Monday, January 28, 2008

Venice, winter (part 1)

This weekend, Matthew and I went to Venice to celebrate his birthday (January 25th). His birthday happen to coincide with the first night of Carnevale!! I found a one-star hotel close to the Rialto, and we caught a 4 euro train to Venice on Friday afternoon.
The ground was already covered in confetti, but we had to wait until Sunday before we saw many costumes and masks.
That night we got terribly lost and hungry tracking down an Indian restaurant. Once we got there though, things brightened considerably and the festivities for us officially began. The cook came out after we finished our HUGE meal and chatted with us a bit. She (we think) spoke English very well, wore salmon colored corduroy pants, and was so delighted to find that I was from Hawaii.
"I was just talking to my friends at t
he other table about how much I want to go to Hawaii this year!"
She apparently is an avid windsurfer, and has a friend who grew up on the island of Maui.

The next day we caught a water bus to the unappealing island of Murano. Thankfully, that wasn't our final destination. During our 10 minute layover, we hurriedly looked in the windows of a few shops and figured the island was probably more interesting when it is warm in the summer and all the shops were open.
BURANO, our final destination for the day, was positively delightful! It's a small, fairly untouristed fishing island about a 40 minute water bus ride away from St Mark's square in Venice. What makes Burano so interesting is that every house is painted in different bright colors. The colors of the houses follow a specific system originating from the golden age of its development; if someone wishes to paint their home, one must send a request to the government, who will respond by making notice of the certain colors permitted for that lot. This practice has resulted in the character of the island today.
Burano is also famous for lace.

With children running home for lunch, throwing their backpacks around, and a man sawing wood in his backyard, we got a sense that this is where the real people of Venice live.
We found a vacant picnic bench at noon, overlooking the Venetian lagoon and an adjacent island (Mazzorbo). There we enjoyed a beer we bought from a small grocery store in Venice: La Putena (the whore) from the Most Serene Republic of San Marino. It was a perfect afternoon.

80% of the Venetian lagoon is mud flats, tidal shallows, and salt marshes; 11% water (canals), and near 8% land. It's the largest wetland in the Mediterranean basin. It is, however, fairly artificial! It developed naturally 6-7 thousand years ago, however, if it were not for man's continual intervention beginning in the 15th and 16th century, the whole of the lagoon would be marshland, completely absent of canals or habitable land. The island we were on, Burano (0.21 km²), is kind of special. The peculiar position of Burano in respect to winds and marshes, saved it from the decadence and from the destruction that happened to other islands. It's being detached from the mainland, Burano avoided the plague of malaria quite normal in the lagoon islands which killed hundreds. Its position was also a natural defense from invaders. The inhabitants, century after century, consolidated and raised the ground, dug canals and built bridges, transforming a swamp into a lovely island which now holds 7,000 residents.

The sun was setting by the time we returned to Venice. Exhausted from the afternoon sun, a large lunch, and long walks on Burano, we fell fast asleep at the hotel room before dinner.

above is a short video.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Driving in Italy

Italy truly does take the cake for world's worst drivers. And you thought it was the Japanese!
1. Parking car in middle of one lane road to pop into a store for a few minutes, during rush hour. "Hey! My emergency lights are on!" There is no way around them.
2. Cars driving on the wrong side of the road to pass traffic and then not be able to merge back into the correct lane of traffic when oncoming traffic approaches. So that in the middle lane there will be two cars at a stand still facing each other flashing their brights and honking.
3. Dumb, dumb DUMBass scooters.
4. Passing ME in the middle of an intersection.
5. Cars driving on sidewalks (and mopeds too).
6. Cars parked in all sorts of configurations (facing traffic, half on sidewalk, and always double parked)
7. SmartCars driving 110 MPH.
8. Driving on freeway with lane line directly under middle of car.
9. Passing on a curve.
10. Passing a passing car.
11. Driving on opposite side of median to avoid rough road on their lane, requiring me to stop until there was a break in the traffic to allow me to continue on my way.
12. Knocking down all the standup reflectors at construction site within a few days.
13. Right of way? EVERYONE has the right of way!
14. Attempting to pass on the right to only have to potential passee speed up and then you play "insistent passer-speed along the pedestrian lane and run pedestrian Coral off into the ditch."
15. Tailgate with your brights on.
16. Often times there won't be any traffic lines on very wide streets approaching large traffic circles.

I learned the following "rules" for driving in Italy before obtaining my license:
Flash your lights to let someone know you are letting them into traffic.
Flash your lights if you want the car in front of you to pull over and let you pass.
Turn on your left blinker in the fast lane of the autostrade to insist that all traffic in front of you immediately depart from lane to let you through.

On Gas:
First of all, in Italy you have three choices for gas: unleaded (mid-grade), leaded, or diesel. They are all at the same pump, so beware!

Matthew and I can buy government deal gas coupons that make it $3.48 a gallon. They are a pain in the donkey-butt to use because not all gas stations take them, and you have to go to the gas station at the correct times (not during lunch break, not on weekends, not at night).

Without the gas coupons it is $10.97766 a gallon for unleaded gas, mid-grade. How nice is that?
There is a limited number of gas coupons we can get a month.
All gas stations are 24 hour by self service. There is a machine that you insert euro into and then select which pump and ta da! I love the 24 hour machine. In fact, you get a 2 cent discount for using the machine at any hour as opposed to paying inside. Also takes credit cards.