The Hilton Molino Stucky used to be a flour mill but now it is an elegant upscale hotel. There is a grand piano in the lobby and showcases displaying Venetian glass. Our rooms were not ready when we arrived that morning. The bellmen allowed us to leave our luggage with him while we took the complimentary shuttle boat over to St. Mark's Square to do some browsing. It is amazing how many shops and restaurants are crammed into the alleyways surrounding the square. There was always the smell of cigarette smoke in the air since public smoking is still allowed in Venice. We wandered the crowded alleys and traversed countless pedestrian bridges until we had worked up an appetite.
St. Mark's Square
one of many pedestrian bridges
In Venice, canals like this one are the 'streets'.
We decided on a pizza lunch at Ristorante Messner. Venice is a very expensive city. To make matters worse, the restaurants don't mind nickel and diming you either. We were told each pizza is only enough for one person; therefore, we ordered four. It turns out, these were fairly large pizzas that I would not have minded sharing with one other person. We figured we were in for some discontentment when the red-faced German woman at the next table was trying to get an explanation from the waitress of all the charges for her family's meal. We soon got our bill and saw miscellaneous charges for things like setting the table. Our waitress tried to tell us this is a common practice for the restaurants in the area. Our pizza lunch converted to $73!
We found our way to the Zattere landing to wait for the hotel shuttle boat but not before stopping at a gelato shop for some gelati. I could not seem to get enough of the lemon gelati in Italy.
We were able to pick up the keys to our rooms. The bellmen had already delivered our luggage by the time we entered. Our accommodations were spacious - especially by European standards. The room Traci and I shared had a picture-perfect view of the canal and the city's old buildings. Best of all, the two night stay for Traci and me was free thanks to the Hilton points we had racked up during business travel. Otherwise, we would have been paying $350 per night.
our hotel seen from the cruise ship
our ship docked across the canal from the hotel
looking out of our hotel room window
We did not do much the rest of the day. Sugar and Audie napped in their room while Traci napped in ours. I went to the roof of the hotel where the pool is located. I wasn't there to swim. I wanted to get a picture of our cruise ship leaving with scenic Venice in the background. I stood up there for an hour watching tug boats maneuver three other ships, including a gargantuan-sized MCS ship, down the canal but the Azamara Journey stayed put. I finally realized it wasn't scheduled to leave until the next day. I never did get the photo I was seeking.
The four of us ate dinner in one of the hotel restaurants that evening. We weren't in the mood for the fancy restaurant so we opted for the one that serves burgers and other sandwiches. We recognized some people from the cruise so they pulled up to our table to join us. Although, the waitresses were overworked, ours was so kind. We happened to see a tray of cookies and cake being delivered to a buffet table. When Audie asked if he could get some cookies he was told the buffet table was for a private function. Traci tried to sneak over take some cookies but was quickly shooed away by a lady that was guarding the buffet table like a watch dog. However, our sweet waitress was able to drop off cookies and cake to our table free of charge.
Sugar and Audie were scheduled to fly home the next morning. Traci and I joined them for the hotel's large breakfast buffet and then bid them farewell. Traci and I then headed across the canal to St. Mark's Square. We stood in a long line to enter St. Mark's Basilica but fortunately, the line moved along rather quickly. The original basilica that was built in 829 AD, burned to the ground in 927, and was rebuilt by 1071. It got its name because the remains of the St. Mark the Evangelist was smuggled to Venice and stored in the church.
entrance to St. Mark's Basilica
St. Mark's Square seen from a terrace of the basilica
There is no charge to enter the basilica; however, there is a small fee to enter certain areas once inside. Photography is forbidden while inside the basilica. After walking around the sanctuary and admiring the huge golden mosaics and religious statues, we paid a few euros to see the terrace and the museum on the upper level. I was so glad we did this. There were display cases containing religious relics from bygone centuries. I also got the opportunity to appreciate the painstaking work that went into creating the large mosaics on the church walls. A close-up inspection of the walls help me realize how tiny the stones are that make up the grand mosaics. We also took a look at the original bronze horses that used to be mounted over the entrance of the basilica. They were plundered from Constantinople in the 4th Crusades in 1204 and brought to Venice. These statues actually date back to 4th century B.C.! They are now kept inside the church to protect them from the elements. Replicas are mounted over the basilica entrance.
We left the basilica and went back to the hotel. We were starting to become accustomed to the European practice of an afternoon siesta. When we awoke, we took an evening stroll along the waterfront adjacent to our hotel. It is lined with cafes, a small grocery store, shops, and several historic-looking buildings. We came across a movie crew preparing for a shoot. We wondered if this was related to the movie Angelina Jolie was making. Before this trip, the tabloids were reporting that she was in Venice working on a movie. We did not see any paparazzi around so we assumed she wasn't at this particular shoot.
For dinner, we popped into a small restaurant. They serve a three-course meal but we weren't that hungry. Traci ordered spaghetti and I ordered seafood pasta. While we were waiting for our entrees, the waitress brought out a huge piece of piping hot puffy bread for us to enjoy. We could not get over the size of this thing but we did manage to finish it off. Our entrees were tasty. I'm not sure what kind of seafood or what parts of the seafood were in my pasta. I'm not sure I want to know. Some pieces were black. Others were slimy. It all tasted good so I cleaned my plate.
some bread while we wait
After dinner, I had a craving for a lemon gelato - so much so that I talked Traci into taking the shuttle with me across the canal to get one. I figured we would get over there at 8:45 PM, buy my gelato, and then take the 9:05 boat back to the hotel. Wrong! I chose the wrong time to misread the shuttle schedule. The shuttles went on break during the 9 o'clock hour that evening. The area was pretty deserted that night and it was chilly - especially after eating the gelato. We ended up waiting on the steps of an old church for over an hour for a ride back across the canal. Traci kept asking me if the trip was worth the inconvenience. I had to say yes. That gelato hit the spot:).
The next morning, Traci and I enjoyed our last breakfast buffet. In the headlines that day was, once again, airport closures due to ash from the volcano in Iceland. This time the closures were not in England. They were mainly in Ireland. We waited at the entrance of our hotel for the 10:35 waterbus. We were told by the concierge that this 90-minute ride to the airport would cost us the equivalent of $20 per person. Unfortunately, the waterbus never showed up. The concierge made a phone call to find out what was going on. In the end, they said we would have to wait for the next one. This would be cutting it a little too close for my comfort level. A Spanish couple near us were in a worse predicament. Their flight was earlier than ours. They asked if we wouldn't mind sharing a private water taxi with them to cut down on the $130 fare. We agreed. The hotel called the taxi and off the four of us went on the 30-minute ride to the airport. From the taxi boat drop-off, there was a 10-minute walk to the terminals. I'm just glad the walkway was covered because it was raining cats and dogs.
We were to fly home to Philadelphia on British Airways with a tight connection at London Heathrow Airport. The check-in line for British Airways was extremely long. Fortunately, Traci and I work well as a team. While I held our spot in line, she went up front to investigate. I was relieved when she called me over to the bag drop counter where there was only one couple in front of us. I had checked us in online and printed our boarding passes at the hotel the previous day; therefore, there was no need to stand in the long check-in line. We only needed to check our luggage and proceed through security to our gate.
Here is where things got rather hectic. The heavy rain had caused flight delays. Even if we had arrived in London as scheduled, we only had a little over an hour to get off the plane, make it through customs, make it through security, and then find the correct gate at which to board our flight to Philadelphia.
We ended up leaving Venice 30 minutes late. Fortunately, I had reserved our seats at the front of the plane so that we were among the first passengers to exit when we landed in London. We took off running through the airport like the old O.J. Simpson commercials. As I focused on the overhead signage leading to flight connections, I ran right passed the British Airways agent holding a sign for Philadelphia passengers. Traci had to call me back. The lady told us our gate number and how to get there but we had to hustle. We continued our run while dodging people and negotiating the steps of escalators. We made it through customs and then ran up another set of escalators to security. This was the first time during our entire trip I was not pulled out of the security line for additional screening. Thank God! By the time, Traci and I cleared security, we were being paged by name over the PA system. We made it to the last shuttle bus out to the tarmac to board the plane. Woo hoo!
The 7-hour flight home was uneventful. There were many empty seats. Several passengers, including Traci, stretched out across the empty seats in the middle aisle of the plane.
This had truly been a vacation of a lifetime. I'm sure Sugar, Audie, Traci and I will be talking about this trip for many years to come. Main Page...
Magnet Purchased on this Trip: (click to enlarge)Entire fridge magnet collection...
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