Italy with 12 year olds - Part 1 Venice.

Mar 1st, 2005, 11:41 AM
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Italy with 12 year olds - Part 1 Venice.

I pasted my long report below of the Venice portion of our week in Italy. I am still working on the Rome portion - I can shorten the report, but I'm writing it now before I forget anything. It was so wonderful to return to bella Italia! Thank you to those who offerred advice before the trip. I'll post more observations as I go as well. We arrived home yesterday and I dragged my espresso maker out and made capuccino this morning. Reentry is never pretty! Report follows:

I lived in Italy 25 years ago as a student in Pisa and an au pair in Florence, and finally returned for a week with my family: my husband and 12 ½ year old twins. Although I had visited Venice and Rome briefly, my family was most interested in these destinations for a first visit. I had reservations about taking such a lengthy trip for just a week, but we all decided it was well worth it, and better to see something for a short time than not at all.

We left on a Sunday afternoon and arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare. I prefer an evening flight, where you can just get on and sort of sleep. Even though no one slept, the flight was comfortable. There were no problems getting to Frankfurt on Lufthansa and no problems making our connection to Venice. We were required to check our luggage, (we travel light, and had debated this). In the end, I was glad I threw in a sweater as it proved to be unusually cold for their climate. It was nice not to have to drag our luggage through the terminal to change flights, and I also noticed that there was barely room for us to stow our coats, so luggage would have been crammed by our feet.

The anticipation mounted as the plane headed towards Venice for the short hour and a half flight. Anticipation soon turned to concern when the pilot announced (everything was announced first in German) that visibility was poor in Venice due to a snow storm, so we circled above the city for a while. He said not to worry that he had plenty of gas (I hadn’t been worried until he mentioned it!). After some time, he announced (again first in German, then English) that we’d have land in Munich because the airports were closed due to power outages from the snow. We stayed in Munich for about 5 hours, not getting off the plane. My daughter was vomiting plane vibrations (it was on, but not not moving.) Not a great start! After this, we were sent back to Frankfurt….aaagh!

At this point I was wondering if we would ever see Venice. There was no telling when the power would be restored, or when the storm would let up. They told us to rebook the next flight (they would provide a larger aircraft to accommodate all the people) and hope the airport would be opened. We were in luck…the airport reopened. Because the flight had been rebooked, I was grateful that they just transferred our luggage to this flight (I thought we’d have to collect it and recheck it). Also, they gave us 4 random seats (not together)…I was extremely grateful to the two Italian men (friends), that gave up sitting next to each other so my kids could sit with me (particularly my poor daughter, who was still vomiting!). You become very grateful of the little things…like the fact that my kids never complained, the passengers were pleasant and the Lufthansa staff was very professional and kind. It could have been a lot worse!!

We were thrilled to finally land in Venice around 7pm (9 hours later than expected) and since we had been traveling for almost 24 hours, we just grabbed the first water taxi to our hotel. This would prove to be the high point of the trip. It was still snowing as we climbed into the small speedboat. We sat in the heated cabin while we crossed the open water of the lagoon (my husband later confided that he thought we would die from the poor visibility and high speed). I was just glad to be off the plane. As soon as we reached the Grand Canal, we all got out of the cabin and sat up front with the English speaking driver.(We asked him first). There are no words to describe the scene of seeing the snow falling amongst the beautiful palazzos from the water. It was one of the most spectacular sights of my life and even though I am a photographer, this one will just be etched in my memory. I felt like I was on an opera set and I almost expected to hear an aria over the water. The driver was terrific and pointed things out along the way. He told us we were “lucky” to see Venice in the snow because it only snows a couple times a year there, usually in December.

As he turned a couple corners to a small canal and stopped at a small dock, I realized we had arrived at our hotel, the Pensione Accademia. The gardens and statues were covered with snow and I felt like royalty arriving at my own palace. Every bit of stress from the trip had completely melted away. One of the hotel staff ran out to help us in with our luggage while my husband paid the driver. He asked if they accept tips, and the driver told him that tips are already included in most everything in Italy.

Walking into the pensione was like walking into a quiet and beautiful sanctuary. We had two adjoining rooms on the first floor which were beautiful. I never wanted to leave! The marble floors were like what we would later see at museums, and we had plenty of storage plus a sitting area. By the way, if traveling to Italy in the winter, I’d recommend travel slippers on the marble floors. My feet were always cold (even through the socks) and my only pair of shoes was wet, and by the door. Minor detail, but something to consider.

Food was the first order of business. Since the trip from Frankfurt to Venice (by way of Munich and Frankfurt) was meant to be a short flight, we never got an actual meal – just chocolate (which anyone who is combating nausea can tell you, is not a first choice). The hotel concierge drew a map of a few nearby restaurants. It was snowing heavily as we set out. We didn’t think to grab our umbrellas since we’re not used to that kind of wet snow. We were quickly soaked as we tried to locate the restaurants. The first restaurant was closed and we never actually found the other. Looking down an alley, I spotted some lights and we checked out the Osteria a 4 Feri (or something like that). It was packed, so I wasn’t sure we’d get a seat, but I asked in my broken Italian. Until now, everyone had spoken to us in English and I hadn’t used my Italian in 25 years. Fun! The waitress immediately found a table for us in the back room, seated amongst two other sets of tourists (an American family and a British group). The menu was hand written and we ordered grilled vegetables to share, pasta, house red for us, and Sprites for the kids. The bread was amazing…I had forgotten how perfect the bread is in Italy.

What I noticed: Bread is never served with butter, or even oil. You won’t find salt and pepper at the table. Pasta is cooked al dente (we noticed this everywhere). Extra bread is rarely offered in local establishments. We were never rushed, so we would have to go out of our way to ask for the check (il conto) when we were done eating. Everything is to maximize the enjoyment of the meal, without overeating. This meal (swordfish and sun dried tomatoes) was the best we had on the whole trip I believe. The check was 55 euros, rounded down to 53 (not sure why, but we left 55 anyway).

It was a short walk back to the hotel and lots of people were out in the streets still. It was lively and beautiful in the snow. Back at the hotel, we all enjoyed a hot shower, appreciated the warm towels from the heated towel rack and never slept better. It was lovely to see my children so comfortable in their room. I had been afraid of having to camp out at the Frankfurt airport.

I awoke to the sound of an Italian man speaking and it sounded like it was coming from the armoire! I realized there was a window there, and opened the shutters. The window was right on the canal. Wow! I could look up and see the Grand Canal and a busy morning had begun. We all felt refreshed as we headed over to the hotel breakfast, a yummy assortment of fruit, yogurt, breads and pastries. I had given up caffeine about 5 years ago, but couldn’t turn down a cappuccino. It was as heavenly as I remember it, and I was pleased that I wasn’t too buzzed, so I would enjoy it (only one cup!) every morning for the rest of the trip.

After breakfast we took pictures of the garden in the snow and then headed out for the day. There is something magical about an Italian city early in the morning when things are just opening. Having been away from it for 25 years, it all came back to me (like Proust’s goute de Madeline!) There was a little haze as the sun tried to come out, the smells of coffee from all the neighborhood bars, the smells of fresh pastries from the pasticcerias, and the general hustle and bustle as folks head to work, school, greet friends etc. I suppose it is more pronounced in the small areas, but it is something lacking in our culture due to the lack of neighborhood bars and pastry shops, and the drive-through attitude of our society. Also, wonderful to see was the light hitting the buildings in all the beautiful colors. I have tried to paint some of those colors at home, but it is never the same.

Venice is lovely where although there are main “sights,” much of what to see is just being there. So our family set off to nowhere in particular (well, eventually San Marco), and took it all in. My mother had given my daughter a sketch book, so we had to purchase a small bag so she could carry it since it didn’t fit in anyone’s pocket. My son and I clicked away. (He also has my photography interest, and his trip photos are awesome).

When we eventually found San Marco, we did the usual tourist things and even sprung for the posed photo by a photographer in front of the basilica. (Since I am always taking pictures, this is the only shot of the trip that we’re all in). We paid the euro so my son could feed the pigeons. He thought it was fun, but it looked pretty harrowing to me. (It could give a little kid nightmares). We went up in the Campanile (by elevator). The view on the top surprisingly doesn’t show the canals, so Venice looks even denser than it actually is. It was interesting to be up there when the bell rang (although it made us all jump!)

To find lunch, I thought the best option would be to get lost….to wander until we found a fun place. Well, we wandered all right. Before we knew it, we were in a very residential neighborhood, but there were no stores, cafes or anything. It just had houses and it was obviously trash day since we could see a person picking the trash up by hand using a cart. We eventually found a café and went inside to see tables in the back. It looked like the eating area, but to my embarrassment it was a family setting up for their lunch. They were very nice and sent us to Trattoria da Soueri next door. My daughter did a sketch of the window and we enjoyed our first lunch in Italy. I was pleased to be able to end my meal with decaf espresso, something that is more common than I would have thought. She ended the meal bringing us melletta (an apple liquor) with a tiny apple in it.

The afternoon was relaxing and my daughter sketched some bridges and we walked along the water to the public gardens. The kids had their first gelato in Italy (yum!) and walked some more. It brought back so many memories of the afternoon walk and gelato. We passed a school where kids were just getting out. These were the only kids we saw on the entire trip, which sort of surprised me.

The hotel made a dinner reservation for us at the Taverno San Trovaso across the canal. I had my first spaghetti alle vongole in Italy (something I usually don’t bother ordering in restaurants at home because it’s too heavy). I noticed that they used more broth than oil, so it was just right.

The next morning was bitterly cold, so we took the hotel up on their arrangement for a free taxi ride to Murano for a tour. It felt great to stand by the ovens and we all enjoyed seeing the glass blowing and the details of the glass chandelier they were working on. I hadn’t planned on going to Murano, but we’re all glad we went. The showroom was like a museum – and the beautiful pieces were also out of our price range. We checked the town out and hopped on the vaporetto back. I was embarrassed to see that I was actually standing on the platform, thinking it was the vaporetto. Only my family noticed though.
Back in Venice, we were cold and hungry and entered the first pizzeria (da Alvise) right on the water. It was warm and again, food was great. I watched the cook put it in the oven, making mental notes on how to get that nice thin crust.

We walked back along near the hospital and the neighborhood was intriguing. We decided to go for a gondola ride and asked him to stay in narrow canals. We only passed one other gondola out. This was something my kids were dying to do, and something I had written off as just another tourist activity. What I didn’t realize was what a peaceful way it was to see everything and as photographers, my son and I loved seeing everything from the lower angle of the water. We all loved it. Fortunately it was fairly warm since we were out of the wind.

After we returned to the hotel, the kids were cold and tired, so they stayed back in the room, while my husband and I scooted over for a whirlwind tour of the Accademia art museum. Dinner later that evening was also close to the hotel at the Casin dei Nobili. This place was upscale and very stylish. Food was awesome.

The next morning we had a quick breakfast and set out to catch the train to Rome. I didn’t realize how easy the walk was from the hotel to the train station and we allowed a lot of extra time for getting lost (of course there were signs everywhere pointing us to the train station). We just people watched while waiting for the train.

carolv is offline  
Mar 1st, 2005, 12:05 PM
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Carolv, what a beautiful report. You make me feel like I have had a return trip to Venice. I would imagine your children will always remember this special time together as a family.
LoveItaly is offline  
Mar 1st, 2005, 12:14 PM
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Wow - truly a trip you will relish forever. Looking forward to your Rome report!
wliwl is offline  
Mar 1st, 2005, 12:15 PM
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carolv - wonderful trip report! I love Venice so much - thank you for sharing your report with us!
SRS is offline  
Mar 1st, 2005, 12:24 PM
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Carolv: Great report! The food sounds divine! My husband and I are planning a trip to Italy and France for April many nights did you spend in each Rome and Venice?
beachgirl86 is offline  
Mar 1st, 2005, 12:26 PM
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What a lovely report.. I am happy that despite everthing your family went through, you still had a positive attitude..
I felt so sorry for your daughter..It is not pleasant to be so sick on the plane and all that waiting surely did not help her poor stomach.
I also going to Venice for 4 days in June with my 13 years old grandaughter..I am certain that she is going to love Venice..
Waiting to read your Roman Holiday experiences. My grandaughter was 7 years old the first time i took her to Rome..She just loved Trevi Fountain and had a great time at the Colosseum and the Forum..
kismetchimera is offline  
Mar 1st, 2005, 12:29 PM
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oopss..I am also....
kismetchimera is offline  
Mar 1st, 2005, 01:30 PM
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Lord, I do miss Venice. Thank you for sharing your experiences.
RufusTFirefly is offline  
Mar 1st, 2005, 03:38 PM
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Thanks for the feedback. Beachgirl, we spent 3 nights in Venice and 4 nights in Rome. (Although because of the plane fiasco, we only had two full days in Venice). We had 3 full days in Rome. I'm working on the trip report, and the photo album....
carolv is offline  
Mar 1st, 2005, 03:43 PM
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Thanks, Carol. Did you feel like this was enough time to get a taste of these places? Hubby and I are still working out the # of nights we want to spend in Italy vs. France for our April 2006 trip, and I wondered what you thought about not spending the whole trip in one place. Thanks again!
beachgirl86 is offline  
Mar 1st, 2005, 03:56 PM
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Beachgirl, We were glad we only did two places in just a week's time, and we easily could have spent the entire trip in one place. How much time do you have for Italy and France? You do need to account for travel time between places (and packing up). Also, consider if it's more important for you to "see all" or just relax more and get the flavor of a place. I've done it both ways, and now I try to compromise, but I have noticed that the less we move around, the happier we seem to be. Daytrips are always an option.
carolv is offline  
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