Europe Highlights: Venice

9 Oct

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When my eyes first caught the glisten of the lights off of the water of the canals the night we arrived in Venice, I thought for sure I’d found my favorite city of all time. After what was a VERY stressful trip to the city using SleazyJet, my endorphins were going nuts and the comedown hit just as we began to roll our bags across winding cobblestone roads and everything seemed to soothe me* at once: the sound of the water, the excitement of the busy shops, the easy navigation of the town. I had a feeling from that first moment that I was going to be able to just breathe here, and while Venice probably ended up being my least favorite city overall (simply because there’s not a whole lot to do outside of shopping and eating), it will still always hold a special place in my heart.

*I felt the complete opposite. I was dragging our two massive bags for about a mile up and down stairs and along stone streets and was worried that every shady character we walked past was out to steal my wallet, phone, and camera. I thought “oh, cool, canals,” but was uncharacteristically stressed as we tried to find out hotel.

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Since we were finally in Italy, I knew it was gelato o’ clock at every hour of the day. But before we made it to ice cream town, we had to check into our hotel. Ca’Dogaressa was a beautiful little* hotel, with a shared kitchen (that we never used) and bathroom for our room and our neighbors’. The front desk fellow didn’t speak very much English** (or maybe just didn’t speak very much to us), so he just kinda pointed us to our room and handed over the key. We plunked our bags down and headed nearby for a quick OK, not mind-blowing, very touristy dinner because the waiters had lured us in, telling us they had delicious food.

*Definitely more little than it was beautiful, but it was charming enough.

**Oh, he definitely spoke no English at all. 

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It was too late for pizza because they’d turned off the ovens, so we had some pasta instead. Solid enough, but not great dinner. I was just relieved to be settled and find something open at 10 pm.

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Wine was drunk, and some really excellent gelato was scarfed down. We then proceeded to pass out hard in our beds, and, for the first time all trip, did not set an alarm. We knew it was time to put the brakes on and take it easy. I can’t believe we waited this long to wake up on our own accord. We watched TV in bed until 1 pm and it ruled!

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The next morning we decided to explore the areas around our hotel. We woke up starving, so we decided to have some lunch straight away. Zack took this awesome peppers shot in a market that was in the straight next to our lunchtime restaurant. There were armed guards by the market and an incredibly obnoxious American couple eating next to us, so it wasn’t the best atmosphere, but it was still exciting to be out and about in Venice.

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We were too hungry to be picky, so we sat down at the first restaurant that had pizza that sounded good. It was OK, but still not quite that “OHMYGOD” delicious that we were looking for. They also had expensive cola, so that should have tipped us off that we were not quite far enough off of the beaten path (which, admittedly, is hard to get off of in Venice). Yet another meal that was fine, but nothing special. Kind of a theme in Venice eating.

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This is when my lack of cutting skills became vastly and quickly apparent. It was also when we learned to split one pizza for lunch so we could fit in more gelato during the day. Venice tip: Eat more gelato. Eat less pasta and pizza. 

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We decided to do some light shopping, hitting up just a couple of shops on my list more by accident than anything. I saw these gigantic meringues the size of your fist in a shop window, and decided I simply had to try one. It was quite honestly really disappointing — I didn’t take very many more bites out of it than I had in the photo above. I was hoping for something a little chewy and sweet, but it was straight chalky. I *am* modeling new sunglasses that I bought in what turned out to be my favorite little jewelry shop in town, though. I told Caitlin I was pretty sure those things tasted chalky, as appetizing as they look. She said no, but after taking a bite I asked how it tasted: “chalky.” She did make the right call on the sunglasses, though.

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Zack was much luckier with his pastry choice, opting for a pistachio pastry that was very good. It was incredible. Pistachio is wildly underused in desserts.

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It kept blowing our minds that every single turn in the road seemed to lead to another great photo opportunity. I’m just glad that the streets weren’t flooding during our visit! The canals really are something else. We didn’t get tired of them for a second.

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There were definitely more motorized boats than gondolas in Venice, and we never did hear a single gondolier sing, which made it easier to not indulge in a ride. Between the pretty outrageous price (80 Euro for a 40 minute trip during the day, 100 if you want that same trip at night), and although I’d had my heart set on indulging in it at some point, Zack was so unexcited about it, and I never did get a sense that it was magical enough to make me force it on him. Caitlin was definitely more intrigued by the gondola ride than I was. There were a couple times where I was up for it, but my non-interest early on kind of soured her on it. It never quite felt like the time to do it.

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We were quite content to just travel by foot everywhere we went, which was really easy to do. We saw very few bikes in Italy, which was surprising at first, but once my feet got a  feeling of the bumpy, uneven roads beneath them, it surprised me a lot less. I think we only saw 2-3 in 3 days. It’s so packed, the roads are so narrow and bumpy that it’s just not logical to ride a bike around.

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During our lazy, leisurely first day wandering the city streets, we saw in the distance a just-married couple getting some photos taken. Seems really, sweet, right? But then you look close up at their faces. Prepare your cringe face now.

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Not exactly the happiest couple I’d ever seen. I don’t know the details of their relationship, obviously, but it was so hard for me NOT to smile in Venice, with the canals as my constant backdrop, that I’m glad we didn’t try to go hang out with these two. I’m hoping for both of them that it was more that they were sick of taking pictures and the cameraman was slow more than them being super bummed about the marriage already. Eeesh.

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Dinner time brought mediocre fare once again. I can’t even remember where we went, but I feel like we truly tried to go somewhere less touristy. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Hard to mess up a steak, but this was mediocre at best.

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I spit on you, pasta. I can make better pasta at home! You have shamed your country.

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We grabbed more gelato because, duh, and then wandered around taking more photos until we found some steps to sit on for a while. Zack had a few beers* and we chatted about life and the future while we watched the boats pass by. It was a really lovely evening. We loved that spot. It would not be our last time there.

*Moretti for the win.

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The next morning brought AMAZING breakfast for me from a place called Brek. The Espresso you see above had a clump of vanilla ice cream in the middle, which I fished out before I passed the rest of the drink to Zack. The pastry is one of the best things I had in Venice. It was filled with chocolate in the middle and as you can see, it was dusted with sugar and chocolate powder. I was in heaven. The “espressino” with the ice cream was amazing. I’d get it and a coffee, drink some of the coffee and pour the sweet stuff in. Ideal way to start a day. 

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See? All smiles after this amazing breakfast. Zack and I decided we’d return there for breakfast the next morning, too. I foolishly had an awful pastry elsewhere the first day and was excited to eat at Brek with Caitlin and have the espressino combo again.

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In our wanderings the previous night, we were given a shot of fruit smoothie with just a hint of alcohol in it, and it was so delicious that we tracked down the smoothie cart the next day. While this beast was lacking any “infusions,” it made me feel a lot better to get some fresh fruit in me, even if it was only in liquid form. It was the first time we’d had fruit in a while, which was becoming necessary.

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What followed was a day of massive window shopping. We stopped as we pleased, looking at all kinds of goodies that were potential gifts for friends, family or ourselves. Though Venice is known for its masks, we simply didn’t have anything to do with them and were afraid they’d get crushed in luggage anyway, so we were content to take some photos of them instead. I personally wouldn’t have anything to do with a mask for even five seconds, so it was never a consideration, but I suppose they were cool for window shopping.

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We’ll cover this a lot more in a later post, but as we walked around Venice we suddenly found ourselves in San Marco Polo Square, which is where we had some very intimate interactions with pigeons. Plus, there was gorgeous architecture and stunning scenery everywhere you turned. But I had to use the bathroom and we were both starving, so we pushed “pause” on our Marco Polo explorations to duck down an alley and, finally, find a non-touristy restaurant. You may think, ugh, pigeons, but I understand why Mike Tyson keeps them as pets now. They’re pretty fun to have around.

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It may not look like much to you, but this four-cheese pizza was the best thing we had in all of Venice. It was so cheesy, and balanced so well by the crust, that it really did the trick. This was also when I discovered that Italy’s toilets are BIZARRE. For the ladies, they have very-low-to-the-ground toilets with NO seats, so you just have to really work your hamstrings and hover as best you can. It was a workout, every time, and always made my hotel bathrooms that much more luxurious. I managed to get lucky with the toilets, while Caitlin kept having to squat. It also helped that I don’t go as often and ya know, guys pee differently and all.

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We didn’t take too many photos of the myriad puppy dogs wandering the streets of Venice, but we did manage to capture this little guy, peeking out at the world below. He made me think of Scooby, and how he likes to sit out on the porch and watch the world go by. 😀 Scoooooby!

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As we finished up our window-shopping spree, we came across a store that sold wind chimes. This is significant because Zack and I really, really wanted to find some wind chimes in Europe to bring back with us. We’ve been wanting to install some as a calming mechanism on our porch for a while now, and figured there’d be no better place to find a special sound than overseas. However, we tested out the sounds on almost every wind chime in this store, and if we liked the sound, the look was off; if the look was alright, the sound wasn’t great. We ultimately decided we didn’t want to force it just because, so we held off, but had to snap a photo, because who would have guessed we’d actually find a store with wind chimes in it? I was surprised we didn’t get any. I prefer wood wind chimes and Caitlin likes the clangy ones, and when it came down to it none of the chimes really were right and Caitlin is a meticulous shopper, as I’ve previously noted.

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That night, we ended up eating at another touristy place because it was close to “home” and open. Zack’s french fries with his meat were solid, and I had been craving them, so I couldn’t complain too much. Another OK at best steak. Venice food really isn’t great unless we just happened to go to all the wrong places.

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Still — I made better gnocchi for myself TONIGHT, for dinner, with pre-made pasta sauce. C’mon, Venice, step up your game! After more gelato and more step-sitting and late night talking, we headed to bed again, this time with an alarm set so we could check out of the hotel and store our bags at the front desk for the day. We had a plane to catch that night. The mac and cheese I made today was worse, but that’s my own fault for buying “buffalo cheese” flavor. It’s even worse than it sounds. Still, terrible food in Venice.

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Oh, good morning, Mr. Fish! Looks like you had the worst morning of your short life. Sorry, bud. Zack had to snap this shot, but I walked quickly away. Look at that damn swordfish! Crazy long.

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Back at Brek for breakfast, Zack got both an Americano AND an Espresso, along with this sandwich monstrosity. Brek every day of my life, please.

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I went for a classic sprinkled doughnut, and it tasted as good as any Krispy Kreme or Dunkin Doughnut I’d ever had, so I was satisfied.

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We retraced our steps from the previous evening toward the wind chime shop in order to find a Beatles store we’d seen the night before. Sadly, we discovered it was shut down for a few more weeks, so there wasn’t going to be a Beatles-buying frenzy in our lives that day (y’all have NO IDEA. Just in the window of this store alone, there were puppets, lunch boxes, figurines, Christmas ornaments…it was Beatles heaven.) Eventually we found ourselves at the Rialto bridge, where I purchased a watch with Morano glass inside of it (the glass they make on their famous glass-making island), and then it was lunchtime. I liked this kind of shopping way more than at the mall. At least the view always changed and we were outside for most of it.

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Even though we posted up right by a very touristy area, our lunch was actually solid. The pizza was good and the people-watching was excellent. Pizza was great. Coke was 7 Euro a glass (shakes fist angrily).
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After lunch, Zack ran up to the bridge while I stood by our restaurant to snap this “Where’s Waldo” photo. I like the girl to Zack’s left, kind of awkwardly leaning away. “Girls awkwardly leaning away: The Zack Teibloom story.”

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We did some more canal gazing the rest of the day, eventually getting some gelato and finding a little bench to sit on for a while. At this point, we had hours left in Venice, but we felt pretty ready to say our goodbyes and head to our final European stop. We were more than ready. We had a half day too much in Venice. Spend two full days there. No more. 

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Dinner was a rushed decision based on what was close and seemed OK, and thus my pasta looked like that and tasted like it looked.

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Zack had a plate of seafood which he said was solid. Hopefully he wasn’t eating any of the little guys we saw through a shop window who you can have clean your feet for you. Yeah, that’s a thing Venetians do, apparently. The seafood was fine. The fish foot massage deal is so bizarre I can’t even get into it. At this point, my “hey, I’m sneezing a lot” turned into “Huh, I feel congested” and was well on its way to, “Oh, I’m legit sick right now.”

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As you can tell from this post, we really kicked back and took our time in Venice. There was no rushing from landmark to landmark — we basically just wandered and let the landmarks come to us. It was really, really awesome, and just the refresher we needed before our final push in Rome. Just look at those faces — they have NO IDEA what’s going to happen to them in just about 5 hours when their plane lands. I’m actually shaking my head as I write this, wishing I could tell past me to take some Dayquil and quickly book a train instead of Easy Jet. Regardless, even though the food mostly sucked and we were there half a day too long and no one was all that friendly, we really did enjoy Venice. It’s somewhere you just have to see at some point in your life. And we slept in and ate a lot of gelato and drank a lot of beer and fizzy wine. I’m not rushing to go back, but I don’t regret going for a second.

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2 Responses to “Europe Highlights: Venice”

  1. jessthetics October 9, 2013 at 9:15 am #

    I’ve never been to Venice, but there are definitely some great tips here if I ever decide to go! I’m sorry the food wasn’t all that great, but your pictures are beautiful and if there’s lots of ice cream then you can’t really go wrong haha xx

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