Travel Series: Manka goes to ItalyClever Manka, · Categories: Manka's Posts, Travel Series · Tags: travel
The Burgomaster and I went to Italy in the summer of 2007. This was my second trip to Italy, his first. I’m not a fan of travel. I’m a homebody, especially these days, but the trip was made immeasurably easier by 1) my parents footing most of the bill, and 2) a family friend who is Italian and lives in Milan–Sabina, a foreign exchange student who stayed with us my junior year of high school. She helped get us around Milan and our excursions to Lake Como and her husband made most of our arrangements for the Venice trip–bless them both.
When I got back from the trip, I put together a travelogue of sorts on Flickr which is now extremely difficult to navigate thanks to the new format. Because of Life, I only posted the first four days, so the last bit of our trip with Lake Como and surrounding areas isn’t documented with photos. Ten years later, I think it’s safe to say they never will be. Ah well, here are some of my favorite photos and entries that did get posted.
When I agreed to go on vacation with my parents, something I hadn’t done since our 1986 trip to Disney World (interestingly enough, Sabina was on that trip, too), I didn’t expect to be so busy. We literally hit the ground running when we landed in Milan and didn’t even drop off our luggage at the hotel before we were on our way to see the chapel complex that houses The Last Supper. I demanded a stop for espresso before we did any sightseeing, though. It was my first cup of real espresso since my first visit to Italy in 1987 when I’d gone home with Sabina for six weeks after she spent a school year living with us. It was delicious.
Our second day in Milan started with a shockingly delicious breakfast buffet at the hotel that offered (I’m not kidding) the best stewed prunes I’ve ever experienced in my life. My mother and I still talk about them. For our first full day, Sabina started us with a visit to Castello Sforzesco. It was a nice, gentle introduction to the marathon schedule we would run over the next several days. Most of the castello is in shade, and we stopped frequently for explanations by the tour guide.
We were charmed to learn that the castello is home to about 60 feral (or “free” as the promotional materials say) cats. A local pet food company keeps them fed, although I suspect a large portion of their diet (and keep) is keeping the vermin population down.
Next we hit the Galleria and the Duomo (my favorite building in the world), and then La Scalla.
The Galleria is a gorgeous feat of architecture–that glass ceiling!–but to be honest I couldn’t care less about the five-star hotel and the couture shops because seriously, eat the rich.
The Duomo, however, is my favorite building in the world and I can’t explain why. I’m not Catholic, I kind of despise organized religion, and I have no particular affinity for this sort of architecture. So I don’t know why I love it so much, I just do. When I experienced it for the first time at seventeen and was allowed to climb up to the roof (I really love heights), I completely fell in love. So here’s a few photos of it, all from the roof, which is breathtaking in every sense of the word.
La Scala’s museum is much more extensive than you might expect for a still-functioning opera house. I highly recommend you stop in, especially if you’re a fan of costuming. They have lots of artwork, sure, but the highlight for me was the rooms (entire rooms!) with loads of costumes from old productions.
After La Scala, it was time for A Fucking Break, so Sabina phoned her sister to meet us at a restaurant/bar in Sara’s neighborhood for a well-deserved meal.
We went to a neighborhood bar (which was beautiful) and ordered the happy hour buffet (which was also beautiful). The all-you-can-eat price included a variety of drinks (which, seeing as they were liquid, were also beautiful). We all ordered off the non-alcoholic menu because, whoa, exhausted and thirsty. Most of the drinks were these wonderful fruity things that looked delightful, but most of them had melon (which, at the time, I thought I was allergic to). I opted for a mojito, figuring the mint would be refreshing. Well, it came out and at first sip I thought I tasted vodka, but everyone assured me that we’d ordered off the no-booze side of the menu. Being parched, I slurped down about half my drink before I stood to go peruse the food.
When I stood up? Woo! Instant buzz. This was the first time I’d ever been even slightly under the influence while in my parents’ company. I was too tired (and thirsty) to care. I polished off the rest of my (waaaaay too minty) mojito in record time and spent the rest of the meal giggling into my food and trying to take photos. I did pretty well at the giggling. The photographs, not so much.
The next day we left Milan at way-too-early-thirty to catch our train to Venice. Luca, Sabina’s husband, made most of our travel arrangements for the Venice trip, and he did an amazing job. He booked us tickets on a lovely sightseeing ferry that gave a non-stop tour around the outside of Venice, and then took us to the island of Murano where we had our rooms. Staying on Murano was cheaper, quieter, and less touristy than staying in a hotel in Venice. Win-win-win.
What wasn’t so win-win-win was the fact that I started to get motion-sick about, oh, three minutes into our ferry ride around Venice (I get motion sick if I spin around too quickly in my office chair). I snapped a few photos of our first tour of the city, but mostly I concentrated on not vomiting.
Sabina and I agreed that of all the houses on Murano, this one was the most beautiful. Venice, of course, has staggeringly beautiful buildings, but Murano is pretty tame. Nothing else on the island came close to the staggering sex appeal of these windows. Never mind that they’re in a building which, at best, could be called structurally questionable.
Those windows, though! I swoon.
Murano is famous for its glass, and its neighboring island, Burano, is famous for lace. Both are lovely to visit and much more homey than Venice (as well as cheaper, and quieter).
Two travel tips while in Murano:
1) Check your restaurant bill against what everyone at your table actually ordered. I’m not saying they’ll try to scam you, but they’ll totally try to scam you.
2) Do not make the suggestion that anything in any of the glassware stores even marginally resembles something made by Dale Chihuly. Just don’t.
I love Venice. I loved it when I visited there as a teenager and I was fully prepared to love it as an adult, too. And I did, don’t get me wrong! But it was a different experience to be there as a tourist and not an American teenager just hanging out with her two Italian friends and the handsome Canadian boy I’d met and made out with in the back room of a discotheque during a birthday party two weeks prior. My group this time was more focused on museums and Things of Cultural Significance rather than the aimless strolls of teenagers looking for food. Side note: the food we found during my first Venice trip was a Chinese restaurant that I knew I would never find again (I didn’t) and was, hands-down, one of the best meals of my life.
But back to the current trip.
Travel Tip: When your party says they will meet you “under the lions” in San Marco Square, be sure to clarify which lions they are talking about. Venice’s mascot is a winged lion. Lions are everywhere. Be sure you know under which lion(s) you are supposed to wait. The square is very open, but it is also very large and teeming with tourists and pigeons and way too many lions.
Notice the lion in the above photo (there are more hiding in there, I’m sure). They are not our lions. I didn’t get a photo of the lion that we were supposed to meet at (which, for the record, is the one I guessed) because by the time the rest of our party arrived, we were ready to get the hell out of San Marco Square.
Venice is chock full of museums. Museums and chapels. You can’t swing a cat in Venice without hitting one or the other. And speaking of cats…
I tried to get one to hold still for a photo, but she didn’t sit down until this woman came along and started talking to her. From the expression on the cat, I think the conversation went something like this:
Woman: Kitty, please sit down and let the annoying tourists take a photo of you.
Kitty: Fuck you, lady.
Woman: Kitty, I know your owner works at the impossible-to-find Textile Museum. And without their tourist dollars, she wouldn’t be able to buy you that soft food you love so much.
Kitty: Fuck you, and the horse these backwater tourists rode in on.
Woman: You want to go back to the hard food that makes you all constipated? I’ve heard your owner complain about how the soft food makes your catbox stink really bad. I’m sure she’d be happy to switch back to the hard stuff…
Kitty: Fine. I’m sitting for the photo. Happy? Can I go, now?
Annoying backwater tourist’s camera: *click*
Seriously, it took us like twenty minutes looking at the map for that Textile Museum and at least half an hour of just wandering around and I’m pretty sure we only found it through sheer luck.
Travel Tip: Venice has about a zillion different museums, and a lot of them are privately owned. This means that the 20 euro museum pass won’t get you in. After spending three days in Venice and bypassing several museums because of the insane lines, a person might wonder why she spent nearly forty dollars on a museum pass when she only managed to get into three museums. Do Not Be This Person. That expensive museum pass is expensive because it allows you to bypass the museum lines. Those lines are for people who were too cheap to buy the pass. Too bad we didn’t realize this until we got back to Milan.
We did discover in plenty of time that the bars have better food deals than the restaurants, especially if you time your meal to coincide with happy hour. We got a pizza in Venice that was not only cheaper but tastier than the meal we got at a fancy restaurant in Murano. The one that tried to overcharge us. Seriously, people, check your bills at restaurants. Also, bring mosquito spray because the islands are, well, islands with lots of places for mosquito-breeding and Italians, especially ones who own restaurants with shady business practices, don’t believe in window screens.
Travel Tip: Luca kept saying “You can’t get lost in Venice!” And this is true–as long as you don’t follow a map. If you keep wandering in the general direction you want to go, you’re fine. But if you’re on a time schedule and rely on the map to get you somewhere quickly: you can indeed get lost for just long enough for everyone in the group to get very very testy. I am convinced that the real reason for constructing Venice in such a maze-like fashion was not for defense, but rather to bolster business for granita-sellers.
The Burgomaster and I got to tour the archipelago a little longer than we intended due to total lack of communication by the Ventian ferry staff. When my parents returned to Murano ahead of us, we asked when the last ferry back to Murano ran. We were told it usually ran until midnight, but if there were no passengers, the ferries stopped running earlier than that. Good to know.
We returned to the ferry dock a little before 9:00 p.m. to make sure we wouldn’t miss the last ferry to Murano. We got on ferry number 42 (the significance of which dawns on me only now). After about five stops, one of the boatmen asked us if we were going…somewhere I couldn’t understand. It didn’t sound like Murano, though. “No, Murano,” I said. He shook his head “No, no Murano.” Er. What? “Isn’t this Ferry 42? Forty-two?” Nod. Yes. But no Murano stop for them.
The Burgomaster finally figured out that when we boarded, there was a shift change, and the destination route changed with it. Fantastic! So after only one very brief meltdown (on my part), we disembarked at San Marco Square (again, but at least we didn’t have to worry about lions) and pretty much sprinted across the peninsula to the hospital (where we knew there was a Murano-bound ferry). Thanks to a few signs pointing to “Ospedale” and a very kind, toothless, non-English speaking gentleman (thank dogs for college Spanish), we found the ferry stop five minutes before the ferry left for Murano. I don’t know if it was the last one for the night. I don’t want to know.
We only stopped for one granita during our jog across Venice and the whole thing took us under ten minutes. We returned to the mainland the next morning, tired and covered in mosquito bites.
And thus ends my photo travelogue. We had other exciting moments, like when my father, somehow forgetting that I am Queen of Motion Sickness, booked us a return bus ride up a twisting mountain road on one of the islands in Lake Como. I tried it, I really did, but after about half a mile I became That American who stood up and yelled “I need to get off this bus right now” and caused a scene until the driver was able to pull over and deposit us at a nameless stop. It was sheer good fortune that the stop had, about a quarter mile away, a hydrofoil ferry that I’m sure cost a fortune (times four for all of us) but I can say with some assurance that my father will never again forget how easily I become motion sick.
There was also, on the trip back to the U.S., an upsetting couple of hours when I was detained (like, actually separated from my traveling companion, put in a room alone with my passport confiscated type of detained) in Zurich because they claimed I had a forged/illegitimate passport (that damned passport was trouble from day one–ask me in the comments if you’re interested in that story). If I hadn’t been so exhausted it probably would have gone worse for me because I simply didn’t have the energy to be belligerent. We barely made our flight out of Europe and let me tell you by that time I was ready to get the hell out of there. I refuse to ever set foot in Switzerland again.
That sort of thing happens to me all the time (although not quite to that degree on the usual), and it seems to be exacerbated when I travel out of country. At least when I travel domestically the worst that happens is I get pulled out of line for additional screening (every. single. time.) and I’ve flown once in fifteen years without my luggage being searched. My 1987 trip home from Italy was during an Italian air traffic controller strike and I had to stay overnight in St. Louis because thanks to two changed flight times I missed the last flight to Kansas City (after managing to navigate La Guardia all on my own) which was a pretty big deal when I was seventeen, hadn’t been home in six weeks, had no idea where my luggage was, and had never spent a night alone in a hotel room. It was the first (but not the last) time I washed panties in a sink and hoped they’d be dry by morning.
Ah, travel memories. I enjoy them, but there’s a reason my favorite kind are the ones that belong to other people.
Clever Manka sometimes thinks travel would be easier if we had teleporters but then remembers that if someone was going to get beamed down wrong it would be her. If you would like to see all her photos of Italy on Flickr, they’re here. Just look for the Italy albums, which are separated by day. Or, if you’re really bored, feel free to page through all 1,479 photos collected there.
If you want to submit something to the Travel Series, Jess compiled a list of great questions to inspire you!