Saturday, November 20, 2010

Accessible Italy

As my children got older I liked to ask them what they wanted to see in Europe.  At age 10 my daughter exclaimed, “Paris!  Italy!”  The usual crowd pleasers.  Paris wasn’t on the agenda for that summer, but Austria was, so could I somehow work Italy in?  It’s relatively close to Austria.  But there was that niggling feeling of discomfort with Italy.  (See previous post.)  Maybe if we stuck to Northern Italy, I thought, like Venice.  Yes, Venice!  Kids love Venice, it’s like a big Disneyland!

Venice was the right choice for my 11 and 8 year olds to see Italy.  It’s a very curious concept for kids that there are no cars and no streets in Venice.  Engage your youngsters in some interesting conversation before you go by telling them that Venetian children have to take a boat to school!  A fantastic book called The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke is also a great introduction to Venice for boys and girls.  It’s a thrilling mystery about two orphan brothers who run away to Venice and survive on the streets with other young transients.  The movie is also available on DVD and most of the scenes are shot in Venice.  After watching this film your kids will recognize the Rialto Bridge as soon as they see it!

To my surprise, the Venice Marco Polo Airport, built in 2002, is modern, convenient, and efficient.  Not at all chaotic or loud as one might expect where Italians convene in large numbers, the terminals are clean and spacious.  ATVO and  ACTV shuttle buses to the Venice-Santa Lucia train station on the western end of the Grand Canal are easy to locate and board.  Once you’re standing on the steps of the train station, overlooking the romantic, shimmering Canal, all your cares will slip away like the quiet gondolas gliding through it over centuries gone by.

That is until you realize you have to find your way to your hotel through all those alleyways, over all those pedestrian bridges, and up and down their narrow steps, with your luggage and your kids.  Panic!  Although I would recommend walking most everywhere you want to go in Venice, it’s a good idea to dish out some bucks for public transportation upon your first arrival with your luggage, and perhaps upon departure as well.  Public transportation is readily available on the waterbuses, called vaporetti, or the traghetto ferries.  The water taxis are limousines and will cost you as much as one (be sure to negotiate the fare before you board the boat, since the water taxis don’t have meters), and gondolas are, of course, a tourist attraction, not a form of public transportation.

When, and if, you find your hotel, take some time to orient yourself.  Collect some city maps from the lobby (or bring them from home if you’re staying in an apartment) and let your kids study them.  Show them how the Grand Canal curves through the city center like a snake and play search-and-seek to locate the only four bridges that cross it.  Ask the lobby receptionist where the nearest gelato shop is (the BEST gelato, however, is definitely Gelateria Nico at Dorsoduro 922).  And when you’re ready to venture out, don’t take the GPS with you - getting lost in Venice is half the fun!  (If your husband is like mine, it’ll take some pleading and prying to get that thing out of his hands.)

Since we were jetlagged on our first day in Venice, we took it easy by walking to Piazza San Marco and leisurely feeding the pigeons.  Big tip here:  bring some popcorn or old crackers from home or you’ll have to buy the overpriced pigeon food the vendors sell there.  Take a look inside St. Mark’s Basilica (if the line is too long, check to see if the left side door is open – another big tip today!) and walk up to the top for a fabulous view.  (Entry to the basilica is free, small fee to walk up to the top.)

Pensione Accademia Villa Maravege
Our hotel in Venice was sensational.  We parted with our custom of using budget accommodations and stayed at Pensione Accademia Villa Maravege.  We really splurged and got the junior suite, which ranges from 200€ to 325€, depending on the season, but we were extremely thrilled with our stay, the grounds, and the service there.  Our room was the perfect location for children – on the ground floor facing a courtyard that led out to one of the very few private gardens in Venice.

After four days in magnificent Venice, we made a quick escape from Italy on a train to Austria.  In only a few short hours you can be in the beautiful mountain and lakes region of Carinthia, Austria, in the eastern Alps.  A few hours more and you’re in the historical cities of Innsbruck or Salzburg.  A Venice/Austria itinerary is easy to plan, and one that is enchanting and enjoyable for kids of all ages.

29 comments:

  1. Venice is the ONLY city in Europe that I have been totally lost in! At night!! LOVE the stories and LOVE those photos!!

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  2. I can't wait to take my kids there some day. They are still too little. I'm definately going to read that book with them. Thanks for the great suggestion. We stayed at hotel Riva and I think we will stay there again. It was only 90 euros.

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