Eurotrip 2011: Venice and Milan

A canal from the east side of Venice.

I arrived in Palermo, Rome and Florence with long lists of things I had to see, but in Venice the only things on my to-do list were “see the San Marco cathedral” and “enjoy the atmosphere of Venice.” So instead of rushing from one historical sight to another, I spent my three days there wandering around the city, admiring the handsome Venetian architecture I came across, getting lost both willfully and accidentally. It was a relaxing change from my previous weeks in Italy, when I felt like I was wasting my time if I wasn’t on the way to a cathedral or museum.

Unfortunately, there was still a massive tourist presence there to stress me out. Like all the major tourist destinations in Italy, Venice’s awesomeness has led to an influx of tourists, which has canceled out its awesomeness. The major sights in Venice were even more saturated with picture-taking tourists than those of Florence and Rome. My hostel was located close to the city’s main tourist artery, which was packed from the earliest hours of the morning to the latest of the night.

The Rialto market, full of tourists and those capitalizing off them.

In the course of my wanderings, however, I discovered that the eastern portion of the city is almost completely free of tourists, so I spent a lot of time there. Judging by the amount of laundry hung out to dry, it is where the locals live.

A much quieter street on the east side.

Another of the east side.

A canal.

Another canal.

My hostel in Venice, the Residenza Santa Croce hostel, was unlike any other I’ve stayed in; I would hesitate to even call it a hostel. When I checked in at the address given at hostelworld.com, the owner gave me a key and pointed on a map to where my room was. There, I shared what was basically a single-bathroom studio apartment with five other people. There was no kitchen, no internet, and no area for hanging out. There are very few affordable hostels to choose from in Venice, and that was the best I could find.

Yet, it wasn’t as anti-social as I feared it would be. The first two nights, I shared the room with some friendly Belgians, one of whom was in a punk band that had toured America and played in Cleveland. On the last night, their beds were taken by some American college students studying abroad, and we played Gin Rummy and War (which I hadn’t played in years, and hopefully will not play again for years).

I’d planned to visit the San Marco cathedral the morning of my departure, but when I arrived there I learned that it didn’t open until 10:30 that morning. So, I could only admire the outside of the cathedral, which shows a lot of Byzantine influence (and even, I believe, some plundered Byzantine artwork) due to Venice’s sacking of Istanbul, the first city I visited on my trip.

The San Marco cathedral.

Instead of taking a train directly to Nice, my next destination, I decided to stop in Milan to spend the afternoon there. I’d considered spending a few days in Milan, but I decided not to because I heard from a few people that it is expensive, unpleasant, and industrial. I booked a train that arrived there at 2:30, and one that left from there to Nice at 9, leaving me enough time to see the city’s gothic cathedral and da Vinci’s Last Supper.

Downtown Milan.

A more charming area of Milan.

Although the area around the train station (which was built by Mussolini’s government in a sort of fascist-Art Deco style) was full of homely skyscrapers, the neighborhood by the cathedral consisted mostly of charming 18th- and 19th-century buildings beside clean streets in a grid layout. I walked through a beautiful park that was around, and inside, the imposing 15th-century Sforzesco castle.

The Sforzesco park, with the castle in the background.

Milan’s cathedral was beautiful, but full of tourists who were being rudely loud while a service was held inside, taking pictures even though they weren’t allowed to. I walked to the church that is home to The Last Supper, but I was unable to see see the painting because a reservation was required. I thought the church itself was interesting, though.

Milan's cathedral, the Duomo di Milano.

The church that is home to The Last Supper.

I decided to get one last meal before leaving Italy, so I stopped at a restaurant on the way back to the train station. Despite Milan’s reputation for high prices, the meal I got there was only 9.50 euros including a coke, which is less than a similar one would cost in Rome, Florence and Venice. I didn’t know what it would be when I ordered it, although I guessed correctly that “patate” meant “potatoes.” It ended up being pretty good.

My last meal in Italy.

Eurotrip 2011:  Interlaken

Eurotrip 2011:  Florence and Pisa

Eurotrip 2011:  Rome pt. 2

Eurotrip 2011:  Rome pt. 1

Eurotrip 2011:  Palermo

Eurotrip 2011:  The Journey To Palermo

Eurotrip 2011:  Santorini and Athens

Eurotrip 2011:  Athens

Eurotrip 2011:  Istanbul

Bloody Syria

Another country in the Middle East seems to be rapidly descending into bloody chaos.  This time, it’s Syria.

In the last month, protests have escalated and spread across the country.  In the past week, “President” Bashar al-Assad — in reality, an autocrat who succeeded his father and exercises close to absolute power — rescinded the 48-year-old “emergency law” that allowed the state to exercise broad security powers, apparently in hopes of stemming the protests.  Then, when the unrest continued, the security forces began firing upon protesters.  On Friday, at least 100 people were killed.  Yesterday, Syrian troops shot a number of people who protested during the mourning processions for those killed the day before.

Assad was a doctor at one point in his life, practicing in London, England.  When he assumed control of Syria after his father’s death in 2000, many observers expected (or at least hoped) that he would liberalize Syrian society and politics.  Unfortunately, Bashar al-Assad has proven himself to be as inflexible and murderous as his father; with bloody hands, he will try to hold on to power.  His reign as the head of Syrian teaches a lesson that we would do well to remember — the fact that the undisputed leaders of undemocratic countries once lived or studied in the West does not automatically mean that they have adopted the peaceful cultural and political mores of western society.

From A Village To A City (Cont.)

If you’ve noticed residents of New Albany strutting around recently with a special pride, it is because our community has officially moved from being a village to being a city.  The long-awaited 2010 census results have been released, and they show that the population of New Albany has smashed through the 5,000-resident threshold that separates “villages” from “cities” under Ohio law.   Officially, 7,724 hardy souls now call our teeming metropolis home.

Our fine Mayor received a plaque commemorating our passage to city status, but with the plaque, and city status, comes change and increased responsibility.  Under Ohio law, public employees in cities have collective bargaining rights where village workers don’t — at least, whatever collective bargaining rights exist after the statewide ballot issue petition drive is over — and New Albany also will assume responsibility for asphalt maintenance, sign maintenance, and pavement striping on the portions of the state routes that run through New Albany.  In addition, the city will become responsible for snow and ice removal on Route 161.

For us residents, it means we’ve got closer-to-home people to blame if a pothole isn’t filled or roads seem too icy or snowbound.  The ability to kvetch will be one of the things that makes city status great.