As internet is slow and expensive aboard the Island Princess, I'm writing this offline to copy and paste into facebook. We'll be 17 days on the cruise portion of this trip, and compared to our adventures in Thailand, the beginning has been free of travel complications. Thanks to brother, Tom, who dropped us off at Myrtle Beach airport to start this adventure on time.
Crossing the Atlantic by ship, you either hate or love it. We love it! Since you change time zones just once day, there is no jet lag. A cramped airplane seat is replaced by an adequate cabin space for sleeping, and plenty of room to walk around and explore the ship. Airline food/snacks are replaced by a cornucopia of eating selections.
The first night and day have blessed us with very calm seas. We were also blessed, sitting in the second row of the the theater to see comedian, Doug Funk, but somehow avoiding being the target of his barbs. Tonight was the first of three formal nights, and I was able to make use of my tux again. Somehow all I remember though is the tirimisu dessert at Sabatini's. It was a right-sized portion, encased with four delicate squares of chocolate, and topped with just the right amount of whipped cream. No time for a picture, as it was not too pretty to eat!
We choose anytime dining, which allows us to meet new people every evening. The first night, there are three other couples at our table, one from California, one from Idaho, and a third who have retired to become vagabonds. This couple sold their home in Phoenix, right after selling almost all the contents in an estate sale. The dog even went with the house! Marla and Cory have been homeless since last May, except for having a guaranteed bedroom at their son's home, where they store three boxes of pictures and heirlooms.
It's hard to imagine that the closest land, Bermuda, is over 300 Nautical miles away. For the most part, the weather has been warm(high 70's F) and the ocean so very calm. We were not expecting either, as we had packed for cool weather and brought along some of those motion sickness patches. So, I've been wearing my bathing suit a lot, and actually gotten some sun.
Last night we ate at the “Crab Shack” with another couple on the cruise from SC. We were served a huge portion of steamed seafood, king crab, shrimp, mussels, and clams. It was messy good!!!We'll have to buy the photo the ship photographer took of us, decked out in our special apron bibs.
The entertainment has also been better than expected. Last night a British woman, Sonia Selbie, vocally imitated the likes of Karen Carpenter, Patsy Cline, Adele, Liza Minelli, as well as doing her own version of I Dreamed a Dream, from Les Miserables. We met Sonia on the elevator earlier, and to hear her talk with her thick British accent, completely threw us off guard for what was in store for us.
Becky and I have been taking the stairs to compensate for all the eating we've been doing. That means 8 floors up to reach the pool level. We took some swing dance lessons yesterday, and that's a workout to. Becky's also doing zumba, and I may even give it a try tomorrow.
Our first port is Madeira Islands, followed by Barcelona, then Rome on Good Friday where we will pick up Anna for the remainder of the cruise. We're very excited about seeing her in her own country, and enjoying the days until we get there!
Land ho! After 7 and a half days at sea, I heard this as I sipped my cappuccino at the Island Princess coffee bar on the 5th floor. This seemed to bring much joy to the waitstaff, and Frank, from the Philippines, produced a ukelele and began serenading the customers. I'll post a clip when the internet is not 10x slower than home. I hope he plays in the talent show later on today.
Anyway, I peeked out the window trying to see the Island of Madeira on the horizon, but squint as I may, no sight of land from where I sat. I went back too the room and told Becky, “I'm going up to the Lido deck (14th) to try and get some pictures.” In the hallway, a fellow passenger said that she had seen land too, but doubted it was the island of our destination, as it was too soon. I burst out onto the deck, 24x zoom camera in hand, but try as I may, I could not discern anything that appeared to be land on the horizon.
Then, I walked to the port side of the ship.
OMG, we were almost in Funchal! 4000 foot cliffs stared at this dork with a zoom camera. Just to the right, thousands of houses dotted the hillsides. Several sail boats were visible in the marina. But no, my embarrassment was not yet complete.
Becky and I chose to walk from the pier to Funchal. Happily so, as we needed the exercise, and we would have missed the smallest country in the world recognized by Guiness book... Principality islet Pontinha. I'll have to google it later as the informational pamphlet was printed in Portuenglish. It is a curious, but beautiful atoll attached to the boat pier, and boasted grand views of the ocean and Island of Madeira.
Following that, we proceeded into the city of Funchal. It was Palm Sunday, but we found many shops open, and as our wont, we checked out especially a local grocery store. The seafood department was unusually big, and displayed huge dried flat fish, alongside iced salmon colored ones with bulbous eyes. (Frightening to Becky) I surreptitiously took a photo of a young shopper's shoes that even Ingela's Moa might be jealous of. Lo and behold, we also found “jackfruit”, which I assumed was only available in Asia. I used a credit card as a knife, slicing the hard, bright, leafy pink, outside to reveal the white seeded fruit that has the texture and similar taste of kiwi.
It was easy to find our way back to the ship, even to this challenged navigator. Just go down hill until you can see it! Even at that, I guessed wrongly which direction that was going to be coming out of the store. On the way back we walked through a high, lovely, gardened park and took some neat pictures of the Island Princess sitting in the marina below.
Ok, now my embarrassment was complete. The reason none of the road signs had matched my map was because I had mistakenly brought along the port map for Barcelona!
Fool me once shame on you!
While in Funchal, I almost purchased what I thought to be a leather belt. Upon further inspection I noticed it was stamped in three different places with this inscription, ”Manufactured to exceed specifications of the E.E.C. Guaranteed genuine MATERIAL!” This was decorative and on the OUTSIDE of the belt! Wouldn't that impress my admirers from any angle? Now, should I buy some fine wine that proclaims, “Guaranteed genuine LIQUID inside!”
We're headed to the Mediterranean, and the ocean has been the roughest we've encountered. Still the stabilizers on this ship are doing a wonderful job with side to side movement. Becky has succumbed to using the seasick patch, but I've had no need so far.
Barcelona in two days!
When we had reached Funchal, I remember thinking, “Wow, we're close to the Mediterranean now!” Actually, it would be another day and a half before we passed through the Straights of Gilbraltar. I set an alarm for 3AM to see the Rock, knowing that it was going to be pretty dark to see much. The ship was moving too much, but several others took pictures of my picture, because they had even slower cameras.
One more day, and we arrived in Barcelona. It's a huge working port, and most of the view was container ships and cranes, but the modern part of the city also peeked out in the distance. We had booked a Fat Tire Bicycle tour of the city, and it turned out to be a great choice. Early morning clouds broke by afternoon, and temps stayed near 60 F the entire day.
We walked up La Rambla Avenue with 10 other cruise passengers to meet out tour guide. Police presence was very evident, and though friendly, several sported AK 47's. Soon enough we were on 3 speed bicycles, and on our way. Our guide, Dicken, was a transplant from Strafford-on-Avon, England, and a knowledgeable speaker.
Our first stop was the old castle where Queen Isabelle watched boiling oil fall on the unlucky victims of the Spanish inquisition. It was also the place that launched the career of Christopher Columbus, who did not find the West Indies. Ironically, he has a statue commemorating his voyages in which he is pointing in the wrong direction.
Barcelona is bike friendly, with several well marked two lane bike roads going down the middle of busy streets. Nice rubber curb stoppers keep the cars away. I think on a good weather today, it must be the best way to see all the sights.
10% of the city is parks, and we went one to another, as we also took in their Arc Triumph, Goudy designed Opera House, Olympic Park, Beach, and the now charming but defunct mosaic-ed bull fighting arena.
Barcelona and the entire Catalina section of Spain was never a big supporter of bull fights, as it has always been cruelty to animals. The bulls were drugged and had vaseline spread in their eyes...not much of a fighting chance for them.
After our tour, we did some shopping with new friends, Sharon and Randy. Funny thing, as we had been warned about pick pockets almost to the point of fear. I experienced just the opposite. I was using one of those hidden money belts to store our cruise I.D.s. Somehow they had worked up and out of the belt and dropped on the sidewalk. With all the noise, I didn't hear this, until the people behind us picked them up and gave them back. This was good embarrassment, as we would have had trouble getting back on the ship without them.
My Grandmother always said, “Man proposes, God disposes.” Or as others say, “The best laid plans of mice and men...”but sometimes proposals and plans do work out. That's what happened this trip, when we were able to have Anna Concheri join us on part of this cruise. The thought was always there to be able to see her sometime while we were near Venice. Then I thought, “Wouldn't it be great if she could be with us the whole time we were in Italy on the cruise?
I began to google this possibility. I couldn't find anyone who had actually done something like this, and only hints of some maritime rules that would not allow it. I decided it was best just to call Princess Cruiseline directly, and find out. Alex, in sales, said that he would forward the request onto the port authority administrator, but we would have to book the cruise first, and then wait to learn about adding Anna later. That was no problem, as we were already sure about us going.
In the mean time, I forwarded to Alex an essay Anna had written about her “exchange student” experience in the U.S., and a picture of her that dispelled any thoughts of her being a terrorist! Amazingly, Alex emailed me back, that he did indeed read the essay, and agreed that, “Anna was a true gem!” Three days later, I heard that it was approved to bring Anna on-board in Rome. Now, it was time to ask her if she wanted to. A resounding YES, was her reply, but it depended on college exams and being away at Easter time for a third year in a row.
Time passed slowly, as finally one day she messaged me that, “I'm cruising with you!” Now more logistics followed as she searched for a reasonable train ride to Rome. She soon found one that arrived at Roma Tiburtina, which is not the main train station of Rome.
Now it was me that was searching for a way to meet Anna in Rome. Our cruise ship would be docked in Civitavecchia, which is a good distance from Rome. I turned to one of my favorite travel websites “seat61”, and in no time found a train option that would get us to Roma Tiburtina with only one transfer at Roma Ostiense for only 11 euro. (Transfers that Princess Cruise line had started at $69 each, and wouldn't get us exactly to the needed train station.) Our arrival time would be 10 minutes before Anna's.
Next, I started shopping for a way to get all three of us back to the ship. After four fails, I found a good deal that included a Mercedes mini van and driver for the rest of the day. This would also have the benefit of being a place to store Anna's luggage while we in Rome.
Fast forward to the actual day. Would this really work? I was a little worried about finding our train station, printing the actual tickets, validating them, and making that one connection we had. Also I had hoped to buy an Italian sim card to stay in communication with Anna, but this was a fail, as there was no place open to make that purchase.
I wasn't terribly worried about time, as we would just need to get to the train station and board by 8:42. We shuttled off the dock at 7:15 to a point that was just over a 1 km from the train station. Plenty of time to walk if we just knew what direction! Luckily, there were more experienced travelers around trekking to the same station, so we just joined that queue.
Here comes my favorite part. Trying to look Italian, I dressed smartly with my leather jacket and European style sun glasses. Soon a woman in a Fiat stops, “Mi scusi signore? She is looking for directions. How do you say, “I'm not from around here!” in Italian? Once again, men are vindicated in the reason why we don't stop to ask directions!
Other than not finding that sim card, things are going rather smoothly. It's a beautiful sunny day, and the walk is enjoyable. Soon, Becky and I are railing our way to Rome! We had to sit separately, and I am directly across from a young woman who is on her computer and cell phone at the same time. I enjoy watching her conversation, as being a true Italian, her hands emphasize the words, even though they are directed at no one in particular!
We are to switch trains at Roma Ostiense, and the signage says to go to track 10. We are directed to go down in a tunnel underneath the station, and find the stairs back up to the correct track with minutes to spare. The train waits at that track, but with no markings to indicate where it is going. A lone passenger stands at the open door and I say, “Scusi? Roma Tiburtina?” He nods yes, and we board. However, we are soon scooted off the train by the conductor. Seems it is time to clean this particuar train. The track has been changed and the lighted sign signals, “Roma Tiburtina, Ritardo 10'.” Delayed!
Now, we are not going to arrive before Anna, and I start to tense up as this new train seems to drag along so slowly. We have no way to contact her, and when we finally arrive, we're not sure which of three exits to use. As luck would have it, we're not there more than 5 minutes when Anna says, “Here I am!” and we are reunited at last!
The only thing better than traveling, is traveling with with good company! That would be Anna Concheri! Both the driver, Angelo, and I are happy that she is there to translate. At the Colosseum, Anna has the driver drop us off, and then walks us past long lines, to empty paths that give us great views of the grounds. Medieval churches are built on ancient ruins, alongside places where they try to preserve ancient history.
The sidewalks are littered with hawkers who attempt to sell us everything from maps to sunglasses. Especially irksome are the ones shoving “selfie sticks” in front of our noses. Don't they know we bought one in Bangkok last year?
Next Angelo drops us near the Vatican Museum. I had bought tickets online, and once again, Anna leads us past the long lines to a dedicated window where they print our admission tickets. Two hours is not nearly enough time to spend there, but we do the best we can. The museum is not really heavy on Catholic items. As we wind our way up the four story oval ramp entrance, the first things we see are gifts from the kingdom of Thailand...an ancient Thai boat and newer intricate wood carvings.
The crowds are not too bad until we get to paintings by Rafael, and the entrance to the Sistine Chapel. It is wall to wall people with guards admonishing us to shussh, don't take pictures, and move along. It reminds me of the crowds to see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. The painting is smaller than the many posters recreated of her. It's worth the hassle though to see all Michelangelo was able to accomplish on the walls and ceilings of this fairly small chapel. The bottle neck is a door only one person can exit at a time, compared to the open archways that beckoned us in.
After that, Anna is determined to take us to the best gelato in Rome. In true fashion, she is following gps to get us there on foot. We trek down narrow alleys, to a place called Frigidarium. The crowd in front speaks to the quality of the gelato. I see chocolate coated three scoop concoctions go by with thin cookies slicing into the tops.
I am hungry!!
Fifteen minutes later we are enjoying selections of pistachio, mint chocolate, and lemon, trapped by frozen chocolate coating. This is followed with cappuccino, and a “happy room” break while we wait on Angelo to pick us up again.
On the drive back to the ship, Angelo winds us through the back streets of Rome as we avoid the worst of traffic. On one hill he shows us the optical illusion of the Basilica of St Peter seeming to shrink as we drive toward it. There's a similar illusion I've seen near Belpre, Ohio, where the new bridge looms large and then appears to shrink.
Finally, we are back to the Island Princess, where our Italian Princess, Anna, is checked-in. Success, grandmother, what we have proposed is not disposed! Anna will be with us the rest of the cruise. Tomorrow, we see Sorrento!
Im-a hope-a you come-a back-a to Sorrento! Our tour guide, as Anna explains, has a heavy Napoli accent. We learn that Italy has 21 distinct accents, and even Anna has trouble understanding them all. I can understand “mama” tour guide's English, but it is comical to me, even though twenty times better than any Italian I can speak. (Mine and Anna's favorite is Heaster Heggs!)
The trip to Sorrento is breath-taking, not only for the scenery, but the narrow winding hills that our bus seems to barely squeeze through at times. Mt. Vesuvius is visible and imperious, just like I imagined in my fourth grade ancient history class, but I am more worried about death by those vehicles coming so close to us in the hairpin curves.
We stop on the edge of a cliff, to look down on Sorrento. These are kodak moments, and the weather still cooperates. It makes you want to live in that hotel perched on the edge just above us. At this pull-off a solitary vendor does well, squeezing fresh orange juice for us, and forcing me to buy some lemon liquor called Limoncello. It doesn't take much talking, because we tasted it the night before on the ship. It's made by infusing alcohol in the zest of the oversize lemons that grow here. Excuse me my Italian friends if I say, “Mama mia!”
There just are no towns in the U.S. like Sorrento. The U.S. is such a young developed nation compared to Italy. The streets are narrow, and lined with shops and the occasional church. I stop and buy a small basket of strawberries, not expecting much, as they look like the California ones we get on the East coast...large but minimal taste. Yowza, these are bursting with flavor, and we make short work of them.
Orange and lemon trees abound, and it's reflected in the shop offerings. More Limocello, lemon soap, and chocolate with orange and lemon inside. Of course there is also clothing, jewelry, gelato, and caffe shops. Anna's and my goal is to have gelato every day we are together. It is not a difficult task in Italy.
Then the streets end abruptly, and I stare down at the aqua blue Mediterranean Sea far below. Colorful boats and cabanas hug the wooden docks down there. We are at a small park, and make our way back toward the tour bus. We find a cameo shop, where we watch the artisan craft his newest creation. Becky succumbs to a purchase of a seahorse necklace cameo. Appropriate, since we live by the sea at Surfside Beach, SC.
It's time to head back for the wine tasting portion of our tour, so we gather back at the upscale furniture shop we call base. We did a short tour of this traditional and expensive shop. The inlays of the furniture are amazing, and would have definitely been good accompaniment to our house in Gallipolis. Not so much for our beach house in Surfside, but I was still sorely tempted by the ornate gaming table. Once the top was removed, it revealed a huge chess board, backgammon, black jack, and poker felt.
The bus trip back was just as scary as the journey here. I think I forgot to tell you about the tunnels we also had to go through. Yikes! We arrived safely, however, at the wine orchards, nestled along the hillside of Mt Vesuvius. Cantina del Vesuvio! They are proud of their organic status, and flava beans grow between the rows of grapes to re-nurture the soil. We are greeted by one of the owners and her friendly dog.
The owner takes us to where the wine is actually processed. The wine is made in small quantities, which allows better for better control overall. They also grow olives for the production of olive oil, though it is processed off-site. I learned that extra-virgin oil is from the first cold press of the olives, with no chemicals used in the manufacture. It's delicious with the bruschetta, cheese, and chorizo they serve us. It also probably helps that we are getting good sized servings of their white and red wines, and apricot brandy.
Two of the owner's dogs salivate at our feet, and are rewarded well. One can never have too many friends near Napoli! The other co-owner explains in Italian(translated by “mama”) that the covered shelter we sit under was just completed this morning. Luckily, because moments later the skies empty out the rain they've been promising all day! He thanks us profusely for coming, but follows up with a curse if we do not buy any of his goods. “Mama” does not translate this literally...
We sat right across from “mama”, our tour guide on the bus, but I realize I never got a picture of her. She is a short plain looking woman who claims her prettier sister was Sophia Loren. I'm not sure I believe her, but by now most of the bus is happy from the wine, and enjoy her rendition of “Come Back to Sorrento”. I hear a cry of Bravissimo! Oh, wait, that was me!
Now, Anna has found an audio of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis singing, “That's Amore!” and pipes it through the bus P.A. The whole bus attempts to sing along, and find other Italian songs to butcher. That is, until the wine does it's final job, and we begin to slumber.
We will spend Easter Sunday at sea, as we cruise toward Venezia!
I've already posted a video on our entrance into Venezia. The cruise director said, “This will be the most spectacular arrival into any of our ports!” He was right. I learned that we were the largest cruise ship now allowed to make this passing. This is to safeguard the integrity of the waterfront.
I was pleased that the music was not played overly loud, as there had been complaints of this in the past. As for the choice of “Bolero”, well, it was just one of several selections played, including some Pavorotti. I do have to say the tempo matched that of the ship's, and could not make our first sight of Venezia any less impressive. The thing that surprised me most, was the view of snow capped mountains in the background. Totally unexpected.
The next exciting part was that Anna's parents Paolo and Paola were joining us to walk through Venice. They were waiting near the entrance to the port. Paola asked, “What we would we like to do?” and I replied, “Stay away from the crowds!” He smiled in agreement, and I knew I liked him already.
Then he promptly opened a gate twice as tall as we were, so we could take a short cut to town. It was not locked, but had that look of, “Stay out!”, and I expected to be reprimanded anytime from some security personnel. That never happened, but I'm sure it only added to our excitement. Paolo had worked previously in Venice, so he was a cornucopia of knowledge for our tour.
We would still be on the ship this night, but had made reservations for a second night's stay in Venice to facilitate our flight back to the States. This was actually an apartment in the Campo dei Mori section of Venice. We thought it wise to find it today, to make things easier tomorrow. So, we headed through the Jewish Ghetto in search of it.
The term “ghetto” was coined in Venice, and meant a pouring out place for slag, a byproduct of steel. It came to mean more of a pouring out of people, as with the Jews. It has a bad connotation in the U.S. but it was an affluent place for the Jews in Venice. Most of the buildings we passed had Hebrew markings, and they were as beautiful as any residential part of Venice.
I said, “I think I'll recognize this apartment when I see it. It's old and a square building!” This fell on unbelieving ears, as all buildings were old and square. Then I said, “I think that's it on the left!” Once again, unbelief, and we turned the corner to search further. Finally, Anna asked, “What is the number?” “2774!” I replied. This led us back to the very building I pointed out! Venezian vindication!
Thank you “street view” google maps! I knew it looked familiar, and was only missing the gelato street vendor I swore I'd seen on that google map.
We visited the church of the Madonna dell'Orto, a hushed place full of frescoes. From there it was just a short walk to a “vaporetto”, water taxi. This would be a good place to ferry our luggage over tomorrow.
We finally do have to fight the crowds a little to find gelato at “Grom”. Their claim to fame includes a dollop of real whipping cream on top. Pistachio for me, as sadly no mint chocolate! Becky resists, but then sacrifices to help me eat mine.
From there we take a short gondola ride to cross over near the Rialto Bridge. This is stuffed full of people, and I worry that it will hold our combined weights. Off safely today, though, and on to St Mark's square. This was worrisome to me, as during our ship cruise-by it looked as busy as an ant hill. Luckily, it has emptied somewhat, and by now we ready to find a “bagno”, bathroom.
Anna and I see signs pointing nearby, then get lost until I discover partially obliterated directional arrows on the sidewalk. It's not “free” to “wee” and we pay 1,50 euro for the privilege, and that after two flights of stairs. I explain to Anna that in Thailand they call it the “happy room”. You go in stressed, and come out happy!
Don't ask me where all this is flushed! It is however a chilly day, and I don't smell the pungent odors I've been warned about. Enough said.
Thankfully, we are walking away from the crowds again, as we head to the island of Murano. It's Easter Monday, and still a holiday in Italy. Many shops are closed but we catch one just at closing. Paolo is able to convince the owner to wait a bit. It contains some of the most intricate glass-work I've ever seen.
Our destination is a favorite restaurant of Paolo and Paola's, but it's still a hefty walk. Sadly, the restaurant is closed for small Easter, even though the bar remains open. Figure that out? So, we hike back and find a different place to eat.
Well, at this writing neither I nor Anna can remember the name, so we'll just call it the “Trattoria with the symbol of the rooster with a weasel and snake on it's back, and the Chinese looking waiter who spoke fluent Venezian Italian, along with the chunky chef with the tattooed face!”
Of, course, the food was wonderful! I tried the linguine with clams, recommended by Paolo, even as I steered Becky away from that to the lasagna. Good thing as the clams were small and cooked in the linguine...shells and all! I waited to see how Paolo would attack this. Tedious extraction of the clams and separation of the shells to an empty dish is how. No problem. I reasoned that this extra work would negate the calories from the linguine.
Did I tell you there was a second course? This would be tempura, including soft shelled crabs that even my Aunt Dot would have proclaimed delicious. She was a connoisseur of that delicacy. Then, only to be polite to our hosts, I agreed to try the tiramisu. It was wonderful! This I shared with Becky and Anna, and then shamed Anna into eating the last bite!
Oh, wait, Sunny, look at the delicate Murano glass flower they presented us at the end of our meal. There is a business card enclosed. The name is: Ristorante Della Mora! Not as fun as Anna's and my description.
Thankfully, we had purchased 24 hour vaporetto tickets, and were able to water taxi back close to the ship. Soon, we said our goodbyes to Anna's parents and would sleep well this night on the ship.
Tomorrow we will visit Anna's hometown, Padova.
Sadly we disembark the Island Princess today. It's been a fantastic 17 days aboard her. Logistics first. We need to drop our luggage off at our Ai Mori apartment in Venice. Anna will not be staying with us, but there is no good place to store her luggage, so all three of us climb aboard a “vaporetto” toward our closest stop, ORTO. Here we roll/carry our luggage to the apartment.
Once again Anna is worth her weight in gold, as the owner, Giacomo, is not there and it is his father that waits for us. He speaks no English at all! Even still, his heavy Venezian accent is not that easy for Anna to understand either.
Since I have spoken the few Italian phrases that I know, Giacomo's dad ushers me to their large photo map of Venezia on the wall. It really does look like a “fish” from the air, a chunky kind like those Christian symbols you see on cars in the U.S. The father explains explain how to get to St. Mark's square. I know this not because I understand Italian, but because his finger traces a path on the map from where we are to St. Marks.
I smile and say, “Certo!”, which means “Sure!”
Ai Mori is in a secluded neighborhood, with it's own small canal running along the front side. The apartment is quaint and historic, and three stories high! I drag Becky's and my luggage upstairs to our bedroom. The kitchen, living room, and shared bathroom are downstairs. Luckily, there is no one else staying here, so I just share the bathroom with Becky. I can do that!
Anna has called her mom, Paola, to pick us up in their car, so we head back to the “vaporetto” with only Anna's luggage in tow now. There really are no cars or even bicycles in Venice, so boats are the only method of transportation beside walking. Bicycles would work, except for the over 400 bridges that have at least ten steps on both sides to allow the boats to pass underneath from the 177 different canals.
Boating is the best part, anyway. On our boat ride back to mouth of the “fish” we mostly circle the islands, but eventually turn into the Grand Canal. It's chilly, so I am practically the only one who stands outside between stops. My camera is fully charged for once, and I grab some parting shots of Venice. I try to drink in the memories of the past two days.
The “mouth” of the fish is the connection to the mainland. Here you can catch a train or bus, to cross the bridge to Mestre, Italy. For an exorbitant fee you can also park a car close by, but we are waiting for Paola and jump in her blue/green “Kangoo” station wagon as soon as she stops, and on to Padova!
Our first stop is Paola's parents home, which is close to downtown. Because of all the excited conversation, we miss the turn off and get an extended tour by car.
The house is beautiful, and Anna's grandmother, Laura, has decorated it to the nines. It is filled with collectibles, not the least which are paintings that grandfather, Angelo, has done. He copies famous paintings then makes them his own by say, painting his own dog into one of them. That one is my favorite, second only to the one of Zebras that resides in Anna's house.
We are greeted by a frog doorstop that chirps whenever company comes by. We have a similar frog doorstop at home, albeit voiceless. Then it's time for chocolate Easter eggs and caffe Italiano style. Anna's brother, Andrea, is there also, and we will walk into the downtown for the grand tour.
Anna and Andrea now see their own city in a new light, as they explain some of the history to their American visitors. Andrea informs us, “The square in Padova, Prato della valle, is the second largest in Europe, only exceeded by Red Square in Moscow.” The city predates Venezia, and architecture is similar. Even the guilded angel atop the Basilica of St Anthony, that turns with the wind, is copied at St Marks in Venice.
Street life abounds with hawkers, buskers, and musicians. Andrea meets up with friends and misses out on the Napoli pizza we are about to enjoy. The buffalo cheese and soft crust make it, and I twist my index finger in my cheek to show my Italian pleasure in it.
Oh, by the way, another day, another gelato. This time we are at “Grom” again, and the pure white mint chocolate is exquisite! Then on to botanical gardens, where Becky poses next to a tree over 300 years old. Makes us feel sooo young!
Next is the Scrovegni Chapel, that we reserved a 4:30 time. The precautions are what I expected at the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. Thirty of us enter an air lock room, where we view a 15 minute video while the temperature and humidity of the chapel recovers from the last tour. I guess it makes sense, as this predates Michelangelo's work by 200 years!
That Michelangelo...what a copycat! This artist, Giotto, has painted these intricate frescoes in half of the time. It's staggering to imagine this history from 700 years ago. The United States was not even a dream yet.
Our day was not yet over, for now a home cooked meal awaited us at Anna's. Her mom picks us up once more with the company of the family dog. We stop for a refreshing drink at tables “al fresco” that now occupy the space where market vendors were earlier.
At home, brother Stefano and girlfriend Elisa are rolling gnocchi, the first course of dinner. Paola has made both a green and red sauce, so when combined with the gnocchi the colors of the Italian flag are well represented, and tasty. Paolo has brought out a good selections of wine and liquor, including our newly bought limoncello from Sorrento.
Mostly it is the company that really makes the meal, and we sit around as one family, as baked guinea and salad is added to the mix of supper. The grandparents arrive in time for Easter cake with pistachio sauce, and a little limoncello.
Sad thoughts of parting company with Anna and family come to mind, but we hope they will soon visit us in the U.S. Father, mother, and Anna drive us back toward Venice. Anna and mother walk us all the way to the vaporetto stop, and we have our Italian hug goodbyes and sweet sorrows.
Ahhh, Venezia at night! Our boat ride back to the apartment is well lit by a nearly full moon. Tomorrow will be a short time before we must go to Marco Polo airport and say, “Arrivederci, Italy!”
The journey home
Our flight toward home does not leave until 2 PM, so we are able to enjoy a morning walk in Venice. One of the travel guides says that part of joy is getting lost in Venice, because everyone does! Remember I said, “Venezia is shaped like a fish?”, well the canals and walkways are “S” shaped, and the bridges do not line up in any order.
Becky is less adventurous than I am, so to ease her mind, I take pictures at ever turn and bridge. This way we can follow our path in reverse to get back! We finally have broken down, and stopped at our first McDonald's for coffee. (Shhh. Don't tell Anna and her family) It's still not the large coffees we get back in the U.S., but somehow the familiar cups soothe Becky. I am hooked on cappuccinos now, so it doesn't make any difference to me.
We both decide that Venizia is a beautiful place to visit, but we'd just as soon live in Padova. We haven't ventured too far from the apartment, so the photos I took are not really needed. We are charmed to see some young women walking down our way carrying a wedding dress. It's going to be a lovely sunny day for that.
Back at our apartment, I drag our luggage downstairs. Getting it out the double door entryway is not an easy task. The outside door locks automatically, and won't open at all if you have luggage in between the two doors. With care, I think I have it all out on the sidewalk, and ready to leave the key inside and walk to the water taxi.
We've still allowed plenty of time, as the water taxi to the airport leaves every half hour, and ORTO is the last stop it makes before cruising to Marco Polo. Everything looks familiar, and soon we're at the dock with all our luggage to wait on the “Alilaguna” to take us there.
But wait! Where is my computer case? Yikes! No wonder my shoulder doesn't hurt from the weight of it. It's locked inside the apartment along with our airline tickets! Giacomo is at work, and there is no one to let us in. Becky stays with the luggage, and I run back to the apartment anyway.
Don't panic, Sunny, you can call Anna with Skype. She has been the contact for Giacomo the whole time with her Italian cell phone. Luckily, standing next to the apartment I still have the wireless signal I'd connected to earlier. I call Anna, but no answer.
OK, you can panic a little now, Sunny! I realize I don't have Giacomo's phone number, but it's in my email account. Because Becky has the only smart phone between us, it automatically connects to her email. No phone number there. I log out, but I'll be darned if it will let me log on to mine. “Dumb smartphone!”
OK, panic a lot now, Sunny! Ah! His number will be on his business card! Except that it is also in my computer bag. Time is not waiting for me. Finally, I am able to google his website and find his phone number. Please answer, please answer!
“Pronto?” He answers, as I discover that his English is really not much better than his father's. He doesn't understand my problem, but says that we will be here in 20 minutes. It's now been over an hour since I left Becky at the dock. I consider running back to tell her everything is going to be fine, but I'm afraid to miss Giacomo in the process.
I begin to ask everyone headed that way, “Parla inglese? Can you find my frantic wife, and tell her everything will be OK?
“No englese.” “No englese.” Even a gaggle of school students are no help, as they think I am asking how to “get” to the vaporetto. I believe the teacher says, “Stay away from that crazed Americano!”
Oh yeah, it's comical now!
Then, there is the welcome sight of Giacomo walking toward me. With my Italian phrase book clutched in hand, I say, “Mi dispiace!” (I'm sorry for my stupidity) Soon, my computer bag and I are reunited, and with a “ciao, ciao” I am on my way back to see Becky.
Really glad we started out early, because I still think we're going to be fine. It's a wonderful boat ride to the airport with just a few passengers on board. Guess what? The couple next to us speak English fluently. They're from Ontario.
Our troubles seem to be behind us. It's a brisk walk to the airport from the dock, and aside from having to cussi out the automatic baggage drop, we make our flight easily. Now, it's an overnight in Copenhagen, and the next leg is a direct flight to Ft. Lauderdale.
Well of course there's Oslo in between, and one more connection. For some reason, we must collect our luggage and re-enter through security. Really? They simply don't believe the security we went through in Italy? Now I understand why it is a two hour connection, and there goes any thoughts of a leisurely dinner. Well, we are off to Copenhagen, with minutes to spare!
I'd pre-paid our room at the Copenhagen Hilton, weeks ago at a good rate, and I figured they would have a shuttle at the very least. Hey, it was even better than that! They are connected to the airport by escalators and moving walkways! It's a beautiful king size bed with a beautiful view of the parking lot. That's right, it was heavenly! I highly recommend this Hilton, and it's just a short walk to the metro.
We decide to sight-see Copenhagen in the morning. First stop, danish and coffee, or is that what the Danish call danish? Copenhagen is a far cry from Italian cities, in that there are plenty of high rises. It put me in mind a little of New York, except too many narrow cobblestone streets.
After walking around the park that is Tivoli, we decide it's not worth the entrance fee for the short time we have. Better yet, free admission at the Denmark National Museum. Then, with map in hand we head to see the “Little Mermaid” statue near the harbor. It's a longer walk then imagined, and really in an out of the way place. We know we're almost there when we see the small crowd gathered near her.
“Well, why don't we see how late we can stay out and still make it back for our flight?” Becky does not find this amusing, and we head back to the metro using my “planned short cut.” At least that's what I tell Becky.
Make it we do, and in a mere 9 hours or 4 movies, we are back in Florida. Gee, and then it's only another 2 ½ hours waiting on luggage and going through immigration/border control twice! Not complaining, just explaining!
It is with a little sadness that I finish this Venetian passage blog. It's been 20 days start to finish. I hope you have enjoyed!
Now, where shall we go next? Read Less