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Venice

Venezia!  I’ve been there a few times before and each time not only love the uniqueness of it, but something new seems to happen every time I go.  This time, it was the flooding of the streets!  While we were able to avoid most of the flooding into the streets, it was still rather wet all around and they even had the planks around on standby just in case.  The second night I spent there we were all woken up at 3:45 by the flood warning siren, joy!!  I adore San Marco’s Square, as well as the church in the square with the most unique multicolored marbled columns and warped mosaic floor!  I adore how a city built hundreds of years ago on water is still standing today!  I adore its romantic history rich with courtesans, beautiful gowns and Carnival!

This trip was unique for me however as it really wasn’t as much for me as it was for my family… Specifically my mom and dad:)  You see, each hit a major birthday milestone this year (70 & 75) so my two brothers, sister and I all chipped in to do something a little extra special for them.  My mom was the one who actually found the trip: a 7 night cruise aboard the Royal Caribbean “Splendour of the Seas” leaving from Venice, Italy with port calls to Dubrovnik, Croatia; Ephesus, Turkey; Santorini, Greece and Katakolon, Greece.  My mom obviously knew all of this information, however my dad was only told that the family had chipped in for a birthday cruise for only him and I to go on.  He had no idea that my sister and mom would be joining too…

For almost 3 months prior to leaving for the cruise my mom, sister and I exchanged probably about a hundred emails going over details and how we were going to spring the surprise on my dad.  There was a ton of confusion at first because the website for Royal Caribbean is absolutely bonkers!!  You would think that they would get it together and create a site that actually works!!  But no… It seemed that just about every day for almost a straight month something was wrong with our reservation because of that idiotic site.  But thanks to some nice customer service operators, things smoothed out well.

So the plan was for my dad and I to go to Treviso (where he has a cousin) and stay with them for a couple nights.  Then he and I would go to Venice where we would stay overnight the night before having to board the cruise.  My mom and sister were to arrive in Venice mid-afternoon) from the States the day before the cruise as well.  Then they were going to meet us “randomly” at a restaurant (one we would pick in advance so I could be sure that my dad and I would be there) and the surprise would be revealed:)

That’s how it was supposed to go… Now how it REALLY went is as follows:  My dad and I did go to Treviso to see family and were dropped off in Venice mid-afternoon.  Now, the WiFi in the family’s place wasn’t quite all there all the time… At some point in the morning before leaving for Venice I just happened to refresh my email and suddenly several emails showed up saying “flight was delayed”; “stuck in Heathrow”; “missed flight due to idiotic security people at Heathrow”; “trying to leave from Gatwick”; “hope to take the 4pm flight out”…

At this point I’m a bit panicked… I’m the only one who knows they are coming, so I can’t say anything to my dad about them being off track… They are supposed to be a surprise… But now I’m a bit worried because I can’t contact them…  I checked the airport site but had no luck with any information there…

We got to Venice where my first move was to get my tablet hooked to the WiFi so I could search for any updates… Nothing, nil, zilch… I still have to play it cool however so I spend the rest of the afternoon acting as if all is well (when really I’m a bit worried on what to do in case they didn’t show, lol!) strolling around beautiful Venice with my dad.  We walked quite a bit and opted to take a canal taxi back to the hotel.

Once there, we started to get ready to go out for dinner.  I shot off a quick email to my sister and mom, hoping they would get it, about where we were planning to go.  At this point I still hadn’t heard whether they had even made it on the 4pm flight to Venice!  Before heading out for dinner, I even filled in the hotel receptionist on what was going on in case my sister and mom stopped by there!

So off to dinner we went…  It was about 8pm at this point, and though Italian meals tend to take a bit of time, I was purposefully trying to drag this dinner out as long as possible.  9pm rolled around… “sure I’ll have another beer”… 9:30 came about… “Dessert?  Why not?”… almost 10pm was upon us…

At this point I was already out of reasons to stay any longer AND I was starting to wonder if they had made that 4pm flight after all??  For, if they had, then certainly they would have been in Venice and would have been able to make it to the restaurant by now!  I thought that I better not drag dinner out any more, but rather I’d better get to my email to see what’s going on…

Just as I went to walk out the door with my dad behind me, my sister came walking in the door!!  We saw each other, our eyes widened and we immediately did an about-face, her out the door, and me toward my dad so I could try to shield him from seeing her, lol!! Unfortunately he just happened to see her face as she was coming in and the gig was up!!  She came back in (on her own as my mom was hiding around the corner as a second surprise) to greet my dad and all the details started to come out as to why she was there.  Then my sister said “you wouldn’t believe the day WE’VE had getting here”… We??? my dad asked… Who’s we???  Lol!!  Ooopppss!!  So out the door we went and my mom came out of hiding, lol!!

So while it wasn’t exactly how we had planned the surprise, it was still a great surprise for my dad nonetheless:)  My dad said after the surprise that he had been feeling tired from dinner, but was now very wide awake, lol!  I’m just glad my sister and mom made it!!

In any event, the next day we all boarded the ship and waved goodbye to Venice as we headed out to sea.

By the way, I do have to make a mention about Hotel Canal in Venice… It’s located just across the street from the train station and both times I stayed there it was a very pleasant experience!  The staff were beyond accommodating, the location was unbeatable in my book, the rooms were very spacious (both times we ended up with a room that faced directly on the Canal) and while it could probably use a tiny facelift, I really enjoyed its old style Venetian charms:)

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SpanItalish

SpanItalish is what I’d like to call the language I was basically speaking when I arrived in Italy and throughout my time in Italy… Let me break it down for ya:

Span-Ital-ish: Span = Spanish, Ital = Italian & ish = English 🙂

After my time in Central and South America, all the conversational Italian that I did know converted completely to Spanish!  So now before going back to Italy I was trying in my mind to think Italian instead of Spanish…. That was definately easier said than done as I kept speaking Spanish to myself, desperately trying to recall the Italian words again… In fact, I was sort of doing that in my mind (converting my Spanish to Italian) while in the Gatwick airport, but obviously gave up when helping out the woman from Spain:)

When I first got to Italy, while I could understand everyone and what they were saying (depending on their speed of speech and whether they had a heavy accent or not) I would reply pretty much completely in Spanish, lol!!  Needless to say this was rather annoying to me though luckily everyone seemed patient with me as I repeated myself to them, slowly converting Spanish to Italian.  Slowly but surely Italian came back and took over my Spanish!  Now I find myself thinking “how would I say that in Spanish???” and not being able to recall, lol!!!  It’s seriously a case of “when in Rome” because when in the environment it’s easier to be and speak Italian or Spanish as needed!

I threw English in there of course because first I am fully fluent in English and second because it was my last resort if Spanish or Italian didn’t work in asking questions, lol!!!  And since neither Spanish nor Italian helped while I traveled the rest of Europe, I was glad that at least English did!!

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Gatwick & Airport Fun (Leaving the UK)

Well, after about a month in Scotland, it was time to head to Gatwick and take off for Italy!!  After giving my many thanks to Anna for her hospitality, I left Glasgow via train and headed straight down to Gatwick.  I had booked a little B&B for the night (it took almost all day to get from Glasgow to Gatwick so it was a good thing I left the day before my flight!!) called Da Vinci Gatwick Guest House.  For 40 pounds (yea I know it was pricey but I got my own room/bathroom, breakfast and after traveling all day I enjoyed a little pamper:)) I reserved a single room only about 10 minutes from the airport.

Though a little pricey, I really enjoyed the Da Vinci Guest House!!  I found it comfortable, quaint, warming, welcoming and over all just had a great vibe!  The people who owned, or at least who took care of it are Latin American (I could hear them speaking Spanish) and the woman at least was very accommodating, polite and welcoming!  I didn’t get any actual chat time with the man, that’s why I only mention the woman:)  Though when I made my reservation over the phone, I spoke with a man (maybe the same one??) and he was very polite and accommodating too.  They even provided me with a number of a taxi service that they use that costs half what other taxis cost (according to them) and they picked you up right from the train station.

Quick note here though about taxis… CARRY CASH!!!  AT ALL TIMES CARRY CASH TO PAY THE TAXIS!!!!  Otherwise they will charge you a fee of 7 pounds to use a credit card!!!!!!  Yup, it happened to me… I was fuming!!  Though of course that was on the way to the airport, so what could I do??  The fee almost cost as much as the fare!!!  Consider yourselves warned!!

In any event, the night at the B&B was spent picking off ticks from my forearms (only 4 of them and they were babies, so it didn’t take that long!) and going out for a bite to eat at the local (potentially only) pub and restaurant just walking distance down the road.  The food was great (surprisingly very international!!) and the beers were splendid as always.  Needless to say that night was a quiet one as I prepped to take off the next day.

Because my flight was in the afternoon (6pm) but I had to be out of the B&B by 11am, I opted to just go to the airport and wait until my time to board.  Unfortunately, Vueling Airlines only allows people to check-in 2 hours before their flight, so I had to sit and wait (with my very heavy bag since I was carrying gifts) from basically 11am to 4pm before being able to get rid of my bag and go through security… I finally got checked in and through security, then the cutest thing happened…

As anyone who has ever been to the airport knows, past security there are a ton of shops and stores, and restaurants.  The larger the airport, the more there are!  Gatwick was quite busy and had a ton of places to shop and eat!  I stopped by one place to grab a slice of pizza (easy, cheap and I hadn’t eaten all day!!) then wandered around to find a quiet spot to play a game on my tablet…

I was there all of a few minutes when all of a sudden an elderly woman came by and asked “con permiso, habla Espanol?”  Translation: Excuse me, do you speak Spanish?  To which I responded “Yes, a little” (in spanish of course) and that’s all it took!  She was off!!  Thankfully I actually did understand what she was saying despite her speaking a mile a second!!  She was on her way to Orlando but her flight in Gatwick was delayed and she had no way to contact her family because for some reason she couldn’t get her phone to work and no one in the Gatwick airport spoke Spanish and she couldn’t find anyone to help her because she doesn’t speak and English…

I kinda had to chuckle, because she was just too cute!!  In any event, I explained that her phone didn’t work because she did not have a SIM card for the UK (she was from Spain btw) and I offered her to call her family with my Skype account on my tablet.  She was very thankful, made her phone call to let her family know about her situation, thanked me profusely and went on her way.

I simply went back to my game playing when all of a sudden, about 5 minutes later she snuck back around one again asking for help, lol!!  Poor thing!!!  My heart broke for her and loved her all at once!!  Anyway, she handed me two slips of paper and asked if I could tell her what it was all about.  The first was her boarding ticket for the plane.  But there was no gate assigned to the ticket, only the flight number and seat number.  So I explained that because the flight was delayed, they didn’t know what gate the plane would actually be at and that we would have to simply watch the monitors for departures to see what gate it would be once it was announced.  She got a good handle on that, then I looked at the second slip.  It was a voucher for 5 pounds from British Airways to redeem for food or a beverage at any of the food shops to make up for the delay in the flight.  I explained this to her, then asked if she was hungry.  She said yes, and I offered that if she was interested in pizza, I just happened to know of a place that sold a large slice for 5 pounds… She agreed, so I took her to the food shop, ordered her the pizza to go, paid the shop with the food voucher and gave her the slice.

At this point, as chance would have it I checked the monitor to see if my flight was announced yet, and in fact both mine AND her flight were announced, lol!!  So I told her that the gate for her flight was ready, walked her to her gate (mine was on the way anyway!) then went on to mine:)  She was very thankful, but honestly the whole experience just warmed my heart to be able to help her, so really I thank her!!

On to Italy

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Most Random Street Signs!!!

I can’t leave the Scotland section  without mentioning the street signs…  Aside from the fact that when we went to Skye all the street signs turned to Gaelic, they had a whole slew of other street signs that were quite interesting…

There were the usual ones that we are all familiar with: Beware of deer, or Beware of Elk/Moose or even Bear or Cougar (if you are from Florida:))

But since Scotland has literally gotten rid of any and all potentially dangerous animals in the Country (no bears, no wolves, literally nothing that could eat or be a predator to humans) they had to pad out their street signs a bit to extend beyond the boring ol’ “Beware of Deer” sign…

So they extended to:

“Beware of Sheep” (ok, I get that since there are a ton there)

“Beware of Hairy Coos” (these aren’t as common as sheep, but could still be dangerous if challenged)

“Beware of Squirrels” (???  Really???  Are there that many around that we should be that cautious of them?  It would be terrible to hit one but it wouldn’t be quite as dangerous as hitting a sheep or hairy coo…)

“Beware Families” (I get this one is designed to get people to slow down, fair enough!)

But my personal favorite of all of them:

“Beware Old People!!!!” I just had to find one on the internet to include for you!!  Totally cracked me up every time!!  I love the detail of it too, how the old man has a walking stick and both are hunched over… LOL!!!!  Loved it!!!

Beware Old People
Beware Old People

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Lochgoilhead

As my time in Glasgow was coming to an end, and since again Anna and I do enjoy a good hike, we asked Anna’s dad if we could stay a few days in his cottage in Lochgoilhead.  Thankfully he said yes, and was even kind enough to let us use his truck to get there!!  He and his wife also happened to be going when we were planning to go, so we got to spend one of the nights with them:)

Her dad and step-mom were already at the cottage by the time we were able to go, so we took a cab to his house, picked up the truck and headed on out.  The drive there was all along normal 2-way lane roads, but just before we got to the turn-off where the road was only 1 lane (for 2 way traffic!!) with the little side pull-offs for people to pass, we stopped for a little lunch… There at the “Rest and be Thankful” landmark we had a bite to eat and I had my first taste of black pudding… Also known as blood sausage… Ick!!!  Is all I have to say about that!!!  I really didn’t like it at all!!  Perhaps it was mainly due to me knowing what it was to begin with, I don’t know… I think it’s just one of those things you have to grow up with to actually like…!!!  Anyway the “Rest and be Thankful” stop goes back from quite a long time ago!  Those words are inscribed on a stone (see the pictures) placed there by soldiers who built the original military road in 1753.  Apparently the original stone  was destroyed and replaced by a commemorative stone instead… This point marked the turning point to get to Lochgoilhead.  And after our nibble, we headed on to the village where the cottage resided.

Once we arrived and settled in for a bit, we headed off for our first hike!  Again, we aren’t really the kind that prepare the way we should prepare for hikes… Honestly though we didn’t really expect the hike we ended up doing!  We simply set out just behind the cottage on a trail that led to some lovely waterfalls!  From there we saw some signs pointing this way and that, and thought, why not?  So we headed uphill, and up and up… Eventually we came to an area that looked like it could be a good place for a ski slope in the winter!  Two older people were coming down the way fully geared in proper hiking attire including ski poles, proper wind pants and hiking boots.  As we passed them we stopped them and asked how long to the top?  We didn’t get an exact time, but they did warn us about how wet and mucky the way up was and how windy it was at the top, and they further warned us not to go past the stile!  We thanked them for their input and headed on our way, figuring that if/when it got too tough for us and our completely inept sneakers/clothing for us to continue, we would turn back!

Up and up we climbed!  The slope was pretty decent, nothing really to laugh at by any means and while the land did slosh under our feet (sometimes water did sneak into the sides of my sneakers from the amount of water that pooled from some of the steps) we made it to the stile (don’t cross it!!) in good condition and basically dry.

Once at the stile there really were only two ways to go… Back down or up past the stile… Neither of us was terribly tired at this point and though the view from the stile was nice, you really couldn’t see all the way around because we were surrounded by dense forest on both sides.  And since what appeared to be the top of the hill/mountain was just a little ways beyond the stile we thought, heck, why not??  So past the stile we went!

Up and up and up we climbed!!  And it was during this hike that I was properly introduced to Scottish hills!!!!  You see, what appears to be the top of any hill/mountain in Scotland isn’t at all the top once you actually reach it… For once you get to what you thought was the top, you realize that the top is actually just a wee bit further on… And again just a wee bit further on… And again!!!  So literally we went from one “top” to another and another and another until finally what looked like would be the actual top appeared, but by that point it would probably take another hour to get to it and as it was starting to get late in the day (sun was getting lower on the horizon) we opted to give up that mountain top and do the sane and safe thing- turn back toward town!  First we had to take some picts of the surroundings and later estimated that we had probably walked about 20-25 kilometers on that hike!  We never could actually see on a map where the heck we went, but isn’t that part of the fun??  However, from the position that we made it to, you could see the town below, so we had at least some perspective of where we were!

We made it back to town just as the sun was setting, and after a pint in town we headed back to the cottage for a homemade meal!  We watched a YES!/No Thanks debate on the tv, then headed to bed (after Anna’s step-mom cleared a rather large spider from our room!!!).  The next day we rose at the rear-crack of… about 11am, lol!!  Anna’s dad and Step-mom were downstairs with trail maps/paths of the area and they gave input on where we should probably go.  We took their advice and around one or so (after packing something to nibble on- how sensible we became!!) headed out again for a hike.  Her dad and step-mom joined us for the first half-hour or so of the hike, then headed back while we headed up the trail to the steep/climbing bits.

After the hike from the day before both Anna and I were interested and pumped to climb a hill/mountain once again!!  And we thought that this particular trail would allow us to do just that… However, the trail never really led to any mountain base.  It simply wound around the base of several mountains.  Each time we tried to get to a base we were cut off by marshes or terrain so thick with heather/brush that who knew what was under!  Finally we did come to the end of the trail that basically dead-ended on the tip of a kind of peninsula.  Yet we were still quite determined to get up a hill!!  The end of the trail happened to end at the base of a mountain, but the way up was quite steep!  Did that stop us??  No, not really… We scaled part of some sheer rock on the side of the mountain up a little way… Then we came to our senses… That we were probably being really daft!!  So we gingerly made our way back down.  Seriously, the only real way to get up that particular mountain was with proper mountain climbing gear!  But again, once at the base we thought surly there MUST be a way up!  Anna happened to find a little sheep path, which we followed for several yards until it literally dead-ended at a drop hundreds of feet below us!!  Yup, we were being daft in trying to follow the sheep path…

Again we had to give up our quest for the day and headed back.  All the while that we headed back we kept looking for ways to get up a dang mountain to no avail!  It was probably best though that we didn’t find one… By the time we got back (after a brief scare with some hairy coos- well I wasn’t scared but they are known to be aggressive when babies are around, and as we walked through the field one of the coos spotted us, turned and started walking toward us.  I thought it odd behavior and then spotted some baby coos to the right… yea… we hustled a little bit out of that field!) it was almost dark again.  We had some drinks and dinner in town then wandered back to the cottage in pitch beautiful darkness!!  The kind of darkness where you can see every star!!  Just wonderful!!  Though Anna was scared out of her wits over walking in the dark and barely let me a few feet away from her, especially when it came time to cross the river, lol!!  All in all that day, we estimated we walked about 30-35 kilometers that day!  We left the next day and headed back to town (with a brief stop in the lovely town of Luss) where we had a lovely and delicious curry dinner with Anna’s mum!  Good times!! 🙂

I almost forgot about the ticks!!!  While at the Cottage, Anna’s step-mom left us an article about ticks… Beware the ticks when you hike!!  You can get Lyme disease from them!!  We laughed it off and didn’t really get bothered by the potential for ticks, though we did check ourselves for the potential of some… I never found any until a few days later when I was in Gatwick!!  4 on my arm!!  Ewww… I know!!  But they were babies and I plucked them out, watched for signs of Lyme disease, and luckily I can report I’m Lyme disease free!!  Yay!!

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