If Monday was about being tourists and seeing what we came to see, Tuesday we reverted to being travelers and saw what we saw! Alas, before we could see what we saw we had to go through the always painful process of disembarking the ship. The day didn’t have a very auspicious beginning. For only the second time during the trip it was raining, and I don’t mean a sprinkle, I mean it was raining pretty hard. I thought it was kind of ironic that it really only rained the day we boarded the ship and again the day we got off. We had seen a few sprinkles here and there, but it had always stopped in time to not interfere with our plans. Thankfully, by the time we got off the worst of the rain had stopped and we had just intermittent sprinkles as we walked from the ship to pick up our water taxi. Here’s my last shot of the ship from the taxi:
We shared a water taxi with our friends Lisa and Fred who were also staying at our hotel. Yes, the water taxis are expensive, but they give you the freedom to stay wherever you like. I had done a lot of research before I chose a hotel and finally settled on the Hotel Palazzo Abadessa which was on a quiet canal in Cannaregio – close to everything, yet far away from the crowds.
Selecting a hotel in Venice is a little bit different than anywhere else, because in addition to price, the features of the hotel itself, and the location of the hotel you also have to consider how you will get there. At first I was trying to find a hotel that would allow us to use public transportation to get from the ship to the hotel (with all our luggage🙄). Thank goodness I scratched that plan! It was well worth the cost of a water taxi to stay in such a charming place with a dock. Yes, one of my hotel requirements in Venice was that the location be accessible by water and have their own dock. Now that I have been there I think it was a very wise decision. Even if we hadn’t been hauling way too much stuff the streets are narrow and the bridges are plentiful. I would have been in a very bad mood if I had to drag my luggage up and down one or more of Venice’s bridges.
We arrived at the hotel around 10:00 and were instantly charmed. What a beautiful place! We had selected a deluxe room on the Piano Nobile (main family living) floor. Room 26 was the palace kitchen back in the 16th century, and you could still see evidence of the room’s former use in the gigantic fireplace and the huge oversized sink in the bathroom. I loved the hotel and would definitely stay there again!
Since it was so early our rooms were not ready, but we were able to check our luggage, get a map and directions, and we were off. Now, I have to tell you finding your way around Venice is not like finding your way around any other city. We were using the map, GPS on our phones, and our sketchy memories from the day before to find the mask shop we liked. We got there, but we also saw a lot of Venice in the process! In other words, we saw what we saw!
Sogno Veneziano Atelier is a small shop that specializes in masks and costumes for Carnivale. We were excited to find them in Venice’s maze of canals and narrow streets, and had an awesome time choosing our masks. Then, much to our surprise and delight, the owners took me and Lisa in back, outfitted us, and took us out onto the bridge for pictures. Getting lost finding the shop was well worth it, and it’s one of my favorite memories from Venice.
By the time we left the mask shop it was almost 11:30 and we decided it was time to eat and make our way towards Dorsoduro for a 1:30 “off the beaten path” tour. We tried the restaurant (Osteria da Alberto) recommended by the mask shop owners, but in true Italian fashion 11:30 was way to early for lunch so we headed to Dorsoduro. Once again we got a little turned around in the narrow streets of Venice, but we did finally find the Vaporetto (water bus) stop. We bought tickets that allowed us unlimited use of the water bus for a 24 hour period and ended up getting quite a bit of use from the tickets. I thought the Venice public transportation system was a little intimidating on paper, but once we started using it we found it made sense and was very efficient.
I almost felt like I was in Texas – well, not really because it wasn’t hot, but the weather had completely changed from dreary and rainy to bright and sunny. We got off the Vaporetto at the Salute stop and walked around for a while.
We found the Hotel Messner and had lunch in their restaurant. They have a lovely outdoor patio surrounded by flowers and lush foliage where we had a peaceful meal far, far from the hustle and bustle of the popular tourist areas.
At 1:30 we met our fantastic guide Luisella Romeo (See Venice) and spent the afternoon exploring some of the quieter streets and neighborhoods of the Dorsoduro area of the city. I had found her when I was searching for “my kind” of tour because I knew even before we went that Monday would be a very typical tourist day. Luisella works with small groups (around 6 people) and will recommend a tour or tailor a tour based on what a customer requests. I thought she was very professional and passionate about her city. I would book her again without hesitation!
A highlight of the tour was seeing Le Forcole di Saverio the shop where they make the oars and the oarlocks (forcole) for the gondolas. What beautiful craftsmanship! Every gondola and oar is unique to an owner, because the gondolas are built specifically to accommodate a gondolier’s height and weight. As a matter of fact, a gondolier cannot gain or lose more than 10 kg or his boat will become unstable! I can attest to that…even shifting my weight or turning made our gondola rock!
This was much more my kind of tour what we did on Monday, and this is the type of thing I will look for when we return. Venice is filled with charming neighborhoods and tons of history. I really enjoyed hearing about it from a native Venetian who loves her city.
The day wasn’t over yet. We still had a progressive dinner with Venice Bites. We took the water bus back to the hotel and had a very short time to freshen up before we were off again. We were all very thankful that we had purchased the unlimited water bus passes. We had two choices to get to the meeting location for the dinner tour – we could either take what probably would have been a 45 minute walk with wrong turns, or we could hop on the bus and take it one stop and be right there. We opted for the water bus!
Lisa, Fred, Jim, and I met up with our hosts for the evening, Maya and Adam, as well more friends from the ship, Jill and Bill. Maya and Adam are both California transplants who have been making their life in Venice for about six years. They have cultivated a network of small restaurants for their tours, and that is where we had dinner…in a few of the tiny cafes and cichetterie of Venice. We really like food tours because they are an interesting and fun way to see local neighborhoods and discover hidden places that we would never find on our own.
We started with a traghetto ride back to Ca d’ Oro, the closest water bus stop to the Palazzo Abadessa. A traghetto is an oversized gondola that is manned by two gondoliers. There isn’t a route per se — the purpose of a traghetto is to take people across the Grand Canal, saving a very long walk to one of the bridges that cross the canal. Locals stand for the short trip, but I decided it would be prudent to sit!😳
The evening was a lot of fun! We had three cicchetti stops, two kinds of pasta and salad for our main course, gelato for dessert, and ended the evening with an Aperitivo Select. Of course, with the exception of the last two stops, wine was prominently featured at each stop.
Our first stop was for fried meatballs at Alla Vedova, or the Widow’s Place. The restaurant is tucked in the corner of a narrow alley by McDonalds. If you’re near Ca d’ Oro and need something good to eat, walk to the Golden Arches and peek around the corner!
Our second stop was at Ai DiVini for traditional meats and cheeses. We sat outside in a private courtyard at this stop. One unusual thing on the platters was truffled honey. I thought it sounded strange, but it was delicious. I couldn’t get enough of it!
Stop number three was a cicchetti smorgasbord!😆 Un Mondo di Vino had cases filled with all types of hot and cold treats, and we were each able to choose two. Of course, each couple made sure they had 4 different items so we could sample more items!
Tratoria Storica is another hidden gem in Cannaregio. We had our sitdown “main” meal here, although I had eaten enough cicchetti that I could have called it a day! We had bread, salad, and two kinds of pasta.
Our final stop was for a nightcap at Ancora on the Grand Canal. Aperitivo Select is a typical Venetian drink, but I didn’t care for it. I thought it was kind of a strange combination of bitter and sweet, and it didn’t really appeal to me. Even though I was tired and not really interested in my drink, I was fascinated by the location. In the time since we had arrived to start our tour (about 3 & 1/2 hours) the water level had risen significantly. The walkway at the edge of the patio where we were sitting was underwater! It was a visible reminder of how Venetians must always be conscious of water levels and tides because they truly impact their lives.
What a long but fun and enjoyable day! The only bad thing about it was knowing we’d be off and running again about noon the next day in order to get to Ljubljana before 4:00. Two and a half days in Venice was not enough time. We could have filled two or three more days and not scratched the surface! We’ll have to go back!