Monday, April 20, 2009

Spring Break, 1st Stop: Venice - Venezia - Venedig

Our Spring Break plans with our US guests were thus: Travel by train to Venice, Cinque Terra (Italian Coast south of Genoa) and then on to Villefranche sur Mer (between Nice and Monaco). Our friends flew home to the US from Nice and we flew back to Zurich via London where we stayed for the Easter weekend.

I am finally able to sort through pictures and try to coherently blog this trip. Because the girls have gone back to school today and my house is QUIET with exception of the dryer which is humming along.

We had an early morning trip to the Waedenswil Bahnhof to catch the first of what would be 8 trains in total for the week. That's a lot of trains with 8 people, 7 suitcases and various backpacks/purses. We didn't lose a bag - almost but that's for London :).

My big snafu for the trip was the train tickets. Sort of. It ended up not really mattering. BUT as Kendra would start "to explain":

Travel by train in Italy requires not only your train ticket/pass but also a seat reservation. It doesn't matter whether you are traveling 1st or 2nd class - you MUST have a seat reservation. Oh yes, and you pay for it separately - it was approx. $325 or 390chf for just our seat reservations for this trip.

I'm sure it is the work of the International Brotherhood of Italian Train Workers or something like that. Being the offspring of a half-Sicilian Union man myself, I figure these things out pretty quick. All I knew was - those train workers better not go on Strike while I was due to catch any of those trains. Italian train workers love to go on strike.

I'm trying to deflect attention from myself here. :) So - it was my task at our local Waedenswil Bahnhof to get the seat reservations made and purchase our family's tickets. Our friends already purchased their Eurorail passes - note, you get a much cheaper deal buying a pass from the US. We can't get the same deal from Europe. BUT - from the US, if you are not a student, you must buy a 1st class Pass. It is about the price of 2nd class for a European ticket. The class difference between cars varies depending on trains and countries.

So - 8 people, seat reservations for 8 trains, a girl in training at the ticket office and a child in the car waiting for me. Mistakes happen. I was flustered enough with the trainees struggle to get through all the train connections we wanted. I was astounded at the total we were paying in seat reservations. And I didn't notice that she missed my request for all 1st class ticket travel.

We got on the first train - and when he came to check our tickets - Ooops! We were sitting in the wrong place. I then frantically checked all our tickets - including our friends. The trainee had booked all our seats in 2nd class wagons for the entire trip. I felt so bad. And per our inquiries, the only way to change them, even though it was a mistake from the agent, was to pay new seat reservation fees - Yes, even though we have paid for 1st class tickets. We were not up to paying another $600 for the 2 families to change their seat locations. GRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!

While this would have been a problem on the Swiss trains for luggage, etc... and OH YEAH they don't require seat reservations, this proved to not be a problem on the Italian trains. Even 2nd class was individual compartments with overhead luggage racks.

The main difference is that the Italian 1st class wagons had carpeting, faster trolley/beverage service, complimentary biscuits/hand wipes and English speaking passengers (all the US tourists with EuroPasses and commuting Italian businessmen) while 2nd class was FULL, we rode with the locals and European tourists and was occasionally a bit fragrant. So - it was really a more authentic European travel experience due to the mistake - at least that's what I keep telling myself. I even used my German a bit - and the old Italian lady thought the girls were "bellisima."

So - here we are at a train station. Based on the time, I can see we are in Monterosso waiting for the 10:55 train to Genoa. :)
What can I say about our kids this trip - they were AWESOME! Sometimes, I think we adults were ready to lay on the ground faster than our kids did. Our kids are also spread out in age - S - 14 yrs, B - 12 yrs, Rachel 10 and Kendra 8. They entertained themselves with movies - when the transformer worked for the battery chargers , their DS's, writing in their journals and reading books. I can't remember any whining or crying or irritability. There was a little but so little I can't recall - that's awesome. B even brought himself around to playing Kendra's pink DS - don't let his curly, dude locks fool you - he is ALL boy.
Kendra and S hiding from Susan's camera. Kendra bought this hat in Venice and wore it the whole trip. Finally - in London, someone called her "little Michael Jackson" - they did mean it as a nice compliment. Bart and I giggled - I wanted to call her that all week but knew she just wouldn't get it. Now if I get her some black pants and a silver glove - she'll have it down!
OK - after 8 hrs of train travel! - we arrived in Venice and we were tired. We just wanted to get rid of our luggage! Do we take the water bus or splurge on the water taxi? We splurged (water taxi below). At the urging of the kids. After that, we took control of the purse strings again and used the water bus. But it was a fun way to start our trip in Venice.
I went a little camera crazy this trip. It is taking me a while to sort through them all. Venice is a very special place. I would certainly like to go back if given the opportunity. But not in the summer - I can see where it would get a bit smelly.
We bought some souvenirs and one of the memorable shops was a paper shop. This gentleman still makes watermark paper, they have beautiful journals and wax stamps. He was showing us how to use the stamp with the wax.
Of course we had to take a gondola ride. It was quiet and beautiful - imagining that people have lived here for hundreds of years in this way. It would be claustrophobic for me for long term but is beautiful for a visit.
Example of a Venetian Carnival Mask - they were works of art.
I'm such a tourist - couldn't resist taking this.
Grand Canal looking toward the Rialto Bridge.
We had a great time in Venice, visited one of the Murano islands, enjoyed ice cream in St. Mark's square and just as we got our bearings - it was time to move on to Cinque Terra (Monterosso).

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