(Firstly, ran out of time to upload photos to the interweb because the stupid computers are so freaking slow and the COMPUTER ROOM CLOSED. Similar appologies if this entry turns into a WALL OF TEXT because this computer ate my formatting. Lawl.)
Since we can use the computers in Plus Camping Venice "Camping Alba D'oro" to upload our photos to our harddrives, I thought I'd be cunning and write up a few things in notepad while we wait and are eaten alive by giant mosquitoes. At least it's not bed bugs I guess. Actually I don't know, I've never had bed bugs.
So since we last updated, we've left the lovely Switzerland and ventured into the Austrian Alps in St Johan in Tirol. (Also spelt Tyrol, I think?) We stayed at Analise's hostel. Actually, it's more of a house. A house full of dead animals that she herself has hunted down and killed. And then probably eaten.
In the lounge there is a big scary bush chicken thing, leering over you as you try to make your toast or hot drink, and on the opposite wall are proudly displayed no less than 40 baby deer heads. (Judging by the size of the antlers.) Hidden in the corner are about 30 mountain goat skulls. And a painting of a fox with wooden bullets in it.
And let's not forget the entry hall, with a lifelike stuffed marmot waiting to greet you as soon as you walk in the door. Along with about 10 much larger 5 & 6 year old stag skulls, and some more creepy birds.
The front facade of the house was reserved for the largest antler spreads of all, made up of 7&8 year old stag skulls, and of which there were 4.
All in all the
House of Death er, I mean, Analise's Hostel, was quite a nice place to stay, because it was very central to St Johan. Although, from the time we spent there, I think that anywhere would have been central to St Johan.
I almost forgot the most important feature of Analise's, actually! Hiding behind the liquor and spirits bottles in the dining room, lurked a taxidermied Wolpertinger! I asked Analise about it and, after expressing her surprise at my knowing about Wolpertingers, she told me that she "Caught it on her 50th Birthday." If I have enough internet time left when I finish uploading all our photos, I'll post my photo of Analise's Wolpertinger.
So in St Johan you have two mountains, one on either side of the town. The coolest named one, and apparently the most famous Mountain in the Austrian Alps, was Wilderkaiser. As if the sound of the German name wasn't cool enough, the translation into English is (I think) "Wild Kaiser." Or I guess Wild Emperor. Which is awesome.
The mountain we climbed was called K-*Something*-horn. Yes, I'm terrible, I can't remember what it was called, but I thought it was Wildekaiser until I was corrected by just about everyone. We did it the easy way this time though, taking a cable-car gondola up as high as it would go and then hiking up to the peak. Unfortunately we didn't have enough time to make the round trip to the peak and back, but we made it up to the second or third rock face, 20 minutes or so from the peak. Also I am woefully unfit when it comes to hiking, and I do mean woefully. When we stopped before we turned around, we were inside a cloud! It was pretty cool, but not as damp as I had expected. We couldn't see further than about 3 m, and as we were on a kind of sheer overhanging point, it felt like you were on the edge of the world, with nothing in the white beyond!
Then we fast-tracked it back down the mountain, taking a short cut through the steep, slippery grass instead of down the dumb muddy track. I picked up some flowers for the goats at the gondola stop on the way down. We only managed to lure out one clever goat with our delicious morsels before it started to rain, however, and once that happened we decided it was time to go back down the mountain. At the base of the mountain there was a community of Llamas!
Note that they cannot be brought with flimsy offerings of flowers. I retreated in defeat. :(
The next day we decided to go Canyoning. If you don't know what Canyoning is, it is basically clambering around in... a Canyon.
Abseiling down waterfalls, sliding down natural rock slides, jumping into rock pools, that sort of thing. Anyway it was totally awesome. The hihest abseil was 20 metres, and the highest jump (down a waterfall into a rockpool) was 7 metres. We only went for 3 hours, and I think a full day would have been even better because it took me a little while to get over the fear, but by the end I was fine.
The fear of dying horribly, that would be.
That night we went to the next town over, Obendorf, or maybe Oberdorf? Because there was a festival going on there. Essentially, cheap food and alcohol, and live traditional music, yay! The cheap food wasn't technically speaking cheap though, 6 Euros for a half chicken and a loaf of bread (while delicious) isn't strictly speaking cheap. 3 EUROS for a cup of Bacardi and Coke is though, woot woot. And the band
played Waltzing Matilda as the ship pulled away from the quay played awesome instruments like an Accordian, and a Xylophone (who thought that people used the Xylophone as a serious instrument? If Only I'd kept at it...) and the GIANT HORN! The Giant Horn is way giant, I was mighty impressed with it.
And now we're in Venice. Venice is, I will say, a very strange city. It is entirely composed of over 150 islands, and is entirely encircled by sea. Lagoon, technically. I always thought it would have been built on a kind of river delta or something similar, but it is 100% made up of sandy lagoon islands. You can tell that the upkeep of a city in such harsh conditions (constant water damage from constant flooding, for example) gets both very expensive and very much abandoned in Venice.
Outside of the areas where you will find the ritzyest hotels and San Marco Square, the majority of buildings are in serious need of some TLC, with plaster coming away from the walls, rotting wooden shutters, doors or ornamentation, and sagging walls all in evidence.
You can also tell that Venice was built defensively because nobody in their right mind would want to build a city on shifting spits of sand in a lagoon today, let alone when Venice was originally built. They had to use piles to make the ground stable enough to build on! They used wooden piles which are still there today, except after all this time they have petrified and become even stronger than they originally were.
Considering what an intensive and expensive process it is to build with piles today, with our machinery and technology, it's easy to imagine that the first Venetians were in a desperate situation.
The other thing is that little effort has been made to make the city easy to navigate, which I think would have been a defensive tactic as well. If we thought it was easy to get lost in Bruges, Bruges has nothing on Venice. The street signs mean next to nothing, and even the directional tourist signs often lead you nowhere, or disappear after a few turns. Despite the shabbiness and obvious problems presented by a labrynthine city filled with more tourists than locals, I love Venice.
It has its own special kind of charm, perhaps from being a place that you can tell is alone in the world, a one-of-a-kind creature that has survived from long ago.
And I loooove Venetian shops! The Mask shops are amazing, there are such beautiful creations in there, all feathers and glitter and papier-mache, or in some cases leather. Sometimes the glitter and feathers are accompanied by Swarkovsky Crystals, too. Even though the traditional Masquerade-ball masks were amazing often beyond description, my favourites were the animal masks, just papier-mache and paint. They were traditional, and I could imagine animals in magnificent plays appearing behind the famous outrageous nose shapes from the traditional drama masks that I wish I could remember the names of. But they were all there! I really wanted to buy one, but they would have been even more impossible to pack and get home in one piece than all the Venetian glass I ended up buying. >_> <_<
And the glass! There are literally hundreds of stores with hundreds of artists, and no two stores really sells the same thing, because everyone has different skill levels, different styles and different tastes. After a while you can pick out the cheap stuff from the work of the masters though, and the lazy from the meticulous. Be carreful though! Some stores sell imported imitations, which while very cheap are not Murano glass. The cheapest authentic Murano that we saw was about 10 Euro, and the cheapest import was about 5, so the difference isn't that much ($20 for real or $10 for fake), but you absolutely notice the difference in quality.
And bag shops! All Italian Leather, a handful are reasonably acceptable in price. I'm currently looking for a very small satchel kind of handbag, and they have an awesome one here for 24 Euro. I didn't buy it though, but that is a story for later!
We checked out San Marco Basillica, which is the same age roughly as Notre Dame in Paris, which houses the famous Quadriga (sp?) (the famous at least 2000 year old bronze and brass horses), and an absolutely stunning mosaic ceiling, which depicts the entrire New Testament of the Bible in tiny glass pieces.
The Mosaic Ceilling took 300 years and 6 generations of Mosaic-craftsmen to complete. It's fascinating because you can see the artistic style morph through the ages - the first in the uppermost parts of the domes are obviously Medieval, no perspective, very little shading, very two-dimensional and static images. As you work your way down you can mark the discovery of things like perspective, figures in motion, shading. It's very impressive. Plus, because the Mosaic is in the Byzantine style, they are all placed at angles (the glass pieces, that is), so that they catch the moving sunlight or candlelight and glitter as if lit by a heavenly source. It's amazing to think that things like perspective in art had to be discovered! The floor of the Basillica is also very beautiful - 65 different types of imported marbles were used to create amazing geometric patterns, optical illusions, and various mythological beasts (like Gryphons) and floral designs.
You can really see the way that Venice is "sinking" - the Basillica is much too heavy for the wooden piles and compacted sand of the Lagoon Islands to support, so the floor has sagged in places and the walls seem to lean dangerously at times. However our tour guide assured us that the Basillica is not in danger - the Venetian government now makes regular concrete injections into the foundations to protect the precious building. And for the rest of the first day I think we basically browsed shops. That night we went to a Pool Party at the Plus Camping place which had a live band! They even played a Zeppelin song, and a whole bunch of Guns 'n Roses songs. Today we visited Murano Island, which is where all the glass factories are. Basically they were kicked out of Venice proper a few hundred years ago for starting too many fires. The glass factories are really impressive though, when you catch a real master at work. Yesterday we saw a guy make an awesome horse in about 15 seconds flat, and today we saw a dude making roses for a chandelier. We also saw a guy making some kind of bowl thing... but he was kind of crap. So we won't talk about him. AND NOW OUR PHOTOS HAVE FINALLY UPLOADEED. So I can put this on the internet and escape from the Land of Mosquitoes.
Whoo! I managed to half format the text. Photos one day. Le sigh.