Saturday, May 31, 2014

Some things I learned this trip

1. Speaking a little Italian is very helpful. Yes, most people in the tourist industry speak some English but on more than one occasion, I was able to communicate enough to get the help we needed from non-English speakers.

2. You will walk more than you can imagine. So wear comfortable shoes and eat a lot of gelato (you'll walk it off)!

3.  We will avoid US Airways if at all possible.

4.  Having a lot of time for connecting flights upon returning to the US is imperative if going through any east coast hub.  With our flight delay, we only had 2 hours and is was almost not enough.

5.  You can bring Duty Free items through US security (after customs) if the bag remains sealead and intact.

6.  I will make sure that the wifi is connecting to my device before the apartment greeter leaves.  In Venice, the wifi didn't work and management was not helpful by phone in resolving the problem.

APPS (iphone): 
1.  Skype (free) was super helpful.  I bought $4.99 credit to call non-skype lines and still have $2.00 left over.  With a good wifi signal, it's fantastic and easy to make calls home or locally.

2. Mangia: Italian Menu Decoder ($4.99): easy to use, comprehensive and extremely helpful.  We used it practically every time we ate out.

3. Eat Venice ($1.99): Elizabeth Mincilli's guide to eating well in Venice.  We dined at two places she recommended and enjoyed both.  With more time we would have used it more.

4.  Facebook (free): I uploaded pictures and quick posts during the trip to keep everyone back home updated.  I could do this quickly wherever free wifi was available. 

1.  The transportation pass was worth it and we definitely got our money's worth out of it.  But we did use taxis too and those were generally inexpensive for three people.

2.  Streetwise Rome map was great.  It's been our go-to map for four trips to Rome and will be with us next time, too.

3.  I researched restaurants before leaving home but we only ate at one of them (Armando al Pantheon).  Next time I will get the Eat Rome or Katie Parla Eats app to have recommended places in a handy guide.

4.  Trastevere is a great neighborhood but I wouldn't recommend it for first timers.  It's not as convenient to major tourist sights and transport links as other more central areas.  We like it because it feels different, in a good way, from eg. the Pantheon or Colosseum areas, and seems quieter and slower too.

5.  Bathrooms are scarce so don't leave that museum or restaurant without going first!

6.  The Vatican Museums official guided tour was very good.  But the St. Peter's Basilica part was not worth it (except for being able to skip the security line for the Basilica).

7.  The bathroom situation at St. Peter's Basilica is ridiculous.  You have to exit the "secured" area to use the limited facilities and if you want to go back into the Basilica, you have to wait in the long security lines again.  Not good!

1.  A car is a must if you want to explore this area.  But it takes longer than you expect to get anywhere.  You will get lost and that's OK!

2.  Autostrada tolls can be high but the small non-toll roads can be confusing, twisty, turny, and nausea inducing with beautiful views. So getting off the main highway is worth it!

3.  With just two nights, we didn't see much of this area.  If we go back to Tuscany, it would have to be for a minimum of 5 nights to do it any kind of justice.

1.  The Hertz people at the Piazzale Roma rental car return office were the rudest we have ever met.  Be prepared for major sour attitudes if you have to return your car there.

2.  If you're in Venice for 5 nights, get the 7 day vaporetto pass.  You'll get your money's worth!

     a. Always have a ticket when you ride the vaporetto.  We got checked several times.  One
        man ran away from the ticket checkers because he didn't have a pass.  It's an expensive fine.

    b.  Always swipe your ticket or pass before getting on the vaporetto.  Do it EVERY time!

    c.  Please take off your backpack on board.

    d. Please don't hog a seat with your luggage when the boat is crowded. 

3.  The museum pass was worth it for us.  We used it at the Doge's Palace, Correr Museum, Ca'Rezzonico, the Lace Museum on Burano, and the Glass Museum on Murano (not worth it without the pass due to extensive ongoing renovations). 

4.  The Secret Itineraries tour was very good.  But some of the the rooms are small and poorly ventilated.  I imagine it's hot in the summer time.

5.  Streetwise Venice was very helpful.  It was more helpful than Ulmon Venice (free app) and the paper maps we got at the apartment.  We didn't really get lost or totally turned around using it. 

6.  We loved staying in the apartment.  We prefer apartments over hotels.  But they don't come with support for questions about, for example, how to get to the airport for our flight home (I asked at a little hotel nearby).

7.  Don't book the top center seats at La Fenice.  It's a U shapped theatre and the seats on the side have awkward sight lines.  Next time, I'll look for seats in the U curve.  (I know this  probably makes no sense, sorry).

8.  The traghetto is a fun way to get across the Grand Canal.  We took it during off peak hours and the ?gondoliers? were very friendly and playful even (swiped my sunglasses off my head for a laugh).

9. We loved exploring Canareggio after our Row Venice tour and when we got off the vaporetto at Fondamenta Nove.  It seems a lot less touristy than many other areas we walked around in Venice.

10.  Row Venice was a fun experience.

11.  Burano is so stinking cute.  I would love to take every woman I know there!

12.  Shopping on Murano was fun and the prices so much better than on Venice.

13.  5 nights in Venice was nowhere near enough time there. I have a long list of things we want to do "next time."

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Venice Day 5: Arrivederci Venezia

It's always a little nerve wracking figuring out how to get to an airport for the first time.  One wonders how long it actually takes the water boat to get there, what about the time for the walk from the dock to the check-in counter, what about lines at check-in and security.  Aargh. 

Our flight home was on US Airways, Venice to Philadelphia to New Orleans; departing Venice at 1135am.

After doing the timetables research, we planned to catch the 7:59 (or 8:29) Alilaguna from San Angelo. So we needed to take the San Toma vaporetto to San Angelo at 731 or 743 to allow enough time.  Estimated arrival time at Marco Polo was 9am.

None of us slept terribly well and were up extra early.   We got ready, cleared up the apartment, put out the trash, had breakfast and just headed out.  We caught the 719am San Toma vaporetto to San Angelo and ended up on the 729am Alilaguna boat to the airport.  We bought our tickets on the boat (15Euro/per person). 

Last photo in Venice :(

Another beautiful day

We arrived at the Marco Polo dock at 8am, walked less than 10 minutes to departures, checked in, got breakfast, went through security, did a little shopping, and waited to board the flight. The whole process was a lot easier than we anticipated!

We boarded the US Airways flight and settled into our seats. They don't offer premium economy so I reserved seats in a "two" section of the 2 4 2 configured plane. The seats were relatively comfortable but not roomy; the service and food were ok; the entertainment system worked but seemed to offer fewer choices than on United; and the two women from Arkansas behind us kept grabbing my seat back every time they got us--so rude and annoying. The flight was delayed two hours on the tarmac because of a fuel pump malfunction. We weren't worried because we had three hours to connect to the flight to New Orleans.

We arrived in Philadelphia only one hour behind schedule so we didn't exactly speed through the passport control, reclaiming bags and customs procedures--but we should have. We only made our connection with 10 minutes to spare because of the incredible amount of time it took to get back through security. The process is so very ridiculous, unnecessary and annoying.

The plane used on the New Orleans leg was so old and dirty we were appalled. We were the last to board and they closed the doors on time. But we sat there for an extra 30 minutes because they couldn't pull out of the docking station. When we got to New Orleans, they couldn't park right away. And our luggage didn't make it (but they delivered it the following day).

In summary, US Airways was awful; there was a problem on every leg! I told hubby that they are "not quite ready for prime time" and I hope we don't have to fly them again any time soon.

We loved our time in Italy. It was much too short, particularly in Rome where we would have liked at least two more days. This trip once again brought to the forefront my dream of living in Italy for a year. I want to go to language school and hubby could go to cooking school. We could travel and explore more of this magnificent country. I guess we need to start playing the lotto!

Thanks for reading! Ciao

Venice Lodging Review

Tiffany Canal View Apartment, Dorsoduro, Venice
I found this apartment by searching the internet.  It was listed on had reviews on that site as well as on  It's a two bedroom, two bath renovated in a modern style.  Cost was a reasonable 200Euro/night.  I communicated with the Juiceglam team and they answered my questions to my satisfaction.  The deposit was paid by paypal.  The greeting team contacted me to make arrangements for our arrival and we agreed on a time and place (St. Toma vaporetto stop).  I emailed them on the day of arrival confirming that we'd be there as planned.

Location:  The apartment was closer to San Polo than what I think of as Dorsoduro (the Accademia area). Campo Santa Margarita was close and we got groceries and supplies at the market there.  San Toma vaporetto stop was only one bridge away which was great when we were hauling luggage!

The apartment was clean, modern, attractive, and large.  They kept the exposed beams but painted them white.  It had pretty glass chandeliers (a little dusty).  The bedrooms were comfortable with firm king sized beds, small bedside tables and a free standing wardrobe.  There were no drawers or luggage racks. 

The kitchen was very cool and had everything we needed for a short stay (including a dishwasher that we didn't even use).  It would have been nice if they provided starter sized dish washing detergent, paper towels, garbage bags, toilet paper.  We had to buy all those items on day 1.  They did have sufficient bath/hand soaps and shower gel. The sofa was comfortable.  The dining table was big for the space with 6 chairs. 

I did not like that there were no hooks to hang wet towels in the bathrooms or anywhere else.  A hook or two in the bathroom, one or two in the bedroom, one in the kitchen:  inexpensive fix that would keep the towels clean and dry!  Thankfully the washer and dryer (two separate units on the ground floor; kinda like we Americans are used to) worked well.

The ensuite bathroom was tiny so hubby used the hall bath which was much larger.  B-i-l didn't mind!  The bedroom with the ensuite bathroom also had a tiny balcony overlooking a canal but it wasn't big enough to sit outside with a glass of wine.  It was more decorative. The AC was loud but kept things cool. 

The biggest aggravation was that the wifi did not work.  We called the management office and were told the maintenance person would check it out.  He came to the apartment when we were out and said it was working fine.  But I could never connect my iphone or ipad.  From the nearby bar with free wifi, where I had no problem connecting, I emailed them screen captures of the log in pages but they never responded to my emails.  I know they received the emails because the maintenance person came back to repair the toilet seat, again while we were out.

I'm rating the apartment a 5 out of 5 even with the lack of communication from management about the wifi.  It's a great space in a great, quiet location, at a good price in a wonderful city.  If they fix the wifi and add some hooks, it would be perfect!
Large dining table with six chairs

Bedroom with ensuite bath and small balcony

View from balcony-Left

View from balcony-Right


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Venice Day 4: Art and opera

Today was our last sightseeing day in Venice and I had planned for us to visit the Frari Church and Scuola Grande di San Rocco.  The weather today started out overcast and dreary with rain in the forecast.  It matched my mood--I was a sad that our time in Venice was coming to an end...  But mostly it was a pretty day.

The hubby was not sure he wanted to spend time in museums and churches but b-i-l and I insisted and he later agreed that these were outstanding sights.

We left the apartment and made our way to the Frari Church which was really close to the apartment.  Just to the left of the church b-i-l spotted a small shop with tapestries and pillows in the window.  We went in and bought way too much stuff--it was all so lovely.  The proprietor said the shop has been in his family since the 1920's.

Then into the Frari Church (small fee).  We used the Rick Steves guide to tour the church and we all loved it, especially the spectacular altar painting by Titian ("The Assumption of the Virgin") which we sat looking at for a long time.  Hubby ended up buying the print of this image and we have it framed in our house now. 

A wedding procession started while we were looking at the Titian.  The tourists watched the bride go into the small chapel accompanied by her crying mother.  Once they were settled, the church attendants opened up the back of the chapel and we went in to see the beautiful Bellini painting,  "Madonna and Child with Saints and Angels.  What a lovely place to get married!

Frari Church; Titian's masterpiece is in the background

We left and made our way to the close-by Scuola Grande di San Rocco.  We paid the fee and referred to the provided map which along with the Rick Steves guide tour provided good information about the outstanding art by Tintoretto, who dedicated 20 years of his life to this place.  The art is very impressive although I found it dark.  In one room they had a small fragment of how the originals looked--bright and colorful.  Time really does no one and nothing any favors! But, more importantly, these masterpieces survived for us to enjoy today.

After our tour of the Scuola, we decided against any more museums or sights. We needed to do a little shopping! B-i-l wanted to get us a doorknocker for our house and we all wanted that "special" souvenir to remember this fabulous trip and city.

We had fun taking the Traghetto across the Grand Canal to a small shop, not far from La Fenice, that sold brass doorknockers and other items. My limited Italian came in really handy and we bought too much stuff, all of it fabulous! The clerk gave us a note card and bookmark as lagniappe, which was very nice. We decided to have a hearty late lunch and chose a restaurant nearby. It was leisurely and lovely.

On the traghetto--fun and easy!


After some more wandering and shopping, we figured out what time we needed to catch the vaporetto in the morning to transfer to the Alilaguna to the airport. Our vaporetto passes expired this day at 430pm. That is when we realized we should have purchased the 7 day passes since we would be taking the vaporetto to/from the opera and again in the morning from San Toma to San Angelo to catch the Alilaguna. Live and Learn! We ended up getting a 24 hour pass (and were glad we did because they checked for tickets on the next morning's ride; one guy ran away instead of paying the fine).

We went back to the apartment to pack before the Opera. We took the vaporetto across the Grand Canal in the pouring rain. B-i-l, being the nice person he is, shared his umbrella with an older lady who was also on the way to the opera. She turned out to be a former Russian instructor at Tulane University in New Orleans who retired to Venice. Small world! Her friend in the orchestra gave her a ticket to the performance (right next to the stage, nice!).

I had been to the Munich StaatsOper and did not like sitting in the box along the side of the U shapped theatre because of the awkward viewing angle. That's why, when I bought the tickets for La Fenice online, I chose seats that were centered on the stage. Ours were on the top level. They were pricey at 66Euro per person.

Well, I was quite disappointed in the seats. Yes, we were centered on the stage but were right behind the stage lights, which impeded our view of the stage. And because of the beautiful chandelier, we couldn't see the English translation of the opera. It was also very (very) warm on this level.

At any rate, the theatre is gorgeous and we (mostly) enjoyed the performance of La Boheme. Hubby said he was ready to leave within a few minutes of it starting, but by the end of the second half kinda liked it, haha. I hope to have an opportunity to see another performance at La Fenice in the future.

View from our seats
Our very high up view of the stage

The stage lights impeded our view
We couldn't see the English  libretto because of the gorgeous chandelier

Hubby and b-i-l in our seats, taken from a side box
It's a gorgeous theatre

Performers taking their bows

We went back to "our" bar for a last nightcap and calls home and thus ended our last night in lovely Venice!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Venice Day 3: Museums

We woke up a little fuzzy headed after our wine drinking evening but had to get ready and leave in time for our Secret Itineraries tour of the Doge's Palace at 9.55am.  We made it there with a few minutes to spare!

Our guide met us in the Doge's Palace Courtyard, told us a little about the Palace and Venetian history.  It was a nice introduction before we entered the prisons.   We could imagine, from her descriptions, how unpleasant it must have been to spend any time there accompanied by rats, dank, darkness, etc...  We walked through the prisons upstairs to the tiny chamber where she said the real governor of Venice worked.  I can't remember the term she called him but he was a commoner elected by one of the Councils and had more power than the Doge.  This chamber was very modest.  There were loads of stories about Casanova who I was really not that interested in, honestly.  The rooms were a little warm.  Overall it was an excellent tour that I highly recommend. 

After the Secret Itineraries tour, we got coffee and drinks before touring the Palace on our own.  I know we visited this magnificent Palace on our previous visit in 2000, but hubby and I did not remember it being so astonishingly magnificent.  It really is an amazing place (no photos allowed inside).  The art, the history, the ceilings, the grandeur, the space, the amazing "Paradise" oil painting by Tintoretto in the Higher Council Hall.  All of it unbelievable and unforgettable.  It's a must see, again and again.  I know we'll return on a subsequent trip...

The Stairway of the Giants

View from a Palace window

Taken from inside the Bridge of Sighs
Overwhelmed and foot sore, we headed out to find lunch. We ended up at a Rick Steves' recommended place on Calle de la Rasse, Birreria Frost, which was as good as described. We enjoyed watching  a man named Mario flirt with the staff and the locals tease him mercilessly.

After this it was time for St. Mark's Basilica. We took Rick Steves line avoidance advice and deposited b-i-l's small backpack at the nearby church so we could all get in quickly. They only hold the bag for an hour, though, which made for a quick tour of the Basilica.

This church was hard for me to understand. I think it's because it's based on the Greek cross and is very different from most other churches we've seen. It would probably be a good place to have a guide (who, per posted signs, are not supposed to tour groups around the church but were doing so with impunity). No pictures allowed but I did sneak one...  It was not super crowded when we visited.

My very patient b-i-l oriented and toured us around the Basilica using the Rick Steves guide. We were awestruck by the magnificent golden altarpiece and enjoyed the treasures in Museum upstairs. I loved getting closer to the magnificent mosaics--that was where they finally made some sense to me. We walked out on the balcony, where the replica horses are under restoration, and enjoyed the fabulous views. Then our hour was up so we headed out.

Inside St. Mark's Basilica

After a stop at a nearby bar for a refreshing spritz, we decided to get our money's worth out of the Museum Pass by touring the Correr Museum. In St. Mark's Square they were setting up for the opening ceremonies of the Special Olympics; the choir and some dancers were practicing. Cool.

The Correr Museum was an unexpected treat. We had no preconceptions of this museum but were all quite impressed. I think what made it extra special was seeing the restored "Sissi rooms"--where the Empress Elisabeth of Austria stayed in 1856. Her home, Schonbrum, outside Vienna, was one of the first palaces we toured in Europe so it was a wonderful to find her in Venice!

The rest of the museum was also very impressive. We were fortunate to see Titian's tiny self portrait which was on special exhibit. This museum deserves to be more than an afterthought because it certainly has all the goods!

View from the Correr Museum (we briefly visited this garden)
By now we were pretty tired but the day was not over! We saw an artist with beautiful watercolors of Venetian scenes and spent a good while picking out some pieces to take home. We checked out the adorable gardens behind the Correr Museum on the waterfront. We wandered back over to the Doge's Palace and took pictures of the early evening skies (and ran into Betty from our cicchetti tour!).

We finally took the vaporetto back to San Toma, dropped our stuff off at the apartment and had dinner at a nearby restaurant that had pizza on the menu.

After a quick stop at "our" bar for a nightcap and calls home (thanks to Skype and their free wifi), we ended our wonderful day in Venice.


Sunday, May 25, 2014

Venice Day 2: Island hopping and too much wine!

Today was our Lagoon day!  We did not have a chance to get to the islands on our trip 14 years ago so I really wanted to this time.  I hoped to visit at least Murano, Burano and Torcello (and maybe St. Michelle) but, us not being early birds and having a 6pm date for a cicchetti tour with Alessandro, we only made it to Murano and Burano.  So glad we made the effort, though!

Photo op by Bridge of Sighs
We took the vaporetto from San Toma to San Marco and figured out which boat to take to Murano; thankfully it was the express! It was a 20 minute trip, I think. We got off and started walking around Murano, loosely following the Rick Steves tour. We bought some souvenirs, popped into the church, made our way to the Glass Museum (which would not be worth it without the Museum Pass) and enjoyed the sunshine and views of this cute, bustling town.



 We then caught the boat to Burano. The boat stopped at Mazzorbo and we could see Torcello in the near distance. We got to Burano and followed a street with lots of shops and other tourists. This is a tiny and adorable town! The colors on this bright sunshiny day were spectacular! We didn't want to sit down for lunch (and had not made a reservation at the foodie haven, Il Gato Nero) so grabbed pizza, panini's and drinks at a little joint just off the main drag. We all enjoyed this down to earth fare...

There's not much to do on Burano, I think, other than shop; marvel at the colorful, pretty buildings; eat; pop into the church; and visit the lace museum (excellent!). We did all of that and we all loved every moment! I wish we'd had more time there.



Burano: we had lunch near here

Happy in cute Burano


We took the boat from Burano to Fondamenta Nove and walked to the Rialto Bridge.  This was another nice wander in Venice.  I treated hubby to a 6Euro cap, lol.

Our next adventure: a cicchetti tour with Alessandro (recommended by Rick Steves). Our small group included a couple of friends from NOLA (Charlie and Liz) who had arrived in Venice that day, a couple from Chicago (Nick and Liz), and a woman from Florida (Betty). We met Alessandro at the top of the Rialto bridge and all became best buds by the end of the tour, thanks to the copious amounts of wine, no doubt!

Alessandro is a native Venetian whose job is this--roaming Venice with groups of tourists, telling tales, drinking wine and eating ciccheti. Not a bad gig, in my opinion! We went to three different places and he ordered for the group. We had fresh wine, and a lot of it, and different types of cichetti. He was a bit confounded by my vegetarian/pickyness but produced some good potato and cheese dishes for me to munch on. He's a good storyteller and has lived an interesting life. I wanted to hear more about Venice and her history and how she's faring now but did enjoy this evening of drinking, munching and chatting.

Us with Alessandro and Charlie and Liz

Cicchetti for the picky eater!

After Alessandro left us, we all went back to the first bar near the Rialto bridge, and spent some time getting to know each other. The couple from Chicago, Nick and Liz, want to visit NOLA and we want to visit Chicago, so we may meet up again one day! At the end of the evening, we walked our friends toward their hotels and took the vaporetto home to our apartment.

Another fabulous day in Venice!