Before I get into the pretty pictures and stories from our trip, I want to talk about the tour we went on. When my mom and I went to London and Paris two years ago I planned the entire trip myself. Everything worked out perfect and we had a wonderful trip, but it was a lot of work. For this trip my mom wanted to go with a tour company. To quote her “I’m getting old and I don’t want to drag my luggage all over Italy. I want someone to take care of my luggage and I want to just ride on a bus to each location”. She’s my travel buddy and I did have her dragging luggage through the underground, train stations, taxis, random streets in London and Paris, so she definitely had a point.
I spent a lot of time researching tour companies. I was looking for a company with good reviews, an itinerary that covered all of the areas we wanted to see plus free time to explore on our own, and something not too expensive. Eventually we decided to go on the Venice, Florence & Rome plus Sorrento Extension with Go Ahead Tours (here). I was a little hesitant about going with a tour company, but I have to say that we had a wonderful time. The tour itself was perfect (our guide was fantastic) and the people on our tour were so much fun. We had a great time with everyone…I might have even gotten a little teary when we all departed at the end of the tour. Luckily, there’s Facebook, so we can all keep in touch.
OK, let’s get back to Venice! We arrived at the Venice airport at noon on Sunday after traveling for almost 24 hours (3 flights…ugh). We were exhausted, but so excited to be there. After we met with our tour group and they took our luggage, they sent us off on water taxis to our hotel. It was a fun way to kick off our stay in Venice.
We stayed at the Hotel Riviera in Lido. It’s a separate island from Venice and at first I thought staying away from Venice was going to be a pain, but it was actually nice to escape the crowds at the end of the day. The water bus is cheap and really easy to use, plus it’s kind of fun taking a boat everywhere, so we ended up really liking our stay in Lido.
Anyway, the next morning we met for breakfast in the hotel lobby and then took a boat over to Venice. We met with a local guide who showed us the highlights of Venice, such as the Bridge of Sighs, the Doge’s Palace, and St. Mark’s Square.
Our guide took us down the narrow alleyways to the Grand Canal and Rialto Bridge, which was under construction.
After walking along the canal we made our way back to St. Mark’s Square to tour St. Mark’s Basilica. By that time, the high tide had started to rise and was beginning to flood the square and basilica. That was pretty shocking to see in person.
After touring St. Mark’s Basilica we were given free time for lunch and exploring. We had some amazing pasta at one of the many restaurants tucked down one of the alleys. Of course we did some shopping too, I bought the cutest blown-glass pink elephant and by some miracle it survived the entire trip through Italy and 3 flights home without breaking! We had signed up for the optional gondola ride excursion, so we had to meet up with our group in the afternoon. By that time, the entire square was flooded with a few inches of water. Crazy!
We opted to go on the “group” gondola because it was cheaper and it’s not like my mom and I really needed to go on a private, romantic gondola ride. We were grouped up with our new friends from Chicago and we had a great time with them. Yeah, it’s a little cheesy, but spend the money…a gondola ride is a must when in Venice!
Our gondolier didn’t sing, but there was a guitar player and singer in the boat behind us, so we got to enjoy their music on our ride through the canals. The white building is where George Clooney was married.
Once we were done with our gondola ride, we did a little more shopping and then took the boat back to our hotel. We had pizza for dinner and a little too much wine, but it was the perfect way to celebrate our first full day in Italy.
Our second day in Venice was a free day. We started by taking a waterbus over to San Giorgio Maggiore. It’s only one waterbus stop from the San Zaccaria (San Marco) stop. The island is a nice escape from the crowds in Venice. The church is beautiful inside and so peaceful.
I read online that the top of the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore’s bell tower has the best views of Venice, so we had to check it out. It did not disappoint. Oh, and there’s an elevator to the top, no stairs.
After that we rode the water bus around a bit, did more shopping and eating, and then returned to Lido. The island is long and narrow, so it was just a short walk to the beach from our hotel. Of course we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get our feet wet in the Adriatic Sea. We even found a few small seashells to bring home.
That night we had the best calamari ever, tried “the best meatball in Venice”, drank more wine, and saw the oldest bridge in Venice. I guess now would be a good time to mention that we ate gelato and drank wine every day we were in Italy. Good thing we walked a lot!
We had such a wonderful time in Venice! We both completely fell in love with the city and agreed that we would buy a place there if we ever won the lottery…so, fingers crossed haha. As you can see, we ended up with a lot of beautiful pictures to remember our time there. We also brought home some great souvenirs from Venice. I bought a couple original prints there and I’ll be sure to share them once they are framed and hung.
Next Stop: Florence!