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Mini-Trip Report: Venice and Rome, May 2022

This is going to be much less detailed than my usual trip reports, but we had such a good time in Venice and Rome between our recent RSE tours that I wanted to share some highlights.

VENICE

We flew into Venice from Nice after the Loire to the South of France tour. We took the airport bus to Piazzale Roma, where we bought a 7 day vaporetto pass. Then we hopped a #1 vaporetto, three stops to San Stae. From there it was a short walk, maybe half a block or less, to our hotel, Al Ponte Mocinego, Santa Croce 1985.

I'll cut any suspense: we loved this hotel. We loved the room, the neighborhood, the staff, the convenience... I can't remember any problems or complaints, but if I think of any as I write this (always a possibility,) I'll let you know.

Our room was on the first floor up, and I don't think there was an elevator. Our host beamed when he showed us the room, especially when he threw open a door to show us our private balcony, overlooking a small garden. We were there for five nights, and I never saw anyone in the garden. The room was big, nicely furnished, with a mini-fridge and a special air purifier “capable of eliminating 99.9% of viruses and bacteria from the air and surfaces...”

I will say we sprang for the “superior” room, €185 instead of €160 for the “classic” room, at the recommendation of someone on this Forum.

The included breakfast was served in a small courtyard as well as in an interior breakfast room. The offerings were typical: yogurt, cheese, salami, fruit, rolls or bread, cereals, and juice. There seemed to be hot food available as well, including sausages, eggs, and bacon, but you had to ask for them. Coffee, tea, and water were also available.

There was a buffet, but it was not self-service. A charming, friendly, and hard-working staff plated everything for you. Some people went back for seconds; we routinely had more coffee or started with more. We found the caffee latte and cappuccino rather too milky for our taste, and began ordering espresso on the side. After two mornings of this, the staff would ask us “Extra espresso?”

We arrived on a Friday evening, and I had asked our hoteliers if they recommended we make a reservation for dinner. They assured us there were a number of good restaurants in the neighborhood, and we'd be fine.

And so we were. We walked about ½ a block, crossed a small bridge, and found Mura San Stae. There are a couple of Mura restaurants in Venice recommended on the Forum. Since we didn't have a reservation, we were not able to sit outside, but we didn't have to wait for a table inside. The food was very good. Stan had gnocchi with tiny little octopuses, and I had a good risotto with asparagus and shrimp. We had the house soave, and coffee afterward. Stan had a good tiramisu, as well. We liked this place so much we returned two more times. We recommend the risotto “del giorno:” it was asparagus and shrimp the first time, and scallops and artichokes the second. I had the house specialty, “spaghettone del nonno” once, and it was wonderful. Perfect pasta with a very tasty light sauce with veal cheeks.

Our favorite restaurant was also in our hotel's neighborhood; in fact, it's just a few meters down the street: Osteria Mocenigo. We dropped in Saturday afternoon; the host asked “Do you have a reservation?” “No,” we said, figuring we'd have to leave. “Sit down!” he roared, and we had one of the best meals we had the whole time we were in Italy. Stan had good veal, and I had grilled cuttlefish with polenta, which was exceptionally good. We immediately made reservations for the next evening. Stan had seared tuna with vegetables on our second visit, while I had fried calamari, also with vegetables. Both dishes were perfectly prepared.

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Continuing, Venice:

We had a good pizza at Trattoria Taverna Capitan Uncino in Campo San Giacomo dall'Orio, a short walk away from our hotel. This was pretty much serendipity. I had made us reservations at another restaurant near that square, but there seemed to be staffing problems or something, so we left to try our luck elsewhere. It was a Saturday night, so we were sure we'd be turned away wherever we went, but we thought we had nothing to lose, and asked at the Uncino if they could seat us without reservations. “But of course!” said the server we approached. The pizza was good, the wine was overpriced, but the location was wonderful. This Campo is in a real residential neighborhood. Kids were kicking a soccer ball around, little bitty kids were running and giggling, parents were sitting on benches gossiping while keeping an eye on the little ones, neighbors were bagging food for a food bank ... It was beautiful, and we were so glad we tried our luck there.

Another serendipitous find was “La Rivista,” Dorsoduro 979a. We were meeting our guide (see below) at the Academia bridge, and of course we got there pretty early. So we wandered down the street, and stopped at La Rivista to have a drink. After seeing some beautiful food come out to a neighboring table, we decided we had time for lunch. Stan had good sea bream, and I had tagliatelle with duck ragu, and it was excellent. The server (owner, I think) was charming and helpful. When we told her we were in a bit of a hurry, she made sure we got our order quickly, and even managed to convince Stan he had time for desert!

A highlight of our stay in Venice was our time with Michael from Venicescapes Historical Society. This organization offers some very serious tours on the history of Venice. There are seven different tours, each with a different focus. We took the tour with the broadest subject range, “Story of a Mercantile Empire,” 6 hours, €320 for two people; each additional adult would add €60. The website is venicescapes.org. Other tours focus on art, immigration, religion, political history; there's even one titled “The Age of Decadence: gaiety and immorality in the eighteenth century” which is evidently quite popular.

Our tour was wonderful. Michael had suggested we split it into two session of approximately three hours each, although he squeezed in some extra time on the second day. The presentation was detailed, but clear, with plenty of time for questions and discussion. And we were glad we had followed his suggestion of splitting the tour; our feet were tired and our heads were full after each session.

Not all the tours are as long as this one; one was only 2 ½ hours.

I cannot recommend these tours highly enough. We had originally planned on taking two tours, but wisely decided to wait for another trip. Michael is a great teacher, and had a deep understanding of and appreciation for his subject. He is American, but has lived in Venice for many years. I urge anyone who wants to take a deeper dive (metaphorically speaking, of course,) into Venice to check out the website.

We didn't do much typically tourist stuff in Venice; our best times we wandering the back streets. We did make one visit to the Academia Bridge, and couldn't wait to get away from the madness. Our last full day, on Michael's recommendation, we did visit the Doge's Palace, which we had never seen. We also went to the Correr Museum, which I've been wanting to see for years. Both were worth the time we spent.

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Continuing:

ROME

We took the fast train from Venice directly to Roma Termini, a pleasant trip. We had second class tickets, but the seats were spacious and comfortable. We walked from Termini to the Hotel Aberdeen, our “go to” hotel in Rome.

We always like the Aberdeen. The location is great; it's an easy walk from Termini, it's close to bus and metro lines, and it's tucked back on Via Firenze, away from the hubbub of the area. The staff is always very helpful and friendly. Our room was fine; nothing special, but it was very clean and met our needs. Mostly. We did have trouble getting wifi in the room (although I did find one place, right next to the toilet...) When I wanted wifi I had to walk down the hall a bit. There's also a lounge area on the ground floor with good access. Evidently wifi is spotty in the hotel; I chatted with some folks on a Rick Steves tour staying there. Some of them had great wifi in their rooms, others no.

One difference in the Aberdeen this time was a disappointment. We used to enjoy the generous breakfasts there, but they've cut back quite a bit on the offerings, and most items are prepacked, wrapped tightly in plastic. I know this was because of Covid precautions, but I did miss the former spread. It was served buffet style, with a server who made coffee drinks to order. By the second day she knew how we liked our coffee, and started preparing it as soon as we arrived. She said she remembered us from a previous visit, but that was years ago, so I suspect she had us confused with someone else.

Meals: Our first evening in Rome, we ate at the nearby Terme di Diocleziano. Viminale 3A. There was outside seating, and we had no trouble getting seated even without reservations. The food was good. I had pasta cacio e pepe, and Stan had some very good veal. House wine, coffee, and complimentary meloncello, which could become habit-forming. Stan also had a chocolate mousse that he said was very good. This is another place to which we returned; in fact, we made reservations for our final meal before the Rick Steves South Italy tour began. That evening Stan had grilled calamari, and I had fritti misti, a mixed fried seafood platter. We stayed late and enjoyed more wine and coffee, celebrating our last night in our favorite Rome neighborhood. The waiters remembered us, and went out of their way to see we had a good time.

Another restaurant worth mentioning was Boca Romana on Via Nazionale, very near the hotel. We were drawn in by lovely smells coming from the kitchen. I'm not sure how best to approach this; we didn't much care for the service, and the meal was much more expensive that we had planned, but the food was fantastic. Stan had abbacchio a scottadito, very flavorful seared lamb chops, and I had an unusual but very tasty presentation of bistecca alla fiorentina. It was sliced and grilled tableside, and was delicious. This wasn't at all what I had ordered – grilled fresh sea bream, but it was the dish that made the enticing smells that drew us in. We also had a very good Lambrusco rosé.

One more restaurant for the list: La Pollarola, Piazza Pollarola 24-25 near the tour hotel. This place is usually very crowded and reservations are highly recommended, but we were there early enough in the evening that they went ahead and served us. Stan had saltimboca, and I had spaghettoni with clams. Both were very good. This is another one that was out of our normal price range, but it was Sunday evening, and the pickings were slim.

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Continuing, Rome:

We did take a food tour while we were on our own in Rome, the Eating Europe Twilight Trastevere tour. I think we paid €90 or so; the price has since gone up. We did enjoy the tour, and I would recommend it. There were 12 people in our group. Over the course of several hours we had straciadella cheese with bread and olive oil, fried artichokes, roast suckling pig on white pizza, two kinds of pasta, cookies, gelato, and lots of wine. Our guide Valentina made sure to fill us in on the history of every stop along the way. All the places we visited were locally owned and family run.

Other Rome activities: As usual, we spent most of our time just walking around rubbernecking, but I also bought us 7-day bus passes. A favorite place was the Galleria Doria Pamphilj, which is another place I've been trying to get to for years. It was well worth the wait. A beautiful historic building, full of art, and beautifully decorated. Be sure to get the free audioguide, on which a member of the Pamphilj family walks you through the gallery, sharing history and family stories.

We also went to Ostia Antica one day. We had been there many years ago on the Best of Rome tour, and thought it was high time to return. Our bus pass was also good for the metro and city trains, so the transportation out there was covered. We enjoyed this day very much, taking our time wandering through the ruins. We were disappointed to find that both the museum and restaurant were closed for renovation; we had good memories of them from our earlier trip.

The ruins are very much accessible, and while not as exciting as Pompei, are a pleasant way to get a glimpse of life in old Rome.

We did have a good pizza lunch at a restaurant just outside the site, Allo Sbarco di Enea. The owner dresses as a gladiator, and resembles statues of Julius Caesar. There was a more expensive seafood menu, but we had dinner reservations elsewhere, so we just had pizza. And wine.

Our last pre-tour day was special. In between checking out of the Aberdeen and checking into the Smeraldo, we went to the Vatican. Stan and I both were eager to see Pope Francis and hear his weekly address. We got there early enough that we could spend quite a bit of time in St Peter's, attending Mass and visiting the tombs of John Paul II and John XXIII.

A word of warning: we spent at least 30 minutes in the security line before entering St Peter's Square. I was certainly glad we had budgeted extra time. There was a big crowd for the Pope's address, so I suspect had we arrived later, we would have been in line up to an hour.

That's it; the next day we met our guide and tour mates for the Best of South Italy tour, and I've posted a report on that. I'll be glad to answer any question you have. Thanks for reading my report.

Jane

Posted by
1980 posts

Thanks for the report! We’re staying in the San Stae area next June, with a group of six. I’m planning to make reservations for dinner, and will look at the restaurants you mention. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed the neighborhood. It’s our first time staying in this area.

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1910 posts

Thanks so much for this report, Jane! Love all the restaurant details. I'll be in Rome soon (yay!) and also in the researching stage for Venice next year.

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Great report as usual, Jane. Very detailed with some good recommendations for places to eat. Your hotel in Venice sounds wonderful and it had a garden which I would have loved.

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617 posts

Thanks Jane, I’ve been waiting for your pre-tour report on Rome…and you came through, with details on restaurants and meal choices, as well as things you did.
Thanks so much for taking time to share what you did. Your report is so helpful since we will arrive in Rome several days before our Southern Italy Tour.

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3657 posts

So glad you liked your hotel in Venice. I get nervous when I recommend a hotel because it can make or break a visit. It will be our go-to next time we make it there.

I'm curious about your comment about Ostia Antica. If I was planning on visiting Pompeii on the same trip I'm in Rome, would you say skip Ostia or visit it as a comparison to Pompeii?

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Travel4fun, we are so glad we stayed in the San Stae area. We hope to return to Venice in a couple of years, and will definitely stay there again. Be sure to take some time to wander about and get lost in the back lanes. Imagine, empty streets in Venice! But charming squares, churches, and interesting architecture, with surprising museums tucked in here and there.

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Carol, it was your nudging me to finish that spurred me on! I can’t wait to hear about your trip. Please post a report when you get home.

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Jane,
I enjoyed your report so much, allowing me to relive my magical time in Venice! I loved the Hotel Al Ponte Mocenigo where I stayed last year for 10 nights. The neighborhood campo was our daily destination for gelato, wandering and people watching. We probably ate at some of the restaurants you mentioned but I have forgotten their names.

I also have stayed at the Aberdeen in Rome on the RS Best of Italy tour, I agree the staff is very helpful. My debit card was stolen at an ATM around the corner and they helped me with calling my bank, etc. I’m glad you saw the Galleria Doria Pamphlia, I’ve always wanted to see it.

Thanks again for writing your report!

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488 posts

As always, loved reading all the details you pack into your trip reports. Your time in Venice sounds marvelous, we need to go back there someday and have some of your experiences. Thank you Jane!

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1337 posts

Enjoyed the report and I too have stayed at and enjoyed Hotel Aberdeen.

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5934 posts

Allan, I know what you mean about recommending hotels. I wrote a favorable review of a hotel in Aix-en-Provence a few years ago, but included in the heading something like "Great hotel, but not for everyone" or words to that effect.

You're not the only person who recommended Al Ponte di Mocenigo, but I think you were the first. Judy B also recommended it; a group she was with stayed there last fall.

And yes, it is now our "go to" in Venice. I just hope we get to "go to" it soon.

Ostia Antica and Pompei? I think it would be great to visit both, but few people have that much time. They're very different. Ostia is a short train ride from Rome, not crowded, with lots of open space. It doesn't have the blockbuster sights that Pompei has, and it takes more imagination to populate it than Pompei does.

If you go to Ostia, take a guidebook with you; while there are explanations of what the various ruins are, they tend to be rather terse. There are some great frescoes and mosaics, though, and it's nice to be able to clamber around some of the structures.

Oh, there is a steep footbridge over a roadway that must be crossed to get to the archaelogical park; we saw a couple of people have a lot of trouble getting up and down it. If anyone has mobility issues, this could be a problem. I didn't notice an alternate way of getting into the park.

Speaking of guides, I've seen some comments lately about Gaetano Manfredi and his son, both guides at Pompei. He was the local guide when our South Italy tour visited Pompei, and he is wonderful. Stan and I have been to Pompei before, read up on it beforehand, and have at least an academic familiarity with archaeology, and Gaetano just blew us away. If it's in the budget, I would seriously recommend anyone going to Pompei check them out.

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Hi Jane, I have a question about your day at the Vatican. You mentioned you had time for St Peter's and then listened to the Pope’s address. Do you recall approximately what times you did these? I am headed to Rome in March and was thinking one needed to get there early to get a spot to see the Pope and that we wouldn’t have time for anything beforehand. And you needed tickets to see the Pope, is that correct? Or were you there on a Sunday when tickets are not needed?

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Hi, Carrie: We were indeed there on a Sunday, and no ticket was needed. We got there about 10:30, maybe a little earlier, and spent 30 minutes in the security line.

The pope’s address was at 12:15 (verify that when you go,) so we had enough time to attend Mass, with a little left over. Stan wandered off to look at some art, while I made visits to a couple of my favorite past popes.

I did go to the regular Wednesday audience some years ago, and it is a bigger, more highly structured affair. For that one you do need tickets, and you need to get there early if you want a good seat.

The Sunday Angelus address is simpler. The pope speaks from a window in his residence, and the crowd mills around St Peter’s Square trying to get a good view.

The address is much shorter on Sunday than on Wednesday, as well.

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Thanks Jane!! Darn it, we will be in Rome from Mon – Sat, just missing the Sunday address. I appreciate the info.

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5934 posts

Carrie, if you have time, try to go see the regular Wednesday papal audience. It’s a great experience. When I went years ago, a tour mate went with me. He was a Southern Baptist from Florida who was gobsmacked by the entire spectacle. He said afterward that that was the highlight of his trip.

I think tickets are easy to get from the American church in Rome. Check Rick’s book, and I suspect someone else will chime in here.

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2943 posts

I was traveling when this was posted, but scrolling through trip reports, I was happy to catch it. Sigh. I really need to get to Venice.

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Tammy, we had a wonderful time. We had been to Venice a couple of times on RS tours, but knew we wanted to come back when we had more time. 5 days was great, but we're hoping we can get back again and stay even longer!

It's like Rome; if you only have a day or two, you just hit the high spots, or get bogged down in the crowds. With more time, you can get off the main drag, or go more deeply into things that interest you. And there will still be time for the major sights!

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We will be in Venice for a few days next October prior to a cruise. Per mention of the same hotel I have made reservations there for our stay.

I was glad to read your review of the neighborhood and will make a note of the restaurants.

We will be arriving to the airport and I was considering taking the public water bus from airport which goes directly to the same stop as the #1 water taxi.

Thanks again for your report

Posted by
163 posts

Thank you Jane, this is a great trip report. We'll be in Venice for 3 nights in March and are staying very close to where you stayed, so I particularly appreciate all the restaurant descriptions/reviews. I'm curious did you buy a multiday transport pass? This will be our first trip and I know there's lots to do and see, but I don't want to try to run through a big check list, I'd rather just explore on our own, we'll try for one or two "must see" places but my goal is to surpress FOMO and just enjoy what we do experience. So, I'm trying to decide whether we'll use the vaporettos etc enough to make it worth it. I see there's a visitor's card that we can buy both transport passes and/or attractions access for length of stay, so I'm trying to figure out what makes the most sense for us.
Thank you.