Friday, May 29, 2015

Venice Italy.....And The Islands Of Burano & Murano.....

As we stood on deck we could see the city of Venice approaching in the distance as we cruised along the  Giudecca Canal.  For months I'd been waiting, longing to visit this special city in the water expecting it to be my favorite port. Silently we watched taking it all in as we bypassed the hotspots of the city and docked on the other side in the cruise port. Nearby a fellow passenger squealed and said out loud, "oh my gosh I think I'm going to's sooooo beautiful."  I was fighting off a few tears too as I took in the landscape so vastly different from any other place on earth.

Cruising Into Venice

  Posing On NCL's Sprit Coming Into Venice

Built on hundreds of  small islands connected by over 400 foot bridges, Venice sits in a marshy lagoon in the Adriatic Sea. Originally built as a refuge for Italians looking to escape from Rome and nearby cities, Venice was built one island at a time. The entire city of Venice and its lagoon is listed with UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

A Water Taxi Whizzes By The Ship

Approaching Venice......Getting Closer

It was early afternoon when our ship docked in the port of Venice and we were cleared to leave. Since Clyde and I are staying in Venice a few days once we disembark from the cruise in the morning, we didn't book any shore excursions here. But at the last minute while trying again to spend our on board credit Clyde suggested spending the money on a tour today. So we booked an excursion to visit the islands of Burano and Murano since they were on our list of must see's anyway.


So Pretty

Life On The Water

Today's tour would be unlike any other shore excursion where we walked off the ship and boarded a bus.  Since Venice sits in the water we went directly from the ship onto a water bus.  The water bus was staffed with two tour guides, a male who's name I don't remember and a female named Suzy.  Our first stop was the island of Murano which is actually seven islands linked by bridges and separated by channels. Famous for it's glassmaking it was settled by the Romans in the 6th century. Originally it thrived as a fishing village and through it's production of salt. 

A Tender Platform Used To Leave Ship

Our Tour Boat

In Venice Lagoon Heading To Island Of Murano

Glass Making Factory

Master Glass Maker Crafting Vase

Finished Vase

In 1291 glassmakers were forced to move out of Venice due to risk of fires so they moved to Murano. During the next century exports began and the island became known for mirrors and glass beads.  Later the island became known for chandeliers and to this day glassmaking is the main industry in Murano. 
Glass Horse Made By Same Man

Our tour included a stop at a glassmaking factory to watch as a master glassmaker crafted a vase and horse.  Handed down through the generations, this glassmaker apparently had a father who specialized in these two items and that's what he taught his son. The narrator explained that had his father been an expert in chandeliers, that's what he would have learned to make. From the factory we headed upstairs into the many showrooms where they'd try to get money out of us. The ornate selection included thousands of chandeliers, vases, glassware, stemware, plates, horses and more. The average price of a chandelier was $1,500 to $2,500 and certainly wasn't anything I'd ever wanted. As soon as we could make a break for it we snuck out of the glass shop eager to explore the island.

Island Of Murano

Crossing My First Bridge Of Many

Coming Into Colorful Burano

Murano was nothing more than wall to wall glass factories as far as the eye could see.  While there were obviously homes located above the stores we saw little else.  We watched fascinated as a group of three or four women pushing baby carriages turned backwards to a bridge.  Each one dragged their carriages step by step up and over the bridge, grunting with each pull. Our tour guide Suzy had been telling us how difficult it was to live on an island and I was just starting to see what she meant.

Green Space And Charming Buildings

Back on the boat we headed up the lagoon about 45 minutes to the charming island of Burano.  This tiny colorful island is known for lace making, an art passed down through the generations. Like Murano the island of Burano was probably settled in the 6th century by the Romans also.  There are several theories as to how the island claimed it's name and both are as follows.   One story says the island was founded by the Buriana family while the other says its first settlers came from the island of Buranello , about five miles to the south.


During the 16th century women on the island started making lace by hand using needles.  In 1481 when Leonardo Da Vinci visited the island he purchased a cloth to be used on the altar in the Milan Cathedral. Word spread and soon people began visiting Burano in search of home made lace items.  But in the 18th century business declined until 1872 when a school of lacemaking opened on the island giving the lace industry a much needed boost. 

Handmade Lace

Today along with the tiny shops selling lace items Burano is known for its small, colorful houses.  According to our guide the reason for the colorful houses is this.  When fisherman would return home their houses were frequently covered in fog, making it difficult to know which house was theirs.  To avoid any mishaps like climbing into bed with the wrong wife, people began painting their houses bright colors that could be seen through the fog. Islanders liked the change and ended up keeping the houses colorful.  Nowadays when someone buys a house in Burano they're not allowed to change the color without permission from the government.  Kind of like living in housing developments in the states with committees of sexually frustrated, rich bitches that dictate what color you might be allowed to paint your house.  Obviously I've never lived under those circumstances and don't intend to either.


Showing Us A Stitch

We entered a small shop to witness a demonstration of lace making.  The interesting part is that each women specializes in only ONE stitch so it takes several women to complete any one project.  Unfortunately, today less of the lace is made by hand with easier methods found to be more efficient and economical.

As usual Clyde and I broke away from the tour to go explore and get lost on our own. Our tour guide mentioned some "S" shaped biscuits that Venice is known for and we didn't need to look far.  Walking into a nearby bakery the attendant immediately came out from behind the counter offering up a taste of the S-shaped delights. The lightly sweetened cookies called "bussola" were tasty so we picked up a bag to buy before heading out of the shop. Since it was lunchtime we stopped for our standard cheap Italian fare of sharing a slice of pizza and a drink before checking out more of the island.

Quaint Alleyway

And More Colorful Alleys

Strolling along the narrow streets many doorways were covered with curtains making me wonder what was behind.  Apparently it's just their way of decorating their doorway making it look different from the neighbors. I was starting to understand the appeal of island life which was soooo quite with no traffic other than the occasional boat.  Because of the colorful homes this island had much more charm that Murano.  We snaked through the alleys and cobblestoned streets that ran near the waterway pretending to be a local, lost in a world so unlike our own. 

Decorated Doorways Give This Place Real Character

On our boat ride back to the cruise port we pumped Suzy our guide for information on Venice.  Since we'd be disembarking from the cruise in the morning and staying in Venice a few extra days we needed tips on how to get around. She pointed out must-see's on the map, gave us information on the water bus routes along with how to get around on foot.

After exiting the water bus tour near our ship it was still early and I couldn't wait to see more of Venice. We headed over to the People Mover, a train that connects the cruise terminal with Piazzale Roma.  Piazzale Roma is the last place for cars to drive before going it by foot or water bus.  Upon arriving at the plaza it hit me that here we were on the Grand Canal, in gorgeous Venice, Italy.  We walked along the main street lined with little touristy shops as it followed the canal.  Water buses called, "Vaporettos" cruised by full of passengers.  With dark approaching Clyde didn't want to be out too late with a chance of getting lost.  Although we had no worries about the ship leaving us behind since it was docked there for the night, we made our way back. After a brief stop in our cabin we headed out for a late dinner on the ship.


As this was the final show on board it was a spectacular called "Elements." With a combo of singing, dancing, acrobatics, magic, water, wind and even fire it had something for everyone.  Since we always like go get good seats we headed in to the theater early which was filling up fast.  After the fabulous show we headed to the poolside buffet for some late night snacking before going back to our cabin for the night. Once inside we had some packing to do in order to be ready to disembark in the morning.  But since we had only carryon luggage we would be walking off with our bags and not have to put them outside of our cabin door to be picked up.

Time to catch some z's before more adventures in the morning as we'd head into Venice, the most charming of all the places we visited......along the gringo trail.

What Goes On Behind The Scenes Of A Cruise Ship?

Although I'm not usually one to complain about having extra cash to spend, that was almost the case on this cruise. Between the cruise line and the website that we booked through we had slightly under $400 of on board credit to use up. That could have gone fast had we chose to drink it away with prices ranging from $10 to $12 per drink on board. And while we did splurge on a few adult beverages along with paying for some sushi one night for dinner we still had plenty leftover.  And since Clyde prepaid the gratuities and the shore excursions it wasn't needed for that either.

Clyde found a "Behind The Scenes" tour that the cruise line offered at a cost, and since we thought it might be fun we booked it.  It was to be held on our last day at sea and we met our small group of about six people at 10am.  After sitting down in a board room we watched a movie about the history of Norwegian Cruise Lines which gave us some interesting facts.

 Our ship currently called NCL's Spirit used to be owned by an Asian company and went by the name "Super Star Leo."  It was named after a lion since they actually had live lions on board which were part of the nightly shows. Norwegian was the first cruise line to try freestyle dining, which meant we could just show up in any dining room anytime we felt like eating.  No reservations were necessary and neither was any special dress code since the whole ship was casual. The idea of freestyle dining came about by gamblers who didn't want to stop in the middle of a game to go eat. A new idea was needed and thus freestyle dining was born.

That's One BIG Spatula!
What A Nice Surprise When Presented With This Photo Framed

Our group was first taken behind the scenes of the theater department.  First we went backstage into the women's dressing room.  Once inside the door the first thing I noticed was a scale with a sign above it that said, "daily weigh in."  To the right were a row of costumes sorted out by each performers name.  Above the clothing on a shelf were hats, headpieces and wigs also sorted by name. On the other side was a vanity with chairs where the performers put on their makeup.  On the wall were diagrams and photos with specific instructions of how each performers face was to look for a particular show.

Production Manager Show Us Around A Dressing Room

Costumes And More

Crew Rehearsing For Tonight's Big Show

 Telling Us About The Costumes

The production cast is hired and trained in the Miami office and signs a contract for six months. Once the contract is done the performers are basically on their own and need to apply for their next gig. Couples can request that they be placed together on the same ship if and when it's possible. All performers train in Miami with choreographers where dance routines are learned prior to boarding the ship. Special performers like magicians, comedians and such are cycled through and don't stay on board for long durations. We watched performers stretch as they began to practice for that nights production number.  Before heading out of the back stage area we also saw inside the men's dressing room.

Next we toured the kitchen and were told that there is a "clean" side and "dirty" side.  All food going out to the passenger comes from the clean side.  When finished the staff member takes the food to the dirty side for cleaning.  Compared to other cruises we'd been on we found NCL to be rather slow getting the food out to us. But our tour guide explained that food on this ship is NOT prepared in advance but instead it's actually made to order, which is why it takes longer.

Windows Is One Of The Main Dining Rooms And Our Guide

Inside The Kitchen

Plate Covers, Dishes, Glasses Etc.....

Next we went down into the bowels of the ship to understand the disposal process on board.
All trash is separated and recycled except for kitchen scraps.  They are ground up in the blue machines and are allowed to be dumped overboard for fish food.  Some paper is incinerated, but the bigger pieces are recycled as well as all plastics, metals and oils.

Manager Of Disposal Department Tells All

Blue Machine For Grinding Up Food Scraps


Next On To Food Storage and Prep
Inside The Freezer We Went......Brrrrrr!

All Breads Are Baked On Board Daily

This Mans Only Job Is To Cut Up Fish
His Job Stinks....Literally!

Produce Storage.....Also A Chilly Area


In the laundry area we saw how staff uniforms are sorted out with numbered tags attached to each.  Every staff member is given a number which corresponds to their uniforms.  If the staff member moves to another ship his uniforms go with him. Each staff member is given five or six sets of uniforms I believe we were told.

Laundry Room And Bins

The Red Washing Machine Is Used For Items Soiled With Body Fluids.......
Urine, Blood, Feces, Vomit Etc.....

Huge Washing Machines

Machine That Irons Sheets....Sheets Are Put Into This Damp And Come Out Smooth

Ironed Sheets Come Out This End Folded

Officers Uniforms Being Steamed

Passenger Laundry Service.....Fill A Small Bag To Be Laundered For $25
Visiting The Bridge.....The Captain Making Daily Announcements At Noon
Our tour included a visit to the Bridge which appeared to be the quietest, most tranquil place on the whole ship. How nice to look out the massive windows at the calm waters ahead. Impressed to be greeted by a female office who gave us some insight as to the life of an officer.

Female Office Told Us All About The Bridge And Answered Questions We Had
There Are Two Female Officer On This Ship

The Main Controls.....We Had To Stand Back And NOT Touch!


This Is Where The Officer Or Pilot In Charge Of Steering Sits

Navigational Screen

The Path Our Ship Was Travelling

 This Shows The Zones Of Smoke Alarms And Video Cameras Onboard
We Learned That Video Camera Are Everywhere, Even In The Elevators When My Husband Is Molesting Me.....They See All!

 This Is Where They Steer The Ship For Docking......They Can Easily Look Out The Window To See The Dock

 Window For Docking
I always wanted to know IF ships travel faster overnight while passengers sleep, so I asked the female officer.  She said, "no, it stays the same speed most of the time." So I asked, "then why does it feel faster when I get up in the middle of the night?"  Her answer was that when they're maneuvering around islands the ships rocks more and that's probably what I'm feeling.  Top speed for this ship was around 25 knots and during the tour we were cruising at 21 knots.
We also learned that ALL injuries get reported to the bridge. During our tour there was an accident in Raffles, the buffet that we heard about, but it was nothing major. The bridge area is huge and very impressive.  There was probably room for twenty or more people to be in there if it was ever necessary.  Clyde asked if we were going to see the engine room but we were not allowed. Apparently only the engine room staff along with the Captain are allowed in the engine room.
During our tour we went down below Deck 4 to see the areas designated for the staff and crew.  Although we didn't get to see any of the crews quarters we did see the main "highway" as they call it through their area. The doors leading out of the crew area to passenger areas was clearly marked with warning signs, "passengers beyond this point, please prepare accordingly." Staff members share rooms with two or more in each cabin.  There are separate dining facilities for the crew along with a gym and social area.  And this ship, the NCL Spirit was trying something new and even had a small swimming pool that could be seen from the Bridge for staff members only to use on their off times.
Our Behind The Scenes Tour was fun and informative and used up a bit of our on board credit.  Tomorrow we dock in Venice, Italy where we booked an extra shore excursion using up our credit too. After being onboard for 12 days we'll miss being pampered and having our every need taken care of.  But what we won't miss is the thousands of other passengers that we had to deal with everyday, everywhere we went on the ship. Even my friendly, outgoing husband Clyde at one point said, "I'm tied of dealing with people." So next we'll be back on dry land although that land will be sitting in water as we explore the city of Venice, Italy......along the gringo trail.