Italian Holiday: Venice

Our first stop in Italy was Venice. We’d originally planned to fly in and out of the same city, the way I’ve always done, but it turned out flying out of a different city cost very little more, and that way we’d be able to avoid the dreaded “having to backtrack” part of the vacation. So we went for Venice first, planning to work our way down to Rome. Heading into the visit, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the city. I knew it had canals, but almost all of my experience with it stemmed from movies. As near as I could tell, those canals were regularly the site of high speed chases and explosions, and that’s about it.

We got off the train and left the train station, and right off we were staring at the Grand Canal in front of us. It was surreal. True, there were no high speed chases to be seen, but it looked just like I thought it would. Actually, strike that. It looked too much like I thought it would. It was almost as if Disney had gotten together and decided to make a fake city on the water. Except it wasn’t fake, somehow.

Of all the cities we visited, Venice was my favorite. I think it’s because it was so different from anywhere else I’ve been. In other old cities, there will be a spot here or there with a very narrow street. In Venice, the whole place is narrow streets. (Seriously. I was very surprised I’d only seen canal chases in the city. Street chases should be just as popular. Many of those lanes were no more than six feet across, if that. They were the kind of streets that made you think you might actually be able to wall jump up them.) No horns blaring. No trucks rumbling. No huge ads. Just a slew of old buildings with wonderful architecture.

It also helped that the city is so small. You can walk across it in under an hour, easy. So anywhere you want to go, it’s not that hard to get to. (Though the water buses help things go even faster.) We were there for a day and a half of sight seeing. Here’s what we caught:

  • Gondola ride. Yes, it seemed really touristy, and yes, it cost $100 for a thirty minute ride for up to 4 people. But I was in Venice, dagnabbit, and I was going to go in a gondola. Actually, this ended up being pretty tricky, as we waited to go in one until the evening, and then it was windy. In wind, the gondolas don’t run for safety reasons. Denisa, MC, and I walked up and down the city, trying to find an open gondola. Two hours later, we gave up. Thankfully, the wind quieted down in the evening, and Denisa and I got to go. Was it worth it? Maybe. It was a once in a lifetime sort of thing. If I go back, I wouldn’t go on one again. But I like having been.
  • St. Mark’s Square. It’s a huge open square right by the basilica, with loads of shops and live music. A great place to people watch and relax. We grabbed some gelato and hung out for a while.
  • St. Mark’s Basilica. Really great church that’s around 1,000 years old. It has a ton of elaborate mosaics inside. Gorgeous. We bought skip the line tickets to see it, and I’m glad we did. There were a lot of people in Venice.
  • Doge’s Palace. Right off St. Mark’s Square as well, it’s elaborate, ornate, and beautiful. We bought a combo ticket that let us look at the palace and then go on a “secret rooms” tour that showed us some places not available for the general public. (Cassanova’s cell, bureaucratic areas, torturing room. That kind of thing.)
  • Murano. It’s a smaller side island, and the center of a lot of Venetian glass art. We saw a glass blowing demonstration that was interesting, though I would have liked to have seen something more extensive. Still, everywhere else we went in Italy, there were signs for “Murano glass.”
  • We had pizza from a small cafe the first night, and then we went for a sit down meal at Taverna Scalinetto the second. It was a bit pricey, and more seafood-y than I’d prefer, but we were in Venice, and seafood is a big thing. I had risotto with cantaloupe, which sounds strange, and indeed tasted very different, but I enjoyed it. Tomas and Daniela branched out into clams and mussels. MC had her first taste of Italian spaghetti with red sauce, and she was hooked immediately.
  • We stayed at the Casa Del Melagrano, which overlooked a side canal. This was a last minute change, as our original booking told us two days before that my credit card hadn’t cleared their “test,” and that they’d ended up renting our rooms to someone else. (I called and talked with Chase. No one in Venice had tried to use my card for anything at all.) The hotel tried to get us to book a room that was “the same” and “right next door to the hotel.” But then I checked into it, and the new place was poorly reviewed, and quite far away from the original. We cut our losses and made new reservations. The place was nice. Denisa and my room was great, though there was some construction going on in the other building that kept my sister and her family up, which was less than good.

Overall, I had a great time in Venice. I was sad we didn’t make it to the Gallerie dell’Accademia, but with the younger kids traveling with us, we decided to pick and choose which museums we went to. Two nights in Venice was probably too short. I would have done a third easily, and you could definitely justify more than that.

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