Jan. 29, 2016: Venice to Vienna
Having packed our gear, we say arrivederla to the woman of the house, who kisses us each on both cheeks — that’s 4 kisses total, for those keeping score — and tells us (as we clearly understand even with our primitive grasp of Italian) that if we ever return, we have a place to stay.
Then it’s on to the train station, where we catch a train back into Venice, where we have some time to kill before catching another train out of the city and out of the country.
Seeing school kids running around, we have to wonder if they truly realize what an other-worldly place they live and go to school in. Do they assume all school buses (and ambulances) everywhere are gondolas?
Maybe not, because even though Venezia retains so much of its Old World charm, it still has its concessions to crass American-style modernism.
In any case, we have another half day to explore a city which, for the most part, takes us worlds away from what we’re accustomed to back home.
Our path takes us back to Piazza San Marco.
We can’t help noticing that the winged lion is a recurring motif here.
The symbol of St. Mark, it’s also been the symbol of Venice for centuries.
St. Mark and the city founders probably never foresaw the likes of us.
Because we’re not allowed to carry anything inside the church, we take turns touring it, so the person waiting outside can hold the goods.
Needing groceries for the day, we stop at a produce stand. Forgetting for the moment that Europeans consider it rude to grope the grub, we once again emulate uncouth American tourists.
Thus stocked up, we find a place to sit by the water and eat, ignoring signs posted forbidding people to do such a thing. Uncouth Americans, through and through.
After lunch, we pass by the landmark Harry’s Bar, a favorite hangout of Earnest Hemingway. We don’t drop in for a drink, although Kimberly is tempted to make an unconventional entry.
We also see the Venice Opera House, which has premiered many musical masterpieces in its storied history. The current repertoire includes Giuseppe Verdi’s operas Stiffelio and La Traviata. I’m especially familiar with the latter, having performed in it with the Oakland Opera back in the Eighties. (I was just in the chorus, of chorus; I never climbed so high as to sing solo, bada bing.)
It makes a person wonder about the logistics of transporting large set pieces to and from this opera house for productions that are brought in from, or sent out to, other locations.
As time draws near for our train departure, we stop in a local cafe to catch up on some restroomery. I pay the rent by ordering a cup of decaf. And since it’s my last in this country (at least this year) I now can delightfully report that it’s unanimous: every cuppa Joe I’ve had in Italy has been outstanding. And cheap.
Boarding the train, I pause to help another passenger with her bags, as one arm is full of her damn dog. And she and her damndog end up in the car next to ours. But both of them turn out to be well behaved. And we have no complaints about our first class compartment.
Our train pulls away toward Vienna, which was not originally on our planned itinerary. (Not that we’re not interested in it, mind you. It’s just that with so many options and such a short time, we had to make tough choices.) But we have to change trains there, anyway. And since our train from Venice doesn’t arrive in Vienna until nearly midnight, and our train to Krakow doesn’t depart until 6:30 in the morning, we started thinking that we really didn’t want to spend the night in the station or (since the station might be closed) on the platform, knowing that Austria can get rather nippy in the winter. So we opted instead to lay over for two nights so we can spend tomorrow touring the city, then catch the train out the following morning. And since we’ll be getting in so late, we decided that rather than book a room through Airbnb, we’d try a hostel. Fortunately, we found one just a few blocks away from Vienna’s Central Station (one of several stations in the city).
When the train enters Austria, the crew changes, and the new conductor comes around to check our tickets. I manage to dredge up enough of my extremely rusty German to ask him if this train goes to Wien Hauptbahnhof (Vienna Central Station). And he manages enough German to reply that yes, it’s the final stop. Which I clearly understand. But that’s about the extent of our conversation, as I can’t salvage any more linguistic flotsam from that ship I abandoned decades ago.
Arriving at Wien Hauptbahnhof, we see that on the platform there is a glass enclosure with benches in it, and it is heated inside. And there is a man inside curled up asleep. We could have done the same. But we’re happy with the choice we’ve made. At least we think so.
Actually, I’m a bit apprehensive about a hostel, because of previous experiences with them. I stayed in one when I first moved to San Francisco in my twenties (which wasn’t all THAT long ago, smart ass), and although it wasn’t bad, it was cramped, with 4 guys bunked in a low-ceilinged room. The only way we could stash valuables was leave them at the front desk — we’d be given a manila envelope to place them in, which we’d seal and write our name over the seal so we could tell it hadn’t been opened.
A few years later, still in my pre-Kimberly phase, I was passing through New Orleans when I decided to make a night of it there. The hostel I found in the French Quarter was much roomier than the one in SF, but it was not particularly well kept, and there were about 10 people staying in the one room, and it was a bit drafty. A bargain for 10 bucks, but still.
But it looks like hosteling has come a long way since then. This place in Vienna is like a huge hotel/ college dorm. The lobby is spacious and hopping with international twenty-somethings who seem to have no perception of time or fatigue. There is even a bar on the premises, to lower their perceptions even further.
The young man at the desk speaks good English — he says he’d lived in Illinois for a while, and he is very cordial and helpful.
Our co-ed room is actually two rooms in one, each with a double bunk and a single bunk. The bunks left for us are the two top ones. As quietly as possible (no easy task with the doors squeaking) we enter and prepare for bed. The occupant of the single bunk in the first room, a Middle Eastern fellow, is awake, and welcomes us. When I comment that the room is rather warm, he offers to keep the window by his bunk open a bit.
That makes it more comfortable, so we settle in for a late start at a good night’s sleep.