Friday, May 17, 2019

Venice 2018

Canals of Venice.It’s been a while since our Italian vacation, but Danya and I keep thinking about writing a few words and posting a few pictures about Venice. So here it is.

Doge's PalaceDanya and I have been to Venice once before, but for our children it was the first time. Before the trip we told them stories about this city on the water — how unusual, beautiful and epic it is. I think they were not disappointed.

Gandola ride.We arrived by bullet train and took a water bus to get to our hotel — Hilton Molino Stucky. We booked a suite room, but got upgraded into a humongous two bedroom two bathroom suite. Probably the largest room that we’ve ever stayed in.

Gandola ride.We had our first dinner at Trattoria ai Cacciatorri on Guidecca — same place where we enjoyed our anniversary dinner 5 years ago. It was nice. We got grilled calamari as an appetizer, and I am proud to say that both of our children tried them, although I don’t think that they were particularly taken with the meal. They did love their main pasta dish though! It was Thanksgiving too, so we toasted and gave thanks for all the good things that happened to us last year.

Walking around Venice.The next day was our wedding anniversary. We did a lot of Venice sight seeing. It was cold, but at least it was not raining and the streets were not flooded. After some bargaining, we took a gondola ride. Our gondolier was a tall good looking blue eyed Venetian, who was steering gondolas in narrow Venice canals for the last 10 years. He said that it took him 6 months to learn how to do it, but just as with driving cars, some people learn slower, and some will never be good.

Tiny streets of Venice.During the ride it was even more obvious that Venice is sinking — slowly, but surely. Some buildings had water covering the steps completely and getting uncomfortably close to the windows. As much as I liked visiting Venice, there is no way that I would have chosen to live there.

Wedding anniversary dinner.We ate dinner at some fancy and expensive place, which to my dismay did not have a risotto on the menu. I ended up ordering black ink spaghetti, which were just OK. It was still a nice and memorable experience with my most favorite people.

Hunting for Venetian masks.We wanted to buy some Venetian masks, so we visited all the mask stores that we could find. Sadly, we were not able to find the place where we bought our joker mask last time, but we found a few authentic stores which produced real things and not cheap made in China counterfeits. I also love buying jewelry while traveling, so Daniеl got me a nice set of earrings and a matching necklace made with Murano glass.

Lunch.Executive lounge in Hilton proved to be very useful for having light free dinners, and that’s exactly where we went in the evening. Sadly there was no indoor pool in the hotel, but Anna was having trouble with her ears as is, so maybe it was for the best. By the way, we figured out that swimming cap in the pool greatly diminishes ear issues, so during our last Canada trip she had zero ear ache, even though she used the pool almost daily.

Flooded Venice.The next day was a little rainy, but not overwhelmingly so. Venice was somewhat flooded, and we had to use those raised wooden walkways on some streets and avoid certain streets altogether. A number of people was using special waterproof bags to protect their shoes, but we decided that we can get by without and as I mentioned just avoided especially flooded streets when possible. I’m sure it was fun to be wading though the humongous puddles though, but at 15 euros per shoe bag it was not worth it.

Saint Mark's Basilica.We visited Saint Mark’s Basilica, which is beautiful and unusual. The children seemed to like it too — it will be curious to see if they will recognize it on the pictures.

Flooded Venice.We continued our search for masks, and ended up buying a whole lot of them — four for us and one for Aaron. Anna got a cheap mask which she could wear the previous day, and it looks very cute on her. Arosha could not decide for a long time which variety of masks he likes best, but at the end he bought a sun and moon mask to match the overall stars and planets theme of his room. I think it fits very well and getting it certainly was very exciting for him. The masks that we got are three female faces, which we hanged over the fireplace in the living room, and a borg-looking mask which Daniеl keeps in his home office room.

Gnocchi!We tried to find good gelato places, but I guess late November is not the prime time for this treat, so even though we bought it on few occasions, it was not as good as the one that we bought in Milan. By the way, there were a lot of Russian speaking people working in food industry in Venice. Pretty much every food place, including Hilton buffet, had someone who spoke Russian. Also, if on mainland Italy Anna’s and Aarons blond hair and blue eyes attracted extra attention and smiles, Venetians were completely indifferent.

View from the top of the bell tower.On our last day we went up the bell tower of St. Mark’s Cathedral. Sadly, we had to take the elevator — no option of using steps. The view was very beautiful.

Bell tower.Afterwards we walked around some more, bought more jewelry for me, ate lunch and went back to the hotel. It was raining pretty hard, and walking in the narrow streets with umbrellas was not very enjoyable.

Lunch.The next day we took a water taxi to the airport and departed home.

Water taxi to the airport.I know some people love Venice, and some find it smelly, hot and overcrowded. I think a lot of this experience depends on the time of the year when people visit. Yes, it was cold and rainy, but I still think that visiting during less popular months beats being there in crowds of people during the peak season.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Anniversary in Venice

Sunny day in Venice.Venice was the final stop of our Italian trip. We timed it so that our 6th wedding anniversary would fall on one of the days that we would be staying in Venice. In fact, originally we planned to spend 2 nights in Venice and 2 nights in Milan, but shifting one of those nights over to Venice was definitely the right thing to do.

Venice character.If I were to write a short story it would be this: Venice was magical. It really was the peak of our trip. Rome was a great place to start our vacation and Venice was the right place to finish. I’m glad that it wasn’t the other way around. And it really would be hard to find a more romantic place on Earth to celebrate our anniversary at. And our hotel was the most luxurious one of our whole trip. While other cities have places to see Venice itself is a place to see.

Canals of Venice.And now into the details. We arrived to Venice by high speed train sometime in the early afternoon. Venice has two train stops and luckily we did our research ahead of time, so we got off on the right one — the very last stop of the line. We were slightly worried about getting to our hotel as we had to catch the right “bus” boat since we couldn’t really walk to the right place and taxi-boats would be very expensive. However directions that we prepared ahead of the trip turned out to be very easy to follow.

Canals of Venice.Right after walking out of the train terminal we saw what looked like a bus stop, only for boats. We had two options — either take one directly to the island where our hotel was located and walk, or take the boat to the island across the canal and catch a shuttle provided by hotel directly to the doors.

Streets of Venice.We figured we’ll just take the one that shows up first — they had numbers just as buses do. The one that arrived first actually stopped at both places, but the shuttle schedule didn’t really line up, so we figured we’ll take a walk, even though we worried slightly that there might not be a sidewalk or something like that.

Hilton Molino Stucky Venice.Our hotel was located on an island called Guidecca, which is directly to the south, across the canal from the main Venice itself. The stop that we got off at was called Palanca. Turned out that the walk itself took no more than 10 minutes at a relaxed pace and the only slight complication was that we had to carry our luggage up to a pair of small bridges to cross the canals — no big deal at all. Soon after we were inside the lobby of Hilton Molino Stucky Venice hotel — the most expensive (point-wise) stop of our trip.

Our suite.Several days before our arrival I got an email from the hotel manager asking what is the occasion for our stay and I told him that we are celebrating our anniversary. When we arrived instead of getting an upgrade to executive floor (our Diamond VIP benefit) they actually upgraded us to an executive floor suite with a view of Venice. When I checked the actual cost of the room it clocked in at over $1,000 per night. And we were getting this for free.

Window view.The view really was great. Included breakfasts were usual Hilton style — full kitchen with hot food. And executive lounge provided free drinks and snacks all day long. We really did drink a lot of wine throughout our vacation. There was no way to walk to the main part of Venice, but there was a ferry running every 30 minutes provided by our hotel with two stops on the other side: Zattere — a stop right across the canal and San Marco — main squire of Venice. The ride to Zattere was about 5 minutes and to San Marco around 15.

Ponte dell'Accademia. View from Accademia Bridge — one of four bridges over the Grand Canal.We also soon realized that you can walk all across Venice by foot. All the places are interconnected by tiny bridges along with several large bridges across the Grand Canal — no need to figure out public transportation or anything like that. Plus Venice itself is pretty tiny and can be walked across in a short amount of time.

Streets of Venice.Now we heard things from people that Venice doesn’t smell good, is very hot and humid. It very well might be that during the summer, but it defiantly is not the case at the end of November. We didn’t notice any smells and the temperature was very mild.

Venice. Daniеl.We actually lucked out with the weather. Less than a week before we got to Venice there were a lot of reports of Venice being completely flooded. When we were there it was perfectly fine and we didn’t see any signs of flooding. However right after we left the city got flooded again. Talk about good timing.

Foggy night.I also got a good amount of great photographs. First day was cloudy, second day was sunny and third and forth days were very very foggy which made the place even more cozy and romantic. The city definitely has character. We spent hours upon hours just walking around, looking for the tiniest and quietest streets and bridges we could find. All in all we absolutely loved it.

San Marco. The center of Venice.On the first day we just walked around and looked around and had a very nice dinner at Santo Stefano. Alёna’s black ink risotto was especially nice.

Inside San Marco Cathedral.On the second day we went to explore the main square and San Marco Cathedral itself. It’s an eastern influenced architecture and has 5 domes more reminiscent of those that you would see on a mosque.

Piazza San Marco.There is also a high tower next to it. There are no stairs and only an elevator ride to the top. As a result it didn’t seem as impressive — there is no sense of accomplishment that I’ve experienced when I was at the top of the tower in Florence. But the weather was nice, so we got some bird-eye view photos.

View from the top of the tower.And we did a lot of wondering on this day as well. We also stopped by Venetian Guggenheim museum, and quickly realized that if you want to visit Guggenheim you do it in New York. They advertised that they had Picasso, Dali, Kandinsky and such, but in reality had one of each. New York is where you go.

Anniversary dinner at Trattoria Ai Cacciatori.This was the day of our anniversary. We decided to find a dinner place somewhere on Giudecca for this night. We ended up walking all the way from our hotel on the west side of the island to the very eastern side of the island and in the process discovered only two open places. I guess in low season this island is really asleep. We ended up eating dinner at one of the places that we found online prior to our walk — Trattoria Ai Cacciatori.

Streets of Venice.Although the pictures that we saw showed a very rustic looking place when we got there it turned out that they renovated and ended up with plain white walls. Sounds like a mistake to me. The food however was good. We ordered a couple of appetizers, I had Venetian liver and if I remember correctly Alёna had some fish. And of course more wine again. This also was the only place where our waiter (a young guy) had trouble understanding our English — probably one and only such occurrence during our whole trip.

Venice masks.On our third day we did a lot of wondering around again. I’m repeating myself — but what a beautiful place. On this day we started looking for something authentic to bring as a gift to my parents and something for ourselves. When we first arrived to Venice we noticed tons of shops selling masks. At first we thought that it was weird, but later on, when you start looking at them you see how really beatiful and well crafted some of them are — they are indeed art. However the trick is to find the real ones that are made in Venice and not some imports. At first imports might sound like a good deal price-wise, but when you hold both in your hands you feel a substantial difference.

Mask shop.We walked through a lot of stores until we found one that we really liked. This place didn’t even have a sign, but when we walked in it had a nice collection of all kinds of masks and there was no sales person to pester you. There was a master working on them. When we walked in he was picking the masks out of the forms and cutting them out. He greeted us and carried on doing his thing leaving us to look at everything at our own pace.

Venice. Fog.We ended up picking out the ones that we really liked and got a pair of them for a very nice price of about €50 each — it really is a good deal. I asked him to pose for a picture, but he, what seemed like a typical Italian, said that he doesn’t really like himself on pictures, but instead will do something else. So he grabbed a mask, a cape and a hat and stroke a rather cool pose for us. We were quite happy with our acquisition and were actually glad to see the process of those being created with our own eyes.

Streets of Venice.In the evening we picked another restaurant to eat at, but this was really the only time that we struck out with our random picking. Not that the place was bad or anything, it just wasn’t anything special either — and by now we were spoiled with our luck with restaurants.

Foggy day. Venice.When we got to our hotel we ordered a taxi to the airport. The price was quite high — €105 if I remember correctly. But we were aware of it from the time that we were booking planes and decided that we don’t want to fumble with public transportation and other people’s schedules on the day of our departure. My nerves are worth to me more than the money and me being me — this was money well spent.

Canals of Venice.In the morning taxi picked us up at our scheduled time and gave us the last ride through the romantic canals of this beautiful city. We arrived at Marco Polo aiport and had an uneventful non-stop flight back home. Now some time has passed and all those cities have a very fond place in my memory. So many great days and places I’ve seen with my bestest friend in the whole wide world, my beautiful wife.

Streets of Venice.P.S. I have a lot of great photographs of Venice left, but no room to post them. The city is just too photogenic.

Fog. View from our window.
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