By Geri Bain and Jenny Keroack
Inspired by the grand tours of aristocrats past and the more recent adventures of TV’s Gilmore Girls, 18 year old Jenny Keroack proposed that she and her mom, travel writer Geri Bain take their own grand voyage. This summer the two set out to share as much of the Old Worldas thirty days would allow, recording their favorite places and activities along the way. Jenny’s are in italics while Geri’s are in regular type. Read about their adventures, explorations and all the schleps in between. The following is their installment, logged from Venice.
The train fromVienna toVenice only runs straight through at night, but we’d read that the seven-hour daytime train/bus trip was worth taking in daylight. Seeing the tiny villages nestled into deep river valleys and cliff-top castles, we agreed.
Settling in: Arriving in Venice, we found our way to Venice’s mass transit, the canal-cruising waterbuses, or vaporettos, and 20 minutes later, were thrilled to see the Hotel Londra Palace. Our Biedermeier-decor room felt quite elegant with its fabric-covered walls, lovely brocade work, high ceiling and marble bathroom. Our first floor balcony provided wonderful views of the lagoon and the lively waterside boulevard, the Riva Degli Schiavoni. The hotel has hosted many luminaries. In fact, Tchaikovsky composed the first three movements of Symphony No. 4 when he stayed here in 1877. We loved that St. Mark’s Square and the Bridge of Sighs were steps away and that water taxis stopped right at our front door, and we especially appreciated our concierge, who mapped out the perfect walking tours for us each day.
San Marco Square. Piazza San Marco, famous for its beautiful architecture and outdoor cafes, is far from your average European town square. During the day, you’ll find people taking pictures of their children and loved ones feeding and, in many cases, covered in pigeons. Venice is a city that truly celebrates its rats with wings. Off to the side, bands play and dancing in the streets is encouraged. The music continues well into the night; it may be a tourist trap, but having a drink on the square is an only-in-Venice experience and well-worth doing. The two most historic, Il Caffé Florian and Grancaffé Quadri, date back to the 18th century. Just be prepared for the persistent hawkers and even more persistent Italian gentlemen– especially if you’re a girl on your own.
Food: It was hard to go anywhere without being tempted by wonderful things to eat. But then what would you expect? After all, this is Italy, and a seaside city at that. Fresh seafood was plentiful and Venice has some interesting ways of preparing it. I loved sarde in saor (sweet and sour sardines). And Jenny loved the seafood ravioli. Our favorite meal was on the terrace at Do Leoni at our hotel, where planters created a buffer between us and the passing parade of tourists and entertainers and we enjoyed the modern twist on classic Venetian dishes. And of course, there was always gelato and pizza by the slice for quick pick-me-ups as we explored.
Shopping. In the tradition of its over 1000 years as a trading center, Venice still offers a diverse shopping scene, from the shops on the ancient Rialto Bridge to the high-priced boutiques of Calle Larga XXII Marzo. My favorite item to look for in Venice was jewelry. While famous for their masks, lace, and blown glass, Venetians also sell fine silver jewelry, much of it crafted right in the city. My mom got textured silver earrings from the craftsman himself at La Foglia D’Oro and I found a locket on a velvet necklace from Israel at Michal Negrin. For clothes, check out Coin, a Venetian company with top brands from all over Europe. Since Venice is basically a city of tourists, stores are found everywhere and stay open late. A piece of advice: if you see something you like off the main streets, get it or forget it. Venice is a maze and you may not find your way back.
A Vivaldi Museum: Walking across San Maurizio square (Campo San Maurizio), strains of lovely music came from what looked like a neoclassical church. It was the former San Maurizio church which now houses El Museo della Musica (Music Museum). Admission is free, and inside, we enjoyed recorded music by Venice-born composer Antonio Vivaldi while perusing a small but fascinating collection of centuries-old stringed instruments and Vivaldi memorabilia. Interpretive panels provided detailed information in English and Italian about the composer and his times. A low-key gift shop offers CDs, books, and tickets for performances by a professional ensemble, Interpreti Veneziani, at the nearby, art-richChurch ofSan Vidal. We didn’t have time, but serious Vivaldi aficionadas may also want to visit the church he attended, La Pieta, with a small exhibition open by appointment only.
Jewish Ghetto. My main purpose in going to the Ghetto Vecchio (Jewish quarter) was to find the architecture and landmarks described in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. Locals tried to help, pointing us towards their two oldest bridges and the old town square. We also saw tall, skinny buildings, much like the one where Shylock and Jessica would have lived. However, for those who are less enthusiastic about Shakespearean plays, there are some actual historical destinations. Those interested can join a tour of the quarter’s synagogues and visit the Museo Ebraico (Jewish Museum) to learn why so many Jews lived here, in Europe’s first ghetto, starting in the 1500s. In fact, the word “ghetto” comes from the Venetian word geto (foundry), for the iron works located on this island before Jews were required to live here. Getting there is pretty walk from center of town; we stopped at a lively street fair along the way, and the ghetto area has some traditional restaurants, like Gam Gam, which was recommended by several locals.
Next stop: Barcelona
Geri Bain (right), a widely published travel writer and editor, has written about more than 60 countries and contributed to publications including inc.com, N.Y. Daily News and Robb Report. While travel editor at Modern Bride magazine, she wrote an acclaimed guide to Honeymoons and Weddings Away. She is a past president of the New York Travel Writers Association and former editorial director of Endless Vacation magazine.
18-year-old Jenny Keroack wrote for the Observer Tribune from 2009 to 2012 and her work has appeared in the Riverdale Press, Elegant Lifestyles and other publications. She was a researcher/blogger for the N.Y. League of Conservation Voters last summer and is now studying political science at theUniversityofChicago.