Venice

Guys, look!  I made it to the final post about our trip to Italy.  I’m pretty proud, because I think it took me months and months to post about our last trip to Europe.  This is progress!  Also, I’m not really sure how to tell you about Venice because I had slightly mixed feelings on it.  On the one hand, it was beautiful and unique and just an experience like no other.  On the other hand, it was cloudy most of the time, it was very confusing to get around and I was maybe just sort of tired by this leg of the trip.  Still, when I think back on it, I feel so lucky to have been there and it really truly grew on me in the end ♥

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First, there are NO roads in Venice.  I thought that was a well-known fact, but every time I told someone that, they were surprised.  It’s true!  So once our train got in, we had to catch the water bus to our hotel.  We thought we lucked out because one of the stops was STEPS from where we were staying, meaning we didn’t have to lug our suitcases around, but it also meant that bus pulled up every 10 minutes and made a bunch of noise that I wasn’t psyched about at 2 AM 😛  Also, we had requested a room with a canal view and when they put us on the ground floor, with a window that was actually lower than the dock, I was so disappointed.  Luckily, we were able to switch rooms to one that actually had a balcony, from which you could definitely still see the canal, but this did not feel like a good start.

We had a so-so dinner at Hostaria Osottoosopra, which I definitely can’t recommend, but still, that nighttime view of the canal will wash away any memories of disappointing rooms and dinners!

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A new day and a fresh start!  We had breakfast at Farini, which was okay (actually Joey liked it a lot), but I was still hoping to find a good stand-at-the-counter spot for us.  Afterward, we made our way to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum, which is lovely!  We were not the only ones with that idea so there was a bit of a line but we had nowhere else to be.  Contemporary art can be so weird sometimes — we literally saw a framed piece of white paper?? — but for the most part, it’s all so different and interesting that I usually prefer it over earlier styles that all start to blur together for me.  I know the art was the point, but we thought Peggy’s house was also really cool!

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A few hours later, we walked ourselves to lunch at Osteria Al Squero.  All of the cities we went to in Italy had different food styles and in Venice… CICCHETTI!  The concierge at our hotel explained it as “like tapas,” but it’s more like bruschetta with different toppings, if you ask me.  Gosh, I loved this concept so much!!!  We popped in, pointed at the ones we wanted and took our plate outside to eat by the canal.  I think the caprese was my favorite (that pesto underneath!) but the mortadella was pretty good too.  This is also when I discovered I do NOT like an Aperol Spritz.  Sorry!

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We spent the rest of the day strolling Venice, including St. Mark’s Square and we even met some other Coloradoans on the steps of this church!

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We made dinner reservations at Algiubagio but left our hotel a bit early so we could see St. Mark’s Square at night.  All the restaurants in the area have musicians playing alternately and it was really fun to listen to!  Also, how amazing does the basilica look??  Dinner was amazing!  We shared a sardine, fish dip and polenta chip (!) dish to start, then split a linguine dish that tasted to freshly tomato-y and a fish entree that we devoured.  It was Michelin-rated and we felt very fancy but mostly just happy 😛

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A new day in Venice and we finally found THEE breakfast spot: Marchini Time!  We’d actually walked past this place a few times but the name looked suspiciously American, so I’d wrote it off as a tourist trap.  I’m glad I gave in and went because the cappuccinos were the silkiest and their pastry selection was killer.  After breakfast, we made our way to the water bus to check out some of the nearby islands.  First up, the cemetery!  We were amazed at how almost every grave had fresh flowers!

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After the cemetery, we headed to Murano and… just no.  Murano is known for glass blowing, which sounds cool, but in reality, is just shop after shop after shop selling glass trinkets.  Maybe our interest was dampened by the fact that we had ZERO intentions to buy anything.  We did pop into the glassblowing factory real quick to watch actual glassblowers work, so I guess that part was interesting.

On to Burano, which it must be said, is THE CUTEST!  I felt bad for all the people who actually live there while us tourists just walked around taking pictures of all the brightly painted houses.  But how can you resist??  Al Gatto Nero seeemed like to place to go, so we headed over to see if they could seat us for lunch.  The bad news is they were currently full but the good news is they said we could come back at 2!  So we wandered, admired the water, saw a cute garden and then made our way back over.

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What a treat it was!!!  The place was bustling and we were wildly entertained by the big table of Italians next to us, who racked up an €1800 bill!  We started with the calamari and I talked about how good it was for the rest of the day.  Just so lightly breaded and fried and perfectly salted.  It was amazing!!!  We also split the pappardelle scampi with smoked ricotta and even though we argued about whether that squash blossom was for eating or for garnish, we agreed that this pasta was delicious!  A top meal for sure.

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One last stop after Burano… Torchello!  It was small and I think we were only there for something like 20 minutes but it was so quiet and idyllic.  A man was even playing the accordion along the path into the town.  We did not go up that tower, though I think you can?  But we did walk some dirt path by ourselves till we came to the water and turned back around.

After making it back to Venice, we rested up at the hotel and walked to a late dinner… in the rain!  Weirdly, we had bought some cheap umbrellas that morning because it looked like it might rain and were mad when we made it through the day without even a sprinkling, but then it was all worth it.  Except, I definitely could have done without the rain and was not exactly thrilled when we finally made it to Osteria Bancogiro and the back of my legs were wet and my hair was super wind-tangled.  BUT… then our meal was one of the best we had in Italy and it totally turned my mood.  We started with the most interesting version of a caprese salad that had dehydrated tomatoes, basically a lettuce pesto and a little cube of tomato-flavored gelatin.  Joey was weirded out, but I loved it all!  I had a parchment-steamed fish and potato dish for my main course and it was INSANELY GOOD.  I’ll dream of that flavor-packed dish for the rest of my days.  Obviously had tiramisu for dessert 🙂

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Our last full day in Venice and would you look at that… FULL SUN!  I cannot tell you what this sunshine did for my mood, it was wonderful!  Breakfast at Marchini Time, followed by a walk to St. Mark’s Square again to actually go inside some of the buildings.  We went inside St. Mark’s Basilica, paid extra to see the “treasures” and it was quite lame.  Sorry!  But the rest of the basilica was very beautiful.  After that, we headed to the Museo Correr and wandered through for a bit.

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We broke for lunch afterward and headed to Cantinone Già Schiavi for more cicchetti!  It did not disappoint.  After my Aperol Spriz fail, I tried a Campari Spritz and also hated it, ugh!  This is also when I should mention Venice has A LOT of seagulls and pigeons flying about.  Joey is already freaked out by birds so this was not his favorite thing and he was so distracted by them flying about while we ate this.  I think I probably told him to stop being dramatic but then a gull totally swiped the entire plate from a couple next to us!!!  So I guess they really were out to get us.  Also, that’s me gazing off into the distance while Joey took a picture of me on that bridge before an oblivious man decided to walk up and stand right there.  Men!

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After lunch, we walked back to St. Mark’s Square — did I mention we walked 131 miles on this vacation?? — to visit the Doge’s Palace and I just want to tell you I LOVE the Doge’s Palace!!!  Maybe it’s because it’s beautiful and maybe it’s because I sometimes call my dog a “doge,” who knows!  It really is gorgeous though.  After we gazed at it from the outside, we headed inside and through the “Golden Staircase,” which had a sign explaining that it’s called that because it’s golden and a staircase.  Well okay!  We got a kick out of that clock that had animals instead of numbers?  It’s always crab o’clock for me 😛  Joey was really excited about seeing the prison cells and we got to walk across the Bridge of Sighs.  It was convicts’ last view of Venice before being imprisoned, hence the name.  We each took a picture through the limestone and they focused differently, whoa!

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Okay, post-Doge, we decided to go find one last gelato spot and I knew which one I wanted it to be!  We rode the water bus all the way to the train station, then proceeded to wander around for way too long looking for La Mela Verde, which Yelp had shown to be in the area but we could NOT find it.  Joey ended up turning his roaming on so we could look up the address and it was NOT in the area…  extremely annoying, Yelp.  Um, so we maybe just got gelato at the GROM inside the train station, but whatever because it was actually really good!  We rode the water bus all the way back to our hotel and pretended it was a nice water cruise and it was actually the perfect view ♥

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The sun was just starting to set by the time we got back to our hotel, so we quick grabbed our jackets and headed out to find a gondola, because it was now or never!  Yes, these gondolas exist entirely for tourists to ride around in, but it ended up being so romantic and I’m really glad we did it.  They charge a set amount, so it’s nice knowing you don’t  have to hunt around for the best deal.  It was so peaceful as we drifted through the smaller canal areas basically by ourselves.  All the lights from the surrounding homes and restaurants felt extra twinkly 🙂  Since it was our gondolier’s last trip of the night and he needed to dock near the Rialto Bridge, he took us out onto the Grand Canal and actually under the bridge!  What a magical sunset ride ♥

Later that night, we went out for one last Italian dinner at A Beccafico.  It was just warm enough to site outside in the square.  We each ordered a pasta and couldn’t figure out whose was whose, so we maybe switched halfway through and decided we liked each other’s (or our own??) better. Joey was only too excited about the giant tiramisu and complimentary Limoncello at the end of the meal.

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In the morning, we had one last breakfast at Marchini Time, then took a very fast water taxi to the airport and sadly said goodbye to Italy.  What can I say except that I will remember this vacation forever and treasure it always.  Italy is a truly wonderful country that I hope to explore more one day.  And I am so grateful for the chance to take this trip with my favorite travel companion ♥

Lake Como

Lake Como!  We ate, we drank, we hiked, we boated and I choked on a piece of steak!  More on that last part later, but we really loved our time on Lake Como.  As we were getting ready to leave Rome, a much visited vacation destination, where there is no shortage of trusted recommendations for places to eat and things to do, I started to feel sort of nervous about Lake Como, a place I knew was beautiful but not much else about.  Luckily, the owner of the apartment we rented had all the recommendations we needed and we found plenty of ways to entertain ourselves, apart from eating and drinking 🙂

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We took a train from Rome to Milan — it was such a nice train and they passed out Tarelli, an Italian cracker that I am now addicted to — then another (less nice) train from Milan to Varenna and then the car ferry from Varenna to Bellagio, where we stayed at Hotel Nenè, right in the heart of the town.  It was so rainy when we got in, but as we were basically inside a train all day, it didn’t matter too much.  We grabbed a quick snack at Apertivo Et Al as soon as we got settled at our apartment and then the rain really didn’t matter 😛

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We were still on Rome time for dinner, so we walked to Loppia — one of Bellagio’s many adorable hamlets — for dinner around 9 PM and it was a GHOST TOWN.  In the dark and rain, it was sort of eerie, but also kind of cool to walk around by ourselves.  We adjusted our dinner time to be a bit earlier after that night, but it was still an awesome dinner at All Darsene di Loppia.  I was so impressed with the food that I immediately stopped worrying Lake Como would be a culinary disappointment.  Check out our sampler of the fish from the lake!  I loved them all, but one of them literally tasted like bacon and that was obviously our favorite.  I had THEE BEST pumpkin gnocchi with a lamb ragu for dinner and then… we had a white chocolate sphere for dessert!!!  They poured a warm raspberry sauce over top so the chocolate melted to reveal a incredible, mildly liquorice-flavored cream inside.  DANG, it was so good!

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The sun was back out by the next morning, so we could see Lake Como in all her glory.  Gosh what a view!  I had a little shop/cafe I wanted to go to for breakfast but didn’t realize how far away it was until we’d been walking for twenty minutes, oops!  But it was okay because we go to see the San Giovanni hamlet and it was the cutest.  Felt like we had the whole thing to ourselves, you know, so we could do the zip-line at the park in privacy 😛

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After breakfast and exploring San Giovanni, we noticed a sign for a little train and you guys know we cannot pass up a little train, so we rode it back to the town center then decided to stay on and head back to Loppia to walk through the Villa Melzi botanic gardens.  The entrance to the gardens was RIGHT next to the restaurant we’d had dinner at the night before, so we maybe stopped back in for lunch.  It was the same staff, so they all remembered us.  As for the gardens, they were beautiful!  We were sort of blown away by how alive and thriving everything still is in Italy in October!  Learned we love an Italian Cypress too 😛

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Later on, we read near the water but maybe spent more time propping up Joey’s phone to take that portrait of us.  We had made dinner reservations at Trattoria Baita Belvedere and what an adventure it was!  First, it’s up in the hills and since we didn’t have a car, the restaurant sent a van for us (and two other couples) then drove us up the most twisty-turny road to the restaurant.  That view ♥♥♥  Joey read that they serve wild boar there, so his excitement level was a 10.  I don’t think it was as good as he’d hoped, but at least he wasn’t eating the world’s driest hen, which is what I was doing… we did have an excellent bottle of wine and a delicious cheese sampler though.

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Oh, just another beautiful day on Lake Como ♥  We tried another breakfast spot that involved more walking and unimpressive pastries and it was then that I realized Bellagio breakfasts might be a problem.  Afterward, we took the ferry to Mennagio, which was cute but not a ton to see or do.  We did put our hands in the water though and it was pleasantly not freezing cold.  We read that people don’t really swim in the lake because they consider it dirty but it looked super clear to me!

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We spent the rest of the day in Varenna, which you can also ferry to.  We had picked a restaurant called Il Cavatappi to have lunch at and when we finally showed up they were turning a group of three away.  I figured they were getting ready to close for their mid-day break and was about to walk away when Joey realized it might have been the party size causing the issue.  For two they had a table right away and I’m so glad because it was an amazing meal!  We felt so lucky 🙂

After lunch, we tried to take a sort of hike over to a small stream and a cemetery but we must’ve taken a wrong turn because soon we were actually hiking up to a castle on the top of Varenna.  I’m sure that cemetery was cool, but so was the castle.  We saw some papier-mâché ghosts and instantly recognized them from The Amazing Race!  The view was something else, plus they keep falcons and owls up there and they were really cool to see, even if we were a day early for their “show.”  Once we got back down to the town center, we grabbed a post-hike gelato, of course!

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That night for dinner, we went to La Pergola and I legitimately choked on a piece of steak.  It was a very scary moment when I was waving my hand at Joey to indicate I couldn’t breathe before I coughed that piece of steak up, so my advice to you is to really chew your food.  The good news is that steak was perfectly cooked and seasoned 😛

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After breakfast at Bar Cafe Rossi — it was steps from where we were staying, but right in the town center, so I’d deemed it touristy and kept resisting going there, but then it turned out to be better than both the places I walked so far to, so what do I know? — we walked around for a bit, then decided it was now or never if we wanted to rent a boat and take it out on the lake.  The first place we walked over to was fully booked for the day and we were thisclose to just letting it go, but decided to call one other place and they had a boat available!  We grabbed lunch at La Pergola (yes, we went back) out on their terrace and what a view of the lake.  Sorry for so many pictures of that ivy-covered house, but how cool?!

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Okay, I’m sorry if these pictures are out of order (it’s hard to remember which town was which!), but can you even believe they’ll let you take a boat out on your own, no license required??  We went through Boat Hire Bellagio and I could not recommend them more!  The man who ran the company was so kind and fun and gave Joey a little crash course on operating the boat, then gave us a map with a suggested route and it was perfect!  We got to see the other side of Bellagio, Menaggio, Varenna (including a view of that cemetery from the day before!), a bunch of breathtaking villas and the one little island on the lake.  We were hoping to catch sight of the Clooney villa but no such luck.  It was seriously so fun and Joey only went so fast that I was scared I’d fly out a couple of times 😛

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For our last dinner in Bellagio, we planned on walking to a seafood restaurant but it was sort of chilly and sort of far, so we opted to go to a place around the corner instead.  Turns out they serve the same risotto and fish dish that we’d been hoping to get at the seafood restaurant.  We were told it’d be an hour wait, but we were expecting it, so we just grabbed some pillows and sat on the steps outside the restaurant while we waited.  I guess this is a typical dish in Bellagio and despite how bad the lighting in my picture is and how simple the dish looks, it was amazing!  That fish was so perfectly fried and seasoned.  We both devoured it.  And then we ordered tiramisu and basically ordered it every night after that!

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One last view of those picturesque stairs and then we made our way to Venice!  I was really impressed with Lake Como and found it so beautiful, from the food to the people to the towns to the actual lake.  I hope to see it again some day ♥