Our next visit was to Venice. We couldn’t get there directly from Budapest, so we flew to Milan on Ryan Air ($60 per person) and spent the day in Milan walking around and shopping. I purchased a one-day suburban pass for 4.50 euros, which was good for 24 hours for the metro. The Duomo was truly an incredible site. After exploring Milan for the day we took a train to Venice for $26 per person. I had recently discovered a company called Prontopia: think Uber but without cars. You contact them via their app and someone shows up within minutes to help you with whatever you may need: showing you around Venice, helping you from the train station to your hotel, helping to make reservations, etc. Michaela was my Prontopia girl, and she was a lifesaver. She met us at the train station and helped me with my luggage to our Airbnb. If you knew how I pack (I am an over packer) and you know how many bridges there are on the Venice Canals, you can understand the importance of someone like Michaela coming to my rescue. I had no idea how to get around on the canals, so she took us to our Airbnb (a cute little 2-bedroom place in a 6th century building) and then once we were settled in, she walked us to a restaurant where I had a reservation. We had dinner at Trattoria Bar Pontini, a cute little restaurant right on the water. I made reservations in advance and requested a table outside. It was a beautiful evening, and a man playing an accordion came and played for us, and when he found out it was my birthday, he played and sang Happy Birthday in Italian. It was really special. The food was wonderful, and it was a great way to spend our first evening in Venice.
We started out next morning with the Secret Itineraries Tour through the Doge’s Palace. I got lucky and was able to purchase tickets for $20/person ahead of time online. This ticket also gave us access to tour Doge’s Palace, as well. The tour was pretty cool. It takes you through the prison and torture room and other rooms built in the 14th and 15th centuries. You even see where Casanova was housed as a prisoner. The tour was 1 hour and 15 minutes. We got there early and walked around the palace before the tour. It was quite extravagant. We spent the rest of the day walking around Venice, getting lost and shopping. I wanted to take a ride on a gondola. They charge $80 for 30 minutes for anywhere from 1-6 people. We thought it would be great if we could find someone to share the gondola ride with us. Somehow we got very lucky and saw some women waiting for a gondola. They invited us to join them, but just as we were supposed to board the gondola, they had to cancel due to weather (it was starting to rain). They told us to come back 30 minutes later. We did and sure enough the rain stopped, and it was a beautiful day. We hung out with the mom and daughter we were going to share the gondola with. We had such a great time that after the gondola ride we met up for dinner. We ate at Trattoria al Gazzettino, and it was wonderful. They really make you feel loved by giving you complimentary items before and after your meal.
The next morning we were departing for Florence. I had Prontopia meet me at my apartment in the morning to help me to the train station with my luggage. They recommended that we take the waterbus from our apartment to the train station. This was so much easier, as the waterbus stop was just outside our apartment. I was so happy not to have to haul our heavy luggage up and down those bridges. The waterbus only cost 7.50 euros each way per person. We then took the train to Florence ($39/person) and arrived in the afternoon at our Airbnb, so we spent the day walking the streets of Florence, saw the Duomo, which is magnificent from the outside, and the highlight of the day was seeing Michelangelo’s David at the Academia--truly a spectacular sight.
The next day we visited the Bubobli Gardens. It was very peaceful and beautiful. After dinner, while walking back to our apartment, we ended up in front of the Duomo. It is truly a beautiful sight at night. We noticed the doors of the church were open, which is very unusual, so we went to find out what was going on, and we were told it was a celebration and that the bishop would be coming out. What followed next was the most beautiful sight. A procession was led with thousands of people from the church, including the bishop. The church bells were ringing, and people were carrying flags and candles and singing as they proceeded down the path. It was such a magical sight.