Central Aust '09
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Arriving into Venice gave us our first taste of Italy, of course after a journey on an Italian train. First was some loud-talking Italian women in our cabin - just the usual deal in that I was not concerned about them but Briony was about to have a seizure as apparently she could not read or hear herself think. The train was pretty busy, and there was a weird couple on there that had about 20 boxes and bags in the train aisle, like they were moving house or something! I got snagged up with them as they would be getting off the train soon and it seemed they wanted a hand to unload their hoardes of luggage. The arrangement was that when the train stopped, I would grab the bags and pass them out the door, to the man who would be standing on the platform. No problem there, although I was cautious in case they were a little dodgy. Turns out they were quite alright and just wanted a hand with the luggage!
We also had an issue with a bizarre deaf man on the train, perhaps the issue was partially caused by me though! We'd read on numerous websites to be careful of people that give you stuff to look at on the train. The story goes that someone gives you something - say a card - and then leaves it with you as they distribute more along the carriage. Then they come back to you demanding money. When you try to refuse, they launch into crazy fits and start along the lines that you have looked at the card, enjoyed the card, therefore it's only fair that you pay for the card. Anyway this guy had given us a card, and for all we knew it could have meen the train's menu card or something. He then left in the same fashion as had been described online. The cards were showing the deaf sign-language alphabet, I was not really interested in giving away money for this purpose so I put the cardson the floor outside our cabin, and closed our curtain. When the deaf guy came back and found his cards on the floor, he had a fit, opened our door and started harrassing us, pointing and pressing my chest, signalling that would I like to take it outside. Anyway we eventually got rid of him, but the whole experience was a little weird!
Once we arrived into Venice, we noticed that the railway station was not only busy but also very chaotic and it seemed disorganised. After getting our bearings we headed outside, and of course being Venice there was just a giant river in front of us. There were a couple of yellow platfoms there, these were the stations for their Vaporettos - basically the water version of a bus.
We grabbed a couple of tickets, and thought it odd that the ticket man asked us if we wanted a casino brochure. to which we politely refused.
We jumped on the Vaporetto and first task was to find our hotel as we wanted to get rid of our heavy bags. We had instructions from the hotel regarding which Vaopretto to catch and where to get off. We had to get off at 'Rialto' stop which was right next to the famout Ponte Rialto (Rialto Bridge). There were not actually that many people around, considering how busy the bridge was later in our stay!
After following a maze of alleys and walkways which passed through a couple of public squares, everything started to look the same. We eventualy found the Hotel Centauro, and we checked in and dumped our bags. The hotel room was nice enough, but funny that it was so small! It was a room the size of a normal household bedroom, with a double bed and a hand basin.
After checking in, it was wandering time - we just headed out for a look around. Naturally first stop was Ponte Rialto which was a little busier by now. We walked around for probably 2 hours or so, before it started getting dark. Walking around in the dark was fine, as there are plenty of 'street' lights, plus also there are so many people everywhere!
We headed to Piazza San Marco to take some pictures at night time, and just generally walked around until dinner time. We stopped for some food at a small cafe type place, the food was only just okay, and the water smelled funny, I'm not sure if this was my drink that smelled funny, or was it the smell of the river next to us.
The next morning was time for a couple of tours, the location for both being right in Piazza San Marco. So we had breakfast at the hotel and walked to our first tour which was the Basilica San Marco. The Basilica is really huge, but the sheer number of people there was just silly. There were people lining up out the doors since the early hours, and it was not possible to actually walk around inside - there was a set pathway through the cathedral, and it was just a constant sea of people moving along this pathway. So you really had no choice but to go with the flow. And there were nasty-looking guards there, just in case you tried anything silly!
Next tour was the Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace) which was again really huge, nicely decorated and had some really awesome woodwork and paintings in the meeting rooms. It also had some rather small cells for prisoners, along with an interesting story of one prisoner called Jaquano Casanova (yes, THE Casanova) that managed an amazing prison break, getting into the roof space. I can't recall exactly, but I think he got caught in the end.
Next activity for the day is feeding the pigeons. I'm sure that encouraging the pigeon plague is not a good thing, but feeding them seems to be the popular activity. We grabbed some little bags of corn (uncooked popcorn) from some vendors, I think it was 1 euro per packet. As soon as you have the packet and it moves in your hand, the corn makes a slight rattling sound. Next you're surrounded by birds - they land on your hands, arms, shoulders, head, chest, anywhere they can grab in order to score some food! They are quite competitive even though there's obviously plenty to go around. We got some really cool pictures of Briony covered in a sea of birds, however they leave your skin feeling a bit scratched as the claws are quite sharp. I personally found it a bit gross, as I'm really not a fan of dirty birds and all the crap that comes out of their feathers when they flap their wings. Still, was fun to do once!
After this fun we went walking around Venice some more, seeing numerous old buildings including Ponte Accademia, Chiesa Santa Maria della Salute and of course plenty of small canals and houses. We eventually found our way back to Ponte Rialto (Rialto Bridge) for some photos, and by this time of the day there were people everywhere, including street sellers pedding their dodgy products.
As it was time to go, we grabbed our bags from the hotel, checked out and headed the long way back to the railway station, of course taking a heap of photos along the way. We had some time to kill so we found an Internet Cafe to have a quick surf, we found it intriguing that Internet Cafes in Italy have to get ID from you before you can use the computer. We also grabbed some more bottled water and snacks from a small street vendor.
It was soon time for the train, so we walked back to the station, grabbed our tickets and were on our way to Florence. We took the Eurostar train which looked pretty flash, was very quiet and smooth, extremely comfortable, however not as fast as I'd thought - I think the Venice to Florence section is the slow section, and then it goes really fast to Naples. Pity we missed the fast section - maybe next time.
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