It’s impossible to choose a starting point of travel in Europe when you have the luxury of calling Italy home (albeit temporarily). So far our strategy to divide and conquer Italy is working, kind of. We take off in a car/train/airplane when my husband’s work schedule allows, our moods often dictating the destination.
Although my family and I have lived in southern Italy for almost two years, we just made it up to Venice this past May. Planned at the last minute, it was a very brief visit – merely 24 hours and some change – and we opted to take a nice, long drive (7+ hours) to reach it. Road trip!
Since this was a last-minute trip and almost all accommodations in Venice proper were booked or beyond our budget, we chose a place outside of the city. Public transit is a great option, and since we couldn’t drive IN Venice (cars are not allowed in the city), it made sense to rely on the rail system to take us back and forth. We ended up booking a spacious two-story apartment located in a quiet neighborhood in Treviso. It was only a 2-minute walk from our apartment to the train station, and we could be at the Stazione di Venezia Santa Lucia (central train station in Venice) in about 30 minutes.
I regularly useBooking.com to reserve an apartment or hotel for our family of 5. It’s often difficult to find a place that can accommodate over 4 people without splitting up the group into two separate rooms. With three kids, this isn’t really ideal or practical. I look for places that have free wi-fi and a well-equipped kitchen in case we want to head to the local market and stock up on foods to make small meals at ‘home.’
I spend time researching and pay special attention to reviews, which can make or break it for me when it comes to choosing a place. I love the cancellation feature of Booking.com as well. Venice is a place to become purposefully and endlessly lost in, so ditch the map! It is unique in that it can be explored by foot and by boat. Narrow alleys emerge into charming squares restaurants. One never tires of strolling along canals and watching gondoliers deftly maneuver their craft through the waterways.
We only had a little over 24 hours in Venice and a must was to see the Piazza San Marco, or St. Mark’s Square, in the San Marco district. Our first look of St. Mark’s was by boat – something I’ll never forget. By mid-morning, it’s a bustling area with throngs of tourists, vendors, and pigeons dotting the piazetta and main square. Sometimes the best way to see a city is to literally take it all in from a high vantage point. So we did! It was worth it to stand in line to take the lift 323 feet up to the top of the Campanile Bell Tower and be greeted with an impressive 360-degree, bird’s eye view of the city.
Take a coffee or gelato break at the oldest coffee house in Europe, the elegant and historical Caffé Florian, established in 1720. It costs extra to be seated outside and listen to the orchestra, perhaps a small price to pay in exchange for the ambiance and privilege of sitting down to slowly take in the lovely sights and sounds of St. Mark’s Square.
We wanted to take advantage of our 24-hour water taxi passes so we decided to head to the island of Burano in the afternoon. The town is famous for lace making, and it’s a photographer’s dream, with houses painted in a palette reminiscent of the colors found in a Crayola crayon box.
Evening in Venice is a magical time. The weather is cooler and the soft light from street lamps illuminate the city in a romantic way. It’s the perfect opportunity to take a slow cruise of the Grand Canal on a vaporetto, or board a gondola, sit back, relax, and glide through quiet, backstreet canals.
If you are staying at least 24-48 hours in Venice and want to experience the city by boat, I’d recommend purchasing a pass for the vaporetto, or water taxi, available at a biglietteria (ticket counter). There are scheduled lines throughout Venice and the taxis even travel to the nearby islands. The cost is more than made up even if you only use it a few times. At the end of a long and full day, with weary feet and rumbling tummies, taking the waterbus back to the main train station proved to be a lifesaver for our family.
Consider going online to order tickets or vouchers to attractions and museums in advance; print the tickets at home or at the hotel. Most of the time these pre-paid vouchers allow you to skip the long queues found at the more popular attractions. We’ve saved time and enjoyed it more when we could just breeze through the entrance. In Venice, we bought tickets that were good not only for a one-time visit to the Doge’s Palace but for all of the other museums in St. Mark’s Square as well. Not a bad deal at all. For St. Mark’s Basilica, it’s possible to reserve ‘skip the line’ tickets to gain quicker entry into the church (which is actually free).
Travel is a priority for us, and because of this we put a certain amount of pay aside each month towards a vacation fund. And because I bring my camera wherever we go, I can turn my travel photos into potential income by adding them to my stock photography portfolio. Kill two birds with one stone.
Living in Italy has definitely made trips within Europe a little more affordable. We consider the experience of travel a priceless gift we give to ourselves and to our children. Depending on where we are, we may splurge on a nice hotel or a highly-rated restaurant recommended on social media or through various travel sites. We’re flexible though, and are just as happy munching on street food and staying in dorm-style rooms that accommodate our family. Still, while we try to stay within the total budget allotted for a trip, we aren’t so strict as to deny certain things that are costly but perhaps once-in-a-lifetime. For instance, while expensive, where else can you experience a quintessential gondola ride but in Venice?
Athena Plichta is a freelance photographer currently living in bella Italia with her husband and three kids. She loves to bake, collect magazines, and dream of the next place to visit while balancing nursing school and a family. She can be found on Instagram here.