I find travel by train to be the best way to get around Europe. Often planes can be faster (if going a longer distance), but I find trains much more enjoyable. Loading time is shorter, the view is better, the air is fresher (usually), the seats are comfier, and it’s easy to get up and move around if needed. In my experience, when you can, it’s worth an extra few dollars for the high-speed trains (TGV, ICE, Thalys, Eurostar), which save a little more time, and have a little extra comfort. The train we took from Munich to Venice was not one of these trains. You don’t always have a choice, and when crossing country borders there are a limited number of high speed options – less as you move further east. There was only one direct option from Munich to Venice, the fastest route being just shy of 7 hours. It was the middle of our trip, so we figured it would be a good rest day – enjoy the scenery, read a book, catch up on my blogging (that one never seems to happen), take a nap, etc. However, general train conduct in Europe requires being quiet, and I underestimated how hard it is for teenagers to sit quiet for 7 hours. I commend their efforts though – it may have been easier had it not been for the fact that this train was HOT. Seems someone had bumped up the heat, and it was stifling. So while I love trains, and enjoyed the country views as we passed through Austria on the way from Germany to Italy, this was not my favourite of train journeys.
When we arrived at the Santa Lucia train station in Venice my only priority was getting off the train and cooling off. All I wanted was a a breathe of fresh air. The 7 hour journey had been more exhausting than we had anticipated, and so it was with less enthusiasm and more relief that we arrived in Venice. We finished disembarking, and all had our luggage in tow as we exited the station. It was just before 7:00 PM, and we exiting to the most beautiful golden hour. The moon was up and the buildings were wrapped in a warm light. The lights along the canals were being switched on, and began to reflect off the surface. And it was BEAUTIFUL. I wasn’t anticipating beautiful. I had read a lot about Venice, and many blog posts reduced it to an overly touristy and dirty city with bad food and con artists. I hadn’t been before, and it was a nice stop on the way from Munich to Rome, and I thought I would take a chance on it. But from the moment I stepped out of that train station, I loved it. It wasn’t my low expectations. It was that Venice is beautiful. As I would learn over the next 36 hours, Venice is the perfect city to get lost in. And it is a photographers dream.
We hopped on the “bus” (which of course is a boat known as a vaporetto, running up and down the canal). Learning how to read the bus stops and the direction of the various boat lines took a bit of effort. Even now, I can’t say that I fully understand how to move my way through the city. However, the locals definitely know, and they are NOT a fan of tourists and their luggage taking up space on their vaporettos. While I do not speak Italian, I’m pretty confident from some hand gestures, evil glares and angry tones that a group of 30 with luggage taking up the majority of the bus for 45 minutes down the canal did not buy us any good will. The vaporettos are often more cumbersome than they appear, and I found walking to be a much more efficient way of getting through the city. That is not always possible of course – Venice is made up of 118 islands. While 416 bridges connect many of them, sometimes they are just to far apart, and the vaporetto are necessary. A 48 hour pass if €30,00 for an adult (or €7,00 per trip) – so it’s also not a cheap form of transport. Of course the locals pay way way way less, but Venice is a city that makes much of it’s money from tourism, so it’s the cost of visiting.
When we arrived at the bus stop closest to our hotel, Ray guided us in. We stayed at the most wonderful little hotel, Hotel Al Piave. The rooms, breakfast and service were outstanding on every level. Their website contained a youtube video to help guide us from the bus stop. Over a ramp, across a bridge, down an alley, across a court yard, across another bridge to another alley before a left hand turn. Each alley is one person wide, so single file we marched to our hotel. It has been a long day of commuting at this point, but we were all in awe over the beauty of Venice, exhausted, and ready for dinner. Our hotel had arranged for us to have dinner at nearby restaurant. The restaurant was ready for us, with out own private room across the alley from the main room. This was perfect – we could be noisy!! After 7 hours on a train, 45 minutes on a vaporetto, and dragging our luggage single file down an alley, we were ready for movement, laughter, and good eats. Venice is surrounded by water, so seafood was prevalent on the menu, and many of the group took the opportunity to take a risk and try something new. Sometimes this was a win, and other times it meant pungent cheeses and unfavourable polenta (or as it was mistakenly called by one student, placenta). It was a great start to our time in Venice, and a perfect end to a long travel day.
Venice began with a lot of promise, and I slept well that night looking forward to everything Venice had in store.