24 Hours (or less) in Venice, Italy

Water, water everywhere is what most people think about Venice. However, our experience was more like people, people everywhere.

Venice in peak travel season

It’s true. Roughly 30 million tourists flock annually to the area which is no more than 160 square miles. If it’s summertime (peak tourist season) and you don’t like crowds, you may want to only spend a day or two in the famous city of canals.

Another thing to think about is this: Venice is not ADA compliant. If your hotel isn’t on a canal, a water taxi will do you no good. Instead, you will have to carry your luggage through the tiny street and over bridges which consist of steps, not ramps.

Since our cruise departed Venice and my spouse and kids had never been, we stayed overnight and saw many sites in the limited time.

We arrived around 3 pm via the direct public bus from the airport to the Piazzale Roma – the last place cars can go on the island. It was only about a half-mile walk to our hotel but it was difficult due to having to cross several canals twice. It wasn’t the walking that was hard, but the carrying our luggage up and down the steps on the bridges. Once we got settled and met up with my in-laws, we walked back to Piazzale Roma to take the vaporetto for the Grand Canal cruise.

Now to enjoy Venice! We downloaded the Rick Steves free audio guide of the Grand Canal cruise on two of our phones. We split the ear buds between one of us and one of our children. By getting on the vaporetto (public water bus) at Piazzale Roma, we were the first ones on the boat and got seats at the very front. The  audio tour starts at the next stop, which is the train station.

On the Grand Canal Cruise

Our boat careened around the corner and palatial buildings greeted us on the way. The Grand Canal is wide – considered the major throughway of the city. Boats, gondolas and other vaporetti swam near us. Next thing we knew, we stopped at a dock where more people got on board. The tour was informative and explained various points of interest including both the Rialto Bridge and the Accademia Bridge, as well as the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and the hotel where George Clooney was married. Everything looked Venetian – that is Roman with a Byzantine influence. At the end of the 45 minute ride, we got off and walked back to St. Mark’s Square, passing by the Bridge of Sighs.

Lorenzo Quinn’s sculpture “Support” rises out of the Grand Canal in front of the Ca’Segredo Hotel

Throngs of people walked past us as we headed past the Doge’s Palace and to the church and tower. It was an Italian holiday and we watch military solders carry the flag. Then, we purchased some of the best gelato!

Doge’s Palace

Walking back to the hotel was another experience. Instead of wide open waterways, we zig-zagged among alleyways and pedestrian-only streets. We crossed over the Rialto Bridge which was filled with shops along both side. I took a time-lapse video of the experience. A few times, we got turned around and the streets are so close together that our cell phone navigation system couldn’t find us. After about 25 minutes, we got back to the hotel and went to the Campo Santa Margherita for dinner.

Venice is full of small alleys and squares

After dinner, we walked back to St. Mark’s Square because that’s what Rick Steves suggested. In the evenings, many of the day-trippers have gone home and the crowds thin considerably. This was my favorite time. As dusk approached, we enjoyed crossing the Accademia Bridge where a man strummed his mandolin. Near St. Mark’s we window shopped at the many high-end retailers – Gucci, Chanel, Ferragamo and more.

Entering St. Mark’s Square at night was a completely different experience as an orchestra played near by. Walking around, we could enjoy the beauty of the magnificent architecture. We could have listened to the St. Mark’s Square audio guide, but I was toured out. Instead, we found a sidewalk cafe and ordered wine and tiramisu.

St. Mark’s Square at Night

The next morning we breakfasted at our hotel and set out for the Frari Church. Located near the Piazzole Roma (and further from St. Mark’s Square), this cathedral was less crowded. Tintoretto, Titian and others’ paintings graced the walls of the caverness holy space. I felt I was in a museum, but no – this is an active cathedral and these paintings and sculptures were commissioned to be here. We did download the Rick Steves’ Frari Church audio guide and it helped tremendously.

Inside Frari Church

Passing through the Campo Santa Margherita again, we stopped for pizza and went back to the hotel to gather our luggage for the cruise. Once on the boat, we had amazing views of the skyline. All in all, I felt we had enough time in Venice. The only thing I regret is not buying a leather purse along the way.

Last view of Venice from the cruise ship

 


Touring a Castle – Gorizia, Italy

Gorizia Castle

For those who’ve never heard of Gorizia, this small Italian town lies near the border of Slovenia. At various times, it has been ruled by the Venetians, French and Austrians. At the beginning of WWI, it was under Austrian rule until being conquered by the Italians in 1916 and again in 1918. To make matters more confusing, the boundary was also disputed after WWII when outlying areas of the town went to Yugoslavia in 1947.

It’s no wonder that a WWI museum is located here. But you wouldn’t know today that so many battles were fought here. Instead, the red-tiled town (which was mainly rebuilt in the 1920s due to significant damage in WWI) seems peaceful and definitely not touristy.

My other daughter quickly vetoed the plan to see a war museum. Thankfully, Gorizia Castle is located next door and we went to visit it while my husband and other daughter went to the trenches.

Between the two landmarks lies a stone church with a postage-size front yard. We chose to meet here 90 minutes later.

Climbing up the large steps, we entered a stone gate. With the castle to our right and the outer wall to our left, we ascended up the hill. Soon, an ivy-covered turret area appeared and we climbed the wall to see a birds-eye view of the town.

 

At the top, we paid the admission price, which was only 3 or 4 Euros and entered the venerable 11th century structure. What surprised me the most was seeing furniture in each of the rooms. Usually with structures this old, you pass by a room and a placard might say it was the dining room. In this case, the dining room had actual dining room furniture.

The dining room

Due to damage throughout the centuries, the city undertook a massive restoration campaign from 1935-1937 to restore the castle to its original splendor. We noticed that all the rooms came off of a large courtyard which we later learned is called the Court of the Lanzi. I always wondered how they had light inside the structure and this explained light coming from the outer wall and the courtyard.

Court of the Lanzi serves as the hub of the castle

Upstairs, we went into a music room that had a display case of various instruments as well as several halls that served as meeting and reception rooms.

We also passed by the prison which was exhibiting a WWI exhibit. We saw many different military uniforms and learned about the different fronts and battle that occurred in the area.

 

Lastly, we walked up another flight of stairs to the chapel and nursery areas.

The chapel inside the castle

We walked through a large room that was covered but open to the outside (this room was directly above a large diplomatic room below). From here we saw amazing views of Gorizia and we could walk all the way around the castle on this walk.

A model of the castle

Walkway around the top of the castle

 

View from the top of the castle

For more information about Castello di Gorizia, click here.

 


Europe Itinerary – 14 Days and 8 Countries

It was a very ambitious itinerary and I’m happy to say we did it all! The cruise encompassed days 4-11. Detailed posts and pictures soon to follow!

 

14 Days in Europe 

 

Day 1: Arrive in Klagenfurt, Austria

Flight into Venice via Amsterdam, rental car to Klagenfurt, Austria

 

Day 2: Day Trip to Slovenia

Lake Bled, Slovenia

Poertschach au Worthersee, Austria

Lake Bled, Slovenia

Dinner Klagenfurt

 

Day 3: Drive to Venice

Explore Klagenfurt

Gorizia, Italy

Arrive Venice

Grand Canal Tour

St. Mark’s Square

 

Day 4: Venice and Cruise Embarkation

Frari Church

Embark on Royal Caribbean Rhapsody of the Seas

 

Day 5: Dubrovnik, Croatia

Walk the City Walls

Private Tour of Old Town

 

Day 6: Kotor, Montenegro

Kotor

Hike to St. John’s Fortress

Tour of Old Town Kotor

 

Day 7: Day at Sea

Relax!

 

Day 8: Mykonos, Greece

Platis Giolos Beach

Mykonos Town

 

Day 9: Katakolon, Greece

Ancient Olympia

Kremasti Monastery

 

Day 10: Day at Sea

Relax!

 

Day 11: Cruise Debarkation in Venice, Drive to Tuscanny, Cinque-Terre & Genoa

Lucca, Tuscanny, Italy

St. Martin’s Cathedral, Bell Tower and museum

Bike the city walls

Riomaggiore, Cinque-Terre, Italy

Manarola, Cinque-Terre, Italy

Genoa, Italy

Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy

Day 12: Day Trip to Cinque Terre, Italy

Explore Genoa Old Port area near hotel

Park in Levanto for all-day train pass to Cinque Terre

lunch in Corniglia

Hike to Vernazza from Corniglia

Train ride to Monterrosso al Mer

Dinner in Portofino, Italy

 

Eze, France

Day 13 – Day Trip to French Rivera

Eze, France – Old City, lunch and Exotic Gardens

Drive through Monaco

St. Jean Cap-Ferrat – promenade walk

Nice, France – promenade des Anglais, Old town

Genoa, Italy – late (10 pm) dinner

 

Day 14 – Lake Como, Italy

Verenna, Lake Como, Italy – lunch

Ferry to Belagio, Lake Como, Italy

Mestre (mainland Venice) – dinner and hotel

 

 

Day 15 – Flight Home