Venice Trip Report, October '07

Jan 23rd, 2008, 12:21 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Feb 2004
Posts: 14,552
Venice Trip Report, October '07

I am going to attempt my first real trip report here; in the past, Iíve done a few little encapsulations, but feel that I owe you guys, as you have enhanced my travel life in ways that I canít even count. I had so much help on this trip, and I thank you all very much.

Some of my fears and worries were, as usual, completely groundless. To begin, I have to tell you all that the topic of water taxis in Venice, a topic I worried over on behalf of some clients, is nothing to sweat. The bottom line is this: if you have the money, they have the boats. You can take a water taxi 10 feet if you choose. As long as you are paying, they will take you anywhere youíd like to go, even if it is only around the corner of the nearest canal. The cost for a water taxi called from the Hotel Ala, picking up six people at the Giglio vaporetto stop (the water levels were too low for the taxi to come into the canal next to the hotelís little water door) and taking them to La Zucca (really stopping at Il Refolo, at the closest little campo on a navigable canal) was 65 euro.

Another worry that was a waste of my time and energy was the anxiety I had over aqua alta. The tide tables (if I read them correctly, and believe me, I was very confused by said tables) looked like we would encounter some high water. The phases of the moon indicated conditions favorable to flooding, but it was as dry as a bone, and many canals were actually too low to be navigable for times during our week. I was interested in buying cute rain boots is there was flooding, and I can report that I saw no cute rain boots for sale during an entire week of covering A LOT of ground in Venice. I was thinking of something rather darling, printed, and rubber, but the closest things to that I saw were green rubber workmenís boots in hardware stores. No daisy or paisley printed rain boots, and thank goodness, no need for them. From October 12 through the 18th, the weather in Venice was gorgeous. We were wonderfully lucky with weather; it was warm and sunny with blue skies during the day, cooling off a bit at night, but still not cold.

I took way too much stuff with me, and this was in a 20 inch rolling carryon, with a shoulder bag/messenger bag type thing for my meds, cosmetics and toiletries. I had too many pairs of shoes (it was the Miracle of the Shoes, as I had four pairs packed in my carryon luggage) and too many medical preparations. I worried a lot about my very sensitive feet, and I had purchased all sorts of little foot protectors, including gel wraps and gel caps for my toes, and I had NO foot problems at all despite putting miles and miles on to my feet everyday. I wore my old New Balance sneakers with a foam insert nearly all the time and I was able to walk with no rubbing, aching or any other problems. I also had some very good padded cotton walking socks. So I didnít need all the foot stuff, and could have taken only one extra pair of shoes. I also took a load of ďjust in caseĒ meds and never needed any of them. And I had too too too much paper, having printed out everything I might ever need to know about Venice in the next 3,000 years.

What I really needed and didnít have was a sort of walking GPS for the back streets of Cannareggio. We were lost every single time we walked home from dinner. By the end of our week I was getting a little spooked. The more lost in the dark we were, the more I was thinking about the movie Donít Look Now.

Oh, something else I worried way too much about, and over prepared for was pickpockets. I have been pickpocketed, and actively took part in this summerís threads about safeguarding valuables. I actually had my daughter make us little money belt attachments to hook onto our belts and put in our pants. Never used them. I did sew a secret pocket into my messenger bag for our cash that we needed for our apartment; this was sort of good, though, because I was able to relax while carrying a load of cash.

I really need to get to the actual ďreportĒ so here goes, Nah, never mind, I know Iím still going to jump around. We planned this trip over the summer. It wasnít a big planned-for trip like most of our vacations are. DH got a nice promotion, and I had six clients who were all going to be in Venice at the same time. I sort of became obsessed with going myself, and sort of badgered DH into the trip. Airfare for our dates was around 570 USD when I started watching, and went up, little by little, nearly every few days. Our final fare, direct from Philadelphia to Venice on USAirways, taxes and fees included, was $704 each. Another factor in DH agreeing to a jaunt to Venice was his need to be at a trade event in New York the day we flew back. By driving from PHL to NYC he managed to squeeze out two extra vacation days. We could see our family while in New York, also staying over with my brother, so it all kind of clicked.

A good time to talk about costs, I guess.

Air was $704 each.
Our apartment rental was 719 euro for a week.
We each had a VeniceCard pass (which turned out to be a great value for us) for 53 euro each. With the pass, our Chorus Passes were discounted at 5 euro each, and our Biennale tickets were discounted at, I think, somewhere between 9 and 12 euro. I canít remember exactly. We ordered the VeniceCards online, because they offered a small savings for doing so. We were really traveling on the cheap and this was a great value for us. I totally enjoyed having the opportunity to go everywhere we wanted without worrying about vaporetti fares.
Our trip to the airport on the Alilaguna was 12 euro each.
Parking at Extended Parking at the Philadelphia airport was $81.00 for a week.

We didnít really shop, but bought a little glass dish for DD and her husband, and two glass knobs for a new double door closet DH had recently completed. They are lovely; we got them on Murano for 15 euro each. The only other things we purchased were some food items to bring home and give to family. Oh, and two sticker books and a Lazio Football logo school diary/agenda, all for the faux grandchildren. We bought the latter at a Euro store (like a dollar store for those from countries that use dollars) and had a lot of fun in there. The sign said Tutti Uno Euro, but when we got to the checkout with two items, they charged us three Euro, which we laughed about for days.

The trip began with a stay at my dear cousinís absolutely beautiful home in horse country outside of Philadelphia. We drove there from our home in Pittsburgh and spent the night. The next day we had a very leisurely morning, went out for lunch, and then drove to PHL. As I mentioned, we parked at the PHL extended parking, and then took the circulating bus from the parking lot to the departure area. It went smoothly but it seems that one does have to hunt for empty parking spaces.

Our flight was fine. The plane was a 767 with comfortable leather seats, and a lot more (well, relatively a lot) space than the Airbus 330 that USAirways flies from PHL to FCO. I have decided that the seat back entertainment units on the A330 donít make up for the seriously squashed conditions. The few extra inches on the 767 made a big difference. We didnít feel like abused sardines when we landed, and that was a very nice thing. We arrived in Venice on Thursday morning and left the following Thursday morning.

I had been feeling terrible before we left, and I actually doubted my ability to make the trip. But my dear cousin was a great hostess. She is a bit of a natural wellness guru, and she had me feeling a lot better by the time we left her for the airport. The car trip across Pennsylvania was gorgeous, with autumn scenery and great weather.

Upon arriving at MCO we breezed through immigration and since we only had carryon, were at the airport coffee bar drinking cappucini and eating cornetti in no time at all. We then easily found the desk to pick up our Venice Cards, and were directed out the door to the bus to Piazzale Roma. The bus was included in our card. We rented through and as a helpful Fodorite had suggested, printed out the pictures and directions to their office to pick up our keys. With the printed map and pictures, I was able to sit at a bench along a canal, and send DH for the keys. Since I am the planner and the speaker of pathetic rudimentary Italian, such jobs usually fall to me, but DH was able to do this task with no problem. He came strolling back with the keys and directions to the apartment just as I was beginning to wonder where the hell he was.

With the Venice Card, we were able to travel on the vaporetti as frequently as we liked and we thought this was great. Yes, we walked a lot, but we wanted to visit the islands of the lagoon, and the Biennale, as well as roam to parts of the city we were unfamiliar with, so having the pass, with its discounts to various sites, was good for us. Anyway, we hopped on a very crowded vaporetto and made our way to Fondamemta Nove, then walked for about 5 minutes to our apartment. Since the Fondamenta Nove stop is used for the cemetary, there were several monument businesses and floral shops between the Fondamenta and the apartment. We were thrilled to find the aparment door situated between an osteria and a bakery. Oh, happy day.

The apartment was pretty much exactly as described. Simple, clean, with upholstery on the white sofa that could have used refreshing, but it wasnít dirtyÖ just not white anymore. A weird thing was that the many windows (lots of natural light) had venetian (what else?) blinds on the outside of the windows, instead of the wooden shutters one usually sees in Italy. These were filthy, and I would imagine hard to clean. We mostly kept the windows shut, as there were bugs about. The mattress and pillows were hard, but I slept very well with no back problems.

There was plenty of storage space on the Ikea fixtures and the place was VERY well supplied. The mattress lifted up to reveal a ton of extra bedding and linens, and there were drawers full of towels, tea towels, sheets, and more. There was also a drawer full of supplies like a clothesline, light bulbs, small hand tools, etc. Too many people had left food items behind, and I was a little grossed out by open boxes of pasta, jams and more, but I threw out anything that I thought needed to go to the trash. I thought that perhaps there was a bit too much stuff about, including many old magazines, some almost in tatters. There were a couple of loft-like spaces with storage, and there was a skylight that we never figured out how to use. It had a remote, but was either broken or too complicated for us. TV worked fine, with all Italian channels, and a DVD player that we didnít use. There was a self-rental movie place very nearby, but we never had time for anything but falling into bed.

The kitchen was sparsely supplied with dishes, but there were a few pots and pans, and an Italian and an American coffee maker. We never cooked anything, but used the small fridge for snacks, water and juice. This apartment would be best for two people, I think, but there was a blowup bed with legs, and the sofa was also a bed. Lots of hot water and good water pressure. I think the cleaning could have been a little more thorough in terms of getting rid of past renterís junk, but that and the worn sofa and faded sheets were my only complaints.

Before we left, I had been put off by all the Doís and Donítís on veniceapartments.orgís website. When I wrote to them about my concern, I got a flippant answer, to the tune of ďdonít worry.Ē It turns out that I neednít have worried. We actually broke something and never heard a word about it, although we offered to replace it. They were very relaxed once we got there, although their website was full of rules, and mentions of fines. Kind of laughable in hindsight.

Next, a day by day.

After arriving, we ate lunch at Cea next door to our apartment, featured in Michele Schibelaís book. We had a simple dish of spaghetti. Two spaghetti and two waters came to 19 Euro.

After lunch, we went to Dorsodoro by crowded vaporetto. We got our Chorus Passes at Church of Santa Maria del Rosario (Gesuati)

and went in to soak up the church, even though we had been there before. It was a nice easy way to step into sight seeing. We stopped to see the lobby of the Belle Arte hotel, and thought it looked very nice. Lovely, quiet outdoor patio area. We had coffee on the Zattere while we waited for the four oíclock opening of the Swiss Biennale exhibit at the Swiss Cultural Center. This was a bit of a flat exhibit, but it was cool to go into our first building that is generally not accessible to the public. The touring of old palazzi, generally never available to visitors, was one of our favorite things about hunting down various Biennale exhibits. At one point, we found ourselves at an exhibit in an old palazzo that had its second floor windows thrown open to the Grand Canal. We were able to stand on their balcony for as long as we liked, taking pictures, taking in the magnificent scene, and of course, waving to all the boats going by.

Back in Dorsoduro, I had a gelato a Squero, the chocolate mousse variety. Totally great. Another church, then back to the apartment for a very short nap before dinner. Shower and off we went again.

Dinner that night was supposed to be at alla Botte. I had neglected to reserve until we were on our way to the airport, and sent an email from my cousinís house. Even though their website clearly says that they are closed Giovedi, I somehow missed that. We walked (and walked and walked) and finally found alla Botte, closed. Now what? Wandering just a bit, we found ourselves in front of the Osteria Santa Marina. We loved our meal. The service was superb, the outdoor setting was fantastic, the people were beautful and the sophisticated food was great. Here is a review from the NY Times

This was definetly one of our favorite meals in Venice. The bill was about 110 E, which was high for us, but we thought the food, setting and service were worth it. DH had a couple of glasses of wine, and I had minerale gassata, as I usually do.

The following day we took a trip to Torcello and Burano. The weather was great, the mosaics were great, and DH climbed the bell tower at Torcello. I had a little panic while he was up there and waved him down, but apologized immediately. We walked all over Burano and took a million pictures. Lunch was from a cart near the church on Torcello: a couple of good panini, and a bottle of water.

Now, sadly, a lot of time has passed and I forget some of the day by day details of our trip. I have to apologize for that. I can write about two things that I do remember: eating and the Biennale.

On the Biennale, months later and I am still looking at the pictures and reliving how wonderful it was. The Arsenale venue was just incredible. To be inside the Arsenale, and see so much history and so much remarkable architecture representing Veniceís ancient naval powerÖ well, it was incredible. And we loved all the art. Well, maybe not the video installations, but one can hardly see contemporary art without exposure to a lot of film and video installations. Not my favorites, but some people must like them, for Iíve never been to any large show of contemporary art that didnít have a good bit of film and video.

We also went to the Biennale at the Giardini della Biennale, and enjoyed the separate country venues. Russia had the most interesting and remarkable art, with an incredible film (I say this after seeing too much film/video; if it was great at that point, it was really great). We tracked down as many venues as possible among those scattered about the city. This too was great, because we got to see so many places, both buildings and neighborhoods, that we never would have visited. Searching out the venues, being inside ancient palazzi, standing on a balcony overlooking the Grand Canal, all this made the experience of the Biennale extra wonderful for us.

As Iíve said, this was something Iíve always wanted to do, and boy am I glad to have done it. The greatest art, in the most remarkable placesÖ I was surprised when I read lukewarm revues of the Venice Biennale because to me, this was one of my favorite ďgo to see the artĒ vacations, ever. With our Venice passes, both main venues of the Biennale were discounted, as was the Chorus pass, making a surfeit of art very affordable.

I would return to the Biennale any time. Since we have already planned our 2009 Europe trip to coincide with a convention in Spain, I will probably have to wait until 2011, hoping we and Venice are still around by then. I highly recommend a trip to the Biennale to anyone who loves modern art.

Back to eating: our second dinner was at La Zucca and getting there was quite an adventure

. We met my clients at the Hotel Ala, which they hated. I was surprised and a little bit upset by this. They apparently had tiny rooms, with a lot of steps to walk. I tried to negotiate something better for them but the desk man was rather aloof, and he made me feel like an idiot. Apparently, I requested a room number for them that didnít exisit. Instead of answering my initial email with one explaining my error, they booked them in a lesser category of room without letting me know. Yes, I had made an error. But I see no reason why the couldnít have pointed it out to me, and told me what rooms were available.

Since 4 of the people I was working with would have paid for a better room, I was a little miffed. If I had made a mistake, especially considering the number of times we have stayed there, and had others, both friends and business associates, booked there, I thought a little email saying, something like ďsorry but you have requested a room number that doesnít exist here. Perhaps you can describe the room you had and we can tell you what category that room is a part of:Ē or something along those lines, but they just did the booking without letting me know. I asked if the manager could possibly speak with my clients in the morning, when he was in. They said yes, but it never happened. I was very disappointed because I have used this hotel a lot, and recommended it many times.

So now my peeps were already a bit cranky and they havenít seen any of Venice other than the bar at the hotel. A taxi boat is called to take the party to dinner, but it couldnít pick us up at the hotel because the water level at the Alaís little dock was too low. We went out to the Giglio stop to meet the taxi, and I had a very hard time getting the group into the boat. It seems they didnít understand that they would be climbing into and off of boats. Hmmmm.

We got to a campo very near La Zucca, and one of the ladies in our party refused to climb off the boat and make the little hop onto land. After a lot of noise and fussing, two men finally lifted her out. Dinner at La Zucca was very good, if heavy. But that was our fault in ordering. Both the pumpkin flan and the pumpkin lasagna, listed as primi, were a meal and a half in themselves. If I went back, I would order one of those dishes with only a veg or salad to accompany it. Desserts looked so good, but all 6 members of our party had eaten so much that we couldnít even try one. I would like to go back without business associates and just have a quiet meal there. Maybe someday.

After dinner, we took our group by very crowded vaporetto back to San Marco. Again, there was a lot of complaining. Too dark, how do you know which boat to get on, you mean we have to walk all the way down there? And so forth. Very hard for a Venice lover like me. And very disappointing because these were clients and I wanted them to be happy. I had to keep smiling and explaining, but I donít think anyone was listening. I very clearly explained how they should get back to the Hotel Ala from Piazza San Marco, but theu got on the wrong vaporetto anyway. They ended up on one that didnít stop at Giglio, and had to walk a long hike back to their hotel without me to guide them. They were not happy. They also fought with the boatmen, insisting they should be left off where they wanted. As you might guess, that didnít happen.

Back to after dinner: the group wanted to have drinks at Café Florian, but couldnít stop complaining about walking there. Then, once we were seated, the person who most wanted to go to Café Florian got up and went shopping at a store that was open late on the Piazza. We split the bill, which was very expensive, especially since my clients had drinks and DH and I had tea. But I can now say I was at Café Florian. The music was good. Café Quadri was playing show tunes, which I donít like, and Florian was playing sort of ďclassical liteĒ which was better for me. I enjoyed the music and the setting, of course.

After one drink, we were shooed away by the maitreíd. It was a little odd, because when we ordered our drinks he never told us that they would soon be closing. Quadri seemed to still be serving. In any case, Iíve done it once and I donít have to do it again. The Piazza was gorgeous that night.

I should say right here that every single night of the seven we stayed in Venice, we were very lost on our way back to our apartment. Once we were beyond the Rialto area, headed north through Canareggio, we were always lost. As I said earilier, sometimes it was a little creepy. By the end of the week, I was a bit spooked. DH thought I was silly (he was a little irritated and I was a little spooked: two different reactions to being lost night after night, with two very good maps) and I told him if he had ever seen Donít Look Now, he might be a little creeped out, too.

Of course, we got home safely every night. There was always someone out but usually just a person or two, late at night. And by late, I would say we were never out past midnight, except for that night that we had been at Florian. That night we were home by 12:30.

On the Sunday, we had a very good visit to Murano. My clients took the ďfreeĒ taxi ride from the Hotel Ala, and DH and I met them on Murano at the glass place they were taken to. They all bought things and we bought our door handles in a nice little shop. Lots and lots of window shopping, then lunch. Lunch was at a bright modern café called Restaurant B. Service was slow, but the place was modern, bright, fun and sort of sophisticated all at the same time. There were outdoor tables but it was a bit too cool to sit on the small campo in front of the restaurant. Everyone liked the food and prices were moderate. There was a good deal of glass art about the place.

After lunch, the rest of the group went back to Venice, while DH and I went to see the Duomo on Murano.
That night dinner was at Da Carla, and I was disappointed. I had a great meal there some years ago, but it was just mediocre this time, and the desserts were dry and tasteless. DH had a chocolate cake that tasted more like a crumbling brick than a chocolate cake.

We were all to meet again the next night for dinner, but the client group chose to eat at the dining room at the Gritti Palace, preceded by drinks at Harryís Bar. They spent over 1k USD, and they were disappointed. DH and I went to Osteria Boccadoro. We enjoyed this although it was on the pricey side (by our standards for this particular trip). It was attractive and I had a cold seafood plate with my first taste of razor clams. Delicious. I followed that with a cheese plate, and I donít remember what DH had. Iím sure it was fish because that is all he ate. We split dessert, I think. My memory is that we liked Boccadoro but spent a little more than we had planned to.

So many churches, and so many more walks and restaurants. Alla Madonna, which I had always avoided because I thought it was only a tourist place, was another of our very favorite meals. Only the dessert was a bit disappointing, but again, DH ordered cake. This time it tasted like a slightly more flavorful crumbling brick. I had tiramisu and it was great.

The next meal that I remember was at Alla Frasca, in our neighborhood out in the wilds (kind of kidding here) of Cannareggio. Very good, very well priced.

And our last dinner was at Il Refolo. We loved it. We split a pizza with arugula, nuts and gorgonzola sauce, and each had a pasta. I think we had dessert but alas, I canít remember. The price was moderate and the food was very good. We also had fun getting there, taking a vaporetto from Fondamenta Nove toward the train station. We had our route all mapped out, and thought we would have to take two vaporetti to end up on the correct side of the Grand Canal, but suddenly found ourselves at a stop very handy to the restaurant. We hopped off and we were within a 5 minute walk of the restaurant, albeit through very deserted and dark calli.

Leaving Venice on the 11:30 am flight to Philadelphia was so nice. Every other flight I had ever had out of Venice was always at an ungodly hour of the morning. This time, we had plenty of time to get the Alilaguna boat to the airport, and it all went very well. One of the reasons we chose the apartment that we did was because of its proximity to the Fondamente Nove boat stops. It was wonderful to just stoll out there and hop on the boat to the airport. We had purchased the tickets the night before, just to save ourselves a couple of extra coffee minutes in the morning.

Of all my trips to Venice (only 5) this was my favorite. We loved the Biennale, we ate very well at mostly moderate prices , our VeniceCard was a bargain for us, and having a week was wonderful. We could sit and relax, we could and did stop at every church, museum or exhibit that we found interesting, and there was time for cappucino breaks.

We never made it to our planned day trip to Padova, or to the Ghetto. But we are planning to go back.

Here is a link to DHís photos, which I posted once before:

tuscanlifeedit is offline  
Jan 23rd, 2008, 12:37 PM
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 52,441
Hi, tlf [I'm too lazy to type your whole name!]

well, you'd never know you were a trip report virgin unless you'd told us. great detail and humour too.

I'm off there with the DH and kids at Easter - anything you can think of that might particularly interest very old teens? [20 & 17, since you asked].

I'm particularly grateful for the restaurant info, as like you, we're in an apartment AND I'm not intending to cook. well ,not much.

regards, ann
annhig is online now  
Jan 23rd, 2008, 12:41 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 2,521
Very enjoyable post, tuscanlifeedit. The Miracle of the Shoes, indeed.

Your clients sound like they're used to some pretty serious pampering. Too bad you didn't get to have them ride a traghetto. ;-)
Therese is offline  
Jan 23rd, 2008, 12:45 PM
Original Poster
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annhig, thanks for the compliment. Actually, I write a lot, just not trip reports. This is my first long and detailed report.

I think your kids will be very interested in everything in Venice. There is way too much shopping, but my daughter didn't object to that. The churches and art might be overwhelming, but you can easily mix them with boat rides, trips to the other islands, and fun walks. If they are boys, the Arsenale ought to interest them. If girls, as I said, my daughter never objected to the shops.
tuscanlifeedit is offline  
Jan 23rd, 2008, 12:51 PM
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Therese: they sure didn't travel the way I do. Can you imagine dinner for four at one thousand dollars? I can imagine it, but I don't think I would do it, even if I could. Especially when there is so much good food available for half that amount, or way less.
tuscanlifeedit is offline  
Jan 23rd, 2008, 12:58 PM
Join Date: Nov 2006
Posts: 454
Thanks for the report, we are going to Venice in June and I am totally scared. I need to read everything possible about it. I have bookmarked Osteria Santa Marina. Thanks
happytotravel is offline  
Jan 23rd, 2008, 01:14 PM
Join Date: Sep 2004
Posts: 648
Really enjoyed your report, TLE. Those are some very demanding clients you have there. I remember your water taxi post, & the lecturing that ensued. Glad it worked out for you (sort of...)
LAwoman is offline  
Jan 23rd, 2008, 01:22 PM
Join Date: Jan 2006
Posts: 1,880
Great report Tuscan. Thanks for sharing it.I wonder if they have Tutti Uno Euro stores in Europe like the dollar stores here And tell DD I say hi, thanks for sending her my way she was a great little sales gal in a one rough fair.
laartista is offline  

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