I bet you think we are going to write about a grand adventure partying in New Orleans, crowded with people eager to watch the Sugar Bowl, parades, grand times. I could – but our visit was a little different.
AdventureMan and I DID have a grand adventure – taking the 6 year old and 3 year old grandchildren to New Orleans for three days. We were a little aghast at the enormity of our undertaking, but AdventureMan did a little investigating, and found a wonderful solution – The Audubon Nature Institute has an annual family membership which gets you into the New Orleans zoo, the Aquarium, the Butterfly Garden and the Insectarium, and invited to special events, for a year.
Even better, the cost of the year-long family membership is so reasonable that our first trip to the zoo paid off the entire membership. The next day, the children voted that we visit the zoo again, and the third day we visited the aquarium. We can go back all year, walk in through the membership gate (that is a great feature, beats standing in line for tickets) and get a membership discount in the gift shop. This is a real deal. You can find it at Audubon Nature Institute, you can join online and print out your temporary membership card. What a great value for the money.
You know how you build expectations? From the time I started reading about Dubrovnik, I was excited. For one thing, some scenes from Game of Thrones are filmed there, and we are great fans. Even more, there is a great hike; Dubrovnik has restored and created a wall all around the old city which you can hike. It isn’t for the faint-hearted; it starts with about 60 stair straight up. Once up, there are more stairs, FitBit told me we did 30 sets of stairs on the wall. There were ascents and descents, some a little challenging. A friend who had done it before told me to be sure I had shoes with a good grip because the stones could be really slick. Even on a beautiful sunny day, there were a couple slick places, so I cannot imagine what it would be like to hike it in damp or rainy conditions.
But we had perfect weather, sunny and warm, but not hot, even a little chilly in the shade. We were also the only ship in town, a rare occurrence in Dubrovnik.
LOL, no, that is not our ship, but I loved this old looking ship. It isn’t really old, and I imagine it is an events location, a party ship, but I loved it.
We took the panoramic tour, but dropped off once we got to the Pile gate at the entrance to old Dubrovnik. The first entry to the walls is just inside the gate, to the left, with good signage.
About halfway up the double sets of stairs taking people up to the wall, I stepped aside, yes, to catch my breath because there are a LOT of people struggling up these steep stairs, but also to take a documentary photo:
When you get to the top, the views are spectacular.
I had read that the best strategy was to head uphill, first, get the worst over with, but as we started left, we saw this sign:
So aarrgh! We had to turn the easy way first. Never mind. Each step introduced a new and spectacular sight.
We sighted the Dubrovnik harbor from the walls, and decided when we finished our walk that we would have lunch there, if we could find a good place.
Once we finished our hike, we explored the back streets in Dubrovnik, zig-sagging our way to the port:
November 1st is coming soon; the flower markets are doing gang-busters business as Dubrovnik citizens buy flowers to remember their dead on All Saint’s Day.
As we enter the port, we spot a restaurant where crowds of people are sitting in the sun, the Konoba Locanda Peskarija, eating cauldrons of mussels, big huge pots of mussels steamed in a simple wine broth, just the way we love them. We find a seat; we already know what we will order. As we wait, a wedding party arrives to have their photos taken in the port.
A beautiful Dubrovnik salad to share:
And a heaping cauldron of mussels, so many mussels we couldn’t eat the all! It was served with a basket of wonderful crusty bread to sop up the wine broth.
We couldn’t be happier.
As we leave, we run into our friends from the ship at the restaurant next door; they have made an art purchase they are celebrating. We always have great chats with this couple.
We wander around a little longer, avoiding, as much as possible, the beautiful wide street down the center of old Dubrovnik until the very end:
We head to the old gate once more, and just outside the gate is a shuttle, waiting to take us back to the Viking Sea. It doesn’t get any easier.
Tonight we have dinner in the World Cafe. We have discovered that the food is the same as in the restaurant, but here we can deal directly with the chef and servers, and have exactly what we want in the small quantities we prefer. We have found a very quiet table, no one seated in our laps, and we can have our own quiet and private conversations, dine at our own pace; this isn’t what we thought we would prefer when planning our trip, but it seems to suit us well.
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:
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.
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.
Along a side canal, we find a boat building shop, with workers putting together new gondolas:
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:
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.
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.
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.
Real time shot of thunderstorm right now over Pensacola. Does anyone else see a head and face “eating” Pensacola?
Summer is hard for me in Pensacola. We keep busy; I do my water aerobics and two days a week now, I am taking little grand daughter to her swim lessons. Occasionally, we get a day with lower humidity, or a day with deep dark clouds and thunder, and dramatic lightning, and the temperatures will cool some, for a while.
It is hot. Thank God for air conditioning, but it is hot when we wake up and last night it didn’t even get into the seventies (F). It is just the summer weather pattern.
But this morning, as I was putting up my greetings to all my Moslem friends in Jordan, in Qatar, in Kuwait and around the world, I remembered just how hot the summers were in Kuwait:
Not even a chance of clouds or rain to break the heat!
And then I think of my growing up in Alaska, where 70 degrees (F) was a heat wave:
I’m feeling cooler just looking at those temperatures 🙂
This morning, as I checked Weather Underground, I could see that the summer weather pattern is setting in. Today it isn’t so bad. As long as we have northerly winds, it isn’t so humid.
We are enjoying perfect weather, not a given when you are in the Pacific Northwest, and not a given on any coastline or any vacation. The mornings may dawn a little grey and foggy, but it all burns off – this week, anyway – and we are having wonderful afternoons.
I don’t even bother trying to shoot whale any more. I have one photo of a marvelous whale tale from our first trip back to Alaska and this time the boat was rocking and rolling and mostly all we would see were backs breaching and spouts. Do you really want to see the place where two seconds ago there was a whale? Hmmm, no, I didn’t think so 🙂
In calmer waters, we also saw otter, seal, sea lions and lots of birds.
The next day, on the bear watch, we also took lots of photos, and I won’t show you all of them because again, as the boat rolls, that perfect shot of the mother bear and the baby bear walking down the beach cuts off the mother bear’s snout, and the next one, the mother shows up fine but the baby is indistinguishable from the shadow in which he is playing . . . or the bear on the beach, you know 40 photos of the bear’s backside as he sucks a clam for one good photo of the bear (without his legs cut off). Wildlife photographers make their money by spending hours, days and months to get those calendar shots, and then being in just the right place at just the right time.
And it is so much fun just to go watch, and to try to get those good shots 🙂
Do you see the little bear? He’s over to the left, in the grass; Mama Bear is looking at him.
Now you get to see him! (And Mama’s nose is cut off, dammit!)
He’s digging and eating clams. He is in heaven, full belly, lots of clams.
Seeing an eagle; good luck!
I think I may have mentioned that occasionally I am a little OCD. In our family, I am the trip planner. I get an idea, I run things by AdventureMan, he gets a veto even if I make a strong recommendation. He also does research, and asks to have things added in. That’s how we ended up doing two separate trips to Alaska; we realized with all our good idea, we couldn’t do them all in one trip.
This time, our trip was centered on two things, Mother’s Day in Seattle and three days at Ucluelet, during which we would whale watch and bear watch. We booked our reservations, months in advance. The night we left Qualicum Beach, we got a nice e-mail from our guide, with devastating news – he had a severe injury and would not be able to take us on either tour.
AdventureMan and I looked at each other in horror. “What are you going to do??” AdventureMan asked, and we are in a bad position because our phones don’t work reliably. “He recommended another agency,” I said, “I will e-mail them now and see if we can get on with them.” It’s still early in the season. There is hope. I e-mail them telling them what we wanted, and that we are flexible as to which one we do first, and as to morning or afternoon.
Before we left to drive across the mountains, I checked my e-mail. No response. The drive was quicker that I thought, and we arrived too early to check in, so we decided to drive to Tofino, about 30 minutes away, and see if anything is possible.
I took some mountain photos for you on our drive from Qualicum Beach to Tofino.
We go straight to Meare’s Landing, where Remote Passages organizes and sends out expeditions to see whale, to see bear, to kayak, to see remote hot springs.
We are in luck! They have already tentatively booked us on our desired trips, we just need to pay and be read in on the safety instructions. We ask them their favorite places to eat, and they say “Sea Shanty in Tofino.” Then we ask if they have been to Ucluelet, and their eyes go all big and shiny and they say “Go to Zoe’s! We love Zoe’s!”
So we walked to the Sea Shanty, where an amazing waitress, Brianna, took care of us. You may think that I exaggerate when I say she is amazing, but Brianna was really good at making customers happy AND she boats to work from the island where she lives. We were so impressed, because while we have had wonderful weather, we know wonderful is not how weather always is, and in a boat you are exposed to weather, and to weather related sea changes. She didn’t seem in the least bit proud, she just took her bravery as something normal. Wow.
This is the view of the Sea Shanty from the sea.
This is an interior wall at the Sea Shanty.
This is the fabulous Pacific Northwest Bouillabaisse Brianna brought us, divided into two bowls. It had Alaska crab, local clams and mussels, local salmon and fish. It was lacedd with saffron threads, the way a truly good Bouillabaisse should be. It was purely awesome, and accompanied by a Shanty salad, also huge, also divided for two. Even divided, we waddled out of the Sea Shanty, convinced it is one of the best meals we have had on our trip.
We did save a little room, though, for Zoe’s, a bakery in Ucluelet. We had INTENDED to buy croissants for breakfast the next morning, but there were none. We ended up buying cookies and pie. The next day we ended up buying more cookies and more pie. The third day, we went in early for breakfast before a hike. Zoe’s has magic. The crusts are really light and flaky. The berry pie was full of berries; I don’t know what they were held together with, but the pie was almost entirely berries. The gingerbread cookie was chewy, and gingery. AdventureMan’s chocolate-caramel-something else bar (twice) was so rich that you had to nibble at it through the evening, it was too rich to eat all at once. Oh my. Go to Zoe’s.
My friend exclaimed as we left church on our way to breakfast with our husbands. “I have never seen you wearing a coat!”
Well, actually, I remember maybe four years ago on Christmas wearing a coat, but hey, this is Pensacola, and for the most part, it just isn’t cold enough for me to wear a coat. I have some nice sweatshirts with hoodies that get me through the post-water-aerobics chill, and that is usually enough.
Yesterday morning, however, was coat weather. This morning is even colder, but since I can wear jeans and a heavy sweatshirt, I won’t need the coat. It’s 28 degrees (F)
Poor AdventureMan, I’ve whined and complained through the unusual heat of November and December, when I usually get really happy. Fortunately, we had one good cold snap in October, and I got my Christmas shopping done, and another very short cool time early in December, so I could get the house decorated. If it’s hot and humid, it’s just really hard for me to get motivated. I also hate having to use the air conditioning in December; “it’s just not right!”
AdventureMan laughs and tells me that in the South, you crank the air conditioning up so you can build a big fire in your fireplace. It’s true! Especially on Thanksgiving and Christmas, you can walk the neighborhood and smell the lovely smell of firewood, but it’s a little jarring when the temperatures are close to the eighties (F).
This week has been cold. It’s been wonderful; I can wear my Levis, I can wear a sweater, I can wear silk scarves – all things that can make you sweat at any temperature above 70 (F)
But today, it is a little warmer, maybe hitting 70, and we have a huge storm moving in, which hopefully will expend itself and move on, clearing up and cooling off for the big Mardi Gras parades starting today. AdventueMan is starting his day with a bowl of hot cereal. “It’s down in the 60’s (F) you know” he says, and I grin.