Travel slowly, staying in vacation rentals (villas, farms, cottages, apartments)
Report 1247: A Not-So-Slow First Trip to Italy and Budapest
By andasamo from Nova Scotia, Canada, Spring 2006
Page 2 of 14: A Mother and Daughter Fall in Love with Venice
Gondolas drifting along the Grand Canal
We arrived in Venice safe and sound alas our luggage did not. Quite disheartening to watch the terminal empty out around us, the baggage carousel come to a halt and still no sign of our bags. We went to the baggage counter and it turned out that our bags were still in JFK (aHA! I knew something was amiss!! I’d checked at every point in JFK because of this nagging feeling about our bags.) But we were assured our luggage would be flown over and couriered to our hotel the next morning. We had packed most essentials in our carry-on bags anyway, so decided we’d manage just fine even if our bags never materialized and carried on our merry way.
We found the bus right outside the airport door headed for Piazzale Roma. The excitement mounted as we drove through Mestre. I was filming out the bus window and when we got our first glimpse of Venice, we were as giddy as little kids! At Piazzale Rome, we boarded a vaporetto for our first taste of the Grand Canal – it was everything we read about and more. We managed to snag seats in the bow so had an incredible view as we motored along. The water was sparkling and the air crystal clear as we rounded the first bend – the magnificent buildings lining both sides of the canal seemed to glow in the sunlight! (I filmed the ride and have been watching and reliving it ever since.) We got off at the San Stae stop and sat on the stone steps for a few minutes, waiting to be sure it wasn’t a dream – we were really in Venice!
Our hotel, Al Ponte Mocenigo, was a short walk from San Stae. We HIGHLY recommend this lovely spot. Sandro (one of the owners) was especially helpful, making reservations and giving directions (bit of a maze walking from San Stae to San Marco, or walking anywhere in Venice for that matter!) Our room was spotless and fairly large, with windows looking onto a small canal. The wooden beamed ceiling was lovely. And the shower was great - lots of hot water and good pressure.
Activity the first day was a bit slow, due to jet lag, but we still managed to have lunch, sample the Basilica (stunningly gorgeous), the Piazza (not a pigeon fan but the piazza itself is fabulous), and climb the Campanile (what a view!!) After that, we explored the area around San Marco, the Rialto and San Polo, bought a couple small masks from an old lady in a tiny little shop in San Polo as souvenirs for my two daughters, and eventually took a vaporetto back to the hotel. Sandro made dinner reservations for us at Trattoria al Ponte del Megio in Santa Croce (where we seemed to be the only tourists). We had delicious spaghetti with shrimp, sea bass (complete with the head, which we left on the plate) and white wine. We then strolled back to the hotel – a magical, mystical and mysterious evening walk through dimly lit, nearly deserted and hushed calle – Mom and I were both deeply touched by this timeless experience.
The next day, we walked from the hotel toward the Rialto, munching on fresh apples and feeling invigorated by the liveliness of the market. On our own, we rambled through the Doge’s Palace, marveling at the contrast between the opulence of the palace and the starkness of the adjoining prison. The great council room and the huge room with the huge painting (Tintoretto's “Paradiso”?) were our favourites; we had a hard time dragging ourselves out of them, so the visit took longer than we planned. Rather than try to squeeze in another “major sight,” we chose to wander around and soak up the beauty of Venice, this time in Dorsoduro and Santa Croce. The view from the Accademia bridge is gorgeous and the Zattere was a beautiful spot to sit, relax and enjoy a beautiful view. We meandered around narrow calle, quiet campos and oh so many bridges. We passed one pink building that glowed a glorious red in the sunset. Eventually we found ourselves at Piazzale Roma, where we took a vaporetto back to the hotel for an hour’s rest before heading out for an evening Ghost Walk.
Our guide, Isabella, made the fascinating stories come to life (so to speak – we are talking about ghosts after all!) We were thrilled by this after dark introduction to the legends of La Serenissima. After the walk, we ate at a dreadful tourist place just off the Rialto, only because nothing else seemed to be open. The Antico Caffe Ristorante al Buso is definitely not recommended. We arrived at 10:10, which apparently was unacceptable since they closed at 11:00. They did reluctantly seat us, but the food and service was so incredibly poor all we could do was laugh afterward. The waiter literally threw a couple stale rolls into a basket, brought a stingy pitcher of wine, and served us the most incredibly soggy lasagna ever.
The late night stroll back to the hotel put us back in a magical mood though. From one house we heard voices laughing and singing in Italian, with music and lights streaming out into the night from the third story window...
Once again we felt like this was all a dream.
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