September 26, 2011

Old World Charm

What a week it's been! It's gotten to the point where I have so much to share & dwindling time to tell so I hope romanticizing about my weekend in Venice will do!

Kait and I decided a few weeks back we wanted to spend some time in Venice. I actually didn't expect to take this trip as many friends & family warned of the busy squares and dirty streets but Bami {my grandmother} sharing her memories of Venice and a few other nudges intrigued me to see the city but stay for more than a day. I found myself as entranced as my grandparents had been.

On Friday morning we trekked through Firenze with our carry-ons to the train station, expecting to buy tickets for the 10:30 train. The trains were booked until 12:30 so we quickly booked some seats {and our return ticket back}, going with the flow and enjoying people watching in the station's cafe over juice & a croissant. The train ride was a breeze {or maybe my book was too engrossing} and we arrived at the island's Santa Lucia station in just under 2 hours.

Immediately I gasped at the sites across the water-old world Venetian architecture left untouched. The station was busy as can be {kept my eyes out for pickpockets} and the vaporetto line was a bit long for my liking but the $6.50 fare to Saint Marc's square was a lot nicer than hiring a water taxi {starts at 45 Euro no matter how many people you have}. We docked at a stop one before the square and I noticed immediately how well heeled the tourists were. Kait and I will our carryons on our back did stand out but hey, we can indulge in the expensive city too!

Indulged we were! We were blessed by Kait's parents to stay at the Westin Europa & Regina {thanks to their Starwood Points} which sits on the Grand Canal on a quiet street about 5 minutes from the square. We were proud to not get lost getting to the hotel {you try and figure out the Venetian districts} and shedding our bags in the gorgeous room. I forgot how heavenly a bed could feel....

We left the hotel to maximize the number of daylight hours, wandering through the alleys and crowded streets of Venezia. It doesn't hit you that there really are no cars and this city truly functions on water until you cross the beautiful white marble bridges {or as the Gondola men tell you that you are the spice girls and need a ride}. Around St. Mark's square there were HOARDS of tourists which I imagine is where a lot of people write off Venice. I made up my mind there that the more you let yourself get lost {knowing you can prob find yourself again by walking towards the canal} the more you will find Venice & escape the crowds that have taken over.

We were tired from a long week at school {hey, three days is a lot for an Italian girl} and travel so we ate an early dinner at Barbanera, a forgettable restaurant, behind the square. For 13 Euro each we were able to enjoy spaghetti bolognese, chicken, salad, and potatoes {and after begging for the famously pure Venetian tap water, the waiter gave us a liter of mineral water for free}. The spaghetti was good and I appreciated not forking over my life savings for a meal as I expected but I probably wouldn't go back. It's also a sign that you're in a tourist filled city when you're complemented for using "vore" {followed by some English-Italian mumbo jumbo} to order...

I should of took being tired as a sign though...I woke up in the middle of the night with my sinuses aching. The cold that had been filtering through my friends had hit me. Kait was so gracious allowing me to set the pace for the next morning. Tourists were the last thing I wanted to be surrounded by so we wandered to the end of the grand canal ports for some fresh air. We sat and watched a cruise ship fit through the canals and come into port then wandered around the outskirts of the island.

Wow, the neighborhoods are enchanting! Buildings where the restoration {or lack there of} brings out the true beauty of Venetian architecture and the streets wind along the small canals. Each turn held new discoveries from a beautiful flower shop to a row of cafes with Venetian men and women a like enjoying their afternoon drink or pastry. Of course, we tried a pastry too {more on that in a bit}.

We spent the late afternoon relaxing in the room and talking about further trip possibilities which allowed me to gain some energy back. I promised myself that every site I was missing was too crowded anyways and I'd go in December with my family when the tourists had left.

After retracing our steps from mid day, we stopped at a tratorria for dinner {I can't remember or find the name but it was something with Johnny}. I was able to enjoy an Aperol Spritz {at the recommendation of Emiko}, splitting a three course pasta dinner and pizza with Kait. The atmosphere of the place was a bit more authentic-with the waiter's family coming in to visit and the owner greeting his fellow Venetians as they strolled down the street. Again the food met the expectations of the prices but it's all this girl could do on her college budget!

The night wouldn't be complete without wandering back to the little pastry shop for a treat {or two}. The place had no sign with a name so I'll leave you to wander and find your own...

Our last morning we took the complimentary Westin water taxi to the beautiful Exclesior Hotel on Lido island. It was amazing to see Venice from afar on the way over to Lido. Lido is a beachy island known for it's casino and had an air of elegance {with a price}.

We skipped the Westin's hefty priced breakfast buffet in search of an open cafe. Being Sunday, all we could find was a bar with no food and creepy men in speedos so we rushed a quick, fresh juice and wandered around the hotel instead.

Planning everything to the minute, we arrived back at the train station just in time for our train and enjoyed the ride home speaking Spanglish {Kait only realizing we weren't speaking Italian halfway through} with an Argentian couple who was enjoying a two week European rendezvous. It was the perfect way to end such an enchanting weekend! I can't wait to take my family back to Venice in December and enjoy what my cold didn't let me but for until then I'll bask in encapsulating old world charm of Venezia...

{Tips} to truly see Venice:
-Book your train tickets in advance. Trains fill up fast so if you want the best rate and ideal time go a day ahead of time to buy your tickets.
-Bring a carry-on bag that's easy to travel with {aka with wheels}. Why? Unless you plan on paying for a water taxi, you will have to walk and a bag on your back isn't too fun!
-Stay overnight so you can enjoy the sites after everyone has left {go up to the bell tower just before it rings at 5 and by the time you get down the droves will be gone in the square}.
-Get lost. Just know the direction of the Grand Canal or the Rialto bridge and where your hotel is in relation to it. Accept that it's hard to find places so if you're not good with Google maps beforehand you may just have to wander until you find what you want. The back streets of Venice are so much prettier and authentic...
-Venice is expensive. It's a tourist city with high demand, little to yield so you can't avoid it but you can work with it. Value meals aren't going to be memorable but they are good enough and if you're on a budget, promise yourself a better meal somewhere else in Italy.

No comments: