Friday, June 4, 2010

Our Ante Pentultimate Destination: Venice

It seems fitting that after beginning our trip in expensive Australia, we're ending it in expensive Europe. We've come full circle budget-wise in our travels. Turkey and Greece were not too bad on our budget, especially since we couchsurfed six times between the two countries. In Venice, we tried to find a couchsurfing host, but with no luck. The pickings were slim (only seven available hosts, and we only contacted one that we thought looked promising); later we found out that there were more hosts in the larger neighboring city Padua. Oh well, next time...

The 31 hour ferry ride from Greece was surprisingly pleasant. We didn't have a cabin, but we staked out an area in one of the lounges where we could unfurl our beach mat and alternately sleep and sit up. We read and played plenty of games. The only complaint about the ride is the high price of coffee: between 2.20 and 3 Euros ($2.70 and $3.70) depending on which part of the ship we bought it from.

We got into Venice in the early afternoon, and I was immediately reminded by how beautiful a city Venice is. This is my second trip to Venice, and I think it's one of the world's prettiest cities. Of course, it's pretty in one particular way: old buildings, old bridges and canals, so if you're looking for variety, Venice isn't the place. We walked around the evening we got there and got some amazing sunset pictures:
From Venice
We found a place to stay by making our way from the ferry jetty to the train station and standing around looking lost. A man approached us asking if we needed a place to stay. Jaimee and I had determined earlier that our budget for a room was around 50 Euros ($62 at $1.23 to the Euro), and it was as if I'd learned nothing from all our visits to countries where bargaining is the norm, because when the man asked us what we were hoping to spend, I blurted out "50 Euros". Would it have hurt to start lower? Anyway, not surprisingly, he had a room for 50 Euros and he sent us with a map to his hotel where we were greeted by his wife.  After a quick confirmation call to her husband on which she screamed at him, mostly in Italian but with the phase "Speedy Gonazalez" thrown in, we were shown to our room. It was a large bright room with a shared bathroom down the hall, but the neighborhood was great and since at this point it had started to rain, we took the room so we wouldn't have to wander around Venice in the rain with our backpacks.

Without our packs, wandering the streets of Venice was all we did. Well, alternating between stopping at cafes for wine or coffee and buying slices of pizza on the street. And gelato, at least twice a day (so many flavors to sample - I definitely recommend the pear!) It's cliche, but getting lost in Venice is part of the plan. There were several times when we'd walk around, somehow ending up repeatedly in the same wrong spot, but we didn't care. Every street in Venice is beautiful, and down each little alley is another small cafe with outside seating. After months of pinching pennies we somewhat spent with abandon (well, for us anyway), but it was totally worth it. Despite the hoards of tourists, including lots of young backpackers and many school groups, the city has plenty of very romantic and quaint spots.
From Venice
We didn't do any of the "touristy" things, apart from the aforementioned walking, as every sight was packed with tourists; there were long lines to get into the Musei di Piazza San Marco, Gallerie dell' Accademia, and the Peggy Guggenheim museum. Plus each museum was between 10 and 12 Euros ($13 and $15) each! That's a pizza dinner for two with beer and then two scoops of gelato! We also didn't take the vapporetti (water buses) because a one-way ticket costs 6.50 Euro ($8) each. That's the price of two glasses of wine. Plus, Venice is pretty compact and perfect for walking. We estimated that we walked an hour for the distance that we would have taken a vapporetto. Wouldn't you walk an hour for two free glasses of wine?

It might seem crazy to pass up such beautiful sights for what is in the long run, small amounts of money. But, museums will always be there, right? And, we needed to save our money for train tickets to our penultimate stop of Zurich, Switzerland. We almost fell over when we were told the price was 179 Euros ($220) for the two of us. Train travel in Europe is not cheap. We left the train station and investigated alternatives. We tried looking up buses (not convenient and not any cheaper) and flying (cheaper, but not to Zurich), so in the end we bought the train tickets. It's a six hour trip, covering a distance of about 550 km (330 miles). In Zurich, we'll stay with our Seattle friend Aaron who works for YouTube (Google) in Zurich. We won't have very long in Switzerland though as we fly out on Sunday to Iceland! We're really cramming a lot into our last week!

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