It truly feels like our Italy trip was all just a dream. Almost as if I was just planning it sitting at my computer and here I am, back again, but with a head full of memories and a heart full of gratitude. I mentioned in this post that this was Dane’s first trip to Italy and I was super eager to show him one of my very favorite places on Earth, not to mention introduce him to authentic Italian cuisine. Sorry America – you get it wrong 99% of the time in this department. #notsorry We knew before we even left that we were going to be hitting the ground running, with not a ton of time for dilly-dallying. Our itinerary was pretty intense for a single trip (Venice, Florence, Chianti region, Rome), but we are pretty adventurous people and were feeling up to the challenge. We flew from Honolulu to Venice with a stop in Newark. Just flying time was 20 hours, but with a layover, we stared down a little over 30 hours of travel time one way. GULP. During our time in Newark we met the most amazing United worker (hi Joe, if you’re reading!) who we chatted with for hours about Italy (he got married there last fall) and we laughed until our stomachs hurt talking about travel, food and everything in between. He even hooked us up with a seat upgrade and some United Club passes, which was super unexpected, but so very appreciated.
In the end, the flight time was all 150% worth it and today I’m sharing a little bit about our first stop… Venice – the city built on canals! I hope you’ll stick around for insanely gorgeous colorful houses, delicious food, beautiful architecture and more ☺
3 Days In Venice
On previous trips to Italy (this was my 6th time!), Venice captured my heart in a way that is kind of hard to describe to anyone who has never been. It’s a tiny island that is chock full of history, cafes, piazzas…and people! The city itself is built entirely on a canal system, so transportation is solely by boat. In fact, there aren’t cars on the island at all. Each canal twists and turns around through the city, eventually filtering into the Grand Canal, and options for transportation include: public boat transportation (20 euros per day unlimited/per person), gondola rides and private boats for charter. We chose the public boat transportation and I really cannot say enough good things about it. It’s very well organized and easy to navigate, not to mention timely, which makes planning a daily itinerary quite simple. Plus – everything is very well marked. While 20 euros seems steep, transportation one way is 7.5 euro, so it’s really a good deal, particularly if you plan to visit the other surrounding islands (Murano, Burano, Lido – more on that later!).
While in Italy we stayed on Guidecca, an island across from Venice proper. To be honest, I have mixed emotions on the location. Had we been spending any more than three days in Venice, perhaps it would have been a nice reprieve from the hustle and bustle, but overall I don’t think we would stay there again, solely because we felt a bit isolated from the true Venice experience. That said, it is significantly more affordable to stay there (we saved about $300/night, but also had to purchase the unlimited water boat pass), so keep that in mind if you are planning a trip. There are certainly pros and cons!
I think I’ve talked before about how Dane and I are a little bit obsessed with figuring out the best places to go in every city we visit. It’s kind of like a research game we play with each other based on blogs, Instagram and the internet, so when we go someplace new it’s like – okay, these are our priority spots. Especially on a trip like this when there is so much to see and do, it was important to both of us that we see the high points and a few hidden gems.
We landed at 9AM, so we pretty much dropped our bags and hit the ground running (after a shower, of course). The first thing we did was grab lunch and Dane got his first true taste of Italy. Safe to say he was hooked after we were presented with complimentary charcuterie and limoncello! We strolled the streets, checked out the Ponte Rialto, watched gondolas on the Grand Canal and then jet lag hit us hard. At 3PM, we planned to go back to the room and sleep for a few hours before dinner, but ended up going back to the room and sleeping from 3:30PM to 5AM. It was probably the longest continuous sleep session I’ve ever had in my life, but I woke up the next day feeling like a new woman and Dane would probably agree!
We got ready and hit the ground running for our second day, making it to San Marco Square just in time to watch the sunrise. It was magical and the square was pretty much empty. Win! If you are planning a trip, you should absolutely try to make this happen while you are there. You can enjoy all the intricate gothic architecture without being hustled along or bumped into 100 times, not to mention you aren’t being harassed to buy some sort of balloon/toy/rose/various chochkey. It was really peaceful and definitely a trip highlight.
One spot we knew we wanted to check out during our stay was Burano. We took the first public ferry available to the tiny island just on the other side of Murano. The public transportation to Burano takes around 1 hour and 15 minutes. Just to see, we asked about a private boat charter and it was over 500 euros for the same trip, it just didn’t take as long. With our unlimited day pass it was just 20 euros per person – that was a no brainer to us and the ferry ride was pretty nice!
Coming into Burano was like walking into the magical world of Lisa Frank – colors on colors on colors – and I loved every single bit of it! The island is known for lace and the vibrant colorful houses that line the streets. It’s said that the colorful houses originated as a way for fisherman to be able to find their house after a long day of fishing. There is one main square with a huge leaning tower and church, but otherwise the town itself is quaint and quiet. We went in and out of a few lace shops (all super intricate and beautiful in design), picked up some bellinis to go, walked through the church, strolled up and down as many colorful streets as we could find, ate delicious pizza at a local café, I enjoyed my first Aperol Spritz of the trip, found some yummy baked goods and headed back on an afternoon ferry to Venice. I got a few questions about my outfit and every piece I wore this day was something I recycled in my closet! Here are the links for my vest, jeans + shoes 🙂 All are incredibly comfy and are pieces I’ve owned for awhile that I got to pull out for chillier temps!
Once we got back to Venice, we had one goal – Harry’s Bar for bellinis. Harry’s is world-famous for their signature cocktail and after being there I can see why. If you’re just casually strolling the streets, you’ll miss it, but once you walk into this tiny bar and restaurant, it’s like stepping back in time to a grander, more luxurious Venice. Staff wear white coats and if you are wearing shorts, you’re out of luck. There’s a dress code! Thankfully we had looked into this ahead of time and were properly dressed, so we snagged a seat at the bar. Though be sure to note that they do enforce dress code heavily, as we saw them turn away several parties, and that this stopover will cost you a pretty penny. Two bellinis ran $60, but it was far more about the experience for me, not to mention I will be dreaming about that fresh drink for many, many days to come. It felt extra special to sit at the bar and watch the magic firsthand.
After Harry’s, we wanted to head back into San Marco to grab a table at Caffè Florian, one of the oldest coffee shops in the world. Started in 1720, Caffè Florian has one of the best spots on the square and always has live music for patrons. After our early wakeup, we were dragging a little so I had an espresso on the brain, but then I saw the menu and quickly changed my mind. It’s a fancy coffee lover’s dream with so many different options to choose from, an espresso felt boring!
We debated visiting Murano, but I had gone on a previous trip and we opted to stroll the city streets instead, getting lost in various shops and alleys, hopping on an off the public ferry to see different parts of the island and stopping for gelato whenever we saw a flavor we wanted to try. It was a great “lazy” afternoon (we clocked over 25,000 steps this day!). Joe (our United friend from Newark) had recommended an amazing restaurant to try that night in Venice, but they were booked entirely, so we opted for a place with a beautiful view of the Ponte Rialto instead. The food was surprisingly good (not usually true for places near high tourist points) and we took a ferry back to our room around 10PM. I think I was asleep before my head ever hit the pillow!
On our third and final day, we had to be out of our apartment pretty early in the morning, so we made sure we had all of our stuff together before heading out. We had every intention of just checking our bags at the train station so we could hang out in Venice a bit longer, but once we got to the train station, we realized there was an earlier train to Florence. We both looked at each other at the same time and said “Do you want to just leave now?” So we did just that! Venice is lovely and charming, but in all honesty – you only need two days there and we both felt like we had seen and done everything that we had set out to do there. We were ready for our next adventure, so onward to Florence we went!
During all of our train travels in Italy, we used Italia Rail and cannot say enough good things about the ease of traveling by train. Honestly, we have traveled by train extensively throughout Europe and they know what they are doing! It’s affordable, clean and just plain easy, plus there is free wifi if you want it and usually some pretty good views from the window seat.
Whew! I’m exhausted all over again reading this, but if you made it through…bless you! Be sure to come back tomorrow for the second part of our Italian adventure and if you saw something you liked in this post, you can shop it below 🙂