Sunday, July 7, 2013

vacation 9: Venice

Venice was beautiful and just a little sad, like visiting with a very old entertainer who used to be famous. I kept hearing about how often the city floods and how many pickpockets there are in San Marco--another church plagued by tourists and their predators. We parked in Mestre on the other side of the water and rode the train in for 1.4 euros each. It's dirty cheap and comfortable because every train bound to Venice stops there first. We chatted gratefully with other English speakers each direction.

The water buses are packed, but we were always first on to the second boat. We bought two one-way tickets for much less than a 4 hour pass. However, I picked the wrong direction (not the Grand Canal way) and we got the long tour of the cruise ship terminals, etc.

Emily posed by the Bridge of Sighs, used to transport prisoners to be judged. The Doge's palace, though pricey, had a lot of cool decor. Though we weren't supposed to take photos there either, people used their iphones and ipads with impunity. Pierce liked the medieval arms and armor displays near the end of the tour. My one regret was that they wouldn't let you sit down anywhere, and it was a long tour.

Weirdest was the mix of modern flavor. The courtyard had a definite Renaissance feel, whereas the clocks and council chambers could have been from the senate building today. The clocks with Roman numerals used IIII instead of IV. Also ironic, they seemed most often used the Arabic numbering system of their military opponents. Their rulership seemed enlightened and tolerant, but they had secret branches of the government. Some of the daggers in the armory were specifically designed for assassins. I wonder if people will see the same contradictions in our culture when they tour our ruins.
We stayed in Florence instead of Rome last night specifically to give us more leisure to explore Venice. However, by the time we finished the Doge palace, the church was closed, and we could only pose by the lion statues. A crowd of girls from a US school loved our matching shirts (several times people took photos of us), and ahhed when we told them our shirts matched the day we met. The walk to Rialto Bridge through the narrow maze of streets was pleasant, cool, and well-labelled. Emily enjoyed shopping for pretty fans. Tammy liked the carnival masks and bought several small ones as souvenirs. Despite the numerous shops and crowds that clog the bridge, we were able to take photos and find the boat bus docks easily. The ride back to Mestre that evening was relaxing, and we left to reach our hotel on the border by Austria before dark.

A tale of two hotels

Last night, we slept just outside Florence in a "three star" hotel from Excellent called the Albatross. This might have been a 3 star in 1960, but no one has done repair work on it since. The still use old metal keys that twist three times. It was hard to find as large trees obscure the building and the sign. Vans from a local business take all the best parking. The soccer field behind it keeps you awake till 11:30. Mosquitoes are everywhere, and the water-stained walls are still smeared with red and black streaks. The windows that keep the heat in don't keep the bloodsuckers or noise out. There is no TV or air conditioning to drone out the crowds. The mattresses are 2 inch foam from a dorm room. An octopus with everything but the locked fridge dangles from the socket hanging limply from the wall. The towels were as thin as sack cloth. You have two minutes to use the poorly shower before it floods the bathroom. Unfortunately, the free shampoo you just used is burning your eyes like napalm and you don't notice this until it's too late. I will say that the women working the breakfast area were very nice and gave us extra pastries for the children to eat later on the road.
 By contrast, the Mercure in Rovereto was a modern dream: WIFI, AC, working everything, clearly visible just off the highway, and only few euros more because we requested a family room. There was also no add-on city tax like elsewhere (usually a couple euros per star of the hotel per person). This room was double the normal size and had a divider that could be pulled to separate us from the sleeping kids, who had their own light switch. These were the best accommodations of the trip so far! When I told the kids that I had pre-paid another one like this in Tours, but with a pool, Dad was a hero. Given a choice between booking discounted from the Accor website or from and aggregator again, I would go out of my way to choose Accor when roughly the same price. In London, they were about twice the price of the little hotel we picked for that three days, but on the road, they offered the most bang for the buck.

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