Day 8-9: Venice
To Venice We Go
As we left Austria and headed toward Venice, our guide Jennifer played the Sound of Music soundtrack. It was a nice way to end that part of the tour. During the ride, the landscape around us was plush and green. Jennifer surprised us with a chocolate treat, Mozart Balls.
When we got into Italy, the landscape changed. Practically everywhere you looked it was covered with grape vines. We could not believe how many there were! We also had an Italian language refresher course so we would be comfortable with common greetings and phrases.
We stopped for a group lunch at a cafe in Italy. Rick Steves provided us with a sampling of three paninis, a salad and gelato! Everything was tasty. We bought a glass of wine to have with lunch that only cost 1.20 Euro!
We stopped at our first Autogrill along the way and it was a lot more elaborate than I imagined. It had everything you could possibly want, not only snacks and drinks, but also fresh pasta, olive oils, cured meats and cheeses, toys, phone accessories and more. It was like a mini mall!
In many places in Italy, including Autogrills, the person handling food does not handle money. So, we had to pay for an espresso at the register, then take the receipt over to the coffee bar. Our guide informed us of this beforehand, but if we had not known in advance it would have been very confusing.
Arrival in Venice
To get to the heart of Venice we had to take a vaparetto to the Rialto Bridge stop. The bridge is so much bigger in person than we imagined. Getting to the hotel was a lot of fun. Jennifer took us through back alleyways and over canals, it was like a maze!
After checking in to Hotel Mercurio, Jennifer took us to Piazza San Marco, which was only a few minutes away.
“This is Europe!”
When Summer stepped onto the square her jaw dropped and we both had our first “this is Europe” moment! It was such a breathtaking part of the tour. Seeing it on the Rick Steves video series is one thing, but to see it in person was even more amazing.
Finding Your Way
Jennifer taught us an easy way to always find our way back to the hotel, regardless of where we were in Venice. It is easy to get lost here, but this navigation trick never failed to get us where we needed to go.
There are three major attractions in Venice: Piazza San Marco, Rialto Bridge and the Accademia. On most intersecting pathways there is a sign with the word “Per” (to) and an arrow pointing to either of these three places. No matter where we were in Venice, we could just keep following those signs until we got back to Piazza San Marco. From there we knew how to get to the hotel. This trick allowed us to let our guard down and get “lost” without worry 🙂
We walked to Trattoria Madonna for our group dinner. This dinner came with free wine and lots of it! We sat with our new friends, Bill and Chris, and had a really fun time laughing and chatting. Everything was so delicious. It was one of our favorite meals of the trip. We both had homemade lasagna, mouthwatering tiramisu and lemon sorbet.
When leaving, Summer told the host that it was a delicious meal and he responded with “Gratsi Bella” (Thank you beautiful), which was a fun moment for her 🙂
Testing Our Navigation
After dinner, Jennifer asked for a volunteer to lead us back to the Piazza San Marco. Stephen eagerly took the challenge. Using the navigation trick Jennifer taught him, he was able to swiftly lead the group where we needed to do.
Jennifer had arranged for us all to take a gondola ride. Fortunately, we talked to her privately and she was able to secure one for just the two of us, which made it a more magical and intimate experience. All of the gondolas in our group followed each other and one had a singer with an accordion that radiated throughout the canals as we floated along.
Digestif and Evening Stroll
While many of the tour members broke off into groups or went back to the hotel, we went to Cafe Lavenna with Jennifer. We ordered a prosecco drink and talked about the fun times we had had on the trip so far.
Afterwards, we walked alongside the Doge’s Palace and enjoyed the sculptures and architecture. We also walked through Piazza San Marco and got to experience a taste of the Acqua Alta (rising water) on the square. It was just a small amount of flooding, but it made for some beautiful reflecting photographs of the square.
Walking Tour, St. Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace
In the morning we me out local guide, Elisabetta Morelli. She gave us a walking tour of Venice. One thing that stuck out to us was that some of the canals are only a few feet deep and you can walk through them. During holidays you can see locals enjoying the canals like it is a beach.
St. Mark’s Basilica
Our walking tour ended at St. Mark’s Basilica and Rick Steves Company set it up so that we were able to be inside right in time for the lights to be turned on. That was a magical experience! It looked like the sun was rising on the inside as everything slowly lit up and illuminated the walls.
Binoculars are a Must
It was amazing see how the walls and domes were completely made up of mosaics with such fine detail! We could have stared that these for hours. Fortunately, we brought a pair of binoculars which let us see the tiny details of these mosaics up close.
Upstairs, we also saw the famous Bronze Horses of St. Mark that Napoleon stole. We also saw the Portrait of the Four Tetrachs, which Rick Steves points out in his video episode on Venice. Stepping out on the balcony gave us an aerial view of the square and the Doge’s Palace. It was worth the few Euro cost to go up there.
The Doge’s Palace
We toured the Doge’s Palace and it was huge! There were so many rooms and each one was large. We saw amazing paintings by Tinterreto on the ceilings and walls, and the largest oil painting in the world, “Paradise”, gold everywhere and breathtaking views of the shore’s of Venice. We crossed the Bridge of Sighs, which connects the prison to the Doge’s Palace and explored the enormous prison.
The armory room had weapons of all kind: swords, armor, cross bows, guns, helmets and shields.
Lunch On Our Own
We stopped at a cafe and got gourmet sandwiches. We then found a gelataria near the Doge’s Palace and enjoyed strawberry with fruitti di bosco and tiramisu with mango.
Later we went in search for cicchetti. Rick Steves mentions that this is a fun thing to do as a light snack before dinner. We found a cicchetti bar and Stephen had a fresh sardine (which tastes nothing like the salty ones in cans in America), and Summer had a meatball with marinara sauce. We both had a red wine as our apertif.
Dinner On Our Own
Venice was a very crowded city near the main attractions, so for dinner we decided that we wanted to get away from the hoard and find something more peaceful. So, we just started walking until we got to an area that was closer to where the locals live and eat.
On our way we saw a cat standing on the ledge of an open window over a canal. It was delightful and cute!
Eventually, we stumbled upon a square in Santa Croce that had elderly ladies sitting on benches chatting, young boys playing soccer and people walking their pets. We knew we had finally found the experience we were looking for!
We ate at Il Refolo, which was in a beautiful setting next to a canal. We shared a salad with strips of green pepper, tomato and feta, and a penne with ricotta, smoked ham, mozzarella, and rosemary, with a gorganzola sauce. For dessert we had Venetian biscuits, which are small cookies served with a sweet wine used for dipping.
After dinner, we went to Pizza San Marco and enjoyed a drink at Caffe Florian while listening to their orchestra. The violinist had such great charisma and kept everyone engaged. People were clapping and singing along to all of the songs. It was wonderful!
Expensive But Worth It!
This was an expensive place, but well worth the experience! Drinks were around 11-20 Euro each, plus we paid 6 Euro each for the music – total bill was 43 Euro. However, listening to a concert for two hours, enjoying one drink without pressure to buy another, while also resting our feet under the stars was a great way to end our time in Venice!
We stayed at Hotel Mercurio, which was in a very convenient location near Piazza San Marco. This was our smallest room on the trip, however we learned that many rooms in Venice were upgraded to include a bathroom (as opposed to sharing one down the hall), which took away space from the sleeping area. It did have an armoire for us to store clothes and was clean. The shower was quite tiny and hard to really use, but was not a big deal for us since we were only staying here two nights.
This was one of the only places that served fresh cappuccinos for breakfast. Our waiter was very friendly and served everyone with a smile. The spread of food was also good and we had no complaints.