Join us! Virtual Vacation #3-- Italy
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As one of the top tourist destinations in the entire world, we were bound to go there eventually.
And why not? The food, the history, the sights, the food...

I'm going to break with "tradition" on this geeklist, and present it more as an itinerary with a calculated order to it, rather than just a summary of the country and its characteristic parts.

To me, part of the joy of travelling is making plans, and trying to come up with a logical schedule that balances out seeing the sights/sites that you consider to be essential, and spending most of the day travelling to them.
A lot of times when I read of professional tour group packages, they tend to promise you 10 European countries in 14 days. Mostly because the physical distances between places in Europe make that possible.
There are many times when I would rather spend two weeks in one place, and really get to know it, instead of bopping around from town to town, always travelling and never really stopping to appreciate things.

Since our virtual vacations only last a month (30 days, this time), and this is Italy, we simply cannot spend two weeks in Sorrento, despite it being quaint and relaxing and also close to a lot of other great things and places.

So then; follow along with us and if you've experienced a certain place and have a good (or bad) memory to share, then please add a comment on that day.
As always, I'm hoping that a few local Italians will be able to add some notes of their own, if we hit a region or city that is near and dear to them.

I would love to see your own photos of things, if you upload and post them. Lots of images makes for a nicer geeklist.

As with the previous two Virtual Vacations, I encourage you to purchase a microbadge to show your participation.
These are apt choices:

Microbadge: Traveller
Microbadge: I love Italy Microbadge: I love Italy! Microbadge: I love Italian food

By the way; our other Virtual Vacations (and Mini-Vacation) can be found here:

VGG Virtual Vacation #1 - BELGIUM
VGG Virtual Vacation #2- Australia!

Virtual Vacation #4 - Scotland
Virtual Vacation #5-- Japan!
Virtual Vacations #6- Canada
Virtual Vacation #7- India
Virtual Vacation #8 - Ireland

Mini:
One and done- A Virtual Vacation to Buenos Aires
One and done: A Virtual Vacation to Vienna
One and done: A Virtual Vacation to Iceland
One and done: A Virtual Vacation to Denmark
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1. Board Game: Italy Awakes [Average Rating:5.25 Unranked]
Board Game: Italy Awakes
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Here is the travel itinerary that I am going to try to follow. It all begins in Roma (Rome); middle of the country, west side.
If you really would like to visit a location that isn't on this list then send me a geekmail and I'll see if I can squeeze it in.
We can borrow days from Rome, Amalfi, Bologna, Milan, or Florence to fit in alternate destinations that are close to those places.

Each day that we change locations, we can all add our thoughts about where we currently "are" in Italy.
If you really want to, you can comment on the locations where the days are posted ahead of time, but try to check back every day and see what is happening in Virtual Vacation time.

I suggest hitting the "subscribe" (to this geeklist) button on the main header.

If a day/ location has passed by before you noticed this geeklist, I still encourage you to add a comment if you want to.
There are no penalties for back posting!

From gallery of MABBY


Thursday, Sept. 1st ARRIVE IN ROMA- We will visit Rome for five days
2nd Rome
3rd VATICAN CITY- Yet still in Rome!
4th and 5th Rome
6th Leave Rome and ARRIVE IN NAPOLI- Four days in the Naples region
7th POMPEII- You can see Vesuvius from a long way away.
8th ARRIVE IN SORRENTO
9th ISOLA DI CAPRI- The Isle of Capri includes Capri and the upper town of Anacapri.
10th Leave the region and ARRIVE IN AMALFI regione- Two days here
11th Amalfi or, optionally, any place south of here that catches your interest SICILY
12th Leave Amalfi and ARRIVE IN BARI
13th Leave Bari and ARRIVE (via Rome) IN BOLOGNA- In real life, this would be logistically tricky... Good thing we're virtual.
14th Bologna
15th Leave Bologna and ARRIVE IN VENEZIA- You have to have at least two days in Venice.
16th Leave Venice and ARRIVE IN VERONA
17th Leave Verona and ARRIVE IN MILANO- With four days in Milan, we have time to go up to Lake Como for a daytrip
18th LAKE COMO
19th and 20th Milan
21st Leave Milan and ARRIVE IN TORINO- Turin on this map, but I shan't call it that.
22nd Leave Torino and ARRIVE IN GENOVA- One day is all we have for Genoa.
23rd Leave Genoa and ARRIVE IN LE CINQUE TERRE regione- We will go down from the most northerly town, Monterosso al Mare, through ‎Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and finish in ‎Riomaggiore.
24th Leave the Cinque Terre and ARRIVE IN LUCCA.
25th Leave Lucca and ARRIVE IN PISA
26th Leave Pisa and ARRIVE IN FIRENZE- Five days in Florence is barely enough, in real life.
27th Florence
28th SIENA- on a daytrip, back to Florence tomorrow.
Sept. 29th and 30th Florence
Oct. 1st Leave Florence and get back to Rome in time to catch our flights home.

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2. Board Game: Let's Take a Trip [Average Rating:4.00 Unranked]
Board Game: Let's Take a Trip
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If I spot a comment from you anywhere (including the VGG Arcade discussion group), I'll add you to this list.
So you know who your fellow travellers are.

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War.
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3. Board Game: Go: The International Travel Game [Average Rating:5.70 Overall Rank:16745]
Board Game: Go: The International Travel Game
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TOUR GUIDES AND HOSTS

Do you (or have you, in the past) live in Italy?
Would you mind adding comments to our items, and answering any questions that may come up?
If your city or area is not included on the itinerary (see the item below this one) then I'd like to add you, and it, if there's a logical place to do that.

Send me a geekmail, or just add a comment to this item, if you wouldn't mind being a part-time host/ hostess.
You can contribute as much, or as little, as you have time for. But an expert opinion is valuable.

These are your local "expert" hosts for parts of this Virtual Vacation:

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Roberto Vaccari
Italy
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4. Board Game: Do you speak English? [Average Rating:4.25 Unranked]
Board Game: Do you speak English?
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LANGUAGE
Before the tour of Roma officially begins, I'm going to post a few items in the same manner as the previous Virtual Vacations used.

Starting with language.
In Belgium, there were regions where Dutch, German, French, or regional dialects were preferred. We didn't really get into that, then.
In Australia, they (more or less) speak English so language wasn't an issue for the majority of us followers.
But in Italy, you're going to encounter the Italian language for sure.

I found that in the touristy places, a lot of people spoke English very well, even though they didn't think that they would be any good.
Their worst English was way better than my best Italian, so I've been taking Italian lessons, for FREE (and with no advertisements), online (www.duolingo.com).
You can, by the way, also learn English, Spanish, French, German, Russian, Irish, and many other languages there. Sign up; you won't regret it.

There definitely are regional dialects. Genoa, Venice, and especially Naples all have their preferred local words for certain things.
People in the north and those in the south are always complaining about each other's language, political stances, and general stereotypical behavior when it comes to working, and strikes, and so on.

So then:

Poll
How much Italian do you speak?
      29 answers
Poll created by MABBY


I'll make three major points, and leave to others to add any comments that they want to.

There are two main things that will make you stand out as a tourist in Italy as soon as you open your mouth:

1) You thank someone by saying "grat-zee", or "grazz-y", or even "gratzee-ah".
Italians will cringe at that. The word is spelled: Grazie.
The proper pronunciation of the letter "I" is "e" (as in "feel"), and there are no silent "E"s on the ends of words, so the letter "E" is pronounced "A" (Ay; like hay, gay, may, play).
All vowels are spoken aloud in Italian.
So you must say "Graht-see-Ay".

As long as you can remember what I and E and A sound like ("A", within a word, sounds like "ah", as in "machine"), then your pronunciation will be fine.
Also remember that "ci" and "ce" both have an "h" sound in the middle ("ci", as in "cheese"), while a word with the "h" included (chi or che, or even ghi/ ghe) just makes the "C" (or G) sound hard; chi is pronounced "key", che is pronounced "kay".
And it doesn't matter where the letter sequences are in a word; CI is "chee" at the beginning, middle, or end of a word.

2) If you ignore a double consonant when speaking.
Most Italians will actually pause for a millisecond between double consonants, and try to say both of them.
If you see "nonno" (grandfather) and pronounce it nono, then you are actually saying "ninth". Nonno should have a slight pause (and downward inflection) and both Ns pronounced in the middle-- Non-no, with the emphasisis on the first "non". It still sounds like no-no, but with the extra n and the pause.
It works with all double consonants. Anello. Anel-lo (a ring).
Final warning: The letter H is completely silent. So if you say "hanno" (which means "they have"), you pronounce it "an-no", with the double n and the pause. Because if you just say "ano", then you said "asshole" (anus) and they will grin (or laugh) at you.

One other thing to be aware of is this: In Italian-- as in French or Spanish or German...-- all nouns have a gender. He or She.
And what makes one word "masculine" and another one "feminine" is a complete mystery, unless you have been speaking that way forever.
Fortunately, in Italian, 95% of singular masculine nouns end in the letter "O", while the feminine ones end in the letter "A". There are many nouns that end in "E", and they are sometimes masculine and sometimes feminine. You just have to know.
But if you guess, based on "o" or "a", you'll be correct more times than not.

There are also multiple ways (seven, in fact) to say the English word "the" but again, for singular nouns, masculine uses "Il" ("eel") and feminine uses "la", most of the time. il libro (the book)/ la chitarra (the guitar).
So if you see Il in front of a word, that next word (in general) will be a masculine noun, even if it ends in "e" instead of "o".
Also, "un" (oon, like "loon")) is masculine and "una" (oonah) is feminine, and they both mean "a" (a book, a cigarette).
The subtleties of "the" and "a" occur when the noun begins with a vowel, or is plural, but don't worry about those for a short visit.
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5. Board Game: Mangia che ti passa [Average Rating:6.00 Unranked]
Board Game: Mangia che ti passa
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FOOD

Italian cuisine is reknowned and beloved around the globe.
Typically it isn't too fussy. Simple ingredients, simple preparation.
(Unless you're dealing with artichokes, which makes me wonder why anyone ever bothered!) wow

Here are a couple of food notes for you, and then in the comments you can tell us what your favorite Italian dish (dishes) to make or eat is.

Just like Chow Mein is unheard of in China-- that is a USA born dish-- you are not going to find traditional "Spaghetti and meatballs" in Italy. That is also a US immigrant invention. Likewise, "Spaghetti Bolognese" and "Fettucini Alfredo" were not original Italian recipes.

If you want meatballs, you'll need to look for "polpette" on the menu. You may not find it in a local trattoria, enoteca, osteria, cafè, bar, or ristorante that isn't used to having tourists eating there.
Yes, there are many types of eateries in Italy.

Un'enoteca began life as a "wine-bar", primarily, but many of them now have small food plates-- similar to Spanish "tapas"-- and you can often get a very affordable and delicious meal (+ excellent wine) at these places. Avoid the ones with English on the chalkboard sign out front; the locals won't be going there.
Una trattoria is a casual restaurant, one step up from un'osteria but not as formal as un ristorante.
There usually isn't a printed menu at a trattoria, and you can often get food "to go". Also beer on tap or a carafe of wine.
The osteria is a place for a quick and cheap lunch, with a very limited menu, some of them like a cafeteria. There isn't much difference between these and a cafè-- cheap food, limited selection, but tables on the street.
Alternately, there are many pizzerie, open for lunch and dinner. You can often get more than just pizza at these places, but nothing too high-class or specialized beyond the pizzas.

Speaking of lunch and dinner-- lunchtime is not noon, in Italy. It is at least 1 pm and possibly later. Dinner is much later than most North Americans are used to-- many ristoranti do not even open until 8pm for dinner, and it gets very busy between 9 and 10pm!
Breakfast (la colazione) is pretty much non-existent, compared to North America. Coffee (the only time that you should order un "caffè latte" is in the morning) and a croissant or sweet pastry is about all you will find.

Going back to the pizza, for a moment; if you really like a lot of cheese on your pizza, then you are going to be disappointed with the Italian varieties.
A lot of the small pizzerias on the main street fronts will have their pizzas already cooked (and rectangular!) and on display inside of a glass cabinent. You usually order by the slice, and they microwave it to heat it up, if you want it that way.

External image


An authentic pizza place will have an oven in one corner, and make a whole pizza for you, but it is 100 degrees inside the restaurant and you'll want to sit outside to eat it-- with the smokers, who aren't allowed to smoke inside. And it seems that everyone smokes, in many Italian cities.
As for pizza toppings, you won't find a thick crust anywhere, so toppings are sparse because the crusts are thin and more delicate.
In Rome, they often put sliced potatoes and rosemary on a pizza crust. No sauce, no cheese. I even saw french fries on pizza, many times.
If you see one with fresh tomato, olives, green pepper, and corn kernels on it, coincidentally (or not) that is a typical "green" salad (insalata), that you would get at a restaurant/ cafe in Italy.

In Naples, home of the pizza, you are lucky if you get six blobs of fresh mozzarella and a leaf of burnt basil on your crust with crushed tomatoes on it (Pizza Margherita).
Warning-- if you order pepperoni in Italy, then you are gong to get red/ yellow/ green bell peppers (peperoni). You can get salami in Italy, but there is no pepperoni meat.

If you do want spaghetti bolognese, simply ask for "ragù" with your pasta. It will be a good sauce, but regions vary on what meat gets commonly used. Could be chicken, could be beef, could be rabbit...

If you want Alfredo Sauce, you won't find it but you will enjoy any pasta with "quattro formaggi" (four cheeses).

I could go on and on, but I'll stop there.

Do you cook Italian food for yourself and/ or your family?
Tell us about any food you had in Italy that you absolutely loved or hated.
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6. Board Game: Gelati [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
Board Game: Gelati
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Of all the Italian foods available, this one deserves its own list item.

We had gelato every day-- often twice a day-- while we were in Italy, and we never got tired of it.

External image


Tell us all about your experience with gelato in Italy.
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7. Board Game: Drink-a-palooza [Average Rating:5.76 Unranked]
Board Game: Drink-a-palooza
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BEVERAGES

Normally the heading would be "Alcohol", but that would be selling the Italians short. They are so in love with their coffee that it needs to be mentioned here.
I can't stand coffee, myself, but drinking it is a ritual in Italy.

We would walk around the cities in the morning, and all of the shops called "Il Bar" would be open, yet they were shuttered closed by late afternoon.
If you want alcohol in Italy, then don't look for "un bar".
Here is some useful info on small cafes that I found online, and know to be true:

Life In Italy wrote:
When it comes to payments and charges, there are a few things foreigners may wish to remember: credit cards are still not welcome in some bars, therefore always carry some cash for emergencies.
Also keep in mind that tips can't be added to your credit card bill.
If you're standing while eating or drinking then just leave some spare change or nothing at all, which isn't a big deal, especially in smaller bars.


If you decide to sit down, prices are likely to increase and often may even double. Another thing to keep in mind is that it's unusual in Italy to get separate cheques, although not impossible or illegal.
It is also common to pay up front when ordering from the bar during peak hours. Just be sure to obtain a receipt that lists what you've ordered and paid for.

A last vital piece of advice: in the morning hours Italian bars can be very crowded. If you want to be served, you'll have to walk to the bar and scream your order. Just pretend you're working at the Stock Market.
Believe it or not, this will likely ensure you prompt and accurate service.
As for alcohol, you've got beer and you've got wine. Boy oh boy, do you have wine.

Beer is almost always going to be a lager. Pale yellow, fizzy, and non-descript.
But it is cold, and when you are in Rome on the street at 11 am and the temperature is over 90F degrees/ 27C, the Nastro Azzurro/ Peroni or Moretti birra (feminine, so "una birra") can be one of the best beers that you've ever had.

External image


Wine, both red (rosso) or white (bianco), is plentiful and generally affordable.
There is a street market in a neighborhood of Rome that has kiosks in it, maybe 20 feet square. One of these had four giant metal containers behind a simple counter. Those four giant containers held red wine (2), and one each for white wine and olive oil!
I watched a local woman go to the counter, and hand the owner two plastic soda bottles (empty). One of them was put under a tap for red wine, the other was put under another tap for olive oil.
Some money was exchanged and off she went, to her butcher's kiosk.

In a small food store, I later saw 5 litre glass jugs of red or white wine on sale for 6 Euros!

From gallery of MABBY


Of course it isn't always about getting the most liters of wine for your Euro. There are world-class wine regions that produce some of the most expensive and desirable vintages that there are.
Other regions are completely synonymous with their style. Chianti. Asti. Montepulciano.
Famous varietals like Sangiovese and Barolo.

So tell us about your experiences drinking in Italy, be it coffee or alcohol, or perhaps a liqueur or specialty drink.
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8. Board Game: Something Different [Average Rating:5.18 Overall Rank:18734]
Board Game: Something Different
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MISCELLANEOUS

This is a "catch-all" list item.
Drop in your comments about any history or geography that you find interesting, or even just general information on travel in Italy, or about Italian cinema, art, literature, music, sports, and whatever else doesn't quite suit an item previously or one that wouldn't be at home in a city item, below this one.

This item could (should) get a lot of entries from you, because the Italians were/ are masters of many disciplines.

Discuss!
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9. Board Game: Glory to Rome [Average Rating:7.49 Overall Rank:191]
Board Game: Glory to Rome
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ROMA September 1st, 2016

Rome is known as "The Eternal City" or "Caput Mundi" (The capital of the World).
According to some statistics, it is the 14th most visited city in the world, and has a population (2014) of 2.9 million residents.
It is over 2,500 years old, so to say that there is some history to be found here is an understatement.

It is served by two airports-- the main one being Leonardo da Vinci International (also known as "Fiumicino", the outlying town that it is actually in), 3 major railway stations, and a 3-line subway system called the Metropolitana ("La Metro").
The main railway station, Roma Temini, has 33 platforms and serves 150,000,000 passengers per year.
The Metro lines are labelled A, B, and C and they do a decent job of getting you to the popular tourist sites.

Popular tourist sites? How about...

The Colosseum (il colosseo)
The Forum
Circus Maximus (circo massimo)
The Pantheon
Altare della Patria
Castel Sant'Angelo
The Spanish Steps
Trevi Fountain
Piazza Navrona
Villa Borghese Gardens
Campo de' Fiori


External image

Altare della Patria

Not to mention that the world's smallest country-- Vatican City-- is located within Rome itself.
We will be dedicating a separate day and list item to the Vatican.

So if you've been to one or more of these sites, or if you want to share your own personal experience in another part of Rome, now is the time to comment!
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10. Board Game: Rome: Imperium, Circus Maximus, Hannibal vs Rome [Average Rating:6.31 Overall Rank:4825]
Board Game: Rome: Imperium, Circus Maximus, Hannibal vs Rome
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ROMA September 2nd, 2016

More sightseeing today. Where shall we go?

From gallery of MABBY

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11. Board Game: Vatican: The Board Game [Average Rating:4.77 Unranked]
Board Game: Vatican: The Board Game
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VATICAN CITY September 3rd, 2016

If you want to go to a new country from Rome, you just take Line A of the Metro to “Ottaviano-San Pietro” or “Cipro-Musei Vaticani station and then walk a few blocks.
The first station is closer to St. Peter's Basilica, while the latter is closer to the Vatican Museum entrance.

I don't care if you are Catholic, Protestant, Mormon, Jewish, Muslim, or Aethiest-- this "museum" will absolutely knock your eyes out. Gorgeous!

It eventually leads down a long ornate hallway, through the Sistine Chapel, and over to the St Peter's Basilica, and then spills out onto the piazza (square) there.
Give yourself 4 hours, at least. And take extra batteries; your camera will be working full time.

Have you toured Vatican City?
Was there anything that you really liked or were disappointed with?
I/ We want your comments!
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12. Board Game: Roma [Average Rating:6.71 Overall Rank:13717]
Board Game: Roma
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ROMA September 4th, 2016
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13. Board Game: Strada Romana [Average Rating:6.16 Overall Rank:6246]
Board Game: Strada Romana
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ROMA September 5th, 2016
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14. Board Game: Trains [Average Rating:7.18 Overall Rank:485] [Average Rating:7.18 Unranked]
Board Game: Trains
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Well we are leaving Roma today and going to the nearby (relatively) city of Napoli (Naples).
I suggest taking the train-- see the listitems above the main tour for some general train information.
Depending on how fast of a train is available, it should take between an hour and an hour and a half by train.

Stepping out of the train station, there is a hub of activity. We are in the 3rd largest municipality in Italy, after Rome and Milan, now. This is a busy city, and a noisy city. Horns beeping, the roar of motorbikes, and the buzz of the scooters*. Young men in cars are whistling at the pretty girls as they drive past them.

We are going to be in Naples area for around four days, but today is really the only day completely dedicated to it.
(Thank goodness- I couldn't find 1 really good game item, let alone 4, for Naples!)

External image

(Montage from wikipedia)

Naples is situated on the hills surrounding a lovely large bay.
Mt. Vesuvius stands in the distance-- but not too distant.

There is a lot of Italian history here, and it would take a lot of time to fully take it all in.
The "centro storico" (historic city centre) was named a UNESCO World heritage site in 1995.
It is recognized as the "birthplace of pizza", and it needs our attention if only for that!

Please share your thoughts and experiences with Naples today.
You may also continue to add them in the following days, although we will be concentrating more on the areas outside of Napoli.

* I mentioned "buzzing of scooters"-- the best known brand of scooter in the world is the Vespa. They have their headquarters in the northern part of Italy (in Pontedera, near Pisa) but I use the word buzzing here deliberately-- the word vespa in Italian means "wasp".
At one point, the company had a scooter model named L'ape-- "the bee", as well!
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15. Board Game: The Downfall of Pompeii [Average Rating:7.13 Overall Rank:527]
Board Game: The Downfall of Pompeii
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Sept. 7th

Today we are off to Pompeii!

External image


If you are based in Naples then I'm sure that you could find a professional tourgroup to join up with. They would likely have a nice air-conditioned motorcoach and drive you to the site of the ruins, in just over a half an hour.
You could, however take a public transport bus for €2.80 (one way) per person, and explore it yourself. Who says that there are no bargains left in Europe?

The other common mode of travel is, of course, a train. Deep in the bowels of the main terminal in the Naples train station is a ticket window and platform access to La Circumvesuviana-- a (slow) local train that goes from Naples all the way around the bay, past Mt. Vesuvius & Pompeii, and on to Sorrento at the other end of the bay. A train ticket is €3.20 and only saves you about 5- 10 minutes over the bus, but it is an option.

Pompeii has got to be one of the most popular tourist destinations in Italy, along with the Leanning Tower of Pisa and Venice. It is just so iconic. Doctor Who did an episode about it, and you have surely all heard the stories of the volcano that erupted and left 10,000+ people entombed in the ashes.
The reason that the place is so fascinating is that the ashes and pumice froze time so, when the site was rediscovered, explorers were able to find well-preserved artifacts and, thus, insights into how people lived at the time-- the year 79AD.
For a town that had been around since the seventh or sixth century BC, it is no wonder archeologists and antropologists drool at the thought of what lays buried.
External image


Have you been to Pompeii? Is it high on your list of "places that I must see in Italy"?

Please share your comments and experiences.
We can go back to Naples afterward, for wine and pizza and conversation about it.
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16. Board Game: When Life Deals You Lemons [Average Rating:6.50 Unranked]
Board Game: When Life Deals You Lemons
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Sept. 8th Arrive in SORRENTO

Yesterday I mentioned the Naples to Sorrento circumvesuviana train.
If you stay on the train, past Pompei, then you eventually will end up on the opposite side of the Gulf of Napoli and you will find yourself in the quaint city of Sorrento.
The other method to arrive here is a hydrofoil/ ferry across the bay, but we will be on the water tomorrow, so the 1 hour and 20 minute trip on the train isn't a hardship.

External image


Sorrento feels like a city that you'd find on a tropical island somewhere. Palm trees, fruit trees, not nearly as much traffic and the people are a bit more laid back than they are in Naples. Plus beautiful views of the blue waters of the Gulf of Naples as it merges with the Tyrrhenian Sea.

I mentioned the fruit trees, and this area-- plus the entire Amalfi coastline that lays to the east of here-- is well-known for one particular fruit: The lemon.

Now a lemon is nice and all, but a lemon is just a lemon, right?
Not when the lemons are giant, like they are in Sorrento and area.
And I do mean giant:

External image


So, as the saying goes, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade."
The Italians have modified this, somewhat: "When life gives you giant lemons, take off their rinds and add those to alcohol, and then make limoncello."

As I said, the entire Amalfi region will have lemon products and limoncello, so there will be plenty of opportunity for you to get a hold of the elixir of lemon known as Limoncello.
Lemons feature prominently in the local cuisine, the artwork, and there are entire stores are devoted to it:

External image


If you've experienced Sorrento yourself, please tell us about that.
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17. Board Game: Fantasy Island [Average Rating:4.60 Unranked]
Board Game: Fantasy Island
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Sept. 9th- The Isle of Capri

External image


From Sorrento's Marina Piccola, you can buy tickets for a ferry or jetboat back to Naples or to one of the two nearby islands in the sea-- Ischia, and Capri.
Ischia is far less touristy. It is also the larger of the two islands, and is actually located closer to Naples than it is to Sorrento.
If you've been to Ischia, leave a comment on this item. I'd love to hear about it!

Meanwhile, The Isle of Capri is known for a couple of reasons. One is for a salad, of all things.

External image

Insalata Caprese

Much like the Pizza Margherita in neighboring Naples, the colors of the Italian flag are all on display.
In Capri, you will get olive oil to drizzle over top of your insalata, but probably not any (balsamico) vinegar. Other places in Italy have versions with a balsamic drizzle or using pesto instead of whole leaf basil, but the original one is just 3 ingredients with optional olive oil.

The other major attraction on Capri is the Grotta Azzurra.

External image


When the tides are favorable, small boatloads of people are briskly shipped from the main port (Marina Grande) over to a cliffside cave with a grotto entrance. Maybe 10- 15 minutes away by motorboat.
Once there, there are waiting boatmen, bobbing up and down in their custom made watercraft, who you need to transfer to from the main boat-- after the on-the-water tour operator gets their fee paid up front, of course.
Once in the smaller boats, which hold at most 4 people plus the boatman, (but 2 or 3 is much more comfortable) the boats all line up at the entrance. When the right time comes, and you've been told to lie down in the boat, the operator grabs a thin metal chain and yanks it, propelling you all through the tiny grotto and inside.
You'd swear that they are using underwater lights, somehow, but it is the most amazing place to see. Typically your boatman gets into a queue to do a 5 minute circle route around the outside, while singing loudly-- our guide did a lovely verse from "O sole mio!!"-- and then you do the reverse procedure to get out again.

The port area of Capri has ristoranti and lots of gift shops, but the locals live up in the the hills above the port, or even higher-- in Anacapri.

To get to Capri, you can take the Funicular (inclined cable railway) from the Marina Grande, through lemon groves, right into the piazza above.

Departures: every 15 minutes (more often at peak times).
Closed for maintenance January through March (use a bus instead)
Duration: 15 minutes
Ticket price: €1.80

Capri and Anacapri are 3 kilometers apart and are connected by a public bus route. The bus runs every 15 minutes and takes about 10 minutes between towns. Tickets cost €1.80 (there's a theme here!).

Anacapri is far less touristy, and you can go on hikes around the top of the island mountain from here, and see more artisan workshops. They do have B&Bs, hotels, nightclubs and restaurants with the best views of the sea (but no beach access!)

Enjoy your day on the island!
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18. Board Game: Sun, Sea & Sand [Average Rating:6.93 Overall Rank:2466]
Board Game: Sun, Sea & Sand
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Sept. 10th: Leave Sorrento region and arrive on the Amalfi Coast

From Sorrento, there are a couple of ways to get to the town of Amalfi.
One is by road; either a bus or a car, high above the sea on a winding road that offers you new glimpses of beauty around every switchback corner.
The second is by sea. At the same port in Sorrento where we took the day trip to Capri, you can book a sea trip (one-way or return) to Positano and/ or Amalfi.

Both routes offer something special, but the sea route is more relaxing so if you don't mind being on the water (sorry Frank!) then how about another boat trip?

Positano has been named one of the world's most photographed cities, and it is easy to see why, especially when you approach it from the water side:

External image


I'm sure that more than one tourist has thought to themselves, "If I sell my house, I wonder how much it would cost to buy my retirement home here?"

You'd have to enjoy a daily invasion of tourists to your new hometown, though, because people flock here like sheep.

Then, just when you think you've seen the most lovely spot on Earth, you continue on and arrive at Amalfi.

Amalfi looks about the same, and is a touch less touristy due to the extra distance required to get there.

External image


I've chosen Amalfi as our overnight stop.

If you would like to get some information on any Italian location to the south/ southwest of here (and there is still a lot of Italy in that direction, including Sicily), then drop a comment into today's item and I can add a new item for it tomorrow.

Amalfi has a piazza with a lovely duomo* on it.
Here you are going to see a lot of mosaic work (courtesty of the early Turkish explorers and visitors to the region) and also plenty of Greek influence.
Amalfi is known for its ceramics, and sun, wind, and sea-themed artwork. You can buy decorative painted ceramic tiles, or plates, as a souvenir.

On the piazza where the Duomo is, there are two interesting destinations.
One of them is a fountain, that you need to see to believe:

From gallery of MABBY


The other is a local shop where artisan liqueurs are being made and sold.
It is located right at the foot of the stairs to the duomo, so it isn't too tough to find:

External image


http://www.antichisaporidamalfi.it/

I urge you to click on that link, now.
On that website, there are two main pages for the alcohol: Il Limoncello and Tutti i nostri liquori (all of our (other) liqueurs).

If you need some help translating, I can do that for you, but you should recognize a few of the flavors on offer other than Lemon.
From experience, I can assure you that they taste fantastic.

As you can see, the duomo in Amalfi doesn't have a typical facade that you'd see in Rome, for instance.

* A "Doumo" is a common Italian word for a large church. Almost every town in Italy has got one. At least one.
Smaller churches are known as chiese (singular: una chiesa)
Technically, a duomo could also be called un cattedrale (a cathedral), but that specific term implies that there is a bishop in residence. So all duomos and cathedrals are churches, and while not all duomos are cathedrals, all cathedrals are duomos.
That cleared things up, didn't it?
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19. Board Game: Sicily: The Race for Messina [Average Rating:6.59 Overall Rank:6281]
Board Game: Sicily: The Race for Messina
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Since there aren't a lot of comments on Amalfi, I'll leave the itinerary today and venture south.
You can still add comments for Amalfi (or any other place we've "visited" already) any time that you feel like it, of course.

Logistically, there is no way to get from Amalfi to Palermo in Sicily without some serious planning and investment in a lot of travelling time.
The closest large city to Amalfi is Salerno, a little over 10 miles (17 km) to the east.
In Salerno, you can catch a train to Naples or to Sicily.

The reason to return to Naples is that a flight from Napoli to Palermo takes about 2 hours, and is also quite affordable.
In reality, you'd spend half a day getting to and then arriving early for your flight in Naples, transferring luggage and whatnot onto the plane and recovering it when you arrive. Flights themselves are fast, but the preparation and waiting around for them is definitely not.

The reason that we won't take the train from Salerno today is all about the amount of time that we have. You're looking at an 8 1/2 hour train ride (no express trains run in this region) through the sparsely populated, arid, and often stark southwestern parts of Italy.
This method of travel would be worth considering if you were in Italy for a couple of months, and had a more open agenda.

Because something quite interesting happens when the train eventually arrives at the end of the mainland, the tip of the "boot", in Villa San Giovanni.
There are 10 km of open water, the Straits of Messina, that need to be crossed before we even arrive in Sicily.

Rather than get off of the train and board a ferry to cross, and then pick up another train on the other side, the option exists to stay on the train, and let the port workers put the entire train onto a ferry!
Upon arrival in Villa San Giovanni, the train is separated into several sections consisting of a passenger car or two, and then they are pushed onto the ferry, until the ferry has the whole passenger and cargo compartments on board in short parallel runs (about 6 across).
The ferry makes the 20 minute crossing to Messina, then they pull out all of the train car segments, reconnect everything, attach it to an engine, and you're on your way again.

Messina

External image


This port city is a popular cruise ship stop.
As with most large cities, you'll find the main square-- La Piazza del Duomo, but also Il Cimitero Monumentale, one of Italy's largest and most beautiful cemeteries.


Not too far from Messina lies one of Sicily's most well known "attractions"-- Mt. Etna.
Mount Etna is one of the most active volcanoes in the world and is in an almost constant state of activity.
As little as 4 months ago (May, 2016) it was making headlines:



It is Europe's larges volcano; twice as tall as Mt. Vesuvius (Pompeii).
Oddly (to me, anyway) there are even ski slopes on it!!
wow

Palermo, Sicily

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In this ancient city-- inhabited for 2,700 years (!!)-- you will find a unique culture and language. Much like Naples, the local Sicilian dialect has roots in Italian but has evolved into one that is very distinct.
Due to its geographical location, the city has been influenced over time by its Arab, Greek, Roman, Spanish, and Turkish conquerors-- it was also ruled by Austria between 1720 and 1734.

Palermo is one of the warmest cities in Europe (mainly due to its warm nights), with an average annual air temperature of 18.5 °C (65.3 °F). It receives approximately 2,530 hours of sunshine per year.

While there, you can visit churches, palaces, squares, and opera houses, much like other large Italian cities.

The cuisine is fairly unique, compared to the mainland, however.
They enjoy things spicier than the average mainlander, but the early Arab influences are still the ones most held in local specialties.
Fruits, nuts, spices, and rice are integral to the main diet, which is supplemented heavily by fresh seafood, naturally.
The Arabs also influenced the desserts and candy-making (I had no idea before researching this!).

So how about it-- can anyone add any comments or opinions about Sicily today?
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20. Board Game: Why Not? [Average Rating:5.80 Unranked]
Board Game: Why Not?
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Sept. 12th - Bari, via Matera

When you first looked at the itinerary, did you think to yourself, "Bari? Why Bari?"

I wanted to get us out of the really touristy and popular areas of Italy, and over to the Adriatic Sea. So why not Bari?

Coming from Salerno, there are many mountains (not exactly the Himalayas, but really tall rocky hills) and valleys between there and our destination for today.
In order to take a train, you have to backtrack to Naples first, and then across, so we're going to rent a car today, and take a more direct route.
Heading east, generally, we should be there in 6 or so hours.

Before arriving, though, I thought we would stop in a place that is reasonably close and still on our way to Bari; a place that is on many people's list of things to see-- almost as many as there are people who don't know anything about it: Matera.

When the celebrity tour guides go to Italy, they often end up in places that are not yet "discovered" by the majority of the travelling population. One place that is often featured on those shows is Matera.
You may recognize it from a picture, like this one:

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Is that not the "whitest" city that you've ever seen? Quite the contrast with all of the pastel colors of Positano and Amalfi.
Part of a UNESCO protected World Heritage site, Matera has "houses" that are carved out of (into) the limestone mountain.

Ever want to spend a night in a cave? Thanks to some hoteliers and entrepreneurs, you can do that and it will be the fanciest cave that you've ever paid top dollar (Euro) for:

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But since we don't have big bucks, we'll continue on, now, to Bari.

Bari

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What is in Bari? The main thing that most of the big Italian cities on the east coast of the Mare Adriatico are known for is port/ sea access to the countries on the other side of it-- Greece, Croatia, Bosnia, Albania, and so on.
In the Jules Verne story, Around the World in 80 Days, Phileas Fogg takes a rail trip from London on the Orient Express, to Venice, and then takes another train south and leaves Italy from Brindisi, which is a city a bit further south of Bari, to get to Suez (Egypt).

What is actually in Bari, is fishing, farmland and industry. Although seafood is much beloved and a main staple of their diet, wheat and olive oil are produced in the area and are then packaged for distribution throught Italy and overseas.

So today will be all about relaxation and being off of the tourist path for a while.
But we can still splurge on supper-- travel a bit south of Bari, on the coast, to arrive at Grotta Palazzese-- a restaurant hewn from the caves and hillside:

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Buon appetito!!
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21. Board Game: University Challenge [Average Rating:5.40 Unranked]
Board Game: University Challenge
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Sept. 13th- Bologna & area

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As we learned yesterday, travelling from side to side in Italy is generally slower than up and down. Bari to Boglogna would qualify as a major trip in itself, with all of the back-tracking and train switching that would be required, plus the physical distance to cover.

But we are here today, thanks to virtual travel, so what's the deal with Bologna?

The game item I chose for the city may confuse some of you, but according to wikipedia (so it has to be true!):

(Emphasis is mine)
wikipedia wrote:
The University of Bologna founded in 1088, was the first university and is the oldest in the world. It was the first place of study to use the term universitas for the corporations of students and masters which came to define the institution.
So that's pretty special.
Nicolaus Copernicus (mathematics and astonomy) and Guglielmo Marconi (telegraph & radio) attended courses there, for gosh sake!

Bologna has the enviable position of being geographically in the center of the country (especially concerning overall population) so, while all roads lead to Rome, a whole lot of train lines lead to Bologna. Making it a very well-connected travel hub for us.

To start with, though; compare the all-white city of Matera to the image above. This red brick/ red tile roof, tight cluster of buildings, is the Italy that we are used to seeing in photos and videos.

Here's a quick video that does a pretty good job of showcasing life in Bologna:



The whole region around Bologna is world reknowned for its food products, and you should be able to eat very well here!
Be careful-- The pinkish luncheon meat that you may know as "baloney" does not come from here. The processsed meat known as "bologna" is often made with meat scraps, and those could be pork, beef, chicken, along with othe mysterious-- don't ask, don't tell-- ingredients.
It was inspired by Bogognese mortadella, but mortadella shares none of the questionable manufacturing process of bologna.
Authenic mortadella is made from only the finest pork and pork fat, and has ground/ dried myrtle berries, peppercorns, and pistachio nuts (!) mixed in with it. It is slow-cooked (baked) into a very large sausage (some are 200 pounds or more) before it is siced.

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So ask for mortadella with your foccacia bread, and remember that the spaghetti meat sauce is ragu, instead of Bolognese sauce, and you'll fit in here much better.
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22. Board Game: Bolognabalogical Science [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
Board Game: Bolognabalogical Science
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Sept. 14th- Still in Bologna.

And you thought that Pisa was the only Italian city with a leaning tower, didn't you?

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Granted, Pisa's tower is a real looker, but for sheer numbers of leaning towers, Bologna has Pisa beat by one, and it really stood out back in the 12th & 13th centuries.
An estimated 180 towers (likely all straight up and down at that time) were supposedly constructed in the city!

There are still 21 towers in Bologna today, but the two most iconic (le due torri) are located at the intersection of the roads that lead to the five gates of the old ring wall (mura dei torresotti).
The taller one is called the Asinelli while the smaller but more leaning tower is called the Garisenda.
Both of them are leaning, but the shorter of the two is the most apparent at 3.2 meters of tilt!

And you can climb up the 97.2 m (319 feet) tall Asinelli tower, if you're feeling fit:

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I now invite you to further liven up this item with your comments.
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23. Board Game: Corto: The Secrets of Venice [Average Rating:6.67 Unranked] [Average Rating:6.67 Unranked]
Board Game: Corto: The Secrets of Venice
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Sept. 15th- Venezia (Venice)
Today (2016): Light rain showers and 19°C (66F)

Venice is the one city in Italy that is unlike any other that you've ever visited. There are so iconic images, from movies* and novels** and the history of it is fascinating.
When we arrived in Venice, I was pretty sure that I would like it, but I fell completely in love with it, in just two days.

Especially outside of the train station-- which is just steps away from the main vaporetto (canal "bus") stop and the Ponte Degli Scalzi (one of just 4 pedestrian bridges that cross the Grand Canal)-- you will encounter thousands of tourists, all of them snapping pictures on a camera or a phone camera. Everything, on the ground or on the water, is a photo opportunity.

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The Grand Canal

Here is a photo that I took, after wandering down a narrow "calle" (alley) and onto a small pedestrian bridge on the side canals:

From gallery of MABBY


The thing about Venice is that the tourists all pour in, during the day, but many of them leave by nightfall, so the city is completely different in the evenings and the early mornings if you are wise enough to stay there overnight. Which we are going to do.

Share your own photos, thoughts, memories, and dreams of Venice, won't you?

Piazza San Marco
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Bonus: Live camera feed from Piazza San Marco! (Looking out toward the canal)

Santa Maria della Salute
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Carnevale- A festival, celebrated annually in the last half of Febbraio (February)
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*Movies (recent): James Bond- Moonraker (1979) and Casino Royale (2006), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001), The Italian Job (remake-2003), and the upcoming Dan Brown adaptation of Inferno (Oct. 14th, 2016)

**Novels: There are many-- you may have heard of a little something by Shakespeare called The Merchant of Venice?
Also Death in Venice (by Thomas Mann; also made into a movie), but there is an excellent series (the 25th novel will come out later this year) featuring a Venice detective: Commissario Brunetti, by Donna Leon.

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La Fenice, by the way, is the city's opera house.

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24. Board Game: Murano [Average Rating:7.24 Overall Rank:1044]
Board Game: Murano
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Sept. 15th/ 16th-- Exploring Venice

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Unfortunately for me, when I was in Venice, our trip to the island of Murano occurred on a rainy Saturday.
You get onto a vaporetto which makes a circle route out to the island and drops you off there.
We then walked to the Murano glass factory and we were told that they don't do demonstrations on weekends unless crowds of 12 or more people will sit and watch. We were the only ones there. So the only thing to do was to poke through the numerous shops, all featuring the same or similar glass objects.
That made for a very dull time, in my eyes, but my wife and daughter still had fun and bought some small items to take home.
We did have lunch, however, and I ordered a calzone stuffed with cheese and meat. It was as big as my head-- must have been 10" across and 6" tall.
I ate half and took the rest with me in a napkin*.

Examples of Murano glass
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*The odd (to me) thing about Italy and food, is that they don't generally have "doggie bags" for food that you don't finish at a restaurant. You can wrap it up yourself, but the kitchen doesn't have foam or carboard containers to put your unfinished meal into.
It just isn't part of their way of thinking.

There is also an outer island called Burano, just to make things complicated.
But instead of pretty glass artwork, Burano is the home Italian lace makers, and of wildly colored homes:



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Burano- Venice on acid

Meanwhile, back in Venice itself, there is still plenty to see and do today.

The tourists flock to the Rialto Bridge to do some shopping on it-- silk ties, souvenirs galore, and more Murano glass and Burano lace for anyone who didn't go see it firsthand.
While it is shorter, and there are fewer shops on it, than the better-known Ponte Vecchio in Florence, it is still worthy of a visit:

Ponte Rialto
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Meanwhile, a short trip from the Rialto bridge is the remarkable Rialto market. Local Venetians will go here daily to choose the freshest ingredients for their evening meal-- including a seafood selection that can't be beat.

Rialto market stall
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There are also art museums, a famous casino, the operahouse, and plenty of just walking around and taking photos to be done yet.
Venice itself is quite compact, and not too hard to walk around in. You might get lost and have to explore a few narrow (and I mean narrow) alleys to get back to the more travelled routes, but it's all part of the charm and the fun of being here.

The Grand Canal takes a backward 'S'-shaped route through the center of the city, and there are six main districts, plus one on the other side of the island:

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The small greyish area on the upper left hand side is where the buses (and cars) all park.
There is an infamous bridge between San Croce and Cannaregio (where the train station is) called the Constitution Bridge which was commissioned in 1996 but only constructed and opened in 2008, after huge cost overruns and later-discovered design flaws:

Ponte Della Costituzione
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When it rains-- and Venice gets a lot of rain-- or snows, the bridge is treacherous to walk on, due to the slippery glass panels on either side of the central band of pathway.
Injuries from tripping on the wide flat steps that are not very tall, so you need to pay attention when using them, happen daily. Even on completly sunny and hot days.
Pretty, yes. Functional? Barely.
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25. Board Game: Where Art Thou Romeo? [Average Rating:4.99 Overall Rank:19361]
Board Game: Where Art Thou Romeo?
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