A Travellerspoint blog

July 2015

ISTANBUL, TURKEY

From the Blue Mosque & Hagia Sophia, to the bustling bazaars & souks, to the underground world of the Basilica Cistern ... Istanbul has it all!

sunny 20 °C

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Istanbul ... my favorite city! And I don't say that lightly ... I have been to many countries, even more cities, and all continents but one ... so when I say Istanbul is my favorite city, I truly mean it! And I don't even like cities! I grew up in a small town of about 1500 people; the nearest city was only 150,000 (now grown to 250,000). So skyscrapers, metro systems, and millions of people are all intimidating to me. My city has exactly 0 skyscrapers and no metro system. And when you are at a crosswalk waiting to cross the street, more times than not, you will be the only person at the crosswalk ... on both sides, lol! For real!

Back to Istanbul ... I arrived late at night and took a taxi to my hotel, Askin Hotel Boutique. It was literally 1/2 block from the Blue Mosque (which is why I chose it)!! The photo above is the view from the rooftop terrace! In one direction I could see the Blue Mosque, in the other I could see the Bosphorus River. I had 2 days in Istanbul; my first day in Turkey, and my last day. The first day I had about 1hr of cloudiness before it started raining and didn't stop. But thankfully my last day was perfectly sunny :) So this post will be filled with photos from both days ... some will be sunny, some will not, lol! Thankfully Istanbul is a great city to be in on a rainy day, as it has tons of indoor things to do/see.

First up, the Blue Mosque :) It was WAY bigger than I ever imagined it to be!! MASSIVE! It is absolutely gorgeous ... and free to go inside ;) All ladies have to cover their heads (scarves are provided if you don't have one), everyone (even men) have to have their legs covered, and everyone has to remove their shoes.
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It has 6 minarets (towers) each 210ft tall, and has the biggest courtyard of all the Ottoman mosques. Inside there were aerial photos of what the mosque looks like at full capacity ... below is a photo of that photo.
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The outer dome is 141ft tall, and the inner dome is 77ft tall.
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The inside was amazing! Way fancier than any cathedral I've visited that's for sure! Four baobab-sized pillars held up the domed ceiling, and every inch was covered in mosaic tiles!
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Across the street / other side of the fountain, is the Hagia Sofia mosque.
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On the other side of the Hagia Sofia, is the Topkapi Palace, which I never did make it to :( All 3 are pretty much in a row.

By now it was pouring rain, so I ran over to the underground Basilica Cistern (across the street in the other direction from the Hagia Sofia). So many great things to see all close together!
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Admission is 20 Turkish Lira ($10CAD). This incredible underground 'basilica' was built in 532. It is 65m wide, 143m long, and its arched roof is held up by 336 pillars arranged in 12 rows. It used to hold the city's water, up to 80,000 cubic meters, and was pumped through nearly 20km of aquaducts!
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Now there is only about 1.5ft of water in it, and there are fat fish living in it! Its quite an eerie feeling down there in the dark, hearing the ceiling drip with water, the echoes, the fat creepy fish ... but well worth a visit! I have never seen anything like it anywhere else!

If you are looking for street food, it will be everywhere! Be sure to try the fresh squeezed orange juice :)
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Next up was a visit to the Grand Bazaar. Its completely covered, so its great on a rainy day. You can find absolutely everything under the sun for sale here! From carpets to gold jewelry, from slippers to handpainted dishes, from belly dancing costumes to perfumes! My favorite were the lantern/lamp shops! Lanterns were hanging & lit from every wall, plus the ceiling, and some were standing on the floor. So colorful, like Christmas :)
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Carpets for sale around every corner!
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Beautiful hand painted dishes.
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Perfumes
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Turkish Delight of every flavor imaginable, plus some things that I had no idea what they were.
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All kinds of souvenirs!
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Like I said at the beginning, My last day in Turkey was a sunny, clear day in Istanbul, so the sunset on my last day was perfect :) If your hotel is located anywhere in the vicinity of the Blue Mosque, and has a rooftop terrace, be sure to go up top to watch the sunset! You wont be disappointed!
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As the sun was setting, the call to prayer began. The muezzins of the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia take turns, each saying a line, back and forth. I'm not muslim, but I was completely moved & overwhelmed by this! Add in the setting sun silhouetting the Blue Mosque's minarets ... I love Istanbul :D There are still so many things I would like to see/do in Istanbul, like take a ferry down the Bosphorus River, visit the Rumeli Hisari fort, go inside the Topkapi Palace & Hagia Sofia, walk on the city walls, watch a twirling dervish show, etc. I truly hope I will be back one day!
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Posted by ChantelleS 12:33 Archived in Turkey Tagged mosque basilica turkey muslim europe asia cistern souk bazzar Comments (0)

ROME, ITALY

One day in Rome - Colosseum, Roman Forum & Palatine Hill

sunny 22 °C

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I had only one day in Rome, and not even a full day. My train from Naples arrived at 1:30pm, and my flight to Istanbul departed at 9pm. But in between those hours I kept busy sightseeing. I purchased a metro day pass for 6E, hopped on the B line, and got off at Colosseo. When I exited the metro station and walked outside, BAM, the Colosseum was right in front of me!! No need to go looking for it, as its literally across the street from the metro station!
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Its currently undergoing restorations, but thankfully only half of it was covered in scaffolding, leaving the other half looking nice for photos.
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I was hoping to get some photos taken with some sexy gladiators ... but was hugely disappointed. They were all old guys wearing plastic abs LOL!! So I just took photos from afar when they weren't looking.
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The lineup to get into the Colosseum was LONG! I knew it would be, as I'm sure its everyone's #1 thing to see in Rome.
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I decided to skip the Colosseum and visit the Roman Forum / Palatine Hill first. One ticket of 12E gives you entry to both the Colosseum & the Roman Forum / Palatine Hill.
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Arco di Constantino
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If you don't plan on going inside the Colosseum, then (unless you are really into Roman history) don't bother with the Roman Forum/Palatine Hill. As it turns out (I found out after I had already bought my ticket and spent hours wandering around) there is a free lookout point over the Roman Forum along the road Via dei Fori Imperiali. You can see a bit of Palatine Hill from that viewpoint as well. The part of Palatine Hill that cannot be seen from the viewpoint isn't really worth it anyways. Its huge, but in the end, its a bunch of crumbled walls badly labeled, so most of the time you don't know what you're looking at anyways.

The following photos are from inside the Roman Forum.
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The following photos are from inside Palatine Hill. You be the judge as to whether its worth 12E or not.
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If you opt out of entering, then farther along Via dei Fori Imperiali, is the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument.
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I didn't have time to go inside (I had to head to the airport), but there is an elevator inside that takes you tp the rooftop for 360 degree views of Rome. Its 7E.
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Across the street from Vittorio are these 2 cathedrals.
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I only had time to snap a photo before heading back to the metro. The sun was setting by this time, and Via dei Fori Imperiali was now packed with street vendors, musicians, horse & carriage rides, painters, etc.

I looked around at some souvenirs, and had a quick bite to eat while watching the sunset over the Colosseum, then hopped on the metro and headed to the airport for my flight to Turkey :)
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Posted by ChantelleS 12:26 Archived in Italy Tagged ruins italy rome europe colesseum Comments (0)

BAY OF NAPLES, ITALY

From Naples, to colorful Procida Island, and a castle on Ischia Island.

sunny 22 °C

My next stop in Italy was Naples. I arrived via train from Venice. I just used Naples as a jumping off point though to see some of the islands in the Bay of Naples. There's not too much to see here, so I only spent part of a morning exploring the castle located across the street from the ferry terminal.
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This was my very first castle!! Castel Nuovo was completed in 1282.
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This is the entrance, a 2-storey Renaissance triumphal arch called Torre della Guardia.
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Detail under the arched entrance.
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It costs 5E to enter ... or you can walk under the arch and into the hallway up to the interior and look around (so long as you stay behind the guard rail) for free. This is the view of the interior from the guard rail.
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After checking out the castle, I then headed to the ferry terminal to get a ticket to Procida Island (15E). When I got there I had just missed the 8:35am ferry by 5min! The next one wasn't until 12:30pm! Bah! So I would recommend getting your ticket first, then go checkout the castle while you wait. As I waited for my ferry, I noticed that ferries to Capri were departing every 30min! Boat loads of people headed to the same tiny little island! No thanks! It would be so crowded there! I was sick of crowds at this point, so I'm glad I decided to visit the 2 lesser known/visited islands of Procida & Ischia instead. I like quiet, peaceful, not crowded places. But if you like people and partying, then head to Capri.

The ferry to Procida was about 30min. The ferry arrives in Marina Grande - you'll be disappointed, at least I was, cuz its a bit run down and needs a paint job. But its the village on the other side of the island that is the one in all the postcards. But Marina Grande has more restaurants and shopping.
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From the marina I took a short taxi ride to my hotel - Le Grand Bleu Apartment. Normally I don't bother taking photos of my accomodations unless its extra nice. This was one of those places. It completely surprised me!
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I was expecting it to be crap, as I was looking for cheap, not for luxury. I had paid $104 for a hotel room the size of a jail cell in Venice. This one was even less, only $74, so I wasn't expecting much. But I got a full apartment! It had a bedroom with a queen size bed, a kitchen, living room, dining area, computer and desk, bathroom with bidet, a private patio/terrace, and free wifi!
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My outdoor eating area.
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And there was a rooftop terrace with 360 degree views, with sun loungers, and an outdoor kitchen area for communal use :)
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The island is very small, only 4sqkm, so I walked everywhere. Christine, the friendly owner of the hotel, provided me with a map of the island, and off I went. The streets are VERY narrow and all cobblestone. They are only wide enough for one car to go through. If another car is coming in the opposite direction, they either have to back up, or wait until the other car is fully out, lol!
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There's no sidewalks, so when a vehicle comes I quite literally had to press myself against the building! The vehicles are tiny though, like Smart Car size, and Mini Coopers, and a lot of Vespas and motorbikes.

I found my way to that colorful village that first drew me to this island. It is called Marina Coricella. There are various ways to get here, so just ask your hotel which way is easiest/closest for you. large_IMG_8522-001.jpg
There was a big flight of stairs from the lookout point down to the actual village. That is Terra Murata in the background.
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The village reminded me of Santorini the way the homes were built on a cliff on top of eachother ... with a lot more color though!
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To get to the best lookout point you will either have to go back up to the first lookout point and continue on down the same road (at the intersection head right), or from the village ask a local for directions through the homes. I opted to walk through the homes via all the stairways. They are steep and narrow, theres tunnels too. Not for the claustropbic that's for sure!
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I couldn't resist taking photos of all the colorful doors, handles, peeling paint, etc along the way. Such a photogenic place!
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Keeping walking and you will eventually get to this perfect lookout point! Just look at that view!
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At the lookout point there are also a few canons overlooking the bay.
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I wandered the twisting cobblestone streets and came across yet another lookout point. This one was over the Bay of Naples. That is Mt Vesuvius in the background (located on the right of the photos).
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I headed back down to the village for lunch at one of the cafes along the water.
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I had spaghetti carbonara and freshly squeezed lemonade :)
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There were many hungry kitties crowding around my table waiting for something to drop, lol!
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This cutie placed himself right at my foot and kept meowing until I gave him something. How could I resist that face?!
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On my 2nd day here I headed to the nearest beach ... Spiaggia di Chiaia. You will have to descend 182 steps (there is no other way) ... be prepared to climb 182 steps back up again! Wow, what a workout!
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Spiaggia di Chiaia is a black sand beach. You can see the colorful Marina Coricella in the distance. I was here in late October so it was too chilly to actually hangout at the beach, and all the little food huts were closed for the season. But I enjoyed the sunrise anyways :)
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I made my way across the island, back to the other marina. I just loved wandering the streets here :) It wasn't crowded or touristy at all. I only saw a handful of tourists at the main lookout point, and that was all. That was partly due to the time of year I was here, but also due to the fact that everyone else was in Capri, lol!
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This side of the island has a courtyard, and the big, yellow Santa Maria della Pieta cathedral.
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All ferries heading back to Naples or to Ischia Island depart from Marina Grande. There is a terminal in which you can buy tickets off to the side from where the ferry drops you off. A ferry between Procida & Ischia costs 8E. However I accidentally booked a ticket to the wrong port ... there is more than one on Ischia. I just booked the one that was departing the soonest. If you are wanting to be near the castle that is the main draw of this island, then be sure to book a ticket to Ischia Porto. I booked a ticket to Casamicciola Terme ... a $35 taxi ride away from where I needed to be!

I stayed at Hotel Ulisse ... checkout the view from my room! You can even see the castle in the background!
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It was located only a 3min walk to a Spiaggia dei Pescatori (beach with views of the castle), 10min walk to the castle that I came to see, had 2 pools, free breakfast & free wifi ... all for $63 :)
To get to the castle you can either walk along the beach, or through the town. I did both, I took the beach route there, and the town route back.
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There were many beachfront restaurants & bars. But just a head's up, they all close from 3-7pm!! Around 430pm I was so hungry because I had accidentally skipped lunch cuz I was too busy sightseeing. Everything was closed - restaurants, shops, markets, etc. I asked a local if it was a holiday. He said in Italy the work day is 9am-3pm, then everything closes 3pm-7pm, and re-opens at 7pm. Whereas in North America our workdays are 9-5pm. Closing restaurants from 3-7pm though?! Thats prime 'eat supper and watch the sunset over the castle' time! I was not impressed.
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The name of this awesome castle is Castello Aragonese. It is actually a castle, cathedral, convent, and crypt! The first fortress was built in 474BC! However the rest of the structures were built throughout the 1400s.
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It is built on rock island and connected to the mainland by a causeway.
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A view of the town from the castle's causeway.
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It cost 10E to go inside the castle. This is the entrance tunnel (below) that leads to an elevator that has been added on. The elevator whisks you to the top for awesome views over the island.
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I took a lot of photos of the inside of the castle cuz when I was researching this place prior to arriving, whenever I googled it, only photos of the exterior came up. I had no idea what to expect of it. But I wasn't disappointed! I had a blast exploring this place! There was even a restaurant built at the top.
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The following photos are all of the inside.
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Ancient toilets. Back then going to the washroom was a public thing - no privacy at all!
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The crypt where the family members who used to live in this castle, still had painting on the walls!
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Living quarters
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A church inside the castle.
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Wine cellar
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Olive press
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Some of you would probably only spend 30min here, but I was here for hours! I really enjoyed wandering around the old castle, imagining how people would have live 100s of years ago! There's so many tunnels and rooms to explore :) Afterwards I headed back to my hotel by wandering through the town (and stopping for some Nutella gelato!).
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I relaxed by the pool, and then ended the day with a sunset from my balcony :)
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Posted by ChantelleS 20:30 Archived in Italy Tagged boat village island castle bay europe naples colorful ischia procida Comments (0)

VENICE, ITALY

Wandering Venice's alleys and crossing its many bridges, riding ferries, trying every gelato flavor I could, and gazing down at Basilica San Marco from atop the Campanile.

overcast 17 °C

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Italy!! Beautiful, beautiful Italy! This was my first time to Europe and it didn't disappoint. One of the easiest countries I've ever traveled in. I landed in Rome, found the Trenitalia kiosk in the airport, purchased my one-way ticket to Venice for $127CAD (make sure you know which terminal in Venice you want to arrive in - there is more than one. Stazione Santa Lucia is the terminal that brings you right to the Grand Canal), then hopped on the train from the airport to Rome's main terminal, and transferred to my train to Venice. Sounds complicated, but it was actually quite easy. Jet lag knocked me out for the 3.5hr ride. But when I arrived in Venice and walked out of the train station, BAM, I was right on the Grand Canal! You will see a ferry terminal in front of you. This is where you buy ferry passes. There are no buses, no cars, not even bikes cuz theres too many stairs and bridges everywhere. Ferries are like buses here - they ply the Grand Canal in both directions, all day long, stopping at various points along the way.

Below is a photo of the ferry terminal near San Marco.
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I purchased a 1 day pass (24hrs from the time you validate your pass) for 20E (euros). Single rides cost 7E each, so if you plan on doing any sightseeing, it is worth it to get a pass. There were also 3 day and 5 day passes available. The best way to get to know the area is to hop on a ferry and stay on it for a full circuit, about 1hr, around the whole Grand Canal. Use it as a cheap sightseeing cruise, but also pay attention to where it stops and what there is to see at each stop.

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I had booked a little hotel in the San Marco area. So I took the ferry there, and then walked to my hotel. If you are expecting streets in a grid-like fashion with well marked street signs, think again! Thankfully Venezians are friendly and helpful. Not all speak English, so have the name of your hotel & address written down. If your hotel is located right on a canal, it is possible to hire a very expensive water taxi to take right to your hotel.

The beautiful Doge's Palace in the San Marco area overlooking the Grand Canal
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I spent my first day wandering around the San Marco area, seeing the Doge's Palace, Basilica San Marco, Piazza San Marco, and the Campanile (bell tower).
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This is the view from atop the Campanile, overlooking the Piazza San Marco. It costs 8E for the elevator ride to the top, and you can stay up there for as long as you want. I unfortunately had a foggy day :(
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The huge bell! Being in the piazza when it is rung is awesome!
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View over Venice and the domes of the basilica.
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The Campanile
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Basilica San Marco was sadly covered in scaffolding, plus the fog, so I didn't get any photos of it that I like.
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Once a day the tide comes in and floods the piazza. These walkways are set out for people to walk on without getting wet shoes. But they are crowded and slow going.
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Then I wandered the maze of alleys, canals, and bridges. I tried using a map but its pointless. Just wander. You're never really lost cuz theres always someone to ask, and you will eventually come out at some point on the Grand Canal ( from there just hop a ferry to where you want to go). Venice is made up of 117 islands all connected by bridges! It is such a pretty, picturesque place, with bridges, canals, old doors & windows, cathedrals, and boats around every corner.

All the alleys/streets are this narrow, except a few of the more main alleys, but not by much!
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The canals can be quite crowded, not at all like movies make it seem!
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Overpriced street-side cafes can be found everywhere.
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Delicious gelato can also be found everywhere, and only 1.50E for a small :)
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This one is carmello e amaretto, yum yum yum!
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I stumbled upon the Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo.
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I couldn't resist taking a photo of this cutie :)
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The water comes right to the doors. Locals park their boats along side their homes.
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Its such a different way of life here without proper streets and cars/buses. Everything is done by boat! Below are photos of a garbage boat, and a delivery boat. I also saw a boat ambulance!
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Souvenir stands were mostly found in the San Marco area, and Rialto area ... the 2 most touristy areas.
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Then I took a ferry over to the Rialto Bridge. What a gong show! I had to fight for a spot on the bridge to get a photo. Worst place ever, so over-rated.
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View from atop the Rialto Bridge - not even worth it. Even the canal is crowded here!
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Gondeliers awaiting customers. You'll never see a local taking one of these, as they are insanely overpriced and basically for tourists only. Approx $150 for 30min!!!
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Although overpriced, they are very photogenic, as they are Venice's icon :)
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SO MANY PEOPLE! Get up and out the door well before 9am. 9am is when tour groups start arriving in hordes and overtaking the place. Prior to 9am you'll have the place to yourself.
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This is Piazza San Marco at 7am ... peaceful compared to 2hrs later.
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The basilica in the early morning
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The Bridge of Sighs was within walking distance from my hotel ... and the lookout point was ... you guessed it ... always crowded with people taking turns posing in front of it, or trying to capture a photo of a gondola passing beneath it.
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On my 2nd day in Venice I walked over to the Ponte dell'Accademia (the wooden bridge) for this iconic view over the Grand Canal and Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute.
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I took one more circuit of the Grand Canal before getting off at the train station and heading to Naples.
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That's all for Venice! Although crowded and overpriced, I absolutely loved it! No matter what time of year you go there will always be tourists. Why? Cuz its Venice, that's why!

Posted by ChantelleS 19:00 Archived in Italy Tagged venice boat italy bridge canal roman europe Comments (0)

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