Backpacking in Europe with kids – Part 2 (Venice)
The second part of our backpacking trip took us to Venice. Biz and I had both been a couple of times before, once just after we were married, but this was the first time with kids. We arrived at Venice Marco Polo airport early afternoon after an hour and a half flight from Paris. Straight off the plane, with no bags to collect, we headed for the ticket booth to ask about transfers to Venice itself. I’m sure we got ripped off here and wish we’d done some research, as we paid 115 Euro for the 4 of us to get to and from Venice and for 3 days of Vaporetto tickets. Maybe it is that expensive, but we didn’t end up needing the Vaporetto as much as we’d thought and could have done it cheaper I’m sure. Oh well, you live and learn!
We caught a bus from the airport to the city, and nearly ended up back at the airport as the impatient bus driver hardly gave us anytime to get off the bus, and started driving off again with me and Pebble still on board! We found our bearings and caught a Vaporetto to San Zaccaria where we were to meet someone who had the keys to our apartment.
Biz hates the uncertainty of such things so was a little concerned we would be without a bed that night! While we waited, the kids chased pigeons and looked at the boats, and soon our guide Sammy arrived to escort us to our apartment only a few minutes away. He was a lovely guy, very friendly and informative and made sure we had everything we needed before he left us.
It was foggy when we got there, and remained that way for most of our trip, which gave it a surreal, mystical air.
Our apartment was a complete contrast to where we had stayed in Paris, positively palatial, and only cost a little more than our stay in Paris. The kids had one bedroom and we had another and there were even enough beds for us all this time! We had a dining room and kitchen which turned out to be a lifesaver and we instantly felt at home. It had Japanese style sliding doors and a lovely layout to it.
We set off to explore our new surroundings and as we hadn’t yet had lunch, we sat down at a restaurant nearby that we’d noticed on the way past earlier, advertising Gluten Free Pasta on a board outside. I think tiredness and hunger had started to set in by now as it wasn’t the easiest of meals (or the cheapest!) but the food was really good and we quickly ate and headed back out, a little more energised from eating!
First stop was St Marks Square where we saw the Basilica di San Marco and the Campanile for the first time, a couple of the most famous landmarks of Venice. Near to the square was an ice cream shop called Gelato Fantasy, that I had found out before we arrived, sold dairy free ice creams. It surpassed our expectations with huge delicious servings at reasonable prices. They had Dark Chocolate, Strawberry and Lemon Sorbet in the dairy free options and they were delicious. Well worth a visit.
From there we meandered to the Realto Bridge and enjoyed looking in all the shop windows at the Venetian masks and Morano glass on display everywhere. The Christmas lights and decorations sparkled through the fog, making us all feel very festive and happy!
We then walked back to our apartment for an early night. The kids both settled amazingly well, worn out from the past few days. Biz went out to find a supermarket for wine, chocolate and supplies for a cooked breakfast the next day. We had a lovely evening planning our next day over a bottle of Barolo whilst listening to Frank Sinatra! Later we watched a film and enjoyed falling asleep in a double bed!
On our second day, we headed East along the sea front to the Museo Storico Navale di Venezia, which had been closed both times we’d previously tried to visit. The entrance is a bit out of the way from where you think it should be, but we found it around the corner down by the Arsenale di Venezia. We spent about an hour looking around at all the historic vessels, including the Doges ceremonial barge. Although the museum is fairly small it is interesting and is good to see some of the Venetian watercraft in closer detail. Cost of entry was 5 Euro each for adults, kids were free.
“I’m Bigger than you” “No, I’m bigger than you!!” A little (screaming) disagreement on leaving the maritime museum!
In the guide book we had seen there was a park a bit further on and thought the kids would like a run around, so walked in that direction. Unfortunately it wasn’t the most modern or well kept park, but it did entertain for a few minutes!
As we had tickets, we got the vaporetto back towards the main centre.
Whilst looking for food, we got collared by a tall, old restauranteur working front of house, who looked and acted like a Mafia boss from the movies! Osito wanted Pizza so we were looking for a gluten free option. The guy on the door said they didn’t have any, but then ushered us inside and ordered a waiter in a hushed, but assertive tone, to go out and get a gluten free base! We ordered, a bacon and egg pizza for the kids to share and asked for cheese only on one half. Unfortunately that was lost in translation and we ended up with double cheese on the pizza, a raw egg on top and an extra bowl of Mozzarella on the side!!
Back at St Marks square, we thought about going into Basliica but saw a sign saying no rucksacks. We could leave them in an office, but we decided we didn’t need them with us, so dropped them back to the apartment. While we were there, we picked up the kids drawing books for a trip to the Accademia art gallery. We managed to keep them both interested for quite a while and Osito enjoyed sitting down and drawing one of the paintings that he liked. We had to keep reminding them that it was an art gallery and running about full of excitement wasn’t really allowed! We did get a few unhappy looks from other visitors when they started getting noisier…oops!
On the third day, we walked to the Northern part of the city and caught a vaporreto to Morano, the island famous for its magnificent glass production. The sun shone for the first time that morning, but the temperature was cold and spirits were a little low initially. We did have a few moans of “ are we there yet” and “how much further?” but we soon found the glass museum that we had been looking for and went inside. Now this was the 2nd place we’d taken the kids where there was potential to cause thousands of Euros worth of damage, so we were a little on edge as they kept wanting to run around between the priceless exhibits! Joking apart, they did enjoy what they saw, although I’m not sure they really knew what was involved in creating such amazing pieces.
After stopping at a supermarket to pick up some bits for lunch, we wandered back towards the boat. This time the opposite side of the canal, looking for a glass blowing factory to go and watch how its done. We found one just before we reached the end of the canal, and went inside. 5 Euros per adult for a 10 minute demonstration. While we waited for our turn, we looked around the factory shop admiring all the designs. Soon it was our turn to go in, and we saw the most amazing demonstration of making a delicate vase. We were all fascinated by the process. Just before the end, we were told he would now make a horse in under a minute…and he did, it was amazing! Well worth a visit if you get a chance. Osito asked if we could find somewhere near us to go and watch some more, it really sparked an interest.
As we left the factory, the fog had really come in and we could hardly see anything. We were worried that we might not be able to get back as the boats could not see to operate! There was a restricted service so the queues were huge, but we managed to squeeze on and headed back to the mainland, in a pretty hairy ride with other boats appearing out of the fog at close range!
We had wanted to visit a Christmas market on our travels and had been told there might be some in certain areas, but we searched and searched to no avail. After a long day with lots of walking, we decided to go back to the apartment via the supermarket for supplies. It was a real blessing to be able to cook at home, it made things more relaxed, we could take our time and it was certainly cheaper than eating out everyday.
We had heard that the Peggy Gugenhiem museum offered children’s art classes on a Sunday, and thought that would be fun to attend. As it turned out, they were in the afternoon, about the time of our flight home.
So instead, we went back to St Marks Sq, dropped our bags at the free bag drop for an hour, and went inside the Basilica. Up some steep stairs to start with, there was some restoration work going on at the time, we were taken to the balcony over looking the square below. It was a fantastic view of the sea to the left, the Campanile and the whole of St Marks Sq all around us. We spent a little while on the roof before looking around the museum inside. There was a choir singing below us, adding to the experience. Osito asked to listen to the audio recording of the history of the Basilica, so both Pebble and he stood for the duration of the recordings, seeming very interested in what they were hearing.
We spent a little more than an hour here, before returning to collect our bags, finding some lunch and making our way towards the bus station.
Our bus was waiting for us, and the journey only took about 20 minutes before we were back at the airport. All in one piece, each with our own luggage on our backs and all in high spirits after the adventure we’d just had. After spending our last Euros in the departure lounge, we boarded the plane, jumping the queue again, due to having small children with us (this is a huge bonus!) The flight home was about 2 hours, and we arrived at about 6pm. Jumped in a taxi and were home by 7pm. Pebble made a fantastic observation on the ride home that had us all in stitches…she said in quite a loud voice, “Why do all taxi’s have beards mum?” I don’t know how she even saw, as it was dark and he didn’t ever turn around. But she was right, he did have a beard, as did the driver on the way out! Luckily, he laughed too! A lovely end to a fantastic week away.
For anyone thinking about taking a city break with small children, do it! They loved it. Kids adapt to change far more than we think sometimes, and as long as you go at it with a positive, can do attitude, they will follow suit. Show them that there is a whole world out there to go and explore, and no matter what age they are, there is sure to be something that sparks their imagination!
Things we learnt about Venice
- Although we saw people with buggies, I’d avoid at all costs! There are so many little bridges everywhere you’ll forever be bumping up and down steps!
- Research the Vaporetto tickets before you go, they are fun and add excitement for the kids, but we didn’t need to use them as much as we’d thought as you can walk most places pretty quickly.
- With no roads to worry about, the only danger is the water! So have fun finding your way through the maze of little streets around the city. We found many tiny alleyways between buildings and pretended they were closing in on us and we had to get through before we got squashed! We found things like this helped when legs were getting tired.