We left Munich behind and took an overnight sleeper train across the Alps, returning to Venice, a city we took a too-quick day trip to two years earlier. The night train. The “sleeper” car. Yeah. That was not like the movies. (Take a look at the video here, and here). Venice, though, was fantastic.
In the movies, trains are HUGE. There’s plenty of room in your stately cabin to luxuriate and watch the countryside roll by. You can sleep soundly, so long as someone doesn’t get murdered in your car or something. But the reality is so, so, so much more cramped and uncomfortable. We sprung for a higher end cabin (double sleeper), with a bathroom and shower, figuring we’d keep some privacy and shower up before leaving the train in the morning. When we were able to execute the complicated maneuvering it took to get our baggage stowed and get into our tiny bunks, I found that my head touched one wall, and my feet touched the window. I’m not that tall. And that window was cold. I imagined the night train would roll through the alps, rocking us to sleep, and allowing the occasional glance of passing villages. Instead, it stopped far more frequently than I’d have thought possible, in brightly lit and noisy train stations. It shook and jolted me awake almost every time I started to drift off. Not great for sleeping. It was an experience, and I’m glad we gave it a try. But it’s not on my list to rush out and do again.
The silver lining is that when we stepped, bleary-eyed and disheveled, off the train, we were back in Venice. We arrived on the last day of Carnival, so the city was packed with revelers. Venice is a small city, so a lot of people means it’s pretty jammed. Still, we got to our cute little hotel with ease, because dang that city is easy to navigate and I love it.
We strolled around the city, avoiding St. Mark’s Square, and visited the Gallerie dell’Accademia. We went specifically to see some Da Vinci, but alas, that exhibit was temporarily closed. The museum was quite nice in spite of that, and we spend a good deal of time checking out other art.
Having decided against it on our first visit, we decided this time would be a good opportunity to do the most touristy of touristy things. We took a trip in a gondola and you know what? It was actually pretty cool. I mean, yeah, it was cheesy, but it was pretty cool. Watching the gondolier maneuver the boats around corners and through tight spots, seeing the city from the river’s perspective, it was really something.
We ate at a very quaint restaurant called Ai Promessi Sposi which we found just by walking through some of the back alleys near our hotel. The food was simple, focused on pastas and seafood, but absolutely delicious. It served as a reminder that you can find a lot of interesting stuff if you walk away from the more touristy centers and main roads.
On the following day, we took the four hour Rialto food tour with Food Tours of Venice. We got to visit a lot of excellent places and try some amazing food. Our fantastic guide took us to the fish market, got us into a bunch of good eateries, and taught us some history of the city. We ate so much food it was crazy, and later that night we didn’t need a full dinner, just eating something from a little corner trattoria.
After our food tour, we checked out the Guggenheim museum, which was a location Peggy Guggenheim had actually lived at. I’ll admit, I don’t get Modern Art, but there was some cool stuff, and the building itself is gorgeous with a fantastic view of the Grand Canal. Once we’d finished there, we did one of my favorite things to do in Venice. We walked around. Crossing bridges, going down random alleys, getting lost without ever really getting lost. For someone like me, a city like Venice is a true treasure. I can’t quite put into words what it is I love so much about the warren of haphazard streets and passages, but it just feels right.
First thing the following morning, before the sun rose, while the workers were getting ready for their day along the Grand Canal, we walked to the train station and came up against one of those things you’ll face in travel. Our train had been canceled. We were supposed to take a train to Milan where we would have a couple hours before our train to Geneva. Unfortunately, our train had been canceled. OK. Well. The person at the desk then said a train was leaving in two minutes that would get us to the mainland (historic Venice is on the water, as everyone knows, but there’s a more modern part of the city that is on the mainland of Italy), where we could then find a new train to Milan. Huzzah! We hauled our butts through the train station and got aboard just in time. Due to the changes, including waiting around on at the next station for a new train to Milan, we didn’t get to spend any time exploring that city, instead hopping onto the next train to Geneva.
Having been to Italy twice, I can say that I really enjoy the country. The people have been lovely and the food is amazing. History oozes out of every corner and it’s a lot to take in. However, for a regimented fellow like myself, the kinda lackadaisical nature of Italy can be frustrating. Things that are supposed to be open are not open. Trains that are supposed to run do not run. You have to expect that things won’t work out quite as you’ve planned and have a back-up…or three. You’ve got to be able to roll with it, or you’re not going to have a good time.