Sunday, May 31, 2015

I Think I've Died.....And Gone To Venice....

As I stood near the tiny bridge a local restaurant owner was setting up outdoor tables.  Carefully she placed dark red placements on top of sparkling white tablecloths along with silverware rolled in napkins. I watched as workers unloaded dirt from wheelbarrows into a platform boat that sat in the nearby canal.  Just then a gust of wind came out of no where and the red placemats went flying by.  Quickly I took a few steps toward the canal to retrieve them before they blew into the water and placed them back onto the tables.  The young lady working on the tables came running out of the restaurant yelling, "grazie senora." Just then a lone gondolier sailed by under the bridge in an ornate, black boat trimmed with gold.  My lips curled up into a smile as a few tears ran down my face.  "Wow," I thought, "I think I've died and gone to Venice."

The Port Of Venice, Italy

Our First Ride On The Vaporetto

Looks Just Like A Bus....But It Floats

Just then Clyde returned from the other side of the bridge where he went looking for an ATM machine. As his eyes met mine I looked at him and said, "this is the most beautiful place I've ever seen."  He said, "yes it is," with tears in his eyes too. We needed cash to pay the apartment owner and he was on a wild goose chase.  I asked a shop owner if she spoke English and she said, "yes."  But when I asked where we could find a bank or just a cash machine she gave me a blank stare.  Thinking Spanish might be similar I said, "banco," and she said, "Oh banca,"  and gave directions.  Over that bridge, around the corner and you'll find one across from a pharmacy was the gist of the conversation which was all in Italian.

Nearby The Outdoor Café & Hardware Store

The First Of Many Gondoliers We Spotted.....This Ride Costs About $120

Soon after arriving we stopped in a restaurant that offered free WIFI for a soda.  Clyde needed to contact the owner of the apartment we were renting to see what time we could get into it.  And we had to figure out how to use the international cell phone we picked up just for this purpose.  Next we had to figure out how to get to a part of town called Santa Croce. From there we'd need to find Campo San Giacomo dell' Orio, the plaza closest to the apartment.  We stopped to pickup tickets for the vaporetto (water bus) which would be our means of transportation with luggage. A one way ticket was 7 euros each and gave us each one hour of water bus service.

Mommy's & Baby Carriages Go Up And Over The Bridges


One Of The Many Campos Or Plazas

Perhaps A Street Performer?

Great Cheap Pizza Everywhere......Around 2-3 Euros For A Shareable Slice

With wonderful Clyde being good at directions he managed to find our apartment where the cleaning staff waited for our arrival. Although the apartment owner spoke English the cleaning ladies did not. We stumbled through with them telling us about the apartment in Italian, thankful for our knowledge of Spanish which is similar in some ways. The two women told us they still had another hour of cleaning to do but we could surely leave our luggage there and they gave us the keys. Albeit rather risky, we trusted them to not run off with our belongings and left the luggage and went off to explore Venice.

A Fire Hydrant In Residential Neighborhood

Entrance To Our Ground Floor Apartment

Our Street

The apartment was in a lovely restored mansion on a side street connecting to the Grand Canal.  Complete with shutters, a bidet and heated towel holder the fridge was stocked with yogurt and some food basics which we were told we could have. Nearby the street opened up to Campo San Giacomo, which is simply a plaza or space for people to hang out. Lined with tiny shops, a grocery store, benches, green space and a water fountain. We watched as kids drank from the ornate public water fountain, finding ways to lean into it without getting wet. A few days earlier I ordered a glass of water in a nearby restaurant when the waiter said, "no we don't drink the tap water in Venice.  It's not safe." Apparently just trying to sell us a bottle of water which in Europe usually came with bubbles too.

Hanging Laundry

No Screens.....Shutters Open Up For Fresh Air

Venice Celebrates Carnivale (car-ney-val-eh) Before Easter But Plenty Of Masks
 Were On Sale For Tourists

Evening Over Venice

A Flower Shop

Outdoor Market With Fresh Fish

A Tiny Bridge To Ones Front Door

Walking in Venice was easy on the feet as the cobblestones were mostly flat and level.  Months ago when I first researched Venice one of the most important things ALL of the information said was, "pack light."  Streets are narrow and with over 400 foot bridges so moving even the lightest carry-on bag up and over the canals is challenging. Even after dumping off our luggage in the apartment going up and down thousands of steps over bridges was tough after many hours of walking. Yet the beauty of this magical place helped the heaviness in our legs subside.  In the midst of tiredness we'd spot a gondola with a handsome gondolier donned in a striped shirt and dark pants rowing his passengers along a canal.  In the past it was common to hear them singing "Oh Solo Mio," but that was before the government cracked down on their alcohol consumption.  Nowadays, we've been told that alcohol levels on gondoliers are tested regularly which seems to have lessened the amount they sing on a regular basis.

Plenty Of Gondoliers On The Grand Canal

Personally my husband has a great voice, loves people and would look just adorable in a striped shirt and straw hat.  My theory is we could move to Venice and he could develop a whole new career as a gondolier. Clyde unfortunately, didn't like the idea of going back to work regardless of what he was doing.

The loveliness of Venice lies in the waterways which serve as a lifeline to all that happens. From mail delivery, to trash pickup, police, ambulance, fire, moving and delivery, and anything else you can imagine goes via water. We watched as women with babies boarded the vaporetto and ladies in evening gowns with heels headed out on the town.  A man with a foldable cart of groceries and stacks of toilet paper piled on top, headed home from shopping.  Old folks with walkers and canes, families with babies in strollers. All of life in Venice happens on the water which is just fascinating to me.

An Ambulance On The Grand Canal

A Vaporetto Or Water Bus

The Most Expensive Taxi's In The World.....Watertaxi's

The Fire Department Boat.......Clyde Used To Drive A Fire Truck In Texas.....Here They're Called "Pompieris"

Beyond the waterways are the campos, tiny streets, alleyways and bridges that connect them all together like one big jigsaw puzzle. Over the next few days we visited the popular touristy spots like St. Marks Square.  This large plaza houses a great Basilica, Dodge's Palace, museums, shops, pricey cafes and hoards of tourists.  The famous Rialto Bridge is one of the four bridges over the Grand Canal.  It's lined with a large market, tourist shops, lots of steps and even more people.

The Rialto Bridge Over The Grand Canal
The Grand Canal Is The Main Boulevard Through The City

The Doge's Palace used to be the home to the doge (a leader) and the seat of the government.  The palace features three wings with an endless series of grandiose rooms and halls.  The famous Bridge of Sighs connects the interrogation rooms of the palace to the prison.  Named that because prisoners would cross the bridge, stop to look out the window and sigh as it would be the last time they saw freedom before being locked in a cell. While the palace was opulent the prison and bridge gave us chills as we viewed dark, tiny cells where prisoners were kept.

St. Marks Basilica

Giant Clock Tower

More Of St. Marks Square

Inside The Bridge Of Sighs

Bridge Of Sighs Outside......Connecting Prison To Doges Palace

Thus far we'd taken Venice by foot after only one trip on the vaporetto.  But with limited time and so much more to see Clyde suggested a day pass.  The full day pass cost 20 euros each but would allow us to see more and serve as our airport transfer the next day too. On our last evening we decided to stay on the vaporetto a while taking in the sights and sounds of Venice from the water.  We positioned ourselves on the outer platform where we stood watching people come and go.  Eventually we got off far from the tourists and walked down a back street looking for a place to eat.  We spotted a tiny restaurant with empty tables and a sign saying that the restaurant was full.  Clyde decided to ask if we could be seated and to our surprise we were told "yes." 

We sat outside in the row of tables perched in the cobblestoned alleyway. Above our heads hung laundry from the apartments up above.  Locals walked by with dogs on leashes and kids skipped by trying to keep up. After viewing the menu we each ordered ravioli with manicotti and spinach for 8 euros. When in Italy wine is a must and was cheaper than water so we ordered a small pitcher of white wine for around 4 euros.  The waiter spoke English and explained that he was the son of the owner.  This was a family run business where he grew up for the past 26 years and the recipes were his Mom's. He brought out a large basket of bread that we munched on with our wine.

Lovely Little Streets

Not Sure What This Is......Notice The Purse

Little Restaurant Where We Ate Under That Umbrella

The ravioli was divine, probably home made with subtle tastes of olive oil, spices, and cheese.  Definitely the best meal we had in Italy in a rather eclectic setting among the locals.  Once again for us getting off the beaten track and among the locals proved a better alternative. On our way back  to the apartment we couldn't resist stopping for gelato one last time.

Close Up View Of Restaurant

 Manicotti-Spinach Ravioli

The next morning we checked out of the apartment around 11 an headed to the vaporetto stop.  This time we had to board the Alilaguna Line which went straight to the airport.  We climbed down to the inside of the boat and sat on the long benches that offered no view because the windows were up too high.  The waters of the lagoon were rather rough as the boat bounced around and splashed the whole way there.

Special Vaporetto Line To Airport

We boarded a Swiss Air flight bound for Zurich, Switzerland where we chose an 18-hour layover so we could see Zurich for the night. Our plan was to meet up with my nephew Joe, his wife Dana and kids Howie and Sophie.  A Lieutenant Commander with the Navy, Joe is stationed in Stuttgart, Germany. While chatting to Dana online one day she mentioned a Mediterranean cruise and I told her about our plans.  Since we hadn't seen each other in about four years they offered to drive to Zurich for the night so we could have dinner together. Zurich was just a few hours from where they lived so they booked the hotel rooms and made reservations at a restaurant.

Once we arrived in the airport we had to take a the train to the central station where we picked up the tram, a type outdoor train. The lady who sold us the train ticket spoke English and was helpful mapping out our route.  She told us where to exit the tram but wasn't really sure where the hotel was from there.  Trying to find a hotel in a foreign place where all signs are in German was another adventure  Fortunately everyone we stopped on the street spoke fluent English even though they didn't necessarily know where the hotel was. But finally while Clyde was studying a map I spotted a small yellow sign with the name of the hotel on it so we walked in that direction. The hotel room was lovely with a fluffy down comforter on the bed.  In typical European style the toilet was not in the bathroom but in a separate water closet nearby. We freshened up and then headed out to find my nephew and his family who seemed to be out exploring the city.

Since it was getting close to dinner time we had to figure out where the restaurant was and stopped to ask the desk clerk.  Although the clerk had no idea where the restaurant was he was nice enough to look it up online and gave us some idea how to get there.  We headed back outside to the tram and got off at the nearest stop.  From there we began walking along what looked like a major highway which seemed crazy to me.  I doubted Clyde's directional skills continually asking, "why do you think it's out this far?" But then there it was.....a sign with the name of the restaurant on it.  Joe, Dana and the kids arrived a while later and we selected a table inside since it was too chilly to dine outdoors. We chatted for hours reminiscing about old times and catching up on current happenings too. After dinner we strolled back to the tram which took us all back to the hotel.  We bid farewell with plenty of hugs so thankful for this time we had together on our adventure in Switzerland.

Joe, Dana & Terry

Joe, Howie Age 8, Sophia Age 4 & Me
Zurich, Switzerland

The Tram

Lovely Gardens

Locals In Switzerland

 Hotel Swiss Knight

The next morning we took the tram then the train back to the airport for a 9 hour flight to New Jersey.  From there just another 5 hours and we'd be back in Panama City although late in the evening.  With a two hour flight delay we arrived around 11pm, thankful that we'd reserved a room for the night at a nearby hotel. After checking in we picked up our complimentary glasses of wine and headed to our room.  With the time change from Europe to Panama we had literally been up 24 hours and hoped to sleep in the next morning.  Our month long trek through Europe was a wonderful experience, full of great memories that we'll cherish forever.  It opened our minds to new worlds just waiting to be explored.  Decidedly there will be much more travel in our future as we move on to yet another chapter of our lives.....along the gringo trail.

Life In Portugal....At A Snails Pace....

Yesterday was just another day in Portugal when my dear husband Clyde said he was going to run to the pharmacy for a few things. Time passed...