A Travellerspoint blog

August 2012

Venice compared to Croatia

Our experiences in both

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We’re in Basel now and it’s raining, so I figured I’d write a bit more. I was just thinking about our trip, and I have to say that Venice was all really beautiful, but I found it a lot less enjoyable than Croatia in some ways. The prices were one thing, but you can over that if you know what to expect. We knew Venice would probably cost us more than all of Croatia, and anyone planning on going to Venice is probably not going because it’s a great cheap place to visit. There were just a lot of other little things that took away from the atmosphere of the city. I’m really starting to understand what people mean when they say “don’t go there; it’s too touristy”. I never mind the other tourists – that’s all we are! – but there were a lot of little things about Venice that made it feel like the whole city was just a giant tourist trap rather than a functioning part of Italy. It’s not the same visiting a place where it feels like there’s absolutely no one who actually lives there. In Croatia we saw people every day just going about their lives – in the grocery stores, on the public transit, in the cities. It was always really obvious who was local and who was a tourist. In Venice though, it seemed like there were no locals – we especially didn’t see many Italians.

Another big thing was that there were ads and graffiti all over all of the things you would want to see in Venice. In St. Mark’s square there were building-sized ads for clothing stores and other things hanging, there was even one on the basilica! There were also ads hanging on both sides of the Rialto Bridge and it was covered in graffiti – not nice street art, just white letters and symbols everywhere. It kind of ruins the city when you can’t see the characteristic buildings. I couldn’t imagine seeing a billboard ad for Hugo Boss hanging over the edge of the Dubrovnik City Walls.

Another thing was the “souvenir” stands. There are always tons of gift shops in a tourist city, but in Venice there were stands loaded with kitschy T-shirts, cheap masks, Chinese glass, crappy scarves, and everything else, every few metres! There were also tons of people selling knock-off sunglasses and purses and various children’s toys on the streets, just with sheets laid out and all of their merchandise on the ground. And all over the place, on the sides and in the middle of the road, on the bridges, steps, in the alleys – everywhere! It was really difficult to escape it. Anyway, we knew it was “touristy” before we went, but it was touristy in a different way than Korcula or Dubrovnik. Most of the time in Croatia there only a dozen or so people in the museums, shops, squares, or tours, even in Dubrovnik.

We saw some good artists selling their work on the streets, though, and I appreciate the paintings of Venice a lot more after visiting it, because there are no people or ads in the paintings. I think it would be impossible to get a decent picture of St. Mark’s basilica, or the Rialto Bridge, but the artists paint such beautiful paintings, you can kind of imagine what things looked like before they became full of garbage and tourists.

Anyway, we’ll definitely be back to visit the rest of Italy, but I would think twice about going to Venice again, and certainly never go in August if you can help it. It wasn’t too hot – that would be the only reason I wouldn’t go back to Croatia this time of year – and the accommodations were probably cheapest because you can camp, but there were just so many people, and so many vendors. I’m not sure what it’s like at other times of the year, but it’s really hard to enjoy and appreciate a city as unique and beautiful as Venice when there’s garbage, ads, construction, street vendors, and loud tourists everywhere.

Posted by kmclean 20:11 Archived in Italy Tagged beaches venice tourist croatia souvenirs traps Comments (0)

From Venice to Basel

Our trip is almost over

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So, we’re on our way to Basel to wrap up this trip. We spent the last 4 nights in Venice and had a great time, but I’m looking forward to heading back to Germany and finally settling in somewhere. We arrived in Venice on the bus from Villach with no problems and caught the city bus to our campsite. By that time it had stopped raining, but it was freezing! Not really, but it was about 19 degrees, and coming from Croatia’s 38 degree evenings it was a bit of a shock. The weather for the rest of our trip was very warm, though, so I think we just caught a chilly day. We rented a “tent” at Camping Rialto, about 10 minutes outside Venice, and we had a really great stay. The tents they have for rent are more like the gazebo style covers that people have on their decks – it was big enough to stand up in, had a wooden floor and had room for 2 cots. We had a great time, I would definitely camp this way again. The transportation to and from the city was great, although the public transit in Venice seems a lot less efficient than in Croatia or Germany. The busses and water busses were usually late, or early, and all the doors were always open but the ticket validation thing was at the front of the bus, so I think quite a few people took more than a few free rides.

Overall, though, Venice was awesome. Unbelievably expensive, but once we got over that, we had a great time. It seemed like every little thing was a tourist trap; any way they can make money off of you, they did. One nice thing was that there were a lot of public fountains, so we never had to buy water. Washrooms were 1,50 euro though! And there was nowhere to sit, so we always ended up loitering on bridge steps to eat our packed lunches. We did go out for a couple of meals, which is where we discovered another series of tourist traps: the cover charge and service charge. Cover charge was usually 3 euro, and we had to pay a 12% “service charge”. It usually worked out to only a few extra euros, but the first time we ran into it it was a bit of a surprise. We went out expecting to pay 10 euros for a pizza, but after paying for the water, the cover charge, and the service charge, it ended up being double that! For mediocre pizza. It was disappointing to say the least, but we got over it and stayed out.

There didn’t seem like there was much to do in Venice except spend a lot of money, but we were expecting it so it wasn’t too much of a shock. Even after coming from Dubrovnik (which everyone in Croatia warned us was going to be SO expensive), we were in disbelief when we saw the prices in Venice. Dubrovnik was by far the most expensive city we went to in Croatia, but we probably spent more in Venice in 4 days than we did over the rest of our trip. We figured it’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing, though, so why not. All the guide books joke that “there’s a chance the water could be knee-deep in St. Mark’s square by the time you visit”, so I’ve got no regrets!

We spent some time in St. Mark’s square; we went into the Doge’s palace, the basilica, and the museums in the square. We also saw the Rialto Bridge and wandered around the alleys. We took an extremely over-priced gondola ride, but that was probably the best thing we did because it’s really the only way to see the canals and some of the really interesting buildings. The water busses only travel up and down the Grand Canal and across the lagoon, but in the gondola we got to see Venice up close. It’s really cool to see steps just going into the water, and to see water washing up against the houses instead of pavement. It really is unique. It’s neat to see people making deliveries in little motor boats, pulling up to the steps and dropping something off. We even saw a UPS boat full of parcels.

We also spent one day at a beach in Lido swimming in the other side of the Adriatic. We stopped at a cemetery on Murano and went further into the island for a while to eat lunch before the beach, and it was a really nice. It looked exactly like the main part of Venice, but much less crowded and with a lot fewer kitschy souvenir stalls. We got to stop by a glass workshop quickly, but there was no one around. It was pretty neat though. The beach was amazing. It was “free”, but the washrooms, showers, water, umbrellas, and loungers were all for profit. Luckily we learned enough over the past couple of weeks to bring lots of water and something to lay on. The sea was really warm and the beach was sandy. It was a great day, and our cheapest!

On our last night we stumbled across a concert hall and for only 20 euros each (which I thought was cheap), we got to see a string ensemble play for an hour and a half. They played Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Pachelbel’s Canone, and a couple of other really great pieces, all in full 18th century costumes. The concert hall was beautiful. It was a perfect way to end our stay in Venice.

Now we’re on a plane to Basel where we’re couchsurfing for two nights, and then heading back to Freiburg. We get to move into our place for the year in a few days, and we’re really looking forward to that. It’s sad that this trip is over, but it just makes me that much more excited for our next vacation.

Here are the pictures.

Posted by kmclean 20:05 Archived in Italy Tagged boats canals water venice st. palace square italy gondola mark's murano doge's lido Comments (0)


On our way to Venice

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We left Ljubljana today for Venice, and we’re sitting on a bus in the pouring rain right now. Ljubljana was a great city, very beautiful and very European. We had our first experience couch surfing here, and it went so well! We arrived on Friday on a train from Zagreb and our host picked us up from the train station. They gave us breakfast and helped us learn about the city and how to get around it. So far we’ve lucked out with accommodations. We have the nicest hosts and always a comfortable place to sleep. We’re camping in Venice though, and it looks like we’ll be camping in the rain, so we’ll see how that goes.

Anyway, Ljubljana was a great city, except that today we got stuck in a down pour on our way to the train station. We got soaked but we made it. The best part about this city was free washrooms and water! Well, that may not have been the best part, but so far it was the only place where we’ve been served water for free at a restaurant. There are also public fountains everywhere. That was definitely a bonus. The first night there we went to the Ljubljana castle. It’s a great attraction, only 3 euro for students and it’s very well kept. There’s a great museum there and a virtual tour of the castle. We spent the whole night there and then caught a bus back to our host’s house, which went very smoothly. Learning how to use all the different public transit systems has been a fun part of this adventure.

We had one full day in Ljubljana, so we got to see quite a bit of the city. They had a great market on Saturday morning, and after that we went to the Ljubljana city museum. That was definitely my favourite museum so far, they had really great exhibits and a free audio guide to carry along with you through the museum. We also checked out the national and university library, where there happened to be an exhibit on Slovenians in Canada. It looked really interesting but was all in Slovene. After that we went to the parliament building, the Slovenian philharmonic academy, and the University of Ljubljana, but none were open so we kept wandering around town. Eventually we found our way back.

This morning it was raining, but only lightly, so we went to a flea market that our hosts suggested we see. It was really interesting. He said this flea market is only for vintage items and other interesting pieces, and there’s a separate one for anything “imported or plastic”. There was tons of really cool stuff, and a lot of old Yugoslav paraphernalia; money, coins, stamps, army knives. After that we got caught in the rain on our way to the train station and got soaked. There’s no easy connection to Venice from Ljubljana, which I thought there would be, so we had to catch a train to Villach in Austria, wait for an hour and a half, and then catch a bus to Venice. Now we’re sitting on that bus and it’s still pouring, but we’re looking forward to tomorrow.

Here are some pictures.

Posted by kmclean 20:02 Archived in Slovenia Tagged markets venice castle yugoslavia flea ljubljana Comments (0)


A change of scenery

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We’re in Zagreb now and it’s lovely. It’s different being in a “regular” city, as opposed to the very old and touristy ones we’ve been in for the past week. Zagreb does have a section that’s 1000 years old, but it’s not like Split or Dubrovnik with city walls and fortifications. The newer part looks very European. The museums here are beyond comparison to any of the others we’ve seen. On our first day we went to the archaeological museum here and it had three floors, including and Egyptian exhibit, a Greek one, a Roman one, and an Etruscan one with a mummy! We also saw the Croatian history museum which had an exhibit on about the Homeland War, it was tragic learning about the destruction and violence that went on here only 20 years ago. The subject’s still very touchy here, I think, although less so in Zagreb than in Dalmatia.

There’s also a very old and beautiful cathedral here. It’s massive, and they’re in the process of restoring it. The new parts look great, but they’ve left a couple of pillars untouched, which is really neat. It’s definitely in need of repair. It’s about 600 years old, but on the sign outside the cathedral they made sure to mention that the disrepair is a result of the disrespect shown for Catholic sites during the Yugoslav era.

Overall Zagreb is a great city. The museums are great, the shops are good, but I do miss having a beach to go to half way through the day. It’s just as hot here as it was in Dubrovnik – 38 degrees sometimes! There are enough air conditioned buildings that we always find a place to cool off, though. Another bonus is free washrooms! There are far fewer tourists here than in the other cities we’ve seen — I’m starting to understand what people mean when they say “don’t go there, it’s too touristy”.

The culture here is really different, there are cafes everywhere and it seems like all people do here is shop, smoke, and go for coffee and drinks. Anytime of the day the cafes are packed with people drinking; most of the places don’t even sell food. It seems like smoking is legal just about everywhere, although the drivers a lot better here than anywhere else. Anyway, we’ve had a great time but we’re packing up yet again. Next up is Ljubljana.

Here are some pictures.

Posted by kmclean 19:59 Archived in Croatia Tagged church shopping summer croatia war zagreb homeland Comments (0)

Last day in Dubrovnik

What an amazing city

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It’s our last day in Dubrovnik. It feels like we had enough time – there’s nothing here I really wanted to do but couldn’t, but this is such a beautiful city I wish we didn’t have to leave. Today we went sea-kayaking in the morning. It was well worth it. We left from a beach right in the old town and then kayaked around the island of Lokrum, which is very close to Dubrovnik. It took us a little over an hour, I think, and then we stopped at a cave beach. It can only be reached by boat, so it wasn’t crowded at all. The water was so clear, you could see everything. Our guide told us that’s an advantage for Croatia, because nobody can use submarines to attack since they can be seen up to 50 m down from the sky. I find that the people here talk about the war a lot more than in other parts of the country. They’re always mentioning how defensible Dubrovnik is, and how well it has been restored – which is absolutely has. It’s just interesting. From here we’re flying to Zagreb, and we’re about half way done our trip.

Here are some pictures from our last day in Dubrovnik.

Posted by kmclean 19:56 Archived in Croatia Tagged beaches kayaking summer croatia dubrovnik Comments (0)