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Trip Report Our month in Venice

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My husband, John, and I spent 2 1/2 weeks in Venice in spring 2005, and have been longing to return. In December 2007 I started looking at apartment booking sites, thinking we couldn't afford to go, really, but why not dream a bit? Then I saw this: http://www.holiday-rentals.co.uk/Italy/holiday-apartment-Venice-area/p50586.htm. I checked their calendar, and it was heavily booked, but there was a month open from April 13-May 9 2009, so it seemed Destiny was guiding me.
John and I live in the Oakland Hills in the San Francisco Bay Area. I am 68 and retired, but John, who will be 75 in June, still works full time as a software engineer in Silicon Valley. We are both married for the second time, and will celebrate our 19th anniversary soon.
For various reasons, we did not start traveling to Europe until 2004, when we went to Barcelona for three wonderful weeks. Searching online, I found an apartment in El Born, near the Picasso Museum, and that experience hooked us on planning a yearly trip to Europe, staying in an apartment, not hotels. We agree that we like to visit one place and soak it up, not feeling pressured to see and do everything. Shopping in the local markets, eating our American-style breakfast of fruit and cereal with drip coffee, going out exploring and finding a good place for lunch, then fixing dinner at "home", barefoot and in T shirts and loose pants, appeals much more than getting dressed up and going out. So our criteria for a vacation apartment include a kitchen for cooking, ideally eat-in, as John reads to me while I cook, and we both sip wine or enjoy John's famous Sapphire martini, up with a twist. Another criterion is having an outlook, ideally a balcony, overlooking the street. I saw Rear Window as I child, and just love to relax by watching life outside my windows.
It's a long haul from California to Europe, so I like to use our American Airlines miles to do an upgrade, so we are not traveling sardine-style for hours. I look for flights with the Boeing 763, as that aircraft has excellent pod-style seats in first/business. For the Venice trip, I saw that we'd have to do an overnight in New York both ways if we wanted the 763, and the best choice of route was SFO-JFK-Milan, taking the train to Venice. I booked everything except the train in February 2008. I didn't check the calendar for Easter. I was worried when I realized we were leaving Easter weekend, but hoped for the best.
Days 1 and 2--New York
Getting into Manhattan from JFK is always problematic, and as we had our bags with us I booked a pickup with Regal Limousine service, and was glad I did. We were met when we arrived Saturday afternoon by a very nice young man, who took us to the Rockefeller Center Hotel. It's across the street from Rockefeller Center, and they don't waste money on a sign or large lobby, but it cost $176, and had excellent reviews on Tripadvisor. Our room was small, but modern and clean; no view unless you craned your head, and then the ice rink was visible. With free wifi, I set up my Macbook Pro on the desk and got caught up online. I'd made dinner reservations at the Sea Grill at Rockefeller Center, assuming being able to walk there would be a plus. We had a very good dinner, with the plus of being entertained by the people ice skating past the big windows.
Breakfast on Sunday was included in this European-style hotel, and it was in the hotel's Terrace Room. From there you could see the crowds gathering on Fifth Avenue for the Easter Parade. The buffet had a good selection of fresh fruit, also scrambled eggs, etc., and bread with a toaster. The room is spare and attractive, with a glassed in terrace.
We walked to the Museum of Modern Art, which we're members of, and after looking at some art went to the restaurant there for lunch. It was the start of our holiday, so we splurged on the four course prix fixe Easter Sunday brunch, at $85. It was far from the "blue hair" brunch served at most places. The choices were "gourmet" items, and we were amazed by the choreographed service. Our plates were brought out by several people, placed in front of us, and covers removed, as if Busby Berkeley were directing. We watched people in the courtyard as we enjoyed our food.
We went back to the hotel, having checked out but with our bags being kept there, and contacted the limo service to meet us. We'd allowed 3 1/2 hours to get to the airport, but there was quite a bit of traffic on the major routes, so the driver took side roads, driving aggressively but safely. We were happy to give him a good tip.
Once ensconced in our splendid pod seats on the plane, with a glass of prosecco in hand before takeoff, was a blissful feeling. I love the American 763!
Day 2--Milan to Venice
We arrived in Milan around 8:30 AM, refreshed from sleeping, having been pampered by the flight attendants. We easily found the shuttle bus to the Milan Central train station, thanks to information on this site and others. We had bought our train tickets from Budget Europe Travel Service, but much as I've enjoyed flying on American, their on time record isn't the best, so we had a 3 1/2 hour wait in one of Mussolini's monumental buildings, the Milan Central train station.
http://i675.photobucket.com/albums/vv118/marisyl_photos/P1000026_2.jpg
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They cut out space for a ramp in the center of the station. It looks weird, but is better than using the marble stairs.
http://i675.photobucket.com/albums/vv118/marisyl_photos/P1000005_2.jpg
The official waiting room was dismal, so we settled on the marble bench by one of the stairs . That's John reading. I'd thought there would be a decent place to eat there, but there were just junk food outlets. We didn't want to deal with hauling bags around outside looking for a restaurant. We decided we'd eat on the train.
We had first class tickets, and learned that this means you have to walk the length of the train to get there. There were no attendant in sight. Time was a bit tight for boarding, so we got on at the first place there was an opening into the train, and hauled our bags through to our car. We'd been told by the agent who booked our tickets that we had to sit in our assigned seats. When we reached our car, the seats, etc., didn't look much different from second class. I'd thought the train would be similar to the German trains I'd taken, where you get good service in first class. You can order food from the dining car, etc., there is an attendant there too. Not true on the Trenitalia Eurostar we were on. We left on time, and chatted with the foursome across the isle, two couples from Georgia. A man came through with a push cart selling drinks and snacks. No dining car. We got a beer, and shared a Luna bar I found at the bottom of my purse. But we were euphoric, knowing our destination.
The Santa Lucia station was busy and noisy. We wanted to get our iMob cards right away, so we could ride the vaporettos whenever we wanted. We finally figured out where to get them, having to cross the new bridge to the Tronchetto area. We waited in line after a family of five got there cards. We were prepared with copies of our passports, also passport sized photos, but the agent took our picture. Mine could rank as the most hideous one of me in existence, but I don't have to look at it.
As we headed to the vaporetto stop, I was thrilled to see the One Man Band, a great Venice character we'd loved seeing several times when we last visited in 2005.
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It seemed like a good omen, and I was glad I had a 2 euro piece to give him.
We took the #1 vaporetto to Ca' d'Oro. We were lucky it wasn't crowded. There was a young woman on it who reminded me of Audrey Hepbrurn:
http://i675.photobucket.com/albums/vv118/marisyl_photos/P1000066_2.jpg
We hauled our bags to Casa Allegra, which is adjacent to the Campo S. Maurizio, and overlooks the Fondamenta della Misericordia.
Luisa, who cleans the apartment and speaks no English, let us in. It looks just like the pictures on its website.
We took the wheeled cart to to the Billa supermarket nearby, on Strada Nova, and got supplies for dinner and breakfast, including some bottles of wine. We poured the wine and pulled up chairs by the tiny balcony overlooking the canal, toasted our happiness at being in Venice, and watched the passing parade on the fondamenta, and the various boats passing on the canal. The restaurant across from the apartment had set out its tables for dinner, and we were voyeurs for a while, then went into the kitchen, where I fixed our dinner while John read to me from the New York Times we'd brought along. And then to bed.

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