This was originally supposed to be a very different post. Katelyn and I were on our way to Munich, Germany for Oktoberfest. We had packed our dirndls (traditional German dress) and warm clothes to sleep in, and not much else. As we’ve said before, we fly standby. This means that if real customers fill up the plane then we do not get to fly. So we made it all the way to Philadelphia before our flights fell apart. Sitting in a random empty gate in the Philadelphia airport, we were trying to decide what to do. Do we stay in Philly and have a cheesesteak? Do we try again to go to Germany tomorrow, with no guarantees it won’t fill up again? All of a sudden the screen behind the agent’s desk came on and it said “Venice, Italy” …long story short we took it as a sign that Italy was calling our name!
10 hours later we were in the Venice airport with nowhere to stay, no plans, and some German dirndls.
We started by sitting on the floor in the baggage terminal finding a hostel to stay at.
We settled on Anda Hostel and followed the directions from the airport that Hostelworld so kindly provided. Using the ticket machines outside by the bus stop, we bought tickets for the ATVO bus for 8 euro each We were at the train station in about 30 minutes and then it was a 5 minute walk to the hostel. Let me just say Anda Hostel is the PERFECT location. I would recommend it to anyone. Very close to the train station and bus stop and it’s brand new- a rare find in Italy! So we dropped off our luggage and headed off to Venice.
HOW TO GET TO VENICE: Venice is technically an island. We stayed on the mainland at Anda Hostel, mostly because it was nicer and cheaper than the hostels in Venice. Like I said it was VERY close to the train station which is exactly what you want if you’re staying on the mainland. The train from Mestre station to Venezia S. L. (aka Venice) is about 10 minutes long and it leaves every 10ish minutes all day long. Go up to a trentalia ticket machine and buy your ticket for 1.30 euro. Then VALIDATE YOUR TICKET. They are very serious about this. There are little green machines all over the station that you stick your ticket in and it stamps it with the date and time. Without this stamp you are essentially travelling without a ticket. They did spot check some passengers and signs threaten a 50 euro fine.
When you arrive in Venice, you walk out of the train station and you are right on the Grand Canal! On the first day we just wandered, getting a feel for the city. We stopped for some pizza and an aperol spritz, a very popular drink in Venice. We people watched and enjoyed the fact that we were in Italy. Like, what the heck!? Who told us we could just go to Italy instead of Germany?!
Our big mistake this day was walking too much. We had essentially not slept in 2 days and had walked halfway across the city by the time we realized we were going to have to walk back. We had tried to find Libreria Acqua Alta using apple maps. OK so GPS has a very hard time following you through the narrow alleys and canals of Venice and it ends in you walking around in circles never getting any closer to your destination. We actually talked to other people about this and it’s a common problem. Beware of the apple maps. Maybe get a paper map instead. There was a bit of a meltdown on Katelyn’s part because we were going in circles and were exhausted and our feet hurt and because she is essentially a grown up toddler…she threw a bit of a fit. It was not a super fun travel moment. We stopped into a caffe to get a cappuccino and regroup, then set off to find our way back home. It was time to use the Vaporettos
PRO TIP: Hey Americans, in a Caffe or Restaurant in Italy (and other places in Europe) you have to ask for your check. They find it rude to rush you, so they will literally let you sit there forever. Feel free to flag down your waiter when you’re ready.
VAPORETTOS: Venice has no cars or bikes or any transportation besides boats. This includes public transport. The Vaporettos are essentially Waterbuses. They travel up and down the length of Venice and even go out to the other islands nearby. The Vaporettos are super useful- they save your feet and stop the meltdowns. Embrace them. They run on Numbered and Lettered lines not unlike a subway system…but you know… on boats. The first day we bought a single ride ticket for 8 euro each. Again you MUST VALIDATE YOUR TICKET. There are white machines at the entrance to each stop and you scan your ticket there before you get on. If you don’t and they catch you, then you have to pay a 60 euro fine….. those of us that are penniless cannot afford such luxuries such as law breaking….. so VALIDATE. Another very important thing you should know is you can buy a day pass for 20 euro or a two day pass for 30 euro. Use it 3 times a day and it’ll pay for itself! It was worth every single penny. It will also take you to Burano and Murano, which are islands around Venice, but we will talk about those later.
So we ended the day with gelato on the steps of the train station before heading back to the hostel. The hostel luckily sold cheap, but delicious, pizza at the bar so we ate it and were asleep by 8:30.
We awoke as new people, ready to take on Venice. We bought our day passes to the Vaporetto and headed off down the canal towards San Marco square.
We started out with a visit to the oldest cafe in the world! Florian. It is located in San Marco square and has a gorgeous old world elegance. An orchestra plays right outside the open windows and you can sit in an ornate tea room and are waited on by a waiter wearing a white coat and gloves. Your coffee and treats are brought to you on a silver tray. Yes friends, we were feeling ourselves at Florians. As Katelyn said, “This would be perfect if I was wearing a hat and gloves.” Was it pricey? Of course. You literally pay a 6 euro cover charge for the orchestra and atmosphere. Would I do it again? Absolutely. It’s nice to feel a little fancy now and then… especially when you spent the night in a hostel and crowded onto a packed vaporetto to get there. You deserve it, friends. Treat yo self.
We originally had planned on going to St. Mark’s Basilica but to be honest the line scared us away. Luckily the line to get into the Doge’s Palace was much shorter. We noticed there was also a line with 0 people in it for pre-purchased tickets…so we got on Katelyn’s phone and bought tickets while in line and then walked straight in. The morale of the story is you should absolutely buy your tickets in advance even if it is the day of. The Palace is large and sprawling and full of hundreds of years of history. We enjoyed exploring and learning a little about the ruling class of Venice through the ages. You also go over the Bridge of Sighs into the prisons which are plenty creepy for those of you that are into ghosts. I’d suspect there are a couple lingering down there. The rooms themselves are gorgeous and the art and architecture are splendid. We spent almost 2 hours there.
After the ancient glories of the Doge’s palace it was time to balance it with a little modern art. Enter the Peggy Guggenheim collection. Katelyn had been to the Guggenheim in Bilbao and it rocked her world so we thought we would give this one a try! I’m not well schooled in the surrealist modern art that is the focus of the collection and yes I’m sorry, but I’m the barbarian that looks at something and says… It’s a red square, how is this in the Guggenheim? But I enjoy seeing new things and it is a very well done museum. Picasso, Pollock, Dali, Ernst, Licini and a bunch of artists that I didn’t know, but probably should, are displayed here. The sculpture garden is also very nice and we enjoyed the little cafe.
It was then time for the most iconic of Venetian activities. The Gondola. Gondola rides are expensive and honestly we were like is it worth 80 euro for half an hour? We’re still penniless over here, in case you forgot. There were some moments of doubt that it was worth such an exorbitant sum. We were WRONG. It is worth it and you have to do it. There is something about being in the echoing canals and seeing how high the water has risen in the sinking city. You are the star of the show as tourists on the bridges take pictures of you and your fancy gondola. We had a fantastic time. Do it.
We had a very nice candlelit meal along the Grand Canal, where a waiter gave us free wine because he decided that Katelyn was his sister. (Fun fact: Katelyn gets free stuff everywhere we go and I can’t figure out why. It’s unusual, but in this case I benefited so it’s cool.) We headed back to the hostel…after some more gelato at the train station of course.
We actually did a day in Verona on day 3 which deserves its own post, so lets skip ahead to our last day in Venice.
We decided to head out to some of the islands! So, buy your day pass on the Vaporettos and start your journey out to the islands. Yes, it is a journey. It took about an hour to get from the train station to Burano.
The most colorful place in Europe! To be fair, I have no idea if this claim is true but let’s go with it. All the houses are painted crazy bright colors along the canals. It is beautiful! Apparently it’s part of the deal to live on Burano that you have to keep your house painted, the government even tells you what colors you’re allowed to use. The effect is a good one. If you’re in the market for some lace, you’ve come to the right place! Burano is also known for its lace making. We clearly were there for the pictures and know nothing about lace. We had lunch and the jumped back on the vaporetto for Murano.
Murano glass is everywhere! Glass making was a huge trade and the glass was widely regarded in Europe as the best of the best, but the fires needed to make the glass were a problem. So apparently, long ago, the Doge was tired of fires destroying things in Venice. He ordered all the glass makers to move to the island of Murano so that if they caught stuff on fire, at least Venice would be safe. Today all the glass factories are still found on this island. You can go to glass blowing demonstrations and shop for beautiful glass to your heart’s content. Katelyn and I both came away with small, glass ornaments. Watch out for Chinese glass! Look for the official Murano glass association logo in the door of the shop. If it’s not there then they are probably selling cheap Chinese glass. The Venetians understandably get very upset about it.
We went back to Venice and spent more time roaming in the Rialto area. We also rectified the mistakes of our first day and found the book store, Libreria Acqua Alta. It was very cool and bookish and if you’re in the area you should stop by! We did some more souvenir shopping which ranged from truffles to Venetian masks, and found more gelato. I would definitely recommend taking advantage of the canal-side bars for a rest and a drink. They say the Bellini was invented in Venice in the 1930s, so of course I had to have one.
We had one last dinner on the grand canal. Ya’ll. The tables at these restaurants are so close, you are actually having dinner with whoever happens to be beside you. You can try to ignore it, but eventually you give in. We had a very nice dinner with a couple from Manchester, England. I literally face-timed with their children by the end of dinner. “Kids, you want to meet a real American?” Me: “uhh Hi?”
That’s it! That’s the trip, folks. Hope you weren’t looking too closely at our lack of outfit changes…remember we basically only had dirndls. Whoops. All in all, Venice is a very unique city and 3 days was the perfect amount of time to get a good feel for it.