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One week / Country down, three to go … In a review from Andy:
We are on the train now leaving Venice, our second main stop in Italy. Its about 2 in the afternoon, and the train has hardly anyone on board. Traveling in a train is vastly different than traveling by air, and although it may be slower and comparatively priced, I definitely prefer it. The train stations are much easier to navigate and much less hassle than airports, and the trains are much more comfortable and hospitable than a plane and we are able to see some spectacular views of the countrysides! So on this ride we are able to plug in the laptop and set it on the table in front of our seat and write about the trip, relax, and take some naps as well. Besides the trains, I have some more impressions of Italy to share, so here is my description of the last week.
Rome was a very cool city. To see so much history completely integrated within a normal booming city was the most interesting part for me. Since this is my first trip to Europe, I was completely caught off guard by the fact that the history was right along side the busy city. I guess I just don’t expect for people to go about their normal lives with so many interesting sights all around, but the Romans surely do.
I’m sure LeAnna posted about our amazing bed and breakfast and its amazing host, Giorgio. He was extremely kind and made everything in Rome seem more local and less touristy. He picked us up from the Rome airport which saved us a lot of hassle trying to figure out transportation to his apartment where we stayed. One of the highlights of our stay was the night before we left when we sipped his home made lemonchello and chatted about his travels and ours and his suggestions on how to best enjoy Europe.
Our visit to Rome seemed to last a week rather than the three and a half days we stayed there. We packed the days and night with activities and had a great time. Attending a mass by the Holy Father and seeing some sights around ancient Rome were highlights for me, as well as enjoying the Italian culture of enjoying their wonderful wine and food. I can surely say that we have not tasted a wine that we have both not enjoyed thoroughly, and that surprises me due to my wife’s selective (trying to be nice) preferences for wine and our preference to always try the cheapest wine on the menu. The food has been a little more ordinary, and seems strangely similar to what we would get at a nice Italian restaurant at home. Although, the Roman pizzas were quite different than the style we are used to and I did enjoy those quite a bit. Maybe we just did not go to the right places (which I doubt because of our close friend Rick), or order the right dishes, but we were not blown away by any of the pastas. Maybe we just had too high of expectations thinking that it would be vastly different to eat Italian food in Italy.
After our stay in Rome, we headed off early in the morning (around 7) to catch the train to Verona. I had been looking into places to visit an Italian winery, but was finding it pretty difficult to find tours with everything else we had going on before we left. So, I noticed that Verona seemed like a pretty good place to stop that fight in to our Train schedule and had a few wineries around the city. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to nail down any of the specifics before we left. So, we arrived in Verona, ate lunch, then visited the extremely helpful Tourist information stand to ask about vineyards. It seems though Italians don’t view visiting vineyards as a normal activity, and questioned why we wanted to visit a winery when we could just drink wine in one of the hundreds of bars around town. However, we did find two options for winery tours and figured out how to get there using public transportation. The buses that take you to the outskirts of town run irregularly (well, they are on a regular schedule that they didn’t seem to care about), so we waited for almost an hour for the bus to come after confirming that we had the right bus stop with some of the other bus drivers. Regrettably, the bus never came and eventually we decided to just tour Verona for the few hours we had before we needed to catch our next train. Touring the city of Verona was pretty fun, however, and we got to see a few of the more popular places in the small town.
Next, we boarded the train to Venice, which was extremely late (about an hour). We had heard nothing but good things about the Europe trains and their strict schedules, so this was a surprise to us. This meant that we got into Venice (or, the Mestre train station that was a little closer to our hotel on the main land) around 11:00 PM and that the city buses had stopped running from this smaller train station outside of Venice. So we had to take a cab (we heard Venice was expensive, but a 27 Euro cab fare to go 4 miles was pretty outrageous) to our hotel. This hotel was more like an American hotel, but was still run by a very kind lady who always ran the front desk in the morning. She helped us find transportation to the city and gave us a basic itinerary of what to do when we got there.
The city of Venice was different for different reasons than Rome. We spent two soggy, wet and rainy days discovering the beautiful canals. Most of their historical sights are still “recent” compared to Rome’s, so it seemed like we were in a newer city although we were still surrounded by history. Venice’s canals and transportation system make the city stand out, and the lack of cars is a welcome change from the insanity of Roman traffic. So, we saw the major sights in Venice in about a day and both enjoyed the city thoroughly. Rick’s (I’m pretty sure we’re on a first name basis even though we have not met the man) recommendation for Venice is to get lost completely and rid yourself of the endless tourists to experience real Venetian life. We tried this tactic, but it seems as through we ended up just walking around in circles because none of the streets are straight and it is hard to tell which direction you are heading or where you have been. Also, at night Venice is eerily quiet and ghostly peaceful once all of the day trippers and cruise excursion-ers leave, and since the majority of the city is based on tourism, most shops close down pretty early.
The next day we visited some more sights that we missed the first day in Venice, and toured one of the smaller islands, Burano (known for it’s lace and wines). As we were making the 45 minute boat ride over, the sun finally began to shine and made for a beautiful afternoon. Unfortunately, this small island closes around 5 (just as we stepped foot off the dock) and most little boutiques and shops were closing their doors. However, the brightly painted houses, small, Venice-like canals and sun in the perfect location in the sky made for a beautiful early evening stroll and picture opportunities. The “vapperetto”, or water buses are an experience. We managed to get lost a little bit more this night thanks for the vapperetto being able do drop us off at a part of the city we had not yet visited. However our extremely handy GPS (which has been awesome throughout the trip for the most part) was able to guide us home we were done with being lost.
That brings us to today, where I am now sitting on a train on the way to Salzburg. This morning was kind of wasted because the train left at 2:00PM and we didn’t get much sleep the last night (we were up till 1:30AM Skypeing- thanks a lot, Tilly) so we just took it easy in the morning, sipping cappuccinos at a sidewalk cafe and reading our books.
Finally, I think I should mention this so that my more holy aunts and uncles can maybe give us some input. Both LeAnna and I have visited two of the most amazing churches in the entire world, if not the two most amazing, St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Basilica of St. Mark. The only way to describe these churches is amazing, the size and grandeur of the churches is awe inspiring. However, we keep thinking about the time and money that the church has spent on making these huge places of worship that now seem more like tourist destinations to us (granted, they were not always for tourists, but still expensive and outlandish). Worshiping God is something that you should be able to do anywhere, so why not give to God what is God and to Caesar what is Caesar’s? Especially at St. Mark’s, where it seemed like most all of the decoration was stolen from other countries during the Crusades. I know we are in a different point in time in the church currently, and you can’t un-build these beautiful churches, but I just question the decision to make them in the first place considering that the Gospel has remained the same throughout the years. Also, it was mentioned that St. Mark (the gospel of Mark)- at the San Marco Bassilica- didn’t even meat Jesus, so how could SO much of our faith be founded on second hand (most likely changed, since we all know the reality of how quickly stories can be altered) claims. I guess it is just something for us to ponder, and if anyone has any input, I would appreciate another side of the story. We are all for honoring God, but I think doing it through service to the poor and prayer is more meaningful than building elegant churches.
Well, the train is approaching the station (actually, the Verona station, we have to transfer here to a train that goes to Innsbruck, then to a train that goes to Salzburg) and we need to pack up our belongings, so I will write more later! Talk to everyone soon, and feel free to try and contact us on Skype sometime, leannabananna03 is our user name. Hope everything is going well in the States, and happy Father’s day Dad(s) if I do not update before then!
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