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Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Vacate to Venice 2019 - Travel Back to Bristol

The alarms went off at 4:30 am, signalling an end to our time in Venice. We quickly got ready and began our 20 minute walk to meet the pre-arranged cab. While we probably could have counted on finding one in the Piazzale Roma, it added peace of mind knowing one would be waiting for us.

Walking through Venice in the early morning hour is quite different than other times. Most places are boarded up with minimal light to guide us. It certainly added an eerie quality to our walk.

Our driver found us as we walked into the Piazzale Roma and quickly whisked us off to the airport. Security was quick and easy. Before we knew it, we were on the plane back to Bristol. What a wonderful way to spend a weekend!

Vacate to Venice 2019 - Exploring San Marco & San Polo

Without the rush to catch a vaporetto to go to a more distant island, we awoke more slowly, enjoying a nice breakfast of fruit we picked up at the market the night before. On our walk to San Marco Basilica, we stopped for some croissants to supplement our fruit breakfast. While Kari preferred the warmth of the croissants from the day prior, I felt these croissants were better quality, a little lighter and fluffier. I also had a hot chocolate. Throughout Venice, we had seen these hot chocolate machines constantly turning liquid chocolate. What a better way to start a brisk morning walking around Venice than with a croissant and a hot chocolate. It was delicious!

Once we arrived at San Marco Basilica, we left our bags and began the climb to the museum above the church. As beautiful and grand as the exterior was, the interior was even more beautiful. The walls and ceilings were adorned with scenes from the Bible and church history in mosaic. Around each image was gold leaf mosaic tiles to serve as a consistent background for the ceiling. Absolutely stunning! Unfortunately, they requested no photos, so we only snagged a couple to help remember for ourselves.

Walking through the museum was like walking through the history of the church. We saw various pieces going through restoration and some of the techniques used to preserve the Basilica for years to come. We also saw some of the pieces that started to become too damaged in their prior place to remain, such as the Horses of Saint Mark. These were replaced by replicas to maintain the look without losing the originals due to weathering over time.

In addition to seeing the beauty of the church from above, we could hear morning mass proceeding below us. It was quite lovely and cool to think this building is still being used for its original purpose many centuries later.

After descending back to ground level, we were given the opportunity to enter the main portion where mass was occurring to use the confessional or seek a blessing. Kari and I, being not catholic, did not feel comfortable spoiling the sanctity of the space and left. We headed off to collect our belongings and continue our tour of Piazza San Marco.

Our next stop was the Doge's Palace, or Palazzo Ducale. Similar to San Marco Basilica, a portion was turned into a large museum to show the history of the culture. In addition to serving as the residence for the doge, or political leader for the Venetian people, it was also the home for the legislative and judicial branches of their government. With the former government being a republic similar to our own, it had three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial. It is cool to see one of the likely examples/influences to our founding fathers when forming our government.

As we wandered through various halls and rooms, we were struck by the beauty and ornate decorations. Many of the walls and ceilings were covered with paintings and carvings or sculptures. It was spectacular. The final stop in our tour was across the Bridge of Sighs and into the new prison. Named the Bridge of Sighs due to the thought prisoners would sigh as they crossed, glimpsing freedom one last time before entering the dark, damp prison. It was an interesting view to see through the small windows out at San Giorgio's, watching gondolas pass below us on the canal.

Now, we have been touring museums for a few hours building a healthy appetite. We opted to try one of the recommendations from Lauren and Jesse, Dal Moro's, a grab and go pasta place. I had spaghetti with bolognese sauce, chicken, and parmesan cheese. Kari had spaghetti with black fish sauce and parmesan cheese. The food was hot and delicious, just what we needed after spending a few hours roaming the cool drafty halls of the Doge's Palace.

Following lunch, we wandered over to Suso's for our first gelato of the day; another recommendation from Lauren and Jesse. This was one of the better gelatos we had tried. The fruit di bosco was excellent and the lemon was pretty good.

With food in our bellies, we set off to find a gondola ride. We tried to find one on one of the small canals, hoping for a more peaceful and serene ride than solely on the Grand Canal. That turned out to be a good choice. While our gondolier took us on a loop that involved some time on the Grand Canal, we also spent a decent amount of time navigating the small canals, often alone. The gondola provided an interesting perspective; a glimpse of a time past. Many years ago, the gondola was a primary form of travel to get around Venice, with numbers nearing 10,000 gondolas. Today, there are about 500 remaning, primarily to give tourists an experience. The vaporettos are now the common way to get around Venice.

After our gondola ride, we felt we had done most, if not everything, we had come to Venice for, so we set off on a stroll to take the long way back to the apartment we rented to warm up and decide where to have dinner.

with it being our last night, we knew we wanted to stay in Venice's culinary wheelhouse; more pizza and gelato. We found a highly rated pizza place, Da Mamo's, and wandered over. Thankfully, we got there as they were opening and before the rush. By the time we left, it was packed. The pizza was excellent. While I preferred the crust of another place a bit more, the sauce and cheese were better here. It was certainly a good pizza to end our time with.

After dinner, we tried two more gelato places in our quest to find the best. We believe we have it narrowed down to Amorino's for lemon, strawberry, and raspberry; Grom's for lemon and fruit di bosco, and Suso's for chocolate and fruit di bosco. Unfortunately, Amorino's was closed when we were walking back to the apartment to finish our comparison. Regardless, all three were delicious and highly recommend.

With an early morning looming, we packed our things and went to bed early.

Vacate to Venice 2019 - Burano & Murano

We awoke to the sounds of birds, mainly seagulls, making noise outside our apartment. It was not overly different to the sounds we hear out of our actual flat in Bristol.

Following a quick shower, we were off to find the boat stop to buy our tickets and head off to Burano and Murano. Our walk took us over the Rialto Bridge, an ironic bridge in the heart of Venice. It is much quieter in the morning than when we arrived the night before. It is also nice to be able to see what is around us. Betting on finding food as we walked, we were on the lookout for a bakery. As luck would have it, we found one and snagged a couple croissants to take on our journey to the vaporetto.

We had to wait a little while before the vaporetto to Burano appeared. We climbed on, snagging a window seat for the 45 minute cruise to the island. As we were leaving Venice, we passed the Cimitero and several other small islands, making stops of Murano and Mazzorbo before reaching Burano.

Burano is a small fishing village island known for its colorful houses and fine lace. Fishermen, in an attempt to easily locate their homes when coming back from the sea, painted their houses in bright colors. Today, the tradition continues more to help continue bringing tourists than anything else. The village was beautiful and very colorful, a nice change from drab, stone, and brick. In addition to the colorful homes, the island is known for fine lace production. As we wandered around taking in the sights, we stopped in a few lace shops and galleries to see if Kari found any she was interested in. Unfortunately, her favorite places were around €800, which was a little more than we wanted to spend at this moment. They were super beautiful and soft, so I could not blame her for liking them.

As we set off on our day of adventure, we decided to treat it as a "State Fair" food day. For us, that means trying things whenever we find something that looks good and sharing it. Since we were in Italy, we found a nice pizza place and shared a salami pizza. Quite tasty.

After spending a couple hours on Burano, taking in the sights and eating some pizza, we headed off to the boat stop to catch the vaporetto back to Murano. As luck would have it, we arrived at the boat stop five minutes prior to departure and were able to jump on the boat. Similar to our cruise to Burano, we made a quick stop at Mazzorbo before heading to Murano.

Murano, while still beautiful, does not have the same level of charm as Burano with its colorful homes. Instead, Murano is known for its history as one of the premiere glass blowing places in the world. There are 47 families still operating today that have been blowing glass for generations. To learn more about this history, we went to the Murano Glass Museum, Museo del Vetro. It was fascinating to see how the master glass makers changed styles over the centuries, with some styles lost and rediscovered over time.

After our time in the museum, we set off to see if we could find a glass blower in action. Unfortunately, we were not so lucky. Instead, we found some authentic shops and learned more about specific glass makers while perusing for some glass to bring home. There are some truly incredible pieces available on the island.

With the sun going down, we thought it would be good to head back to Venice. On the walk back to the vaporetto, we stopped for our first gelato. I had strawberry and lemon, and Kari had raspberry and lemon. They were quite delicious. One of the other benefits of the sun going down was the lights strung across the smaller canals were lit. It added some romance and ambience to the already beautiful scene.

Back in Venice, we wandered back to our apartment with a stop at Captain Candy (danger!) and the Co-Op, a local grocery. We tried to warm up a bit before heading back out to catch a vaporetto the ride along the Grand Canal at night. Of course, we snagged another gelato for our walk to the vaporetto, because why not?

The Grand Canal at night is absolutely stunning. The restaurants, bridges, and homes are lit as people head out for an evening of fun memories. We tried to soak it all in as we meandered along the Grand Canal to Piazza San Marco. Similar to the Grand Canal's beauty at night, the Piazza San Marco was stunning. Kari was in awe of the size and grandeur of the place, particularly when compared against the other squares we had seen prior. The piazza shone from thousands of lights strung throughout. We took a stroll around the lights, while also looking for a place to have an authentic Italian meal. The place we ultimately chose was not far off the square. I had some good spaghetti and meatballs, while Kari had spaghetti and scampi. Unfortunately, hers was not as good as mine. We will have to find a better spot for her tomorrow.

After dinner, we walked back to our apartment. The city was starting to buzz and come to life. All of the small roads were packed with people as we could hear some bars starting to overflow into the streets. We crossed the Rialto Bridge one final time to get back to the side of the Grand Canal we were staying.

Before getting back, we stopped for one more gelato, our third of the day. Since it was our third, we opted to share a strawberry, raspberry, and lemon gelato. This was probably our favorite place we have tried thus far. Dangerous it is only a couple blocks from the apartment we are staying in.