Venice: Theme for the Day:Venetian Fantasy Luggage outside door of villa at 7:15, breakfast at villa and back on the bus. Reno took us to Florence to catch the Eurostar to Venice. Didn't see our bags again until our hotel in Venice. It was so nice not to have to wrestle with luggage in the train station. A bag lunch was provided for eating on the train. We were in the first class cabin for the approximately 3 hour ride. We enjoyed the view out the large windows and napped. Once off the train we were divided into groups and boarded gondolas. My kids' favorite memory. The gondoliers were just like in the movies. After the gondola, Laura, the venetian expert met us for another walking tour. Laura shared the history and culture of Venice with us. She was good about finding bits of shade and deserted alleys for us to walk through, providing relief from the crowds and sun. We saw San Marco Square and went inside the church-cover your knees and shoulders. The tour lasted about an hour and then we were taken to our hotel. The Dei Dogi is owned by the same company as the Exedra in Rome. My kids were disappointed to learn there was no pool here. If you thought soda from the mini bar was expensive in Rome, in Venice it was 7.5 euros-almost $10.00 a can. We showered before finding dinner on our own. As the sun went down the bugs came out. After dinner we headed back out on our own walking adventure. We got lost, which is exactly what the tour books suggest you do. We did some shopping as we gradually made our way back to San Marco. In the afternoon it had been hot and crowded and the pigeons outnumbered the people. In the evening, everything is beautifully lit up, there are orchestras playing, fewer people and NO PIGEONS. I am so glad we did the extra walking and got this second look. The adventure guides really recommended going back in the evening and I am glad we did. The hotel has a free shuttle back to the hotel, so we luckily made the last one at 10:15. Those who didn't had to walk back or pay $$$$$ for a water taxi. We walked 3.7 miles today. Next Day: Carnivale We walked a bit this morning on our way to the Mask Painting Studio. We took a traghetto across the canal (no bridge here) and that took literally 5 minutes. We stopped to view the outdoor market where venetians buy their fresh fish and produce. Large Octopi anyone?? How about a whole swordfish??? We bought beautiful raspberries and ate them on a bridge. We then continued our walk to the studio. We visited the shop first to see all the masks and get ideas. The owner gave a quick 15 minute lesson on why and how the masks were made. We then selected a mask and got to work decorating it. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. We left the masks there to be dried and ribbons attached, and we had the rest of the afternoon to ourselves. We literally shopped our way back to the hotel. Total miles walked today was only 2.75. Looking back, I wish we had stayed out longer, but the heat and crowds were really draining. We took family photos on the Rialto Bridge and were glad to have time back at the hotel to rest and shower before dinner. The Dei Dogi has an amazing garden. My youngest daughter loved exploring in the evening when it was lit up. There were tunnels and a cave and a bridge and paths. The younger kids were happy to run around out there while the adults finished dinner. Dinner was our Venetian Carnivale. Costumed musicians played background music as we ate. Our masks were waiting for us. After dinner we went inside for a fitting ending to the tour (I won't spoil the surprise by telling). The next morning we left by taxi according to departure times at the airport. Those who had booked early flights out were to meet in the lobby at 3:40 am. The mood was sad as we said goodbye.