Back to the Rick Steves’ Best of Europe Tour after the first two posts took us from Amsterdam through the Rhine Valley in Germany (according to Wikipedia, a 2010 report showed Germany ranked second in the world for per-capita beer consumption) and Austria. A highlight was traveling through Bavaria – the southeastern-most state of Germany, which is known for its 40 types of beer and purportedly over 4,000 brands of Bavarian beer.
The Autobahn is an outstanding method of traveling and the scenery, mostly rural, is stunning.
Highlights included two historic castles – both abodes of “Mad King Ludwig II.“ This is not the name of a linebacker for the Oakland Raiders, but a real Bavarian king, whose taste for these massive structures helped lead to his ultimate demise in 1898, even though they were not built using public funds, but from the king’s personal fortune and borrowing.
Construction of Neushwanstein – the largest castle – started in 1868 as a “retreat” and tribute to composer Richard Wagner.
Perhaps Ludwig’s childhood castle home – built in 1833 by his father called Hohenschwangau, in the Bavarian village of the same name, wasn’t sufficient because the “retreat” – only a few hundred yards away was started when Ludwig was 35 and living in the fortress below.
Our nine days in Italy commenced in Venice – the Floating City, which is built on pilings and actually comprises over 100 islands separated by the legendary canals and connected by bridges.
American humorist, New York Times columnist and actor, Robert Benchley, upon arriving in Venice was reported to have sent a cable to his editor stating, “Streets full of water. Please advise.”
Venice was marvelous and besides the wonderful history, the food and the pubs – not just cafe’s, but real bars – were notable.
Although we did not eat there, based on its ambiance, the staff and the beer, my favorite bar was The Devils Forest Pub – right near the famous Rialto Bridge.
Trip Advisor reviews were good including this one from a visitor from the United Kingdom in April:
“This pub was fantastic with Italian staff that also spoke English, the food was delicious and great value for money and the décor is fab like an old English pub well worth a visit.”
This one from July, 2013 echoes our experience:
“Great pub just a few steps away from Rialto off a side street. Very friendly staff and a great crowd there. Good beers on tap, we did not eat there, but the place was packed with a good fun crowd (was there during Spain/Brazil match). Would definitely go back if I return.”
After a long day of sightseeing (and shopping) we wanted to sample some of the Venetian food so we took a boat to the other side of the City. We were successful in this goal as can be seen from the photo below:
And while in Venice, I got to see a few more bars which looked good from very cursory visits and on-line reviews – they are on my list to explore when we return. These included:
Bar A1 10 Savi: (see picture below)
Bacaro Jazz made me chuckle because the décor and stated tradition surrounding it reminded me of one of my early Portland dive taverns – The Dixie Tavern in Old Town. Take a look at the July, 2011 review from Yelp of the Venice bar and the pictures I took of both establishments:
“Bacaro Jazz has a fun atmosphere and is perfectly placed by the Rialto Bridge to bring in all the tourists and backpackers. Right when you walk in the first thing that grabs your attention besides the long bar counter is all the Bras – yes Bras hanging on the ceiling.”
“The tradition is all the women walking in who donate their bra to the collection tend to get a free drink and a rise from the
crowd. The Bar has every drink you can think so if your intent is to walk in sober and leave the same way forget about it.”
Each year at the Dixie, they make a donation to the Susan Kommen Foundation for each of the ceiling decorations.
Perhaps it is an abrupt transition, but I cannot leave this post without showing another example of a church we passed in Austria – the steeples were always great landmarks in every city and this one was no exception.
And finally, one of the most outstanding cathedrals and structures on the entire trip – the Patriarchal Cathedral Basilica of St. Mark – in Venice. We trudged up the 373 steps to the top of this architectural and engineering masterpiece for a wonderful view of Venice and the surrounding countryside.
The basilica is the final resting place of St. Mark, the patron saint of Venice. Construction started in the 9th century and it is one of the best examples of Byzantine architecture in the world. The mosaics (about 40,000 square feet) and bronze sculptures are remarkable. It has five domes laid out in the form of a Roman cross.
One can only imagine the labor of the peasants including stories of holding back food and water rations of the workers as the upper dome, which rises 141 feet, was being completed so they would not lose the significant time it took to leave their posts for biological functions. The Basilica was consecrated in 1094 although it was not completed until 1674.
On to Rome and the Cinque’ Terra on the Mediterranean coast.