My girls first international trip was to Italy, the first stop being Venice. Lucky them, I hadn’t even been there yet. I had the chance to go in college when I was backpacking with a friend, but when two cute Australian boys we met in Florence asked us if we wanted to check out this amazing hostel that we had to hike up to in the Swiss alps, we naturally high-tailed it with them! (and it was worth it – the hostel was out of a story book). But that meant we had to forego Venice, and with yet another trip to Italy years later, I still had not been to this magical city.
I was weary of the prospect of visiting it for the first time with two young kids, and afraid that that would take away from it, but not in the least. It was our first stop in a 10-day trip where the bulk of our time would be spent in Tuscany, and unbeknownst to us, it was the perfect way to kick off our Italian vacation.
This would be my young girls’ first relatively long plane ride, but a night flight, so we hoped they would sleep most of the time. That they did not – with all of the movies they could choose from on the plane, they were in kid heaven, wanting to watch as many shows in one seating as they possibly could. We were also with their cousins and my sister and brother in-law, and the excitement of it all was palpable.
Thank god they did ok with the lack of sleep, because we had a big day ahead of us: we had booked our flight to Milan, as it was $500 cheaper per ticket, and then drove a few hours to a loading dock outside of Venice, where we parked our car rentals in a lot, and then finally boarded a boat.
I think part of the reason my girls fared so well with the lack of sleep was that it was Venice – water, boats, cruising, adventure – what’s not more enthralling to a little kid than that? And taking the boat right up to our hotel was the icing on the cake. Front door service, I told them.
The hotel we stayed at was called Hotel Metropole, and well located. On the Grand Canal right in the heart of it all, we could pretty much walk anywhere in the city. Rooms were comfy, with nice, big airy windows. But our favorite part of the hotel was the outdoor courtyard – as Eurpoean and chic as they come, with palm tress and lounge sofas, we spent many a cocktail there, as well as their impressive and dangerously delicious breakfast buffet in the morning.
Our first venture out was just walking around and getting acquainted with the city. It was searingly hot – mid-July after all – and I thought the kids would melt away…but no. Just as all the winding streets and waterways are charming and mysterious to us grown-ups, they were to them as well. “Secret passageways” is what they called them, and I totally agreed.
The crowds made it difficult at times, as they couldn’t freely run around as they wished, and we had to pay ever more vigilant attention to them, but we nonetheless made our way through lots of nooks and crannies and pretty vistas, and eventually settled on a no-name restaurant for dinner that fed these kids just what they needed – spaghetti and meatballs. We all plowed through our food as it was our first real meal of the day, and went back to the hotel and passed out early.
Next morning: trip to Murano, set up by the hotel. One of the easier day trips I’ve ever taken, Metropole booked the boat ride and a glass blowing tour for us – all we had to do was show up. A half-hour boat ride away, the island of Murano is a great place to take the kids. Think how fascinating it is to see someone blow glass, and then think how amazing it would be if you’re a child. We watched our “master”, as he was called, make a few different objects in about a half hour time. Seeing a ball of fire become a cat, or a horse, or a fish, in a matter of minutes is mesmerizing and humbling, as you realize how much time and discipline these masters and apprentices have dedicated to their art. We toured the showroom, bought a few memorabilia pieces, and then walked around the island.
We happened upon a local playground near a pre-school, where our kids started running around with the locals, so we hung out there for a while like we were locals. An ice cream stop on the way back, and we were soon in the boat again to our hotel. The boat rides, both ways, were of course just as much a part of the experience, for all of us. Taking in the views of Venice from afar, the architecture, the canals, the colors, it is no wonder it is one of the most romantic cities in the world. Time sort of stops when you’re in those boats on the Grand Canal, as you truly appreciate the magnificence if it all.
I would say the same thing for a gondola ride as well, which is what we did the following day. It may seem cliché, but it is loads of fun, and a great way to see the city. Our gondola driver was particularly quick and was able to move in and out of traffic jams swiftly, which helped. There just might not be anything more relaxing than a gondola ride through Venice. And the kids, well, go figure, they wanted to do it again. But we didn’t. Instead we walked all around the city, discovering new places and new views, and in general, trying to comprehend the life of a Venetian, how different their lifestyle is from ours.
That is what we mainly did in Venice, walking around with no real agenda. We didn’t go to many of the famous museums as lines were long, and that was fine – we found it just as interesting to meander around and stop in local restaurants that have not necessarily appeared in the guide books. And as far as the arts go, we did stumble upon a few different shows related to the Venice Architecture Biennale, which were quite striking.
So just within our carefree wandering, like many European cities, we found ourselves automatically immersed in the Venetian culture. We did go to the famous piazzas including the Piazza San Marco, which was big and impressive, and I made it on my own to the Basilica – but again, the crowds in July are not for the faint of heart so we generally made our way off the beaten path. Which for us, for only a couple days in a rambling city like Venice, was perfect. And for the kids even moreso.
If you are going to Italy with the kids and contemplating Venice, I definitely recommend going. It’s a totally different experience for them, and they will love it. At least that was our experience.
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