No, Never Will I Roam for I Know My Place is (On the Train)
Our first day in Venice - after a very nice breakfast at the hotel, we set out to explore the city. We bought 24-hour tickets for the vaporetti (boats used for mass transit), and rode all the way down the Grand Canal to the train station. We then walked back through Santa Croce and San Polo and across the Ponte di Rialto. From there, we joined the mass of crowds in Piazza San Marco. We decided to skip visiting the interior of the Basilica today. We then wound our way around through smaller alleyways back to Via Garibaldi (where our hotel is). After a snack, we went in search of an Internet cafe to explore our travel options for Monday - it looks like we will be on the train.
Our impression of Venice is that is a fantastic city - so entirely unique with no cars, motorcycles or bicycles. There are two forms of transportation here; boat and a' pied (hoofing it). Unfortunately, we are here for the weekend and in the summertime along with about a million other people, so we haven't been able to fully enjoy places like Piazza San Marco. In contrast, our hotel is just a 10-minute walk down the Riva in more of a residential area and it is quiet and lovely. The hotel itself is very nice (ranked number 5 in Venice on tripadvisor.com) and we would definitely return.
The little bar next to the Hotel appears to be a favorite of the locals - there we met a fiftyish couple, she being an American who has lived in Italy for thirty years and married to a Venetian gentleman. Both were just a fountain of information on the local culture. It was one of those meetings that you almost pray for when traveling. We talked for several hours, getting the lowdown on the area, the others around us etc. She is an art broker and he is associated with "Vecchio Murano," the oldest Venetian maker of glass art and has invited us to come for a personal tour tomorrow.
We got an early start this morning, and were down to Piazza San Marco by 8:15, in an attempt to beat the crowds. There were a number of people around, but nothing like mid-day. After we took our fill of pictures, we hopped back onto the vaporetti up the Grand Canal to the train station. We're not sure how this worked, but the train to Garmisch-Partenkirchen was Euro 227 (for both of us) in second class. We were quoted Euro 320 for first class, and decided on this option, but when the tickets were issued, the total for first class was only Euro 181. We were excited by our savings!
From the train station, we rode the vaporetti to San Marco to visit the Vecchio Murano glass works, complete with a private tour from our new Venetian acquaintance, Alberto. The glass works is not open to the public, however, they do give prearranged tours to groups booked through American Express, etc. We started the tour in a museum-quality showroom that houses the most expensive pieces. Alberto tells us that the room is closed off from all but private tours. Even the door to this room is gorgeous art glass. Throughout the other rooms we tour, he picks up pieces of art, costing multi-thousand Euros from the shelves and hands them to us so we can feel the weight and see the light through them. I would venture to guess that for the glass art objects, the average price was Euro 10,000-15,000, but Euro 20,000+ pieces were certainly not uncommon.
Alberto asked the "Master" to give a glassblowing demonstration for us. He took about 3 minutes to produce a beautiful vase, which he then promptly threw back into the fire! The Venetians do not produce their glass en masse, but rather produce every piece individually. Two "blowers" typically work during the week, with the glass "mixed" overnight. Various ground minerals are added to the glass to produce color.
It was all so stunning, and there were certainly a couple of exquisite pieces that we would have loved to purchase (Alberto assured us that they would take care of shipping and insurance), but we just couldn't persuade ourselves to spend that sort of money.
In the lobby is a full-size horse made of green glass (looks like jade). It seems to have been a trademark of sorts of Vecchio. However, Alberto told us that it was recently sold and is going to Thailand - I'm not sure he knew the exact purchase price, but he gave the impression that it was millions of Euros. We also saw a smaller replica of the horse on our tour. It stood about 24" high and was about 36" long, with a price tag of Euro 100,000.
It has always been our belief that when in Italy, one should try eating the way Italians do - resist the urge to order to American specifications ... the Italians might actually know how to prepare Italian food better than Americans. With this in mind, we went to a trattoria just about 2 blocks away from our hotel. We ordered in Italian, and actually got exactly what we thought we ordered - we were so proud of ourselves! Of all the food, there was only one dish, antipasto misto pesci (mixed fish appetizer) that we really didn't care for. The pasta dishes were fantastic, naturally, as was the shrimp cocktail and the mixed salad.
It started to rain while we were eating, but we managed to stay pretty dry under the awning. When we got back to the hotel, we were talking to one of the staff about the weather and she was telling us about the phenomena of the high water, which typically happens in the winter. The canals overflow and the "streets" are flooded - the water can get as high as a meter (about three feet). I'm not sure I would like to be in Venice when this happens.
August 15, 2005
Today was a travel day, and travel we did. We were awake at 5:30 AM, and out of the hotel, awaiting the vaporetti at 6:30 AM. We got to the train station at about 7:15 and were able to board our train to Verona. We didn't have reserved seats in first class for the first leg, which we came to find out was a bit of a mistake after we had to move twice. There are 15 seats in each first class car that are not reserved - we were lucky enough to get two of these, but we had to sit with our luggage between our legs, as there was no overhead space left. Fortunately, this part of the journey was only about an hour. This train was really more of a commuter train and was filled to capacity and then some.
After a layover in Verona of about 1 1/2 hours, we boarded our train to Innsbruck, this time in reserved seats. We shared our compartment with a very nice Swiss couple. He spoke French, German, Italian and English fluently, while she spoke French and English. The American education system really pales in the area of foreign languages, and it makes you feel very inadequate when you travel - a couple of years of high-school French or college Spanish just doesn't cut it.
Our train to Innsbruck made several stops along the 275 km journey. In Trento, an announcement was made that we would have a 15-minute stop over. So, I decided to get off the train to get a bottle of water. I had walked about two car lengths, when the bell sounded that the doors were closing. I ran to the nearest car, hit the "open door" button and scrambled on board. As I was walking back to our compartment, I saw Mark looking out for me. I was very concerned that he was going to get off the train to look for me - and of course, he was extremely worried that I wasn't on the train. You think we would have learned after our experience in Scotland, but we have definitely learned now - "never will I roam"!!
The train was running on time until Brennero, the last stop in Italy before crossing into Austria. We think that the train personnel changed over in Brennero, but whatever the reason, we were 8 minutes late leaving, making us 8 minutes late arriving in Innsbruck, which meant that we missed our connecting train to Garmisch-Partenkirchen (we only had a scheduled 5-minute connection time). The next train to Garmisch was two hours later, so we passed the time by having a snack in a cafe in the concourse. The train station in Innsbruck is very nice, with several cafes and shops. It also appeared to be very centrally located in the city. The only downside that we saw was that smoking is permitted everywhere - in the cafes and bars, in the concourse and on the trains. This was quite the contrast to Italy, where we were pleasantly shocked to find that no smoking is permitted inside restaurants, bars and public buildings.
We finally arrived in Garmisch at 6:00 PM, after a beautiful train ride through the Bavarian Alps. We have rented a condo here, so the manager graciously picked us up at the train station and dropped us at the condo. It is a very nice accommodation, with full kitchen, large master bedroom and bathroom, and a small "kinder" (child's) room. At this stage, it feels an absolute luxury to stay in one place for the next 9 nights! And, the price is right at Euro 45 per night! (This is basically the view from our condo - the peak on the left just above the clouds is where the hang glider pictured below is coming from).
The Avis car rental was closed by the time we arrived, so we were without a vehicle for the evening. Lucky for us, the condo comes supplied with two bicycles. So, we dropped our bags and set off on the bikes in search of a few groceries. Today is a holiday in Germany, so the shops were closed, but we were able to get a few essentials at the convenience market in the filling station. Following a light dinner of wurst and soup and a little light reading, we collapsed into bed!
August 16, 2005
It has been raining since we arrived last night and it continued all day today. As such, we haven't felt like venturing out much. We walked to Avis this morning to pick up the car and then went to the supermarket. We took a short siesta after lunch and have been watching tennis (in German) on EuroSport. It's just one of those types of days - the rain coupled with our fatigue from our 12-hour travel day yesterday just doesn't make for a mixture of overwhelming enthusiasm.
I was hopeful that the rain might let up this evening and we could go for a bike ride but that doesn't look likely - probably just as well as Markus is feeling a little under the weather with a head cold.
August 17, 2005
The weather has improved dramatically - we had sunshine today!! Bonnie actually wrote that first sentence yesterday while it was raining, thinking that once it is in writing it has to be true ... amazingly enough, she was right - we had SUNSHINE today. I am still recovering from my cold so we ventured out today for a short drive to the base of the Zugspitze then came back and gathered up our laundry once again and were off to the laundromat. The German word for self-service Laundromat translates to:
all in one word, of course.
In the afternoon we sat out on our balcony in the sunshine and I tried to bake the last of the cold out of my system - don't know if I am cured yet but it was gorgeous sitting outside with the mountains in the background. We played some games while sitting outside and, as expected, I am still "Champion of the World" at Rummy Cube and Gin Rummy. (Bonnie lets me get away with writing this sort of thing since I am sick).
August 18, 2005
Another gorgeous day today so we made the most of it by getting to the Zugspitzbahn (train to the top of the mountain) in Eibsee by 8:30 AM. We had to wait about 15 minutes for the next train. The journey to the top takes about 40 minutes - once there, you aren't really at the highest point, you are at the glacier Sonn-Alpen at 2600 meters (about 8527 feet). From there, you take a cable car to the Zugspitze at 2963 meters (9717 feet). You can definitely feel the altitude change, even before you reach the top. In fact, a man on the Zahnradbahn (cog wheel train) passed out at about 2000 meters. Emergency personnel were waiting to attend to him when our train arrived at Sonn-Alpen.
Although it was a little hazy, visibility at the top was pretty good - certainly the best we have ever experienced (we have been to the top on two other occasions; the first in an absolute white-out blizzard in May (David and Denise will also fondly remember that, I'm sure!) and the second in snow conditions in December). In fact, it was so sunny that the outdoor bier garten was open! It was still a little cool for me to want to sit outside - after all, there was snow on the ground!! So, we walked across to the Austrian side of the mountain and enjoyed a cup of coffee in their panoramic restaurant.
We took the Seilbahn (cable car) back down the mountain (it wasn't running when we ascended), which took only 15 minutes and made our escape just as the crowds were really starting to gather. The queues were about 50 people deep for the Seilbahn and at least another 30 for the Zahnradbahn. Also, there was not a single space available in the car park - people were circling in their cars like vultures!
We were back to the condo before 11:00 for a late breakfast and enjoyed the early afternoon sunshine. At about 3:00, we walked into town in search of a snack. Unfortunately, few places were serving food at that time, so we settled for a beer, which we sipped while sitting outside. After a quick stop at the Spar supermarket, we walked back and spent the rest of the evening reading and playing a Rummy Cube rematch. Markus beat me 3 games out of 3, which never happens - I was just feeling sorry for him since he was sick and let him win!
The picture of Mark in the snow was taken at the glacier on the way up to the Zugspitze. For scale the building in the background, top-right, is at least 6 stories tall and the arches to the left of Mark are not croquet gates, but are the supports for the chair lift.
August 19, 2005
The sun was shining once again this morning, and since we don't know how long this weather will continue, we seized the opportunity to go for a bike ride. We rode across the river into Partenkirchen and out by the Skistadion (the Olympic ski jump stadium) where we continued on the path to Partnachklamm, the gorge that runs along the Partnach River. We came back along a path that runs along the base of the mountains and ended up just across the street from the condo!
We relaxed out on our terrace with coffee, watching the paragliders on the Alpspitze mountain and finally mustered up enough additional energy to walk the 20 minutes into town for lunch - this time we knew to get there before 2:00! We had a really nice meal at an Italian restaurant called La Toscana after which we stopped into an internet cafe to try (unsuccessfully) to check our email. I guess we won't have access until we fly back to London next Wednesday. We will keep our journal up to date in the meantime.
The rain started again this afternoon around 4:00 - not sure what the weather forecast is for the weekend. Maybe we should turn the TV on - between the two of us and with the help of the graphics, we should be able to interpret the forecast. But, then again why check, its not like we can change it if we don't like it ...