Monday, April 30, 2018

March 22nd, Venice: How My Beloved, Rick Steves, Failed Me (Once) and Locanda Ca’ Zose, Dorsoduro

(Or how to get a stranger to come to your hotel room unexpectedly in the middle of the night). I am secretly in love (a little bit) with Rick Steves, but he failed me in Venice (just once). Rick Steves has a fantastic set of guide books and a free app, Rick Steves' Europe, which has audio tours for many major attractions in Europe. We used several in Venice: The Grand Canal Tour, San Marco's Square, San Marco's Basilica. These were excellent, even if we did look a little dorky constantly wearing our headphones:

And Ricky's guide books provided us with excellent practical information in navigating a foreign country, customs, and currency. With his advice, we tried to book Alessandro's Wine and Cicchetti tour. Unfortunately, Alessandro did not have 8 people signed up and it was cancelled. But because of our advance sleuthing (on youtube) we were able to identify some of the bars, and went on our own. Cicchetti are little appetizers that are a specialty of Venice wine bars, and it's hard to go wrong with wine in Italy:

Here are a few shots of our delightful little hotel, Locanda Ca' Zose, in the slightly less touristy area of Venice (excellent Rick Steves' advice):

Because I was also following Rick Steves' important advice about the light-weight suitcase, it was important to wash a few items of clothing out in the evenings. There was a very helpful heated towel rack and a laundry line in the shower. Unfortunately, the little doohicky that you slide the button into was missing. Not a problem; I just wrapped the end of the laundry line around the hook just outside the shower.

But because of Rick Steves' failure, we got a phone call our second night/early morning from the hotel desk. Dianna answered it and told the desk clerk to come on up to our room. He said he had to check the alarm in our room!!!!?????!!!! So I let him in and hopped back in bed (I wasn't awake!) Then he came out of the bathroom and said we needed to take our clothes off the alarm line. THE ALARM LINE! (It's important to note two things here: 1. Richard Steves never warned us about this alarm lines all over Venice, Florence and Rome and 2. This was close to 48 hours after we'd (I'd) been putting things on the clothes line, so how long were we suppose to remain dead in our shower before they checked on our bodies?)

Just think of this as PSA so you don't have to be mortified by the unexpected appearance of the very sweet man who also made us excellent cappuccini every morning.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

March 21st, Venice: San Marco Square, Chocolate Fountains, and The Bridge of Sighs

Rick Steve has a wonderful app, Rick Steve's Europe, which includes Audio Tours that can be downloaded and used as guides through many of the major attractions throughout Europe. It's like having your own personal tour guide in your head, and I also had the good fortune of having my own personal art historian at my side in the person of Alicia!

Our next stop in Venice was St. Mark's Basilica and San Marco's Square, and we had Audio Tours for both.

Here's another picture from inside the Doge's Palace:

A shot of St. Mark's Square:

The Bridge of Sighs, said to be the passage way through which prisoners, tried and sentenced in the Doge's Palace, were marched across this canal to the attached prison, getting their last look through the little windows at freedom and the outside world:

Walking through the little streets of Venice:

And shop windows with chocolate fountains!

Monday, April 23, 2018

March 21st, Venice: Doge's Palace and the Secret Itineraries

With the wonderful help of Rick Steve, Dianna, Alicia and I had worked out a detailed itinerary for our 3 days in Venice. First up on our first full day was our scheduled visit to the Doge's Palace with our ticket to the "Secret Itinerary", a tour showing us, among other things, the cell of Casanova. The Doge's Place was originally built in 810, but then with significant reconstruction in the 1300s and 1400s. Who knew Casanova was actually real? Apparently, most everyone but me. Casanova was quite the character, sentenced for 5 years because of his "affront to religion and common decency". He managed to chisel an escape route through his cell floor with a piece of black marble. He used the black marble to sharpen a spike out of a bar from his cell. However, 3 days before his plan to escape during a festival, he was moved to a better cell, but with the help of a renegade priest, Father Balbi, was eventually able to concoct a complicated plan that led to their escape.

Casanova was challenged in getting OUT of the Doge's Palace; we were challenged getting TO the Doge's Palace (seat of the city government but also a prison in the 1700s), and it was not Rick Steve's fault. Somehow, the three of us managed to get to the vaporetto stop, but without our vaporetto tickets. We returned to our hotel, several times, collecting more tickets, head phones for our Rick Steve's app with audio tours, and tour tickets. . . so many times, in fact, that a homeless woman sitting on a bridge watching us over and over (5x), finally asked us in English, "What's the matter, girls?" But we finally made it onto the vaporetto. However, with our initial uncertainty, we got on and off the same vaporetto, several times, before finally deciding that we were, in fact, going in the right direction. And as much as we were trying to get the logistics "right", it really didn't matter, because we were never actually asked for our tickets. Ever. On any of the vaporetto rides!

The vaporettos are not really complicated; it's just that it's like anything the first time you do it, especially in a foreign country with a language you don't speak: until you do it once, you're just not certain of it, and then it seems so incredibly easy and fun!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

March 20, 2018 On our Way to Venice & the Joys of Priority Pass

It's quite the trek, getting to Venice. I prepped for the trip, jet lag, by getting up earlier and earlier each day, plunging the ever tolerant Doug into cave-like darkness as early as 4 pm, and altering when I ate protein or carbohydrates. I found that it worked quite well! Preparations also involved diligent watching and reading Rick Steve's Italy materials and weighing every item that went into my itty bitty suitcase.

Dianna brought Luna to us in North Carolina, and Doug was now officially on "dog-duty" with 3 rambunctious pups who wanted his attention and walks while we cavorted in Europe. Our trip to the airport was not uneventful in that I became convinced that I did not pack my debit card to get euros, and tearing apart my purse and meticulously packed suitcase. Just as we made our final turn to the airport, I found the card, and had to reconstruct my suitcase.

We were so lucky, Dianna and I! Our AA flight was very under booked! I don't sleep well on planes but did doze off in the wee hours of the morning. I looked up, and Dianna was gone! Gone, gone! She had been in the window seat, with no one between us, and me on the aisle, and she was gone. I got up and looked around, and somehow she had walked right over me, took the row behind me, had ALL the pillows, and was stretched out across three seats! I promptly copied her, and took over my aisle's three seats. Almost bliss!

Unfortunately, I mess up the flights and had gotten us to Heathrow in London, requiring a bus trip from Heathrow to Gatwick. It was mildly complicated, but we arrived in Gatwick quite early. I've been discovering some travel-hacking tips, and got to put to use one of my new favorites: the Priority Pass. You get this through Chase Sapphire Reserve for free and it allows you access to 1100 worldwide airport lounges. This meant that Dianna and I had got to enter this lounge, order a meal, use the buffet, wifi, very comfortable seating, and have unlimited drinks. We felt indulged!

Next, we landed in the Marco Polo airport in Venice and had to navigate through the process of getting euros from ATM machines and purchasing our Alilaguna Blue water bus ticket, and our vaporetto passes, including Dianna's discounted pass. We needed euros for the hotel taxes at each of the hotels. The Alialaguna is the water bus that got us from the airport to the area of the lagoon (Venice) near our hotel. And the vaporetto passes would give us 3 days of access to Venice's public transportation system (water buses) riding up and down the Grand Canal!

So, off we went on the Alilaguna to our stop at Zattere, then up and down bridges to find our hotel:

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Italy, 2018 Most Awesome Trip Ever!

It's been so long, that I think I will just plunge in and start posting. If this works, it works. So much has happened in my life in the last 5 years, that there's no reasonable way to provide an "update and summary" other than to just start writing from now.

That said, I miss blogging and have time to do so, now that I've retired (2015) and recovered from my broken ankle (goodbye, 2016; you were a rotten year, all in all). And what better topic to start with than this most awesome ever trip: a Mother-Daughter trip with my favorite daughter, Dianna, and my soon-to-be daughter-in-law, Alicia.

Dianna and I went to Venice (Italy! did I mention Italy?) We spent the first 3 days in Venice, then 3 days in Florence, and a final 4 days in Rome. Alicia was only able to participate in the cicchetti (savory snacks or small side dishes, typically served in a bar or informal restaurant, primarily in Venice) and wine days of our trip.

Here are two preview pictures (and test of whether my posting will work) of our joyful time:

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Pumpkin Soup! This is Worth Coming out of Hibernation!

It's that time of year: cold, dreary and bleak outside. But pumpkin soup can enfuse joy into the dullest day, especially pumpkin PIE soup!

Check out these ingredients:

1 pie pumpkin, about 2 lbs, halved and seeded
1/2 lb bacon, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces. Did someone say BACON!!!!
a handful of leeks, white parts only, on a medium yellow onion, diced
1 apple, cored and diced
6 cups chicken stock
1 T cinnamon
2 t allspice
1 t ground cloves
2 t nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

Find a pretty little pumpkin in the grocery store. If you don't have a Whole Foods, be prepared to explain to the check out clerk what it is, how much it cost (because they never seem to know the names of foreign objects like vegetables.)

Bake the pumpkin, cut in half, for about an hour. Pour some of the chicken stock into the rimmed pan.

Cook the bacon in a stockpot. Add the onion or leeks, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and cloves. Reduce the heat to low. Cover and cook the mixture until the onions are tender, about 10 minutes.

Stir in the apple and remaining stock. Bring to a simmer and cook uncovered until apple is tender, about 10 minutes.

Scoop out the pumpkin and add to pan and simmer for another 5 minutes. Let the soup cool, and then ladle as much as you like into a blender or food processer and puree. Add back to the pan, and season with additional salt and pepper if desired. I like it better without the salt and pepper so that more of the "pie" flavor emerges.

Try not to eat the whole pot in one sitting! Serves about 7.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Day 3: Disney Cruise & Grand Cayman

Lest any of you feel insanely jealous that I got to go on this cruise, I'd like to put this trip in a little perspective for you:  this morning is was only 20 degrees here. April 20th, and only 20 degrees!  Uhhhhhhh! It's gone beyond the pale! We've now exceeded the all time records for the longest winter in North Dakota, and the lowest temperature for the date. Enough already! And what really distresses me is the realization that four months from now, in late August, we could be AT THE END OF OUR SUMMER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! done. I'm toast. but that implies heat.

I was not highly invested in the excursion we had planned for our 3rd day of the 5 night cruise. This was the "Grand Cayman and Mangrove Forest Tour". The mangrove forest sounded intriguing, but the Grand Cayman highlights seemed dismal. I was wrong: it was abysmal.

It's ok that a little island has very little to offer, and although I thought the saltwater forest would be interesting, I wish that it hadn't been packaged with "highlights."

The "highlights" consisted of a little narrated bus tour with a guide who was just bursting with information--about fast food restaurants. Why, yes! There is a McDonalds, and Kentucky Fried Chicken, and here is our Arby's! Bank buildings were pointed out (but really? did we need to see them?), and if only the man could answer some basic questions about the infrastructure or the economy. . . . One plucky tourist did keep trying, asking about how the citizens of the island got their drinking water, was there a method of desalination, but sadly, the tour guide was clueless, about this, or the economy in general on the island. Ah, well. . . I guess that's what google and wikipedia are for.

Our tour guide did not let us down, though, when it came to clever wit and repartee in pointing out that there is a street named "Hell". He managed to work this into about 15 sentences.

We even got to stop at a souvenir shop in "Hell" where we could buy postcards if we wanted. Most everyone passed, and sat this one out:

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Disney Cruise: Day 2

The first full day of our cruise, we slept in late. A glorious, relaxing treat! We decided that unlike previous vacations, often accompanied by our commando vacationer children, we'd relax and zone out on our trip. That was our mission!

We slept in, and for lunch headed to Palo, the fancier Disney restaurant that requires a reservation and $20 per person. The server takes you on a tour of the food options: seafood, egg and pasta dishes, cheese tables, salads, fruits. . . .

. . . and desserts . . . it's eye-dazzling and overwhelming! And indulgent!

Next, when we could walk again with our increased weight and bulk and girth, without tipping over the ship, we wandered around, meandering to and fro, photographing Doug . . .

. . . . stuff  (Disney wouldn't like me calling their "art" "stuff", but there are now Disney Swat teams patrolling my blog :)  ). . . .

. . . . and me, reclining in the thoughtfully positioned portholes. . . .

But wait!  Doesn't all that meandering to and fro work up a thirst?  Why, it's time for the wine tasting!  Being saddened by pathetically small things, I was saddened that I didn't this time get a tiny little "wine-tasting" pin to attach to my lanyard.  What does one even do with a wine tasting pin, wear it proudly about Grand Forks?  I don't know; but I wanted one again. . . .

So, we seemed to be accomplishing our mission of zone out relaxing during the day at sea, but we weren't quite ready to crash on a deck chair just yet, so we decided to caffeinate ourselves before sitting with our book-laden Nooks by the Quite Cove pool. And right by the pool is this little Quiet Cove Cafe, where these cheerful servers recommended two fancy coffees with all manner of tasty liqueurs stirred into them.

So, some hours later, after reading and snoozing by the pool, we managed to have dinner at our 8:15 seating in Triton's, the dining room for the evening.  And further challenge to our bodies with the desserts of the night.

Unbelievably, we were still walking at the end of all this, and managed to find our way to Deck 4, where you can circle the ship a few times on their walking/jogging path. Definitely needed by this point!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Disney Magic Western Carribean Cruise: First of Five Nights

I love how relaxed and tranquil Doug looks now! I don't think you can actually relax on a vacation until you've got all the logistics of getting there finally accomplished, and this is The Moment: (Maybe. Maybe it's still "Fine! Take the picture already!" sigh)

See all that white stuff on Miami Beach? NOT snow!

The little pilot boat cracked me up! At first, I thought it was going to "sketch" Mickey Ears, but that would have probably been over-the-top! But I was impressed with the circle!

Only as we pulled away from Miami did it look cloudy. None of the coming days were cloudy--just beautiful, sunny, warm days! Perfect vacation weather! Apparently, our usual weather curse took a vacation this trip!

And at dinner: Yummmmmm! Dessert! We couldn't decide, so ordered the sampler of three desserts.

Our dinner the first night was at Parrot Cay.  Disney rotates you, with your same table-mates and servers, from dining room to dining room over the course of the cruise. One of the most enjoyable aspects of this cruise was the dinners, and not because of the food. The Disney Master Plan assigned three other couples as our table mates: one from New Jersey, one from Canada, and one from London. No children--which really does work better when you are not traveling with children, and all close in age. Good food, some wine, and great conversations! I loved the differing perspectives and life experiences! And hearing the London Sandra learn to imitate New Jersey's Lori and John's "you'll swim with da fishes!"

And then after dinner, we got to watch the movie "Lincoln" again. Even though we were exhausted, and I'd already seen it, it was absolutely riveting the second time through, after having read Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team of Rivals."