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amyb May 21st, 2006 06:14 PM

Paris - Venice Trip Report -- long!
Nutshell summary

Where: Paris/Venice

How long: 4 nights/3 nights

Guidebooks used: Frommers, Rick Steves, Eyewitness Top 10 for each city, and the inimitable advice from my fellow travelers here.

Museum pass tally: Paid 45E, went to 52E worth of museums!

Day One
Friday, May 5/Saturday, May 6

Departed Boston on time and arrived in Paris on time at 8:35 a.m. Flight and service were fine, as I usually experience with Air France. I called Paris Shuttle after I made it through Passport Control but by the time I got my luggage (last off the plane, apparently) the shuttle had already been around twice for me (so said someone standing nearby waiting for another shuttle) and I waited about 15 minutes more for him to arrive. I was at my hotel by 11 a.m. after dropping off one other party.

This was my fourth trip to Paris and first trip to Venice, but first solo excursion to both. I had a list of things I wanted to revisit or see for the first time in Paris and I was ready to tackle it.

Since the room wasn�t ready, it was off to explore. It was overcast, warm and a bit muggy, but I was ready to tackle St. Germain, where I�d never been before. The hotel was about 2 minutes from the Tuileries metro stop and the Tuileries garden itself. I strolled around outside, hoping the constant exposure to outdoors and bright light would reset my clock faster. Little did I know I�d spend the next 6 hours walking, walking, walking�

Crossed over to St. Germain and headed immediately for St-Germain-des-Pres and St. Sulpice. I had noticed on the webcams before I left that there is construction ongoing on the left-hand tower at St. Sulpice, which sort of detracted from the view of the façade, but hey, it took me 2 tries to see Notre Dame without scaffolding, why should this be any different? The church is much larger than I expected. I had recently re-read The Da Vinci Code in preparation for this trip and the movie release (so shoot me, I liked the book!) It was interesting to confirm that the Rose Line is really a hoax, but more interesting to learn about the obelisk in the church which allows sunlight through a hole in the top of it at certain times of year and illuminates the altar through it. Things like that (Stonehenge, Newgrange) tend to fascinate me. And this did. I can barely thread a needle, so to be able to construct an obelisk to do this rates in my book.

Off next to the Musée National du Moyen-Age, aka the Cluny, which had been on my list years ago after reading The Lady and the Unicorn. Here I bought the four day museum pass for 45 euro. I was one person Paris would lose money on with this pass. The museum was wonderful. I am not usually impressed with medieval art or such, but this really was quite interesting. The Ste. Chapelle stained glass exhibit was pretty and the pieces from Notre Dame interesting to see up close. But the unicorn tapestries stole the show. They definitely tell you a story but certainly leave you wondering just what it is her heart desires. This was a wonderful experience.

Next I walked on to the Pantheon, enjoying the neighborhood and fresh air along the way. Foucault�s Pendulum was certainly a curiosity and unique to see in person, but I would not have made the trek here for that. I managed to find the tombs of Hugo, Curie, Voltaire and Dumas down in the basement. While that was somewhat novel, I don�t think I�d say the Pantheon is a must-see for anyone and if I�d known how anti-climatic it would be I probably wouldn�t have walked up hill for it. But a 20 minute walk brought me to Notre Dame and�

LUNCH. After much research, I carefully selected where I wanted to eat in both Paris and Venice. Many of my ideas were fueled by the passionate posters on this forum. And if you followed me through Prague and Vienna on my first solo voyage, you�ll know that I eat a big meal mid-day to get into places I would otherwise need reservations for and I might not feel as comfortable at alone at night. I decided to follow suit here. It also turned out to be considerably cheaper than dinner too in some cases. Le Caveau d�Isle on Ile St. Louis was my destination and I was not disappointed. I started with salmon tartar on toast, with some diced onion and olive oil. It had a bit of a bite to it and was a wonderful warm up to my main course � the oh-so French (not!) thai shrimp on rice. Not sure why, but that was what appealed to me at that point. I kick myself now for letting jetlag get the best of me because now I�d give anything to have a French plate put in front of me, but in all reality it was excellent. There was sliced zucchini with it that was pretty tasty. I followed this up with my first crème brulee of the trip, which was excellent. You don�t get it like this at home, no matter how you try. Total cost for lunch was 19.95 plus 5 for a bottle of Evian.

Call me crazy but anyone who can pass Berthillon without one is a better person than I. So despite just having a rather good meal, I had an ice cream too. Hey, it�s not dairy farm sized like at home, so two little golf ball of ice cream won�t kill me. I had the white chocolate and dark chocolate orange, a great combination and something nice to enjoy on my walk past Notre Dame and on to Ste. Chapelle.

Now here is where the question cropped up for the first time. Why, oh why, don�t people buy the Museum Pass? I must have passed 300 people, easily, on the way to the front of the queue. I suppose I shouldn�t complain because if everyone did what we savvy travelers do, there�d probably be no benefit to us. But there was no way I was going to spend any of my vacation in line like that. Crazy!

This was the first sight/museum I went through metal detectors for, and I don�t recall having done that in the past. I�ve talked to a few people about it since I got back, and some say it�s part of the post 9/11 world, others say it�s due to a rash of violence against artwork that�s happened of late. Anyone know?

So I passed some time revisiting the stained glass and chatting with fellow travelers also referring to Rick Steves� guide (this would become a recurring theme). I�d been to the church on each of my previous trips, I love it that much, so coming back here now was like revisiting an old friend. As would my next stop: the Rodin Museum. I bought a carnet of metro tickets and was on my way.

I absolutely love Rodin and this would be my fourth trip here as well. They�ve rearranged the museum since my last visit. The Kiss is no longer right inside the front door and the gift shop is out on the street where you first enter. But otherwise, the sculptures are as beautiful as I remember, and I found it interesting that my taste and favorites have changed the 5 years since my last visit. It was somewhat overcast and rain was threatening, which gave the gardens an eerie feel, particularly with the black-colored statues, but there was finally a cooling breeze coming through as well. One noteable addition to the collection that I don�t recall from before is a Munch colored pencil sketch of The Thinker in the garden. Quite small but very pretty.

I stayed until the museum closed, which was delightful having it essentially to myself with so few people inside. I returned to the Hotel des Tuileries to check out the room and have a shower. As I mentioned in another post, the hotel�s location cannot be beat. I left my hotel at 8:15 a.m. and was in line at the Louvre by 8:22. The neighborhood was extremely quiet. Plenty of ATMs and shops for buying water and snacks nearby. Internet cafe right around the corner. Tuileries metro about 2 minutes, Pyramides about 4 minutes away. Could walk to Opera in about 10. Angelina's about 8.

The hotel�s staff was attentive and friendly. However, the hotel itself and the room appeared clean but there was just something about it that didn't sit well with me. My room smelled a bit off (garbage-y, but I couldn't find the source). It wasn't until I moved on to my wonderful hotel in Venice that I realized it just didn't feel clean to me. Breakfast (not included but convenient) was great, and the girl serving was quite pleasant. I can't give it a wholehearted recommendation, but if you go in expecting to get what you pay for (115 euro a night for that central a location), you shouldn't be disappointed. I've stayed in a lot worse, unfortunately!

Rested for about 45 minutes then headed out to a local brasserie for a croquet monsieur and salad. This cost me 20 euros, more than my wonderful lunch! Crazy! In bed at 9:00, jetlag be damned!

amyb May 21st, 2006 06:15 PM

Day Two
Sunday, May 7

Had breakfast today for an extra 13 euro at the hotel. I just couldnt be bothered going out to try to find cheaper. This was convenient and the offerings were robust. Just about anything I was looking for was on offer. I certainly at my share!

I was about to commit savvy-traveler hari kari, though. I was going to the Louvre on Free Museum Sunday. Museum Pass or no, I wanted to do this today as it was overcast and I was saving whatever nice morning that came my way for Giverny. Today was overcast and cool, so off to the Louvre I went. At the underground inverted pyramid (or keeper of the Grail) entrance, there were already about 40 people in line at 8:25. By 9 there were well over 200. This was where I learned that no one really respects queues. Because as soon as the gates opened, it was each man for himself. I forgot that I was not at the Filenes Basement Bridal Gown sale after all, but just stuck in the midst of a group of voracious tourists, all with heads down, staring at guidebooks directing them to their grail, which of course, was the Mona Lisa.

Id only been to the Louvre once before, on a day trip from London on my first trip to Paris. And admittedly, I went to see the Big Three myself: Venus, Mona and Winged Victory. But that was 8 years ago, I was a younger and less wise traveler then. These people will surely spread out, head elsewhere in the museum, right?

Wrong! And lucky for me! I followed Rick Steves tour of the Louvre on this visit, and managed to have some private time with Venus de Milo. Im talking about 10 minutes of just me and the statue -- no guards, no other tourists. How is that possible? I got some great unobstructed and uninvaded photos and enjoyed her beauty in silence. (Now if only I could manage this at the Accademia in Florence!) I then made my way to Winged Victory, where I picked up the well-worn trail to the Mona Lisa and got lost in the crush.

Sadly, things with Mona have changed since 1998. I recall it as being a room with an each-man-for-his-own policy. If you can make it to the front, lucky you. Now there is a cordoned line that MUST be kept moving. No stopping to pause or look longer than a second. I stood off to the side, not in line, and wondered how much of Monas smirk is now due to the royalties she and the Louvre will be getting off the movie releasehonestly, it couldnt be more publicized or obvious in the Louvre itself! I didnt know how I felt about that until I saw an interview with the director when I got home. Their goal in allowing the use of the Louvre for filming was to increase visitor ship, particularly in the younger demographic. I guess if an average of 25,000 a day isnt enough for you, this is one way to boost it!

Mona Lisa is prettier than I remember and I appreciate the detail more now that Ive read about both Leonardo and other masters of his time. I also visited the French neo-classical works which were more impressive than I remember and really tell the story of the revolution. One thing Id recommend visiting that Steves book covers is the Apollo Salon, which is a wonderful indicator of how the Louvre used to be, when it really was used as a palace. Quite visually stunning.

As a Michelangelo fan, I obviously sought out his beautiful slaves and additionally Canovas Cupid and Psyche, which I fell in love with years ago. All still gorgeous. Looking out the window to the courtyard, the lines were insanely long to get in, wrapping around and around Peis Pyramid. It was about 10:30 now, so I decided to head to the Richelieu Wing to seek out the Vermeers and other Dutch paintings. Talk about night and day. I think I was the ONLY person in this part of the museum! It was cooler and quieter, no frustrated loud tourists, no squacking guards, just nice and quiet, the way a museum should be! The two Vermeers were beautiful and I felt honored to see them at all, given how hard it is at home to find them.

By 11:30 I decided to evacuate for a change of pace and headed to Opera Garnier, where Id visited a few times before but not got in due to construction and rehearsals. I lucked out this time. The sign at the box office said the auditorium was closed, which crushed me, but I paid in anyway and started to walk around the halls. I then saw a door to a box standing open and tourists peering in. Eureka! I can look inside, and I noted that a door on the other side was open as well. We could indeed get inand how stunning it was. The vibrant red seats and walls, the shining gold accent, the gorgeous Chagall ceiling. Oh what a delight! Id so love to see a performance here, because it somehow felt so intimate. Next time, Amy, next time

Revisiting another old favorite, I headed out to the Marmottan. Id hoped to visit this the same day I went to Giverny, but as I only had two more days in Paris and on one of them this would be closed, I decided to do this on a whim (the beauty of traveling alone!). Oh man, it was just so much better than I remembered. I am crazily attracted to his color choices and I love Impressionism. I know a lot of people think it facile, but theres just something about it that is so beautiful to me. Ive seen a lot of Monets around the world, but somehow, this is just the nicest collection in my eyes, how Id love my basement to look like that! (And lets silently curse the Orangerie for postponing their opening until the week after Im herenext time, Amy, next time).

By now I was feeling hungry and it was getting late for lunch. Call me crazy and certainly zig-zagging across the city, but I felt drawn back to Ile St. Louis. Flipping through my guidebook on the metro though, my page of notes opened to a Fodors recommendation, Le Reminet. So off I went there instead.

This turned out to be THE meal of my vacation. The purple façade shouted to me from quay-sideit almost has a view of Notre Dame and is in close walking distance. There are maybe 10 tables in here and one very hard-working, pleasant and helpful waiter. I started with a mixed salad. My main course was a pork chop in parmesan and caramelized onions with au gratin-like potatoes. Both of which were absolutely heavenly! I mean, I am NOT a pork person and this meal just bowled me over. Of course, based on the infamous crème brulee threads here on Fodors, I had to have the crème brulee. I was not at all disappointed. The vanilla beans are bourbon-soaked and you could see the butter in the crème. Oh myit cant get any better. I completely blank on what this cost, but I will guess under 30E.

By the time I emerged, the sun had finally come out for the first time since Id arrived, so I changed into sneakers at the hotel and hit the Champs Elysees, where I experienced the first crowds of the week. V-E Day was the next day, so the Champs was decked out in flags and the Arc de Triomphe had a massive flag hanging in the arch. There was also some type of remembrance service going on and honor guard tending to the flame. I missed the service while I climbed the Arc and given the gorgeous view, I walked to Trocadero to take in the Eiffel with such great weather.

I was tiring out now, so after a quick rest at the hotel, I headed back to Ile St. Louis (I am unnaturally drawn here) for a gruyere omelette and hot chocolate crepe at Au Lys du Argent. The omelette was amazing (well, I make mine with egg beaters and no-fat cheese, so anything may have been an improvement to me!) but I topped the night off with wild strawberry and gingerbread ice cream from Berthillon (they were closing down for Mon-Tues and this was all they had left, but the gingerbread was surprisingly good).

I enjoyed a string quartet playing on the bridge between Notre Dame and Ile St. Louis. They were a joy to listen to and watch and the night was perfect for sitting and soaking up the atmosphere with an ice cream

amyb May 21st, 2006 06:15 PM

Day Three
Monday, May 8

Still hoping for a good day for Giverny, but woke at 2 a.m. to pouring rain that kept up most of the morning, so I was rearranging my itinerary in the early morning hours. I decided to hit the Louvre a second time to enjoy the sections I hadnt visited before, namely the Spanish masters and all the French paintings. I somehow stumbled on a couple of early Monets, portraits by Renoir and a gorgeous bath scene by Degas. I couldnt tell you where to save my life, though. By the time I emerged, the sun was peeping out (of course) and I needed to switch raincoat for lighter coat and sunglasses. Spent some time in the Tuileries now that the weather was nicer and decided to tour the Conciergerie, which I never had before. There wasnt a lot to it, actually, and Im glad I didnt put it on the head of the list on my previous visits. This was another site I was glad to have visited with fewer crowds, I cant imagine some of these smaller places at peak season!

For lunch today I returned to a restaurant Id been to years back, Il Castafiore on Ile St. Louis. It looks the same, but it is not quite as I remember it otherwise. I had a caprese salad and three cheese ravioli, both of which were just average. To redeem myself, I stopped at a chocolate shop on Rue St. Louis which had all of these decadent chocolate flavors. After much deliberation, I settled for raspberry white chocolate and chocolate mendiant, which were excellent. I dare say I liked these better than Berthillon!

From here I decided to do something less touristy and more mundane and took the metro to Au Bon Marche. Id read somewhere on this board that it has a wonderful craft floor. Well, wonderful is an understatement. I spent nearly 90 minutes combing the store, mostly the craft section. If you are looking for unique ribbon, buttons, fat quarters for quilting and cross-stitch accessories and kits, this is the place. I went nuts here and had a blast. It was a fun way to spend the afternoon.

After shopping, I took the metro toward the Eiffel Tower and walked to it for some close up shots and to see it up close and personal again. Id already ascended it once, but just wanted to see it again. This is when it actually hit me that I was IN PARIS! Imagine that, three days and it takes this to slap me into reality! It is just so deceiving how big it is until youre there. I was awestruck all over again!

I then snuck back in the direction of my hotel and stopped at Place de la Concorde for some photos (and to confirm the Orangerie was indeed still closed, which it was, sadly!). Here, there was a Japanese wedding party dancing in the fountains and otherwise having their wedding photos shot. Kind of interesting!

On the way back to the hotel I passed the famous Angelinas and decided to pop in for a snack. I had the famous hot chocolate and a piece of Vendome cake (dark chocolate with chocolate fondant and etc) and just about died from sugar overload. But that hot chocolate is amazing. It hesitates ever so slightly as you pour it, as if its laziness is a sign of its decadence. Heavenly!

And for the evening, what would turn out to be the highlight of my trip was a concert at Ste. Chapelle, by Les Solistes Francais, a six piece string group performing Vivaldis Four Seasons (my favorite piece). It was spectacular and money well spent. The church has exceptionally good acoustics, no need for amplification at all, and to be there when it is not overrun with tourists murmuring and mumbling and tripping over each other allowed me to enjoy the stained glass all the more. Just a wonderful evening.

amyb May 21st, 2006 06:16 PM

Day Four
Tuesday, May 9

Today it was Giverny or bust. It was the main reason I had returned to Paris and I had to do it rain or shine. Well, it was incredibly overcast, damp and cool. I took the 8:16 train out of St. Lazare, arrived in Vernon at 9:02 and the shuttle got us to the gate just at opening. The unfavorable weather must have chased off other visitors, because there were maybe 20 people max in the gardens that morning until about 10:30 when a school group and another bus showed up. But this was wonderful for me. The garden in front of his house was beautiful, in its messy blur of color-coordinated patches and clusters. I wish I could identify more than tulips and wisteria, but know that at this point in time, both were out in full force. His Japanese water garden was like a mecca for a fan, and it was interesting to either squint real hard or take off your glasses as I overheard one tour guide, to see it as he painted it. Just a wonderful, inspirational experience. From his paintings, Id expected the pond to be a bit bigger, but you could see how he painted what he did there and how inspired he was by the light and the colors. This was a great learning experience. I also visited inside his home, the kitchen and dining room of which are examples of his love of color. And the view from his bedroom is just amazing. After a quick stop in the shop, I walked up the road and visited his tomb as well, paying homage to the Master. It started to rain steadily as we were leaving Vernon. I managed to catch the 12:54 train back to Paris with a nice woman from Philadelphia, with whom I swapped Paris ideas and stories about home. We had picked up a croque monsieur at a bar across from the train station while we were waiting. Upon arrival back in Paris, I went immediately to spend the rest of my day at the Musee dOrsay.

Another long line that I darted past with the museum card. I started to follow Rick Steves guide through the first floor anyway, but so much had been moved, lent or otherwise unfindable that I gave up. This was the first time I have found his books so incorrect. But this helped me to discover things I hadnt seen on previous trips, such as in rooms 19 and 22 on the first floor, there are 11 Monets I hadnt previously known were there, as well as some Cassatts and Pisarros. I guess it pays to wander and not stick to your books!

Quite a bit of the Impressionist collection was on loan, mostly to the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. And Whistlers Mother was headed to my hometown for an exhibition, the irony! But what remained was still beautiful and I was thankful Id been here twice before to see it all anyway.

I had some time before a Gregorian chant at Notre Dame tonight, so I strolled in the rain past the Orsay and down towards Les Deux Magots. I felt compelled to try one of the two famous cafes, so I escaped the rain with goat cheese on toast and hot chocolate as a late afternoon snack. I then headed back to my hotel, but stopped at WH Smith to browse some books for a bit and then a rest for a while at the hotel. The chanting wasnt until 8:30, so I had a quick omelette behind Notre Dame again and savored some blood orange and grapefruit ice cream from one of the Berthillon resellers on my way back to Notre Dame for the chanting. The performance was wonderful and apparently relaxing, as I awoke when my head dropped forward about 9:20, so I decided perhaps I should slip out and make it an early night, given that I was headed to Venice the next day. So I did, enjoying the various landmarks illuminated on my walk back to the hotel.

amyb May 21st, 2006 06:16 PM

Day Four
Wednesday, May 10

Paris Shuttle picked me up slightly ahead of the agreed on 7:00 a.m. We were at the airport by 7:20, I kid you not. My flight was at 9:55, but I ended up using most of this time to check in as there was only one agent working until about 9:00. Two elderly Swiss gentlemen started an uprising, shouting angrily in French when the agent pulled people out of line to check them in ahead of us since their flights were leaving imminently. I didnt catch the entire gist of the shouting, but did understand choose another airline. Hmmmmm.

Weather kept us grounded for over an hour longer, and we arrived in Venice at 12:45 instead of 11:30. The luggage came right out though, and I was walking to the dock for the Alilaguna by 1:15. I had paid 11E in the airport for a ticket. When I got to the docks (this is about a 10 minute walk with luggage, and Im a fast walker!) I learned the next regular Alilaguna wasnt leaving until 1:45, but one at 1:30 was and it was express, Id be to San Marco in 45 minutes rather than over an hour. So I paid 14E more and off I went.

There is nothing like approaching Venice by water (as if I had another choice). But to see landmarks like the campanile and the Doges Palace as you pass by it is just so cool. I tried not to look to closely because I wanted my first view to be memorable, and it would be. First I had to get to my hotel. Being left at the San Marco stop in the midst of all these carts selling drinks and junk souvenirs at mid-day is frustrating. Navigating through the throngs with (what I will now admit is) too heavy luggage is a pain. Id tried to limit my packing and spending in Paris to keep it light. But what wouldve worked best for me here was no luggage at all at this time of day! So after finding Calle Valleresso and navigating up and down over two bridges, I found Hotel Anastasia, nestled in behind Hotel Violino dOro, just steps from San Marco.

Hotel Anastasia is wonderful. I had a single room on the third floor. The hotel itself is on a quiet little square that it shares with the Westin, I believe. Id booked into both the Hotel Violino dOro and Hotel Concordia on previous trips (both of which I had to cancel due to family illness/death) and was glad that Id opted for the Anastasia this time around. The Violino was on a canal but quite close to the Bauer. A view out a canal-view window wouldve required you to lean out and look down. It was also over the San Moise Gondolier boathouse, which I noticed was busy, loud and raucous into the night-time hours. My biggest problem at the Anastasia were the mosquitos I encountered by leaving the windows open all night. The staff here was so kind and friendly. The room was immaculate and smelled fresh and clean. The bathroom, as Id found all over Italy in my travels, was huge, bigger than the bedroom itself. Best of all, I was less than a minute on foot from Piazza San Marco, so that was my first stop.

I entered the piazza through an arch under the Correr Museum. The site absolutely blew me away. I think given that this was my first successful attempt of three to get to Venice, I was overcome that I was actually here, but I actually had to wipe away tears as I approached the basilica. This was just beautiful. And I think it helped that as cool, wet and raw Paris had been the last two days, Venice gave me bright blue skies, sun and temperatures in the mid 70s. This was wonderful!

I was ravenous, so I headed to a Frommers guidebook recommendation, Do Forni, which is off a sidestreet just to the left of the basilica as you are looking at it. Do Forni had a dark, plush interior and a team of serious waiters in white coats to look after me. It was after 2:00 and I think they were preparing to shut down until dinner, but they did allow me in. I ordered a shrimp appetizer, done in lemon and olive oil and a buccatini with tomato and bacon. I will say that both were just average. There was nothing special about either, and, as a native of the north shore of Boston, I have absolutely had better seafood at home than that shrimp. I know Venice is known for seafood, but I think this experience put me off it the rest of the trip. Sadly, this experience cost me nearly 60E, but now I was free to sightsee.

At 3:30, there were no lines and no waiting at the Basilica, so I toured it, paying additional for the museum, Treasury and altarpiece. Again, I followed both Rick Steves guide and Frommers, finding Steves to have more information and tidbits that made the visit memorable. Ive seen quite a few religious houses of worship, but the Basilica is in a class by itself. The exterior has beautiful marble and carved work. The interior with the mosaics and gilding and just the size and feeling of it all is overwhelming. The view from the horse-level of the museum is worth the price of admission itself, but there are a few other things worth seeing up stairs, including the view down into the basilica from above.

I didnt find the Treasury worth the effort, even with the relic from the pillar Christ was to have been beaten on. But the golden altarpiece is something else. If you appreciate gold, gems and cloisonné work, you have to stop and see this. Simply amazing.

After the visit, I decided to follow Rick Steves walk from San Marco to the Rialto. I found La Fenice, which was a joy to see after reading City of Fallen Angels, but unfortunately all tours for the week were already booked up. The Bovolo steps were fun and the view from there was interesting. It was definitely fun walking through the various neighborhoods and seeing Rialto Bridge for the first time. (Again, another Youre here realization!)

I wandered back in the general direction of San Marco, allowing myself to just follow the yellow signs and stop at whatever interested me. I stopped at a pet store to buy toys for my cat and an internet café to say hi to friends and family. Honestly, the fun in Venice is truly to just wander. The only caveat I offer is if you find a store or something you want to revisit, just see it now or buy it now, because chances are slim youll find it again if its not on a main thoroughfare!

I made it back to my hotel to pick up a coat, since it was after 7 and the wind off the canal was cooling things off. I decided to buy a 72 hour vaporetto pass and road up and back on the Grand Canal, taking the fast boat up and the slow boat back. I returned to Piazza San Marco and had a couple of sparkling wine drinks at Café Florian and appreciated the dueling orchestras. It really is great fun! And so I ended my first day in Venice

amyb May 21st, 2006 06:17 PM

Day Six
Thursday, May 11

After a restful (although mosquito-bitten) night, I had the included breakfast at the hotel, which was generous and filling. I had a 9:55 reservation for the Secret Itinerary Tour of the Doges Palace. I had time beforehand to follow the Steves walk around and behind San Marco through San Zaccaria. This was quick and interesting, leading through another nearby neighborhood.

I picked up my ticket in the reservation office. Again, no lines here to cut ahead of, but I could see how youd have to in a different season. The guide met us promptly in the courtyard and 12 of us took off on the Secret Tour. If I make one recommendation to you in Venice, its to take this tour. I dont know how people visit the Doges Palace without it, unless theyve done a lot of reading on the history of Venice. The guide explained how the government worked, how restricted the Doge really was, how his cabinet and the Council of Ten operated and rotated to prevent conflicts of interest and overwhelming power. Seeing the offices was interesting, but the Casanova story and seeing his cells made quite an impression on me. He sounds like a character, even if in his own mind only, and Im tempted to read his autobiography. The tour lasted just shy of 90 minutes, and left us to finish touring the rest of the palace on our own. Again, I referred to Frommers and Rick Steves to fill in the holes.

From here I took the vaporetto from San Marco up to Rialto and did Rick Steves walk from Rialto to the Frari Church. About halfway I stopped for a rolled pizza and Orangina in a bar in a large square. It was another glorious day, so it felt good to be out strolling and soaking up the sun, no coat and short sleeves were essential! The Frari church is really worth the trek. It looks very bland and unassuming on the exterior, but inside it is just beautiful. Canovas tomb is there, as well as Titians. I felt an odd sense of déjà vu upon seeing Canovas tomb, until I read that it was a copy of that which he did for the princess Maria Teresa in Vienna, which I saw a few years ago. As for the rest of the church, I am not at all a fan of art from this period, particularly religious art, but seeing it in its natural surroundings as it was intended to be seen is striking. It is difficult not to be overwhelmed by the beauty of it and how it so often tells a story.

To be honest, I was totally museum-ed out at this point, so I skipped the Scuola nearby and opted for the Accademia instead. Again, I think while I appreciated a lot of it, it just didnt appeal to me like the art I visited in either the Louvre or the Orsay. Plus I think I had a serious case of Stendahls setting in since all I wanted was to get back out into the sun.

I walked to Santa Maria della Salute and admired the church on the lip of the Grand Canal itself. I visited the inside and saw more Titians (or is it Tintorettos?) and then returned to the hotel to drop off some shopping Id done along the way. (Guggenheim memorabilia for my sister, jewelry for my mother a gondolier polo shirt for Dad)

I decided the best way to beat museum overload was to shop. I more than made up for what I did not spend in Paris, by far. I found a small oil painting of a canal that I just loved and a gold charm and some Murano glass charms for me and my sister. The only thing I really had left to buy was lace, and I was waiting for Burano for that, so I window shopped and got lost in the streets just west of San Marco (the Mereceria area and streets around there).

Somewhere in my research, here or elsewhere, Id read about Trattoria Vino da Arturo, and it really appealed to me, so I headed there (Calle degli Assassini) for dinner. It was tough to find, I must have passed it a few times before I realized where I was, but this was a great meal. An older gentleman owned and ran the front of the house. He seemed gruff at first but I got him talking in my limited Italian and told him he was talked about kindly on the internet. He told me that the restaurant has been around for over 30 years and the locals love it. The tourists come for seafood and to sit outside, neither of which he offers. But I had spaghetti gorgonzola for the starter and a scallopine limone as the main plate and it was tremendous. This was the best pasta Id had since Tuscany last year. There was just enough gorgonzola on it and it wasnt overpowering. And the veal just melted in your mouth. An excellent choice and a friendly chat made this a meal worth remembering. It was 49E for that and a liter of water.

I ended today in Café Lavena on Piazza San Marco having a limoncello. This is one of the cafes without an orchestra, so you dont pay the 5E cover to sit and listen to music, but from here you can hear both. I grabbed a quick gelato on the way back to the hotel and called it a night.

amyb May 21st, 2006 06:18 PM

Day 7
Friday, May 12

My last day in Venice! Honestly, I should have booked at least one more day. I realized Id done so much walking and looking that I hadnt spent much time just sitting. I was feeling tired and worn out, but decided to spend today going out to Burano after Id done a couple more things in the piazza. I was at the Campanile when it opened and was in the first group up to the top. What a beautiful view in the early morning light. San Giorgio Maggiore looked ethereal in the haze, as did Salute. I can appreciate now how Monet painted here and captured light at different times a day. You really have to experience it to appreciate it (my favorite time was late afternoon, when everything seemed to take a slightly orange glow from the setting sun). It was neat to see the piazza practically empty of both people and pigeons this early. I then went to the Correr Museum, where I ended up having to pay for entry to both the Correr and Doges Palace. There doesnt seem to be a Correr-only admission if youd done the Secret Itinerary tourbear this in mind!

The Canovas here were exquisite. One that was listed in the guidebooks seemed to be missing. The historical Venetian pieces, particularly the maps and painting of the Doges, really came together well with the stories and info Id heard on the Doges Palace tour. I think Id do these both in the same day for consistency if I were to do it again.

From here I decided to walk to Fondamente Nuove from San Marco to catch the boat to Burano. There was a vaporetto from San Zaccaria, but Id just missed it and could get to FN faster on foot. Or so I thought. Even getting lost twice, it was only a 20 minute walk. I meant to mention, there is a lot of construction going on, particularly along the Grand Canal between San Zaccaria and San Marco, including the Doges Palace entrance area, which looks like an excavation, and all along Fondamente Nuove. Theyve moved the stop to Burano about 50 meters further away, and its not visible from the other docks, so its deceiving to those not in the know. I found it though and enjoyed the ride out to Burano.

Burano is like entering another world after Venice. It was not terribly crowded this day, but there was just a feeling that Id gone back in time and this tiny village was all mine for the exploring. I walked quite a bit, admiring the color choices and combinations on all the little houses, and wondering with astonishment at how or why that tower hasnt fallen yet! I spent some time shopping for lace, which I didnt think was too expensive at all, and it was certainly beautiful. And I also found a cute watercolor print that I bought from the artist near the vaporetto stop. Somewhere in here I picked up a panini and Orangina and had gelato. All in all, I spent about 90 minutes in Burano, and would be hard-pressed to stay longer, so I moved on to Torcello. It was only about a 5 minute ride over, then a 10 minute walk to the church (again, more construction that seriously detours you through fields and sandy paths). It was extremely warm today and not a pinch of shade to be found, so the interior of the church was a welcome relief. The mosaics here were intriguing and really interesting. I cant believe that a church with such treasures exists in such a remote location!

The vaporetto back to the mainland nearly put me to sleep, but I headed over to San Giorgio Maggiore to admire the view and the church before resting a bit at my hotel and doing an initial pack of my suitcase to see how much Id have to discard before I left. Good news was nothing as long as I make it to the airport.

Some folks from Philadelphia were talking to me this morning about a place theyd had dinner the night before and gave me the name but no location. Oddly enough, I was flipping through Rick Steves book and found a restaurant with the same name, La Rivetta. So I headed in that direction and found it pretty easily. It is nearly tucked under a bridge, so easy to miss. But when I walked in and a table of local men were sipping grappa, I knew Id hit something. Then the gondoliers came in, so this had to be well recommended. Well, the three gentlemen who were running the front of the house, the cicchetti bar and the chef himself all took exquisite care of me. They kept trying to feed me more (too thin, they say!) and they allowed me to participate in their debate on bad pasta in America, allowing me that only Barilla is worthy outside of Italy. But the meal was good as well. I had gnocchi with marinara sauce and veal done Milanese style, that is lightly breaded and fried with a squeeze of lemon. This was really excellent. I could have stayed for dessert but the place was nearly packed and I surrendered my table to yet another pair of gondoliers. The meal was 24E with water.

I did seek out the gelateria that both Rick Steves and Frommers raved about, but didnt see any flavors that I hadnt seen elsewhere, they appeared pretty standard. I picked up Pane al Doge for breakfast the next morning, since Id be up and gone before the hotel was ready for breakfast. And I tried crema del doge gelato, which was quite good (like a thicker stracciatella with more chocolate swirled through it).

I ended my night and my stay at Café Quadri where I experienced a sgroppino. Oh my lord! I knew about this and should have sought it out my first night! It would have made for a much more interesting couple of nights! While extremely potent, it was also perfect for a warmer night outside. I must make these this summer by the pool! So while my fellow Americans were requesting New York, New York and Free Bird from the orchestra (only one got played, you figure it out), I was quietly smiling to myself while enjoying the glow off my sgroppino. I would have loved a second, but feared missing the 6:50 Alilaguna the next morning. So off to bed I went.

amyb May 21st, 2006 06:18 PM

Last Day

I made the Alilaguna, and found it much easier to navigate to the docks now that I knew where I was going and there was no crowd at 6:30 a.m. I did get up a bit earlier to spend some quiet time in the piazza at 6 a.m. I highly recommend experiencing as much of Venice as you can at all hours of the day, because it really changes personality as the day wears on. This morning it looked lazy and not ready to wake. Mid-day it looks its happiest teeming with happy travelers and showing off her wears, at night it looks like your closest college drinking buddy.

Venice Airport was a joy to check in and transfer throughhow often can you say that? Efficient and quick, what more could you want. Four hour layover at CDG, most of which was used up going through both passport control and security at a makeshift international terminal in 2F, that is clearly not set up to handle these crowds (only 1 bar and 1 newsstand). Uneventful flight back to Boston on Air France and another lovely trip in the history books.

Now, where to next? ;-)

dina4 May 21st, 2006 06:49 PM

Hi Amy,

What a trip! I really enjoyed every minute. I'm leaving for Paris in less than a month and I can hardly wait!
Thank you so much for sharing!


Betsy May 21st, 2006 07:39 PM

Just had to look up a recipe. This one is courtesy of Giata De Laurentis on the Food Network website:

1 cup chilled Prosecco (Italian sparkling white wine)
2 tablespoons chilled vodka
1/3 cup frozen lemon sorbet
1/4 teaspoon chopped fresh mint leaves
Pour the Prosecco and vodka into 2 Champagne flutes, diving equally. Spoon a scoop of sorbet into each flute. Sprinkle with mint and serve immediately.


SusanP May 21st, 2006 08:12 PM

amy, I really enjoyed your report. I need to get back to both Paris and Italy as soon as possible!

Nikki May 22nd, 2006 12:33 AM

Wonderful report, thanks for the vicarious vacation.

fun4all4 May 22nd, 2006 04:53 AM

What a lovely report. Many thanks. Your descriptions of both the sites you visited and food you dined upon were fantastic.

I will be in Venice for the first time at the end of June - I can't wait.

speckles May 22nd, 2006 05:27 AM

Hi Amy. I read your report with interest as I'll be in both Paris and Venice in August. Sounded like you had a great time. The ice-cream is certainly on my list!

The last Venetian restaurant you went to sounded really inviting - La Rivetta. Do you remember the address? I don't believe we have Rick Steves' books here in Oz.

Statia May 22nd, 2006 06:03 AM

I enjoyed your report, Amy. Sounds like you had a lovely trip. :)

amyb May 22nd, 2006 06:51 AM

Thanks all, it was nice to relive it as I wrote it!

Speckles, I will look up the address for La Rivetta when I get home and post it tonight.

amyb May 22nd, 2006 09:17 AM

In case you want pictures as well:

And Betsy, thanks for the recipe!!! :-)

amarena May 22nd, 2006 10:09 AM

Lovely report... sounds like you had a very full and interesting week. Sgroppino sounds wonderful!! I'll have to try that during our August trip. Lovely photos as well... thanks so much for sharing!

another Amy B :)

amyb May 22nd, 2006 04:54 PM

As promised:

Trattoria alla Rivetta
"Just behind St. Mark's Basilica at the Ponte San Provolo Bridge between Campo SS Filippo e Giacomo and Campo S. Provolo"

Good luck and enjoy!

TRSW May 22nd, 2006 05:44 PM

Amy - Great report and photos. Thanks for sharing. I will use your restuarant suggestions for Paris when I make my first trip in October.


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