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Published: November 24th 2006
Under the tower
It looks heavy, but it wasn't so bad.
So I woke up to my cell phone alarm violently buzzing and beeping in my locker. I was so disoriented because basically I only had a 2 hour nap after such a long day with Rob and Ally and David, of course. I took a quick shower and noticed that my 1 euro leather bracelet I bought the day before was gone. It probably broke off during dancing or who knows. Oh well, I enjoyed it's worth for a day. After my shower, I woke up Ally and she quickly showered. We met for breakfast and then realized that we only had 20 minutes to eat, check out of our hostel, go to the trainstation, and buy our ticket. This was definitely not enough time! We seriously inhaled two pieces of toast and scrambled eggs. I gulped down a cup of orange juice in 2 seconds flat and we dropped off our keys and bags at the front desk.
We booked it to the train station, bought our tickets and as we looked at the platform, our train was already happily on it's way to Pisa without us. Crap! We were on a strict time schedule because
Fighting the hangover
Ally on the train being goofy
Ally had to catch her train at 1pm somewhere else and we needed enough time to go and come back from Pisa. We asked a train officer (they really are practically useless) and he said to run to platform 1. We ran, saw the train and when we were a bit over an arms reach to the train doors, they quickly shut. NO!!!!! Ally was determined to get on so she held onto the smooth metal handle and continued to hold on as the train started to move. She kept running with the train, holding onto the handle and finally let go, very disgusted. Well, we finally made it on train number 3 that came 15 minutes later. On to Pisa!! Luckily because we woke up so early, I didn't have a hangover at all - we were both just tired and dehydrated.
We arrived in Pisa, looked at a city map and saw that the leaning tower was on the other side of town. We decided to walk it because we had enough time and it didn't look that far. Pisa is a lovely town with very very uneven stones for their roads and quaint, yellow
Fighting the hangover
Me so tired my left eye is still asleep. haha!
buildings everywhere. It looked similar to Florence with their buildings, but Pisa was definitely less commercial. I didn't see any chain stores or really many stores at all. A few cafes hid in alley ways on our walk. We got to the other end of town in about 25 minutes and saw the tower. It's quite neat and leans more than I had imagined. We didn't walk inside because it was €15, but we took a long long time trying to get the perspective shots that all tourists do. The problem was that we couldn't walk on the grass, which is where the best angle for a good perspective shot would be. But we made do, and I'm glad I saw the tower before it falls down someday. They keep replacing the pillars to the tower with new ones because they're slowly crumbling from the pressure of the lean. From what I remember, only 5 original pillars remain - but don't quote me on that.
After taking our pictures, we looked at our watches and realized that the train we needed to catch was leaving in 20 minutes! What is us and trains I don't know, but we're not
good at catching them. Ally and I powerwalked like bats out of hell about 3/4 of the way through the city. We were getting down to the last 5 minutes and had about 10 more minutes to walk, so we ran
. I don't remember signing up for a run through Italy, but I sure got one.
Luckily, we bought our return tickets before, so we ran to the platform. 9 minutes before the train leaves. I guess Ally got mixed up with the times and so we were actually early. Oh well, we caught our breath and laughed.
Back in Florence
We got back to the hostel and ran into Rob who was on the computer. Ally couldn't find her Australian cellphone, has a massive panic and then found it in her pillowcase. She had to run out the door to catch her train and the three of us hugged and said our goodbyes. The cool thing about the hostel is that they let guests write whatever on the walls. I wrote something too - I wasn't sure what to write but as I pulled the cap off the marker, it came to me. Short, simple, and
Narrow arches and streets
No trucks, vans, or high vehicles through this thing! A Dutchman would probably have to stoop to walk under that arch too
it made sense to me.
I was starving since we didn't have time to eat and run in Pisa so I bought a panini and strolled down the streets of Florence one last time. I was going see the inside of the Duomo, but I didn't feel like it and preferred to go through the market again. I then said ciao to the hostel guys - this was seriously the best hostel ever- and went to the train station ready to go to Venice and meet up with my auntie Cindy and our friend Connie. As I boarded the train and got settled, it started to rain - a true sign that me and the rest of the area was sad that I was leaving.
I know it won't be the last time I visit Firenze. To clarify something in my previous blog (thanks to a smart question by someone), "Baci" which means kiss in Italian is pronounced "Ba-chee"
The long train ride was worth it as I stepped off the train and arrived in Venice. I can't remember how long it took, but I think about 3.5 hours. Fortunately it was a
Ok, your car can be tall, but still narrow
How did the black car get past the car on the right?! Ally and I had no idea.
Eurostar, the best and cleanest trains in Italy. Originally, I was going to take a vaporetto (water bus-taxi) to Cindy and Connie's hostel, but then they emailed me and said they would meet me at the station. I still had the name of the hotel, phone number, and how to get there (vaporetto 48) just incase. You never know. I stood on my tiptoes looking out for two short cute women but didn't find any that also knew me.
Cindy and Connie were nowhere to be found and I had already circled the train station 4 times! By then I had been at the station for 20 minutes and it didn't seem normal to me that they were late to pick me up. I tried to call the hotel (haha, I almost wrote 'hoStel' but they travel in style) but the number was invalid. I'm sure it worked, but I think I didn't have the country code or something. I waited another 10 minutes more and decided to do one more loop around the station before I bought my vaporetto ticket and there they were - Cindy and Connie wearing cute fleece winter hats, jackets, gloves and a scarves.
Great calm water
It was so good to hug them both. I made it!
They immediately took care of me; Connie held my hand bag and I said I was totally fine carrying my big yellow backpack. They bought me a 24 hour pass for the vaporetto (the best deal) and we climbed aboard. They told me they were late because they took the vaporetto #1 which is a main line that stops at every dock, which made them so late. no worries.
I had no idea that ALL of Venice uses water as it's sole way of transport. Actually, I had no idea that Venice was a series of islands - I guess I didn't do my research well enough. There are no
cars in Venice and it was so nice to walk through the streets at night and just hear the water lapping against the building walls. It felt so peaceful there and quiet - I know now why it's a romantic city. You really escape to a wanderland and the city is very serious about keeping it's old city charm. Thats another nice thing: no chain restaurants or coffee shops except inside the station.
The vaporetto is
Me looking out at the city
very cool and can hold probably 100 people if you cram tight enough. There's an inside area where you can sit and in the front and the back of the water taxi/ferry there are outdoor seats. The middle of the boat is standing room only and you're pretty brave to stand in the middle without a strong grip on a rail. The vaporetto pretty much bumps into the dock to pick up the next load of passengers.
Venetian buildings are great and I saw so many rows of gondolas. It would have been nice to go on one, but Cindy told me it was 100 euros! But those gondaliers deserve it - it's a very serious profession and they have to study for 10 years as well as undergo a very rigorous examination at the end in their gondola. If they even brush up against something they don't pass. We got off at the Accademia stop and walked over a few bridge walkways to the American Hotel.
I put my stuff down, enjoyed the luxery of a non-Dutch non-public/hostel bathroom with a bidet
and chatted a bit in the room with Cindy and Connie. I didn't use the
bidet - all I could picture was Crocodile Dundee using it to wash off his Australian cowboy boots.
The lovely ladies made a reservation at 8 at Taverne San Trevaso - where they had eaten before and loved it. The place was cozy with original brick walls and attractive Italian waiters (come on, I had to look). The waiter gave us menus, a bread basket, and some olive oil and vinegar. The menu had so many options! Cindy said, "be prepared to have a multi-course dinner." I really wasn't sure that I could eat that much - I'm used to sharing an appetizer and one dish. They ordred a caprese appetizer: fresh mozarella balls, tomato, red onion, basil, all doused under a shower of extra virgin olive oil. Delicious. Cindy also ordered some red wine for us and Connie ordered a glass of white wine for herself. I ordered pasta with a salmon cream sauce which sounded amazing and after taking the first bite, I knew it would be impossible to eat at The Olive Garden ever again. The pasta was so yellow because of it's freshness - it probably was never dried. The salmon was extremely pink and
Look at that lean! Me and my rule breaking: no walking on the grass please. oops! Well, I didn't really walk..I just stood.
I wish I could have finished it all, but I would have burst.
They also want me to be their website designer for their travel book/tour company they are starting! That is so cool and I'm quite honored to be offered a website design job. Yay for putting my education into good use!
When I thought I couldn't possibly eat anymore, the waiter came by with salads and also Cindy and Connie's second course. Cindy ordered shrimp and was quite taken aback when the shrimp still had their heads still attached. She had to crack off the heads which wasn't so nice for her, but she said they were delicious. Connie ordered scampi which looked like crawdads/crawfish. They too had the heads and pinchers still attached. I tried some of the scampi and it tasted good, but very rich and I was already full. After much talking, laughing, discussing traveling and the sorts, we left the warm restaurant and walked back to the hotel.
One day in Venezia
It was so nice to be with them in Italy and I couldn't wait for the next day - they had everything planned, I was just to follow
The nextdoor Duomo
I'm afraid it wasn't getting as much attention as the leaning tower. poor guy.
them around. The next morning I had a great shower and ridded myself from any train and traveling cooties. Cindy and I headed downstairs for a buffet-style breakfast. We feasted on warm croissants, cappucinos, fruit, yogurt, juice, cheese and the likes. Connie met us downstairs, ate breakfast and then we were off to explore Venice.
First we were off to St. Mark's Square, a.k.a. Pigeon Heaven. There were thousands of the flying rats everywhere I was so afraid to get pooped on. Luckily I didn't, but they did smell and Cindy wore a scarf over her nose, haha. There were little vendors scattered around that sold little packets of bread crumbs for 1 euro to feed the birds.
Lots of tourists bought the packets and flocks of pigeons would swarm around them. The birds would even land ON the people's arms and heads. Crazy! Cindy and Connie told me that the city wanted to ban the breadcrumb sellers because the pigeon poop is acidic and is slowly starting to deteriorate the buildings. But there was such a retaliation from the bread sellers that the pigeons are here in Venezia to stay, at least for a while.
Look ma! I'm holding up the tower!
Perspective shots are hard -and even harder when you can't walk on the grass =)
walked in St. Mark's Cathedral where the ceilings were covered in intricate mosaic pieces covered in gold leaf. The pieces were then coated with glass for protection and also to make the ceiling shiny and sparkly.
Along the sides of St. Mark's Square were tons of shops selling top-notch Italian leather goods and many glass stores. Each glass store had a lot of the same items but there were so many unique pieces of jewelry and wall art. I was in heaven and really appreciated the glass artist's fine work because in high school I worked with glass in my art class. I know how hard it is to make a perfect glass bead let alone a perfectly made beaded necklace.
We strolled around and I'm so glad that Cindy and Connie did their research. I basically got a free guided tour as they pointed out the interesting buildings and listed tons of facts about the city and it's history. From what I remember, Venice was ruled by a Doge (pronounce the 'g' like the g in Geranium). This ruler wanted to be less like a ruler and really work for the people. He wanted a completely egalitarian
I won't say how long Ally and I stood in the middle of the street doing this. hehe
city and it was for many many years (honestly, I can't remember if it's hundreds?). Women were not allowed to wear their jewelry because that would be boasting wealth and thus creating a hierarchy in the people.
The symbol of Venice is the winged lion. The symbol is everywhere and on an arch in the St. Mark's square, you can see the Doge standing at the same level as the winged lion. Pretty cool. Now this egalitarian city was over the minute Napoleon came. Napoleon disturbed the peace and the Venetians hate him still to this day. His palace has some statues on it (I forget who the men are) but the middle position was supposed to be a statue of him - it's missing because the workers refused to put one up for him. Quite the statement.
As we were walking over a bridge, a fairly cute Italian gondolier said to me "Do you want a gondola ride?" I said I couldn't and he said, "I cry now". Haha, those men will say anything and are very good at flirting.
Along the streets are purse vendors that sell fake designer purses. I saw a few that
I like taking pics of the leaning tower because for once, I don't have to worry about making the building look crooked. It is and has a 13 degree slant.
were pretty, but the vendors really hound you and I just wanted to browse. I knew that if I walked too close to the purses I'd be followed for 20 feet and I just didn't want to get haggled. There are also women in raggedy clothes that kneel on the ground with a cup next to them. The women usually have their hands clasped like they are praying. I thought they were just regular beggars, but Cindy and Connie said that the girls/women are kidnapped, sold to gangs and are used to bring in bits of money.
On a lighter note, we stopped in to rest our feet and get a drink at Harry's Bar - Ernest Hemingway's local hangout! This was indeed very cool and I looked around the room wondering where Hemingway would have liked to sit and write. My guess is that he'd go for a secluded corner seat. At Harry's, we drank the famous Bellini: Peach puree and liquor with Prosecco, a dry Italian champagne. According to an internet site it was actually invented in 1948 in Harry's bar! Very cool! Giovanni Bellini is a very famous Venetian Renaissance painter who I guess painted using
Back in Florence
The Duomo by day. I had to take a few more pictures of the amazing detail
a peachy colors - like the drink.
Lunch was at Laguna Bar Gelateria and Cafeteria - Connie and Cindy had been to this place a few times during their week and new the friendly old waiter. They ordered their 'usual' and I found an intimidating but tasty looking large Bruschetta. The bread was warm and on it rested fresh tomatoes, arugula, mushrooms and mozzarella.
Unlike Florence, Venice was a bit chillier because of some wind. The wind wasn't violent but definitely made it necessary to zip up my coat when I left a roasting hot store. The thing I loved most was the salty smell of the air - it reminded me of Israel and the beach: a destination cemented in the near future for me.
After lunch, we shop shop shopped and browsed practically every store we saw. My train was scheduled to leave at 4:30, so we planned on packing up and being at the station at 4...just incase. I had already bought my ticket and thought I was pretty smooth by doing so. When I retrieved my ticket I noticed that it said from Venezia Mestre and not from Venezia San Lucia. Hm.....are there
Back in Florence
The Duomo by day. I had to take a few more pictures of the amazing detail
My heart started to beat a bit faster and Connie, Cindy and I didn't know how to find out this information. We found an information desk and the lady said I needed to quickly get on the train from platform 3 and take it to Mestre station before I miss my train to Arezzo-Perugia. !!!! Freak out time! I started to run and hoped that Cindy and Connie would follow, but really, I was on a mission to catch that train. I got to the train and asked the train officer if it goes to Mestre and he said no. what?!
I ran back to Cindy and Connie who were running towards me. There's no way the lady lied to me so what was this man saying? I ran back to him and showed him my ticket. He barely spoke English, but he managed to tell me that the train about to leave is a Eurostar (the most expensive) and all seats require reservation. My heart sunk - I was going to miss my train to Arezzo! I looked him in the eyes, gave him my best puppy dog eyes and lightly bent my knees up
Back in Florence
Me in front of the Duomo's massive wooden carved doors
and down "please please please I need to go to Mestre. I'll stand!" Cindy and Connie were right behind me saying pretty much the same thing It worked like a charm
He said "okay, fine" he said. I didn't know what to do and I almost hugged him. I restrained myself and placed my hand on his shoulder. "Thank you SO much! Grazie Grazie!" I ran a few steps back to hug Cindy and Connie but they yelled at me to get on the train. I managed to squeeze a hug from Cindy. Once on the train, I looked outside and there they were, my two lovely aunties sitting on the bench laughing. I laughed too and motioned with my hands a wipe of sweat off my forehead. They sat their smiling and we hand signaled a few minutes more before my train started to creep away from the platform. Goodbye Venezia.
The officer man who of course, was handsome, came back to where I was standing just as the train arrived in Mestre. "Thank you again so much and I'm sorry," I said. He smiled and said "Don't worry." So, thank you kind officer man. I
Back in Florence
My mark on Archi Rossi Hostel's wall. I wrote it next to some Canadians.
caught my train to Arezzo in time and found my reserved compartment seat. Four girls were also in the cabin and although I reserved a window seat, I sat in another seat since there was a girl in mine. I didn't care as it was already dark and the only view I would get would be the reflection of the cabin back at me.
I listened to my ipod most of the time, thinking about the past few days and how fortunate I was to have these kinds of opportunities. Seeing Cindy and Connie in Venezia was so weird and a solid reminder that everything happens for a reason and has it's perfect timings- and a little luck and puppy dog eyes help too sometimes. =)
The ride was a little over 5 hours and during most of it, my brain floated off to some distant land. I was distracted every now and then by a sketchy looking guy sitting outside our cabin. He mumbled to himself under his breath. Twice during the trip, he leaned back, took a small yellowish plastic bag out of his pocket and carefully unwrapped it. He brought the bag up to his
Back in Florence
Archi Rossi's walls. I saw a few people from Seattle who wrote on the walls as well as some notes in Hebrew and many Canadian travelers. What a great idea
mouth and with one large lick, took some kind of powder from the bag. The other people in my cabin must have noticed to because when he got off the train about 4 hours later we all laughed.
The girls were students at the university in Rome and had gone to Venezia for 2 days for some architecture convention or something. Their English was really bad but we communicated with broken sentances and keywords. We all concluded that the sketch guy must have been taking crack or some kind of powdered drug. I doubt it was a powdered vitamin supplement.
I looked at the clock and my heart started to race a bit. My train was late according to my calculations and that meant I was going to miss my train from Arezzo to Perugia! *sigh* This was quite the day of trains. It was 20 minutes late getting to Arezzo and my train had already left 10 minutes ago as I stepped down onto the station's platform. crapity crap.
Waiting in Arezzo
I read the timetable and the next train was not coming for another 30 minutes. I had to call Marissa and let her
Back in Florence
Archi Rossi's walls. The main lobby. On the wall you can see some pretty paintings as well as the 9 meal choices for breakfast.
know I'd be about an hour later (putting me in Perugia at 11:25). Luckily I had her cell phone number and I tried to call using my cellphone, but it didn't work. I wondered if she didn't give me the country code since my phone is from Holland. I politely said "escusa" to a petit curly-haired lady. "Do you know the country code for Italy? My cellphone does not work" She smiled and didn't understand me the first time. I repeated my question a bit slower and she said she didn't know and that I could use hers....if we could find an electrical outlet since the battery was dead.
I found out she too needed to go to Perugia and that she spoke Italian and some French. Excellent. So the rest of the time, we spoke in French and I sadly felt the rustiness that has accumulated from not speaking French in so many years. We didn't find an outlet, but I found a payphone and told Marissa about the ordeal.
Then we just needed to wait it out. An Italian man talked to her for a while and they discussed a newly realized problem: the next train
Back in Florence
Bye bye Florence. At the Santa Maria Novella train station.
to Perugia was not an ordinary train but a more expensive train. This meant that our train ticket was invalid and we needed to pay for another one. This did not seem fair at all and I certainly wanted to find an alternate way. A guy from Spain joined the conversation. There I was in Arezzo train station at 10 o'clock at night with a group of strangers having a conversation in Italian, French, and Spanish. It's a night I won't forget and it felt so good to communicate with perfect strangers - each wanting to go to the same destination but all with a completely different background. I really think this is the most beautiful thing about traveling. The David, the Birth of Venice, the Duomo - it's all beautiful but everybody can take a picture and capture the same thing. Nobody can take a picture and recreate the relationships, friendships and interactions one has while traveling. I think that's why I love it so much.
It was a while before the next train came, so the lady, the italian guy and I decided to take the train to Terontola, a town closer to Perugia. Our ticket was
Walking through Venezia on my way to the hotel with Cindy and Connie
good for riding to Terontola so we would have no problem. There, we would ride another train to Perugia - actually the same train coming from Arezzo. I wondered why we couldn't just wait in Arezzo since our ticket would be invalid whether we were in Arezzo or in Terontola. Now looking back, I realize that the train officer was more likely to check tickets from Arezzo and would have already done his pass through the train before Terontola. Pretty clever. We finally boarded the train in Terontola after discussing our favorite gelato flavors and I can't remember what else. Luck was on my side and the train officer didn't pass once to check our invalid tickets. Hello Perugia at last!
It was quite the eventful day: Venezia, Arezzo, Terontola, Perugia. 4 trains and using only 2 legal tickets. Whew! As me and the nice lady climbed the stairs, I saw Marissa waiting for me at the top. I said thank you to the lady, we hugged and kissed twice, one on each cheek: the Italian goodbye.
It was so good to see Marissa and I met her Italian boyfriend Antonio, who had a car and drove us
View from the hotel window. The nights were dead silent with barely anybody walking. No cars, no motor boats. Very peaceful and still
to her apartment - my home for 3 days. I told her about my crazy days so far in Italy and we all laughed. I don't remember going to sleep that night but Marissa was so kind and let me sleep in her bed while she slept on a deflated air mattress on the floor.
A new city, a new region of Italy (Umbria), and new adventures were waiting for me.
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