9 December - Get Lost

When we woke up today, it was snowing lightly outside.  Fortunately it wasn’t too bad on our walk to the train station.  At the station we went into the ticket office and got our tickets without too much trouble, but we found out that the line from Verona to Venice was under construction today, and that accordingly we’d need to hop on a bus for part of the trip.  After boarding the back of the train we used Google Lens to translate the tickets and saw a note stating that we needed to validate the tickets, which we hadn’t done.  We worried what the repercussions might be, but no one ever came to check our tickets.  Crystal asked where the Dolomites were, and Justin thought about where they were in relation to the Alps, and couldn’t figure out where one started and one ended, so we looked it up on Wikipedia.  It turned out we were actually in the Dolomites at the moment, and that the Dolomites are a subset of the Alps, so if nothing else we learned something today.

The cruddy weather prevented us from seeing the Dolomites’ grandeur.  It was still snowing a bit, and very gray with low clouds.  We went through a tunnel a little north of Domegliara, taking maybe just 2 minutes, and when we emerged the mountains were gone and snow had been replaced by rain.  It occurred to us that the alpine portion of our trip was now over.  In this same area we saw a quarry of either granite or marble, including huge blocks that we assumed would be cut into slabs, like cutting a loaf of bread into slices. 

When we arrived in Verona we found a travel office, as we wanted to confirm we could take a later bus/train, where to find it, and where to validate our tickets.  People kept trying to cut the line, and the agent wasn’t having it, continually pointing to the back of the line we were standing in.  After figuring out the details of the bus, and also figuring out how to validate our remaining train tickets, we found a place to store our luggage, and then we used the facilities.  We then grabbed a taxi for a short drive into the Piazza right by the Arena.

The Arena in Verona, originally built in 30 AD, is one of the few Roman-era arenas still in use, for operas and other performances.  To get in there was a long line, and it was raining, so that wasn’t great.  Justin used the wait time to make lunch reservations at a restaurant a short walk away, Al Pompiere.  At the front of the line we realized the delay wasn’t a capacity issue, but just that people were that slow at paying for their tickets.  Once inside, it was a big arena, oval-shaped with granite stairs.  There was rehabilitation work ongoing in many parts of the arena, including the concourses, where we saw them spraying some sort of liquid, rock by rock.  In the end we waited in line longer than we were inside, but it was still interesting.

The walk in the rain to the restaurant was a bit of an adventure.  The streets seemed to be pedestrian-only, either legally or as a practical matter.  But because of the rain, most people had their umbrellas out, and it was almost bumper cars with all of the umbrellas.  We tried to hug the side walls, first to stay a bit drier, and second to avoid the throngs of umbrellas.  We arrived at the restaurant about 15 minutes before it was set to open.  There was a covered mall area right next door, so Crystal, Clarita, and Dewey decided to wait there out of the rain.  Meanwhile Justin made a (very) quick tour of Piazza Erbe and then also checked out Ponte Pietra, an ancient bridge constructed in 100 BC across the Adige River.

Justin returned to the restaurant right at 12:30, and we went straight into Al Pompiere.  The restaurant was very cozy, with the walls covered with dozens of black and white photos.  In the basket of bread they brought us there were some very tasty rolls with a very thin crust, yet very soft and warm inside.  Crystal ordered some burrata, Dewey and Clarita split a bean soup, and Justin got some fagioli.  Prior to our mains we all split a plate of prosciutto and also some pasta with white truffles.  For our mains both Justin and Dewey ordered a dish with beef cheeks and oxtail, Crystal got a thick spaghetti with anchovies, and Clarita ate the rest of the soup.  We ordered two bottles of wine (Ca Dei Maghi Valpolicella and Ca Dei Maghi Valpolicella Classico Superiore) that were very good, but not as good as the night before.

After lunch we took a taxi back to the train station.  Because of the long lunch, we got back later than we planned, so Justin gave the guy at the luggage storage location an extra $5 euros since we’d exceeded the 4 hour time period.  We took our bags to the bus area, and we had to wait about 30 minutes, but at least it was covered.  Presumably from the wine and the warm bus, we all fell asleep for portions of the bus ride.  We didn’t get off where we should have, as we thought we were going to the last stop, not one of the intermediate stops.  So we had to backtrack by foot about 10-15 minutes to the San Bonifacio station.  We missed the train by mere seconds, as it pulled away just as we arrived on the platform.  Once again we weren’t having the greatest luck, as the next train was not for over an hour, and it was already getting dark.

Dewey and Clarita waited in the seating area inside, and we waited outside.  Justin was watching Brazil v Croatia on his phone and attempting (unsuccessfully) to avoid smokers.  About every 10-15 minutes someone would show up, walk to about 5 feet away from him, and start smoking - it was incredible.  Once finally on the train, it was nice, but everyone had piled into the same car, so it was quite loud.  While we had backpacks, Clarita had a roller bag, and it wasn’t easy to maneuver around the trains, through the towns, etc., so we had sat down right near where we entered the train.  

The train was a local (the one we missed was an express), so it was stopping every five minutes.  Justin realized we were going to miss our dinner reservation because of all our delays, and accordingly lose 120 Euros in the process.  So he walked over to a quiet part of the train and called to see if we could change our reservation.  They must not have been that full, as they said we could come at 21:00 or 21:30.  He thanked them profusely, and then just stayed in the quiet part of the train.  Meanwhile, Crystal, Clarita, and Dewey played games on their phones to pass the time.  Justin listened to some Stevie Wonder to help his mood - it worked.  He also caught the incredible end to the Brazil-Croatia match, with Brazil being eliminated on penalties.

We arrived in Venice around 20:00.  To our surprise, most people got off at the Venice Mestre station, which is on the mainland.  The accommodations there are much cheaper, but we didn’t think that many people would be staying there.  Once at the final station, we departed and walked over to the water taxis.  There were several Italians there that were oblivious to everyone else at the water taxi station - we weren’t happy, as it had been a long day, and we just wanted to get to our hotel and dinner.  We got off the water taxi at the Rialto station on the Grand Canal.  

It was supposed to be a short walk from there to the hotel (Ai Patrizi Venice Luxury Apartments), but we couldn’t find the hotel - Google Maps was putting either us and/or the hotel in the wrong spot, and we were walking in circles and/or trying to turn on streets that didn’t actually exist.  With everything that had transpired on our travels today, we were not remotely in the mood for a wild goose chase.  We finally got in, found our keys waiting for us in the lobby, and went up to our room.  The first thing Crystal said once we got inside was “If you told me that I had to leave, and could never come back to Italy, I’d say okay.”  Normally our trips are fairly stress free and enjoyable, so days like today are the exception…thankfully.

We put our stuff down, checked out the room (which was enormous and opulent), and then headed out with Dewey and Clarita to dinner.  The restaurant (Ai Mercanti) was supposedly just a minute or two away, but like the hotel, Google Maps was having major issues directing us there.  We had read about the joys of “getting lost in Venice”, and that all seems well and good, but not when you have somewhere specific you have to be by a certain time.  Clarita saw the restaurant down a dark alley - she noticed some candles near the front door, and thankfully that was it.

Inside Ai Mercanti, things got better.  Justin immediately ordered a double Kirk & Sweeney rum, and Dewey got a single.  We ordered a bottle of Amarone, specifically Amarone della Valpolicella Classico from Ca’ La Bionda, for the table.  We split some corned veal tongue for an appetizer, and it tasted a lot like corned beef to us.  Dewey ordered a lamb shank, and we and Clarita all ordered Risotto di Secole, a risotto with meat from the vertebrae.  Between lunch and dinner we’d now eaten tongue, cheek, vertebrae, and tail today.  Everything was very tasty, and Justin finished every bite that Crystal and Clarita didn’t.  For dessert Justin got a passionfruit sorbet, and Dewey and Clarita split something the restaurant referred to as different chocolate interpretations.  We got back to the hotel around 23:00 and went straight to bed, knowing that thankfully we had nothing to wake up for the next morning.  It had been a taxing day, but we had some good ups in addition to the downs.

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