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Travel Journal: Italy, Days 10 & 11

I'm getting behind on this - it's already Tuesday and I need to describe our Sunday in Venice!

Woke up at The President, but decided to skip their complimentary breakfast; looked like it consisted of salami and cheese in a room full of smokers. Bought a day pass for a €10.50, which allowed us unlimited rides on the buses and vaporetti (bus-boats in Venice). Climbed onto an insanely crowded bus and into V-town. Again, not a pretty ride.

As soon as you climb off the bus, there are vendors selling masks and other tourist crapola. You see variations of this vendor hundreds of times throughout Venice and you will wonder who in the world buys all these masks until you hear a dopey American lady say to her male companion, "Oh, one of these might be cool!"

We jumped on a #3 vaporetto to go straight to Piazza San Marco (along with the rest of humanity), and get some daytime photos of the city from the canal. It's very stunning to see - all those beautiful houses with foundations that drop straight into the water.

Wandered a lot again, did a little shopping and found a little something for Tommy's birthday. Most stores in Venice are filled with utter shit, but we found a cool paper shop that had handmade stamps, cards, and marbled paper items. Picked up a stamp for my friend Suz, who helped me make a gift for Bill's parents a while ago.

I wish I had more to say about Venice, but I don't. Except that on one level it's crowded, touristy, and annoying - but on another level it's something that everyone should see. It's one of a kind.

Oh, speaking of that, we asked a gondolier for a price on a ride and he gave us the extreme hard sell - how we had to see Venice on a gondola, that is how it is meant to be seen, a gondola can go where no motorboat or sidewalk passes, blah blah. Which I'm sure is all very true, but for a €60-a €80, we just didn't think we could afford it (when we return home I have a lack of employment and a new car lease payment and we're refinishing the bathroom). As we walked away, another gondolier chased us down and gave us another hard sell. It was tempting - you only live once, right? - but the price equalled a night in a hotel for us. Later, I think Jeremy regretted not going, but there's plenty of things we haven't done in Italy - so I'm sure we'll be back.

We hopped a bus back to Mestre, got the car, and cruised toward Verona. My parents said it was a cute city and it seemed like a good midway point before Cinque Terre. We didn't have reservations in Verona, but we figured we'd wing it.

Winging it can sometimes be a good idea, but it's not a good idea if you're a) tired from walking around Venice all day, b) tired from driving on the Autostrada, c) have no map of your destination and no idea where to go. It's especially not a good idea if d) all of the above.

After much cursing, driving in circles, and driving on streets where we weren't supposed to drive, we found a parking ramp just outside the city center that said, "Libero." We new this meant "free" because many stores say "Ingresso libero" (free entrance) on the front door. Also, it was Sunday and many Italian cities have free parking on Sundays. We parked and walked toward the city center with a map I got from one of the hotels we stopped at earlier during our quest for lodging.

It was starting to get drizzly and chilly so we went to find dinner. Stumbled onto a cute little trattoria/pizzeria and had dinner. Looking at the map, we realized that everything we wanted to do the next day in Verona was closed until about 1:30pm. Which wouldn't work for us because we needed to get to Cinque Terre (on the opposite coast) the next day, and we didn't want to feel too rushed (because then we get cranky). Shucks!

So we decided, sadly, to skip the sights of Verona and go back to the hotel we found outside of town, sleep and head for Cinque Terre the next morning.

The Hotel Maxim was pretty nice - we had a couple of sambucas in the hotel bar and hit the sack. I slept really weird - woke up at like 5am or something awful like that. What's weird is that as soon as I'm awake, Jeremy senses it and wakes up, too. Weird.

Got up and had the Maxim's complimentary breakfast. Of course it included salami and cheese (damn those Tuscans love salami), but it also had croissants, yogurt, granola, coffee and toast. Yay! J even tracked down some soy milk, so he could have cereal. Double yay.

Stopped at Pam, an Italian grocery store, and picked up a few things for the road and for our apartment in Cinque Terre. Then we were off. It took us a couple of hours to get there, but it wasn't a bad ride. Got to Riomaggiore, parked the car, and looked for the rental office.

The whole town is set on a hill as steep as the ones in San Francisco, so lots of down and uphill walks and steep stairs. Went downhill and easily found the office on the main street. They led us up, up, up to our apartment (one room and a bathroom) which faces the main street and has an ocean view. It's a great little place - and cheaper than the previous 2 hotels!

Once we dropped our bags in the room, we went out to Via dell'Amore (Lover's Lane), a little 1 km. ocean path to Manarola, the next town over. Watched the sun set over the ocean - lovely.

Today was J's birthday (34!), so I gave him the Museo Piaggio t-shirt I bought him in Pontedera (I also got him a Vespa jacket, but I gave that to him on scootering day. Funny story: the scooter place only had size M jackets so I bought a bigger size off a guy that worked there who swore he only wore it once.). Anyway, I wanted to buy Jeremy a nice birthday dinner.

The first place we tried (which was recommended by our Cinque Terre book), had too long a wait. So we went to a place across from our apartment where the menu looked good and there was a decent crowd.

J ordered some penne with shrimp, and the fresh grilled fish of the day. When the penne arrived, there were three HUGE shrimp on it. But here, they don't peel them or anything - I guess that's their way of proving its freshness - but these things had legs. And heads. And hard shells. Jeremy had a hell of a time getting the meat out, and was getting frustrated (to say the least). Desperate to restore the a festive atmosphere, I consoled him by telling him all about the wonderful filet he was about to get and how, unlike his shrimp, it wouldn't have a face. Yeah. Right.

His fish came flayed out like something from Silence of the Lambs, full of bones, and with a head on it. Still attached, little fish mouth hanging open like, "Noooo! Don't eat me!" Argh.

To add to that, the couple next to us were smoking like chimneys, and a stray cat kept skulking around the tables while the Austrailians (at to separate tables on either side of us) hissed and swatted at it with their menus. We got our check as quickly as possible, which in Italy is very, very slow, and went to a bar up the street for sambuca and some Happy Birthday apple torte. Afterwards, we sat down by the ocean, which was definitely the nicest part of the evening. Poor J, I'll have to give him a better dinner when we get home.

I had terrible allergies today - went to the Farmacia and the guy gave me some Zirtec. Worked marginally well, but I slept like shit.

Food -
Breakfast: Croissant, coffee, yogurt & granola

Snack: McVities, and some pistachios I got at a market in Venice.

Lunch: Pomodoro focaccia in Riomaggiore - YUM!

Dinner: Gnocchi with pesto. Pretty good, but the whole gnocchi thing is a bit baffling as a food. Swordfish filet, which was okay, but not great. Had some white wine with dinner, but unfortunately I don't think it was a local vintage - they seem to only sell those by the bottle and Jeremy doesn't drink wine. I might pick up a bottle to bring home, though. I also want to try their local specialties - sciactera and grappa. Maybe tonight.

Dessert: Sambuca - duh. We had several - the bartender told us we should have bought a bottle.

Posted October 7, 2003 11:36 PM | On This Day: 2004 2002