Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Venice.... With Children

"My legs hurt!"

"I'm tired of walking!"

"I'm hungry!"

"My knee keeps collapsing!"

"I want ice cream!"

but, if given,  followed by "This is the BEST ice cream EVER!!" 

"I need to use the toilet!"

and the crushing, "I want to go back to the hotel to do something fun, like watch a movie!"

Yes, Venice, with kids in tow, was no picnic.  Actually, yes, it was kind of like a picnic: lots of walking, delayed gratification, games of tag in unlikely locations, and lowered expectations for proper table etiquette!

But it definitely wasn't very romantic, artistic, culinary, or educational, at least not in the normal way one might think of those words.  I think this might be the first vacation I've been on, in a historically important part of the world, that didn't involve a single trip to a museum or church. Not ONE. I still can't believe it, actually.

We didn't even make it into the Doge's Palace, which has a giant armory and dungeons, for crying out loud! Our kids would've (probably) loved it, but by the time we made it to the building 007 and I were so exasperated with their griping, we'd either a) hop in a water taxi for an hour of peace & quiet, b)buy gelato for everyone or c)turn around and head back to the apartment via a different route than we had just walked to wherever we were.  Or, in the case of the Doge, which was located just off San Marco Square, we bought a giant package of crackers and let the kids run around feeding the pigeons for an hour and a half. 

After the first two day of walking around and seeing the sites (from the outside) while trying to wedge explanations of the significance of some of the more obvious character traits of the city into the litany of complaints from the boys, we gave up trying to get the heathens to appreciate anything "educational" and decided to just try and enjoy the culture by just having fun exploring the strange, water-filled alleys, the surrounding islands, and finding the next gelato flavor that might knock their socks off (winner: Venizione, found only on Lido, vaguely Spumoni-esque, and AMAZING.  We were able to do this by loosening up, slowing down, and attempting to do about half as much as we, the adults, wanted to.

For the record: There may have been a Vesuvius-sized meltdown on my husband's part and a Mt. St. Helen's-sized one on mine, that involved checking how much it would be to fly home early, before we gave up on our planned museum and cathedral trips.

I will try and sum up where I think we got it right, because we definitely had a great time once we got over the initial hump, and I think it is possible to have a great vacation with kids there. You just have to go with the right mind-set.

The things we did get right:

1. Get an apartment instead of a hotel.  The boys had a room downstairs, we had a kitchen to eat breakfast in and store food for making lunches and we saved €400 over the cost of a hotel. It was perfect.  We were a little thrown by the fact that we had to pay the whole amount for the rental in CASH upon getting into the apartment and getting the keys, but it all worked out really well, and as Marco, the coordinator put it, when I told him I wasn't comfortable carrying that much cash, "Why? You not going to Far West, you come to Venice! It small town!" Well, okay then, there you have it.

2. Vaporetto passes: This is the water-bus line that goes all around Venice and to the surrounding islands.  The Animal (4 years old) could be a real pain about running around, specifically outside the cabin area to back in, but for the most part, they were all pretty good about staying in seats and just watching the scenery go by.  Also, they cut down the walking a ton and are a great way to "take a break" between sites because they had to stay at least somewhat still.  It was €129 for four 48-hour passes (3 & unders are free, and the Animal wanted/needed to be carried every time we used it, so I didn't feel bad fudging his age by a couple months ;), which is expensive so we timed our 48 hours to also coincide with catching a bus to Marco Polo Airport on our departure day.

In retrospect, we probably should've just bought the 5-day pass and coughed up the extra dough.  For me, though, I really enjoyed having to hoof it for a couple of the days because walking in Venice is unlike any other city experience I've ever had. The entire city is a series of narrow and narrower alleyways and canals. The colors are extraordinary and you gain a newfound appreciation for grass and trees after just a day.

3. I gave up trying to ban electronics and embraced the unique beauty of the Nintendo DSi, in all its purse-sized glory. Restaurants are slow and were murder with the kids. No matter how many games of Hangman, Tic-Tac-Toe, or Twenty Questions you play with them, the inevitable bickering, fisticuffs and silliness would always ruin the restaurant experience for 007 and I.... so I started carrying the kids' DSis in my purse and would dole them out at the first sign of trouble.

You might cringe with horror, but easing up on DSi usage was the single best thing we decided on and it improved our experience one-hundredfold.  I think that looking back on their vacation memories, the kids won't even remember the times they played their videogames, they will just remember how good the other experiences were.

4. Going to the islands:

The kids loved Murano, where we had a delightful lunch on their much smaller main canal, after a glass blowing factory demonstration. The glass blowing demonstration, I am pleased and surprised to report, BLEW THEIR MINDS.  They sat, all three of them, in rapt attention, oooh-ing, aaah-ing, and clapping on cue for everything the glass-blower created.  And continued talking about how cool it was for the rest of the trip!

I think the kids and I could've stayed on San Michele, the cemetery island, for hours. I got off the vaporetto with the attitude At least they won't bother anyone while they're here!, but my husband was more concerned about them being reverent than I was, so we had to leave early because none of us were being quiet and then the Animal tripped on a headstone hiding in the grass and bashed his knee, so it seemed like the time to go.  My arty photographs of Venetian headstones and tombs will have to wait.

Our last day there, we spent the day on Lido.  It is the only island with a public beach and the since the weather was absolutely gorgeous, we decided to go and check it out.  I brought a packed lunch, we rented this hilarious family-sized bike/car after getting off the vaporetto, and biked to the other end of the island to find the public beach.  It was almost completely deserted, so we were kind of like.... Hmmm, is this the right spot? Oh well, we're here.... so we spread out our stuff and the kids ran off to check out the water.  It was a matter of minutes before they stripped to their underpants and were screaming in delight over the fish, the crabs, the whelks, the mussels, the shrimp and even OH MY GOSH MOOOOM DAAAAAD THERE'S A JELLYFISH!!! 

The kids spent hours catching crabs and hermit crabs and showing them off and I shot a million photos of them reveling in sea-life and joy.

I will continue this post in a few days.... it is growing so heavy with photos that I'm afraid the post will take forever to download in browsers.

And: Thank you for all the amazing feedback on my (Wicked) Popular Blogger parody post, to all the twitter linking, nominating and stumbling, etc.! I seriously felt like a star for a few days. :)

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