Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Our wonderful weekend in Venice, Italy...started out bright and early with a 6AM departure from Grödig via private bus to the Salzburg Bahnhof (train station)...it was cold and rainy and three of the girls were late because their alarm clock didn't go off (it happens)...we were actually calling up to their bedroom windows trying to wake them up!!! Fortunately I set the departure time earlier than necessary (because these things do happen) and we had plenty of time to get to the Bahnhof and even a bit of time to wait (see photos) for the train to arrive. It's always fun to show the students how things work in a European train station (especially in Austria - because things are clearly marked and it is easy)...once we entered the train station we looked for our train listing so we would know which platform to go to...when we got to the platform we looked for the posting of the actual train and cars so we would know which area to stand in on the platform...it worked out fine, our train pulled up and all 21 of us climbed aboard.

Our train traveled for approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes to Villach, where we had a transfer...luckily the next train was on the opposite side of the platform, so we just got off the first train, walked across the platform and waited for the next.... however the wait was supposed to be only for 40 minutes and because of some sort of delay it ended up being for almost 2 hours...so we hung out... the way I usually do this is we find a bench on our platform and put everyone's luggage up in a big pile, then I stay and guard the bags while the students check things out in the train station (not going too far, but enough to get something to drink, and ice cream, etc.). It works out well. Finally our connecting train arrived and we got on. The ride is amazing, through the alps and down into the valley, into Italy and with views of mountains then in to the plains, it really is quite breathtaking! The houses change, the trees change, everything becomes a bit less green (it's so lush in Salzburg that the Italian country-side really looks dry, but of course is still beautiful, just a different kind of beauty, and less flowers). Time on the train seemed to pass quickly (so much to experience ---the toilets at either end of each car - some that work, some that don't....some that have toilet paper, some that don't....the dining car and all it has to offer --interesting foods in little packages, and a server that does it all from cooking to serving to cleaning up--....the seats, facing forward or backward, the people walking up and down the aisles....so interesting and new!)...but of course everyone seemed to also get in a few naps......

and before we knew it we were in Venice! I lead them out of the train station and down the steps...from there I left them in a bunch while I went and purchased our bus (which is of course a boat) tickets to take us to the Arsenale stop by our hotel. I love the moment of seeing their eyes widen when they first see the canals..it's awesome! I think they all needed a pinch! "Is this place for real???" So wonderful, I have such a great job!

Then the bus ride down the Grand Canal..it was a little warm, but comfortable (maybe the first time in 15 years that I wasn't totally boiling by this point...we really lucked out with the weather on this trip!) of course everyone is squished in on the bus...and there is so much to look at...on the boat and off!

On the boat the conductor goes from bus stop to bus stop clearing the way for passengers to exit and and then board, some with suitcases (totally confused and not sure where they are going) others with baby carriages (and no space to push them to) ...some are businessmen, others are obviously tourists, the people watching is amazing!

But of course...then there is the off the boat....and VENICE watching! Palace after incredible palace, going under the Rialto bridge, seeing the gondolas pass by, watching the action every bit of the way!

We quickly got off the bus at our stop (I yelled across the crowds for "CSA - My Group" and they pushed and shoved just like I showed them how to do with true "Italian Proximity"...no at-arms-length separation in Italy!) and walked over one bridge to our hotel. The wonderful "A Tribute to Music Hotel"...with a view of the water (the first time CSA's Venice weekend has ever had such a grand opportunity)...with air conditioning (another first!!)...with huge marble bathrooms...with silk wall paper....and with Daniel and their delightful staff! Such a treat. I distributed the keys, and some went up to their rooms via the stairs while others took the small little elevator.

The announced plan was an option to meet Vipin and I back downstairs in 15 minutes to go to a nearby supermarket to buy water (much cheaper than buying it in the area tourist stands..and bottled water must be bought in Venice - drinking water out of the tap is NOT an option!) or whatever sodas or snacks they wanted.

Now let me tell you that I just love going into foreign supermarkets and actually make a point to do it in every country I visit. I think I enjoy them in Japan the most - they have so many interesting ways that they package their food. Visiting the local supermarket of any country is always a very cultural experience too! Italian supermarkets - especially in Venice - are small and things are packed in and stacked floor to ceiling. The one we took the students to didn't have carts, but another that we often go to does, but if you get a cart, then you are committed to the lane and have to keep moving, not enough space to turn around and not enough space to pass another cart...everyone stays in the aisle and grabs and goes...it's really wild, and well, you better have a list of what you need and be ready!!

Anyway....after the supermarket run (which was fun, and those that went enjoyed it...even getting there -down small pedestrian ways and under passages- was fun) the plan was to meet at 5:30PM for an "Introduction to Venice" by Bill Schne.... (
...and the Huns chased the fishermen out to the marsh lands...) always interesting, and makes sense of it all...and so nice to be off a train and standing!! The lecture was interesting, but we were almost kicked by a soccer ball because we were standing right in front of the wall that the local boys use to kick against!!! Silly us, this is 'their' square...so we moved down a bit...much better. Nice to see the Venicians out living life in the local square...just as it was explained to them how they do it!

Then it was time for dinner and we were sooo hungry! Our restaurant (just around the corner from our hotel, with Pino and George ready to serve us with smiles) is always a pleasure and the meal of maybe the best lasagna I have ever had, roasted veal, salty-good french fries, ice cream...with fabulous long bread sticks and fresh bread on the side that we dipped into bowls of REAL ITALIAN OLIVE OIL and tasty balsamic vinegar and the adults enjoyed red wine that was so fabulous.....! SOOOOOO GOOOD!!! Salute!

Then it was time to continue our city tour....walking closer and closer to ST. MARK'S SQUARE! It's always an exciting journey....passing stores with hand-made and hand-painted masks, stores with glass beads and figurines, and people coming and going, of course seeing many pigeons......and once we arrived, we all patted the Lion statue on the head (to assure that we would one day return to Venice) and headed to the front of the cathedral.

The evening was amazing...the were in Venice!! Schne explained all the main points of the square (Clock Tower, Bell Tower, Facade of the Basilica, Doges Palace...etc.)..so fantastic (I even noticed other tourists trying to lean in and hear his fabulous explanation)...then Stephanie went over to her usual group of musicians and before we knew it, she was singing on stage (usual, because she sang with them last year too!)...we all stood around and cheered her on...and I must say, she drew quite a crowd with her "Sound of Music" melodies! The night was fabulous and the next day was just around the corner....

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