Here's a quick summary of our Rotterdam cruise and week in Venice.
|Saturday 11||Burlington, VT||Madly packing. It took quite a bit of work, but with a relatively steady pruning effort, we each managed to stuff our respective belongings into a backpack and a wheel-along each. Amazing how useful a sledgehammer can be at points.|
|Sunday 12||Montreal, Canada||Andre was kind enough to bring us up to Dorval airport in Montreal. KLM, eight hours, and one suspiciously lost night of sleep got us to Amsterdam. My, it's hard to get the local flavor of the country from the inside of an airport security zone. Oh well, I'll just have to learn more about the Netherlands from my dutch coworker than I have so far.|
|Monday 13||Barcelona, Spain|| We take a commuter flight to Barcelona and
get in with no problems. I should have listened a little more carefully
to the Holland America dock crew; they asked us to stay in the shuttle
bus rather than go into the terminal because it's "a little hot" in the
open-air terminal. Oh my, what an understatement. This was the first
day of two and a half weeks of straight heat wave. Over the course of
the trip we'll guzzle down gallon after gallon of bottled water.
Our tablemates are Mike, Susan, and their daughter Casey from Long Island. They have one of the penthouse suites on the top floor. We neglect to mention that we, umm, don't. They don't seem to mind and are gracious and friendly throughout the trip, even giving us a bottle of champagne that we later have in Venice.
|Tuesday 14||Mediterranean sea day||At dinner that night (*), Renee, one of the ship's
officers, joins us. We're pleased to have his company, pleased to have
the wine he graciously shares with us, and thrilled with the fact that he
chooses not to have any within 4 hours of conning the ship. :-)
* This just the first of a few vaguely remembered dates; we're writing this to recount a trip, not strive for historical accuracy.
|Wednesday 15||Monaco, Nice, Eze, France|| We had a morning tour that left
from Monaco (it boggles the mind that some race fanatic decided that the
narrow and tight turned streets of Monaco might be a good place to drive
a moped, let alone a Formula 1 race car). We went over to France and
saw the port of Nice, including a lovely outdoor market. There is no
smell in the world like a french bakery; if Deb hadn't pulled me along,
I might still be swooning among the pastries and baguettes.
Our bus made its way up to Eze, a city perched up at the top of a mountain overlooking the Mediterranean. Our tour heads up into a section of town that has shops, homes, and a hotel that all look to be carved out of the rock, though some concrete had to have been used as well.
|Thursday 16||Civitavecchia, Rome Italy|| Rome had pretty stern warnings
about pickpockets. Not the last city with such warnings, sad to say.
Quite a culture shock coming from northern New England where possessions
left outside can reasonably be expected to be there in the morning.
The Trevia ("Three Streets") fountain was pretty, but not as touching as it might have been had we seen this movie that featured it sometime before we both were born. We threw the requisite pocket change into the fountain, guaranteeing our return to Rome. I still think that legend is a clever marketing stunt, and somewhat time-consuming to disprove.
We had been terribly disappointed to learn that the Vatican tour we wanted to take had been cancelled because the Vatican would be closed on our Rome day. That's why we were especially pleased to hear that the Vatican and Sistine Chapel would be re-opened solely for our tour groups! We went through St. Peter's Basilica, which was immense and filled with glorious art. Then we went over to the Tapestry and Cartography Museums and finished off the day at the Sistine Chapel. Michealangelo's multi-year back breaking painting of the ceiling truly is a glorious series of works. An asian company paid for the restoration of it recently; they've left a small area of one wall in the centuries-of-soot-and-grime-encrusted state so one can see how much work went into it.
|Friday 17||Naples, Pompeii Italy||We had both been looking forward to this one; imagine a preserved city from the early first millenium. Many of the shop and home walls are still standing, the streets have the ruts from chariot wheels, some of the walls still have paintings. This stop, like many others, has a "then and now" book for sale. One page shows a picture of the site as it looks today. One places the previous page, which is a clear plastic sheet painted with the missing bits, over it and one sees how it looked originally. It's a neat way to get a picture of how the current ruins correspond to the current state for those of us whose ability to imagine in three dimensions is lacking.|
|Saturday 18||Valetta, Malta||We walked into the city and wandered around a little. Some of the shops were closed for a holiday, so we just stayed a while then went back to the ship.|
|Sunday 19||Mediterranean sea day|| We'd be remiss if we failed to mention the food. Oh my,
the food. While we generally got room service breakfasts and buffet
lunches - that were very good too - the dinners were excellent. Meats,
cheeses, desserts, even the salads and soups were 4 and 5 star. Our
Indonesian waiter, Sonny, and his staff did a marvelous job.
One of the maitre d's (would "maitre d'hotel" be correct on a ship?) cooks the flambe' du jour each night just behind our table. She claims she's only set off the fire alarm once. Her fascination with fire (how many people would walk through a shipborne restaurant with a blowtorch?) scares me.
|Monday 20||Kusadasi, Turkey|| We start the day in Turkey with a tour of
the ancient city of Ephesus. This used to be a port city before a it
was abandoned; the river flowing to the sea deposited enough silt over
the years to fill in the bay. Quite a bit of the city can be seen, and
only 15% of it has been excavated. Coming from a country with few digs,
I had never thought about the problem the Turkish government faces with
too many historical sites to excavate and not enough money.
During the trip, we had the sense that we were being watched by one individual that had the requisite camera, but not the sticker identifying the tour group, i.e., he didn't appear to be from our ship but hung around our group.
We didn't find out who he was until we got back to the bus to head home; in the last 10 minutes of the tour, he and his cohorts had managed to develop some prints of us and place them in front of the bus, for sale for the low, low price of about $8 per shot. Not a bad racket, but we didn't take him up on any of them.
Turkey turned out to be a bunch of fun for shopping. The shopkeepers could be described as aggressive, but not rude. They'd stand outside their shops trying to lure you in. Our favourite was the one that yelled after Deb as she passed his store, "Miss, you dropped something!". She stopped and looked down, asking him, "Where? Where?". "In my store!" It would have been much more believable if she'd actually gone in his store.
We stopped at a Turkish rug store, where we were given a demonstration of the different kinds of rugs by a friendly salesperson. Luckily, this store was not a hard sell and Deb and I could excuse ourselves from investing our house down payment in a carpet that we couldn't bear to put on the floor.
That didn't stop us from buying some Turkish rugs, however, in the local bazaar. Had the ones we bought been magical, Alladin might have flown on one, if he didn't mind relatively tight quarters and had short legs. Come by Vermont sometime and see what are closer in area to Turkish doormats than rugs.
We thought we got a good deal on them, until we turned back to see the shopkeepers laughing and high-fiving each other. Apparently the Saturn owner needs to sharpen his negotiating skills before going back to a Turkish bazaar.
|Tuesday 21||Pireaus, Athens Greece|| Today's tour brought us to the site
of one of the ancient Olympic games. One of the events of the upcoming
2008 Athens Olympics will also be held here.
We also get to see the Parthenon, a site at the top of a mountain with an impressive monument. I might have done better at characterizing it had I been a little better at memorizing history and not been so tired of seeing stone ruins in 5 different countries. Deb was pretty patient with me after my sleep deprived, heat baked brain stopped enjoying what might otherwise have been an impressive site.
|Wednesday 22||Katakolon, Greece||No tours today. Instead, I stayed on the ship while Deb went into port for a few hours. We went swimming and spent some time on the ship's exercise equipment. I figure I manged to sweat off about three of the desserts.|
|Thursday 23||Adriatic sea day|
|Friday 24||Venice, Italy on ship||In port in Venice. Some laundry, a little more swimming and packing in the late evening. This was the only time we made it up to one of the late night meals - a barbecue.|
|Saturday 25||Venice, Italy|| We finally
depart in Venice. Like the Royal Carribean cruise, we have to wait to
get off the ship, but at least we get to have some breakfast while we
There's a water shuttle to St. Mark's square, which is pretty close to our hotel. Dinner at a nearby restaurant that serves a very nice Tortellini with cream and ham. It's good to know that some 5 time zones and 20 years from my Boy Scout campouts, I can still enjoy Macaroni and cheese with hot dogs. *grin*
Our hotel is rather nice. It's about 5 minutes from St. Marc's square (it sounds much more elegant as "Piazza San Marco"...). Our room has hardwoord floors, exposed beams, and a cute little custom bathtub for babies - they called it a Bee-day, or something like that. *smile*
|Sunday 26||Venice, Italy|| I take a short non-vacation type break to connect up to
the Internet at a local public Internet place. I only get a third of
the 20,000 messages - no exaggeration - waiting for me.
Today's our anniversary, so I run home after getting a few roses for Deb. Hardly the most hardy flowers I've ever purchased, but one can't expect too much from flowers that have also endured this heat wave. I offer a gondola ride, but we decide that for the best picture taking opportunity, we should hold off a night or two.
|Monday 27||Venice, Italy|| Finally we get to the real reason why we came to Europe -
beads. Deb's real love is making beaded jewelry, and part of that is
buying the beautiful beads that go into the beautiful finished earrings
and necklaces. Watching her in a bead shop is much like watching a
master chef buying fresh fish or spices in an open-air market.
While Murano, the island full of glass making factories and shops, had an abundance of gorgeous glass, I was saddened to see that it didn't have the abundance of glass beads we'd been hoping to find. Deb didn't seem to mind as much - hopefully she'll be able to find her next few month's supply at a bead show in Providence this fall.
|Tuesday 28||Venice, Italy|| The morning was spent walking through the shopping areas
near the Rialto bridge. Walking through Venice is like walking through
a maze sometimes. The Grand Canal winds through the city, splitting it
in two. Smaller canals wind through all of the city, with lots of small
walkways between the buildings and bridges over the small canals. Some
of the walkways are just barely wide enough for two people. The more
diabolical town planners designed some that just end at a canal. If we
hadn't had maps, we would have gotten lost all too often.
In a city with no streets and no wheeled vehicles, boats take their place. We saw police boats, trash boats, ambulance boats, and construction boats. There are water taxis, but longer rides in them can get up in the high tens of dollars (by the way, most businesses will take dollars in all the port cities we visited, with the exception of Monaco). For most of the boat travel, the city provides Vaporettos, the equivalent of the bus and subway system in most cities. $36 gives you a three day unlimited Vaporetto pass, one that covers some surrounding islands as well.
In the evening we finally took a gondola ride. The Gondolier we picked wasn't up for singing to us - some will, some won't, and others charge to have a musician come along in the boat. Oh well. It was a marvelously peaceful experience, riding along the canals with the occasional push of the oar behind us. It's quite a bit like my all-time most peaceful activity - lying on the gunnels of a canoe on Lake Sunapee on a moonlit night on a lake as calm as glass. I can star watch for hours that way.
Two thumbs up!
|Wednesday 29||Venice, Italy|| A quiet day in Venice. Deb went up to take some pictures by
the Rialto bridge and I wandered around some local Venetian
neighborhoods. I got to do the one thing I'd hoped to do; hang out in
the village square with some bread and cheese and watch the world go by.
OK, so it wasn't french cheese, and the boisson to go with the frommage
was Fanta Orange, but we improvise. *smile*
Deb also saw St. Mark's Basilica while I lazed around in the hotel room trying out the Intermezzo file system. There's something pathetically geeky about spending vacation time in one of the most romantic and historic cities in the world learning about Linux filesystems and reading email. To each their own relaxation.
|Thursday 30||Venice, Italy||We're finally leaving Europe, sniff. Someone must have been watching over the trip because a 2 and a half week heat wave with gorgeous - albeit blazing hot - weather ended one hour after we entered the Venice airport terminal with a rain and lightining storm that knocked out the power to the airport a few times. Good for us we didn't wait for the next water taxi, as we didn't bring raincoats. An uneventful flight to Amsterdam, and another to Montreal. Andre picked us up there again - thanks Andre! - and we finally hit our front doorstep around 9pm.|