Venice: The City of Canals and Crepes

 

I’m surprised my Type-A self was able to wait until November to buy plane tickets for our trip in March. I’m so glad I did though, because by about that time prices had dropped $200 from their price a few weeks earlier. I knew it was the right time to buy, so our group of six met to book the flights and apartments. We used Airbnb.com for the apartment rentals and CheapOAir.com for the airfare.

Both the out and back flights had layovers in London. We had a 12+ hour layover in London on the way to Venice, but had to switch from Heathrow Airport to Gatwick. What do you do with that much time in a city? Not much when your flight gets in late and you don’t actually get into the city until 9:30pm on a Sunday.  We decided to get an inexpensive hotel room; just somewhere to stash our bags and maybe sleep for a few hours. We had dinner at a little Indian restaurant Bryan and I ate at during our December London trip (more on that in another post). After dinner, pretty much everything was closed down and there wasn’t anything to do but head back to the hotel.

When we got back to the hotel, we asked the front desk to book a taxi to pick us up early and drive by each of the sights so we could at least see them and take some pictures. We went back to the room, took showers and slept for a few hours before getting picked up and driven to Gatwick.

The drive there wasn’t too bad and it only took about 45 minutes. One thing I’ve noticed about international airports is that their check-in and security process is way faster than in the states. Our flight from Gatwick to Venice was short and uneventful. I slept for the entire thing and only woke up to see the Swiss Alps out my window.  We landed around 10:30am Venice time, got our bags and made our way to the water taxi booth. Based on some of the information I read before we left, there were a couple options for getting to Venice: bus, the Alilaguna, or a private water taxi. The bus is a good option if you don’t have much luggage; this wouldn’t work for us because we each had a bag or two. The Alilguana was cheaper than the private water taxi, but from what I had read, it’s often crowded and takes longer. We chose the private water taxi because it was just a few euro more than the other options and it would only take about 30 minutes to get within a block of our apartment. There was a desk right outside of baggage claim with a few companies to choose from. I don’t remember which one we used, but they all had the same prices listed.

We were dropped off on the opposite side of the Rialto Bridge from our apartment. It was a bitch little difficult getting our bags over the steps on the bridge, but we made it and eventually found our apartment after getting a lot little lost in the windy, tiny streets of Venice. Our apartment was on a great little side street, right by the Rialto Market, and just as it was pictured online. Everyone had their own room and it was super clean, which made my germaphobe heart sing. The only downside was the listing said it had two bathrooms, which I took to mean that it had two showers, but it only ended up having one shower and two toilets. It ended up being fine and we made it work.

 

After we got settled, we walked around by the Grand Canal. It was around 1pm and it was pretty deserted. A gondolier was cleaning his boat and asked if we wanted a ride offering to take us all for 80€. It was reasonable price, similar to what I had seen online, so we decided to go for it. The gondola ride was really nice. Our gondolier stayed mostly on the ‘side streets’, and it was really nice how quiet it was.

We did a little more walking after our gondola ride and stumbled upon what just happened to be one of my favorite things the entire trip. Nutella Crepes. Now, this may come as a shock to some of you, but I’ve never had Nutella in my life. Ever. I know…talk about deprived. I watched the vendor make a crepe for someone else and it looked amazing, so I ponied up the 3.50€ for the little slice of heaven. And let me tell you, this guy knew how to make the perfect crepe. Like party in my mouth, dance around the plaza like a fool amazingness. During the twoish days we were in Venice, I think I had at least five and I’m kicking myself for not having more. Seriously. I want to go back to Venice just to have another crepe. He’s in the Campo Santo Stefano by the Rialto Bridge. Make him a visit and you won’t be disappointed.

After gorging myself on crepes, we found a table at one of those tourist-trap-of-a-restaurants right on the water. The sun was shining, it was warm out and we were starving, so we caved and ordered three pizzas to share and a carafe of wine. The pizza was sub-par, but the wine was good. We walked around a little more, checked out some shops and headed back to the apartment. As soon as Bryan and I got to our room, we were out like a light. The rest of the group stayed up and went out to a lackluster dinner.

 

The next day, we got a pastry at one of the bakeries near our apartment and headed over to St. Mark’s Basilica (Basilica Cattedrale Patriarcale di San Marco). As we read in a few guide books, it was packed that early in the day, so we took a stroll down by the water. We checked out the Bridge of Sighs, took pictures in front of the naval museum’s huge anchor and found a really cute park to wander through.

 

On our way back, we found a decent restaurant to have lunch with a really nice maitre’d. The food was ok and the price wasn’t bad either. After lunch, we headed back to St. Mark’s, which was empty, and made our way through the church. St. Mark’s has beautiful mosaic work and a great view of the plaza from the second floor balcony. We were going to climb the bell tower next, but the line was kind of long, so we opted out.

Instead we got some gelato (and maybe another crepe or two) and started wandering around Venice. We got pretty turned around, but to be honest, you really can’t get lost because the island is so small. We thought about trying to take one of the boats to Lido, Murano, or Burano, but everyone was so tired at that point that we decided to just head back to the apartment. On the way, we found this little ‘dive bar’ looking place that had a Happy Hour sign in the door with a buy one, get one special for 8€. There’s always time for drinks. Count me in.

This bar was so amazing that they gave us all a free shot before we left. Yes, please. I would definitely go back there if I ended up back in Venice. We were actually pretty upset we didn’t find this place sooner.  We hung out at that bar until about 7pm or so and headed back to the apartment to get ready for dinner. On the way we stopped at a little shop and got some wine and booze for later that night. Dinner was an utter and abysmal failure. I don’t even want to post about it because it was honestly that bad. The food was meh and the service/treatment was so horrible that I seriously considered leaving without paying. Yep. That bad. Don’t be like me…plan your Venice restaurants very carefully. Do research your and then some.

After dinner we got some more gelato. Yes, more. Unfortunately the crepe guy was closed for the night. I may or may not have almost cried. We went back to the jazz bar we were at earlier to get some more drinks. By that point in the night, the crowd had changed and pretty much every person in the closet of a bar turned to look at us as if we had ‘TOURISTS!’ tattooed on our heads. We found a table in the back, had a drink, and got the heck outta there.

Back in the apartment we listened to some music, and played card games.  We called it quits around midnight to rest up for the train to Florence the next day.

We were all packed and ready to go by 8am, so we took one last stroll through the shops to get some final souveniers. I probably should have bought something, but I was too busy smearing Nutella all over my face from those delicious crepes. Yep. Everyone else shopped and Bryan and I stuffed our faces. We took the Vaporetti Line 2 on the other side of the Rialto Bridge to the train station and hopped on the 9:38am train to Florence. There was a small delay (about 15 minutes) and we ran into a little hiccup with the seating arrangements. Apparently they don’t really assign seats to everyone in your party; only a few people. Strange, right? A couple of our tickets basically said that someone was standing in the aisle. That was their seat. Luggage was also an issue. There was zero room to put larger bags, like none. Luckily, the train ended up being fairly empty and we all had seats near each other and we used an entire aisle to put our bags in. The whole experience kind of ticked me off because we ended up buying first class seats based on Rick Steeve’s suggestion just so we could get seats. Fail. But at least we got free beverages and a little snack.

Overall, the train ride was uneventful. Less scenic than I was hoping, but that just left more time for reading and sleeping. Venice was a beautiful city, and I’m glad we went, but I won’t put it on my ‘places to go back to’ list.

Next up…Florence!

Have you been to Venice? Would you go back?

We’re going to Italy…No, really

A few of my conversations early last fall with my husband went like this:

Me: Wouldn’t it be great to go to Italy before we have kids?

Hubs: Yeah, that would be nice…if we have the money.

Me: We should go next year.

Hubs: Do we have enough money go to?

Me: No, really…we need to go. I need to go. We’re going.

Hubs: How much is this going to cost?

That’s when I started my research and hatched a plan to get to Italy before becoming a mama. First things first was figuring out what cities to hit and how long to spend in each place. I started by checking out a few of my favorite travel blogs as well as some message boards. (I love how detailed and candid Amanda of Kevin and Amanda is with her travel posts.) We picked March to go because it was pretty much the only month that didn’t interfere with work commitments or weddings or bridal/baby showers.

It sounded like Venice, Florence and Rome were on the top of everyone’s must see list. Some of the other cities were Cinque Terre, Tuscany, Sorrento and the Almafi Coast. We added Cinque Terre and Sorrento to the list, ruling out staying in Tuscany because we would be close enough in Florence to take a day trip out if we wanted to and we ruled out the Almafi Coast because we’d also be able to take a day trip from Sorrento…plus, we weren’t sure how the weather would be in March.

View from inside the Vatican Museum of St. Peter's

View from inside the Vatican Museum of St. Peter’s

About this time, we had told a few friends that we were going to Italy and they wanted to join. This changed our plans a little, because now we’d need to look for larger places to stay and our one friend had family in Sorrento. We started planning out our itinerary and realized that we wouldn’t be able to do Sorrento and Cinque Terre in one, two week trip, so we dropped Cinque Terre and added it on to our Future Trips list.

From talking to friends and interwebs research, a half day (travel day) and a full day in Venice sounded like enough. We wouldn’t get to visit Lido, Burano or Murano, but we’d get a good feel for Venice. We decided that two nights in Venice would be good.

For Florence we went back and forth with how many nights we should stay there and originally decided on three. We ended up adding an extra night in order to spend a full day on a winery tour…good move, right?

Some of my friends had recently been to Rome and said it was their favorite city with tons to see, so we decided to spend four nights there also. That left three nights in Sorrento. We had originally planned on working our way down the country from Venice to Florence to Rome to Sorrento, and then coming back up to leave out of Rome. A quick read of one of Rick Steve’s websites made me make a slight change to our itinerary and put Rome last…which would later prove to be one of the best choices of any trip I’ve ever taken…but more on that in another post.

Our final itinerary looked like this:

Day 1: Depart home for Venice

Day 2: Arrive in Venice

Day 3: Tour Venice

Day 4: Travel from Venice to Florence (by train)

Day 5: Tour Florence

Day 6: Tour Florence/Tuscany

Day 7: Tour Florence/Tuscany

Day 8: Travel from Florence to Rome (by train and pick up car) to Sorrento

Day 9: Tour Sorrento

Day 10: Tour Sorrento

Day 11: Travel from Sorrento to Rome

Day 12: Tour Rome

Day 13: Tour Rome

Day 14: Tour Rome

Day 15: Depart Rome for home

The only addition was that we had a early morning flight out, had a 12 hour layover in London, and then flew out London early the next morning for Venice.

Looking back on the trip, I honestly wouldn’t change a thing about the itinerary. I think we spent enough time in each city that we really got a feel for them. If I wanted to squeeze in another city I think we could have cut a day off of Florence, Rome and maybe Sorrento, but those were the lazy days when we got to relax, walk around the city, and enjoy what Italians call ‘la dolce vita’, the sweet life.

In the next few posts I’ll talk about the rest of our adventures in Italy and what made it the trip of a lifetime.

What one trip have you been dreaming about taking?