Friday, November 16, 2012

Our Brief Italian Holiday: 10 Days in Venice and Florence

The Grand Canal in Venice, Italy
The timing of our recent trip to Italy was most fortuitous: we flew out of JFK for Venice on Monday, November 5, just a couple of days after Hurricane Sandy ravished the Northeast; had we planned to leave any sooner, we never could have gotten out.  As it turned out, however, our flight left right on time, was without incident (which is just the way we like it), and arrived early.  We flew Aer Lingus (an airline we hadn’t flown before) from JFK with a two hour layover in Dublin because that was far and away the most economical way for us to travel: the cost of our two tickets came to $1,223 whereas non-stop flights from New York to Venice would have run us well over $2,000.

The flight from JFK to Dublin was OK but nothing to rave about.  Seats are closely aligned in coach and there’s not much room to stretch out.  And our ravioli dinner was no great shakes (although today that’s true of virtually all airline food).  Our flight from Dublin to Venice on the other hand was much more comfortable.

View from the window of our room at the Hotel Arlecchio in Venice, Italy
Upon our arrival in Venice on the morning of November 6, we took a cab to the Hotel Arlecchino which overlooked the Grand Canal.  We chose our hotel based on the positive reviews it had received on both Trip Advisor and Expedia and we were generally satisfied.  Here are the pluses: the location, overlooking the Grand Canal, is terrific – it’s less than a 10 minute walk to the train station (which was important to us since we planned to travel by rail from Venice to Florence) and only a 20 or 30 minutes walk to the Rialto area and, in the opposite direction, the Jewish quarter; a number of reasonably priced restaurants were only steps away; the hotel’s personnel were most accommodating; and it was very well priced (with continental breakfast included in the room rate).  The only negative, and it was a minor one, was that the room was relatively small.

The Piazza San Marco in the Rialto area of Venice, Italy
That day we just wandered the area around our hotel, lunching and dining at neighborhood restaurants (leading to the excess of pasta, pizza, wine and gelato we consumed – but hey, it was Italy so what would you expect?).  The next day (Wednesday, November 7), we strolled across town to the Piazza San Marco in the Rialto area, the heart of Venice and the oldest settled area of the city.  Had we wanted to, we could have made the walk in 20 minutes or so but we chose to wander in and out of side streets and it probably ended up taking us an hour or longer.  Ditto our return to the hotel.  But it was worth it.

On Thursday, November 8, we took advantage of a promotional offer to visit the Isola di Murano (the island of Murano), renowned for its production of Murano glass.  We were picked up at our hotel by water taxi  and brought to the island where we saw some incredible glass sculptures.  We wandered about the island a bit, then returned to our hotel via water bus.

Sue at the synagogue in the Jewish quarter of Venice, Italy

On Friday, November 9, we visited the Jewish quarter of Venice, home to what was once the Jewish ghetto in that city.
The Jewish Quarter in Venice, Italy
The next day, Saturday, November 10, we walked to the train station and boarded a fast train to Florence.  When we arrived in Florence, we discovered that the Hotel Globus, was less than a 10 minute walk from the train station so we eschewed a taxi and made our way to the hotel on foot.  We had selected this hotel, too, based on the positive reviews it had received on both Trip Advisor and Expedia and again we were generally satisfied.  These were the pluses: the location - a short walk to the train station and well within walking distance of the sights we most wanted to see (the Ponte Vecchio, the Pitti Palace, the Uffizi Gallery, and the Accademia, home to Michaelangelo’s David); a number of good but inexpensive restaurants in the neighborhood; and a clean, well-furnished and spacious room.  The only negative here was that we had to climb a long flight of steps to get to the first floor reception area and that, once there, we had to travel via a claustrophobia-inducing elevator to our room on the third floor (you actually had to keep your finger on the elevator button the entire time you were ascending or descending or the elevator would stop; additionally, the elevator itself was only enclosed on three sides!).  But this hotel’s personnel were also most accommodating; and our room here, too, was very well priced with a continental breakfast and drinks during “Happy Hour” included in the room rate.
View of the Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy
That day we bought two “Firenze Cards” for 50 euros apiece.  These cards would allow us to enter dozens of museums throughout Florence over the next three days at no additional cost and, more importantly, to do so without having to wait on interminable lines.  We ended up using the cards to visit six sites – the Pitti Palace, the Uffizi Gallery, the Galileo Museum, the Archaeology Museum, the Paleontology Museum, and the Accademia Gallery – so the cards did end up saving us a few euros compared to what we would have spent had we purchased admission tickets to those six sites individually.  But much more importantly, having the cards saved us considerable time.

The Uffizi Gallery is wonderful (one of the best museums in the world with an exceptional collection of Botticelli works) and there is really nothing that can compete with Michelangelo’s works in the Accademia Gallery – especially his awe-inspiring statue of David.  We enjoyed the small Galileo Museum as well, with its collections of telescopes and other scientific instruments from Galileo’s time.  We’d seen the Pitti Palace half a century ago and again we were not disappointed.  And the Paleontology Museum, with its excellent collection fossils not only from Italy but from all over the world was a real surprise.  In fact our only disappointment was the Archaeology Museum with its rather mundane collection of Etruscan works. 
View of the Arno River from the Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy
Of course we made it to the Ponte Vecchio as well but time was passing quickly and, before we knew it, it was time to return to the States.

Our return was exhausting.  We took an early train from Florence to Rome, then transferred to another train that took us from the Rome train station to the Rome Airport.  At the airport, we boarded our Aer Lingus Flight to Dublin where we transferred after a short layover to our flight from Dublin to JFK.

And so, ten days after leaving New York, we returned home, having consumed too much pasta, too much pizza, too much wine, and way too much gelato!  And we'd do it again in a New York minute!