tourists per parisian resident each year, and paris is the most visited city in the world. this is a tiny city that is a VERY popular destination. the canals are really mindblowing though.. i kept having little realizations, like ‘when you call a taxi… a boat comes.’ or ‘if there were drive through places here, it would be AWESOME.’ anyway, from the station, we took a waterbus (!) to the island of guidecca, one of the main islands of the city. we went to the first hostel on my list, which is the biggest in venice. it was very easy to find, but the boat bus took forever to get there. when we finally arrived, we found out that they were booked. completely. the woman gave me a list of other places to try and wished us luck. uh oh. two of the places were also on my list, but they were far away. we tried the closest one, about 10 minutes away on foot but on the same big island. it was so windy along the waterfront that it was actually difficult to walk! plus, having our bags with us meant carrying them up and over every bridge. and in a city with that many canals, bridges come frequently. (there are actually 409 bridges in venice, i was curious). after a huge spiral hunt, we finally found the place… but couldn’t figure out how to get it! there was a code, and we didn’t know it. we sat and regrouped just for a minute, but while we stood there, another traveler (identified by large backpack – jealous) walked up, looking like he was in search of the hostel as well. as it turns out, he’d been looking for a place to stay since 7h30 that morning (uhh oh), and had just come from the big hostel, who sent him here. i told him where the place was, and that we didn’t know how to get it. eventually, we just yelled over the wall to someone, and they told us the code. once we got into the complex, we learned that it was in fact not a hostel, but a student residence. and they rent rooms out to travelers… from mid-july to september. that didn’t help us. our new friend (francisco from mexico) decided to join forces with us to look for a place. we left and stopped at a little café to get lunch. i ate quickly and left rachel and francisco with the bags at the café while i ran back to the first hostel and asked to use a computer. the woman was nice enough to let me look up some other places to stay. i sent off a message on CS and wrote down the name of one other place before all of the computers suddenly shut off. perfect. i went back to the café and said our best bet was to go to the train station, where there was an accommodation service. during this whole escapade, i’d been calling the hostels, trying to inquire about availabilities. except no one was answering! i tried my luck one more time, and finally got someone to pick up at a hostel across town. she said they had 3 places – great! except it was 2 male spots and 1 female. dang. francisco was stoked, though, because he’d been searching forever! the hostel was near the station, so when we got off the boat, we wished him luck and sent him on his way, fearing that the beds would be taken before he got there. rachel and i went into the station and checked out the accommodation service – which was only for fancy hotels. the cheapest room they could get us was like 150 euro per night… no thanks. the girl was sweet enough to show us on the map where the cheaper hotels are, so we walked down one street with a few one star places, which got progressively cheaper as we got further away from the station. we stopped in an internet café to send out some more CS messages and look for other places. as we left, i spotted another little one star places tucked in next to a restaurant. i asked, and they had a room for 58 euro! since we were splitting the cost, that wasn’t much more than a hostel would be, so we took it. hooray! we checked in and went to drop our bags off. the room was SO SMALL, but it fulfilled our need for a place to stay, and it wasn’t exorbitantly expensive. after a little rest, we started out to go explore the magical city of venice. the canals are really just incredible.. the 409 bridges connect 117 tiny islands that make up the floating lagoon city. it’s so cool! since it’s all canals and stairs, there are obviously no cars. it’s weird once you realize that there are no motorized vehicles around. i loved all the boats – the waterbuses called vaporetti, sleek watertaxis, personal boats, and of course, the ever-charming gondolas, which are awesome but doubtlessly ridiculously overpriced. we admired them from afar and took lots of pictures. throughout our walk, i also loved the super confusing directional signs. it would be impossible to have normal ones, though, because there are SO MANY ways to get everywhere. since all of the tiny streets and canals are not named on the map, we just wandered in the general direction of the centre, winding out way through the giant maze of a city. we saw loads of gorgeous buildings and bridges, many shops and restaurants, and SO many people!!! i’m pretty sure that there were a few cruise ships that had docked for the weekend, so there were a lotttt of tourists. we finally ended up in st. mark’s square, one of europe’s most beautiful plazas. there is a ridiculous number of pigeons in that plaza. i guess they know that food comes from tourists! we people-watched for a while, went to look at the waterfront, and then headed back into the maze. we stopped at a little restaurant for dinner. i had ravioli, crossing another item off of my “must eat in italy!” list. after dinner, we went back to the hotel to rest  for a while, and then went back out for gelato a little later. the room had a teeny little air conditioning unit, so we didn’t have to be uncomfortably warm all night!

saturday, 25 june 2011

our only full day in venice, but we had no real plans except to keep on exploring. we check out of the hotel at 11 and brought out stuff down the street to the hostel we’d found the night before. it was a pretty run-down old place, but the people were nice and they had an opening for two. plus, it was cheaper than our room. once we got settled there, we left and took the waterbus all the way down the grand canal to the very end, getting off on the opposite side from st. mark’s. we checked out a really neat church and walked around for a while, eventually ending up at a sweet café where we had lunch. the café was in an awesome location – right on the canal, at the foot of a big pedestrian bridge, with a gondola stop next door! we sat at the corner table, practically on the water. with the sunshine and the bright pink flowers in the planters, it seemed like we were in a movie. we had a reasonably-priced (for venice) lunch and then continued on our way. during the super-hot, tourist-filled afternoon, we went back to the hostel for siestas. i skyped and blogged for a while, and rachel sent more CS requests and took a nap. when dinnertime rolled around, we went down the street to a place that rach had found online, which supposedly had great, cheap food. it was indeed fairly priced, and decently yummy! after dinner, we took a lonnnnnng final walk around the city, all the way to the opposite end. we got a little lost at the end, even, because there were so many dead ends! around 21h30, we decided to take a waterbus back home. the boat took forever to come, and then the journey itself was crowded and long. by the end of it, i wasn’t even feeling up for gelato. :( we got back to the hostel and went pretty much right to sleep.

sunday, 26 june 2011

moving on again! i didn’t know the check-out time for the hostel, so we slept until 9ish. we took our time packing up and finally left around 11h. since we didn’t really want to lug our bags all over the place, we just went straight to the train station. i bought our tickets to Florence on the 13h train and then left rachel with our pags while i left in search of food. i came back with some pizza and two drinks, and we proceeded to have a lovely train station picnic, people watching all the while. around noon, i went to get some gelato – we both had pineapple and raspberry – YUM. the train came around 12h45, which was nice because it was air-conditioned, so we got on early, settling in to our little compartment for our three hour trip. we were alone at first, but as we got further from venice, the train filled up. i spent almost the whole journey writing or reading my book, so it went quickly. we arrived in a very hot, bright florence at 16h30 – my plan had been to take a bus to the flat, but none of the lines we wanted left from that station. dang. so, we started on foot, going by the very detailed google directions that i’d luckily written down earlier. after 20 minutes of walking, we somehow ended up back at the train station. double dang. i called our host, and he gave us vague directions. he’s Italian, but he wanted to speak in french so he could practice.. which led to a very disjointed conversation with less-than-helpful advice. we wandered in what i believed to be the correct general direction until i was too tired and frustrated to go on. i texted our host where we were sitting and asked him to come find us. we waited about 4 minutes, and then there he was! thanks to the changing street names and illegible street signage, we’d unknowingly walked within 50 yards of the place for about 30 minutes.. infinite dang. after climbing 4 flights of stairs (of course), we finally got to the flat. i tossed my bags in the room and drank about a litre of water. we sat and rested for a while until our body temperatures cooled down. around 19h, we took the bus downtown to do a little tour before dinner. it was so amazing to see the duomo – that building is incredible! so unbelievably detailed and intricate. we continued looking around until around 20h45. the bus back to the flat was about 20 minutes late, so we ended up not getting back until nearly an hour later. for dinner, alessandro (our host) made some lovely penne pasta with cherry tomatoes. i spend the night killing mosquitos – i had 10 by the time we left to get gelato, which earned me a free scoop! we walked the 10 minutes to the gelateria, where i had apricot. yum. :) we walked back to the flat and sat up just for a little while. everyone else went to bed, but i stayed up to video skype drew for the first time in weeks! except rachel’s computer has a very testy microphone, so he couldn’t hear me. i ended up typing to him while he talked back. it was silly and frustrating, but still totally worth it. i went to bed around 01h, feeling like i was sleeping in a sauna. rough. we had our own room, though, so at least i only had to have minimal pajamas!

monday, 27 june 2011

the boys have a maid come once a month, and monday was her day. ale said it would be best for us to be gone and out of the way, so we had a rather early wake up call. we got dressed and left right on time at 9h. it was going to be a hot day, so we’d planned to do lots of inside things. we caught the bus downtown (after another long wait!) and got all the way to the duomo before realizing that shorts aren’t allowed inside. whoops. we watched loads of girls in shorts and skirts get turned away, and then buy a scarf, from the vendors waiting next to the door, to use as a sarong. smart vendors. we walked across the ponte vecchio (florence’s only remaining medieval bridge, from 1345!) to the pitti palace and boboli gardens. except they’re closed on Mondays. so much fail! since it was so hot, we sat next to a fountain in a nearby plaza and watched some seriously cute children run around and play. once we got hungry, we went in search of a restaurant I’d heard about online. it was delicious, and super cheap! only 4 euro for a dish of pasta. i had tortellini in a meat sauce and it was awesome! the little trattoria was so cute and charming. after lunch, we slowly made our way back down the river towards the uffizi gallery, one of europe’s greatest art museums. it houses mostly renaissance art, and it is awesome. we got there around 13h30, only to find out that two of the four main galleries had special closing times that day – 14h. of course. the good news was that the following day, all the museums in the city were open late and free after 19h! sweet! so we made plans to come back. we were pretty tired from all the walking and the crazy heat, so we headed back to the flat. except i had unwittingly used up the last of my phone credit, so we couldn’t call the guys and ask them to come meet us. we ended up waiting outside for a little while until the other flatmate, raffaele, came back. he let us in and we got to have our rest time. i even took a nap, because i was so exhausted! i got up around 18h and we all walked to the store to buy a few things for dinner. i also bought a bag of frozen peas to use as an ice pack, because I’d started to develop shin splits. bad news. i still had two weeks in Europe at this point, and i was worried that my legs wouldn’t make it! ale made another great pasta dinner – carbonara. we sat in the kitchen talking and listening to music until bedtime at 23h. it was another HOT night.

tuesday, 28 june 2011

we had a much more successful art day on tuesday. we slept later and spent the morning looking for a place to stay in rome, in addition to other computer things. we left around 13h and made our way into town. our first stop was to go to the market and get some snacks.. I’d gotten several more mosquito bites, so i was pretty uncomfortable. my mom had suggested rubbing banana peel on the bites to alleviate the itch, so we figured we’d give it a go. we got some water and fruit and then looked at all the market stalls for a while. our next goal was to visit the david gallery, but the line was SO long! we opted to come back later in the evening. we walked down the street to the duomo instead, finally getting to go inside! it is absolutely spectacular, but i will say – the outside is more amazing than the interior. and the dome itself is mindblowing! we looked around for a while and then rachel chilled in the plaza while i climbed the bell tower – all 414 steps! i had an amazing view of florence from the top, and an up-close look at the dome. once i finally made it back down, we wandered our way over to the area where the evening’s restaurant is located. we finally found it, realizing that we’d literally walked by it the day before. we also went looking for another place on our list, called mama’s bakery, which our friend ariel had recommended to rachel. we didn’t find it, mostly because it had closed a few hours earlier and the rollers were down, covering the store front. sigh. at 19h, we went and got some excellent pizza from ‘gustapizza’ – mine was a bit undercooked but still good. the night’s plan was to visit as many museums as possible, because it was a ‘museum night’ and they were all free and open late! we started with the uffizi gallery, which houses ‘the birth of venus’, ‘venus of urbino’, and LOTS of creepy baby Jesus renditions. it was an excellent museum, and we had a fun time walking around it! we left around 21h and went straight to the david gallery, fearing a long wait. except when we got there, we literally walked straight in. there was NO ONE there! and just earlier that day, the line had been down the block. silly tourists. the rest of the gallery is cool, but the david is truly breathtaking. i still can’t get over the detail and size of that work. amazing. rachel commented that the look in david’s eyes really gives the statue a whole new meaning. we looked at some more creepy infants and then called it a night. we almost missed the bus due to our gelato consumption, but we ran on just in time. we got back right at the same time as ale and raffaele, so we walked up together and rachel and i prepared for another night in the hot box. it was a rough one, and we slept very little. only one more night left… :\

wednesday, 29 june 2011

a pretty relaxing day. i tried to go easy on my shins, so we didn’t walk as much (but still a fair bit). the only things left on my list were the santa croce church and mama’s bakery. we left the flat around 14h and made our way to mama’s for a late lunch. i am so glad we persisted in our search, because that place was awesome. i had a mini cupcake an a bagel with cream cheese and strawberries – NOM. we got some cookies to go and headed back across the river to santa croce. due to wardrobe choices, rachel couldn’t go inside.. but she didn’t really want to pay, so it worked out. i visited by myself for about 30 minutes. i saw the tombs of galileo, Michelangelo, macciavelli, and dante. wow! the church itself was under construction, but still very nice. i got back out to rachel and we went to get a drink\use the wifi at a café nearby. the drinks were fine, but the wifi didn’t work. ah well. we meandered back to the piazza della signoria, where we discovered a huge outdoor stage with a ballet rehearsal taking place on it! very entertaining. dinner was at a restaurant called casalinga, recommended by that nice german couple in verona. it was very good – reasonable prices and yummy food, but pretty cold service. we had a lovely meal and then went back to try to watch ballet, but the show was over. instead, we headed back to the flat and got ourselves ready for the next day’s departure. my final mosquito bite count was 74. our last night in the hottest apartment EVER!

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