High Speed Trains and Slow Food – Italy and France by Train Part 3: The Venetian Vogalonga

The first Italian high speed train we tried out was an Italo AGV, the fastest on the rails that sped us from Turin to Milan. To get us to Venice we’d be trying out the competition from state run Trenitalia, the Frecciarossa.

Train: Trenitalia Frecciarossa 9721
Depart: Milano Centrale 12:35
Arrive: Venezia Santa Lucia 15:10
Seats: Coach 6, Seats 3D and 4D (Premium Class)
Locomotive: Frecciarossa 1000 (ETR400 Top Speed 360 km/h)

Like Italo’s AGV the Frecciarossa also had multiple travel classes:

  • Executive – Comprising of only 10 seats in a 1:1 layout, found in a single coach, tickets include full complementary catering and lounge access.
  • Business – Slightly smaller seats than Executive in a 2:1 layout with a complementary drink and snack service.
  • Premium – In the traditional 2:2 formation but with a decent level of recline and the same complementary drink and snack service as Business.
  • Standard – Very similar set up to Premium but without the complementary drink and snacks.
Our carriage was filled with snug but extremely comfortable leather seats set out in a 2:2 layout, the majority facing each other with a table in between.

This option was clearly popular as our carriage was completely full almost all the way to Venice.

In terms of soft product there were two drink and snack runs and two newspaper runs during the three hour journey to Venice.

The drinks appeared to be coffee, tea, water or fruit juice. The snacks were either some Kinder cakes or crackers and whilst neither were great they definitely helped pass the time.
The journey passed quickly and uneventfully and though it would have been nicer to have had the more spacious seats in Business, the premium was just too high on this occasion.
Our arrival into Venice was an event in itself and as we crossed the lagoon, hovering just above the water we were left completely unprepared by this spectacle for the beauty that was to come.

We left the station and began the search for our accommodation and almost immediately it felt like staying fairly close to the station in Cannareggio was a good decision. We were near to the action by day but never more than a quick side street away from peace and quiet when required.

However, my initial impressions of Venice were not entirely positive; between the crowds, tourist trap restaurants and hawkers it initially felt a little like Las Vegas meets Disney World. There’s a still a thrill from both these places, but also a frustration of shuffling crowds, especially when armed with heavy luggage that make it impossible to charge through them. The other fun thing in Venice, especially with luggage in tow are the numerous bridges over the canals, you can see why a fair few people stump up for the porters hanging round outside Santa Lucia Station!

I had to resist every urge to pull out our camera each time we turned a corner, or crossed a bridge.

Rental: Sandra B&B
Room: Room on the “Campiello”
Status: N/A

We soon arrived at Sandra B&B our home for the next two nights. The B&B was in a quiet courtyard with one side facing a canal. Sandra B&B was on the top floor of the building, and being Venice that unfortunately meant three flights of stairs. We were warmly welcomed by Sandra on the stairs and our first impressions were excellent. The entrance way opened up on to a huge open plan living and dining room where we would have breakfast, with our room on the left hand side of the corridor. Due to the owners having lived and worked in Scotland they both spoke excellent English.

We loved the way our room was furnished and it had plenty of space for our needs. Compared to what some of the hotels were charging this place felt like a steal!

We planned to spend the afternoon wandering the streets of Cannareggio and visiting the Ca’ d’Oro Muesum and the Church of Madonna del Orto.
Our first stop of the day was the Church of Madonna del Orto, built originally in the 14th Century.
Unfortunately, the bulk of the Ca’ d’Oro museum was closed, but luckily for us the friendly man at the desk advised we could visit the courtyard for free, which is normally closed.

We did and it felt magical! We loved watching the water from the canal calmly lapping against the side of the building.

We were both in love with Venice and once we started walking and the hours flew by.

We continued our walk and headed towards the Grand Canal and back towards the railway station, this time with camera nowhere near its bag. We got some great pics of Venice’s famous gondolas and a beautiful sunset shining over the top of the railway station. We also got to see some of the rowers practicing for the Vogalonga.

We loved the San Simeone Piccolo, the Chiesa di San Geremia and all the wonderful winding backstreets and tiny bridges. I’ll let the photos do the talking as they do a far better job then any words I can find.

The sun was beginning to set and thankfully Anne-So’s map reading skills were excellent as we hardly took a wrong turn the entire afternoon.

Before we knew it dinner time was upon us and Anne-So had chosen Alla Fontana which our B&B had helped us book.

It was a romantic little spot, though the menu was a little bit too seafood heavy for my liking, which I suppose is to be expected when you’re in Venice!
I ended up choosing an octopus salad starter though I felt that the octopus was a little bit too strong tasting for my palate, it was the smaller kind rather than that delicious big hunk of tentacle that we’d had served up in Turin earlier on our trip.
I picked out the pasta with crab sauce for my second course which disapointingly did not seem to contain much crab, failing both the sight and taste test. It was tasty enough but nothing more.
Anne-So started off with a seafood antipasti, which I did not feel brave enough to try.
Anne-So chose a cuttlefish main which I thought was delicious and I regretted not being brave enough to order it, but not really being into seafood the first thing that came into my mind was a dry hunk of crap found stuck to the side of a bird cage.

We enjoyed a carafe of prosecco to accompany our meal which our waiter very kindly topped up with the remainder of the bottle free of charge when it appeared there were no other takers for the rest.

I though it was a good meal, but in comparison to where we ate the following night and some of the other food we enjoyed on this trip it lacked a bit of culinary sparkle. For dessert we decided to go to Grom for gelato as recommended by our B&B instead of taking it at the restaurant. It was a great decision as their gelato was delicious.

I enjoyed chocolate and pistachio, two of my favourite flavours.

We strolled back to our room full of food, love and happiness. What a perfect way to end the day.

We started our second day in Venice with a delicious breakfast at our B&B which included a selection of cakes, cheese, fruit and charcuterie. It was all incredibly fresh, very tasty and the lethally strong coffee and sharp juice helped pull us out of our slumber. Unfortunately I didn’t manage any snaps of the breakfast room or the breakfast offering, but I promise you it was a great setting.

We set off nice and early, walking past the Grand Canal and in the direction of the Accademia.

Of particular note during our visit was an exhibition about some of the oldest printed books in the world which we found quite fascinating.

Again, photography was banned in much of the exhibition space but allowed elsewhere in the museum. We both loved the works by Tintoretto, Titian and Bosch, the latter whom we were not previously familiar with.

We grabbed some lunch from a local branch of Princi before attacking the famous Piazza San Marco.

Touristy yes, but the Basilica di San Marco was quite special but sadly no photos were allowed inside.

Before heading into the Palazzo Ducale we enjoyed a walk around St Mark’s Square, trying to get in a few snap shots between the crowds of tourists, tour guides and smartly dressed waiters.

We found that our audio-guided tour of the Palazzo Ducale was excellent and that was despite the Doge’s rooms being closed off at the time of our visit.

I really wanted to imagine what it would have been like living in Venice in the 1500’s. You could see how easily one could find themselves guilty of being innocent between the various court rooms and the Bridge of Sighs. I for one would not have wanted to have been put on trial in those times, I think the odds of a fair outcome were not high to all but the wealthiest!

After our tour we couldn’t help ourselves and queued to get that famous shot of the Bridge of Sighs and the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore standing proudly on its island. We had a brief rest and thought it best to save our appetite and our wallets from a coffee and cake on the square. We then decided to visit Museo Correr which was ok, but by that point in the day we were suffering from exhibition exhaustion.

As beautiful as all those rooms, ceilings and statues were we were done for the day. With rush hour on the canals we weren’t the only ones!

By this time the rain was pouring down and we did see some sights including a Darwin award nominee placing a plastic bag right over her head to protect herself from the rain.

Luckily we arrived at our restaurant for the night, Anice Stellato before the rain went from heavy to torrential, even then the sky was alive with short bursts of thunder and the occasional flash of lightning.

We were warmly welcomed and given a cosy table at the back away from some lively groups.
We had a quick look through the menu, it all looked so delicious that it was hard to make a choice no matter whether our waiter asked us in Italian, French of English!
To get things going we had a refreshing amuse bouche of cold tomato soup with anchovies.
To start I chose some delicious fried octopus, crisp on the outside and melt in the mouth after that initial crunch.
Anne-So ordered some rather lovely ceviche style red snapper which was deliciously fresh tasting.
For mains I has a beautifully tender guinea fowl dish that I absolutely loved.
Anne-So went with a sea food pasta.

We really enjoyed this meal, both the food and the service were excellent including the ability of our waiter to switch seamlessly between Italian, French and English. On reflection this was possibly our best meal of the trip. We had fun, the food was excellent, it was romantic, it was Venice!

It was time to leave Anice Stellato and so we braved the thunderstorm outside and walked back to our B&B under the cover of darkness barring the occasional flash of lightning to hurry us on our way. On any other day we would have hidden undercover or taken a taxi, but we were having fun and you can’t exactly flag down a cheap gondola to take you home when in Venice! We had a day we’d never forget and it was time to sleep for the next day was busy to say the least.

We started our final morning in Venice with breakfast and a little bit of commentary on the boats passing by the window for the Vogalonga boat race.

The Vogalonga is a free for all where boats of all shapes and sizes invade Venice for a race around the Grand Canal and lagoon followed by a parade around Canareggio. Breakfast that morning included a freshly made frittata and some lovely warm pastries to go with the usual spread. This couple really know how to run a B&B.

We set off for the Palazzo Grimani only to realise that the museum is not in the Palazzo! Oh well, never mind. We eventually found the proper museum and it was almost completely deserted, perfect! We ambled around the rooms and it was not what we expected at all. There were not many works of art there, so what was on display had plenty of room to breathe in the beautifully constructed rooms. Palazzo Grimani was not a royal palace but an amazingly restored home.

We headed back to the B&B the scenic way, though in Venice isn’t that always the case?

There was even time for a quick stop at one last church, The Gesuiti.

We picked up our things, said our good-byes and headed to the train station. Hitting Rio Tera San Leonardo it was mayhem. Like salmon swimming upstream we fought our way through the crowds.

The crowds as usual were heading towards Piazza San Marco and we were heading towards the station. By pure chance we managed a lovely view of the celebrating rowers from one of the bridges close to the station and it made for the perfect good bye gift from one of the most beautiful and unusual cities in the world.

High Speed Trains and Slow Food – Italy and France by Train

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