Posts Tagged With: Travelling is expensive

Day 44: Rest day two in Venice

So we spent the reminder of the first rest day lazing around the villa and then went down to the restaurant for dinner, the food was great. We had an antipasto platter with fresh sardines and prawns etc plus two bowls of really small snails…. I tried them, I didn’t like them.

Snails . . .

For the main, five of us ordered a fish parcel. We had had white wine with the first course but we decided to change to red for the main. We explained this to the waitress and she disagreed with us as we were having fish, and she wanted us to have white. So we explained that this was what we wanted, all good we thought, as she nods and goes off. Then she came back and plonks the white wine on the table and says “White for fish”. We again say “No, no, we want red”. She shakes her head and says as she is walking off “White …..fish!”.

Me and my fish parcel

Earlier in the day John had asked at the villa we are staying at for ice-cream, there were three 3 choices – chocolate, vanilla and limoncello, so he asked or a scoop of all 3. “No, no”, he was told, “No limoncello with vanilla!”.

We received an email from another rider – who was leaving the tour in Venice and who had stayed an additional night in Venice – to say that the hotel reception had contacted her as I had left earrings and a necklace in my room, and another rider Brett had left his glasses in his room. We emailed another rider, Gen, who had stayed another night at the hotel in Lido but was moving into Venice the next day and arranged we would meet her the next day.

Lido is an island and it’s a 30 minute ferry ride each way. As Italy is currently in a heat wave, we decided to head into Venice early. The villa we were staying at is about a 40 minute bus ride and then a 15 min walk each way. Originally we had talked about having dinner in Venice with Gen and her boyfriend – who had arrived that day to join her. However the logistics of getting back to Mira and with an early start the next day, we decided against it.

So we got up early and got on the bus. We got into Venice and had a bit of a look around, lots of tiny windy streets, and canals, old buildings, churches, gondolas (water boats), shops selling masks, and murano glass (used to be called Venetian glass). As we had left early Gen had not yet replied to her email, and of course we needed Wifi to be able to email her. We wandered around for awhile looking for an Internet cafe but no luck. At one point we were standing by a sign that said “Mcdonalds – 5 minutes away”. As you probably know Mcdonalds has free Wifi. We then saw it was five min by boat (which would be 7 euro each way so we decided against it). Venice is the most expensive city so far.

We wandered up to St Marks Square and had a look at the shops. We saw a man sitting in a cafe using an iPad so went in to see, and there was free Wifi for 30 min if you were a customer . So two beers, two sandwiches, and 50 euro later, we had checked my Wifi and had an email from Gen to say what hotel they were at – the Rialto Hotel by the Rialto bridge. So we figured we would go there and find her so off we set with the map.

Well. Venice – as I said earlier – has lots of tiny winding streets, canals and a mask shop and a murano glass shop on every corner. Plus it was so hot and full of people! There are apparently 20 million tourists a year to Venice, I reckon a good proportion of them were here today.

I also went to a post office to get a box to mail some stuff home, I waited in line, got to the top of the line and was able to buy the box, but was told I couldn’t post it because they were shutting – I had not clicked about the siesta at this stage.

Anyway, we got lost. When you google the top 10 things to do in Venice, “Get lost” is number 1, so tick that off the list. At one stage things were looking familiar and we thought we were on the right track but probably it was just because there were lots of mask shops, canals and glass shops, as just when we thought we should be just about there we came out to the arsenale (old navy base) and when we looked at the map
1. We were on the other side of the island from where we wanted to be
2. We had been nowhere near here before!

So we decided to back track to St Marks Square where we last knew for sure where we were, and start from there. So to cut a long story short we eventually found the Rialto hotel which was right by the Rialto Bridge (which for some reason in my mind I had got confused with another bridge so I sent Kelly photos first of all saying “photos of the Rialto bridge”, then “No, scrap that, it is not the rialto bridge”, then “Yes, hang on, it is”. I don’t know how she puts up with me).

Anyway. We got to the hotel and Gen came down but Tyson was asleep so we did not get to meet him, but Gen did take us up to the balcony of her hotel to see the view. Would you believe it, from there we looked down and saw the same ruddy sign “5 minutes to Mcdonalds” that we had been at three and a half hours earlier!! One can only laugh and appreciate that we probably saw more of Venice than we otherwise would have.

While we were there Gen told us a very funny story. She had done the bike ride with her dad, Rob, and so unsurprisingly they have the surname. Rob was leaving Venice the same day as us to go to Florence for a couple of days and then home. Tyson, Gen’s boyfriend, was arriving the same day that Rob was leaving. Tyson had been sending emails to Gen at the hotel which she was not getting. “Hmm … frustrating and strange”, she thought, however she was managing to get hold of him via her email enough to organize stuff so just put it down to one of the frustrations of travel.

Well it all came to a head when 30 minutes after her dad left she came downstairs and asked at reception if she was going to be able to change to the double room that she had requested. When she was told no, she asked if she could have the beds pushed together and clean sheets. Well to cut another long story short, the receptionist had thought Gen and her dad were married, and that Tyson was her lover!! The receptionist had been really conflicted and had sought advice from her boss about what she should do when receiving the messages from Tyson, and had decided she was not going to be involved, hence no passing on of messages or emails. However when Gen arrived at reception with Rob barely out the door wanting a double bed and sheets she decided enough was enough. Once they cleared it up they both had a good laugh.

One thing I did not do in Venice is go on a gondola ride. The price starts at 90 Euro, and given that I get motion sick I decided it would not be worth it. I saw lots of them, but only men gondolier (drivers). One gondolier also sung opera as he was going down the canal, it was very special to see and hear as he disappeared off through the bridges.

After wandering around a bit more we decided to head back to Mira to get ready for an early start the next day. We got lost again finding our way, we came to one place that we knew we had been at that morning but frustratingly could not remember which way we had been going when we were there. We stopped in a square to check the map and have a cold drink. We found we were surrounded by Irish, English, and Australians. The waiter gave us very simple directions “Go that way for 5 minutes”. So all was well, we found the bus.

As we had not told the hotel by 2pm that we would be there for dinner, we had to go elsewhere. The restaurant from the night before was shut on Sunday nights, but we had been told that the guys who had gone out to do laundry had seen a number of places in the village. Well they were all shut, and the Chinese restaurant that Geergo (tour guide) had seen by the bus stop was in fact a bar with two Chinese guys behind it, that only sold toasted sandwiches. So we had one of those and an ice-cream and laughed at the contrast from the night before.

Venice was more beautiful than I had ever imagined, and I will definitely return and spend some time here.

Categories: Cycling trip | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Day 26: Rest day two in Krakow

I stayed in bed until 8am and then I had enough of listening to the trams so I got up – although I had been dozing in between. I had breakfast and then walked over to the Old City and took a city tour. Unlike in the other three cities that I have done this, it was not in a bus. Instead they have these carts, that are a bit like golf carts, zipping around. Some have four seats, and some have up to ten seats.

I chose to do the tour of the Old City, the Jewish quarter and the Ghetto. It cost 370 złoty, which is about NZ$125. If there had been two of us it would have been $195, and even cheaper if there were three, but I was looking forward to spending most of the day by myself and figured it was worth it.

The driver was called Jan and spoke very little English but had a translation system that told me about the sights so we got on fine. Jan also helpfully wrote down the spelling of most of the sights for me after having seen some of my interesting interpretations of what was said and my mind’s creative attempt to spell them. He was nice enough not to roar with laughter, but he did have a wee smile as he went back to the beginning and worked his way through correcting them. After that he just automatically picked up my notebook and did it. The tour was meant to be one and half hours but was about two hours.

We started off in the Old City at the market square with:
Saint Mary’s Church – the main feature is that has an alter carved out of wood
Clothes stall hall, also in market square
Church San Wojciech
Church Saint Fransikin – not sure about the spelling of this one but Jan did not correct. (Editors note: It’s Franciscan)
Bishop Palace – the Pope stayed here every time he came to Krakow
St Andrews Church
Peter and Paul’s Saints church
Wavel castle
Kazimierz Skalka Church – also the site of the alter of the three millennia
Plus a fountain that was good for you to drink – the sign said it was full of minerals, it tasted like egg.

St Andrew’s Church (photo from Wikipedia)

We also saw various town squares (Krakow, town very close, Jewish quarter and Old ghetto).

Jewish quarter
I saw the birth place of Helena Rubinstein (famous for cosmetics, emigrated to Australia with two jars of ointment from her grandmother, which was enough to start her own business and she ended up a very wealthy woman). We also saw a number of synagogues.

Ghetto
Once again this was established in the war, it was in two parts: men and woman, children and elderly. There was one chemist (or Apteka as they are called here) who operated in the ghetto after the war, the chemist was given an award for his services (His name was Miasta Krakowa. I think that was his name anyway).

We stopped in the square where the selections were carried out and people sent to the ghettos. After the visit to Auschwitz yesterday, this had more affect on me that when we had stood in the ghetto line in Warsaw.  We also went to the Schindlers Factory – I am sure you have read the book or seen the movie. It’s amazing the difference one man can make. There were photos of a number of his employees that he saved.

Then it was back to the Old City town walls and the Krakow barbican built in 1498, the walls were 30 meters I think. There were 140 shooting holes and seven gates, the gates were closed at night. There was a person playing a bugle to warn the gates were closing and this would play again in the morning.

Krakow Barbican (photo from Wikipedia)

After I was dropped off I went and had a climb around inside it (people certainly were shorter in the 14 century) then headed back to the cafe in the mall for an apple pie for lunch and to update the blog. We are headed to the salt mines this afternoon, and we don’t get back from them until after 8pm, so I have already sorted out my bags.

Categories: Cycling trip | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Today started with good news and bad news

Good news: I found the (previously lost) instructions to make phone calls with the travel sim, so I can now do that
Bad news: The charger for phone has gone on holiday as well, and refuses to work.

Note to self: always bring two. I was confident that Igor would be able to help me find another, however it is disconcerting to not be able to find out the time, I spent the first 1/2 of the day twisting my neck at angles to see people’s wrist watches.

Today I set out to catch the Metro to town to go to the The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood and Russian Art Museum and then meet Igor at the palace square at 3.30. Well, much to my surprise, and anyone who knows me, I did so without a hitch 😉

The cathedral is amazing, all mosaic panels on the inside and spectacular on the outside. It was very badly damaged in the second world war, and work was only started to restore it in 1972, it was open to public in 1980 but the restoration it is still ongoing.

Church of the Saviour on Blood (photo from FanPop)

Next I went to the Russian Art Museum, it was full of Russian art work, there were paintings dating back to the 12th century, unbelievable. One artist Valentin Serov died when he was 46 but has 5 large rooms of his art in this museum, and that’s only what’s in the ownership of this museum.

At the museum, and every other attraction, in every room is a Russian women employed to ensure you do not touch any of the walls or art. They have a chair and sit all day watching you.

I met Igor at 3pm and we went to a phone shop and I got a charger. It cost NZ$200 but at least I will now have the time and a phone again.

After getting the phone we went to the Peter and Paul Fortress built in 1703 by Peter the Great. Amazing views from the top of the battlements and interesting to see some of the places I have visited from the other side of the river.

Peter and Paul Fortress (from In Your Pocket)

A few observations of the city:

The St Petersburg traffic of course is on the opposite side of the road as what I am used to so I have to be careful. I also have to be careful as although the speed is meant to be 40km through the city, the cars are going much faster. I certainly would not recommend trying to duck across the road in between traffic like we do at home.

Smoking is very common here and people smoke every where – the restaurants, in hotel lobbies, taxis, even the ambulance crews drive around smoking.

It’s funny the things you miss when you are in another country and often not what you would expect: I miss being able to drink tea at the hotel, there are no jugs in the room or tea making facilities. So by breakfast I hit the restaurant like an addict looking for a fix. The cups are tiny so I gulp down 3 to 4 before even thinking about eating. Today I saw people using the porridge bowls as cups so they can get a decent size cup.

The Metros are amazing, they were built just before the second world war. You go down a very deep escalator to get to them, and they go under the river. There are 5 lines and they run constantly every 3-5 mins in the busy period and I asked Igor how often they ran off peak – he said every 10 minutes, unbelievable.
Also unbelievable is that on the way down the escalator all the Russians stand in single file so that if people are in a rush they can get past with no problem (such a rush they can’t wait the couple of minutes to the next train?).   I had not appreciated this system at first but after being nearly bowled twice I quickly learnt. The ride is very cheap, the equivalence of 10c (the only cheap thing I have found in St Petersburg but more on that later). Also the teenagers stand up to let the old women sit down. No, not me, I said old.

The weather is about 18 to 19 degrees, but although the weather report said it would be fine when I checked it before I left, so far each day there has been a couple of hours of very heavy rain. Unfortunately due to the weight restrictions with my luggage, the only water jacket I have is my riding jacket, which is a vivid yellow reflective jacket, which happens to be the very same style and color as worn by the street cleaners. So if I get rubbish that needs seeping pointed out to me I will know why.

The average wage in St Petersburg is equivalent to 6000 euro a year but it is a very expensive city, you could easily go through that in a fortnight. I have managed to spend $1500 in 3 days (this includes a trip to Pushkin to the Amber room, the 8th wonder of the world on Thursday). To give you an idea, a hamburger and chips cost NZ $40 at the hotel! Luckily for the bank balance this rate of spending will cease when the bike trip starts.

Categories: Russia | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments