Italy & Greece, Part 2

Our Italian journey continued on day five of the trip with a fairly relaxing travel day. The bus took us through the mountains on the way to Venice and we made one stop in the town of Verona. Verona is popular because three of Shakespeare’s plays are set in the town and even though he reportedly never visited the town, it’s built quite a tourist trap around it. We also got to see the Alps off in the distance.

Juliet’s balcony and home are there but they aren’t actually places people visited or lived since the story is fiction. The balcony is tucked away in a little area just off the fancy shopping street and hoards of people were there taking photos and grabbing a statue of Juliet (supposedly that brings you good luck).

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Other than those attractions, shopping and eating are about the only other activities Verona has to offer. The shopping area is very upscale – the street is a fancy marble and there are lots of expensive stores like Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Burberry. There is an arena similar to the Roman Colosseum that still houses concerts by well known singers.

After a few hours in Verona, we hopped back on the bus for the remainder of the drive to the Venice area. Our hotel was outside Venice and it wasn’t easily accessible by public transportation so we decided to explore the nearby area that night instead of joining the optional dinner in Venice. We ate across the street at a local place and I got a pizza which was HUGE and cheap. I ate the whole thing myself!

We walked over to a mall and stopped in a grocery store to see how it compared to American stores. There was much less canned/processed foods and more fresh produce, especially fish. The fresh seafood department was about 5 times as big as the one at Kroger and the cheese selection took up almost an entire aisle. There weren’t a lot of familiar brands but we did buy some Italian Coke and candy. Near the mall was a movie theater that showed almost all their American movies with Italian dubbing – the only exception was the new Pirates movie and it clearly stated “English” on the board. There was also a McDonalds nearby that had a pool in their playground area.

Day six was a full day in Venice and a highlight of the trip (for me anyway). We had to take a boat to get to the city as cars are not allowed since there really aren’t normal streets. To get around, you must walk or take a boat! We took a gondola ride first thing and it was lots of fun – most of our group was nearby and we went up and down the canals with the gondola drivers singing and playing the accordion. A lot of people have said that Venice stinks but we didn’t have that experience while we were there.

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After the gondola ride, they took the group to Vecchia Murano Glass Factory where we got a glass blowing demonstration and they tried to sell us expensive pieces of murano glass. Then we were on our own to explore St. Mark’s Square and eat lunch before rejoinging the group for a boat ride to the Island of Burano.

I finally found alfredo sauce in Venice – maybe it’s more an Americanized version if Italian but there were hardly any restaurants that served pasta dishes with anything other than red sauces. For lunch, I got gnocchi with alfredo and it was delicious.

The boat ride to Burano took about 40 minutes one way and to be honest, there isn’t really anything to see there other than the colorful houses. I liked walking around but if you’re looking for culture and food, that’s not the place to go. You can walk around the entire island in about 30 minutes and maybe catch a lace making demonstration, although it’s hard to tell if the lace being sold was made there or imported. Also, the reason the houses are so bright – our guide told us that in the winter, the fishermen would lose track of which house was theirs and by painting it a certain color, they would know that was their home. He also said that sometimes the men would go out drinking and forget which house was their’s and the bright color would help with that. No two houses have the same color and it’s an elaborate process if you want to change the color of your house to something else.

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Dinner that night was included at the hotel and it wasn’t great. Our guide had warned us that people usually complain about the food & they keep changing what they serve but he thinks they need to change the chef. We had lasagna that I thought was fine but no one else liked it, then for our main course, we had turkey, potatoes and carrots. That seemed more American than Italian to me.

Day seven was our final full day in Italy. We were up early to head to the port of Ancona to catch a ferry to Greece. Along the way, we stopped in Ravenna, which was probably an unnecessary stop in my opinion. There wasn’t much there – it’s known for Byzantine mosaics but they’re inside churches that charge you admission to see them. We did see the grave of Dante who died and was buried there, so that was kind of cool.

From there, we had a few hours by bus until the port and the drive to the coast was quite beautiful!

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