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Bailey Jul 5th, 2005 10:56 AM

MRand...Once again thanks for taking the time to write this terrific report!!
Hope that your first day back to work was an easy transition!!

Looking forward to Venice.....the city I adore!!!

KathrynT Jul 5th, 2005 03:03 PM

I'm continuing to thoroughly enjoy your report. My family and I hope to return to Rome next summer and I am taking notes on some of your adventures. Can't wait to hear about Venice!

MRand Jul 5th, 2005 07:33 PM

Michelle Y, fun4all4, Intrepid 1, Bailey, and Kathryn T, thank you for your very kind comments. In looking back over my previous posts, I've seen number of typos and realized I inadvertently extended the length of this post by double-posting some entries (not sure how that happened. Sorry for those.

Tues. June 28 (Rome - Venice)

The hottest yet night at our hotel. I wake up at and notice
that the temperature reading on the travel alarm clock my wife has
brought on the trip registers 85.7 degrees at 3:10 a.m.! The air conditioner and fan are on, but they are not getting the job done. Opening the windows doesn't help either, so I take a middle-of-the-night shower to cool down. I wonder whether air conditioners in Italy are generally insufficient to handle this kind of heat, or whether it is just a problem at this hotel. The shower cools me down enough to go back to sleep for a couple of hours.

We're up, have breakfast at the hotel, and then check out of Hotel Hiberia. We debate whether I should call a taxi to help us get to the train station with bags or whether we should try to hoof it to Termini, which appears to be only six or seven long blocks away on the map. The family have been real troopers in the heat and we're showered and ready to go, so we opt for a mini-van cab which arrives at the hotel in about 10 minutes. It's about 10:45 a.m. and I'm hoping, without reservations, that we will be able to make the 12:55 p.m. Eurostar train to Venice. This is a lot more time than I typically allow when I’m traveling by myself. The cab driver is unusually suave looking--designer sunglasses, dark shirt and slacks, that sort of thing---but appears helpful enough. We load his mini-van and take the five to ten minute drive to the station. He doesn’t go the most direct route according to my map, but we get there in about ten minutes. We unload and I ask him the fare. “50 Euros.” “I beg your pardon, did you say 15 Euros?” “No, sir, the fare is 50 Euros.” In about five seconds, the following thoughts flash through my mind, in no particular order:

1. Am I being scammed?
2. Is this the opening bid in some sort of bargaining routine?
3. We have two hours to catch the train, so I can afford to wait this guy out.
4. Is he going to call the cops?

“That’s way too much.” “Sir, that is the fare - 50 Euros.” I shake my head no. He throws up his arms in mock (?) disgust and pulls out his cell phone to call someone. The police? His supervisor? The conversation clearly is not with the police, so I ask to talk to “his supervisor.” The driver now claims to not understand--he doesn’t speak good English. I motion towards his cell phone, and he hands it to me. I speak to “the supervisor” on the phone. His English appears to be better, and he explains that a van that carries five people to the train station with bags is “very expensive,” and that 50 Euros is the price. I kick myself for the obvious error of not having asked the price BEFORE I got in the van with my family, but now it’s getting a little bit personal and the driver is obviously impatient and in a hurry and I’ve got time to kill. I explain that yesterday we took a mini-van at least three times the distance to St. Peter’s for 17 Euros. “But, sir, that was without bags.” Okay, I’ll throw in 10 Euros for bags, but I’m not paying 50 Euros. How about 35? No, I’ll pay 25 (still maybe 5 Euros too many). Supervisor: “Okay, sir, 25 Euros.” Driver talks to supervisor some more on the cell phone, then smiles at me, takes my 30 Euros, gives me 5 in change, and drives off.

I’m confident he was counting on the fact that we were a family running short on time and in no position to bargain. In retrospect, I would have been in a weaker position if I’d asked the fare before we got in the cab. After we’d decided to take a cab to the station, if he quoted me a 50 Euro price, I’m not sure that I would have waved him on and forced the family to walk to the station or wait for another cab. Getting to the station so early (uncharacteristically) put me in the driver’s seat for bargaining. But this is my question---does this stuff go on often in Italy, or was this unusual? Frankly, I don’t have enough traveling experience there to know.

Now we wait in a long line for tickets, but there are plenty of seats for the 12:55 p.m. train to Venice. The clerk tells us that first class is about 75% full on this train, while second class is a little less than 50% full and that our 11 year old can travel free with his parents. Clearly he thinks second class is a better deal for us. The difference between the first and second class prices for the family is about 90 Euros: 170 Euros for second class vs. 260 Euros for first class. Mom and daughter want to go first class and I wonder why it is fuller than coach, but I opt for second class. For once, Dad is right. Second class is plenty nice for us, and we pull out of the station on time at 12:55.

The ride up to Florence is smooth, cool, and relaxing. The countryside is beautiful and our route largely parallels the highway we had taken from Siena to Rome a few days before. We pull into Florence on time. I’ve had to give the kids a stern Parental Lecture because en route to Florence, all three spilled something in the first 45 minutes of the journey. I can understand one spill, but three “means you all just aren’t being careful. All I ask is that you be careful.” Fifteen minutes out of Florence we start up a spirited game of Hearts. Suddenly the train rounds a sharp curve. Dad’s bottle of frizzante flies off the table to the other side of the train. That’s okay, because the top is on. Yes, but not securely enough. Before I can scramble to retrieve the bottle that is rolling back and forth emptying itself in the compartment, half its contents have spilled, creating a small pool under the legs of the unfortunate older Italian commuter who joined us in Florence. After Dad makes several trips to the club car to obtain paper towels to mop up the mess, kids have the good sense not to say anything but only smirk. Then we all burst out laughing. Parenthood is a constant lesson in humility.

Over the beautiful Apeninnes, then down to Bologna, Ferrara, Padua (middle son asks - is there time to get back from Venice to see the Scrovegni Chapel? Sadly, not this trip), then on to Venice Mestre. After a brief stop, we’re out on the causeway across the lagoon to Venice.

I have to admit that for a long time, I’ve been a Venice Skeptic. I think while preparing for our first trip to Italy in the early 1980s, I must have developed an anti-Venice bias by reading in a Let’s Go guide or hearing from others that Venice was “smelly,” “touristy,” “hot,” “humid,” “overrun”, “over crowded,” “too expensive,” “a rip off” . . . you name it. Thus it has never been prominent on my List of Places I Want to Go Someday. Nevertheless, our frequent flyer routing demands that we depart from Venice, so I’ve grudgingly granted it two full days at the end of our itinerary.

The approach over the causeway looks just the same as the one we saw in Katherine Hepburn’s “Summertime.” In a short ten minutes we are at the train station and walk outside looking for the No. 1 vaporetto (water bus) stop. It is just to the right of the exit from the train station, and we quickly buy tickets for 5 Euros each and hop on with our bags for the four-stop trip to Ca’ D’Oro. The Grande Canal is certainly different and maybe a little smaller than I’d imagined. As we go toward our stop, my first reaction is that the Grand Canal seems a little like a little shabbier version of a Disney World ride, except the buildings look a little worse for the wear than a Disney set.

We disembark at the Ca’ D’Oro vaporetto stop and roll our bags down Strada Nova towards Hotel Antico Doge, which is just across a small bridge from the Campo SS Apostoli on the border between Cannaregio and Castello neighborhoods near Rialto Bridge. Like everyone else who visits Venice for the first time, I’m struck by the fact there are no cars and it’s just a pedestrian city. We check in at Antico Doge, and there’s a slight misunderstanding. The cot that I thought was a rollaway bed for our 5’5” 11 year old is actually a “baby cot” or “crib.” They’re not going to be able to accommodate the five of us in the “junior suite” after all. I thought my e-mails had made it clear there were five of us and no baby was involved. The patient American desk clerks asks if we would go out for refreshments for fifteen minutes while she talked the situation over with the hotel owner. It is dead calm and humid, and we are hot and thirsty, so we agree. When we return, she has worked out what I think is an eminently fair compromise, giving us the “junior suite” and an adjacent double room for only 60 more Euros per night than we had originally been quoted. We go to the rooms, which are beautiful and have REAL air conditioning. The cold air is the first we’ve really felt since the trip started and Hotel Berna in Milan. We luxuriate in it. This will be the best hotel we’ve had on the trip.

Revived, we grab an excellent seafood and pasta meal at Da Beppi, on Salizzada D. Pistor just off the Campo SS. Apostoli, then walk off dinner by heading (where else?) but to Piazza San Marco. I pride myself on my sense of direction and map reading skills, but it takes me about 5 minutes to realize I may be no match for Venice. The oppressive, still air and the narrow streets begin to give me the feel of a rat’s maze. But after a few wrong turns, we finally emerge into the famous piazza, San Marco cathedral, Palazzo Ducale (Doges’ Palace), the famous campanile, and the sight of tourists, pigeons, and dueling orchestras. Everyone is tired, so we wander around only for about fifteen minutes, then wind our way back to Antico Doge, its cool, cool air, and our first good night’s sleep since the first night in Tuscany.

Mary_Fran Jul 5th, 2005 11:44 PM

Glad to hear you enjoyed Antico Doge in Venice, which we enjoyed immensely on our trip in 2002. I hope the weather cools down some for you so you can enjoy this magical city.

MichelleY Jul 5th, 2005 11:53 PM

I've enjoyed this report so much that I'm sad that it is almost over!! I guess I have to start planning my own trip.


MRand Jul 6th, 2005 06:06 AM

Fortunately, my return to work was fairly smooth and was put into proper perspective by the departure yesterday of a colleague on a different kind of trip, this one not with his family---a six month deployment with his reserve unit to Iraq.

I have to say at this point in the trip with our return home in sight, I'm giving my wife, daughter, and sons all the credit in the world. Like all families, we have hour moments, but they have been the greatest travel companions---the interest wonder level has been very high (even with our 11 year old), and the complaints and sibling conflicts kept to a minimum.

Wed. June 29 (Venice)

After a great night's sleep at Hotel Antico Doge, we wake up early, eat breakfast, and are recharged and ready to head back to Piazza San Marco for our 10:45 a.m. Secret Itineraries of the Doge's Palace tour. I was unable to make online reservations for this tour before we left, but the staff at Antico Doge graciously took care of that for us based on my e-mail request. I've seen a lot of debate on this forum about the merits of this tour. My verdict is that it is very worthwhile. It's rare that you get to see the actual "innards" of a famous building, and like the cathedral roof climb in Milan, it's a totally different perspective. Unfortunately, our well-intentioned guide speaks very rapid English with a strong accent, so it is difficult for us to follow much of the commentary, but we are able to absorb enough to keep it interesting. At the end of the tour, we emerge into the grand public rooms of the palace, whose walls and ceilings are a veritable museum of works by Veronese. I like the art, but after an hour or so, it becomes a bit much. I wish I had a better understanding of Venetian Renaissance artists. Finding the exit becomes a sort of Twilight Zone experience, but we do make it out and to the public cafeteria of the palace for some wonderful take out panini.

Emerging back into San Marco square, it is now overrun with people and the lines to get into St. Mark's Basilica and the Campanile look to formidable. It it is now very hot and humid. We retreat to the waterfront and to the nearby canal bridge to view and take pictures of the Bridge of Sighs. I'm surprised that none of our kids has seen the 1970s movie "A Little Romance," which I think was Diane Lane's debut performance and in which the Bridge of Sighs plays a central role.

The Biennale international modern art festival is going on in Venice this year, and while we were at San Marco square the evening before, our 11 year old notice a mysterious blue light structure looking east toward the Giardini at the tip of the island. We now decide to stroll down the waterfront and investigate. Halfway there, we realize we are about out of cash, so we begin to search adjacent neighborhoods for a bancomat. Our search is futile, and the locals redirect us back to San Marco square for the nearest ATM. We assure our son we will figure out "the blue light" at the end of the island before we leave. It is really warm and still. I thought that thunderstorms were forecast for today but there's not a cloud in the sky or a breath of wind in the sky once we step back off the waterfront. We find an ATM, but change plans and visit the Mauro Vianello glass store at Calle della Mandol 3728 (in the middle of San Marco siestre) recommended on this site. I'm not much into glass stuff, but the kids are fascinated, and our 11 year old especially likes the small glass pigs he sees. The items in the store are all made at Murano and then brought across the lagoon to the store. We decide a visit to Murano is in our plans, so we don't buy anything. Everyone is hungry, so we stop at Pizza Pause and grab some slices to take back to our cool retreat at Antico Doge. I'm not sure I'm "getting" Venice yet.

Our midafternoon "pizza pause" extends into a several hour siesta. About 5 thirty, I rouse the troops because we are now down to the final 36 hours or so of the trip. We take the short walk to Rialto Bridge, whose apex is supposed to be the coolest (temperature wise) outdoor spot in Venice. It truly is a beautiful structure, but it too is full of people shopping at the stores on the bridge. The vaporettoes (vaporetti?) plying the Grand Canal look inviting, so we go down to the Rialto Bridge stop. The fare is 5 Euros apiece, so should we get the 24 pass for 10.50 each? I'm not sure we'll use it two more time, but we might so what the heck.

We head up the Grand Canal towards the train station. Suddenly a group vacates the two rows of parallel seats at the front of the boat, and we position ourselves to take the seats. As we move up the canal, the breeze over the water revitalizes us. The water at Venice is actually much prettier than I had imagined. Within five minutes, we are completely relaxed and are starting to take the incredible views of the Grand Canal and Venice in. Now we're "getting" Venice---it's all about the water! We see gondolas, vaporetti, cargo boats, ambulance boats, a UPS boat(!), delivery boats, traghetti (gondolas that shuttle back and forth across the Grand Canal at certain points, because as we've learned, there are only 3 bridges on the entire length of the Grand Canal. As we round the island towards our planned Zattere and Giudecca stops we catch a full sea breeze from Lido, and as appealing as those neighborhoods look, we've got 50 yard line seats for Venice and aren't about to give them up. We don't yet notice the clouds darkening far to the north.

Shoot, work is calling . . . . To be continued later today.

ellenem Jul 6th, 2005 06:41 AM

Really enjoying your report

Uh, the taxi thing. A number of items might influence the fare, like the distance traveled or number of bags. In addition, you called for the taxi. The charges begin as soon as the taxi takes the call and heads in your direction--yes, even before you're in the cab. So to get a vehicle the correct size for your group, it might have to come from some distance. Not sure if this explains your dilemma, but it might have added to the cost.

Glad you're enjoying Venice. . .

Tiff Jul 6th, 2005 07:12 AM

Greetings MRand~

Thank you so very much. As I sit here this morning with my ((c)) I am totally basking in your trip report.

I love your style of writing. Some thoughts: the passport in the copier thing, I am certain was quite a panic, but oh so funny for us to read, your style of writing made it so funny. And the American in-flight song list was hysterical, I literally laughed out loud. Kudos to you for your ability to laugh "with" your children with the travel beverage spill. I love your attitude.

I think it is wonderful that you are you wife had such a wonderful time with your children. Embrace and cherish the memory!

And by the way, in our eyes, this trip report could never, ever, be TOO long.

Thanks for taking the time.

Most appreciative, Tiff

yipper Jul 6th, 2005 07:23 AM

I love the reports. On my first trip to Venice many many years ago it was very hot and humid. My memory is my sister and I riding the vaperato up and down the Grand Canal and getting off every 15 minutes to sit and drink a cold refreshment at an out door cafe and then back on the vaperato. I agree it takes awhile to get the Venice experience, especially when the weather is so hot. Getting off the beaten path is helpful. Can't wait to hear the rest of your report.

NYCTravelSnob Jul 6th, 2005 07:54 AM

One of the best trip reports I've read here and how nice to hear the dad's perspective. I'm dripping in sweat with each new heat-exhausted word. I don't have time now but I'll return to answer some of your questions and comment on various things that struck me like a lightning bolt. Nice work.

Brian_in_Charlotte Jul 6th, 2005 08:28 AM

Your report is fantastic - the little details you add make it so easy to feel like we're there (I can picture myself pointing and saying to my wife: "look at the UPS boat!").

I hate taking taxis in Europe. In Rome, my family of 6 split evenly into two same-sized taxis at Termini heading to our hotel. When we arrived at the same time, the fare I paid was 20 euro, my brother paid 30. It's too bad that tourists are put in a position to worry about negotiating fares.

Therese Jul 6th, 2005 11:40 AM

Really great trip report, MRand: well-written, with equal emphasis on evocative scenes and helpful details. A pleasure to read in every respect.

Carmen Jul 6th, 2005 01:31 PM

We had a very similar night-before-the-trip passport panic attack. I opened the lockbox to remove our 4 passports, and my son's wasn't there! Yikes!!! It had apparently been sitting on top of his dresser since last summer when he returned from his Germany high school exchange trip.

Carmen Jul 6th, 2005 01:45 PM

I had my daughter watch A Little Romance in advance of our trip (we spent the final weekend + July 4th in Venice), and it is now one of her all time favorites! It's fun to read your report and compare experiences. Our family of 4 visited many of the same places you did. (As soon as my head clears, I'll share our highlights.)

ms_go Jul 6th, 2005 04:33 PM

I'm just starting to read your report, but I had to stop and laugh at the part about the lost passport in the copier because I didn't think that could possibly happen to anyone else.

Just last month, we were on Capri and headed to Positano when we stopped to make copies of our passports as required by our Positano landlord. Sure enough, several hours later, as we were about to board our ferry to Positano, I noticed that my husband's passport was not with the others. After a bit of panic, we realized the only place it possibly could be was the copy machine at our hotel. Sure enough.... We ended up missing our ferry, but all's well that ends well.

MRand Jul 6th, 2005 04:46 PM

Thanks again to everyone for their very kind comments. It has made sharing our wonderful trip with you very enjoyable. I'm in awe of the individual and collective knowledge about travel generally and about travel in Italy of so many in this forum and of those who have responded to this post. I look forward to visiting here often in the future, more though as a spectator than as a participant.

Carmen, who knows, maybe our families crossed paths in Italy! I look forward to hearing your trip highlights.

Ms_go, I'm glad to know someone else has experienced last minute passport-in-the-copier panic.

Wed. June 29 (Venice) (continued)

We continue on our No. 82 vaporetto joyride around Venice. I don't need to tell Venice veterans that the view of St. Mark's square, the basilica, the Doges' Palace, and the Campanile as we round Dorsoduro is spectacular. I begin to suspect that this vaporetto is not going to go back up the Grand Canal, but instead is ultimately headed to Lido, so we reluctantly disembark at San Zaccaria to catch a No. 82 that is headed back up the Canal. We board the next No. 82 but realize too late it is not cruising up the Canal, but right back to San Giorgio Maggiore church, Giudecca, and Dorsoduro. We hop off at San Giorgio, take pictures, and cool our heels for a while in the late afternoon sun that soon drops behind those darkening clouds to the north. We take the next eastward-bound vaporetto back to San Zaccaria, get off, walk one pier over to the CORRECT No. 82 embarcation point, ("Dad, are you SURE this is the right one?") and finally get the appropriate No. 82 up the Grand Canal. We've already more than paid for our 24-hour vaporetto passes just in the course of this 45 minute fire drill. No matter, we've been on the water and thoroughly enjoying ourselves. Now we're headed up the Grand Canal and begin to see it in all its late afternoon glory.

As we approach Accademia Bridge, Mom and daughter announce that they are ready for dinner. Based on reading jgg's fantastic Venice trip report on this site and mapping out its and others' restaurant suggestions the night before on my new Venice map, I know that Acqua Pazza in nearby Camp Sant' Angelo may be a good choice. We get off at the Accademia stop and cross that bridge. At the top, we stop and enjoy the cool sea breeze blowing in. We think that maybe THIS, and not Rialto, is the coolest outdoor spot in Venice. There are a lot fewer people on this bridge, and I think I may prefer its wooden spareness compared to Rialto's heavy grandeur. After lingering on the bridge a few minutes, we walk to Campo San Stefano. Now we hear beautiful music wafting out of a nearby church. We look in (thank goodness it's not a funeral this time!). A helpful lady appears at the door and explains that this is Interpreti Veniziani ensemble rehearsing for tonight's 8:30 p.m. concert of music by Vivaldi and Paganini. We stand for a few minutes and soak it all in: we're standing in Venice, Italy, listening to classical music for free. In about 48 hours we'll be probably 6000 miles away, back home, wondering if this trip was real or just a dream. The woman invites us back to attend the concert tonight. Perhaps older daughter will stay with the brothers at the hotel and Mom and Dad can sneak back at 8:30 for an hour or two concert "date."

Hunger snaps us out of this brief reverie, and we walk the short distance to Acqua Pazza on nearby Campo Sant' Angelo (with its own "leaning tower"). Outdoor seating under the tents is about half full, and the white tuxedo on the effusive maitre d' suggests that this dinner may be a little more expensive than I had in mind, but we're approaching the end of the trip, so who cares? The service is attentive, and the bruschetta antipasti and cold naturale, frizzante, and prosecco are just what the doctor ordered. We can't wait for the pasta and the grilled fish.

Suddenly there is a tremendous clap of thunder and a cool gust of wind. The sun's been hidden for a while now, so I step out from under the tent to check the sky. Lightning arcs across, thunder rolls, and a Texas-sized summer thunderstorm is bearing down on us. Wind begins to whip the tents, and the staff hurries to unzip them. I assume they are going to take them down and push us all inside, but instead they quickly zip in between the tents some canvas gutters and then proceed to serve us as if nothing is going on overhead. The sky is becoming very black now, and the loud clatter on the square suggests that it is hailing instead of raining. Is this right out of a movie script or what? There are many bright flashes, and thunder reverberates across the the Campo Sant' Angelo. Sure enough, pea-sized hail turns to marbles and the rapidly cooling air makes us think, for the first time in the trip, about our windbreakers back in the hotel. This is a real gullywasher, but the staff continues to serve us through the second course. Then they bring the bill, and it is apparent the are ready to begin shutting down. I note that we've been accidentally charged for the grilled fish that we never received. The maitre d' responds with profuse apologies that our order was forgotten in the confusion surrounding the approaching storm, corrects the bill, and sends us complimentary limoncello as a nightcap. Finishing the limoncello allows us to wait out the worst of the storm. The air is cool and sweet. We run in the diminishing rain through deserted streets back to Accademia Bridge, catch the No. 1 vaporetto to Rialto, and then on to our hotel for another great night's sleep. Tomorrow is our last full day in Italy.

KathrynT Jul 6th, 2005 07:52 PM


LindaL Jul 6th, 2005 08:55 PM

wow, just, wow.

Joybye Jul 6th, 2005 10:11 PM

MRand........I have enjoyed reading about your family vacation so much. We did a Mediterranean cruise last year and visited some of the same places that you and your family toured. Your descriptions are so detailed, I'm reliving my trip as I read yours. We're doing a Transatlantic trip this year (August) and would love to hear from anyone that has done this trip.

Sounds like you have a wonderful family and these memories you made will live on forever!

candert Jul 7th, 2005 05:32 AM

MRand - I stumbled across your report yesterday and was hooked. My wife and I have been to many of the same spots over the last couple years. Thanks for helping me relive them.

I marvel at how well the five of you travel together. It had to be great fun to watch your kids be so taken by all the sights and history. Thanks for the report.

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