The final bit of the trip to Venice was by bus from the town of Villach in Austria just a few kilometres from the Italian border. The bus driver asked to see our passports for ID as we boarded, but when he saw the cover of my passport he said " Oh Australian...doesn't matter". I don't know whether he thought the similarity with the spelling of Austria and Australia made us virtually cousins, or whether a couple of mature aged Aussies were unlikely to be trying to hide their identify and become illegal immigrants in either Austria or Italy. We sat on the top deck of the bus right at the very front, so we had a good view of the countryside and the Alps, still with some snow on the peaks. Sitting next to us at the front of the bus was an older Austrian gentleman... and then right behind Jane sat his wife (we assumed). For the whole journey she didn't stop talking to her husband... very loudly in German. Apart for about 15 minutes when the old fella fell asleep she didn't draw breath for close to 3 and a half hours. Now for someone like me who has always thought words were invented to be used, this Austrian lady out did me. It was truly a marathon and for the life of me I don't know what she could find to talk about for so long. The old boy didn't say very much... but to be fair he really couldn't have gotten a word in anyway. As we neared Venice we stopped at Mestre train station to let some people off. There was a lady who had parked her car in the bus stop and so the bus driver tooted his horn to make her move on. When she had moved her car forward, she got out and started abusing the bus driver (in Italian) for the inconvenience he had caused her. While this incident confirmed for me that we had indeed arrived in Italy, the event really got our fellow passenger the elderly Austrian lady animated. She stood up and leaned forward to be as close to the action as she could. Then out of the blue as if trying to interpret what the Italian lady was saying for all the other passengers on the bus, she yelled out loudly "[email protected]$k.... [email protected]$k..... [email protected]$k" (yes 3 times). While a couple of old ladies behind us looked a bit shocked at the sudden outburst of what some consider to be bad language, Jane and I just laughed. I suppose because she thought her antics amused us, she and her husband started talking to us in English. After finding out where we where from, she told us that every year for the last 23 years on her husbands birthday they travelled from Vienna and spend a week in Venice. This year her husband was turning 74. She gave Jane and I all her Venice tips learnt over those years, in particular how to avoid some of the exorbitant prices charged in the main tourist spots.
Like our new Austrian "friend" had warned, Venice is one of the most expensive places in Europe to visit. It all started for us when the bus dropped us off at the Tronchetto bus depot. We hadn't been to the toilet since leaving Villach so that was our first priority. After locating the loo we discovered that the charge was €1. In all the places we have travelled in Europe we have always expected to pay something to use the toilet and it would appear that the going rate elsewhere was around 25 - 50 euro cents. We haven't minded as the charge has usually ensured that the attendant regularly mops and cleans and ensures there is soap and paper towels in the dispensers. Well for a 100% mark up the loos at Tronchetto were dirty, some not working and the attendant surly and unhelpful... But when you have to go you have to go. A couple of days later thinking that one couldn't charge more than €1 to use the conveniences (or more appropriately named....the inconveniences), we lined up at the public WC in San Marco Piazza only to discover the charge was €1.50. I was always led to believe that market forces set the price based on supply and demand. What I discovered is that Venice exploits this economic principle by only supplying about 2 public toilets for the whole of the main island. Demand is driven by the large number of visitors who are drinking a lot of vino, coffee (a natural diuretic) and bottled water. These same visitors are lulled into a false sense of security thinking that the public toilets will be available at a reasonable price when required. At the point of desperation when
The public convenience is required NOW , RIGHT NOW, the perfect set of economic circumstances are created to ensure the unsuspecting tourist pays above the standard European rate.... in fact 150% more. Well this little black duck was having none of it... And I was proud to say neither was Jane. No Venezia Municipal Authority was going to rip us off to the combined sum of €3 for a 2 minute pee. Despite our plight we decided to call it a day and took a vaporetto back to our apartment, a trip that took about an hour... And didn't we feel every bump. It was at that point I thought, if we travel again I will strap on one of those special attachments for blokes who suffer incontinence, complete with a leg bag. From that point on we made sure we chose eating establishments that had toilets. I made a point of going twice, to ensure I got value for money....and in my mind deducting the cost of the public WC off our food/drinks bill. Doing this gave me a sense that I had beaten the system and received a "discount" at the cafe while using a much cleaner and less crowded toilet.
Now to add salt to the wound, Venice has what they call a "visitor tax". It is the princely sum of €1.50 per person per night. So for 4 nights the Italian government extorted €12 from us. We weren't told what this was necessarily for, but assumed that it was to cover the impact of visitors like us on the public utilities, particularly given the unique Venice environment. However, given what you have to pay above the standard rate for restaurants, public transport and toilets etc, I was left not knowing what it covered other than seeing tourists as cash cows for a strapped Italian economy.
The second expensive thing about Venice is the cost of the public transport. The vaporetto or water bus cost €7 a ride, whereas most buses, trams and metro's elsewhere in Europe would be €1.50 on average, but certainly no more than €2. Suffice to say we used it sparingly, preferring instead shanks pony.
Now that I have finished my rant, I can get onto summarising our visit. Venice is like no other place I have been and one of the most unique places I have seen. We were lucky enough to stay in a beautiful apartment in a typical Venetian building... just over a canal and down a narrow alley. The apartment wasn't in a typical tourist area so we were surrounded by locals. I found the old buildings, canals, narrow lanes that go in every direction (and no cars) fascinating. Part of the fun of getting around Venice was heading off in a certain direction hoping that you arrive where you intend. Along the way you find there may not be a bridge where you would like to cross the canal, so you have to go in a different direction, adding to the likelihood of getting lost. This situation does lead to the possibility of discovering something you may not have come across if you had taken a more precise route. On one occasion after taking the wrong turn, we ended up in a little Piazza where people were selling items, mostly bric-a-brac. While Jane likes fossicking through this sort of thing, I am less impressed. The most interesting thing for me about this little encounter was that one stall was run by 2 elderly Venetian ladies who were twins. In itself probably nothing out of the ordinary, until at the same time while attending to customers, both lit up cigarettes. I have posted a picture of the smoking venetian twins on my blog..... hopefully you will find it amusingly as well.
We really only had 2 full days in Venice as we had arranged to meet up with friends John and Heather from Hobart; also doing a European tour. We discovered prior to our departure from Australia, that when we were in Venice they would be in Florence. It had been decided to meet at a halfway point which happened to be Bologna... about 1 hours train journey for us both. It turned out to be a good decision as Venice poured with rain that day, whereas Bologna was relatively dry. We spent the day looking at the old buildings including the 2 leaning towers built sometime around the 1200's and the university building that included the oldest human anatomical dissection theatre, complete with marble slab where the cutting up was undertaken, along with with wooden seating all around and a pulpit like arrangement I assume for the professor to stand and lecture. John and I found a quiet place for a couple of drinks to discuss the likelihood of the Crows making the AFL grand final.... particularly since Taylor Walker's season ending knee injury. While we restructured the Crows forward line, Jane and Heather went off to look in the shops. We arrived back in Venice well after 10:30pm to find that it was still raining. The next day was still raining, but not as heavy, clearing a little by early afternoon. With umbrellas in hand we made the 1.3 km walk (according to google maps) to San Marco Piazza. We found a spot to have our sandwich and drink hoping the rain would clear. Despite the Weather the Piazza was crowded. After a little more walking around the area we decided to lash out and spend the combined amount of €14 to take a vaporetto back to the apartment. This trip took about an hour as it had to travel back up most of the Grand Canal. They had warnings up saying that certain areas may be closed later in the day due to the rain and with high tide due at around 4.30 pm. We saw first hand as we travelled the canal how water levels were impacting buildings. Despite people raising the steps and thresholds of their houses, water was still entering the lower levels at high tide.
The last day of our stay was fine sunny and we decided to walk to a little known statue called La Donna Partigiana located on the waterfront about a kilometre or so past San Marco Piazza. It was put there in dedication of women killed fighting during WW2. It is a figure of a woman laying at the waters edge and gets totally covered by water at high tide. Most people if not looking for it would walk right past and so it has also come to be known as the hidden statue. We discovered it before high tide and so it was just out of the water. It is a statue of a woman laying on her side, stained green from seaweed with water lapping around it. I have posted a picture for those with an interest.
Just before we left we read a sign that listed the do's and do nots while visiting Venice... It was at this point we realised we may have unknowingly committed a serious offence. Among the list such as don't feed the pigeons and don't go bare chested wearing a pair of budgie smugglers was a rule that forbid picnicking around San Marco Piazza. The fine for this heinous crime was €500. We breathed a sigh of relief that while eating our sandwich and apple near the Piazza a day or so earlier we had luckily avoided the picnic police. Interestingly, defacing buildings and monuments attracted a fine of only€460..... so clearly dropping a few crumbs was more of a crime than me getting a spray can and doing a bit of redecorating (not that I would ever do that)