Weekend City Guide :: Venice

weekend city guide

The first few days of our honeymoon in 2015, we spent in Venice, Italy. We got a sweet deal on our flights through YVR Deals ($575/ticket RT) and we figured, hey, why not? We arrived around 10pm and made our way through the streets in the rain to our Airbnb. It was a single room in an apartment with a shared bathroom and kitchen. It was in a great spot and we didn’t have any complaints. One day the roommate’s dog even wandered into our room, so, bonus!!

On our flight over we had a layover in Amsterdam, on King’s Day no less, for 10 hours. We had been to Amsterdam a few times as a layover on previous trips so we were able to make use of our time having been there before. I had taken a couple Adavan on the flight over; literally as we were taking off, and it had zero effect, until about 7 hours later. I fell asleep so hard, that the plane landed and completely deboarded before a flight attendant came over and shook me awake. Tyler, trying to keep her from waking me until he had all our stuff ready to go.

weekend city guide
King’s Day in Amsterdam

Eventually no amount of coffee was going to keep me awake. We walked to a hotel we had stayed at before and asked for a room for a couple hours. Yes, we did that. We ended up paying for a full night, and crashed for 3 hours. It was the most expensive nap of our lives, and also to this day, one of the best.

weekend city guideAnyway, back to Venice; our little nap the day before meant we never actually managed to switch over our sleep schedules while we were in Venice. We just couldn’t push through the afternoons without a nap (often missing dinner), and we would be wide awake at about 2-3am. This was unfortunate, but it had a few perks. Once we realized we were both awake, we’d snack on whatever we had in our room, chatting with family/friends at home.

weekend city guide
sunrise

Around 5am we’d get up and head out. We’d start roaming the streets just as the sun was starting to come up, grabbing coffees and breakfast food when we could find a coffee shop open. We were able to cover a lot of ground, and it made for some really beautiful pictures. Both of us have talked about how much we enjoyed this part of our trip. The quiet, the sunrise, it was just so beautiful and memorable.

weekend city guide
sleeping gondolas

By the time lunch rolled around, our water bottles full of prosecco, we visited the deli, and would head back to our room for a picnic on our bed, followed by a nap. We’d wake up for dinner, then, back to bed, just to start the whole thing over again. Because we were doing most of our exploring before anything was open, we didn’t stop into any museums or art galleries; but there are a ton of them in Venice.

weekend city guide
sleepy Murano

One morning we took the “bus” over to Murano Island, the origin of Murano blown glass. When we left, Venice was starting to “wake up” and get busy, but when we arrived at Murano, the whole island was still basically asleep. We did some more wandering around, and somehow MISSED the “beach” of blown glass. Really not sure how we managed that, but we did. We’ll chalk it up to the costs of doing things while jetlagged.

weekend city guideVenice is somewhere neither of us had on our list, but the fare was cheap and it worked with the rest of our plans. We were totally impressed, maybe having low to no expectations helped. In the end I’m really glad we did, this leg of our trip was so pleasant, and would love to make it back to Italy again one day to do some more exploring.

The Basics:
weekend city guide
our street

Accommodation: Our Airbnb was great, it was on the cutest little street and was great for two people. I wouldn’t stay there with a baby or child though as you’re only in a single room. It’s on the second floor, with an oddly shaped door frame and an even smaller staircase from there to the main apartment. Totally charming, but maybe not baby transporting friendly.

weekend city guide
Gondola Ride

Transportation: You can take a bus from the airport to Venice. Venice itself has no vehicles, scooters, bikes, nothing. You just walk or take the sea buses. You could take a gondola, but they aren’t cheap, are slower than the seabuses, and sometimes walking.

Food and Beverage: Drink Prosecco and Aperol Spritz… but only order one Aperol Spritz and share it the first time just in case you don’t like it. Neither of us liked it, did not understand why we were seeing so many people drinking it. BUT get that prosecco in me!!!! YUM. You’re on the coast so eat up some fresh seafood and enjoy. Everything is delicious.

Watch Out For: The edges of the sidewalks since they don’t end up in grass… just murky ass nasty water. So watch your step. You’ll be doing a lot of walking, so have good shoes. Make sure to use a backpack instead of a roller suitcase, as Venice is “wheels-free”.

Things We’ll Do if We Get a Re-Do: Actually visit the glass beach at Murano, perhaps go inside and do the tours of Saint Marc’s Basilica.

Traveling with Kids: There are many bridges and stairways, make sure your stroller is really light or easy to get your child in and out of. I would suggest forgoing the stroller for your time in Venice and just use a baby carrier. The thought of my kid falling into the waterways makes me very anxious. I would maybe consider using a child harness/leash system. A life jacket might be taking it a little too far… Also check out Sparks and Bloom for more tips on traveling through Venice (and Italy) with a baby!

weekend city guide
Gelato in Treviso

*Hot Tip*: Many of the cheap flights (Ryanair, Easyjet etc.) fly into Treviso, which is just past Venice Marco-Polo Airport. Don’t just fly in and out of Treviso. Make a day trip there at least, even an overnight. We spent most of a day there wandering around while we waited for our flight to Chania, Crete. We really liked Treviso; it was clean, peaceful, and there was plenty of gelato. There is interesting architecture, great food, shopping and there is a professional rugby team; basically just a totally underrated town with plenty to do. You could likely stay there for much cheaper than staying in Venice, and could make day trips to Venice.

weekend city guide

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Weekend City Guide :: Budapest

weekend city guide :: budapest

I remember arriving in Budapest and thinking I was in a First-Person shooter, Soviet era video game. That might sound a bit ridiculous but its how I felt. We arrived in the late evening, the airport was basically empty, there were lights not operating (or at least off) and none of the customs officials gave two shits about a flight full of people. Our Airbnb host had given us instructions on how to get there. We hopped on the bus and made our way through Budapest in the dark. We had to make one bus change, and the stop was a little derelict. It was hard really, to make any kind of evaluation of the area. It was winter, it was late, it was a weekday, and the buildings in this industrial area had a real communist feel to them.

weekend city guide :: budapest
our building

We hadn’t done much research on Budapest, deciding we’d just wing it like everything else. But what we had read, said to watch out for pick-pocketers and to keep purses out of sight. I wasn’t interested in having my belongings stolen, or seeing Tyler try to chase someone down and resist the urge to kill them. We arrived at our apartment, it was a single room with a bathroom. There was no kitchen, just a hot plate and a mini fridge, but the bed was decent and for a whopping $8 CAD a night, it was all we needed. Downstairs was a bakery, around the block we could get Pho, and across the street should we need it, a strip club.

weekend city guide :: budapest
Matthias Church

The next day we wandered around Pest aimlessly. The architecture in daylight and in the middle of the city much less communist feeling, and more romantic than the previous night. The buildings were beautiful, despite the weather making everything very grey. Looking at my pictures, Tyler chirps that I really “captured the essence of grey”.

weekend city guide :: budapest
View from Buda Castle

Eventually we walked across the bridge over the Danube to Buda. We took the funicular up to Buda Castle where we wandered around eating fresh funnel cakes and learning about the history of Budapest. That night we headed to the Jewish Quarter, which wasn’t too far from where we were staying and had an awesome meal (if I can find the name of the restaurant I will update for you, hopefully they are still in business). After dinner, we were starting to get on each other’s nerves. It was week 4 of 5 traveling together and we had been going non stop. We stopped at a mini mart, where I bought 6 ciders for my consumption that night. When we got back to the apartment, I went upstairs to watch some Downton Abbey and drink. Tyler walked across the street to the strippers.

We just needed a couple hours to ourselves. I watched a couple episodes and drank in bed. Tyler chatted up the bouncers, owner, and dancers at the strip club, given he was the only patron. It was like 7pm on a weekday, so business was slow. Turns out the owner was from Fort McMurray and the girls all wondered about getting visas to strip in Canada. He says it was one of the most bizarre experiences at a strip club in his life. And that’s saying something because he’s been to a few.

The next day we headed to the Széchenyi Thermal Bath. We had been looking forward to this for a while. We booked the VIP experience; all day access to the baths, a massage, and access to the VIP lounge. We felt pretty baller, walking around in our fuzzy robes and slippers. I could have used a rough massage like the one Tyler got, nearly a chiropractic adjustment; but mine was relaxing enough that I almost fell asleep. We then hung out for a while in the lounge. It was lovely, full of tropical plants and a glass roof letting in the light. We relaxed in hammocks and on loungers eating fresh fruit and guzzling spa water. Then we hit the baths. There were a lot of mustaches there. Seriously. A LOT of mustaches and speedos. Tyler was in heaven. The whole experience worked out to be about $100 CAD for both of us and it was well worth it.

weekend city guide :: budapestThe next day we visited the Holocaust Memorial Centre. It’s in a refurbished 1920s synagogue in the Jewish Quarter. It was a very beautiful and intimate monument to the thousands of Hungarian Jews that died in the Holocaust. I would definitely recommend visiting it. We completed that day with a trip to the Great Market Hall where we of course bought some meat and cheese products. Tyler also completed our trip to Budapest with a real cherry on top, buying his favourite pair of shorty short swim shorts. Note I didn’t say his only pair, just his favourite pair.

The Basics:

Accommodation: This was the Airbnb we stayed at. It was great for just the two of us. I would not stay here with kids. It’s just too small. I also can’t recall if there was an elevator… I think there may have been.

Transportation: We bought a bus pass for the time we were there. It was fairly easy to use, but we were only ever concerned about time/destination on our travel days.

Food and Beverage: We had some really great meals in Budapest. Make sure you get some goulash (of course!) we had a modern take on goulash one night and it was to die for. Also eat tons of funnel cakes.

Watch Out For: Your purse and pockets. We didn’t end up having any issues, but we kept only what we needed with us and kept it in inside pockets.

weekend city guide budapest
his fav pair

Must Sees: The baths and Buda Castle. The castle has great views of the Danube and the Pest waterfront, as well as some light history. Also visit the Holocaust Memorial Centre.

Things We’ll be Doing if We Get a Redo: Maybe visiting during a different season. We missed some major sites from a complete lack of research. This is probably one of the few destinations that wandering aimlessly caused us to miss the “important” things.

Traveling with Kids: Kids live in Budapest, so I would feel comfortable bringing them here. If you’re traveling with a stroller or diaper bag I would be cognizant of where they are and what is accessible in/on them.

weekend city guide :: budapest

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Weekend City Guide :: Arras & The Canadian National Vimy Memorial

Two hours north of Paris, is Arras. This is the town closest to the Canadian National Vimy Memorial. Its absolutely beautiful, and très French. In 2013 we arranged to swing out to this town so we could visit the Vimy Memorial for Remembrance Day.

We took the train out to Arras, and when we couldn’t get a cab, we decided to walk to our hotel. Little did we know, we had a long ass walk ahead of us. It was Armistice Day, and a Sunday, and this town was dead. We got to our hotel, where the reception didn’t speak any English. We tried going out to get some lunch, but only found one actual restaurant open and they would only serve us steak et frites. Don’t get me wrong, it was a fantastic steak but to serve it with fries?!

We decided to go explore this sleepy town and stumbled upon a rugby clubCanadian National Vimy Memorial and some houses, but that was literally it. We made our way back to the hotel, grabbing a pie on the way and basically died in our room; spending the entire rest of the day in bed watching Dumb and Dumber on YouTube and eating take out pizza. Thankfully this little rest helped Tyler get over the worst of his cold.

The next day was Remembrance Day, and there would be a ceremony at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial, more intimate than the “official” ceremony on the Sunday. The Monday not being a statutory holiday, meant the majority of the attendees at the ceremony would be Canadian expats and travelers. The ceremony (and memorial) is organized and run by Canadian university students who do placements there.

Canadian National Vimy Memorial
morning dew on the craters

I arranged with reception (via Google translator) to book us a cab bright and early the next morning. We didn’t want to miss the ceremony, or a chance to do a tour of the site. Tyler and I both agreed that this is one of the highlights of our travels. It was a beautiful day, and the ceremony was perfect; respectful, intimate, and it just really hit you, to stand there on Vimy Ridge on the 11th of November with a bunch of other Canadians.

Canadian National Vimy MemorialIf you get a chance to do this, DO IT. Even if its not for Remembrance Day; just get there and do the tour of the trenches. It is fascinating and awe inspiring, and will leave you feeling so insignificant and full of gratitude simultaneously. The students working at the memorial do an amazing job. They know their stuff and are very passionate about it. The tours through the trenches are chalk full of information and the groups are kept small, making it easy to ask questions and get meaningful answers. The memorial is about a 40 minute drive outside Arras, so you will need a vehicle, or you can take a taxi. If you are attending the Remembrance Day or Armistice Day ceremonies, be sure to book your cab in advance and get there early.

Canadian National Vimy Memorial
In the trenches

The town of Arras didn’t seem like much at first glance. But now that it was a Monday things were back to normal. We had clearly made a wrong turn the day before, heading into the more rural area of town. Our cab driver dropped us off right in the centre of town, lo and behold, there is a freaking beautiful city centre! He explained on our drive back from the memorial, that Arras was almost completely leveled during WWI. When they rebuilt it, they did so in a Flemish-Baroque style architecture. This was not a style native to the area or time, but the townspeople liked it, so they went for it! For some reason I have NO pictures of it, I must have temporarily lost my mind.

There are shopping areas, a large square, and underground tunnels you Canadian National Vimy Memorialcan explore. The tunnels were built to connect people’s cellars during medieval times, and then were used during the wars to hide residents and Allied troops from opposing forces and bombs. Our focus on the Vimy memorial and Tyler getting sick, meant we didn’t get to explore much of the town, but we did get to have our first taste of stinky French cheese. We went out for a late lunch and I chose the “Arras-stye Chitterling Sausage”. Turns out it was a pig colon sausage in some sort of white sauce. It was fucking fantastic. Aside from one home cooked meal on this trip, that was the best meal I had. Even after finding out it was pig colon, I said NO RAGRETS! I’d do it again.

The Basics:

Accommodation: This was the hotel we stayed at. It has been updated and looks great in the pictures. Don’t be fooled though, on the map it seems like a quick jaunt, but it is not. It’s a long ass walk. Doable, but you’ve been warned.

Transportation: You can get there by train. You can walk basically anywhere in town, or get a cab. But you will definitely want a cab or a rental to get to the Vimy memorial.

Food and Beverage: Follow your nose! 😉 I’ve been looking for the restaurant we ate at, but can’t find it. I would recommend eating anything cooked in the local “Arras Style” based on the one meal I had.

Watch Out For: Holidays, this place shuts the fuck down and you’ll be nearly stranded.

Must Sees: The town square and the Canadian National Vimy Memorial.

Things We’ll be Doing if We get a Redo: Les Boves (the underground chambers) and Les Carrières Wellington (the underground network of tunnels connecting Les Boves).

Traveling with a Kid: Arras will be fine with little ones, the Vimy memorial might be a little too quiet for small kids? I think it would be a fantastic experience for older kids (maybe grade 5 or 6 upwards).

Have you visited Arras or the Canadian National Vimy Memorial? What are your thoughts or suggestions? What would you do/not do?

 

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