The Rialto Bridge over the Grand Canal in Venice
It lived up to expectations. The outside is probably the most impressive example of Gothic architecture I've seen. And like many churches in Italy, it's massive. The columns inside are the size of Giant Redwoods. Sadly we didn't have time to climb to the roof but it was still definitely worth the visit.
After Milan, we caught our train to Venice. We arrived and only had minor trouble finding our hostel since it was a little out of the city on a campground (staying on Venice island doubles or triples your price while cutting your room quality in half). As a side note, I've actually been fairly impressed by Italian trains. While not as organized and precisely on time as Swiss ones, they mostly seem to be new, clean and comfortable. A pleasantly unexpected surprise.
The next day we slept in because we badly needed it. After a relaxing morning, we arrived in Venice around 1 and at first were quite charmed by it. The colorful old buildings, winding canals and maze-like streets were whimsical and interesting. Unless you stuck to the main tourist routes (which was boring), the street you were on would frequently dead end into a canal. This made navigating the city a fun challenge (again, for a while). When we finally reached St. Mark's Square on the far side of the island, we found the line to enter the Basilica shockingly short. 3 minutes short.
The inside had gold mosaics all over the ceiling but the lighting was so bad that you could barely see them. Which is sad considering how lovely the place could be in good lighting. Also half the front of the church was covered in scaffolding because, at any given time, 99% of Europe is covered in scaffolding for restoration. I'm joking of course. It's really more like 50% (note: this isn't a joke).
After the church, we had some excellent gelato nearby because, Italy! However it was around now that a couple problems with Venice began to rear their heads. One is that there is almost no free seating in the city. Low cost restaurants don't have seats. They are purely takeout. And every inch of the city is so crammed together that there really isn't much space for benches. And after several hours on your feet, this starts to become a real problem.
Also we discovered that all coffee in Venice (and Italy in general) comes in portions so small a Smurf would ask for seconds. This obviously didn't bother me since I don't drink coffee but it was a major problem for Vicky, who sometimes gets headaches if it's been too many days since her last coffee. Let's say that for a while, Italy gave her headaches.
Finally those charming, winding streets with their dead ends become a lot less charming when you're tired, sore, hungry and you need to use the bathroom and you've discovered there are no free ones on the island. As we learned that day, the entire city of Venice is an elegant, decaying, tourist trap. And if you have plenty of money to spend, that might not bother you. But for us on a budget, it wasn't exactly a match made in heaven.
A good summary of the price gouging goes like this. Regular buses on the mainland cost 1.2 euros per trip. And on Venice island they have buses too but water buses. No problem we thought. Until we found out that a one way ticket on a water bus was 7 euros each. Seven!!! We're taking an hour long train from Florence to Pisa for that same price.
The next day was rough too. The length of the trip was wearing on us but we forced ourselves to go sightseeing and it frayed our tempers more than usual that morning. We recovered a little by finding a decent restaurant with fairly reasonable prices and we spent a good while in there. We found Vicky a full sized coffee at McDonald's McCafe of all place. And of course we got more gelato (because again, Italy!).
We left late in the afternoon to pick up our bags and catch a flight to Rome that night. We were definitely happy to be leaving and hoping that Rome would treat us better (it did).
Funny story of the week. We were walking through Venice, when we stopped at a Church named San Giovanni e Paolo. As we walked inside, I was hit with a massive sense of deja-vu. I'd been here before. I'd seen this place. I knew the layout of the inside already. Which made no sense since I'd never been to Venice before. It took me a moment to realize why I recognized this place. It was part of a video game I played set in 1500s Venice. In the game, I'd explored the church thoroughly and climbed all over the inside of it. The game must have done a good job too because the church looked exactly like my memories of it. Who would have thought that playing a video game could allow you to accurately explore Italian tourist attractions and monuments? Crazy huh?