Monday, July 16, 2012

Day 1: Venice

I made it a point to try and document our comings and goings in Italy as much as possible.  I kept a daily journal. My hope is to take my chicken scratch and blog about our adventures. My reasons for this are three-fold. 
1) We didn't want to forget about all the wonderful memories- especially the small details.  
2) I know some of you- our family and friends- may be genuinely interested in our experience.  Hopefully this blog will give you a taste of what we experienced each day.  I plan to include pictures, videos, and links to reviews. 
3) Some of you may be first-time travelers yourselves and may be looking for someone's brutal honesty about navigating in a foreign country. If you are a seasoned traveler, please excuse my naivete in some respects, but I am hoping that my experiences- no matter how trivial- may help someone else feel more confident while traveling abroad. 
So I hope to write about each of the days we traveled in Italy.  Check back daily to read about the next big adventure!  

Day 1: Venice
By the time we arrived in Italy, Sam and I had spent more than 36 hours awake! We had a three hour car trip to Chicago O'Hare.  Thanks to Sam's mom who drove us up there, but not without a couple close calls! After security and the notorious wait to board the plane, we took off for London Heathrow!  Needless to say, we were excited, as this was our first trip abroad.  Our long flight on the 777 departed at 6 pm and we were so hoping we would sleep on the plane so we could arrive fresh and ready to go once we arrived in Italy.. wishful thinking. Of course airplanes are never comfortable and 8 hours on one is challenging.  However, I must say that the flight did go by fairly quickly thanks to the unlimited free movies and TV shows.  We each managed to watch 2 movies, and I threw in an episode of "The Office" and "New Girl" to boot (pun intended)! 

The service on both British Airlines flights was wonderful.  The attendants were very polite and accommodating.  I am not sure if it is specific to this company, but we received a full meal and drink service, including alcohol- if we desired- in flight.  I chose the garden salad, pasta, and cheesecake, while Sam had chicken curry with rice, salad, and cheesecake.  Not too shabby!  We both accompanied our meal with a glass of wine. 
 It was strange to be treated to this wonderful dinner, watch a few movies in the dark, and then suddenly have the lights flipped on and promptly served breakfast to accommodate for the seven hour time change. 

When we arrived in London, I must say that I felt that the airport there was a bit hodge-podge and somewhat disorganized.  However, there seemed to be airport employees strategically planted all over the airport, directing us this way and that.  

The flight from London to Venice was seemingly short compared to the first- maybe two hours.  I actually slept for a lot of it (finally), but Sam only slept for about 20 minutes.  I woke just in time to see some breath-taking views of the Swiss Alps out my window!  Amazing!

Upon our arrival at Aeroporto Marco Polo in Venice at 11 am, there was no need to retrieve baggage, as we both packed carry-on's only for our two-week stay.  I will post later about what and how we packed, as well as recommended or not-needed items. 
This is one of the convertible carry-on bag/backpacks that we carried. 
We immediately went down and bought a one-time combo pass for land and vaporetto, good for 90 minutes. This pass got us on the bus leaving the airport on the mainland to Piazzale Roma and then we hopped on the Vaporetto (water bus) to get us to the nearest point to our hotel. This combo ticket cost us €12 each. 
We boarded the #1 Line, which slowly inches its away down the grand canal from Piazzale Roma to the other end at St. Mark's Square, stopping at practically every stop along the way.  (By the way, the #1 Line goes in both directions.) This was a wonderful introduction to Venice, as we were lucky enough to get seats out back and it was a perfect picture-taking opportunity! We were able to slowly absorb it and take in Venice piece-by-piece... 

We exited at our stop and after only one wrong turn, we ventured only a few blocks away to find our hotel, Casa Rezzonico.  Please read here for a more detailed review. Our room faced the San Barnaba Canal and the view was very scenic- almost straight out of a movie! Although we were very tired, we decided that since we were here, we needed to get out and see a few things...and eat. 
Our room at Casa Rezzonico

The Key to our room 

View of the San Barnaba Canal from our room 
We immediately ventured over the San Barnaba Canal and into the Campo Santa Margherita.  At 1:30 pm, the campo (square) was not that active, but a few restaurants were open here and there. We opted to eat our first meal at Pizza Pier Dickens, recommended to me by my Aunt Nancy.  See the more detailed review here. We sat outside on the covered patio, ordered water and a Coca Cola Light- no Diet Coke here!  We opted to split some stuffed green olives (not my favorite) and a simple, but delicious margherita pizza.  The pizza was sensational!  It was so simple, yet perfect!  We both still agree that this was by far the best pizza we had anywhere in Italy (and that is saying something, because we had a LOT of pizza).  This particular pizza even inspired us to try to replicate at home...eventually. We need a pizza detox first. Both the service and the price were reasonable. 
We then stopped for gelato at Il Doge- again in Campo Santa Margherita- and a bit too convenient to our hotel.  I selected some sort of Italian Wedding Cake flavor (I was in Italian, but this is the only way I could describe it.) and Sam tried the amaretto and dark cherry.  YUM!  Very good choice for our first gelato experience! See the official review here.
We then meandered through the maze of tiny walkways of Venice in search of the St. Mark's Square.  We amazingly found our way there and back with no big issues!  (Tomorrow I will write more about navigating Venice...) Sam was taken back by the enormity and beauty of the area, but especially liked the Campanile, or bell tower. 
St. Mark's Square

Leslie in front of St. Mark's Basillica
We went back to our hotel and reluctantly decided to nap... we slept for four hours.  Luckily we awoke just in time to go on a second jaunt about the island.  At 8:30 pm (20:30) we went back out to explore.  Venice at night is beautiful and fun!  Within just a few feet, we found ourselves back at Campo Santa Margherita and the place had completely transformed!  Being in the Dorsoduro and close to the university, college-aged kids swarmed the campo.  We forgot that tonight was the Euro 2012 soccer match! It was an interesting sight to see- every restaurant and bar filled with people- mostly sitting outside on the cobblestone streets, flimsy TV's set up clumsily on the exteriors, and people drinking and cheering on Italy!  Children played and people picnicked in the square. We mingled amongst them, walked, and just took in the entire scene.

As we made our way out of the Dorsoduro, things calmed down significantly. It was quiet and peaceful wandering from canals to "streets", hoping we were headed in the right direction- or that we would at least be able to find our way back again. We somewhat got "lost" on purpose and ended up by what we know now as the Scalzi Bridge- right by the Santa Lucia train station.  We wandered down the main road leading from the steps of the bridge, people watching and soaking up the Venice scene. We eventually saw a restaurant that had several people outside and decided to stop and give it a try. We decided to eat at La Pizzeria da Giorgio. See the official review here
La Pizzeria da Giorgio
We ordered another pizza- this time with prosciutto and a really yummy bruschetta.  We split a carafe of their house white wine, which was surprisingly good for a random stop.  This was one of our first tastes of European (or at least Italian) service and how it differs from the U.S.  Since Italians are not necessarily working for tips, they truly don't kiss your butt.  Our waiter answered his cell phone AS he was taking our order...  At first I was a bit taken aback, but throughout our trip, we found this to be fairly common.  Other than that, the service was average.  However, our British dining neighbors disagreed, as they were appalled by their check, thinking that they ordered one thing, when the waiter obviously thought they ordered something else.  There was a bit of an altercation and let's just say Italians (or at least at this establishment) don't always go by the motto "The customer is always right."  It provided some late-night entertainment for us, however. Luckily, we did not have the same issue.  
We successfully fumbled home through the winding streets. We figured we would swing by to Il Doge for gelato (Yes- for the second time today...). How convenient that it was just a few steps from Casa Rezzonico! This time I opted for the caramel (YUM!) and Sam went for a repeat of the amaretto and black cherry. It was that good. 
Since it was our first night in Italy, we decided we MUST have a bottle of wine to celebrate, right?  Well...  good luck finding a corner store or a gas station on an island where there are no road vehicles.  All groceries and shopping stores have very limited hours in Italy and close at around 7 pm (19:00) so we were out of luck there.  We eventually came across a take-and-go pizza place with a cooler- with wine in it! Hallelujah! We quickly exchanged 10 for what we later found out was the worse possible wine we had ever had in our lives.  We didn't realize at the time that  10 is a LOT for a bottle of wine in the first place- at a fine winery.  

We split the bottle that night in the back garden of Casa Rezzonico after begging the guy on duty to let us stay out late...I felt like a teenager begging my parents to extend my curfew.  There is someone on duty there all night to unlock the door for guests, but as we accidentally discovered, they sleep on a roll-out cot in the back breakfast room.  On one hand, we felt bad for the guys.  On the other hand, it was somewhat frustrating that we couldn't really go out and enjoy the garden at night without feeling guilty or awkward.  Needless to say, the guy on duty that night let us go out there for about 20 minutes (reluctantly), but then we found out he was waiting up for us so he could go to bed.  After we split our absolutely HORRIBLE worse-than-Boone's wine, we headed up to room and let the poor guy sleep. We stayed awake until about 2 am, obviously still a bit off from the time change. 

Tune in tomorrow for more Italian adventures... 

No comments:

Post a Comment