Monday, May 2, 2016

Picturesque Venice

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Getting to Venice was going to be a bit tricky and I was nervous about it being the very first thing we had to do when we arrived in Italy. A few days before the trip I arranged car service (suntransfers.com) from the Milan airport (it was WAAAY cheaper to fly there than directly to Venice) to the Milano Centrale train station. I had heard such mixed reviews about the ease of figuring out and buying train tickets that I didn't know what to expect but it wasn't bad. We got our tickets (from the first of many grumpy employees haha) and boarded the train! We sat across from the cutest little man who didn't make a peep the whole time he was on the train and just waited and waited until the last stop of the line, Venezia Santa Lucia!
There have only been a handful of times that I have been somewhere and felt completely satisfied that "Wow, THIS is _____" and Venice was one of those moments for me. There are people everywhere (and we weren't even there during the busiest time of the year) but it is beautiful and amazing to see all these colorful old buildings right on the water. It was exactly what I thought it would be!
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After the initial amazement that yes, we are in VENICE ITALY, we realized we had no idea where to go to get the free shuttle to our hotel. We stayed in the gorgeous JW Marriot Venice Resort and Spa (thanks to points!) and it was on it's own island. With all the figuring out how to get to Venice itself, I totally didn't even think about making sure we knew where the shuttle was and it was the most stressful moment of our entire trip (that's the good news!).
We first asked at an information desk in the train station. The worker didn't know but called and found out it was by St. Mark's square, so we got on a water taxi headed for the square. We were on for a bit and when everyone got off we assumed we were at St. Mark's and hopped off too; but once we started walking around we realized we were not anywhere near it. Walking the streets of Venice is so fun, just not when you are lugging a heavy suitcase that you have to lift up and down all the little sets of stairs that pop up. We were hungry and tired so we had a brief gelato stop before continuing on our way :-). Eventually we found the shuttle stop (it turned out to be in a very convenient location once you knew what you were doing) and made it to the hotel.
The grounds were gorgeous and so peaceful! The shuttle ran every 30 minutes, which always worked out well for us and once we dropped off the bags in the room we headed back to the main island to explore. We walked, found dinner (decent food in a quiet restaurant called Ristorante Da Stefano) and then went on a night gondola ride which was very peaceful because the streets were nearly empty.
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going under the Bridge of Sighs
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our gondola driver...it was DARK my ISO in this picture is 25,600!
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The next morning we had a relaxing breakfast delivered to our room and took it easy. (it was after this morning that I think we were adjusted to the new time and feeling rested up again!) It was crazy how many more people were out in Venice when we arrived compared to the night before!!! We walked around a bit, exchanged some money (the rates in Venice were horrible and one lesson we learned was to bring a debit card to Europe for getting cash next time instead of all US dollars, we didn't even bring ours with us and there were a couple of times it would have been nice to have!) and then met up with a walking tour.
Someone Mike works with recommended this tour through Viator for Venice. We weren't planning on doing a tour, but it ended up being really nice because the streets of Venice were hard to navigate and we were able to see some of the less traveled paths (we also went into St. Mark's Bascilica without waiting in line which was nice). It was the only group tour we did but it wasn't insanely huge and our guide for the walking part of it was very entertaining. The boat tour portion was a bit of a disappointment because I was excited to take pictures from the water and then they put us in private water taxis in groups of 6 and the windows were horrible. Oh well, we got plenty of good shots on our own. During our break between the walk and boat portions we found a restaurant for lunch that was in Rick Steve's book (which I used religiously while planning the trip!) that was really good, Osteria Al Mascaron. Mike got lasagna and it was my favorite of the trip. I got a soup and we also had a yummy prosciutto appetizer...I really tried to be good about not eating gluten the majority of the trip.
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I love all the piazzas in the towns!
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After lunch we still had some time before our "boat tour" portion so we went on our own to Doge's Palace, which is HUGE. We mostly just wanted to walk over the Bridge of Sighs, so we breezed through most of the rest of it, but the size of the place is seriously insane.
We were ready for an early, relaxing night so we headed back to the hotel right after the boat tour. We walked the grounds, checked out the rooftop of the main building, where we were staying, and found a heated infinity pool that looked out towards Venice. It was amazing. I was still in shock that we were really on our trip and that I was really getting to have all these incredible experiences (just like now I can't believe it's all over haha!). We had dinner in the hotel's restaurant and it was both delicious and beautiful. A great way to end the Venice portion of our trip!
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view from the bridge
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our hotel shuttle on the left
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Venice above, the hotel grounds below
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Overall I think Venice is worth a day's visit for sure just because it is so unique and beautiful but I also felt everything was lower quality for higher prices due to it being an island and so touristy.

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