Venice with Kids
I was hoping when I married an Italian, I would have many trips to Italy in my future... we had the most incredible three-week honeymoon in Italy, traveling from Rome to Naples to Tuscany to Milan.
That was almost seven years ago.
He's since been back three times but unfortunately, for me, all were trips I could not participate in. So when a good friend of ours recently invited us to her birthday celebration in Venice, Italy, I jumped at the opportunity.
However, we knew that in order to attend the birthday events and keep our sanity through travel, we would need to bring help as we couldn't do it on our own. We don't have a nanny or even a regular babysitter but even if we did, the most obvious and comfortable choice for us was to bring my mom... Grandma's are the best and my mom is pretty exceptional! When we asked her, she didn't even stop to hesitate for a second. The answer was a definite, YES!
Since we were traveling that far and that close to his old home, seeing my husband's family was a mandatory part for me. Although they live in the more southern area of Italy, just outside of Naples, we made arrangements to meet in Tuscany at Borgo San Felice and spend a few days together rather than them making the long trip up north to Venice. I created a separate post for that part of the trip here since there are just too many pictures for one post!
Since even before Totes was born, we would Skype, FaceTime or Facebook Video Chat with my husband's family in Italy almost every Sunday morning. My father-in-law came out to visit when Totes turned one but his sister, in all this time, has never met my kids in person. Family is so important to me and getting them all together was the best part of this trip!
But first... Venice.
Venezia, Italia. Wow, these pictures won't even come close to doing it justice. I realized once I was there was that before you visit a place like this, you only see it in a two-dimensional form. A picture, a movie/video. It's not until you are there, walking through the small streets and over bridges on the canals that you can really take in the whole three-dimensional experience and truly appreciate it all. Pictures tend to focus on the big wow-factors, like the Grand Canal and Piazza San Marco, which are so gorgeous too, but after you spend a few days there, you'll start to notice the little details, like the 1,000 year old marble walls, or rusted railings, that are crumbling but amazing that they've stood this many years. The craftsmanship that existed at the time Venice was first constructed is just unreal.
But anyway, I won't go any more into the wonder that you'll experience yourself if you go. I'm writing this not only just to share with friends and family our wonderful time, but to impart some words of wisdom through experience on future family travelers. I searched for such via Google prior to our trip and couldn't find much advice or people with experience staying in the Venice city limits with small children. All the blogs I read were of families that stayed on the coast/mainland and took the train or taxi in. So I want to give our perspective since we did such.
So let me first tell those of you reading this that aren't familiar with my family; Totes is three years old (turning four this summer) and Apple was eleven months at the start of this trip. We celebrated her first birthday while we were here!
I knew it was going to be difficult traveling with two young kids because of the distance. The time change was the most significant reason for this difficultly and Apple really struggled the most. Because she struggled, we all struggled. She was extremely jet lagged coming and going. In retrospect, I would have considered more strongly in having her stay at home instead but as she's still breastfeeding quite regularly, I knew that would risk ending that arrangement between us and I wasn't ready to do so. But as I mentioned early, the main reason for bringing our kids was to have them spend time with their Italian relatives. I'm just throwing this information out there for consideration. It was really hard because of her. But she's also not the best "on the go" baby. She likes her comforts of home and sleeps best in her own crib, although second best pretty well in the Ergo as long as I'm up and moving, which was easy to do on this trip.
We arrived in Venice on a Thursday at 4pm. After spending over an hour at lost and found, filing a claim for our lost stroller (see more on this below), we walked out of the airport to the dock to board our scheduled private water taxi. I've got to tell you, this has to be the most magical way of welcoming anyone to any city I've ever been to. No cars in sight, just beautiful wooden boats. I remember from my first time living in Europe being so impressed that the taxis were mostly Mercedes Benz, luxury cars, instead of the run down yellow cabs we are used to in the states. Venice and taxis on the water are no exception here, the taxi boats are gorgeous wooden Chris-Crafts with comfortable seating, fully enclosed cabins and handle the occasional rough waters like a dream. My husband, an avid boater here in the PNW, was in heaven! I lost track of time on the ride to our palazzo as I was so busy taking video and photos of everything and every second... we all were! But think it took about 45 minutes to get there. Once we were inside our spacious apartment that we would call home to for the week and the awe of the stunning Grand Canal views out of our front windows had mildly diminished, my husband walked down to a corner food shop to get us a few sandwiches to get a little food in our stomach before we settled in for the night and tried to tackle the jet lag.
We explored the city in a new part every day of our six day stay, which included Easter Sunday, Buona Pasqua, and la Pasquetta, the Monday after Easter. My husband explained to me that in Italy, Sunday is a day to be home with family for meals and down time while la Pasquetta is the day all the Italian get out of the house and scatter across the county, into cities and out into the country side. Our friends that took the day to visit a winery on the mainland said people were out having picnics all throughout the hills of the winery. The city was packed and it was a bit overwhelming to move around as a group.
On Tuesday, we took a day trip to Murano (see details below) and then Wednesday was our departure day. We rented a van and drove down to Tuscany where we stayed another four days. That will be continued in the next blog post (coming soon).
We made it point to eat gelato every day during this trip! Having done so many vacations where eating becomes the center activity, using meals as a way to experience the local scene and socialize but being left feeling gluttonous after many days of over-eating, our strategy this time around was having a late breakfast, mid-day gelato and an early dinner. It was a great strategy! We quickly found our neighborhood cafe on the corner nearest our palazzo that we visited every morning for a cappuccino. A note to new travelers to Italy and their cafes; you will pay more for seated service than you will if you order and stand at the bar counter while you enjoy your beverage and pastries. We scoffed at the fact that a cappuccino from a cafe in Piazza San Marco, one of the most famous squares in the world, was a mere 2.50 euros compared to a Starbucks beverage back home, which would be more than $4.00!
The first day we were out shopping for postcards, Totes said he wanted to send one to his teacher and friends at school. I quickly searched the app store for a postcard app, knowing it would be fun for his school-mates to not only receive a postcard, but a picture of him too! I ended up downloading an app called Post by Social Print Studio, uploaded the picture above of Totes sitting on the wall of a bridge over the canal and sent it off for print. It was only $1.99 to send, which was for sure cheaper than what I would have paid for a generic Venice postcard plus shipping. My only complaint is that the school didn't receive the postcard until 9 days later, after we had returned! I ordered it on the 15th and it arrived there on the 25th. So at that point I could have had him just bring in the picture himself. But it was still fun.
I had so many questions before we booked this trip regarding traveling there with kids. So here are the questions I asked myself, sought out answers for, and can now answer first hand from experience!
A note on Venice Geography
A quick run down on Venice geography... the main island (which is made up technically of multiple islands) is divided into several 'suburbs'. Six to be exact. The main, central area is called San Marco. Here you'll find Piazza San Marco and the Basilica, obviously! This is also where all known shopping is from H&M and Victoria's Secret to Prada, Gucci and Louis Vuitton. To the southwest is Dosoduro (where we stayed) and to the Northwest is San Polo. These two areas are separated from San Marco by the Grand Canal, which is important to keep in mind when you're considering getting around... how do I cross the Grand Canal? I'll get to that later. There are several other areas but we didn't have time to explore them so I won't go into detail. Google maps is an excellent resource here for scouting out where you stay compared to where you want to go. Also check out the street views for some amazing perspectives! There are restaurants, cafes and places to buy souveniers or get gelato on almost every corner in every area, so you really have all you need wherever you choose.
Where did we stay?
We stayed in the Dosoduro area, our palazzo that we rented through the Truly Venice agency was right next to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum and we thought next to staying in the center, San Marco area, it was the best choice for getting around. The Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute was a short five minute walk from our palazzo and one of the foot bridges that cross the Grand Canal, the Ponte dell'Accademia, was also a few minutes walk for us. The streets near were lively but it was so quite in the evenings.
Venice is actually really small! Much smaller than it looks on a map. My husband and I took a brisk walk one of the evenings to one of our scheduled events in the San Polo area and it only took us 20 minutes each way. We had restaurants, cafes, historic churches, canals and stores for groceries and souvenirs very close to us.
Our palazzo was on the Grand Canal with gorgeous views from the north windows and a rooftop sunroom with even better 360 degree views. We were extremely happy with our arrangements through Truly Venice Apartments. They set up our private water taxi from the airport and had a representative there to meet us when we arrived at the palazzo. They took the time to explain our surroundings, pointing out landmarks, routes, grocery stores and special restaurants on a map. When we left after our stay and realized we had forgotten a few items of clothing in one of the bedroom closets, they even shipped them back to our home in Seattle.
Having experienced it and done my research, the top three neighborhoods to stay in as a first time tourist are San Marco, Dosoduro and San Polo. From other blogs that I read through of families traveling to Venice, they all stayed on the mainland area (Lido, for example) where the resorts are. But for us, with five days of events in the city, staying in the historic city center was a must.
How did we get around?
We tried it all. Water Taxi, vaporetto, traghetto, gondola and of course, most frequently, by foot.
From the airport, we had pre-arranged through Truly Venice, a water taxi to take us directly to our palazzo, which dropped us off in a small square just around the corner from the building entrance. It was a bit pricey at 115 Euros total for the one-way drop off but so worth it as we had too much luggage to handle between the three adults and two kids. I can't imagine trying to struggle with it all and get on the vaporetto but that's your other option. Our kids couldn't help with baggage so unfortunately for us, our bags outnumbered our abilities.
The first day in Venice we walked from our palazzo in Dosoduro to Piazza San Marco via the Ponte dell'Accademia (bridge) at a very leisurely pace. It took us about 30 minutes to get there. Then we winded around the streets with the crowd until we ended up at the Ponte di Rialto (another bridge over the Grand Canal, must see!). We walked back and stopped at a gelateria in Campo Santo Stefano. We passed dozens of them between here and the Rialto but my husband wanted to find a place that we could sit down and we found the perfect one in this square. Gelatria Paolin if you want to make note of it. So delicious. We all indulged ourselves, then the kids chased birds through the square before we headed back.
On a separate day, we hopped on the vaporetto (the bus system) from the Accademia station near our palazzo and got off the Rialto station and tried to walk down new streets and get lost before we made our way back. I have a knack for directions and therefore can usually get my bearings pretty easily to know where I need to go but in Venice, it usually does you well to follow the crowds.
On various points along the Grand Canal, there is a gondola system called the Traghetto that ferries people across the canal for 2 Euros per person. We got on near Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute and were ferried across the Grand Canal to a street that lead to San Marco. A shortcut basically. The gondola was large enough to accommodate a large group (all of us plus some and our stroller fit just fine).
The smaller, private gondolas that you see in pictures are just for that... pictures. It's a must and I highly recommend the experience. These gondolas are decked out with plush, adorned seating and travel along the smaller canals where motor boats seldom go so there won't be much of a wake.
Another one of our events was at Hotel Cippriani on the southern island of Giudecca and we took a private water taxi there one day and the hotel's private shuttle boat another day but it is also accessible via Vaporetto.
Stroller... which one should I take?
First, if you are contemplating taking a stroller or not, you'd have to consider the age and ability of your child. My 3.5 year old loves to be pushed in a stroller and my baby sometimes tolerates it, but in general hates being strapped down. So Totes was in the stroller while she was in the Ergo Baby Carrier, usually sleeping. When we got too tired of carrying her, we switched them up (making him walk) and Totes complained the whole time, wanting to get back in the stroller.
So as you can see, the stroller was mandatory for us and we would have benefitted from a double but I'm glad we didn't and made it work with the single. So as luck would have it, the airlines LOST our stroller before we arrived in Venice!
Although I already own several strollers (see my list here), I wanted a lightweight umbrella stroller for this trip. I purchased the Summer Infant 3Dlite a few weeks before the trip and loved it right away. We bought a gate check bag from Amazon to protect it since we would be pushing it up to the plane to gate check it for each leg of the flight. At the gate in Seattle, the put the pink gate check tag on it right as we were boarding the plane. We walked down the ramp to board, covered the stroller with the gate check bag and left it outside the airplane's door. We never saw it again.
I'm now home writing this two weeks later and it still has never been found! Upon our arrival in Venice, after filing a lost item report, they let us rummage through the lost and found to "borrow" a stroller. We found the only one that still had four wheels intact... it was miserable to push around as the front wheels wouldn't turn but otherwise worked well enough.
So... having pushed around a stroller with two kids for six days in Venice I can tell you this: it needs to be lightweight and a small footprint. You will be physically lifting it, probably with the child still sitting in it because you'll have to do it so frequently, up across the foot bridges, which are all over along the streets. Every time you cross a canal, there's a bridge with at least 5-6 steps up and then back down. There are no ramps.
Since we had three adults with us, we could afford to have one adult grab the front and one grab the back of the stroller to lift and carry it across the bridge. However I saw many other dads lifting it solo. If you're thinking about it, DO NOT bring your BOB, or especially a double BOB! Oh my... I saw ONE double B.O.B. while we were walking around and it took up the whole street. People were jumping out of the way. The streets are super narrow, many fit no more than one person walking in each direction. So I suggest keeping it light and making the smallest footprint possible.
Dining in Venice
Dining in Venice is much like any other place in Italy. If you haven't done this, then you may not realize something that is very important to me... there are no high chairs. No one has them. There simply is not room for them!
This is another benefit of having the stroller as many times, it became the high chair to keep one of the kids caged in. See, I don't use a high chair for my kids so they can literally sit higher... I do it so I can strap them down.
Since Venice is primarily tourists, (I read that there only about 50k residents in the historic city and on average, 50k tourists enter the city PER DAY!) most of the employees you'll encounter in various shops and restaurants speak fluent English. That takes a lot of pressure off although I was intent on practicing my Italian (and did a terrible job at it).
You'll find a little restaurant or café on nearly every corner or street of the city, so your food options will be plentiful. Just don't expect a world cuisine like we enjoy at home in the states. Italians eat and make Italian food only.
Since our palazzo had a kitchen and we didn't want to be dining out for every meal, we quickly scouted out and made a run for the nearest grocery store, Conad, which was in the Dosoduro area on the south coast, about a 15 min walk each way. It was extremely well stocked so we made out without thinking of how we'd be transporting everything back to our palazzo.
On this note I should also mention that almost every place we dined or shopped took credit cards. Many places in Italy this is not so, but again, due to the high amount of tourists, Venice is up to speed here. I was offered a significant cash discount at a shop in Murano so it is beneficial to carry Euros.
Visiting other areas outside of Venice
We made a day trip to Murano and were lucky enough to have been included in a private glass blowing demonstration by Venetian maestro, Pino Signoretto. He is recognized as one of the most prominent glass sculptors in the world today and was a mentor of our own local glass master artist, Dale Chihuly.
It was such an incredible experience to watch him make one of a kind creations, one right after another with such ease and skill! Although his studio is not open to the public where we were able to watch, his shop, where his pieces are sold, is and definitely worth a visit if you make it to Murano.
After we spent a few hours at his studio, we walked the canal and street that is lined with shops right off the vaporetto stop and picked up some souvenirs. I was concerned about buying imitation Murano glass, items that are made in China but make their way here to be passed off as authentic and local. It's so hard to know because I was told that even on the island of Murano, it's a problem and the police shut down these sales almost daily, but they just pop back up. So buyer beware: if it's important to you, talk to the shop owner and get a feel for it.
I purchased a necklace at one of the shops after my husband talked to the girl (in Italian) and got the shop history that her brothers, cousins and family members all work in the studio, making the glass pieces and putting the jewelry together. So I was comforted by that. The price usually tells the truth. Since we had our private demonstrations, we didn't make it to the actual Glass Museum but I would imagine that would have been a destination otherwise.
Getting to and from is best via the Vaporetto, line 4.1 or 4.2, depending on your direction. There is also an express line (the number 3 vaporetto) that does a quicker run between Piazzale Roma and Murano if that can work in your favor. It didn't for us without dealing with too many transfers. We took a private water taxi there since we were unfamiliar with the vaporetto transfers and timing, which was about 75 euros one way, but took the vaporetto back on the 4.1 line. It was a rough ride back, however, as the weather was very stormy and the ride was about 40 minutes.
If the weather would have been better, I would have loved to take the vaporetto to Burano for a quick tour as well. Next time!
Any special items I should pack?
Traveling abroad, you probably already know about outlet converters so I'll tell you a story that happened a few short days in. This wasn't my first trip to Europe... I lived in Copenhagen for six months in college and have been back twice since! So I was very aware of adapters/converters, whatever they are called, and that you need one for all US plugs to fit into a European outlet. I thought they were all the same and didn't realize there is a difference between a converter and an adapter. I STILL don't really quite understand it so I will just say, maybe ask first if you're unsure!
So on the second day there, I plugged in my flat iron via a converter and noticed it was making a slight buzzing sound. I ignored it and of course, a few minutes later we heard a loud buzzzzzzz......POP! and ran over to find it had fried both the converter and my flat iron.
My husband gave me the biggest lecture on volts, wattage, conversation rates, etc, all of which went over my head, and in the end, he determined that it was probably a faulty converter anyway. I bring this up because I was presented with a unique learning experience here... I can't live without a flat iron. I have really frizzy, naturally curly hair that does not allow me to air-dry it. My mom had a brilliant idea to just go get a shampoo and blow-out. Only those little luxuries, while available almost everywhere and 24/7 back home, are almost non-existent in a place like Venice.
Remember those statistics on residents versus tourists? That's probably the main reason. I looked a few places up on Google Maps but the second problem was that this happened the day before Easter Sunday. Everyone was closed for Easter, Buona Pasqua, and in Italy, the day after Easter is another (and arguably even bigger) holiday called la Pasquetta. So not only were all the hair salons closed, but the local electronic shop where I eventually purchased a new flat iron, closed as well until the following Tuesday. So I roughed it in braids for a few days!
The second thing that I had a hard time with was due to our timing. We arrived on April 13th. According to my husband, born and raised in Italy, the heat gets shut off on April 10th. I'm talking about the whole country...
Italy, like many other countries in Europe, has nationally-regulated heating. The exact date varies by area but it was off when we arrived (Spring and Fall travelers be warned! Same applies to the AC). And it was quite cold while we were there since a storm had just come in!
So we layered up a lot had another problem; drying clothes. Houses in Italy do not have dryers, only washers. So everyone line-dries their items. Only it was too cold and Venice is very humid so the clothes took about two days to fully dry. I'll admit that I was tempted to turn on the oven and leave the door open had it not been on a separate level from our bedrooms so instead I turned on a hair dryer and sat in the bathroom for about 15 minutes on one day that I just couldn't warm up. But since most of the architecture there consists of walls of marble at least one foot thick, the homes stay pretty well insulated so it was only a minor inconvenience.
Another important item that I'm so happy we packed was a colorful jacket for Totes. I only thought of this fact while packing and wondering which jacket to take for him. The thought and vision popped in my head of him darting off through crowds of people. He has a bright yellow rain jacket from Zara that makes him easy to see at a quick glance or in your peripheral vision. He's better about staying close than he was a year ago, but he still gets carried away in the excitement of new places and wanders too far. He was always easy to spot despite the large crowds.
How was our flight?
I mentioned above that the airline (Delta) lost our stroller, which was a huge inconvenience to us at the start of this trip. But overall, the rest of the flight went pretty well, all things considered. All my anxiety around this trip was purely centered around how the flights would go. Months prior to our travel date, as soon as I booked the trip actually, I started putting together busy bags and a quiet book for Totes and Apple. It took me almost two months to finish!
We were told when booking the flight that families can request the bulk head row to give more leg room and add the bassinet option (for infants under 28"/20lbs... Apple was too big by this time though). The only catch with this is you can only request this at the gate after you've checked in and cleared security. It's first come, first serve. We were able to get it on the way there for our flight from Seattle to Amsterdam, which was approximately 10.5 hours of flight time.
The flight left Seattle around 6pm. Apple usually goes to sleep at 7pm so before we boarded the plane, we grabbed a quick dinner in the terminal (without thinking that meals would be served on the flight), then tried to entertain her as best we could until around 8pm, at which time I tried to nurse her to sleep. When that didn't work, I put her in the Ergo and walked around the airplane. "Walked around" is kind of a joke, as there's not much room for this and you're always dodging other passengers on their way to the bathroom or the airline crew and their carts. But luckily near the bulk head section was a walk-through area that connected the two aisles near the bathrooms so it was a place I pretty much camped out in.
She slept well while I was standing and walking around, but at some point I tried to sit down and sleep at bit myself and I only got about 90 minutes out of her like that. So out of an almost 11 hour flight, that's all I slept! She got about four hours of sleep in on that flight and took several more catnaps between our two hour layover in Amsterdam and two hour flight down to Venice Marco Polo Airport (VCE).
We didn't have the ability to control timing as there was only one departing flight out of Seattle to our destination, but we did pay a bit more for less layover time and that will always be worth the extra cost to me, going with children or not. Luckily for us on the way to Venice, the timing worked out perfectly that by the time we had arrived at our palazzo and settled in for the night, it was about 8pm and we were able to get everyone to sleep and attempt to "reset" our internal clock.
Compare this to our travel home where we had to be up at 3:30am to drive two hours to the airport in Florence, 15 hours of travel during a time of the day we were know accustomed to being awake and arrived back in Seattle around noon. We then tried everything to keep ourselves awake but ultimately were just too tired to even go outside for a walk and get some fresh air, so we all crashed around 5:30pm for the night.
On the flight back to Seattle, we did not request the bulk head as they had us split into two rows (the middle section that has four seats together in each row) and told us the seats next to each of our assigned seats were empty. Wasn't completely true but we we did have six seats for the five of us. Apple was listed as an Infant in Arms (and it was news to me that while domestically, she flies for free, internationally there is a fee. I paid $145 extra for her).
Totes did amazing with the adjustments, both ways and was really such an easy traveller. He slept when he was tired, watched movies on the airplane and alternated sitting between my husband and myself and grandma. He played with his busy bags, ate well, and was generally happy all the time. But it was really hard on Apple, and therefore hard on us all, for her to adjust. For a few nights both coming and going, she had a two-hour period of awake time in the middle of the night. And there's nothing you can do to get them back to sleep when they're not ready to be. And sleep for yourself? Forget about it! Luckily by night three she was better and actually sleeping at night (with a little help getting back to sleep a few times) and awake during the day.
Door of Venice
During our many walks through the city, one thing really stood out to me... the doors in Venice. From the most ornate to the simplest dwelling, they were all so beautiful and unique, boasting character along with their age. Totes indulged me in a series of jumps so I could put together a snapshot of a few of our favorites.
This was such an incredible trip and I really hope that we can get back here one day to get to know this magical city even better. I had so much about this trip I wanted to share so I apologize for any ramblings! I would love to answer any questions you may have if I can! Please let a comment below. Thanks for reading!