When I last left these Italy vacation posts, I was saying that it seems like you just kind of hit your stride with a new city on Day 3. All the tourist-y stuff is typically out the way (or at least those things that you prioritized... i.e. going inside the Louvre and out to Sacre Couer are on the to-do list for the second/next trip to Paris!) and you can just soak it in.
So while I will not say we were happy to be leaving Venice, I'll admit to just a tad bit of itchiness to move onto our next stop, Florence, where a whole brand-spanking new to-do list awaited us!
On our last morning in Venice, we just took had one last free hotel breakfast and made the 5-minute walk over to the Rialto Bridge to bid our farewell to what had been our touchstone in Venice... i.e., once we reached the Rialto we knew exactly where we were and how long it would take to get back to our hotel.
As you may recall, we arrived to Venice via a Alilaguna water bus from the airport to a drop-off point... and then proceeded to lug around our six bags across many canals and past many amused tourists for about an hour... believe me that we had empathetic smiles on our faces as witnessed the frustration and fatigue of the new arrivals. Before getting there, I had figured we might just take a vaporetto (aka water bus) from the Rialto to the train station on the east end of Venice. However, it did not take long to figure out fighting the crowds both on the "streets" and the jammed-pack vaporettos would not be much fun. So we decided to just bite the bullet and take a private water taxi.
The cost was a flat-rate of 70 Euros from our hotel to the station, which "as the crow flies" would have been maybe a 4 miles journey... which seems a bit crazy for about $US 90, but walking it would have been insane beyond any measure... and really I was just selectively frugal... sure spend a few grand on a vacation, but quibble about $90?!! Ha!
Anyhow long story short... it was totally worth it and we certainly did not regret the dock-to-dock service and our own private ride down part of the Grand Canal. I only wish the 10-15 minute ride was longer! Truly a grand way to end our visit to Venice.
One thing I would highly recommend if you are traveling within Europe is to take the train... it is the most relaxing and civilized way to travel and will only make you hate airports more. You can arrive maybe about a half-hour before your departure time, get on the train, and the darn thing leaves on time. In this 'new' world, I am not sure how all these train stations work without any obvious security measures, but whatever they are doing (or not doing) it is certainly a pleasure (as long as you don't have any obnoxious Americans around... geez, it doesn't take too much observation to see why this country has the reputation it has when visiting other countries).
So 2.5 hours later we arrive at Stazione Centrale Santa Maria Novella in Firenze! (Side note: why is the Anglo-ization of city names needed... is it that much of a hardship to refer to Florence as Firenze or Rome as Roma?!)... and we are once again introduced to vehicles and other objects that move on wheels! It is really quite something how Venice lulls you in with only boat traffic... thanks to all the steps and bridges, I am pretty sure we never even saw a bicycle in Venice! So all the traffic was quite jolting, especially since we had to navigate a traffic circle on our 10 minute walk to our hotel, Grand Hotel Minerva, conveniently located in the Piazza Santa Maria Novella and on the eastern edge of the major tourist points in Venice. Knowing they had a rooftop terrace, after dropping our bags we went up to the 5th-ish floor (floors are very strange in Europe with the 1/2 floors and going up and down to get to a floor) to take in this view of Florence:
Quite lovely... you would have guessed we would have spent a lot of time enjoying this view, but we were so busy in our 3 days we never made it back up there after this initial visit.
Next, we decided to explore. I have to admit when I get to a new city, I want to see something... and like, NOW! But as Todd would tell you, something often turns into a lot of things... and I would reply that some of that is unintentional, though I know once I get started it is hard to stop me!
Sooooo.... we kinda sorta saw pretty much everything Florence is famous for in that very first afternoon/evening -- the duomo, Palazzo Vecchio, the statues of Palazzo della Signoria, Ponte Vecchio, the Uffizi museum (the outside, that is... inside, next trip!). I will defend myself and say that it was not in detail and that all these places/things were quite close together that I don't think I ran us too ragged (that would be the next day or so), but I definitely got the sense that Florence was going to be quite manageable, whereas I was a bit surprised how big Venice was... not that it was BIG, but a bit more sprawl than what I had expected (and we didn't even hit all the neighborhood!).
We ended the day with a beautiful Tuscan sunset over the Arno River and Ponte Vecchio...
I immediately liked the vibe of Florence, it had a good buzz to it, but not too much... we got our bearings this first afternoon/evening and knew there was plenty to see and just two full days to do it...