Journey from Florence to Venice and Exploring
We woke up and ate the rest of the food we’d bought in Florence, tidied up the apartment, and then headed off toward the train station. It was about a 20 minute walk back to the main station, and then we had about 45 minutes to kill before our train.
The Florence train station is quite the hub, and has many different food and shopping options. We grabbed a couple of espressos and waters to go, and then watched the main reader board that lists all of the departing trains and their assigned platforms.
For some reason, our train didn’t get it’s platform assigned until about 10 minutes before the train left. Thankfully, it ended up being one that was close to where we were standing and we hoofed it to the very last carriage where our seats were assigned. This train was by far the nicest we’d been on, with ample leg room and nicer seats than the previous trains we’d ridden.
It was about a 2 hour train ride to Venice, and the main Venetian train station actually sits on the island of Venice. When riding the train, you go on a long bridge of sorts between the mainland and the island, and as soon as you disembark the train you’re surrounded by water (both the canals and the ocean).
Our AirBnB was about a 20 minute walk from the train station, so we saddled up with our packs and set off. The walk from the train station was beautiful, winding through narrow alleys and across multiple bridges that connect the different areas of Venice over the many canals. We arrived at the apartment, and rang the bell as the host instructed us to. Brandon mustered up his best Italian to let the host know who we were, and we heard some indiscriminate high pitched noises on the other end of the intercom, followed by the door being buzzed open for us. Though slightly confused, we headed up to find the apartment on the second floor. When we arrived at the landing, there was a young girl who was probably about 9 years old hovering in one of the doorways and looking at us. Seeing no one else around, I said “Um, hi, we’re looking for Mini?” (Mini was our hostess’s name), and the girl immediately greeted us back in English and invited us in. She didn’t sound Italian at all, so Brandon and I were both a little bit confused. She informed us that her mom was in the house working, and then showed us into the house and to our room, showed us where our private bathroom was, and made sure we got our keys. As we dropped our packs and got situated, we could hear her mom in the other room giving what sounded like a one-sided English lesson. From what we gathered, Mini taught English online (a cool job prospect!). Once she had finished her lesson she came to greet us, and it was clear that neither mother nor daughter were Italian, but in fact were Australian! She gave us the lay of the land and some recommendations before we all left the house and headed off in separate directions.
Mini had recommended an area and a few food places we should check out, so we headed toward the area she suggested. In Venice, there are places that serve “cicchetti,” which are sort of like tapas….small bites that you can have several of in different varieties. Mini had suggested two that were in our neighborhood, so we decided we would sample the local fare. Both were similarly set up, with glass cases in the front of the store that showcased all of the different cichetti. The majority were made with small slices of baguette and had various toppings on them, including salmon, salted cod, different kinds of whipped cheeses, tuna, etc. We essentially pointed to the ones that we wanted, and the proprietor placed them on a plate for us. The other thing Mini had told us, was that Prosecco (sparkling wine) hails from the region near Venice, and that at the “cicchetterias” you could get a glass for around 2 Euro. We didn’t believe her until we ordered a couple, and it was true! We feasted on a plate of cicchetti from the first place, and then still not quite full, wandered down the way to the second one.
At the second place, we were able to take our plate outside and sit on a wall overlooking one of the canals, and also one of the oldest gonolderias (place where they make gondola boats) in Italy. At this spot, we kept seeing people drinking a bright orange looking drink, and eventually figured out that it was an Aperol spritz. Neither of us had tried Aperol, so we decided to order a couple of those and give them a shot. An Aperol spritz is made with Aperol, prosecco, and club soda, and has a slightly sweet yet bitter orangey flavor, but is really good. Oddly enough, many places serve this mostly sweet drink with green olives (that part didn’t really make sense to us).
Once we’d gotten our fill, we decided we would just wander around our neighborhood and check it out. It was foggy, and pretty chilly, but made for nice weather to walk in. It seems like every side street and vista in Venice is just stunning, and we both took quite a few pictures while we were meandering.
After we’d worked up an appetite from our walk, we decided to check out another recommendation of Mini’s for dinner – a restaurant called Al Profeto. It was situated in a small side street, and the aroma coming from it was amazing. We ordered mussels in tomato sauce (a generous portion), and then shared the best pizza we’d had in Italy – prosciutto, brie, and mozzarella. It was delicious! Tired and full, we headed home to hit the hay.
Our Full Day in Venice
The next morning we made an effort to wake up early so that we could take advantage of our only full day in Venice. We decided to head for the main tourist attraction – St. Mark’s square (San Marco, to the Italians). It was about a 20ish minute walk from our apartment, over the famous and picturesque Rialto bridge, which we paused on to take a few photos. St. Mark’s square boasts beautiful architecture all around it, including Doge’s palace and St. Mark’s Basilica. The lines to get into all of the buildings were super long, so we opted to just take in the architecture and then move on. As we walked around the area, we saw a dozen or more tour groups from cruise ships flocking en masse to the square, but to nowhere else that we could tell. Crowds of tourists aren’t really either of our favorite thing, so we were happy to wander out of the square.
As we walked along the waterfront, we came across a huge wooden ship that literally looked like something you would see on a smaller scale inside of a bottle. The ship, called the Amerigo Vespucci, is a naval training ship and takes long voyages several times a years as part of the Venetian navy’s training. Brandon had been fan-girling over all of the wooden ship models in the museums we’d been to, so he was pretty excited to see this giant one in real life. There was some kind of Italian Navy event going on while we were there, so there were hundreds of men and women in uniform wandering around the ship, and also throughout the city.
We continued walking along the waterfront, and eventually ran into a large, quiet park, where there were several groups of middle-school aged Italian children playing and running through the park. It was the first time it really felt like fall since we’ve been in Europe, with cooler weather, and beautiful hues of changing leaves. We walked as far as a naval point that was at the end of the park, and then turned around to head back.
At this point, it’s worth mentioning that I’ve actually been to Venice before! I went with my parents and brother about 10 years ago as part of a two-week trip that we took through Europe. I had fond memories of the hotel that we stayed in, so I asked Brandon if he would walk the 15 minutes or so with me to go see it. We managed to find it, and I was flooded with all kinds of nostalgia! I recreated a picture that I’d taken on the first trip (you’ll see the new one below, but I will have to find the original photo when we get back stateside). I also pointed to the specific window that was part of our room, and recounted how Drew had shaved his face for the first time when we were there 10 years ago, and also how he had figured out that if you looked down out of the window you could see a lot of boobies (sorry Drew, I had to share hehe).
At this point we’d worked up an appetite, and I (admittedly) was getting a little on the hangry side so we found a place that looked good enough and had a decent crowd sitting in the outside seating area. Unfortunately, the meal turned out to be just about the worst thing either of us had ever eaten 🙁 Brandon ordered spaghetti, and the sauce tasted processed and crappy, and I ordered gnocchi with cheese sauce, and that also tasted processed and crappy. Disappointed and only mildly satiated (I only ate about 1/4 of my meal), we paid the exorbitantly high price for the shitty meal and then decided we need to have an amazing last dinner in Italy to make up for the disappointment of lunch. Brandon made us a reservation at a place for 9pm (the Italians like their late dinners), and we headed back to the apartment to grab a quick snooze before we went back out for dinner.
After regrouping, we headed back out to partake in the Italian tradition of apertifs – drinks before dinner. We hadn’t yet tried a very Italian drink, the Negroni, so we thought our last night in Italy would be a good time to check it out. The Negroni is made with Campari, a very bitter liqueur that tastes kind of like tea that has been steeped for waaaaay too long. We’d tried one other drink with Campari in it and weren’t huge fans, but the Negroni also has gin, vermouth and an orange twist, so we hoped it would be a little bit better. The gin is a nice compliment to the bitterness of the Campari and we actually enjoyed the drink overall! The bar we got the Negronis at was super popular, with the crowd spilling out onto the sidewalk along the canal laughing and enjoying their drinks. It was a really fun atmosphere, and the lights twinkling off the canal were beautiful.
We had dinner at La Bitta, a well-reviewed restaurant right down the street from our apartment. It was a very intimate restaurant, with only about 10 tables in total. The menu was handwritten and dated, showing that it changes daily, and placed on the table on a stand to be read by everyone seated there. We opted to order the beef carpaccio as our appetizer, I ordered gnocchi with beets (had to get some redemption after the terrible lunch!), Brandon the tagliatelle with duck, and the roasted pork cheek to share. Each dish was delicious, and clearly prepared with a healthy dose of love. We saved just enough room for dessert (the first time we’d had it in Italy!), and I ordered the tiramisu, while Brandon ordered the panna cotta. The tiramisu was good, but DAMN that panna cotta was probably the most delicious and amazing thing to ever grace my palate (Brandon agreed). We spent a good half hour taking small bites and savoring every last bit of it. Full and happy, we walked the short distance home to get some rest before heading off to Valencia the next day.
Fun fact: Multiple scenes from The Italian Job were shot right in the neighborhood we were staying in!
To see the full image gallery from our time in Venice, click here.*
*Our site is being kind of a pain, so there are some good ones in here that didn’t make it into the body of the blog.