June 2016

Treviso to Monterosso – June 30

My day started early as I had about 6 hours worth of train travel and a full work day ahead of me. My host had breakfast ready at 7:30am and was generous enough to offer me a ride to the train station.

I was unsure I was on the right train as the Italian regional trains don’t have any signage to tell you what train you’re boarding. I knew it was heading the right way, I was just anxious about getting to the next station to catch my connection to Milan.

It was the right train and I easily made my train change and was on my way to Milan. The train made its way through some beautiful countryside which I attempted to catch out the window.

The Milan central station is incredibly large and even more beautiful. I was told it was conveniently located that you could go out and see a little of the city between trains but I opted to find some lunch and the next train platform instead. No sense in tempting fate.

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Milan Central Train Station

 

Every train seems to bring a different experience. The next regional train taking me to Monterosso had compartments of six seats, 3×3 facing each other. Its pretty uncomfortable. Especially when you get several tall people facing each other with legs intertwined. It was going to be a long 3 hours.

Midway through the journey I opted to stand up and stretch a bit. That helped. By the time I returned to the seat the man facing me was preparing to exit the train. That’s better.

We got little glimpses of the coast as the train wound around. A few views out the other window of some of the hillside towns. The surroundings are very dramatic and wonderful.

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The train pulled into the Monterosso station. My airbnb host had provided me fantastic directions. You walk out of the station and there is the beach with an amazing view of the sea. Monterosso is a perfect and very walkable village in the Cinque Terre. I loved it so much I asked my host if she had any availability for the next night. All of her rooms were booked but she offered to call a friend with a hotel to see if she had availability. As luck would have it, she had a room with a sea view for just the night I needed.

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Panorama of the beach in Monterosso

I unpacked a few things and went over to the hotel to check out the room. It was pretty small, especially the bathroom, but it did have an amazing view. I asked to reserve the room and headed back across town. I stopped along the wait for some dinner and to pick up a few things for lunch the next day.

It was time for me to get to work but sounded like others were out having a pretty good time. While I’m glad to have an income, its kind of a drag missing out on most of the night life. I know, cry me a river.

Treviso, Italy – June 29

Another day with a slow start. While visiting with Giorgio at breakfast I asked where I could get postage. He mentioned he was going to run some errands and he would pick some up for me. He is too generous.

I did not feel compelled to return to Venice so I did laundry and filled out the post cards. I got online and found the city where I was staying had a fair amount of attractions to see as well so I packed up a few things and headed out.

Ugh! It’s so hot! I feel like I haven’t stopped sweating since I left Seattle. I had my hat and sunblock, hopefully that would keep my skin safe at least.

I found some lovely stuff to see around town. I even wandered through a shopping area. It was shaded and cool. Ahhh, brief reprieve.

Just past the shopping center I found a spot to eat. I don’t know why I didn’t go eat inside where there was air conditioning. I had a little lunch then saw an irresistible treat on the menu. Coppa Yogurt Fragola. Frozen and regular yogurt with fresh strawberries and whipped cream. So simple and so satisfying.

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I noticed a supermarket and tourist information booth nearby so I finished up and headed that way. I have neared the end of my 3oz supply of toiletries so shopping was in order. I wasn’t able to find travel sized bottles. This should be interesting. I am still amazed and how much stuff I have packed in these bags. I was sure there wouldn’t be room for the bigger bottles but it appears to have worked.

I stopped by the train station on my way back to my rental. I am heading to the Cinque Terre tomorrow and it looks like a couple legs of the journey require a reservation. I lucked out, the line was fairly short and the woman spoke just enough English to get me sorted out.

I got logged in for work, had a brief meeting with the boss, then stepped out to get pizza at the shop down the street. As I walked in the door I felt like a lamb that had just walked in to a lions den. I was completely surrounded by men and they were all staring at me. It freaked me out. For a moment I thought I should back away slowly. Fuck that, I’m hungry! I’m ready for some pizza. The gal at the register took my order and I retreated to the outdoors. It felt a bit less claustrophobic there.

It was a busy place and it took some time but the pizza arrived and I was on my way. I was expecting nothing sort of amazement when I took the first bite but I was disappointed. Maybe it was busy because its inexpensive, not necessarily delicious.

Venice & Murano – June 28

As much as I wanted to sleep in I didn’t want to get too late of a start into Venice. Giorgio had breakfast and coffee ready for me and he offered me a ride to the train station which I gladly accepted.

The next available departure according to the ticket machine was an hour and a half away. I wandered out to the platform anyway and just hung out there.

The train arrived and I quickly found myself staring at the Grand Canal. I grabbed a map then followed the crowd in hopes of finding something good. The map proved to be nearly useless since I couldn’t figure out where I started. I wandered over bridge after bridge hoping for something besides vendor tents to look at. Eventually I ran across a group of English speaking girls that looked like they had purpose so I followed them and discovered a water taxi.

If nothing else it would get me on the water where I could get more oriented. As iconic as the gondolas are, I thought I’d look pretty pathetic taking one by myself. Honestly, why pay the extra money?

We meandered down the canal and I exited the taxi near Saint Marcos square. This was definitely one of those places that you have to see. It was brilliant and hot! For some reason I had visions of little cafes sprinkled around the square but that wasn’t really the case. A couple really large grouping of cafes. Not intimate at all.

I snapped a few pictures, wandered around the square a bit, then walked down the street until I found another water taxi station. This one offered a taxi to Murano. The name was familiar and “candy-colored buildings” sprang to mind. No doubt it was something I heard on a Rick Steves program. I purchased a round trip ticket and to the half hour journey to the island.

I hadn’t done any research on what there might be to do so when we departed the boat I went in the opposite direction of the rest of the tourists. Venice is really nice but it is jam packed full of people. Murano had some of the same beauty, with out all the noise. I found a café with a menu I could read. I enjoyed the near silence while enjoying lasagna and wine. This quiet moment is where I finally had that moment of “wow, I’m in Italy!”. It must have been the peace and quiet. Haven’t had much of that in a while.

I finished my meal then walked the streets and alley ways. This is a place I could see myself living. I’d definitely need to learn Italian!

Taxied back into Venice then hopped another taxi to the train station. The heat was getting to me and work was going to be crazier than expected. Back to Treviso.

Venice

 

Murano

In transit…still – June 27

Sleep deprived and bitter I made it to the lobby in time for the 5am departure. Through security and to the gate without issue. We arrive at the gate and one of the guys that was near us in line yesterday came over and told us they had oversold the flight by 20 people. My blood boiled and my voice must have raised a bit because people started looking. My fit was unfounded, I had a seat assignment so I was one of the lucky ones. I don’t know who else may have gotten screwed.

Uneventful flight to Florence. We all departed the plane and headed to the information desk to find out where we would find the shuttle. They were completely unaware of the situation. That’s not a good sign.

I attempted to get a few pictures from the plane but it was a bit hazy and there were spots on the window.

Another 2 hours of being told the shuttle would be there in 20 minutes. During the whole ordeal there was a group of a dozen or so of us that had bonded in commiseration. One gal was an eternal optimist, the kind I usually want to smack in the face. I think she did a great job of defusing some of the tension.

Finally, a bus had arrive. It was total shit but it was hopefully going to get us where we needed to go.

It was close to 3pm by the time I got to Treviso and my hosts place. I decided Venice would have to wait, I needed to get a nap before I started work.

Vueling will never get another cent from me. That was by far the worst experience I’ve had with an airline. Its no wonder the flights are so inexpensive, they don’t get any repeat customers. Several other travelers from the weekends Dreamtrip had similar experiences with flights being canceled.

So long Spain. Or so I thought – June 26

Sunday morning I awoke with no real plan for the day except to catch my 8pm flight to Venice. I made it to breakfast with little time to spare then returned to my room to pack since check out was at noon. Elsa met me and asked what my plans were for the day. She made some suggestions for spots nearby she thought I’d enjoy.

This first group is of the Palau de la Música Catalana. I’d really love to go back some day and see the inside, maybe catch a show.

I checked out of my room and had the front desk store my bags so I could do some more wandering. I went to see the buildings Elsa had recommended and stopped for some lunch in between. Feeling sufficiently sunned I returned to the hotel where I found Elsa in the bar. We sat and visited until it was time for me to head off to the airport.

During my earlier wandering I’d found the bus to the airport. I made it to the stop in time to hop a nearly full bus. I was feeling pretty good about things as I rolled into the airport and was pointed toward a general gate where my flight should be departing.

As the time for the flight neared the departures screen updated with a gate. I made my way there only to see a message that the plane was delayed an hour. My airbnb host had offered to pick me up at the airport so I contact him right away to let him know of the delay. These things happen.

The new departure time neared and people were lining up at the gate expecting to board. I heard a bunch of chatter and looked toward the gate agents and they were surrounded by angry Italians. I had met Susan and her family during the dreamtrip over the weekend. They were kind enough to let me know what was going on. Our flight was canceled. No explanation. No apology. No direction. Just canceled. So the mob of angry passengers flooded the information booth who directed us to the Vueling Customer Service desks. The line was enormous and slow moving. We literally spent hours in line awaiting our fate. By the time I got to the desk there were no flights to Venice available the next day. More angry Italians and excellent translators keeping me informed. Susan’s family had opted to fly into Florence where Vueling would provide a bus to Venice so I did the same.

We had to go stand in another slightly less horrify line to get our boarding passes and food/hotel vouchers. Papers collected a group of us made our way down to the café for a quick bite to eat before headed out to where a shuttle was supposed to be waiting to take us to a hotel. We spent another couple hours (no dramatization needed) waiting for the shuttle. By the time we got to the hotel it was 1:30am. The flight to Florence was at 7am. The shuttle from the hotel would be collecting us at 5am. It was a shame I only got a quick nap in the luxurious 5 star hotel they put us in. That kind of added insult to injury.

Wine and Tarragona – June 25

Saturday our group set out for a day of touring. First stop, the Torres Winery. I was expecting a typical tasting like I’ve done in Seattle but it was so much more. Unlike Seattle, Torres grows its own grapes and owns the process start to finish. During the tour you learn a bit about the family history and the different awards, you take a little train ride through the site, and finish off with a wine tasting and shopping opportunity. It was very interesting. The vineyard is organic and their plant focuses on sustainable processes. They are even researching what varietals will grow at higher elevations preparing for the reality of climate change. I’m glad to know someone is thinking ahead. If its going to get more uncomfortable outside it will be nice to know we can still get drunk and try to ignore it.

I had come to the conclusing purchasing a bottle didn’t make sense considering the incredibly limited amount of space in my luggage. Elsa was kind enough to point out our dinner later in the evening would not include any drinks so it may be wise to buy a bottle to drink. I love a girl who thinks ahead!

We left the winery and stopped at a restaurant on our way to Tarragona. Traditional Catalonian food and it was fantastic. They brought out some bread, pointed out the garlic and tomatoes on the table, then proceeded to show us how to season our bread. It was delicious. Like bruchetta without the mess. Salad, entree, dessert and more wine. I think that makes 5 glasses and its barely after noon.

We carried on to Tarragona with a brief picture stop at the Pont del Diable. Roman aqueduct #2. I wonder if I can find one in every country I visit?

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Off the bus and back into the heat as we walked across the street and courtyard to the Tarragona museum. We only had 40 minutes or so to check out the museum and wander around the city. Being ever aware of my poor navigational skills I opted to keep it close to our departure point. I did wander back across the street for a marvelous view of the Mediterranean.

Back to the bus for the ride hope. I got in a quick nap along the way. We arrived back to the hotel with less than an hour before our farewell dinner that evening.

The group was a bit sparse at dinner but it gave me a nice opportunity to talk with the different people and foster new friendships. It seemed like most of us were enjoying Barcelona as part of bigger trips. It was fun to hear about where they had been or where they were going next.

 

Hopping on/off in Barcelona – June 24

I was happy to have a morning to sleep in and get breakfast at my own pace. I ventured down to the restaurant from the breakfast buffet. It was nice to have food available with so limited effort.

I left the hotel with the tourist bus voucher in hand. There were 2 places on my must-see list and I’d already figured out which line I needed to be on. Now I just needed to find my way to the bus stop. It didn’t take me long, and I found the Casa Batlló (designed by Gaudi) and Casa Amatller (designed by Cadafalch) along the way. Loved getting a little Modernisme (Catalan Art Nouveau) in before even getting on the bus!

Within a few stops I found myself in front of the La Sagrada Familia. It is immense and intricate, as amazing as I thought it would be. Since it was later in the morning the lines were crazy and I didn’t pre-pay for a ticket I knew my chances of getting in were slim. I wasn’t willing to fritter away my entire day waiting in line.

On to my 2nd must-do, Parc Guell.

I hopped off the bus and headed up the street. It was at that point I had no idea how to get to the park from the stop. Fortunately there was a sign. Unfortunately, there was a second sign pointing a different direction. Oh Spain, WHY!? Why is it so damned difficult to provide decent signage!?

I joined a heard of folks I assume were also going to the park. We got there but did some unnecessary uphill blocks. Got to the ticket area and found all the time slots were filled until 5pm. Ugh, I didn’t even think about getting tickets in advance for this place. I really need to check everything going forward.

I purchased a ticket for 5pm and decided I’d kill some time riding the rest of the tour bus route to see if there was anything else I should check out. Barcelona is a sprawling city and I question the timing the bus company provides as time between stops. I hopped off one line and onto the other. Based on the 2 hour round trip of the bus I assumed I’d have plenty of time to do the line and get back to the park. Not so.

 

It was 4pm and I was far enough from the park I wasn’t going to be able to walk and the tour bus wouldn’t going to get me there in time, so I hopped off in search of a taxi. I’d seen a lot of them so I assumed I’d be able to catch one to the park. Full taxi after full taxi passed me by. I started to think I had wasted 8 euro on a ticket I’d not get to use. I walked in the opposite direction of the crowd in hopes it would help, and after about 30 minutes it did. A driver stopped and told me he was going home to eat and could take me to La Sagrada Familia. While it wasn’t the park it was a lot closer to the park than I currently was so I jumped in.

We talked a little along the way and he told me there are only half the usual number of taxis because it was a holiday. That makes sense. Having only been around certain streets once I wasn’t too familiar with things but I recognized things along the way. He was taking me to the park after all! I thanked him whole heartedly for him going to extra effort to get me to my destination.

For me, Park Guell was breathtakingly beautiful. Gaudi must have been a fascinating man. His love for nature and the way he incorporates it into his architecture (or the other way around) fascinates me. So I’ve got an inordinate amount of photos from the park. I usually do a fair amount of filtering what gets posted so I don’t overwhelm you, but I don’t want you to miss anything either.

After my stroll through the park I made my way back to the bus and eventually to the hotel. By then it was nearing 8pm and I remembered seeing a post from our host with a recommendation for Flamenco dancing. That was one of the things on my list for Spain that hadn’t been checked off. I got online and made my reservation, took a quick shower, then walked down the narrow streets of the Gothic quarter to Palau Dalmases. It was fantastic. The space was small and intimate with only a dozen or so in attendance. I was blown away. I was totally entranced with the guitar player. The music was incredible. The dancing was so dramatic and mysterious. It was a great evening out. Most of the photos were a blur but I did catch a few videos.

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