reflective / travel

Summer in Europe, 2014: two days in Veneto (Padua and Venice)

(This is the fourth part of my six-part travel blog series. We’ve previously visited RomePompeii, and Prague.)

After a long day of travel by subway, bus, plane, and train, we finally neared the Italian city of Padova.

Italian countryside en route from Rome to Padua

Italian countryside en route from Roma to Padova

But the closer we came, the more ominous our destination appeared.

closer and closer to Padova station

minutes from Padova station

We arrived in Padova moments before the typhoon of the summer. Photo evidence of the storm’s violence may be viewed here.

We stood with our luggage against a wall, under a high covered walkway outside the station, but that did not save us from getting three-quarters drenched. Any dry skin that remained was soaked during the run to the car and stowing of the luggage. Then we shivered in our wet clothes as we waited for conditions to calm down enough to allow for safe driving. Even once we were moving on the road, it took three or four tries to find a route free of high water or fallen trees.

My lovely friend and her family hosted us for our stay in the Padova area, and while our time there was relaxing and laid-back as we avoided further wet weather, we did see a little of nearby towns, including Castlefranco. I can’t pinpoint the exact location of these photos, or even tell you what they are, but architecture! Worth sharing.

city street

city street

in Castlefranco, I am pretty sure

that looks pretty old (in Castlefranco, I am nearly sure)

architecture!

architecture!

After saying goodbye to our friend, we spent several hours in Venice before catching our train to Bologna.

Venice, in case you didn’t know, is exceptionally photogenic.

view of San Simeone Piccolo when exiting the train station

view of San Simeone Piccolo when exiting the train station

view of the Grand Canal, turning left out of the station

view of the Grand Canal, turning left

north view of the Grand Canal, when standing atop the bridge

north view of the Grand Canal, when standing atop the bridge

south view of the Grand Canal

south view of the Grand Canal, from the same bridge

Despite rumors of more storms, it was a gorgeous day.

Now Venice is an interesting phenomenon: the sinking city of such history and culture, clinging tooth and nail to its tourism dollars. There are Venetian residents, of course, and Italians who travel there to attend university or to see the excellent museums. But there’s no denying that tourism keeps Venice afloat, and if that was all that mattered, it would never be in danger of the tides.

So, in the small city of Venice, tourists are in even more concentrated danger of the ruthless predatory culture I’ve described in Rome and Prague. It’s almost impossible to avoid extortion, unless you have a native friend there to guide you.  You aren’t likely to find a free map of any practical use (as in one naming the streets) unless you’re checking into a hotel (which, of course, isn’t free). Woe to you who tries to buy even coffee or a snack near the popular places.

Also, transportation. Since we had less than a full day to see the city, and I knew from past experience (as well as my Italian friend’s reports) that Venice’s streets are notorious for losing your way, we decided not to chance walking along the canal all the way to our museums of choice and back. So we lined up for vaporetto (water bus) tickets — an especially confusing and costly process. I can’t give advice because I still don’t know how it works. (Even if I could find a helpful internet resource now for the routes, it is sure to be out of date by the time you use it.) Suffice to say that we should have gone the other direction.

And, unlike with buses that run on roads, it is not so easy to hop off and grab one going the other way. The pace is slow, and you’re never sure if it’ll actually be faster to wait for one going the other way. Also, the pricey tickets we chose were only good for one (1) hour.

Even though we never made it to our museum, I wouldn’t call the tickets a waste. Confession: as a sightseer of beautiful unfamiliar cities, I am perfectly content purchasing a day’s pass for the local public transport and riding it back and forth across the city. (Provided that transport is above-ground, of course.)

So, as I have no fear of water and found the vaporetto’s motor hum soothing, I was at peace with our extended (and extended) boat ride. It’s fun seeing how a water-based city works. My favorite are the police boats.

from the vaporetto

not a police boat; seen from the vaporetto

view of Punta della Dogana di Mare from the vaporetto

view of Punta della Dogana di Mare from the vaporetto

distant view of St. Mark's Campanile

distant view of St. Mark’s Campanile, and a whole lot of water

closer view of St. Mark's Basilica

closer view of St. Mark’s Basilica

After we finally decided to hop off at a random stop, we got to walk through some of the city after all.

favorite street view

favorite of all Italian street views

the most Venice-y of all Venice street views

the most Venetian of all Venice street views

We luckily found a good spot for lunch — Trattoria Agli Amici, near the Papadopoli hotel and gardens. An Asian-run Italian restaurant, its food was decent in quality and price. And we satisfied our curiosity about a Venetian specialty: pasta with cuttlefish ink. Also featuring, we discovered, cuttlefish tentacles.

cuttlefish pasta

cuttlefish pasta

I’d read reports of the mild flavor of cuttlefish ink, so I wasn’t too afraid to share a plate. We declined the tentacles, however.

And, not unsurprisingly…

the author revealing the effects of consuming cuttlefish ink

the author revealing the effects of consuming cuttlefish ink

Venice is also a great place for people-watching (or, more specifically, tourist-watching). Every day there’s such an assortment of people from all over the world, all walks of life, and all senses of style.

I think I would most enjoy visiting Venice (okay, anywhere) if I were extravagantly rich. Then I could hire water taxis to take me directly wherever I wanted to go, and porters would bring my luggage over the many bridges.

Of course, every city offers a vastly different experience for the wealthy than for those visiting on a carefully planned budget. But in Venice, the difference is more palpable, I think. After coming home, friends ask me if I rode in a gondola, and they’re surprised to learn that those run around €80 (~$100) for half an hour.

This is not to say you can’t enjoy Venice on a budget. Of course you can, if you have any appreciation for a beautiful water-based city. But you’ll need a good pair of legs.

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