Monday, October 4, 2010

Sleeper Trains, Gondolas, and TU Hogwarts

On Thursday night, Beth, Jimmy, Laura and I left the apartments around 8pm to make our way to Tiburtina train station. We got there really early, so we got some beers before boarding our 10:30 train. We would be on the train for about six hours, so we had hoped it would be like the Hogwarts Express -- spacious, and comfortable with a tiny old Italian women pushing a snack cart down the corridor. Sadly, that was wishful thinking. Our car sat six people, so we were in there with two strangers. They were perfectly nice, but it still was not ideal. We all just tried to get as much sleep as possible, but even that was difficult. Towards the end of the ride, we all woke up and, much to the chagrin of our remaining cabin-mate i'm sure, began assigning Harry Potter characters to people at Temple Rome. Our personal magical story stars Beth as Harry Potter, Jimmy as Ron Weasley, me as Hermione Granger, Laura as Ginny Weasley, and Jess as Luna Lovegood. This metaphor kept up all weekend, as we made Beth take a picture next to a broom and picked out a Venetian building that looked just like Gringotts.

When we pulled into Venice's San Luisa station around 5:30 am, we were all ready to get off the train. The map we had made it seem like finding our hotel would be fairly easy. Again, wishful thinking, because it turns out that Venice is hands down the hardest city to navigate. So, instead of finding our hotel, we wondered around the sleeping city. Everything was quite and the only people awake were store owners and laborers preparing for the day. It was peaceful and completely beautiful. Slowly, the city began to awaken. The sun came up, commuter buses rolled in, and older Venetians opened their shutters to look out on the canals.

Since we had been on a train all night and walking around the empty city all morning, we had long been in search of food. We decided on a small bakery called Majer. It was adorable. We got coffee, cornetti, and apple dumplings -- perfetto! Then, we continued to search for our hotel. Eventually, with the help of a lovely Tobacchi owner, we found it. And after finagling a little, we were able to get into our room early. Only it wasn't a room -- it was two floored apartment with a TV, full kitchen and microwave! It was our own adorable little cabin. So, we all crashed and slept for the next few hours.

We woke up in the afternoon, ready to explore Venice some more. Here are some things you should know about Venice. Venice is famous because its comprised of several islands connected by canals, but you knew that already. The city is also famous for blown glass, lace, and Carnival. Carnival is the Venetian celebration of Mardi Gras and traditionally, the festivities include masquerades, so Venice is lousy with mask shops. This was my favorite part of the trip because the masks are amazing! The simply ones just cover the eyes and have some sparkles and designs on them. The more elaborate ones include feathers, lace, gems, and head pieces. The really traditional ones have long comical noses. They were everywhere -- like I <3 NY t-shirts in Times Square. Every once in while, we would go in a shop and the proprietor would be hand painting or carving a mask. It was so cool!
(some Venetian masks, much less traditional, but really cool nonetheless)

After having lunch and watching some cute Venetian children play tag in the square, we headed to Piazza San Marco. It was kind of far from where we were staying, but we eventually made it. Naturally, on the way, we did some shopping.
Among other things, I bought a glass ring. When I came to Italy in high school with my sister, we went to Venice and I remember seeing a glass ring and really wanting it but not buying it for some reason. Well now I have one and I absolutely love it!

By the time we got to San Marco, it was dark, but the square was still alive. All the lights were on, so it was gorgeous. And, as if that weren't perfect enough, two orchestras were playing opposite each other for restaurant patrons and tourists. We got some gelato and enjoyed the evening.

After that, we strolled, got McDonalds (the only one in Venice) for dinner and made our back to the cabin. In the morning we said arrivederci to our quaint cottage and went out to look for breakfast. We'd intended to go to the same little bakery, but, thanks to confusing Venetian city planning, were unable to find it, so we went to an equally lovely
bar for cornetti and cappuccinos. After breakfast, which we finished around 12, we began the search for (1) a couple museums we had picked our first day that looked interesting, and (2) a paperstore from which Jimmy was intent on buying a bookmark for his mom. By 4ish, we had given up on the museums and had just found the bookmark store. Somewhere in there, we had lunch at a tiny trattoria. It was super cute and the food was delicious. I had chicken in a sage sauce. YUM!

We also took a gondola ride. It was beautiful and relaxing, basically everything one would want a gondola ride to be. By around 4, we were back in San Marco and getting a little tired and cold. Our train wasn't until 11:30, so we had lots of time to kill. After sitting in the Piazza for a while and enjoying the views and some coffee, Beth suggested that we see if there was a movie theater in the vicinity. We would be able to sit in warmth and kill a couple hours. Of course, those are two more reasons than I ever need to go to the movies, so I agreed, and finding a Venetian movie theater became Beth and my obsession. Not even having to ask six different people, who gave us six different answers, deterred us. Eventually, hours later, we found the theater. It was only playing two movies -- Mangia, Prega, Ama (Eat Prey Love) and La Passione (an Italian movie). Neither was playing at a time that would allow us to get back the station in time for our train, so we ended up just going to a movie-themed pizzeria across the street. It was pretty cool, they had a wide range of movie posters, from obscure Italian cinema to Donnie Darko to Tarantino. From dinner, we made our way back to the train station, stopping for snacks and gelato on the way. This time, we shared a cabin with a German kid (at least we think he was German) and an older Indian man. Again, we tried to sleep.

We got back to Rome around 7am. From the train station, Jimmy, Beth, and I went straight to the Sunday flea market at Porta Portese. It was awesome! There were rows of stands as far as the eye could see. I bought a bomber jacket, batteries, and two scarves all for a sensible 17 Euros. Beth even got a chance to haggle and got a euro off her hat. I was so proud. The flea market was followed by a coma-like sleep and homework.

Awesome, awesome weekend...

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