We said our goodbye's to Paulah and Athens and caught a ridiculously early flight to Munich, Germany (okay it wasn't THAT early but it felt like it!). Our goal was to meet Nicole's parents (Ed and Leona) who were also traveling around Germany by car for the past three weeks.
The plan was to leave Munich immediately, pass through Austria and arrive in Venice, Italy before dark.
We arrived in Munich after an unforgettable flight that had us pass over the stunning and perfectly formed Austrian Alps. We were very lucky that we had clear blue skies and a window seat. Nothing like the Himalayas but they can give the Rockies some good competition.
The first thing we noticed was how big Munich's International Airport is, probably the most impressive we've been to. While we were landing, Nicole looked out the window and saw another passenger plane directly beside us, only a few hundred meters away. Munich's airport is so big that it has two active arrival runaways! The plane beside us landed on another runway at almost the same time, how unusual is that?
After reuniting with Ed and Leona we set off on the six hour drive to Venice, Italy. The hours passed quickly as we passed through the rolling mountains and alpine villages. It was great to catch up and swap travel stories from our recent adventures. The main highway from Austria into Italy was immaculate and efficient, we all commented on how fast and easy it made the drive.
We later realized how this beautiful, well kept highway was maintained when we got stuck with a 22 Euro toll bill for the 300km stretch… Ouch!
We had already booked our hotel accommodation in the neighbouring city of Mastre, a short 20 km's outside Venice. It was best to stay outside of Venice because parking the rental car would be a nightmare and hotel prices on the islands were outrageous (Venice is said to be the most expensive city in Italy). Our hotel, Villa Dori, was perfect and for $60CAD per night, these budget travelers were not complaining... after all, we were in freakin Venice!
It had been a long day of driving. In fact, we had been through four countries in the same day - Greece, Germany, Austria and Italy. Having been to Venice before, Nicole couldn't wait to have a traditional Italian pizza again. So first thing on the agenda was to visit the closest pizza parlour!
The pizza place near our hotel was actually more like a large restaurant chain in Canada, but we were shocked and impressed when our massive pizzas were served within 5 minutes of ordering. The restaurant has a huge wood-burning brick oven with a rotating base, circling the pizzas around and cooking them to perfection within minutes… it wassa da pizza pie to remember!
The next morning we were all eager to explore the legendary floating city of Venezia. It had always been a dream for Nicole's parents to visit the city and Cameron was thrilled that we added it to our itinerary. Our hotel provided a quick shuttle to and from Venice so it was quite easy.
It was a perfect day. Venice has a magic and romance about it. There really is no other place like it on this planet! It was surprisingly much bigger than expected and it gave us a sense of what old Italy was like. We walked for hours through the maze-like alleyways, getting temporarily lost after each corner - something that is very easy to do in a city built on 117 islands with 150-odd canals and 400 bridges.
We ate breakfast at a local café and had gelato shortly after for dessert. The girls indulged in shopping while the guys snapped photos and planned the next strategy (otherwise known as "left or right?"). We walked through the historical maze of archaic streets, crossed over several bridges and finally found our days' destination - the breathtaking Piazza San Marco (see photos).
Venice is exactly how you hope it would be. The network of canals and waterways are filled with beautiful gondolas. The architecture is rich in history and character. The churches and basilicas are enormous and inspiring. And it is true, there are tourists wandering everywhere… but somehow you just don't notice them because you're mesmerized by your unique surroundings.
It was, and is, an overwhelming and visually stunning place!
Originally we were going to meet Ed and Leona in Croatia; we have an apartment waiting for us in the coastal town of Split. But because we had to fly into Munich, a quick stop to the celebrated city of Venice seemed like a great stopover for a few days.
Like so many other experiences on this year long journey, sometimes the best places are the ones that were unexpected. Venice definitely falls into this category and lives up to its hype!
October 2nd, 2009