Venice, not your regular kind of islands

san marco square

san marco square

When we decided to go away this past summer, we let our oldest son Jake choose our destination. When he decided on Italy,  I knew I wanted to see Venice.  I started reading up on visiting this romantic, astounding, unique place…only to find many sources somewhat discouraging about traveling to Venice with younger children.

Too boring. Too crowded. Too non kid friendly. Too old. Too dangerous.

Good thing we did not listen. Traveling with two teenagers and an almost kindergartner was going to pose certain challenges, this we knew. What we did not plan on was that the supposedly least little kid friendly place we were to visit, would be the place where our 5 year old had the most fun.

And why? Basically because Venice is filled with magical alleyways, waterways filled with song and expansive areas ( yes, I am using expansive to describe this island ) where a little boy, filled with beans, could run and play. San Marco Square was his sanctuary. Early mornings, after getting a caffe for me and a juice for him,  we would go and chase the pigeons and then choose a spot to sit and play. The overwhelming crowds we were told to anticipate? Not there in the mornings. Instead, we spent quiet time decorating a mask, picked up inexpensively for one euro, watching the meticulous dance of the Torre dell’Orologio. That clock amazed my son for the 4 days we were in Venice, never losing it’s charm.

san marco square

san marco square

We did brave lines for the Campanile di San Marco. Alex, the lover of clocks, was determined to get to the top. And so to the top we went. Once there, he happily perched himself on a corner overlooking the Torre dell’Orologio, while  the rest of us drank in the wonderful perspective offered to us from up above the orange roof tops.

campanile di san marco

campanile di san marco

And yes, the gondolas? Worth every penny. The experience of peacefully gliding down the canal while the gondoliers serenaded us was…so NOT how it happened! Instead we were treated to hairpin turns, good natured ( we think ) verbal jousting between gondoliers, water traffic negotiations that made me question how safe we actually were between rival gondolas, water taxis, vaporettos and the occasional kayak, all filled with laughter from my family and a certain air of disbelief that a place like Venice has actually existed for so long.

gondola ride

gondola ride

My daughter describes Venice as the coolest all inclusive ever – you are “stuck” on an island with endless gelato and rides outside your hotel door, an amusement park of historical measure.  Exploring became the name of the game while walking the length of the island. There were hordes of people at times, but only around the busiest of spots – the Palazza Ducale, the Rialto Bridge, the Bridge of Sighs. Once you made your way through these crushes, there opened up wide walkways along the water to enjoy the excitement of waiting gondolas and spectacular private sailing boats, quieter residential areas or to discover the Giardini Pubblici (Public Gardens).  This park area filled with birdsong and with it’s wide avenue leading up to a children’s play area, was a wonderful respite for all of us. The shade and many benches made our hot day so much better.

watching the gondolas

watching the gondolas

Did I mention the heat? The July sun made us crave beach. After days of travel and hot wandering by foot, our little one was tiring. Through my reading, I knew that nearby, a simple Line One vaporetto ride away, was Lido, offering public and private beaches, as well as historical hotels and a laid back feel. To be honest, I found the write ups on Lido to be underwhelming and my expectations were not particularly high. Well, good thing our desire for surf and sand exceeded our belief in guide books…Lido was fantastic.

The moment we stepped off the vaporetto, we knew we had definitely left Venice. A holiday feel permeates Lido. Perhaps it is the shaded street lined with beach stores, the sound of flip flops along the sidewalks or the gelato ringed mouths of the children ( and adults! ) everywhere but if you are looking for relaxation, Lido serves it up. My original plan was to find the Hotel des Bains and ask if we could spend the day on their beach but we were hungry and quickly decided that convenience over planning was going to win out again ( is this not a common occurance when traveling with kids? Please tell me yes…). After quickly wandering through one public beach area, we came upon Venezia Spiagge/ Lungomare D’Annunzio.

the beach hut

the beach hut

It is one of several private beaches on Lido offering beach huts, a restaurant, a beach shop, playgrounds, showers and bathrooms. Many of the huts are rented seasonally or weekly. The most desirable spots are in the front row, facing the ocean, and we lucked out in that one was available that day ( likely because it was a week day ). The combination of the blue and white huts, the warm Adriatic Sea, the simple yet neighbourhood feel of the beachfront and families who were set up around us with their kids and their food, towels blowing in the wind, soccer balls flying…was just perfectly relaxing. Italian was the only language we heard that day,  and we got to use our minimal Italian, usually met with giggles from the Italian children running around. The facilities were spotless ( just remember to bring toilet paper into the stall with you ) and charming ( jugs of nutella hanging from the tree at the beachside resto? Okay!). It was the absolute best way to spend a day in Italy.

lido

We have decided that on our next visit to Venice, we will stay a few nights on Lido and take the 10 minute boat ride over to Venice ( or any of the other islands ). Venice is always busy, humming with activity, and this proved to be a little overwhelming at times for our daughter, who did tire of the constant hawking of toys and souvenirs. And there is a constant barrage of “stuff” to buy, always within reach of your children. The 10 euro straw fedora was a worthwhile hit but stay far, far away from the plastic “splatty” toys – even at one euro, they are way too expensive when they break within minutes ( we learned the hard way, twice ). Hot, disappointed four year olds are never a fun time.

Four days filled with moments we loved – from dining one evening, in the shadow of a centuries old bridge, along a canal, with a jug of house red to the morning Mark and Alex took turns scaring  tourists in their gondolas as they would round the corner of our hotel,  perched on the corner of a busy canal. Venice, we were already missing you as we boarded the train to Rome…

at the corte grimani apart-hotel

at the corte grimani apart-hotel

How we got there: Lufthansa flight from Montreal to Amsterdam to Venice; water taxi charter to the doorstep of our hotel

Apart-Hotel: Corte Grimani

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