Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Romantic Weekend (that means no kids) in Venice

Venice has been top on our list for places to visit... without the kids.  Hey, don't get me wrong, I love to travel with the boys, but there are times when it just needs to be me and Josh.  An opportunity to catch up on life, have a long meal (without constant interruption, screams or crying involved) and to just go at our own pace.  We had decided last year that Venice would be our one weekend away together without Aidan and Liam.  And while our travel schedule has been beyond chaotic lately as you've probably seen, we knew it was important for us to fit it in since the summer is only going to be more crazy with travel! 

Our original plan was to fly in on Friday night and leave on Sunday night but apparently I forgot the whole military time thing which is rather surprising given that it's all they use here and I should be used to it.  So our flight was actually for 630 on Friday morning... thankfully the airline changed the flight or else I wouldn't have shown up to the airport til late afternoon on Friday as their email was what brought my attention to the day/night thing - whew!!  So we still had a morning flight but at least it was later morning! 

Once at Venice airport we decided to take the water bus rather than the taxi - the bus being 30 euros for the two of us and the taxi being 80.  Hmmmm... perhaps we should have splurged as the water bus felt the need to slow down to a crawl (or should I say a slower crawl than it was already doing) every time another boat passed us.  The overall trip, over an hour.  The distance... well, I don't know but I think if we'd taken the water taxi it would have been around 20 mins.  The time on the water wouldn't have been a big deal but it was already past noon and my landlord had told me that in Venice they stop serving lunch around 1 unlike in Spain where they don't start until 1.  Being very food focused and in dire need of some good Italian food, this brought about a bit of a panic for me, worried that I would not be fed.  In my mind I know this was a very unrealistic reaction - really, did I think NO where would be open for lunch or that I couldn't grab a gelato or something to tide me over?  But no, I was soooo focused on food and probably not having eaten breakfast wasn't helping... so my blood sugar was probably already low. 

Leaving the airport - the boats are water taxis and I could only wish that "regular" taxis were this beautiful.  Most had wooden exteriors or accents that absolutely gleamed with the care taken to maintain them.

Josh on the water bus

View of Sant Elena - yes, HUGE green space in Venice...who knew?

As we approach the main part of the city - San Marco

Cool buildings on our way into San Marco

Tons of bridges like these that were just beautiful - lots of stairs, but beautiful just the same :)

We also should have looked at a map and gotten off on one of the first bus stops since our hotel was in the middle of the island - it had stopped just above where our hotel was but since we knew nothing really of Venice other than what our trusty Frommer's guidebook told us, we were just aiming to go to the San Marco location... another 30 mins away.  We finally just picked a spot, got off the boat and hoped for the best.  Worst case we had a GPS on my phone and all we had was carry on so it wasn't like we were toting bags of luggage across the city. 

And what a city it is!!  It actually has more of a small town feel to it (if you can get past all the tourists that is).  With only 60,000 residents, I think it's pretty safe to assume that the tourists outnumber the locals on any given day.  There are absolutely no cars allowed in the main part of Venice (they are allowed on the outskirts by the train station area which leads you off the island) and the streets are so tiny, in some cases, only one person wide.  While there were tons of areas with huge amounts of tourists there were so many little roads and alleys we went down that would have no one around.  The only sounds were of the birds and the water lapping at the edges of the canals.

While the name of our water bus stop was not San Marco it turns out that we were actually in the area of the city by that name (there are multiple stops in this area apparently, learning as we go!).  We bought a hat for each of us since it was at least 80 out and ridiculously bright.  Yes, we totally looked like tourists (wait til you see the pics of Josh in his hat!) but at least our heads didn't burn!  We asked the shop owner for a good place for lunch that was away from most tourists and she guided us to this small street that was a few back from the main promenade that had an enclosed garden area in the back where we could eat.  OMG, it was fabulous!!!  Mussels, homemade bread, caprese salad and just a magnificent pizza - yum!!!  What a great way to start our trip!!
Josh in his new "cool" hat sitting in the garden patio for lunch

My pizza... yum!!!

After our delicious lunch, we headed out with the mission to find our hotel!  We knew the street name and had a map but the map didn't detail all the teeny tiny streets.  Thank goodness my phone had a GPS (which once the phone stopped working the next day made us actually rely on the old fashioned map!) to direct us.  With all the old buildings around us, the reception wasn't great so we overshot our destination a few times but eventually we made it.  These were some of the sights we saw along the way....

The main promenade area of San Marco

We're here!!!  Yes, he looks like Joe Tourist doesn't he?

A leaning tower... one of many leaning buildings

I took lots of gondola pictures that were prettier than this but the reason I liked this one is because the gondoleer (is that what he is?) is actually talking on his cell phone while using his foot to push against the wall while also paddling. 

Doge Palace

Doge Palace from another angle - too big for one picture.  We are now in San Marco Square

More of San Marco Square

Gondolas lined up by San Marco

And yes, we did make a trip here for martinis... more on that later!

More gondolas - by the Best Western - nicest Best Western I've ever seen!

It took us a while to find the hotel - it didn't have a huge sign outside and we probably walked by it 10 times. But I liked that it was a bit obscure and hidden from everyone too. Made it more like a getaway. The room was average but it was the view that was spectacular. We could have jumped right into the canal from our room - literally a straight drop below us. In the mornings we were woken just by the sounds of the water and the birds - it was amazing.

View to the left and right of our hotel room at the Hotel Bella Venezia - the black on the sides of the pics are our shutters.

We pretty much dropped our bags and headed right back out.  There was so much to see and so little time to do it in!  Since we'd already seen a little bit of San Marco Square we decided to go in the opposite direction towards the Rialto Bridge (our hotel was situated right between the two, less than a 5 min walk in each direction but yet so quiet and away from many tourists along the lagoon and Grand Canal).

The Rialto Bridge is supposed to be the bridge of love and where many proposals are said to happen.  Yes, it is a spectacular bridge spanning over the Grand Canal.  However, it was loaded with soooo many people I'm not really sure how you can have a romantic proposal there.  Just sayin'...

Rialto Bridge

View from the Rialto

The other side of the Rialto Bridge.  Much less people and a beautiful view as well.

Josh on the Rialto Bridge

Me on the Rialto Bridge

We crossed over the bridge and headed towards San Polo and just roamed around the neighborhood for a little bit.  It was cute, quaint and definitely in need of some TLC (which could be said for a lot of Venice though I suppose that is part of it's charm).  One of the first things we came across after crossing over the bridge was a market - a huge tourist market.  Not a food market (though there were a few kiosks with water and some fruit cups) but a market for tee shirts, sweatshirts, aprons, masks, glass, gloves and more!!  I was not aware that Venice, or actually Venice's sister island, Murano is one of the largest glassmakers in the world.  And that Venice is also known for masks - as in for a masquerade ball.  They were everywhere.  Of course somehow I managed to not take a picture of the masks - not really sure how I missed doing that, but you will see another entry on the glassmaking - it deserves it's own entry after all!
Gondolas lined up along the Grand Canal

The Grand Canal once again as we head back towards San Marco

San Marco Square

More of San Marco Square

And one more :)

After a few hours of walking we had come across a little bar near our hotel.  We went in hoping to get a martini or something other than wine or beer to drink.  There was an American couple sitting at one of the 4 small tables drinking what looked like an espresso martini - I was hopeful.  Turns out it was an Irish Coffee in a martini glass and while the bartender had all the ingredients necessary for my martini, he just couldn't do it for me.  So Irish Coffee in a martini glass it was.  We found out the name of a restaurant from this other couple, called Do Forni that they said they were going to that evening.  It sounded nice and we also saw it in our guidebook so we decided that we would hit there as well. 

But first we had to go to Harry's since that's why we were down in that neck of the woods.  Harry's is a famous bar that is supposed to be frequented by the elite, the rich and the famous, including Hemenway.  We read about the bar in our travel book but no where did it say we needed long pants for Josh.  So we got in, asked for a drink - once again asking for an espresso martini (we've lived in Europe for a year and a half now, you'd think we know better at this point but hey, we're in a touristy city so you never know).  First he brought us a martini... as in straight vodka martini.  We told him what we wanted and he gave us just Bailey's and Vodka.  With no more strength to argue about it we drank them - not bad but not what we wanted.  And around that time one of the waiters approached us and told us that Josh was not appropriately dressed and we could finish that drink (telling us 10 mins should be fine) and then we would need to leave.  Feeling a bit put out though at the same time respecting their dress code, we headed out (only to see someone else in there with shorts that they had not yet told to leave - very annoying).  Not sure I'd go back there just because of the treatment but at least we can say we've been.

No pictures are allowed inside Harry's out of respect for patrons' privacy.  So here are the doors :)

We ended up going to Do Forni for dinner which was fabulous.  Glad that other couple recommended it to us. After dinner we wandered around for a bit before deciding to call it a night.  We'd walked for hours plus the travel time (even though it was less than a two hr flight we were out the door before 7AM with the kids and then went straight to the airport) made for an exhausting day.  We still had two days left and figured we'd get a good night's sleep before hitting the pavement on Saturday.

Grand Canal around sunset

On Saturday we woke up to just ok weather.  It was a bit overcast and somewhat chilly (70ish) with a prediction of possible rain.  We had wanted to go to Murano but were unsure based on the weather.  We decided on the end to do it and I'm so glad we did!!  However, there's lots to show you and talk about regarding Murano so watch tomorrow for an entry just for them!!

After returning from Murano we made a quick stop back at our hotel to freshen up and for me to make a call to my credit card company as well as the kids.  It also was then that my cell phone decided to stop working.  So we decided it was time to hit Hard Rock, where we knew we could get a good martini.  And so we did and it was delicious and helped to make up for the fact that someone was racking up charges on my card in Chicago and that I could no longer get email or any data on my iphone. 

All that shopping exhausted poor Josh!

It was time for a gondola ride after drinks - we both needed to mellow out after the credit card and phone debacle... ok I needed to mellow out.  It was a super touristy thing to do and the guy totally ripped us off (the ride was supposed to be one hour and ended up barely 30 mins) but it was worth it in the end.  We went along the Grand Canal, under the Rialto Bridge and down some smaller canals including the one that our hotel was on!! 

Getting ready to take off on the gondola - I'm sure you'll appreciate all the pics with the tip of the gondola in them - make you feel like you are right there with us :)

Entering the Grand Canal

Going under the Rialto Bridge

Other side of the Rialto

Small bridge - will we make it?  He actually leaned the gondola to the side so we would fit!

And another bridge

Oh look it's our hotel!!  (the orange one)

Our room is the window that's closed right above the word Bella

The cute couple :)

We took a short stroll just before dinner...

  I don't think I'd ever seen an actual cherry tree before - it was quite cool!

Ahh Josh...

One of many narrow alley/streets

Another canal

After the canal ride we headed out for dinner once again.  The hotel recommended Antica Carbonera and it was fabulous.  There were very few people there and the food was delicious. 

See if you can find the amusing line on the menu... I bet it won't take long...

The Barca versus Manchester United game was playing that night and we were determined to watch it.  It was for the Championship and we knew it would be a great match.  We went off in hunt of an Irish bar which we found however, it was packed and so we headed back towards our hotel.  Turned out the bar across from our hotel was showing the game (how foolish to have walked halfway across the island only for it to be right across the street).  The game was amazing and I'm proud to say that Barca brought home the Championship!!  Go Barca!!!

On Sunday morning we woke up on our last day with no particular place in mind to go.  So we decided to head over towards Sant Elena which is at the tip of the island.  One of the things I was very surprised to see when we were on the water bus was the tip of the island - there was an amazing amount of green space and parks that I would not have expected for a "city" much less for an island like this. Josh and I walked down here on Sunday morning as we meandered around the island. There were a number of play areas for kids, beautiful promenades to walk along and it was just quiet - so peaceful and shady. 

From there we walked around more of Sant' Elena which is also where many of the permanant residents live in Venice.  It was a little more run down in some ways with less canals but also looked more like a neighborhood with the laundry hanging out across the street, kids and families going for a walk, etc. 

This was the entrance to a military area - still not quite sure what the red rope type thing is...

Josh by "his" yacht

Entrance to Sant Elena and the park

There are some of you who will read this and laugh and you know why...

One of the streets in Sant Elena

Another street

Leaving the park area - decided this statue could really use some pruning

We went to lunch at Acqua Pazza in Sant Angelo Square which is known for its deep dish pizza. For those of you at home, when you think deep dish, you think something like Unos, right? Yeah, us too. However having lived here long enough we know that often what you see is not what you get. The deep dish was more like say Papa Ginos traditional pizza - so not super thin, but definitely not deep dish. However, the pizza was MUCH better than Papa Ginos (how could it not be, we're in Italy after all!). By now we've already walked all over creation but we're not done and we've checked out of our hotel already so there is no where to take a nap so might as well keep at it!!

Kyle E, this "coffee" shot is for you...

We decided to cross the Accademia Bridge which is south of the Rialto and one of few places that you can cross the Grand Canal. we walked around Dorsoduro for a while and went for gelato at Gelataria Nico which was supposed to be the best gelato in Venice... sorry but doesn't compare to Giolitti's from Rome...not even close! We thought we were walking towards the Rialto however, with all the winding roads we ended up in Santa Croce and then San Polo, essentially walking all around these two neighborhoods, adding a few more miles to our already aching feet (and for our feet to ache now that we've lived so long without a car, we've walked a lot of miles!). We stopped a bar along the way to rest and to grab some water and a beer before heading off again.

Near the Accademia Bridge

Crossing the Accademia

View from Accademia Bridge

View of the other side of the bridge

Must be the world's skinniest house!

Walking thru Dorsoduro

Along the promenade in Dorsoduro

Sign should say it all... gelato!

Getting lost trying to get to the Rialto

Still lost but at least it's scenic!

Getting closer

I attempted to go to Vodafone to fix my phone but after 20 minutes of waiting in line they couldn't fix it for me (thankfully I had it fixed today but that's a whole other blog entry). After we went to the Irish Bar we had tried to go to the night before and grabbed a Sicilian Canoli along the way at the same place I'd had one the day before.
Ahhh the other side of the Rialto!

San Marco

Because our flight was so late on Sunday (11PM), we had time for a nice leisurely dinner before having to head out on the water bus (yes we figured we had time to kill and really did we need to spend the extra 50 on the taxi so we could sit in the airport longer?). We decided that we had really enjoyed the garden restaurant that we ate lunch at on Friday, Al Vecio Portal - and it was just as delicious the second time! I have to say, we had mussels with lunch and dinner for most meals and they were just as good, if not better, than the ones from home. Perhaps it was the sauce they cooked them in but man, they just melted in your mouth!

Sunset as we were leaving Venice - a perfect way to end the trip

Another sunset shot

Finally it was time to go.  It was a long water bus ride back to the mainland to get our flight back to Barcelona.  Fortunately the flight is quick and we landed 15 minutes early and were home by 1AM.  However, on the taxi ride back we experienced a bit of taxi road rage between our cab and another cab... ahhh Spain, never a dull moment - but it's good to be back!


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