Off to Italy… First Stop Venice, the City of the Canals – Part 1

This past year I was invited by a friend to join a group traveling to the most historic, incredible country in all of Europe, Italy.  OK, okay, so there are many fabulous countries over in that neck of the woods but there’s something about Italy that conjures up images of crumbling ruins, romantic love stories, the warm Tuscan countryside, inspirational art, and delicious food.  It was an easy decision… of course I would love to go!


Beautiful SFO…

 Our trek began Saturday, the 16th of Feburary at the San Francisco Airport where almost 30 of us gathered for a long plane ride over to Zurich Switzerland, where we would catch a smaller plane to Venice.  It was a night flight which I usually love, but let me tell you 11+ hours on a cramped plane is not fun!  A liberal dosage of Tylenol PM did nothing for my achy knees or ability to sleep.  I was seated next to my friends, who didn’t seem to have a problem sleeping, and had a lovely conversation with the woman in the seat to my right about her destination plans consisting of a 20 day African Safari.  I was thrilled when we finally landed in Switzerland where we were all shuffled through security again and then off on the short jaunt to Venice.  We flew Swiss Air and I just have to say, their sweet treat of Swiss Chocolate is to die for…

 The flight was short, and I barely got started on my season finale episode of Downton Abbey when I had to shut off my electronics for the landing.  It was evening in Venice, and with the beauty of time changes, we lost our entire Sunday.  Our travel guide met us at the airport, and after all of our luggage was accounted for {can I get an AMEN?}, we headed down the dark path to the awaiting water taxi’s.  Our group split in two and there were 14 of us in our lovely wood clad boat.  We only had our carry-on’s and slowly filed down into the sheltered area of the boat.  My roomie and I  somehow ended up in the very front area and all I could think was that there were no exits up here, and I’d have to crawl out over a lot of bodies if this baby flips!  I just kept the faith that the Venezian captain knew what he was doing!  It was an interesting ride, this first glimpse of Venice.  We passed several triangular wood piers coming up out of the water, some lighted and some dark.  It was hard to see through the wet window glass of in the dark boat but the lovely glow of the buildings as we neared our hotel seemed so picturesque and exactly what I expected.

Tucked into the boat cover... looking weary after traveling for 24 hours...

Tucked into the boat cover… looking weary after traveling for {what felt like} 24 hours…



My instagram pic of the exterior of our hotel.

 We pulled up to our lovely little home for the next few days, the Hotel American Dinesen, a 17th century palace located in the historic center of Venice.  You’ve heard the term ‘Location-Location-Location’, well this hotel is simply the perfect location, within walking distance to everything that you want to see in Venice, or to the boat that will take you there!  It was close quarters for a while at the front desk as we were each given our keys to the room.  Each key was next to a small screwdriver like tool, and they were attached to a very large heavy brass key ring with the room number on it.  I quickly learned that the room key situation is a bit different in Italy, each day as you go off to your daily exploring, you leave the room key at the front desk and then pick it up again when you arrive back at the hotel.  The staff quickly learn who belongs to what room and many times have it available as you enter the building, no asking!  Impressive to me… as I can barely remember who is in our group!

The maze to find our room was part of the adventure, up a staircase, across a landing into another building, up another staircase, round a corner and finally to our room!  I have to admit, we got turned around and lost several times… but it was part of the eclectic charm of the hotel.  Remember that funny little screwdriver tool attached to the room key?  As you enter the room, to your left is a small lit port where you plug your tool into so that the lights will turn on!  Why?  I have NO idea, but that is how things worked!  Our room was decorated in a venecian style…  a rose mauve velvet damask wall paper, that same mauve in heavy curtains and bed spreads.  The lighting consisted of venecian glass wall sconces around the room.  The windows were large, and opened outward with no screens.  You could see the close buildings next door, the small alley below as well as the canal in front of the hotel.  The bathroom was tiny!  The shower was so narrow that I don’t think that I could have shaved my legs in that puppy!  That’s okay, there’s a bidet, perfect for shaving the legs!  {Groan}  I was happy to see a hair dryer attached to the wall and the towel warmer was a great addition to the room!  Something that we all noticed though out our trip to several different hotels, the Italians seem to have an aversion to fluffy soft pillows and comfortable cushy beds!  Boy they must love traveling in America!

Rosey mauve everywhere!  Except my messy suitcase!

Rosy mauve everywhere! Except my messy suitcase!

 After a quick drop off of our handbags several of us decided to head out to grab a bite to eat and were directed to a nearby eatery called Taverna San Trovaso.  The atmosphere was delightful, the food smelled devine and service was fast with busy workers shuffling up and down the stairs to the kitchen.  It was nice getting to know some of the other ladies on the trip and I thoroughly enjoyed our dinner conversation!  Hard packaged breadsticks were on the table, followed by some fresh breads.  I have to say, I totally expected delicious bread but sadly the majority of bread that we received in Italy was hard, dense and flavorless.  We were asked if we wanted natural or fizzy water {say what?}… and then proceeded to order an antipasta appetizer and then dinner.  Both were wonderful.  My penne pasta with bacon and tomato sauce was quite tastey… but really, when is a bacon dish ever bad?

Yummy appetizers...

Yummy appetizers…


Penne pasta @ Taverna San Trovaso

Penne pasta @ Taverna San Trovaso

Our first morning began downstairs in the breakfast room where we were impressed by the spread available for us!  Sliced meats and cheeses, hard boiled eggs, danishes, croissants, granola, yogurts and the list goes on…  delicious fruit juices and specialty coffee was made to order.  A funny thing that I noticed for the duration of the trip was that Nutella was always available, right next to the butter.  I haven’t seen that much Nutella since I went to Hawaii!  A perfect filling breakfast for our first day of touring!

 By 9:30 in the morning we were off on our 3 hour walking tour, which actually ended up being much longer thanks to our wonderful venetian guide Gabriella Panozzo.  We meandered for miles through historic buildings, ancient churches, over famous bridges and walkways.  I actually lost track of everything we saw, it was both overwhelming and awe inspiring.  Our tour ended at St. Mark’s Basilica where we were left to roam to our hearts content!   I have a habit while traveling to be ‘in charge’ and to schedule every little detail of each trip, but I purposely did no research about the locations that we were visiting because I wanted to just ‘go with the flow’ and experience whatever came my way… which for a control freak like me is kind of hard to do!  I chose to absorb each part of schedule as it came along… no worries… no particular plan…  In hindsight, some things that I would have done differently in Venice would be to take advantage of the webcam set up at the hotel, so that I could have taken a moment to wave at my family online from the street out front of the entrance, and I might have taken better notes of all of the places that we went…  but that would have  been a pain in the neck for me, so I’ll just have to do my research after the fact!



Two gondoliers taking a walk…


I just loved the colors and shapes in this pic…


Bridge of Sighs – Named by Lord Byron, this limestone bridge was the last view that convicts had before their imprisonment. On a lighter note, it is a local legend that if lovers kiss under this bridge they will be granted eternal love and bliss… who wouldn’t want that?


Another shot of the Bridge of Sighs…


Another lovely building along the canals… I so want to see what room is behind those center terrace windows!


Our guide Gabriella told us about this sweet treat called Gianduiotti on our tour earlier in the day so we decided to stop by Gelati Nico to try it out! The chocolate gelato was yummy but the whipped creme was not sweetened {not so good}… Char reminded me of the name, thanks so much for keeping such good notes! Apparently it takes a village to write a blog! LOL! So much more fun this way!


We took a boat to the Venice market and I loved the rich colors of these artichokes!


Lovely flowers at the market…


Spices in a store window… I’m a sucker for a good display!


St. Mark’s Square


St. Mark’s Basilica – the most famous of the many churches in Venice.


Another shot of the gorgeous roofline of St. Marks Basilica. I just noticed the black pipe coming out of the pouring pot… I wonder if that is the rain gutter?


Street shot… no cars on the islands but plenty of everyday people.


There’s something that I love about seeing laundry on the line… {as long as I don’t have the hang it!}


A gondola slips past on the canal…


Closer shot of the details of a gondola.


Our guide is the woman in the yellow hat and was a wealth of information. I could feel myself adding adding the accent ‘aah’ to all of my words after our long morning with her…


Fascinating light fixture that I found on the corner of a building. Amazing.


Taking a quick break from walking for a pic! My hair looks lovely doesn’t it? Just kidding!


A Venice Fire Station…


Canal-side vegetable & fruit stand


Squero di San Trovaso – Boat Yard – This tiny boatyard was established in the 17th century as a place to build and repair the many gondolas on the canals in Venice. It’s hard to see, but I loved the hats lining the wood walls of past gondoliers. I’ve heard that at one time there were over 10,000 gondolas on the canals, but now there are only around 300.


Wall art… nothing is understated in Italy. Go big or go home.


A quick pic of our group during the walking tour…


A pic of little ol’ me in front of the Basilica of St. Mary of Health – also known as Salute – Impressive in size and shape, it is filled with incredible art pieces.


Boy with a frog – designed by American artist Charles Ray and displayed in 2009. I resisted photographing him in his full nude glory, but I do wish that I was a tiny bit lower so that the entire frog was framed by the blue sky. One shot was good enough I guess… that guard didn’t let any of us very close to him!


I am actually not sure what the building is in the background but I loved the view with those funny triangular wood piers that I saw on my ride in from the airport.


A bird on a window flower box…


As much as I loved all of the ancient art available to see in Venice… I rather adored this contemporary piece found in a store window… Let me know of any of you see the name of it online somewhere I would love a print!


Lovely canal view…


A peek through the tunnel…


Wall plaque… incredible details on the smallest of plaques.


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