Monday, January 30, 2012

To Market, To Market!

   I know that I said I'd discuss the wonderful gelateria Perche No! in this post, but I've decided to take a gelato break and instead talk about the markets in Florence. Don't worry, Perche No! will follow soon, I promise.
  On our first night in Florence, we happened to wander by the Mercato Nuovo on the way back from dinner. Seeing as it was past 8, the market had closed for the us the perfect opportunity to take some pictures with the famous pig, Il Porcellino. It's said that if you want to come back to Florence, you should stroke its nose. Something I didn't find out about until AFTER we'd already visited the pig, otherwise I might've rubbed that poor guy's nose raw!
 We never actually visited the Mercato Nuovo during opening hours, but from what we saw while walking past, there was mostly just the usual tourist items being hawked, and I don't tend to purchase those anyway.
  On to market #2: the next morning, we visited the Mercato Centrale, which is just a short walk from the Duomo. It's housed in a cast-iron building that was built in 1874, with a second floor that was added in 1980. The second floor was supposed to have at least one restaurant and seating, but it was closed both days that we visited.
  The Mercato Centrale is comprised of various small shops and stalls selling produce and just about every kind of gourmet Italian food you can imagine: meats, bread, olive oil, dried mushrooms, balsamic vinegars, the list goes on. On our first day, we just looked around to get a feel for prices and what was offered, but the second time we purchased some good balsamic vinegar (most places will let you taste first), a bottle of wine, and this amazing little jar of bliss, Salsa Tartufata by Giuliano Tartufi ( Their website is in both Italian and English if you're interested. I know, because I looked them up after we went through our one jar way too quickly after returning home. Unfortunately, while the jars of truffle salsa are reasonably priced online, shipping is not. Guess we really do need to return to Florence.
   Below are a few pictures from the Mercato Centrale (and the pig, of course). If you do get to visit Florence and the Mercato Centrale, wander around until you find the shop selling that salsa tatufata. It's a bit pricey but well worth your money!!!
(If you're honestly interested in finding the shop, I believe it was here: go straight through the main entrance, pass the butcher's on your right, then cross an aisle and keep going until you come to the next cross aisle--it should be the shop on the right corner before you cross, but don't quote me).

                                          The famous boar of Mercato Nuovo

                                Inside Florence's Mercato Centrale

                                     This shop had expensive but amazing bread

Friday, January 27, 2012

1st Gelateria In Florence: Vivoli!

   After eating a massive lunch at Trattoria Marione, we wandered around Florence a bit until I dragged Yuki in the direction of Perche No! (Why not!), a gelateria I'd read about and knew was in the area we happened to be in. Ok, so I kind of made sure we were in that area, I'll admit it.
  Unfortunately, they were closed for the day, but a wonderful man who owned the leather goods shop next door then directed us to Vivoli, another quite famous gelateria that's rumored to be THE gelateria in Florence. Seeing as it was already on my list, off we went.  Located near Basilica di Santa Croce, it's a bit harder to find than I'd thought it would be. If the leather goods man hadn't shown us the exact location on the map, I might not have found it (horror!).
  The address is: Via dell' Isola delle Stinche, 7r. The easiest way to get to it is this: while looking at Santa Croce from Via de Benci/Via Giuseppe Verdi, turn around and locate Via Torta, which will be a bit to your right when your back is to Santa Croce. Go down Via Torte until you reach the first cross road. I don't think there are any street signs, but this will be Via dell' Isola della Stinche. Turn right and you'll see Vivoli on the left. Easy!
  Now, for Vivoli itself. We arrived expecting a huge line, seeing as this was supposed to be the best gelateria in Florence, but there was only 1 family ahead of us. We quickly discovered that we had to pay for our gelato at the cash register first, then take our receipts over to the counter to be served. I can't remember the cost offhand, but Yuki and I both got a medium-sized cup. (No cones here at Vivoli). Vivoli takes pride in serving fresh gelato daily, made on-site, and also in not serving cones, apparently.
 We were able to sit down inside at a little table, but seating is a bit cramped, and I'm guessing during full tourist season you'd be hard-pressed to find a resting space inside.
 Sadly, I've already forgotten all of the flavors we ordered (3 per cup so 6 in all), but I do know we got sesame, hazelnut, and some insanely decadent chocolate. I've also read that the caramel pear is great, but we didn't try it.
  Everything we tasted was fresh and wonderful, but Yuki declared it a bit 'too' sweet afterward. I was ready to go back to next day for more, but we decided to try Perche No! instead. And am I ever glad we did. More on them in the next post!


                                                    Good gelato at last!

                                   One of our 3-flavor cups: black sesame, chocolate, and...something creamy....

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Trattoria Marione in Florence

   After arriving in Florence and checking into our hotel, the first order of business was to find a late lunch. I was dead-set on trying some ribollita (kind of a poor-man's soup and a speciality of Tuscany), and Trattoria Marione was said to have some great home-style cooking. Plus it was about a 5 minute walk from our hotel, another bonus considering that we were starving by that point in the day.
  Let me just say now: Marione did not disappoint. In fact, I was pretty sure I'd died and gone to Italian food heaven. Yuki and I had ordered ribollita, lasagna, and a seafood salad to share, but I ended up not really sharing much of the ribollita with him! Keila was quite happy with the lasagna too, although we did have a rather large the mess to deal with, seeing as the one thing Marione is lacking is a high chair. That fact was actually a bit surprising, since some of the fancier restaurants we went to had high chairs, and Marione is definitely a family-style place: very crowded and a bit noisy, with tables quite close together. Every time we went past it, it was jam-packed, too. Not that I blame people for frequenting it--our lunch was so good that we went back the next day for more! Oh, and to quote Bob Barker, the price is right: for the 3 rather large dishes I named above, a half bottle of wine, some bottled water, and of course the cover for the 'free' bread, our will came to 31 euros. Much, much better than the prices in Venice! If you happen to tour Florence, put this place on your must-visit list. And then go eat 3 (or more) bowls of ribollita for me.
 PS The menu is in Italian, but there may/may not have been translations in English? I can't remember. In any case, at least one of the waiters speaks English quite well!

Trattoria Marione: Via della Spada 27r   
Basically, Via della Spada is located between Via de Fossi and Via de Tornabuoni, near Piazza di Santa Maria Novella. Pretty easy to find! (And if you're confused as to what the 'r' is for, it means 'red'. In Florence, there are 2 types of street numbers: red is for businesses/restaurants etc, while blue is for residential. So one location may have two entirely different street numbers!)

                                    Yummy lasagna!

                                 Seafood salad with loads of seafood

                                          The AMAZING ribollita!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Hotel All Suites Torre Dell'Orologico in Venice

      Before moving on to Florence, I thought I'd wrap up our time in Venice with a review of our hotel. Admittedly, it's probably not going to be all that interesting of a post unless you're heading to Venice any time soon, but it does involve a drunk man if you want to keep reading.
  My guidebook listed All Suites Torre Dell'Orologico as a middle range hotel in Venice, and that's what most of the reviews seemed to indicate when I did some online research. Some of the reviewers had complained about service, so we weren't really expecting the greatest treatment but figured we wouldn't be in the room much anyway.
  First off, I'd have to say that the best thing about this hotel is the location: it's just off Piazza San Marco, within easy walking distance of most of the major sites. Finding it the first day was a bit of a challenge, however (again again again, blame the stupid Venice maps). At first, we wandered aimlessly up and down a few streets off the square (with luggage, stroller, and baby in tow), harrassed some local policemen for directions, and then headed back to the piazza in frustration. At that point, a kind older man saw us and started pointing down a narrow side street and rambling in Italian. Luckily, 'hotel' seems to be an international word, seeing as I had no idea as to the meaning of the other words he was uttering. Turned out he was pointing us to the back door of the hotel, thank you sir!
 The main entrance is actually one street to the left of the largest street that heads north off the square, but it wasn't noted on the map and I doubt we would've realized it anyway, seeing as Torre Dell'Orologico is part of a complex of hotels run by the San Marco group, so the entrance door said San Marco Hotels instead! Oh, and if you're not able to haul heavy luggage, don't bother staying here--there's no water door so you have to schlep bags across the piazza from the San Marco vaporetto stop. We were probably quite the site, pushing a stroller loaded with bags while I had Keila strapped in the Bjorn and Yuki hauled along another large suitcase!
  On to the room itself. We arrived a bit early but luckily our room was already made up. Quite a decent suite for the price and location, although it wouldn't really suit a large family, seeing as there was only 1 double bed. Maybe the couch folded out, but I never checked. The rooms were rather larger than we were expecting but not incredibly fancy. Bathroom was ok too but again nothing glamorous. Everything was pretty clean, and the maids did a great job every day we were there. A baby cot/travel crib had been provided as requested (the hotel sent me an email confirming this, 'as a special favor, just for you free of charge' which was rather amusing because their website clearly stated cots were free for babies).
 The first problem arose when Yuki couldn't get our in-room safe to open. We called reception and were told someone would be right up....15 minutes later and wanting to head out soon, we called again and the clerk got a bit snippy with me, saying that she'd already told me someone would be up soon. The man did show up shortly thereafter....reeking of alcohol and obviously drunk! I guess he was celebrating Christmas day in style. He was quite nice so we weren't too bothered...but he couldn't open our safe, something about not having the right master key? We ended up leaving after being told he had to go get a key from somewhere else. Probably from the bar.
 Needless to say, the safe still wasn't open when we returned early that evening. We called reception again and this time another (sober) man did come and open it right away. So I guess it really was lack of a master key and not lack of sobriety that kept the first guy from opening it!
  Only other complaint about the room was that our phone didn't work--we couldn't dial out no matter what. Reception didn't really seem to care that it wasn't working and didn't offer to fix it, either. I kept having to go down to the main lobby to try and make dinner reservations--and I will say that while at most hotels, the conceriege will offer to make the reservations for you, here the clerk would simply dial the number and hand me the phone. At least most restaurants have staff that speak English!
  Overall, I'd say it was a decent stay, although service was definitely lacking based on the incidents above and a few more I won't bother detailing. It bascially seemed like most of the staff just didn't care about their jobs or the clientele and would only do the bare minimum to keep people from complaining. If you're just looking for a hotel with clean rooms, and a reasonable rate for its location, then All Suites Torre Dell'Orologico is your place. Otherwise, keep searching!
  Next post will be something much more fun involving beautiful Florence, I promise!


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Il Doge and Grom In Venice

    Continuing with our food experiences in Venice, we went on the hunt for some real gelato. Or rather, I dragged Yuki all over the city in search of it. There's plenty of gelato to be found in Italy of course, but only select shops are certified as 'gelateria artiginale', meaning they don't use articial flavors, colors, or thickeners, and their gelato contains only fresh ingredients. Best yet is to find a gelateria artiginale with 'produzione propia', meaning it's made on-site, usually a family-run business.
  I knew from exhaustively searching the web before we left that Il Doge was supposed to be one of the best gelaterias in Venice...and one site had mentioned buying gelato there in the winter. So off we went in search of Campo di Santa Margherita, a lovely square on the west side of the Grand Canal, somewhere south of the Rialto fish market but north of Acamdemia bridge. It took us a while to locate that particular square, seeing as, like I've said before and will loudly say again, maps are no good in Venice!
 We had by that point in time figured out to follow the flow of human traffic, since it tended to lead from one popular area to another. And we were lucky enough on Christmas Day to have the help of a rather drunk but cheerful woman out walking her dog. She managed to give us precise directions to the square despite reeking of booze. She was actually the second drunk we encountered that day, but more on that when I review our hotel in Venice!
 ...Of course I wasn't expecting Il Doge to be open on Christmas day, but sadly it was also closed the next day, too! A clerk at a nearby convenience shop managed to make it known that Il Doge was actually closed for the winter, bummer! On a brighter note however, we did find a Grom shop near Il Doge (heading towards Academia bridge from Campo di Santa Margherita, it's pretty hard to miss). They also sell artiginale gelato, although they're a chain and I don't think they produce it onsite. It was still pretty good (we bought some the afternoon of our 2-lunch day, see my previous post if you're confused), but I would've loved to have tried Il Doge! Oh well, I made up for my gelato deprivation in Venice by attacking the ones in Florence. Will post about those soon!


Grom. There are also chains in Florence, but we didn't try it there.

                                                  Keila missed out on the good stuff due to her nap


Saturday, January 7, 2012

Venice Day 2 = 2 Lunches! Al Paradiso Ristorante and Muro Venezia

   Yes, that's right, we actually ate TWO lunches on our second day in Venice. Along with dessert for the first lunch, and gelato following the second lunch. The eating frenzy had begun.
  Things started off innocently enough....after our rather blah touristy Christmas dinner the night before, we wanted a proper (aka expensive, if you're in Venice) Italian meal. Seeing as our maps weren't good for much other than frustration, our choices were a bit limited to restaurants we could find. Luckily enough, two of the restaraunts I'd seen recommended online and in guidebooks were both near the Rialto Bridge, just off the west side of the Grand Canal. I figured that we couldn't possibly get lost finding at least one of the two, so off we went.
  First stop, we headed for Trattoria alla Madonna, on Calle alla Madonna. Very original restaurant name, I know, but it seems like a lot of businesses in Italy name themselves after the street they're located on. Easy to remember, at least. We did find Calle alla Madonna easily enough, but the trattoria was closed for some reason! There was an official-looking notice on the door, and we saw a couple of other confused-looking tourists nearby, so it was definitely the right place. I've since tried to check online to see if they were just closed for the holiday or something, but there's been nothing in English to give any clue. Whatever the case, seems like it gets mixed reviews, either rave or rant and can be very croweded with tight seating. Just my overall impression from checking various websites, however.
 We then headed over to Calle del Paradiso, hoping that al Paradiso Ristorante would be open. I'd seen online that they were supposed to have great fish and seafood, always a plus in my book. As luck would have it, we arrived just as they were opening, and there was a non-reserved table available. Note: it's probably best to make reservations for lunch/dinner, especially at the better restaurants. Paradiso only seated 22 indoors, and most of the tables had been reserved even though it was the off season. Usually your hotel concierge will happily phone in a reservation if you ask, no problem.
 The menu was in Italian, English, and Japanese, which vastly helped our ordering (and was somewhat reassuring as to the quality of food, seeing as Japanese tend to frequent good restaurants!). The staff spoke some English, and the owner himself was there too and spoke very fluently with us, again a relief since my Italian is limited mostly to: 'Ciao', 'Scuzzi', and 'Gelato'!
 Everyone was very couteous and actually seemed to enjoy seeing Keila (the owner kept calling her beautiful and blowing her kisses), although it's not exactly the type of place I was comfortable taking a baby to (no high chairs, either). Luckily, most of the clientele didn't arrive until we were on dessert and Keila was really pretty good, so it wasn't an issue. I definitely wouldn't want to take her there in the evening and ruin someone's romantic dinner, however!
 We ended up ordering 1 appetizer to share, and then a pasta dish and a fish dish, also to share. The owner was kind enough to have everything put onto separate plates for us, too. The appetizer was octopus with a creamy polenta sauce, wonderful! Very rich, so a half portion was just right. Pasta was a sort of seafood lasagna type dish if I remember correctly, again very good. From the fish section of the menu, we selected pasta made with black squid ink (squid included). It too came with the creamy polenta so ended up being almost the same as our appetizer. It tasted great, but I think in retrospect we should've gotten something a bit different! The only thing that was somewhat disappointing with the meal was dessert. Yuki wanted tiramisu, so we again got one to split. It came in a pre-made little edible dessert cup (sort of ice cream cone-like) and wasn't all that good in comparison to the rest of the meal. Too bad, because everything else was superb! We did pay for such good food, however: just to give you an idea of the prices in Venice, the bill came to 96 euros! Ouch. That was for: a half bottle of house wine, a bottle of still water, 1 appetizer, 1 pasta dish, 1 fish dish, a cappucino, and the tiramisu. Plus the 15% service charge. (Service charges in Italian restaurants are usually 12-15% from what I saw). More than what I was really comforable spending, but we tend to do at least one really nice meal on vacation, so we figured that would be it.
 After leaving Al Paradiso, we wandered over towards the Fish Market, also near Rialto Bridge. Now, I'd read online about how on Saturdays, these 2 guys set up a stand in one of the piazzas and sell a plate of the day along with a glass of wine for lunch. We just so happened to stumble upon Muro Venezia, which is the restaurant that hosts this little outdoor catering service.
 We actually wandered by it once and kept walking, seeing as we'd just eaten lunch. Yuki and I didn't say much, but I think we were both eyeballing it, since a few minutes later, one of us suggested going back by it. Right as we gave in to temptation and got in line, a piping hot and fresh batch of seafood was brought out, so it was perfect timing. We did behave a bit and just got one plate. Even though I wasn't really hungry, I'm glad that we did try it. Great seafood! If you're looking for a good, cheap, and quick lunch while in Venice (no cover or service charge either), that's definitely the way to go!
 The site I checked mentions that Muro serves its plate of the day on Saturdays (prices range from 7-10 euros depending on the meal), but maybe we got lucky since Monday 26th of December was a holiday? If you're interested in cheaper eats while in Venice, here's the link (it's a bit hard to see, but just click around below here if you're having a hard time finding it):  
 I'm not sure how current this info is, since it's from 2009, but it's worth having a look at if you're heading to Venice any time soon.

                                              Al Paradiso Ristorante

                                                 Octopus with creamy polenta sauce

                                               Seafood pasta

                                          The somewhat disappointing tiramisu

                                                  Outside Al Paradiso Ristorante

                                               Plate of the day at Muro, near Rialto fish market

                                    Plate of the day. Yum yum!

                                   Free outdoor seating for a quick lunch at Muro

Friday, January 6, 2012

Keila's 14 Month Update

  Taking a quick break from Italy to deliver Keila's 14 month update!
  1. DaDa is still her favorite and most obvious word, and she'll happily scream it at Yuki in the mornings or when he enters a room. 'Mama' is still just in times of dire need, hah. She said something the other day that sounded somewhat like 'Wawa' for Wasabi, but again hasn't bothered to repeat it. Same for her sippy cup last month: hasn't bothered to say it again. She definitely makes her needs known, however! Whenever Keila decides that meal time is over, she now rips her bib off and hands it to me. So much for keeping clothes clean any more. We've got a few more other distinctive sounds for things such as 'I want....(pointing)' and 'Milk' but those are probably only recognizable to me at this point.
 2. Still holding steady at 12 teeth, but the drooling has begun again, so maybe more are on the way?
 3. Sleep was getting somewhat better until we went on vacation. Then it all went downhill since she shared a bed with us the entire week away. I finally lost it on Tuesday night and decided to let her fuss for a few minutes (instead of my usual of leaning over the crib with a hand on her chest until she passed out). I'd been really agains letting her cry at all, but at that point I just couldn't take any more. Amazingly, she fell asleep after I only went back in once to calm her! Night after that, she was asleep in 5 minutes, minimal fussing! Last night took a bit longer, but Mom is much happier now that there's more free time in the evenings! Downside is that Keila is still only sleeping 4 to 5 hours, then waking up and refusing to quiet down until I get her. I have the feeling this situation will continue until we finally get out of this temporary (read: TINY) apartment and into the permanent house with her own bedroom. Can't say I blame her for wailing when she wakes up and sees MaMa sleeping in the big bed a few feet away!
 4. Keila's been zooming around quite speedily using her walker or her toy wheeled zebra, but so far hadn't shown any interest in walking unassisted until this morning. At play group today however, she took her first step or two all by herself!!! It was really only maybe a step and a half before she toppled over, but it's a start! I'm not expecting too much rapid progress on that end however, seeing as she vastly prefers holding on to things still.
 5. Food. We managed to get Keila into the allergy clinic before going to Italy, yay!! Definitely popped positive for peanut allergy on her skin test, boo. Pineapple, sesame, and bananas didn't raise a reaction however, so back we go the end of February for some blood testing. Until then, we're free to continue trying new foods (and we've got an epi-pen on hand just in case. God forbid!). Favorites right now are still cheese, crackers, the usual, but papaya went down ok yesterday and she's also loving these little ready-made baby chicken tomato risotto packs I found in the refrigerator section at the store. Seeing as they're rather pricey, I'm going to look into making my own risotto over the weekend and hope she likes it just as well.
  6. New actions....Keila has become quite proficient at climbing on/off her toy zebra, and she loves riding it around the room. Whenever we ask her for a kiss now, she'll bend her head toward us, since we usually kiss her forehead. Smart girl! She doesn't do as many things on que now since she's so busy exploring, but she'll make sure to take the phone away from me whenever I'm on it, since she doesn't like sharing Mom's attention! Oh, and she also hands me her empty bowls when I'm cleaning up (this after taking off her bib, of course).
 7. Keila climbed on the scale the other day all by herself (she likes anything digital), and it read 10.1 kilos. I was shocked, since she feels quite a bit heavier than that! We'll try it again in a day or so, but probably all her moving around is keeping her at a steady weight for the time being. In any case, she still looks happy and fat enough!
  That's all on Keila until next month. Next up: Food in Venice!

                                                      Ride 'em, Cowgirl!


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Venice: Day 2, Morning

   On our second day in Venice, we didn't really have too much planned (as was part of our plan ('un-plan'?) but we quickly stumbled into several of Venice's major tourist attractions: Saint Mark's Basilica (Basilica di San Marco), the Campanile (big tower in Piazza San Marco), and the Doge's Palace (Palazo Ducale), again in Piazza San Marco. Our hotel was located just off of the square, so naturally we thought to get a decent view of the Piazza before it got too crowded. Early-ish morning and late afternoon/early evening are ok, but mid-day the place is swarming like an ant-hill that's lost the queen bee. Chaos!
  Pre-baby, we would've been up and about before 9 am, but we did well enough to reach the square just before 9:30. A queue had already formed to enter the Basilica, which opened at 9:30, even though my guidebook said 9:45. We lined up and only had to wait a few minutes before entering. Plus side was that it's free, minus side: no photos! So even though I know it was insanely beautiful in there, we saw so many churches over the course of the week that I can't recall exactly what it looked like! Definitely on the must-see list for Venice, but tbat's about all I can say. That, and seeing as I'm really into looking at architecture, I probably preferred the exterior to the interior.
  Next up, we wandered over to the Campanile, just across from the Basilica. The Campanile is actually the detached belltower of the Basilica di San Marco, and it's Venice's tallest building. It was supposedly built in 912, but in 1902 it collapsed. It was then rebuilt and inaugerated exactly 1000 years after the original building.  During the busy season, I'm sure there can be rather long lines to ride the tiny elevator to the top, but we lucked out and got right in. Cost per person is 8 euros, a bit steep but definitely worth it for the view on a clear day! Also, if you're economically-minded, for some reason the vending machine at the top sells the cheapest bottled water we saw in all of Venice: 1 euro per bottle. Rather ironic, seeing as it has to be hauled all the way up there!
 After enjoying the view for a bit, we took the (same) little elevator back down and headed towards the Doge's Palace. This palace was the resident of the Doge of Venice, ie the supreme authority of the republic of Venice. Apparently, whoever this was has no actual power, although he did reside in the palace as a figurehead. The main purpose of the palazzo was for the goverment to have a place to carry out its civic responsibilities. Thus the large courtrooms inside (and the prisons down below). The buildings are now preserved as a museum. Cost to get in is quite steep: 16 euros a person! It's apparently part of a joint Piazza San Marco ticket, but we were rather confused by that seeing as walking through the piazza itself is free?? Turns out that the ticket actually includes the other museums in Piazza San Marco, doh! Museo Correr, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Sale Monumentali della Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana are included in the price, FYI. Guess I should've done a bit more research before we left, but seeing as I was about museum-ed out by the time we got through the Doge's Palace, we probably wouldn't have visited the other museums anyway. I think that we did actually visit one within the Doge's Palace (museum within a museum?), seeing as a guide stamped our tickets, but don't ask me which one it was!
  By the time we finished up with the Palazzo Ducale, it was nearing Keila's snack time, so we headed back to our hotel for a break before lunch. And in terms of breaks, this post is taking much longer than planned, so that's it for now. Next up: Lunch at al Paradiso Ristorante, near the Rialto Bridge!
  Since we have so many photos from this trip, I thought that maybe flikr would be easier for hosting them. So here's the link to pictures for this post:   Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Christmas Day In Venice

             We flew into Italy on Christmas Eve, but we didn't actually arrive in downtown Venice until Christmas morning, since we opted to stay that first night at a hotel near the airport (review on that to follow later). While I'd really wanted to get downtown as soon as possible, we didn't arrive until 7 pm, and the airport hotel offered a buffet breakfast. Seeing as 1-year-olds don't like their bedtime schedules to be changed much, and we weren't sure what would be open on Christmas morning, it seemed like the safest choice.
  So, after a pretty good breakfast, we took a shuttle back to the airport in order to catch an Alilaguna boat into Venice. I think it was something around 16 euros a person, not terrible but not cheap either. The time onboard was rather long in terms of distance traveled, almost 1.5 hours. We got to relax and enjoy the views, however, plus we didn't have to transfer at Piazzale Roma, as one is required to do if taking the bus. (Note: if you've got a lot of luggage ie are hauling a baby with you, take the boat!).
  Originally, we'd planned on having our Christmas dinner at a Jewish restaurant in Venice, since when I'd searched online every restaurant we liked was either closed or insanely expensive on Christmas Day. We ended up cancelling the reservation upon arriving at our hotel, though, since a lot of touristy restaurants were open. Now, I really dislike touristy restaurants, but we quickly discovered that maps of Venice are only good as a general area reference at best. One can honestly leave one's hotel and immediately be lost in terms of map location. Very frustrating for someone whose sense of direction is rather keen, if I do say so myself!
  I did quickly figure out how to get us around the narrow streets, although we often had to backtrack in order to find bridges. Never did figure out the maps, but we got a pretty good feel of where things were in the city over the course of a couple days.
  Anyway, seeing as the Jewish restaraunt, Gam Gam, was located up in the northern area of Venice, near the ghetto, we weren't quite comfortable enough with getting around on the first day to risk locating it in the dark. Too bad, because they have good reviews and I wouldn't have minded some falafel! Historical side note: Venice is home to the first ghetto in Europe, established in 1516. I'm still rather disappointed that we didn't get time to see any of it, but that just means we'll have to go back at some point.
  So what did we do for Christmas Day, our first day in Venice? Mostly just wandered around and enjoyed the sights. Most places were indeed closed due to the holiday, but it worked out to our advantage in that we got to see a more peaceful side of the city. All the little side streets and canals are simply amazing. Only disadvantage was that we did get stuck eating a mediocre overpriced Christmas dinner. Keila was quite happy with her breadsticks, though, so it wasn't a total bust!

                                   Approaching Venice by water on an Alilaguna boat

                                                       View from our hotel room

                                        Santa baby!

                                                       Canal outside our hotel, near Basilica di San Marco

                                             Some of the beautiful side streets

                                                 Carnivale souvenirs are popular year-round


                                                     Ponte di Rialto (Rialto Bridge)

                                          View from Rialto Bridge

                                        One of my favorite pictures

                                                     Near the fish market

                                 View from Ponte dell'Academia (Academia Bridge)

                                     Campanile di San Marco (Saint Mark's Tower) in Piazza San Marco

                                     Basilica di San Marco (Saint Mark's Basilica)

                                        Piazza San Marco (Saint Mark's Square)

                                                The city was all decked out for Christmas