Veneto :: Venice and Verona

I’ve always heard mixed reviews: people either say they love Venice or they think it’s overrated. (I mean, how can you not have inflated expectations when going there? It’s freaking Venice!) When planning this trip I knew that I did want to see some iconic places, but I didn’t want to spend the entire time in crowds. I wanted to experience the underside of Italy, too. That said, we decided to spend one day in Venice after we left Collalto and then take the train that night to Verona. In short, we didn’t even spend the night in Venice. That ended up being a good plan for us.

In case you missed my first post about Italy, Monica Pesoli planned this trip for us and happened to be in Italy the day we were in Venice. We hired her to be our tour guide, which ended up being wonderful because it’s easy to get lost in this liquid labyrinth.

Venice really is beautiful, even though we went on a cloudy day. (Two weeks later the Piazza San Marco was under water, so I’d say all in all we lucked out.) And yes, it’s true. No cars — boats only. Even the DHL delivery vehicles are boats.

What do you think of when you hear the word Venice (besides water)? Gondolas, of course. They’re everywhere and they are fancy. They’re also not cheap. Monica was all for it if we wanted to ride one, but she said a more economical way to see the city from the water is to ride the transit ferry (shuttle? bus?) It’s what all the local commuters ride. It was cheap and easy, though Monica did spot some women she told us to keep an eye on. To me they looked like gypsies, which of course drew me to them. Apparently in addition to looking all cool and stuff, they’re really good at pickpocketing.

Below you can see how Happy helped me out when I was trying to discreetly take a photo of one of the gondoliers. Street photography is legal in America, but I wasn’t so sure about Italy. I didn’t want to invade his privacy, so Happy did! He walked right up to the gondolier, threw his arm around him and asked me to take a photo. I was so intrigued with this guy — he looks like he could tell a great story or two.

Some gondoliers actually do sing — I’m sure that’s the premium package!

This is one reason it’s important to get someone to help you plan your trip, especially if you’ve never been to Italy. While there were eleventy-million people clogging the main pathways, Monica took us to a little bar on a side street (sidewalk?) that overlooks a gondola workshop. They repair and detail them here. Unfortunately the bar wasn’t open that day, but it was fun to watch for awhile. She knows so many out of the way places and led us right to them.

Ahhhh, the Bridge of Sighs. While she was standing here, Monica explained that most people think this is the quintessential photo op for lovers. But the truth of the matter is that it’s not named for people who are hopelessly in love, but for the last view convicts had before being carted off to prison.

Another thing Monica tipped us off on: we got our tickets to see St. Mark’s Basilica during the one hour per day that the lights are turned on. (I would never have known this and jumped at the chance, because photos.) Another thing I didn’t know: you aren’t supposed to take photos inside. They had “no photo” icons next to certain things, and I was careful not to take pictures of those things! Ha! It wasn’t until after the altar photograph that an Italian man chastised me. I did want to be respectful so I didn’t take any more, that is, until they threw the lights on inside. I was at the back of the church, there was nobody around and I wasn’t using a flash. I HAD to take a couple of shots of the church. I figured I could go to confession if they caught me. Surprisingly enough, many of the gold domes, mosaics and intricate carvings are on the outside of the church.

Next we went to St. Mark’s Campanile, which is the tower on the left, below. We purchased “skip the line” tickets in advance, and the guy at the door was not at all sympathetic when we showed up 45 minutes early and asked if we could go on up to maximize our time. He said no, because he could.

Most of the following shots were taken from the top of the tower. The last three photos in this group are Doge’s Palace, arch windows on the Piazza San Marco, and some nekkid men made of stone. I’m sorry to say I don’t know their names (though they look an awful lot like the David, which is in Florence.)

There were a lot of dogs in Venice. This Chinese crested was on the ferry. And the second photo made me wonder: did they have a chihuahua dog walking service or were they all one big happy family?

Here are a few more random shots from Venice.

I had to continue the door theme in Venice, even though we raced through.

The two gates above are from the Verona Arena, which is a smaller version of the coliseum in Rome. We were spending the night in Verona, en route to Cinque Terre, which was nice because my sister Laurie and I wanted to see the coliseum. Our paternal grandfather apparently used to love to go to the opera there, and in fact it’s still used for that purpose. (Unfortunately, their season ended before we arrived.) We stayed at Hotel Torcolo, a charming little inn that Monica booked for us and the people were fabulous — from the front desk clerk to the lovely young girl who made and served our breakfast. After checking in we went to the restaurant next door, had a fantastic dinner with Monica and then were surprised to discover that the arena was just behind where we were staying! It couldn’t have been more perfect. The Roman amphitheater was built in the first century and is still functional today, holding around 15,000 people. As you’ll see, they were making some changes while we were there. In addition to opera, it’s also a concert venue, drawing acts like McCartney, Springsteen and Adele, to name only a few.

If you think Verona rings a bell, think Shakespeare. It’s where Romeo and Juliet is set.

As we were heading back to the hotel to gather our things and make the train to Monterosso, I noticed this one shoe, just sitting on the street.

Here’s my take on Venice: even in October it was pretty crowded (I’d hate to see it in August!) I am so very glad I saw it, because it’s one of those things you don’t want to miss. It was breathtaking. But I wasn’t terribly sad to leave. I’m sure there was so much more to experience and see—we just saw the major tourist attractions and left. But I will tell you this: the locals aren’t very friendly, and I can understand why. Their home has been completely overrun by tourists. It has pushed a lot of locals out due to the increase in property values. Would I ever go back? Sure, if I was with one of my daughters. And then perhaps I’d stay a couple of days and experience more of it. But there are so many other places I want to go, I’m not sure I’d go back just because. Been there, done that.

As for Verona, I absolutely want to go back. It’s not a metropolis and it’s not rural: it’s in-between. I would love to spend a few days there.

Next up: Cinque Terre.