Yes, Venice again. I know it’s quite possibly one of the biggest travel cliches out there, but I adored this city. We spent a few days here during our holidays in Italy, after visiting Rome. This is the Grand Canal, the major water-traffic corridor in the city. You can take either the water buses (vaporetti) or gondolas. Since the gondolas were way out of our price range, we stuck to the public transportation. The canal is is 3,800 m long, 30–90 m wide, with an average depth of five meters (16.5 ft). The buildings that line the banks of the Grand Canal date from the 13th to the 18th century. We had an excellent lunch at a nice little cafe along the canal and loved watching the boats go by as we chowed down on pizza. Since boats are the main form of transportation in Venice, there are ambulance speedboats, police speedboats, mail boats, and even UPS boats so the locals can receive their packages.
The above structure is the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina, originally built in the year 141. It is currently in the Roman Forum area in the center of of Rome, and contains a number of ancient structures dating back to Rome’s heyday as an empire. Along with the Colosseum and Vatican, the Forum will certainly be on the itinerary of whatever tours to Italy you might take.
The Temple of Antoninus and Faustina was built by Emperor Antoninus Pius and was initially dedicated to his deceased wife, Faustina the Elder. When Antoninus Pius died in 161, the temple was re-dedicated to Antoninus and Faustina at the behest of his successor, Marcus Aurelius. It was later converted to a Roman Catholic church, known as San Lorenzo in Miranda, sometime in the 7th century.
I visited the Forum while on a trip to Rome and Venice in 2005. While I would love to go back someday, I would prefer one of the Italy tours that focuses on the countryside, perhaps in Tuscany.
The above photo is of St. Peter’s Square, located in the Vatican City, the papal enclave in Rome, Italy. The Vatican was one of the first places we visited while in Rome since it was located just a few blocks from the apartment we were renting.
When people ask me for travel advice, one of my most frequent recommendations is to rent an apartment in whatever city you are visiting, especially if you are travelling with a group in one of the more expensive Western European cities (or Eastern Europe, where the majority of my apartment rentals have been). Rome apartments are quite plentiful and extremely well-priced when compared to hotels. Our apartment was very spacious, located in a secure pre-war building with a lovely courtyard, and just steps from the Vatican and many excellent restaurants. Of course, the apartment included a full kitchen so that we could pick up some groceries at the nearby store and save money by having one of our daily meals at the apartment. I much prefer renting apartments to staying in hotels because you get a greater feel for what life is like in the city – something you don’t typically encounter at many of the sterile-like hotels that most tourists frequent. And, of course, the best thing is the price – the money you save by renting an apartment can be well-spent at the local restaurants and pubs! 🙂
Well, the cops in Venice, Italy have to get around somehow, don’t they? If you are interested in seeing more Venice workboats, check out this previous post I wrote.
You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t heard of this place. The Colosseum was completed in 80 AD and is considered one of the greatest works of Roman architecture and Roman engineering. In its heyday, the Colosseum could seat up to 50,000 spectators, who would attend events ranging from gladiator contests to executions. Today, it is one of Rome’s largest tourist attractions and admission will set you back 15.50 euros (around $20). Amusingly, that is the same price we paid for our Venice flights out of Rome.
The underground structure (hypogeum) you see in the photo was where event participants (including animals) waited until they were brought onto the arena floor.
This is perhaps the biggest travel cliché imaginable, but I absolutely adored Venice. The scenery was incredibly beautiful, the food amazing, and the locals very warm and welcoming. And although we went in late June, at the height of tourist season, we had no problems escaping the crowds that seemed to gravitate towards Piazza San Marco and its nearby stores and restaurants. It was a welcome change from the atmosphere of Rome.
While most people think of gondolas as the most prevalent form of transportation in Venice, the canals are, in fact, traversed by a variety of less glamorous – but equally fascinating – boats. Cars are not allowed in Venice, so everything, from delivering mail to hauling construction equipment, must be done by boat. Here are a few of the boats that get the job done.
The ACTV waterbus: Venetian mass transit. Sure beats the hell out of the DC metro.
Delivering restaurant supplies
The UPS boat. Unfortunately, I did not get a photo of the FedEx boat.
Cops. They should make a show like “CHiPs”, but based in Venice.
Construction crew. This boat is the Venetian equivalent of an F-350 Super Duty Crew Cab.
Once the products are offloaded, they are delivered to their destination via handtrucks. I do not envy this guy’s job.
I wish I could think of a more interesting title for this post, but I’m saving up all my brain power for dissertation research…yeah…dissertation research.
Anyways….Italy…it’s about time I got around to a description of the trip. I wanted to bring some closure to this trip before I embark on the process of uploading all the pictures of Ireland.
Day 1: The sights of ancient Roma
We flew to Rome on RyanAir, the low-cost Irish airline that crams as many passengers as possible into its planes and then flies them to various European destinations. It was the first time I’ve ever flown RyanAir…interesting airline. No drinks, no snacks (well, you can purchase them from the cart at ridiculous prices if you so desire). The backs of the seats are entirely plastic, and they don’t even have a seat pocket. The reasoning behind this is so that they don’t have to spend much time cleaning the plane.
Instead, they can land, disgorge the passengers, do a quick run through of the cabin, take on a new set of passengers, turn the plane around, and then head back to where they came from. Brilliant business idea, I must say.
We landed in Rome about 2 hours after leaving London (London to Rome in just 2 hours, God, I love this continent!). After experiencing my very first RyanAir landing, I’m beginning to think that the company also saves money through its hiring practices. Let’s just say that this was the roughest landing I’ve ever experienced. Instead of gliding in for a nice, smooth, landing, it felt like we just kinda dropped onto the runway and bounced a little. Then the pilot steps on the brakes while executing a turn at an extremely fast speed and I probably would have been thrown into the back of the seat in front of me if it weren’t for my tightly fastened seat belt. Looks like someone needs to take a few classes at Embry-Riddle!
After going through immigration (The officer barely looks at our passports – awesome security), we are finally in Rome. The apartment we were staying at was really close to the Vatican, so that was convenient. We dropped our stuff off and caught Bus 64 to the Colosseum. The lady who had rented the apartment to us warned us that Bus 64 was known for its pickpockets, and we had also read the same thing in Moira’s copy of “Rick Steves’ Italy” (which would turn out to be a much ridiculed guidebook, but more on that later). And wouldn’t you know it, we’re on the bus for just a few minutes, and a British tourist starts screaming every swear word known to man after he discovers that his wallet has gone missing. I had my back against the wall and on one side was standing next to a priest (a little TOO close for comfort…smashed like sardines into that damn bus) but nevertheless tightened my grip on my backpack.
Our first stop was the Colosseum, which shouldn’t require too much of an explanation. Cost of admission: 10 euros ($12). Wow, that’s pretty steep, but whatever, it’s the Colosseum…you can’t go to Rome and not see the Colosseum.
Inside of the Colosseum. The original wood flooring was destroyed long ago…now you can see the underground passages and vaults where the slaves and animals lived.
In this picture, actors portraying Julius Caesar and a gladiator send text messages on their mobile phones, much like the Romans did thousands of years ago.
Our next stop was the Roman Forum, the central area around which ancient Rome developed.
Ruins, with the Colosseum in the background.
The altar of Divus Julius, where Julius Caesar’s body was cremated. I was expecting something a bit grander, I suppose.
After wandering around the Roman Forum, we went to the Pantheon.
We were quite hungry after we went to the Pantheon, so we decided to grab dinner at a restaurant on the cute little piazza in front of the Pantheon. Looking back, we probably shouldn’t have done it…of course it was in a major tourist area and thus the prices were jacked up, but we hadn’t eaten all day and didn’t want to wander around the city any longer. We got a table on the piazza, and instantly realized that we were surrounded by hundreds of American tourists. Awesome. The people watching was interesting – we rolled our eyes when a group of American college students, the guys all wearing polo shirts and drinking wine from the bottle, strolled up to our waiter, pointed at a large table and said “Is that, like, reserved for someone?” Ah, just like home. The meal was quite good, but while we were eating dessert, Moira’s sister, Al, said that something was biting her. We started going crazy, somehow the chalice holding my precious gelatto ended up on the ground – it was general mayhem. The rest of the diners were looking at us like we were insane. So then, this scruffy looking fellow runs over and starts saying something in Italian to a guy who worked at the restaurant. The restaurant guy then reaches down under our table and hands an even scruffier looking pigeon to the guy, who then proceeded to run off. What…the…hell? We’re convinced that the pigeon was trained to bite a person’s ankle so as to cause a distraction and allow some thieves to swoop in and steal bags/purses/etc. It seems a bit far-fetched, I know, but it’s really the only thing that makes sense. We paid our bill and walked around a bit…Al needed to get some money out of the ATM, but when she put her card in, the machine started giving her all these error messages in Italian and it wouldn’t give her the card back. A guy behind us who supposedly didn’t speak English pushed a few buttons on the machine and tried to explain that the card had been eaten. Great. We tried to get the card back for a few minutes, but the machine was unresponsive, so we left, thinking that the card had been eaten. A few minutes later, our Italian “friend” runs up behind us with Al’s card in his hand, hands her the card, and says “Italy – no good.” Al later found out that her entire bank account had been emptied – she had fallen victim to a “Lebanese loop” scam. (She was able to reclaim the money through her bank, though, so happy ending after all).
Day 2: The Vatican – losing my religion
Our second day in Rome was spent at the Vatican City, the home of Catholicism.
St. Peter’s Basilica.
St. Peter’s Square. The obelisk, among other things, was stolen from Egypt.
We went to the Vatican Museum to check out the Sistine Chapel (you know, Michelangelo’s “Last Judgement” and all that). Of course, there was an admission charge: 8 euros. I put in eight years at Catholic school and still have to pay 8 euros to see the freakin’ Vatican museum and Sistine chapel? As far as I’m concerned, I OWN part of that! And I own part of this while we’re at it:
You have to walk through about 80 miles of corridors before you reach the Sistine chapel. When we finally got there, there were a TON of people crammed into the chapel, and the Vatican guards were going crazy trying to stop people from taking pictures. It really spoiled the mood. I came out of there not being very impressed. I should have been – it’s the freakin’ Sistine chapel! – but I just couldn’t get excited about it.
The next sight we visited was St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in Christianity.
Inside the basilica, there are some glass coffins with the bodies of various Popes on display. That was really, really, weird. What was even weirder was seeing hordes of tourists clutching their cameras, hoping to get a great picture of the dead Popes. In Moscow, when you visit Lenin’s Mausoleum, the guards search your bags for cameras so you can’t sneak any pictures of Lenin’s corpse. In St. Peter’s though, it’s like “Hey hey! Open season on the Popes!”
Later that day we caught our flight to Venice. Flight to Venice was about an hour…we arrived pretty late in the evening. Moira’s “Rick Steves’ Italy” guidebook told us that we could take a waterbus from the airport directly to Venice. The only problem is, we couldn’t find anything to indicate that this waterbus existed, like, well, being near water. As it turns out, Venice has two airports – who woulda guessed that a city with a population of 271,000 would have two airports? Thanks a lot, Rick, you bastard! Maybe your updated guidebook for Italy can include both airports? Anyways, we ended up hopping a bus to the Venice bus terminal, which took about 45 minutes. From there, we took a waterbus, hopped off near the hospital, and wandered around until we found our hotel. The place was really dead. It was probably around 11pm when we finally got out room. We were pretty hungry, as we hadn’t eaten since lunch, so we asked the hotel guy where we could get some food. The guy told us we wouldn’t be able to find any open food places (“Venice is like…eh…how you say, small town in Colorado.”) but we didn’t let that stop us from wandering around in search of food. We came across a pizza shop that was closing up, and bought the leftover pizza, which was enough to hold us over until breakfast.
Day 3: Discovering Venice
I must admit that I didn’t know much about Venice before I arrived there. I had seen “The Italian Job”, so I knew that the main mode of transportation was via water. I had thought, though, that there would be a few roads…a few cars…golf carts, at the very least. Wrong. There are no cars whatsoever within Venice, except where the buses from the mainland drop you off. From there, you have to take waterbuses everywhere. I was really fascinated by this – a car-less city where everything must be transported by boat and handtrucks.
Delivering restaurant supplies
The Venice post office
Delivering the mail
Even UPS has its own boat
Once you get everything off the boat, you have to deliver it via handtruck…up and over Venice’s many bridges.
Another form of transportation that Venice is famous for, of course, is the gondola:
Unfortunately, gondolas are very expensive (costing upwards of 60 euros an hour – and that doesn’t include the cost of the singer and accordion player) so we were forced to ride around on the waterbus:
Rick Steves had included a description of the sights along the grand canal in his guidebook, so Moira read that aloud and we had our own personal “studentesque” tour of the Grand Canal. It worked out quite well, actually. I figure I can always come back to Venice and ride around in a gondola when I have a real job…either that, or I can just go to Vegas.
We also visited St. Mark’s Square:
This square is famous for its large amount of pigeons. You can buy pigeon feed and feed them so that they will sit on your shoulder, etc. Gross…(I hate pigeons)
We wandered around Venice for the day…had an excellent dinner, and luckily we had decided to eat inside, and not on the patio, because 30 minutes into our meal it began to hail and then rain heavily. We then took the night cruise, and by night cruise I mean we hopped on one of the waterbuses and headed down the Grand Canal to St. Mark’s Square. It had stopped raining, but we had a view of the most amazing lightning storm I have ever seen. (No need to worry, though, as it was very far out to sea).
When we got to St. Mark’s Square, we were accosted by two annoying American college students who were backpacking through Europe. One of them wasn’t wearing any shoes – they had been stolen when he took them off to dip his feet in the canal. It seems even Venice isn’t free from annoying thievery (although why he would want to dip his feet in those polluted waters is beyond me). From what I remember, he said he was the president of fraternity from some university in Michigan. Wow, we were impressed! He asked where we went to school, and when we told him LSE, his immediate reply was “London sucks!” Uhhh, what? And then…this is hilarious…he said “Detroit is so much better than London.” Yes, you read that correctly…Detroit is apparently better than London. Clearly, he was insane, as London is one of the greatest cities in the world. Detroit? Whatever.
So, my general impression of Rome and Venice…
Rome – I feel guilty saying this, but I wasn’t very impressed. Some of you might say, but Lindsay, what about the Colosseum, Sistine Chapel, etc? I know, I know…wonderful things that should be appreciated. But I just wasn’t as excited to see them as I felt I should have been. It doesn’t help that they try and cram as many people as possible into these sights – it’s rather distracting, and really detracts from the environment (You’d think that people would show some respect and remain quiet in the Sistine Chapel, but sadly, it is quite loud). Rome is expensive, expensive, expensive, overrun by hordes of tourists, and for the love of God, watch your bags and pockets. Definitely not one of my favorite cities.
Venice – Impressed. Very impressed. A lovely city – it reminded me of Dubrovnik, although much larger and with many more tourists. Still, though, the amount of tourists didn’t seem to detract from the experience. If you wander off through the small, narrow alleyways, it could be quite awhile before you encounter another tourist. I would highly recommend Venice…it is truly a city like no other. Hopefully someday I’ll be able to return to Italy and hit up the more rural areas.
One of the great things about both Rome and Venice, though, is the food. It’s amazing…the pizza, ravioli, tortellini, gelatto…I never had a bad meal in Italy. It’s one of the things you can rely on, unlike London, where it seems the food is rather hit or miss.
That concludes my trip to Italy…I should have my Ireland photos up soon.