From Venice to Milan to Zurich! And Back!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Grand Canal, Venice
From freezing Gornergrat to frying pan Rome;
From travelling on EuroStar First Class to foot board of an EuroCity train; 
From waking up before daybreak to capture the Venetian sunrise to entering the Zermatt Mountaineer's Cemetery at midnight to bow down to those who lost lives while climbing the Matterhorn; 
From classy hotels to mountain chalets to youth hostels to sleeping on straws in a farm - Done it All! 

Day 7, November 2nd 2013, Saturday: Remember we were dead tired the previous night? Still we were keen on capturing the Venetian sunrise. So just before day break we left our bunk beds, grabbed our vaporetto pass, grabbed the camera and stepped out of the hostel. It was chilly when we stepped out with no one on the walkways, except for a garbage cleaner. The Guidecca island is not exactly on the central islands of Venice, but it is just across Piazza San Marco and that made it easier to capture a sunrise over the San Marco.

Venetian Sunrise
During breakfast we met a lot of people, all belonging to different ethnicity - European, African, American, Middle-Eastern and there we were - Indians too. It felt like a little world. I have always hated the word 'hostel' in India, but I can vouch for these hostels meant for travelers spread all over Europe. They are great place to live in if you are on a tight budget and if you intend to meet new people. Generator, in particular, has hostels at Barcelona, Berlin, Copenhagen, Dublin, Hamburg, London and Venice. Just a word of caution : The showers have transparent doors ;-).

Generator Hostel
After checking out, we took Vaporetto no. 4.1 down the canal and were soon at San Marco. Piazza San Marco or the St. Mark's square was heavily crowded and it suddenly appeared to us that it is a weekend. We could easily spot the Lion of St. Mark as soon as we entered the square. It's a bronze winged lion surmounted on a column  as a symbol of the city of Venice. The square also has the Doge's Palace, which was once the residence of the Doge of Venice, and the Campanile di San Marco - the Bell tower of St. Mark.

Top: Campanile (Bell Tower) & Doge's Palace; Bottom Left: Lion of St. Mark,
Bottom Center: Riva degli Schiavoni; Bottom Right: San Marco Basilica
The turn off was that the square was flooded with water at many places due to acqua alta, with people walking around in plastic rain boots. Though there was a makeshift wooden walkway leading to the Basilica entrance to help people avoid wading through the water, the crowd, the water and the fact that we have had our fair share of church trips at Rome made us give the Basilica a skip; and with that we skipped entering Doge's Palace too.
'I want to see 'Real' Venice' - that's exactly what I told Pritha. The hidden lanes, the small canal bridges, gondoliers rowing their gondolas through narrow canals singing sweet barcarole... - For me that was real Venice.

We saw the Bridge of Sighs while walking along the Riva degli Schiavoni promenade. The bridge connects the prison to the interrogation rooms in Doge's Palace. The convicts could see Venice for the last time from the windows of this bridge before being taken down to the prison. Its a popular saying that the prisoners would sigh at the final glance of beautiful Venice and that's how the bridge was named.  

Bridge of Sighs
We got onto Vaporetto No. 4.1 from San Marco - Zaccaria and after a trip that felt like hours (but was actually for 20 minutes), we got off at Murano. Murano is a small island that is considered part of Venice. The island has rows of colorful houses, each house in different shades. It is also famous for Murano glass, that is made in its glass blowing factories, its very own glass museum and numerous shops selling things made of murano glass. There we found the real feel of Venice - we walked aimlessly through the alley ways, along the many canals, crossing small canal bridges whenever we had to. We saw the church of Santa Maria e San Donato. We shopped Murano glass jewelleries and souvenirs. We sat in a trattoria by the canal, sipping wine and sighing at the beauty surrounding us.

Top Left and Bottom Right: Streets of Murano; Top Right: Santa Maria e San Donato;
Bottom Left: Wine and aperitif at a trattoria by the canal
We again boarded a Vaporetto 4.1 to reach Ferrovia, the stop near the Venezia Santa Lucia railway station. There we booked an evening's train for Milan and boarded Vaporetto 1 to reach Rialto market. The market was overwhelming and if I wasn't on a tight budget I would have gone on a shopping spree. So all I bought was this Venetian mask, something I couldn't resist splurging on.

That Mysterious Woman
It was nearing sunset and we were at the best place to witness it - Rialto bridge. Both sides of the Grand Canal near the Rialto bridge are lined with open-air restaurants and cozy cafes. We chose one of canal side restaurante and ordered pizza and wine. The experience of dining by the canal was quintessentially Venetian; where else could we experience such bliss otherwise.  

Sunset from Rialto - Sighhhh...
Remember one thing if you are at Venice - Walk, walk, walk and try losing yourself - literally . Its worth it! 

Here ended our short and sweet Venice trip. We boarded a vaporetto enroute to Ferrovia and boarded the EuroCity to Milan just a minute before its departure. 

We reached the Italian fashion capital around eight at night and took a cab to our hotel Palazzo Delle Stelline, which was right next to the Santa Maria Delle Grazie church. The church - a UNESCO World Heritage site - houses Leonardo's The Last Supper, something you get to see only if you book the tickets months in advance, which we didn't! We met three Italian friend of ours for dinner, who had studied with us as exchange students during MBA. They were part of the reason we had included Milan in our plan. A pizza dinner was followed by drinks at a pub, walking in the chilly rain and hanging out at Stefano's apartment till late night. When Simone and Luca dropped us back at our hotel, it was almost 3 a.m..

From left to right: Luca, Me, Simone, Pritha and Stefano :)
Day 8, November 3rd 2013, Sunday: We woke up late! Obviously. We were meeting Stef and Luca again at Piazza del Duomo. Duomo, the Milan Cathedral had us spellbound as soon as we reached the square. It was a massive Gothic church built with white marbles. 

We spent some time at the adjoining Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II - a shopping mall that looked more like a palace and had brands of the likes of Prada and Louise Vuitton. On the ground right under its central glass dome, there is the Turin coat of arms depicting a bull. Its tradition for people to put their right heel on the bull's balls (don't get scandalized) and turn around three times. They say it brings good luck. We were forced to do so too. Poor bull!!!

At La Rinascente - a restaurant overlooking the Duomo, we ordered hot chocolate and cappuccino and spent an hour or so before rushing to Milano Centrale for our train back to Zurich. I don't know if it was the effect of the grand view of Duomo, but that was the best hot chocolate I have ever had.

La Rinascente
We traveled Eurostar First class till Brig, not by choice, but because the second class tickets were sold out. We changed trains at Brig and reached Zurich just before sunset. In my quest to explore Switzerland and Italy, I had ignored the city I had chosen as my base. With just a night left before my flight back to India, all we could do was to visit Lake Zurich and walk around Zurich's cobbestoned old town. Zurich was almost teeth-chattering-freezing on that night. I could see the Grossmünster and Fraumünster, two churches on either side of river Limmat, wonderfully lit at night.

Fraumunster on left side of river Limmat; Grossmunster on right side 
We had donur kebab at a Turkish joint and drinks at the Oliver Twist pub, before heading back home. 

Did I just say home? Well, even if for a short while, Altstetten, Zurich did feel like home! With a heavy heart, I packed my bags that night to come back to India. Little did I know that this heavyhearted-ness would haunt me for weeks to come.

B'bye Europe... until next time...

Sites that helped - (Swiss Federal Railways),
Recommended Stay - Generator Hostel (Venice) & Palazzo Delle Stelline (Milan)
Recommended Food - Italian Pizza - Of course!!! Hot Chocolate (at La Rinascente, Milan), Donur Kebab.
Day 1 at Appenzell (Switzerland Country Side).
Day 2 & Day 3 (Bern, Lausanne, Montreux & Golden Pass Classic Express)
Day 4 at Zermatt, Switzerland
Day 5 & Day 6 at Rome, Italy

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