Thursday, September 20, 2001

Day Trip to Venice part II

Arriving in Venezia, we dashed to the bathrooms on the platform with everyone else.
Spending a penny was now spending L1,000 lira, however as the expression was eons old, this was probably a fair inflationary affect.
Then the plan was to head to San Marco as early as possible, before the worst of the hoards descended.
Our plan was slightly delayed as we travelled through the old centre island of town, avoiding the crush around the Grand Canal.
Very good plan.
Very enticing diversions.
Two couldn't be avoided; the 1st a locals Caffe Bar with the most wonderful display of pastries in the small window & inside.
All production of the proprietor, the Venetian specialties were all delectable, and the caffe standing at the bar was excellent and cheap.
The other diversion struck Rob & I simultaneously; a tourist shop, filled with miniature shoes, hats & so on in lush fabrics.
The shoes screamed "Lynne", Rob's elder sister, and whilst expensive, one on display in the window in red & green tones was the unanimous choice.
A crunch of the credit card, and we were on our way.
San Marco appeared as a surprising vision to me.
Not at all like the movie images I had seen.
Scaffolding covered many facades, with printed or painted images on the covering sheets to give the illusion of it's previous incarnation.
Curious rough boardwalks crossed from where the entrance to the Piazza started to the waterfront, and in front of the Cathedral, already covered with queues of people.
We arranged to meet at a certain statue or pole in the event of our getting dispersed in the crush of humanity.
For the first time I felt like a tourist in a tourist spot; something I had succeeded in avoiding on previous trips.
A traveller not a tourist.
I pointed out to Rob the strange gurgling water spouting from two or 3 points in the square which we investigated without much concern.
I had heard of this through the BBC, although Rob had not seen it in his previous visits.
My aversion to queues meant the Cathedral was off.
Rob waxed lyrically about walking up the tower for the view, and discovering that this wait was positively pea-sized in Venice, I joined with a jaded and cynical manner that it would be worth it.
In no time, we had paid our money and joined crush to enter the lift to go up the tower by an efficient, although less romantic fashion to the spiralling staircase (which was closed).
This was tourist city central; full of Japanese, British, Australian and American tourists, however when one fought the way to viewing windows the sights were well worth it.


Day Trip to Venice part I

It was too close to ignore, too expensive to stay. I had never been to Venezia (Venice), and had a clear image of the touting Gondolier; unfathomable hoards of tourists; and the soft focus image of a hundred romantic movies and TV shows.
Everyone said it was romantic ~ especially importantly Bob on his visit here 4 years ago.
After checking with the Venetian Tourist Office & Accommodation centre, the most basic accommodation, a no star pensione without facilities started at $150+ (if available).
Needing to stay for at least a couple of days, with our local friends reiterating the expense of food and everything, I could not bring it upon myself to justify such great expense, especially if I were 'on a downer', spending much time in bed resting.
Instead, I made the executive decision to travel by train (one & a half hours or so) in the morning, and being more relaxed about expenditure on the odd caffe, pasta (sweet cake), water & so on.
A return ticket cost 22,000 lira ~ less than $22 Aussie dollars.
Whilst Rob stood in line to purchase the tickets at Ferrara Central Stazione, I found an automated machine which had different language options, and the ability to pay by credit card.
The tickets were spat out of the machine whilst those in front of Rob were still waiting in line.
Tomorrow we were going to Venezia!

An early start was aided by Giulietta's concern to ensure that we were well fuelled before and during the journey!
Espresso was ready, her special bread fresh from the oven, and she had made panini with prosciutto crudo and good cheese (including my beloved Grana) wrapped and ready with fruit.
The main problem was parking near the station, & despite an previous recognisance when buying the tickets & seeking advice from the all-knowledgeable Stefano, it was to be the biggest problem prior to catching the train.
The station at peak time was amazing!
The largest triathlon in the world (still Mrs T's? Or the 4 events of the Sri Chimnoy weekend combined, or . . . ) could not compete with the bicycles parked in the area.
No wonder Ferrara was known as the city of bicycles.
Our 2nd class carriage was somewhat luxurious by Australian standards, and had specialist bicycle areas on each train.
Way to Go!
Unlike the State Rail Authority in NSW which specifically bans them from services.
Venice to be continued


Wednesday, September 19, 2001

Email from Bob

Stienta, province of Veneto, northern Italy
Tuesday 18 September 2001

Dear friends,

Sorry about the group email, but at least I can contact you all!

Carolyne's condition has improved significantly over the past couple of days, thank goodness. Although she is unable to do any heavy exercise without getting weak and tired, she is now able to enjoy the good food, company and walk around the delightful countryside.

Have been in Italy since Wednesday 5 September, and on Sunday returned to Stienta after 5 days in Rimini. We are staying at the apartment of a friend, Giulietta, whom we met at a hotel in northern Spain 4 weeks ago. In Spain Giulietta was travelling with her partner, Stefano, and several friends from the area. Stienta is a small village on the Po River, about 15km from the large regional centre of Ferrara, a beautiful walled city of 120,000 people, where Stefano lives. We're about 60km from the Adriatic coast and 60km from Bologna. The countryside is quite flat, a great contrast to northern Spain and eastern France.

Today we spent several pleasant hours walking around the top of the Ferrara city walls, which are tree-lined and have a constant stream of joggers and cyclists, and around the streets and parks of the city. We enjoyed the many lovely buildings, with an occasional break for a coffee or gelato.

Giulietta has been wonderful to us both, but particularly to Carolyne. She is 46, has a 23 year-old-son who is in Greece on holidays, and is a designer for Armani. She speaks alsmost no English but Carolyne can communicate with her, in a fashion, in Italian, and I do the same in French. Each evening Stefano comes for dinner and he speaks reasonable English. Both of them are well educated, interested in international affairs, history and culture and are leftist in their politics. Tomorrow Carolyne and I will go for a long day trip to Venice. It is only 1 hour 15 min by train from Ferrara, and there are are frequent trains. After returning here late tomorrow night, we will leave Stienta on Friday and head to the eastern Mediteranean coast of Italy where we will drive slowly to Nice over 8 days. We fly from Nice on Tuesday 2 October, arriving in Canberra on Thursday 4 October.

Our trip to Rimini for the World Duathlon Champonships was a mixed bag. Carolyne's condition deteriorated slowly after we left Spain where her ears became infected after a triathlon. By the time we left Stienta for Rimini, we knew she would be unable to compete and that she would have difficulty enjoying herself cooped up in a hotel with me while I competed. Giulietta offered to come with us to Rimini where she her closest friend lives. Carolyne and Giulietta stayed with the friend whose apartment was only 2km from my hotel. It was an excellent arrangement, allowing me to see Carolyne frequently but with the 2 women as company for her and able to assist her if needed.

The Australian team for the Championships was accommodated in 2 adjoining hotels, one block from the waterfront. I knew several other competitors which made it fun for the 2 days I was there before the race. The race comprised a 10km run, 4 laps of a course around the streets close to the waterfront, followed by a 40km cycle, 6 times over a course back and fro along the waterfront, and finally a 5km run, twice over the same course as earlier. It was well organised and conducted although it rained steadily before the start, making the cycle course slippery and dangerous in several places. Many cyclists fell, including one immediately in front of me on a tight bend. I had a good race and enjoyed it, but finished well out of medal contention.

Last Tuesday, 11 Sept, is one I'll never forget. We had lunch with Stefano in Ferrara and afterwards, when passing a shop, noticed on the TV the skyline of New York, with smoke coming out of the World Trade Centre. When we arrived home, about 4pm, Giulietta had her TV on and indicated that planes had hit both towers. While we watched the Pentagon was hit, and we watched transfixed while the fires raged and both towers collapsed. It was the first time Carolyne and I had watched any disaster live, let alone one of such magnitude. It was frustrating that although the pictures were from CNN, the commentary was all in Italian. We had difficulty getting the details until we bought a paper the next day. Unfortunately, good English language papers, particularly my favourite, the International Herald Tribune, is available locally only about 3 times per week. It hasn't been easy keeping up with subsequent developments.

Must send this off as it is late and we leave early in the morning for Venice.

Regards to all, Bob & Carolyne
Bob Harlow
(0438) 51 3653