My younger sister and I both love to travel and decided that when we both happened to have the summer off a few years ago, (my first year working for a school and her junior year of college) we should take full advantage. With the help of Fodors and a cousin who had lived in Florence for a few years, we planned a trip to Italy and hit the airport the day school let out!
We flew into Venice, and from there our itinerary took us to Florence, Rome, and finally the Amalfi Coast with day trips to Tuscany, Pisa, Pompeii and Naples thrown in for good measure.
Venice is certainly a city unlike any other I’ve ever visited. It’s breathtakingly beautiful, especially in the evening, sometimes a little smelly, but undeniably magical being surrounded by water and traveling everywhere by boat. We took a vaporetto (water bus) from the airport to our hotel. This was not only the cheapest transportation option, but it made several stops along the line, just like a regular bus, so we were able to do a little sight seeing as soon as we arrived.
Our hotel was located just outside of the Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square), Venice’s main public square.
The downside to this location was that it was quite crowded with tourists at all times, but the plus was that it was a very easy landmark, and as we soon found out, navigating the twisty alleyways and streets of Venice is not for the faint of heart!
We checked into the Hotel San Marco where the rooms were quite small (Europe) but very tidy and headed out to explore the city and grab a bite for lunch!
Things I had taken note of so far in Venice:
1. It’s VERY easy to get lost, so get a map immediately.
2. There are hundreds and hundreds of shops, 95% of which seem to sell blown glass and decorative masks – avoid those
3. Bridges. All. The. Bridges.
After exploring for hours we decided it was time for dinner. Every region of Italy has it’s own special foods, and due to it’s location, Venice is known for it’s fish. According to my Fodor’s guide, the Sarde en Saor was a must have.
As you can see, this is essentially marinated sardines and onions with grilled polenta. It wasn’t bad, but I haven’t missed it. Our pasta dishes were somewhat tastier, but nowhere near the best of the trip. This meal taught us an important lesson, the further you venture from the tourist areas, the better the food generally becomes.
We were up early the next morning for a day full of tours, our first of which happened to be by Gondola!
When in Rome! Err Venice.
We toured all along the canals and through the city. Learning history about the buildings, famous citizens and many interesting facts about gondolas, like the fact that they are “rowed” rather than “paddled” and that there can only be a set number of gondoliers at any one time and that the precious licenses and boats are sometimes handed down in families, kind of like taxis in New York.
Our Gondola tour deposited us back at the square where we then toured St. Mark’s Basilica. The most notable thing about this gorgeous cathedral is the intricate mosaics.
Each mosaic is constructed of millions of tiny glass tiles with gold and silver leaf in the middle.
After the Basilica we toured the Doge’s Palace and the Bridge of Sighs, so named because it connected the courtroom and the cells, and thus provided prisoners with their last glimpse of freedom, and some heavy sighs to be sure.
We ended the day with a water taxi ride that allowed us a little more sight seeing, and dinner.
The next morning it was off to the train station and on to Florence! Stay tuned!