Travel Review: Three Days in Venice

10 Oct

661In my last review I mentioned how well-rested we were after our CNL experience. In the short term, this was true. That said, we were just weary and exhausted by the time we hit Italy, and it’s going to show in these next few reviews. Going from doing very little each day to walking many miles and seeing so many new things wasn’t just physically exhausting, it was mentally exhausting too! We felt like we had to pack everything we could into this trip and not take any breaks–so by the time we arrived in Italy, halfway through, the pace had caught up with us. I highly recommend throwing in a few rest days here and there if you have a trip longer than a week or two–and don’t push yourselves too hard, or you’ll burn out!

Accommodation Review: B&B Ca’Contarini

We started off our time in Venice trying to find our B&B. I had already been to Venice once before for a few days, so I knew how difficult it could be to navigate the canals. Nevertheless, we headed off from the train station with the directions from the B&B and… found ourselves hopelessly lost. My advice is to print off your own directions before you start out, because Ca’Contarini’s just weren’t up to snuff. The first thing it tells you is to find the Accademia Bridge. There are signs pointing to this, but we couldn’t see any from where we exited the train station. This was one of the most difficult parts of getting to the hotel.

Just past the Accademia Bridge is Campo San Stefano, which is where we needed to be to find the hotel–BUT the directions say “campo san stefano and there ask on calle dei orbi( corte de la vida) door number 3025.” This makes it sound like Calle Dei Orbi is just off Campo San Stefano. Really it’s off another road that’s off Campo San Stefano, which we figured out by looking at the building numbers. If you’re curious, it’s on the left between two restaurants with outdoor seating.

We arrived early of course, but we were able to leave our bags in an open area by the door which felt safe enough as the owner’s office was just above this and he had to open the door for anyone without keys to come in. When we came back, we discovered our room was very clean, open, and comfortable. The owner is very friendly and made us feel very welcome.

The bathroom was shared, but we never had any trouble with having to wait for it to be open. I will say, the shower is a bit small so shaving was not the easiest of tasks, and it drained very slowly. We found the best method was to get hair wet, turn the water off, lather up shampoo, rinse, turn water off, etc. Not hugely inconvenient and you’re saving water that way anyway!

Breakfast was a lot of packaged foods, which some people complain about, but they were filling. Breakfast is served in a small room with a single dining table, which leads itself to either eating awkwardly with people you don’t know, or making friends! We experienced both. The first morning we were joined by couples from other rooms who clearly knew each other and didn’t speak much English, so it was a pretty awkward, silent meal. The next morning we ate with a couple from Brazil, one of whom did speak English, and we had a great conversation about our travels.

Ca’Contarini is convenient to the Rialto and Piazza San Marco, but removed enough that you can get a quiet, restful night’s sleep. I’d stay there again if we ever visit Venice again!

Getting Lost in Venice

645Before going to Venice the first time, I read that the best way to see the place is to get lost there. Wander around until you have no idea where you are and try out a restaurant you stumble across, or simply enjoy a stroll down some canal or other. This method of tourism is obviously best done with the accompaniment of a map so you can make your way back to where you’re staying, but my friend and I had fun with it back in 2011 and my husband and I had fun with it on this trip.

That said, it’s nearly impossible to escape the crowds that swarm Venice, so be prepared for that–there are people and tacky souvenir shops wherever you go. I knew from experience that I wanted a bit more out of the city this time, so I looked for things that would allow us to learn a bit more about Venice’s history than we did on the last trip. I ended up finding a few things to fill our three nights. So while we simply wandered around Venice by day, stuffing our faces with as much pizza and gelato as we could find, our nights were a bit more structured.

We did do a few different things during the day — we went to the Doge’s Palace and Murano. The Doge’s Palace was the662 same as I remembered it–gorgeous and filled with lots of different information inside. It was fun being able to cross the Bridge of Sighs (which, this time, had no construction around it!). I’d call the palace a must-see in Venice. Murano, on the other hand, was a bit disappointing. If you don’t know, Murano is where a lot of Venetian glass is made. I think our disappointment arose from lack of research–I don’t think we got off the boat at the right stop. We didn’t get to see much of anything, it was a rainy, dreary day, and we were exhausted. So we didn’t spend much time there and opted instead to go back to the hotel and take a nap. If you’re going to Murano, I’d recommend researching where you’re supposed to get off the boat to see the most stuff!

Night #1: Venice Ghost Walking Tour

652This ghost tour, offered by Viator, starts on the Rialto Bridge and covers a lot of ground and stories about Venice. It was a bit different than I expected, as many of the stories were told nowhere near where they happened, but I didn’t find this to be too disruptive to the overall spooky feel of the tour. We learned about some famous Venetian ghosts, some haunted places including hotels where some members of the tour were staying, where the Venitian graveyards were, and other helpful information like why streets were named the way they were (after the businesses that were on the street, mostly– Rio Terra dei Assassini, anyone?)

While it wasn’t the best ghost tour I’ve ever been on, it certainly wasn’t the worst either. I thought we learned a lot of history and folklore, which I loved, and we ducked down various streets that we likely wouldn’t have come across if we hadn’t gone on the tour in the first place. Worth the money!

Night #2: Teatro San Gallo and Venezia!

I had seen mixed reviews about the Venezia play at Teatro San Gallo but decided to give it a shot. My husband and I purchased the “dinner and a show” tickets. I was under the impression that we were served dinner at the theatre, but actually we were sent to a nearby restaurant to eat. If you purchase your tickets online, you may be just as confused as we were because they don’t send you a receipt or any information about where you’re supposed to go when. We ended up inquiring at the theatre itself earlier in the day, and they said we could come earlier for the dinner or we could eat after the show let out (around 9).

672We opted to arrive around 6. The friendly staff printed our tickets and pointed us in the direction of the restaurant which was just a short walk away. The staff there knew we were coming and led us to a table. There was no one else there, which was a bit of a shame–the restaurant across the street seemed to be full of people, and the food at our restaurant was actually quite good! We ordered off a set menu and both had lasagna as our first course (YUM!). I had chicken as my second course, and y husband had a mixed seafood plate–again, both were very good! The meal was accompanied by a bread basket, water, and glass of wine each. We left stuffed!

Afterwards, we headed back to the theatre to see a short movie before the play (included in the ticket price). I could see why the reviews were mixed–this movie must have been filmed in the 70’s and it was a bit cheesy, BUT it did include a lot of history of Venice that I didn’t know before and I enjoyed watching it.

The play is performed by 5 people in various costumes and it goes over some of the information covered in the movie, but it does so in a humorous way. The English spoken by everyone was excellent (we had an inkling that one of the actresses actually was English, but can’t confirm our suspicions!) so the play was very easy to understand. They kept us laughing for the duration, and we enjoyed ourselves and–again–learned a lot.

I probably wouldn’t go again, but if you’re in Venice it’s definitely worth checking out once.

Night #3: Gondola Ride and Serenade

645Several months before our trip I received an e-mail from British Airways saying my Avios Points from my trip to and from London in 2011 were about to expire. I hopped on to see what I could get, and it turns out a Venice gondola ride was one of the options listed. I had to pay a bit extra on top of the points to get a gondola ride for two, but it was much less than it would have cost for both of us to go otherwise.

Gondola rides are quite expensive for what they are, but they’re also part of the Venice experience, so I knew we had to go! This particular gondola ride and serenade probably wasn’t worth the money (apparently some people spent 80 Euro on theirs!), but because we got ours mostly free I didn’t mind it.

Basically, we were packed in to a gondola with two other couples and shoved off as part of a flotilla onto the Grand Canal while a musician and singer in another boat serenaded the lot of us (though we could barely hear him at times!). The boats kept knocking into each other. I think all up we were on the water for 20 minutes. Seriously, not worth it. But I know I’m not going to convince most people of that–if you’re in Venice, you have to do the gondola thing, right? But if you’re on the fence, know that the whole experience isn’t really that great and if you don’t do it, you’re not missing out on much.

THE BEST GELATO IN VENICE: Suso Gelatoteca

This place is so worth a mention. We stumbled on it by chance and found it was the best, most reasonably priced gelato place in Venice. It’s on Calle della Bissa near Piazza San Marco, but because that’s probably going to be difficult to find if you look at a map, here’s how we found it: at the Rialto, follow the signs to San Marco. At some point, you’ll go through this little “tunnel” area with lots of shops. Suso is noticeable by its big sign in the shop.

There aren’t as many flavour options here as there are at other places, but the quality and price is amazing. It was 1.60 Euro for a very generous scoop (there are some places on Piazza San Marco that offer it for 1 Euro and give you the a little bite of gelato and that’s it–not worth it!). Our favourite flavour by far was “Opera” which was essentially a hazelnut gelato with a thick layer of Nutella-like substance on top. So. GOOD.

Needless to say, we were back every single day, multiple times a day. We didn’t find gelato this good in Florence or Rome either–so if you’re there, check it out! LOVED it!

**Oh, and by the way… Venice flooded while we were there! That didn’t happen last time. The whole Piazza San Marco was under water for a few hours each day. Fun times.

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