Venice & Rome

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Some years ago we promised ourselves we would return to Venice and since we'd also decided we'd take a trip on the Orient Express to celebrate our silver wedding anniversary and wanted to visit Rome, I planned a trip to combine all three. After some investigation, we'd decided that we would prefer a day trip on the train rather than a longer overnight journey. The Orient Express programme meant that the only time convenient time for us to combine the three was at the end of September so rather than wait until 2007, the year of our 25th anniversary, we decided to go early. We booked our trip with Citalia through the Magic Breaks travel agent. Citalia allows you to custom-build your own trip at a cost cheaper than you can do it yourself, and Magic Breaks offers a good discount. I spent a long time researching hotels and came up with a couple which I thought would be perfect for the occasion.

28th September 2006

Our flights were with BA and Martyn has a card for the use of the lounge so we had a relaxed start to the journey at Gatwick North - our flights were at very civilised times. On arriving in Venice, we were taken by private water taxi to St Mark's Square, close to

                                        

the location of our hotel, the Concordia, at the corner of the Square. The views from the water are spectacular and it was every bit as exciting as on the first time we'd visited. We found our hotel and whilst waiting for our room to receive a final check, we were given complementary Prosecco and nibbles whilst chatting to the bar/restaurant manager. We'd hoped to eat in the hotel restaurant on Saturday but it was booked for a party so we decided to eat there this evening instead as the menu looked very good. The hotel is lovely, 4* and of a nice size, not too big. Our room was newly decorated and very comfortable with a spacious modern shower room. It overlooked St Mark's Square if you stuck your head out the window (see photo below) with good views of the Basilica.

       

For some inexplicable reason we were the only people dining in the hotel restaurant but the food was superb and very good value, with extremely attentive service!

29th September

During the night I discovered the drawbacks of staying so close to St Mark's Square - there are bells ringing all night, on the hour and about 5 minutes to and five minutes past, clearly they're not all in synch! I never did get used to it and slept very little for the three nights of our stay. But breakfast was very good and we took advantage of the free boat trip to the island of Murano, home to the famous glass. We were taken at a furious walking pace to the water taxi, being joined by others on the way. At this point we realised it could be a one-way trip if we didn’t buy anything! The journey across to the island was lovely and we landed at one of the factories where we were given a demonstration of the making of a prancing horse – like the Ferrari horse. It only took a few minutes but how many hours training to get so proficient, I wondered?

 

                                    

We then visited the showroom, full of amazing glasswork, much of it far too garish for our tastes. However, we had decided we’d like to buy some special wineglasses and found something to our taste, along with water glasses and water jug. We negotiated and haggled and finally agreed a price, which with hindsight, was still ridiculously high. Be warned! Martyn asked for the horse we’d seen being made to be thrown in and we were given that to take with us, all wrapped up. The other items were to be shipped to us.

We were taxied back and went for a wander and visited the Doge’s Palace which we’d seen on a tour last time. Being on our own, I think we saw more but learned less! Part of the attraction of Venice is continually getting lost but we always found our way eventually. The shops are wonderful but well out of the reach, financially, of most tourists.

 

                             

We walked around the Accademia Bridge area and back up to the Rialto Bridge and the on our way back stopped for an iced coffee and watched a skeleton entertaining everyone! We found out about a Vivaldi concert that evening so booked tickets after ensuring we knew where the venue was – the Scuola Grande di San Teodoro. We had an early meal at All’Angelo, close to the hotel – nice enough but not up to the standard of the hotel’s food. Then off to the concert, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Pachelbel’s Canon. The hall is lovely but became increasingly hot as it filled up. The musicians were dressed in period clothes and looked fabulous. The music was superb, wonderfully played and much appreciated by the audience. We vowed to do this sort of thing more often!

                                   

     

 

30th September

This morning we explored the are we could see from this side of St Mark’s basin. We crossed the Accademia Bridge and went east to the Santa Maria della Salute, a huge church which distinguished itself by being far less ornate than many Italian churches – a bonus for us. We walked across the front with views across to the Isola della Giudecca. On our travels we came across a violin exhibition, which was combined with modern art, unusual but interesting. We came back to join the throngs in St Mark’s Square – the queues to visit the Basilica stretched for hundreds of yards so we decided against revisiting it. It won’t have changed since our last visit.

                              

We had a private walking tour booked for the afternoon and discussed with our guide where we had already been so she could show us somewhere different. She recommended the Jewish quarter but it was Saturday so that was out – but next time, perhaps. We’d already been a fair way off the beaten track so we agreed we’d visit the Arsenale, to the east of the city, new area for us. This are is inhabited by the working classes and is far less touristy. We saw some interesting places on the way and heard some of the history of Venice, both ancient and more modern. Who’d have guessed that some of the canals were covered over to enable people to get to work more easily? It was good to get away from the many tourists and although expensive (55 euros each – arranged by the hotel so no doubt they took a commission), the 2 hour tour was worth it. We finished at the Biennale gardens and decided to have a beer and then dinner on the way back rather than going back and coming out again. We’d been walking all day again and were pretty tired. We ate in a waterfront restaurant that specialised in fish – San Giorgio on the Riva Deli Shaven. The view of the sun going down across the water was lovely and the food was good although the main course was rather too oily for our tastes.

                             

 

1st October

We had an early start as we were heading off to Rome this misty morning. It was strange to see the Square empty and it was so much quicker walking anywhere! We had a private water taxi arranged to take us to the station, where we checked in for our trip on the Orient Express. We were right at the front of the train so the anticipation built nicely as we walked the length of the platform.

                             

Everyone has their own private carriage and these are converted into sleeping accommodation on the overnight journeys. i.e. 2 bunks and there’s a small washing area in a cupboard. No showers though and the loos are at the end of each wagon. A good reason for travelling during the day – the bunks are a little short for people of Martyn’s height. It’s such a beautiful train though and the marquetry is lovely. The attention to detail is perfect. We were served coffee and biscuits and then relaxed and watched the world go by. The scenery at that stage is a little dull but there was plenty of VSOE (Venice-Simplon Orient Express) literature to look at. It was a magical experience and then time for lunch. But first, drinks at the lovely bar, to the accompaniment of a pianist. We had celebratory champagne and chatted with an Irish couple whose sons had bought them the trip for their Ruby anniversary.

                       

We shared a table with a couple from Essex (you have a choice of private or shared) – he was a bit of a Jack-the Lad so we had quite a laugh. The food was delicious and then we returned to our compartment for the rest of the journey which was now much more interesting in terms of scenery. There were a lot of tunnels, some of them lasting for miles. Out of the tunnels, the weather had improved dramatically, with bright blue skies and brilliant sunshine. At 3.30 it was time for more food – tea and yummy cakes – and we arrived in Rome at 5.15pm.

We were met by a lady who was to drive us to the hotel, splashing out this time on the 5star Hotel Splendide Royal, just off the Via Veneto and next to the Villa Borghese with its extensive gardens and museums.  I’ve never stayed anywhere as luxurious as this, full of marble and very high ceilings. Even the lifts were the height of luxury! Our room was lovely, and a fabulous bathroom. Very spacious and linen sheets – that’s a first for us!

We decided to have a bar snack but there was some confusion and nothing was available. We’d booked for dinner at the hotel’s restaurant for our last night so didn’t want to do that twice, especially after checking the mini bar prices! So we settled for a drink there (mortgage required!) and a bar of chocolate in our room.

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