Our month in Venice

Old May 16th, 2009, 05:05 PM
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Our month in Venice

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/Ita...rea/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.
<b>Days 1 and 2--New York</b>
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!
<b>Day 2--Milan to Venice </b>
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.
They cut out space for a ramp in the center of the station. It looks weird, but is better than using the marble stairs.
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.
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:
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.
marisylvia is offline  
Old May 16th, 2009, 05:20 PM
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Thanks - looking forward to the continuation.

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Old May 16th, 2009, 06:15 PM
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Great start. I'm anxious to read how the rest of your month in Venice unfolds since that's something we'd like to do.
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Old May 16th, 2009, 06:41 PM
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I almost didnt read it out of pure jealousy..
Now I want to hear more..
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Old May 16th, 2009, 07:36 PM
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That's a funny co-incidence. We spent a while in Venice over Christmas, and in my trip report, I also referred to "Rear Window".

I'm enjoying tour writings.
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Old May 16th, 2009, 07:45 PM
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mari- I love Venice so. Looking forward to the rest of your report, as I will be living vicariously through them. Great start! I like your writing style! Thanks for posting this!

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Old May 16th, 2009, 07:55 PM
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It's bedtime for me now, but I thanks for the comments, I feel encouraged to continue. I've had some trepidation about posting a trip report, as there are others doing so with such verve and humor. I dread being a bore, so thanks for reading. To be continued tomorrow... this is also an excuse for not doing put away and housekeeping.
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Old May 16th, 2009, 10:36 PM
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Hi!! Forget that housework, we need to hear more!! I like your style of reporting, and the photos interspersed.Where's the part with ME in it!!??? Yvonne xx
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Old May 17th, 2009, 02:01 AM
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This is wonderful. We leave for Venice in 10 days. Can't wait for the rest of your report.

Your time in NYC sounds great. The price on the Rockefeller Center Hotel seems almost unbelievable. Thanks for that tip. Also what was the name of the apartment you were in in BCN, El Born?
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Old May 17th, 2009, 02:04 AM
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I just looked up the Rockefeller Center Hotel on Trip Advisor and could only find rates of $345 per night. You really got a great deal.
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Old May 17th, 2009, 04:03 AM
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Hello marisylvia

I am so enjoying your trip! I love the intro, a bit of background, put me right in there with you.

Glad to hear you like the pod seats on the 763. My DH and I will be trying them out this summer.

I look forward to following you thru the rest of your journey.

Happy travels!
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Old May 17th, 2009, 07:28 AM
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It's Sunday morning, and when I told John I'd make pancakes his big smile made me realize that's my first priority today.
Seeing the positive comments gives me a glow, and I realize why I enjoy visiting the Fodors site.
Julie, we did luck out at the Rocekfeller Center Hotel that Saturday. I looked at their site again, and the rates go way up and down. I have more incentive to continue knowing I can give helpful hints to others.
Renting an apartment is the only way we could spend a month anywhere. Venice has a reputation for being expensive, but we found that the pizza there is often very good, and you can get a huge one for from 6 to 16 euros, certainly one is large enough for two to share. The prices I gave were the highest and lowest we paid. If you make your own dinner using the fresh vegetables from the outdoor market stalls (we shopped at the one in Cannaregio), or do someting really simple like a truffle fettucine dressed in either melted butter or olive oil, tossed with fresh parmagiana Reggiano, add a tossed salad with homemade dressing, pour a glass of wine and enjoy your cheap but satisfying dinner in enchanting Venice. Another tip--we took our wine bottles to the wine bar near the Accademia (I promise I will give the address), and they filled it with a drinkable house red for 1 1/2 euros.
Hey Yvonne, meeting you was one of the highlights of our trip! Of course that's coming up in my posting on our first week.
The apartment in El Born is at http://www.apartmentsapart.com/Europ...nts/Detail/678. It was an amazing find in so many ways. The location could not be better. We love El Born, and the ambience of the Gothic part of Barcelona. The apartment has an excellent modern kitchen which I enjoyed cooking in, very stylish, with a granite countertop and top quality appliances. Nice bedroom and bath, too. It's on the fourth floor overlooking the bustle of Princesa street, and best of all there are two balconies overlooking this always fascinating scene. I recommend it without reservation, and wait until you see the price for it!
I found it after putting in a lot of time, and it was being handled by this guy Charlie, an American married to a young Barcelona woman, raising their baby. He advertises himself as an expert on all things Catalan--and Barcelona is in Catalonia, a colony of Spain. He was our contact, but when we arrived we were met by Enric, who owns the apartment with his wife, Erminia. He's rather elderly, but he grabbed our bags, apologizing that the elevator was out of order, and easily climbed up four flights of stairs. I was glad we'd met them, because Charlie had a breakdown, and cursed me out when I called him to ask him to call a taxi for us for the airport. Erminia did that for us; she and Enric are lovely people. The taxi service is great in Barcelona, but most of the operators speak Catalan, and if you have to catch a plane, and need the taxi at 4 AM, you want to be sure it will be there!
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Old May 17th, 2009, 03:49 PM
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This will be an interesting read. We live quite near you in the SF bay area. We love Venice but don't usually go for more than a few days at a time. We do go to Paris often, always renting for a month. Maybe the rest of your report will convince us to do the same in Venice!

Cooking pancakes on this hot Sunday? All I want to do is stay out of the kitchen!
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Old May 17th, 2009, 04:14 PM
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It's funny the home food we crave while traveling.

A few years ago, my elderly parents joined us on their first-ever trip overseas (and this one was to Switzerland).

They seemed to enjoy the wonderful breakfasts each morning: beautifully sliced ham and cheeses, homemade breads and buttery croissants, jams, cereals, and fresh fruits.

One morning, though, Dad said he'd had enough of "this foreign food."

"I want a bowl of oatmeal."

The sweet gal who ran the breakfast room seemed perplexed. I went over to the breakfast area, put some mueseli in a bowl with some milk, and asked for it to be heated.

Oh, Dad was in heaven!

Sometimes you just gotta have those pancakes, lol!
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Old May 17th, 2009, 04:16 PM
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marisylvia: this is already a good report and promises to get better. would love to spend more time in Venice, and you may be helping many of us to do it. We are even a little older than you and your husband, so you give me courage to try it. Keep writing, but enjoy every minute!
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Old May 17th, 2009, 04:22 PM
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<b>First week</b>
We wanted to settle in at our apartment, and had to deal with some practicalities. This was the first apartment we'd stayed in which did not have a drip coffee maker. This may seem minor to non caffeine addicts, but my fellow hookees will understand. There were three little stove top espresso makers, and we tried doing our version of Americanos, but weren't pleased. I emailed Renato, our landlord, who was always responsive to any requests, asking where we could find a hardware store. We also needed to buy some cheap but serviceable knives (chef's and paring), plus a decent-sized bowl to mix a salad.
Renato directed us to a little store in a campiello off the Campo SS. Apostoli, which is at the end of Strada Nova, the main shopping street near Ca' d'Oro. It is true that you will find local people in Cannaregio, and also the stores they use, such as the Billa supermarket, but also pet stores, a funeral home, that sort of thing. Of course, Strada Nova is chockablock with the tourist kitsch shops, too--fake Murano glass and masks.
We also needed to find an ATM to replenish our supply of euros, as we'd had to pay cash for the iMob cards. We learned to our dismay that many ATMs in Venice would not accept our card. I was glad I had the laptop, as the Visa site told us which banks would work. There was one on the way to Rialto.
The hardware store was perfect, tucked away on a campiello, presided over by a lovely lady who spoke no English, so we got to use our tourist Italian. It was a shop with more upscale items, too, so we bought a nice caffe press, the knives and a lovely lime green salad bowl.
The next problem was that we needed to get coffee ground coarsely for the caffe press, or, the directions warned, not only would we not get good tasting results, but could get scalded.
We had a pizza lunch on Strada Nova, watching the endlessly fascinating passing parade.
More later, but here are some pictures from Strada Nova and Campo SS. Apostoli, Cannaregio, taken on April 14, our first full day in Venice.
You can see local people and businesses as well as tourists passing through :
Here is a dressmaker's shop where they love dogs:
I call this one Young and Old in Campo SS. Apostoli:
Being cool on Strada Nova:
Cool and uncool:
You can see older Venetians like this lady, who wear tailored suits with skirts, even in warm weather. The gentlemen wear jackets and ties. They hark back to a more formal culture:
On Wednesday we left for Rialto, to get euros and do some shopping, starting with finding a store selling coffee ground to order. I had translated my request to grind coarsely for a caffe press into Italian, and written it down.
I took some pictures along the way:
Young mothers on church steps:
Frisky dogs:
Here is grandpa entertaining the kids with tales of his adventures:
Gondolier on a bridge:
One of the colonnades by the Rialto Market:
The bridge:
Near Rialto:
The all silk shop--how delicious!
Hello Kitty:
We saw this sweater in the shop window, and I twisted John's arm:
The attractive blonde sells real Murano, and we bought some:
We found this shop just at closing, but the kind saleslady sold us some delicacies, and directed us to the coffee bean shop nearby:
There is constant infrastructure repair all over Venice:
Sottoportego near Rialto:
Heading back to the apartment:
Time to stop now; more later. Coming up: our lunch with ebullient Yvonne from Queensland, Australia, who we met through Slow Travel, and had been carrying on an email correspondence. She had an apartment near us, and was leaving as we were arriving.
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Old May 17th, 2009, 04:23 PM
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marisylvia, I stayed in the same apartment in Barcelona (also in 2004) and really loved it. It's a very special rental. I don't think Charlie is renting it anymore (though I did not have any bad experiences with him.)

I look forward to reading more of your report about Venice, too. You sure picked an awesome neighborhood!
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Old May 17th, 2009, 04:43 PM
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I was so intent on working on the Trip Report that I didn't see the other posts. I am still learning the ins and outs of Photobucket.
Shellio, we also like to go to Paris for a month, but I hope I can convince you to do the same in Venice. It is a fascinating place, with a seductive ambience like nowhere else.

As for cooking pancakes today, it doesn't get very hot where we live. We're on top of the same hill as the Mormon Temple, we're on its right looking from San Francisco. It''s unusual to get over the mid-eighties here.

Swisshiker, thanks for the great story. Part of our plan is to keep our weight down and our health up, with the fruit and cereal. When we're in Europe we buy Nestle's whole wheat flakes, we learned the Italian: fiocchi di frumenti integrale. It is very good. We splurge on our lunches, though.

Taconictraveler, you must live near that bridge...One of the reasons I'm writing this trip report is to tell other travelers about some of the artists and artisans we met while wandering around Venice. We talked to them, and learned that they have a hard time staying in business, as it is so expensive in Venice. I want to let people know about them in this and other travel forums. It is the influx of tourists which is a curse and a blessing for Venice. You see so many schlock shops, but if you are persistent and wander away from St. Mark's Square, which has become Tourist Central, you will see real people and find shops selling fine merchandise at fair prices. But really, Venice is so quiet, so shimmering, so quirky. No cars! And the bells in the campaniles ring out morning, noon and evening. And the people we met there are lovely; rather formal and polite, like people in Paris.
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Old May 17th, 2009, 04:48 PM
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Rialtogirl, did you meet Enric, too? I don't know what happened with Charlie. I'd read all the comments praising him, but he really lost it with us. Asking him to call the taxi was the second thing we asked of him, so it's not as if we were demanding. When I called, I heard the baby crying in the background. I think he was stressed, but he was incredibly rude to us, when we needed him to do something very simple. I hope he and his family are all right. Erminia, unlike Enric, speaks very good English, and was lovely.
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Old May 17th, 2009, 04:59 PM
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Well, now you've gone and done it! I was patting myself on the back, because I hadn't gone through those ever lovin' missin' Venice blues. But, reading your words and seeing the photos has done it. I'm now going to sit in my darkened room, sobbing quietly.

I didn't realise that the beautiful sweater John wore at our lunch was a Venice purchase.

I'm going to tell some of my Italy loving friends about your post. Get up early, please, and keep going. xx
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