Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

All Aboard the Viking Sea

Up at dawn after a wonderful night’s sleep – we have to have our bags in the hallway by 5 a.m. for pick up and taking to the ship.

Venice at dawn:

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We decide to go to the big buffet today, and, while the buffet is lavish, the dining hall is crowded and noisy, and service is slow and confused. We are nostalgic for our breakfast the day before, quiet, serene, plentiful if not lavish, enough. We could make our own cafe mochas. We go back to our room and debate whether we have time for another vaporetto ride before the shuttle to the ship, and decide we probably don’t, but we do have time for one last wonderful walk. This hotel is in a great location for uncrowded walking.

By 10:30, there is a large crowd waiting, and we are lined up to go aboard the shuttle to the ship. It is a short trip, then we are offloaded and we walk about a quarter of a mile to the processing terminal. I mention this because we don’t really enjoy being a part of a herd, and because people considering travel on the Viking sea cruises need to know about the walking involved, especially if they have mobility issues.

There is a demographic who is on these cruises. No children. These are “destination” cruises, and while they have entertainment on board, entertainment is not a big draw, nor do they bother with casinos. They are destination rich, and enrichment lecture rich. They have a gorgeous spa, and nice fitness room, plus a jogging track on deck 2 and a fitness deck on deck 8. But many people in my demographic begin to have mobility issues, some use canes, some are in wheel chairs, and they struggle with these aspects of the trip, the herding, the walking, even though it is a short distance.

Another snaking line and then we are photographed and given ship cards as we process. Our bags go through screening, and then we enter the ship, to wait in one of the lovely ship spaces to be able to go to our cabin. It isn’t a long wait, but I am stewing a little. We are wasting time! We are in Venice! We don’t have to stand in line; we could come later and process in! We have a quick lunch and head to our cabin.

Our cabin is lovely. We took a “penthouse” because to us, the cabin matters. Philosophies differ, many people choose small cabins, or cabins closer to the fine restaurants because they don’t intend to spend much time in their cabins. We are less social. We like the destinations, we like the spa, and we take our meals in the restaurants, and we spend time in our cabin. We love having our own “veranda” and we like having enough room to lounge around and not bump into one another. This pretty much fits our needs.

 

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One thing we loved is that it is sparkling clean. We also love that there is fresh water waiting for us, and it is refilled every night. Viking excels in these small, but important touches. Notice that there is room for two people to pass each other between the bed and the storage units.

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Lots of places where you can charge up your phones, iPads, computers, camera batteries, etc., and the outlets accept a variety of plugs, and the outlets are plentiful.

 

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A double closet, in the hall way so it doesn’t inconvenience a person sleeping in a bed or the other person who might need to get into the closet while the other person is sleeping. Small matter? It matters! There is also a safe behind one of the drawer units, and up top, an in room individual coffee maker. I never used it because coffee was available everywhere on board, and you could drink it in lovely areas.

One person on Cruise Critic criticized that the coffee was bland and never felt caffeinated. I didn’t find the coffee bland, but I also wondered about the caffeination. But a little less caffein is probably not such a bad thing for me 🙂

 

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Storage under the flat screen TV with two sets of three drawers each, and two great shelves for shoes., under which is a longer drawer.

 

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Another of those small things that matter. We had bedside lamps, and we also had these more focused individual bed lights so that one could read while the other slept. Lovely touch. When I didn’t have enough hangers, Fernando, one of our cabin stewards, quickly brought me more; he and Dina made us feel like treasured guests, and every wish was fulfilled with a smile.

 

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More drawers on the right, and a pull out drawer / refrigerator on the left. Contains champagne, which we didn’t drink, and whatever beverages we wanted – we are so boring, we had a little beer, a little wine and mostly coke and ginger ale. Never touched the hard stuff.

I neglected to take a photo of the bathroom, which was beautiful, all beautiful surfaces and glass, with drawers and shelves to hold all the things you keep handy in bathrooms, and lovely toiletries so we didn’t need to bring any hair shampoo, conditioner, soap, shower caps, or even a hair dryer. While some mornings were chilly, the floors in the bathroom were heated, oh what sweet luxury. The towels were oversized and thick, and the bathrobes ample and warm. Some people wore their bathrobes to the spa, one man even showed up at the fire drill in his bathrobe!

 

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Our veranda. We loved being able to sit or stand outside as we entered or departed a port, but it is hardly private. There are people just like us with verandas on either side, so you can’t help but overhear one another’s conversations. We are sort of private people, so we rarely talked while on the veranda, or even if the door to the veranda was open.

 

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Storage, TV, water . . . we loved that there was a bridge camera, and that the TV also showed the time. It was a huge relief NOT to watch TV, with the utterly vicious election going on.

We had booked ahead, having heard about the super restaurants on board. We ate dinner the first night in Manfredi’s, an Italian food restaurant. The food was really, really good. In the bread basket the table was this very unusual bread, just a thin thin sheet, sort of like peanut brittle, only savory, with slices of garlic baked into it. I’ve never seen anything like it, and it was delicious.

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The food was delicious. And we never went there again. We cancelled our second reservation. The food was wonderful, but too much. We had no control over how much would come. The tables were very close together, and some the people spoke very loudly. The staff was attentive and helpful, but there was also a lot of loud inter-staff co-ordination, a lot of clatter as they picked up dishes, and clanking as flatware and tableware were picked up together. It was noisy, and not private, not elegant dining. The staff sent in orders by cell phone, and to do that effectively, you have to be paying attention. It wasn’t working for us. The food is delicious, but I can’t even remember what we ate.

We explored the ship, and unpacked and fell into bed. At some point, I felt a slight bump, and could sense movement, so I went to the veranda – and we were leaving Venice. I opened the door, which squeaked, and wakened AdventureMan, who joined me, and we sat whispering to one another, watching the lovely sight of slumbering Venice at night drift by. We know that we had extraordinary luck; Venice in late October can be really rainy. We would take that chance. We would go back again in a heartbeat.

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Leaving Venice

 

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November 15, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Beauty, Bureaucracy, Cultural, Customer Service, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Italy, Safety, Travel, Venice | , , , , | Leave a comment

Venice Does Halloween

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We remember while living in Germany, Hallowe’en was celebrated very differently; people would light candles and visit graves, and on All Saints Day, the following day, would take picnics up the the graves of their loved ones. Now, from store windows, it appears some of the American symbols have become accepted in Venice.

November 15, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, ExPat Life, Germany, Interconnected, Italy, Venice | , | 1 Comment

Dinner at La Palanca, Giudecca

There is a freedom to being retired, a lovely freedom, you begin to care a lot less about “should.” Like, “OMG, we’ll only be in Venice for three days we SHOULD ________” and there are a million things to fill in the blank. We’ve actually been in Venice before, and that takes off a lot of pressure. When we feel, in late afternoon, like a nap before dinner, we don’t feel guilty, we take that nap.

After napping, we know where we want to go, we’ve read about it on Trip Advisor and passed it several times, La Palanca, right by one of the vaporetto stops. La Palanca does not serve dinner, but they do serve little snacks, and after our wonderful lunch at Rosa Rossa and our Tiramisu at the cafe, we aren’t interested in eating a big dinner, a snack is fine with us.

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This is the only photo I could take; this is the bar where people are gathered. There is a party of ten or so back where we are sitting, all old friends and neighbors, drinking, eating snacks. Just after I took this photo, more and more people come in, almost all standing around this counter where wine, beer and little open faced sandwiches are served continuously. We were there a couple hours, we never felt out of place, although everyone else knew each other. One man had his little dog with him, and the dog was a big hit.

If we were going to live in Venice, I think we would like living in Guidecca, where there are not so many tourists, and life seems to be more normal. We like the neighborhood feel, and we don’t mind the vaporetto rides.

We shared a grilled caprese (tomatoes, basil and mozzarella di bufolo) sandwich, then, later, saw a tray of shrimp with onion coming out, and AdventureMan got a couple of those. The onions and the shrimp were pickled; it was a small treat, but memorable.

La Palanca does a great lunch time business, and had we not gone to Rosa Rossa, we would have tried to eat a lunch here. They get great reviews.

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After leaving, we took a last vaporetto ride by night, and by the time we returned, the neighborhood party at La Palanca had spilled out onto the large sidewalk along the canal. It was a Thursday night, maybe they are all celebrating that the weekend is near.

November 15, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, Cultural, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Food, Italy, Living Conditions, Restaurant, Travel, Venice | , | Leave a comment

Sunset Over Venice

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November 15, 2016 Posted by | Beauty, ExPat Life, Sunsets, Venice | Leave a comment

“You Will Eat Every Bite, and You Will Smile”

We wander the streets, following Guido Brunetti’s path, and then wander back towards San Marco and our shuttle back to the hotel. We’ve spent the day wandering, on foot and on vaporetto, and we are beginning to feel a need for a nap before dinner. Wandering in Venice is sheer delight:

 

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When we get to where the shuttle is supposed to be, there are, literally, hundreds of touristy looking people, and fortunately, several Viking people. We ask about the shuttle back, and they say it will come in half an hour. We head for the nearest cafe and check to make sure it has a ladies room, which it does, but oh-my-goodness, no seat, no lid, and a pull thing to flush, just like the old days when we lived in Germany when I was a kid.  These people know the value of location – take a look at the prices.

 

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The waiter was shocked! Shocked! when we asked for ice cream. No! No! Never in October! (LOL, we didn’t know!) I ordered a coffee and AdventureMan ordered a Tiramisu.

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The Tiramisu was fabulous, everything we have dreamed of so long. It had liqueur in it! It had that unforgettable taste!

 

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We tell a story in my family of our first trip to Italy, when I was 15 and my sisters were younger. It was my Mother’s birthday, and at the hotel where we were staying, they presented her with a surprise birthday cake. It was all so lovely and so gracious. My Mother cut the cake and the waiters brought pieces of it to us, and then, as my mother bit into her piece, she grimaced – the cake was soaked with liqueur. She told my father in a low voice, and he looked at us girls, with a fixed smile that told us he meant business and said “You will eat every bite, and you will smile.”

We were raised to be gracious, and to have grateful hearts. I don’t remember being so all-full-of-gratitude at the time, but I grew to like the Italian style. and didn’t realize how much I had missed it until I tasted this REAL tiramisu.

I remember that also, very graciously, after we had each eaten our piece, even my little 6 year old sister, choking down that liqueur soaked cake, my mother asked the management to please share the joy of her birthday by sharing the rich cake with all the employees and guests (it was a large cake).

November 15, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Chocolate, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Customer Service, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Food, Humor, Italy, Living Conditions, Restaurant, Travel, Venice, Women's Issues | | Leave a comment

“Guido Brunetti Sent Us” (Rosa Rossa Restaurant)

AdventureMan and I read a series of detective novels set in Venice by author Donna Leon, who lives there. Commissario Guido Brunetti is a patient, thoughtful and smart detective, working under a lazy, corrupt and greedy boss in a country rife with corruption. Each book has a social issue in Venice as its topic, and not lightweight topics – the arrogance of dumping trash, boatloads of trash, off the coast of Somalia (had you ever heard of that before? Neither had I. But it is true, and it has ruined traditional Somali fishing), big pharma and tainted drugs, sex tourism and human trafficking, governmental bribery – Donna Leon fearlessly tackles them all.

Guido Brunetti loves Venice, and he loves his family. His solace in life is his wife, a professor of literature at the university, and his two children. His wife cooks meals that make the reader’s mouth water as they read, or Guido and one of his lieutenants will stop at a restaurant for lunch.

In one of the books, “Blood From a Stone,” American tourists give evidence to a stabbing they witness on their way to dinner. To thank them for their help, he directs them to a GOOD Venetian restaurant, and tells them to say Guido Brunetti sent them.

We don’t say that. No matter how real Guido Brunetti has become to us, we know he is not real, and we don’t say he sent us. But we do take the tiny winding back lanes to find Rosa Rossa, and while we order familiar salads, we also order Venetian specialities for our main courses.

Rosa Rossa on a tiny but busy street:

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AdventureMan’s favorite salad; he loves Caprese:

 

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I had a garden salad:

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I love black spaghetti, or Pasta Nero. It is made with squid, and squid ink, and I first had it at a lovely dinner a long time ago in Damascus, Syria, served by a beautiful Italian who swore t me that this dish is Southern Italian. If so, I ordered it anyway, in honor of Beatrice, and it was delicious.

 

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AdventureMan ordered Pasta with Squid and pepperoncini, and he said it was very piquant, and that he has never eaten so much squid in his life at one time.

 

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We passed on dessert, knowing we still had miles to walk, and possibly a gelato toward the end. We had such a short time to enjoy Venice, searching for and finding Rosa Rossa was a lot of fun, and a great adventure. They took good care of us, and the food was delicious.

November 14, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, Books, Bureaucracy, Civility, Community, Crime, Cross Cultural, Detective/Mystery, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Food, Italy, Local Lore, Restaurant, Venice | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Venice and the Vaporettos

This is one of the happiest days of my life. We are in Venice, and the weather is magnificent. Not only not raining, but a little chilly, perfect for walking and walking, which is what we love to do.

When we get up, the first thing I do is look out the window, and oh, what fun, our ship, the Viking Sea, is being towed to port! We watch her dignified passage with excitement.

 

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We have a quick breakfast in the lounge, great coffee, and head out on the shuttle for Saint Marks, then we hike up to the Rialto bridge, crowded, even in late October, mostly with Japanese families. The canal is crowded, too, with people taking gondola rides.

No, we didn’t. We love Venice. We hit the vaporettos.

This is atop the old customs house, where trading ships coming into Venice had to stop, have their cargo examined, and pay import and luxury taxes on their goods. See, the god is holding a piece of coin in his hand?

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Venetian baubles, and masks are everywhere; the windows are beautiful. No. We didn’t buy any baubles, no gondolas, no masks.

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Yes, we did climb the Rialto bridge, along with all the tourists, and I quickly took a documentary, but highly not-artistic shot.

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This is better. We are catching a vaporetto to head up the Grand Canal and I look back and see the Rialto – and parked gondolas. How Venice can you get? This photo was a lot of fun.

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We are lucky, in the back of the vaporetto are two perfect seats, and we watch as the #1 goes to each stop along the Grand Canal. Every now and then, we change boats, and we never know where we will end up. It doesn’t matter, we can ride as long as we walt to.

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The gates going into St. Marks.

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We are starting to get hungry though, so we have to figure out how to get where we want to eat lunch.

November 14, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, ExPat Life, Travel, Venice | | 3 Comments

Hotel Molino Stuckey (Hilton), Venice

The Hotel Molino Stuckey is a large hotel; some very smart, very visionary person bought an old flour mill and reconfigured it into a luxury hotel right on the canal. It is sumptuous, and has it’s own dock for arrivals and departures, and for shuttles to St. Marks, from where you can get anywhere. There is a lovely walk along the canal, with restaurants, bakeries, tavernas, residences, book stores, and even a hardware store (we love these every day things).

The hotel has lovely public spaces, and a variety of rooms.

How often do you get to Venice? Spend a few more dollars and get one of the higher up rooms with a view of Venice, and the canal, and the churches, and the boats trafficking up and down. This room was worth every penny – great beds, great linens, lovely bathroom with beautiful finishes, and a bathtub, and, well, the view. The view. The view. The sounds of the bells ringing. The view.

 

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The window with the view:

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The wood beamed ceilings and the Murano glass chandelier:

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The Hilton Molino Stuckey has a shuttle to St. Marks every half hour (or more) and charges 4.5 Euros per person for your entire stay. If you are with Viking, Viking also has a shuttle, every half hour but on the 15 and 45, I believe (I could have it switched in my mind), and the Viking shuttle is free to and from the hotel to St. Marks.

Joining Hilton Honors is free. If you join, you get additional benefits, like free WiFi. That, and the upgrade to the executive floor, allowed us to use the executive lounge, which was really nice, quiet, and has wine and snacks in the afternoon, and a breakfast buffet and coffee in the morning. The buffet at the Molino Stuckey is luxurious and beautiful, and it is also crowded and noisy. You can eat peacefully and well in the executive lounge.

November 14, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Cultural, ExPat Life, Hotels, Travel, Venice | , | Leave a comment

Air France: The Journey Begins

AdventureMan and I have developed a philosophy – how we get there matters. Truly, it didn’t matter so much when we were a lot younger. The government sent us where it wanted us to be; Germany, Tunisia, Jordan, Germany . . . well, you get the idea. You didn’t even get to make your own reservations and choose your own seats, it was all done for you. It could have been awful, but most of the flights were not so full then, seats were wider, aisles were wider, and . . . we were younger. We never really minded, not even the long long flights with a 2 year old active child. On our way to Tunis we were on the same flight with friends who had twin 1 year old babies and a 5 year old. We all survived.

Now, we have a six hour limit to what we will fly in economy. I had thought we could be comfortable enough in economy going to Hawaii, and I was very very wrong. Never again. So now we cough up a little extra and go business class, and, when we can, we go Air France.

Air France is a partner with Delta and with KLM, but Air France is nicer. The planes feel cleaner, and the flight crews are, well, French. Charming and attentive. The food is pretty good. We get on in Atlanta, eat a nice meal and sleep our way to Paris. And that’s how this trip started. Easy. Happy.

When we got to Paris, and were about to board our flight, the gate attendant frowned. “This part of your trip has been cancelled,” she informed us. “Your bags have been taken off the flight.”

This is not a happy surprise.

But this is also not our first rodeo.

“Nothing has changed,” we explain calmly, “We are booked all the way to Venice.”

“I see that,” she responded, “and I don’t know what happened, but I can fix it for you. Just give me a few minutes.”

A few minutes turned into a lot of minutes, as the plane was boarded, all the passengers but us, and we stood calmly waiting for her to fix it. She handed us tickets, same seats we had originally been assigned.

“Are our bags on board?” I asked.

“Not yet,” she replied, “but they are tracking them down and will get them on the plane.”

A half an hour later, when they closed the door to the flight, I asked the attendant to check to make sure our bags had made it. She came back and affirmed “all bags are now on board.”

The really good news: when we got to Venice, people were waiting to greet us and take us to the hotel. The bad news: our bags were not on board, and it took AdventureMan about an hour of getting a number here, waiting there, going over to talk to this person, and then than person, just to fill out the paperwork.

More good news – because we have had this happen a time or two in all our travels, we have all our electronics, toiletries, medications and two days of clothing with us, including our walking shoes. We are not happy, but we can survive. The water taxi takes us to the Molino Stuckey Hotel, where as he registers, AdventureMan upgrades quietly to a room on the executive floor with a view of Venice. As we walk in our room, we could be griping, but the room is beautiful, and this is our view:

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What’s a little missing baggage with a view like that?

We fall into bed and sleep for about an hour, then we get up to take a walk and have some dinner. There is a church I want to visit, within walking distance. It is chilly, and by the grace of God, I have a pair of jeans and a sweater with me, and my walking shoes. We head down to Redentore, The Church of the Redeemer, built to thank God for sparing Venice from the plague. It is simply beautiful, and we sit inside and let the peace soak into our bodies and spirits.

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The hotel is on Giudecca, a large island across the laguna from St. Mark’s. We love this location, and the residential nature of the island. As we explore, there is beauty everywhere.

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Along a side canal, we find a boat building shop, with workers putting together new gondolas:

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We are exhilarated. We had thought we would be exhausted, but we have done 10,000 steps and way more than 10 sets of stairs. We are in Venice, where the light and the water work together to thrill our heart in a new way every time we look. Here is something special for you; the sun going down in Venice:

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It was supposed to be raining. This is late October, and there are signs of rain, but there is no rain.

Dinner is at a small local restaurant, and it is divine. Is it divine, or does it just taste divine because it is our first night in Venice and we are a little jet lagged and maybe a little delirious? At Duo Mori we can eat overlooking the water, watch the vaporettos come and go, and dive into some Venetian specialties, a mixed appetizer plate with all kinds of fish and fish pates, followed by plates of spaghetti with clams and mussels, washed down by a carafe of wine. Service is slow. It’s fine with us. We are happy just to be here.
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The meal is delicious, and on top of that, we have been watching how the vaporetto passengers use their magnetized tickets to open the gate to get to the vaporetto they want. Tomorrow will be a new day, and we have all-day vaporetto tickets which will take us all the places we want to go.

 

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We walk happily back to the hotel, fall into bed. About half an hour later, dumb with sleepiness, there is a knock at the door, and our bags have arrived in Venice to meet up with us. All is well.

November 14, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Cultural, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Hotels, KLM, Quality of Life Issues, Travel, Values, Venice, Weather | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Do All Americans Worship Idols?”

We have guests in town from another country who are living with Americans and visiting many others.

One of them asked her host “Do all Americans worship idols?” and the host was flummoxed.

We have been in private houses of the most religious Muslims, and their houses look very different from ours. They have nothing on the walls, except perhaps a picture of the Kaaba in Mecca, or a beautiful calligraphy in Arabic with one of the Surahs. To us, the houses look very plain, but they are being careful to observe carefully the word of the Lord.

We don’t consider the objects in our homes idols because we don’t worship them. When I read today’s Lectionary reading from Deuteronomy, I have to rethink what God might thing idols are.

Deuteronomy 4:15-24

15 Since you saw no form when the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire, take care and watch yourselves closely, 16 so that you do not act corruptly by making an idol for yourselves, in the form of any figure—the likeness of male or female, 17 the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, 18 the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth. 19 And when you look up to the heavens and see the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven, do not be led astray and bow down to them and serve them, things that the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples everywhere under heaven. 20 But the Lord has taken you and brought you out of the iron-smelter, out of Egypt, to become a people of his very own possession, as you are now.

21 The Lord was angry with me because of you, and he vowed that I should not cross the Jordan and that I should not enter the good land that the Lord your God is giving for your possession. 22 For I am going to die in this land without crossing over the Jordan, but you are going to cross over to take possession of that good land. 23 So be careful not to forget the covenant that the Lord your God made with you, and not to make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything that the Lord your God has forbidden you. 24 For the Lord your God is a devouring fire, a jealous God.

May 26, 2015 Posted by | Cross Cultural, Cultural, ExPat Life, Faith, Friends & Friendship, Interconnected, Lectionary Readings, Saudi Arabia, Spiritual, Venice | | Leave a comment