DM and MM's Italy Trip Diary

Day 9 - Milano to Venezia

Monday, 7 May, 2001

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After the night's rain, the day dawned with a soft sunlight filtered through hazy cloud. The garden in the rear yard of our hotel was still wet as we had breakfast in the ground floor room after a solid night's sleep. After eating, we went back up in the Get Smart lift and packed our bags before coming back down and checking out.

We walked over to the Metro station. After battling with three different ticket machines before finding one that would actually take our money, we boarded the train for the Duomo, where I planned to take some black and white photos before we left Milan for Venice. It was raining a little when we got to the Duomo, so Michelle stood by the bags under a covered footpath while I raced around snapping pictures. After a few minutes we were back on the Metro, headed to Stazione Centrale Milano.

Overexposed sky
Milan Duomo in black and white

We wanted to book seats on a train to Venice using our railpasses so queued at the appropriate window, marked with a sign saying "Italy Flexi Rail Card". When I got the the window and explained what I wanted the man said that we couldn't book seats on the day, but we only had to fill in the date on our cards and board the train and we'd be fine. Unfornately, in the time it had taken to find this out, a train to Venice had left. The next one wasn't due for another hour.

With our heavy backpacks to cart around, we decided to simply sit in the station and wait until the 11:05 train. Finding a spot to sit wasn't easy, and we eventually squeezed into a space on a set of three or four steps leading to a slightly higher level area. Many other people were waiting there also. I had a stroll around the station, looking at the various shops, then Michelle went for a walk, stopping at the small supermarket in the station for some lunch rolls and fruit. When she came back I stood up to look once more at the indicator board to see if our train had been assigned a platform number yet, but no luck.

Stazione Centrale Milano
Stazione Centrale Milano

When I came to sit down again, a woman about in her 60s moved over to make room, then struck up a conversation with us. It turned out she was from Chicago and had just arrived at Milan airport that morning to catch a train to Verona to study some art works there. She was a student of art history, having put her kids through college then finally taken a degree in the subject, and had been to Venice several times to see the art there. She recommended several places for us to see. When we said we were from Australia her first reaction was that it was the place where Jackson Pollock's Blue Poles was. At one point she started complaining about the monotony of the food in Italy - pizza, pasta, pizza, etc. She said she sometimes would give anything for a baked potato, and asked if we had potatoes in Australia. She reminded me the whole time of the character Ruth-Anne from Northern Exposure.

As we sat chatting I kept getting up to look at the indicator board, thinking we should board the train as early as possible to secure seats. One time I checked and the board had a note saying that the train was delayed by 50 minutes, which put it nearly as late as the next scheduled service at 12:05. After waiting another half hour or so, with this woman telling us endless stories about pieces of art in Venice and elsewhere, the 12:05 had been assigned to platform 11, while the late 11:05 train still had no further information on it. Thinking it would simply end up being cancelled, or even later than the 12:05, we decided to get on the 12:05.

It was a long walk down the platform to a second class carriage. All the carriages were a mix of smoking and non-smoking (Italians apparently haven't cottoned on to the idea that enclosed spaces should really be smoke-free), but they had individual compartments with doors, so it was okay. We found an empty compartment and settled ourselves in. Just before the train started off, a young Italian woman came in and took the facing seat diagonally opposite from our two seats.

The train ride was moderately scenic, passing through some hilly country, some large grape-growing areas, and some small towns. A few stops down the line another young woman came into the cabin and took the third seat facing forwards, directly opposite the other woman. The two of them slept or snoozed most of the way.

Around the halfway mark of Verona we had our lunch. It turned out the bread rolls Michelle had bought were sweet milk rolls, which were okay, but not exactly the thing to go with the turkey slices she also bought for me. Such are the adventures of not speaking the language!

Grand Canal and Chiesa degli Scalzi
Grand Canal, right in front of Stazione Santa Lucia

We eventually made it through Mestre and on to Venice itself. The trip across the Ponte della Libertà was interesting as it gave us our first sight of the lagoon and the boats which lived their lives on it. Before long the train stopped at Venezia Santa Lucia station and we lugged our backpacks out via a tiny side street (or calle as they call them) on to Rio terrà Lista di Spagna and along to Calle di Misericórdia where the Hotel Villa Rosa was. We checked in around 15:30 and dumped our gear, thankful we were so close to the station.

Hotel Marconi
Gondola on the Grand Canal

After a brief stop to get organised for an afternoon out, we ventured forth once more. The Lonely Planet recommended the first thing you do in Venice is catch Vaporetto 1 from Piazzale Roma, which was across Canàl Grande from the station. We crossed the Ponte degli Scalzi and walked along to the vaporetto stop, from where the number 1 service began. We boarded a mostly empty boat and secured prime seats right at the front on the left side, with a good view forwards on both sides. The next stop was Ferrovia, right in front of the station and crawling with people, so the guidebook's advice was well given as the boat had standing room only after they all boarded.

All in a row
Palazzi on the Grand Canal

The ride up Canàl Grande was stunning. Every classic image of Venice was brought to mind by the passing parade of buildings with doors and steps facing the water, gondole and boats plying the waters, and brightly coloured barber-pole striped hitching poles poking out of the water by the banks. We rode past the stop for Piazza San Marco, getting off at the next stop, Arsenale, so we could walk back a bit along the Riva degli Schiavoni, which faced across a broad expanse of water to the adjacent island of Giudecca.

Piazzale San Marco
Piazzale San Marco, with Chiesa della Salute in background

We walked into Piazza San Marco, checking carefully the route taken by James Bond in his hovercraft gondola in Moonraker. The famous pigeons were flocking all over the place, thanks to small stalls selling feed to eager tourists trying to pose for pictures surrounded by clouds of the birds. We walked through the square fairly quickly, taking a quick look before returning another day to drink it all in more carefully. Michelle bought an iced lemon tea for her thirst, then we walked westwards. I stopped to buy another roll of black and white film, having used up my first one along the Canàl Grande.

St Mark's, Late Afternoon
Piazza San Marco and Basilica San Marco

We took a passage under a building to Rio della Procuratíe, which we followed around until we found a place which sold take-away pizza. We ordered a margherita and capricciosa, being quite hungry. We were given typical take-away pizza boxes, and wandered off to try to find somewhere we could sit to eat the contents. We ended up sitting on the steps on the bridge on Calle dei Fuséri over Rio Fuséri, munching away as people walked past, hoping nobody would tell us to move on. One couple stopped and asked in American-accented English where we got the pizzas - I tried to explain as best I could, but by that stage I wasn't sure what directions we'd come in. As we ate, several gondole passed below us under the bridge. One had a couple being serenaded by an accordianist and singer who was singing, of all things, Delilah in Italian. He was no Tom Jones, but he wasn't half bad either.

Ponte di Rialto Sunset
Grand Canal, from Ponte di Rialto

Pizzas eaten, we continued walking until we reached Campo San Luca, where we joined a stream of people heading along the main tourist strip for a bit. The shops were all closing, it being 19:30 by now, so we decided to avoid the main strip and take a short cut through some back calle to experience some of the less seen sights. We crossed the Ponte di Rialto and proceeded right along Canàl Grande for a distance. The sun was just taking on the orange glow of sunset and the light on the buildings on the far bank was wonderful. We walked through the twisty winding calle of Santa Croce, over many bridges and down narrows paths, thankful for the detailed Touring Club Italiano map of the city I'd bought just after we'd finished our pizzas. One thing we noticed was the bad smell exuded by many of the canals - a very clear sign of pollution.

Golden ripples
Sunset over the Grand Canal

Finally we reached the Ponte degli Scalzi again and crossed back over to the Cannaregio side where our hotel was located. After a last quick look at the nearby shops glowing with brightly coloured Murano glass, we stopped in for the night.

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