VENICE – where we ate the world’s best antipasti & he got stranded after….

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Gondolas in Venice

After Paris, our next stop was Venice. I can tell you that I added Venice in this Europe trip because ‘everyone’ said that Venice was ‘disappearing’ and if you don’t go now, you might not have the chance to go there again. My mum, especially, is a big fan of Venice. We first went together when I was 5, when we went to Europe on a package tour, so it was very hurried and I was probably too much of a handful for my mum to enjoy her holiday then…

Before we went to Europe, I did intensive research on each city that we were going to and Venice was no different. I was quite confused by how a city seems to be literally floating and in fact, you have to travel via water buses (vaporetti) from stop to stop, much like how you would take a bus, I think. And if you are rushing, you can also choose to take private water taxis.

I have also seen pictures of how the whole of Venice can be flooded and everyone walks around holding their skirts and slippers. It sounds pretty fun actually, except if you have luggages to carry.

I was confused if we need to book the water taxi or if it comes like clockwork, much like the bus. And what NUMBERS do we take, when there are no actual roads? But well, I told myself we will go with the flow then, when we reach Venice.

We took a plane from Paris after spending a wonderful time there. Paris is really as hyped up and as beautiful as they say. Seeing the Eiffel Tower in person beats seeing it on television or in pictures any day. And because we purchased tickets ahead of time to go up the tower, the experience was almost fuss – free.

We took easyJet from Paris to Venice and the plane ride was 1 hour 45 minutes.

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I did not take the option of taking a train for this leg of our trip as that would cost us more money and time. We planned on taking trains throughout Europe  and I was very comfortable during planning, to continue this mode of transport. We have flew from Singapore to Munich, we took a train from Munich to Zurich, from Zurich we took a variety of trains before reaching Wengen, from Wengen we took trains similarly downwards to reach Geneva. We also took trains to the ‘Top of Europe‘. From Geneva, we took a train to Paris (where we met the huge group of gymnasts returning home to Paris).

After taking the train from Zurich to Wengen, we have trained ourselves to be punctual if we are taking trains. If you have read that episode, you will know what I mean. We ran REALLY fast to catch that train!

I actually did a lot of research into this leg of the journey, from Paris to Venice, as I always try to balance the cost vs the time needed. I take into consideration the safety factor as well and also about how much or how little we would be enjoying ourselves.

From Paris to Venice, it is actually about 700 miles. Taking the train from Paris would take us 10 hours to reach Venice. If we left in the morning, we would reach Venice in the evening and I am not a big fan of reaching a foreign city or country after dark if we can help it. We have travelled enough to New Zealand and USA previously to know that it is better to land in a city when it is still bright and you are not feeling frazzled and unsure of where you are.

Alternatively, if we leave Paris at night and reach Venice in the morning, we would have to take the sleeper train and I have read that it is not as safe as taking a day train. And with my mum in tow with us, I am not willing to risk safety as well.

Looking back at our Europe trip in 2010, we had 3 adventures – one in Zurich, one here in Venice and the last in Rome. As you read on, you will know WHO had the adventure in Venice!

So after doing all my research, I decided that we would fly into Venice instead.

We reached Venice in the morning and strangely, the airport was very deserted. I remembered we wanted to change our big euro notes into smaller denominations (because we used up a lot of smaller notes in Paris) and nobody wanted to change with us at the airport. We should have changed ahead in Paris at the airport before coming into Venice.

We took a private taxi service from the airport and I remembered it was very costly. I think it cost about 150 euros for the 4 of us. But considering that it was a new experience for us and also that it takes us directly to the hotel, we had good memories of it.

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We stayed at Hotel Sant’Elena which was located at the far end of the city. The historical city is divided into six areas or “sestiere” – these are Cannaregio,San Polo, Dorsoduro, Santa Croce, San Marco (including San Giorgio Maggiore) and Castello (including San Pietro di Castello andSant’Elena).

This hotel is situated in the greenest part of the historic section of Venice, next to the gardens of the Biennale and it is a pleasant half hour walk from St. Mark’s square ( approximately 2 km.). The vaporetto dock is 150 meters from the hotel.

This was what we saw when the private vaporetto dropped us off.

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Park just beside the hotel
Image: travelwithkids.about.com/od/italy/ig/Venice-Best-Western/Nearby-Park.-Dwv.htm

At first, we were confused. Where was the hotel? We asked the locals and they showed us the pathway leading up to the hotel. After about 10 minutes of pulling our luggage across the park, we reached the hotel. It was white and beautiful and our rooms were immaculate.

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Lobby of the hotel
Image : http://www.hotelsantelena.com

We had a quick shower and went to the front desk to ask about directions to St Mark’s square. We also checked out where to eat for dinner that night. On many on our travels, I always like to find out from locals or the hotel staff where they would eat or where they would always recommend. I have only been wrong (touch on wood!) once in Zurich when the hotel staff recommended us to go to a super expensive chinese restaurant that served mediocre food.

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Our map with top places to eat

The kind lady at the counter was extremely busy that day as visitors were many but she was still very helpful to point out great seafood restaurants to us for dinner. She even called ahead to book one for us and it proved to be a gem.

And off we went to take our 1st ride on the public vaporetto. We bought our tickets from the newsstand and waited at the vaporetto stop for the 1st time. It was extremely fun as we did not know what to expect. The vaporettos had numbers on them so just look out for the one you want.

There were some tourists and locals waiting. It is easy to tell who the tourists are – we are the ones looking excited and perky and badly dressed. It is true – the locals in Venice dress really well. Even the old ladies there go on the vaporettos with their shopping baskets, red lipstick and striped tops with white pants. And the men are in suits or well tailored clothes.

In contrast, you can see from the photos what we are wearing …

The vaporetto stops almost at very stop and passengers come on and off. It was surreal standing on the vaporetto for the 1st time and bouncing along with the waves. It is strange how we have to hold onto the handles and side trails as the locals look so composed and unfazed.

We reached St Mark’s square.

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Souvenir shop – I love looking at these!

We bought gelato to eat as we strolled along the streets in awe. Venice is really as beautiful as they say it is. I was really glad we included Venice into our Europe trip.

There are endless lanes to walk into and bridges to cross. Every lane brings you into somewhere new and magical, and we were getting lost and loving it. Later on, as you read on, you will find that KW indeed was lost and NOT loving it…

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A jewellery shop that we loved.

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It came time for dinner and we meandered our way to Mascaron Osteria, one of the seafood restaurants that the lady at the hotel reception recommended in the afternoon. We were instantly enamoured with the small restaurant and it seemed like the beginning of a wonderful dinner for us. We were starving and we asked about the food in the glass counters. The friendly guys there said that we can actually choose our own antipasti and they would serve it to us on the table.

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Entrance to heaven…

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Jewellery that we bought

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The antipasti counter

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My sister and I went ahead to choose some of the antipastos for us to share. Oh god, I wanna fly back there right this instant for that. It was the freshest seafood you can ever have!

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In Singapore, its ironic that we are an island but seafood is expensive and not half as fresh as those in Venice. We grew up eating sardines, from a can, mixed with onions and fresh cut chilli. It was only recently that we started buying great ones from the supermarket and they are very expensive. If you go to the seafood restaurants, be prepared to fork out at least $50 per head for crabs and prawns.

We ordered pastas to try too and they were homemade and delicious.

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After that as it was still early, about 9pm, we decided to stroll along the streets. We came to a store that was still open and we went in. It was a masquerade store, selling masks. We were amazed at the sheer number of masks available and the amount of work that goes into each and every one of them. This lady is actually the owner of the store and she was busy painting a new one.

She wore a mask to show us that it is actually a mold of her face and I silently freaked out inside. She looked mysterious yet creepy at the same time.. Too bad we didnt take a picture then.

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After that, we decided to take the night vaporetto to enjoy the view of Venice. We wanted to take a whole loop of the canal to experience Venice at night.

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Vaporetto stop at night

KW was beginning to have flu by now so he decided to take the vaporetto in the opposite direction, towards the hotel. And so we went on our separate ways.

The thing about the vaporetto stop for our hotel is that it is the very last stop on Venice itself. Once you miss that, you go onto the Lido Di Venezia itself. And that was EXACTLY where KW landed up at.

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Lido Di Venezia not being connected to Venice….
Image: livingveniceblog.com/venice-instructions/venice-transportation-options/venice-vaporetto/vaporetto-map-routes-lines-stops/

When we were on the vaporetto heading in the opposite direction, I suddenly had a call from KW. I answered it happily, thinking he had reached the hotel safely. But that was not the case. He actually missed the last stop (which was the stop for the hotel) and got off at Lido Di Venezia instead. This was about 11pm at night and his phone battery was almost dead. Mine too, so I panicked. He said he will try to see if there are any last vaporettos back to Venice and we will see each other at the hotel.

In the end, he asked about 20 over people at the jetty but only 1 person could understand English and directed him onto the right vaporetto to take back to Sant’Elena. It was very dark and he was frightened and worried. He said he has never felt more helpless in his life. Till this day, he shudders when he remembers that night. Needless to say, I was super relieved to see him back at the hotel, in 1 big piece.

The next day, KW decided to rest more as we still had Rome to head on to after Venice and I think the drama and ‘excitement’ of the day before was too much for him. My mum, sister and I headed to Murano and Burano for a day trip and it was fun. We took the vaporetto there too. I did not slug the camera on and so we did not have photos of the islands. They were beautiful and very colorful.

We came back to Venice and after brainstorming ideas for dinner, we decided to head back to Mascaron Osteria again. We ordered antipasti and pastas to share again and it was as good as the first night!

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Writing postcards home

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Showing KW what he missed about Burano

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It was a fantastic 2 days in Venice and we really left our hearts there, except maybe for KW who was literally LEFT stranded there.

We would go back to Venice once again, before it disappears. That is always a good excuse to go back there.

For more on travel, see here, here and here.

For others, see here, here and here.

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