Destination: Venice, Italy
Number of Days Spent: 2.5 days
Where we stayed: Locanda Art Deco Hotel - our most expensive hotel yet - 70 Euro (drawbacks: a tiny hot water heater that took forever to heat, it was enough for 2 quick showers or 1 regular one; major pluses - an excellent breakfast with unlimited expresso; the good stuff - Illy & a great location)
Best restaurant: ???? We can't remember the name of this place but it's across the Accadamia bridge and along the canal to the right of the Accadamia and it's in RIck Steves guide. It's one of the oldest wine shops in town and they have great prices on bottles of wine. They sell tapas for lunch which are excellent! Try the blue cheese with walnut on toast or Ligurian pesto on toast (1 euro)...pair these with a glass of wine (2 euro) and you've got a great lunch! Take it outside and sit by the canal and have a memorable picnic! If you have not figured it out yet, we LOVE to picnic with a bottle of wine!
Best of: Walking into St. Mark's Square for the first time - at night, breathtaking; no cars, no bikes or motorbikes - this city is pedestrian friendly to the max.
Worst of: The price of vaporetto (Venice's public transport along the canals) tickets is staggering...6.50 euros per ride! We ended up by the unlimited pass for 26 euros each for 48 hours and used it every single time we possibly could.
Most Memorable: Our first glimpse of St. Mark's Square with classical music filling the air and the lights shining off of the Doge's Palace....it just overwhelmes the senses!
Useful Tip: If you want to ride a gondola but don't want to pay 100-120 Euros take the public gondola taxi for $.50. Sure, you're standing in the boat with the locals but at 1/200th of the price it's probably the cheapest thrill you will get in Venice! Also, try the pub crawl to save some serious money during dinner! Again, Uncle Rick Steves has free podcasts on Itunes of the Square, Church, and Canal - simple and entertaining.
Ok, so Venice is probably the most expensive city in the world, it's arguably the biggest tourist destination in Italy (over 12 million visitors per year; 50,000 per day sometimes in the summer!), a pain in the butt to get around, and we loved it! Few cities are as magical as Venice. The history (capital of the Byzantine Empire), the arts (many famous composers including Mozart escaped here from Austria and Germany to write some of their most famous works) and the architecture (influenced by the Ottomans, Greeks and the Romans) all come together here.
After arriving in the afternoon and finding our hotel, we headed out for a little Pub Crawling - Venice style!. Cicchetti's (or little bites) is one way to eat out in Venice without taking out a second mortgage on your house. With most priced at 1 euro each, it does not take long to fill up and all the bars have similar priced house wines and mixed drinks (Spritz is the local favorite and quite tasty!) to help wash them down (these drinks are usually around 1 euro but at most 2 euros at the local bars...you can even get a glass of prosecco for around 1.80 euros). From snails in their shells to mozzarella sticks, there is a variety here to meet anyone's taste. Most of these places are on either side of the Rialto Bridge, just wonder around a bit and you are bound to stumble across a couple. Look for the locals standing up and chatting at the counter, toothpick (which you use to pick up the food) in hand! You can also use Rick Steves book, we did and it was great!
Few things in this world evoke a "Wow" moment from Jason. Typically reserved in emotions, I found myself moved as we rounded the corner into St. Mark's Square at night. If you can time it right, save this jaw dropping moment for night, the sight is completely different in the day. The pink soft glow of the Doge's Palace. St. Mark's Basilica just behind with its Onion Shaped domes. The square itself laid out in a massive "L" shaped pattern. The moment is all capped by orchestra's playing classical hits by Mozart and others. It's simply a magical moment that I could never do enough justice in words.
In most cities, the streets are filled with motorbikes, cars, traffic and all the belching smog and smoke that comes along. In Venice, the only "traffic" is in the water in the form of boats on the Grand Canal. The best way to take in the city's overall charm is to take the Vaporetto from one end of town to the other admiring the buildings. The architectural style here is unique; borrowing both from the local Christian population and the visiting Islamic traders from the western Mediterranean. Domes mixed with minarets and the classical rounded Roman arches became more pointed at the top.
We returned to St. Marks for a little sightseeing, this time in the daylight. By day, the romantic side of Venice concedes to the tourists. The square is packed from one end to the other with tour groups, lines form around the side of the Basilica with the hoards and the sun is unrelenting. Joining the herds, we lined up for the Basilica. The church is equally as impressive on the inside. The masterpiece of the church are the set of Bronze horses, now called St. Mark's horses. While it is unknown where they originated, they were cast in late BC and resided in Constantinople (Istanbul) until the 4th crusade conquered the city and brought them here to reside. The ones that majestically sit on the balcony above the church are copies of the original ones just inside.
The other sights include going into Doge's Palace and across the famous Bridge of Sighs (90% covered in scaffolding) but we opted to spend our time out at another church - the Frari Church of the Assumption. Across the Canal and in a more residential neighborhood, the church is a hidden treasure. The highlight of the church is Tiziano's Assumption and a rather small and too far away (and to us disappointing) Donatello statue; you would need binoculars to look at it properly.
On our last night in Venice we popped open a bottle of prosecco, sat by the Grand Canal and enjoyed the musicians on St. Mark's square one last time while we reflected on our amazing time in Venice! Cheers to Venice, we will be back...hopefully with lots more money next time!