Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Making Our Way Home

Happy Election Day – I hope everyone will get out there and vote. Thomas and I did early voting because we knew we would be traveling all day and wouldn’t get home in time to vote today.

Make Sure You Vote Too!
It was another early morning, I mean very early. We were up at 4:15am (that is Italy time), back home in Santa Fe it was 8:15pm on Monday, November 5. We were dressed and had everything packed and our bags out in the hall by 5:15am. We went down to the restaurant for breakfast at 5:30am where we had pastries, juice and coffee. By 6:00am we were all on the bus and we started our drive to Malpensa airport in Milan. We said goodbye to Christopher and most of the group and our letterboxing group made our way to our check in area. We got our boarding passes and checked in our bags then we headed for security. We had our passports and boarding passes checked and then we went through security. We only had to empty our pockets and put our carry-ons through the xray. No taking off shoes and belts, no taking out laptops and the security officers were so pleasant – such a nice experience, nothing like being treated like a criminal in my own country where we had to go through security again taking off shoes, belts and emptying pockets and putting computers in bins. I just love living in a country full of paranoia. Anyway, I digress. Getting through security in Italy was so easy and quick. We then made our way to our gate and then did a little shopping to get rid of the last €15 we had. We bought water and snacks for the flight and then had coffee

Malpensa Airport
Our flight was on time with boarding but we pulled away from the gate and we ended up being delayed about 45 minutes. Finally we took off and began our flight home. We watched Men in Black 3 and they brought us some snacks – we had cheese crackers and a sprite. Then a little later we had some lunch. It was spaghetti with chicken, salad, crackers, cheese, bread and cookies. After we finished eating and the movie was over Thomas read and I did some blogging until the computer’s battery got to low to continue. So I put the computer away and read a little until the next movie came on. That movie was Man on a Ledge. I actually really liked this movie, it had a lot of twists and turns. When the movie finished I looked at my watch and realized that we still had about two and a half hours left to the flight. Then with about an hour left they served us a small four cheese pizza and a cookie. And then I had some coffee because I was having a lot of trouble staying awake and we still had more flights to make. Thomas and I were both restless and bored and the flight just seemed to go on forever and on top of that my allergies had gotten really bad. I took some allergy meds and that helped a little. Finally we landed at JFK around 1:30pm. 

On Our Way Home
We had to go through customs and security again and this time it was a lot more of a problem than when we left Italy. Anyway, about an hour later we were at our next gate but we still had a few hours to wait for our next flight. So we went to the SoHo Bistro and we split a burger and fries. Then we returned to our gate and waited. We boarded the plane at 4:15pm but we didn’t take off until 5:00pm. I began worrying about our connection at DFW. We tried to sleep but the plane was just too damned hot and we just ended up restless for the entire flight – I guess we were just ready to be home. The flight lasted a little over three hours and we landed at 7:30pm but it took almost 20 minutes to get off the plane. Luckily our connecting gate was only seven gates away so we walked extremely fast and were almost last to board. We got settled in our seats and covered ourselves with our coats to try and keep warm. As hot as the last flight was this one was cold. But I didn’t care, we were on the last leg of our trip home and I just put my head against the back of the seat and tried to sleep. An hour and a half later we were landing in Albuquerque. We collected our bags around 8:30pm walked out and caught the shuttle to the parking area. Once in the car we didn’t stop until we arrived at the house. The dogs greeted us and we took the bags into the house. After showering I looked at the clock and it was 11:00pm in Santa Fe. So that meant we have been up for over 26 hours. Time for bed and hopefully we will wake up tomorrow feeling rested and ready to get back to our normal routine.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Spending the Day on Lake Como

Morning View from Our Hotel Room

When I woke up today the first thing I did was look out the window. It was pretty cloudy still but there was no rain. The view from our room looked out to the lake and the mountains beyond. I could see the lake and the mountains but there were clouds at the top. There was a spot of blue peeking out from the clouds so I was hopeful that we would have a nice day. This was early in the morning, around 6:30am. Thomas and I dressed and then went down to breakfast. They had a very nice buffet set out with eggs, bacon, a large variety of breads and pastries, fruit, cereal, yogurt and juices. We ate and visited with a few people and then returned to the room to get our things ready for the day. 

View from Lake Como
We met the group in the lobby around 9:30am and we all walked over to the lake so we could get a group photo. We got arranged and had the staff from the boat take the picture. Then we all got on the boat for our ride to Bellagio. The views from the water were incredible and we even got to see the house that George Clooney owns on the lake and the Alps. We arrived in Bellagio and had about an hour and a half to walk around. Thomas and I grabbed a map at the tourist information office and headed up the road. We walked a short distance and then took a left turn and walked to punta spartivento which is an overlook where you can see the three legs of the lake. We took some pictures and enjoyed the views of the lake and the Alps beyond. We returned to the main road and walked into town and looked around. When our time was up we returned to the boat for the ride back to the hotel. The boat ride back was faster and Thomas and I returned to our room to get things packed for our flight home tomorrow. After getting our luggage organized we relaxed and read until it was time for dinner. At 7:30pm we went to the lobby and met the group for the walk to the restaurant. Tonight we had tuna and cabbage for an appetizer, pennette with bolognese and then grilled chicken. For dessert Thomas had nougat parfait and I had a fig tart. It was a nice meal to end the trip. We ended dinner and returned to the room to do last minute things. We were in bed by 9:45pm because tomorrow will be a very early and a very long day. Our trip to Italy has been wonderful.

Afternoon View from Our Hotel Room

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Visiting Verona and a Long Day of Driving in the Rain

Our day today started at 6:30am with a wake up call. We showered and got dressed and then put our bags out in the hall so the porters could load them on the bus. Today we drive to Verona and then on to Lake Como. Thomas went down for some breakfast and I stayed in the room and did a little blogging. After eating Thomas returned to the room with some coffee for me and we just relaxed in the room until it was time to meet in the lobby with the group. By 8:30am we were all on the bus and on our way to Verona – in the pouring rain. After about an hour of a pretty boring drive we stopped at a rest area for the bathroom and some snacks. It was a quick stop and then we were back on the bus for the last part of the drive to Verona. During the entire drive it rained and we really couldn’t see very far to enjoy any views. Thomas and I both read most of the time on the bus.

Entering Verona
When we got to Verona the bus driver pulled over and we waited for our tour guide to show up. When she arrived she joined us on the bus so that we could take a short driving tour of Verona before we started our walking tour. Our tour guide today was Maria-Pia. She gave us a brief history of Verona and showed us some of the landmarks of the city. Then the bus was parked and we all went on a walking tour of the historic area. We did this in the rain so that all you could see was a line of people walking with umbrellas. We saw the Ponte Pietra that crosses the Adige, the Tombs of the Scaligeri (and near to here we saw the supposed house of the Montague’s), Casa di Giulietta (again supposedly), Piazzadei Signori (where there was an outdoor market) and Piazza Erbe (with a grand fountain and apparently Madonna has an apartment that overlooks the square) and then we walked down Via Mazzini (a street full of shops) to the Arena and Piazza Bra. Our tour ended here and the group all went separate ways. Thomas and I walked down the street to listen to a band playing under an archway of a building. The band is called Fanfara Bersaglieri di Bedizzole. They are a brass band and we enjoyed listening to them. We continued walking a little ways to a restaurant called Ristorante Ippopotamo. Once we were seated at our table we started looking over the menu – we decided that it reminded us of TGIFriday’s. We ordered sandwiches – Thomas had turkey and I had a caprese. After eating we walked back up Via Mazzini to Piazza dei Signori. I wanted to go back to the market and get some olives. We had seen a stand with some beautiful and fragrant olives earlier and I kept it in the back of my mind to return later and get a few. Once I had my olives we walked to Piazza Erbe  and I took some pictures then we shopped for postcards.
Olives at the Market
We still had some time to kill so we walked some back streets and returned to the Arena. Since it was the first Sunday of the month all museums and attractions were only €1. So we decided to go into the Arena. Thomas stayed at the bottom and I climbed up to the top to get some wonderful views of the city and the Arena. After taking pictures I went back down to meet Thomas and then we walked over to the Cosi Bar to have a coffee and gelati before meeting the group to walk back to the bus. So then we took the short walk in the rain back to the bus to continue on to Lake Como. 

The drive to Lake Como took about three hours in the rain. It was a boring drive and was made longer by lots of traffic. We made one stop for a bathroom break but other than that it was just sitting on a bus. I did a little blogging and some reading while Thomas read in between naps. It was about 7:00pm when we arrived at the hotel – Grand Hotel Imperiale in Moltrasio. We then got checked in and settled in our room. At 7:45pm we met in the lobby and walked across the street to the hotel’s restaurant. This restaurant overlooks the lake but we were unable to see it because it was dark and rainy.

Dinner was wonderful, especially in comparison with the meal we had in Venice two nights ago. At this hotel we had some choices for dinner. They served us an appetizer of meat and cheese. Then we first had gnocchetti with tomato and basil and then I had grilled swordfish and Thomas had Warm Tomino cheese with salad. For dessert I had gelato misto and Thomas had pumpkin cake. We also had a bottle of wine – Ferghettina Curtefranca from the Lombardy area, which we are in now. After dinner we showered and relaxed in the room. Thomas read and I blogged. Overall it was a nice day but we could have done with a little less rain. Tomorrow we take a boat ride to Bellagio and spend the afternoon in Moltrasio. They tell us the rain is suppose to stop and it will be sunny, hopefully that is the case.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

A City Built on Water

The day started at 6:30am when we got our wake up call. We got things ready for the day and then Thomas went down for breakfast and I stayed in the room doing some research for a few things I wanted to make sure to do today.

Venice Waking Up
Then we met the group in the lobby and we all walked to the train station. We validated our tickets (the ones Christopher had already purchased for us) and then boarded a train. It was a quick ride from Mestre to Venice and we all got off the train and gathered outside the station so that Christopher could let us know the plans. We took a leisurely walk from the Ferrovia to the Rialto Bridge. It was a nice early morning walk. We got to see the locals setting up their market stands and opening their shops. The smells in the air were pungent. Bread and pastries baking, breakfast being cooked, coffee and fish permeated the air everywhere. Once we reached the bridge Christopher gave us a little break to go to the bathroom and then go to the bridge for some wonderful views.
View from our Gondola

Then our walk continued onto St. Mark’s Square. We arrived there and found our way to the gondolas. This morning we were scheduled for a ride in the canals. Thomas and I rode with Mark, Sue, Dave and Deanne. It was a pleasant thirty minute ride through the canals of Venice – I found it to be quiet and peaceful and we got to see a whole other side of the city. When the ride was done some of the group were going on a tour to see a glass blowing factory. We opted out of that and we headed off on our own. The Castello sestiere of Venice is where we headed. We had some plans to do some letterboxing and you can read about that at Letterboxing in a Maze. But we also looked in some shops and just enjoyed wandering. We found plenty of back streets and little courtyards. For lunch we stopped at a small little place called Osteria Al Pozzo Roverso and we shared a prosciutto pizza and some spaghetti with meat sauce. After a nice relaxing lunch we started our wanderings again. Along the way out of the Castello we planted a letterbox and then headed back to St. Mark’s and then back to the Rialto Bridge. It was the same here as in the Castello – we wandered back streets, did a little shopping and even found a letterbox.
Window Shopping

From the bridge we walked to Campo San Polo and then continued to the Dorsoduro sestiere headed to San Trovaso. Again we were in this area to hide a letterbox and to just wander. The area seemed to be more run down and a lot quieter than most of the places we had been today. We spent a little time here and looked for the boatyard where they make and repair gondolas. The place is closed to the public but we thought we might be able to see something from over the canal. We think we found the building but it was all closed up. After we hid the letterbox we continued our exploration of Venice.

From San Trovaso we wandered along the streets and eventually arrived near the Accademia. We did a little shopping for postcards and then crossed the Grand Canal into the western part of the San Marco sestiere. We ended up in Campo San Samuel near the Palazzo Grassi. We debated taking the water bus up the Grand Canal to the Ferrovia but in the end decided to walk as we were enjoying navigating the streets. We backtracked to the Accademia to cross the Grand Canal (it was here or at the Rialto). Then we started following signs for the Ferrovia (sometimes they were there and sometimes they weren’t and we just made our own way). We stopped to look into shops and to explore little alleyways along the way. We also decided not to sit and have dinner so we stopped into a pastry shop and bought some snacks for the hotel room. Eventually we made our way to the Ferrovia and checked the monitor. We found a train leaving in about 10 minutes on track 11. So we validated our tickets and boarded the train. Thankfully we paid attention to Christopher and we didn’t get off the train when it stopped at the small station. Our stop was the next one and we got off the train and started our way to the hotel. We got sidetracked a little because we could see a lighted fountain up the street a little ways. So we decided to walk to the fountain. It was a pleasant evening for a little walk and it wasn’t that far. I took a couple of pictures and then we made our way to the hotel. It was 6:00pm when we got into the room and the first thing we did was shower. Then we had some snacks and I did some blogging. We had a great day in Venice and I wish we were here longer because there are so many little areas I would have liked to explore. But alas, we leave tomorrow headed to Lake Como, which means our trip will come to an end in just a couple of days.
Fountain in Mestre

Friday, November 2, 2012

Making Our Way to Venice

Up at 5:30am, luggage outside of room by 6:15am, down in the lobby for breakfast at 6:30am and on the bus at 7:15am. All this so that we could drive to Florence and catch the train to Venice. We are taking the train instead of driving because it is quicker. So we had a nice quiet drive to Florence and Christopher gave us instructions about getting on the train. We arrived at the train station and bid Mimo (our bus driver) farewell. We only had our carry on luggage – all of our other luggage was being brought to the hotel in Venice by truck. We made good time getting to Florence and we arrived at 8:15am and our train wasn’t until 9:30. So Christopher gave us 30 minutes to get coffee and walk around. Then we all gathered at a decided meeting spot and made our way to the train at 9:15am and Christopher got us all settled in our seats. The train left exactly as scheduled at 9:30am. I did a little blogging and reading and Thomas read. It was a great trip. The train was very comfortable and it was a smooth ride to Venice. We had lots of room in the seats. And before we knew it we had arrived at the Ferrovia (that is the train station) in Venice 

Venice, Italy
We gathered outside in front of the train station by the Grand Canal and Christopher told us what we were doing for the rest of the day. We then walked a little ways away and got on a private water taxi for the group. We couldn’t go down the Grand Canal so we had to go through some back canals and then around the Dorsoduro sestieri and we eventually docked a little ways down from Piazza San Marco. From the water taxi we walked to the piazza. Christopher gave us until 2:30pm to do what we wanted. Thomas and I walked with Frank and Susie and ended up at La Bricola for lunch. Thomas and I split a prosciutto pizza and lasagna (both were good). We had a nice visit with Frank and Susie and then we left do some walking and to look for a letterbox. So we walked back to Piazza San Marco and then over to the Giardinetti Reali. We spent a little time letterboxing here and you can read about that at Letterboxing along the Grand Canal on my other blog – The Lion’s Game.

St. Mark's Lion
Now it was time to meet our tour guide for the day. So we walked back to the piazza and met up with Christopher and the group. Our tour guide was Pietro and we started with a talk in front of the Doge’s Palace. He talked about the history of Venice and he talked about all the buildings around the piazza – the Doge’s Palace, St. Mark’s Basilica, the Campanile, Procuratie Vecchie, the Correr, the National Library and the Museum of Archaeology.. He also talked about the columns near the Grand Canal and the Café Florian. We ended up leaving the piazza near the Correr Museum and walked some of the back streets. We stopped at the opera house – La Fenice. He gave us some more history pointing out lots of little things as we walked. Eventually we made our way back to St. Mark’s. He was going to take us for a walk through of the Basilica but Thomas and I and a few others decided to stay outside. The line was long and it was too crowded so we decided to skip it. When the group returned we walked back to the Doge’s Palace where we ended our tour. After the tour we had about an hour to ourselves before we took the water taxi back to Ferrovia. So Thomas and I just walked along the Grand Canal looking shops and then went to the meeting spot and relaxed until the rest of the group showed up. We took the water taxi back to the train station and here we got a lesson on using the local train to get to and from our hotel on the mainland to the island. Here is how it works. You check the monitors for a train that is regional (marked with an ‘R’ or ‘REG’) and you look at the times and track numbers. When you find a train with a time you can make you get your ticket and validate it (put it into a machine so that the time is marked). Then you make your way to the track and board the train. From the island there could possibly be one stop before the stop we needed for our hotel. Christopher instructed us to look for a small stop with only about four tracks and not to get off at that one. Our stop is a much larger one with lots of tracks. So he took us through the motions and got us on a train and then off at the right stop. He then showed us where to exit the station and the route to walk to our hotel. 

Venice Sunset
 We arrived at our hotel – Hotel LuganoTorretta lo9cated in Mestre in the dark. We got checked in and settled in our room. We had a little time to clean up before dinner and then it was down to the restaurant at 7:30pm for the worst dinner of the trip so far. First of all the service was really slow and second the wait staff were just plain rude. They served us some spiral pasta with olive oil (this was just okay), then we had some cooked, mushy vegetables  and then an assorted fried fish plate (calamari, shrimp and some little guppy looking fish with the heads still on). I tried a few bites (but not the ones with the heads) and pushed the plates away. It was terrible – the calamari was like chewing rubber and the things they called shrimp didn’t taste like shrimp. Thomas and I decided to leave dinner early even before dessert was served.

Back in our room we showered and relaxed. I got some blogging done and Thomas read. I think we are both looking forward to our partial free day in Venice tomorrow.