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Published: September 3rd 2013
The Bienalle was a highlight. Gavin and Heather carried on after lunch visiting more exhibits while Lyn and I, and Raymond and My went separate ways to explore more of the amazing city. Some of the guide books say that the best way to experience Venice is simply to lose oneself in the maze of streets. So we did. Poking our noses into churches, alleyways. hotel lobbies, canal nooks and crannies, shops, stopping on bridges to watch the gondolas and other boats avoiding each other in the crush of traffic.
I don't use the word "crush" lightly either, as the week before we arrived, a 50 year old German man, visiting with his family, had been killed when the gondola they were on was crushed against a canal wall by a water bus. It seemed to be a free for all even though the gondolas supposedly have right of way. To my eye they abused that a bit. It was entertaining to watch but not so much once we had read about the death.
Many people (and the guidebooks) say that Venice is an expensive place to visit. It is. But you don't necessarily have to spend a lot
Lyn on gondola
Gondolier not on cellphone
of money to enjoy it. But, as soon as you even look at a boat ride, water taxi, gondola, the wallet starts to weep. Regardless, Lyn and I felt that we couldn't go to Venice and not have a romantic gondola ride. So we did, have the ride that is, but the gondolier obviously wasn't a romance type as he spent half our 40 minute, €80 ride on his cellphone. He was not very interested. We may have felt differently if we'd had a driver who burst into operatic arias like some we heard but, to be honest, it's underwhelming. We would say, don't, unless you have an overwhelming bucket list itch to do it.
The next day Raymond and My left early in the morning for Sweden and only a few hours later Gavin and Heather left to return to NZ. We had enjoyed some great times together over the last four and a half weeks and it felt a bit empty once they had gone. I'm not that good at small talk but I vowed to do my best to replicate all that talking that Lyn and her girlfriends do for hours on end. Nah, I don't
think I can.
Twenty four hours later Lyn and I left this magic place. In a bit of a hurry too as we had mistakenly thought that we needed to be in Milan for an appointment for Lyn a day later than it actually was. That meant we got up really early, packed in a hurry and trotted off to the water bus. Early in the morning was a great time to see another side of Venice. The delivery vans (boats) dropping supplies to all the business and hotels; the tradesmen in their utes (boats) turning up for jobs with wheelbarrows and concrete mixers on board; cleaners out in the alleys and streets picking up from the night before, it was real life as opposed to the tourist life.
The canals were empty of gondolas and most water taxies so we got to the station quickly and hopped on the inter city to Milan. Another smooth, quiet, comfortable, fast ride. You may get a bit irritated by my mention of trains by the time I've finished as we have a rail pass which we'll be using for the next 15 days. I'll try to use a wider variety
Sophia & Me
She's had more work done
At first glance Milan didn't look too impressive. We were expecting the design capital of Italy to have the wow factor from the time we stepped off the train. But no, not until at least, we arrived at our gem of a hotel. The Hotel Pierre. For this we have to thank our niece Katie, in Canada. When we were there she told us about a booking site called Hotwire.com. The difference with this site is that you enter your city, the area in the city you want, the facilities and class of hotel you'd like, and press go. It comes up with a selection based on your criteria and you book if you want to, BUT, the catch is that you don't know what the hotel is until after you've booked it. We booked Milan from Vancouver and knew we were going to the Hotel Pierre and did we luck out. A five star elegantly decorated, gracious, well situated and, best of all, cheap, place to stay. It was great.
Milan itself, we got to know initially through using the hop on hop off bus to get our bearings and check out the most interesting
Sun rising Venice
On our early morn trip to the train for Milan
things to see and there is lots to see and do. Unfortunately we have had to leave it until we visit again as, although we tried our best, in a couple of days it was woefully inadequate. We didn't even get to any of the design museums so there's lots to go back for. It's an interesting place. I've read a lot of WWII history but had no idea that Milan had been severely bombed by "us" in the latter stages. Most of the old architecture was destroyed so unlike many cities there isn't a core of ancient buildings although there are some scattered throughout the wider city. On the outskirts a skyscraper centre has/is being developed. It's quite spectacular. The highlight is the eco-centric vertical forest building. You have to see it to appreciate it.
So, in a paragraph that's Milan. And you know what? After our little panic about not getting to Lyn's appointment on time, the agent she was supposed to meet didn't turn up. I'm doing Milan an injustice by skipping over it but need to catch up a few days.
Leaving the delightful Hotel Pierre we boarded a train for Freiburg in Germany.
Hotel Pierre bar
Ah, we thought, kick back, read, snooze, arrive. No! Announcement: "due to work on the tracks passengers will board a bus at Domodossola". Where!!!! Sure enough we got on a bus at Domodossola; that's a whole trainload of people doing the same thing. Up until then the journey had been very scenic as we passed by Lake Como and headed towards the Italian/Swiss Alps, soaring mountains in the distance. But the bus; thirty minutes, mainly through a tunnel, and we arrived somewhere and were told to disembark and get on a train awaiting us.
If this was Swiss efficiency (we had crossed the border) you can have it. The main guard started blowing his whistle to tell us the train was leaving. Meanwhile parents with young kids, prams, luggage, were struggling up the hill to the station along with everyone else, panicking that they weren't going to make it. Did he give a s.....? I swear I saw him smiling. As the doors of the train closed there was a jam of people, prams, luggage and children stuck in the carriage vestibule not having had time to make it to a seat. And on we went only to have
to change trains again at Basel. This was OK. We had more time. We were in Switzerland and to prove it to our Swissophile friends, Diane and Lindsay, we took photos of ourselves on Swiss soil. The scenery as we raced through holey cheese country was like a continuous string of chocolate box pictures. It's true! Switzerland does look like that. Towering mountains, green fields bending gracefully down from the lower slopes, cow-bell bedecked bovines grazing, Swiss-clock houses, archers shooting arrows off heads.... Just like in the books.
Freiburg - another change for us onto a train for Emmendingen which is where Lyn's next appointment was. Only a 10 minute trip and the agent, Margit, Lyn was to see had arranged to meet us there. She did, with her partner Frederick. They showed us briefly around the old part of the town then drove us out to the Gast Hof where Margit had booked us in for the night. It was right on the edge of the Black Forest with no other dwelling in sight. No wifi, no cellphone coverage - not what we wanted as we were needing to be in touch with home. It was a very
Think Gaudi got inspiration from this
cute place but we decided to stay only the one night and move on in the morning.
Margit and Frederick had a pleasant dinner with us at the Gast Hof. Lyn had a local wild pork dish, I had a schnitzel (what else), with a sauce made from local berries found in the forest, had to have the real Black Forest cake, schnappes to end it and in between, Lyn and Margit did their business and we said our thanks and farewells. Tomorrow we are going to head back to Freiburg and get a train to Hamburg via Frankfurt, a trip of around six hours. Easy because the trains are smooth................
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