We are now mid-way of our European vacation. Up next, Venice! Like most of you, I’ve seen pictures and movies set in Venice. So in my mind, I had an idea of what to expect. Canals after canals, gondola rides, you name it. From Firenze Santa Maria Novella train station, we boarded another high-speed train, the Frecciarosa. Thanks again to Gemma and Geri (our new “instant” cousins from Milan), they helped us purchase our tickets a few days ago. This allowed us to know the exact time we needed be at the station.
This is now our 3rd time riding a high-speed train. I am still so amazed at the smoothness of the ride, arguably very comfortable. One thing I noticed about the scheduled train rides in Italy, well, they really do go on schedule (what a novel idea). So you know what that means? We needed to make sure we made it to the station at least a half hour before the scheduled train ride. Doors to the train usually opens 20 minutes before the ride. Fortunately, the high-speed train rides to Firenze, Pisa, and Venezia weren’t full. If I’m not mistaken, the seats were also assigned.
We arrived at Venezia train station around noon. Without joking, if our train went any further, we’d be hitting the canals. Why? Well, the train station itself serves as the barrier between land and water. The moment we walked off of the train station, bam….Venice, in all of its glory.
Call me, Jason, the travel agent
It was always the moments leading to the arrival when I was most anxious. Why? I was the one who made all of the major travel arrangements. Knowing that we rented apartments, I went by the ratings/reviews written by other travelers on AirBNB and VRBO. Other than that, it was a major gamble, I just had to trust the pictures and the great reviews I read about the places I chose. I made arrangements for our party of 8 – from the airline booking, apartment reservations, hotel booking, suggestions on restaurant choices, and major sightseeing choices.
Prior to our train ride, I was in contact with the apartment manager in Venezia. He inquired about our arrival time. He assigned Betty to meet us upon our arrival. Betty met us directly across the canal that’s facing the train station (and our landmark was this church with a green dome). While I knew that Venezia had gondolas, I didn’t know if there were taxis or other types of transportation within the area. All Betty said was to follow her. When Betty said follow her, we, the 8 obedient Americans, did as we were told. We followed Betty. I didn’t know how long of a walk we’d be doing, or if Betty was leading us to a transportation area, or if we were going to ride a gondola. Instead, we walked this one long alley (about 100 yards), then turned a quick right and left, and she said, “this is your apartment” – it was that close. All in all, from the train station, no more than 10 minutes. Score! Now, the next unknown, please be a decent apartment. We walked in the building, and Betty pointed to a room, and she said, “that’s your washing machine room.” We then took 1 flight up, and she opened the doors to our apartment. It was as the picture had described…an old Italian looking apartment with 3 bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen/dinette, and 1, yes 1 bathroom. Oh dear. This will be interesting since 8 people will be eyeing the bathroom. Other than that, we were happy – this apartment is our home for 2.5 days.
Venezia, every turn a surprise
So there were only a few things I knew of about Venezia – gondolas, the Rialto Bridge, and St. Mark’s Square or Piazza San Marco – photographed many times with lots of doves flying or hanging around the square. Other than that, everything else was a new experience for our group. We decided to make our way towards Piazza San Marco (PSM). We had no map. That part was really scary. We were told it would take 50 minutes of walking from our apartment to PSM (that’s if we don’t stop anywhere – fat chance)! All we followed were signs telling you how to get to PSM. Upon leaving our apartment, at first it was 5 minutes of stroll with us passing through other apartments. Soon after, we were led to may different little churches, cafes pizzeria, and stores, after stores, after stores. There were bridges so picturesque that gave us an opportunity to watch gondolas pass by. It was evident that we had to get on a gondola for ourselves.
Bucket List: Gondola ride in Venezia (check)
I’ve always wanted to ride the gondolas at the Venetian in Las Vegas. I never got around to actually doing it. So for sure, riding one in Venice was a must-do for me and the fam. These rides aren’t cheap. For a party of 4, we were told $20 each ($80 total) for a half-hour ride. We walked away for a bit, and we were offered $60 for 4 people….fine, let’s do it then!
The 8 of us rode 2 gondolas, and we floated around Venezia, under different residential bridges, nearby business, and finally, we found ourselves in what looked like the big open water. From afar was the Rialto Bridge, and I knew that we’d have to walk through the Rialto to get to PSM. At one point, our gondola “sailor”, is that what he’s called? Anyway, he pointed to a small building, probably 3-4 stories high – that’s where George Clooney got married. This was a real neat experience and have the opportunity to share this Ethan and Madison.
The rest of the afternoon was spent shopping in Venice. As I have mentioned, it was filled with stores every single corner we turned. The girls, Madison, Nancy, Emily, and Janelle, shopped for a few clothes, some of them, they plan on wearing when we get to Paris.
We finally made it to the Rialto Bridge. This was a very crowded bridge. Lots of vendors selling selfie sticks, and it also served as a perfect spot to take our
family pictures. After leaving the Rialto, we walked some more, and finally ended up in Piazza San Marco. Let’s just say it probably took us close to 3 hours to get to PSM with all the walking, eating, and shopping – but that was okay, we weren’t in a hurry. The square was larger that life. I pinched myself. I’ve always admired the PSM replica the Venetian in Las Vegas, and now, there I was looking at the real deal. Another thing I checked off from our bucket list….done!
For the rest of the afternoon, we decided to see Venice from its sunlit beauty to its nighttime glory. We ate at a restaurant called “Planeta” that was recommended by Igor, a front desk manager we met at Hotel Bruno. For dinner, it was all about fresh pasta and pizza – from Linguine Clams to Tagliatelle with Lobster. We were really beginning to appreciate the freshness of the pasta. I, for one, am quite particular with pasta. I like it Al Dente. I don’t want it sitting in hot water for a long time. I like having it with a bite.
After dinner, we stumbled upon a dessert shoppe that caught Nancy’s eyes earlier. Come to find out, they made fresh tiramisu on the spot. Nancy loves
Pistachio and she ordered Tiramisu al Pistachio. That was just delicious. The tiramisu was served in a cup, with layers of Lady fingers, and the cream, and on top, chunky pieces of pistachio. We shared that and was about to leave and vowed to return before we returned to the apartment. But, wait, what if we get lost later? Well, we ordered another tiramisu – just your good ol’ Tiramisu Classico – happy now? You betcha!
We walked back to the square and near the water, and we were able to take pictures with the sunset. The wind also started to pick up which made the waves of the open water look even more interesting. It was around 8pm when we decided to make our way back to the apartment. Again, we had no map, but decided to follow the signs. This time, we followed the signs that showed “Piazzale Roma” – I remembered seeing that earlier, and our apartment was somewhat close to that area. So we walked, and remembered the stores we passed by earlier. It was close to 9pm, and we stopped by another pizzeria (I forgot to mention), we ate earlier during the day. All the pizzas were served fresh out of the oven. At first, it was just Ethan and Madison who wanted to eat. This was not a sit-down kind of a pizzeria. It was all counter service. Everything they served looked so enticing, and boy, were we enticed! We ordered calzones, and 4-5 different slices of pizza. That was a perfect way to end our evening.
Oh Venice, we’d love to visit again. Every street corner gave us a pleasant surprise. Every shop had its uniqueness and we’re hoping to come back again in the future. Grazie!