Saturday, July 8, 2017

Art Teacher Travels: Venice

Well, kids, I've shared with you nearly all of my Italian adventures. I've discussed how my mom and I organized the trip (okay, let's be honest: how I organized the trip...and she came along for the ride), our experiences in both Rome and Florence and all that we learned along the way. If you are planning a trip, I hope you have found at least one useful nugget. Along with your passport, knowledge is the most important thing to pack...needless to say, we had to gain ours along the way. Our last place to do just that: Venezia!
Venice, Day 7: What is it with us and train stations, y'all? I shared with you in my last post about our crazy experience in the Rome train station. Thankfully, we had a little train station knowledge under our belt and this time we were able to navigate the train station without help. I will say, the train station in Florence is much smaller and easier to get around. Just an FYI: have some euro on hand as the restrooms are 1 euro a trip. Pay to pee, so to speak.  
So we were all good until we arrived in Venice. Now, if you have never been to Venice, it truly is all on water. There are no cars. Just canals, bridges, super narrow alleyways and very few street signs. This was hands down the most difficult city to navigate. Thankfully, Venice is super small and dominated by landmarks such as the Rialto Bridge and San Marco Square. You can find big yellow signs on the sides of buildings pointing you to either one or the other. If you no longer see those signs, then you've made it to a different part of town. Good luck. 
I got the big idea that when we got off the train, we'd take a water bus to the general area of our hotel and navigate with our map from there. Big mistake. Little did I know that the streets would be so poorly marked. When I called The Star Splendid Hotel (which was truly ever bit of splendid. The most posh hotel we stayed in during our adventure!), the receptionist said, "Our hotel is located between the Rialto Bridge and San Marco Square." Y'all. Literally everything in Venice is located in that very same spot! From our water bus drop off, we lugged our suitcases up and down the stairs of bridges before finally turning to Siri for advice. She was mildly helpful but it was mom's eagle eye in the end that spotted our local. So, take my word: a water taxi is expensive...but it will get you right to the front door of your desired location.  
As with every hotel, despite arriving in the morning hours, each allowed us to go to our rooms. We were stunned by our extravagant digs and the fact that we had a rooftop to gaze over Venice from. Having had so much fun on our previous tours lead by locals, I looked into tours of Venice. Here's a little known secret: there are a couple of tour groups in Venice that offer FREE tours! All you have to do is sign up online. Mom and I had to book it to our tour meet up as the narrow alleys really confused me and almost caused us to miss our tour. I'm so glad we made it in time! These tour groups are every bit as awesome as the ones you pay for.
Our guide took us on a 2 hour adventure all over Venice. These companies offer free tours because of some red tape issue with the local government. They operate off of tips...which is the least we could offer. Our guide was a wealth of knowledge. The history of Venice is fascinating: being made up of a series of islands, people took refuge there to escape Roman and Barbarian attacks. During the 12th century, Venice began to flourish as a trade center between Asia and Europe. Families began to acquire mass amounts of wealth and loved to show off. For example, this spiral staircase, the Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo, was one such extravagance. You can climb the staircase...as well as see other expressions of great wealth especially along the canals. Look for the windows with what appears to be a rounded cross configuration at the top. 
Our tour took a wee break at San Marco Square. Mom and I later went to the top of St. Mark's Campanile which was a great way to see Venice. You can catch more of that view here:
We also took a tour of the Basilica San Marco. It is free to get in but, like all churches in Italy, you'll need to cover those bare shoulders and exposed knees. I learned to always carry a lightweight scarf with me. But if you forget, you can easily pick one up from the countless vendors selling souvenir scarves for under 5 euro. We were not allowed to take photos inside the Basilica so trust me when I say: it is a sparkly, golden, mosaic'ed wonderment. We learned that the Venetians were told, when traveling to foreign lands, to pillage as much as they could. Which they did and promptly added to the front facade and inside of the Basilica. This is the reason it is so outrageously golden...and mismatched. 
Here's one of the biggest reasons I would recommend taking a guided tour from a local: they take you off the beaten path. It was there that we discovered The Most Beautiful Book Stop in the World
This book shops floods regularly (as does all of Venice!) with water washing right into the shop from the open door that leads to the canal. The damaged books are used as steps and wall dividers...while the rest are piled into old gondolas to keep from being damaged. Here's a clip:
After our tour, mom and I wandered the streets and visited many of the fun pockets our tour guide told us about. She did tell us that despite the very dark alleys, Venice has little crime and is safe at night. Mom didn't dig the alleys...but really, Venice is so small, getting lost is hard to do. That being said, we did find ourselves in a more residential area, completely turned around. It was then that a woman opened her window from her second story home and began shouting at us in Italian. We had NO CLUE what she was saying and she was VERY aggravated with our ignorance. We decided from her wild hand motions that she wanted us to knock on a door that we happened to be standing next to...but in her cranky state, I had a feeling that it was not gonna be a pleasant convo with whomever was behind that door. We were flattered that she thought we spoke Italian but decided to say, "So sorry! English only!" and get outta there quick. 
Venice, Day 8: Our last full day in Italy. We decided to enjoy our last day by getting ourselves on the water. There are so many ways you can do that: water taxi, water bus or gondola. The gondolas are not cheap at 80 euro for a 30 minute boat ride. We opted for the 20 euro, all day pass on the water bus. It was crowded...but we weren't in a hurry. We took the boat up and down the canal and eventually got a seat at the front of the boat. We traveled up and down the Grand Canal and loved it. We did try to do it again at sunset and found that everyone had the very same idea. Word to the wise: when taking the boat, do it at those odd hours of the day like midmorning or early afternoon. 
We were lucky in that the Venice Biennale 2017 was happening while we were there. We were able to see some of the public art and exhibits...but not as much as I would have liked. Like all good vacations, ours was just not long enough. 
Mom easily enjoyed Venice the best because of the water. For her, Rome was a close second. I love Venice, it is amazing...but Florence comes in first in my book. 
Here's a view of San Marco Square from St. Mark's Campanile. Our favorite thing was to see the cities of Italy from above and at sunset. Look at this crammed together space...it's no wonder I got us lost in those endless alleyways. Something we learned is that San Marco's Square floods throughout the year. Narrow planks are set up that rise above the water for people to walk across. There are a couple of cafes on the square that play live music but the most famous is Caffe Florian which opened in 1720. You can still go there today...just be ready to pay through the nose for even a cup of coffee. But it's worth it! 
Venice was easily the place where I found the most lovely of souvenirs. I fell in love with the Murano glass...there is a shop that is on the Rialto bridge which had glass palates, pencils, brushes, tubes of paint and palette knives. I knew I was going to get in trouble when I spotted that place! I had to get some glass paint brushes and pencils, right?
I mean...
We also spotted a bookstore that carried the work of a ceramic artist who mom and I both fell in love with. I had to pick up a piece of his work because I knew it would remind me of this incredible place:
The artist is Riccardo Biavati and I'm just in love!
On our last night, mom and I ate at a great hole in the wall, rubbing shoulders with locals. The food was incredible and the people were delightful. However, if you go to eat in Italy, just know, you are on their time. Don't rush it, just enjoy it. And know that you will have to ask for the bill about 3 times before you get it. We Americans need to slow our roll! Italians got this right.
Venice, Day 9: Our last day! With a mid-morning flight, we really were just hitting the road, er canal, on this day. Thanks to Costco Travel, there was a water taxi as well as a taxi arranged to take us to the airport. The water taxi ride was my favorite. No better way to travel and say good-bye to this incredible place and wonderful adventure. 
Have you been to Venice? What did you love? I went nearly 20 years ago...and had such romantic memories of the place that I was fearful I would dissolve when I got there. But there were only more realized. I love Venice. 
Ready to go back! Until then...

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2 comments:

  1. Anonymous7/09/2017

    I loved reading this - thank you. We went to Venice on our honeymoon, 28 years ago; then went back 15 years later with our children. Just loved both visits, it is such a special place. Time to go again soon, I think.

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  2. My brother visited the place a month back he totally loved it and asked me to visit it as well. I am planning to visit it with my wife, hope full soon we will be having our lovely trip

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