One Short Day series: Venice

Venice for a day

Venice is one of the most popular tourist spots in Italy, and since it’s only a few hours away via train, we decided we couldn’t miss it. Even though we spent the night in Venice, we really didn’t end up with much more than 24 hours so I decided it still fit in the One Short Day series, because there is a ton to do in Venice, and we had to make the most of our time there.

We arrived at the Santa Lucia train station in Venice and quickly realized that our hotel, Canals of Venicenear San Marco Square, was on the exact opposite side of town. We couldn’t use GPS on our phones, so we bought a paper map and used it to navigate the tiny little streets of the city. It was only about a mile and a half walk, but the streets that wind through the canals are more like small alleyways, and full of bridges, so keep that in mind if you plan on visiting with anybody who has trouble walking or if you’re bringing a stroller or rolling luggage. You can also get a water taxi or use the water bus, which we didn’t really know at the time, and I would recommend stopping at any of the little booths to book a taxi or buy a bus ticket. There are no cars in Venice, so the only transportation other than walking is all done on the canals.

We spent the first part of the afternoon admiring San Marco’s (St. Mark’s) Square. St. Mark’s Basilica is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, and the rest of the square is surrounded by architecture from various periods in time such as the Palazzo Ducale (the Doge’s Palace, former residence of the ruler of the former Republic of Venice) in the Venetian Gothic style from 1340 and the Museo Correr (Correr Museum) housed in the building that Napolean had built in the early 1800s.

St. Mark's Basilica

St. Mark’s Basilica

We had arrived kind of late in the day and were exhausted from some mishaps we had while traveling to Venice, so we decided to just do a walking tour at our own pace. There are plenty of tours with various prices and modes of transportation available, but we did the self-guided tour using the Sightseeing Experience app. They have tours for lots of cities in Italy that you can download and play offline as you walk around the city. We got a City Sightseeing map from the currency exchange booth under the clock tower at St. Mark’s Square that correlated to the guide. It was a good way to explore the city at our own pace and see some lesser-known spots that are just as interesting and have just as much history as the high traffic tourist spots.

Gondolas on the Venetian Lagoon

Gondolas on the Venetian Lagoon

It is a pretty long tour. The distance is only around two miles, but we spent about two hours on the tour, between stopping for pictures and listening to the guide at each of the

Water fountain in Venice

One of the many (over 180) free public water fountains throughout Venice

stops. Lots of the locations are churches or museums that you can enter, which we weren’t able to do because they were all closed, but that would also significantly add to your time if you did that. If you decide to go to Venice for a longer time, it might be a good idea to break it up over a couple of days.

We got dinner at one of the many cafes that was along the walking tour and it was getting dark by the time we finished. But, like most of Italy’s major cities, Venice has a thriving nightlife. We wandered around the shops and restaurants that were still open, snacking and eating dessert. The restaurants located directly on St. Mark’s Square are exorbitantly expensive, so instead we got drinks at the to-go cafe and bar (yes, that’s a thing) and walked back to the square to enjoy the music. If you’re trying to decide on a drink in Venice, don’t skip the Venetian cocktail. It combines white wine, Aperol, and soda water, and it’s pretty tasty. We enjoyed the live bands playing in the square until about midnight before calling it a night.

The next morning we got up early enough to wait in line to enter St. Mark’s Basilica, which opens at 8:45. It’s free to enter, and audioguides are €5. If you use the Sightseeing Experience app, there’s a short section that describes the interior, which I listened to, but the audioguide included a lot more. While the general admission is free, you can pay a few euros to get into other parts of the church to see relics and to go behind the altar where the body of St. Mark is. You can also visit the museum located on the upper levels of the church, which, if we had had time, I think we definitely would have done. Even if you don’t pay for anything, I absolutely encourage you to go in. There are no pictures allowed inside, but it is gorgeous.

As with most churches in Italy, your shoulders and knees need to be covered. If you have anything larger than a purse, you’ll have to check your bag, but you need to do it before you get in line. To the left of the church is the bag check (there are signs and also attendants you can ask), and if you get to the front of the line with a bag, they will make you get out, check your bag, and wait in line all over again.

We spent about an hour and half in the basilica before heading across the square to the Museo Correr. It is one of eleven state museums and covers a wide range of the art and history of Venice. The building, the Procuratorie, was built by Napoleon when he extended his empire to Italy, but didn’t want to stay in the Doge’s Palace because of the message it might send. The museum was moved in to the building in 1922, and the first part of it was recently redone to reflect the extravagant rooms that originally occupied the building.

Period room in Correr Museum

Period room in Correr Museum

The collection boasts several sculptures by Antonio Canova as well as other items illustrating the life and culture of the Venetians. The building, and admission to the Correr, includes the Museo Archeologico Nazionale and the Monumental Rooms of the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, which were also fascinating.

Canova's sculpture, Daedalus and Icarus

Canova’s sculpture, Daedalus and Icarus

Ticketing for the museum can be tricky. For €20 you can get a St. Mark’s Square Museums ticket that includes the Museo Correr, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Monumental Rooms of the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, and the Doge’s Palace. For €24 you can get a Museum Pass that grants entrance to the eleven civic museums in Venice. These would probably be great deals if you had several days in Venice to explore all the museums, but since we had just one afternoon, we went for a third option: paying €12 to get entrance to the Museo Correr, the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, and the Monumental Rooms of the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, plus a tour of the famous clock tower of Venice.

I absolutely recommend the clock tower. It was probably my favorite part of our time in Venice. It is a lot of stairs up a narrow staircase, but we had a great tour guide who taught us so much about the city, and the tower gives you an amazing view of Venice.

The tour lasts about an hour, and after that we decided to grab lunch. We got some delicious-looking cheese gondolas, but before I took even one bite a SEAGULL swooped down and STOLE MINE. It’s fine. I’m not still bitter.

Anyways, with the last few hours in Venice, we decided to get a water bus ticket up the Grand Canal that winds its way through the center of the city. The No. 1 line is considered the “tourist” line, as it stops at lots of major attractions. We bought a 24-hour pass and rode the water bus up the canal, choosing a few destinations to stop at. We spent time at the Basilica de Salute, the Accademia Gallery (we decided not to go in, but we enjoyed the building and surrounding area), the courtyard and neighboring streets of the Palazzo Ca’ Rezzonico. The final stop we took it to was the famous Rialto bridge, where we got off, took some pictures, and got dinner.

Rialto bridge along the Grand Canal in Venice

Rialto bridge along the Grand Canal

Of course, the big thing to do in Venice is ride a gondola. If you want to have a really authentic, get-sung-to-on-the-water gondola ride, you need to plan ahead. We did not plan. All the gondoliers are a part of a guild, so they all pretty much cost around €80 for a ride. If you plan a few days ahead, you can buy a ride for €30-€50 that you split with six people (a Google search will provide you with a variety of options). If you don’t plan ahead or just don’t want to spend an arm and a leg on a cheesy tourist attraction, there is a cheaper, easier way to ride a gondola on the canal: find a traghetto.

There are only 4 bridges that cross the Grand Canal, so for better ease of access, traghetti (the plural of traghetto) are basically ferries that cross from one side to the other. It only costs about €2 for tourists and is a good solution to be able to say you rode a gondola in Venice without the high price tag. For us, it was even useful as we took it from where we ate dinner near the Rialto fish market across the canal to the next bus stop. This post has a great explanation of how to ride a traghetto without looking like too much of a tourist, and where to find them.

Ride a gondola on the Venice Grand Canal

We risked looking like tourists to take one selfie on the gondola

We caught the water bus back to the train station and took our train back to Florence. It was a long two days, but absolutely worth it.

There’s always more to do in a city like Venice, but do you agree these are the highlights? Would you add anything to our list? Let me know in the comments below!

 

 

 

 

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One Short Day series: Boston

Hi all! This past year I was in school in Syracuse, New York. Though it’s a few hours north of NYC, it still put me within easy driving distance (at least compared to Dallas or Birmingham!) of some of the Northeast’s greatest cities. This resulted in quite a few day trips, and I thought I’d share what I did on these trips with you. To be sure, each of these cities could easily fill a week’s worth of touring, but if you’re just driving through or have an extended layover, this series will give you an easy plan to make the most of your time in the city. Bonus: it’s also super affordable because, hey, I was on a grad student budget when I visited!

Up first is one of my favorite cities in the U.S.: Boston!

For my day trip, I visited here in November with my now-husband. We arrived in the city about lunch time, and I knew exactly where I wanted to eat: the Bell In Hand Tavern.

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It claims the title of America’s oldest tavern, and whether or not that’s true, it certainly has the best clam chowder I’ve ever tasted! I usually just get a big bowl of chowder, but this time we also got the soft pretzel appetizer to fill us up more, which were also delicious. Located just around the corner from Quincy Market, it’s in a great location with very reasonable prices.

From there, we spent most of the day following the Freedom Trail. The trail is about 2.5 miles through Boston and visits 16 historic locations. It’s clearly marked by red bricks in the pavement which makes it super easy to follow. You can pay for a tour, but at around $35 per person, we decided to go at our own pace. They have plenty of info on their website about each location, and most spots have ample signage so we didn’t feel like we missed anything by going at it ourselves (and this allowed us to choose where we wanted to spend our time, so we liked it more than a tour!)

The trail officially starts at the Boston Common, but our lunch location situated us near another stop, Faneuil Hall, so we started there.

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Faneuil Hall is also right next to historic Quincy Market, a great place to shop and eat (if you decide to forego Bell In Hand Tavern).  There are also always street performers that are a blast to watch.

Nearby is the Old State Meeting House, and the location of the Boston Massacre. In good weather they sometimes have performers outside, and every hour or so they have a “changing of the guard” performance.

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Inside is a museum.  We decided not go in, but admission is $10 for adults, with student and senior discounts and free for kids under 18.

We did decide to go inside the Paul Revere House. Admission is $5 for adults, again with various discounts for students, seniors, and children. It’s a small museum, but fun to see where an American history icon lived part of his life.

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If you’re looking for more Paul Revere spots, the Granary Burying Ground is worth a visit. The resting place of Revere, John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin’s parents, and other notable citizens, the cemetery is free to enter and a nice shady spot to explore some historical figures.

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The Freedom Trail technically ends at the USS Constitution. While this spot is definitely worth a visit, walking to it adds an extra mile from the second-to-last stop (Copp’s Hill Burying Grounds) to the ship. Crossing the Charlestown Bridge can be nice, but I would recommend doubling back a little bit and taking a ferry from the Long Wharf North. Only $7 for a round trip (included in a day or week pass Charlie Card), it gives a great view of the city and it’s always fun to be out on the water.

The USS Constitution site includes both the ship and the museum, which are operated separately. The ship is free to enter, but is an operative navy base so visitors over 18 need to have a federal or state issued ID. Check their website before you visit also, as it’s not open year-round.

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The museum has a suggested donation amount, but is technically free to enter. If you’re really into nautical history and technology, this is for you. Otherwise, we didn’t find it particularly interesting (especially if you’ve been on your feet walking all day!)

These are just a few of the stops along the trail. If you’re a history buff, they’re all exciting to visit, but some especially notable ones include the Old North Church, King’s Chapel, and Old South Meeting House. Information on these and all the other stops is available on the Freedom Trail website (linked to previously in the article).

If you have some extra time or are looking for some indoor options, here are some of my favorite museums I visited while there for a full week:

1. The Boston MFA

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Easily my favorite museum in the city, it’s definitely worth a visit. They have a wide variety of collections (hello, Ancient Egyptian artifacts!) and interesting temporary exhibits that are constantly changing. It can be pricey to enter normally, but if you’re there on a Wednesday after 4pm it’s free, as well as a few other holidays throughout the year. Visit their website for more info.

2. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

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A unique museum, it used to be the house of Isabella Gardner, and features a plethora of collections, all arranged the way she specified. And yes, the picture above is part of the museum: it’s the courtyard that the entire original museum space is centered around. There is also a recently-built modern building that has changing exhibits, but the original house is an interesting place to visit. General admission is $15, but 20 minute introductory tours are available for free, which I would highly recommend to get a better idea of what the museum is all about. Check out their website for details.

3. The Harvard Peabody Museum

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From the Peabody’s website

The Peabody is on Harvard’s campus, part of the Harvard Museums of Science & Culture, and is a fascinating museum for anybody interested in archaeology or ethnology. They recently renovated their upstairs space and it is BEAUTIFUL, as well as interesting for adults and older children (probably about middle school and up). General admission is $12. Here’s their website.

Of course, there’s much more to do in Boston. Have you been? Do you agree with my recommendations? What would you add?

Happy travels!