Thursday, October 30, 2014

{Vacation Recap} Venice, Italy

Two posts in one week?!  What madness is this?

Just kidding :)

I am so excited to document this trip and I beg your forgiveness in advance because this is about to become a very Italia focused blog for a bit.  If you hate beautiful pictures and food porn, then stop now (also, I'm not sure we can be friends).

I have other posts that will eventually be published regarding how we planned the trip, and little tricks that I think would be helpful to others planning similar vacations, but most are pretty much trip re-caps.  Ahhh....take me back!

On September 17th, We flew from Chicago to Venice with a few hours to kill during our connection in Frankfurt.  Our flight wasn't a great one.  The plane was a huge jumbo jet (the kind with an upstairs) and we sat in two middle economy plus seats (with a huge flat screen a row ahead of us to boot).

Happy and smiling before the numb butts and necks kicked in...

Let's just say that I have never been more tempted to overpay for business class (and those amazing convertable sleep pods) in my life!   Not helping things, United forgot my gluten free meal, so my dinner was a sad dry, iceberg lettuce salad. Womp womp (no worries, with dietary issues, you must plan for these things, so I made sure to eat a huge meal at the O'Hare Chili's...the food can only get better from there, right?  Right).

In any event, airport food never sounded so good, and we couldn't wait for the opportunity to try some German style!  We found the Frankfurt airport super impressive, and before too long set our sights on an adorable German Pub where we promptly parked ourselves for the duration of the layover.

Can you blame us?  Look at it:

We devoured the brats and kraut, and washed them down with a nice dry Riesling for myself and a beer for Tom. We felt like we at least were able to enjoy a bit of Frankfurt even if it was only the airport.  Frankfort also rocks because they have free carts all over the place which was so appreciated as we were ready to take off all of our bags and take it easy.  There was plenty of schlepping yet to do, so this was a must needed respite.

Have to go for the brats right?

After a short flight, we finally landed in Venice with only 24 hours to explore before we needed to move on.    While it wasn't originally on our itinerary, we couldn't pass up the cheap tickets to Italy.

I am so glad we did this as Venice was the perfect intro to Italy (and for Tom the perfect intro to Europe!).  I mean, there is nothing that looks quite like Venice is there?

The minute you step out of the airport you know you aren't in Kansas anymore (that was cheesy - not the first time you'll hear me say that word in this post though, hehe - but true).  There are water taxis and buses waiting to whisk you away, and I thought I was about to burst waiting until it was time to push off.

We decided on the water bus as the taxi charged 110 euros for the two of us (versus 30 euros for the bus or "vaporetti").  In retrospect, we probably should have just shelled out for the taxi in order to maximize our time there.  The bus took about 90 minutes and I had major envy every time a taxi sped by.  The decision also probably cost us the dinner in Burano I was hoping to squeeze in (admittedly, that was probably a bit overambitious of me!) but I guess that just means we have to come back ;)

My displeasure at the speed of the bus was quickly forgotten once we approached the Grand Canal..... How can you be grumpy when you look out the window and see this?! #canigetalift

or this

or this

ugh, so ugly

We checked into  The Gritti Palace which has basically spoiled us for life.   It is a converted Doge's Palace that was shut down for a bit while they cataloged the art and antiques and renovated everything.   Located on the Grand Canal, it has stunning views where we planned to soak up as much as we could during our short stay. Honestly, had we never left the hotel, I think we would still deem the stop in Venice "worth it". Check out the pics of some of the hotel's common areas:

the amazing (and tiny!) elevator

Our room was huge and beautiful in all of it's Venetian Glory: Herringbone wood floors, Murano glass chandeliers, plush drapes, and one of the best mattresses ever (the long flight in economy might have contributed to that last opinion hehe).   The bathroom was enormous and almost entirely made of marble.  

I have to admit that I had a bit of what Tina Fey refers to as "imposter sydrome" when we schlepped through the lobby super grungy from our travels and with backpacks on to boot.  We must have looked and smelled like dirty hippies.  We were also the youngest people there!

After, a wonderfully luxurious shower, we felt like human beings again and were off to explore!

The front desk gave us this handy map - it was no help at all

Here's the view just outside the street entrance to the adorbable, right?!

Venice is about getting lost, and the unmarked, winding streets, made it VERY easy to oblige. We loved walking through St. Marks Square and enjoyed every second of our stroll, even if it took us in circles from time to time!  At one point, we ended up right back in the place as the pic above and joked that at least we knew we could get back to ou hotel :)

What should have taken 15 minutes to get from our hotel to dinner, took us about 45 minutes or so but we were in no hurry.  I liked seeing St. Mark's square but much preferred the adorable, tiny streets and alleys away from the throngs of tourists (I say that with love, because obviously, we were tourists!).

I don't know why, but seeing old Italian women peeking out of windows thrilled me!  See if you can spot the lady below...and that laundry! So adorable...I don't think that would look quite as picturesque in Chicago :)

I've heard not so great things about Venice's food and restaurants, but we lucked out and found a winner in Hosteria al veccio broggoso.  

They prepare the food in accordance with an old fishing craft (bragosso) and the seafood is super fresh.  The presentation was awesome, and I loved that we had a table outside where we could split a bottle of wine and people watch as we ate a wonderful meal.

This was a great wine...hope we try it again someday

Spider Crab


Tom's homemade ravioli 

Various fresh clams

Palate Cleanser...essentially Lemon Slushy  yum!

They also gave us limoncello after we ate which was just a perfect ending to our first meal in Italia!

Don't mind if I do!

We then walked off dinner (to make room for our first Italian Gelato of course!) and headed back to the hotel.

We had hoped to find a gondola to jump into at some point, but didn't see any available.  We made the obvious choice to go back and enjoy the cocktails on our hotel's amazing terrace.

*Sad trombone...the empty Gondola Station.  Just joking - there are no sad trombones, we're in Italy silly!

Venice at night is beautiful and seeing the Santa Maria della Salute (Our Lady of Health) lit up at night made for a stunning view.

Apparently, (thanks, wiki), it was built in the 1600s as a way to address a horrible plague...hence the name. 

We couldn't get over how beautiful it looked all lit up, and would soon learn that Italy at night - in general - is magic.

As you can imgine, we didn't want the night to end, but knew we needed to get to bed in order to prepare for Florence.

The next morning we enjoyed a delish continental breakfast on the terrace.  There was a minor scare when I realized the food was 53 euros a person and we had already eaten (I may have joked "guess we'll just skip lunch and dinner tonight")...luckily breakfast was apparently included in our room rate...phew!  Thank you SPG! What a gorgeous way to wake up (with or without the scare)!

Loved these two ladies - they looked like they were having the grandest time!  The one on the right was American but spoke perfect Italian, the one on the left made sure to wave at every passing boat - I don't know how she kept up!

Afterwards, we found a gondola right outside of our hotel and hopped in (tip: don't get in before negotiating the price).  

Ahhh, that ride: It was cheesy and amazing and everything you could hope for.  I am impressed that  these guys can navigate the water-ways without ever hitting anything.   The streets are so narrow and the gondolas are huge!

Our Hotel is the big brick one on the left:

Our...driver (?) expertly weaved us through the grand canal and tiny side-streets where we were treated to live singing (courtesy of other gondolas).   I mean, really Venice, can you stop being so damn magical? We are trying to leave!

Eventually, it was time to go.  We grabbed a water taxi from the hotel to take us to the station where our high speed train was waiting to whisk us to Florence!  Knowing you are on your way to Firenze, certainly softens the blow of leaving this wondeful city behind.

We were surprised by how much we adored Venice and how hard it was to leave, even while being excited about the next stop.   Now we cannot wait to come back one day (and finally make it to Burano!). 

I highly recommend making Venice a priority for even just day or so if you ever have the chance!  You won't regret it.