Day 1: A last look at the crowds, in Venice.

One must have a starting point, and this tour really started for me back in February 2003.  It was the Rick Steves' Tour Reunion, and I met Freyja there.  We were both single travelers on tours in the previous couple of years and decided it would be a good idea to get together for another one in the fall.  That way we would be guaranteed at least one other person to count on to sightsee and have meals with.  I was waffling between France and Italy, but Freyja convinced me that the Village Italy tour was the one to go on.  She was right.

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We decided to meet in Venice the day before the tour kicked off in nearby Padua.  Both of us had been here before (Freyja took the Best of Italy tour in 2002 and I took the Best of Europe tour in 1999) so we only visited the things we missed or felt we did not get enough of last time.  These included St. Mark's, the Doges Palace, the Rialto Bridge, the Frari Church, and a water taxi tour of the Grand Canal.  We practiced quite a bit of crowd avoidance due to the weekend tourists here.

The previous evening we had a nice dinner at an out of the way place that Freyja recommended, then walked to St. Mark's square and listened to the bands while enjoying espresso and ice cream.  Afterwards the city was ours since all the day-tourists had gone and we wandered, eventually finding the Accademia bridge where Freyja proudly declared it her bridge.  Finally, exhausted, we called it a day and retired to our rooms in a little hotel (recommended by Rick's book) near the Bridge of Sighs.

This morning, as we waited to get into St. Mark's Basilica, we noticed that the water had risen in the square to such an extent that tables were brought out for people to walk on, including inside the church.  I guess the island truly is sinking.

St. Mark's square was full of people and pigeons, and it felt a bit like Mary Poppins as we watched kids feeding the birds.  We had some time before we needed to catch our train to Padua, so we walked to the Frari church and gawked at the sculptures and paintings inside.  We had an outdoor lunch of Calzones and hopped on the water taxi to the train station.

The water taxi was packed and took so long to get to the station that we missed our train, so we arrived in Padua an hour late for the tour kick-off meeting.  The group welcomed us, however, and we immediately felt comfortable after the embarrassment.

Brad, our guide, showed us the ropes; and I noticed immediately that he was amazingly detailed in his speech.  15 gals and 5 guys comprised the group, making it a bit heavy on the feminine side, but I would rather have it that way than the opposite.

Brad walked us to dinner next to a huge oval square (yes, squares can be oval).  We had pancetta-wrapped melon, deep fried cheese, olives, and two more courses followed by huge pastry puffs.  I thought the first course was the whole dinner, and boy, was I wrong!

We walked back to our hotel and retired to prepare for the big start of the tour tomorrow.

Although we saw all that we wanted to see in Venice, the fact that everything was designed for huge numbers of people (boatloads, actually) contrasted dramatically with the Village Italy tour.  Starting tomorrow, the tour is all about non-crowded places, where real people can be found in the best way tourists can find them - interacting directly with you.

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Last updated 11/12/2005 .  Email me at