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Venice, Italy

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009


May 27, 2009 – Every corner of Venice is another painting. Three days we walked the city, usually getting lost. Tons of alleys, little bridges over canals, squares with churches. The detail is everywhere and the beauty of Venice is that it hasn’t changed with time. You have to see the main sites (St. Marks’ Basilica, Piazza St. Mark, Doge’s Palace, Campanile, Rialto bridge) but much of the attraction is to just walk around and explore. The city is deceivingly large – in 3 days I would guess we saw 10% of the city, and that’s not including the other islands like Lido and Murano.


Venice: (very) brief history and interesting facts;

  • The islands in the lagoon first inhabited by refugees from Roman cities fleeing invasions by Germanic tribes and Huns. Venice officially founded in 421 AD.
  • Rialto Island (the current location of Venice) became seat of the governor in 775-776. Palazzo Ducale (Doges’ Palace) was built starting in 814. St. Mark’s basilica was built in 832 – but the version standing today was built in 1063 after the original was burned down.
  • Between 9th and 12th century Venice developed as a city state, capitalizing as a trade center between the western world and the east, especially the Byzantine empire centered in Constantinople (now Istanbul).
  • Constantinople fell during the Fourth Crusade (1204), whereupon Venice gained much of the loot, including the 4 gilt bronze horses that were placed above the entrance to St. Mark’s Basilica (the ones there today are replicas – the originals, which we sculpted in 4 BC, were taken down because of air pollution. They are now on display inside St Marks’s Basilica ).
  • By the late 1400’s Venice was the richest city in Europe as well as a military power. It was famous for its Navy and merchant fleet.
  • Venice’s decline came in the 15th century when it’s importance waned following discovery of the New World and sea routes to India. Wars in the Eastern Mediterranean as well as the 1630 plague (which killed a third of its citizens) also weakened Venice.
  • Venice lost its independence in 1797 when Napoleon conquered the city. It became an Austrian territory for a brief period. In 1866 became part of the Kingdom of Italy. It was never bombed during WWII, both sides respecting “the most gorgeous city on earth”.


    Most impressive sites – Doge’s Palace was for us the more impressive. So many huge rooms with beautiful artwork. Best museum I’ve ever been to. St. Mark’s Basilica was also very impressive. The visit to the Basilica is free but you have to pay to see the museum within it – the most impressive thing here are the 4 bronze horses which are said to have been made between the 2nd and 4th century BC. Overall not as spectacular as Doge’s Palace though. The tower (the Campanile) had great views over the city and I recommend it as well. We went to the Correr museum but breezed through it -maybe we’ve just seen too much art. We saw the Rialto Bridge and the 10 million tourists hanging off it. I can appreciate the history but honestly didn’t do too much for us. We took a gondola ride which one has to do if visiting Venice – was fun but expensive (100 euros for 40 min – but heh, we’ll probably never be back).


    On thing we really enjoyed were all the little bars, restaurants, and gellato stands. Eating in Italy was a joy; unhurried we would start with a couple of glasses of Prosecco (Sparkling wine), have appetizers, go on to a litre of house wine, have a pasta dish. Finish with desserts and coffee, with a glass of grappa. Italy is the good life when it comes to eating.
    We also appreciated the Italians who, despite the HORDES of tourists in Venice, are still friendly and helpful. They’ve made us want to see other places in Italy sometime in the future.





    We stayed at the Casa del Melograno Locanda, right next to the Casino. Pretty hotel right on a canal with a large garden where we were served breakfast in the morning. This hotel could have been a 4 1/2 out of 5 if it wasn’t for a few things; the double bed in our room was very small, the AC was not functional and we had to sleep with the windows open – which meant that we heard all the sounds from the outside (which were substantial, especially on the Saturday night). Our room, room 5, was also just above the entrance to the garden which seemed to be a favorite smoking hangout. The first night we had continual cigarette smoke coming into the room. All little things that added up to a few bad nights sleep. Our experience was a 3 out of 5 – but if you stay in another room you may have a much better experience.

    The owner was a young guy with a beautiful dog that would greet us whenever we walked in. Nice guy, gave us a good restaurant recommendation; Restaurant Poggi, 100 meters up the main road from the Casino. Excellent food.

    Summary: we really enjoyed Venice and both agreed 3 days was good. More than that and we would have tourist overload. A highlight for me so far on this trip.

  • Berchtesgaden and Lake Kognissee, Germany

    Sunday, May 24th, 2009


    May 24, 2009 – Berchtesgaden is a small town situated in the Alps about an hour from Salzburg (it’s actually across the border in Germany). It’s a beautiful little village known for the Eagle’s Nest, the summer lodge built for Hitler on top of one of the mountains (in actual fact he spent little time here – Hitler had vertigo and didn’t like heights much). Berchtesgaden is also supposed to have an interesting war museum. We got to see neither of these sites though – the Eagle’s Nest opens in mid May because of snow conditions high up, and we just didn’t have time to see the museum.

    Below: Eagle’s Nest with high zoom from lake

    We were here to visit Lake Kognissee in the Berchtesgaden National Park. The lake is 8 km long and was carved by glaciers – they advertise it as a German “fjord”, surrounded by mountains and waterfalls.

    An hour by train from Salzburg to Berchtesgaden, then a bus from the Bahnhof to Kognisee (5km – not far, but the bus doesn’t come by often so you have to plan it well). It’s a beautiful trip all the way, full of green fields with yellow flowers, streams, and mountains.

    Kognisee is a tourist town, a kitshy ensemble of souvenir stores and cafes and bars leading to the dock where there were also a few hotels and guesthouses. At the dock are electric boats used to take tourists down the lake. The town is kitshy, but still cute. And surrounded by beautiful nature.

    Below: Town of Kognissee (and stuff for sale)


    We took a boat, descended the lake up to St. Bartholema (the main stop on the lake, known for it’s small church). There we had lunch and also had a small walk along the shoreline of the lake. Unfortunately we didn’t have much time – we got back on the boat, circled the end of the lake (more mountains and waterfalls), then came back to Kognisee.


    Knowing what I know now, I would have organized a night or two here. There’s plenty of hiking and some interesting sites in nearby Berchtesgaden – good for at least 2 or 3 days. As I mentioned in a previous blog, I would have stayed here and visited Salzburg as a day trip instead of the other way around. Unfortunately our visit was short and we made our way back to Salzburg after spending just an afternoon here. We don’t regret it though, was a fun day in nature.


    Salzburg, Austria

    Sunday, May 24th, 2009
    sal93.jpg May 24, 2009 - A pretty city filled with churches, squares with fountains, a huge castle that looms over everything. Lots of trendy cafes and restaurants filled with well to do tourists - Salzburg is ... [Continue reading this entry]

    Reutte, Austria

    Sunday, May 17th, 2009
    ruta1.jpg May 17, 2009 - Reutte is south of Fussen, about 20km into the Alps in Austria, in a large green valley surrounded by snow capped mountains. Just fantasticly beautiful. rut91.jpg I had ... [Continue reading this entry]

    Fussen, Germany

    Sunday, May 17th, 2009
    fus1.jpg May 17 - A miserable cold and rainy day. Fussen is a cute little town 2 hours by train from Munich, full of coffee shops, restaurants, and tourist shops. It's a bit touristy but still ... [Continue reading this entry]

    Munich, Germany

    Friday, May 15th, 2009
    mun6.jpg May 15 - Munich has changed since I was here 16 years ago. I was surprised first of all by the various nationalities strolling around the Marienplatz, especially the muslim women covered head-to-foot in black ... [Continue reading this entry]

    Regensburg, Germany

    Tuesday, May 12th, 2009
    reg9.jpg May 12, 2009 - Regensgurg is one of the oldest towns in Germany and was once the capital of Bavaria. I really enjoyed it here. First of all, the Cathedral is stupendous. The French inspired ... [Continue reading this entry]