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Julies' (AKA Pollyanna) real trip report for New Year's in Venice--the magic is still there 35 years later, and we'd go back in a heartbeat

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Here is a report on the Venice portion of our New Year’s trip to Venice and Rome. Thanks to all who helped me with my planning. There are no restaurant reports here, so if that is what you’re looking for, stop reading now.

When we initially booked tickets for this trip (only 2 or 3 weeks ahead of time) we had thought we’d visit Rome and head south to Sicily where the weather would be warmer. After a lot of fast research we decided that we’d prefer to visit Sicily at another time of year when we could be assured of better weather. So, the plan was to limit ourselves to the cities and just two places—Rome and Venice—with an apartment stay in each place. We’ve rented apartments and houses before and much prefer this way of travel over hotel stays. An apartment allows us to have some room to spread out, use a kitchen, save money, and just settle in on our own. For those who are considering an apartment stay and have never done one before, the one downside is that you are completely on your own and there is no one to ask those simple little questions. But, we are absolutely fine with this method of operation.

When we decided to combine Venice and Rome, I looked into changing our plane tickets so we could just fly directly to Venice from AMS. As I’d guessed, this idea was a joke with the additional costs running in the area of $300 per person. Not a bargain since our original tickets were just under $600 per person roundtrip from Minneapolis. So, our plan was to land in Rome and immediately take the train to Venice.

We flew NWA/KLM through Amsterdam. We had a bit of time in Amsterdam and needed cash to pay for our apartment rental in Venice, so our first stop was the cash machines. Honestly, also, after all the negative things we had read about theft in Rome, we decided we’d prefer to use a cash machine in the Amsterdam airport. We had problems with our cards in both the machine in Amsterdam and those in Venice. We’d used these cards tons of times before in Europe and couldn’t figure out what was going on. (It’s true that sleep deprivation does hinder one’s ability to think.) By day two we finally realized that the issue was the poor state of the dollar. When we were entering what we thought was a reasonable amount of euros, by the time the conversion rate (we were figuring E1 = $1.50) came in, we were over our withdrawal limits. I think our limit is $500 per day on each card, so when we tried to take out E350 we were denied. Americans might want to see if they can increase the limits on their cards before they leave.

We landed in Rome at noon on Dec. 30. We followed the signs to the train station and, rather than standing in line at the ticket window, easily used the machines to purchase a combo ticket for the brief train ride into Rome from the airport and then a transfer to the Eurostar (2nd class) to Venice. There is a nice grocery store we found in the Rome’s Termini station, so we bought some drinks and pizza and headed off to catch our train. Our, not huge but larger than carry-on, suitcases fit nicely into the racks above our heads. As we’d arrived at our home airport about 18 hours earlier and can’t sleep on planes, we were pretty drowsy, so once it got dark outside and there was nothing to look at out the windows, we drifted off using our usual precautions of putting our legs through the straps of our day bag and my purse.

When we got into Venice we had to go to the agency we were renting our apartment from to pick up the keys. This was a Sunday and evening, so they have an arrangement whereby renters who are arriving outside of agency hours are given a code to a lockbox to pick up keys to the apartment. The only downside to the day and time of our arrival was that we needed to go back the next morning to pay for our apartment; our apartment was in Castello and the agency’s office was within 5 minutes walk of the train station—a long way apart. We’d recommend the agency http://www.veniceapartments.org/ --they were really responsive and quickly answered all of our questions. The detailed instructions they sent us about how to find them and the apartment were perfect too. It was a really nice, quiet apartment in a great location—right on Campo San Lorenzo. I suspect we got a really good rate on it because it was a last minute rental. When I pull it up now and look at random dates, prices seem to be close to twice what we paid just a few weeks ago. http://www.veniceapartments.org/html/marco_polo.html

Our instructions told us which vaporetto to take to our apartment after picking up the keys. We knew to look for either the 1 or the 82, and we knew that we needed to get off at San Zaccaria. We thought great, we’d kill 2 birds with one stone and take our nighttime vaporetto cruise. What we hadn’t realized when we hopped on in our jet-lagged state is that we were taking the vaporetto that went around in the lagoon rather than the one down the Grand Canal. No major mistake but just something to warn others about.

Dec. 31st—Day one in Venice. Our first two priorities were to get to the agency to pay for the apartment before they closed for the holiday at noon and to find a grocery store so we could lay in a few supplies. We were worried about when everything would close for the holiday, and we wanted to make sure we had some food and wine. It turns out that there was a really nice grocery store only a block away from our apartment on San Giorgio di Schiavoni along the Rio di San Lorenzo. We never ever would have found this store on our own without the man from the agency telling us about it. Here is something I embarrassingly learned in the grocery store. Venetians use disposable plastic gloves (available by the plastic bags) to pick up fruits and vegetables in grocery stores. On the other hand, in Rome, we didn’t find this to be the case.

After this, we spent the entire day walking, walking and walking some more. To me, this is what Venice is really about—exploring all the interesting little nooks and crannies around every corner. Interestingly enough, we had fewer problems getting lost than we did in Rome. I think it must have something to do with the fact that you will run into a canal very soon and this will often serve as an identifier.

It was New Year’s Eve and we were in Venice for New Year’s (a once in a lifetime occurrence), so we planned to join the midnight festivities in Piazza San Marco. The man at the agency had told us there would be fireworks and dancing with huge crowds expected. In fact, he said, there would be volunteers to control the stream of people—foot traffic would be allowed one way only. Around six or seven we walked through the square on our way back to the apartment. A huge stage with big screen tvs was erected, and the musicians were there doing sound checks. We listened a while and then made our way back to the apartment intending to return about 11:00 pm. It was warm and cozy in our apartment, and about 9:30 reality struck. We were on day two of our trip, jet-lagged, and sleep deprived. Staying in and going to bed sounded much more appealing than going out again. We were both kept awake by all the explosions from fireworks and firecrackers, so I guess we maybe should have thought about going out after all.

Day 2, New Year’s Day--Before we’d left home I’d relied on posters here to help me figure out that Jan. 1 is a holy day in the Catholic Church. We wanted to experience St. Mark’s the way it had been intended to be experienced—as a setting for religious services. I also knew that the mosaics and church would be illuminated for a major mass and that there should be good choral music (something I in particular enjoy). So even though we are not Catholic or even religious, we attended New Year’s mass, entering through the small side door on the left front of the church. The church and mass were lovely, the illuminated mosaics were gorgeous, and we had a bit of a look around after the mass.

The rest of the day was spent walking and walking some more—in our four day visit we managed to walk through and around every sestieri in Venice. These first two days we had gorgeous weather with bright blue skies and temperatures in the upper 40s to low 50s. In retrospect, we should have taken advantage of the nicer weather and ridden the vaporettos when it was nice. So a word to the wise, if you have nice weather in Venice, take advantage of it because tomorrow may not be so nice.

Day 3—Today was Wednesday, and we finally decide to visit some sights. Having heard so much about the morning fish and food market in the Rialto Bridge area, this was to be our first destination of the day. On our way to the market we stopped by the ticket office at the Doge’s Palace (there was no line at 9:00 am.) and bought tickets for several hours later for the Secret Itineraries Tour. We had explicit instructions as to exactly where the various parts of the market were located and quickly made our way there. Nothing. Just a small area of standard produce stands. No one at all in the fish market area. We were disappointed because local markets are one of our favorites. The problem I suspect was that many of the people who supply these were still taking a holiday. We Americans who get so little holiday time compared to the rest of the world often forget that not everyone jumps right back to work immediately after a holiday.

Now we were wishing that we’d booked the early tour of the Doge’s palace because we had a couple hours to kill before going back for our tour. Walking and more walking. It was colder and cloudy, and this was the day that I really noticed the abundance of fur coats. If you own a fur coat, Venice is the place to wear it; you’ll fit right in! I think PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has made great inroads in the US so there aren’t many women who wear furs compared to the past. I live in a very cold climate where furs would make sense yet hardly ever see them here. Speaking of clothing for winter travel in Venice, here is the link to the thread I posted about the clothes I took. http://www.fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=2&tid=35100680

When we got back to the Doge’s palace for our 11:30 tour, there was quite a line of people. We were able to breeze right in and go to the meeting point for our tour. The tour was interesting, and I did learn about the governance of Venice, but I wouldn’t say that it is an absolute must or even excellent. We’d thought about braving the line to go up in the adjacent campanile but decided it wasn’t worth it on a cloudy day with periodic light snow flurries. So, we set off on another of the walking tours we had planned. We’d periodically pop into an open church, and it was fun to see the principe (manger scenes) some had displayed. We were planning to buy tickets for that evening and go to a performance of Interpreti Veneziana (the group my pre-trip research had told me is the best musically in Venice). Once again we ended up not going out after getting back to our apartment. We were still tired from having our internal timeclocks adjust by seven hours; it would have been a long walk to the performance; and it was pretty cold and nasty out. We’ll have to save this for another trip.

Day 4--Our last full day in Venice—I’d wanted to take the vaporetto right across from our San Zaccaria stop to San Giorgio Maggiore for the 8:00 am Gregorian chant mass that Rick Steves mentions. But, the day before the Tourist Information told me that there are only masses on Sunday. So, we never even went across because once again it was very cloudy and there would have been no views from the top of the church. We are not early risers on vacation anyway, so instead we got a slow start from our apartment.

My husband is always very willing to go see all the churches and art that I’m much more interested in than he is, so I was looking for a way to provide some balance to our visit. We’d read about the Museo Storico Navale and thought it would be interesting; we had walked by when we walked through the Arsenale area previously. The museum is only open until early afternoon, so we made this the first stop of our day. The better exhibits are on the upper floors, so if you are short of time go immediately upstairs. I was most interested in the old gondolas, but my husband liked the entire place. I finally suggested to him that he spend another half hour in the museum while I popped in some stores in the neighborhood. I’m not a shopper, but hadn’t visited any shops at all and thought this would give me the opportunity to do so. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten the Italian custom of closing over the lunch hour. Nothing was open.

After this we slowly made our way over to see Ca Rezzonico. We liked it a lot and particularly thought it was fun to see the musician’s corner in the ballroom. Grey, gloomy days do sometimes make it harder to see some things inside these old building though. Even though windows are usually covered, the strong outside light can make a difference.

This is it for Venice for us. We really liked it, and the essence of Venice to us is just seeing the city itself rather than a list of specific sights. There were tons of things we didn’t get the opportunity to see and do, but we had a train to catch to Rome in the morning. I’d definitely go back for a week. My husband thinks that might be a bit long, and he’d settle for another four days. Having read what I’ve read about the crowds though, I doubt if it will be in the peak of summer.
This real report isn’t nearly as fun as “Pollyanna’s”. And, you won’t be hearing nearly as much from me now. Reality, life and work have set in. My time to spend on Fodor’s is now much more limited. Cheers! Have fun traveling! Thanks to all who gave me advice pre-trip.
As far as the Rome portion of my trip, rather than writing up a long and boring (and I do think mine often become just this) trip report, I’m going to make a post that puts together all of my various comments and lists about Rome.

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