Saturday, November 23, 2013

(Europe trip, post 5 of 14) First day in Venice!

June 6, 2013.

We woke up on the sleeper train and watched some Italian countryside go by, then enjoyed a simple breakfast.

Finally we arrived in Venice and my heart about leaped out of my chest I was so excited to get started exploring.  This was my first view of the Grand Canal!  The Santa Lucia train station dumps you out right here, which is a fabulous way to arrive in Venice.
We bought a multi-day Vaparetto (water bus) pass and jumped on the boat with our luggage to head to our hotel.  We loved all the narrow, building lined water ways.

I loved the different colored striped poles outside the various Palazzos.

I loved all the bright colors, and details on these beautiful old buildings.  And I love that the "old-ness" of them is partly what makes them so beautiful.

We arrived too early to check in so we left our luggage at our hotel and left to explore for a bit before coming back to the hotel to meet up with our friends who were arriving by airplane that morning!  I saw these charming old women on the bench and snapped a picture.  Right as I did one of them saw me and I realized that she was NOT happy with me.  I realized at that point that she was probably a gypsy and therefor either wanted money to be photographed or else she believed that my photographing her took part of her soul with it.  Either way we didn't stick around there long.

We decided there was no point in waiting - why not try our first gelato?!  Mark chose pistachio, and chose mango.  Mmmm... 

We wandered some side streets, bought postcards and quickly mailed them off, and took pictures of random this gondola workshop:

A hole in the wall place to grab a drink...

Simply everywhere you turned were canals, beautifully colored buildings, and quaint bridges.

Once it was time to check in we headed back to our hotel to check out our room!  We stayed at Hotel Galleria, and couldn't have been happier with our choice.  Top priority for me with this hotel was that we had a view of a canal and a private bathroom.  It wasn't imperative to me that it be on the Grand Canal, but after much research it was between this hotel and another on a side canal, but the latter closed do to mandatory reconstruction.  I believe that Hotel Galleria was the only 1 star hotel on the Grand Canal (which is otherwise unconscionably expensive).  I fell in love with our hotel immediately.  Here she is from the outside...
As an amusing side-note.  I spent nearly 2 years planning our first trip to Italy (that we ended up cancelling and never took), so I remembered a lot of things over the years but not names of hotels.  After we had everything booked this go around I stumbled across trip itinerary notes I'd made for the previous trip 10 years ago and saw that I ended up booking this exact same hotel in Venice both times.  It was meant to be.

We stayed in room 10.  I read enough reviews that I knew I wanted room 10 or room 8 - they both looked great.  I ended up picking room 10, so when our friends Tommy & Megan decided to join us on the trip I encouraged them to snag room number 8.

So, here are some pictures of our room (#10)!  It was huge!  Now I knew the room was large, but I figured that it would just be large by Venetian standards.  Nope, it was really big.  And I found the decor charming as well.

I ran to the window and was so happy with the lovely view of the canal right from our window...

This was the view directly out our window.  Not too shabby, 'eh?  Also, that beautiful yellow Palazzo with the white decorative framing on it is where Henry James stayed while he wrote the Aspern Papers (which I quite enjoyed reading).  Kinda' cool.

This is the view looking left out our window.  The Accademia Bridge (one of only 4 bridges that span the Grand Canal) was only steps away from our hotel, and just beneath it on the left you can see the vaporetto stop which was so nice to have right outside our door.

So, back inside our hotel is a view of the other side of our room (and Mark checking his email):

Even the ceiling was decorative.

Now, since I'm giving a rundown on the hotel here, I'm going to include a snapshot of Tommy and Megan's room.  They did stay in room #8 and it was unbelievably charming.  In fact, if we ever come back I would probably stay in that room.  Not that anything was at ALL wrong with our room, but I actually found that the smaller size of the room lent itself to the charm of the place.  Plus I loved the sitting area right next to the window, so you could eat your breakfast while watching the boats go by without sitting on the window sill. 

Here are Mark and I just outside our hotel on the Accademia Bridge we talked about earlier.

I could sit and watch the gondolas go by for hours.

Megan snapped this shot of a mailbox next to the Vaparetto stop.  Why does everything old look so darn charming here??!

We decided that our first order of business as a touring group of four should be getting something to eat for lunch.  This was Italy after all!  Food is part of the experience, right?  Well, an experience it was.  I wish that I would have written down the name of the first restaurant we tried so I could give them one of the few crummy reviews I had from our trip.  We were seated at a touristy looking place near the water, but it wasn't exactly mealtime so most of the seats were empty.  We decided that we wanted to get pizzas to share, so we ordered them.  The waiter looked disapproving and went on to ask what we would drink.  When we ordered bottled waters he slammed his pen down on his pad and sternly exclaimed, "No servizio!" (or something close to that).  Then he chastised us for sharing pizza (and then not ordering alcohol I'm sure), shooed us, and walked off shaking his head.  We all looked at each other a little surprised (especially being surrounded by all the empty seats), but we got up and walked away.

We were hungry though so we decided to give things a try again at another spot that looked a bit less pretentious.  When I asked the water if it was ok for each couple to order a pizza to share he said with a smile, "It's your food - you can do what you want with it!"   I wanted to explain what had just happened at the other place, but we just ordered our food and relaxed instead.  I do have the mention that the seagulls were pretty aggressive, but the waiter was equally aggressive at swatting them away.  He even smacked one mid-flight with some menus.  We actually found it entertaining.  So, this is the place we actually ended up eating...


After lunch we jumped on the Vaparetto and headed down toward St. Mark's square.

Here we are in Piazza San Marco!  I loved it.  I'm glad that I had done my research and was already anticipating scaffolding to be there or I would have been a bit disappointed, but that's just how it goes when you visit places that old that are being preserved!  It was awesome.

All four of us with St. Mark's basilica in the background.  The first thing we did was get a gelato (this time it was strawberry and amaretto for us) and listen to our free download of Rick Steve's audioguide.  Oh, and we found out that you can't sit on the steps in St. Mark's square.  You can stand or you can pay for a chair at one of the surrounding cafes.

Megan was so sweet and patient with me on the trip.  I'm just learning how to use my DSLR, and she happens to be a photographer - so I picked her brain a lot.

Caffè Florian has been running for nearly 300 years.  It has been frequented by the likes of Goethe, Casanova, Lord Byron and Charles Dickens.  I enjoyed visualizing it while reading its discription in the Aspern Papers (by Henry James) before coming on our trip.

I loved St. Mark's clock.  The astronomical clock with all 24 hours on the face was quite intriguing.

Here is some detail of the gable (on the basilica).  It is topped with a statue of St. Mark and angels and below them is the winged lion - the symbol of Venice.

The horses of St. Mark have are extremely old and have an interesting history of being taken from place to place including during their return to Venice after the sack of Constantinople and being taken to Paris by Napoleon.  They were returned for the last time to Venice in 1815, but as of the 1990's they are kept inside the basilica in a museum, and those outside are now just replicas.

Stone detail work everywhere.  I love all the lions.

The Doge's Palace was fantastic!  Amongst other things it is also called "The Wedding Cake".  It was originally built in 800 AD, but much of it was expanded after 1300.  I loved all the pink marble...
 ...and the rows and rows of gothic arches.

Even the ornate street lights where the pigeons perched were pink glass.

Gondoliers by St. Mark's square.

Hundreds of years ago there were thousands of gondolas on the waters of Venice.  Now there are only 500.  They are all painted black, but differ in the ornate details and upholstery.  The curvy tip on the end of the boat with each of the 6 subsequent metal stripes represents the shape of the Doge's funny hat as well as the 6 districts of Venice.  Each gondola costs somewhere between $47,000-$67,000 (USD) and can last for 15-25 years.  When a gondolier dies his license is passed on to the widow.  Pretty interesting stuff, right?

The "Bridge of Sighs".  While today I *sigh* looking at it because it is lovely, the name was actually coined by Lord Byron who said that it was such because the bridge's windows housed the last view of beautiful Venice that prisoners would ever see (through it's windows) before being led down to their cells.  The bridge connects the interrogation rooms in Doge's palace to the prison.

Courtyard entry to Doge's Palace.  The Doge, of course, was the supreme authority in Venice - a position they were elected to for life.

This staircase at the entrance to the palace is called Scala dei Giganti, or Stairway of Giants.  The huge statues flanking the stairs are Neptune and Mars, representing Venice's prowess at sea and at war.  Anyone who came to visit would find the Doge and his aids waiting at the top of the stairs, flanked by the statues.  That person was required to walk up all the stairs to greet the Doge, no matter if the visitor was the pope, a king, or an emperor.  So, there is Mark being a pompous Doge at the top of the staircase.

We used our trusty Rick Steve's guidebook to give us a tour of the palace.  Here is Mark pretending to put a slip of paper into the Mouth of Truth.  These were scattered about the palace so anyone who had a complaint or a suspicion about someone could accuse them anonymously.

View from inside the palace.

Another view from one of the rooms in the palace.

View taken from inside the Bridge of Sighs.

Closer view looking through the window lattice work inside the Bridge of Sighs.  Yup, most of the people on that bridge are taking a picture of the bridge we were in!

How cool is this ornate door back outside the palace?

And look at the cool lion door knockers...

A few more pictures of the gondolas near the square.

Then we started the St. Mark's to Rialto Loop walk laid out in our guidebook.  It was fun to just wander streets and look at things, like this bride and groom that we happened upon...

...and this cool church.  It's called Chiesa di San Moisè (church dedicated to Moses).  Because of all the tourist crowds at the basilica this is where the community actually worships and the church dates back to the 10th century.


I'm quite sure that we wouldn't have found this gem without the walking tour in our guidebook, but it was such a fun surprise tucked back in a really quiet residential neighborhood.  We were the only ones in the area.  Isn't this a beautiful external spiral staircase?

Fantastically narrow canals.

I had to take a picture as we passed this candy shop to show our boys when we got home.

"This shop is open (until the closing time)."  Love it.

The sun begins to set over Venice and the charm ramps up a notch.

I have no idea what these two were gabbing about, but it probably wasn't about the light of the setting sun on the buildings or the picturesque flower boxes, or buildings reflecting in the canal water...

We just took a chance on a restaurant we saw and ate there for dinner.  It was ok.  Not horrible, but nothing I'd go back to again.  Our server was glib and the food a bit salty actually, but hey the meal must be documented, so here you go...our ravioli and gnocchi...

And then it was back to our hotel.  That was our first day in beautiful Venice.


Jana said...

BEAUTIFUL photos and trip! So happy you had this opportunity. Love seeing and reading all about it.

Jana said...

BEAUTIFUL photos! I'm so happy you got to take this trip. I love seeing and reading about this beautiful place!