Italy Days 11 and 12: Venice

Departing from Como, we had to head back to Milan on the train to get to Venice. We actually took a train, took the metro across Milan, and then took another train to Venice. After arriving at the train station in Venice, we got our first taste of Venetian life: the water bus. Operating the same way as a regular bus, the only difference is that it is a boat. With a route through the Grand Canal, we got our first view of Venice.

Venice is a truly unique city, somehow appearing out of the water itself. The streets meander over bridges and crisscross through plazas and squares. Navigation can be a bit tricky since not every street is connected by a bridge, so if you miss your turn, it might be a while before you get another chance to cross the water. We made it to our hostel with no problems (an Italian first!). The rooms are pretty basic, but in a good location close to San Marco and other attractions in the city.

We wandered around a bit and took in the layout of the city as much as possible. Venice is a city of boats. Boats of all shapes and sizes travel the canals of Venice, from the small gondolas full of tourists to the mid-size speedboats common for residents, the water buses and taxis, and the large ferry boats and even bigger cruise ships. There are no vehicles in Venice, even the police and emergency services use boats to get around.

That night, I had my first opportunity to try one of Venice’s signature dishes: cuttlefish served in its own ink. A cuttlefish is similar to an octopus or squid (complete with tentacles), and the ink has a mellow favor that is vaguely reminiscent of the ocean. I had mine that night with tagitelle pasta (long, flat noodles) but it is served with risotto or polenta as well. I really enjoyed this dish – not surprising as I do love calamari and octopus!

In the morning, we attempted to go see San Marco. However, it was closed for a service, so we headed to the Doge’s Palace. The Doge was the elected ruler of the  leader of the Most Serene Republic of Venice for more than a thousand years, with the last Doge abdicating the title in 1797 as Napoleon’s forces took over the area. The Doge, similar to the Pope served for life after being elected by a council of forty. The Doge’s Palace showcased the private rooms of the Doge and his wife, as well as the council chambers. The palace was not just home to the Doge, but also the seat of democracy and justice (including the prison) in Venice. The Doge’s Palace also includes the Chamber of the Great Council, which is one of the largest rooms in Europe.

We decided to take the advice of my friend Jen and headed to a restaurant she said had been her favorite, not just in Venice, but in Italy. With that ringing endorsement, it was hard to say no. Plus the restaurant was in a new part of town so it gave us the perfect reason to do some more exploring. During our walk across town, we cross the Rialto Bridge over the Grand Canal. This is the most well-known bridge in a city with a dearth of bridges. Once the center of city life, the bridge still bustles with tourists and shops. The restaurant we went to was in a much less touristy part of town, which was a nice break from the selfie-taking masses around San Marco and Rialto Bridge. At lunch, I had another opportunity to try the cuttlefish ink pasta, this time with spinach noodles. This made the ink look even darker – but tasted delicious!

After lunch we headed back to San Marco, where the line out the door was too intimidating. We decided to brave a slightly shorter line and head up the campanile. This campanile was the easiest to climb – it had an elevator. The view was great, you could see the Doge’s Palace, San Marco and the square, across to the island of San Giorgio, and to different parts of Venice.

The pass to museum also included entrance to several other museums on the square, including the Correr Museum. This museum showcases where Princess Elizabeth stayed for several years, as well as more recent Venetian history (by more recent, I mean only 200 years ago). Most of the furniture and the decor in the museum was not the original, but congruent with the time being represented. It was another great museum. We also took a quick look through the Biblioteca and the Archaeological Museum.

That night, we decided to explore another new part of town, Castello. This was suggested by one of this blogs readers (I have readers!) who used to live in Venice. Thanks to TravelinKait, we headed over to this area and were not disappointed. We started at a great bar that I found on TripAdvisor. Here we decided to try the famous Spritz for an apertivi (pre-dinner drink). This drink is prosecco and liquor – usually Campari or Apertol with a splash of soda water. We started with the Campari one, since Campari is from Milan. Garnished with an orange and a green olive, the drink was bitter but refreshing. Next was a pre-dinner cheese plate and a try at the Aperol spritz. Garnished the same, it wasn’t as bitter but was just as refreshing.

For dinner, we went to another highly recommended restaurant from TripAdvisor. I just had the vegetable soup (vegetables had been lacking on this trip, sorry Mom!) and Chelsey finally got her own cuttlefish ink pasta. As we were finishing our wine, the owner of the restaurant came out and serenaded the remaining crowd with a few Italian songs. Deciding we weren’t quite done for the night, we headed back to the first bar for a few more drinks. The crowds here were good, but not overwhelming, and the prices were better than closer to San Marco or the Grand Canal and the food was better as well. It was a great end for Chelsey’s last night.

The next morning we got up a little early to try and beat the crowd to San Marco. However, we didn’t move fast enough and were again turned off by the swarm in front of the church. After a quick breakfast snack of canoli, we did some last-minute shopping and cappuccino drinking. On the way back to our hostel, one of Chelsey’s dreams came true when we watched a gondola pass by with musical accompaniment. We didn’t take a ride in a gondola as we were priced out at 80 Euros for 30 minutes. Then Chelsey packed up and headed back to Rome for her flight that night.

Now alone, I tackled the few remaining items on my to-do list before I got on the ferry headed to Greece on Saturday morning. I did a load of laundry at a Venetian lavenderia (laundry mat). I figured out how to get to the port where my ferry would depart (it was back on the mainland). I wandered around for awhile and found a supermarket to stock up on snacks for the boat. I ate a quick lunch in two parts – a slice of pizza (surprisely good for all the terrible things I’d heard about the state of pizza in Venice) and salad in a random plaza later that afternoon. Knowing I had to be up early to get out to the ferry station, I called it an early night after a nice dinner of traditional Venetian octopus salad (octopus, lemon juice, parsley and bell peppers). Next up was a 33 hour ferry ride to the Greek port of Patras.

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