Friday, June 24, 2011: Venice

Yet another travel adventure awaited us today (actually two…read on until the end…). We set off for Venice in the morning after my husband walked to the train station early to buy our tickets. However, when we all walked over at the designated time to catch our train we saw the word ‘soppresso’ where the track number should have been. We quickly learned this was Italian for ‘cancelled’. Since we were meeting a guide for a tour of Venice we were in a bit of a time crunch. The information line was not long, and we garnered that in these situations you just hop on the next train and hope there is a spot available…not the ideal situation for us since we had paid extra for 1st class seats and were not now guaranteed seating at all (together or otherwise) in either 1st or coach…and no refunds offered! A bit of an unorganized operation…Fortunately we were all able to find a stray seat here and there in 1st once we were on the train (uh, the next train…), and we only arrived in Venice about 45 minutes later than planned, and still in time to meet our guide at the pre-arranged time. So in the end it was more of a learning experience. Yep, that’s what I’m going with on this…

Venice is magical…I just loved the sights as we rolled into our stop! There are water buses, water taxis and gondolas waiting as you exit the station…we chose a water taxi to take us to Piazza San Marco where we were meeting our guide. Our taxi wound through the canal, giving us ample time to take photos along the way. Upon docking we found a quick bite to eat to tide us over…

We met ‘Guiliana’, our guide…a wonderful Italian lady from Venice who has been giving tours for over 20 years. She grew up here, and although she no longer lives in Venice, she still owns a house here…which is now vacant. Apparently this is common these days because the upkeep to maintain these homes is expensive.

Guiliana took us through San Marco Square first, giving us a basis in the town’s rich history and guiding us through the church of San Marco. This is a busy, touristy area, quite crowded this time of year. We were able to avoid the long lines since she is an approved guide…very helpful and time-effective!

Next, we headed off the beaten path. Once we left the main area it was not crowded at all, and we were given a tour of the town she grew up in and knows so well. We stopped for a bite to eat at a wonderful restaurant where we ate their fish special of the day…a triple play selection including flounder, sea bass and some other white fish…all steamed and served with a very light tomato sauce, olives and potatoes. It was supposed to be a light snack, but our waiter was the ultimate convincer, especially after serving us an aperitif of Aperol (an Italian liqueur) mixed with Prosecco…who could resist???

Then it was back to the streets/alleys/canals of Venice to finish off our tour. We left Guiliana and strolled a bit more on our own, stopping at a wine bar when we needed a rest. Sitting outside we people-watched as we slowly sipped our wine and water. Refreshed, we continued on to the train station to head back into Verona.

This brings us to the ‘Hindsight is 20/20’ Thought of the Day: When taking the train, verify your stop before you exit the train. It was late and we were eager to get back to our hotel and rest up for the next day. We saw ‘Verona’ listed as the next stop, but did not verify it was the stop we needed. Yes, you guessed it: it was the wrong stop. We soon found ourselves in the less-touristy area of Verona. Just another side note: in Italy you cannot just hail a taxi off the street…by law, you must either find a taxi stand (we could not locate one) or actually call a company to send a taxi (we had no number/name of a company to call). We did not feel comfortable asking for directions (didn’t want to tip anyone off that we were lost tourists, even though we were obviously tourists, and obviously lost) but we finally found a pizza place that was kind enough to call a taxi for us. So we had our second train adventure in the space of 24 hours…ah, what is yet to come??? J

Thursday, June 23, 2011: Verona

Verona is a beautiful town. It is one of the most visited cities in Italy and most known as the setting for ‘Romeo and Juliet’. We checked into our hotel [they just keep getting worse! Can’t take the smoke smell in our non-smoking rooms, and these beds are the worst!], and then set off for a walk into town.

It was only a short distance into town [this is one of the few redeeming qualities of the hotel; the staff was friendly/helpful, too]. We strolled past the touristy section of town where the restaurants take advantage of the great views and charge a cover to be able to eat there – and found a wine bar off of a side alley. The wines were well chosen varieties from the area and ranged from about 2-5 euro per glass…The man who owns the bar is experimenting with making his own microbrews, so the beer choices he offered, though not extensive, were great selections as well. He also offered us a lovely restaurant recommendation which was off the beaten path of the typical tourist places. This turned out to be a good little hole-in-the-wall choice with local food offerings (uh, my eldest son ordered horse meat…my apologies to all of my horse-loving friends. Please note I did NOT try it…even though he insisted it was delicious) and delectable desserts. And again, the prices were much more reasonable than if we had eaten at a typical tourist trap…

After dinner we waddled on back to the hotel. All this walking should hopefully ease the stress those extra calories are putting on our bodies!