Welcome, dear readers to the first installment of the Bespoke Travelers! We are Annemarie and Justin Miller. We like to travel, and we like to take pictures of where we travel. 2016 has been a busy travel year for us with trips to Iceland, Italy, Croatia, Montenegro and Greece. These photos and memories are from a May trip to Venice, Italy at the start of a Mediterranean cruise.
We arrived in Venice mid-afternoon, walked around, ate a late lunch and then drank wine on the canal as the sun set. The next morning, Justin and I got up at 6 a.m. and walked over to the Piazza San Marco. At that time, and at that time of year, the sun isn’t above the buildings yet. There are no people, aside from the piazza sweepers. Even the pigeons are mostly sleeping. It’s quiet and the light is pink.
Like most sightseeing days in Europe, we walked all day and saw a lot of Venice. After our early morning sojourn, we enjoyed a hotel buffet breakfast. I applaud how amazing hotel breakfasts have become. It’s one less thing to worry about, one less thing to pay for, and a great opportunity to try new, local dishes. It was also amazing to get back out to Piazza San Marco just a few short hours after our pre-dawn adventure and see the exact opposite: people from all over the world, and lots of them. Thousands and thousands in tour groups and standing in line for the Doge’s Palace and St Mark’s Basilica (which my mom and I may or may not have snuck into, but we had purely Catholic intentions, I promise).
We opted to pay ahead for the Secret Doge’s Tour. We spent much less time in line, and lucked out because that day was a day the entire Italian government was shut down due to a strike. One woman was trying to do the work of probably 20, and only English and French tours were given that day. What’s the main thing I learned on this tour, besides a reminder of the ubiquity of strikes in Europe? The doge had a crappy job. They were appointed for life, couldn’t say no the invitation, had to pay for their own (expected) parties and forfeited their freedom for their safety, much like today’s American president.
Gondolas are as much a part of Venice as the canals themselves. There are no roads, so you use boats to go everywhere. And it floods often. Gondolas are beautiful, but the ride itself is not cheap, often pushing $100 for a couple. We opted to pay for a water taxi from the airport and pay extra for a detour down the Grand Canal instead. But I certainly enjoyed their presence and watching the talented gondoliers do their thing.
Another expensive part of tourism in Venice: the cafes within popular destinations like Piazza San Marco. The cheapest thing on the menu was a 12€ espresso. If you never venture beyond the main tourist stops, you wouldn’t like Venice much. But it’s like any other city all over the world. If you just walked around the 16th Street Mall in Denver or Hollywood Boulevard in L.A. or Times Square in New York or Buckingham Palace in London. There’s too many people, it’s full of pickpockets and the cultural value of whatever you’re seeing is negligible. The worst thing you can do is stick to the tried-and-true in any city. And in Venice, you literally can’t get lost. It’s a confusing layout with no grid or reason to the madness, but it’s an island.
For our final dinner in Venice, we snagged a canal-side seat at a restaurant. By sitting inside we avoided the “seat” tax that many restaurants charge with views of the canal or piazzas. We like to splurge on at least one really nice multi-course meal during every trip. And because you’re Americans and the waiter knows you’ll likely tip extra, they give you a free shot of limoncello.
The Bespoke Travelers are Annemarie & Justin Miller. Words by Annemarie. Images by Justin.
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