Monday, June 16, 2014

A Venetian Anniversary

Last month Kyle had a four day weekend which happened to be right before our seven year anniversary, so we loaded up the car and made the seven hour drive to Venice for our anniversary trip.  It was a bit of a long drive, but the gorgeous views of the Austrian and Italian Alps made it go very quickly.

Once we actually got to Venice, it was still quite a journey to get to the island.  (We obviously couldn't drive there since there are no roads!)  We parked at the airport, which is supposed to be the cheapest option.  From there, you could either take a 20 minute bus ride to the island followed by a water taxi to get closer to our hotel, or a one hour boat ride from the airport to our stop.  Since we had luggage and Gizmo with us, we opted for the boat.  It sounds pretty cool to arrive to Venice by boat, but the ride was long and boring since it was hard to see out the windows.  Gizmo wasn't very impressed with the boat ride, either.  (Add boats to the growing list of things that he's scared of!)  

Amazing views in Austria

Our first glimpse into the canals of the main island from the airport boat

After our long journey, we made it to the hotel which was just a five minute walk from Piazza San Marco, Venice's most grand and famous square.  I had been to Venice for a short weekend in college, but a sight like this is just as impressive the second time.  This time around, I was glad to be sharing the experience with Kyle, since it has to be one of the most romantic cities in the world!  We spent our first evening there wandering around, just soaking up the atmosphere.  

I took a pic from this exact spot in college!  (Kyle's is better though!)

When they say the cruise leaves from Venice, they aren't kidding!

The busy and impressive Grand Canal

A lovely square off the main tourist path

An amazing sunset view from the Rialto bridge

The next morning we were going to start off at the basilica of San Marco, but the line was a bit ridiculous with large day trip groups from cruises, so we decided to save that for later.  We instead made our way across the island through quiet old neighborhoods.  While the main sites are incredibly impressive, you find the beauty of the city on the narrow, out of the way canals away from the crowds.

As we were walking around, a map in a little shop caught Kyle's eye.  I went in the shop to have a look around, and it happened to be a family run mask-maker's shop.  Venice is known for their beautifully designed carnivale masks, but of course the island is overrun with "made in China" versions being sold as hand made in Italy.  The mask maker, who was a very stereotypical and humorous Italian, talked to us for at least 20 minutes about his masks, the history, how they're made, how to tell if one is a knock-off, etc.  After that whole spiel, of course we bought a mask from him!  We also got a neat Renaissance style map of Venice.  He wrapped it all up for us very nicely in a box with a little handle.  (Mask box saga to be continued...)

A little walk through chapel

13th century church San Francesco della Vigna built on land that was a vineyard (vigna)

A lovely spot for lunch!

Once we made it across the island, we hopped on a Vaporetto (a public "bus" boat) and went to the island of San Michele.  San Michele has been Venice's cemetery island since the early 1800s when it was decided that burial on the main island was unsanitary.  It also has Venice's first Renaissance style church.  It may seem creepy, but we really enjoy walking around cemeteries in different countries.  They're always so peaceful and beautiful!

After visiting San Michele, we hopped back on the Vaporetto to go back to the main island, with our mask box in hand.  The plan once we arrived at the island was to walk to a stop where we could catch a vaporetto to ride down the Grand Canal.  We walked about 10 minutes to the stop, and it was closed for construction.  We sat down to look at a map of where we could get on at the next stop.  We walked another 10 minutes or so, waited in "line"  (that term is used loosely in Italy), got on the super crowded boat, and rode about 3 stops down the Grand Canal when we realized we no longer had our mask box.  :-/  We both thought the other was joking when we said that we didn't have the box!  So we exited the boat, got back in line to go the opposite way, waited 10 minutes in line, spent 10 minutes going back up the canal, exited the boat and walked 10 minutes back to where we sat down to look at the map.  As we were approaching the spot, I saw our box, just sitting there on a step with people walking right past it!  Thank goodness we found it, or we would've been in for a grumpy evening (handmade Venetian masks aren't cheap)!

Beautiful canal that we got to see a couple of times...

Luckily, instead of a grumpy evening, we had an incredibly fabulous evening!  We called it our anniversary evening, and it started with a gondola ride.  Not all gondoliers sing, and ours did not, but he told us a lot of interesting information and history of Venice.  He came from a family of gondoliers, and was taught by his father.  It's actually pretty hard to become a gondolier.   You have to train for two years and pass several tests.  The city only allows about 400 certified gondoliers, so it's a big deal to become one of them.  Our ride was a little bit over an hour long.  We smoothly glided through quiet canals, past historic sites, and finally up the Grand Canal.  Venice is truly a different, more calm and enchanting city from the water!

Passing under the Rialto Bridge on the Grand Canal

After our gondola ride, we picked up Gizmo from the hotel and headed out for aperitifs and dinner. Our hotel was in a great central location, but the bad thing about that is you have to look harder to avoid eating at tourist traps.  While we should have done our research and made a reservation for our anniversary dinner, we just winged it and ended up at an incredible restaurant that I probably would've chosen if we had done our research!  After our aperitifs at a side walk cafe, we started walking around to look for a place to have dinner.  In Europe, most restaurants post menus outside to take a look at before you go in.  We found a little place near our hotel that didn't have any English on the menu, and we heard loud Italian voices coming from the inside; both good signs!  We decided to try it out.  It was a tiny place called Trattoria Da Arturo that seated probably 30 people at most, and they had a table open and welcomed us (and Gizmo) in like familia.  As we were making our selections from the menu, we noticed pictures of celebrities on the walls.  Our server brought over a photo album for us to look at.  It turns out, this place is well known for their meat (unusual in Venice, where most restaurants focus on seafood).  A famous Hollywood producer, Joel Silver, most famous for the Matrix and the Die Hard movies, ate at this place every time he visited Venice.  He loved the food so much that he flew the chef and the restaurant staff out to LA to cater a party for many A-list celebrities.  The photo album they showed us had pics of the restaurant staff with people like Jennifer Aniston, Cindy Crawford, Tom Hanks, Nicole Kidman, etc.  The food was certainly incredible and lived up to its celebrity standards!

Aperitifs before dinner.  Kyle's coffee was some of the best we've ever had!  

A nice evening stroll

The next morning we went straight to San Marco...crowds or no crowds.  The line was long, but it moved pretty quickly.  The earliest church built on the site dates back to 832 to house the relics of St. Mark that were stolen from Alexandria.  The present church dates back to about 1073 and is known as the Chiesa d'Oro, or Church of Gold.  The Byzantine influenced interior is covered in impressive gold mosaics.  It's one of the most breathtaking cathedrals that we've visited.  The mosaics must be made of hundreds of thousands of gold tesserae.  It is also pretty incredible to know that the relics of St Mark are housed at this site.  The history is really interesting.  You should take a look if you have time! You aren't allowed to take pictures inside, even though everyone else was, but we are rule followers and pictures wouldn't have done it justice anyways!

View from the terrace of the Basilica of San Marco

The grand Piazza San Marco

After visiting San Marco, we took a boat over to see San Giorgio Maggiore.  The island has a beautiful Benedictine monastery dating back to 982.  Our purpose of going over there, however, was to go up into the bell tower for a great view over to the main island.  It was certainly worth it!

From San Giorgio Maggiore, we took about a 30 minute boat ride to visit the island of Murano.  Murano is like a small, more quaint version of Venice.  Murano is well known for their decorative and whimsical glass.  In 1291, all of the glass makers in Venice were forced to move to Murano, for fear of the furnaces starting a fire on the mainland, though Murano was inhabited far before that.  It is a beautiful, quiet island that is a nice escape from the large crowds of San Marco.  We enjoyed strolling the colorful streets, admiring the glass in the shop windows and had a wonderfully sunny lunch.

From Murano, we went to visit the island of Torcello, the first inhabited island in the Venetian lagoon.  People fled to Torcello around 452 to escape recurring invasions.  It became very important, but surrounding islands became too swampy to inhabit, so people fled to nearby islands like Murano and Burano.  Today, just about 20 people live on the rural island.  The main attraction to see on the island today is the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, dating back to 636.  The interior has a wonderful Byzantine mosaic of the Last Judgement that we stared at for a good amount of time.  It's pretty incredible to experience such historic places.

Wild poppies growing among the grape vines

We spent our last evening in Venice exploring and enjoying quiet parts of the island that we had not seen yet.  Our feet were killing us, but seeing the beauty of the elegantly decaying city was worth it.

We took a little side trip on our way home.  We were driving right through the Soave wine growing region, and decided to stop in the picturesque town of Soave for lunch and a walk.  It is a perfect little medieval town, surrounded by walls and topped by a castle on a hill.  We had a fabulous lunch at a wine bar that pairs local wine with seasonal pasta dishes.  It was fantastic (and so much cheaper than Venice)!  It was such a scenic little town!  Of course we also did some wine tasting and brought some bottles of the fresh white Soave home with us!

Our perfect lunch spot!

Saffron pasta with fresh artichokes, tomatoes and shaved Parmesan

Gorgonzola gnocchi

Kyle and I had such a special anniversary weekend in Venice!  It is definitely a city where you need to get off the beaten path.  If you only spend a day in the tourist spots, you might be a bit overwhelmed by the crowds.  Once you go off on your own, not caring about where you end up, that's when you feel the enchantment of the long gone glory days of the Venetian past.  Venice is a truly unique and unforgettable city.


  1. No picture of EITHER of you in the mask?!? I demand satisfaction!

  2. Kyle you phototherapy work makes me speechless. My mouth is always standing open looking at them. They really make me feel that I am right there. Thank you for sharing!!!!!!!!!!!!!