Venice and More: Our Trip to Italy Part 2
Northern Italy Day 1
The Saturday after we left home was travel day to Venice and points north. We debated many options for getting to Venice and then to the Killpacks’ home an hour farther north. We thought about flying, driving, and taking the train. We finally settled on taking the Frecciarossa–a high speed train that travels at 250 MPH with limited stops. It was a great ride. The train from Rome to Venice takes you through the heart of the Tuscan country side as it passes through Florence and Bologna. The train cars were spacious compared to what you would expect from air travel. We had seats in groups of 4 with a table for coloring books and snacks, and a large window to enjoy the view. Because of track work in Ferrara (you know where they make fast cars?) we were actually delayed. Other than running out of food and snacks it wasn’t bad to wait and definitely beat circling an airport or sitting on a tarmac.
Finally we arrived at our destination after transferring to a local train and Chad picked us up at the train station. As we drove to his house to see his family he played “That’s Amore” to welcome us to Italy. It was perfect.
The Killpacks live in a small village about an hour north of Venice and about 15 minutes from Aviano Air Force Base. They basically relocated their kids to the basement and gave us an entire floor of their home while we were there. After visiting for a while we had a delicious traditional Italian meal of tacos (it was a nice break from the pasta and pizza) and then went out for gelato in neighboring village. It was so good and so cheap! In Rome it was pricey but good, but in the smaller towns it was even a better deal.
Northern Italy Day 2
The next day was Sunday. We attended church with the Killpacks at their congregation in another nearby town. Our 6 year-old was disappointed that church was in English. It was a congregation that primarily served military personnel and contractors at Aviano. I enjoyed attending church in another location. In our church it’s common to have a “church job” or responsibility to help the congregation run. Since we were away we attended as “civilians” and could just enjoy sitting with our friends and listening to the lessons. It was fun to hear the youth speakers discuss a recent conference they attended. Sunday School was also a lively discussion.
After lunch we let the kids play for a while and then rallied the troops to head to the Grotte del Caglieron. The Grotte, or caves, were partially man made (in 1500!) where stoneworkers quarried materials for palaces, homes and churches that can still be seen in Vittorio Veneto. They had built a ring trail that took you through the caves, past waterfalls and by an old water mill. It was unique and refreshing. It felt like an adventure. But it was a hike, so there was some complaining. Our friends have kids around the ages of our kids and thankfully they became fast friends. It definitely helped minimize some complaints–that and the sour patch kids hidden away in a friend’s backpack. I don’t know if the tweens became fast friends, but they had fast acknowledgement and respectful regard.
Northern Italy Day 3
We didn’t give our friends a big list of things we wanted to do–mainly because we didn’t know what was up there. We wanted to spend some time in Venice and accompany them on any adventures they enjoyed enough to visit again or any adventures they wanted to try but hadn’t experienced yet. We didn’t want to fully monopolize their last full week of summer vacation.
After discussing a few possibilities we headed to the Piancavallo ski resort area to see what was there. They had a play area set up with trampolines and a zipline, a wading pool with different textured materials around it and an alpine coaster. We got tickets for the alpine coaster and paired up adults, kids and child watching responsibilities. Some kids weren’t sure if they wanted to so we let them wait until later. After some went on a coaster ride we took the ski lift to the top and ate at the mountain top restaurant. There were more games for the kids to play and we went on an impromptu hike because our youngest wanted to “climb a mountain.” The higher elevation also gave us a nice escape from the summer heat, and to our surprise there was no charge except for the ski lift and coaster.
After we left the ski resort we headed for some gelato at a place one of our friends’ kids went to on a school field trip. Again delicious, and again inexpensive. We headed back to their house to recuperate and then ended heading to a town carnival. In August a lot of the towns take turns celebrating the founding of their town–regardless of when it was actually founded. Our friends’ kids had been wanting to go since before we ever arrived and it was the last night. We struck a deal to go for 1 ride and then back to home. It was the loudest carnival we had ever been to. There were a few little kid rides but most kids wanted to hit up the bumper cars. I enjoyed the chain-smoking ticket taker for the preschooler caterpillar train ride who flicked her ashes right where the customers paid for tickets. I was told this is classic Italy!
Northern Italy Day 4 – Venice
For our grand finale we took the train down to Venice. We were just hoping to explore the city, see St. Mark’s square, ride in a boat on a canal and get some souvenirs. Our friends start every trip to venice with a hand-dipped ice cream bar at the Magnum store right across the bridge from the train station. Who were we to argue? After that we headed to an old palace with a unique spiral staircase that offered some good views of the city. We wandered through the warren of streets and bridges and found the palace. I swear most people thought we had limited intelligence because we always had to do “ticket math.” We had 4 adults and 8 kids ranging from 4 to 12 with a different adult age cut off at each place. (I think we had to get out the slide rule when we were buying the ski lift tickets.) We figured it out and climbed the staircase. There was also a small contemporary art exhibit we saw on the way down.
Wandering through the city tires you out and magnum ice cream bars only last so long. Dining in Italy takes a while and we debated something quick or something slow. We ended up finding a place where we could sit in the A/C for a bit. It was a good call and gave us energy to power on to St. Mark’s Square. We also debated going in to the church, but the line had gotten longish and the natives were restless. I’m sure it was lovely but I don’t regret moving on. At one point we wanted to take a water taxi to see the glass blowing at Murano, but we would have gotten there after the factories closed so we nixed that and decided to just take a water taxi back to the train station. A gondola ride was discussed but we decided it was a little pricey for what it was, and one child was freaking out about the small watercraft’s seaworthiness. The water taxi was fine.
Before we headed to the train station we stopped for…hmm…what was it…GELATO! It was a busy place but again so good and so reasonably priced. I could have rated all the gelato at one point but all I remember was the gelato in the village the first night of our trip north and the gelato at this last place in Venice. Both excellent.
Venice was beautiful. Seeing the canals, the gondolas and all those large wooden trimmed speed boats totally met and sometimes exceeded the picture in my head. There was probably more to see in Venice than we actually saw but our kids had seen enough baroque palaces and renaissance art. The wandering and looking was a big part of the experience. Thank goodness for Chad and his phone GPS. He navigated like Marco Polo on his way to China. He and Angie were amazing hosts. They drove us everywhere and always wanted to be sure we were getting what we wanted out of the experience.
Traveling with another family was excellent. When the parenting styles of 2 sets of parents clash it can be a disaster but this time that was not the case. Many times the kids helped keep each other going and if there was a melt down it was rarely all 8 kids at the same time. It was also nice to know that there were other adults to support you in your trials when someone had a difficult moment. Finding families that click together is rare and I ended this trip feeling so grateful that we met our friends so long ago in San Antonio. I hope that we can find another way to get together again before too long has passed.
The Journey Home
The next morning we woke up early to finish packing and load the car for the trip to the train station. We took the train down to Venice’s outer station and then a bus to the airport. The Venice Airport was very confusing. There wasn’t signage to airline counters and gates weren’t posted until the last minute. We got there in plenty of time so we waited in the food area before heading to our gate only to realize we had to go through border control. It ended working out just fine and we passed through to just board the plane without additional waiting. We flew Air Canada home to Boston via Montreal. It was an older plane so no in-seat TVs, but we survived.
We only had an hour in Montreal to deplane, get our boarding passes, go through customs and get to our plane. The kids were great sports and ran along with us. Our youngest thought it was a great adventure as he got to ride on the top of our hard side carry-on while shouting “Hee-yah!” In the end it didn’t matter as our flight was delayed due to weather in Boston. It was supposed to be an hour flight but we sat on the runway for 2 hours before we took off. We arrived home tired but happy to find that all as well. We did it! We took 4 children to Europe and lived to tell the tale. We didn’t get lost, robbed, attacked or injured. Well, unless you count my family’s bad reactions to all those Italian mosquitoes.
All things considered it was a wonderful trip, and although we won’t have the time or money for international travel again any time soon I would do it again.