On Monday, June 24, our student travelers gathered at the Richmond airport for our flight to Venice via Atlanta. The Italian tour would take us from Venice to Florence to Sorrento to Rome, and, as this was an educational tour, we intended to look as little like tourists as possible to soak in the Italian culture.
In a summer miracle, the air travel went smoothly and there were none of the typical thunderstorms that seem to hang around the Atlanta airport at all times.
The flight took us right across Europe, over the Alps and into Venice. We arrived around 3:30am Eastern Time, which was 9:30 in Venice.
Once there, we changed clothes, making certain once again to minimize that touristy vibe.
After changing, we met our tour manager Ian and piled into the water taxi to head to our hotel on Lido Island.
One of the amazing things about Venice is the reliance on water transportation. In other places, a water taxi might be a tourist-trap gimmick, but in Venice, those taxis are absolutely essential.
We lucked out and were able to check in to our hotel immediately even though it was only just after noon. The views from the rooms were incredible.
When we got to our rooms, there was some early cultural confusion.
One of our male travelers wasn’t sure which one of these was the toilet and may have mistakenly “targeted” the low-lying bidet to the right. It’s possible that happened.
After a quick lesson on the bathroom layout and a lunch at a nearby restaurant, we water taxied to the main island of Venice. We arrived at the Venetian Arsenal, the old shipyard and armory slightly outside of the tourist mania of the St. Mark’s part of the island.
There we found the famous monument to the superhero Aquaman, celebrating his acquisition of the famous Trident of Atlan.
After an impromptu photo shoot by the arsenal, we wound our way through the city toward St. Mark’s Basilica.
The canals of Venice are amazing, and they are everywhere. In spite of the number of canals, you find yourself taking pictures of all of them.
In addition to the canals, there were the cool narrow streets.
Navigating through the small alleys takes some getting used to. Sometimes you have to go right or left in order to find a bridge to get to the place right in front of you. using as landmarks restaurants that serve Italian food is less helpful than you might think. After a while, we made it to St. Mark’s Square, site of the famous Basilica.
It was at this point that many travelers had their first experience with that plague of Europe – the pay restroom. At a cost of more than a Euro, the restroom cost more than a latte out of this machine.
We had some free time at this point, and many travelers took the opportunity to get some pre-dinner gelato, the first of approximately 23,789 gelatos to be consumed by 10 people over the next 24 hours. After a dinner of pasta and chicken, we made it back to the hotel just in time for sunset.
The next day started with a glassblowing demonstration. Venice is known for its hand-made glass, and a master glassmaker made this vase out of molten glass in a matter of minutes.
With all of the glass around, we were careful to follow all of the rules.
Next, we went to a restaurant for some Venetian “snacks,” like calamari, fried potato strips, and some kind of breaded ravioli. It was very hot and humid, so the AC and complimentary water were at least as appreciated as the food.
Right around the corner was the famous Rialto Bridge that crosses the Grand Canal of Venice.
aThe Grand Canal is well-named. There are rivers in the Western United States that are more narrow than the Canal.
Our tour manager knew of a nearby shopping mall that had a rooftop terrace for great views of the city.
The terrace provided great views of Venice from above.
After taking in the views, some travelers went to the Gucci section of the mall to scout out the selection of belts in order to make a more informed decision regarding luxury belts when we reach the mega-Gucci at Rome. Most of us returned to St. Mark’s Square to see the basilica and the tower. The tower in the square offered great views of the city as well.
The basilica, seen in the above picture, was free to enter as well as air conditioned, so we went to check that out. Unfortunately, no photography was allowed inside, which is not to say that people were not taking pictures inside. The basilica is massive on the inside, with all kinds of mosaics and gold leafing. It was a kind of preview for the even grander basilica we were scheduled to see later in Rome.
Following lunch and/or multiple servings of gelato, most travelers at some point grabbed a water taxi to see the Grand Canal from the water and to recover from the heat for a few minutes back at the hotel. The Grand Canal was all kinds of busy in the afternoon.
This was a great way to get another view of Venetian architecture.
The afternoon finale was a gondola ride through the canals. This was the absolutely most touristy thing to do in all of Venice, because everyone who comes to Venice thinks, “I can’t leave Venice without taking a Gondola Ride!” This is a sentiment that the Venetians understand fully and exploit completely. Still, the gondola was relaxing, an escape from the crowded streets.
One of the gondola customs is to bring a bottle of wine, so we got a bottle for each of our two gondolas.
When we reached the Grand Canal, we achieved the critical mass of Venetian tourism, fusing gondolas, canals, Italian wine, and the Rialto Bridge.
I’m not sure what was discussed on the female gondola, but conversation on the male gondola ranged from The Last Jedi to Breaking Bad to the Netflix Daredevil series.
At dinner, our travelers experienced Italian street entertainment in the form of these musicians, who, as some of our travelers were appalled to find out, expected tips in exchange for their unsolicited music.
Finally, it was time to leave the main island behind.
Time to leave the gondolas behind – next stop: Florence!