We flew out of DC around 6 pm, and after we got seated I was immediately glad we paid about $35 each extra to upgrade to the first row of economy seats, the ones with leg room and a bathroom wall in front of them. For the long flight, this was totally worth it.
It’s been years since I was last on a transatlantic flight, and I loved all the bells and whistles. Every seat had its own TV screen and remote, and the TV had a ton of radio stations, TV shows, Movies, and even games to chose from. This is good, because I was mostly unable to sleep on the flight.
We also had a hot towel, two meals, beverages, a good dinner and a bad breakfast.
We had a layover in the Amsterdam airport before flying on a much smaller and less exciting plane to Venice. The Amsterdam airport is the coolest airport I have ever seen. They had an entire cafe dedicated to decadent chocolate and coffee. They also had a Bubbles Bar, which was all champagne and sparkling wines.
We had to go through weird security where they make you throw out all your bottled beverages, even the ones you bought at that airport. And then we flew to Venice, flying over the amazing Alps:
Once we snagged our luggage and got cash Euros from the ATM, we set off to get from the mainland to the actual islands of Venice.
We went to the TI booth and asked the best way to get to Venice – train or vaporetto (water bus)? They may call the booth Tourist Information, but it should really be called the “unfriendly bus tickets and bad maps sales booth”. That’s all it was good for.
Exiting the airport out the main doors, we couldn’t figure out where to find the path to the docks – and I didn’t want to ask anymore airport workers since I was still frustrated from the TI people. We walked past a man in a US Army uniform, leaning against a car waiting to pick someone up. I thought “oh, how familiar.” Then I realized “he’s American! He can speak English!” and spun back around, marched over to him, and asked if he knew where we should go. He said he sure did know his way around after being stationed there for 4 years, and pointed out the path. We thanked him for the help and for his service, and relieved, headed on our way.
When the water bus landed in Venice, it was very exciting. We dragged our suitcases along the old sidewalks . . . and hauled them up and down many flights of stairs. Despite being totally sleep-deprived and having to haul the suitcase up and down so much, I was in awe of the architecture and canals and laundry hanging from the windows and plants spilling out of pots everywhere I looked.
We miraculously arrived at our hotel (Locanda LaCorte) without getting lost. It was friendly and charming and we immediately settled in for a 2-hour nap. I’d read from many other travelers that the limit must be 2 hours, so that you can get out and about in the afternoon/evening and then go to sleep at the local time.
Hotel photos above, from top left: The door from the courtyard to our hall, where Tommy the Cat greeted us on the stairs every time we came or went. 🙂 The room was spacious enough and very comfortable, with windows opening out onto the courtyard. Bottom right: The courtyard view from our windows.
After our nap, it was late afternoon, so we headed out to wander aimlessly around Venice. Knowing that it’s practically an Italian Tourist right of passage, we had our first gelato within 10 minutes of exiting the hotel. I was shocked at how good it was, and how cheap – at only $2.50 US for the cone. I probably took 50 photos of canals, many of which have since been deleted because the magic of the crumbling buildings and narrow waterways didn’t quite convey in pictures.
Near St. Mark’s Square I screeched to a halt in front of a pastry shop when I saw the rows of beautiful macarons. I bought two passion fruit macarons for fun, making my first attempt at speaking broken Italian and using Euro coins.
When I ate the first macaron, walking down the alley away from the shop, it was so utterly phenomenal that I pivoted right back around and bought 5 more, this time using better Italian. The woman behind the counter broke into a huge smile and laughter when she saw me pop back in, explaining that I needed more. 🙂
I loved the little side alleys the best. Often two buiildings would be connected on the upper floors, but would have an archway passage between them on the ground level, and if you walked through you’d discover fabulous little courtyards with art studios and businesses or homes, like this:
Shortly after the Macaron Episode(s) we stumbled upon St. Mark’s square. It was big. It was grand. the architecture was impressive.
It was, however, also kind of dirty and grimy and very crowded. that part surprised me. In the photo below, the white stone facade of the building on the left was losing a battle against the black grime of . . . I don’t know what.
But that didn’t stop me from admiring details like this:
Four of the cafes on the square had outdoor seating along with a small stage for a string quartet or jazz band. They were all playing at the same time – and all very well – so Ryan dubbed them the Dueling Bands.
Token photo to make my mother happy. Pre-trip she mentioned approximately 100 times that she expected to see photos of US, not just the stuff we saw. 🙂 Come to think of it, i’m looking pretty good for 3 hours of sleep in the last 30 hours. . . and the same clothes for the last 30.
Apparently tourists think it’s fun to feed the pigeons, or to let their kids do so. This little boy say in the middle of the square, covered in pigeons, as his dad took a million photos.
St. Mark’s Square opened out onto the water where the Grand Canal flows into the lagoon. We got a photo at the end of a dock, with the island of San Giorgio Maggiore behind us.
I was excited to spot the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, the white building and brick tower behind us – because I’d been reading a book about the designer. It was designed by designed by Andrea Palladio in the 1500s, and the book Palladian Days is the story of an American couple who buys a Palladian villa outside Venice. You learn all about the Palladio and his designs while also chuckling at the misadventures they have while renovating his amazing building.
Above, in the bottom right, Ryan pointed out the row of texting gondoliers. The gondoliers were everywhere!
Facing the water and turning right off of the square, we started walking up the Grand Canal towards the Accademia Bridge, but stopped to explore this garden right next to the square. It was a surprisingly tranquil space after the craziness of the tourist areas.
We wandered into a rather sad square (Campo San Maurizio), with the buildings on three of the sides crumbling in disrepair and looking mostly vacant – but on one side there was a pretty building with a leaning tower behind it.
The building turned out to be the Museo Della Musica (music museum) and inside were old instruments on display.
As we wandered further towards the Accademia Bridge, we still weren’t using our map, but I thought a geeky tourist photo would be good. What not to do in a foreign country, unless you want to be pickpocketed:
Then Ryan and I crossed the Accademia Bridge, one of the most famous spots in Venice. The sun was starting to set, and was illuminating some of the buildings so they glowed.
As the sun continued to sink in the sky, we found ourselves wandering further off the beaten path, into some real neighborhoods where you could tell only locals were living.
We were in the Dorsoduro neighborhood, the one west of the Accademia Bridge and south of the train station.
Photos above, from top left: trash bags were hanging from upper floor apartments by string, ready for collection. Hilarious. A small grassy area – one of the few we saw in the city – served as a random dog park. (In Italy we noticed that most people did not leash their dogs. Or clean up after them.)
We walked down quiet little sidewalks that bordered equally quiet canals. Music and laughter and smells of good food wafted out of all the open windows. Occasional small boats would come down the canals, filled with locals just going about their evening.
We were about to have a very unremarkable pizza dinner at a touristy restaurant, but we didn’t know that yet. The hours spent wandering this neighborhood at dusk were the most magical hours of that day, and I felt myself briefly wishing I lived there.