We bought boat tickets and boarded the public water taxi (like you see above) and started down the canal. I can't even describe how beautiful it was. Every building was a work of art. The colors, the age, the details, the architecture. I was in heaven.
We made it to our hotel, after missing our stop and backtracking a bit, but we made it. We stayed at La Commedia, and it was a beautiful hotel. I'd definitely recommend it based on the location and the service. After settling in for a bit, we headed out to explore and get some dinner.
This is a view from the famous Rialto Bridge. It was so beautiful.
Carnival is a festival in Venice during the month of February where everyone wears masks and dress up in costume. I got sucked right into the festivities when I saw this pretty lace and glitter mask.
We wandered around and bought gelato and Nutella crepes, found tiny bridges to cross, and got lost a few times. The way the city is planned, there are very few connecting bridges to cross the canals. We often found ourselves at a dead end, which really meant the alley ended and there was a drop-off into the water. There are tiny shops all along every alley, and they're filled with all kinds of souvenirs. Probably 75% of them were filled with cheap things like the carnival masks and other silly things, but there were also book stores, shoe stores, small boutiques, and other shops. There were also big name brand stores there like Calvin Klein, Versace, and others.
For dinner, we ate at a small restaurant that our hotel desk recommended, and it was good! I had a lobster pesto pasta that tasted very fresh and light and ended the meal with creme brulee. It was a really enjoyable evening of exploring together.
The next day was Saturday, and our to-do list included a gondola ride and buying a few souvenirs. We headed to St. Marc's Square and had a great time spotting all of the cool costumes. Carnival in Venice is like the best and classiest version of Halloween for adults. There were so many costumes, and they were all so different! Most of the people who dressed up were in pairs or trios, and the costume sets all coordinated. It really was incredible.
We walked through the square, which put us on the other side of Venice and right on the water. There were lots of vendors selling artwork on the beach, and I picked up a few watercolor paintings of Venice for me and my parents. There were also a lot of gondolas and gondoliers to pick from, but the prices all seemed to be about the same. A 20-45 minute ride was between $90-$150.
We chose our boat and driver, and it couldn't have been a prettier day to do it. We got in and found ourselves leaning right. It turns out that gondolas are intentionally balanced on the right so that the gondolier can stand on the left and paddle. The paddle only stays on the one side the entire time.
All of the stereotypes I knew about gondoliers turned out to be true. Our gondolier wore stripes, was very handsome, and even sang a little bit. The tour took us through many of the small canals in the city. We saw little delivery boats docked at the back doors of buildings and passed other gondolas.
It was a really relaxing and enjoyable experience. And from what I've heard, February is a great time to take a gondola ride. I guess when it starts heating up in the late spring and summer, the water starts to stink. Thankfully it smelled fine for us, and we still had sun and great weather too.
After our ride we headed back to the Rialto Bridge to buy some souvenirs, eat lunch, and grab gelato. We ended up picking up leather journals and quills with ink for the boys.
That day the sun was shining for the first time since we'd arrived in Italy, which was wonderful, but Venice was also SO crowded on Saturday. I think all of the Italians were there for their day off of work, and so I was glad we'd had Friday to explore when it was less crowded. Plus I was ready to leave when we did. Some of the tiny bridges were so backed up with people that it took quite some time to get where you needed to go.
We packed up, checked out, and caught our train back to Milan. We stayed at the hotel in the airport, which made for an easy departure the next morning.
Flying out of Milan, we got to board our first tiny plane out on the tarmac and actually climb the steps to get in. It was pretty cool. ;) Once we got to Switzerland we had a long layover, but it was crazy how much time it took to get our passports stamped and get to our gate. We thought we had plenty of time until we heard them calling our names over the intercom! It felt like one of those crazy scenes from a movie as we ran through the airport to catch our flight.
Thankfully we made it on board and had an uneventful ten-hour flight to Chicago. The traveling home felt like the longest part of our week, just like on any trip, and we were so tired by the time we made it back to KC. We got home at about 9:00 p.m., and two of our four kids were already asleep. Thankfully we were able to pass out as well and start that crazy jet lag recovery!
I've tried to list a few of our tips and things we learned while visiting Venice. I wish we could have spent more than one day there, but I do think 24 hours was long enough to experience the gist of what Venice has to offer.
- Use the public transport, not a taxi. The private boat taxis are very expensive, and supposedly the only time they are a good option is when you need to leave very early or very late for the train station.
- Keep a paper map with you in case your Internet goes out. The only Internet problems we experienced in Italy were in Venice. One of my followers did recommend a map app that allows you to download the map and use it offline. That would have been helpful!
- Stay near St. Marc's Square or the Rialto Bridge. There was so much to see and do within walking distance of this area.
- Our hotel offered a free boat ride and tour of the glass factory. We didn't have time to take them up on it, but it sounded interesting!
- Wear socks and shoes with good support. There is so much cobblestone in Venice that you really begin to feel it.
- Bring euros. ATMs were more rare than usual. We did find a few when we really needed one, but they were more difficult to find than in Milan.
- Buy tickets to tour the Basilica and Doge's Palace ahead of time. The lines to those attractions were so long. We didn't try to go in, but I wish we would have.
- Go on a weekday—the weekends were busier with locals from the mainland.
- Gondola rides were between 80 and 150 euros. If you are traveling with friends, you could share a gondola and split that fare.
In general, here are a few other things about traveling in Italy:
- Pack socks, a large scarf, a power converter for all electronics, extra chargers, a water bottle, and a leather jacket. Backpacks are a must.
- Italians don't seem to drink much water. The restaurants only brought a small bottle at meal times, and we drank through it between the two of us very quickly.
- Energy drinks are almost non-existent. Diet Coke is also hard to find.
- The bread is all very crusty, and you'll never find butter for it—only olive oil.
- Everyone wears black and gray and a leather jacket. Lots of sneakers and socks, no runners, no sandals. We saw almost no exposed skin during our stay in February.
- Smoking is very common.
- Be prepared to walk and walk and walk and walk.
I think that is it! We had a marvelous time during our week in Italy, and I highly recommend it. We're both scheming about when and how we can go back. If you have any questions, I'll do my best to answer them in the comments or on Instagram!