A five-hour drive. DVD player loaded, headphones on, ipods ready and the GPS set to Tronchetto Parking Structure in Venice. We were all set. We got out at about 8:30 am and took off north out of Tuscania. The ride to get the A1 Autostrada was incredible. Up the Etruscan hills through Montefiascone, towards Orvieto, it was one sea of sunflowers after another, rolling hills brimming with grape vines and olive trees with the lake glistening in the sun. Our little Garmin Nuvi GPS prodded us along, usually correctly, sometimes choosing twisty-turniest path, sometimes leading us through the narrowest of cobblestone streets, but we arrived on the A1 eventually and then gunned it for Venice.
Say what you will about the slowness of Italians to get things done, but their roads are outrageously gorgeous. The Autostrada is what every interstate in the US should strive to be. They should put some of that shovel ready stimulus money towards building these kinds of roads in the US. I don’t even like driving, but I can’t help but think this is the way to go. And the rest stops! Seriously, this is where we Americans truly fail. In Italy the rest stop is a huge sprawling self service restaurant and buffet, with sandwiches and pizza, or the spread that consists of a salad bars, fresh fruit, pastas and risotto, meats cooked to order, an array of breads and espresso. It cost a fortune, but it beat the nasty fast food we are used to on the road.
We were making great time on the Autostrada until we saw a sign for the turn off to Venice; our little Nuvi however said go on straight. We chose to believe Nuvi. Bad choice. The A4 Autostrada, which we were on at that point, spread out before us but suddenly the Nuvi started recalculating and telling us to make rights and lefts where none existed. We drove on and on with no exits in sight. Seemed we were on a brand new express stretch of the A4, unknown to Nuvi, and apparently a fast track to reach Trieste.
Eventually we reached an exit, had to wait in line to pay the toll in the cash lane so we could speak to a person, and when we drove up to the window saw the taped up handwritten signs telling us how to get back to Venice. It seems this sort of thing happens a lot. So we turned ourselves around, the Nuvi now liked the smaller, older roads we were on, and we were suddenly driving across that floating bridge towards the Tronchetto parking island. After bumbling around for 10 minutes trying to find the vaporetto station to catch the waterbus to our hotel we finally emerged successful. I even used my Italian, both to ask for directions from a bus driver to the station and to buy the tickets from the Tabaccharia. My meager Italian duly impressed the girls.
The vaporetto is a great, cheap (for Venice) way to get around. And is it wound its way through the Grand Canal to our stop, San Marco-San Zaccaria we got a full tour of the city from the water, and the girls got their first eye-popping views of this magical city. We disembarked and meandered through a few streets to our hotel. The Corte Dei Greci. Now, I have to pause here and say that I am a compulsive nut when it comes to booking a hotel. I check a bevy of Internet sites including: kayak, yapta, Expedia, Travelocity, hotels.com, hotwire and for this trip, venere.com. After I’ve selected one I go to tripadvisor.com to check out what everyone has said about it and to place it on the map. And that usually seals the deal. If it looks like a go then I check dohop.com to see about other bargain hotel sites, and check the hotel’s own site just to see if they have a better deal. Well, that may seem overboard but this time I hit the jackpot. Our hotel is about a 5 minute walk to Piazza San Marco, bordered a small canal on one side and a quiet street on the other. Most importantly for us they had a quadruple room available for a great rate, breakfast included.
I never know what to expect from a small hotel in Europe. Usually the rooms are half the size than rooms in the US. This hotel room blew us away. It is enormous by any standard. A king bed, plus two twin beds, a desk, two large closets and a big windowed bathroom. Best of all it has its own terrace with a table and chairs and a grape vine covered trellis. Although the girls liked the tremendous Venetian chandelier the best. The room also has a huge ante room that functions as a sitting room and is very private as well. So, if you book a room there try and request room B1!
By the time we checked in and unpacked it was 5:30. We booked over to Piazza San Marco, got gelato from a small stand (the worst of our trip so far) and headed over to the Palazzo Ducale. With only an hour ‘til closing the guard told us we should come back tomorrow, but we knew that girls didn’t have more than an hour in them of this so we traipsed on in. It was as decadent and awesome as I remembered from the last time I was in Venice, over 20 years ago. And the girls loved it. There were two parts they specifically delved into. The first was the room with the maps of the world painted on the walls – Isabel particularly loved the one of the “new world” that showed California and China separated by a tiny Sea, with California to the West and China to the East. The second was the armor and prison. The armor fascinated them, especially the horse armor, and the giant diorama of the knights on horseback in full armor including a little boy about their size.
After the Palazzo we went to the Campanile and rode the elevator to the top. It was an incredibly clear day and we could see all of Venice, far out into the sea. We were especially lucky to find no lines at all at either place. We walked in and out of these sights as if it were the middle of January instead of July. The girls oohed and aahed at the Torre D’orologico (the clock tower) not just because its so beautiful with its gold astrological signs, the sun, the moon and the Roman numerals, but because it played a pivotal part in the Magic Tree House Book, Carnival at Candlelight, that takes place in Venice and helped put everything they saw into context. We also went on a lion hunt last night and the girls loved spotting as many winged lions as they could find. This was a scavenger hunt tip I got out of Italy for Kids!
We finally ended our day with a so-so overpriced dinner, but that’s to be expected in Venice.
Gelato Scoops of the Day: (first disappointing gelato)