A Travellerspoint blog

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For so long

Why do we live so far away?

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I’m a country boy at heart, so Murano appealed.
The Murano main drag

The Murano main drag

It's a small version of Venice, without the crowds - in fact it’s very quiet. I went for run and saw about 10 people in half an hour (the locals told us that everyone had left town for vacation in the mountains for August, but I can’t imagine anybody ever rushing) - very un-Venice like. You can walk around the whole island in about an hour, no roads, just canals, boats and narrow paths, with crumbling Venetian style villas lining the canals.
As sun goes down

As sun goes down

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As night falls in summer

As night falls in summer

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Its famous for its glass factories, so has about 30 glass shops - and almost nothing else. It seems to cater purely for the tourists from Venice at lunchtime, after which everything shuts - but a small price to pay for missing the endless stream of tourists that invade San Marco square everyday and queue for everything. Life is full of hot summer evenings, with locals gathered at the local bar for a chat and a spritz – an idyllic start to our island hop through Europe.
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But first we had to get there. Landed at 5:30AM in 34-degree heat, then despite 4 terminals and what must be 100 departure gates, we parked on the very edge of the airport, had to wait till the very last passenger got off (because they split us by onward destination), to take a 40-minute bus trip (we never left the airport) to Terminal 3 to wait 2 hours to catch the next flight ……at the other end of the airport. And that was just Dubai. That made the 13 long hours ADL to DUB seem short - just a movie (Avengers - Action packed and very unamerican ending), a sleeping pill (I slept), another 2 movies (The Shape of Water - more of a love story than expected and the new Star Wars - not that good, too much action, not enough story?). Luckily they do look after you at the Emirates First Class lounge in Dubai – a shower, very attentive silver service over second breakfast, they even gave me slippers to wear while they polished my shoes. Can’t say the same for cattle class, they just don't look after you as well, despite the "Welcome Mr Coleman, if there is anything we can do for you, please ask" - one day I'm going to call them on that platinum promise.

Then another 6 hours to Venice in a choco plane. So just 23 hours all up, but what to do at 2:30 on a hot Sunday afternoon in Murano?
Taxi Venice style

Taxi Venice style

Luckily we start our hop at a four-star hotel (downhill form here), so the LaGare II speedboat collected us from the airport (because it’s on the mainland, a long way from Venice) and whisked us to Murano via the lagoon super boatway (what do you call a highway for boats?). The Sofitel is a flash hotel (I think it’s the only one on Murano) and they upgraded us to the suite - best room in the place with a king size bed, walk in robe, leather lounge and a great view of the main canal. Just not convinced with the bidet – please explain?
DSC_3491.JPGWe got upgraded!

We got upgraded!

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Then a tired visit to the Museo del Vetro. This museum explains the glass making process and gives some history of manufacture in Murano, with lots of glass artwork. The explanation of laying strands of glass in patterns to make miniature portraits in glass tube cross sections (like boiled lollies) was fascinating and amazingly detailed. So, the museo is worth a visit, but you can see lots of the real thing at the numerous fornance, galleries and tourist shops across the island.
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Cultured out, we strolled down the canal to the Osteria Al Canton, to join the locals chewing the fat over a refreshing spritz as the sun set on a hot afternoon. Great end to a long day.
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Word for the Day: Prego – such a neat way to you’re welcome and it sounds good too.
Today’s Poison: Birre Venezia Bianco - tried the red version, but that was a bit too sweet, while the locals are into Spritz (Campari, wine, soda, ice and just a slice of orange) - sounds like purple cup people have been here before
Walk a mile …..: because I’m a cheapskate (and it is Venice after all – no cars) I’m keen to do lots of walking. They say we should all walk 10,000 steps per day, but I usually only get to around 5,000, so that’s the aim. My phone tells me I got to 9,212 today, which is not so bad given we spent 23 hours on a plane!
Travellers tip: try Murano, but don’t get ripped off buying glass (is it functional or art?)
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Posted by scoleman29 16:00 Archived in Italy Tagged venice Comments (1)

The Streets with no … roads?

Venezia in the heat

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The worst thing about travelling – the bloody tourists! Unfortunately, we just added to the problem, but Venice is no hidden secret, EVERYONE visits. And so you should, because its unique, with canals for roads, narrow alleyways to explore and many many historic buildings, churches and bridges. It just that everyone else is trying to see it all at the same time, so all the famous sites (and lots of the less known) are choco so you need to queue for everything. Small price to see a unique UNESCO heritage listed city spread over 118 islands.
Bustle near the Rialto

Bustle near the Rialto


Because of jet lag woke early to see the sun rise, but took our time in anticipation of a big day with a big breakfast at the hotel (12 Euro for breakfast, but there is nowhere else!), then onto the hotel speedboat (a perk of the 4-star hotel as the water bus costs 7.5 Euro) to Venice - then wham! Reminded me of Amsterdam - postcard pretty, but busy as buggery.
The canal

The canal


No cars in Venice, so we walked – all 12.7km for the day! Lots of confusing tight alleyways (most only a metre or 2 wide) to get lost in. Each lined with 4955 masquerade mask shops and 704 leather shops (well it seemed like that many) and lots of ubiquitous Italian restaurants and osteria. We had to keep popping into the Osteria for a beer and spritz because it was bloody hot.
Another Osteria

Another Osteria

Someday those bricks will erode away completely

Someday those bricks will erode away completely


Stumbled across Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo. Quite impressive "Vast, art-filled Gothic edifice, burial place of 25 doges, with a ceiling decorated by Veronese. " - essentially you walk all over the tombs of blokes who died in the 16 hundreds.
Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo

Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo


The Ponte de Rialto was iconic and manic. The tourist shops continue up and over the bridge and you must fight your way to the edge to get the photo of the Canal Grande. The photo is a must, so welcome to the first queue of the day.
The bridge

The bridge


But the Piazza San Marco was even busier, with Hong Kong'esk crowds. Had to queue for the Basilica di San Marco, which was good, but not as good as the Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo in my opinion. Entry was free .... except for the 2 Euro charge for women to cover up, the 3 Euro entrance to the Treasury, the 2 Euro entry to the crypt and the 5 Euro charge for the balcony.
Basilica de San Marco

Basilica de San Marco


But the Palazzo Ducale was simply magnificent. It was the original court and council built in the 14 hundreds, with gold edge frescos filling the ceilings of room after room. The great council chamber is a room of about 50m by 15m, with the ceiling completely covered in frescos of religious and battle scenes. Then down into the prison cells which were suitably dark, cramped, sparse and claustrophobic. Apparently, we crossed within the appropriately named Bridge of Sighs, where they took the prisoners to the cells and ultimate fate, but didn’t realise till afterwards. Tick that one off the to-do list as well.
Palazzo Ducale

Palazzo Ducale

Exhausted we made it back to the hotel speedboat early, then rushed out to dinner. Murano is a mini Venice, but caters purely to the lunchtime visitors, because every restaurant bar one was closed. Penne All'Amatricana and Cere Birre (from Denmark) set the trend for the pasta binge through Italy. Kept bumping into a pommy couple and their son - he reminded me of Alan Rimmer from our Perth office. Saw the sunset, with the best view frankly from our room down the main canal, then crashed.
As night falls in summer

As night falls in summer


Word for the Day: Per favore - please (don't touch anything because it's all really old and no photographs and no bags and ......)
Today’s Poison: Perroni - thought I compare to the Aussie made version and it was similar - but cost an outrageous 11 Euro on the Piazza San Marco, while Helen continued the Spritz a thon
An 11 Euro Spritz

An 11 Euro Spritz


Walk a mile …. in a city with no cars and no roads, today we walked 22,447 steps or 12.7km - no wonder I have blisters from the new shoes!
Rialto mach 43

Rialto mach 43

Posted by scoleman29 17:00 Archived in Italy Tagged venice Comments (1)

Never Surrender

The road to rack and ruin

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Italian women can be a bit scary.

Hate to generalise, but some we met were blunt and impatient. They just tell it like it is, especially when you’ve done something wrong. Just make sure you don’t forget to weigh your bread roll (who weighs bread rolls?) at the supermarket, else you will incur the wrath of the grumpy checkout chicks in Murano (I use the term loosely as they were about 60). Or the walking tour hostess who tersely told the Indian woman to “try in the office, I can’t help you, leave us alone” – she did interrupt 3 times. And our breakfast hostess at the Rimini Hotel – Helen got the evil eye when she dared to move tables because the one we were allocated was cold under the AC. There were after all 3 others at breakfast and 20 tables – and “don’t burn the toast as it sets off the smoke alarm” – or gestures and broken English to that effect. Perhaps it’s because they must tolerate Italian men….
Anyway, another early sunrise in Murano.
Another day dawns

Another day dawns

Thought we should see a glass factory or Fornace whilst in Murano and were deciding which one when we were swept into Ferro & Lazzarini by a grey haired, suave Italian chap. He laid on the charm, telling jokes and buttering up Helen, as he showed us the glass manufacturing and blowing (which was quite good), then onto the shop. It wasn’t cheap (the business is promoted as an “Artistic Glass factory”), but got even less cheap when Helen mentioned today’s gondola ride, so we were swept upstairs. Declined the offer of free shipping on the glasses (only AUD $120 EACH glass) and escaped when he wasn’t looking. When does glass become art?
Ferro Lazzarini

Ferro Lazzarini

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Bought a water bus using a pass for 20 Euro which meant 24-hour travel, quite good value in Venice, as we can use it to get to the train station tomorrow. This allowed us to take the slow boat to Piazza San Marco, down the back way (near the link to the mainland) past the train station and cruise terminal, out past the Guidecca island (outside of main Venezia) and onto Piazza San Marco. Slow trip, but good value to see the place outside of the big-ticket areas.
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Of course, got lost again so stopped for a beer at an Osteria and got chatting to a friendly pommie couple – you tend to pick out the English amongst the throngs. They’d been everywhere so gave some good tips on our itinerary, but especially loved Santorini because the setting is spectacular and it gives a calming effect – looking forward to it.

Finally arrived at our walking tour start point – we chose that (because I’m tight – but it costs 100 Euro for an individual Gondola ride) to learn a bit (and it included a 30-minute group ride in a black dingy). The tour took us through the back streets of Venezia, complete with fun facts:
• (Watch out nerdy engineering fact coming up) In a city built on (salty) water, Venezia originally had little potable water, so they built town squares called campos (fields because very little was paved originally) to collect runoff and drain into (reverse) wells (they aren’t wells at all but are dotted all over Venezia)
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• Venezia has its own leaning towers, just like the leaning (bell) tower of Santo Stefano. The soil is shite, so once you add water it moves – apparently literally.
The leaning tower of .... Campanile of Santo Stefano

The leaning tower of .... Campanile of Santo Stefano


• The whole city is UNESCO heritage listed, so nobody can afford to fix the salt damp. Instead, out of pride, the locals just shut up shop, just like the abandoned Chiesa di San Beneto (the door below)
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• The church of Santo Stephano is the only in the world built on two islands – you can take a gondola underneath
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• The world’s first fire escape (well that’s what it looks like) was built at the Scala Contarini del Bovolo in 1499 – without the walking tour we would never have found it as the laneway was barely 1 person wide – the back entrance apparently, the canal is out front.Fire escape, renaissance style - Scala Contarini del Bovolo

Fire escape, renaissance style - Scala Contarini del Bovolo


• Venezia has no streets, so no street numbers. Instead using Italian organisational skills, every building within a neighbourhood of Venezia is simply given a number regardless of actual location – often adjacent buildings will have completely different numbers!
• The carnival of Venice started in 1296 and took place over 6 weeks. Some bright spark wanted to extent the season, so introduced masquerade masks, so the party animals could rage on unrecognised. Unfortunately, this lead to casinos and crime, so it was all banned in 1797 (leaving just the roughly 1734 cheap souvenir masquerade shops that are a large contributor to getting lost in Venezia).
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Then the obligatory gondola ride through the tight canals of Venezia – its just not the same sharing with 4 of your newest mates.

Our intimate Gondola ride (with four of our newest friends)

Our intimate Gondola ride (with four of our newest friends)


I wanted to see Venice at night, so a quick bite at La Bella Pollostrella (the beautiful … chickpea?), then a few snaps of the Rialto and ferry along the Grand Canal, then off home - not on Italian public transport, it’s just not that easy.
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Arrived at San Marco to catch the 4.1 water bus, to discover by pier E that it stops at 8:30. Mad panic, ask the lady at ticket counter, take the 5.2, but doesn’t that go clockwise, so shouldn’t we take the 5.1, bugger it let’s try the 5.2. Asked the conductor, she didn’t know, asked the driver and yes this bus (boat) goes to Murano? Panic when the driver changed at te nove, asked again and …… finally arrive at 10:30. How can the 4.1 route change to 5.2 (which usually goes nowhere near Murano) at 8:30 – the least logical bus system I have ever encountered, made doubly worse when written in Italian.
Sunset

Sunset


Walk a mile ….: Only 19,844 steps today, helps to take the water bus
Quote of the Day: “Venice has never been conquered……but they did surrender, twice”. Our guide recounted that Napoleon took over in 1797 and sold everything, so sent the monasteries broke, so no-one has been able to afford repairs since. Then the Austrian’s filled in 20% of the canals in 1815, which now all flood in winter – the give away is the wide streets.

Posted by scoleman29 17:00 Archived in Italy Tagged venice Comments (1)

How big's your Tower

The bolony between Venice and Florence

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Murano Town Square - Campo S Bernado

Murano Town Square - Campo S Bernado


The good thing I like about travel is the novelty value. We stand out like the proverbial – a quick ciao (hey I can speak Italian just like a local) is soon followed by a betraying puzzled look on our faces when the real local replies with a 5 minute spiel in incomprehensible real Italian. Otherwise of course we blend in beautifully with our thongs, pasty winter white skin, Billabong cap and Nikon camera. Once the local clicks that we are Aussies, then ensues a chat about their life story. The old boy on the train this morning proudly announced that he was from Napoli, was 80 years old and he had been married 52 years – she just gave a resigned nod. Suspect that was the extent of his English, but he was a nice bloke who crossed himself as the train started – perhaps he’s been on Italian public transport before.
Suburbia Murano style

Suburbia Murano style


Slow start after late night with blistered feet, so of course did the hair of the dog and walked about 5 kms to see the sunrise and gallery end of Murano (which was closed of course) – looked OK, but hey you can’t do everything. Big breakfast (travellers tip No. 43 – eat big at the breakfast buffet, take an apple for light lunch).
At the end of the road

At the end of the road


Then bye, bye flash hotel (it’s all AirBNB from here) and onto the No. 3 water bus (surprisingly on time and actually took the route marked on the map – very un-Venice like), to the train.
Chiesa di San Michele in Isola

Chiesa di San Michele in Isola


Lady at the information desk was very helpful and did everything but pay for the fast train to Bologna, so the Island hop across Europe could continue (could I cornily suggest that Florence is an island of culture?).
We didn't think to have bolognese for lunch in Bologna!

We didn't think to have bolognese for lunch in Bologna!


Brief stop for lunch at Bologna, once we ascended the 5 storeys from the rail tunnel. Surprise, surprise there is an old part of town around the 15th century Piazzo Maggio, bordered by the 5th biggest cathedral in the world and big bugger Neptune statue.
The other St Peters Basilica - Basilica di San Petronio

The other St Peters Basilica - Basilica di San Petronio


Decided against climbing the 498 steps of the tower of the larger of the two towers (Le due Torri - why build a 97m tall tower in 1109 – to show off apparently), then took the tunnel to Firenze (Florence – why do we arrogantly anglicise everything? Firenze is not that hard to pronounce, even in Aussie twang). There are obviously a couple of hills between Bologna and Firenze (we spent more time in tunnels, than out), so no wonder the slow train takes an hour longer (but costs half the 28 Euro of the fast train – that’s about 1 Euro per km).
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AirBNB rating: 5 star. Although you may not get the 5 star servicewith AirBNB, you do get the local experience. Our flat dates back to the middle 1600s and is "under the constraint of Superintendence of the fine arts" - I think that counts for more in Florence than our Colonel Light Gardens heritage listing! And the frescos are attributed to the Florentine painter Benvenuti from the 1700s, listed as "of historical interest".
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It's located in a row of terrace houses just off the Piazzo Santo Spirito (of course the church has a Michelangelo), and just a 15 minutes stroll across the Ponte Vecchio to the Uffizi museum. We were met by Marcello who showed us around and highlighted a few places to visit (Piazzale Michelangelo - well worth the hike for the view) , but then the owners sister came over to give local tips (the cafe in the library with the view of the Duomo - a different view and reasonably priced cafe, and any hotel rooftop bar

Ponte Vecchio again

Ponte Vecchio again


Word for the day: Vespa – no, no not the scooter, but watch out for the wasps in the garden restaurant.
Salute: Birra Moreti - "Consumare preferibilimente in buona compagnia" for only 2 Euro for 2 cans.
Walk a mile ...: 13,282 exploring Bologna, but spent half the day on the train, in a tunnel
Pallazo Bucciolini - our digs for the Firenze stay

Pallazo Bucciolini - our digs for the Firenze stay

Posted by scoleman29 17:00 Archived in Italy Tagged firenze Comments (0)

For the history buffs

Science nerds in Firenze

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Ponte Vecchio - note corridor on top so the Medici's don't have to mix with the plebs

Ponte Vecchio - note corridor on top so the Medici's don't have to mix with the plebs


Florence, or Firenze, is a stunning time capsule of renaissance Italy. The town centre has retained almost all the old buildings from the 1600s, from the apartments where you stay to the H&M department store. The narrow lanes reduce the traffic, adding to the pedestrian friendly charm of the Piazza della Signoria that is surrounded by famous landmarks such as the Palazzo Vecchio and the Loggia dei Lanzi. Sure it's choco with toursits, but with a magnificent basilica on almost every corner it's hard not to be impressed and immersed in the history.
The Arno

The Arno

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We were up early to miss those crowds, arrived at Uffizi at 8:45AM after being stopped while they filmed a movie, took half hour in the line (yep too stingy to pay for skip the line, but meant another queue). Met a nice french couple who are students who travel on uni scholarships to other unis - bludge. They had a bet - she thought we were from USA, he from UK.

Uffizi was impressive, almost as good as the Rijksmuseum, but obviously with a renaissance flavour rather than dutch masters. Looks like a palace, but the bit where Helen asked was "just" the armoury - complete with frescos on the roof! Couple of highlights with Botticellis birth of Venus, an unfinished Leonardo, Michelangelos only panel painting, and even a couple of van Dyks and Rembrandts. But I liked Judith Slaying Holofernes by Gentileschi. Rumour is that Gentileschi was raped by her mentor so the painting is semi autobiographical. It's a recurring theme that inspired a couple of paintings and statutes. Never heard of Judith from the old testament - who knew she had it in her.
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Aparently Judith had a gripe with Holofernes
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Apparently the only panel painted by Michelangelo and Da Vinci never quite finished this one - pity there weren't more Da Vinci's
Nascita di Venere

Nascita di Venere


The Piazzo is magnificent as is the logia. Had a beer and looked for Mitch's Napoli shirt (120 Euro!) and decided the line was far too long to visit the Duomo.
Pallazo Vecchio

Pallazo Vecchio

Strolled by the Museo Galileo. It's focused on Galileo, but covers all areas of science sponsored by the Medici family from the 1500s to around 1700s. Amazing the devices that they invented to prove their theories, that bridged the gap between Arcimedes and Newton. And the museum app was very good with videos and text explaining the devices and theories behind it all. A very Ryan kind of place.
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Galileo and his astrolabe globe

Got hussled by the t-shirt man selling touristy stuff near the Uffuzi (I lost my hat, so needed another in 34 degree heat) and strolled across the Ponte Vecchio. Like the Rialto bridge in Venice, this too is covered in shops across the deck, but these are all jewellery shops and quite high end - much classier than Venice (sums up Florence generally). Apparently there is a corridor the the Medici's built so they they didn't have to mix it with the plebs when crossing from the Uffuzi to the Palazzo Pitti.
Gold shops on the Ponte Vecchio

Gold shops on the Ponte Vecchio


Then back to "our" digs via the Santo Spirito piazzo and Basilica di Santo Spirito church. The church is only 200m from our apartment and although one of the lesser know churches and very plain from the outside, inside its 97m long and quite impressive with a couple (about 30) of 15th century frescos and a crucifix by Michelangelo, plus the updates were designed by Brunelleschi (who designed most of the grand buildings in Firenze, including the Duomo). Chose from the 6 pasta restaurants in the piazzo, then went home to flake.
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Santo Spirito piazzo - our local
Tourist tip: The Uffizi is definitely worth a visit, do walk across the Ponte Vecchio and visit the Museo Gallileo if you are a science nerd like us (and if so download the app)
Quote of the day: "but you have lot's of dangerous animals like .. koalas". To his credit the french bloke did mentioned crocodiles and spiders first, but koalas? Worst they could do is fall on you asleep.
Walk a Mile ...11,410 - surprisingly few given the endless corridors of renaissance art in the Uffizi
The Duomo

The Duomo


The Ponte at night

The Ponte at night


Night works

Night works

Posted by scoleman29 17:00 Archived in Italy Tagged florence Comments (0)

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