Saturday, August 25, 2012

Venice

Monday August 13th, 2012

Monday morning I had to catch a 6:50 bus from Villach to Venice. I was only going for the day which meant that I had about 5 hours in the city itself (come back on the bus to Villach in the afternoon/evening). This really wasn't ideal and meant that I couldn't plan to go to a lot of places. However, it was really the only day I could go to Venice so it was a choice between five hours in Venice and no Venice. Of course I picked the five hours in Venice.

Map of Venice and Villach. You can just see Mestre above Venice (half covered by the marker).


For some reason there is no direct train from Villach to Venice. When I tried to check train schedules online I saw that Italy would make you do three different transfers to get into Venice itself. Instead I bought a bus ticket through the train station (the bus itself is technically part of the train transportation system). The bus ride itself is about 3 and 1/2 hours long. On the bus I met a mother and daughter from the east coast of the U.S. Apparently last time the had gone to Venice they had to catch a train into main Venice itself. This didn't make much sense to me (Italian transportation systems in general confuse me).

So when the bus stopped in Venezia (Venice) Mestre, I got off with the mother and daughter. I asked the bus driver who replied "Yes this is Venice, but you must go across the water".

Me: O_o *looks at my ticket which has S. Lucia printed on it*

We went into the train station where apparently the ticket machines won't sell tickets to Venezia S. Lucia (main Venice). Instead we had to stand in line to buy tickets and barely got a train going to the S. Lucia. On the way there we debated if indeed there was a stop beyond the one we had gotten off on. The mother told me that when she had been there the week before and the train station had insisted that she had to get off at the Venezia Mestre stop.

Once we reached the S. Lucia train station we split ways but not before I was pointed to the tourist office.


View from steps of S. Lucia train station
The line for the tourist office outside the train station was unbearably long and you had to make sure you where in the right line by reading the signs. I mostly just wanted a map but also to check on my bus ticket for the afternoon. I finally got someone to talk to who spoke English (although he kept thinking I could speak German). He wasn't familiar with the bus I took from Villach but after looking at my bus ticket that had S. Lucia and Tronchetto printed on it, he suggested that the bus's actual final destination was on a small isle connected to Venice. He described that to get to this isle I would either have to walk or take a train (not from S. Lucia but another local train station located elsewhere in Venice) and wait at the isle. While this sounded reasonable (based on bus times, locations, etc.) I wasn't sure I would bet my bus ticket on trying to get to the isle (looked a little inconvenient) and then waiting for a bus that might be there. Thus I decided I would travel back to Mestre in the afternoon and catch my bus back to Villach from there (I had a train ticket back to Mestre anyway).

I also bought a map (not too expensive but I would suggest getting your own map before arriving in Venice so you can avoid the lines) and also a 12 hour water bus (vaporetti) ticket.

Map of Venice. The red arrow (upper left) is approx. where my bus's final destination should of been (according to the tourist office, although they weren't really familiar with the bus). The S. Lucia train station is circled (upper right) and St Mark's (i.e. S. Marco) Plaza is also circled (courtesy of Veniceonline.it)

I doubled back to the train bathroom which also had agonizingly long line, however I was glad I had used it because public bathrooms in Venice aren't always easy to find. I did have to pay 1 euro to use it though, which is double than what I usually pay at train stations.

I hopped on a water bus to S. Marco plaza (water bus station located just outside the S. Lucia train station). Going to S. Marco plaza was actually my only goal which was good since I had lost about and hour between the bathroom and the tourist office. I had kind of wanted to go through the back alley ways to get there but realized that it probably wasn't a good idea if I was short on time.

The water bus is pretty easy to figure out. You simply pick your direction, hop on it and then hop off when you reach your destination. There were ticket readers for the water bus tickets but no one seemed to be using them and when I tried to scan mine it didn't even seem to work. Hopping on the water bus was a little less easy. It is one of the moments you have to give up being the polite tourist and shove your way on (other water bus stations didn't seem quite this bad, which is probably because the water bus station outside the train station is the busiest stop).


Going by water bus I traveled along Canal Grande. It is quite obvious that Venice is a city to travel by boat because there are almost no sidewalks in front of buildings. I also saw many gondolas which could go into the smaller waterways (between buildings) that fed into the canal.

And now some pretty photos for you:









Finally, I reached S. Marco's plaza after probably a 20-30 min water bus ride. When you first get off you have to go down a street with a row of shops before you can enter into the plaza itself. Apparently last year at this time of month the plaza had been partially flooded (a common problem) but during my visit it was completely dry.

The S. Marco's Cathedral on the plaza
There are a few things Venice is really known for and that would be Murano glass and venetian masks. I'm not saying that there aren't other beautiful things that Venice has to offer but it was quite obvious in the shops that glass and masks were the main market.

Walking into the plaza I also ran into some music. It sounded very different than the traditional music I had become accustomed to in Austria.

video

The plaza is also filled with tons of pigeons who just walk around your feet and pretty much hang out. I read somewhere before in a travel book that it is because tourists feed them (and in turn the birds cause damage to the local architecture).


I really wanted to go into S. Marco's cathedral but I was grumpy to find a very long line outside the cathedral to get in. I pretty much learned at that point that Venice is a city of lines (except when it comes to shopping) and you have to have a lot of patience if you want to see something.

Front of Cathedral

Side of the cathedral, waiting in line
I suppose the good thing about waiting in line is that it allowed me to take lots of photos...


See, even the nuns have to wait in line to get into the cathedral




Luckily even though the line was long, it moved quickly. That being said I probably had to wait 20-30 mins to get in. The interesting thing about the cathedral is the dress code. I had forgotten that some Catholic cathedrals in europe could be very conservative (not something I ran into while I was in Austria). Luckily my shorts just touched my knees and I had a spare cardigan that I could put on to cover my shoulders. The more unfortunate people had to wear paper cloths that the church provided to wrap around their legs and shoulders (It was pretty hot that day, in the 80s/90s so a lot of people weren't appropriately dressed).

Once entering the cathedral you can see all sorts of signs saying no cameras (photography) is allowed. This didn't seem to stop the hundreds of people though from taking photos. The strange thing was is that there were security guards, but they just weren't doing anything about the rampant photography.

Entrance into the church is free but if you want to go behind the altar or up the stairs to the museum/balcony you have to pay extra fees. I decided to go to the balcony and forked over 5 euros. The museum was interesting and contained a lot of mosaics and old relics. I went out to the balcony and asked someone to take my photo (it seemed okay?).

Me in Venice, on the balcony of S. Marco Cathedral.

Famous (?) horses on the balcony. These aren't the originals but replicas. The originals are in the museum.

View of the plaza.

My illicit (?) photo in the church. You can see how a lot of the church is decorated with mosiacs.

I eventually left the cathedral and did some shopping around the plaza. I also got some limonetta gelato.

So good in the heat. Almost melted too fast on me.

All too soon I caught a water bus back to S. Lucia train station. Some more pretty photos and video for you:








video


I had a little bit of time before I had to catch a train back to Mestre so I wandered down a street by the train station.



Once back in Mestre I went to find the bus stop which I knew had to be on the other side of the street. Unlike the train station side the train stop back to Villach is almost unmarked except for the bus lamp and a paper schedule attached to it. The paper schedule put the bus arrival 20 mins after the time my ticket listed but it seemed I wasn't to only person from Venice getting on at the Mestre stop instead of the Tronchetto stop. I parked myself in a Kebab next to the bus stop because there was no seating at the actual stop.

I was a little sad to leave Venice because I hadn't been able to walk the streets with the smaller waterways, however at the same time I was insanely glad to be escaping the city. Venice is the prime example of a tourist city and it is hard to relax in the crowds.

The bus ride back to Villach was quite pretty. It is interesting how Italian's flat landscape and terra cotta roofs suddenly gives way to the alps and alpine houses. Part of the Alps actually belong to Italy but is hard to tell that in the landscape because the houses in the alps are quite distinct. If some of the next photos have weird light spots/reflections it was because I was taking them through a bus window.

Approaching the alps.

In the alps with an interesting river w/ white sand.



I took a train bus from Villach to St. Urban (the train line out to my austrian home was under repair all week so the train had a bus running instead; you would simply show a train ticket or pass to get on). Once I got back to my austrian home I had to repack and plan for being in Slovenia the next day.

Food, Guests, and Train Tickets

This blog mostly just covers some days where my austrian family had some friends over to stay. This meant pretty much that I had some good food and relaxation time. I left on monday (this post ends on sunday) to travel because I had some vacation time and traveled most of that week.


Thursday August 9th, 2012

The weather today wasn't so good. My austrian father has wanted to go sailing all week but every time we go down to the lake it starts raining. My austrian siblings decided to play at being divers so my austrian father and I watched them from under an umbrella as they suited up. I should mention they also used bottles of mineral (carbonated) water as their oxygen.

All suited up

For lunch some stuffed peppers from my austrian grandmother (this time I have a photo!). Also with some sort of  small black pea?

We also did some cleaning up to get ready for the guests that were arriving the next day.


Friday August 10th, 2012

We spent some of the day at the lake but also had to get ready for the guests (also played world monopoly in german with my austrian siblings; they had some strange rules but after checking the rulebook I manage to win a few disagreements). I also watched my austrian mother make dinner.

Some meat and creamed potatoes. When I was taking the photo my austrian mother said "No! Not of me! Not while I'm wearing my apron!" Hence you see just the food :D


Saturday August 11th, 2012

The guests had spent the night and we spent the morning at the lake. Some other friends of theirs were stopping for lunch/coffee and so my austrian mother and her friend made some desserts.

I believe this is called Zwetschgendatschi. 'Zwetschgen' is the austrian word for plum (austrians speak german but sometimes have their own local phrases or words; i.e. you wouldn't usually here this word used for plum in Germany). Usually this word refers to the alpine plums that are seasonal in the area and are the best with this dessert. It is still a little early though for the alpine plums, so while this dish is still called Zwetschgendatschi the plums are actually store bought.

They had some extra dough so they made a version with apples.


Sunday August 12th, 2012

Another day at the lake with my austrian family's guests! And today my austrian mother made tiramisu. I've noticed though that tiramisu in austria is not quite like what I would have back in U.S. Not only does the tiramisu in austria seem lighter but also usually some sort of fruit is added, and I have never tasted any alcohol/coffee in the dessert.

Spooning out some portions for everyone

Yum! My portion!

After the guests left, my austrian brother who had been gone at boyscout/pathfinder's camp was picked up and brought to join the rest of us. While they were picking up my austrian brother I ran out to buy some train tickets at the station. Since I had just learned that I had the entire week off (since the family was vacationing) I decided to travel to Venice and Slovenia but I had to buy some reservation tickets. Knowing that I might get a person who doesn't speak English, I had written all the places I wanted to go to with the specific dates and times of travel. It actually helped quite a bit because even though the woman at the ticket office spoke okay English, I could just hand her my piece of paper and get everything scheduled. I managed to get all my tickets. :D

My tickets and reservations for Venice and Ljubljana

My austrian siblings decided in the evening that they wanted to use the BBQ (they always like making a fire) and my austrian mother made some dough for them to cook over it. None of my austrian siblings wanted their photo taken for some reason so I was limited to just taking photos of the bread.

Bread on sticks, over the BBQ
I went to bed pretty late with the knowledge that I was going to have to wake up super early to catch my bus to Venice the next morning.

The Local Farm

Wednesday August 8th, 2012

Started out the day with making some chocolate pancakes. I've had trouble in the past making American pancakes here since the flour is a little different. Austrians also have their own version of pancakes which for Americans we would probably call a crepe. 

I think these turned out okay?

The day started out pretty quiet and my austrian siblings were gone part of the morning so I had a little time to myself. They came back in the late morning and did a myriad of activities. In the afternoon while attempting to get them off the computer, I suggested watching a movie in English. They looked a little panicked and suggested we go to the farm up the street instead.

Every time I drive to Villach I pass this farm (Landhaus Weber vlg. Hansbauer) but I have never actually stopped there before. The kids handed me some mud boots to wear and we walked up the street to the farm (the kids know the farmer pretty well).

In the pasture next to the road.

This time they are looking at me.
The really only thing I know about the farm is that is also doubles as a gasthaus (guest house; i.e. they rent out rooms) and I often see the farm guests on the lake where the farm also has a lake house/hut.

Approaching the main part of the farm. A.K.A. the barn
Approaching the farm I learned that the property contains several different buildings. The pasture (containing many apple trees) connects to the barn where the cows are kept at night and during bad weather. The barn has an upper level where hay is kept (also on the other side of the street they keep rolls of hay) and then even a level above that with some equipment. The highest level also serves as a convenient jumping platform for the kids to jump down in the hay between the exposed beams. Another building on the farm contains the pig sty. It looks quite nice on the outside however I was barely able to enter the building because of the smell. Attached to the pig sty building is suppose to be an area for bunnies however we didn't see any bunnies while we were there. Next is the actual house where the family and guests live. Attach to the main house is a place where they can butcher animals for fresh meat. Behind the house is the chicken coop and more pasture.

Other then seeing the cows, the kids love to visit the farm so they can chase and catch the barn cats. I was expecting the barn cats to be more feral. Most of the young cats/kittens would run away from the kids, once caught they were pretty calm. Although I noticed the kids didn't hold onto them for too long and would often let them go after a couple of minutes. A few of the older cats didn't really care about the kids and just laid in the sun. Of course the kids weren't as interested in the older cats.

The cat enjoying the weather.

One cat caught. Not trying to hard to escape though.
I climbed up into the mid level of the barn with the kids although I wasn't quite as nimble as them around the hay. I also saw a young cat catch a bird up in the highest level of the barn.

View from mid level inside the barn.

Isn't that a nice building in front of us? DON'T BE FOOLED! ITS THE PIG STY! The house is the building in the back.

The stairs to get to the mid level of the barn.

The cat again.

Austrian sister and cat on farmer equipment.

Chickens!

One of three roosters in the chicken coop.

View of the barn from the house.

Younger cat. I think this one caught the bird.

Hiding from the kids.

Also keeping an eye on the kids. Under the cars was a popular hiding spot for the cats.

Front of barn. The cat moved but almost every time I saw him he seemed to be communicating that it was too hot for him.

The farmer brought in the cows and asked us to stay still since he first brought in the calfs. The calfs are still getting use to being brought in to the barn with all the other cows so they can still get spooked easily.

Inside the barn.

Front of the barn again. But notice that something has moved...

And this time you can see the cows inside.

Oh snap, he moved again. But this time he has company.

Another view of the barn stairs.

We headed back to the house after the kids were starting to get hungry. We made pizza which mostly consisted of taking frozen cheese pizzas and adding extra toppings according to our preferences.