September 12, 2012

Losing My Parents in Venice - Venice First Glance

I feel a little bit like I've been in the "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" movie traveling to Europe for our 2012 Italian Adventure. Sean, April and I traveled from Seattle > New York > Paris CDG > Paris Orly > Venice. Also traveling with us were my Dad and his wife Joan, but they had the luxury of traveling NOT in coach, but in Business Class, so their route was a bit different: Eugene > Seattle > Reykjavik > Paris CDG > Paris Orly > Venice.

We arrived six hours before my parents, so our grand plan was to stay in a "day hotel" at CDG so we could shower and power nap while we waited for their flight to arrive. After clearing customs (yes, another Paris stamp in my Passport!) and collecting our luggage, we boarded the CDG Shuttle Bus bound for the Ibis hotel adjacent to the airport. About a month ago, I had sent an inquiry to reserve the day room for us, but was told they do not accept reservations and we had to "wait and see" once we arrived if they had rooms available. Unfortunately for us, after trekking around CDG for almost an hour on the shuttle bus, we arrive at the Ibis only to be told that they did not have any rooms. My dream of a hot shower and horizontal sleeping surface were smashed to smithereens. So back on the bus we went to Terminal 1 to await my Dad's flight. The good news is that we did waste about 2 hours doing the shuttle bus thing, so we now only had FOUR hours to whittle away.

Sean found the only horizontal surface available in the terminal seating area and using his newly-acquired American Airlines blanket (yes, he stole it) and travel pillow, he was a gonner for a few hours (good for him). April and I tried to fold ourselves into somewhat of a pretzel to find comfort in the lounge seating and did manage to catnap for a couple of hours. Oh the joys of travel.

Finally the time had come for us to meet Dad and Joan outside the baggage claim area and without incident, they walked through the door, also a bit travel weary. Despite the fact that they flew Business Class on Icelandic Air (using miles), they did not have the luxurious fold-down seats that you find on other airlines, but I'm going to assume that THEIR seats were much more comfortable than the tuna-can seating we "enjoyed" on American Airlines.

Directly outside Terminal 1 we found the waiting area for the Air France bus to Orly and only had to wait about 10 minutes before the bus arrived. Dad and Joan have never been to Paris and unfortunately for them, the route to Orly didn't provide much in the way of scenery; just lots of suburbia and tagging. I can imagine the people who see only this view of Paris and think that's what the rest of the city looks like. I hope not, because they would certainly miss out on something special.

We arrived at Orly and still had more than 3 hours before our flight; so again, we waited. By this time, we're all looking like something out of a Zombie movie. I think I was probably the most functional - all those LONG poker sessions had apparently paid off as I still felt "alert" but was more "achy tired" than sleepy. Are we there yet?

Finally, we're touching down at Marco Polo airport in Venice. I only remember boarding our flight and buckling my seatbelt. I slept the entire flight (only 1-1/2 hours or so); I sure hope I wasn't snoring.

After walking what seemed like 5 miles with our luggage, we found the private water taxi dock and aboard our boat we went. I have to say, this was a pretty fancy "taxi". Sean and I sat in the partly-covered seating area so we could expose our heads to the warm sea air. The ride was fast and pretty exhilarating. I felt a bit like I was in the middle of a James Bond movie power boating towards Venice with my hair blowing around my face. It took about 30 minutes to reach the water stop which was literally in front of the apartment door. Only a few more steps before we could finally be "there." Door to door, we had traveled for 32 hours to reach Venice.

Our landlord met us right at the dock and after a short introduction to our apartment, we were all ready to shower and hit the hay. The apartment is lovely. The childhood home of Giorgic (our landlord) is the perfect abode for our traveling group; we have 3 bedrooms, each with their own private bathrooms (and they're quite large), a very modern-equipped kitchen and several terraces; some of which have canal views. We get the impression that this large, stately residence is divided into several apartments; it would be interesting to learn more about the property and we envision that this was once a single-residence for a wealthy Venetian family. I wonder if a Courtesan ever visited here? Here are the details of our rental property:

After a lovely night of sleep (5 hours for me), we began our first day in Venice. We had a reservation at 9:55 AM for the Doge's Palace Secret Itineraries tour, so I awoke the troops at 7:30 so we had time to shower and navigate ourselves to San Marco in plenty of time. April set off to the nearby grocery store to acquire the essential supplies for breakfast (coffee) but the market didn't open until 8:30, so no coffee for us yet.

Our initial plan was to board the Vaporetto for the short ride to San Marco. As we're standing in front of the dock waiting for the boat to arrive, a local informed us that the Vaporetto's were "on strike" from 9:00 - 1:00 that day. Seriously? I find it kind of funny that the strike doesn't entail some "ultimatum" like we're striking until "X" is resolved. Instead, it was for 4 hours. Scheduled strikes. Interesting, right? Apparently this is quite common. So we shall walk to San Marco. We have a map, it shouldn't be a problem. But first order of business is COFFEE.

Our first "tourist" mistake of the day is sitting down at an outdoor cafe along our walking route outside a "pensione" and after ordering, being told that you can only eat there if you were guests of the hotel. What? They make an exception and allow us to stay (after they had already delivered our cappuccinos) but then we're told that it would be 16 € per person four our "continental" breakfast. Ouch. Welcome to Europe. Sean was the only smart one of us and ordered two cappuccino's at the same time. At least I had some coffee and enjoyed my very expensive yogurt, but hey, there's really NO price on a great cappuccino, right? I'm not sure why it hadn't occurred to ANY OF US to inquire as to what a coffee and croissant would cost . . . stupid tourists!

Looking at our Venice map, the walk across the Accademia bridge towards San Marco was fairly straightforward. We couldn't not have been more mistaken. We somehow had wandered NOT towards San Marco, but instead, towards the most opposite side of Venice. Sean, April and I were trying to walk a fairly brisk pace, but my Dad and Joan couldn't sustain that pace, so we had to slow down. Even though Venice is quite flat, there are a LOT of canal bridges with stairs to traverse. I think my Dad is getting quite a work out -- maybe this is a good thing? After about 30 minutes, it's clear that we're quite lost. We make the realization that there's NO WAY we're going to make our tour, so we decide to stop where we're at (a Piazza) and separate. Sean and I are going to find the Palace and see about exchanging our tickets for a different day/time. April was going back to the apartment to get my Dad some medication for his aching leg and back. So after sitting Dad and Joan on a bench, we all promise to return as soon as we can. This is where we lose Dad and Joan for almost 3 hours. April got lost getting to and from the apartment and Sean and I walked to Switzerland in our adventure to San Marco. I swear we hit Switzerland. We finally find the palace and after acquiring a much better map of Venice, we see just where we ran off course and assumed it would be simple to return back to the Piazza where we left Dad and Joan. It was not.

Do you know how many Piazza's look exactly the same in Venice? Because I am a stupid tourist, I hadn't thought to snap a picture of a landmark or even find out the name of anything in that square. Because I thought we were right near the Accademia bridge, we could easily navigate ourselves back to that spot. We weren't even CLOSE to the Accademia bridge. After I had a mini-meltdown and was practically screaming in public at my husband (we were in disagreement about exactly WHERE and HOW we would find my Dad), it was Sean who helped us find our way back. I have never been so happy to see my Dad in my life. Thankfully, April also found her way back about 10 minutes after we did, so all was well again. So we now have some ground rules: 1) Snap a picture of a landmark, etc. 2) April needs to carry her phone (we both have international calling enabled) and 3) try and map out our route IN ADVANCE.

In the same Piazza, we locate a nice outdoor cafe and enjoy some much needed nourishment; we have our first "Spritz" and some delicious pizza. Thankfully, the vaporetto strike is over now, so we can more easily get ourselves to San Marco to visit St. Mark's Basilica where we have a 1:45 reservation. We arrive via vaporetto without incident.

Before I travel anywhere, I always research our trip on Fodor's using the advice of other seasoned travels in their forums. Heeding the advice of others, I had obtained our "reservation" for St. Mark's in advance so to avoid the line. This was a smart choice -- the line was extending from the front door of the basilica all the way to the water; probably close to 400 people in line. We walked right in.

Although the mosaics on the ceiling were amazing, it was very dark inside and honestly, not a lot to see. Maybe it's the jet lag talking, but it did not hold much interest for me. I think part of the problem is that we just didn't know what we were looking at. I hadn't really researched the history in advance, so we spent maybe a total of 10 minutes inside. So we can check that landmark off our list.

We all agreed that we were ready to return to the apartment. We were exhausted and it was very hot and muggy as a storm was rolling in. We make a couple of vaporetto-route errors and eventually found ourselves back at the apartment. Dad and Joan stayed behind while Sean, April and I set off to the market for some much-needed supplies for the apartment (coffee).

We agreed to just "eat in" and enjoyed a nice and relaxing dinner at the apartment in nice and cool air conditioning. April and I put in a few hours of work and we all climbed into bed at a reasonable hour. Day 1 in Venice was complete.

During our "lost adventure" Sean and I saw some amazing things and we're looking forward to actually "exploring" these sights at a more leisurely pace during the next few days.

View our Day 1 Venice pictures on Shutterfly.



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