Family “Vacation” in Italy: Parte Due

On our last morning in Rome, we took a taxi to the train station and had no problems finding our high-speed train to Venice. We located our seats, stowed our luggage, and sat down to enjoy a three-hour train ride through the Italian countryside—this is the way to travel, people! The weather became progressively more overcast and rainy as we rode, but we still enjoyed seeing the small Tuscan farmhouses and rolling hills as we flew by at well over 100mph. We also had time to check out a couple of great kids books I had found in the bookstore in Rome: an Usborne History of Rome book and Alberta Garini’s A Kids’ Guide to Venice. Piper enjoyed the kids overview of Ancient Rome and later brought it in to share with her class. And we all appreciated the Kids’ Guide to Venice—tons of great ideas on what to see in Venice and what kids would find interesting at the various sites. All with great colorful drawings. 

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Once we arrived, we took a vaporetto to the San Stae stop and met our wonderful AirBnB hosts, Silvia and Manuel. Their modern, recently renovated apartment looking out over a small canal was just lovely: all clean white lines with splashes of color. Once again, the girls had a sweet little attic room with two twin beds and their own bathroom. And, no annoying birds or church bells! Score one point for Venice. 

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Beautiful kitchen

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The girls’ attic room

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View from the living/dining room window

We loved it, and our hosts sat with us for almost an hour after we arrived, giving us the tour of the apartment, showing us how to use the various appliances, and giving us lots of restaurant recommendations while marking them on a big map of Venice. The apartment was located on the border of the San Polo and Santa Croce neighborhoods, which was an excellent spot. At least a few blocks away from the crazy crowds around the Rialto Bridge and major Venetian sites, but still close enough to walk almost everywhere we wanted to go. 

The first morning we were there, we somehow found our way through the twisty-turny streets to Ca’ Macana, a mask-making shop. They were all booked up for their 2-hour classes on mask-making and Venetian history, but we were able to get into a 1-hour session, which was perfect for our kids. They got to pick from a ton of painting and decorating styles displayed on masks on the walls of the shop, and then set to work turning their white plaster mask into a work of art. Ruby chose to copy a design she liked on a cat mask (she reluctantly went with cat since the one kind of dog mask they had didn’t fit her), and Piper was a little more free-form with hers. I have to say, they came out beautifully, and are so much better souvenirs than the ready-made masks sold all over town. 

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Another highlight of our trip was the Daily Life in Venice tour we took with Context Travel. If the Ancient Rome tour we booked in Rome was educational and enjoyable, our Venice one was even better. Our guide was absolutely wonderful—the mom of three girls herself, she had a great understanding of when our girls needed to run around a bit and how to explain things to them in a way they could understand. Together, we toured a small Venetian palace, learned about the water supply in Venice and what happens when it floods, created our own personal crests in chalk, and studied Titian masterpieces in the Basilica dei Frari. 

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Our family crests

I swear that both Chuck and I learned more about art during our guide’s discussion of Titian’s Assumption of the Virgin than in any art history class I took in high school or college. (Then again, I am sure my 22-year-old self would take offense at that. Perhaps I am just old and have forgotten everything I once knew...) 

Of course we also spent time tromping up and down the Rialto Bridge with the rest of humanity, and walked down to Piazza San Marco to check out the beautiful buildings (and the pigeons). 

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But there were many museums, churches, and sites that we missed out on—partly due to the frustration of waiting in line with two children (both theirs and ours) and partly due to a hard-won understanding that our family functions best when we don’t adopt the go-go-go must-see everything attitude that pervades most travel guides. “36 Hours in Venice!” “Must-Sees for a Week in Italy!” I don’t know if this is a typically American thing or not, but I can certainly pick out those travelers in Paris: “Ok honey, check off the Mona Lisa! Now where’s that Venus de Milo?” 

In my 20s, I may or may not have subscribed to that school of thought, rushing through major attractions to make sure I could check them off my list of things to see or do, and without being open to the serendipity of wandering across something cool. Thanks in part to my husband (he is not, ahem, a planner) and now my children, who make it impossible to do such things even if I tried, I am doing my best to let it go, and be ok with potentially missing out on something. So we cut down on the expectations, and tried to pick only one “must-do” for each day. One day it was the quintessential gondola ride down the Venetian canals—a little cheesy? Maybe. Overpriced? You betcha. But pretty awesome just the same? Absolutely. 

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We also took every version of the kids standing on a bridge by a canal picture—it was just so beautiful every where we turned. But I include the pictures below to show you that though you could leave my blog thinking that we have happy, beautifully well-behaved children wherever we go, in reality it goes from “you’re the best sister in the world!” to “Stop iiiiiiiiiiit! MOMMMMM, she’s doing bunny ears on me!” in about 2 seconds flat. Kids. 

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And we spent lots of time looking for particular restaurants or gelato shops, going up and down the bridges over the canals, and marvelling at the charming little streets that don’t go in any sort of a straight line. I’d spend my whole day that way if I could.

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We were rewarded for our efforts with lots of amazing food, but our favorite place was a little wine shop that also sold “cicchetti,”  kind of like Italian tapas. We picked out our cicchetti, ordered wine and a plate of bread and cheese for the girls, and then took our little plates of deliciousness outside to eat by the side of a canal while the girls played on the bridge nearby. Heaven! So much so that we returned again on our last day in Venice, and this time enjoyed our food with Aperol Spritzes (absolutely everywhere in Venice, and with good reason!). 

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We also found a great little market near the apartment, where we stopped in to get some proscuitto and parmigiano for a little snack plate in the late afternoon—sustaining us until the restaurants opened for dinner. The artichokes and sundried tomatoes were outstanding, so on our last morning, I went out to the nearby farmers market to get some tomatoes to take home with us. 

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Artichoke season was in full force, as it was when we returned to Paris. Piles and piles of artichokes, small purple-ish ones at first and then huge softball sized ones a couple of weeks later. I made it my goal to test out a bunch of different artichoke recipes, and one I loved was (of course) from David Lebovitz. Yes, artichokes are prickly and fussy to deal with (if you can’t get them pre-trimmed like I found in Italy—if only I could have packed my suitcase with those!), but there is such a huge difference between fresh ones and the jarred artichoke hearts you can find in your supermarket. If it’s artichoke season near you, give David’s recipe or this one from Epicurious a try. I made a big batch of David's and was eating them out of a jar in my fridge pretty much every time I passed by, but you can also use them to toss with pasta or as a pizza topping or part of a salad or part of an appetizer plate like we did in Venice. Whatever you do, you won’t be disappointed. Consider it your little taste of Italia! 

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e© Molly Pisula 2015