The Canals (and Crowds) of Venice
*This is part 3 in my Adventures in Italy blog series. Click here to read part 1, “Livin’ Like a Local”. Part 2, “When in Rome… Literally,” can be found here.
[dc]K[/dc]erri, wake up!” Missy says, shaking me. “The alarm didn’t go off.” I rub my eyes and try to figure out where the heck I am. Oh yeah, Rome. I then begin pawing at the nightstand looking for my glasses so I can see the time. “7 AM! What happened? I know I set the alarm for 6. I checked it three times!”
Missy comes over to the clock and has a look. “Yup, you did set it for six o’clock…. PM.”
“Shit! We gotta move!” We’re determined to not miss our train this time.
We scramble around the room, packing up the last few items. Thankfully, we did the majority of our organizing the night before. Teeth brushed, hair combed, water splashed on face, final check of the room, and we’re off. We grab some breakfast to take with us from the offerings downstairs (breakfast in Italy, we soon learn, always consists of pastries — not the most sustaining, but it’ll have to do), and start our speed walk to the train station. Fortunately, we’re only a couple of blocks away.
We’re becoming quite adept at navigating the busy city streets with luggage in tow. We make it to the train station, find a corner where we can park ourselves as we put our money belts on and fill out our Eurail Pass information (we don’t want to risk the 50 euro fine for not completing it!). We head out to find the schedule board to check our train’s status and platform location. Phew. We’ve got plenty of time and we know right where to go. Hallelujah!
We board the train and settle into our comfy seats, eager to see some countryside on our trip to Venice. iPhone – check. Earbuds – check. Journal – check. DVD player – check. These should help make this 4-hour ride go by a bit faster.
Along the way, we see the beauty I’ve been dreaming of. Check it out. Isn’t it gorgeous? This view was a significant part of our ride, combined with lots of tunnels through mountains (ear-popping, anyone?), small towns, cities, and vast landscapes.
Despite the beauty and our plethora of technology, by hour three, we’re both antsy to arrive. Finally, we enter Santa Lucia train station, grab our bags, and we’re off!
We maneuver through the station and out the other side. We don’t give much thought to what we’ll see as we exit, being used to downtown city locations, so we’re struck by the beauty as we leave. Although we know that in lieu of streets, Venice has canals, somehow we’re still surprised to see water at the bottom of the station stairs and taxi boats with schedule signs that look like a subway’s.
We get our tickets, find our appropriate water taxi, and board for the journey to Lido, a small island (technically, a sandbar) off of Venice proper — home to Venice’s only beach. Lido is where we will park for the next two nights. Although it’s about a 30-40-minute boat ride to downtown Venice, we love the remoteness of it, and the quaint, local feel.
After arriving on Lido, we learn the walk to our villa is a short one (thank God!). We’re not sure what to expect, but have high hopes since we’ve paid the most per night for this lodging than any other. We’re overjoyed upon reaching it! It’s adorable from the outside, gorgeous on the inside, the staff is super friendly, and the design is totally our style. Leave it to us to find contemporary lodging in an ancient city! It feels very much like “us”, which we appreciate since we’re both feeling a wee bit homesick. Here’s the bar area:
We check in and a bellhop shows us to our room. Like our stay in the Rome hotel, the elevator is so small, only Missy and I and our luggage fit in it. Anyone with even a little claustrophobia would never step in here. The bellhop takes the stairs to meet us on the top floor. After settling into our snazzy, modern, and air-conditioned room, we freshen up a bit, get changed and head out for a late lunch and some time at the beach. After three very hot days in Rome with little relief, we’re eager to dive into some water; so eager that we decide our lunch will be a slice of pizza at the beach.
Before we know it, we’re swimming in the Adriatic Sea! It’s so refreshing, and surprisingly lake-like — cloudy with lake-type plants floating all around. Once we’ve cooled off, we climb up on the jetty to lay out and rest a bit. This is so much more our pace than the hustle and bustle of Rome.
Next up? Laundry! Yup, laundry in Venice — one of the downfalls of packing light, but so worth it to not lug a lot of bags around. Besides, it’s right in line with our desire to Live Like a Local. It takes us a while to figure out how to use the machines (the washers already have soap in them. Odd, but handy), and while our sweaty clothes are getting cleaned, Missy is reading and I’m standing outside watching life happen. Everyone rides bikes and scooters here — even the elderly are peddling by. I see a young girl and boy (around age 16 or so) ride by on their old-school bikes, giggling and flirting. She’s in a dress, and he’s wearing khaki pants and a polo shirt. I feel like I’m looking at a flashback to the days of innocence when that’s what a date was. It’s sweet and refreshing.
We finish up the laundry and head back to our room nice and early to get a good night’s sleep before our day in Venice. Waking up the next day, we’re exhausted. I guess all that running around in Rome has finally caught up to us.
We enjoy some breakfast in the beautiful and sunlit dining room (you know this place is nice when they offer protein at breakfast — hard-boiled eggs), and then make our way to the station to catch the boat to Piazza San Marco. It is so hot out and the square is packed. We find out that three different cruise ships recently docked, unloading between 10,000 and 15,000 passengers. This doesn’t set a good tone for our day in Venice. We’re not fans of huge crowds, and although neither of us has ever been on a cruise, we’re pretty certain that wouldn’t be our scene either. The frenetic energy of the passengers, scrambling to see all they can before their day in port is up is way too contagious for me. We duck out of the square and head down some side streets to do what Rick Steves suggests and just get lost.
We’re bummed to have missed the Venice Film Festival that wrapped up a couple days prior to our arrival (although I can’t even imagine the crowds there!), but are happy to stumble upon a contemporary art exhibit spread throughout the city. That helps to take us away from the souvenir-shopping crowds.
We then decide to take a ride on the Grand Canal slow boat to follow along with an audio tour on our iPhones. It ends up being a great, romantic way to see the sights and the beautiful architecture, and learn more of the history of Venice. Plus, the breeze helps us tolerate the heat a bit better. Here’s our self-portrait on the boat ride. 🙂
Next, we head back to Piazza San Marco to visit St. Mark’s Basilica. Thanks to another Rick Steves’ tip, we check our backpack around the corner (free of charge) and are given a claim ticket that allows us to go to the front of the line, saving us a 30-minute or more wait. It’s these little suggestions in Rick Steves’ Italy 2011 with map book that are such gems and timesavers. While it’s a beautiful Basilica, it’s funny how you can tire of seeing churches, religious artwork, and sculptures, as they’re in such abundance here. We’re in constant awe, however, at the age and history of Italy and the reminder of how young the USA is.
After strolling for a bit, we find an off-the-beaten path trattoria. The place has good atmosphere, great food (no surprise there. We’re in Italy after all), yummy wine, and quick and friendly service. Rick scores again! And we get a break from all the tourists. Yeah, I get that we’re tourists, too, but remember, we’re trying to live a bit more like locals.
Knowing that our next adventure will be hiking in the Italian Riviera, and with the heat, I’m super jealous of Missy’s short hair and decide I want to cut all mine off, too. We seek out Benito — a “hair sculptor” that Rick Steves has used for two decades. He has a tiny, tucked-away shop in the alleys of Venice. We wait a few minutes for him to open back up after the afternoon break and ask him if he’s available. To my dismay, he’s not. Bummer! How cool would that have been to get a hair cut at a little, local place here? Oh, well, I should’ve called the day before. He shows me his full schedule, and apologizes over and over. “Mi dispiace. Mi dispiace. Domani?”
“No, grazie. We won’t be here tomorrow. Thank you anyway, Benito.”
He feels so bad, he starts handing us products off of his shelves as we leave. We each agree to take one travel-sized item so as to not insult him. Oh sweeto Benito! 🙂
Now, off to see some more sights, including the Rialto Bridge, built in the 1500s and the most famous bridge of the more than 400 bridges in Venice that connect the 117 islands that make it up. Like the Trevi Fountain in Rome, the Rialto Bridge has been in many big Hollywood films, including James Bond movies, so it’s a must-see for Missy. We spend some time up at the top, looking over beautiful Venice.
Having stopped for a bit, we both realize how exhausted we are and how much energy the beating sun it taking out of us.
“Is there anything else here you really, really want to see?” Missy asks me.
“No, we’ve hit what we wanted to. Why?”
“I’ve got nothing left. Wanna head back to Lido?”
“Sounds good to me.”
We both struggle a bit with the decision to really leave. I mean, it’s Venice. This is our one day here. After only a handful of hours, we’re going to leave?
Realizing that our impetus to stay is coming from a bunch of “shoulds”, we listen to our needs and head back to our beautiful, cool, comfy room. We arrive around 6:30 PM, and by 7:30, I’m sound asleep. Missy is asleep by 8 PM. We’re glad we stopped “shoulding” all over ourselves! We both wake up around midnight, have a snack and are ecstatic to find a movie on TV that’s in English! We fall back to sleep a couple of hours later, hoping to get enough rest for our journey tomorrow to Cinque Terre — the part of our trip we’ve been looking forward to the most…
To read part 4 in my Adventures in Italy blog series — The Beautiful and Magical Cinque Terre, click here.
Wow!!! I was just there myself (alone) and traveled to almost the same spots! I went in Oct.-Dec. when it wasn’t to crowded or hot:) Perfecto! I actually found a woman on the So. Italian Riviera swaping room and board in exchange for cooking. (private room) It was a little run down, but for as little time as I spent at the house when I wasn’t working (2-1/2 days a week) It was OK. If your still on the road really try to hit Florence, beautiful. I loved Italy and hope to return every year to do the work exchange!
Ciao, Karina! Isn’t it just divine in Italy? I was there in mid-September and loved it. It sounds like you had a wonderful, local-like experience as well. What a way to visit the country! I hope your dream comes true to visit every year! — Kerri
Mille grazia Kerri, Anche te!
I have been watching Italian films and listen to Italian Radio, via I Tunes International on my laptop. Not a lot of time to study right now, but I just read this kind of exposure is very beneficial for reinforcing lauguage skills.