I’m writing this update from Madrid, Spain. We made it, finally, to our country of destination. We arrived around 3pm today (Friday), and the flight took a little over 2 hours from Venice. We took one of Europe’s budget airlines called easyJet. We essentially paid about $35 each for plane tickets — what a steal! I don’t why the United States doesn’t have any discount airlines like this. For the most part, it was comfortable…except the seats didn’t recline and no complimentary beverages. The way it works is similar to that of the platform of Southwest Airlines: first come first serve. Our gate didn’t lead to the plane so we had to take a shuttle across the tarmac to our jet; this was something new for me. Once the doors of the shuttle bus opened it was a mad dash to get a seat…it was truly a spectacle. Venice’s Marco Polo airport was nice/newer. It probably had around 30 gates so it was pretty easy to get around it’s only terminal.
Upon arrival we got to know the Madrid Metro system pretty well. From the airport we used the Metro up until 3 blocks from our hostel (this included 3 transfers). I would say their public transportation is fairly efficient. Tonight, we are just relaxing before our program starts tomorrow. We are going to be meeting a group bus in a plaza tomorrow afternoon to bring us down to Toledo free of charge — a godsend at this point. We’re just happy to be in a country where we speak the language again, it makes everything easier.
But back to Venice…
We took another high speed train from Florence to Venice Wednesday morning. It was not crowded at all and made the train ride very enjoyable. This time we had a few stops along the way including the old university town of Bologna (home of the first university in Europe). The trip, in total, took a little over 2 hours. Once we arrived in Venice we had to go to a different hotel than originally planned. We had received an email the night before telling us our hotel had closed temporarily until February due to urgent maintenance issues (possible canal flooding?) and that they would upgrade us to their sister hotel for no extra cost. It turned out perfect! Not only was the new hotel closer to the train station, but it also had a window overlooking the canal in front.
After we got off the train we got our first view of the canals in Venice. Right across the plaza from the station is the Grand Canal, Venice’s largest canal. It was very unique to see a city built around canals instead of roads, and wherever a road was supposed to be a canal was in its place. In fact, there are no cars within the historical islands of Venice…only water buses, taxis, and gondolas. All the individual canals break off from the Grand Canal.
After throwing our gear in the hotel room, we went out exploring for a few hours. This is when we first realized how confusing Venice really is to navigate. Literally, since all of the streets are really canals… all the pedestrian streets are alleyways with dead ends or that lead straight into canals with minimal bridges to cross them. To top it all off, you can’t even see more than half a block at a time, furthermore, sometimes the alleyways were so thin that no more than 2 people could be walking in them at a time. Venice truly was an old city. Needless to say it got confusing and frustrating as time went on. Especially when the sun would start to set and you had to get somewhere, because the signs of streets and places were awful and sporadic at best…and the streets would constantly be changing names. I heard from friends that Venice was easily to get lost and in, and by God, it was.
Before we even got to Venice we decided that we were going to take it at a more leisurely pace and just the city while we were there. The first site we walked to was Per Rialto. This was a famous/decorative bridge that crossed over the Grand Canal. It was full of shops, cafés and other touristy stuff. From there we walked to Piazza San Marco where the sun was just starting to set providing us with optimal photos of the basilica, campanile, Doge’s palace, and the lagoon that looked out into the other islands that surrounded Venice. From there, we had dinner at a Mom and Pop restaurant near our hotel. It easily had some of the best pasta ever. The gentleman serving us was a stereotypical Italian grandpa…he was extremely funny and hospitable. It really made our night.
Day 2 in Venice started with a Water bus ride down to Piazza San Marco. Since gondolas are outrageously priced, we decided to take the cheaper method of transportation (the waterbus) down the waterways. We first stopped in San Marco’s Basilica, which dates back to the twelfth century. The basilica is encrusted in all gold and demonstrates a strong Byzantine style of architecture throughout its facade and interior. The remains of St. Mark the Evangelist are supposed to be buried in the church when the Venetians stole his body from Alexandria during the medieval ages. Next-door to the basilica, still in Piazza San Marco, is the Doge’s palace that we visited. The Doge was sort of like the king of the Venetian Republic, however, he held little power. The palace complex was enormous, it housed many of the Venetians public affairs. Now a museum, it displays where the royalty lived, where the government functioned, municipality offices, as well as the courts and prisons. This building was much more than just a palace. My favorite exhibits were the ones on the Venetian mapping and trade routes during the height of their empire in the Mediterranean Sea, as well as the exhibit of the prisons in the dungeon of the palace. Both were very intriguing primary sources of what life was like back during the early modern period in Europe. After that we pretty much called it a day. By this point we were tired of viewing exhibits, galleries, and churches. We just wanted to head back and relax by watching the Big Bang Theory on the internet.
Overall, Venice wasn’t what I imagined in totality. It wasn’t as fun as I thought it would be, and I would probably never want to go for more than two whole days — you can see pretty much all of the top things in one day. The city is dirty with graffiti everywhere, which is too bad. And the streets and bridges aren’t as well kept compared to the other cities that we had visited. There is always a slight odor coming from the canals, which makes me extremely glad that we didn’t come in the summer where it would be even more packed, and thus, probably more smelly. Last but not least, it was more expensive than one you got for your Euro comparatively, too. Now, I’m not trying to discourage anyone from ever wanting to go to Venice, because it truly is a unique and cool city. However, I would advise people on how much time they would like to devote to visiting it before they go. I know one thing is for sure, I am happy to be in Spain!