Saturday, October 12, 2013

When in Rome … (Italy - Part 3)

This is long overdue; part three of our trip to Italy from earlier this year, which will include our four days and three nights in Rome and a wrap-up of the trip itself.  In case you missed it, I’ve broken out this trip into separate entries and you can find part one here, which covers off on our initial travel from the States and our stay in Milan and Venice.  Part 2 is here and covers off on Florence and our time around Tuscany. 
Our final stop got off to a bit of a rocky start, as we boarded the train and were likely cursed at in Italian by a handful of other passengers.  After receiving zero help from anyone, it was time to sit back and relax for our express train (90 minutes) from Florence to Rome.  
Once arriving in Rome, the “When in Rome…” one-liner flowed off the tongue approximately 25 times in the first hour as we planned our day.  Alicia found the Roma Pass, which allowed you to skip the lines at certain tourist attractions and gave you a pass to the city’s metro/train for three days.  For 30 Euro, this was a no-brainer.  It was however difficult to A. find a place that sold the pass and B. trying to tell the guy that was selling them, “I want what they (Brad/Alicia) just bought”.  Towards the last few days of the trip, my patience was wearing thin for stuff like this. 
We decided that the first place we would use the pass would be at the Colosseum.  Did I mention what a great find the Roma Pass was and that it is well worth the money?  As you would likely suspect, the Colosseum is an absolute tourist trap with hundreds of people waiting in random lines, vendors trying to sell you tours (and god knows what else).  I have to say that the Colosseum easily exceeded my expectations.  I thought there was a chance it would be completely underwhelming and that thought was quickly dismissed.  
After the Colosseum, it was time to walk around more ruins – passing through the Arch of Constantine and through Palatine Hill.  Here you will also have a great view of the Colosseum (see pictures below).  After a few hours of walking around, it was time to head to the hotel for a quick nap and happy hour.  The Fiume Hotel is a little off the beaten path, but by all means completely fine.  It is a 10 minute walk or so to the nearest metro station and several stops away from the main parts of town.  
Given timing and the lack of desire to do more walking, we took a cab to a recommended restaurant … only to find that it was closed for the week.  Again!  This trip will be remembered for our complete lack of luck in getting a solid recommendation for food.  We wound up at a café which had very good food.  I ordered a ‘loaded’ pizza and it was delicious. 
After dinner it was time to do some more walking around and site-seeing.  We walked up and down the Spanish Steps and made our way to Trevi Fountain (fun fact in link).  Both places were extremely crowded so after about 20-30 minutes at each, we were on our way to find the next stop.  We wound up at a wine bar because everything else was closing early.  This was preceded by one staff member telling us that we would love some of their champagne by saying “Would you like some champagne?!?!” in the creepiest way possible.  (You’ll have to trust me on this.  It was straight out of a horror film.  The next time we see Brad and Alicia, I will try to remember to have him impersonate the guy and put it on Vine / post a link to it here.  I’m getting flustered just typing this and remembering the guy.)
It was time to head home as the wine bar was looking to close (an hour before our table, and a few others, left).  We ordered two bottles of wine to go, only to have the bag they were in break as we were waiting for a cab and one of the two bottles (the red one of course) explode in the street.  Strike one.  After a little bit of haggling, the front desk sold us a bottle of their wine from the (closed) bar and we were back in the game.  There is/was a nice sized lounge at Hotel Fiume, so we stayed down there for at least an hour or so.  
Day 2 in Rome started off with a little venture through the metro.  The couples went their separate ways and Dorothy and I made the trip to San Giovanni Square and Church.  I have to say that this church was gorgeous inside.  There are beautiful paintings and sculptures throughout the church.  In the middle of the church is a memorial and casket where you can make a wish and throw coin into.  We didn’t have any coin on us so Dorothy took a dollar bill and went to throw it into the area.  The dollar bill essentially fell flat to the ground, making it to the second step down in front of us – so hopefully she didn’t make any important wishes on that one …
Afterward, it was time to meet up with Brad and Alicia for our next tour – a trip to Tivoli, Villa d’Este and Hadrian’s Villa through Dark Rome Ltd.  First, kudos to Dark Rome, a great tour company to use while in Rome (we booked them through  Hadrian’s Villa was a recommendation from Brad’s co-worker and it didn’t disappoint.  In fact, it was a highlight of Rome and the trip, even if the stories of Hadrian and his preferences were a little disturbing.  You can look those up for yourself.  Hadrian lived quite the exquisite lifestyle and his palace was simply amazing.  The area by his pool was something to strive for in life I think (see pictures).  
The Villa d’Este was gorgeous, with various water fountains and gardens spread throughout the property.  Unfortunately, on our way to see one of the fountains and organ, we had our first major misstep as Dorothy took a spill down a few (wet) steps.  That left a mark for about a month. 
The tour bus from Tivoli to Rome took a lot longer than anticipated as there was a major traffic jam that cost us a good, additional hour on the road.  Upon returning to Rome, it was time to find another restaurant for dinner.  We wound up at Il Pomodorino for a good meal and good seating out on the terrace.  I would recommend the fried mozzarella rice balls (whatever they might be called officially).  But I would also recommend that you check the wine that they serve you!  Big mistake on our end, as the staff brought out the same brand of wine, but a bottle that was quadruple the price.  After getting the bill and 5 minutes of “debate”, we gave up and just paid the bill in full.  Quite annoying, but partially our fault. 
Our final full day in Rome was built around a Vatican tour.  This was one of the few parts to the trip that was on my ‘must see’ list and it didn’t disappoint.  We were up nice and early to get to the Skip the Line tour.  While the tour is listed as “private”, know that there are dozens of other “private” tours going on at the same time, so you wind up with a thousand people all getting early admittance to the Vatican City.  Our tour was once again through Dark Rome and our tour guide, Federica, was absolutely fantastic.  
Federica took us through the highlights of Vatican City, through Raphael’s Rooms, and into the Sistine Chapel.  Words and descriptions would not do this ANY justice whatsoever, so I’m not even going to try to explain to you what this looked like or how awesome it was.  The fresco paintings, well, really just about everything you see on this tour was impressive.  There is one particular painting that Michelangelo did and one of the faces on it looks exactly like Sylvester Stallone / Rocky.  
After going through the Sistine Chapel, the official tour is essentially over and you walk out of the church and directly into St. Peter’s Square.  There was something about walking around this area that just made it feel great.  I really can’t put my finger on it or how to best describe it though.  They were actually setting up the square for Pope Francis’ first public speech in the Vatican City since being elected Pope a few weeks prior.  After purchasing rosary beads and a few other souvenirs (more on this in a second), it was onto our last evening in Rome.  
Our last evening was pretty relaxed, with a nice dinner, fine wine, and a little more site-seeing – including the Pantheon.  The next morning was a bit of a different story.  After breakfast and beginning to pack up, Dorothy and I could not find our souvenir bag from the Vatican.  Literally, if this were ANY other souvenir bag I would have forgotten about it and ordered replacements online.  However, there was something about ordering rosary beads online that irked me.  So while Brad and Alicia made their way over to a final few, new sites, Dorothy and I scrambled back to the Vatican.  After running in and around various entry points, we finally just gave in and drew a few plays in the sand (a figure of speech).  We cut through and past anyone and everyone.  When stopped, I think I gave a huge sob story and minutes later we were back in the souvenir shop and buying replacements.  (Note: about two months after the trip, we found the original souvenirs at the bottom of a travel purse.  Of course we did.)
Thankfully, the flight home went off without a hitch.  Alitalia and Delta Airlines made this as easy as possible.  This concludes the third and final part of our 2nd anniversary trilogy.  (Finally!)
Final Thoughts:
If I were asked to rank the cities we visited in Italy it would go: 1. Venice (by a mile), 2. Rome, 3. Florence, and 4. Milan.  Venice and Rome were clearly the highlights of the trip.  Florence and Milan were even, but I would give Florence the nod simply because of the accessibility of the rest of Tuscany.  If it were a simple comparison of Florence vs. Milan, the latter would get the slight edge.  
Take a look at the pictures of Rome below.  What would you recommend for someone visiting Rome?  Did we miss any highlights? 
The Colosseum:

The Colosseum from the ancient ruins:

Hotel Fiume:

A loaded pizza?!:

The Spanish Steps:

Trevi Fountain:

San Giovanni Basilica:

Hadrian's Villa (Pool Area):

Villa d'Este:

One of Raphael's rooms at the Vatican:

Sylvester Stallone / Rocky?:

St. Peter's Square:

The Pantheon:

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Departure Roulette

In case you haven’t seen this yet, on Thursday Heineken uploaded a video, “Departure Roulette” to YouTube and it already has over one million views.  It is a fantastic PR stunt and has to do with travel.  The Heineken team set up a booth at JFK airport and asked travelers if they were willing to give up their current itineraries to hit a button that would send them to a random destination around the world – without having the ability to go home, back a new bag, etc. 

The comedy ensues with some people saying absolutely not, while others cave and decide to play the game.  My favorite part is probably when those that accepted to take the plunge are calling their friends and relatives to try to explain what they are doing, why they won’t be able to meet up, etc.  Towards the end you have the one couple “fighting” with the guy wanting to take the chance while the woman is trying to drag him away.  (Probably going to see her side of the family… just kidding.)
Would you ever consider doing this?  Why or why not?  If I were at the airport for a personal trip, I would have to think that I would press my luck nine times out of ten and go for it.  Trying to explain what I did and why I did it might be a bit tough, but there is a new acronym that fits perfectly here right?  YOLO – You only live once. 
Here is the three minute clip uploaded by the Heineken team:

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Bellissimo Italia! (Italy – Part 2)

Welcome to part two of our second anniversary recap.  As a reminder, Dorothy and I went to Italy earlier this year to celebrate our second anniversary with our partners in crime from our 2012 trip to Bermuda. In case you missed it, I’ve broken out this trip into separate entries and you can find part one here, which covers off on our initial travel from the States and our stay in Milan and Venice.  However, given the length of each city, I’m breaking this up even further and into three parts, and part two will focus on our stay in Florence (and trip through Tuscany).
Florence / Tuscany
Our third stop took us to Florence, or Firenze if you prefer.  Upon arrival we had to head to the Accademia Gallery for tickets to our Skip the Line tour, again booked through Viator.  This was a little bit of a rush-rush, as we had to get from the train station, to the hotel to drop off our bags, and back to the gallery.  When we got to the gallery there were already hundreds of people waiting outside.  Apparently we looked totally out of place because an employee from the tour came right over to us, asked our name and gave us our badges to get right in.  We just made it on time!  
Our tour guide’s name was William and he took us through the gallery, focusing heavily on Michaelangelo’s work.  I have to say that if I was half as passionate about, well anything, as William was to Michaelangelo’s work, I would probably be a millionaire.  He provided a ton of knowledge and the occasional biases towards Michaelangelo – which is/was completely fine by the way.  Turning the corner in the gallery you run right into the Statue of David.  Very impressive, but also interesting to see how that is the one sculpture that stands above all others in art history, when so many more look similar.  (Don’t kill me art buffs and historians.)
After the tour and a little more browsing of the gallery it was time to eat lunch and what better way to celebrate Florence than another pizza pie?  We ate at a café around the corner from the gallery and on the square; it was definitively a top three pizza of the trip.  Afterward it was time to get in as much of Florence as we could, as the following day was a tour around Tuscany (more on that later).  
We walked to Florence’s Duomo which was beautiful ... but also very congested.  Warning: we were entering “that” portion of the trip very quickly where masses of people got a “little” agitating – emphasis on “”.  Our next venture was set to be Giotto’s Campanile, the bell tower in the square.  Given said mood, we decided to skip climbing the tower in an effort to get away from some of the crowd.  Enter two men offering up their artistic capabilities to draw us for a souvenir.  Brad and Alicia took them up on their offer and after ten minutes of sitting there watching them get drawn, Dorothy and I caved as well.  Let’s just say that this caricature isn’t on our walls, as my face looks like a bloated gerbil (see below).  Brad and Alicia’s artist had two front teeth, and that was all.  They had the same features in their caricature.  
After quickly moving along we continued down our path to the river and bridges, crossing over at Ponte Vecchio.  Again, just more and more people, including tons of kids and tours that were “in our way”.  We crossed the bridge, walked along the river on the south side of Florence and crossed back over to see Santa Croce and its square.  Here, we wound up doing our souvenir shopping and then waffling on what our next step was. 
After netting out that a return to the hotel was in order, we walked a number of side streets back to Hotel Meridiana.  As an aside, the hotel was a little out of the way and off the map, but perfectly fine.  Their breakfast was good and they have WiFi.  The problem: for one night, the hotel was packed with kids on a tour.  This really became a problem when they ran up and down the hallway at 2am later that evening.  Well, that is what Brad and Alicia told us, as Dorothy and I slept right through it.  
In any case, we were back at the hotel searching for a place to reacquaint ourselves with aperitivo.  We received a few recommendations and were on our way.  For the life of us, we could not find anything open or with aperitivo.  It took a good hour to finally find one of the places we were looking for – Kitsch.  The aperitivo here was very good and included a lot of variety.  Afterward, we wound up going back to one of the few places we found to be open, Finnegan’s Irish Pub!  Please don’t judge us for going to ONE Irish pub on the trip.  After buying a t-shirt souvenir from the bar (A’s colors), it was time to head back to the hotel and prepare for day two.  
We were up bright and early for our second day in Florence, which actually took us out of Florence and into other highlights of Tuscany.  To me, this was the highlight of this stop along the trip.  We booked a one day sightseeing tour that took us to Siena, San Gimignano, and Pisa.  After getting on the bus and getting through the (annoying) traffic in Florence, we were on our way to Siena.  The countryside in gorgeous and I would highly recommend getting out of Florence for at least a day while there. 
Our first stop was Siena, which I knew literally nothing about before that day.  It is a pretty town with a ton of history in it.  The cathedral was absolutely gorgeous.  However, I’m going to go right past this and tell you what caught my eye more than anything – their main piazza becomes a major horse race center called the Palio.  Words cannot describe how mad I was for not knowing about the Palio prior to stepping foot in Siena.  Here is the chaos that ensues twice a year in the square:


Seriously?!  This happens twice a year!  We need to move on before this stops being a travel blog. 
The next top of the tour was for lunch at a vineyard before heading to San Gimignano.  The vineyard also makes their own, natural foods on site, so they provided a tour of the grounds.  After the tour, it was time to sit down with the entire bus for some pasta, meats, and a few glasses of wine.  The wine apparently flowed a little easier for some on the tour, as a few women were rip-roaring drunk at 1pm upon leaving the vineyard (so drunk that they were later told to shape up or were going to be left behind!).  The background of pictures from the winery are amazing - again, see below. 

Next on the tour was a trip to San Gimignano.  This felt like its own little world/city, bordered by wall away from the rest of Tuscany.  Within the town you will find a “world famous gelato” store, which has won multiple awards for being, literally, the best in the world.  I can’t say I would disagree with this, it was fantastic.  Brad and Alicia purchased a few pieces of artwork and on the way back to the tour bus, we fell into the torture museum.  Naturally, we were upsold for tickets to both the torture and witch museums and “ran” through them both in order to make it back to the bus on time … which of course was a few minutes late.  

Our last stop was to Pisa, a seemingly quaint little city in Tuscany with one very popular tower.  Dorothy and I chose to climb the tower.  Thanks to the aforementioned winos, we didn’t have too much time in Pisa.  The four of us snapped a ton of cheesy pictures with the tower and Dorothy and I were then on our way to the top of the tower.  I would recommend doing this, barring a terrible fear of heights or closed-in space.  Other than that, you’ll be perfectly fine.  By the way, Dorothy doesn’t like either of those and may not have enjoyed going the last bit of stairs to the very top of the Tower.
Unfortunately, by the time we made our way back down the tower (30 minutes in all), it was almost time to go, so we didn’t get a chance to really walk around Pisa too much.  This would be my only issue with the tour, if enough people are climbing the tower, they should be grouped together on one bus for an extra 30 minutes or so of touring, so that they can do both the tower climb and a little more sightseeing.  Again, thank you winos.    

Upon returning to Florence in the evening we basically gave a cap tip to the city and took a recommendation from our tour guide to eat on the south side of the city – Osteria Santo Spirito.  The food was very good and worth the short wait.  After the meal and a few adult beverages we took the party of four back to the hotel bar.  The party of four quickly became three, then two, and then … it was time to head to Rome!
This concludes part two of our little mini-series.  We’ll wrap up our trip in the coming weeks!  What other recommendations do you have for Florence or across Tuscany?  
Here are a few pictures from this portion of the trip!
Our tour guide for the Statue of David:

Florence is crowded ...

But the pizza!

Florence's Duomo:

Nice artwork?!

More crowds in the streets of Florence!

The river in Florence!

Santa Croce:

Irish Pub in Italy!

Kitsch's aperitivo!

Florence at night:


This is where The Palio takes place!

Cathedral in Siena:

Inside the cathedral:

Vineyards in Tuscany:

San Gimignano:


Sunday, May 19, 2013

Ciao Bella! (Italy - Part 1)

For our second anniversary, Dorothy and I threw around a few ideas for several months, finally landing on traveling around Italy for a week and a half.  We reconnected with our partners in crime from Bermuda and started to plug away at our desired itinerary.  It was quickly decided that we would revert to Gate 1 Travel again, as they did a fine job of putting together last year’s anniversary trip through Central Europe. 

We netted out with a trip starting in Milan and then to Venice and Florence for two nights in each city, and then three nights in Rome to cap off the trip.  The “When in Rome” Anchorman jokes started immediately and didn’t really end throughout the trip.  It doesn’t take much to keep my mind occupied.  In any case, here is a recap of the trip itself, along with some personal highlights and recommendations.  Given the length, this write-up is broken into two parts.  The first part will cover off on the highlights through the first half of the trip, which includes Milan and Venice.  The latter half (Florence and Rome) will be put up later this month. 

In an effort to reduce aggravation, we paid for direct flights to and from Italy through Alitalia Airlines.  However, I still had a fear of a plane with no air vents above given last year’s sweat-induced flights aboard European airlines.  We were off to a good start, as Alitalia has a partnership with Delta and we wound up on a Delta plane … with air vents!  Our flight was in the early evening and unfortunately, too early to be tired on the plane itself.  The plane made good time due to strong winds so it wasn’t too uncomfortable. 

Highlights from the flight include:
    • Sitting next to a Seahawks fan and talking about the forthcoming season for a good 45 minutes
    • Watching “This is 40” – a pretty funny film in the Judd Apatow collection
    • Dorothy and Alicia standing in the flight attendant pass through and people coming up to them with ridiculous comments or ideas

We arrived at Milan Malpensa (the airport) and took the train down to Cardona station – a central station in downtown Milan and only 30 minutes from the airport.  (That would be your first recommendation vs. overspending for a cab.)  From there we took a cab to our hotel – Antares Hotel Concorde.  The hotel itself was pretty nice, but of course hot.  Unfortunately our rooms weren’t ready when we got there in the AM, so we had to find something to do.  (Insert Dorothy meltdown here)  Upon being ready to hit the streets, we found a small café to park it in. 

Culture shock quickly followed as we had no idea what to do, how to order, etc. and were still feeling the effects of the flight.  Two way-too-strong cafes later and I was ready to run circles around Milan despite working on an hour or two of sleep.  After sitting at the café for a bit, we went back to the hotel to see if the rooms were ready but they were not.  Rather than doing any more walking around, Dorothy and I plopped down on a lobby couch and faded in and out of consciousness over the next hour.  Finally, the front desk gave up and offered us up a room vs. having two people snoring in their lobby. 

We planned a three hour tour that included a skip the line to see “The Last Supper” for later in the afternoon.  I would definitely recommend looking into using Viator for any and all travel tours as we have really lucked out with them over the past two years.  The walking tour takes you around many of the highlights of the city, including; Castello Sforzesco, Duomo, and Galleria Vittorio (where you will find Bull’s Balls).  At the end of the tour, you are taken to see da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” – which was amazing.  They give you 15 or so minutes to stare at the art and do not allow pictures to be taken anymore in the room.

After the tour it was time to find an establishment that partook in some “aperitivo” – an Italian tradition somewhat similar to happy hour here in the states, where bars/restaurants charge you for a drink ($8-$12 USD) and provide free food for you to enjoy.  This is an ingenious concept that needs to be brought over to the States.  Like, right now.  If you are a restaurant/bar owner and reading this, please consider “aperitivo”!  Within minutes of getting to the right section of Milan, we found a strip of establishments that all had specials.  Aperitivo is typically from 7-9pm in Italy, but 7pm must be like going to a bar here in the US at 10pm and there are very few there at the beginning … except tourists like us. 

Day one essentially ended after aperitivo, as we wound up back at the hotel bar afterward for a night cap.  The hotel bar was actually quite nice.  However, we couldn’t say the same about the scotch they served.  We called it a night shortly thereafter in preparation for day two. 

For the first time in our travel history, Dorothy and I slept through the hotel breakfast.  The flights and long day prior must have knocked us out.  We wound up stopping at a Trattoria within minutes of the hotel and ordered a pizza.  This wound up being a definitive top five pizza from the trip.  When in doubt, go with a Trattoria (family owned) restaurant in Italy. 

On day two in Milan we booked Hop On / Hop Off bus passes, where you could circle around the city and get off the bus as you pleased.  Over the course of the (rainy) afternoon, we realized that we were the only ones hopping off the bus at any point.  Everyone else just stayed on the bus and must have done the full circle, then got on a bus with a different route and done the same thing.  This is the only explanation we could come up with.  Literally no one else ever got off a bus that we were on. 

I would not recommend this tour in Milan unless you don’t like walking around much at all OR you have a desire to go to some of the areas that are further away.  We booked this through Gate 1 Travel and their partnership with “CitySightseeing Milano”.  Through this company, it would be the “green line” that would be worthwhile to book the tour and that would take you to go see the Lido (sporting center), Ippodromo (Hippodrome and Leonardo’s Horse), and Stadio San Siro (Stadium and museum).  If those are points of interest, than the hop on, hop off tour would be worth it. Otherwise, just walk around the city itself and at your own pace.

The day was full of pop-ins at various churches, museums, etc.  We had one major hiccup on day two and that was due to not being able to find the entrance to Pirelli Tower for the life of us.  We took the bus tour to the appropriate stop and then walked around for some time before realizing we had walked way too far out of the way.  We finally arrived at Pirelli Tower and the viewing deck/floor had been closed for a few hours.  So if you have pictures from the top of Pirelli Tower, we would love to see them …

After a second aperitivo session, we wound up heading back to the piazza by the Duomo.  The Duomo at night is beautiful.  After a number of pictures, including ones with the iconic Ray-Ban sign in the back, we picked a restaurant/bar in the piazza to enjoy the sights and sounds.  Brad swore that his Old Fashioned was the best he ever had, while the ladies enjoyed their Bellinis.  My Manhattan was OK at best and yes, we were a little out of element.  Afterward, it was back to the hotel bar – where we were asked to sit in the lobby instead of the bar itself – for a few drinks.  The bartender made all of us, including other guests, sit in the lobby and would walk back and forth from the bar to serve us.  No one quite understood what was going on so it was up to the room to get ready for our train ride to Venice the next morning. 

Milan pictures:

The Duomo:

Bull's Balls:

Piazza Duomo at night:

 Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II:

Milan - Welcome to Aperitivo:

There was a twenty minute delay for our train to Venice out of Milan and this naturally drove me crazy.  Once on the train, there were women in our seats and you would have thought we screamed bloody murder after politely pointing to our tickets and showing them that they were our reserved seats.  I really wish the US would spend money on high-speed rail.  If we are going to waste money, let’s put it towards something like this.  (Steps off pedestal)

The train ride from Milan to Venice is very simple and relatively quick (under two hours).  We arrived at the train station (Stazione Venezia Santa Lucia) that is directly in Venice and were able to walk to the hotel – the Abbazia Hotel.  Unfortunately, the entrance to the hotel is in a small side street that we walked past a handful of times, before a sweet old woman took us down the right path. 

Three words: Venice was awesome!  It is the only city that we went to that I would undoubtedly go back to in a heartbeat.  The uniqueness and charm is felt immediately after walking out of the train station.    After finally getting to the hotel, we stopped for an early lunch at a restaurant right by the hotel and on the Canal Grande.  Dorothy ‘accidentally’ ordered a full bottle of wine, so lunch turned into an hour long event.  After lunch and changing at the hotel, we wound up deciding to take the boat taxis to all of the surrounding islands.  Each island has its own niche and charm.  In Murano, we stopped at a local glass company to watch them put together a few pieces of glassware.  After a mistaken trip to the island where the cemetery is, we finally made it over to Burano – which is known for its lace products.  I would recommend taking a trip to both to see the local culture and uniqueness of each. 

After making it back to the main island, a little bit of a process again, we were ready for dinner.  There really isn’t aperitivo in Venice, much to our chagrin.  So we went with a recommendation from the front desk.  The only problem was that we couldn’t find said restaurant and wound up at a local place that wound up being very good – Al Bacco Felice.  Afterward, the island was hit with a bit of a storm and we ducked into a bar run by Croatians.  We wound up parking it here for several hours as Brad and I sat outside and smoked cigars under an overhang, while the ladies chatted it up with several other tourists.  Another couple made a dinner recommendation for the next night.

On the way home from the bar we started to realize that Venice closed down relatively early at night.  We wound up having to buy wine to go at an Indian restaurant across the street from the hotel.  It was actually pretty neat (for the lack of a better word) to see the water of the canals come up onto the streets after the storm.  You will have to trust me on this one, as I realize that doesn’t sound very cool or interesting whatsoever when reading this.  After hanging out in the hotel lobby for a while, it was time to put the women to bed.  Brad and I wound up having a second cigar walking around Venice.  I have yet to mention how romantic Venice is because I was saving it for this part of the story …

The Abbazia Hotel breakfast was pretty standard; nothing extraordinary but perfectly acceptable for being “free” with our stay.  Our second day was already planned as we were going to take a gondola tour and then head over to Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Bridge to see the highlights of Venice.  The gondola tour took a little under an hour and you get to see the side canals (assuming the water level isn’t too high when you visit) and the Canal Grande.  If you go to Venice, you have to splurge and take a gondola tour. 

After our tour we walked over to the Rialto Bridge and did some souvenir shopping.  We then made the trek over to Piazza San Marco and as soon as we turned the corner to get into the Piazza, I think we all realized we would be spending some time there.  The Basilica (church) was gorgeous.  Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace) was equally breathtaking.  You also have the Bell Tower and the view of the water at the edge of the Piazza.  After "climbing" (via elevator) to the top of the Bell Tower – and a near heart attack at the top of the tower by one in our party – it was time to sit down for some more wine.  In the Piazza, there were a number of tourists openly feeding the pigeons and letting them fly/land on them to take pictures.  Why do people let flying rats land on them; I have no idea. 

An hour or two later and it was time to walk back to the hotel and soak in the rest of the view of the main island.  Remember that recommendation for dinner we received from the other tourists?  Well, that restaurant took an hour to find and then when we got there, was closed.  We were batting a cool 0% in finding and enjoying the recommended eateries.  After more pacing around, we wound up going back towards the hotel and found a Seafood / Italian restaurant – Trattoria Povoledo.  The owner of the restaurant spent time in Australia and the states and has nested in Venice.  This was my favorite restaurant from the entire trip – great food (risotto and lava cake for dessert … phenomenal) and great service.  We wound up spending the entire evening here and took the wine back to the hotel to prepare for our next stop, Florence. 

This concludes Part 1 of our Italy write-up (see Venice pictures below).  Overall, I’m very happy that we went to Milan.  You don’t run into many people that say they have seen “The Last Supper” up close and in person.  That was amazing, as was the Duomo.  I cannot provide a high enough of a ringing endorsement for Venice.  It was gorgeous.  Prior to the trip, several people told us that “Venice smells”.  Apparently that is occasionally the case in the middle of the summer.  However, given that we were visiting in April, this wasn’t an issue whatsoever.  Again, I loved Venice! 

Stay tuned for Part 2 of our trip to Italy in the coming weeks, covering off on the highlights of Florence and Rome.  If you have any of your own recommendations for Milan or Venice, or if you think we missed anything, let us know in the comments below.  Thanks!

Venice pictures:

Welcome to Venice!

Murano Glassware:


Enjoying the Venice streets:

Gondola ride:

Rialto Bridge:

Piazza San Marco:

Piazza San Marco from the top of the Bell Tower: