Europe, Italy, Travel

Venice (Day One)

Venice is unlike any place I’ve ever seen, to-date.  It’s unbelievable to me that there is an entire city “floating” on water.  It definitely does have that “Disneyland-for-adults” vibe to it that brings a smile to even the grumpiest of faces.

My family and I took the three hour train ride from Rome to Venice, via Tren Italia.  It was a beautiful ride that took us through some of the notable countrysides, such as Fierenze and Florence.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Note, however, that a first class, 100 euro, ticket only gets you a small drink and snack from the attendant; and a comfortable seat.  The cafe car has the common fare you see on most trains but it’s for additional purchase (note they do have gluten-free treats too!).

Upon arriving to the Venizia – St. Lucia stop, we exited right out of the station and down to the water taxis.  For seven people, plus luggage, it was right around 75 euro to take us to our hotel (The Westin Europa and Regina) at San Marco 1259, on the Grand Canale.

Our water taxi ride was our first real taste of Venice – to take in the historic buildings, other water taxis, gondolas, music, and people, created this sort of euphoric sensation a 5 year-old gets when they meet Cinderella for the first time at Disneyland.  Venice just seemed magical.

IMG_2831

When we arrived at the Westin and got to our rooms (my sisters and I were upgraded to a Deluxe suite with a balcony, overlooking the Grand Canale) – I went straight out to the balcony to hear the “authentic sounds of Venice” – singing Gondoliers, accordion players, and the low whirring of the engines of boats, going in every which direction.

IMG_2834

Still, we were eager to get out and see Venice.  We walked to St. Mark’s Square to watch people feed the pigeons (so many pigeons), listen to mini orchestras play music in front of the cafes, and to have dinner in a private room, at a charming little place called Ristorante Falciani.

IMG_2851

From there, we walked around the main shopping street, on our way to the Gondola stands (which are everywhere).  The main shopping street (le Mercerie) almost brought a happy tear to my eye.  The likes of Moncler, Chanel, Prada, Versace, Louis Vuitton, Salvatore Ferragamo, Fendi, Cartier, Hermes, Gucci, Dior, Sisley, and Giuseppe Zanotti, framed both sides of the street, offering everything from handbags and shoes, to the most avant-garde of clothing.  (Note that the shops close down fairly early (around 7pm), so make sure to go before dinner.)

And, if that wasn’t enough to put a smile on my face, the Gondola ride was everything I hoped it would be.

For the next hour, our Gondolier took us down some peaceful and serene alleyways, where every once in a while, you would see a local sipping wine in their window sill, waving down to those of us touring their “home”.  Otherwise, it was nothing but rot iron flower boxes, filled with brightly colored flowers; rustic doors, stucco walls, and remnants of centuries of history and architecture.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

These Gondoliers are incredibly knowledgeable about Venice, so definitely take advantage of that and ask lots of questions.  Ours gave us some interesting historical facts I didn’t know about Venice:

  • Venice was founded 1100 years ago
  • In its heyday, it was home to more than 350,000 people.  Now it’s home to just 57,000.  The main reason for this is the flooding.  The water isn’t clean and also causes a lot of damage.
  • The buildings stay “afloat” on wooden stakes, driving into the sediment, under water. Since oxygen is needed for decay, these stakes can last a very long time.
  • When repairs need to be made to the stakes (which they do over time), they block off and drain the canal to remove sediment build up and repair any stakes that might begin deteriorating.
  • The worst flood they had, rose the water about 5 feet higher than usual in 2012.  The worst ever flood was in 1966 and that was about 6 feet higher than usual.
  • The famous 18th Century opera house (La Fenice) had burned down in 1996 and had to be rebuilt – it’s still a mystery if it was arson by the Mafia.

With one more item checked off my bucket list, I ended our first day in Venice on a great note!

Suggestions/Tips

  1. It’s worth it to stay on the Grand Canale – the view is everything.  It’s a huge bonus if you can nab a suite with a balcony.
  2. If you take the train from Rome, the time on your ticket is boarding time because that’s what time the train arrives.  Still, try to be on the platform at least 15 minutes ahead.
  3. It’s worth it to get a first class train ticket – for a 3 hour train ride, comfort is everything.
  4. You can walk the Grand Canale to get to your hotel but you can end up walking for over an hour.  Water taxis are the best (and fastest) way to go – and offer the best views!
  5. Gondola rides range from 100 euro – 180 euro.  100 euro gets you a basic tour; 120 euro gets you a bit more time, including a ride under the Rialto bridge; more euro gets you an accordion player; even more money gets you an accordion player AND a singer, etc.  Our basic tour was perfect.  We also tipped him another 10 euro.
  6. If going in the summer, choose an evening ride – the best time is 7:30pm.
  7. Go to Venice as a couple – this is an incredibly romantic city with so much love in the air.  Everything you see in movies is true to life there – stolen kisses, long embraces, and lots of hand-holding and smiles.  I’m lucky to be surrounded by family on this trip but it definitely is meant for lovers.
  8. You don’t need more than 2 days there, max.
  9. While it’s fun to watch other people feed the pigeons… you get the idea.