Venice central station is very modern. Within minutes I'm asked if I need a room. There was a long line at the tourist office so I said "How much?". The woman answered 20,000 lire. I said where? She said "The Ghetto". I laughed. She was a very nice gal so I said "Sure". The Ghetto is a 5 minute walk from the train station. She runs a small hotel in a quiet neighborhood. My room is small and sparse. Facilities are down the hall. I always laugh when I say "The first night I spent in Venice was in the Ghetto. And it was 20,000 lire!". Then I look like I can't believe it?! But its a joke since 20,000 lire was $13.
I'm told a neat place to go is San Marco Square so I get on a boat tram (Venice rapid transit) at central station. The boat winds through the Central Canal and makes stops along the way. It was dark and I didn't have a clue where I was going. I miss the San Marco Square stop. The boat travels way out of Venice through the harbor to a final stop where I'm told to depart and get a return ticket. Boy was I glad I didn't miss the last boat back.
I get a ticket and the boat takes me to San Marco Square. At this point its getting late so I decide to have the boat take me back to central station. I would find out later this was a very wise decision. Venice is an easy city to get lost in...
I go to dinner at a small restaurant. It was really funny. The proprietor danced around as if he didn't have a care in the world. The chef sang and hummed continuously. The waitresses were exceptionally friendly. The house wine was fabulous. Everyone in the restaurant was amused.
My room at the hotel in the ghetto is small. Facilities are down the hall. But the place is fabulously quiet. I had a great night's sleep.
Grand Canal Hotel
The next day I saw some acquaintances I met on the train to Venice. They raved about the hotel they were staying at on the Central Canal. I decided to move. Big mistake! The room was bigger, nicer, and had its own facilities. But the surprise was trying to get to sleep with a room facing the Central Canal. Every 20 or so minutes you hear fog horns on vessels going by.
Note: Its very important to carry good earplugs when you travel.
San Marco Square
Today I buy a walking guide and set out on foot. I finally make it to San Marco Square. Saint Mark's Basilica is a magnificent church both inside and out. The Doge's Palace has spectacular paintings and a fascinating history.
After sight seeing most of the day I sit down at a cafe in the Square. Two Americans wave for me to join them. We have a great conversation and each of us has 1 drink. When the waiter delivers the bill its 68,000 lire. We are in shock!!! We point out what the menu says (24,000 lire) and the waiter shakes his head and walks away. Fifteen minutes later he returns with a bill of 48,000 lire. We give up and pay the bill. We wanted to leave half an hour ago.
I try to return to my hotel and get totally lost. It seems everything goes around in circles in Venice. Even with a map I am completely lost. There are no cars in Venice. All transportation is on water or on foot.
Its getting dark and I see a restaurant so I stop in. Not a word of English is spoken by anyone. The menu is in Italian. My waiter tries to recommend some selections and I say sure (nodding). It turns out to be the best Italian food I've had in my life!!! The name of this place is Vini da Gigio. As I'm leaving I point on the map where I need to go and am directed in the correct direction.
The next day I set out on foot again. I stop at the Accademia Museum which has fabulous historical art.
Later in the day I see a sign posted at a restaurant that says 12,000 lire for lunch including glass of wine. I ask the waiter about it and he says yes and waves me in. When I get the bill its 34,000 lire. I say "What's going on?". The waiter says "oh, oh, I was confused". He comes back with a bill for 24,000. I say "I don't understand". The waiter says "I gave you the good glass of wine. I figured you would want that". I said "The sign said 12,000". The waiter comes back with a bill for 20,000. I give up and give him 20,000.
Later that afternoon I stop in a bank to cash a $500 travelers check. The teller hands me 78,000 lire ($50). I say "What's going on?". The teller says "Oh, Oh, I was confused". The teller says "Nobody cashes $500 checks, they only cash $50's". The teller then corrects the error. I walk out of the bank thinking "Unbelievable!".
Note: Always calculate in your head what your exchange will be when cashing travelers checks.
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It seems quite a few Italians I've run into are confused.
Waiters, Bank Tellers, Street Vendors who under change you. The excuse is always the same - "Oh, Oh, Sorry, I was confused"...
After 3 nights in Venice I hop on a 6 hour train to Rome through rolling hills, tall thin pines, and vineyards. I'm sitting with 2 Americans and an Italian woman who has told us she is a gypsy. She is very nice and we ask her several questions on Rome. The others ask "How do you cross the street in Rome?". She says "Close your eyes. Say a prayer. And walk without hesitation". Only later do we learn she has given us an accurate answer.
The train arrives in Roma Termini at 4:05pm. I wait in line at the tourist office inside the station. When its my turn I ask "What is available for accommodations tonight?". A woman tells me there are no rooms available. I say "What???". She says all hotels and hostels are full. I can't believe it?!!! This is a big city. She tells me to move on for the next person in line. Every tourist office I've been to has been organized and helpful. I feel the Rome Tourist Office is the most disorganized office I've ever been to.
I start walking out of the station in complete disbelief. Before I get to the street three people ask if I need a room tonight. I ask them about the location and finally decide to go with one fella who has shown me a brochure. He's a fast walker and we walk for what seems like a mile. He keeps turning around, smiling, and waving for me to hurry up. I'm in full gear so I trail behind him.
We finally arrive at a small hotel in a quiet neighborhood. I shake his hand, he smiles, waves, and walks back toward the station.
Over the next 3 days I took in the sights:
The Colosseum One of the greatest wonders of Roman times
The Forum Spectacular Ruins of a great epoch
Spanish Steps A True Italian Experience
The Vatican St. Peters Basillica and the Pope
Navona Square Guitar players, artists, relaxed atmosphere
The Pantheon A glory of the eternal city
Trevi Fountain Throw a coin in and you will return to Rome
Villa Borghese A beautiful park
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To be continued...