Italy Vacation: Part 1: Venice

Travel Day

We departed for our trip on the evening of March 27th, flying from Atlanta to Paris, then switching planes to head to Venice.  I didn’t realize that in Paris we would have to go through customs and security, which took quite a while.  We had a one hour layover and nearly missed our connecting flight as it took over a half hour to get through security.  CDG Airport in Paris is kind of crazy – very busy and spread out.  I would advise getting a direct flight if possible, or connecting somewhere else (I’ve heard Berlin is a good connection city).  When we got to our “gate” to “board” it was actually a bus that then drove us out to the runway to climb aboard our plane. The flight from Paris to Venice is beautiful; we were awestruck as we flew over the Alps.

View on the flight from Paris to Venice

Landing in Venice
There are several options for getting from the airport which is on the mainland, to the island of Venice.  The cheapest is taking a land bus for a few euros which will drop you off on the only road on the island – an area called Piazalle Roma.  Our hotel was actually right in this area, so the bus would have been very easy for us to take, but we wanted to take a water taxi instead.  A private water taxi is the most expensive way to go (100 euros) but really the nicest way to get there, allowing a scenic view of the city as your arrive via boat.  After so many hours of flying it was a very nice way to arrive at our destination. There are also water buses you can hop on that stop at specific places, and since they make multiple stops they can take a bit longer.  Depending on where you stay, you’ll need to make sure you get off the waterbus at the stop closest to your hotel.

TipChoose a hotel that is very close to a water bus or water taxi stop, otherwise you’ll be hauling your luggage up and down steps, over bridges, and along narrow crowded sidewalks.

The Hotel

We stayed at the Santa Chiara hotel which is located on Piazalle Roma and faces the Grand Canal.  It’s a great location, as it is also very close to the train station.  Unfortunately, this also made it a little noisy.  Our room wasn’t ready, but the front desk staff checked our luggage and gave us a map, showing us things to go do and see while we waited.  The building is hundreds of years old, but you would never guess that by the ultra-modern rooms.  It was the most spacious room of all the hotels we stayed in during our trip.  Our room faced Piazalle Roma, not the Canal, so we didn’t have a great view – just lots of buses, taxis, and people, but to be honest, we were only in our room to sleep so that didn’t matter.  The bathroom was gorgeous, with a nice shower and great lighting.  There is a coffee maker and a refrigerator with a minibar (prices were reasonable).  They do serve breakfast each day until 10:30, but we weren’t up and out until 11:00 so we never tried it.  They do serve good coffee, though!

The Grand Canal behind Hotel Santa Chiara
Rialto Bridge
Morning coffee at our hotel

Exploring Venice

While we were waiting for our room to be ready, we went walking for about 2 hours. It was fun to wander along twisting, turning narrow sidewalks and bridges over canals throughout the city.  We were lucky to have absolutely beautiful weather, so we were able to enjoy the sights, pausing to take in the picturesque scenery.  Besides the canals and ancient buildings, there are stunning basilicas  and pretty squares scattered throughout Venice.  It’s easy to get lost, so having a paper map as well as using your phone (if you have an international data plan) is essential. The “touristy” areas are super crowded, so it’s fun to wander down quieter streets to look in the shop windows and explore.  We never felt unsafe during our self-guided tour of the city.

Exploring the streets of Venice

We eventually made it back to the hotel, where the gentleman from the front desk led us up to our room, where they had already delivered our luggage.  We napped for a bit, then dressed and found a place for dinner. We decided on Rio Novo Risorante, just a short walk from our hotel.  It is a rather small place, and as with most restaurants in Venice, the menu was in both Italian and English, and our server spoke English as well.  We did not have a reservation, but they were able to accommodate us.  We ordered the house wine – which, just about everywhere in Italy is very good – and some fresh bruschetta.  I had the seafood pasta which was a clean, simple dish of fresh pasta, shrimp, lobster, mussels and clams.  It was exactly what I wanted for my first meal in Venice.  My husband had  grilled fish with vegetables that was equally as good.  After dinner we strolled around Venice and ended the evening with some cocktails at a lovely little hotel.  I cannot remember the hotel name, but the manager, Frederico, sat with us and chatted for quite some time.  He was very funny and gave us some excellent tips when it came to dining in Venice (don’t eat anywhere that has photos of their food on their menu!) and also assured us that Italians so indeed like Americans, but they don’t like the French. Ha!

TipOrder the house wine at restaurants – you’re in Italy; the wine is good!

Must See Attractions

Day 2 in Venice had us exploring some of the “must see” attractions: St. Mark’s Basilica, Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale), The Bridge of Sighs, and the Rialto Bridge.  It was about a 30 minute walk straight from our hotel to St. Mark’s, but we stopped at locations along the way.  First we ducked into a café for a quick espresso and sandwich, then meandered towards St. Marks, stopping to look at some beautiful squares and churches along the way. The closer we got to St. Mark’s Square, the more crowded it got – and I mean thousands of people everywhere.  There are lots of tour groups, which can get annoying, as do all of the people with selfie sticks, but if you can manage to ignore all that and just enjoy the beauty of where you are, you’ll have a more pleasant day.

Venice, Italy

TipWhen at a café, a coffee is an espresso, and you drink it standing at the bar.  You can also enjoy a sandwich or slice of pizza, then pay before you leave.

I was more impressed with Doge’s Palace than St. Mark’s, to be completely honest.  St. Mark’s Square is beautiful, but I was less impressed with the inside (and you have to stand in line to see the inside). You cannot take pictures inside, because it is a holy place, and you must be appropriately dressed – no bare arms, not hats, not big backpacks, etc.  I thought the views from outside were more spectacular.  The wait to get into Doge’s palace was about 15-20 minutes, so I recommend buying ahead and skipping the line.  We bought just the basic ticket – they’ll try to upsell you on buying tickets to four different museums, but the basic ticket is really all you need; the palace is huge and there is plenty to see there.

We were in awe of the intricate art work throughout the palace, all of the rooms that seemed to never end, connected to each other.  The Armory was impressive, with all sorts of swords and other weapons, and the prison was pretty cool, too.  We walked across The Bridge of Sighs and took a picture from inside, looking out (most people stand on the bridge opposite and take a picture of the outside, but it’s pretty cool to actually be inside of it).  This is the bridge that prisoners had to pass over while walking from the interrogation room to their cells in the prison, and was named because prisoners would “sigh” at their final view of beautiful Venice.

St. Mark’s Square

After a good 3 hours at St. Mark’s and Doge’s Palace, we walked back towards the Grand Canal, stopping at a quiet little café for some pizza and spritz.  We sat in the courtyard and watched locals walking by, out of the way of the tourists and crowds.  I cannot remember the name of the place, but we also enjoyed a traditional Venetian fish appetizer that had 5 different fish, including calamari in a marinara sauce, and cod prepared three different ways, one of which was the traditional baccala montecato, a creamed dried cod served on white polenta.  We devoured it, and then decided we needed a pizza!  After lunch, we sat on the edge of the Grand Canal facing the Rialto Bridge and did some people watching and had some gelato.  The Rialto Bridge is beautiful, but I found myself frustrated while crossing over it due to the crowd of people trying to take selfies.

Looking out from inside the Bridge of Sighs


TipWhen in Venice, try some of the “typical” Venetian dishes which are seafood based like baccala montecato (mentioned above) or cuttle fish (which I didn’t try).

Because we had “lunch” so late in the day, we weren’t really hungry enough for a meal, so instead we wandered out in search of a spritz (the Italian drink of prosecco and aperol that we consumed every day).  We found a lively little walk-up place where the gentleman behind the bar was pouring spritz non-stop for a crowd of college-aged people.  There were a few other “older” folks like us as well.  We then wandered down the road, drinks in hand, in the direction of some music and came across a couple of guys in front of another café, playing guitar and singing American and British songs in a mixture of Italian and English.  The small crowd that had gathered were lively, singing and dancing.  We stayed, and eventually made our way inside for a sandwich and another drink.  It was nice to be in a place filled with locals instead of tourists; we felt like we were getting a taste of the “real” Venice.

What We Missed

Of course, I had lots of things on my list and knew we wouldn’t get to them all.  We never ordered risotto, did not take a gondola ride, and never made it to the islands of Murano and Burano, all of which were on the list of to-do’s.  But I still feel like we had a terrific experience in Venice.

Click here for Part 2:  Padova


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