This was a crucial and somewhat daunting leg of the trip. We made reservations for the night train to Venice when we arrived in Paris. Reservations are a good idea when there is only one train and you MUST be on it. It’s 700 miles from Paris to Venice and train ride is roughly 14 hours. By taking the night train we combined travel and hotel into one evening.
When we made our reservations all of the private sleepers were full so we settled for a 4 berth sleeper. This meant we would be sharing with 1-2 strangers. We did try to buy the whole car to ourselves but it was already booked. We just hoped for the best.
We boarded the train and found our berth. In our cabin there was a man who we learned was traveling to Venice from Nigeria on business. He seemed nice enough but my mind did flash to those scam e-mails we have all seen in our inbox and I was dubious about his claims to be in the auto-repair business. I have also heard many stories about theft on the train so my guard was up. The conductor comes by and asks for our passports and informs us that they will be returned to us in the morning when we arrive in Venice. This bothers me but I expected it from our research.
The sleeper cars can be configured for sitting or sleeping. About an hour into the trip we dropped the beds and prepared to settle in for the night.
Passengers are provided with a pillow, a sheet and a blanket. The mattress is permanently affixed to the bunk and is moderately clean. My mind shudders when I think of those that have slept here before. I try to clear my mind and not think about it too hard. My money and credit cards are stashed in a leg belt (like a money belt but attaches to your calf) and tuck my camera between me and the wall.
Cynthia fell asleep pretty readily and I drifted into fitful slumber. My dreams were peppered with every WWII movie train scene I could think of and at 4 am we were awakened by the sound of knocking on our cabin door.
” ‘Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door,
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door.
This it is, and nothing more.”
It was a man dressed in what I could only presume was an Italian military uniform. We were stopped at some deserted train station and it was raining. We let him in and he began questioning our Nigerian traveling companion and searching his baggage and person. This went on for about 30 minutes and I was relieved when he left without questioning or searching our belongings. Not that we had anything to hide…I just didn’t relish the thought of trying to re-pack those backpacks. We went back to sleep as the train pulled out of the station.
We arrived Venezia Mestre station on the mainland around 8:00 am and caught the connecting train to the Venezia Santa Lucia station in the city itself. From there we walked to the vaporetto stand. A vaporetto is a water bus. There are no cars in Venice. All traffic is by foot or boat. We rode the vaporatto to the stop near our bed and breakfast. Our hosts had e-mailed very clear instructions so we hiked over 3 bridges and turned left to find our accommodations. Once we had checked in we set off on foot to explore.
Venice is truly amazing. We were a short walk from the Ponte de Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs) so we made our way there. Antonio Contino’s bridge over the Rio di Palazzo was erected in the year 1600 to connect the Doge’s prisons, or Prigioni, with the inquisitor’s rooms in the main palace. The name “Bridge of Sighs” was invented in the 19th Century, when Lord Byron helped to popularize the belief that the bridge’s name was inspired by the sighs of condemned prisoners as they were led through it to the executioner.
We got some nice pictures and walked on toward St. Mark’s Basilica.
The first patron saint of Venice was St.Teodoro. In 828 St.Mark the Evangelist substituted him when two merchants smuggled his mortal remains back from Alessandria (Egypt). St.Mark’s remains were initially buried in a chapel in the Doge’s Palace but later a church was built that was to be his perpetual resting place.
This is where the picture of my grandfather was taken in 1919. The square was full of pigeons and tourists. Still, a magnificent structure and it was something to behold.
We found a place to get some lunch and we took it pretty easy. The whole idea behind going to Venice in the first place was to relax after Paris and before plunging into Florence and Rome. The first day was spent taking it very easy and we took the evening to wander St. Mark’s Square and I got some nice night shots. We were assured by our hosts that Venice was completely safe from violent crime. Sure, there were pickpockets and scams…but no violent crime.
The next day we did some serious exploring. As we walked ever deeper into the residential areas we fell in love with Venice. Every time we rounded a corner we saw a scene more idyllic than the last.
I especially liked how everything was done with boats. Flower boats, fresh produce boats, ambulance boats and so forth.
We wandered deep into the residential areas and we stumbled upon the gondola repair shop and also a wonderful restaurant tucked away in pleasant area. Inside were a few occupied tables, one of which was filled with chatty gondoliers. I said to Cynthia “It’s like a truck stop, you know the food is good if the gondoliers eat here!” I don’t know if that is true or not, but this restaurant was fantastic!
I am a convert! It’s the best appetizer EVER!
We continued walking after lunch and got so lost that even the Italian postman could not show us our location on the map we had. No worries, it’s an island and you can only go so far.
Eventually we found our way back to the B&B and then had dinner. I wanted to go out that evening and get some more night shots but it began to rain around 10:00 pm so I stayed in and rested.
It was with a heavy heart that we prepared to leave Venice. We really did fall in love with the place and the people. We considered restructuring but decided against it.
We caught the vaporatto back to the train station and bid a fond farewell to this magical place vowing to return some day…
Next stop – Firenze! (Florence)