The Venice stopover

 

We arrived in Venice two days before our ferry departure to Corfu, a sensible enough time for my son to explore this beautiful city of canals.
But towing a caravan with a right-hand drive (British) car where everyone else takes the left-hand drive is not particularly easy in this eternally-chaotic road to Venice. And even with a TomTom (GPS car navigation system), one is bound to lose his way because road signs in Italy suddenly vanish just when you have been hopelessly depending on them like they are your lifeline to your destination. “Vanishing roadsigns”..this tops the many road nightmares that any foreign driver has to go through in this country. (Another is overtaking through a center double-line inside a tunnel)

We saw the sign “Campsite” and I instantly daydreamed of hot showers and clean restrooms, what with my last real shower taking place 1.5 days* ago, the day we left home.

* 1.5 days because we had to go to the caravan site 3 hours drive from home to do some repairs and maintenance works making it fit(ter) for the journey, then driving it towards Venezia the next day.

I was still in daydreaming mode when H blurted out, “that bloody sign, it disappeared!”
(….shower jet images vanishing like stardusts…)

So instead of endlessly driving around curving and narrow alleys in search of that elusive campsite, we gave up prematurely and drove straight for the causeway (connecting Venice to the mainland) before something more unpleasant happens like one wheel falling on a ditch or the whole caravan getting stuck in quicksand.

We followed the sign to Tronchetto Carpark, the same covered carpark that, two years ago, served as our “cheap hotel” for 3 consecutive nights. But this time, our target is the open-air carpark for caravans, buses and vans. We quickly found it, hurray!

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The caravan zone of the Tronchetto carpark

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Us with the caravan

To celebrate our safe arrival to Venice with our caravan still in one piece, we quickly set up our picnic tables and chairs and brought out some eatables constituting what they call an “Apero” (short for aperitif): wine, olives, cheese, bread, dried sausage…. all originated from France…. hmmm isn’t life soooo good!

Parking

At the Tronchetto car park – probably the biggest money-making carpark in Europe – there are zones for buses, for vans, for vehicles towing boats as well as for caravans. We parked at the bus zone because we thought we were too long to be in the caravan zone; quite a wrong move, i thought, because the caravan zone, we found, is fitted with water taps and is surrounded by laurier rose bushes creating a feeling of privacy and tranquility. The bus zone on the other hand is noisy and exposed. We found that out as soon as we woke up the next day.

Around 9 every morning, tourist buses in big numbers start arriving after dropping their passengers near the vaporetto terminal. Each bus driver would spend like 10 minutes manuevering their vehicles, finding the best angle and the best corner to park – all this creating so much engine noise and diesel fumes that would unpleasantly find their way inside our caravan-home because we are situated on that corner where they do most of their manuevering. And this process would be repeated 80+ times, which is the number of buses coming into Tronchetto carpark each day. Boy! we could just imagine that every non-European tourist who comes on a tour package would most likely include Venice in their itinerary hence the carpark operator is laughing and rolling his way to the bank!
Parking fee is 21euros per 12 hours, so multiply that by 80 buses, that amounts to 1,680euros! How about the other vehicles who don’t park at the bus zone? And we have not included the multilevel covered carpark. I’m telling you, this is the biggest money-making carpark in the whole of Europe and possibly the world!

And let me give you a naughty peek of what normally happens in the bus zone – obviously this happens only from May till September when the sun bakes like an oven.

Every morning, as soon as each bus is satisfactorily parked, the drivers (Germans, Dutch, Eastern Europeans among others) take off their clothes, change into their swimming trunks (others in their knickers), exposing their distended guts and sometimes embarassing body contours for all they care, then with long handled brushes, start cleaning their buses – windows, sides and all – and then spend the rest of their working day resting, some would sleep in lounge chairs, some would be joining other drivers and chat, still in their knickers or trunks, then, by 4pm, don back their driver’s uniform and one by one leave the carpark to pick up their passengers who would by then waiting at the same spot where they were dropped that morning.

Hey, don’t get me wrong. We did not hang out in the carpark the whole day just to observe them. Of course, we did go out and enjoyed Venice as well.

For the 2.5 days that we parked there, our parking bill amounted to 69euros. We used the facilities of the carpark such as the restrooms and the water taps in the caravan zone which served as al fresco showers. It was great: showering in the open! We did it in the dark though when no one was looking! And with our caravan providing the accommodation and kitchen facilities, 69euros for 3 people for 2.5 days is not bad.

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The Vaporetto…..the water commuter bus of Venice

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The controller whose only job is to open and close the gate for incoming and outgoing passengers.
Nine out of ten, he/she will not check if you have a ticket or not.

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Inside the vaporetto, taken on a calm night

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Map from Google Sightseeing

Pennypinching trick no. 1: Avoid the vaporetto, go walking.

The red arrow line is the route of the vaporetto to any stop in Venice, here shown is the San Zaccaria stop that will take you to Piazza San Marco.

The green arrow line is your walking route from Piazzale Roma to any point in Venice Island.
From the Tronchetto carpark where you arrive by car or tourist bus, you can walk to P. Roma.

From the Santa Lucia railway station where you will arrive by train, you can walk through and around Venice island. With a map, follow the walk towards the Rialto Bridge and onwards to San Marco. The sights are simply mindblowing….

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The crowds of Venice

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Photographing Venice

“The Bridge of Sighs”

Before:

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image from Wikipedia

The second most important bridge in Venice after the Rialto, this 16th century bridge connecting the Ducal Palace (Palazzo Ducale) to the dungeon-like New Prisons (Prigioni Nuove) was given its name due to the “sighs of pain” from the condemned prisoners as they crossed the “ponte”, took in their last views of Venice from the windows, before they were led to their execution.

 After:

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What the ……..*%  @!!!

You’ve just seen…..the commercialization of the bridge, May 2009

Window Shopping in Venice

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Scenes

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Traffic-less Venice

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Be on the lookout for noticeboards if you want to go to a proper concert

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One of the many hostels in Venice is Ostello Venezia. This building used to be a grain store

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Quanto costa? (How much is it?)

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A perfect place to picnic is right on this quay, next to the fish market near the Rialto bridge. A lot of picnicking tourists are scattered around here. It’s very accessible to the fruit market too if you later decide to have fruits for dessert.

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The Battle of the Bands, Venetian Style

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Orchestra #1

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Orchestra #2

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Orchestra #3

It was 11 in the morning when we reached Piazza San Marco. The sound of classical music coming from two orchestras attracted our attention: one, situated by the entrance to the piazza and the other, at Florian Caffe, is on the opposite side some 200 meters away.
Orchestra #1, lively as it was, had no audience except for a couple who was more occupied with their lovey-dovey pursuits than paying attention to the music.
Orchestra #2 seemed to magnetize most of the tourists in the piazza. What is their secret? Because at 11 in the morning, the sun’s direct rays was hitting the alfresco caffe where Orchestra #1 was playing. Florian was in the shade.
We saw another, Orchestra #3, from a third caffe but it was not playing.
Just as soon as orchestras 1 and 2 finished their music, #3 suddenly reverberated with a tango tune reminiscent of Scent of a Woman. In a dash, the standing audience at #2 scurried towards #3, leaving only those who were seated (the customers).
Couples started dancing and some passersby were swaying their bodies to the rhythm.

After few minutes of playing, #3 stopped for a break. Instantly, #2 re-started with a popular classic, the audience at #3 darted towards their direction. And then it was #1’s turn again.

This battle of the bands or sometimes referred to as “dueling orchestras” in Piazza San Marco, with the audience running here and there, make a comical scene – but the music nevertheless remains poignant and soul-reaching.

Then H announced that he would treat us to a cold beer – at Florian!
Is he out of his mind? Did I hear it right? The 18th century Caffe Florian in Venice is the oldest cafe bar in Italy and is frequented by the well-heeled, hence, expect a well-heeled “el conto” (the bill).

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The waiters at Florian

We got seated. I kept fidgeting, worrying at the final bill. No doubt, the moment our backsides touch the caned chairs of this caffe, our wallet meter would be ticking outrageously fast!

A waiter in his sartorial elegance came to hand us the menu. Opening the second page and without ordering anything yet, we were aghast to discover that our bill has already registered an amount of 18euros! Why was that?
For the privilege of listening to the orchestra in the comfort of Florian’s caned seats, there is an automatic charge of 6euros per person. And we were three.

We ordered three beers which came with miniature bowls of olives and chips. Guess how much each bottle costs? 10euros! And we were three.

So all in all, on our 2nd hour in Venice grounds, we already spent 96euros! (48 for the vaporetto and 48 for the beer)

My father in law, an officer and a gentleman

I would like to dedicate this post to my pa-in-law in honor of his passing. He was the gentlest Englishman I have ever met. He was very good to me and always thanked me for being very kind to him. I treated him like my real father, you see. He had a soft heart towards me, I guess because of his unforgettable experience working with Filipinos when he was sent to Cebu to work as Consultant for Philippine Airlines on flight simulators.

It was sad to see his closed coffin today, but the sadness turned to pride when we saw his war medals displayed on top of the casket alongside the old morse code machine which he himself made and which my husband, when he was a young boy, learned to communicate with his father just by emitting dots and dashes from this old gadget, the father of all radio communications!

Today, H finally took home this memento …but alas, his bag where it was stored got held up at the airport’s xray machine. “Is that a morse code?”, the airport security officer asked. Whew, we thought they were going to confiscate it!

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The morse code

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The war medals which H just discovered lately. My pa-in-law had always been very humble as to his achievements

The pride we feel about my pa-in-law’s past achievements were even accentuated when we saw a bunch of old gentlemen already standing infront of the church when we arrived. It was like a scene in a movie, “The Gentlemen’s Club”, what with these elegantly attired men who personify the dying breed of honorable and courteous Englishmen.

That my pa-in-law was truly a part of this breed, there’s no question about it. Sadly, the England they knew and fought for is very different from today.

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H and myself almost cried when pa’s best friend came with all the trimmings of a hero

Walking: France: Roya Valley: BREIL to NOTRE DAME DU MONT

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One of the many walks in Breil sur Roya is to the Notre Dame du Mont.  

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The footpath is rugged, rocky, sometimes narrow and sometimes muddy as it is alongside the raging tributary of the Roya river.  We see houses and allotments with cottages along the way which make us wonder how did they manage to transport their construction materials when the pathway is not accessible even by a mule.  At one point, we had to cross the river via a crude wooden bridge with a missing plank in the middle. 

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I was taken aback when I heard a sudden movement.  Whew!  it was a family of goats – papa goat, mama goat and baby goat.

After climbing a steep and rugged path, we reached a private land.  “Private”  because signs of “No Entry” were everywhere.  One proprietor of the land is a kayak operator as seen in the number of kayaks and rowing paddles stored in a corner.  We eventually found the main road leading to the church.

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We were blown away by the magnificence of the church and the fact that it is surrounded by olive trees that must be around 100 years old!

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I noticed a trace of a sundial.  Whoever took it away  stole a part of history, I thought.

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The plaque on the church which says, “This 11th century chapel which used to be a Paris church of the village is consecrated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.  It was built in two parts, was raised up and enlarged between 1571- 1585.” 

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The hills of Breil is dotted with olive trees.

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We could see the town so elegantly framed by the hills and mountains.

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After getting mesmerized by the beauty of it all, we slowly traced our way back down whilst enjoying the sight of orange trees,  beautiful gardens and that of the town itself.

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Lovely murals!

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We saw another chapel below with the headless statue of St Antoine.

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The red train station of Breil sur Roya

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We have finally arrived!