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Trip report: Northern Italy - The Great, the Good, and the Not so good

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Jun 10th, 2014, 04:36 PM
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Trip report: Northern Italy - The Great, the Good, and the Not so good

This is a report on my trip with my husband last September. Yes, it's a little late but better late than never(hopefully). My goal is to present some info that may be helpful to others planning their trips as I was helped when I was planning mine. I will review what we really liked but also not shy away from what we didn't. I will briefly mention the hotels we stayed at with my opinion about them but they will not be full hotel reviews, ditto for restaurants.

The basics: This was a 5 week independent trip starting in Zurich, taking the Bernina Express to Lake Como and then visiting Venice, Siena, Florence, Lucca, and Milan. We got around by train. I primarily used the Rick Steves guidebooks with input from other sources such as this site.

I will organize the report in segments(separate posts) for each area visited.

FIrst up: Since this is really a report on Italy, I will just briefly say we enjoyed Zurich. We spent one day there at the beginning of the trip and one at the end. We then took the train to Chur where we caught the Bernina the next morning. This was the very end of August and the weather was perfect, sunny all day. The scenery was gorgeous with a fair amount of snow still on the mountains. We had seats in a first class dome car and the views are great. The trip to Tirano was about 4 hours and seemed shorter as it is scenic the whole way. We had purchased a Eurail Pass that included Switzerland and Italy. The Bernina is covered under that but you do have to purchase a seat reservation. We did this well ahead of time about 3 months ahead. I did this on the train's own website and chose the seats I wanted, two by the window across from each other.

At Tirano, we transferred to a local Italian train to Varenna. You can buy tix at a ticket window when you get there or you can buy them in advance in Switzerland. We bought them in Switzerland and had them valiidated in Tirano at the ticket office because when we got there someone said we needed to do that. So it's probably better just to buy them in Tirano, probably cheaper there. Note: This train is NOT covered by Eurail as this train is run by Tren Nord, not Trenitalia.

This train is something of a rattletrap(air con is an open window) but it did the job and got us to Varenna. I had read in the Rick Steves guidebook that the platform in Varenna is not very long and you might have to get off where there is no platform but it was not a problem. Seemed like all cars stopped at the platform. Be ready to get off because the stop is short but they give you enough time so don't panic.

The Varenna station is not staffed and as I recall did not have ticket machines either. There were no taxis at the station(as I thought there would not be.) I knew we could walk to the hotel. We travel with one small suitcase and one travel backpack each. I pretty much knew wherethe hotel was but of course every thing looks different in real life. Two different Italians helped us find the place which was a nice introduction to Varenna. The hotel was the Hotel Albergo Milano(details in RS guidebook). It is perfectly located on a cliff above the lake with killer views. We booked one of the two front rooms with large, beautiful terraces, above the restaurant terrace. The room was small but fine, good bathroom. The terrace was almost as big as the room We stayed 4 nights. The weather was sunny and warm the whole time. Be aware there is no air conditioning. We just left the terrace doors open and was fine for us. It is very quiet at night.

Varenna - The town is cute as a button poised on the cliffs above the lake. This is one of those too-good-to be true European villages that keep many of us going back to Europe complete with the adorable church with ringing bells. We spent one entire day wandering around town and the Villa Monastere gardens(not a blockbuster but very nice with lovely lake views). And of course with some terracesitting time in the afternoon. George Clooney, eat your heart out! I should mention the town is full of steep, stepped lanes which make it charming but hard to negotiate for some. You are constantly going up and down getting in good walking shape for the rest of the trip!

Bellagio - We had a day trip to Bellagio via the fun and easy lake ferries. Bellagio is bigger than Varenna with upscale shopping that Varenna doesn't have(we don't care about that but
some might). Bellagio is a lovely place in it's own right but we were happy we stayed in Varenna. Above the harbour, Bellagio too is made up of steep, stepped lanes.

Villa Carlotta - Our third day we took the ferry to Villa Carlotta. The villa is nice. The gardens are the star of the show. We very much enjoyed them. A bit more crowded with tour groups than we anticipated considering the other areas of Lake Como were not particularly crowded as we were there at the end of the high season. After touring the villa we walked into Tremezzo. A fellow tourist had given us a tip to walk the Greenway from Tremezzo to Lenno. This turned out to be a great idea. There are signs for the Greenway in Tremezzo. It's a path that goes up into the hills, then levels out before descending into Lenno. It was about a 2 hour walk from the villa. It's not hard if you walk or hike much. It passes thru the quaint hamlet of Giulio. We then had lunch in Lenno and took the ferry back to Varenna. There is a ticket booth in Lenno to buy your tix back. This all made for a delightful day.

Varenna has plenty of restaurants even though it's small. We particularly enjoyed the restaurant at our hotel, upscale, sophisticated. Beautiful terrace at sunset. We also really enjoyed Quatro Pass in a tiny charming cobblestone pedestrian "street". Excellent pastas, service. A quintessential Italian experience eating outside in the little street.

Lake Como was a wonderful start for our Italian trip. It was fantasy Italy and we knew it. We didn't want to leave. I had debated about including this area on our first trip to Italy. We live in a scenic area and have hiked extensively in the West and I wondered if I would be impressed with this area. Needless to say I was. It's not just the natural beauty. It's the combination of that with the charming towns, great food and wine, overall ambiance.

Next post: On to Venice
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Jun 10th, 2014, 04:52 PM
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Great start! Thanks for sharing.
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Jun 10th, 2014, 05:58 PM
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Thanks for your report our upcoming trip will be similar. I hope we experience the same weather you had this August. We have reservations at the Du Lac in Varenna and will check out the restaurants you enjoyed.
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Jun 10th, 2014, 06:30 PM
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Thanks for sharing your experiences. We'll be doing part of your trip the other way in less than two months (i.e. Venice to Varenna, then to Zurich/OB via Tirano). If the Varenna station is not staffed and there are no machines, where do we get tickets for Tirano? Thanks for the restaurant recommendations as well! Eagerly awaiting the Venice portion of your report!
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Jun 10th, 2014, 08:32 PM
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Miladeg: I would go to a travel agency in Venice to see if they can sell you tix for Milan(assuming you are going to Varenna via Milan) to Varenna. In Varenna you can buy tix for Tirano at a small travel agency(more about this in the next post) This agency sold us tix for Trenitalia trains so I would think an agency in Venice could sell tix for Tren Nord trains but I don't know that for sure. Also, tix to Tirano might be available at a tobacco shop in Varenna but we didn't do that. The commission charged by the travel agency is very small.
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Jun 10th, 2014, 10:41 PM
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I realized after I wrote the Lake Como segment I should have mentioned another restaurant in Varenna:Ristorante Isola Nuova. An unpretentious trattoria run by two sisters. Friendly service, good food, very reasonable prices, above average wine list for a trattoria. Montepulciano nobile at a very reasonable price, anyone? Location details in Rick Steves Italy guidebook.

And now on to Venice. We purchased our tix for Varenna to Milan (Tren Nord train) at a small travel agency in Varenna. Very inexpensive. We also purchased tix for Trenitalia trains later in our trip for which we would not be using our Eurail pass, i.e. daytrip from Venice to Padua. They were open tix, no seat reservations required. Doing this we had all the train tix we needed. Never stood in line at tik windows or dealt with machines. We already had our mandatory seat res for those trains that required it purchased thru Rail Europe. Yes, I know we could have waited to do this in Italy but I'm the type of traveller who likes to have things pinned down. Details on travel agency location are in RS guidebook. It was a quick and easy process to get everything we needed.

So we walked to the Varenna station (hotel will arrange a taxi if you want), took the local train to Milan. I have read much about the confusing/and or scary Milan train station. We found it to be neither confusing nor scary. All the tracks seemed to be on one level. Not hard to find the trains. Standard info boards like everywhere else in Europe. We saw no potential pickpocket activity but yes don't wander off without your stuff. We had a first class pass. Train was nice and the first class car we were in almost full. We arrived late afternoon in Venice, got off the train, and were deposited into the chaotic wonder of Venice.

We had planned to get a vaporetto to Fondamente Nove and then walk to our hotel rather than do the pricey water taxi thing. So we proceeded to the ticket booths. We bought our tix from a surly clerk who wanted smaller Euro notes that we didn't have so she accepted what we had(which were not large bills). We managed to extract from her the general direction we should go to get the proper vaporetto and eventually found it. Trust me, this is a bit more confusing than studying it in the guidebooks. We arrived at the Fondamente and using our good map of Venice(ha, ha) we had bought before leaving home did find the hotel only taking one wrong turn. A major achievement! This was about a 15 minute walk over a couple of stepped bridges. If you have a lot of luggage or are not walkers, forget it, take the water taxi.

The hotel was Locanda la Corte in the Castello district. Details in RS Venice guidebook. A good location about 15 min walk from St. Mark's but out of ground zero craziness. Atmospheric hotel. Room(non canal side) was quite nice and large with traditional Venetian decor. Good size bathroom but TINY shower stall. Good air con. Unfortunately, the charming courtyard was undergoing an emergency repair the entire time we were there so didn't get the full experience of that. Hotel is on a small side canal and one of the breakfast tables looks right out on it. Pretty good breakfast buffet is included and Tommy the cat makes a fine breakfast companion.(he/she? likes ham) Front desk staff is efficient but not into making dinner res etc. We made our own when out and about or by phone.

We stayed 9 night nights in Venice. I know, you're thinking that's a lot. Well, 9 nights meant 8 days. One full day was a day trip to Padua. One day was Murano and Burano. So we had 6 days for Venice which was not too much for us. If you only want to see the St. Mark's Square sights, then I guess you don't need that much time but if you want to branch out a bit, you do.

SIGHTSEEING:

ST MARK'S - I more or less planned this with military precision. We purchased timed entry tix on the St. Mark's website which directs you to the agency that sells them. They cost 3 euro for the 2 of us which my husband and I agreed was the best 3 euro we spent in Italy. We actually arrived almost an hour early, sauntered up to the special entrance, NO WAITING IN LINE and the friendly guard said no problem, we could go right in. The interior was crowded and we moved slowly around to the back where we branched off and paid the admission to the Golden Alatarpiece area which is magnificent. It was not crowded in that area and we could admire it close-up until...the lights went on in the church illuminating the exquisite mosaics. (Lit from 11:30-12:30) Do whatever it takes to be here at this time to see the mosaics in all their glory. Also, don't forget to admire the floors.

When the lights went off, we went upstairs to the museum(separate entry fee) to see the ceiling mosaics closer and to commune with the original wonderful horses. Also to see the view of St. Mark's Square from the terrace. We also visited the Treasury on a different day in the late afternoon when the line was short. The Treasury is small but filled with Byzantine arttifacts the Venetians appropriated from Constantinople. We spent a happy hour here

St. Mark's is one of the world's great treasure and I suggest carefully planning your visit here to fully appreciate it

Unfortunately, in September there was significant scaffolding on the front of the church so we could not get the full effect of it. One of those disappointments of travel. I hope someday to see it in pristine form.

As for the square itself, it is of course one of the great squares of Europe. The Doge's Palace was looking very spiffy and the Campanile also. We had read there was construction around the base but there was not so I guess it was finished. There was scaffolding on part of the Correr Museum(with billboards).

DOGE'S PALACE: We pre-booked the Secret Itineraries tour on the Palace website. This takes you behind the scenes into some of the prison cells and upstairs above the public rooms. These rooms are NOT furnished. The interest lies in the tour guide's stories about what happened here, including the rooms where Casanova was imprisoned. It is interesting but is not a must-do and with limited time, I would not recommend it. After the tour, we toured the sumptuous public rooms on our own. This was pretty crowded with tour groups but if you wait til they move on, it's fine.

SAN GIORGIO MAGGIORE - This is the evocative island with the great Palladian church you see from St. Mark's square. You take a vaporetto to it. The church is quite different from most with a sleek, simple neo-classical interior that looks more humanist than religious. Do take the elevator to the top of the tower with wonderful views back across to Venice. When you finish, to your right as you exit the church a little ways down the walkway is a cafe, nothing special for food, but good for a drink with great views.

ACCADEMIA MUSEUM- Enjoyable, uncrowded museum featuring Venetian art. It's been under a long renovation process but seemed finished except for some work around the outside. All galleries were open. We enjoyed this a lot and is a calming respite from the crowds of Venice.

We also visited and very much enjoyed the Frari church, the Scuola San Rocco, and Ca Rezzonico. The RS guidebook has good descriptions of all of these. These are good sites to escape the crowds as well.

PEGGY GUGGENHEIM MUSEUM - Modern art collection in her villa. This we thought was somewhat overrated in the guidebooks. Rick Steves rates it the same as the Accademia which I thought was ridiculous. The Guggenheim is small and in my very unexpert opinion contains lesser works by major modern artists of Peggy's era. Be aware the interior of the villa was completely gutted to be a modern showcase for the art. The views of the Grand Canal from the terrace are great. The admission price is high for what it is. Unless you are very interested in modern art from a certain era, I would skip this.

Then there is wandering around Venice itself apart from the sites. The architecture and the setting are unique in the world. I highly recommend either a gondola or motorboat tour to get onto the canals. The vaporetto are too crowded to see well. We opted for a 1 hour motorboat tour with Avventure Bellisime (in the RS guidebook). It takes you on some side canals and the Grand Canal with a live guide (ours was a native Venetian). It is a small group and everyone got to have an outside seat. We booked the day before the tour by phone when we knew what the weather forecast was. BTW: This was in the first half of September and weather was good the whole time we were there.

We enjoyed wandering the Dorsoduro and San Polo districts following some of the RS walks. You will get temporarily lost even with a good map. But nothing major.

The crowds were intense. Even more so than I thought they would be. The problem isn't St. Mark's Square. It's big and can handle a lot of people. The problem is in the small streets surrounding it. Large tour groups clog them and can be annoying for us individuals. Now they use earphone technology, it seems to me the groups are larger because they can hear the guides in their earphones. Also, the areas outside the St. Mark's area are busier than you'd think. Rialto Bridge area is very intense. I've seen the Dorsoduro called "sleepy". Not so much but is is certainly less intense and a good place to walk because you can walk alongside small canals.

Tomorrow, I will continue with thoughts on Venice.
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Jun 11th, 2014, 04:37 AM
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Great report! Taxis used to meet what seemed like every train in Varenna but that has apparently changed. The ticket machines are, or were, in the small waiting room but they never seemed to work!
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Jun 11th, 2014, 05:36 AM
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As a follow on, am sure some will appreciate your term for the stuff the Venetians stole from about everywhere they went and aren't we glad they did since it was preserved.
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Jun 11th, 2014, 08:35 AM
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Great report, elizacat. We were in Venice end of September beginning of October. Did you see the Da Vinci exhibit at La Accademia?
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Jun 11th, 2014, 08:50 AM
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Thanks for taking the time to write this!
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Jun 11th, 2014, 10:04 AM
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Great TR so far, elizacat. I'm looking forward to more. This is one area of Italy on my scope for next trip! Thanks for sharing!
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Jun 11th, 2014, 11:28 AM
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Treesa: Unfortunately, no we didn't see the Da Vinci exhibit.

Continuing with Venice:

Getting around: We mostly walked. Used vaporetto for to/from train station, to San Girogio Maggiore and Murano/Burano. We did use a traghetto to cross over to Dorsoduro. Note: The traghetto shown as San Marco Vallaresso on RS map was NOT operating when we were there. Wasted some time looking for it. We got one from Santa Maria del Giglio near the Gritti Palace hotel. This is a shorter crossing than Vallaresso. It was fun to do once.

Restaurants: I had read quite a lot of negative comments about Venice restaurants, indifferent tourist rip-offs etc. We ended up being really pleased with the restaurants on the whole. I did a lot of research on restaurants in Italy and Venice in particular and felt it paid off. So here are the ones we liked:

Osteria alle Testiere - This is a top notch place that would be so anywhere in the world. There is no view or decor to speak of. It's all about the food here, specifically seafood which is the entire menu except for desserts. It is closed on Sunday & Monday(when the Fish Market is closed). There are 2 dinner seatings at 7:00 & 9:30. It is small and hard to get into. I called 2 weeks ahead for the 7:00 time. I was concerned we might be rushed, I am a slow diner. But we were not. The pacing is perfect and runs like a well-oiled machine. We had some wonderful scallops still in their shells, great prawn dishes, oysters, sole etc. Some nice desserts as well. Menu changes daily. We liked it so much, we booked it for our last night in Venice while we were there the first time. Sometimes when you do this you're disappointed the second time around but here second time was just as good as the first. Both times, we had 3 courses and a reasonably price bottle of wine from the Veneto. The cost was about $220, one of our two splurge restaurants in Venice. I have paid the same or more many times for lesser experiences.

Ristorante Algiubagio - This was our other splurge restaurant. It is located on Fondamente Nove. It has a terrace right on the water. We booked it while walking around for a couple days later when weather was supposed to be good because we wanted to eat on that terrace. When we arrived, they gave us one of the best tables, a corner one right by the water. Dining here at sunset on the lagoon and watching the boat traffic was one of those travel experiences that will live on in our memories. So you might think with this setting, the food won't match up. But yes it does. Good first courses. Followed by excellent monkfish. Prosecco before, limoncello after, a nice wine in between. (You don't have to worry about driving!) Service was excellent. Tourist rip-off? Not hardly. We were going to order a side dish with the main courses. The waiter advised us to wait and see because he thought it might be too much food. He was right, too. Price range is about the same as Testiere detailed above.

Osteria da Alberto - Very good trattoria. Friendly, relaxed, homey traditional decor, easy to like. Very reasonable prices. Cicchetti were just ok but we really liked the gnochi in zucchini sauce, the best eggplant parmesan I've had , light and luscious tiramisu. Above average for a trattoria wine list. We went here twice as it was close to our hotel and was so enjoyable.

Trattoria da Bepi - A bit more sophisticated than Alberto. Had good anchovies in two different marinades(one of them ginger) followed by squid ink spaghetti. Your teeth will be black but it's quite good. A must try in Venice. Gracious service. Meal ended with complimentary limoncello.

Details on all of the above restaurants are in the RS guidebook.

Da Simpson - A small trattoria right outside the front door of our hotel, Locanda la Corte. This was convenient the evening we arrived after a day of travel. The owner stands outside and "encourages" you to come in. Can be a bit offputting but this is common in Venice. I was a bit concerned it wouldn't be any good or would have weird extra charges but I had read decent comments about it in the Trip Advisor reviews of the hotel so we gave it a try. And it was fine. We stuck to salad and simple pastas and they were tasty. Decent house wine. Ate ouside by the small canal. No hidden charges or anything like that. This is not a place to trek across Venice for but if you're in this area, a good very inexpensive choice.

A couple restaurants we didn't like as much, although they are both recommended by Rick Steves were: Osteria al Mascaron and Osteria Enoteca Ai Artisti.

Mascaron: Service was a bit on the "Why do I have to serve these stupid tourists side?" Although the seafood appetizer platter (served to practically everyone) was good, the seafood pasta was ordinary. The small clams in it were pretty tasteless, the sauce nothing special. In our 4 1/2 weeks in Italy, we had undercooked pasta 3 times. This was one of them. Too chewy. We have had many renditions of this diah and this one was mediocre. I don't know if they have a wine list or not. We were offered house wine, red or white period. Tables (not big) are shared which is fine but since the food is served on big platters, it was a bit awkward.

Artisti - Small and cute but disappointing. They had 2 seatings, 7:00 & 9:00. We arrived 10 minutes late after an all day trip to Padua. (Were waiting at the wrong vaporetto stop before we realized our mistake). So I was concerned about a rushed dinner. Service was on the slow side getting started which made me feel anxious. As it turned out, the seating times didn't seem to mean anything as people started leaving and coming in at random times. It would have been nice to know this so we would have been more relaxed. It was they that emphasized the seating times! We were expecting to have some interaction on the wine choice as this is supposed to be their thing but we really didn't. I ended up just choosing a wine from the list which was good but not the experience we expected to have. We had a good shared platter of meats and cheeses. Main course was disappointing. Had pasta with pieces of swordfish in it. Sauce was good but swordfish was dry. And this was the second place in Italy where the pasta was undercooked.( First place was Mascaron detailed above).

All in all though, we were pleasantly surprized by our restaurant experiences, even casual lunch places were fine. Even the places we didn't like so much were not tourist rip-offs. But I would recommend doing some research ahead of time if food is important to you.

Next post: Day trip to Padua, Murano/Burano and final thoughts on Venice.
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Jun 11th, 2014, 11:32 AM
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Really enjoying your report as we just returned from Italy and this brings back great memories of places we also visited. I'll return to read more and hope to find time to write my own trip report soon.

Fot those needing to buy train tickets in Varenna, be aware that the travel agency has limited hours and is not open on weekends. We stayed in Bellagio and went to Varenna on Friday to buy our tickets to Vencie for Sunday. Train tickets could also be purchased from other locations in Italy.

I agree about St Mark's Basilica being a real treasure. While waiting to enter, an official tour guide came through the lines offering a tour for 15 Euros each which allowed us to skip the line. The tour was a great value as we learned so much about what we were seeing. At the end, the guide said that we could listen to another guide who explained the Biblical meaning of many of the beautiful mosaics, which we did. I knew that the mosaics would be lighted at 11:30, and this allowed us to sit in the church listening to her interesting explanations while viewing the illuminated mosaics. What an amazing difference the lighting made! I would not have missed this. After that tour, we spent more time in the church and were there for a noon mass, which was interesting to see even though we are not Catholic. We also happened onto masses in Florence and at St Peter's in the Vatican, as well as a christening in another church in Rome, and these experiences made the churches seem even more special.
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Jun 11th, 2014, 11:56 AM
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Just found this and am looking forward to a good read!
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Jun 11th, 2014, 12:08 PM
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Thanks!
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Jun 11th, 2014, 01:26 PM
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Good info about the Varenna train station. The ticket machine did work for us and there used to be a travel agency nearby that sold tickets. We took the earliest train to Milan and then a bus to the airport. Very relieved that train was on time!

Great that you had so many days to savor Venice and take some trips from there.
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Jun 11th, 2014, 09:31 PM
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Glad some people are finding this useful.

DAYTRIP TO PADUA: This was a bit of a production. Walk from hotel to Fondamente Nove. Vaporetto to train station, train to Padua. Upon arrival, we bought tram tix at the tobacco shop in the station to go to St. Anthony's basillica. The train station area and first part of downtown was a bit run-down looking with quite a bit of graffiti etc. The area around the basillica was nicer. St. Anthony's was very impressive. It is huge but had an interesting interior, unlike some of the Italian huge churches with cavernous almost empty interiors. The Renaissance wall carvings around the tomb of St. Anthony are really special. The wonderful Byzantine style exterior was somewhat compromised by our old friend scaffolding as was some of the interior (but not the St. Anthony's tomb area) Don't miss the Oratory of St. George (separate from the basillica) with frescoes from the 1300's).

After touring the bascillica, we headed for the market squares which are quite nice and had lunch. We then walked up to the Scrovegni Chapel. We had purchased our mandatory timed tix for this several weeks in advance. The Chapel website will lead you to the selling agency which I believe was Vivaticket. I had to set up an account with them first before buying the actual tix. (I think this was the same agency that sold tix for Da Vinci's Last Supper in Milan). So there are hoops to jump thru but it was well worth it. You get precisely 15 minutes in the chapel with Giotto's exquisite frescoes. It's not enough time so study your guidebook first so you know what you're looking at. Before we went to Italy, I studied up on Italian art and this really enhanced my enjoyment every place we went to get beyond the ubiquitous religious subject matter to appreciate the emotions being portrayed, i.e. grief is grief whether it's Mary Magdalene or an ordinary person being depicted. After our chapel time, we walked back to the train station, and returned to Venice. A long day but a good one.

MURANO/BURANO - One of our Venice days was spent visiting these two islands. This turned out to be a highlight of the entire trip. I was somewhat wary of this excursion envisioning Murano to be an excuse to sell glass and Burano to sell lace. I was totally wrong. Both are wonderful destinations and my only regret is that I did not give each of them their own day for reasons I will now explain. The Rick Steves guidebook makes it sound easy to do both in one day. In reality, it wasn't. Why? There were simply not enough vaporetto to meet the demand. So here's how it went:

Took a fairly early vaporetto from Fondamente Nove to Murano. Fast trip No problem. Murano was delightful. Has been called a miniature Venice and is somewhat. Has it's own litlle Grand Canal. It was only somewhat crowded where the glassblowing demos are and main stores. When you get away from that it's wonderful to wander. Don't miss Santa Maria e San Donato Church. Stunning inlaid stone floor and beautiful mosaic above the altar. We were pretty much the only people here. RS says the hours are erratic but luckily it was open for us. After a couple of hours we made our way to the vaporetto stop to go to Burano. Not so fast. There was a long line to get on. Where did they come from? When the vaporetto arrived, we could not get on it so stood in line for about 40 more minutes. Got on the next one but could not geat a seat. So another 40 minutes standing on the boat. Finally arrived and believe me we were ready to sit down for lunch on the charming and yes tourist filled small Main Street.

After lunch, we wandered around the back streets. Burano has to be seen to be believed. We spent a happy 1 1/2 hrs admiring the impossibly colorful houses complete with cats napping in the windowsills along too cute to be real tiny canals. Would have liked to have stayed longer. Made our way back to vaporetto stop. This time we got on the first one but still no seats so stood on the way back to Venice and could not see much of the lagoon which was disappointing.

This was a great day but unless you're really lucky, be prepared for a lot of standing. With a day for each island we would have had time for the Glass Museim on Murano and the Lace Museum on Burano which we did not get to do. I realize few people will have the time to do the ideal thing so either do what we did or choose one for a more relaxed day. I loved them both would have to choose Burano over Murano if only doing one.

Final thoughts on Venice:

Loved the architecture, art, ambiance, food. Some people say Venice is not "real". If you're out fairly early in the morning, you will see the fascinating gritty work it takes to keep this city going. The trash boats, the supply boats, the guys wrestling appliances over stepped bridges and rushing around with handcarts etc. Yes, a lot of it's for tourists but if there are no real people living here, whose laundry was it hanging between buildings?

September was a great tiime to visit. No mosquitos, no acqua alta, good weather.

Some flies in the ointment(what we didn't like about Venice.):

Intense crowds as previously discussed.

Annoying street vendors selling silly trinkets. Amusing the first couple days. Not so much after that. This included the fake designer handbag sellers who spread out their wares on the already congested streets and make it difficult to avoid stepping on them. And also the flower sellers thrusting bouquets in your face while standing in a square and sometimes at outdoor cafes.

Graffiti - Unfortunately, Venice has a generous slathering of graffiti around town, (not so much in the St Mark's area,)not graffiti art, just garden variey vandalism of beautiful old buildings. This is not unique to Venice these days but I was surprized at the extent of it. The water sides of buildings are a relief from it as I guess the perpetrators do not like to stand in a boat or in the water. So the Grand Canal for instance is fine..

On the whole, we really liked Venice. However, I do wish they would start a graffiti removal program. Cities that do seem to have less of it in my experience. Don't let it keep you from going, just be prepared for it.

Tomorrow's posting: Siena
elizacat is offline  
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Jun 12th, 2014, 05:18 AM
  #18
 
Join Date: Dec 2005
Posts: 10,168
This is so far one of the very best trip reports I have ever read.

You combine the practical and the experiential aspects of your trip to an ideal degree.

I admire your courage in admitting that you used both Rick Steves and travel agents. Neither is popular here, but in a place like Venice where none of the sites has been a secret for a couple of centuries, why not use a popular guidebook?

I know that most of us would rather die than use a travel agent, but I also notice that most of our UK and Continental friends use them just as you did, for booking tickets and the like, not for planning the details of a trip. If you value your time at any figure, this is very sensible, and I will follow my own advice in the future.
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Jun 12th, 2014, 06:22 AM
  #19
 
Join Date: Jan 2008
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Hi Elizacat, we're enjoying your TR. It makes us want to return to the areas you detail. We'll be in northern Italy in early Sept., in between time in "the Alps" of Austria and Switzerland. It's tempting to head south to Venice, but we'll probably have to make that another trip. Thanks for your interesting report.
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Jun 12th, 2014, 06:40 AM
  #20
 
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Nice report. And especially helpful info about Varenna -- train, etc. -- which we're considering as a destination.
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