This year’s family adventure led us to Italy again. I have yet to travel anywhere outside of Europe, and honestly – not sure I want to go anywhere else. Okay – maybe New Zealand will be a destination someday, but I have no desire to be on a plane for that long.
Every time I step foot in Italy I feel a sense of comfort; a sense of belonging, which makes me never want to leave. It’s a mixture of a few things that make me feel this way: The scenery, the food, the people, the history, and on this trip – the order! Oh, and did I mention the food?
My mom is not one for travel, so she opted out of this trip. My sister was supposed to join, but had to cancel last minute. So, it was just me and my dad. I was a bit nervous about how we’d get along, but it turned out to be a great trip that I’m sure we’ll reminisce about for years to come. We chose VBT as our touring/biking company again and we were not disappointed.
We fled from NYC/JFK on the evening of June 11 and woke up the next morning looking down on a city of canals. Picture it Sicily, 1921… Oh wait… Let’s try that again. Picture Manhattan on a smaller scale, but with canals as streets – with better food and more attractive people. We left Venice airpot on a water taxi, yes, a water taxi. It was much more pleasant than a NYC taxi. No body odor, no unwanted conversation, no thoughts of “what if this man kidnaps me?” Instead, we glided through the Laguna Veneta which is part of the Adriatic Sea.
I couldn’t resist a picture of us upon our arrival into this magical land of canals.
We were sped to our hotel, Duodo Palace, where the water taxi pulled up ehh curb side? Canal side? Not sure what the proper lingo would be here. We were tired, but (one of us – me) managed to stay awake through an informative session with a local tour guide. She gave us tips on where to eat and what to see.
The first 3 days of the trip we were on our own to explore Venice. On our first full day we took the advice of others to go to the islands of Murano and Burano. Murano is known for glass blowing. Burano is known for lace making. Murano glass factory offers free taxi rides out to the island in hopes that they’ll make some Euros on their expensive glass. We got to the glass factory and got a brief tour of the factory along with a glass blowing demonstration.
Yeah, the factory was cool and the glass was nice, but a lot of it was gaudy and over priced. So, we blew that joint and walked around Murano. Murano is composed of seven islands, linked by bridges, separated by eight channels. (Thanks, Wikipedia!) It’s very small and quaint. Of course the first thing that caught my eye in Murano was a cat…. My cat obsession continues from last year’s Italy trip. Cats of Italy Part II!
Italy, and in this case, Murano, also loves Mary – I can’t pass up beautiful mosaics.
Murano was cute and colorful, but it’s about to get more colorful in Burano! Below is one of the canals in Murano.
After walking around Murano for a bit, we hopped a water taxi to Burano. The best part about Burano is all the colorful houses. It is said that fisherman painted the houses bright so that they could easily spot their houses through dense fog — or if they’re too drunk and need a little help.
Here are some of the bright houses – along with some colorful laundry!
Burano looked like a watercolor painting!
Nice to see somebody is working!
Here’s my dad along one of the Burano canals.
I learned that Venetians enjoy a bit of mystery…. Masks like this and other various creatures are available for purchase all over the place.
The next 2 days were spent exploring Venice. It seems big, but it’s really not. It’s very easy to get lost. The sidewalks seem indefinite and each walkway leads you to something beautiful or delicious!
This is near St. Mark’s square – sunset.
I found a really near perfume shop called The Merchant of Venice. The scents were truly unique. I bought a scent called Craquele. It combines my favorite ingredients: “The golden spice of saffron ignites the heart note and, combined with freesia and the warmth of cedar wood, bursts forth into the vibrant and intense amber, musky, and woody accords of frankincense, musk, and leather.”
More masks of mystery!
This was a cool mosiac outside of an old photo store on one of the pathways in Venice.
One of the many, many, many, many, many….. canals
This is the famous Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri). Prisoners were led from the court house (on the left) over to the prison (on the right). Their last view of beautiful Venice was from this bridge; hence the name “Bridge of Sighs.”
This is another view of the Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri)
This is the famous opera house – Teatro La Fenice. It was right behind our hotel. The name means “The Phoenix” because it has risen from ashes three times – three fires!
Venice is the city of Lions and you see reminders of that all over the city.
Some Venetian graffiti that I’m okay with!
This is part of the amazing architecture in St. Mark’s Square.
Clock tower in St. Mark’s Square – notice the lion on top
Mosaic outside of St. Mark’s Basilica
Lion on top of St. Mark’s Basilica
Doges Palace – and another lion!
A pigeon taking a break in St. Mark’s Square
I just liked the composition here
This is in the district of Cannaregio. This church is called Santa Maria dei Miracoli. It was built between 1481 and 1489 by Pietro Lombardo to house a miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary.
This is the Basilica di San Giovanni e Paolo, known in Venetian as San Zanipolo. It’s in the Venetian district called Castello.
And the good gelateria, Rosa Salva.
Reflections in a canal
Looking at the Grand Canal
We told the local tour guide that we wanted to go to less-touristy places. She recommended Osteria Al Squero. They’re known for their “cicchetti” – basically they are Venetian tapas. They were light and delicious paired with wine. The restaurant overlooks a gondola workshop – very unique spot.
Here’s the gondola workshop across the canal from the restaurant.
Some more Venetian graffiti
Another shot of the Grand Canal
Best store sign in Venice
Old marble lion statue outside of St. Mark’s Basilica
Larry with a lion
St Mark’s Campanile (Campanile di San Marco in Italian) – the Bell Tower of St. Mark’s Basilica.
Cute cat we saw peeking from a window
A gondolier and his gondola
Larry with some Venetian art
The colors and canals of Venice
We heard that Rialto Market was worth seeing, so on our last day in Venice we walked over there. The Rialto bridge is under construction, so it didn’t look that pretty – and the crowds on the bridge are annoying. The market area was empty; it was just about to shut down. We got to see of of the local produce and meats thought.
Some local tomatoes! They were delicious.
Spaghetti from Osteria Al Pesador. From their website: “Historically, the building which houses the Pesador has always belonged to the Rialto Market. In fact, it was here that the public weighbridge of the fruit and vegetable market was located, and this was its use from the sixteenth century right up to the 1970s.”
We had lunch in this top room – really neat.
This is some of the ceiling in the entrance of St. Mark’s Basilica
And this was the best meal in Venice! We stumbled upon La Rosa Rossa by mistake. Someone suggested another restaurant and when we walked by it – no one was eating there. So, we stumbled in to this place. I had Ghocchetti gratinati cotto alla brace, Tropea e rucola — that is: Baked gnocchi with ham, red Tropea onion and rocket salad. It was amazing!
Typical Venetian sight
Pope Pope Pope
Some more veganism
This was the view outside of my hotel window/shutters. There was an inscription on the building that said it was bombed by Austria in WWI.
This is Ca’ d’Oro (Palazzo Santa Sofia) – a palace on the Grand Canal. It means (“golden house”) due to the gilt and polychome external decorations which once adorned its walls.
As I was leaving the hotel I found this chick hanging out smoking some cigs
I was a little sad to leave Venice, but also excited to venture north to the Dolomite mountains. We took a water taxi back to the Venice airport where we met the rest of our VBT family for the 3 hour private bus ride up to Cortina. I could add some detail about this ride, (45 min pit stop for the driver, a truck lost a bunch of logs that spilled on to the highway) but I won’t get into that.
We were transported 100 miles north from busy Venice, to calm and quiet Cortina d’Ampezzo. Cortina was the site of the 1956 winter Olympics. Cortina reminded me of Aspen, Colorado with some German/Italian flair. Cortina and Northern Italy are very close to the Austrian border so it’s not unusual to hear German being spoken. The food is also unique – a mixture of Tyrolean and Italian delights.
We stayed at Hotel Ancora, which was quaint, clean, and charming. The owner, Flavia, introduced herself to us and gave us “special treatment.” I think she might be the mayor of Cortina; at least I like to think so.
Here’s Flavia and one of her dogs bringing us some local flavor.
This was one of the delicious lunch meals that we had after a bike ride! This gnocchi was amazing.
This is a view of Cortina
This is inside Basilica Minore dei Santi Filippo e Giacomo in Cortina. It was a really nice old church.
Cloudy day in Cortina
One of the many times I felt like I was in the Sound of Music. A valley in Cortina.
We all went for a walk into this nice valley and then these clouds came barreling through. We pretty much ran for cover, but didn’t make it. We ended up seeking shelter in a nice cemetery.
We took cover here
Amazing Beet Ravioli – had never had these. They are a staple in this region of Italy. They were delicious. I have since learned that Costco sells these. Once I found that out I was a bit disappointed; didn’t realize they were so “mainstream.”
This is one of our tour leaders, Andrea – here he’s most likely giving us local area information.
This is an old train station that is now someone’s dwelling
We had a rainy first few days, but the views were still amazing
We were greeted (or maybe warned?) by these French Mastiff’s on a walk one afternoon. You’re going to see a lot of animal pictures here – they’re my favorite to capture.
We left Cortina after 2 days and headed north. Along the way we stopped at this beautiful lake – Lago di Dobbiaco. It’s part of the Natural Park of the Dolomites.
This is Tre Crime de Lavaredo – the famous three peaks of the Dolomites.
Typical roadside view
The next 3 pictures are part of the reason that I no longer eat beef. As we were cycling we were greeted by this herd of cows. As we got off of our bikes they walked toward us. They wore large cattle bells around their necks; it was an idyllic scene. Happy cows in a happy place. They were so friendly they even licked our arms. They didn’t smell great, but they were happy to see us and it was this moment that made me no longer want a porterhouse for two from Peter Luger.
Yet another idyllic scene – where is Julie Andrews?
We headed further north and our next stay was in Brunico. We stayed at the Hotel Schoenblick – another really nice hotel. This was the scene outside of the hotel:
This is one of the 2 churches we saw in San Candido. I believe this one is called San Michele Arcangelo.
The cypt in the bottom of the church – no electricity; only sunlight.
We got real Tyrolean up in here! Strudel, Forst beer and WASSER!! (water)
Riding through a valley
Another beautiful scene
We had a nice lunch prepared for us. We hopped off a trail and this was waiting for us; an Italian BBQ.
Sila the Italian Mastiff!
Taking a break
Clock towers on clock towers on clock towers
Larry on the trail
Shot of the group on the trail; fun group!
Met some more animal friends along the way! This miniature pony was hilarious.
This cat greeted our bike group and began posing all over the place! It was really a sight to see.
A vineyard run by monks
These are the Frescoes in the Duomo di Bressanone. In Italian the name of the town is Bressanone; in German it’s called Brixen. This fresco is of what THEY THOUGHT an elephant looked like. They’d only heard about them and had never seen one in person. A few years later an elephant passed through the town and they were able to lay eyes on the real deal.
The last few days of our trip were spent in Merano. Merano is unique; there are palm trees in this town! Palm trees in the middle of the Italian Alps! We stayed at Hotel Terme and it was great. They had thermal baths on the lower level. And as you can see below, the pool area was spectacular!
Our last day of biking was around 50 miles. It started here, at Lake Resia, and ended in Merano. Lake Resia is near the borders of Austria and Switzerland. The lake is famous for the steeple emerging from its waters, from a church that was submerged after the village of Curon was evacuated, dynamited, and flooded following the construction of a dam.
Another shot of Lake Resia
A tiny chapel along the trail
Outside of the chapel
Abandoned house along Lake Resia
Gnome on a tree
Old cigarette machine
One of the views biking back down to Merano
Clouds. Mountains. Bricks. Flowers.
Jesus of the orchards
For our farewell dinner we were whisked away to a “slow food” restaurant called Roberts Stube. Robert, the chef and owner, spoke to us before the meal and explained his artistry. He didn’t speak English, so one of our guides, Andrea, translated for him. His restaurant is the equivalent to a “Farm to Table” restaurant in the United States. Their term for it is “slow food.” The meal was excellent!
Part of the farewell dinner – pasta squares with shrimp and date tomatoes
Grilled Arctic Char with lemon & ginger-seasoned olive oil
After dinner espresso (decaf for me!)
Our trip ended in Verona; home of Shakespeare. It was a bit of a culture shock going from the pastures and mountains of the Alps down to the city of Verona. Verona reminded me of Rome on a much smaller scale. They have a wine that the region is known for called Amarone. Amarone means “The Great Bitter.” This wine has a mixture of different varieties of grapes. It’s very good! I also learned that one of Verona’s main courses is horse meat or “cavallo.” I did not partake.
This is the house of Juliet. The building dates back to the 13th century and was renovated in the last century. It is the balcony where Romeo promised Juliet eternal love in Shakespeare’s famous tragedy.
Another view of the balcony
This is the Arena in Verona. It’s older than the Colosseum in Rome. It was built in the 1st Century! A lot of opera performances occur here and Adele was there recently.
Goodbye, Verona! Goodbye, Italy!
I once again left Italy lighter! I also left feeling refreshed, inspired, and optimistic about visiting again. This trip was three months ago and I still think about it daily. Part of me (okay, a lot of me) wishes that I could live in Italy; maybe someday.
The northern part of Italy is much different than other parts of Italy that I have visited. Everything in the Tyrolean area just made sense. The energy efficiency, the agriculture, the culture, the food! You name it – it’s just perfect. I know that they say the grass is always greener. But, in Italy – the grass really is greener!