Sunday, October 31, 2010

Charmed in Venice

We arrived in Venice after a long train and bus ride. We were tired. But that didn't decrease our excitement. I don't know what it is. But there's something so exciting about being there! This crazy city of water, glowing in the night. So gorgeous. Definitely more than just pretty! Here's our faces after getting on the Vaporetto (Venice's water taxi) on the Grand Canal:

Tired. But excited! I took lots of photos on the water taxi. Too many. Here's just a few:

You'll see we were greeted by a full moon over the city. How much more perfect can it get? I was utterly charmed by Venice. We made our way to the hotel, through San Marco Square, charmed even further by the musicians at the different restaurants, each taking their turn playing classic Italian tunes (the stuff we all recognize like "That's Amore"). We dropped off our things, then went for an evening walk. Our hotel was right by San Marco Square, the heart of a lot of activity. We had some great lasagna on that first night in Italy. Really good. Maybe the best I've ever had. Andrew thought that was too bold of a statement. Maybe I was just tasting Venice with an extra dose of positivity because I was so excited. That night our first walk was wonderful. There were so many shops all over the place, all carrying pretty and interesting things. Tons of beautiful Venetian glass. I kept a mental shopping map in my head, scouting out the best stuff for when I was ready to buy a souvenir. No joke. On our last day, I made a beeline for this shop where the lady who runs it sits there and makes her glass bead creations while you shop. Her stuff was great. I got a necklace with round glass beads, in turquoise, seafoam green, gold and taupe tones. I love it!

On that first night we also scouted out a whole lot of gelato. TONS of it. Everywhere! And it was pretty cheap. We had some on our first night, of course. Andrew got the cookie gelato (vanilla with chocolate swirls and chocolate cookies) and he asked the guy scooping, his childish smile glowing, "Can I have a cookie?" The guy obliged, "You want a cookie? Sure!" and put one on top of his scoop. Before we left Venice, I had tried chocolate, strawberry, vanilla and cherry. I decided my favorite was a double combo scoop, 1 chocolate, 1 cherry.

The next morning, we woke up sorta early, headed out of our hotel, walked the few steps toward San Marco. And saw that it was flooding. I guess during high tide or something (or the rains) the water backs up in the drains so the square gets flooded with an inch or two of water. We turned around and headed the other direction. We found a little cafe, grabbed a sandwich for breakfast, then meandered through the very confusing streets to catch the water taxi to the other islands. Luckily we found the spot for the taxi:

We had time to kill, though, until the next vaparetto, so we explored the neighborhood where we were at.

This doggy reminded us so much of Maisy, trailing after these girls with it's nose up in the air because they were eating something. Every dog we see makes us miss our babies!

A pretty little alley.

The steps going into one of the small canals.

Even the worn and torn looks pretty in Venice!

I loved these light fixtures and this gate.

We eventually caught our taxi and headed out to Torcello (one of the smaller, less-inhabited islands).

Andrew excited at seeing something out the window of the water taxi.

Andrew laughing at me about something. So cute!

Beautiful clouds in the sky.

We ate lunch in Burano. It was very pretty there.

Finally we made it to Torcello!

Me laughing at something Andrew said or did.

Andrew decided we needed more pictures of me, so that's what we have.

Me on the devil's bridge. Love it! Want one!

I loved the crackling paint on this building and the shutters.

Beautiful, very old, very untouched city.

Us at the very old church.

More of the same.

A small vineyard behind us.

The water was like glass!

Andrew on the way back to San Marco. Looking cool.

Beautiful street lamps, beautiful everything!

They really dig Jesus here. It's hard to NOT take a picture of something relating to Christianity.

Gorgeous views everywhere you turn.


So, Venice was really nice. But I do have to admit, I wasn't in love with how touristy the whole place is. Every restaurant has guys out in front of it trying to sweet talk you to come in. They have cover charges. And they give you smaller, more expensive meals the closer to the canals and tourist sights you are. Of course that is to be expected to some degree. But it was pretty severe here. If/when we go back, we'd like to see and stay in other areas that aren't so crowded and touristy (are there any?). We were completely shocked with the crowds in San Marco after seeing it for the first time later in the evening. It was crazy during the day and rampant with annoying guys sticking their roses and plastic flying toys and light up toys and balloons and umbrellas (it was raining a little) in our faces. We got pretty rude by the end of the first day. Those guys got a swift, loud, stern "NO" from both of us, simultaneously, before they even finished asking if we wanted to buy whatever crap they were peddling.

We went to Florence next. Getting there sucked. The trains were all full so we were stuck at the station with our luggage for 4 hours. We begged conductors to let us on the earlier trains ("Please? We'll just sit in the vacant seats. We know not everyone makes the train they book!") but it didn't work. We didn't love the Italians that night. That attitude isn't so amusing when it's being aimed at you. We ended up eating a long, leisurely dinner and we did get on the train that was 1-hour earlier than scheduled. And our "waiting around sucks" attitude also brought to our attention some other negative traits of the Italians. People seem to be completely unconcerned for those around them. And they all rush to get up when a train or bus or when the water taxi is about to come to a stop (or to get on one, or to get in line, or to do jut about anything). They rush to get up stand a few inches closer than they were before, to elbow their way a whopping 3 people ahead of where they were. Not subtly, either. It's REALLY pushy sometimes. Annoyingly pushy. I've spent a good amount of time in New York. It's fast moving and crowded and you'd better pay attention and move along with the flow there. But it's not the same kind of thing. It's likely someone will say something to you if you're not keeping up in NY. But from what we saw of the Italians, it's like you don't exist, even if you ARE keeping up... there's always someone who wants to edge you out. In New York, that behavior would probably be corrected to a certain extent. You'd probably get a "Hey buddy, whatsya problem?" or "Hey buddy, you need ta relax!" I wanted to say that quite a few times in Italy. Only a little more colorfully! Luckily, when we visited the Sistine Chapel Michaelangelo taught me a rude Italian hand gesture I can use. Will explain that one later. FYI, art history can be friggin awesome!!!!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Pretty Vienna

Vienna is a very pretty city. That is the most accurate way I can describe it. It's just really pretty. Great care was taken to create things that are classically beautiful and then even greater care has been taken to preserve that beauty. But, the flip-side of that coin is that everything is only that. Pretty. It's like a beauty queen. A pageant girl. "Yeah, you're pretty. Veneer teeth. Shiny hair. A lovely, planned, memorized speech. But what else you got? Show me something interesting!" Not that I didn't like it. I did. But I wanted something more to hold my interest.

What did peek our interest when we first got there was the hotel. We got to Vienna late and there was no front desk person at the hotel. Kinda weird. It was just an Asian kid who was kind of on night duty and he didn't speak any English so we attempted to communicate back and forth and eventually figured out our room number and got the key. We got up to our floor and it was pretty much pitch black. No lights on in the hallway. I thought there must be some easy fix to this. It's a fire hazard to have no lights! So we started walking anyway and a motion sensor allowed for the lights to turn on. Phew! We made it to our room and the lights there wouldn't stay on for longer than five minutes! We were utterly confused. Eventually we found a card slot next to the door above the switches and Andrew put the key in. Viola! Lights stayed on. Andrew thought the layout of the room was pretty crazy. So he took some photos. Here they are:

The hallway to our room after the lights came on.

You walk into our room and there are doors everywhere. It's got it's own little entryway. The open door you see is the door to the bedroom. The closed door on the right is the bathroom (one of them) and the wood panel is a closet door.

There was another closed door on the left. This was the bathroom #1 (or #2 depending on your "point of view") and it had the toilet and a sink. It was really narrow. It looks much bigger than it actually was!

This is bathroom number 2 (which was beautiful with white tile, turquoise and yellow accents) with a shower and tub. Andrew first saw this bathroom and said, "Uh, Christina. We've got a problem here. No toilet." He hadn't seen the other bathroom yet.

While there was no toilet in this bathroom, there was a bidet! Lovely offer. But no thanks.

We had a gorgeous view (but of course all views are - it's "Pretty Vienna" after all!).

We didn't get any photos of the bedroom showing the crystal chandelier unfortunately. It was really.... you guessed it! Pretty!

We ventured out the next morning to see the town and caught some lovely monuments along the way:

Also a real, live shoe maker!

And a little taste of Rome - some ancient Roman ruins found in the city.

More ruins.

Gorgeous ceilings (I like ceilings).

Lots of pretty white statues everywhere too and horse drawn carriages. I hate horse drawn carriages. Those horses do not have good lives. Google it. You won't ride one again.

Andrew really likes lions.

In one square or park or plaza (or whatever) area there were some military planes, helicopters, equipment, etc. going up on display for the weekend.

We caught them moving this jet into place. They hadn't put the wings on yet. It was crazy to see this jet swinging around on a crane!

The museums in Vienna were so... you guessed it... PRETTY... from the outside.

I don't think I was supposed to stand on this grass.

Andrew admiring some statues.

After our walk through town, we hopped on the underground and made our way to Schonbrunn Palace. It was really... say it with me now... PRETTY... on the inside. The original furniture and tons of paintings and the gardens! They were the PRETTIEST of all!

Andrew admiring the palace from the outside.

This photo came out a little blurry. Sorry! We're in part of the gardens here.

The statue has 2 faces.

A real taste of fall. YEAH!!!!

So... what's the word... PRETTY... in the gardens.

The grounds just seemed to go on forever.

Us in the gardens with the back of the palace behind us.

Medusa's head!

Now, what word can I use to describe this. Hmmmm?


We couldn't take any photos inside the palace unfortunately. So, you'll just have to visit it yourself. After the palace, we rode the train back into the center of town and decided to stop at the main station and buy our train tickets out of town. We ran into a slight problem that sent me into a tizzy. The overnight train we wanted to take from Vienna to Venice was sold out. Sold out! We wanted to leave on a Friday night so that was the problem. It hadn't occured to me. We were able to buy every other train ticket we needed on the spot. We went back to the hotel to frantically search online for other ways to get to Venice. Eventually we ended up taking a long trip during the day but because of the length of the trip, that meant we had to leave Vienna the next morning rather than the next evening after dinner, like I had planned. I wasn't happy about it, but oh well. We had no other choice. The biggest bummer is that our trip was partially by train and partially by bus. We weren't looking forward to it but it didn't turn out so bad. The trip between Austria and Italy was absolutely gorgeous. Not just pretty. Gorgeous. There were peaks and valleys and snow capped mountains in the distance and rivers and lakes and small farms and big farms and little towns and old, run down villages and big, gorgeous homes and sheep and horses and cows... it was just incredible. So incredible that I was too captivated to even think to take out my camera and I didn't get a shot of anything. But just trust me. Amazing!

But before we left Vienna we were able to get a wonderful Viennese meal of schnitzel and boiled roast. It was so good. And the potato salad they served mine with... the best I've ever had in my life. I know that sounds lame. It's just potato salad. How good can it be? It was friggin' delicious, okay? I'd eat it every day if I could! The potatoes Andrew's came with were wonderful too... they were more smashed than mashed but the texture worked really well with the flavor. We were utterly pleased with our last meal in Vienna. We had intended on seeing the Jewish Museum the next day so since we couldn't, we checked out the memorial instead. On the side wall of the memorial there was an inscription saying it was dedicated to the 65,000 Austrian Jews that died in the Holocaust. Its hard to tell from the picture but each of those small rectangles is a cement block shaped like a book. Andrew did the quick math and there were approximately (if not exactly) 65,000 cement books. So the memorial was like a collection of stories about each person...quite moving.

Vienna was nice. I'd like to see other parts of Austria next. Closer to Switzerland and Germany. Next up is Italy. Stay tuned!