Venice – A City of Tourists

I had a couple of days to kill after my futbol weekend in Milan, so took the train over to Venice for an overnight visit. It was about a two hour trip and I think I paid something like 22 GBP for the round-trip – going in first class and coming back in second. That is a great price, believe me, so booking in advance was a good move.

IMG_20160529_204649

 

On arrival in Venice, a huge thunderstorm was coming through the area which I got to experience on the water taxi. Unfortunately, I turned what should have been a 12 minute ride into an 82 minute once by rushing up and hoping on the number 2 line without paying attention to what direction it was going. It did not occur to me to check if I was on the right boat for about 30 minutes and I was far away from city center.

But, once I found the right direction, I found my hotel – the Hotel Serenissima – which I booked through Booking.com based on the ratings, location, and price. It really is hard to imagine a better location situated between the Rialto bridge and St. Mark’s Plaza. The staff was great. Wi-fi not so great. At 110 euros with breakfast included, I felt like it was a good value.

 

As far as Venice itself, it was lovely and a bit sad. It has become a city where nobody lives. Its entire industry is simply tourism and the total population of the city is only about 250,000 and one gets the sense that none of them actually live in the city center area. The courtyard that my hotel room looked out upon was surrounded by dark rooms that showed no sign of inhabitation. The streets are charming to stroll around but filled with mostly the same chain shops you can find anywhere. Gondolas fill the canals by day so tourists can clamber aboard and spend the entire ride taking selfies but there is nothing about it that looks the least part romantic.

On the second day, I did take a tour of St. Mark’s Cathedral and the Doge’s Palace and the tours were quite good and the mosaics of the church impressive. The two hour tour to visit both places cost 59 euros and was quite well done. I certainly learned more history about Venice than I would have otherwise.

After the tours, I had hoped to take in the art at the Accadamia but did not realize they close at 2:00 p.m. on Mondays.

Perhaps travel fatigue colored my view of Venice – after all, I had been in Europe for two weeks at this point – but I couldn’t really see spending more than two nights in this location.

Advertisements

Milan – Champions League Final Weekend

When originally booking my trip, one of the low miles options for flights was to come back home from Milan. It just so happens that the Champions League Final was scheduled to be played just around the time I was going to be here. Being a Barcelona fan and considering they were playing some of the best football in the world at the time, I thought it was very possible they would be in the championship match.

IMG_20160527_195342

 

Of course, this is one of the biggest events in the world, on par, and some would argue bigger, than the Super Bowl. Tickets are not easy to come by but I entered the official lottery process hoping I would maybe get a ticket as a single buyer. Alas, I did not. And, Barca did not make the championship game but the final was between two Madrid teams – Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid – which are also some of the finest clubs in the world. As someone who watched a lot of La Liga, I was still excited to see the final knowing that for the third time in as many years, the champion would be a Spanish club.

Hotel rooms were not easy to come by even a few months out so I ended up in a bed and breakfast in the suburbs. I’ve never really understood the attraction of a bed and breakfast. When I’m done walking around all day in a foreign city, I really like having my own space, not having a bedroom in someone’s house. But, it was fine and the metro connections for both the train station and the main square were easy.

In the main square by the Duomo, there was a festival all week and it was packed on Friday and Saturday when I was down there. Fans were waiting for over an hour to get a picture with the championship trophy, for instance.

20160528_114642

 

Milan is sometimes maligned as more like New York City than Italy but I have never found it to ring true. I like Milan. If you visit you must visit the magnificent cathedral, eat a meal at an elegant trattoria in the Gallerie Vittorio Emanuele II, see the Last Supper by Da Vinci (you’ll only want to do this once), visit the fashion shops in the Golden Quarter, and have a pizza at Pizza OK.

20160527_202613

 

Great pizza, terrible branding.

GoOpti – Ride-sharing the Long Haul to Milan

One thing that Ljubljana does not have is very good travel connections to Italy. When researching, flights were not real practical as they almost always connect through some other European capital and there is not direct train service between Ljubljana and Milan, my next destination. But, in checking on TripAdvisor’s forums, I found mention of a relatively young company called GoOpti which is a ride sharing service based in Slovenia.

Here’s how it works. You put in your desired route. If they serve it, you have a few options. First, you can pay the lowest amount and tell them when you want to arrive at your destination “no later than.” They will give you a four hour window when you might be picked up and you will only have a better idea of actual time one day before departure. For a bit more, you can buy a shorter, two hour window for pick-up. For even more, you can be the last person picked up and know your exact time. And, finally, you can pay a huge amount for private transfer where only your party will be on the vehicle.

I opted for the two hour window – between 5:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. – and paid 114 euros. Perhaps because of the location of my hotel by the highway and well out of town, my 24 hour notice told me that I would be picked up at 7:30 a.m. so I got that benefit without paying for it.

Now, the downside of being the last one picked up is that you get whatever seat is left. For me, this was the middle passenger in the front seat. I don’t believe I’ve sat in that spot since I was 8 years old and driving with my family across the vastness of the U.S. Back at that age, it was a real treat, liberating one of the three children from sharing the back seat with their siblings.

This wasn’t so much of a treat. All was okay if I held my arms out in front of me and remembered to move my left knee to the right when the driver needed to shift the manual transmission. It wasn’t quite a full seat so not all of my arse was ever on the seat at the same time. But, I did have an air conditioning vent right in front of me, so that was nice.

I only had to ride this way until Treviso, Italy – about 2.5 hours – where we let a few passengers off. After a further stop to let a couple of more passengers off, we were in Milan at the central train station right at 2:00 p.m., the promised time. Everything ran exactly on time and the driver could not have been more professional so I would definitely consider this again.

One note to the Spanish speaking lady on the trip..if you want to primp your hair and face for over an hour, that is your prerogative but please don’t use hairspray when doing a ride-share. It is rude.