I’m back! I’ve discovered that blogging isn’t as easy or as fast as I thought it would be! When faced with the prospect of finishing this trip report in a timely fashion or doing the things I do to earn money, I opted for the cash. After all, I need to start saving for the next one!
Jim is out of town for the weekend, and I decided this would be a great time to get back to my trip. Things were going just great until I stopped to fix dinner. I neglected to save my work as a draft, and when I came back to it it was gone. Completely. It just disappeared. To partially quote the warden in my favorite movie of all time (The Shawshank Redemption), my post up and vanished like a fart in the wind!
At any rate, I repaired the damage, saving frequently as I went, and I’m finally finished with our first day in Venice. Enjoy!
“The traveler sees what he sees; the tourist sees what he has come to see.” —Gilbert K. Chesterton
Jim sent me that quote not too long ago, and I think it perfectly sums up our 2 1/2 days in Venice. Unfortunately for us, our first day in this fascinating city was spent as tourists – seeing what we had come to see. A day that I had been excited about for months turned out exactly the way the tour company intended, but wasn’t necessarily what I had in mind (even though it was what I planned). But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me back up a little bit…
I woke up predictably early…I think I must have felt the ship slow way down when we picked up the pilot. I grabbed my camera and went outside where it was just barely getting light and discovered we were already approaching Venice! It was a little misty/foggy, but I didn’t mind because that seemed to add to the charm and mystique of Venice.
We met up with the other three couples we were touring with and left the ship promptly at 7:45 to make our way across town. We decided to take a water taxi to get to the tour starting point. It was expensive at €15/person, but we had a lot of concerns about making it to the starting point on time so we decided to spend the money and go with the fastest option.
Our tour was called Venice in a Day through Walks of Italy. I booked it very early in the planning process because it sounded like a good introduction for people who had never visited Venice. Shortly after I booked, Walks of Italy changed the meeting time from 9:15 to 8:45. That was concerning because our ship was not due in until 8:00.
Communication with Walks of Italy left the situation largely unresolved until the week before we left Houston. Finally after repeated phone calls I got a promise that a guide would wait for our group if we were running late. Time ended up really not being an issue since we were able to leave the ship so early, but the thought that we were going to be left stranded without our tour caused many in the group quite a bit of concern in the days leading up to the cruise. Anyway, back to our day…
I’m kind of conflicted on what to say. To be fair to Natalia, she was extremely knowledgeable and very pleasant, but she certainly didn’t provide the best guide experience we had in Europe. In fact, in my opinion it was the worst.☹️ Natalia was very much a “stick to the agenda and don’t deviate from the script” guide, whereas Jim and I as well as the people we were touring with all like to take things at a more leisurely pace, stopping when something piques our interest.
Our morning was spent touring the markets, streets, and neighborhoods of Venice, but I’m embarrassed to say I really don’t remember too much about the the sights we saw. Natalia was trying to stay on schedule and she was moving WAY too fast for most of us. If I stopped to take a picture I had to run to catch up. When I went through my pictures I could tell a lot of them were taken on the fly and they had to be deleted.😕 Most of the time I struggle to walk and talk at the same time, so steadying a camera while jogging to keep up was out of the question!😂
Repeated requests from several different people in our group resulted in a slight slowdown, but I still struggled to keep up with Natalia and caught very little of what she said. I wanted to understand the whys of Venice, and learn how the Venetians have adapted their lives and their habits because of the unique geography of their city. Our tour scratched the surface, but I thought most of the information was something that could be easily discovered with a web search. I think the bottom line for our first day in Venice was that we had a guide who truly stuck to the script. She didn’t read us or really listen to what we were saying/asking. She simply guided us through the predetermined agenda. That’s probably fine for many people but it really didn’t work for us. Lesson learned!
One fun thing we did in the morning was visit a mask and costume shop. The owners were delightful, and even though we couldn’t spend as much time there as we would have liked we did grab one of their business cards and vowed to return.
Our morning ended with a gondola ride and then we had time on our own for lunch before we met up with Natalia again in the afternoon. We enjoyed our time on the gondola, and then had lunch at Rosso Pomodoro, the restaurant Natalia recommended. We were glad to have the recommendation, because the restaurants directly surrounding St. Mark’s Square are exorbitantly expensive, and Jim and I didn’t want a repeat of the terrible €55 lunch we had in Rome!😳 We sat outside and enjoyed the relaxation time as well as the awesome people-watching!
After lunch we walked over to St. Mark’s Square to meet Natalia for the afternoon part of our tour. The square is a hub of activity and is filled with pigeons, tourists, peddlers, seagulls, and locals…in that order!😆
We toured St. Mark’s Basilica first. The original church on the site was completed in 832 and burned completely during a rebellion in 976. The current Basilica was consecrated in 1093, and the basic layout remains largely unchanged. There have been many changes to the interior, although the ornate gold mosaics are believed to have existed in some form for many centuries. Right after I took the first photograph I learned interior pictures aren’t allowed, so the other pictures are brought to you courtesy of Wikipedia!
Staying the course with the predetermined agenda became a big problem for me in the afternoon at the Doge’s Palace. Natalia seemed to go on and on about every painting and most of us were completely on overload. It got to the point where it was so annoying to me that I pulled my headphones off and just shuffled along in my own little world. I kept looking longingly out the windows where I could see people wandering around exploring Venice while I was enduring yet another lengthy explanation. Maybe the guides for Walks of Italy are not allowed to deviate, but we repeatedly said we had had enough and would like to speed things up, but it never happened.
It’s sad to say, but I was very happy when the tour ended. I felt like a kid on the last day of school. I loved what I had seen of Venice, and I was eager to explore it at my own pace.
In hindsight, I can’t really blame Walks of Italy because they provided exactly what they had said they would provide. We did no more, and we did no less. I am glad I have seen those “must see” places, because I do not have to go back when I visit Venice again. I know it’s possible to make seeing the “required” tourist sites interesting and fun – Andrea did it in Rome when we visited the Vatican and the Colosseum in the same day. This tour and guide were just not good matches for our personalities or travel preferences. Still, we had knocked out the things that are on everyone’s bucket list and the rest of our time in Venice would be more our style. To put our first day in Venice another way, we saw what we came to see!😏
We were tired and took a waterbus (Alilaguna) back to the ship to spare our feet from another couple miles in unfamiliar territory. We had a nice dinner with friends and finally went upstairs to face the suitcases at 9:30. That means I did not start putting anything in the suitcases until about 10:00! Not a good idea! That was the downside of such a port intensive cruise. We didn’t have any time to relax, and I certainly didn’t have time to pack! We finally got the suitcases out in the hall and fell into bed. Our time on the Westerdam would be over in the morning, but we still had things to see and places to go!