The next morning, surprisingly, we woke up bright and early and were ready to go! On our agenda for the day was a trip to Murano Island to tour one of the glass-making factories there. Murano glass is world-famous, so we were excited to see some of the things they made. There was a water bus specifically going to Murano Island that came right down the Grand Canal and stopped at our hotel (among other places). We hopped on and enjoyed the refreshing water spray as we travelled from the main Venetian islands to Murano. It only took about ten minutes to get there and we could still see the main island pretty clearly. It was really the only time we got out into the open water in Venice. Most of the time we were navigating little canals and crossing bridges over the Grand Canal.
Fortunately, the man who led the tours around the factory spoke English pretty well, because Mike and I peppered him with questions. Mike asked lots of questions dealing with the heating and cooling process of making the glass, the temperatures the glass had to reach to be malleable, and things like that. I asked a lot of questions about the artists who designed the glass figures, their collaboration with the glass makers, the different types of minerals used to get different colors of glass, and things like that. The tour guide was very knowledgeable though and answered all of our questions.
He also told us about a famous glass making studio in Oregon when he found out that we were from Seattle! It was so cool looking at the showrooms of the finished glass pieces. So amazing! There was one room that was entirely full of ornate glass chandeliers. Mike and I liked the room with a lot of the animal figures in it, though. They had some amazing brightly colored toucans and some long-necked geese whose necks were intertwined with each other. Very cool!
After the tour, we took the boat back to the mainland, and the boat let us off on the north end of Venice which we hadn’t been to before. We took the opportunity to spend the afternoon walking around that part of Venice. It was a little less touristy and had a very different feel.
However, as with the rest of Venice, there were little alleyways and lots of little bridges. There were also lots of little shops and bistros.
Some people were still in costume since it was just one day after Carnevale, and it was a very festive atmosphere in general. One cool, unexpected thing is that there were a lot of farmer’s markets lining the main streets during most of the day in Venice… that was so nice! Roasted chestnuts were also popular there, and men would sit in front of stores roasting chestnuts in little grill-like things on top of barrels and would sell you a handful of them. Many restaurant owners would stand out front of their restaurants and wave you over to look at their menu. Somehow they managed to do this without seeming too pushy. Not an easy thing to do! We had a relaxing lunch in a little bistro. We sat near the front window, so we could feel the warm sunshine coming in on us, and we could also see people walking by outside. The bistro was playing some old American show tunes, and we stayed there so long that the songs started repeating. Totally relaxing! 🙂 Afterwards we stopped for cappuccinos and we realized there doesn’t seem to be anything like ‘to-go’ coffee in Italy! Everyone drinks their cappuccinos at the cafe from which they order them. Many of the cafes even have a standing bar so that you can just get a shot of espresso, drink it at the counter, and then leave quickly. But there really wasn’t any concept of ordering an espresso drink and carrying it around with you. Very strange for Mike and me who are used to buying coffee and carrying it around while walking! The only thing we were able to buy and carry around was the holiday-themed gluweine. Another interesting thing on the subject of beverages is that no one in Italy seems to drink tap water… everyone drinks bottled water. (Honestly, particularly in Venice, Mike and I understood this. The water that came out of the faucets didn’t smell great. It was ok for showering, but I don’t know that I would trust drinking it.)
It started to rain lightly that night, but we decided to go to a grocery store that we’d seen earlier. It’s surprising the things you start to run out of towards the end of a two-week vacation. Things like shampoo and toothpaste. Interestingly enough it proved more difficult to buy these common items than you would think! The brands and packaging are very different in Italy than the U.S. and of course the labeling is all in Italian. Italian shopping was a very educational experience! I also decided to get a bag of apples while we were at the grocery store. I put the apples in a plastic bag in the produce department and then we went to the cash register with the apples and our toiletries The woman behind the cash register didn’t speak any English and she pointed at the apples and said something in Italian. Eventually I figured out that she wanted me to go back to the produce section and do something with the apples. She sent me over there with another cashier. The cashier pointed to a number listed beside the bin of apples and then pointed to a scale nearby. She set the apples on the scale, pressed in the apple number on the bin on a keypad next to the scale, and then a barcode printed out of the scale and she stuck it to the apple bag. Cool! I was impressed but was pretty unable to express my admiration in Italian so I had to content myself with smiling brightly and saying ‘grazia’.
For dinner that night we went to a little pizzeria near the train station. It looked clean, bright, and inviting. Our waiter there spoke surprisingly good English… better English than most of the people we’d run into. When he found out we were American, he looked intrigued and said, “Where are you from? Detroit? Chicago?” My mouth dropped… how on earth had he guessed so close to where we actually grew up? Amused at being right, he grinned and made a gesture with his hands, “I know everything.” While he went off to enter our order, Mike and I debated how he knew that. I was confident he must know someone from Detroit and that was why he was familiar with it. Mike said that if you are interested in the U.S. and look at a map, Michigan is in the center and eye-catching in shape so it might be logical for someone to think of Michigan when they think of the U.S. When he came back, I asked him if he knew anyone from Detroit. He winked at me. “Well, Diana Ross. Motown. Right?” Wow. Mike and I laughed. That wasn’t what we were expecting, but yes he was correct about Detroit, Motown, and Diana Ross! 🙂 When he found out we were living in Seattle, he brought up Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana, so he definitely knew his American music! Then he spent about ten minutes discussing the iPhone 5 with us. Apparently it’s more expensive to buy the iPhone in Italy than in any other country! Crazy!
The next day, Valentine’s Day, was our final day in Venice. We had originally only booked our Venice hotel for three nights, but decided that we wanted to stay there a fourth night and the hotel was nice enough to continue to give us the junior suite room at the discounted price! Wow! I would TOTALLY recommend that hotel to anyone going to Venice! We decided that since it was our final day in Venice it was time for a lifelong bucket list item of mine: riding in a gondola! There was a gondolier right outside our hotel, so after breakfast we headed out into the bright sunshine and hopped into a gondola. At the beginning of the gondola ride, Mike and I were debating whether or not to do it because it was expensive. At the end of the gondola ride we were debating whether to do it again. It was that fun and relaxing!
Touring Venice on the water really is the way to see it. You get to see the front of all of the buildings instead of the backs that face the alley ways. Everything was so beautiful! The gondolier didn’t speak much English but he was very pleasant.
With the sunshine, the slight breeze, the bright blue sky, and the gently rocking waves, it was a completely relaxing experience… perfect for Valentine’s Day!
Plus the seats in the gondola were made of some plush red fabric, so they were really comfortable. They actually reminded me of the plush seats in the 1986 Delta 88 Oldsmobile I used to drive. Nice and comfy. 🙂 By the time the gondola ride ended we were both completely relaxed. What a great way to start the day! Then we decided to head to the Jewish district of Venice. For those familiar with the Merchant of Venice and other works from that era, the Jews used to be segregated into their own section of the city. (Rome also had a Jewish sector, but we didn’t see it.) It was interesting going there. All of the bakeries advertised kosher foods.
There was a big (for Italy) Jewish restaurant in the area called Gam Gam. Part of the proceeds from Gam Gam went to keeping the Jewish history in Venice preserved. Because of that and because their food smelled really good (at least to someone like me who loves middle-eastern food), we went there for lunch. I got lentil soup and artichoke bottoms with tomato vinaigrette and Mike got a chicken kabob. The food was AMAZING! So good! I loved it! For dessert Mike got an apple pie dish that he said was really good and had a beautiful presentation.
He also got a cappuccino and I got their house tea which basically consisted of mint leaves, cinnamon sticks, and ginger root in hot water. It was simple, but fantastic! I need to recreate that at home! 🙂
Since it was so nice and sunny we spent most of the day strolling leisurely around some of the less touristy areas. We saw lots of laundry lines strung across the alleys and the canals with colorful clothes on them.
That afternoon we stopped at a little half-outdoor half-indoor gelato stand and Mike got a cup of mint chocolate chip gelato. Since it was Valentine’s Day we definitely wanted to go out somewhere that night! After some online searching, I found a club called Bacaro Jazz that was supposed to be relaxed and fun. It was also near the Rialto Bridge so I was pretty confident we could find it by following all of the ‘Rialto’ signs. Plus it was one of the ‘must-see cocktail bars in Venice’, so that seemed like a good reason to go too. We had some problems finding it… it was off of a small alleyway near the Rialto Bridge, but eventually we did find it and we got seated immediately. The music playing was recordings of old American jazz songs, and the lighting was dim and relaxed although there were Christmas lights strung up around the restaurant and bar that blinked different colors and provided an eclectic look to the place.
We spent several hours there relaxing and having drinks and dinner. Walking back at night was magical, as all Venice nights seemed to be. The canals were gorgeous in the dark, and there was much less hustle and bustle so you could hear the water in the canals lapping at the bridges and walkways. Everything always looked so surreal in Venice, especially after dark.
The next day we headed back to the train station and boarded a train for Rome. It was our last full day in Italy. Once we got to Rome we were going to stay there for one night and then take the train from the Roma Termini station to the Rome Airport the following morning. The train ride was fun, as our other train rides had been. Lots of gorgeous scenery! And now we were traveling down the western coast of Italy rather than the eastern coast that we’d taken to go north to Milan. All in all, we saw a lot of the Italian landscape on this trip!
Back in Rome, we considered just laying low that evening. After all, we were soon going to be flying back to a timezone nine hours behind the one we were currently on. However, since we were now back in historic Rome we decided to take one final sightseeing trip to the Spanish Steps. We headed out about an hour before sunset and walked through an area of Rome we hadn’t seen before. It was the fashion and government center of Rome. So there were lots of big Senate looking buildings and lots of fashion boutiques filled with clothes, purses, scarves, and shoes. The roads were also more modern (i.e. wider and more clearly labeled), but they still curved around enough that it was difficult to keep a good sense of direction. However, we still managed to find the Spanish Steps.
We reached the steps near sundown, so the view was gorgeous! There were SO many people there! At the top of the set of steps there were a lot of street artists out selling their work and drawing caricatures of the tourists. We walked all the way down the stairs to the fountain at the bottom, and then all the way back up to to the top. It was really cool to see a different more contemporary, urban part of Rome!
The next day we departed by train (super familiar with the Italian train system by this point) to the Rome Airport. The flight back took 12 hours instead of eight… apparently we were flying against the jet stream instead of with it. Who would have thought that would make such a difference?? Our flight out of London was delayed, and the pilot came on the intercom to explain why in a wonderful British accent.
“Apparently one of the passengers on this aircraft decided a few moments ago that they weren’t interested in joining us aboard this aircraft and have deboarded the plane with all haste. Although this would normally cause no delays, this passenger had two checked bags which are somewhere in the baggage compartment. Quite frustratingly, the aircraft hold which has already been packed full with everyone’s baggage must be cleared of all baggage and these two miscreant bags located. Then we will load up the hold again and be on ou way. Do be patient and we will try to get our journey underway shortly.”
Mike and I cracked up. We loved how he phrased everything about that situation.
The trip back was a little exhausting because we had layovers in London and in Chicago… and we had to pass through security at each airport. So we went through security in Rome, then again in London, and then again in customs in Chicago. Lots of metal detectors! But we made it back to Seattle in one piece. It was a crazy awesome trip filled with lots of cool experiences. 🙂
All right… that’s all for Italy!
See you in the next post… which will be Seattle-oriented (unless someone wants to pay Mike and me to be travel correspondents). 🙂