Venice, Florence, and Paris with Mom, February 2017
February 15, 2017
It's two days away, and I'm ready! Clothes are packed, credit card companies are alerted, exchanged currency, and boarding passes are ready.
Mom and I are flying Aer Lingus. It's a good airline that is based in Dublin. Translation: we get to drink tea Guinness at the airport! There's a really fun story that the girls and I can tell from our Paris trip in 2016. We had so much fun at the bar (and then a no-inhibitions shopping trip in the airport) that we almost missed our Boston flight home.
We are stopping over in Dublin (5-7am layover) and arriving in Venice late morning. Our hotel has a water taxi stop right out front, so we can water taxi through the lagoon in style and get dropped off right at the hotel! I can't wait to arrive in Venice. It's been 12 years since I've been, and I'm sure that I'll take the city in differently now that I'm in my 30's. Best part...we will be there for the start of Carnevale! More about that later.
Meanwhile, I'll be waiting patiently to get on the plane! Thanks for reading, and goodnight!
February 18, 2017: Welcome to Venice
Today was a long travel day but it was well worth it!
...could not have gone smoother! We had a low key layover in Dublin from 5-7:30AM. Our flight to Venice was only 2.5 hours, so it was just enough time to get caught up on sleep.
It's expensive, but grand! Once we claimed our luggage, we walked out the door and took a left to find the "water taxi" booking station. From us to get to our hotel in a private water taxi, it cost 120 Euros (about a 20 minute ride). These boats are tiny and fast! We bounced our way through the tide on the lagoon and finally went under a little humpback bridge to get to our hotel area. We passed every stereotypical Venetian water landmark and loved every minute! Advice: take the private taxi. After traveling for so many hours, it was really, really nice to be able to get a door to door transfer. The other important note to keep in mind: with luggage, you are extremely limited on what you can carry through the streets. Venetian tourism changed a few years ago and you cannot roll your luggage through the streets. Book a hotel with its own water taxi dock so you won't be paying an arm and a leg for porter fees.
It. Is. Gorgeous! We are staying at Hotel Ai Cavalieri de Venezia. It's an old palace that has been renovated into a very lavish and beautifully decorated hotel. When our water taxi pulled up and docked, we couldn't believe that we were staying here. For three nights in a suite (breakfast included), we payed 587 Euros. Not bad at all, and we have two sleeping spaces. It's a ten minute walk from the Rialto Bridge and a ten minute walk from San Marco. The front desk staff is excellent. Warm, friendly, very accommodating. Our room was ready by 1PM and we were able to relax before heading out into the city. Highly recommend this hotel!
First City Walk
Luckily, we were able to rest a little bit, shower, and still have daylight to work with. We were amazed by the tiny, narrow streets and all of the boat traffic. Everyone is dressed for Carnevale. Walking around, you see families, singles, and couples dressed as if they were in 18th century Venice. There are incredible costumers in the city that can dress you to the nines. We had a lot of fun people watching today! The festival attracts a million people to Venice each year. Streets are crowded (kind of like Boston traffic, but on foot).
We're looking forward to a tour with Fiona Guisto tomorrow, a great guide recommended by the Buliszaks when they were here last summer. Another big event that is happening tomorrow: The flight of the angel (noon). Taken from the Carnevale de Venezia website:
The “Flight of the Angel” is a traditional event that goes back to the Serenissima period where an unknown guest of Venice, flying along a rope from San Marco bell tower to the middle of the square, will offer an homage to the Doge, and will be greeted by the crowded parterre of the period costumes parades of the Historical Re-enactments.
As a conclusion, the embrace of the Angel and the Doge will smooth the atmosphere e of a square galvanized by scenographical effects always appreciated by the Italian and international networks.
February 19, 2017:
Today was our very first full day in Venice. It's safe to say that we experienced more than a typical first day traveler...
Seriously, stay at this hotel! Gorgeous breakfast lounge on the first floor with eggs, bread, cereals, toast, coffee, juice, the works. It was a great way to start the day!
"Flight of the Angel"
We headed out after breakfast to make it in time for the "Flight of the Angel." This was by far the most intense foot traffic that I've ever been a part of. About 50,000 came to Venice for the beginning of Carnevale. Thinking about that number is not that big of a deal until you realize that the population of Venice is 54,000 people. When I say that we couldn't move, I mean that we really couldn't move. The streets here are so narrow that you can usually stretch your arms across and touch the walls of the buildings. It took us about an hour to get to Piazza San Marco (usually a ten minute walk). We finally made it to the square just in time for what was probably the most incredible sight I've ever seen in Italy.
At exactly noon, the big speakers started to play "Wicked Game" by Chris Isaaks. You know this tune...it will forever remind you of Ross and Rachel in the planetarium. Not even Venice will replace what I think about when I hear this song! The woman dressed as the angel started to come down on the cable from the top of the tower to the other end of the square, throwing gold confetti through the air the entire time. Although it was a nasty walk with that huge crowd of people, every minute of her flying was magical. I'll post the video on Facebook, as I can't share it here.
Mom's Rough Day
Mom had it tough today for a couple of reasons. First, a pigeon pooped on her head as we were walking in that terrible crowd on the way over to see the flight. Then, as we were walking along the lagoon, we decided to take a picture on the docks of one of the gondola docks. I didn't want us to go all the way down to the water because there were no railings and it didn't seem like the safest place. We ended up taking some pretty nice pictures together, so all was well...until I heard a splash. Mom's eyeglasses fell out of her pocket into the lagoon. After some panicking and me trying to tell her that we're never seeing them again, a gondolier told us to go talk to the fire department (a couple of docks down). Mom fetches the firemen and explained what happened, and they proceeded to tell us that they were calling the scuba diver out to go down and get them. Of course, I wasn't believing this for a hot second. They come over to us and tell us to come back in 30 minutes. I'm still thinking that they're blowing us off and didn't want to deal with a distraught woman crying about her glasses. We came back a half hour later and a guy in red met us, brought his team over, and his scuba diver jumped in the water. After about ten minutes, he came up with her glasses. This is unheard of in this country. The guys said that the only reason a diver was here in the first place was because of emergency response in case something happened at Carnevale. I was incredulous. It was a happy, yet surprising ending!
Tour with Fiona
A flute family of mine (Thanks, Jenn Buliszak!) put me in touch with Fiona Giusto, a licensed tour guide here in Venice. She is extremely kind, speaks English well, and gave us a really thorough walking tour of the city. We broke the tour up into two days because Carnevale was so crowded and busy today. We walked over to the Rialto area and learned about Venetian architecture (Gothic and Renaissance) and about the layout of the island. Originally, Venice was basically swampland that became a home to refugees from the Italian mainland. After the fall of the Roman Empire, their livelihoods were in danger and they were needing to escape barbarians from taking over their towns. They discovered a bunch of tiny islands that were low to the water line, with tree trunks that were fossilized into the ground. This is how the first buildings of Venice were built, and it's mind blowing to know that the very buildings that we walk in and around are still standing strong on that foundation. Fiona brought us through the Rialto area, which was known as the business side of the city. This is where all of their markets and trade areas were. We then made our way over to San Marco (passing by the house that Mozart stayed in when he was on tour with his sister and father for a few weeks, the main opera house "La Fenice" where Verdi premiered five of his most important operas, Marco Polo's house). We learned that Venice only had two main bridges originally, and that people used the canals to get around from house to house. As years went by, all 117 tiny Venetian islands were connected by about 400 bridges, which now allows Venetians to walk. Most of the people on the waterways are tourists.
Venice is amazing to get lost in while just strolling around. It's so much better to have someone with you to explain all of the little details and history of the city. Fiona's company is called "Best Venice Guides", and it is a project that has taken her a while to help put together. She is part of a group of tour guides that are only licensed to tour in Venice. She had to study for years, pass tests, and be able to speak two languages other than Italian. She was excellent and we couldn't recommend her more! To book a tour with Fiona, visit her web site: https://bestveniceguides.it/en/guida/fiona-giusto/
We will see her tomorrow for a boat tour and a walk through of the Doge's Palace.
Travelers have a certain code that they live by in the sense that everyone is your friend. While we were waiting for the crowd to dissipate after The Flight of the Angel, we squeezed into a little bar to grab a drink (about 1PM). We ended up standing next to a couple from London who we just made small talk with for about 20 minutes. At 10PM, we walked into a tiny hole in the wall osteria in our hotel's neighborhood. There were only two tables of people, and of course it was our two friends! We talked with them for a while at dinner and decided to exchange information in case we go to London and want to call them. We still didn't know their names at this point. We had a good laugh when we realized that both mom and the woman's name were the same, and they spelled it "Lynne."
February 20, 2017: Boats and Doge
We had another full day in Venice. We started the day by walking over to the Rialto area because we had heard from Fiona that we should go up to the terrace of the Venetian mall to see the view. It's a must-do when you come to Venice!
Old German Building
This is a gorgeous mall that used to be the old post office. Lots of designer brands, beautiful restoration. You have to take an elevator to the fourth floor and reserve a ticket (free, timed entrance) to go up to the roof deck. Be sure to be quick, as they only let you stay for 15 minutes. The views of the city were incredible, and it's a fun, free activity to do in the city.
You have to take a gondola while you're here. It's expensive (80 Euro for 30 minutes, but we talked our guy down to 70). We took one from the Rialto area, which was nice because we got to be out on the grand canal.
Boat Ride with Fiona
Fiona met us at our hotel dock at 14:30 to take us on a one-hour guided tour of the waterways in and around Venice. We learned a lot (I would suggest taking video clips while the tour is going on so that you have an audio narration of what you're looking at. I had my phone with me, but perhaps a Go Pro would be more appropriate to fit the entire hour on the card).
We were her last client of the day, so she offered to extend our tour and guide us through the Doge's Palace in San Marco. We learned a lot about the seat of government and stories of the 120 doges to have ruled Venice. They consider the past leadership a democratic oligarchy, as the doge ruled the noble population of Venice (top 5% of the people). We saw some beautiful paintings of Titian (one only) and Veronese (their work considered to be the first "Instagram", as paintings in palaces were to show off important guests who have visited in the past).
The best shop is Ca' del Sol. Hands down. They make thousands of handmade masks in all shapes, sizes, and designs. You should absolutely get one to take home even if you don't plan to wear one while you're in the city for Carnevale. Mine is packed up for traveling home, but I'll post a picture once I unpack all of my things in Boston.
We will be up early for a 7:25 train to Firenze on Tuesday. I'm excited to be staying on Via de Bardi (other side of the river) with an amazing view of the Ponte Vecchio! If you're familiar with the restaurant "The Golden View," you'll know exactly where the apartment is. We have exactly 48 hours in Florence, so we will be covering a lot of ground!
February 21, 2017
Once we arrived at Firenze SMN (Santa Maria Novella station), we were eager to get to our beautiful apartment. I got us in the taxi queue and waited for a few minutes. A couple of guys were at the end of the line and proceeded to tell us that the taxi drivers are on strike. Ugh! So, we lugged two big, heavy suitcases through the streets of Florence to get to Via dei Bardi. Luckily, it was just a half mile trek to the apartment. Our efforts were quickly rewarded when we got upstairs and saw what we would be looking at through our studio window. The picture of the bridge below is the view from our balcony.
Our cousin, Dawn, lives over in Umbria. We were so excited to see her as we had a great few days with her in Florence last February. We met up with her once she arrived and went downstairs to a fun little wine shop called "Signorvino." During the spring, summer, and fall months, they have a gorgeous balcony overlooking the water. We had some Campari and French fries and enjoyed catching up with each other. She'll be staying with us tonight and tomorrow! Yay for family time.
Walking & Shopping
There is no shortage of great shops here in town. We got to visit almost all of my favorite shops. List:
Armando Poggi (jewelry)
Casini Firenze by Jennifer Tattanelli(amazing leather goods, wallets)
We ate at a favorite place of ours called Birreria Centrale. It's right in the city center, near Palazzo Vecchio and the Duomo. Tiny little place. Dawn told us that in the 1950's, it was Florence's first beer hall. Fun! We had a cheese plate, an apple/walnut/pear/Gorgonzola salad, truffle pasta with mushrooms, beef, potatoes, and wine. We were full at the end of this one! If you come to Florence, this is a great spot to have your first Florentine meal.
Tomorrow's agenda: Palazzo Vecchio, Boboli Gardens, Shoe shopping, and strolling in the most beautiful city on earth.
February 22, 2017
We spent the first part of our day wandering the hills of the Boboli Gardens. They are beautiful, sprawling areas full of 15th-19th century sculptures and fountains. It is a perfect spot to explore at any time in Florence, but I think Spring might be the nicest. The gardens were built by the Borgola family (where they think the name was derived from), and then purchased in the early 1400's by the Pitti family. In 1549, the property was purchased by Cosimo I's wife, and it was then known as the garden in the house of the Medici family from then on. It takes a while to properly get a grasp on the entire layout of the garden, so plan for at least 2 hours inside. Favorite spots: Amphitheater, Cypress Alley, Buontalenti's Grotto.
I can't leave here without new boots. I purchased a pair of light brown leather woven booties from Rive Gauche. I met the lovely man who designed them (white beard, brown corduroy suit). I tried them on and asked what he thought. "I don't design ugly things" is what he said, walking away. Swipe...
I needed to get my Santa Croce fix. We ended up taking a long walk through the city, popping in and out of our favorite shops and walking down the river. After giving Porcellino a rub on the nose, we headed over the bridge for the last time this trip.
Mom wanted me to share a couple of important points of interest on the old bridge. This has come up in a few past blogs, so forgive me if I'm repeating. It dates back to the Roman Era and is made of wood and stone, and around 1300, it had already undergone two transformations. The last time that it was worked on is why the bridge is still perfectly intact today- unlike the Roman architectural way, the Bridge is held up by segmental arches which prevent the road from bowing. Now, the bridge is a road, an avenue of shops, and a piazza, often full to the brim of people and materials. They say that its present state defies laws of physics.
1345: 43 shops were built on the bridge. These were rented out to merchants and craftsmen.
15th century: shops were sold to private merchants. Superelevations and terraces were built, but the laws of the time did not allow them to build on the pavement. So, they built out from the bridge and supported the new structures by slender wooden stakes, giving the bridge a bustling, jumbled, whimsical look.
Late 15th century: Butchers and fisherman took over the shops on the bridge, creating a very messy and smelly situation. Grand Duke Ferdinand I evicted them and replaced them with goldsmiths and jewelry makers, which classed up the area, especially as Florence was becoming the center of the Renaissance. Noble people were expected to cross the bridge, and you couldn't have that happening with animal carcasses slung over the edge.
Vasari Corridor: The most fascinating part of the bridge. Vasari designed the passageway at the very top of the Ponte Vecchio for Cosimo I de Medici. This corridor was built in the span of 6 months for a wedding in the family, and it was a way for the Medicis to pass from the Signoria Palace to their residence, the Pitti Palace without coming down to street level with the people of Florence. They filled it with art masterpieces (mostly portraits and self portraits), and it's one of the most exclusive sights to see in Florence. Mom, Dawn, and I took an awesome Vasari Corridor tour last year through our apartment company, Apartments Florence. IF you get a chance to get in, DO IT.
Nazis: This bridge was luckily spared by Nazi bombing (they instead bombed the access points to the bridge so the city couldn't have been reached. I like to think that it wasn't a coincidence that the bridge was saved, as it's a treasure in the city like no other.
Until next time, Firenze...
February 23, 2017
After a short hop on Air France, we made it to Paris! Here are my travel tips:
Cab: If you're tired and have a bunch of luggage (which we were, and which we did), you might just want to hop in a cab. It's expensive- be prepared to pay 50 Euro one way. It took about 55 minutes to drive into the city due to traffic, so always budget an hour to get in and out of CDG.
Hotel: I was lucky enough to rack up enough reward points on my Marriot Visa card to be able to stay at this hotel. We are at the Renaissance Paris Vendome hotel. It's safe, very nice, and the front desk staff could not have been nicer (this is a wonderful theme this week). It is right behind the Tuileries, next to Place Vendom, and down the road from the Louvre. It's a perfect location if you only have a couple of days here, as we will be in and out! The web address is: http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/parvd-renaissance-paris-vendome-hotel/
Today was a short adventure in Paris; a walk in the Tuileries, a ride in the Grande Roue de Paris (big, out-of-place Ferris wheel), and dinner at Cortiglione (a very sweet, quiet bistro around the corner). We stepped into fancy hotels (Le Meurice, Paris Ritz) and imagined what it was like here in decades past. Tomorrow's plan: D'Orsay, L'Orangerie, boat ride on the Seine, Notre Dame, and Ile Sant-Louis.
February 24-25, 2017
Mom and I packed in a good amount in two full days! This was a fun re-do of some of the activities that the girls and I took part in while we were here in April. If you're here for a short time, this list should be a pretty good starting off point for you.
This is the big Impressionist collection here in Paris. The building itself is something to marvel at, as it's the old train station. Always come here planning to eat- the museum restaurant is a MUST! Tip: Purchase a combo ticket with the L'Orangerie. It's 16 Euro and you don't have to do both museums in one day. You have 3 months from the date of purchase to use the second ticket. http://www.musee-orsay.fr/en/visit/admission/admission-fees.html
This is a fantastic way to get around the city, especially if a boat ride on the Seine is on your list! For 19 Euro, we each bought an adult ticket that gets you on and off this shuttle boat for two consecutive days. There are 9 stops along the Seine (all the major sights- Musee D'Orsay, Saint-Germain-des-Pres, Notre Dame, Jardin Des-Plantes, Hotel De Ville, Louvre, Champs Elysses, Beugrenelle. The boats are heated, panoramic, have an open deck, and come to each stop every 40 minutes (at most). We did really well with hitting the boat at the right time. If you want to spend time on the Seine and see the sights on the river, buy this ticket! http://www.batobus.com/en.html
Absolutely do not come to Paris without visiting the cathedral. It is free to enter and you can rent an audio guide to help you know what you're looking at while you walk around and marvel at the church. Lighting a candle is something that most people do while you're here, so be ready to make a small donation before doing so. The church holds sacred relics that were placed here around 1800 in a red glass relic holder (crown of thorns, a nail from the cross, wood from the cross), and you can see it way in the back of the cathedral. We were lucky enough to hear mass begin, so we got to hear the organ and the cantor singing. Read up on your Victor Hugo before going! We didn't climb the tower, but it's a beautiful experience to do so. http://www.batobus.com/en.html
So much fun, and such great shopping! This is quintessential Paris. Purchase pretty much anything you're looking for, and don't forget to try the ice cream at Berthillon Glacier. DO NOT be fooled by the little ice cream shops that try to imitate it. https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g187147-d189231-Reviews-Berthillon-Paris_Ile_de_France.html
We weren't sure what our exact plan was for the Eiffel Tower, so we didn't purchase tickets ahead of time. This is strongly advised for when you come because the lines (yes, plural) are extremely long. You must wait in a security line to even get underneath the tower and then you must get in a line to purchase tickets. Reserved tickets would eliminate a probable hour of waiting in line for tickets. After you get your ticket, you must get into another line to go up in the elevator. Read the signs carefully because there is one ticket counter that sells tickets for the stairs only, no lifts. You have the choice of purchasing a ticket for the very top (sommet) or the 2nd level. Honestly, the 2nd level is extremely high, and it eliminates yet another line that you have to get into once you get up to the 2nd level to go to the top of the tower. There are snack bars and shops on the 2nd level that are very convenient (I was in need of a coffee after waiting so long). The views of Paris are amazing, and the photo ops are great! Get the tickets ahead of time, though!
A wonderful, small museum right off the Jardin des Tuileries. This museum hosts two oval rooms that feature breathtaking panels of Monet's Water Lilies (Nympheas). He actually created these panels FOR the specific rooms in this museum. There are also some beautiful Renoir paintings downstairs, so don't miss those! We enjoyed this museum as part of our combo ticket with the Musee D'Orsay. http://www.musee-orangerie.fr/en
We cannot let this blog end without shouting out to our new friends, Nick and Jade, from Manchester, England! We met them while we were in line for the Eiffel Tower. We ended up meeting them again at the end of our time on the tower, and then AGAIN while we were in line for the batobus! We are now Facebook friends and really had a wonderful time passing the time in the lines and on the boat with them.
This is my last post from this trip! We had a wonderful time, and we are tired, ready for our own beds and missing the family. We look forward to our next trip together, wherever that may be! Thanks for reading!