The first things that anyone notices in Venezia (Venice) are either the boats or the tourists, both which jam the lagoon city. The boats which weave through the canals, large and small, of Venezia are the major form of transportation for people and goods in the city. The other is pedestrian traffic – no other vehicles, not even bikes, are allowed on the stone paved calle (alleys).
From the bustling Grand Canal to smaller, contorted waterways in the city and the outer lagoon, one can see as many types of boats as vehicles in any other city.
We saw taxi boats
and bus boats (vaporetti),
delivery boats from local couriers,
UPS, and DHL boats
to more specialized beer keg and wine cask boats, funereal boats, backhoe boats, tiny runabouts, sleek speedboats, and finally police, ambulance and fire boats.
(you get the idea with the photos)
The other famous inhabitants of Venezia, tourists, were out in force – making some major attractions, like Piazza San Marco and Ponte Rialto, less than bearable during the day. Happily, we found that wandering around nearly empty streets at night was a very pleasant experience – Steven was particularly enamored with the dueling orchestras outside cafés at San Marco. Even during the day, retreating a few blocks from major routes, towards inviting pubs with fresh fish appetizers, was enough to escape crushing crowds, as was our brief excursions to the island of Murano, where the main jetty is filled with tourists examining the island’s famous glass creations, but the interior was blissfully quiet. A lack of cars in the city certainly helped our sleep in a guest house on a side canal. We were rewarded in the morning with breakfast in the private courtyard garden, during which our friendly hotelier Mattia chatted in Italian with me, in French with Steven, and in English when we both needed to understand something. In response to Steven’s question whether he had lived in Venezia long, he casually said he had grown up in the city, and that his family had inhabited the lagoon for “about 1000 years”. An authentic Venetian experience!
After 36 hours in the city, we caught a night train to Wien (Vienna, Austria), experiencing the complete opposite quality of sleep as under Mattia’s care. We napped about 5 hours, interrupted a couple of times by Austrian border control; the famed free crossing in the Schengen zone coming to a (hopefully temporary) end as other countries complain that Italy and France let immigrants freely enter, where they can easily travel through Europe even without documentation. All was well, though, as we were met at our arrival by Steven’s friend Robert, a student in Wien. We stayed a total of three nights with our gracious host, a much more casual and comfortable experience than living hotel-to-hotel.
|Guess what we cooked for dinner with Robert?|
Wandering around the center of Wien, we enjoyed architecture such as the Gothic masterwork St. Stephens cathedral, and a profoundly different cuisine to the Italian we were used to: Viennese finger sandwiches made with egg, peppers, or bacon, and Wiener schnitzels bigger than our plates (not to mention Ottakringer Goldfassl beer).
The next day, we toured the Hofburg palace complex, wandering through the Imperial apartments, “Silver Drawer” (actually a building for storing all the historic dining ware used by the Hapsburg dynasty), and the Treasury containing everything from fist-size jewels to medieval crowns. We peeked in at the Lipizzaner stallions at the Spanish Riding School and took the ring-road tram to visit the massive, historic University of Vienna main building.
We also stopped by an exhibit on human-computer interaction. Sorry, the game didn’t work, so you’’ll just have to settle with this photo :)
We hoped to experience true Austrian music that evening, so were disappointed that tickets at the Volksoper (Peoples’ Opera) for Mozart’s The Magic Flute were sold out. We headed to the theater after the start anyway to see if we could beg departing tourists for their tickets. Steven managed to snag the ticket of a genial Russian guy named Sergey, who had left the theater, and saw the last 25 minutes of the opera, but it wasn’t enough to satiate the classical music urge.
We resolved to see Verdi’s Nabucco our last evening, Friday, at the Staatsoper (State Opera, the grandest in Wien). Standing room tickets were a very affordable three euros, but we had to, well, stand for the four-and-a-half hour opera. Regardless, it was a beautiful show and a great experience – even if I couldn’t understand the majority of the Italian sung.
|Luckily, we saw a real opera and didn’t have to settle for just this|
Thanks for reading, and happy travels to all!