Saturday, July 6, 2019

Venice, Italy

Venice was the last leg of our recent travels through Italy and Greece, and even though we’d experienced so many iconic and beautiful cities during that trip, Venice turned out to be our favorite. We approached the city by train from Rome, and stepping out of the station to see boats zipping up and down the Grand Canal (Venice’s main street”) was absolutely exhilarating. The kids were in awe that a major city could operate with only boats and canals instead of cars and roads – and the adults were, too!

Where to Stay

Our hotel in Venice was hands down the most charming and distinctive hotel I’ve ever stayed in anywhere (and it wasn’t even expensive). The Antico Doge, the renovated home of a former doge, is perched right over a smaller canal and located near plenty of great restaurants, shopping, and, most importantly, gelato stands. We were a two minute walk from the water taxi on the Grand Canal and a 10 minute walk from St. Mark's Square.

Our enchanting “room” had two floors – two twin beds on the first floor, plus a king bed on the loft-style second floor. It was decorated in a classically ornate style, with crystal light fixtures and textured wallpaper, but thankfully the bathroom was completely modern. We absolutely adored this hotel, and it even included a nice breakfast in the morning. Maybe all the hotels in Venice are like this – the city feels so ancient and surreal in general – but whatever the case, we were blown away by the Antico Doge and I’d recommend it without reservation. The front desk was also super helpful with booking reservations for dinner and water taxis.

What to Do

Our first order of business in Venice was to wander the maze of streets. I’ve heard that this can be a fun but frustrating experience, as you will definitely get lost. But now with Google Maps, you can be in complete control of your wanderings! We zigzagged through residential and commercial streets, walked down alleyways that looked like movie sets, and crossed bridge after bridge, all the while browsing the shops for snacks, drinks, souvenirs, and gelato. Afterwards, we learned that Venice is made up of 120 islands, all connected by the bridges we were constantly traipsing across. How amazing is that?

I wanted to visit St. Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace, Venice’s two great historical sites (and located steps away from each other in impressive St. Mark’s Square), but I knew it’d be a hard sell for the kids. So I booked a private guide who specializes in touring families through Venice Tours, and it turned out that Fiona was absolutely fantastic. Not only was she incredibly knowledgeable about Venice’s history, but she was wonderful with the kids as well. She engaged them completely with questions, games, and even references to the Magic Tree House book they’d read that takes place in Venice. I can’t recommend Fiona enough.  

It was Fiona who also walked me through the confusing process of reserving skip-the-line tickets for both St. Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace online. (She also recommended that we reserve tickets to climb to the top of the T Fondaco Rooftop Terrace – a free experience — but I wasn’t able to do this in time.) St. Mark’s Basilica is absolutely remarkable for its mosaic-tiled ceiling, which took more than 400 years to completely, but unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take any photos inside, only of the exterior.

The Doge’s Palace is equally grand, the ceilings and walls covered in gold and art.

And since we were in Venice, of course we had to take a gondola ride. It’s a pricey experience (80 euro for half an hour), but hey – when in Venice! Our gondolier was happy to take us around the smaller canals and answer all our questions, and it was a quiet, peaceful way to see the city.

Where to Eat

To be honest, our meals in Venice weren’t as delicious (or as inexpensive) as our meals in Rome. But we did enjoy our al fresco dinner at Hosteria Al Vecio Bragosso, just around the corner from our hotel. And, of course, gelato from Gelato di Natura afterwards. We also saw plenty of people dining along the Grand Canal at light, when Venice is all lit up, which looked fun.

On our last night we walked the streets, eating whatever we came across that looked yummy – cannoli, focaccia, fresh watermelon juice. Venice is also known for cicchetti, slices of Italian bread with a spread on top, but we didn’t try it.

What’s Nearby

Venice was the last stop on a whirlwind vacation that started in Rome, which we also loved. Here’s my itinerary for that leg of the trip. We also spent seven days on a Royal Caribbean cruise through the Greek Islands with extended family, visiting the islands of Santorini and Mykonos, followed by Athens and Katakolon. Here’s more on our cruise excursions.

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