Our good friends Steve and Emily are in town for a week-long visit and, in addition to spending several days in Munich, we all decided to spend their weekend abroad in Venice, Italy. It’s only a five-hour ride from Munich so we rented a car and made the quick trip to what has since become our favorite visited city of 2012.
The ride to Venice was uneventful and beautiful. It was a clear, sunny day and the mountains gave us breathtaking view after breathtaking view as we motored from Germany through Austria (we bought a toll pass this time!) and into Italy.
Cars aren’t allowed on the island (for good reason — they’d have nowhere to go). There are two large parking structures at the city’s entrance and we opted to park in the Tronchetto (the one that’s slightly further away and slightly cheaper). It was easy enough to get to and from there it was a short walk to Piazzale Roma where we caught a vaporetto to our hotel. Vaporetti are Venice’s answer to public transportation. Since they can’t really do the bus and subway thing, they have boats running along the Grand Canal and around the entire city to get people to where they need to go. Our hotel was walkable from Piazzale Roma (and, as we learned, everything in Venice is truly walkable since it’s such a small, condensed city), but navigating the small, crowded city streets (whose names change every block) with our luggage didn’t seem like the best option. Plus, we wanted to experience the Grand Canal from a boat. So we hopped on board and rode to the Ca’ d’Oro stop where we were met by our hotel contact who walked us to our rented apartment.
By the time we got settled and made a mad dash to the local grocery store (for cheap wine, of course), it was pretty late. We grabbed a bite to eat at a restaurant near our apartment — a meal that included the freshest pesto I have ever tasted in my entire life — and went back to Ca’ d’Oro to meet up with Marco and Alexa, friends of Emily and Steve from Germany who were joining us for the weekend. The six of us returned to our place and called it a night.
We spent the next day walking around as a group and soaking in the sights and sounds (and smells) of Venice. We focused mostly on the eastern part of the island. We walked to and over the Rialto bridge to the Rialto Market where we feasted on fresh and surprisingly affordable fruit. We stopped for coffee. We watched Marco choke down his first attempt at oysters. We window shopped and made mental notes of the things we wanted to buy before we left. And we took photos. Tons and tons of photos.
You see, Venice is unlike any other city in the world. Literally. It’s made up of over 100 islands separated by over 100 canals and connected by bridges of all sizes. Every corner you turn is another view that makes you say, “Wow. I need a picture.” So we took a lot of canal photos. But we made sure to take a few pictures with us in them, too:
After grabbing a quick sandwich for lunch, we made our way to Venice’s famous St. Mark’s Square where we took a tour of St. Mark’s Cathedral. Our four friends opted to pay to go to the top of the Campanile Tower for some impressive views of Venice while Katie and I walked along the waterfront (St. Mark’s Square sits on the south end of the island). Then the six of us headed to an area just outside of the northwest corner of St. Mark’s Square where it’s easy to catch a gondola ride. It was like a taxi station at the airport with lines of people waiting to board a boat. We waited our turn and eventually boarded a gondola for a 45-minute ride to the Grand Canal and back.
It’s a pricey activity — it’s 80 Euros for the 45 minutes regardless of your group size — but well worth it. Even though Venice’s popularity as a travel destination means the canals are flooded with gondolas, the ride still seems somewhat isolated and intimate. You feel as if you’re in your own little world for a few moments. Plus, you get photos you can’t get anywhere else.
Afterwards we decided to head back to the apartment for a home cooked Italian meal. As good as the food in the restaurants was, that night’s meal was right up there. We bought fresh ingredients from the market and the grocery store and sat down to a feast of prosciutto and melon, caprese salad, salami and cheese, and gnocchi with homemade marinara sauce. And wine. Lots of wine.
The following day we set out as a group and stumbled upon an event known as the Vogalonga. It’s an annual event in Venice where man-powered boats (no engines) flood the canals for a day-long parade. Boat after boat floats by and it’s fun to see the various countries, boats and rowing styles represented.
After watching for 30 minutes or so, we continued on and decided to break up into twos so that we could enjoy some alone time as couples in one of Italy’s more romantic cities. Katie and I opted to head to the south side of the Grand Canal and make our way to the Accademia bridge. We stopped for pizza and sandwiches along the way and otherwise allowed ourselves to get lost in the small, narrow streets of Venice. We had a small map that was hard to read (since the street names change almost every block, it’s very hard to produce a map that isn’t on a huge sheet of paper), but every couple of blocks there’s a sign that points to a major bridge of landmark, so you always know which direction you’re headed in. We just walked and talked and took in the beautiful buildings and canals that surrounded us.
We eventually made our way back to some markets just off of St. Mark’s Square where we purchased a Christmas ornament made from Murano glass. Murano glass is a famous Venetian export, made just north of the main island on the island of Murano. We’re buying an ornament from every country we visit, so it was a no-brainer to find one made of Murano glass. Now the challenge will be to get it home in one piece!
We met up with Emily, Steve, Marco and Alexa for dinner at a place in Piazza San Stefano which was followed by our sixth helping of gelato of the weekend. (You can never have too much gelato.) We capped the night with a stroll back through St. Mark’s. It was still plenty busy with gorgeous music coming from the bands that play at the three main restaurants in the square. It’s expensive to sit and listen to them play (the food and drink prices at the restaurants are criminal), but there’s no cost to stand in the back and listen.
The next morning we packed up and set out to have an early lunch at a place that Katie had read about. It was a place with cheap eats, no seating charge (something most restaurants in Venice do) and popular among the locals — always a sign of good food. But trying to find a place in Venice without a guide isn’t that easy. We got turned around on more than one occasion and had to ask four different people where this place was at. Each one made it seem like it was “just around the corner” when in fact it never really was. I don’t think the locals realize how hard it is to navigate their city! We eventually found the place, but not before coming up with a list of five things you should never say when giving someone directions in Venice:
1) It’s next to the canal.
2) It’s just over the bridge.
3) Go into the plaza and take a right. (There are always four rights.)
4) It’s past the monument.
5) It’s next to a place called “Trattoria.”
The food was as good as advertised. I tried squid with black ink for the first time (Steve was brave enough to order it) and found it to be surprisingly tasty. It was more like fish than squid. After lunch we said goodbye to Marco and Alexa (it was their anniversary and they were spending one more day in Venice before heading back to Germany).
We made our way back to the Tronchetto to pick up the car, stopping only for groceries to take with us back to Germany. We decided to take a different route back to Munich — one that was equally as beautiful (if not more so) but that also passed through the town of Verona, Italy. We stopped in Verona and embarked on a quick, two-hour tour of the city (aided by one of Emily and Steve’s guidebooks). It’s a charming town with quite a bit of Roman ruins (since that’s who originally built the city), including city gates, old bridges and a colosseum-like arena. It also has a balcony that is rumored to be Juliet’s balcony from “Romeo and Juliet.” It’s completely made-up, but still, the little square outside of the building is packed with tourists. Verona also produced the best gelato any of us have ever had. Between the four of us we had pear, black cherry, blueberry, papaya and some chocolate-peanut butter concoction. It was heavenly. And a wonderful way to top off 3+ days in Italy.
The rest of our ride back was like the ride in — uneventful and gorgeous. We ended up on the famous A13 highway which takes you through a beautiful part of Austria with spectacular views of the mountainside. And since it’s light out here these days until about 9:30, we had scenic views for most of the ride home.
We’re still holding fast to the opinion that Munich is the best European city we’ve ever been to. But we see it in a different light since we live here. As far as cities we’ve visited this year, Venice now ranks #1 on both of our lists. It can seem overrun with tourists (and it really is), but it’s still worth a visit if you ever find yourself in northern Italy. Like we said above, it’s unlike any other city in the world. And there’s rumors it might one day sink, so don’t wait too long!
We will leave you with our favorite photo from the weekend, along with a reminder that you can see many more pictures from Venice and Verona on our Flickr page. Ciao!