SlovinIt19: Venice and Lido

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The final stop of our grand SlovinIt tour was Venice, mainly for the good connections. Based on my presumptions and everyone complaining about how stinky and crowded the s(t)inking city of canals is, I honestly wasn’t too excited about going there. It just seemed like a destination everyone needs to suffer through once in a lifetime.

Locanda SilvaLocanda Silva:  hotel room with canal view, roof terrace view and common space

The journey between the bus station and our hotel only served to reinforce my prejudice: the profuse sweating from the heat and suffering, the cruise ship crowds steamrolling through the streets, the Google Maps walking instructions leading us to a cul-de-sac… Ugh. There were several bridges along the way without ramps, so we had to carry our heavy luggage up and down the stairs while trying to find another way to the hotel. I had already had enough by the time we finally made it to Locanda Silva, where we would be staying for the weekend. Fortunately, the hotel was very nice and clean, the staff were friendly and even the included breakfast was surprisingly good. The location also turned out to be great once we got the hang of the giant labyrinth formed by the narrow, criss-crossing streets. From there on, our general mood started to improve again.

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After a nice shower, we were refreshed enough to go out and brave the street labyrinth again, this time with a better attitude. In the historical centre of Venice, the main modes of transport are by foot and boat, as there are no cars or streets where a car would even fit. The streets are narrow and crowded. Even the canals are crowded with all the gondoliers in their striped shirts touring tourists around, all the while happily aiding them in making their wallet lighter.

IMG_20190629_170236Piazza San MarcoIMG_20190629_170649Basilica di San Marco

We had no plan for our first walking tour and were just wandering around aimlessly. All of a sudden, the shaded street opened up to St Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco), and in that moment I finally understood the draw of Venice. Seeing Saint Mark’s Basilica (Basilica di San Marco) with my own eyes was so impressive that the cliché of going breathless was not far from the truth. It felt like time stopped and any words dried up in my mouth. The longer you stare at all the magnificent buildings at the square, the more dumbfounding details you find. Pictures really don’t do justice to this church or the square, they must be experienced live to really see the grandeur. And that’s how you get millions upon millions of tourists flocking in, for a very good reason. If they wanted to be left alone there, they should have built something uglier!

pulutGo on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Venice. Take pictures of pigeons.

IMG_20190630_133253No Mafia, Venezia è Sacra (No Mafia, Venice is Sacred)

“Love and a cough are something you cannot hide” –Unknown graffiti artist

IMG_20190629_173150Costa Luminosa: just a few extra tourists arriving to block the streets

Surprisingly enough, we got used to to the crowds quite fast and the herds didn’t bother us after the initial shock anymore. Apart from patience, the most important thing is to pack good shoes and be prepared to wear them out. A budget traveller should also be aware that even the shortest gondola rides cost close to a hundred euros. The good news is that there is a much more affordable way to see many of the sights from water – just take a vaporetto water bus! Actv sells single tickets as well as unlimited use tickets for 1 to 7 days, of which it makes sense to pick the latter according to the length of your own holiday. The vaporettos not only take you from one station to another along the main canal, but they also run between the centre and the nearby islands. Some do a circle route, so they can also be used as a mini cruise, especially if you luck out and manage to get a seat outside on the deck.

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The Saint Mark Bell Tower (Campanile di San Marco) at St Mark’s Square, seen in the background in the picture above, is almost 100 metres high and supposedly offers the best views over the entire city. Understandably, visiting the tower is an extremely popular tourist activity with queues and entrance fees to match. To spare your nerves and save some money, consider taking a vaporetto to the nearby island of San Giorgio Maggiore instead, and visit the church (Chiesa di San Giorgio Maggiore) bell tower there. Tickets are a lot cheaper and there was no queue when we dropped by in the afternoon.

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Even though the San Giorgio Maggiore bell tower isn’t quite as high as St Mark’s, you can still spy lots of interesting stuff from the heights. My favourite find was the exquisite maze behind the church. Sadly, they didn’t let any tourists in to lose their way and their life in the scorching sun, but it was still cool! I’ll get me one of those for sure, as soon as I can turn my balcony into a backyard.

Lido
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If the crowds of Venice start to stress you out, the vacation island of Lido is only a short vaporetto ride away. Crowded and narrow streets become but a faint memory as soon as you step foot on Lido – there are “normal” roads for cars and wide pavements there, and even regular buses and not only those of the water variety. Lido feels like a traditional resort with its lush flower plantings and shiny shopping streets. The atmosphere is sleepy and calm, even though you can still find a lot of people there.

IMG_20190630_180745Capanna beach huts for rent
IMG_20190630_172339The riff-raff bathes on a crowded slice of beach…IMG_20190630_173239…while money buys you some breathing spaceIMG_20190630_173117Pebble beach? Nope, just a couple of seashells!

Although our half-day beach visit was a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of the historical centre, I still think Lido is probably at its best as a playground for trust fund kids and their kind. There are some free beaches scattered around the island, but they’re also incredibly crowded, while the private beaches have more space than they know what to do with. An officious guard immediately drove us off from an open stretch of sand and back in with the rest of the riff-raff, but hardly bothered to hassle other similar rule-breakers. Redds and I probably didn’t manage to look difficult enough, so we became an easy target for bouncing around.

Venice by Night

The magic of Venice can be best seen late in the evening, when the cruise crowds have retreated back to their ships and the sun begins to set. One by one, lights are popping on at the restaurants lining the main canal and live orchestras begin to play at St Mark’s Square. The main sights are lighted in a way that brings out a whole new side to them.

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Normally, I’m not one to shop for souvenirs, but I had to make an exception in Venice. I’ve been collecting masks ever since I did an internship in Tanzania. In Venice, every tourist shop bursts with cheap, fake masks for a couple of euros, but there are still some traditional stores like Ca ‘Macana, where each mask is carefully crafted by hand. The selection is mind-boggling and ranges from the handsomely-beaked il dottore masks to imaginative steampunk versions and charming animal characters. It was almost painful to make a choice, but I ended up getting a fox mask with crooked eyes. I could imagine wearing it to a secret society meeting – now I just need to find that society. Honestly, I’d be happy to travel back to Venice just for the chance to shop for more masks!

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Prices (June-July 2019), Venice

  • Accommodation, Locanda Silva, room for two with a private bathroom and canal view, breakfast included: 100€/night + tourist tax of a couple of euros
  • Actv pass for 2 days: 30€

To read all my posts on this trip in English, use the tag SlovinIt19EN.

 

SlovinIt19: Beach Holiday in Caorle

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After the action-packed hiking week in Slovenia, we continued sweating our arses off in a different way as we moved on to take a quick breather on Italy’s side. There are several tempting beach holiday destinations in Northern Italy, and after thorough google research we ended up picking Caorle, which is located halfway between Trieste and Venice. We were looking for a relaxing atmosphere, nice beaches and a bit of personality, reachable by public transport, and Caorle fit the bill perfectly.

trainItalian air conditioning = fanning yourself with a train ticket

From Ljubljana, we first took a Flixbus to Trieste on the Italian side of the border and continued on to the Portogruaro-Caorle station by train. Finally from there, we caught a local bus to the centre of Caorle. The early morning Flixbus had a plenty of room left, and we only bought our tickets the day before our journey. The train wasn’t packed either and we were able to get our tickets on the day of the journey. Both the bus and the train ran pretty well on schedule, only the bus got stuck in traffic for a while as we were nearing Trieste. However, Trenitalia’s claim of aria condizionata was just a bad joke. This was the week when all of Europe was hit by a record-breaking heatwave, so our train trip was nothing short of pure agony. Our thighs and backs got glued to the leather seats and little droplets of sweat formed small streams running down our faces. A sauna would have been wayyyy more comfortable than that.

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We stayed at Hotel Fabrizio, which unfortunately ended up being a bit of a disappointment. The booking site advertised a room with a balcony, but in reality there was only a tiny window. The room was dark and dingy. The staff were very friendly but quite disorganised: for example, they tried to charge us twice for the same room. Nobody spoke English, but we were able to get by on body language and a few words of elementary school German. On the bonus side, the breakfast was pretty good (although only served for one hour from 8 to 9 a.m.), and beach chairs and umbrellas were included in the room price, whereas normally you’d have to rent them for 20-25€/day or 85€/week.

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Our pain and suffering subsided as soon as we settled in and got to wander around town. Caorle is a cute, small town full of colourful houses and beaches stretching as far as the eye can see – a perfect spot for simply loafing around for a few days. Each day of our three-day beach vacation pretty much followed the same routine: breakfast at the hotel, off to the beach until lunch, a shower and a nap in our air-conditioned room, and finally venturing out to enjoy the colour therapy while looking for a nice place for dinner.

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The Old Town of Caorle is made up of a maze of narrow streets and tiny squares surrounded by cheerfully colourful houses. For that reason, Caorle is also called Little Venice, even without any canals. For me, the low and colourful buildings are reminiscent of Miami Beach, and I love that! When I see these kinds of places, I’m always hit with architecture jealousy – why don’t we use any colours in Finland? (NB! Grey and beige are not colours!) It would make November a million times more bearable if we got to enjoy a rainbow of colours on our way to school and work like they do in Caorle.

Caorle

When it comes to restaurants, the menus in Caorle are naturally full of all kinds of seafood in addition to the usual pizzas and pastas. All of it is definitely worth sampling! And even though it’s the promised land of pasta we’re talking about here, I have to make this outrageous recommendation for an excellent Chinese restaurant called Nuova Hong Kong: they serve incredibly tasty food at reasonable prices, the service is friendly and fast, and they have outdoor seating at a charming little square away from the noisiest streets. This is a great opportunity to add a little variety to your diet, especially if you’re staying in Italy for an extended period of time.

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One morning we made an exception to the routine I mentioned earlier and walked to the beach to watch the sunrise. At 5 a.m., there were only a handful of joggers and photographers around. We also got to check out the outdoor art exhibition, consisting of dozens of carved rocks, without herds of German tourists blocking the view. I really, really love the sunrise vibe, but I never have the energy nor motivation to wake up for it in Finland. Everything’s different when you’re on holiday.

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Despite its unique architecture, Caorle is quite a typical beach holiday destination in the sense that it comes alive in cycles and the atmosphere changes completely between these cycles. During daytime, people enjoy the sun and the sea, the beaches are teeming with tourists and pink skin sizzles in the heat. In the late afternoon, everything quiets down as people retreat indoors to have a siesta and perhaps something to eat. And once darkness sets in, the quiet streets are suddenly back to life and full of couples and families. Neon lights blink at arcades, ice-cream sellers rake in the dough and shoe stores (open until late night) invite people in for some impulse shopping. It’s a unique vibe I’m sure everyone who’s ever been to a beach destination recognises. Caorle is among the best, and I absolutely recommend it to anyone with a basic grasp of Italian or German!

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Prices (June 2019): Caorle

  • Flixbus Ljubljana–Trieste: 10€ pp (upstairs premium seat)
  • Train Trieste–Portogruaro: 9€ pp
  • Local bus ticket Portogruaro–Caorle: 3€
  • Accommodation, Hotel Fabrizio: 76.35€/night/room for 2 + tourist tax 0.70€ per night per person
  • Renting beach chairs and umbrellas: 20–25€/day or 85€/week
  • Pizza and drinks for two, Hotel Negretto: 28€ (incl. service fee)
  • Slushie 3€, water bottle 1€

To read all my posts on this trip in English, use the tag SlovinIt19EN.