Europe trip: Day 14 (Venice Day 2)

Places visited (11 June): Binale sites. Former republic of Slovakia, Korea art museum

Second day in Venice. Went to the supermarket to buy more food supplies, and walking through the streets that range from being at the two sides of the river, to random dark and narrow pathway that oddly has a lot of people walking through it. As if encountered by accident, I stumbled upon Iuav University of Venice (Università Iuav di Venezia; IUAV), probably the only college there.

There are so many things about this city that you can’t find elsewhere: plenty of old buildings that are older than most buildings that I know of, the lack of roads (which also means the absence of things associated with vehicles) and having boats in their place, houses that are that close to the water as you can see in pictures (and the algae markings visible). Partly because of how long ago the buildings were built, and their conservation status, it’s hard to tell if buildings are shops, houses, schools, offices, and so on, at a glance. The only areas where buildings of modern times are seen are in the area where the station I arrived at is located (which is also where the bus terminal to the mainland are, including the airport) and the outlying islands that are designed to look like the older Venice buildings, but distinct enough to tell that it’s new. I saw a construction zone and a demolished site on one of those islands.

If you were to look carefully at the walls, you can see how high the flooding in Venice can reach, which is not surprising considering how low the average street level is to the water, but the increasing frequency and height is a worrying concern.

Without a map, I walked around along the main streets hoping to find a binale site. Eventually, I came across one, which is an exhibit of dead bats, cocoons, and not much other stuff. However, it was also there that I found out where the main venue is, which is at two separate locations. Both are quite far from the place I stayed at.

So what else is there? Well, we decided to wander around aimlessly. Probably areas far away from where most tourists would probably not go to. I came across a jetty where the gondolas that Venice is known for are parked at. Jetty is designed in a way that you would have to navigate through the confusing paths to get to, even though the waterway itself is a major waterway.

Along the way, I noticed that some doors are sealed up for some reason. An obvious way to tell is that the numbers that usually appear above the doors appeared above a wall, though it’s obvious that, by looking at it, there was a door there. Some units has (apparently older) roman numerals carved at the top of the door archway. The newer numbering seems to be a unique number across the whole of Venice except its outlying islands.

Then we came across a courtyard-like place with a unit that seemed to have its door decayed badly. On its window, I could find some sand-like particles at the edges of the window that looked like something you would find at the beach. This is the strongest sign of how high the floods in Venice could go. Looking into the window, it is clear that the place seems to have been abandoned for a while, as I could see flood-damaged items (and flood lines on some) inside.

Along the way back, I saw two black cats. Cats are rarely seen during the time in Europe at that point in time, and these two seemed to belong to someone. These cats quickly wandered away, as if running away from me. I don’t know why, but something made me want to follow those cats.

So the cats bring me to some strange area surrounded by buildings where there are more similar looking cats hanging around. This area is out of the way for most people.

I wanted to get closer to the building and those cats, but it’s fenced up with a locked gate. (Photo you see on the right is taken through the gaps in the fence.)

It was sunset at that time, so, I left when it got dark. I saw light reflecting off the cat’s eyes as I leave.

Now, how do I find my way back. In fact, where exactly am I? The place is not that well lit.

If it weren’t for my phone’s GPS and an offline cache, I would have been completely lost. Having signs pointing to some major places in Venice that are close to my place or in the general direction of it.

The quiet streets with close shops and nobody around is kind of scary though.

Europe trip: Day 17

Places visited:
Venice Marco Polo airport, London Bridge station, Vauxhall station, Westminster palace
(Note: this was written on day 29, so details might not be in detail until i have image reference. Day 11, and days 14 through 16, are currently skipped)
The last day in Venice, and also the first day (second if you count as transit to Paris) in London. Having a morning flight means that my time in Venice that day is just limited to travelling to the airport. The streets were empty, though as we got closer to the bus terminal (Plaza Roma), there are people walking around to get to work. Not clear which direction as Venice itself is a maze: even narrow passageways can be a major route with many possible routes, and random dead ends.
The Venice airport took quite a number of minutes to get to from the main city area. The interior looks like the kind I would expect of an European airport actually.
As Italy is part of the Schengen zone, flights to other European countries that are in that same zone would not need a passport (the UK is not part of that zone). It is not correct to say that Schengen is the same as Eurozone as not all EU countries are a part of it, and some non-EU countries are, including Switzerland. Immigration for flights to destinations outside that zone has a separate area. There’s no shops inside that zone, so don’t step into there until you are about to depart: there are no shops there.
The flight was about 3 hours long. People around me had that British accent. People whined when the pilot mentioned that the outside temperature was 13℃ on landing at London Gatwick airport, because it was 27℃ at Venice.
There were no underground trains from Gatwick, but there are National Rail trains from there to the middle of London. There are, however, many different options at different prices.
There’s the (heavily advertised) Gatwick express, First Connect (formerly British Railways), and Network SouthEast. The last one was the cheapest. So, even among Network SouthEast, it terminates at different stations in London at (significantly different) prices: one at £14, another at £8. If you are coming from countries where the currency is weaker or on a tight budget, even £1 can mean a big difference to you. Which platform, carriage, and seat, are printed on the ticket. In this case, it’s of any “standard” seat of any carriage.

Although the carriage are considered “standard” class, it feels like it’s higher than that what I was expecting. Probably better that the Eurostar train.

An hour later, I arrived at London Bridge station. The station looked like it’s in the middle of reconstruction as a section near the platform where the train I was on stopped at looked quite old, but at the same time looked as if it’s in the middle of being demolished.

So this station has the Northern Line and the Jubilee Line at the Underground station, but the station I’m headed to is Vauxhall on the Victoria Line.

On reaching, I kind of went around in circles looking for the place. Luckily, I have the offline cache of the map on my phone, though finding that street while offline is not easy since I can’t search offline. (I can’t use mobile data while overseas! It’s too expensive!) Since there is only one hour difference between Venice and London, and having been already in Europe for 2 weeks, there is no real jet-lag.

After check-in to the hotel, I walked westward along a large river nearby and I notice a building that has strangely high security around it, and a lot of the England and Union Jack flags on the opposite side.

What did I see when I looked up? It’s the Big Ben! What did I see when I looked to the left? The London Eye!

I don’t know if it’s because I had already been there during the random encounter, but I never went anywhere near the Big Ben again during the rest of my London trip. Since it was after nightfall when I saw it, I never saw it during the day up close. Does look nice at night though.

I visited some large 4/5 star hotel expecting to get a better view form what I could see from the outside, but I can’t seem to find a way there. It’s not everyday I enter a fancy hotel, so I hung around there for a while longer before walking back along the river, where I saw the Big Ben again, but on the other side of the river it is next to.

Europe trip: Day 12 & 13 (Paris Day 11 + Venice Day 1)

Places visited (Day 12):
Château de Vincennes, Gare de Lyon (via Vallorbe, Switzerland)

Places visited (Day 13):
Santa Lucia (Northern Venice)

(Note: this was written on day 27)
Day 12

The last day in Paris, and also where I would make my way to Venice. Because I was so cheap on expenses, the owner told me that I had to clean the room, or pay €20. Knowing how strong European European currency is, that is quite an amount in my home currency.

So where do I go between check out and boarding the train? Well, there is this place I always walk past, but never went in, to a place called Château de Vincennes. (Pronounced as sha-tou-deh-varn-sen) It’s an old castle, but I didn’t know the significance of it until I read that some well known authors were imprisoned there. Spent about 3 hours there.
Where to next? Well, there is this big library near one of the station I went past days earlier (don’t remember the name, but it interchanges with RER C and Métro line 14). The library was partially closed as it was a Sunday. Didn’t go in though. The buildings around the library seemed quite new.

I had already ran out of the tickets from the “book of 10 tickets” that I had already bought twice, but it would be impractical to buy another set. Single ticket it is then.

The train to Venice from Paris is at Gare de Lyon. We were several hours early, but many shops were closed and, among ones that are opened, cost quite an amount. (Plenty of restaurants, but no fast food restaurants.) I don’t know why.

The cabin I took is shared with other people: two Italian men that don’t seem to know each other, and a Chinese couple from China somewhere (based on there accent) that brought along too many things (the lady kept wanting to do makeup / moisturizer during the journey, which I find it to be an overkill).
The conductor came in to check on the tickets, but more surprising is that they took the passports from everyone (saw the bag full of it) “for their own reference”.
Day 13

Everyone is asleep, it’s still dark outside, but the train isn’t moving. The station stopped at has an unfamiliar name (Vallorbe) that, as far as I could see, appears small and quiet. My phone detects Switzerland networks. It seemed like a long time before the train started moving again.

I make my way around the trains to search for the carriage that sells food and drinks, but they were costly. Travelling between carriage is kind of strange with heavy sliding doors and the train shaking around violently. The water in the toilet was not drinkable.
The train stopped at about 4 stations (including Milan) before reaching Venice. By then, I had the cabin all to myself (well, and my older sibling).
The Venice saint Luca was the end of the line, and our destination. Before arriving, there was this long stretch of bridge that connects Venice to the mainland that looks beautiful.
I’m not that good with talking pictures from a moving vehicle or with a glass panel in between. Not sure if I took any, or looking good if I did.
From the moment I step out of the station I arrived at, I am already seeing a postcard-perfect scenery of Venice. It was that nice.

In Venice, there are mostly no roads at all, and only waterways and pedestrian footpaths. In addition to that, the streets themselves are like a maze, and, being how low the streets are from sea level, I need to climb steps to get over the canals that boats passes through. It is seriously a lot of walking if you are visiting Venice, because boats are the only quick way of getting around, and there is no room for buses, trains, or subways.
Like Paris, I saw a lot of restaurants, but, except for one lone McDonald’s in the whole of Venice, there are no fast food and more expensive restaurants. There are however, cheaper side stalls and supermarkets. (I wonder about the logistics of bring the goods there since there are no roads.)

When I reached the place, I just took my needed shower, and collapsed onto the bed.
What is the place like? To be honest, it looks like nobody has lived there in a long time. Design looks outdated (saw a 1994 calendar in one of the cupboards), toilet looks half renovated with the shower area lacking a shower screen or even the shower head itself. (There is an additional shower head by the bathtub nearby. It looks old too, but what to do?) The floor is kind of dusty, kitchen has (mismatched) chairs turned upside down on the table.
Well, what to do when you book the place as recent as while still in Paris? Venice is a major tourist destination, so rooms can become full easily, especially at the last minute.
I found out later that the famous Realto Bridge is nearby.

Europe trip: Day 10 (Paris Day 9)

Place visited: The Louve (again)
(Note: this was written on day 24. Some details might have been forgotten.)
Not being fully satisfied with the earlier visit (it was crowded), I decided to take another visit to the museum. This time, I had to pay the admission as it wasn’t the first Sunday of the month. On top of that, I am not eligible for the student/youth discount, which is reserved for EU citizens.
So, having there before, I kind of know where the other other entrance is, and what station to get off. The other entrance is not far from the subway station and then follow the underground shopping arcade that has an Apple store. There should be an inverted pyramid that lets light from outside in. (Guides and maps shows the entrance as the side of the nearby arch, visible from the glass pyramid main entrance, at ground level that goes below the ground.)
It was hard to take a picture of the inverted pyramid without someone posing in front of it.
Not much to say about what I saw: more of those paintings and sculpture that dates back to 19th century or earlier, which follows the tradition of what art is until recent times (Modernism art) where art in general looks radically different. A lot of unnecessary details on these old paintings that they kind of look alike, like a painting with so many people in it, or naked women, or whatever.
Art and more art… There’s just too much of it here!
If it weren’t for me having come with someone else and paid the admission fee, I would have left this place.
Oh, I also hung around to take a picture of the glass pyramid after sunset. Being early summer with daylight savings, that meant it happened at 9pm. Quite a nice sight.
Like Musée de Orsay, I went there without knowing that the specific day of the week that I went at has extended operating hours. What a coincidence.

Europe trip: Day 9 (Paris Day 8)

Places visited:
Musée d’Orsay (RER C, line 14)
(Note: this was written on day 16, 17, and 19, so some details might have been forgotten until I get to download pictures I had taken that day. Images and additional text added on 21 July)
So finally somewhere new: Musée d’Orsay. I knew where it’s location was because I did walk along there in the middle of the night some nights earlier, which was this massive building that, up until around the 1980s, was a train station. Because of how late I went out, I went around to find a place to eat beforehand. It was this fast food place called Quick near the Pompidou place I went to days earlier. Where to next? It was either the Musée d’Orsay or visiting the Lourve again. I did not explore everything on the last time I was there. Where we went affects the route to take.
Out of random, it was the first choice. Because I did saw an RER station right outside the station, and the station near where we were having both the metro and RER lines. A look on the map shows that it was actually shorter and quicker to take the RER. RER is the commute train within Ile-de-France and acts like a subway inside zone 1 (Paris) and there are no additional fees or tickets needed if your journey begins and ends with the subway (any zone) or RER (zone 1).
What I did not expect was that, immediately after passing through a ticket barrier, I have to enter through another barrier. I guess this tells the system that I had left the subway system and entered the commute train system, and not getting a free ride to outside zone 1.
The RER station platform seemed quite big, partly because larger trains are used, and the train length is longer. The trains carriages are either single deck or double. The carriage that stopped at where I was waiting has double carriages, which appears to be what most carriages are of. I never took a double decked train carriage before. (JR trains has it too, but they are classified as “green” carriages, and therefore pay more to get in.) 
The train seemed to also made up of several train sets linked together and, like the older subway trains, you had to push a button to open the doors. The carriage I took appear to be older than the other carriages of the same train: interior is full of brown, while the newer ones are colourful with a grey frame. What is the interior like? There are plenty of empty seats, but some seats seemed missing or worn out. There’s litter on the floor, and noticeable vandalism on the walls, doors, windows (with paint or, for the others, with something sharp), and even in the tunnels themselves. There’s also dried spit (those black round things on the floor) too. Not that much different from the subway in terms of cleanliness (or the lack of it). I’m surprised that there isn’t any disease outbreak. Really…? Who would have thought that Paris is this dirty?
In any case, the distance between each station is quite some distance, so it means that it didn’t take long to reach what would have otherwise meant passing through many subway stations. On stepping out on the exit pointing to the museum, I was pleasantly surprised that it was right at the doorstep of Orsay Museum. (The the station itself has very few passengers in case you were wondering.)
Like the other museums I went in Paris, there is a discount for my age from the full price. Even more so, it wasn’t until I looked at my (already purchased) ticket that the museum opens up until 9:30pm on Thursdays instead of 5:30pm for other days (closed for Mondays), which I certainly did not plan on, but good for me as I entered in the afternoon. There were more interesting exhibits at Orsay than the Lourve as there are more interesting and famous works there. It is a shame that photography was not allowed, or I would have shown you what interesting things I saw (even though, at time of writing, there aren’t any in this post at all).
I managed to secretly take this photo
We left the exhibition when it was closing at 9pm, though it was quite a rush during the last hour. Funny how bright the sunlight was.
On the way back to the hotel, I used Line 14, the newest line on the network. At one of the stations that lets me transfer to Line 1, I saw plants being grown with lights as bright as the sun even though I am some meters below ground level.
Am I seeing things?

Europe trip: Day 8 (Paris Day 7)

Places visited:
Eiffel tower
(Note: This was written on day 12 to 14. Some details might be forgotten until I take a look at pictures I took that day.)
I think I had gotten over my jet lag already: I’m waking up at the usual 9am without an alarm clock…
Anyway, on this day, I went to the Eiffel Tower. Yes, that famous pointed thing that everyone associated Paris with. I had been to the Tokyo Tower and the Personas Twin Towers that had been based on this, but this is the real thing! It may not be the tallest structure now, or was designed to be temporary, but it was for many decades from the time it was built.
So, which subway station is the best? It depends on what you want to see: the nearest station, [name 1, line1], might not be scenic at all. The other station on the same line, [name 2] does. In fact, it is there where all the scenic shots were taken from. Which one did I take? Well… Neither. It’s [name3, line2] instead.
There is some explanation behind this. While looking at the map, I saw a large patch of greenery at the south-eastern corner from the Eiffel Tower and kind of unsure or forgotten what the stations I mentioned earlier were. When I got to this station, the tower was not visible at street level.
With the help of maps and my compass, I eventually saw the tower, but not the large patch of greenery I saw on the map. Turns out that the street I was walking on ran parallel to it.
(Entered a supermarket along the way. It was there where I saw the French styled plug extender and socket. There was no adaptor though. Did not think about buying it until later.)
There are several entrances to the place: group, stairs, individual, and staff. All entrances besides the stairs uses some kind of a double decked diagonal elevator.
I had spent a lot of time in there, and it seems that many people from all over the world speaking many different languages there. There is a separate elevator that being you to the summit, and there is a queue for it.
People entering the tower at ground level would exit here. On the opposite side for the way down.
Those modern skyscrapers in the distance is the La Défense district I went to yesterday
This place is the summit. That little nub you see near the top of the tower.
I decided to climb down the stairs on the way down. It is quite a climb, and midway through, I came across a level that the elevator did not stop at. Sadly, half of the floor is under renovation at the time I went there.
Those scaffolding in the background there
Reaching the ground level, I made my way to the place where the nice picture of the tower is taken from, as well as waiting for the sun to set around 10pm. (Bought some chips for €3.50 along the way…)
The wait was worth it. I got to see the postcard view of the tower with my very own eyes. Trying to take a good shot is challenging with the zoom, white balance and exposure to deal with. (These are things you can’t do with a camera phone.) Waiting for the top of the hour after sunset would have the tower having a lot of flashes from it for about 5 minutes. Missed it? Well, it repeats every hour until 1am.
This was probably an unforgettable night I’ve ever had. There’s the magical feeling in the air.
(I was unable to find a usable toilet since before heading up the tower until reaching back to my place, which is many hours later. No wonder Paris smells of urine everywhere: where are the working toilets?)