Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Northern Italy, Pt. 2: Verona, Venice, and beyond

Readers:  This brief European visiting spree from a couple weeks ago was a mini-continuation of our family’s vacation in Spain, our trip that got cut short a few weeks earlier.  Stay tuned for our family’s Madrid travelogue from September, coming soon!

…Continued from last week’s Northern Italy: Confrontation in First Class (link), and written on the return train from Verona and also in my Venice hostel:

Planes, trains, automobiles, and boats.  Dabbling in nearly every conventional mode of motorized transportation was the only way to reach my first stop: Verona, Italy.

It felt like I had already been gone for days.  In reality, quick visits to friends in Edinburg, Leon, and Rome were sadly cut from the itinerary prior to my seatmate’s drunken scuffle with airline crews on the taxiway in New York.  It was a bummer to waste two whole travel days when Kathy and Lena were already on their way out of town… we USUALLY travel together as a family.  My goal was for us all to return home at roughly the same time, so the clock was ticking.

My Venice flight’s emergency return to the gate in JFK had delayed my arrival in Verona even longer.  Once the onboard hubbub died down, most of my comfy flight time was spent reading and studying. [11/6/13: Also see the comment section from last week’s post].  I should have been sleeping.


After 20+ hours of driving, flying, and layovers, I hit the ground in Venice.  A ticket lady at Venice's Marco Polo airport directed me to a boat that would supposedly connect with my train to Verona.  I should’ve known there was an easier way.

The boat driver was in no hurry.  Now I’m not saying that he was slow, but at one point I seriously considered diving into the canal and swimming ahead to shave off some time.

Turns out the entire boat ride in Venice was both unnecessary and uncalled for.  The Italian woman at the ticket booth heard my request for “Verona” and must have translated it to “Murano.”   That’s right, Italian auto-correct in action.  She sold me an expensive ticket for a water taxi (no destination printed) that I caught at the docks, thinking that it would take me from the Venice airport to the train station.  Nope!

I switched boats.  A nautical hour later, our boat eventually floated into one of the narrow canals and docked next to a waterfront café.  The amazing race was on:  find the train station, and then catch a fast train to Verona.  I wouldn’t be racing untethered, though…

Euji from the boat christened me as her personal tour guide to untangle the confusing walkways of Venice.  My expertise must have been determined by me stepping onto dry land a whole five seconds before she did, right?  I didn’t have the heart to keep explaining to Euji about the American phrase, “the blind leading the blind.”

After hurriedly helping my enthusiastic Japanese friend locate a couple of tourist sites, I ran to the Venice station to hop a westbound fast train.  My friend staying near Verona was patiently waiting, although we had already scaled back our plans due to my late arrival in northern Italy.  A weekend of hiking, sightseeing, and whatnot was reduced to whatever we could squeeze into an afternoon and evening.

Carli, the WWOOF farmer, arrived about the same time as I did to meet me at the Verona Porta Nuova train station.

Sharp readers may remember Maggie's sister Carli and other friends from this trip being mentioned in previous posts.  Maggie's still awesome as always, and her and Carli are the the two sisters who signed up with Worldwide Workers on Organic Farms a couple years ago to WWOOF their way through Italy.

Maggie stayed in the U.S. this year as Carli returned to Italy in April for more exploring and farming, spending the bulk of her current stay working in and above the majestic Arpisson Valley.  Some earlier missteps this year tragically prevented me from visiting that beautiful countryside near Cogne.   But it was certainly worth the side trip to Verona yesterday to include her in my latest Italy visiting spree.  Maggie and Carli write about their adventures here, and a widget for their blog can also be found on my “Garth’s Blog” sidebar.

Being first time visitors in town, neither of us could tell apart Verona from Khumbu, Nepal.  We discovered that fans of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” would find much to appreciate in the historic center, as well as ancient Roman and Gothic architecture buffs.  Some of the monuments and structures that we walked past dated back to the first century A.D., like the Arena di Verona coliseum.  Checking out the walking trails at nearby Lake Garda may have been a more fitting activity than urban sightseeing, though.

The friendly locals were brimming with that famous Italian hospitality of the region.  A helpful café owner even loaned us an umbrella for a few hours to fend off the rain as we explored the town.  And we weren’t even his customers!

Refreshing afternoon gelatos, antipasto, tasty pizza, and a calzone (the only actual meal I’ve had so far) took the edge off our hunger for the walk back to the train station.  If only I had remembered to grab the leftovers!  By the time I retrieved my backpack from the luggage locker, the last slow train to Venice was only a few minutes away from nearing the station.

Back in Venice, a boat picked me up in front of the train station, cruised through the city’s canals in the dark, and dropped me off at the Generator Hostel Venice around 1:30 a.m.  I’d need to rest up for joining my friend Chris in the morning near his campsite, and also for hooking up with the gang from the Tuscany region later on.

My exhausting, mostly sleepless string of travel hours should have sent me immediately into bunk bed hibernation.  But a rambunctious party in the common lounge downstairs tempted me with a more enticing option.  Bout in Venice, first round:  Much needed sleep vs. bonus fun with fellow backpackers.  Anyone who knows me can definitely guess which choice won out!

One of these days, I’ll learn.


It remains to be seen if this trip will live up to the “beyond” section of this post title, as planned.  It all depends on my meager budget, time, and how close my other friends in Italy are at the moment.

But one thing’s for sure:  I can’t wait to get home to Kathy and Lena soon.  Unlike our family trip to Spain last month, our time off work and out-of-town schedules didn’t line up this time.  I’ll be hurrying home shortly, anxious to whisk them away to somewhere else across the globe!

11/6/13: Rather than further delaying this two-week old post to find free time for updating, I added the intro/pics today and pretty much published it as is. And now that I’m back in the States, I’ll consider adding a fourth wrap-up post (no promises!) to Part 3 about my less than smooth exit from Italy.

11/10/13: Part 3: Reunions in Venice was posted yesterday, but it has been removed indefinitely.  I'll replace that post with another post that I wrote here in Noordwijk, Netherlands.

And to all of you amazing friends still in Italy whom I had to bail on AGAIN… Nick, Ben, Jeremiah, Houtan, Eric, Gerardo, and pretty much everyone I know down south… we’ll have our day in the Italian sun some other time!

Coming this weekend on Garth’s Blog…

Reunions in Venice!

(11/10/13 Post removed)

And then…

Cold water surfing in Oregon with the fam!

And later this month…

Madrid, Spain:  Lena goes from nationwide to worldwide!

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