Friday, July 17, 2009

2009-06-20 Italy Trip - Venice

View Messina to Venice Italy in a larger map
Google maps doesn't do oceans...

I woke up at about 2:30 to use the bathroom and Stephanie informed me that her head was splitting with a headache. I gave her some Advil and Karen said she had the headache all day and that Stephanie was too stubborn to take anything for it. Unfortunately this is pretty typical since Stephanie hates taking medication. Luckily, it was gone by the time we got up.

I woke up at 5:20 and couldn’t sleep so I went to take a shower and realized the ship was listing hard to port. After showering I went up on deck nine (the sheltered deck) and it was mayhem. Deck chairs were leaping off the floor and sailing through the air at (literally) breakneck speeds. A small smattering of rain was falling(?) sideways and crew members were frantically chasing down the errant chairs. One poor guy was chasing his long-handled dustpan for a few moments. Looking out at the angry Adriatic it was as grey as the sky and full of white caps. My first thoughts were of Karen since she doesn’t do rough seas well and we had booked a tour of Venice on a small shuttle boat with a gondola ride as part of the package.

During the next fifteen minutes the weather calmed a bit and we made our way inside the seawall into the Venetian Lagoon. We cruised right up one of the main channels and eventually docked inside the city. During the time we were traveling inside the lagoon, I was busy on first the port and then the starboard side snapping pictures and videos. It was unbelievable! Even with the gray, threatening skies.

After about forty minutes of snap-happy picture taking I joined the family in the Windjammer Café for a buffet breakfast. Some nice tidbits followed by some oatmeal with brown sugar and walnuts and a second cup of tea. Ah, the life! I was the last one at table and struck up a conversation with a man from Manchester England. Nice guy.

Justin had strawberry pancakes. Somewhere in the jungle a monkey danced.

We boarded our tour boat and the wind and white caps were still going strong, even in the lagoon. I didn’t want to sit in the cramped cabin so I climbed the stairs to sit on top in the open. It was windy and little bit chilly, but it was wide open and gave me great views to photograph. Our tour guides, Monica and Adrianna commenced to tell us about the area and we headed to the island of San Giorgio Maggiore to see the church there. This church was designed in 16th century by the architect Andrea Palladio. “It is a superb example of neo-classical design and a masterpiece of ecclesiastic architecture. Perfectly proportioned, the exterior is made of red brick and white marble. The interior, simply decorated, houses two of Tintoretto’s most important pieces: ‘The Last Supper’ and ‘The Gathering of Manna’”. (Taken from the Royal Caribbean tour book.) It was a great church. The marble mosaics on the floor all had 3D optical illusions, the Tintoretto paintings were phenomenal (he painted ‘The Last Supper’ at age 92 and it was the largest and last canvas he did). The monk’s choir seats behind the altar were amazing as well –ornately carved with cherubim and seraphim in dark wood.

We set out again (all too soon) to the island of Murano to tour one of the forty-eight glassworks on the island. We visited the Marco Polo Fornace where two masters demonstrated making beer glasses for us. It was quite impressive and they made it look so easy. It reminded me of pottery since they also spin their media, just horizontally.

After the demonstration, we went upstairs to the showroom and were told not to pay attention to the marked prices since they were retail and we could get a better deal from the employees circulating through the rooms. Karen spotted a beautiful horse that turned out to be more than $10,000.00 The employee we asked about it led us into another room with smaller horses that were (only) $1800.00. I was pleased that Karen was actually contemplating purchasing one of the smaller horses since she never buys anything substantial for herself, especially for the sheer joy of owning it.

She ended up not buying the horse, but picked up some glass jewelry instead in the shop downstairs.

Next it was across the canal and down to our gondola ride. There was some talk of canceling the ride since the gondoliers said it was too windy earlier in the morning, but by 12:30, it was a go.

We could only put six in a gondola at a time, so Karen, Eva, Audrey, Stephanie, Meredith, and I got in one and Scott, Pop-pop, Justin, and Ryan got in another. Our boat listed to the starboard side (do you see a trend here?) and when we first got out into the main channel of the Grand Canal, we sideswiped a tour boat. I was videoing the action from the bow and since I was sitting backwards didn’t realize how close we were until we actually hit the boat. It’s on video, but a bit jumpy. Once we got into a side canal, things got much smoother. I was amazed at the way the gondolier used his whole body to pilot the boat. He uses his long oar, kicked off bridges and buildings with his feet, and ducked under some of the lower bridges. He made it look easy, but it was some hard work, especially with a cigarette. BTW, it seems like almost EVERYONE in Italy smokes. I guess they haven’t heard that it’s bad for you yet, eh?

When we got back on land, we broke off from the tour which was heading back to the ship and made our way towards St. Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco). Adrianna said to head toward the Accademia Bridge. There are a lot of small restaurants there for lunch. She told us to cross the Accademia bridge and then turn right and come all the way back up that side of the Grand Canal to St. Mark’s. Once in the square, we should face the waterfront and go left over three bridges to get to the place to catch the shuttle back to the ship. More on that later…

We went to the Accademia bridge and ate at a café right at the foot of the bridge. We had Napoli style Pizza Margherita (cheese and sauce) and mineral water (naturale, no frizzante) or Coke by preference. The food was good, but it was pricey and we decided we are more fans of American pizza. During lunch I had the time to stop and reflect with Karen that we were sitting in an outdoor café in the heart of Venice eating pizza. It washed over me like an epiphany. I thanked her for dragging me out of my small life in Charlotte and making me see some of the world. Let’s face it, without her making it happen I would never leave a ten-mile radius. Sad, eh? Just looking through the 300-400 pictures I took today as I copied them to my laptop made me misty-eyed again thinking about the amazing things we had experienced so far. Life is indeed sweet and way too short. Thank God for Karen. She is the best thing that ever happened to me in SO many ways.

Back to Venice. We crossed the Accademia bridge, turned right and walked for what seemed like forever through narrow passages, wide piazzas, and lots of bridges. We were worried about the bridges with their many steps since Pop-pop is forced to use a walker and he needs help on the stairs. We were worried about tiring him out and he is always worried about being a burden which he never is. Karen stopped in a shop on the way to St. Mark’s and picked out a nice glass clock with many colors in it to hang in the kitchen. We asked the shopkeeper if we were close to St. Mark’s and he walked to the front door of the shop where he pointed up to the bell tower standing above the next buildings. He told us to go through the arches he was pointing at and we would be in the square (at last!).

Before I get to St. Mark’s, let me point out (depressingly) that very close to St. Mark’s Square we passed a Hard Rock Café and a Burger King. A BURGER KING. We (Americans) are truly polluting the world (culture).

St. Mark’s was everything I had hoped for and more. The only daunting part was the huge stage being erected at the end away from the basilica for some upcoming show and the construction fencing around the bell tower. It looked like they were fixing the paving stones around the bell tower. The square itself, is huge and the buildings are very ornate. Most of the side facades are black from the pigeons and the pollution, but the exterior of the basilica is in the process of being cleaned and renovated. Quite amazing inside and out. I was a bit annoyed there was no photography of any kind inside the basilica, but I was a good boy and kept the lens cap on my camera. I may have to purchase a book of pictures.

We stood for a while in the square and hand-fed the pigeons with them alighting on our hands to eat the crumbs we held out for them. That was fun.

When it was time to go we faced the waterfront and headed left. We counted three bridges we had to cross to the shuttle. Remember the shuttle? We could not find the shuttle landing anywhere. I even scouted out crossing a fourth bridge to no avail. Karen found the shuttle between the second and third bridge, so it was only TWO bridges that we needed to cross. I apologized to everyone, but Adrianna DID say THREE bridges. Oh well, on the shuttle and back to the ship.

We ran to dinner at 18:30 and I had the Mediterranean Pie (spinach, tomato, and feta), the Steak Diane, and the berry cobbler. Stuffed. Meredith had the linguine with Marinara and the world tilted off its axis once more. Tolga, the head waiter from Turkey left us with a toothpick puzzle. Start with four squares and move two toothpicks to make three equal squares. None of us could figure out the secret.

Tonight they showed “Paul Blart, Mall Cop” in the lounge. The kids and I had rented it and found it to be pretty stupid, but we went down there anyway to spend some time relaxing. About a half hour into it several of us were nodding off, so I excused myself and went to the computer lounge to catch up a bit. I also looked up solutions to the toothpick puzzle Tolga had given us.

When I came back to the room at ~22:50, everyone was getting ready for bed. Meredith’s bunk is attached to the wall between our room and Scott’s and Ryan’s bunk is on the same wall. We recently found out if they toss and turn it bounces the other bunk around. By pushing on Meredith’s bunk, I can watch the wall move 3-4 inches so we had some fun with it tonight. I would give it a shove and we would hear Ryan exclaim, “Whoa!” from the other side. It gave everyone a case of the giggles for a few minutes. It’s always nice to have a family yuckfest.

I have spent way more time updating this than I had planned so I am going to bed at 1:00.

Venice! From a gondola.

Uncle Scott and the boys.


Pizza break at the Accademia Bridge.

The eating of the pizza.

The best gelato in Italy.

Ask them!

St. Mark's Square.

St. Mark's Basilica.

The rest of the pictures are here and here. I had to break them into two parts.

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