If you followed my first post about the two-week European trip that my wife and I have embarked on, you’ll know that I planned the trip all by myself and just gave her enough information to make reasonable decisions on what clothes to pack. We have a dynamic itinerary and the goal was to have her discover each new destination literally as we crossed a new border or entered a new city. Thirty minutes into the trip, even before leaving San Francisco, there was a breach, one that I tried to anticipate but failed to think through all of the possible failure points.
The first leg of our trip was San Francisco to Istanbul – that part she knew. I figured she needed to mentally and physically prepared for a 13 1/2 hour flight. The part that she didn’t know was that we would have a few hour layover in Istanbul and then fly to Venice. After printing out our boarding passes at home, I gave her the SFO-Istanbul card and kept the Istanbul-Venice pass in my backpack. As we checked in our bags at the airport, the woman at the desk told us, just as we were wrapping up, “The bags are checked through all the way to Venice.” AAAAAARRRRRRRRGGGGGGGG!
Whipping my head around, I thought maybe the missus wasn’t paying attention, but from the grin on her face I knew she did. “Venice?! We’re going to Venice?!” If she wasn’t carrying a backpack with two weeks worth of clothes at the time, I think she would have jumped up and down. “I never guessed Venice; it never crossed my mind.” So destination #1 got out of the bag a bit sooner than I was hoping, but there is a silver lining: knowing that she was going to Venice seemed to make the flight to Istanbul more tolerable. When they served dinner she asked “How much longer do we have to go,” to which I replied by pointing to the flight tracker on our personal video screen.
She didn’t complain too much about the flight length and in truth the 13 hours passed faster than either of us would have expected. After getting off the plane in Istanbul, we found a comfortable place to sit and wait for the connecting flight to Venice. Following the old rule “when in Rome,” or in this case, “when in Istanbul,” we ordered some Turkish coffee and a traditional Gozleme pastry.
Finally it was time to board our flight to Venice. We slept almost the entire way and woke up just as the flight was approaching Venice. After landing and clearing customs, it was time to make our way to the city! Because we were scheduled to land after midnight, and public transportation becomes sporadic, I pre-booked a taxi to take us from the airport to our hotel.
Of course, there are no cars in the city center of Venice and the only access is via the canals. Our “taxi” was a motorboat that picked us up adjacent to the airport and dropped us off just a few yards away from our hotel. A bit after midnight, nearly 24 hours after leaving San Francisco, we were at our Venice hotel.
Planning a vacation without input from a spouse is fraught with danger. Planning a vacation without input from my particular spouse? The danger is compounded ten-fold. She cares much more than I do about the style of the places she visits. Picking a hotel that she would like was not easy because the most expensive or luxurious is not always the best choice. The missus prefers hotels with their own personality and charm and a sense of the locale. After wading through TripAdvisor and Expedia and other travel blogs, I thought that the Hotel Giorgione was the perfect choice. Nestled in a quiet street a bit away from the bustle of Venice, the hotel seemed to have the right blend of history and local Venetian charm.
Even before walking in to the hotel, the missus pronounced her verdict: “I love this place!” After checking in we took the elevator to our room and again she seemed very happy with our home for two quick nights. I have to say, it was a very nice room with a living area downstairs and the bedroom in a loft above.
We fell asleep almost immediately, around 1:15 a.m., but due to the jet lag we were both wide awake at 5:30 in the morning. Unable to sleep any longer, we had breakfast downstairs and were walking around Venice very early in the morning (early for me, anyway, as I prefer to sleep in and hit the town closer to lunch time). We wandered around aimlessly, which in Venice is often the best way. We crossed many canals and walked down the uniquely Venetian narrow streets and alleys.
From there, we set a course for Venice’s most famous spot, Piazza San Marco. As soon as we entered the piazza I remarked how much it reminded me of Plaza Mayor in Madrid.
My other observation was that it seemed very crowded, although everyone we talked to told us that it was “off-season” and much less congested than it would be in the summer. Given how many people there were in late October, I have vowed never to visit Venice in the summer. I know that I could not tolerate the crowds and what has been described as oppressive heat and humidity. My better half, though, did not mind the crowds as much and I’m pretty sure she would need no convincing to come back again at any time, including the heart of summer.
By 10 a.m., when I prefer to just be climbing out of bed and logging my first steps, we had already exceeded 10,000 steps according to our FitBit. We decided to stop and enjoy some coffee behind Piazza San Marco overlooking the Grand Canal. Applying the “when in Rome” principle again (or “when in Venice”), we ordered traditional Italian coffees and a Venetian pastry to enjoy as we people-watched.
After basking in the sun for a while, I suggested that it might be fun to take a gondola ride. I know that such activities are only for tourists, but I did not care and kept bringing the idea up every few minutes. Eventually, she wore down enough for us to go and ask the price; after hearing the price, we politely declined. The gondolier, however, pursued us and twice reduced the price; we appreciated his charming persistence and agreed to take the “medium” ride – about 40 minutes.
Much to her surprise, the missus really enjoyed the gondola ride – not just seeing the canals and the buildings from water level, but hearing some interesting facts and history from the gondolier about Venice. We probably will never have to ride a gondola again, but I’m glad we did it this one time.
Because we only had one full day in Venice, we wanted to make the most of our time so we continued walking around town after the gondola ride, checking out the many stores and bars. We worked up an appetite and decided to have a “when in Venice” lunch – a traditional Italian pizza and some Italian wine. We chose a restaurant with outdoor seating so that we could enjoy our lunch and still feel a part of the Venetian energy.
We shared some calamari, a small pizza, and a half bottle of Brunello wine. After lunch we decided to head back to the hotel and take a nap so we would be rested for a dinner where we would be meeting some new friends. Both of our phone batteries had died and we had no GPS to help us navigate the labyrinth that is Venice – a series of canals and dead-end streets. Occasionally we would stop for directions and a kind local resident would point in a vague direction and assure us that we were only “cinque minuti” (5 minutes) away. After about 45 minutes of being only cinque minuti away, we finally made it to our hotel. We passed out and slept for about 3 1/2 hours and then got dressed in our fancy clothes to eat dinner at Terraza Danieli, the rooftop restaurant at Venice’s famous Hotel Danieli (where the Johnny Depp movie “The Tourist” was filmed).
Through our blogging and Twitter activity, we had met an Italian husband-wife team that make wine in the Abruzzo region. They drove the 6-7 hours from their home to Venice to meet us for dinner. They turned out to be a fantastic couple and we had a wonderful time getting to know them and hear about their adventure making wine. They even brought a couple of their wines that we enjoyed with dinner, including a lovely Prosecco. We are looking forward to the time when their wines will be available in the United States.
We went to bed quite late and then it was time to leave Venice. Stay tuned for the next chapter in this surprise vacation …
October 24, 2016