My original plan was to write a couple posts while we were away, but the itinerary of the trip changed a couple of times and I didn't end up with as much downtime as I had initially envisioned. I hope to do a better job of detailing our travel while we are traveling in the future, but for now here is the next best thing! Disclaimer: Many of the pictures in the blog posts are either going to be cell phone snaps, or pictures that are not well composed or technically sound, and some I poached from my girlfriend. Visit the galleries to see the "artistic" images.
Part 1 - Travel, Paris, Venice, and Verona
We left Edmonton on May 19 late afternoon with the final destination being Paris CDG. After a quick Encore flight to Calgary on a Q400 we hopped on board Westjet’s brand new 787 Dreamliner for our 9 hour flight to Paris. Interestingly enough, this was only the second Calgary to Paris flight for the aircraft so it was neat to experience air travel on a plane that had yet to be desecrated by disrespectful passengers (on the return flight two weeks later we were on the same aircraft and the pods were damaged…).
Flying! We splurged for business class with lie down pods for the 9 hour affair, and it completely ruined air travel for me going forward; I will never be able to take an overseas flight without flying business class again. Pictured below we have the business cabin with the individual lie flat pods, me in my seat enjoying my welcome champagne, me beating Laura at the multiplayer trivia game that you can access on your entertainment screen, and a print out from the pilots of a message that our coworkers had sent to the cockpit. It’s not very often you could say that the flight was one of the highlights of your trip, but I definitely can in this case - it was phenomenal!
Paris! We landed in Paris at approximately 1130 local time, collected our bags and cleared passport control without much fuss. The fun started when we found out there was a taxi strike in Paris and surrounding area on this particular day. We looked into options for both the bus and train before simply deciding on an Uber to take the 45 minute drive into the city to our hotel. Tired and feeling dirty from the plane ride we got cleaned up a bit and then headed out to explore. We walked to the Louvre, arriving only 45 minutes before closing which was fine we really only wanted to check out the Mona Lisa so we stood in a couple long lines and then made our way to this…
This picture could be used as a VERY accurate metaphor for our entire trip of trying to see and do the famous/touristy things; and the struggle to do so against the endless crowds. I know it’s hypocritical to complain about other tourists when we are tourists ourselves, but I’m going to anyways. A lot of the people we encountered had absolutely no interest in visiting these sites in an orderly or efficient manor, instead opting for pure chaos which ensured that no one was able to really appreciate the art. I was able to snap this absolute beauty (heavy sarcasm) standing way in the back with my 70-200 held up as high as I could.
Above are some random pictures from in and around the Louvre museum and grounds. After the Louvre we grabbed some dinner at a nearby pub and then crashed for the evening. One thing that threw me off about Paris was how bad our meals were, as this is in stark contrast to everything we had heard about the cuisine situation in the city. We ate at cafes, pubs, delis, mid range restaurants, even a high end restaurant and we literally could not buy a decent meal. Laura and I are both big foodies and always try to find amazing meals when we travel but unfortunately we left Paris quite disappointed in this regard.
Somehow more disappointing than the food in Paris was the Game of Thrones finale which we painstakingly worked to download in our hotel room. We battled terrible wifi, and myself continuously blowing the fuse for our room trying to charge my laptop all to witness what has to be one of the worst finale’s in TV history. Ugh.
The next day I was up surprisingly early given my sleep depravation from the previous 24 hours, and the 8 hour time change. I went out to grab coffee as Laura got ready and then we set out for a fun filled day of sightseeing before flying to Venice that evening. We walked around the Louvre grounds a little to see some of the outdoor sites we had missed the evening prior, and then took a Hop-on Hop-off bus tour of the Parisian landmarks.
The last time I was in Europe was 2006 for a high school trip around France, and Belgium and one of the days we had in Paris the option was to either see the Notre Dame Cathedral, or the Catacombs; I chose the Catacombs. One of the things I was most excited to see in Paris was the Notre Dame, but unfortunately just a week or two before the trip the building suffered a fire during renovations and wasn’t open to the public. I hope that they are able to restore it to its former glory someday.
We went up the Eiffel Tower, and saw a couple other nearby attractions, and then it was time to go back to the hotel to collect our stuff before taking the late flight to Venice.
Flying Again! A quick hop on an Air France A318 from CDG to Venice’s Marco Polo International took about an hour and 20 minutes or so. Being a huge aviation nerd, flying in different parts of the world is interesting to me but not so much for my travel companion.
Venice! Venice has to be the most unique city I have ever been to in my life. All the typical conventions of city life go out the window here as the city is comprised of over 100 islands, and the main form of transportation is by boat.
It was fairly late in the evening when we arrived, and it was dark. Above are the pictures of us leaving the water transport station which is somewhat connected to the airport, and our boat arriving at the JW Marriott island. The JW is absolutely gorgeous, and I wish we had more time in Venice to be able to lounge around and enjoy the amenities a little.
The following morning we slept in a bit, grabbed some delicious pizza from the snack bar at the hotel, and took the shuttle boat from our island to the heart of Venice; Saint Mark’s Square. We had a taste of the crowds in Paris, but this was our first of many exposures to an absolutely insane volume of people packed into small areas, and it was like that for the remainder of the trip. We had booked a tour of Saint Mark’s Basilica which also included a walking tour of some of the area surrounding Saint Mark’s, as well as a boat tour of greater Venice. We initially had a bit of a struggle finding our meeting point, but were soon happily on our way to exploring the city.
First stop on our tour, not surprisingly, was the interior of Saint Mark’s square - pictured above. It is one of those incredible places in the world that you simply need to visit to understand the beauty, as even the best pictures will not do it justice. We went inside Saint Mark’s Basilica, and while some people did not respect the no photography rule, I did and don’t have any pictures of the interior. It is a beautiful church, and one that is well worth a visit if you ever find yourself in Venice. The walking tour following the Basilica took us through one of the nearby Venice neighbourhoods which wasn’t as crammed with tourists as the square was.
After the walking tour, we boarded a small water taxi for the boat tour portion of our day. This ended up being a disappointment as the boat was quite small and was packed with several groups of people. There was room at the back for someone - or perhaps two people - to stand but everyone else had to sit down in the fully enclosed boat making it very difficult to see what was being pointed out by our guide. It was good for giving us a the scope of the city which is actually quite large, and seeing how all the small watercraft, and their operators, interact with each other.
We had dinner after the boat tour, and thankfully the food in Venice, and all of Italy for that matter, was out of this world. When I’m in North America I’m not really one for pasta; I enjoy lasagna and ravioli depending on what it’s stuffed with and that’s it for the most part. I ate pasta for almost every meal we had while we were in Italy and loved every second of it. The food in Italy was some of the best food I have ever eaten in my life.
We spent the rest of the evening at the Rialto Bridge and surrounding area just taking in the sights and the atmosphere. Venice was wonderful!
Verona and Brescia! We only had the one day in Venice before we were on the move again, this time for a day trip through Verona to our next overnight location - Brescia. This was our first experience with the Italian train system, which would serve as our main form of transportation, as we got on a TrenItalia train from Venice to Verona. The first couple times on the train were a little confusing, on this leg we bought tickets and then sat in the wrong seats initially, but overall it went well. The ride from Venice to Verona was quite short, and we got off the train, stowed our luggage at the train station (lifesaving feature!), and walked to the area around the amphitheatre. We walked to Juliet’s Balcony to see the statue and the letters to Juliet, and marvelled at the incredible arena. We had some delightful wine and pizza, then took an adorable, albeit bumpy, train ride around the city while a recording told us more about the history.
We spent the least amount of time in Verona of all the places we visited, but it was one of my favourites. It was quaint, and not quite as busy as the other tourist locations, and had an atmosphere that I really enjoyed; if we were going to do the trip over again I would have liked to spend a night or two here. Maybe next time!
After spending the afternoon exploring Verona, we got back on the train and continued the journey to our next stop: Brescia. Brescia is about as non-touristy as you can possibly get, sort of a middle of nowhere industrial town. For the most part I felt quite safe on this trip, but Brescia made me feel a little uneasy, in part due to the long walk through a sketchy part of town from the train station to our hotel. The hotel ended up being very nice, and the location was better than the area we slogged through to get there. No pictures from Brescia unfortunately as I didn't want to have my camera out here. We had an interesting dinner where our waitress spoke absolutely no English, and we spoke absolutely no Italian, so the resulting interactions would have been right at home as a comedy skit.
The next morning we walked back to the train station for Part 2 of our adventure, Cinque Terre, Pisa, and Florence/Tuscany! Stay tuned for the next chapter!