I haven't felt like writing much lately, so here is som quick info about the rest of my trip.
We woke up at about 9am on our first real day in Rome. Alexandra was still tired since we went to bed so late, so she stayed in bed while I went downstairs to steal a bunch of food from the breakfast buffet. Our plan was to take a bunch of food from the breakfast at each hotel to eat later that night and for lunch we would find a grocery store. That was the plan anyway. What we didn't know is that Rome doesn't have any grocery stores. None. We walked 25 kilometers around Rome and never once saw a single grocery store. I know we walked this much because my cell phone has a built in pedometer.
After breakfast we went wandering around and ended up at the colosseum. It is so strange to walk up from the subway and immediately see this huge structure that looks so familiar, yet so much more impresive than I could have imagined. Everything is just so much bigger in person. We got to the Colosseum around 11am and there was already a enormous line wrapping halfway around it. There were also a lot of people trying to get us to join a tour group, which we did. I wish I could see everything as a part of a tour group. It makes it so much more relevant than just looking at the building. We learned a lot of the history and why the bricks were different colors in different places, etc. And our tour group leader was really funny and kept the tour very interesting. AND, the best part is that we didnt' have to wait in the huge line. The tour lasted a bit longer than we expected, so we didn't have much time to see the ruins of the roman forum.
After the Colosseum we headed over to Trevi Fountain and then the Pantheon. The tour group hustler guy said that those are 2 of the coolest things to see in Rome and I would have to agree. The Pantheon is interesting because it is one of the best preserved ancient structures in the world, because it was turned into a church so early on. From the floor to the ceiling it is 42.5 meters, and from one end to the other also 42.5 meters. So, when you are standing in the middle you are 42.5 meters from any wall or roof. Trevi fountain was also very cool and very big. There was a store near the fountain that sold water for only 80 cents a bottle; everywhere else it is about 3 euro a bottle.
After the Pantheon we tried to go straight to the Vatican, but got a little lost along the way, so we made our way to the river and walked along it until we reached the Vatican. This was another shocking "oh wow" moment. We turned the corner and just stopped at the sight of just how large St. Peters is. It was still probably almost 1 km away, but it is so huge. We spent some time wandering around the Vatican and then went down in the crypt and saw the caskets for all the popes, including the last one that just died. Unfortunately Joey Rats(Joseph Ratzinger) was nowhere to be seen.
At this point it was starting to get late and we wanted to make sure we could get back to our hotel easily. On the way back though we stopped at a little cheap restaurant across the street from the train station and had pasta for only about 5 euro. We had already had Pizza for lunch. It was fairly late by the time we got back to our Hotel and we were both really sore and exhausted from all the walking we had done so we just stayed in and watched TV the rest of the night. At some point we got hungry and ordered a Pizza from room service since there are no restaurants anywhere near our hotel. I acutally thought I was ordering it from a pizza place since it was only 7 euro, but it was delivered by a hotel employee on a fance tray and covered by a white plate thing. It was pretty fancy.
Day 3 - Venice
The next day we got up about the same time and headed straight to the train station to get a train to Venice. Unfortunately the trains in Rome are nothing like they are in Germany. In Germany they will continue to sell tickets no matter how full the train is and if there are no seats available you can stand or sit between train cars. In Italy though everyone has to have a seat and all the seats on all the trains going to venice were sold out until 5pm; and there were only 2 seats left on that train; and they were first class. We hadn't planned on spending that much money, but it was either that train or no train and we had already paid for the Venice hotel. Another convenient thing about German Train Stations is that they have luggage lockers everywhere, but in Rome there were no lockers to be found. Anywhere. We looked. For an hour. At the point we had about 5 hours to kill before our train left and we didnt' want to waste them sitting in the train station so we dragged our bags up and down the streets of Rome. We had seen most of the major sites on the first day, so this day we just stayed in the area around the train station. We didn't want to get on the subway again because that is where everyone trys to pickpocket you, which had already happened to Alexandra the night before. We did see a really cool church that looks like it's just a big mound of dirt on the outside, but gorgeous on the inside.
1st class on the train was pretty nice. It was very quiet and we got free juice. The ride was 5 and half hours though and mostly pretty boring. We arrived in Venice a little after 10 and stood outside waiting for a Bus for about an hour before finally calling a Cab. The Bus system in Venice(and generally in all of italy) is terrible. In Germany they annouce what the next stop is going to be and the buses are almost always on time. But in Italy there is absolutely no way of knowing when your stop is coming and the busses don't have any set schedule. Sometimes they come and sometimes they don't. Our Hotel in Venice was actually in Tessera, which is about 10km from the Island, but it was the only hotel available in our price range when we booked it. Next trip we are definately going to book the hotels earlier and make sure we get ones that are within walking distance of the city. Once again we didn't get to the hotel until pretty late at night and went right to bed.
Venice was nice for the first day. We wandered in an area with no tourists for the first 4 hours or so and for awhile didn't think there were many people there. Then we arrived at Basilica San Marco and there were thousands of people and a lot of pigeons. Almost everything in Venice was very very expensive. 4 or 5 Euro for a can of Coke. That is like spending $6 or so on just one can of soda. We didn't eat or drink often. Wandering around Venice is a lot of fun because it is basically just a huge maze. There are streets that go on to dead ends and signs pointing in the wrong direction, or both directions. It's really impossible to describe what it's like walking around Venice except that it would be like walking around in a Hedge maze except with buildings. There are no straight streets and no easy or quick way to get anywhere. It takes about 40 minutes to walk 1 mile because you have to walk about 2-3 miles since you're walking around in circles most of the time. According to my pedometer we walked 26.4 kilometers the day we were in Venice. That is a lot.
We didn't stay out for the Fireworks because it was so cold; I really need to buy a better jacket. And we didn't know if the busses would be running late. We got to the bus stop at about 10 and the sign said that the busses run until 11.30 on holidays. Apparently on New Years Eve, or Natale as they call it in Italy(Silvester in Germany), the busses take a break until after midnight and between they only have the night schedule and it was all horribly confusing, even to the Italians who were also waiting at the same Bus Stop as we were. We waited for about 1 hour until we finally got on a Night Bus just hoping to get off the island and then call a cab from the other side of the bridge so that it would be cheaper. We ended up getting really lost, but were able to call a cab and we ended up back at the hotel shortly before midnight. We watched New Years stuff on TV, but it was weird since it wasn't New Years in New York yet, so we didn't get to see Dick Clark. I also went outside a few minutes after midnight and watched the fireworks in Venice from about 10 miles away.
I wish I had been in Heidelberg for the Fireworks over the Castle though. I heard that it was amazing. Here are some pictures I found:
The next day in Venice we tried to go to a nearby town, but the busses were running on a strange schedule so we ended up just walking around Venice a bit more. It was really cold and misty and wet and miserable that day though, so we went back to the Hotel early and I did some homework.
The next day we left for Milan. We learned to buy our tickets early and actually bought them already when we were still in Rome. The train left at 8.30, so we left very early. The hotel offered a "free" shuttle to the aiport, which was only 500 meters away, and from there we got on a Bus to the train station. The problem with the "free" shuttle is that the driver made us pay him 5 euro and even followed us to the door when I didn't pay him. The website for the hotel, the broschure in the room and the man at the front desk all said it was a free shuttle. When I got home I emailed the hotel to ask what was going on and they said that they don't have a free shuttle. So, of course, I emailed them back with the services list from their webpage and then they asked where I found that list because it isn't on their "easyjet advertisment". I sent them a link to the website that they didn't even know they had and then they replied that the "free shuttle" is only for guests that book the hotel directly and not through a third party and since I was paying a lower rate for the room I didn't get the free shuttle. That is total BS so I put up some negative reviews of their hotel on a couple of websites like tripadvisor.com and I filed a complaint with the BBB. Before the incident with the 5 euro I was so impressed with the hotel and staff that I was planning on writing a positive review.
The busses in Italy are terrible and there is no way of knowing what stop is coming up or where you are. In Germany the bus announces the next stop and often has the route plan listed somewhere on the Bus. In Italy there is nothing. It's impossible to know when to press the button to get off, or even where to get off. 40 minutes into our ride from the airport to the train station we were getting very worried, but 5 minutes later to our great relief we arrived. The train ride from Venice to Milan was only 2.5 hours or so and very uneventful. Our Hotel in Milan was actually in Bergamo, which is 1 hour away, but near the airport we were leaving from the next day. Instead of going all the way to the hotel to drop off our bags we just dragged them around the city. Milan is a lot like Rome except much cleaner, more smoking, much much fancier clothes and many more rich looking people. We spent about 3 hours wandering around Milan and saw pretty much everything we came to see. We then hopped on a train to Bergamo.
Before we arrived in Bergamo I assumed it was just another crappy little town that is only known for it's airport. I was very wrong. I wish we had spent at least 2 days in Bergamo; it's beautiful. We didn't get there until it was almost dark so we didn't get to see much or take many pictures. Here are some I found on flickr:
The Hotel we stayed at there was actually a Bed and Breakfast and the woman running it was very nice. She gave us a map of the city and told us how to get up to the old town. The Old Town of Bergamo is amazing. It's very similar to some German towns I have seen, but it is completely undamaged from anything it seems. It's up on the top of a big hill and has a completely intact city wall. I was told that there is no city in Germany that still has an entire Stadtmauer, or City Wall. Bergamo also has 2 Funicular trains. We walked up the first part, but took the train for the 2nd. Funicular is actually an English word that I didn't know until I came here; in German it is Bergbahn. Since it was out last meal in Italy we went to a fairly nice restaurant for dinner and I ordered something that I had no clue what it could be and it ended up being a rabbit leg. It wasn't very good. The Polenta that came with it was really good though.
Our plane from Bergamo left at 6am so we had to leave our hotel at about 4am. The flight back only took 1 hour, but the bus from the airport to Frankfurt took 1.5 hours, then I had another 1 hour train ride home. 2 hours on the train for Alexandra since she lives in Stuttgart.
We learned a lot about travelling from this trip. Next time I think we will spend more time in the small towns and away from the crowds of tourists.