Venice, oh, Venice! I feel like I had a love/hate relationship with Venice-okay for the first two or so hours of being there it wasn’t awesome, but then I loved it after that. It was one of the most beautiful and interesting places I had ever been, and also the most tricky to navigate. We arrived from our sleeper train at like 5:30 am-that was the problem-too early for me! And everything was closed until 6:00-7:00 am. When went to get on a water taxi so that we could go get breakfast the machine didn’t take our credit cards-any of them and we didn’t have enough cash and there were no ATM’s around. So we just started walking… which by the way, walking, without a navigation device, in Venice, is basically like going through a maze with no towers to check your location. HOWEVER, when we walked out of the train station and saw the large canal right at the steps of the train station as the sun was rising is one of those moments I hope I never forget. I just couldn’t believe that we were actually in Venice. I had dreamed about it for so long and it was real. It made me really happy.

We finally found a little newspaper stand that was open and bought a map. After getting lost a few more times, we made it to St. Mark’s Square. I read somewhere that you should visit the square in the morning when there are no people there: check! I would definitely recommend that. It actually was pretty cool empty, we felt like we had the whole place to ourselves, unfortunately, still too early for the restaurants there to be open. Just as a side note, I also read that one of the top 10 things to do in Venice is to get lost and wander the streets. At first I laughed and said, Ha! We did a top 10 thing in the first 10 minutes! But as the day wore on and I realized that getting lost is an inevitable reality of visiting the city, I thought the top 10 list was rigged and just wanted tourists to not get annoyed with the fact that they waste so much time being lost. 🙂

{Beautiful St. Mark’s Square}
The bell tower in St. Mark’s Square. You can go up inside it and I wish we would have had time to do that. I think the view of the Venice Lagoon would have been beautiful. The line was just too long.

We asked a man who was setting up chairs about a place for breakfast and he pointed us down a small street (they’re all small), to a little cafe. And it ended up being one of my favorite breakfasts of our trip. They had Italian Hot Chocolate, the really thick kind that is like warm chocolate pudding. And some delicious pastries. It was located on the corner of Calle de le Rasse and Campiello Santi Filippo E Giacomo right near St. Mark’s Square.

The streets are so narrow, there are no cars on the islands. It is really like a labyrinth. We often used our map and my phone at the same time to try and figure out where we were. By the second day, we started to get a handle on things and realized we just needed to follow the crowds when we were going to popular destinations. When in doubt follow the hundreds of people-a helpful lesson for navigating Venice-not for navigating life kids!

Below is the view from our hotel window. We stayed here. It was a really cool hotel on a canal that we had purchased before we left. They were SO helpful and nice. They let us keep our bags there before we checked in and after we checked out until we left town. They also ordered a free private water taxi for us so that we could go to some neighboring islands. The made dinner reservations for us and offered a free laundry service (which we didn’t have time to take advantage of, instead we used a public laundromat just a few blocks away-that by the way opens like two hours after it’s scheduled to open).

The second day we ate a delicious traditional Italian breakfast, some bread, butter, jam, Nutella, hot chocolate and fruit. Danny always ate sliced meat, cheese and a fresh baguette. The hotel had a cute little courtyard where we ate. And by the way the weather was perfect 75-80’s our whole trip. I miss these mornings of nice weather, good food and a fun setting.

Then we hopped on a Gondola. There was one parked right outside our hotel door. Normally the gondoliers have certain routes and zones they are allowed to take you to and they just bring you back to where you started. But because of our time constraints, we needed to use the ride as a transportation source to bring us to our destination. So we paid a little extra because he was going out of his zone and wasn’t allowed to pick anyone up where he was dropping us off, so he wouldn’t make money on the return trip. But we were okay with that and had him take us to Rialto Market. We were so tired of walking the day before we needed any break we could get. It was probably one of the most fun parts of our trip. I was talking to a lady who visited Venice years ago and said she didn’t go on a gondola because it’s so cliche and that the water taxis were the same thing. Let me tell you they are NOT the same thing and going on a gondola ride is totally worth it!
{water taxi: just like a floating crowded bus-we took one several times on our first day}
{a gondola ride: a personal chauffeur through the less traveled canals and bridges of Venice}
See! Much different. I loved having the gondolier because it was the first time we spent a lot of time with a local. We could ask all of those questions like, does the city ever flood, how deep is the water, why don’t we ever see policemen, was it awesome when they were filming the Italian Job here, etc., etc.! 
(Answers: No it doesn’t flood, the water is just a few feet deep but there is mud at the bottom and because there are so many boats the water gets stirred up and looks brown all the time. It’s dangerous for police to go fast because of all the gondoliers and small boats, so rarely are the police called. The city is very safe because they rely solely on tourists, so if tourists think it’s dangerous they won’t come. The only thing to worry about is pickpocketing. And he said pregnant women and mentally disabled people will panhandle and have no fear because they won’t ever be put in prison. So he said the locals just deal with problems on their own, they kick the people or throw them in the water. He also took us by the garage used in the movie The Italian Job-we love that movie so it was cool to be able to recognize things from it. And he went to college for four years to become a gondolier). And there’s your Venice trivia for the day! 

There are a lot of boats on the water it was cool watching our gondolier maneuver his way around. They yell “oui!” when going around a blind corner because they don’t have a horn.

After about a 45 minute ride, we arrived at the Rialto Bridge and market.
Rialto Market was full of vendors selling little things. We bought a lot of our souvenirs there, including some Pinoccio marionettes for our kids.
 {The shops were also filled with Venetian masks}
{Rialto fish and produce market}
  {crowded streets of lost tourists}

 After the gondola ride and Rialto Market in the morning, we headed back to St. Mark’s Square.

 We picked up some baguette sandwiches there.

Seriously people this is a road! It is like a little cave under someone’s house but it’s a road and on the map. You wonder why so many Americans get lost-they’re like, That CAN’T be right, let’s go the other way!

We took the late afternoon train to Parma. We arrived in the evening and stayed at this super modern hotel. It was literally right outside the doors of the train station. We ate dinner there that night and a beautifully decorated breakfast in the morning. And hopped on the 7:45 am train to La Spezia, our starting point for hiking Cinque Terre.

A few notes about traveling in Italy:
-Most places take credit cards otherwise there are ATM’s everywhere that will give you Euros. Some people asked if we wanted to process the credit card in Euros or Dollars, I’m not sure how much it mattered but they ask because of the conversion fee. But check with your credit card company because we used an ING card that didn’t charge us the conversion fee.
-In the hotels, we had to keep our key in a key hole in the wall in order for the lights to stay on, otherwise they automatically shut off after just a few minutes.
-When dining, if there is a four top table and just two people sitting there, they will seat you at a table with strangers. But whenever that happened to us, rarely did the other people speak english, so we still had a private dinner 🙂

See other stops on our trip to Europe: Copenhagen, Brussels, Vatican City, Rome

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