Archive for the ‘Venice’ Category

Arrivederci Venezia

Posted: June 15, 2013 in Europe, Venice

As promised, we both decided to give ourselves the morning off. Between the heat, the crowds and the walking, we were both a bit tired and thought we ought to pace ourselves, since it is only day 3! Dad took it easy on the deck and read his book, while I booked myself in for a pedicure. Almost two hours later, I know an awful lot about my Romanian pedicurist – her family, her fiancé, her relationship with her future in-laws, the decor of her house, and her views on divorce, materialism and gypsies. Oh, and I had beautiful feet and a lovely long massage in the wonderful chair. A very well spent morning. I filled in the rest of the morning with some blogging, sorting photos and generally taking it easy. Very relaxing.

Some time during the morning another cruise ship pulled up next to us. It was huge! It’s stern was pretty level with ours, but the bow was against the end of the dock. We got off the shuttle boats at that end of the dock – and took a bus to the ship (ie the same distance as from one end of that cruise ship to the other!!) Not sure I would love a ship that big, and I know for sure that Venetians are not that keen on 3000 people descending on the city all at once.

After lunch on board (I wouldn’t describe the food as gourmet, but it is very tasty and there is a vast range to choose from at every meal, and different each day, so far) we gathered for our afternoon tour to the Jewish ghetto area. This was an optional extra tour, so we were a much smaller group. We travelled in water taxis, which I haven’t done before. The water taxis are very sleek, modern looking boats, which travel quite fast. They are quite comfortable once you get in, but you have to bend over double to get to the seats!

The term ghetto originated in Venice, and actually means foundry. In the 15th century the Jews were confined to this part of Venice, close to a copper foundry (‘geto’). They were allowed to leave during the day but had to return by night, except the doctors who could go to treat Venetians outside the ghetto!

Today not many Jews live there, but there are a few kosher restaurants, and two active synagogues (though only one operates at a time – one in summer, one in winter). We visited the Jewish museum, including a couple of old synagogues no longer in use. They were interesting in their typical Venetian style but with a Jewish twist. Sadly no photos were allowed 😦 The buildings in the ghetto are different to the rest of Venice, much taller (more floors) than Venetian apartments. Because they were confined to this area, there was nowhere to go but up!

From the ghetto we walked to the Rialto bridge. The route took us through some of the less touristy parts of Venice – our guide told us that’s where he & his friends prefer to socialise. It’s my favourite thing to do in Venice – just walk and wander down quiet back streets and canals. The closer we got to the Rialto Bridge, the more crowded the streets became  – is it possible to hate tourists and be one at the same time? It was worse than usual because of the Vaporetto strike today. We had time for an ice-cream and then returned to the ship by water taxi.

It’s all go here let me tell you! After dinner we had a fascinating lecture on Venetian art, and how the Venetians have defined and redefined their history through art. We sailed out of Venice at 10pm. It felt like the beginning of the cruise, even though it was the third day on board, we were finally moving, and heading to places neither of us have never been (or not for around 40 years, in some cases). Everyone was on deck to watch the lights of Venice as we sailed past. It felt strange to go to bed in Italy and know we would wake up in a different country. (Can you tell I haven’t done much cruising?)

(Not many photos today – having trouble with the slow internet on board.)

Venice. Thursday 13 June 2013

After an early breakfast by the pool (I do like eating al fresco) we gathered in the lounge for our first on board lecture. The talk was given by Prof Gregory Rowland, who is English, and lectures in American poetry at the university here in Venice. He has lived here for many years, and was an excellent speaker, filling us in on the history of Venice and some of the challenges facing the city today. The biggest problem, he says, is the dropping population – in the last 50 years or so the population has fallen, to less than 60,000, from over 200,000. It’s just too expensive for locals to live here.

After the talk we assembled for our first organised shore excursion, titled “Venice Highlights”. We are divided into colour groups (we are Orange) for the duration of the cruise, and we dutifully followed the orange sign off the ship to a bus which took us to a charter boat to transport us to San Marco. We carry credit cards which are our room key, but also serve to pay for items on board, and as a security check – we get swiped on & off the ship, and go through security every time we board (bags X-rayed, metal detectors, passport check, the whole shebang). Tedious but reassuring!

We use a system they call Quiet Vox for the tours – we each carry little receivers to listen to the guide. No annoying shouting, and you can wander away from the group to take photos and still hear the guide. They use local guides, and ours, Alviso, was very good. As we walked he filled us in on aspects of Venetian life, history and culture. We toured the Doge’s Palace admiring the stunning decorations and learning about the system of government under the Republic of Venice. No photos were allowed, but I managed to sneak a few by holding my camera and pointing randomly!

We had some free time then (I think the tour should probably have been called “The Doges Palace Tour”) so Dad & I headed up to the top of the Campanile for some views of Venice. Fortunately there is a lift! It is the highest structure in Venice and the views are impressive.

At 2 o’clock Dad headed back to the ship on the charter boat, but they were offering later rides as well so I stayed in town. I caught up with some good friends from Sydney, Mark & Denise & their daughter Bella, who happened to be here – it was fun to hang out in Venice with them! We window shopped for a while in the very expensive but oh-so-classy shops around St Mark’s Square and then randomly strolled along some back alleys – the only way to see Venice! We had lunch at a little out of the way bistro where the menu was in Russian (as well as Italian) and they introduced me to Pizza al Tonno (Tuna Pizza – don’t scoff – it was surprisingly delicious). More window shopping (and a little actual shopping – I blame Denise!) and then it was time for me to catch the last boat back to the ship at 4. (To my shame I took no photos of M,D & B)

I barely had time to freshen up back on board before an early dinner (I had grilled salmon – delish). We ate early because we were heading back to Basilica di San Marco for an exclusive after hours tour. It was kind of exclusive – only the 240 of us from the ship were there – but it’s a pretty big church so it was fine. What was exclusive and very exciting for me, was they we were allowed to take photos inside, which is usually forbidden. And they turned on special spotlights which illuminated the huge golden mosaics so beautifully it really did shine like jewels – it literally brought a tear to my eye it was so beautiful. Imagine a huge building capped with 5 great domes, every inch of it covered in golden sparkling light. No matter what you think of the subject matter, you have to be impressed by the workmanship and craft of these long ago artists. I took lots of photos and then some more!

It was a long hot tiring day, I have to admit, but I wouldn’t have missed a moment of it! We found out there’s a vaporetto strike tomorrow, so getting around on our own will be a little tricky. I think I might take it easy and save my energy for the afternoon tour.

One last photo:


All aboard!

Posted: June 13, 2013 in Europe, Venice

Today was finally the day that we boarded the Aegean Odyssey, our floating home for the next two weeks. We are both looking forward to unpacking and being in the same accommodation for a while. We were due there at 2pm, and spent some time figuring out how to get to the dock, especially after a last minute email letting us know that the ship would be using  different berth than expected. You can’t just call a cab in Venice! That still left us with a couple of hours to fill in, so we decided to visit the Peggy Guggenheim Museum. Peggy was an heiress and niece of Solomon Guggenheim, who founded the NY modern art museum of the same name. She was a collector, patron of artists and larger-than-life character who lived in the house that was to become the museum from 1948 to her death in 1979. The collection, which hangs in her house much as it did when she lived there, is a fantastic array of the best of modern art of the early 20th century. Major works by all the influential artists of the time – Picasso, Dali, Magritte, Duchamp, Stella, Mondrian, Calder, Brancusi, Kandinsky – the list goes on! I loved it. I’m no art expert, but I did a Contemporary Art elective as a ‘General Studies’ subject at uni (they made us science nerds broaden our education a tiny bit!) and this exhibition was that course come to life. Incredible. They even had one of my favourite Magritte paintings, that I used to have on my bedroom wall as a poster years ago.

Our route to the ship terminal consisted of a vaporetto ride down the Grand Canal (with our luggage). I love that trip on the #1 vaporetto – I stood on the deck taking photos and enjoying the blue skies and sunshine that eluded us on my previous visit to Venice.  We alighted at the terminus – Piazzale Roma – and found the “people mover” – a new train that goes from the bus terminal to the port and back – only 3 stations all together. We were very relived to find a shuttle bus waiting for us as we got off the people mover, that would drive us directly to the embarkation point. After brief formalities we were finally on board. Sigh of relief!!

The ship of course is lovely. Our room is spacious and comfortable, and we have a walk in wardrobe and a lovely little balcony. Our cabin steward is called Joel, and is very charming. This is a relatively small ship, with a capacity of only 350, no casino, and no children. We learned that there are around 250 passengers, so it is far from full – half are American, 47 each from Australia and the UK, 4 New Zealanders and a smattering of others. The average age is 67, which makes me one of the babies 🙂 Here’s a little tour of the ship:

The afternoon was spent exploring the ship, having the lifeboat drill, afternoon tea on the deck, and a welcome briefing. We shared a table over dinner with some fellow passengers and enjoyed lively conversation and excellent food.

We are staying in Venice two more days, sailing overnight on Friday. Tomorrow will be a full day of exploring Venice, and I can’t wait!! Here are some random photos of Venice, taken from the vaporetto, to put you in the mood.

It’s been a hectic couple of days, most of which was spent in transit of one sort or another. This is the first minute I’ve had spare to write, so I’ll try to catch you up with two posts at once.

The day finally arrived to leave Turkey. Given the political situation, it was probably good to go, even though it had not impacted on us at all, and I certainly wasn’t sorry to hand back the rental car – I loved the freedom of having our own car, but not the roads, the drivers, or the strain of driving on the wrong side of the road! But we loved Turkey, and I am looking forward to coming back one day with Keith, sharing the places we visited on this trip, and exploring more of this fascinating country.

Our task for the morning was to drive from Kusadasi to nearby Izmir (around 80km), return the hire car at the airport, fly from Izmir to Istanbul, and from Istanbul to Venice. Simple, right? With so many unknowns – will we get lost driving to Izmir? How much paperwork will be needed when returning the car? How far is the Avis drop off from the airport terminal? – we allowed plenty of time for contingencies. Well, we drove straight to the airport, dropped off the car with a single signature, and crossed the road to the terminal. We were so early that when we went to check in they offered us an earlier flight, which meant that we arrived in Istanbul over 4 hours before our connecting flight. Our luggage had been booked directly to Venice, so we had nothing to do at all. We walked all over the airport trying to find the Emirates Lounge (since there’s no Qantas lounge there), in the hope that they would let us in (they wouldn’t). But we did manage to find a cafe with comfy lounge chairs and free wifi, so we filled in the time reasonably fruitfully.

The flight was pretty good, as flights go. I finally got to have some Turkish Delight, as the flight attendant offered us a piece just before take-off! I had a pretty good view of both Istanbul and Venice, but unfortunately it was quite hazy, so the photos are very ordinary.

From Venice’s Marco Polo airport there’s a surprisingly long walk to the water bus stop (wheeling our big bags) and then a boat (vaporetto) trip of around an hour and another walk over cobblestones to our hotel. Phew – we finally made it, some 12 hours after leaving the lovely Pine Bay! We were probably tired enough to just go to bed, but we were in Venice! We strolled the short distance to Piazza San Marco, enjoying window shopping, taking in the sights, and just soaking up the atmosphere. The shop windows in Venice are one of the highlights – if I wasn’t limited by funds and luggage space I could shop till I dropped in this city.