Venice. This was the place I was most excited to visit, you know, before it’s all forever underwater. I was so excited about it that I was scared to go and find out it wasn’t everything I expected to be.
Arriving at our hotel, the Hotel Residence Elite, I was starting to be disappointed already. From the outside, the building looked like something out of the projects and the neighborhood was feeling pretty sketchy. Once inside though, the interior had been obviously updated in a modern style and was comparable to our beautiful hotel rooms in Innsbruck the night before. Disappointment reversed.
After dropping off our bags, we took the train into the heart of Venice. Our tour leader guided us through the winding roads of the city and telling us to watch out for pickpockets and attempted to show us how to navigate the many roads and alleyways that connected the city. From there we stopped at a small stand for a quick lunch of pizza and gelato, both of which were delicious, and surprisingly cheap.
A walk through more of the city and over the Rialto Bridge led us to St. Mark’s Square, where we just stood there looking around us for a while. There were musicians all along the square, vendors selling trinkets and souvenirs, lots of tourists and right in front of us, St. Mark’s Basilica. Surrounded by all of this spectacular architecture, I decided it was a good time to find some more gelato, but I had to put that on hold because we were going on a gondola ride!
Other than the fact that our gondolier was in his 20s and didn’t sing for us at all, the gondola ride was a fantastic way to see Venice from the water. Because the group I rode with were all single and didn’t mind sharing a boat, the ride only cost us €20 a piece. It was about a half an hour ride and well worth the cost. I can’t imagine making the trek to Venice and not going on a gondola ride — it’s a must for a first-time visit!
There was a moment during the ride where I was suddenly hit with the enormity of this trip. Being in Venice was something I’d only dreamed about, and riding in a gondola on the canals just seemed kind of surreal. I’d only imagined a trip like this, but never really thought I’d take it, yet here I was.
After the boat ride, we went to a glass-blowing demonstration. I’ve seen crystal being blown before, so I wasn’t overly interested in the process, but for someone who’s never seen it before, it could be an interesting experience.
This was one of the rare tour days where there was no group dinner planned, so after the glass-blowing, we were on our own to explore the city and eat wherever we’d like. I was torn between tagging along with the group that was going shopping and the group that was going to check out the churches and museums. I ended up going with the former option, after seeing how ridiculously long the lines were just to get into St. Mark’s, let alone try to make time to see anything else since it was getting fairly late in the day.
I don’t think I’ve mentioned it in any of my previous Europe posts, but everywhere we’ve traveled so far, you have to pay to use the bathrooms. At a gas station or rest stop, the payment process is automated with machines and usually costs somewhere between €.50 to €1. You then get a voucher to use in the rest stop’s store, so it evens out. In the case of walking around Venice shops and finding the need to find a restroom, the same rule holds true. You can’t just walk into a cafe to use the restroom and walk out — you must buy something. With no cheap shops that we could find, each of the bathroom breaks we took before dinner cost about €5, the price of the cheapest cappuccino or prosecco on the menu. It isn’t that much, but to an American who is accustomed to readily available, free bathrooms, it was irritating having to pay to pee. What if all my money got stolen?! Would I just have to ‘hold it’ the entire day?
But I digress. Back to the fun part — spending an afternoon strolling around Venice. Along with the part of the tour group I was with, I did some shopping and general sightseeing before we ran into some others in our group and took a quick break for a Bellini and chips from some random outdoor cafe. After those chips didn’t fill us up and the pigeons started getting aggressive, we decided to head to dinner and stumbled up a seemingly-authentic Italian restaurant, Ristorante Piccolo, where we split a tomato & mozzarella appetizer, and I ordered lasagna and a cappuccino afterward. It doesn’t get much more Italian than that!
With gelato still on my mind, I made the people I was with make a detour with me by a gelato stand on the way back to meet up with the rest of the group… a pistachio gelato that I thoroughly enjoyed it while people-watching in St. Mark’s Square. And, with that, we made our way back through the winding streets of Venice, back to the train station and eventually to the hotel.
It had been a long, hot day of heavy walking (21,000 steps per my Fitbit) and I couldn’t wait to get to my room to shower and change. Because we got back at a reasonable hour, a lot of the group decided to hang out at the hotel bar, which was well-decorated and cozy. The bartender made us some kind of “special” drink with strawberries in it, that was amazing, although I couldn’t tell you what was in it. Since we had split up into smaller groups to go explore the city, it was a lot of fun getting together again afterward at the end of the night to recap our individual adventures of the day. And what a day it was!