Sunday, November 27, 2011

Beggar Woman on our Bridge.

One afternoon we heard the sound of a woman begging on the bridge outside our living room window. We could hear her all through the house giving her loud, pathetic and incessant moaning that she needed food for her children, leaning out into the foot traffic while she did so, shaking a cup with a few coins in it. Now, before your eyes tear up, there are a couple of things you should know about beggars in Venice and, I suspect, in the rest of Europe.

1) They are not homeless. The beggars in Venice commute to work on the train from the mainland. This is their job. Americans in

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

River Cruise Diary: Arrival in Prague

Church in Prague at Night
Living in Venice means we are only a couple hours’ flight from about anywhere in Europe. This year are taking a cruise on the Danube, visiting a number of cities, such as Vienna, Prague, Budapest, and places in between. Our trip started in Prague. Not part of the cruise, but as a few days we tacked onto the beginning.

We arrived in Prague on November 21, 2011, in mid-afternoon after a delay of a couple of hours due to fog. We flew from Venice to Vienna, then to Prague. We later discovered that there is an inexpensive flight directly from Venice to Prague for about 39 Euros on Wizz Air. 

A driver picked us up at the airport and we arrived at our hotel around 4:30 p.m. The hotel, Santini Residence, is very nice and the service is great. For example, the breakfast, which is included in the price of the room, can be delivered to your room for no extra charge. Deliver is prompt and friendly, and the food is very good. You fill out a card and order whatever you want, as much as you want.

We hadn’t had anything to eat since a small pastry at the Venice airport, so we went to a restaurant next door to the hotel called “The Three Violins.” The food was great and the service friendly (although at this hour he was not swamped). I had duck pate as an appetizer, and roasted duck as a main course, along with a glass of dark beer. The duck came with red cabbage, a sweet version of sour kraut, and a big pile of potato dumplings. Karen had goulash and then a cake of some kind for dessert. I recommend the place for its food. The only criticism I would offer is that the music was too loud and of a generally obnoxious variety. When will restaurants learn?

After that we walked around the old part of the city. The beauty of the place surprised me. Although some of it was built in the 9th century, for the most part it was built in the 18th century. Mozart used to hang out here. 

It is obvious that after the fall of communism they put their backs into making at least the historic center comfortable for tourists. Hotels, bars and restaurants abound, as do touristy shops, from designer brands to crass souvenir shops. The streets are clean and safe, and the buildings well maintained.

The historic center has all the trappings of touristy Europe. During the lunch and dinner hours, many of the restaurants have people standing outside trying to get you to come in. I avid such  places. There are also the occasional beggar, particularly on the Charles Bridge at night. They seem harmless, though, as they take a kneeling position where they rest their upper bodies on their elbows, and essentially lay in the street holding a cup and not saying anything. We were never approached by one.

The night was cold, we were full of hardy Czech food, and we were exhausted from our day of travel. We went back to the hotel for the night.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Gold Ring Con in Venice

Recently I have approached twice by people pretending to find a gold ring in the street, and then asking for money for it. Here’s how it works:

As you walk down the street a person will rapidly come toward you, and a short distance in front of you pick up a large ring laying in the street. The ring appears to be solid gold. They will ask you whether it’s yours. You of course did not drop a ring, particularly in a place where you have not walked yet. You say no, and attempt to go your way. They will follow you and try to give it to you. Your natural reaction is to refuse it, and tell them it’s their lucky day. Then they will give you some story about being allergic to gold (gold is inert, no one is allergic to it), or not liking jewelry, or some such nonsense. In the end, they will be such a pain in the ass about you keeping it that you finally give in and take it. You go your way, and they pretend to go theirs. Then they come back and demand money for it.

I don’t know whether the ring is gold or not, but I know someone who paid five Euros to the person and got the ring. Even if the ring is 14 karat gold, it would probably be worth a few hundred bucks at a pawn shop. There are no identifying marks on it, other than a very small stamp on the inside appearing to be the gold stamp. I’m guessing, though, that the ring is worthless.

So, if you travel in Italy there are a few rules to remember.

1.   Don’t take anything from anybody. Beggars and con men will often try to hand you something, like an envelope, or a rose, and then want money. I have even heard of them handing you a baby, and then going through your pockets. Simply refuse, and don’t worry about being polite. They are crooks and liars.

2.   Don’t let anyone get too close to you. If you are in a crowd, well, you’re in a crowd, but otherwise try to keep your distance.

3.   Do not take voluntary assistance from anyone. Unless you are a little old lady struggling to get her suitcase over a bridge, no Venetian is going to help you. There are Gypsies, particularly at the bridges near the train station and Piazzale Roma who will grab your bag acting all helpful, and at the other end demand money. Also, people will greet you at the train station and assist you in finding your train and your seat, and likewise demand money. There is no one at the train station to help you. If you fall for either of these scams, refuse to give them money. What they are doing is illegal.

4.   Beware of anyone (other than fellow tourists) asking you for directions. They will come up and put a map under your face with one hand, and go through your pockets with the other.

5.   Beware of swarms of young girls. They are out to pick your pocket.

            Do some research before you come as to what scams are out there, and always be suspicious of any Italian offering you any kind of assistance. Venice is safe and generally free of scam artists, other than the beggars, but you still need to use ordinary care. There are plenty of pick-pockets.

Note: There are porters in Venice near the Vaporetto stop for St. Mark's, but they have badges and a list of fees. They are worth every penny, but make sure you know the fee in advance.