We are back (imagine this in a deep Austrian/German accent)! Yes, after a few months in Germany having a lazy summer holiday, it was time to get going again. Pretty simple reason really, weather was getting colder and we are just not equipped for colder weather. After mulling over what the really important destinations and highlights for us would be in Europe, we came up with only two really: Venice and Portugal.
I looked at flights to Portugal a few times but the weather was just too nice back in Germany, so we never took off so far at least. Flying is also more risky Corona-wise than just hopping into our car and taking off, so in the end it was an easy decision – we are heading to Italy. One of the few remaining Corona low risk areas remaining in Europe. At the time of writing, it certainly feels as if the second wave is starting to hit with numbers in Germany and other countries heading to levels last seen in March/April. Let’s see what will happen over the next few days/weeks.
The drive from Schenefeld to Venice as our main destination is a whopping 14 hours or so. Driving this in one go was definitely not a go, especially as my (most of the time) better half decided to not drive in Germany. Autobahn too scary? What’s more fun to zoom along with 200Km/h or so? Anyway, we had our first overnight stop in Kassel and then visited some old friends in Bad Waldsee in Southern Germany for a couple of nights. Had a great time with them and got to know their nick of the woods a little bit.
A short 6h drive later through Austria (the kids couldn’t believe that it only took a couple of hours to drive through a whole country) we arrived at our first destination: Lake Garda!
Only heard about it so far and boy, it is a stunning spot! A massive lake surrounded by steep mountains and lots of villages and towns dotted along its shoreline, one more beautiful than the other. We found an AirBnB halfway along the lake on the Eastern side (Castelletto) and started to explore the area. Best thing about our accommodation was that it was straight on the lake’s edge with great views from the balcony and that there was a nice walking/cycling trail right along the lake for kilometres. What to do on our first night in Italy? Eating pizza of course, and it’s fair to say that we had a few pizzas in Italy by now and all of them have been fantastic. We had a great sunset that evening, what a way to start our time in Italy.
The next couple of days we walked along the lake, had a few ice creams and also visited Sirmione at the Southern end of the lake. It is a small town and we got our first taste of the rich history in Italy. The streets are narrow, lined with beautiful, colourful houses and the odd castle or church thrown in. And of course lots of ristorantes and gelaterias. Sirmione was particularly nice I have to say, with an old castle at its centre. We could have easily stayed around the lake for a week or so longer but our main goal was up next, Venice.
The drive to Venice was easy and quick and we had just another excellent AirBnB near the Mestre train station. We decided to stay on the main land as taking the car into Venice is not easy (and not cheap!) and that way we had our car safely tucked away for our 4 nights in Venice and could do everything on foot. We quickly settled into the flat and after a short stroll to the train station and a 10 minute ride, we were straight in Venice.
Coming out of the train station we were immediately impressed and stunned by the Canal Grande and the architecture we have seen on pictures only until this point. And it was only getting better from then on. The next few days felt a bit like Iguazu Falls or Machu Picchu as in we took sooo many pictures. Around any corner or across any of the many bridges and we had to stop to take another picture. What an amazing place, and great to have this ticked off the bucket list. And the best thing of all, it was not crowded whatsoever. One positive thing about Corona at least, no cruise ships and overseas tourists. Quite the opposite, it felt that the whole town was a bit bored with us few tourists, and the gondolieries even offered us discounts, which would be unheard of in normal times. In the end we couldn’t resist and I have to say, it was something special to get ferried around the small canals and then onto the Canal Grande near the Rialto Bridge.
Our first stop. was the rooftop terrace of a fancy shopping mall to get a good overview across Venice and then we made our way to the St Mark’s Square and Basilica. Not too many pigeons around which was nice and then we continued exploring. Along the Biennale area we made it all the way to the end of Venice, at least what you can get to without a boat. The weather was pretty good that day and the forecast was average for the next couple of days, so we thought we make the most of it.
After quite a bit of walking all the way through Venice and then a different way back, we definitely deserved another nice pizza and one of the many ristorantes available. We found a nice, small one with a terrace towards a canal and finally had a rest and a well deserved beer. Later in the day when we made our way back to the train station, we saw that a lot of shops and flats put up barriers in their doors. Then we saw a lot of raised walkways being readied. Finally our landlord send a message saying that Venice was expected to be flooded the next day and he would recommend to stay away with children. Here we go.
With the weather forecast being pretty horrible for the next day and the warning of flooding in place as well, we decided to stay away from Venice the next day and have a lazy day in the flat. The weather turned out to be okayish, but good to catch up on a bit of admin as well. Reading up on the flooding of Venice a bit, that day was actually the first day the city put its new, long delayed and pretty expensive flood protection system to use. It’s called MOSE and well, it worked and kept the high tide at bay and prevented severe flooding. Not that the city is not flooded at all anymore as we learned the next day.
The raised walkways were still in place and we all noticed that the water was much higher than on our first day in town. Jennifer and the kids got wet feet posing for one of the many pictures as a wave came over, which I thought was pretty funny. With every hour we started to see more and more water in the alleyways, coming up through the drainage system. More and more people seem to wear gum boots of all sorts and at last when we reached the St Mark’s Square – it was under water. Not by much, maybe 20-40 centimetres but still weird and actually pretty cool to experience it that way too. We all wore short pants, so no problem for us. As there were even fewer people around, we quickly headed into the Basilica to get a good overview from up top.
One thing I will also remember about Venice is, how easy it is to get lost. So many small and curved little “streets”, more small allyways really. The whole thing is a huge maze. I kind of pride myself of having a decent sense of direction but without Google Maps, I would have been completely lost here. And even if you get it right and head towards the right direction, you still need a bridge. Although there are plenty around, they are not everywhere of course and you might or might not get to one depending on the alleyway you picked.
And that’s it really, what a fascinating and fantastic place to visit. All in all we spent three days exploring the many areas of Venice and I am sure we could have found a few more hidden gems, but then it was time to head off towards our next highlight – Rome. We initially didn’t plan to head that far South but friends and family were highly recommending it, and so much I can already say – it was well worth it!