Italy Stories and Tips

Off to Venice (1996), Day 1

St. Mark's Basilica detail Photo, Venice, Italy

An early ungodly hour to be called to get the bus to Gatwick the next day, 3:30 a.m. for a 7:30 flight!! That really put my body clock off for a couple days. I thought I was coming down with the flu! The flight to Venice was ok but I tried to sleep a little because I wasn’t feeling all that well and as a result missed the view of the Alps peeking over the clouds. Treviso airport was small and crowded since the plane was full of tourists like us, about to embark on an escorted bus tour! There was at least 5 busses waiting! We got sorted out and on the right bus for our hotel and had our first look at Italy. It seemed pretty flat so far. The houses and buildings seemed old and in disrepair and there were industrial areas that we passed on our way to Marghera where our hotel was.

A quick overview of our itinerary: Two weeks on a Cosmos bus tour beginning in Venice and ending in Florence. Stops in Urbino, Gubbio, Assisi, Sorrento, Capri, Pompei, Rome, Orvieto, San Gimignano, Lucca, Siena and Pisa. By the end we were hitting information overload and looking to come home to our own beds and familiar surroundings. We saw and did SO much and climbed SO many hills and staircases! Many of the towns we visited are up on top of a mountain and the bus can’t go all the way up into the historic centre so we would get off and have to climb up 2 or 3 steep streets. Some were worse than others and some towns were flat once you got up (but some weren’t!). A church (‘duomo’) in every town to be examined and most were very nice, lots of frescos and mosaics and statues inside. My favourite hill town was probably the historic centre of the state of San Marino where, the evening we were there, it was quite foggy which gave it a very medieval feel though because of it, there was no view down the mountain.

The tour company also arranges to take you to various shops that demonstrate how they make their products. We saw molten glass being shaped, lace being sewn, cameos being carved, wood being inlaid, leather being gilded and heard all about the lemon liqueur made in Sorrento. And of course we got a sales pitch in every one of the shops! You know of course that the guide is probably getting a percentage of any sales but we weren’t pressured into buying anything, either by the shop people or the guide and I found that the goods in most of those shops, while very nice, were more expensive than shops nearby anyway. Well, all except the cameos which had good prices. I did buy a few pieces of cameo in Italy, it wasn’t at the shop we were taken to in Sorrento which did have a very good demonstration of how the cameos were made. We did not know that the cameos you see with blue backgrounds are not true cameos after all. True cameos are made out of conch shells which do not come in blue! Only shades of brown, salmony orange, pink and sometimes even almost red.

The day we arrived in Venice was sunny though I think it had rained earlier in the morning. We took a public bus from the hotel in Marghera into the Termini in Venice where we then boarded a waterbus or vaporetto for a ‘cruise’ down the Grand Canal to St. Mark’s Square. We walked around the square, took pictures of course and then explored along all the narrow pedestrian streets and bridges between the little islands that make up Venice on either side of the Grand Canal. We didn’t go inside St. Marks or the Doge’s Palace since we were really just interested at that point at a ‘look see’ of as much of Venice as we could.

We crossed the Grand Canal on one of the larger bridges a few stops down from St. Mark’s square and continued along back to the Termini on that side of Venice and you know what? Because we did that, we missed seeing the Rialto Bridge! We must have passed under it on the vaporetto, but we don’t remember seeing it there either! It was much too crowded on the water bus to pull out our cameras and there was so much to see from the water! Duh!

We noticed that many of the buildings that lined the canal and in other parts of Venice were very worn on the surface, with chunks of the surfaces of the buildings worn away. The buildings looked to be covered with what might have been plaster or stucco of some kind and painted (at least at some time!). The buildings were stained and dirty and in disrepair though some were kept up well. This is caused by the pollution and the erosion from the salt water from the sea and it must cost quite a bit to keep the buildings maintained. But it was still Venice and still magical!

We found the right transit bus to go back to the hotel from the Termini though it seemed to take a detour around the piers where the cruise ships and commercial ships were first but we managed to get off near the hotel and find our way back.

Dinner in the hotel that night as it was included in the tour. Wasn’t very good either. Some sort of meat which looked to be pork cutlet (shades of things to come! We were served a LOT of pork on this tour! I know I won’t want to look a pork chop in the face for a long time after this trip is over!). I wasn’t feeling well so I didn’t eat much anyway. I think I was still suffering from the lack of sleep the night before we flew here, delayed jet lag possibly! Our room in the hotel was pretty small with a shower that barely trickled! Apparently some of the others on the tour later said their shower was fine so I guess it was just us!

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