The Final Countdown: Europe, North America travel blog

Leaving Lucerne, sunrise in Switzerland

Probably the only good thing about getting up so early, terrific sunrise

Lugano, near the Swiss-Italian border

Lugano, near the Swiss-Italian border

Lugano, near the Swiss-Italian border

Lugano, near the Swiss-Italian border

Lugano, near the Swiss-Italian border

We saw a lot of these solar set ups on the tour....

Verona, Italty, the "home" of Romeo and Juliet.

Hundreds of tourists each day visit Juliet's house. So many people came...

... that the townsfolk built one for them to visit. No one...

Statue of Juliet in the garden below the balcony, touch her boob...

You are not allowed to write on the walls, so inventive tourists...

Street performers in Verona, the hand holding the pole is not real!...

Verona main square

The Arena at Verona

On the road to Venice

Crossing the long bridge to Venice, at sunset

The Grand Canal at night

The narrow streets of Venice

Rialto, Venice

Venice by night

At St Mark's Square

St Mark's Square

St Mark's Square, dinner by candlelight, alfresco

Live music with your meal at St Mark's Square

Sailing towards St Mark's Square, Venice

Sailing towards St Mark's Square, Venice

Sailing towards St Mark's Square, Venice

Approaching St Mark's Square, Venice

The taxi that took us to St Mark's Square

Hoardes of people on the wharf near St Mark's, and this is...

At St Mark's Square

St Mark's Square

St Mark's Square

Venice

Venice gondola ride

Venice gondola ride

Venice gondola ride

Venice gondola ride

Venice gondola ride

with Julie, Sophie and Glen

Venice gondola ride

Venice gondola ride

Venice gondola ride

Cynthea's mother's favourite opera

Venice Rialto

from Rialto

from Rialto

from Rialto

Venice has it's own leaning tower

Venice

Venice

Venice

Movie Clips - Playback Requirements - Problems?

(MP4 - 4.43 MB)

Venice gondola

(MP4 - 3.86 MB)

St Mark's Square


Link to photos (Verona and Venice), copy and paste:

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Thursday 20th September

Day 5 Lucerne – Venice 540km

There does not seem to be anything other than an early start on this trip. We are usually up between 6 and 6.30am to be away by 7.30am, sometimes earlier. The cloud from yesterday has lifted and we get some wonderful views of the mountains, at least we do when we are not going through a tunnel! There are lots of them, the longest was 17km – try to hold your breath in that one!

Our last stop in Switzerland is Lugano, a very rich town sporting more banks than supermarkets. It is a pretty place, and we sit outside for a coffee before heading off for a walk. Unlike Basel and Lucerne the shops here are happy to accept Euros and will give change in Euros as well. Most goods are dual priced with Euros and Swiss Francs. Tony is rather annoyed that the CHF10 note he had to spend at the coffee shop is safely tucked away in his jeans pocket, locked in a back pack somewhere deep inside the coach! Bugger. It won’t be worth changing that at the currency exchange by the time they take a whack of commission.

After a walk along the lake front in beautiful weather, we leave for Italy. First up is a pit stop for lunch, and we prepare ourselves for the usual tourist trap prices. We are pleasantly surprised at the prices, they are much cheaper than we expected. The toilets are even free to use. The only bug bear is the system used to buy anything at the shop. If you want a sandwich or coffee you first line up and tell the cashier what you want, pay for it and get a ticket, and then take the ticket to the next person at the counter who will get you your drink or food. Some are lucky and find that some food like a sandwich, is already made, then they can get that straight away before going to line up for their coffee. Sigh, it really is that complicated.

Mid afternoon we stop in Verona, Italty, the "home" of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Hundreds of tourists visit each day, mostly to see “Casa di Giulietta”, Juliet's house, and these streets are certainly very busy. So many people came to the city asking to see it that the townsfolk built one for them to visit, wasn’t that nice of them? No one seems to realise that it is all fake, or perhaps they don't care? There is even a “Posta di Giulietta”, we figure it is so you can send your own love letter to her.

There is a statue of Juliet in the garden below the balcony, touch her boob to be lucky in love. Tony gave Digby a “helping hand”. There have been so many eager to be lucky in love that the breast is polished to a brilliant shine.

You are not allowed to write on the walls here, so inventive tourists stick gum to the wall, and write love notes on that instead! (yuk).

We see street performers near the main square, the hand holding the pole is not real! Their clothing hides the supporting poles and seats.

The roads in Italy are a bit rough, unless you are on a toll road, and there are a lot of those. Our hotel is the All Seasons, Marghera, on the mainland. It is brand new, and very nice. We even have a king size bed. No tea and coffee facilities, so it looks like that will be par for the course for the trip.

There is a tour and meal option to Venice, but we decided the EUR65 each will be better spent elsewhere, and explore on our own. Our tour guide directs us to reception for local information, and heads away. We find this happens a lot, that those not participating in optional activities are left to their own devises, with little, or no, assistance. Fair enough that those taking the options have paid top Euro and the focus should be on them, but we are all on the same tour and this makes us feel a bit like a poor relation. We feel a little time could have been spent with those staying back and it is no surprise when we find that others feel the same way.

At reception we are given a map and told where the bus stop is. Those going on the optional tour are in reception, and Tony hints that it would be good if we could get a ride into Venice, but is told they are not going into the city. Hmmm, the trip included a dinner in Venice, and a visit to St Mark’s Square. Perhaps the tour leader thought that those paying to go on the optional would be upset at a few freeloaders hitching a ride.

Seven others are going it alone into Venice as well, so we all go together. We have to buy our tickets before we board the bus, so we need to get to the tobacconist before they close. There we get a ticket that is loaded with the number of trips needed for each person, EUR1.30 per trip. This is as bad as the bloody truckstop cafes, line up to buy a ticket for what you want, and get it from another counter. We just miss the bus, but they are every twenty minutes until midnight, a good service. The sun is setting as we catch the bus, it makes for a lovely sight. It takes about twenty minutes to get to Venice, man that is a long bridge across the water.

It is about EUR7 for the vaporetto, a water bus, so we decide to walk to St Mark’s Square, it will take us about 45 minutes as long as we don’t get lost. It is fairly well signposted, it needs to be as it is a bit of a maze and there are several ways to get there, and the maps we have are not particularly easy to read at night. We take photos on the way to use as markers to find our way back. The streets are narrow, well lit, and although there are no great crowds, there are a lot of people about. The streets are very clean and tidy, not at all what Tony expected. Even the canals are not too bad, although from time to time we do get a whiff of something unpleasant.

We split up at St Mark’s Square, arranging to meet back there at 10.15 to walk back to the bus station together. Cynthea had spotted a seafood restaurant on the way in, so we head there with Minerva, Mario, Ela and Lydia. The prices don’t seem too bad, so we get a table. There is only seafood on the menu, but they will do something else for Tony. So our first meal in Italy was a seafood platter for Cynthea, and spaghetti bolognaise for Tony! Lydia is from Malaysia, and we laugh as she has a supply of very hot chilli sauce to spice up every meal.

It is a bit of a hike back to the square, so Tony is nominated to go and meet up with Nins, Shakira and Josh. He is there early and so does another circuit of the area. There are live bands playing dance music (old peoples’ music) for the diners at the many tables set outside. There is time for a few more photos, and he is back at the meeting point just as the others turn up.

As we leave the square we meet the tour group, they have had a great night and are visiting St Mark’s before catching the bus back to the hotel. The invitation to join them on the bus back was not forthcoming, despite a few in the group suggesting we should join them for the final part of the evening.

We walk back to the where the others are waiting, but our clever idea of using shops as route markers is foiled where the “marker” shops we photographed have closed for the night and roller doors obscure the windows. We arrive at the bus station just in time to catch the bus, and arrive at our hotel as the rest of the tour group turns up. It is near midnight, but we tell the bar staff it is Laurie’s birthday and they keep the bar open a bit longer for a couple of beers.

Friday 21st September

Day 6 Venice

Breakfast is basic, cereals, fruit and yoghurt, meat and cheeses, and a lot of pastries, cakes and sweet stuff. Ciro drives us to the port where a boat takes us to St Marks Square. Everyone is given a run down of where the cheaper meals are (basically avoid the Square and streets immediately off it). There is an optional tour of a gondola ride for EUR40 each. Gondolas start at around EUR 80 each and you can try and drive a bargain, but Mariella said that is a basic ride and to have someone sing is a lot more, if you can find them. We opt for the tour for the sake of simplicity, costs about $125 for the two of us, sharing the gondola with four others. In all we have five gondolas booked, and they gather in a circle while we are serenaded, it is really wonderful, especially when we leave the open area and go into the canals themselves. The tour lasts about 45 minutes, with live music most of the way. Mariella had been trying to teach us the words to Voltare (in Italian), but we were all quiet while this was being sung. Sheer magic, and tears in many eyes it was all so beautiful. Others that tried to do the gondola thing on their own did not have anywhere near as good an experience as us, so that was a real shame.

We regrouped near the Square and were taken to a Murano glass blowing demonstration, followed by the obligatory sales pitch during which they warned that the so called Murano glass on sale in other shops was not the real deal. One or two scoffed at that claim, but we had heard from other sources that it was far better to buy from the source direct to be certain, but even then it was very, very expensive.

There was another optional tour to the lace making area and the lagoon (EUR33 ea), but we decided to spend it in Venice, and we would explore the area alone. We did wonder if we could fill in six hours on a hot sunny day, and started with a quick visit to the Rialto Bridge where it was very crowded. We didn’t stick around too long, and soon found a near deserted square where we had a picnic lunch on the steps of a disused fountain. Then we wandered off in the direction of the university area, where off the main drag we found the shops completely different, food and drink much cheaper, overall a completely different feel to the place. We did get a little disorientated in the maze, the map was not particularly useful at times because the streets and alleyways were not all named, and in any case the streets themselves did not always show a name either! Generally we got by with a good guess, based on the name of the canal we just crossed, and hoped our sense of direction to turn left or right was working. It added to the fun of it all, and there was always someone else looking just as lost as us.

We got back to St Mark’s in plenty of time, and headed off to the meeting point for the boat. There was still plenty of time, so we wandered off down an alleyway and found a pub serving cheap coffee. On the way back to the meeting point we see a crowd of Moroccans selling fake handbags heading our way. The police have had a round up and are chasing them away from the docks as the day is nearly over and the tourists are coming back to catch their boats, as we were doing. At least the hawkers left us alone this time. The bags look good, until you give close inspection. We meet Jo who is showing Glen the way to a shop that sells cheap beer and wine. We get a nice bottle of red for EUR5 and two cans of Heineken for EUR2.50, bargain!

We are all feeling tired after another long day, but we have a dinner at the hotel tonight, included as part of the tour. We are told the staff will not serve until everyone is seated, and they stick to that even though some are nearly 20 minutes late. We are seated in a separate part of the restaurant, but there is a wonderful buffet there, and our hopes are up. However we are offered what can only be described as a joke, a starter of pasta and tomato sauce, mains is a small serving of two slices of veal with a smattering of gravy and some cubed potatoes. Desert is fresh fruit that is not quite ripe. The standard of included meals so far is very poor, and it doesn’t help when we see that our tour guide and driver are in the other part of the restaurant eating steak meals with wine.

Chris decides it is time for a room party but they are not quite ready to head up from the bar, so Tony says to call him. About an hour later he gets the call, and is told not to waste any time getting there, there is wine to be had and Tony has the corkscrew on his Swiss army knife. Jo, Nicola and Liam are also there for the session, ending around 1am.



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