Sunday, 21 October 2018

A Day Trip to Verona

Saturday was our last full day in Italy and the plan was to flee the increasing madness of Venice and go to Verona instead. Every day it had felt like there were more and more people in Venice and the slow moving stream of people and constantly being stuck behind large groups in narrow alleys had gotten us to a point where we were getting quite stressed by it and needed a break and some space.

We had gotten tickets for the 8:21am train and plenty of time to grab a coffee at the station. Interestingly, coffee at the train station was quite opposite to what we're used to in Britain: it was pretty good and cheaper than in town.

Found our platform and train only to remember we needed to de-validate our tickets. We ran to a ticket office where the guys behind the counter where more interested in chatting to each other until one eventually turned to us with a slightly bored expression.
Something we have experienced a few times during our time here. For a Brit this feels very rude, but at the same time it would be rude to interrupt their talk. So you're stuck there patiently waiting for your turn.
We got told to use one of the machines, asking where those machines could be found, we were told just outside. Ah-huh. Ran outside frantically looking for these things. Rich jumped into another ticket office whilst I kept looking, he had a very similar experience, but at least they told him "platform", so we ran back and finally found the thing, stuck our tickets into it and made our train with 2mins left. Phew.
Just before 10am we arrived in Verona after a somewhat boring journey. Not much in terms of scenery along the way.

The sun was shining, but it was a bit fresh outside as we walked quiet and broad streets towards the city centre, seeing cars for the first time in six days!

Had coffees and ham croissants at a Pasticceria before heading to Piazza Bra with the impressive amphitheatre. Built in the first century it once had room for 30,000 spectators. Today almost everything of the outer ring is gone, but it's still in use for theatre and opera events hosting up to 15,000 people.

A queue was building already so we jumped onto the end and maybe waited for 25mins to get in. Not bad.
The sheer size was really impressive, and for me it put the Colosseum in Rome into perspective. Guessing, I estimated the Colosseum to be at least twice if not three times as big!

Heading West we joined yet another thick stream of people slowly waltzing westwards along a posh shopping street lined with Gucci, Prada and the like. Basically, everything about this was wrong for us, so we escaped at the next opportunity turning left and taking much quieter streets to Piazza delle Erbe.

It had a market on and lovely but faded paintings on most of the buildings around it. There was a distinct flair of an alpine village or town. And to be honest we were not that far off the Alps anyway. Still, I found it quite surprising to find some architectural elements down here.

We went on past the Piazza with a Dante statue and a smal 11th century church that somehow looked like you would maybe imagine a secret little Templar church straight from an Indiana Jones movie, haha.

Had some amazing gelato, probably the best of the whole trip, then walked to the Basilica, yet another monumental sandstone building. Didn't fancy going in, we had had our share of churches.

Walked along the waterfront to Castelvecchio and its brick bridge and back to where we had started this morning. With plenty of time left we chilled in the sun with another coffee and took the 15:21 train back to Venice and its Saturday madness. We were sick of it.

Showers at home and then off to the little Cantina we had been to on our first night and Rich's "Italian dad". Sure enough he remembered us! We had a selection of gorgeous cichetti and shared a bottle of Lugana, a small production wine from the shores of Lake Garda and for once a wine we couldn't find on Majestic! 

Followed by yet another delicious pasta dish and of course dessert. Brilliant finish to an amazing holiday!
Chilled back at the apartment, packed and off to bed for a not too early start on Sunday.

Friday, 19 October 2018

Last Day in Venice

Friday already! Wow, the week went much quicker than we thought. Last full day for us in Venice today and it was a hot one.
I went to the bakery and supermarket in the morning to get stuff for brekkie. 

The lady at the bakery is quite the character. And I mean it in the most well-meaning way. She's maybe in her late 50s, doesn't speak any English, wild shock of short gray hair and glasses as thick as ashtrays.
I said "Quattro panini, per favore." which I thought was pretty much correct Italian until she started telling me about the different fillings of the croissants.
Eventually we agreed that I wanted panini and not one but four.
She smiled her genuine happy smile as she handed me the correct change and I said my thanks and left. Gets me in a good mood these little brief encounters with people that are just different.

Left the apartment around 11 to pick up chanterelle mushrooms (learning from the nice lady at the veg stall that there are male and female ones, who knew!) and parsley, then bimbled along the waterfront East towards the public gardens. 

It was definitely busier today and also really hot despite the thermometer only showing 24C. No wonder we opted for Mojitos instead of coffee when we had a wee break at a bistro.

The park was a bit of a disappointment, but walking along the waterfront was quite nice around there. Lots of runners around, probably just as happy for some shade as we were.

The ferry ticket for four stops to our next destination was 7.50, so instead we walked the 40mins to Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, joining the steady stream.of people again for most of the way. 

Two more churches we found on the way whilst devouring some more gelato.
Chiesa di San Moisé and Chiesa di Santa Maria del Giglio. 

The basilica was impressive from the outside for its sheer size. You can see it far and wide. We were a bit "churched out" by now, but entry was free and it was quite nice.

With legs getting heavier we made the long way back with a stop at the train station to get tickets for Verona tomorrow and another stop a Al Timón bar for cichetti and drinks. Really love this way of starting the evening. Wine and little bites by the canal just chilling and people watching.

Cooked up a nice risotto with our mushrooms and parmesan and white wine. Another lovely dinner with fresh market fare and just inspired by the food we found on our holiday. I'm definitely taking home some new ideas!

Live is Life

Na naaaa na na na. This song had been weirdly following me all day yesterday! Rich said he'd also heard it on the bus to Syracuse as a ringtone of someone's phone.

Went for a lovely run in the morning. Left the apartment 7am running along the canal towards Rialto at first but then turning North towards the sea front. 
I was maybe half an hour too late for the best light and also had to navigate around all the groups of kids going to school. Other than that I really enjoyed it! Got a bit lost in the many turns and narrow alleys near the Arsenale, but thanks to Google Maps I quickly found the right route to get me out of the maze.
Ran along the Southern sea front on a very broad pavement towards St. Mark's Square, then past the Rialto Bridge and back home. Nearly 4 miles on total. Was good to be running again. The first exercise in nearly two weeks!

Having played Assassin's Creed excessively in the past I could certainly see the appeal of running, speed climbing up walls, jumping from roof top to roof top.
Ran past one of the guys collecting the rubbish bags and he was happily whistling "Live is Life". Didn't make much of it at that point.

Breakfast back home then out around 11am via the route I had run earlier. Rich agreed that it was nice to see something other than narrow alleys for once. 

Spotted a church whilst walking along the waterfront front and decided to have a peek inside. What a find!
Chiesa dei Gesuiti was absolutely spectacular inside. Where to look first? There was not a single plain wall anywhere. Everything was decorated in white marble inlaid with a pattern of green marble. Paintings, twisted columns, golden decorations, what a feast for the eyes!

Walked those narrow lanes again shortly after towards the Arsenale hunting for coffee. We finally found a small cafe that only charged 2.20 for a take away. Anything under 3.00 was cheap. Whilst waiting the telly on the wall played "Live is Life" showing the lyrics so you could sing along. One young lady actually did just that.

Sipping our hot brew we sat on the steps of the bridge next to the Arsenale entrance which is closed to the public but an impressive sight nevertheless. It was the largest industrial complex in Europe before the industrial revolution and the heart of Venice's naval power from as early as 1100 on and is still used by the Navy.

We walked on along the Southern waterfront now to St. Mark's Square which was busy but not as much as we had feared. Again we wondered what it must be like in high season.

Did some window shopping to kill the remaining half an hour before we walked over to the Basilica entrance for pre-booked tickets. You can find yourself waiting as long as 45 minutes in the normal queue, we waited 5 and only because there was a large group just going in in front of us.
This time it really was no photos and inside there were quite a few guards to enforce this.

The Basilica is very impressive from the outside and doesn't quite fit in with the rest of the Venetian architecture. It has a very obvious Byzantine or Persian touch and looks half mosque half church.
Inside you're almost ushered around the cordoned walkway counter clockwise. It's golden mosaics everywhere and quite dark. Impressive, yes, but we found the outside more interesting and the Jesuit church earlier was more stunning.
It feels a bit like a rip off, paying around 15 quid to get a 10min walk around inside and if you want to see the altar up close or the treasury or the little museum you pay extra. The Jesuit church had been 1 quid. Still we thought St. Mark's was worth seeing. Just don't expect it to be the absolute best and mind-blowing church in Venice.

We had an hour or so left before we were scheduled to go up the clock tower (Campanile). So we walked over to the fruit and cocktail stall we'd been to earlier in the week and had a cheeky cocktail each.

With our pre-booked tickets we had no queue at all at the side entrance. Boom. Views from the to were superb!!! Especially in afternoon sunshine and blue skies. Half the price of the Basilica, this was definitely value for money!

Back down it was time for late lunch and we found a nice busy place having a gorgeous foccacia each sharing a slice of pizza and sipping some white wine.
Once more we made our way through narrow lanes, over countless bridges turning this way and that.

Opted for drinks as the sun was dipping at Al Parlamento, a trendy bar near our apartment, sitting by the water chilling and watching the world go by.

We somehow ended up having a couple of mojitos before we walked the last 10 mins home. But not before a boat passing by had its stereo blaring "Live is Life". It was now that I realised that that song had been following me all day. Laughing I told Rich about it and we both wondered if the song had made a reappearance in Italian charts recently.

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Sights off the beaten track

The Wednesday forecast had changed from showers all day to overcast with some spotting in the morning. Great. We didn't take an umbrella then as we left the apartment around 9pm and the absence of peddlers trying to sell umbrellas was proof that we were reasonably safe from water from above.

First so for us was Rosa Salva, a pasticceria in Rialto which was said to be one of the best bakeries in Venice... At least as far as the Lonely Planet was concerned.
It really was a small place with two tables to stand on. Most locals just got one of the filled croissants and stood by the coffee bar necking their hot brews in like a minute.
We got an apricot jam and a chocolate croissant each and a cappuccino. Lonely Planet had once again made a brilliant suggestion and we agreed with their label of "gale force" for Rosa Salva's coffee. Holy moly! This stuff was rocket fuel! We could feel it coursing through our bodies, floating a couple of inches above the ground as we made our way over to Rialto Market to get some fish for dinner.

Dropped our lovely salmon filet off at home and headed over to San Polo after. Time to fill up on coffee and have a bite for lunch at Campo Dei Frari before we headed into the imposing 14th century Gothic church I Frari, that dominated the square.
The inside was simply stunning! And no photos allowed. Which we found out later was rather "no flash" and generally not discouraged, but sort of allowed. Ah, never mind.

The audio guide was well worth it to point out interesting parts of the many amazing paintings. A few Titian and a rare Bellini that almost has a 3D effect could be found inside. Stunning vibrant colours and  almost photo like facial expressions of the depicted figures. We are not art buffs and have really no idea about what is good and what not, but this was nothing short of amazing.

Next up was the Leonardo da Vinci museum, where we again opted for the excellent audio guide. They had digital replicas of his painting with background information and the option to zoom in to all the intricate details. There was a section about his anatomy studies and some of his machines where built upstairs to actually have a go at them... sort of. This included building a bridge out of small logs alone with no fastening necessary. We saw his tank, submarine and machine gun, a crank and piston and a number of ball-bearings. All of this he invented around 1500. Insane, right?

Leonardo's tank

Slurping some gelato we made our way back towards the apartment after a quick peek into San Roco, another church with amazing interior. Basically every wall had a painting on it. Dimly lit, with so much to feast your eyes on it's probably one of the hidden gems of the city.

San Roco

Had drinks at Birreria Zaron just outside our apartment. Really nice chilled place with a different non-challant vibe.
Cooked up some pasta at home with fennel, salmon and baby tomatoes and watched some Netflix before entering the nightly fight with the movies mozzies in our bedroom.

Birreria Zaron, instantly liked this place