I love riding on trains. Any time someone else does the driving is a good thing, as far as I’m concerned. And when I can walk to another car and get something to eat and drink or go to the bathroom, well that’s just a bonus. I really wish the trains in our country where a more viable travel option.
Since joining the European Union (EU), the trains in Italy are reliable, easy to use, and almost always on time. We bought tickets for Venice from a travel agent near the hotel in Rome, but really, it’s so simple to buy them in the station at the self-service machines that you might as well do that. Just answer the questions on the screen, follow the directions, then insert your card or cash for payment. Easy peasy. You could even buy all the tickets you're going to need if you want to, but it's just as easy to buy the tickets you'll need next when you get off the train.
But, just because you have your ticket, you’re not done. You have to validate your ticket in one of the many yellow boxes on the platforms. Just slide it in before you get on the train, but not too early because the ticket has to be used within a certain amount of time from the time stamped. They will check your tickets on the train, and there is a hefty fine for not validating your ticket. There is also no excuse, they don’t care that you are a tourist and didn’t know. So, now you know!
I would recommend First Class when you can get it, just because it’s not that much more expensive and the seats are a little more comfortable, plus you get a drink and a snack like on an airplane. But I would recommend you not eat the lunch available for first class. It’s an experience and sure, the food is good (5 courses plus sides), and it’s kind of like being in one of those old movies when you’re sitting at the lovely table as the train races down the track, but it’s outrageously expensive. Really, I was just as happy walking down to the food car and getting a sandwich and a soda.
I was very excited about seeing Venice. I have several friends who said Venice was one of the highlights of their time in Italy, and it’s just so different that anything else I’m ever going to experience, so I couldn’t wait to see it.
And I wasn’t disappointed. Rome is the Eternal City with history mingled with the modern, Florence is the youthfu, bustling city influenced by the art created there and the college near there, and the Tuscan towns are quaint and scenic. But there’s just nothing comparable to Venice. I thought it the most romantic place I’ve ever been.
We got off the train and onto the vaporetto, or water bus. The signs are good, so you don’t worry about getting on the wrong one. Guidebooks will tell you which boat to get on, but it doesn’t hurt to double check when you get your ticket. And, like on the trains, you have to validate your ticket in a yellow box before getting on the boat. Since we were only going to the one stop, we bought one ticket, but they do offer all day passes that are good for sightseeing and getting around to the less touristy areas. The picture below is the waiting dock.
We packed in like the proverbial sardines, all going to the stop at the Rialto Bridge. I marveled at the colorful buildings we passed, an aged storybook come to life. I also got a taste for the only drawback to Venice—the thousands and thousands of tourists who all want to be standing where you’re standing and seeing what you’re seeing. It was easier to get out of the parking lot after a San Antonio Spurs game than it was to maneuver around all those people. But what could I do? I was one of those tourists, and I wanted to see it all, too.
(You can see a vaporetto in the left corner)
We got off the boat at the Rialto Bridge and did what every other tourist who comes to Venice does. We got lost. Yes, I had a map, I had even printed out directions from the hotel website, but it helps if the streets are labeled. It’s a little disconcerting to be walking on a street that dead ends at water. It’s a surreal maze, with a lot of retracing our steps and double backing. But this maze is lined with shops instead of hedges.
Luckily, it didn’t take too long to find our hotel, Casa Cosmo.
Casa Cosmo is fantastic. It’s small, with only about 8 rooms and no lounge area in the lobby, but the rooms are large and comfortable and breakfast is delivered to your room.
The hotel is family-run and they are very friendly and helpful. Unlike the other hotels where we turned in our key to the front desk when leaving, here we had to take our key with us because they lock the front door after 10 at night.
We decided to take a break and meet back up in a couple of hours to do some sightseeing. I was too excited to rest, so Al and I headed out to get the lay of the land. The signs to the Piazza San Marco were very good, so we didn’t get lost.
However, if they changed the sweater on the mannequin in that window on the corner, I would be lost because that was my landmark. And it was a cute sweater, too. Al’s landmark was the Ferrari store.
St. Mark’s Square is as beautiful and crowded as you would imagine. The lines to go into the basilica and the Doge’s Palace were very long, and there were clusters of tour groups listening to their guides. And don’t forget the pigeons—lots and lots of them. You can buy feed from different vendors and the birds will love you.
Our friend proved that if you want a picture of you with a pigeon on your arm but don’t want to feed the entire population, just put your arm out because they will assume you have food then fly away when they realize you don't. But some people took feeding the pigeons to the extreme.
We met up with our friends and started roaming around with them. We stopped at many shops along the way back to the square. Venice is known for it’s jewelry, glass, lace, stationary, and leather goods. I bought a beautiful leather-bound journal because I just couldn’t help myself. I love journals, as evidenced by all the partially written-in ones sitting on my shelves. But I just had to have this one!
We walked around the square and saw the Bridge of Sighs, so called because of the sadness of this bridge, which led to the prison making it the last time a prisoner could see the outside.
We also saw people being statues (bit disturbing) and ate some gelato. Of course, we ate gelato most days, so that’s nothing new.
After getting cleaned up for dinner, we decided it would be a night to splurge. We ate at a restaurant on the water, just off the square. We knew there would be an extra charge for the location, but we didn’t care. And we made a good choice because our meal was fabulous. We had the whole experience—the antipasto, the first and second courses, plus dessert and coffee and aperitifs. I had a white fish with the most luscious butter sauce. I was told by a friend that I had to have this dish, and she was right. We also had 2 bottles of wine and it’s amazing I was able to walk back to the hotel. It was a fun walk back as witnessed by my giggling the whole way. There was live music at the restaurant and twice our friends got up and slow danced near the table. It was so sweet, and Al gave me a “don’t even think about it” look. Oh well, Venice is still romantic, even without dancing.
Another quick note here. Venice is expensive, it just is. It’s as expensive for the people who live there as for the tourist. There are no roads, so everything has to be brought in on boats, then maneuvered down narrow alleys into small buildings that have to be restocked pretty much daily because there is no room to store things. So, be prepared for Venice to be a costly part of your vacation. Worth every penny—but still expensive.
The most common question I get about Venice is “does it stink?” No, it doesn’t. When we passed the fish market I could smell that, but it didn’t stink. It is sinking, however. At night, the church and parts of the square flood when the tide comes in.
Well, I slept very well that fist night in Venice. I don’t know if it was all the wine or just the contentment I was feeling. Either way, I slept well enough that I was up and ready early the next morning.