After passing the border into Italy, we immediately knew it. Four men swarmed in, one with a dog. The people sitting in the first set of seats were interrogated about where they were from, where they were going, etc. Then three men went through every inch of their luggage, occasionally questioning some items. I freaked out, thinking that this would happen to each of us, but it didn’t. Our passports were briefly checked, and then the conductor was on his way. One man passed us by with his gun hanging off his belt. Talk about intimidating!
My first impression of Italy, not quite as clean as Paris or Switzerland, but beautiful nonetheless. Balconies were decorated with colorful clothing slung over ropes, just like in the pictures. The Alps in northern Italy were more green and lush than in Switzerland. Five hours to go before reaching Venice, with a train switch in Milan.
Most people on our train coach were from Canada. The young girl across from us began chatting. We learned that she had taken a month off work to travel abroad by herself. She was hoping she’d still have a job when she returned. I was impressed. I don’t think I would be that brave. She was going a similar route as us, which we found pretty common of several tourists we met.
The train switch in Milan was pretty easy, but this time first class seats had us in little rooms with six seats, with the aisle being on the side of the train. We shared a car with a little, old Italian couple. I felt like we had to be really quiet the whole time, because we obviously could hear every word of each other’s conversation. They could understand English, but we didn’t know what they were saying.
Three long hours later, the train pulled into Santa Lucia station, jutting onto a peninsula made just for the train. I really had to use the bathroom, but I was startled to find what looked like a ticket entrance when I followed the WC signs. Huh? Seventy cents later, the gate behind the turnstile parted and I entered the lady’s toilettes.
Upon exiting the station,we arrived on the steps made famous from pictures of Venice. We took Vaparetto 82 (water bus) to our hotel. Vaparetto’s are very efficient. They just bumped right into each dock, lassoed the cement post, people hopped off, people hopped on, and two minutes later, the waterbus was on the move again. There was no messing around. We enjoyed seeing the “garages” right along the canals, with arched openings to pull the boat right into from the water and park for the night. A half hour later we arrived at the San Marco Stop. Thank God my husband looked at the hotel map before we left, because somehow after winding through tiny streets, he found our little Locanda Ca’Valeri.
Our hotel had a tiny, yet elegant entranceway. Our room was the first at the top of the winding staircase, with a tall ceiling (like all the hotels and buildings in Europe), wooden beams, hardwood floors, antique furniture and Murano glass chandeliers with pink, red, and blue accents. Three windows, probably about 6 feet tall, decorated our room with curtains and bedspread of deep red and green. The bathroom appeared to be newly remodeled with light brown tiles on the floor and walls.
The streets of Venice were probably wide enough for three people to walk side by side. They jutted out every which way, and you never knew if you’d end up in a hotel, a square, or just a dead end. We got lost on the side streets and found a quaint restaurant with vines decorating the ceiling beams and glass chandeliers and lamps. (The island of Murano, which is nearby, is famous for its glass, so Murano glass is everywhere in Venice.) My husband tasted his first Italian pizza, and I the gnocchi’s (once again) – very delicious.
The Canadian couple next to us began chatting and we spent our entire dinner sharing travel tales and information. They told us horror stories of driving in Florence, which we would later experience, first-hand).
After dinner, we found Piazza San Marco, or St. Mark’s Square, dimly lit in the moonlight. Several people sat in a large outdoor café, listening to a live band. Then we walked to the Rialto Bridge and took in the views of Venice, sparkling in reds, greens, and yellows against the water. Gondolas passed underneath us, occasionally an Italian melody echoing through the air. Unfortunately, our cameras couldn’t capture the magic, so we just sat back, and took it all in.