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Trip Report Trip Report: 31 Epic Days in Italy with 2 teenage sons, Part 1: Venice

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Hello all,

Many of you know that we were on a 31 day trip to Italy this summer, and many of you contributed some wonderful suggestions to help with our planning. I wanted to post a trip report to help others planning a similar trip, and also to let my helpers know how things worked out. I’ll post it in several sections, since it was quite a long trip…

Part 1: Venice: 4 days

Day 1: Jet lagged travelers lost in Venice; Hostaria Galileo restaurant

We arrived at 11:15 on our Delta flight from JFK, having slept a bit thanks to our Ambien, but we were still pretty dazed when we arrived. We decided to take the Alilaguna water bus from the airport rather than the vaporetto, thinking that our luggage for a family of four would be easier to manage that way. I’m not sure whether we got on the correct line though, since it was definitely a slow trip to Piazza San Marco, with many stops along the way. Still, it was a lovely ride and a nice introduction to Venice for the boys.

We were staying at the Residence Corte Grimani, with which we were unfamiliar, but I had emailed them a few days prior and felt pretty confident that I’d be able to get us to the hotel, since this was my fifth trip to Venice and I sort of know my way around…famous last words!

The four of us trudged our bags off the water bus and stepped aside to get our bearings. I had planned to use my Tripit directions feature as a GPS, but Tripit wouldn’t open! Oh, nooo! Well, that was okay, I still had the map from the hotel on my email attachments; however, the sketchy map was quite challenging to read in brilliant sunshine on my iPhone screen. Luckily, I remembered the Fodor’s poster who had recommended the TripAdvisor City Guides app, and used the Point Me There feature for the first of many times on this trip.

Point Me There is a handy feature, as it gives you the compass direction and the number of feet that your destination is away from you. Theoretically, that will work; however, when dealing with canals and twisting streets that are often dead-ends as in Venice, it doesn’t always work that well.

We got to within 500 feet of the hotel according to the app, but couldn’t see anything that looked like a hotel. We asked helpful locals, but they weren’t familiar with the hotel (it turned out later that the hotel was right around the corner from them!) Finally, I snagged a postal delivery person who pointed us in the right direction and after walking past it a couple of more times, we finally found the hotel tucked around a corner just over a bridge!

Residence Corte Grimani is a great place to stay. Centrally located (once you find it) between Rialto Bridge and Piazza San Marco, it is only about a 3 minute walk from each. We had the family apartment on the fifth floor, which was spacious and had a washer/dryer that was very handy (for a 15 Euro fee).

After getting settled in the apartment, we headed out to find lunch and explore a bit around the Rialto Bridge area. We were definitely jet-lagged, and spent most of the day staring blankly ahead, but determined to stay awake.

We had prearranged dinner reservations through the hotel. The first night we went to Hosteria Galileo, which is outside on a quiet square. It was a nice spot, with good food, but not inexpensive and not really anything special. After dinner, we headed for Piazza San Marco, which is the most romantic and magical piazza in Italy at night. We loved sipping wine and listening to the dueling quartets at the different restaurants around the piazza.

Day 2: Doge’s Palace Tour; Da Mamo restaurant

We awoke early to get ready for a tour of the Doge’s Palace at 9:00 am. We hustled to get going and were all set to leave when my younger son asked why the clock only said 7:45! DH had inadvertently set the alarm an hour early! We really could have used that hour of sleep, but since the tour guide wouldn’t be there for another hour, and we were all set to go, we decided to go down early and scout out some breakfast.

We found a nice little coffee shop that became our “spot” for the rest of the trip, and after some cappuccini, orange juice and croissants we headed out to see Piazza San Marco in the early morning before the hordes of tourists arrived. What a lucky opportunity our early morning became! Venice in the morning is so calm and beautiful. We took some great photos and just enjoyed the magic of the place for a bit before heading back to meet our guide.

Our guide was Patrizia Bracceschi, and our tour was a highlight of our trip. She met us promptly at the hotel and suggested that we start with a quick tour of the Rialto market since it was so early. She took us through the market and told us how it was the place where the Venetians came to get their food, pointing out her favorites and how to cook them. Then, we hustled over to the Doge’s Palace for a very enjoyable and informative tour. Younger Son (YS) was particularly impressed to see the largest oil painting in the world, Tintoretto’s Paradise, in the Hall of the Grand Council. The prisons were another interesting part of the tour. At the end, we decided to tack on a quick tour of the Basilica of San Marco, since her pass would save us hours of waiting in line to see it on our own. Highly recommended—that line was huge!

After that we picked up some paninis for lunch and wandered a bit. DH and YS went back to the room for a quick nap, but older son (OS) and I stayed out and meandered a bit longer.

That night we went on a gondola ride. We tried to negotiate, but the best we could do was 100 Euros, since our ride was after 7:00 pm. However, it was a great time to go just before sunset, as the light was beautiful at that time, and the mosquitos weren’t a problem.

After that, we went to Da Mamo for dinner. It’s a small spot on a quiet street, and our TripAdvisor City Guide was a big help in Pointing us There. We had a delightful time in the lively little restaurant, and the waiter made a point of engaging our boys, which added to the enjoyment for everyone. Good food, and especially desserts!

After dinner, it was back to Piazza San Marco to listen to the music and savor the night.

Day 3: Murano and Burano, La Porta D’Acqua restaurant

We decided to take the vaporetto to Murano and Burano. I had already been to Murano, but the boys really wanted to see the glass blowing, so we started there. We were lucky since I already knew right where to go when we got off the vaporetto, and reached the factory ahead of the crowds. So, we had the demonstration room to ourselves for most of the time, which was much more enjoyable in the heat than in a packed room. They enjoyed seeing the master glass blowers, and we looked around briefly at the showroom, but didn’t buy anything.

We headed from there to Burano, with the plan being to have lunch there, see the cute island, and then visit Torcello before heading back to Venice. Well, I wasn’t prepared for all the beautiful little shops in Burano that sold things other than tablecloths! After an overpriced lunch at one of the restaurants lining the street, OS and I went off exploring the shops, while DH and YS went off to find park benches to snooze on as they were still working off the jet lag.

I snatched up lace-trimmed scarves in all the colors of the rainbow--at 7 Euro each, they would make fantastic gifts, if I could discipline myself to part with them. I also made the mistake of looking at some unique lace trimmed tops and had quite a bit of trouble extricating myself from one small shop. The woman insisted that I try them on… advising me to “just strip” since there was no dressing room. So, whatever, I just took her advice and tried them on right there in the shop; luckily no one else came in, and OS got a whole new impression of his mother!

So, one new top and several scarves later, the afternoon flew by. DH and YS didn’t want to travel to Torcello, and it was getting late, so we headed back to Venice. So, I guess we’ll have to visit Torcello next time.

The boys were feeling confident, and so we decided that they could go off for dinner on their own. We gave them money, and they scouted out spots for pizza, paninis, and, of course, gelato for most of the rest of the trip. They enjoyed the freedom to be on their own, and we enjoyed the alone time at dinner. It was a “win-win” for all of us.

So, that night DH and I went to La Porta D’Acqua for dinner. What a treasure this restaurant is! It’s in the San Polo district, which wasn’t too far from our hotel, but once again TripAdvisor City Guide app was a life-saver finding it. We ate outside in the front of an ancient church, and had a delightful time. Salvatore is a real personality, and engages all his guests in many different languages. It makes for a convivial atmosphere, and we ended up chatting with a young couple from France who sat next to us. It was definitely not a stuffy Venetian restaurant, and we had a great time.

Day 3: San Giorgio Maggiore, Frari Church, Scuola San Rocco, Ca Rezzonico; Ai Mercanti restaurant

We were feeling more energetic that day, so we started out with a vaporetto ride to San Giorgio Maggiore, based on the many recommendations on Fodors. We were not disappointed! What a commanding view from the top of the campanile! It was a clear and beautiful day, and we took many outstanding photos. It was so nice to be away from the crowds and heat of Venice, and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

After that we headed over to the Frari Church. Our Rick Steves guide was a help explaining the wonderful art of Titian, Donatello and Bellini. We enjoyed it so much that we decided to visit the Scuola San Rocco, right nearby. The art of Tintoretto was beautiful, but we didn’t get to visit all the rooms, since some were closed that day.

Knowing that Ca Rezzonico was not too far away, and still feeling energetic, we decided to try to find our way there, using the TripAdvisor City Guide app. Well, that turned out to be a fiasco, and after several wrong turns ending up in dead-ends, we headed back to the vaporetto and just took it to the Ca Rezzonico stop.

Ca Rezzonico was a great view into the luxury of homes during Venice’s Golden Age, and all of us were astounded by the wealth of the decorations. It was a quick and enjoyable tour, but it was getting late and DH and YS had reached their limit. So, they headed back for their daily naps while OS and I did some power shopping, since this was our last day in Venice. OS picked out some magnets and souvenirs, and I found some wonderful sunglasses on sale at Solaris. That and some miniature glass bottles made us feel that we had accomplished something, so we headed back to the room, which we found after only a few wrong turns.

Dinner that night was at Ai Mercanti. We had quite a time finding it, even with our Trip Advisor app, and we even walked right past it the first time, thinking that this small group of tables in a deserted courtyard under the laundry line couldn’t possibly be the restaurant that received such great reviews. We had forgotten that we were in Italy, where such a place can often be a treasure! We had a gourmet dinner that night, with impeccable service. It was expensive, with small portions, but it was excellent food.

From there, it was back to Piazza San Marco to enjoy our last night under the stars with the music. It was so hard to leave Venice so soon, but knowing that we were heading to wonderful Firenze made it a little easier to leave…

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