October 12-24

Italy 2010 : Part 1 - Venice

Part 1 - Venice | Part 2 - Florence | Part 3 - Rome

Italy . . . our first trip to Europe. In twelve days we visit three top Italian tourist destinations: Venice, Florence and Rome. Italy has always been my top choice for our first European visit, especially with it's rich history in art, architecture and culture. After many years of art history it was exciting to actually view the art and visit the places I've studied. We look forward to actually experience the Classic, Gothic and Renaissance work which have influenced art and architecture throughout the world and through today.

Day 1 - October 12, Tuesday - San Francisco Airport

On Tuesday afternoon we drive up to San Mateo where Toby's parents kindly drop us off to San Francisco International for our 2:15pm flight. We flew Lufthansa to Frankfurt, Germany with a connecting flight to Venice's Marco Polo airport. Lufthansa's large double decker Boeing craft was very nice airline with great food service, we had two meals (dinner and breakfast) and they served wine with dinner (I liked that!). Our economy seats were located in the middle section but we had an aisle seat. The seats were a bit cramped and uncomfortable after sitting for an extended period of time. My tailbone started to ache and I had difficulty getting into a relaxed position to sleep! This was our longest flight to date and the most dramatic time difference experienced (9 hours ahead).

  • All packed and ready to go!

  • Love the interior skylights of the International terminal at SFO.

  • Our Lufthansa Boeing jet getting ready to leave that early afternoon.

  • Time for some wine with your dinner!


Day 2 - October 13, Wednesday - Frankfurt, Germany to Venice, Italy

Our 10+ hr flight landed us in Frankfurt around 10:15am on Wednesday morning. We had a LONG 6hr layover before our connecting flight to Venice. It was nice and sunny in Germany, and in the airport we tried to take a nap during this long layover . . . but couldn't. Once it was boarding time, we hopped on a shuttle bus which brought us to our waiting connecting flight to Venice. The flight was a little over an hour. On the flight south the clouds in the sky were thickening and eventually the sun disappeared. The flight wasn't full and Toby had his own row seated on the aisle. I sat opposite in the aisle by an American lady who now lives near Venice. We had in informative talk as we neared the Venice airport viewing the city overhead upon our approach.

It had apparently rained earlier that afternoon in Venice and the sky was solid gray. The winds were calm and the temperature was in the mid 60's. After our arrival, we wheeled our luggage to the awaiting shared water taxi that we booked in advance. Luckily there were no other passangers to share the water taxi with so we basically had a private service directly to our hotel. The small boat with a small covered passange area zipped past the slower water bus as it crossed the lagoon in route to Venice. I sat outside viewing the city, snapping pictures as outlines of buildings and churches grew larger with our approach. The boated entered the city through Rio Noale in the northern Connaregio district (sestiere) traveling south toward the Grand Canal. The narrow canal opened up to the expansive Grand Canal and we soon approached Hotel San Cassiano. We docked on their pier and the bellman assisted us as we unloaded our luggage. However the front desk said due to water issues many of the rooms were not available and that we would have to stay at their sister hotel near by, the Hotel Palazzo Giovanelli. He said it was a similar 4 star hotel right on the canal. The bellman from San Cassiano then wheeled both our luggage through the narrow alleys to the other hotel. To my surprise this new hotel seemed nicer! After checking in we took an elevator (which the other hotel didn't have) to the 2nd floor to room 205. All these waterfront palazzo's (or palaces) have interesting histories, this palazzo was once owned by the Foscarini family (built in the 1500s) and was home to one of the elected rulers of Venice. People who have stayed in this historic home range from the Mozart family, the King of Denmark and Fredrick Christian IV. The home has now been converted into a 41 room 4 star hotel which combines modern conveniences with old world charm.

Our room was average size but with tall ceilings with original exposed wood beams. We had a very small bathroom and no canal view, but seemed richly decorated and very comfortable. We had to get use to the Europen system where your room key activates the electricity and lights. The bathroom had both toilet and bidet. And the showers have an pull string for emergencies.

The sun had set once we were all settled in our room so it was dark by the time we ventured into town. My sense of direction was sure put to the test with the narrow alleys that go in all directions. I often had to pull out my handy pocket map. Luckily signs pointed to the main areas and we followed the signs to the famous Rialto Bridge (Ponte Rialto) which was once the only bridge crossing the Grand Canal (built in 1591). The evening was bustling with tourist heading out to dinner. People had umbrellas open as there was a constant threat of sprinkles. From the Rialto Bridge we stopped to absorb the scene of Venice at night, watching various water crafts pass under this historic bridge.

From the bridge we walked to the historic center of Venice, St. Mark's Square (Piazza San Marco). The expansive square is the location of the city's most influential church St. Mark's Basilica (Basilica di San Marco), the former center of government, the Doge Palace (Palazzo Ducale) and the 300'+ Bell Tower (Campanile) all of which we were planning to visit the following day. The cool night kept the number of tourist down in the square. We viewed the exterior of these sites that evening. Unfortunately the Basilica's exterior was in maintenance and had a huge scaffolding covering the left portion of the exterior. Throughout our trip we had numerous historical sights covered in scaffolding for maintenance, not the best for photographic opportunities. We walked past the square to see the Bridge of Sighs which also seemed to covered with decorative scaffolding. the scaffolding was covered in sky images with clouds. We visited the nearby Hotel Danieli, a former Doge home, now a hotel who has been visited by famous 19th-century writers and artists. On our walk back we had dinner at Ai Tosi Ristorante & Pizzeria which was along the main route back to our hotel. We learned that night that every dish was a la carte. Toby had a less than steller lasanga while I had their yummy sole special and some house red wine. We had our first of many gelato stops that evening on our walk back. Finally back to our hotel room . . . we were exhausted from the long day travel and went to sleep soundly just slightly before our normal bedtime.

  • Our 6hr layover in the Frankfurt Airport

  • Our water taxi leaving Marco Polo airport to our hotel in Venice

  • Toby in the covered water taxi as it approaches Venice

  • We enter Venice via Rio Noale in the northern section of Connaregio

  • Suddenly we're in the Grand Canal with Hotel San Cassiano in red

  • Second story view from our 'new' hotel Palazzo Giovanelli also on the Grand Canal

  • Second story central lounge with the Murano glass chandelier

  • Room 205 in the Palazzo Giovanelli

  • Our king bed is really two twins side by side

  • Our small bathroom with a bidet

  • The groundfloor courtyard of the Palazzo Giovanelli

  • The Rialto Bridge at night

  • In an almost empty St. Mark's Plaza

  • Toby in St. Mark's Plaza with the Campanile in the background.

  • Scaffolding covers half of St. Mark's Basilica

  • Inside the lobby of the impressive Hotel Danieli

  • The Bridge of Sighs, with covered scaffolding on both sides.

  • Referring to my maps to get around Venice, on the steps of San Salvador church

  • Along one of the many narrow streets that is Venice

  • Dinner at Ristorante Ai Tosi, yes everything is a la carte.


Day 3 - October 14, Thursday - Venice: Piazza San Marco

Our first FULL day of vacation! We wake up SUPER early! We were wide awake and decided to just get ready for the day. We were ready for breakfast at 7am when it opens. The downstairs dining area had an impressive breakfast spread with a center island full of various breakfast items including hot food such as scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage, various cold meats, cheeses, pastries, juices, cereals, fruit and coffee. We were honestly expecting a lot less.

Now that we were a little rested we were able to appreciate the beauty of the hotel with it's high ceilings, marble staircase and impressive Murano glass chandeliers. There was a salon with windows that opened out onto the Grand Canal for spectacular views.

We gather our items and soon hit the narrow alleys into town toward the Rialto Bridge. We walked by the Rialto Market where vendors were selling an endless variety of fresh seafood, meats and produce. This market has been in operation for centuries.

It was then off to St. Mark's Square (Piazza San Marco) and St. Mark's Basilica (Basilica San Marco) where it was now around 9:45am and we waited in a line outside the church. The line quickly grew but by 10am the doors open and soon we were inside the historic church (admission is free). The church is the final resting place of St. Mark (Mark the Evangelist), one of Christ's apostles and one of the authors of the Bible. The present church (started in 1071) is a unique blend of Roman, Greek and Byzantine architecture due to Venice's influence from the middle east. The interior of the church is suprisingly immense with soaring domed ceilings. The church was dimmly lit, but the gold mosaic walls and domes seem to glisten. Like most of the churches in Venice, photography was strickly forbidden inside. Certain areas of the church required a small entrance fee. We paid a few euros to get close to the alter and to see the stunning "Pala d'Oro", a large ornate gold alterpiece encrusted with enamels and precious stones. In this area was the alabaster altar canopy which covered the tomb of St. Mark. I was truly moved to be this close to such a significant figure in the Catholic religion. After exploring the church we paid extra to visit the museum upstairs which houses the "Horses of St. Mark" as well as access to the exterior balcony for great views over St. Mark's Square.

From the church we walk across the piazza to wait in a short line for the Bell Tower (Campanile). The tower built in the 16th century initially as a lighthouse actually collapsed in 1902 due to structural failure. It was rebuilt exactly as before by 1912. The elevator (installed in 1962) wisked us up to the viewing area by the bells some 250' above the square. We had a cool clear day with expansive vistas over the entire city of Venice and beyond. The brisk cold wind made our stay on top a brief one.

We were soon down ready for our next stop, the Doge Palace (Palazzo Ducale). This gothic palace (14th century) was once the Venetian Republic's seat of power and home to it's ruler, or Doge. Photography was allowed outside in the courtyard and some staircases, but not in any of the elaborately decorated interior rooms and vast halls. These ornate rooms with very high ceilings were guilded in gold woodwork with oil paintings on every wall. The world's largest oil painting resides in the Great Council hall (25' x 81'). From the palace interior we cross over a canal in the covered Bridge of Sighs (Ponte de Sospiri) to the prisons which once housed Casanova. Back over to the palace we ended where we started, in the courtyard. We marveled at the Giant's Staircase with it's large statue of Mars and Neptune.

After the Doge Palace I tried to redeem my water transportation pass with VeniceConnect but the office by St. Mark's square was closed. In disgust we left and roamed through Venice by foot. We walked along the Riva, or large waterfront prominade, past the Doge Palace toward San Giergio dei Greci to view it's perilously tilting bell tower. We wonder aimlessly through the Castello section of Venice, passing numerous historic buildings, heading back to the VeniceConnect office, but alas still closed. So we walk back to our hotel.

After a short rest we walk toward the train station to the other VeniceConnect office. We cross over the sunny Scalzi Bridge (Ponte degli Scalzi) toward the station where there was an open office. I was finally able to get our water transportation passes! Since we had our passes, we hopped onto a water bus (vaporetto) and rode it along the Grand Canal, past our hotel, past the Rialto Market, under the Rialto Bridge, and past numerous waterfront palazzos. We exit by the Gallerie dell'Accademia museum in the Dorsoduro section of Venice. We walk past the Peggy Guggenheim museum over to the gothic inspired Santa Maria della Salute church (finished in 1687). This church is across St. Mark's Square along the Grand Canal. After a couple of choice photographic moments we walk all the way back to our hotel, over the Accademia Bridge, over the Rialto Bridge and countless narrow streets. Boy, my feet were hurting that day!

That evening we have a nice simple relaxing pizza dinner at the nearby Mauro Pizza. And dessert . . . more gelato!

  • Our large breakfast at our hotel

  • The well stocked breakfast buffet included eggs and bacon

  • The lobby of our hotel

  • The grand staircase leading up to the second floor of our hotel

  • The Murano glass chandelier in our hotel

  • View of the Grand Canal from the Rialto Bridge

  • Typical scene of bridge over canal in Venice

  • Early morning on the Rialto Bridge in Venice

  • The Rialto Markets sell a huge assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables

  • The Rialto Market with an endless variety of fresh seafood

  • View of Grand Canal from the Rialto Bridge

  • St. Peter's Basilica before they open

  • The interior of the church from the second story (a forbidden shot!)

  • The Pala d'Oro behind the alter in St. Mark's Basilica.

  • St. Mark's final resting spot in the alter in St. Mark's Basilica.

  • Toby on the St. Mark's Basilica balcony overlooking the square.

  • Alan with the 300'+ Bell Tower in the background.

  • Bronze "Horses of St. Marks" overlooking the square.

A panorama taken from the balcony outside St. Mark's Basilica overlooking the St. Mark's Square and the base of the Bell Tower. There is construction at the base of the tower to help stabilize the ground supporting the structure. (image opens in separate window, double click image in new window to view full size)

  • The Torre dell'Orologio, or clock tower. Built in the late 15th century

  • St. Mark's Basilica, a blend of various styles, mostly Byzantine

  • Up at the top of the Campanile looking north over Venice

  • Up at the top of the Campanile looking north over Venice

  • St. Mark's Basilica as seen from the Bell Tower.

  • The picturesque island of San Giorgio Maggiore as seen from the tower

A panorama taken from the top of the Bell Tower facing west over St. Mark's Square. The domes of Santa Maria della Salute church is on the left. (image opens in separate window, double click image in new window to view full size)

A panorama from the Bell Tower looking east over the five domes of St. Mark's Basilica and the white roofs of the Doge Palace. (image opens in separate window, double click image in new window to view full size)

  • The Campanile as viewed from the Doge Palace

  • The exterior of the Doge Palace

  • Inner courtyard of the Doge Palace

  • Inner courtyard of the Doge Palace

  • Inner courtyard of the Doge Palace

  • The second story arcade of the Doge Palace

  • The "Giants Staircase" was used for ceremonies only

  • Inner courtyard of the Doge Palace

  • Scala d'Oro, is an ornate gold covered staircase in the Doge Palace

  • Scala d'Oro, is an ornate gold covered staircase in the Doge Palace

  • These arches and clover leaf are distinctive Venetian architecture

  • The Great Council room with its huge size and world's largest oil painting

  • The prison that is connected to the palace

  • The Bridge of Sighs connects the prison to the palace

  • Inner courtyard of the Doge Palace

  • Statue of Mars 'backside' on top of the Giant's staircase

  • FWEE! Inner courtyard of the Doge Palace

  • The waterfront gondolas by Doge Palace

  • Detail of St. Mark's Basilica (the open side)

  • Ocean water starting to seep up into St. Mark's Square

  • Along the Riva (waterfront promenade)

  • The Bridge of Sighs seen during the day

  • Rio dei Greci and a churches leaning tower

  • Toby and Rio Di San Lorenzo in the Castello section of Venice

A panorama taken from the 2nd floor of our hotel looking out onto the Grand Canal. The San Stae water bus stop (vaporetto) is on the left. (image opens in separate window, double click image in new window to view full size)

  • Rio Dell Osmarin in the Castello section of Venice

  • Rio Dell Osmarin in the Castello section of Venice

  • San Zaccaria church in the Castello section

  • One of the many canals in the San Polo area where our hotel is

  • The Grand Canal from the Scalzi bridge

  • The Grand Canal from the Scalzi bridge

  • Our hotel Palazzo Giovanelli seen from the vaporetto water bus

  • On the Grand Canal riding a water bus

  • We past the Rialto Bridge on the water bus

  • The Santa Maria della Salute church

  • Inside the Santa Maria della Salute church

  • FWEE by the Salute church in the Dorsoduro section in Venice

  • By the Salute church in the Dorsoduro section in Venice

  • Crossing the Ponte de Accademia bridge with the Salute church in background

  • Rio dell Salute in the Dorsoduro section

  • Dinner at Muro Pizza & Cucina very close to our hotel


Day 4 - October 15, Friday - Venice: Trip to Burano

On the second full day the jet lag from our flight hit us, we woke up just around 10:15am. We barely made the free breakfast buffet which ended at 10:30. Not only did we wake up late but we somehow lost one of the multiday transportation passes! By the time we got ready for the day it was almost noon. Our plan for the day was to visit the colorful fishing island of Burano, and we needed to catch a ferry to the island (which we needed the pass for). After we left our hotel, we walk to the Rialto Markets were we jump onto a Traghetto gondola. These simply cross the Grand Canal (our only gondola experience) for just .50 Euros. We then worked our way through confusing streets north through the Connaregio district of Venice to the Fondamenta Nuove Vaporetto station. There we ended up purchasing another transportation pass.

The large ferry soon arrived and we were off into the vast Venice lagoon. By this time the clouds cleared to a nice sunny day in the upper 60's. Toby and I were the only ones wearing shorts! The ferry first stopped at nearby island of Murano (famous for it's glass) to pick up a large amount of tourist before it's journey out across the lagoon to the small island of Burano. Burano is a small island famed for it's long history of lace production. It's also famed for it's brightly colored small homes and miniature canals, almost like a 'small world' version of Venice. The crowded ferry deposited it's load of tourist onto the sleepy streets of Burano. Many cute shops selling lace and linens, and restaurants serving fresh fish lined the main street Via Baldassare Galuppi. We were more interested in taking photos and exploring the narrow alleys and canals away from the main tourist thoroughfare. We spent a couple of hours roaming the colorful and picturesque island, buying gifts in the small boutiques and aweing at the precariously leaning church bell tower in the center of town.

By late afternoon it was time to head back to Venice. On the ferry ride back we stop again at Murano and passed by San Michelle, the cemetary island. Back on Venice was slowly meander back to our hotel. We walk by the hospital that looks like a church and an actual church, Santi Giovanna e Paolo. The northern area of the Castello district was very picturesque in an old decaying Venice way. We eventually find our way through bustling shopping streets to the Rialto Bridge and back to the hotel.

We rest for a little bit before heading out again. It was late afternoon and we hit the narrow streets south toward the Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari church, or simply the Frari. We arrived before they closed for the day, so there were no crowds inside the large church, the largest in Venice. This church built by the Franciscan friars in the mid 15th century and is known for it's sheer size and quality of art. These include masterpieces by Titian and Bellini. One of Titian's best known pieces "Assumption of the Virgin" (1518) hangs behind the alter. I was impressed with the three tiered wood choir (circa 1468). This church is also the final resting place of the Venetian artist Titian and renown sculpture Canova. After the church closed for the day we shopped at the numerous souvenior stores by the church before heading back to the hotel.

This was our last night in Venice and decided to do a 'touristy' dinner purely for the atmosphere, not for quality of food. We ate at Ristorante Florida which is along the waterfront promenade Riva del Vin next to the Rialto Bridge. That evening we ate outside under heat lamps next to the Grande Canal. The food wasn't too bad. After our meal we took the vaporetto ferry from the Rialto Bridge south along the Grand Canal, viewing the brightly lit buildings at night, to the ferry stop just outside St. Mark's Square. The night air was chilly but we hung around the square absorbing the music of the 'dueling quartets' and savoring our last Venice gelato before calling it a night.

  • Riding a traghetto across the Grand Canal.

  • Approaching the island of Murano to pick up more tourist enroute to Burano.

  • The canal front restaurants in Burano

  • Even the narrow covered passages are brightly painted.

  • The path by the Pontinello canal in Burano

  • The main 'tourist' canal through Burano

  • Meow meow, cute kitty resting on a window sill.

  • The main 'tourist' canal through Burano

  • The highly leaning tower of San Martino church

  • Just a loud yellow building

  • Along Fondementa Pescheria in Western Burano

  • Along Fondementa Pescheria in Western Burano

  • Along Fondementa Pescheria in Western Burano

  • Love these colorful windows frames and exteriors

  • I love the jewel tones of these homes.

  • Pontinello canal in Burano

  • Riding on the ferry back to Venice.

  • The church on the island of San Michele. The cemetary island.

A panorama of the many colorful canals on the island of Burano. (image opens in separate window, double click image in new window to view full size)

  • Scuola Grande is a very decorative facade for the hospital in Venice

  • The large San Zanipolo church, one of the cities great Gothic churchs

  • I often pulled out the map to get oriented in the maze of Venice alleys.

  • Just another canal in the Connaregio section of Venice

  • Lover's ride a romantic gondola along one of Venice's many canals.

  • View of the Grand Canal looking north from the Rialto Bridge.

  • The largest church in Venice: Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari

  • View of the Frari church alter and Titian's famous painting.

  • The elaborate wooden choir inside the vast Frari church.

  • The 'Assumption of the Virgin' by Titian inside the Frari church.

  • Having a Bellini at our hotel bar.

  • A touristy dinner along the waterfront by the Rialto Bridge

  • Having the house red wine at dinner at Ristorante Florida

  • The famous Rialto Bridge at night before we hop onto the ferry

  • The brightly lit Salute church as seen from the ferry

  • Our last gelato in Venice. My favorite flavor was hazelnut and pistachio

  • One of the dueling quartets in St. Mark's Square

Part 1 - Venice | Part 2 - Florence | Part 3 - Rome