Tag Archives: venice

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:)

On to Dubrovnik

Back to Europe

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Scots in Italy??

The reason I had been traveling through Europe so fast was so I could make it back to Italy by mid-October… I got news while in Berlin that Anna (my neighbor in Costa Rica who I visited in Glasgow) and her friend, and now my new friend Morna were coming to town for the week!!  Yay!! But, that meant to push the gas on the pedal for my other travels.  Hence, after visiting the Neuschwanstein Castle I booked it via train through the Alps back to Florence to prepare for their visit:)

Preparing for their visit is really just code for stocking up with lots of wine, lol!!  I believe during their visit, my dad got 20 liters of wine and between the two of them, they probably went through 12-13 liters… LOL!  But hey, I can’t blame them, they were in Italy for crying out loud!  If you aren’t going to enjoy yourself while here, why bother at all?

I met them in Pisa and we stayed the first night and the next day doing all the tourist stuff, i.e. getting a picture taken holding up the tower.  Morna didn’t want to get in on that action, but we got her later when we were in the top  cupola of the Duomo in Florence cupping another dome of Florence… I Should now mention that all the pictures in this post were taken by Anna and her camera.  Gotta give credit where credit is due:)

In any event, our time after Pisa was spent hanging out at my dad’s place eating delicious home cooked Italian food; getting tipsy on wine and beer and chatting about good times both past and present; taking hikes in the National Forrest to Vallombrosa and Secchieta; going into Florence about 3 separate times trying each time to get into the Duomo but failing until our last try (which we then ended up walking to the very top for a panoramic view);

Going to see Michelangelo’s David, of course!  (the picture below is of my favorite part of David… (no, not THAT part;)))

My favorite part of David
My favorite part of David

Making a wish at the porcellino;

Wishing on the Porcellino
Wishing on the Porcellino

And staying after dark in Florence to watch night life a bit.

Night Artists
Night Artists

Probably the most humorous time for me was the hikes… The first day we went, not more than 3 minutes after we left the house it started to pour down rain.  Did we turn back?  Naw, it was just a bit of rain and we were SURE it would stop soon.  Thankfully I had brought an umbrella and poncho “just in case” since it was a bit cloudy, and while I caved and took out the umbrella for shelter after about 10 minutes of walking in the rain, Morna and Anna were still braving it with the light jacket/sweater they brought for the walk.  About 20 minutes later they were drenched!!  They took the poncho, which was large enough to share and onward we went.  Along the way we spotted several deer!!  And that was probably only because the deer figured “no human in their right mind would hike in this downpour!”  They were wrong, lol!!

We eventually made it to Vallombrosa all cold and quite wet.  Thankfully there was a teeny bar on the side of the road:)  We had cappuccino’s, a sandwich, some wine, beer, some more wine and beer… Then shots to warm up a bit more (we were still chilly) then another shot or two until it was starting to get too late and dark to walk back down, so we called my dad to pick us up, lol!!

The second day of hiking was much less wet, but still cold and windy!  We did make it all the way to the top to Secchieta (where we had planned to go the first day) and once again at the end of the trail, what was there to meet us??  You guessed it, a bar!  We brought our own lunch that day so we just purchased some cappuccino’s, two wines and a beer:)  We behaved that day knowing we had to walk down but not entirely… You see, along with sandwiches for lunch, we also packed about a liter and a half of wine to sip along the way:)  We did behave on drinking it however because we barely cracked into it until we were heading down:)  Ah, good times!

More Florence pictures- notice the very artistic pictures on the Ponte Vecchio done by Anna:)

The three of us posing as stereotypical Italians (Mamma Mia!)

Acting Italian
Acting Italian

On to Venice

Back to Europe

Versailles

The meeting point for the Versailles tour was again at Place St. Michel early the next morning.  Train tickets were included in the price and part of what I really appreciated is that we would all go as a group to Versailles for the tour of the gardens, but we didn’t have to return to Paris as a group.  We were each given our own return ticket for the train, shown where to go and told bon voyage once the tour was over:)

The train was about 40 minutes but honestly it felt much shorter than that!  Along the way I chatted with an older woman from Thailand (I’m going there in less than a week now!!) picking her brain on various bits of information about the Country.  Once we arrived we zoomed past the lines for the castle tour and headed straight to the gardens.  I should note that I only purchased a ticket for a garden tour so never went into the castle.  I did contemplate it but after only watching the lines to get in get longer and longer, there was no way!  Something to go back there for:)

Note to travelers:  If you do plan to visit the castle of the Sun King Louis XIV in Versailles, I would suggest that you get there FIRST in line!!!  I’m not kidding- the lines to get in were at least a couple miles long and they didn’t get any shorter throughout the day!  Also, there are TWO SEPARATE lines… One line is to purchase tickets, the other is to get in line for the tour.  If you get into the wrong line (i.e. the tour line) without a ticket, they will refuse you and send you into the other VERY long line to purchase a ticket.  You’ve been warned!  All this information was provided kindly as a warning to us from our garden tour guide, so I’m passing it along:)

Another brief “warning”… Bring your walking shoes and something to nibble on/drink!!  The gardens are HUGE and while there are some benches here and there to sit on, they are generally always full with other tourists taking a break.  There is the option to rent golf carts (go figure) if needed for those who aren’t that into walking however. Last “warning”: the fountains do NOT run all the time.  They run for a few hours in the morning, then for a few hours in the afternoon.  AND (if memory serves) they only run on Sundays and Mondays… You will have to double check that for sure, but the point is that check before you go whether you will be going during a day/time that the fountains will be running!  It’s just so much nicer when they are active:)  Also on the days that the fountains run they have a grand finale at 5:30 where the largest fountain starts up.  All the others in the garden shut down during this finale.  Also, portions of the garden are closed on some days…  In other words- don’t just show up to this location if on your own.  Do your research first to ensure the best experience:)

Thankfully the guide for this tour was awesome!  She had personality, character and obviously knew her stuff as she was full of great information and history- both new and old on the Gardens!

Louis the XIV was quite the character… He fancied himself a God and named himself the “Sun King”.  He began his reine at the tender age of 5 and reigned for 72 years, which is the longest in European History for a major country and he is often depicted showing off his legs in paintings as he was quite fond of them.  He was a vain man but also very clever.  For example the Hall of Mirrors was constructed to be used as an intimidation trick against those who opposed him.  At that time it was extreemly difficult to get A mirror, let alone an entire hall of them so not many people had ever seen their reflection before.  Side note: the mirrors were first developed and made in Venice:)  If people were invited to see the King, they first had to pass the hall of mirrors.  You could imagine, having never seen your reflection and stepping into a hall full of them that whatever you might have been wanting to say to the King would quickly escape your mind!

There are 50 fountains in the gardens that expand over 1900 acres!!  Each was constructed with the Sun King in mind as there are mythological Gods and symbols throughout.  The Sun King wanted the fountains to run each and every day, all day regardless of whether he was on the grounds or not!  As you might imagine there just wasn’t a large enough source of water to do so all the time, so workers began shutting off the fountains when Louis XIV wasn’t present.  He found out about this however and wasn’t pleased.  As a solution he simply said to funnel water from nearby rivers.  This wasn’t popular among the people as they needed the river water for their vineyards to make wine!  They acquiesced however but it still wasn’t enough water to keep the fountains going non-stop!  So the King simply said to take the water from the River Seine!  Thankfully for the people he passed away before constructions began to funnel water from the Seine to feed his fountains, lol!

This fountain was probably one of my favorites.  It was of the God of the Underworld, Hades.  They play sounds of thunder as you walk around the arches surrounding the fountain to represent the wrath of Hades that in turn creates an earthquake.  The sculpture of him trying desperatly to escape the Underworld with water shooting out of his mouth is just too cool!!

If there was something King Louis XIV wanted, nothing stood in his way to get it.  One of the fountains in the gardens today (mirror fountain) is a tiny version of the fountain outside the Bellagio Hotel in Vegas.  It’s nowhere near as grand or great as that one, just a small simpler one but as our guide said: had such technology existed at the time and had King Louis XIV known about the Bellagio fountain, he would have bought Belgium and turned it into one giant fountain, lol!!  That’s just the kind of King he was.

Mirror Fountain
Mirror Fountain

Quick fun things also told to us by the guide: not long ago the gardens of Versailles were rented out for 4 consecutive days for a whopping $26 million dollars for the wedding for the daughter of a technology (if memory serves) tycoon in India!!  Kim Kardashian and Kanye West apparently could only afford a 45 minute reception, lol!  The history of the “French bath”: it is noted that the King himself in his 77 years of life only showered 38 times… He and others of his time simply perfumed themselves to death to cover their otherwise rank odor.  Hence people who over-perfume themselves today are said to have taken a French bath:)  Yes, that is REAL GOLD on the front gates of the Palace.  Just sayin…

The stories and history spoken to us by our guide was absolutely endless and honestly this was a tour I feel I could have (and should have) taken twice just to be able to soak in all the information properly.  From the history of King Louis XIV, the gardens, the fountains, what each garden bit and fountain represented and even a bit on poor Marie Antoinette, our guide was full of information!!  Though honestly I was expecting the gardens to be more floral in nature as opposed to bushes and trees, it was an awesome experience and place to be!   And one day to revisit of course:)

On to Heidelberg

Back to Europe