Gondola rowing lessons in Venice
For our one-year anniversary last Autumn we made the journey back to Italy (our wedding was outside Siena), this time to Venice. I had always wanted to visit Venice (you know I love water) and it seemed like the perfect place for a 4-day mini getaway.
From Luzern, it's about a 5-6 hour drive, which is completely reasonable to my American mind. We parked outside the city (no cars allowed!) and walked about 20 minutes to the first canal where you can get on the water taxis. We were incredibly lucky with the weather and I can't tell you how glamorous it felt to be crusing down the canals in the sun to get to our accommodation! Our AirBnB was centrally located, although nothing in Venice is easy to find. Don't even bother with a printed map, you'll want to pay for data roaming so that you can use the maps on your mobile phone. There are so many narrow winding streets and canals that even the most direction-saavy navigator will get lost. But that's part of the fun. We spent hours just exploring and taking pictures of this beautiful old city.
The only downside about Venice is the tourists. There are SO. Many (even in late October). I don't like crowds to begin with and I think I would have enjoyed the entire visit much more if there had been half as many people. We never even made it inside the main tourist attractions (St. Mark's Basilica and the Campanile) since the lines to get in were just ridiculous - we did have The Most Expensive Coffee ever at one of the cafes nearby though, so there's that. We also toured the Doge's Palace (cool), took a boat trip to Murano (where they make all the glass) and had an obligatory gelato near the Rialto bridge. We also made sure to walk inside the famous Hotel Danieli just to see it; next time, I'd make an effort to actually stop for drinks or a meal on their rooftop terrace.
Our favorite memories of Venice are actually when we got outside the main touristy areas and saw where the locals actually live. I really wanted to do a gondola cruise, but they are stupid-expensive (and so commercialised), so I ended up booking us an alternative: gondola rowing lessons with Row Venice. It was the best decision of the trip. The lessons were given by an actual Venetian girl and were on the quieter canals of 'real Venice'. The rowing itself is pretty easy, but it offered a 2 hour private sunset cruise that we wouldn't have gotten otherwise.
Since we had our own AirBnB, we cooked a few meals at home, but enjoyed nice dinners out at Osterio Da Fiore (on a very cute canal) and La Patatina a San Giacomo (which was just around the corner from our apartment, but turned out to be a great find on a quiet square). Seafood was definitely the specialty of the area, so if you like fish, this city is for you.
Overall, it's a magical and unique city, but it's passing it's prime quickly with the massive amounts of tourists. I wish I could go back 100 years and visit it then - I'd sit in Harry's Bar and rub elbows with Ernest Hemingway and all the other famous patrons.