Trip to Italy

Mike and Judy Henderson
September 16 to October 2, 2015

9/19/2015 Today brings us from Cremona to Mestre, a town on the mainland just across from Venice.

First, a word about trains.  The Italian train system is very convenient, with trains going to most towns, even small ones.  The train station is generally in the center of the city, or just on the edge of the "old" city so you can usually walk to any place of interest. The trains are fairly clean and seem to be quite safe.  I haven't felt insecure on any of the trains yet.

Fares are quite reasonable, but be aware that there are two types of trains: locals that stop at many small stations and "express" trains that only stop at major cities.  I think the express trains are called "EuroStar" but I'm not sure.

The difference in price is significant.  The short trip from Mestre to Padua on the express train was €30 per person, while the local train was €3.30, a nearly 10 to 1 difference.  A local train isn't practical for long distances, though.  Regular tickets can be purchased at any of the ticket machines, but if you're taking an express and qualify for the "senior" rate, you have to go to the ticket office to buy the ticket in person.  They don't ask for proof of age.  The agents all speak pretty good English and are very helpful. 

Be ready to schlep your own luggage, which can include up and down stairs.  You generally have to go down a set of stairs to a tunnel that runs under the tracks, and then up to the platform.  Some stations have elevators, generally the larger stations, but you can't depend on it.

Another point is that you will likely get a seat assignment on an express train. Be careful to  board the correct car and sit in that seat.  Otherwise you will have to move, luggage and all, as happened to us once.

And now back to our trip.

Traveling from Cremona to Mestre meant going north to Brescia and changing to the east/west line going to Venice/Mestre.  We started about noon and arrived at Mestre about 4:30, having a short wait for the train change. The Hotel Villa Costanza, was five blocks from the train station, and was a very nice hotel.

On their recommendation we ate at Restaurant Moro that evening, and had a lovely dinner.

9/20/2015 This morning (Sunday) we headed to Venice.  There are two ways to get to Venice from Mestre, bus or train.  The Hotel sold a one-day pass for the bus and the vaporettos (water taxis).  The bus ride was jam-packed.  The train might have been less crowded.

A very short walk leads from the end of the bus line at the west end of Venice to the vaporetto station. We took the Line 2 vaporetto to St. Marks Square.

This vaporetto picture was taken from the web - I didn't take a picture of one.  It could have been ours, however.

It was a bad day to be in Venice.  There were perhaps 7 or 8 cruise ships docked in Venice - they apparently start their cruises from Venice on a Sunday.  Doing some arithmetic, each cruise ship has about 2,500 passengers and many of those people are going to try to see Venice before they leave.  So if 2,000 from each ship are visiting Venice, there are an extra 12,000 to 14,000 people in Venice.  This is in addition to the visitors who are staying in Venice or Mestre, or who came by train just for the day.

It was wall-to-wall people, somewhat akin to Disneyland, which did not make for a pleasant visit. 

We got off at St. Mark's square and walked around a bit.

The Basilica di San Marco.

The museum in the upper section of the Basilica had these four beautiful bronze horses.

The view from a patio/ledge looking over St. Mark's Square.

A panoramic view from the top of the Basilica.

And a view toward the water.

This ancient clock on a building in St. Mark's Square has only one hand and is marked in 24 hours.

BUT, it is "modern" in that it has a digital display, here 1:10 in the afternoon. This must be a modern addition because it displays time in am and pm, while the clock face is 24 hours.  It was also about 10 minutes slow.

A view of one of the many canals in Venice.

And gondolas on a canal.

We had lunch at a small restaurant in Venice, on one of the canals, and then headed to the Venice Opera House, La Fenice.

La Fenice is hemmed in by other buildings, which I tried to show in this panoramic shot.  It's much bigger than it appears in this picture.

La Fenice burned three times, most recently in 1996 (arson).  The story of the rebuilding is told in the book "The City of Falling Angels" by John Berendt.  It's an interesting read.

Another vaporetto ride took us back to our point of origin, so we could see the Grand Canal.  Then we re-boarded and went to the quiet and peaceful island of San Giorgio, just across from St.Mark's square.  We stopped at a cafe and had a soda to relax. 

Shortly after we stopped there we were surprised to see a cruise ship heading out to sea.  Their enormous size dwarfed the channel of Venice.  Half an hour later, another cruise ship made the same trip.  We realized that the cruise ships were leaving and were scheduled a half hour apart.

 

It was time to take our last ride on the vaporetto and the bus to Mestre, and we found a restaurant near the hotel by the name of Da Luca.

9/21/2015  Having had enough of the crowds in Venice, we decided to go to Ravenna, which is south of Mestre about an hour by train.  We managed to make a very tight train connection in Ferrara.

Ravenna was a Byzantine city and has some wonderful examples of mosaic art.  After lunch at a local restaurant we went to the Basilica of San Vitale.

It's an unusual church, in the shape of an octagon instead of the cross shape of most western Christian churches.   This panoramic view shows the interior.  It's smaller than this pictures suggests.

 

The ceiling has an elaborate mosaic.

 

The city has carried the mosaic theme into their street signs.

We also visited the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, which has some very elaborate mosaics, the best known of which is the starry sky.

We also visited the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, the Baptistry of Neon, and the Archepiscopal Museum.  No pictures here, but you can follow the links if you're interested in learning more about them.

We had an adventurous return to Mestre.  Although we carefully checked the board in the train station, we got on the train which was headed away from Ferrara rather than toward it.  Thanks to Google Maps we caught our mistake right away and got off at the first station.  After a short wait we caught the next train back to Ravenna.  The next best connection took us to Bologna and then an express from Bologna to Mestre, arriving in Mestre about 10pm, just in time for a quick dinner at Restaurant Moro.  We enjoyed meeting two couples from the US there.

9/22/2015 After our all-day adventure in Ravenna yesterday, we decided to take it easy today.  We slept late then took a train to Padua.

We didn't do much in Padua, mostly just walked around and looked in the shops.  We had lunch at a small trattoria. Here I am at the restaurant.

We visited a Roman amphitheater and an arboretum, and then caught the train back to Mestre.  We had dinner at Restaurant Dante that evening.

9/23/2015 Today we traveled from Mestre to Milan.  Our train ride was comfortable and uneventful, but a rainstorm welcomed us to Milan, and it was fairly cool.  We got our coats out in the train station before walking to the hotel, which was only a block or two from the station.

The Hotel Berna turned out to be very nice (thanks, TripAdvisor).  Amenities and conveniences include: being near the Central Station, good Internet access, a very nice breakfast, good clean room (although the shower is a bit small), and a "Happy Hour" in the evening where they put out a spread of food - only requiring that you buy a drink. The front desk staff was very helpful in giving advice on getting around Milan, and sold subway tickets.

We had a late lunch at the restaurant next door, and later went to the Happy Hour where we enjoyed meeting a nice couple from Seattle.

9/24/2015  We had engaged Alice Salvagnin of Milan Private Tours to give us a tour of Milan this morning.  Here she is at one of the sites we visited.

We met her at the Duomo (Milan Cathedral) after a fairly short metro ride. Here's the Duomo in the morning.

We began the day with Alice by going to a coffee shop for a cappuccino where we talked about the sights of Milan and planned our tour.

Then we went to Panarello pastry shop which serves a special type of pastry known as "cannoncino" (I think that means small cannon). 

Judy and Alice in Panarello.

Next we went to the Basilica di San Maria presso San Satiro.  Here's a view looking toward the alter.

It looks like the altar (choir) is set back into a long "room", doesn't it?  But it's just a trompe-l'oeil.   The altar area only goes back less than a meter (90 cm).  It's just painted to look like it's set back, as you can see from this next picture.

This was one of the first trompe-l'oeil paintings in the history of art, and was created because when the chapel was built there was already a street right outside, and that is all the room they had. 

Next we went to the Cripta di San Giovanni in Conca. This was the site of a church that was destroyed and built several times through history.  In 1949 the church was destroyed for the last time, but the crypt area was preserved.  You can see some pictures of the crypt here.

Here's Alice and Judy descending the stairs to the crypt.

Alice then took us to Santuario di San Bernardino alle Osso.  The church is fairly ordinary, but there's a chapel attached which has walls of human skulls and bones.

These skulls of young children were probably victims of the plague, and the hope was to protect their souls.

Leaving this morbid site we returned to the Duomo and went inside.

The old baptistery in the Duomo.

One statue at the rear of the Duomo is of a man who has had his skin removed - or at least what the sculptor thought a man would look like with his skin removed.

We left the Duomo and headed to Castello Sforzesco.  We're at the entrance to the castle.

A panoramic view inside the castle.

One of the main claims to fame of the castle is that it houses the last Pieta of Michelangelo.  This Pieta was in Michelangelo's workshop when he died and is obviously not finished.

This was the end of the tour with Alice.  She sent us on our way with many suggestions for other sights in Milan. Alice had shown us quite a number of lesser known sights of Milan.

It was past lunch time so we went to a small cafe and had lunch.

Then we returned to the Duomo for an elevator ride to the top.  The elevator is on the left side of the building, as you face the building. 

Once on top, you walk around the left side and continue across the front and back on the other side, where you take the elevator down.

The Duomo is covered with statues, carvings and gargoyles, even way at the top where they are hardly visible from the ground.

A view from the top towards the piazza.

On the roof of the Duomo. The statue of the Virgin Mary is the highest point in the city. 

A view of the city from the roof of the Duomo.

Back down to the piazza and the front of the Duomo in the afternoon.

 

Our trip continues here