Day SIX started with another FABULOUS breakfast on the roof of the Hotel Kraft. After breakfast, we were picked up in the lobby, and driven to the nearby train station. Sad to leave Florence, but excited to see what Venice was like.
We were in the first-class car again with all of our tour companions, and again enjoyed the views and the beverage and snack service! Fields of sunflowers (which we learned PAID WELL if you planted an acre of them...to the tune of about 10,000 euros), villages, small cities, farms and villas...beautiful.
We arrived in Venice a few hours later, and were met at the station by our guide, who directed us to several water taxis in a nearby canal. It was COMPLETELY cool to go to our hotel by boat and not by van.
We were dropped off at the dock next to the Hotel Violin D'Oro, checked in, and were pleased to find that Sandy, Bill, Tiffany, Barb, and Megan were our next door neighbors! We had been at the same hotel in Rome, and had gotten to know them throughout the following days as we ran into them sporadically, but really hadn't had a chance to DO anything together, so this boded well for being able to do so!
Our only "official" tour that day was a gondola ride in the early afternoon, so we had a chance to explore. We met Sandy's group in the lobby soon after checking in, because we THOUGHT we'd be on the same gondolas. Turned out we weren't, so we found the gondola station, where they were instructed to meet their group, and Duane and I headed to the entrance to the Royal Gardens, which, luckily, was only a short walk further down the canal.
While we were waiting for the tour group to arrive, I found a lovely watercolor of one of the canals in Venice, and we had a chance to look around the garden...not very impressive, and really crowded, which is how we found MOST of Venice.
We ran into Sandy, Bill, Tiffany, Barb, and Megan on the dock, and decided to have lunch together at a "self serve" place called Le Chat Qui Rit. Not the greatest food, but it was fine (and we'd heard not to expect much from the food in Venice, in general), and it was really nice to FINALLY get to spend time with them!!!
After lunch, Duane and I explored the area a bit, walked across the Realto Bridge, explored St. Mark's Square, and shopped. We ran into a woman and her family who were from Stillwater (a town near where we live in Minnesota). It turns out they were soon leaving for Florence, and staying at the Hotel Kraft. I think Avventure Bellissime made their travel arrangements as well!
After walking around for awhile, we decided to go back to the hotel to get out of the heat, and get away from the crowds. Venice (as well as Florence, and Rome) are all "cruise ship dumping grounds" (or should I say "destinations"), so there were cruise people EVERYWHERE!
We spent a couple of hours in the air conditioning, then went back out to continue exploring. The cruise people had left to get back on their ships, the sun had gone down a bit, and it was DELIGHTFULLY different walking around.
We had pizza at Al Calice. Again, not fabulous, but a cute little trattoria...
We went back to St. Mark's Square, and sat and listened to a small orchestra performing at a cafe (the Florian, built in 1720, and which Rick Steves describes as the place where "Casanova, Lord Byron, Charles Dickens, and Woody Allen have all paid too much for a drink").
We got gelato at Gelato Fantasy (I had another lemon granita, and could TOTALLY tell we were no longer in the Amalfi region...NOT good...sigh...), shopped for souvenirs, then went back to the hotel, and to bed.
One more day in Italy...boo!!!