My first experience in Venice involved waiting on a dock for a water taxi to pick me up from the Venice Airport and being extremely aware that I didn’t know a word of Italian. Worse yet, I had no idea how to act like I knew what I was doing. Thankfully, the vaporetto (my first Italian word!) soon arrived and hurdle number one was crossed. I did not fall into the Grand Canal or drop anything important while entering the boat. The ride was exciting and put into immediate focus the fact that I was not going to have to deal with automobiles and highways. Everything was going to be defined by water: Venice is made up of 118 islands, 416 bridges, 177 canals, and 127 campi (squares). The taxi took us quickly through the largest and longest canal, the S-shaped Grand Canal, which divides the city in two.

Within minutes we were at our hotel, the Ca’Sagredo, which is situated directly on the Grand Canal. It was the palace of Nicolò Sagredo, the 105th doge (duke) of Venice in the late 1600′s. This palazzo is currently a 42-bed boutique hotel and museum that remains true to its fascinating history. The second floor of the Ca’Sagredo contains no rooms for guests. It is reached by ascending a marble staircase guarded by two cherubs. At the top is a treasure trove of artwork from the days when the doge lived there. Everywhere you look, you are treated to frescos, paintings, sculptures, glasswork, and more. They say a picture is worth a thousand words but actually being there trumps the finest of pictures by a mile.

We quickly settled in and set out to experience Venezia. We decided to do a combination gondola, walking, and motorboat tour. Our guide and gondolier took us through rios (side canals) and areas of Venice that we would not have otherwise seen, while giving us both a captivating history of Venice along with current intriguing happenings. On the walking tour we hit all the important sites, and the motorboat ride took us way out on the Grand Canal. We even got a peek at Elton Johns’ canal-side home. For dinner, we dined at Ca’Sagredo’s top tier restaurant, L’Alcova: fantastic food and wine, gracious service, alfresco dining with a view of the Grand Canal. What could be better?

Before we knew it, the second part of our odyssey was about to begin. We took the high-speed rail from Venezia to Florence, the capital city of the province of Tuscany. A short cab ride took us to the charming Palace San Gallo Hotel, where we checked in and again were off to see the sights. What a culture shock! We came from a city with no cars, to a city teeming with cars, motorbikes and bicycles. This was definitely a different vibe than Venice. When we got home I found out that we were there at the same time as the Kardashian wedding. Maybe that explains the crowds! This city, like so many in Europe, is seeped in history. The bounty of museums, architecture, basilicas, cathedrals, statues and sculptures is mind-boggling. By far, the most extraordinary moment was viewing Michelangelo’s sculpture of David, which is housed at the Accademia Gallery. What makes the sculpture even more amazing is the fact that Michelangelo did not use a model; he used only his exceptional knowledge of anatomy to create this masterpiece.

After a full day of touring, we decided to treat ourselves to a genuine Italian gelato. We discovered a wonderful gelato place called Grom, definitely worth a try. Of course, what would a trip to Florence be without fine dining? We dined at the elegant Borgo San Jacopo in the Hotel Lungarno: outstanding food, with a fabulous view of the Arno River and Ponte Vecchio, the famous Medieval Bridge that crosses the Arno. This was all something I could get used to … but, to quote Mr. Frost, “I’ve got promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep.”

As we were leaving the Venezia/Firenze part of our journey, with images of Venice dating back to the 5th century and Florence dating back to 80 BC, I kept thinking about the beauty and fascinating history of the sites we had visited. However, it was time to move on to our final destination in Italia, the Tuscan countryside.

If you go

THE BEST WAY TO VENICE AND FLORENCE, ITALY
From JFK (New York), non-stop service is provided to Venice by Delta Airlines, and several major international airlines provide one-stop service to VCE (Venice)
From Venice to Florence, high-speed rail service provides comfortable and rapid (2 hours) service throughout the day

WHERE TO STAY
Ca’ Sagredo Hotel, Camp Santa Sofia 4198/99 – Ca’D’Oro – 30121 Venice
+39 041 2413111; www.casagredohotel.com

San Gallo Palace Hotel, Via Lorenzo il Magnifico 2, Florence+39 055 463871; www.sangallopalace.it

WHERE TO EAT
L’Alcova Restaurant on the Canal Grande at Ca’ Sagredo Hotel in Venice
+39 041 2413111; www.casagredohotel.com/restaurant-and-bar

Osteria alla Biforo, Campo Santa Margheita, Dorosduro 2930, Dorsoduro, Venice 30123
+39 041 5236119

Borgo San Jacopo, Borgo San Iacopo 62 – 50125 Florence, +39 055 281661; www.lungarnocollection.com/#/en/eat-drink-e-shop/restaurant-borgo-san-jacopo-florence/

Trattoria Sabatino, Via Pisana, 2lr, 50143 Florence
+39 055 225955; www.trattoriasabatino.it

CAROLE can be reached at tangling833@aol.com

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