ANZ Travel Card Snag…

19 July 2013

No photos today — have only taken two, and they aren’t worth sharing at all.

We had a very successful trip on the Frecciargenta (fast train) from Florence to Venice. And pretty much on time, too (only 8 minutes late).

The train was absolutely jam-packed full of tourists, all with huge bags. But this was the first “first world” train we’ve been on. Not only did it have lovely comfy seats and a separate luggage area at the end of the carriage (not big enough when everyone has suitcases the size of ours, but at least it helped) but also a first-world toilet. The loo was clean, smelled fresh, and didn’t dump its contents on the railway track — it was just like an aircraft toilet, only more spacious. It had a toilet seat, toilet paper AND soap AND a hand drier. Unprecedented. The door handle did fall off in my hand when I shut the door on the way out… but I quietly put it back on and went back to my seat. We heard it fall off and clunk on the floor when the train stopped. I don’t think it was the first time it had happened.

The train went about 130 km/hr, and stopped at Bologna, Ravigo, Padova, Ve Mestre and then Venezia. The total journey was just two hours. After going through very loooooong tunnels coming out of Florence (minutes upon minutes in the dark) we left the hills behind and travelled a significant distance over flat land. It reminded me of the Hauraki Plains — but put more trees between the paddocks and swap the dairy cows for cornfields. Didn’t see one cattle beast, sheep, horse, or any other form of quadripedal livestock. But we did see more hay.

I have been wondering where the Italian dairy industry is, as yogurt is clearly an important part of breakfast here (to my glee — there’s a great selection of it in the supermercato); there’s lots of milk; and of course cheese of every variety (Dad, you would LOVE the cheese). Most of these products proudly say something along the lines of “all Italian milk”, so there must be dairy cows somewhere.

We sat next to a nice Italian bloke who spoke very good English. He lived in Rome, but was off to buy a car: “In Rome we drive Smart Cars, but this one is for Sundays. We like our toys,” he said. (He got off at Ravigo.)

Amongst the cornfields, and close to population centres, we did see a couple of what appeared to be unfinished motorway bridges — not connected to anything, and no obvious work in progress, just abandoned. Perhaps this is a sign of the economic times in Italia.

Dave had studiously studied Google Maps last night to ascertain a walking path from Venezia Santa Lucia (the train station) to our accommodation at San Polo, 1895 Calle Dei Boteri. Google said it was only about a 1.5 km walk, but there were 21 different turns in that 1.5 km. There is a boat, but that would have cost us, together, about 20 euro — and we weren’t in a hurry, so walking sounded like a good option. And it worked! A little bit of creative dead reckoning, but it didn’t take us too long. And we dodged all the tourists. The “roads” (no cars, just people) were sometimes wider than those in Rome, and had basically nobody on them. They were also clean, obviously swept every day. Nice. And it didn’t even stink!

We found our accommodation easily — and it’s lovely! It is the most expensive we’ve had so far, at 110 euro per night, but it is modern (on the inside, not the outside of course) airy, air-conditioned, and has the most divine shower (girl heaven). After the non-existent water pressure and hit-and-miss hot water in Florence, this is luxury. Still no washing machine, but (thank you, Yelp) Dave has already located a coin-operated laundry that we will hunt down before we leave.

So all was looking up! We went for a wee saunter in search of the supermercato. In Venice, the chain store to look for is called Billa — which we would never have known without the help of Daniella, who is the ‘staff member’ who looks after this flat; and we would never have found it without the help of Google. It even sells wine in 1-litre cartons (like for milk) for 1.20 euro — and no, we didn’t buy any! (We splashed out on a 4 euro bottle of Le Filagne Valpolicella. I have no idea which part of that is the vineyard and which part is the wine type. But it is Denominazione di Origine Controllata Classico, which I think means it is made from wine from the certified Chianti-grape-growing area.)

So we got our trolley (basket) full of groceries, went to pay, and the Travel Card (debit card loaded with euro) wouldn’t work. It has been working just fine until now. Luckily, we had cash, but the situation was concerning. Concern mounted as we tried it in a couple of ATMs (called bancomats here) and they also said they were unable to process our request at this time. Hmm.

Whipped home, checked the balance and status online, and all was indicating as it should. Tried to ring the toll-free help line in Italy: couldn’t connect from our NZ cellphone. No matter what combination of prefixes we tried, we kept getting the message that the number was unallocated. Tried the number in NZ — successful connection, but stuck on hold… and, embarrassed to admit this, but it cost us the $30 of credit on the phone! Not doing that again, so we thought. Topped up with $20, found the ’emergency call’ number in the States (collect), called that successfully, they transferred us through to NZ — back on hold, we thought we weren’t paying for it… and five minutes later, disconnected! Getting expensive!! So Dave went out to look for a pay phone to dial the Italian toll-free number. Which worked… but after 20 minutes on hold he gave up and came back (7pm) for dinner. He tried the card on the way home in another bancomat, and this time it said the link was unavailable (whatever that means). Don’t panic, Mum! We have paid for our accommodation; have enough food to last us for at least three days, cash in hand and a credit card. We’ll get it sorted — but it’s a pain in the arse, all the same.

Tomorrow there is a special celebration here: a celebration of the end of the Black Plague called Festa del Redentore. Lots of fireworks in the harbour from 11pm. A big thing on the annual calendar, apparently; so we’ll have to go. Not looking forward to all the people, though…

One last thing: when we went for our walk we got to the Rialto Bridge (very close) and found the throngs upon throngs of tourists. And, to our complete bemusement, right off the end of the bridge, a shop called Auckland New Zealand. Yep, no shit. So we went in to find a clothing apparel outlet with a nautical theme: polo shorts, pants, and the like. I checked the label on one of the shirts which said it was “inspired by New Zealand”, but it appeared to be a Dutch company and the clothing was made in China. Outrage!! Does Len Brown know about this?!

Anyway, out and about tomorrow, camera in hand (and hopefully some more cash, if we can solve this blasted debit card problem.)

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