Why? Because I knew we had to get from Munich to Milan to Venice in one day. I don’t recommend it, but here’s how we did it.
After a devotional under the down comforter in my painted bed, I went down to breakfast. It was pretty expensive, but we couldn’t resist the adorable room, and I woke up feeling unwell.
A nice cup of tea and another purloined lunch later, I felt ready to face the epic train ride. We rode the tram to the station and got on our train with no issues. The ride through the mountains into Italy was stunning. I listened to music and sketched while looking at the beautiful views. I also had to work on picking out my Semester at Sea trips. I was pretty overwhelmed. Who gets to pick out trips for a journey around the world while riding a train through Italy on a European trek? This girl. And I in no way deserve it. Amazing.
The train car in which we rode was mainly full of young Italian guys. We got pretty excited because they played a popular song we recognized, and we all sort of sang along together in ENGLISH. It’s amazing how beautiful that language can sound after a long time traveling.
And with that, we were in ITALY! The one country on our trip full of places Claire and I have been before (as well as places we have never seen). In that sense, it felt more like a homecoming. Also, with a last name like mine, you always feel a little bit like you’re coming home when you’re in Italy.
We switched trains in Verona, and I listened to the “Love Theme” and “Now We are Free” as we sped toward Milan.
We checked our bags at the station, which was actually quite the process. We had to give the guy our passports and everything. I conducted the entire operation in Italian and was quite proud. I speak Italian like a caveman speaks English, but at least I know a smidge (thanks, Grandpa).
We took the subway to the Duomo, crossing another city’s public transport off our list. A nice man warned us about pickpockets. We walked through the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, which is basically a shopping alley built during the unification of Italy (Remember, Italy wasn’t always a unified boot. That’s partially why each big city has such a distinctive flavor…and why the different football teams are so competitive).
After passing a statue of Leonardo, we walked to the required Brera Art Gallery. Yes, more art.
This museum was cool, though, because it is above an art school and used to be a monastery. There is a statue of Napoleon in the courtyard holding a little fairy called “Napoleon and Tinkerbell.” For some reason, I found this utterly hilarious. This set the mood for my less than serious approach to this museum.
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Hayez’s “Il Bacchio” was there. There was also a lot of religious art. A lot. All of the signs were in Italian, but it didn’t really matter because by now we have the main tropes and themes down. St. Catherine with her wheel, St. Lucia with her eyes, St. Sebastian being skewered with arrows, St. Jerome with his Lion and St. Francis—well, somehow you can always just tell it’s him.
Believe it or not, I’m not tired of art yet, though. There is something about looking at religious art on a Sunday. A lot of it is kind of silly because it shows the people of the Bible in modern (for the Renaissance) clothes and settings. The neat thing is the idea behind it: Someone tried to visualize, and more importantly, humanize the events recorded in the Bible. It’s easy to think of the stories we read in abstract “impressionistic” terms. These painters put flesh and blood through brush and paint onto the characters that makes the Bible come alive.
After the gallery, we wanted to take in some high fashion. It was perfect since the shops were closed and crowds nonexistent. Wow.
I saw some of my favorites—Prada and Tiffany’s—and so many more. Louis Vuitton, Jimmy Choo, Valentino, Dolce Gabanna…it was a crash course in fashion. Looking at shirts that cost more than our 24 day trip was amazingly fun. As you can imagine, two 21-year-old girls had the window shopping fun of a lifetime. We found our way back to the Duomo to view our final requirement. It was something else!!
The church had a bagillion spires on top and huge doors. One of the doors had a carving on it of a man’s calf that stuck out, and people kept grabbing for pictures. I didn’t really get it (I mean, he had nice calves and everything…), but I held on for a picture anyway.
We rode the subway back to the massive train station that was built during the Italian foray with fascism. I got a drink in time for our 9:05pm train to Venice. The ride was no big deal, but we landed at Venice’s Mestre station past midnight. Strictly speaking, Mestre isn’t Venice at all. The station you want for Venice is St. Lucia. Mestre is sort of the suburbs. No canals. Just buildings with the windows broken out. At least that’s the part we saw.
We just needed to find a way to get to St. Lucia. A guidebook informed us there was regular, easy transport, but reality was a station empty except for a few bewildered tourists, some taxi drivers who looked like mafia lords and a few men looking sheepish about being out. Evidently the “regular transport” stops before midnight.
We thankfully found two local girls heading home and asked them how to get to St. Lucia. The girls told us a bus number, which we waited for for about 20 minutes. The driver let us on for free (I’m sure we looked pathetic). From the bus stop we had to find the train station, which is over a large bridge and out of sight initially.
The train station, however, was point “A” on our Google map directions. I’m not sure what we would have done if I hadn’t thought of asking Claire to print those out the night before.
Something to know about Venice:
It is known for being “the city you get lost in.” Everything is old and crumbling, and the streets are a veritable labyrinth. The narrow alley ways twist and turn and end in the canal with no warning, lights or railing. With the trepidation of Theseus entering the maze, we stood on the edge of the Grand Canal, preparing to plunge into the labyrinth to look for our minotaur—the Pantalon Hotel.
We had each been to Venice before and knew how easy it was to get lost. In the daylight. With friendly Italian men in cafes to help you.
A quick prayer and we were in the utterly abandoned 1 a.m. Venetian streets.
It was shocking how deserted it was. No noise but my luggage bumping over street stones and Claire quietly reading the next step from the directions. We took our time and guess what?!
We found the tiny, tiny place after a little less than a mile of twisting and turning! I felt so thankful.
Shower. Bed. 2 a.m. I know I’ll see a lot of this city in the next two days, but I think I’ll always love the Venice I saw tonight: empty, old, quiet and stars overhead.