Oct 18, 2014

Travel day: Firenze to Lucca

Yesterday on our last day in Firenze, we attempted both the Accademia and the Uffizi.  We took it easy in the morning, anticipating a busy afternoon, and it was.

1.  Museums:  I don't know how long it would take you to visit all the museums in Florence -- a year, probably, if you include all the palazzos.  We had tickets to the Accademia for 1:30, so we walked up there, had lunch nearby, and presented ourselves with the voucher for the tickets.  That let us right in without standing in line for one minute.  We spent a while looking at the pictures, then went into the area where the David is, and stayed there for quite a while.  It's hard to describe the feeling of being in his presence -- even with a bazillion people milling around, it's still a very moving experience.  It's much bigger than you think (or I thought, anyway) -- I don't know how many times the size of a man.  That museum is small but very nice and doable in an hour or two.   It has a wonderful sculpture room, with not real sculptures but plaster casts, which are also very beautiful.


2.  Then we took a taxi to the Uffizi (getting a grand tour of the city from the taxi driver), and here's where I want to say something about Italian people.  Before we got to the Uffizi, I realized that we had a big problem -- I had had two sets of vouchers, one for each museum, and the people at the Accademia had taken the voucher for the Uffizi, so we didn't have the right voucher to get our tickets.  I fretted about this until we got to the ticket window, thinking that we'd have to either 1) spend another 30 euros for a second set of tickets, or 2) give up and lose the 30 we'd already spent.  The lady at the ticket window looked stern, but I explained the situation, and not only did she give us tickets, but another woman walked us over to the entrance to explain the unusual situation, and we got right in.  This has happened a number of times, like the couple who walked us to the restaurant in Ferrara.  If you are polite, they can be so kind and helpful.  If you're not -- well, there was the young man in front of us in a train ticket line who was arguing with the lady, eliciting not only a "mama mia," but also a "how can you be so stupid!"  I was very, very polite to that lady, for sure!

 Another view.

3.  The Uffizi:  okay, we have to admit it -- we kind of wimped out on the Uffizi.  We saw the Boticellis and the Leonardos and the Bellinis and some other things, but after making the circuit of the top floor, I said I just couldn't do any more -- it was incredibly hot, I had sweat running into my eyes and mouth, it was just too huge and exhausting, and sitting on a bench in the hallway after every room was not really doing the trick. Ed was also worn out before we began -- we'd been in line for the (tiny -- they're all tiny) elevator, and he got tired of waiting and said he'd take the stairs.  Well, they make you start at the top and work your way down, so he had to go up five flights of stairs to get to where I got off the elevator.  We were not happy campers at the Uffizi, I'm afraid, but we did love the pictures we saw.

 A beautiful sculpture, but I don't know of what or by whom.

4.  Trains again:  After our last night in Firenze, we parted ways this morning -- Ed homeward bound, with a layover in Paris overnight, and me on the train to Lucca.  I had another interesting train experience -- I got to the station about 11:30, intending to take the 12:38 local train to Lucca.  There was a crowd milling around near the ticket booths, but no one in line for them.  I finally asked someone who spoke English what was going on, and he said you had to take a number and wait for them to get to your number before you could buy your ticket.   So I got ticket #490, and checked on where they were -- #440.  I waited a few minutes, and after they had made very little progress, I went to another counter where for 2 extra euros you could get a ticket immediately.  Well worth it, because by the time I got up to go to the train, they were almost to my number . . . Then something strange happened on the train.  We were sitting there waiting, had a few minutes until departure, when there was an announcement (in Italian -- nothing related to trains is in English) and suddenly everyone started getting off the train!  I was very perplexed about this, but just as I was thinking I should get off too and getting my stuff together, people started getting back on again.  I found someone who spoke English, and she said they were announcing a 10 minute delay before we left.  Whew.  I got to Lucca just fine, and Alessio (the husband at the B&B) was there to pick me up.  So I am tired but happy in my B&B.

When we were in Ferrara, the wife of a very nice couple we met said something about weren't the mosquitoes in Venice just awful?  I hadn't noticed any mosquitoes; as a matter of fact, we were commenting on how few bugs there were.  Ever since she said that, I have been accumulating one bite after another, until now I am covered with them.  It's all her fault. More tomorrow.

Oct 16, 2014

Random Thoughts on Firenze: Three

So today we went to the Medici Chapel (just amazing) and the Mercato Centrale (the market that sells everything under the sun).  We did a lot of walking and had an exceptionally great dinner.  Tomorrow (our last day here), we're going to attempt both the Accademia and the Uffizi.  We have tickets for specific times, so we should be able to do it.  Cross your fingers --

 Something sitting on the side of a building -- at one time, you deposited alms into the hole at the bottom of the cross.

1.  Under the category of "things we were not expecting":  the weather, most of all.  Although the temperature itself is certainly reasonable, somewhere in the 70s, the humidity is something we are totally not used to.  I packed enough clothes for 10 days, to get me to the painting workshop where I can do a load of laundry, but so far we have sweated through every single thing we brought with us, and it's starting to feel pretty yucky.  I've tried to wash a few items, but they're taking forever to dry.  It also rains from time to time, which is just fine with us because we're so hot!  However, the other side of this is that in the evening, the weather is glorious, not hot, not cool, just perfect.  We have not eaten a single dinner inside a restaurant -- we've eaten outdoors every night, and have not changed tables when any sprinkles began to fall.  It's just wonderful.

A selection of wonderful cheeses at the Mercato Centrale

2.  We didn't think that Italy was going to be threatening to life and limb, but it is.  First, you have the cobblestone streets -- I've googled their history in Florence, and the only thing I can find is that the streets were paved in the 1300's.  Can they be the same stones??  So the cobblestones are bad enough under normal circumstances, full of nooks and crannies and things to trip over, but when it rains -- mama mia!  They are so slippery that I'm sure I must look like a 100 year old nonna, carefully picking my way down the street.  But it's not only that -- the wood floors in our hotel room are so slick, I've slipped in my bare feet!  And it would be funny to see a video of either of us getting in and out of the shower (okay, maybe more horrifying than funny), because both the tub and floors are lethal.  If I get home without breaking a hip or ankle or wrist, it will be a miracle.  And no, I do not wish that I hadn't come!  I could stay here forever.

 An unfinished monument by Michelangelo dedicated to Lorenzo the Magnificent

3.  We also didn't expect things to be as congested as they are at this time of year.  Both Venice and Florence are full of tourists, to the point where just getting around on the narrow sidewalks is difficult.  We tried to go to the Accademia today to see the David, but the line was so long and we didn't want to pay the premium to get "skip the line" tickets.  So tomorrow we will try again, with tickets for a particular entry time.

All roads lead to Il Duomo

So, another amazing day in Italy.  There are so many things to see, anywhere you look.  At dinner tonight, we suddenly noticed a plaque on the building across the street, commemorating the time that Milton lived there between 1638 and 1639.  We're just blown away.

Oct 15, 2014

Random Thoughts on Florence: Two

We had a fairly quiet second day in Florence -- I had slept horribly the night before, so mainly we wandered around Il Duomo and that area, then came home and napped and went out again in the evening.  This seems to work pretty well for us; go out and sightsee for a few hours, then come back for an afternoon siesta, and then go out for dinner.  I don't think we could go full-tilt the whole time.

 The Campanile in the Piazza al Duomo

1.   I've been wanting to write about the entrepreneurial spirit in Italy.  They want to sell you flowers, knock-off purses, little toys, a kind of extension stick you can put your cell phone in to facilitate the taking of selfies, and so on.  When we were first in Venice and it started to rain, suddenly boys appeared, selling umbrellas.  Men come around with roses every time you are eating at an outdoor cafe.  I was surprised that at the bridge with all the padlocks in Venice that someone wasn't selling the locks -- in that case, I surely would have bought one!  There are also African immigrants selling books -- I haven't really looked at them, but they're small, colorful books.  The best thing was after we came out of the concert in Venice -- it was dark outside, and in the Piazza San Marco, vendors were throwing these lit blue objects into the air.  It was a beautiful sight to see, as they floated down to the ground.  We didn't buy one though, because the experience never would be the same, outside our house in Santa Cruz.  But we will remember how beautiful it was.

The view of Il Duomo from our hotel

2.  Florence is kind of overwhelming.  There are a lot of tourists here, and just walking around is a bit of a challenge, especially if you're being vigilant about hanging onto your purse or backpack.  Ed noted that Ferrara is a small town; Venice is something unto itself; but Firenze is a big city, and it's ground zero for tourists.  (Maybe Rome is worse, but this is bad enough for us.)  If you enjoy shopping, you can get every kind of shopping done in Florence.  If you want to see museums and pictures, good luck getting around to all of them.  Because it rains on and off, the getting around can be treacherous, what with the wet cobblestones.  But we're hanging onto each other and managing all right.

A lunchtime serenade

3.  This man serenaded us during our lunch at Il Sasso di Dante.  He was a charming man, but unfortunately his accordion playing wasn't on a par with his charm.  He hit many wrong chords while playing, and mostly played Spanish, not Italian songs.  Still, we gave him a few Euros for effort.

 A beautiful window in Il Duomo

4.   Tomorrow I want to do the Medicis -- their chapels, the Pallazo Medici Riccardi.  I've read a fair amount about them, and would especially like to learn more about "Il Magnifico," Lorenzo di Medici.  And we have to get to the Accademia to see the David.  We won't go home without having seen it!

So, Ciao from Firenze on our second day.  More news tomorrow.

Oct 14, 2014

Random Thoughts on Firenze: One

Today we left Ferrara and came to Florence.  We had to take the train to Bologna and change to the fast train to Florence.  It was an interesting travel day.

1.  Train travel, once again.  We did much better in the Ferrara train station, but of course it's much smaller than Venice.  We had to change trains in Bologna, and that would have been a nightmare but for a very helpful young man who figured out what train we needed to get to and grabbed our bags and started heading for the platform.  Okay, he got 20 Euros from us for about five minutes' work; on the other hand, we would have never gotten to our train without him (we had only 20 minutes and had absolutely no idea of where we were going in a huge station with many levels).  We had premium tickets on the fast train (the only ones we could get) and he took us right to platform 19, car 6.  We decided we liked the slow train better; the fast train is very comfortable but goes pretty much underground.  Every now and then we would pop up from a tunnel and we'd say, hey, there are hills and stuff here, but by that time we'd be underground again.  But here we are in Florence, so we made it.

 A bell tower at a church across the street from our hotel.

2.  We have arrived in Florence, staying at the Hotel Laurus al Duomo -- a very nice hotel, right in the middle of everything.  We have to decide what we'd like to see over the next couple days -- the Uffizi, the Academia, the Pitti Palace -- so many things to see in Florence.

The view of the Duomo from the terrace of our hotel

3.  The weather:  We have really enjoyed the weather in Italy so far.  Coming from the California coast, we're not used to big clouds and rain -- we've been rained on several times, and have greatly enjoyed two storms that have included thunder and lightning.  Tonight we sat on the terrace of our hotel, having wine and pasta, and it began to rain.  We didn't care -- we sat through the sprinkles and enjoyed watching the lightning show behind the Duomo.

The Medici chapel dome from our hotel terrace

So much for today -- a travel day, really, and we were happy to finally arrive in Florence.  It looks beautiful and we are excited about exploring tomorrow.  More random thoughts tomorrow!


Oct 13, 2014

Random Thoughts on Ferrara: Two

Another day in beautiful Ferrara.  If you ever have the opportunity to come here, you should.  It’s a lovely town, very Italian, with many things to see and friendly people.  It has one of the oldest universities in Europe, and both Copernicus and Paracelsus studied there.  Some thoughts from today:

This doesn't look like an American dog, right?

1.  Dogs:  I’ve been wanting to write about dogs since Venice but only today was able to get a couple of pictures to illustrate what I’m talking about.  The Italians love their dogs, and there are plenty of them everywhere you look (including inside restaurants).  The thing about the dogs is . . . they don’t look like American dogs.  I know that sounds strange, but when I mentioned it, Ed immediately understood what I was talking about.  Maybe the breeds are slightly different?  I don’t know, but it has been striking me odd the whole time we’ve been here.  I’m not saying they should look like American dogs; it’s just strange.  The males are often looking for a fight, because none that we can see are neutered.  One of the funniest things we’ve seen was in Venice:  an older man was walking across the Piazza with two bulldog-looking dogs.  We couldn’t figure out why he was holding his arms straight out from his sides as he walked, until we realized that the dogs were trying to fight with each other, and he had to keep them as far apart as he could.   It was a strange way to have to take dogs for a walk!

 And this really doesn't look like an American dog!

2.  Maps and people:  I think that after negotiating Venice, we thought Ferrara would be easy, so we headed out last night without a map to find the restaurant Osteria del Babbuino (baboon).   It appeared to be so simple:  one long block down to Via Spadari, turn left, then turn right on Via Conchi.  Easier said than done.  No street sign to tell us we were at either street;  we did turn correctly onto Via Spadari but Via Conchi was nowhere to be found.  We walked a couple blocks further, then finally asked a couple where the restaurant might be.  They spoke no English, they started arguing about where it was, and the woman was gesturing in the direction of the Duomo, which I knew couldn't be right.  Then another couple with a stroller and a baby stopped, and while they didn't speak English either, they began gesturing in the right direction.  We were trying to get the steps they were telling us, but we must have looked so puzzled that they finally said, okay, we'll take you there.  Follow us.  We protested because it was the opposite direction from where they were going, but they insisted, so we followed them back for several blocks, right to the restaurant.  They were so nice!  And that is what we have found -- Italian people are extremely helpful and friendly.

A view of Via delle Volte

3.   Today we took off to find the truly medieval part of town, the Via delle Volte in particular.  This is the most perfectly preserved medieval street in all of Europe.  It was so interesting, kind of dark and gloomy, with arches over the street at many points.  The street itself was treacherous, full of rounded stones that in a rain storm could be lethal.  We really enjoyed walking a couple of blocks down this street.  I heard a man saying that in the States, we think it's great if a building stands 100 years without falling down; Via delle Volte has been standing since the 1200's.

Another view of the Via delle Volte

4.  Language again:  Many fewer people in Ferrara than in Venice speak English, and that can lead to some misunderstandings.  Our dinner last night, while delicious, was delivered all out of order -- the salad we'd wanted to share came at the same time as my entree, and Ed's entree came later.  We got the check instead of the dessert we'd been hoping for.  And while the dessert we finally got was very good, we have no idea of what it was, because we couldn't understand when he described it for us.  Again, at lunch ordering a sandwich, I was happy I caught the word funghi in what he thought we were ordering, because I don't care for mushrooms, generally.  We're learning, though, and today I learned to say "Ciao, tutti" -- goodbye, everyone -- which I think is rather charming.

 A statue of Savonarola, a native son of Ferrara

I'll leave you with Savonarola for today -- he was a Dominican priest who preached fire and  brimstone about the corruption of the Church, with Pope Alexander VI (Roderigo Borgia) as his main target.  He burned books and destroyed immoral art, along with mirrors, cosmetics, musical instruments and women's hats in what became known as "The Bonfire of the Vanities."  He finally got himself into the leadership position in Florence, in 1494.  By 1497, the Florentines were becoming bored with him and were chafing under his strict leadership, and a group of young men led a revolt that culminated in Savonarola being declared a heretic (by his archenemy, Pope Alexander VI) and burned at the stake.  A powerful but short-lived leader of the Italian people, and the moral of the story is, don't mess around with the Borgias.

Oct 12, 2014

Random Thoughts on Ferrara: One

Sadly, we left Venice yesterday morning to go to Ferrara, a medieval town on the way to Florence.  I had wanted to go to Bologna, but they have many trade fairs there, and when I was making the reservations the hotel rooms were outrageously high, so I guess there was a fair at that time.  I thought Ferrara might be nice to spend a couple of days, and indeed it is.  It's a lovely town, full of history and Italians -- very few Germans or Japanese here; a fair number of tourists, but it seems like mostly Italians that come to Ferrara for a weekend getaway.  Here are some random thoughts -- 

Sitting on the train to Ferrara -- finally!

1.   Regarding train travel:  If you as a couple are anywhere near divorce, don't go into a train station in Italy, especially not in Venice.  Because you are in a strange country where you don't speak the language, you will be at each other's throats in no time.  Nothing is posted in English.  They don't tell you where the ticket office is, and there are no instructions on buying a ticket from a machine.  If you stand in line at a booth that says "Last minute tickets," after 15 minutes when you get to the booth, the (incredibly slow -- we had two people ahead of us) lady tells you it's the wrong line and she can't sell you the ticket.  You miss your first train, but that's okay, right?  There's another one.  You finally find the ticket office and there's a mass of people inside that somehow must be a line, but it has no order; it's just a mass of people.  And the mass doesn't move at all.  But there are easier machines to use here, and you finally get your tickets.  Then you have no idea of where the train is or which train to take -- you finally find some kind of official (honest to god, there was no one to help you) and he tells you to take the train to Bologna (which was not really the one you wanted).  You try to get something to eat in the cafeteria, but give up in frustration when you learn that you have to choose what you want, go pay for it somewhere else, and then get in line to order it.  In the end, you find your train and all is well, but you can see where the triggers lie if you are a troubled couple -- fortunately, we are not and we survived, still speaking to one another and laughing about it now.

The lovely place where we finally had dinner.

2.  Back to food and dining (an obsession, it seems):  What with all the excitement surrounding the train trip, we got to our hotel in Ferrara (Hotel de Prati, very nice) without having eaten since breakfast.  We scanned the reviews and discovered a one-star Michelin place, Il don Giovanni, right around the corner.  We didn't have a reservation, but they also had a wine bar that served the same food as the restaurant, so we thought we'd try that.  Their website said that they were open 11:30 AM to 11:30 PM, which I thought was odd because most places close in between lunch and dinner, but what the heck.  Let's go.  We get there at 5:00 and there are a couple of set tables in the courtyard (the wine bar) but not a soul around and the interior of the restaurant is dark.  Ed read the sign as saying that the wine bar opened at 6:00, so we thought we'd wander around for a bit and come back.  We found a nice little place on the street and sat at an outdoor table to have a glass of wine.  Around 6:00 we headed back to Don Giovanni's.  We sat in the courtyard and there was a guy inside, but it took him forever to tell us 1) he couldn't serve us wine until 6:30 and 2) food service didn't start until 7:30.  But he said at 6:30 he might be able to rustle up some salami and cheese.  So we waited.  And finally had an incredible repast -- cold cuts and parmesan with "not-honey" (he told us it wasn't honey, but we never figured out what it was), fig jam and marmalade.  It was incredibly good.  Then when 7:30 finally rolled around, we had the spaghetti with garlic and olive oil -- that dish you hear about, but can't believe is that good. O.M.G.  It was incredible.

Moral of the story:  In Italy, have a late lunch.  The "early bird special" starts at 7:30.  If you come here from a retirement village in Florida, you will starve.

 Italian dim sum, we thought --

Oh, and remember that 35.50 Euro drink we had in Venice?  This morning in Ferrara we stopped at a little cafe for something to drink, and we ordered a "spritz" and water.  Along with the drinks came a complementary plate of little pastries, including some savory donuts that were odd but good.  The price for this:  4 Euros.  It all balances out over time.

 An arrow slit at Castello Estense

3.   Ferrara is really a wonderful place to visit; we highly recommend it.  It's small and do-able and has lots to see and excellent food.  Today we visited the Castello Estense, the residence of the Dukes d'Este, which was begun in the 1300s.  It was very interesting and beautiful, especially the ceilings on the upper floor.  There was also a very nice outdoor market with handcrafted items, and cafes here and there for you to enjoy some relaxation.  I was fascinated with a very large party that came to the castle just as we were leaving -- many people in Sunday clothes, accompanied by a number of priests.  There was one especially young priest in pretty plain garb, and we were guessing that perhaps he had just graduated from the seminary and this was a party for him.  In any case, the people were all happy and lovely to look at, and we greatly enjoyed seeing them all streaming into the castle.

A Ferrara alleyway

Tomorrow we will visit the cathedral and, we hope, the Jewish ghetto area, which is supposed to be very interesting.  More tomorrow, I hope.

Oct 10, 2014

Random Thoughts on Venice: Two

Another morning, another hour of people watching on the Piazza San Marco.  More random thoughts:

The Doge's Palace, without the construction just out of the picture on the right.

1.  We left home in a heatwave and were excited to get to Venice because the Weather Channel kept saying it was in the 60's or low 70's there.  Well, yes.  It was 72 today, but that is hard to believe because it feels like 85.  The humidity is close to 90%, and we are soooo not accustomed to that.  The sweatiness factor is extreme.  In California, we live in a "Mediterranean climate," and we assumed that here on the actual Mediterranean, we'd see something similar.  But where on the California coast the breezes blow off the ocean most of the time and there is little humidity, here it just hangs on you like a wet blanket.  The people who stand outside many restaurants trying to lure you in kept grabbing me and saying "You can sit outside and have a nice cold drink," I'm sure because my face was beet red most of the time that I was walking around.

Before a construction worker can get busy . . . he has to carry everything off the boat.

2.  This place is all about boats.  Of course, you say -- we've seen pictures of the gondolas and the vaporettos.  But what you don't think about is that everything has to be carried by boat -- at least, we didn't really think about it before we got here.  There are garbage boats and UPS (or the local equivalent) boats and Comcast boats and boats that carry construction materials, on and on.  I took the picture above from where we had lunch (caprese salad and shrimp); we were there for over an hour, and the whole time, four or five construction guys were going back and forth, back and forth, from the nearby canal with all the 2 x 4s and plywood and so on.  The default for anyone who lives in Venice is to be in great shape, I am sure, because they walk everywhere and haul things around.  Getting a stroller up and over a bridge is quite a feat.  We wondered last night at dinner how people move to a new place -- ????  Everything would have to be transported by boat and hauled up from the nearest canal, which might not be that near.  You may have to heave your couch over several bridges along the way. Good grief.

This is the only food shop we've seen in all the walking we've done in the past 2+ days.

3.  I need to get back to the food.  Ed, who is in the restaurant business, is utterly perplexed by the fact that restaurant staff do not seem to want to turn tables over at any point -- you can stay where you are at a restaurant or cafe or snack bar all day long if you want, and you have to exert a fair amount of effort to get them to bring you the check.  (I think I actually offended a waiter at dinner the other night, making the universal "check, please" gesture -- or maybe that's because in Italy the "lady" doesn't ask for the check.)  This is, in fact, a wonderful thing, as you can linger and enjoy the evening or the orchestra or people watching or whatever, as long as you want.  And the food -- I swear, we have not had a bite of food that was not amazing.  Yesterday at lunchtime I ordered "brasaole con rocket e parmigiano," not knowing what brasaole might be.  It turned out to be a cured ham kind of thing and it was delicious.  All of what we would call "cold cuts" are extraordinary here.  Last night we had clams and mussels, followed by a most unusual pizza -- a deliciously light tomato sauce, mozzarella di buffalo, olives, onions, and "goose ham" -- an amazing combination of flavors.  And very, very thin crust.  And guess what -- they make Hawaiian pizza in Venice, but they don't call it that.

A beautiful wall plaque on the side of a building.

4.  Don't spend a lot of time learning Italian before you get here -- everyone speaks English, or at least enough to get you what you want.  I think a waiter became annoyed at my attempt yesterday to say that I wanted a cold drink -- he said (in English) "yes, yes, ice water," and scurried away.  This irritated me a bit until I realized that I had not  been speaking Italian but Spanish, saying I wanted a drink that was frio, when the Italian word for cold is freddo.  Oh well.

We're off to hear some Vivaldi and opera music tonight and we have to leave early so that we have plenty of time to eat and get the check before the show starts.  Tomorrow we take off for Ferrara -- look for an update then. 

Oct 9, 2014

Random Thoughts on Venice: One

The very water taxi George and Amal used on their wedding weekend.  It says "Amore" on the back.

Well, here we are in Venice -- first time here, first time ever in Italy.  I have so many things swirling around in my head, but I'll start by just giving some impressions, with a few pictures.

1.  This is the most beautiful city I have ever been in.  Not so much in terms of its physical setting, which is great with all the water and so on, but everywhere you look, from the tiniest vignette of a doorway to a sweeping view of the canal spooling out behind you as you ride the vaporetto -- everything is breathtaking.  The colors, the beautiful buildings, the "wall treatments" that people in the U.S. pay lots of money to duplicate -- it's all gloriously beautiful, as far as I'm concerned.  I've heard you either love Venice or hate it, and we are definitely in the former group.

 Ed crossing Piazza San Marco -- the water is from an "acqua alta" the night before -- the piazza flooded with high tide.

2.  I read on several websites before we left, "try to get away from the Piazza San Marco to see other things in Venice."  That seemed kind of puzzling until we got here -- and saw what a dazzling panorama it is.  You could spend a very long time there, just seeing the sights in the Piazza area, and most importantly, people watching.  The whole world is passing before your eyes.  

 This is what you get for 35.50 Euros at the Caffe Florian in Piazza San Marco.  It is totally worth it.

3.  "They" also say to be careful not to get ripped off at the cafes in the Piazza -- they have cover charges they might not tell you about, and so on.  This is especially true of Il Caffe Florian, a coffee house that has been in continuous use since 1720, and where, according to the websites, you will have the most expensive glass of water or wine of your life.   The Caffe was the happy hunting ground of Casanova, because it was the only coffee house at the time that admitted women.  Of course, we had to stop there.  We had such a wonderful time -- yes, you pay 6.00 Euros per person as a cover charge for the orchestra, and 11.50 Euros for a "Memoires Florian," a small glass of grapefruit and orange juice, with "Sanbitters," but it tastes delicious, and the drinks are accompanied with the nibbles in the picture above -- savory pastry twists, olives, and small candies.  The orchestra is wonderful.  We loved sitting there for an hour and felt that the pleasure we had in it was worth every penny.

Ed, enjoying his Sambucca at Il Caffe Florian

4.   The food here, every single bite of it, is incredibly good.  Unlike the oversauced, overcheesed American Italian food we're used to, everything is light and fresh-tasting.  Portions are extremely reasonable, so you don't feel stuffed.  Last night we ate at Bistrot de Venise, where I had made a reservation before we even left California.  It was wonderful.  We had gnocchi made with eggplant, I had tiger prawns in a tempura batter crusted with almonds and with a delicious dipping sauce (not made of soy sauce), and Ed had a 16th century recipe dish of pasta with goose, bacon, and I don't know what else.  It was so complex and earthy and wonderful.  And we tried real Italian tiramisu for dessert.  Don't even get me started on that.  And then they threw in an amuse-bouche to start, a tiny piece of chocolate cake as a "pre-dessert," and little cookies at the very end.  It was unforgettable.

 The outdoor seating at the Bistrot de Venise

5.  If you're above a certain age and not in the best of shape, the reality is that Venice is a challenge.  The streets look very small and short on the maps, but they're longer than they look, and every five minutes you have to go over a bridge.  And over a bridge. And over a bridge.  Somehow I hurt my back on the way here, wrestling with a big suitcase and a heavy carryon, no doubt, and it's been a bit of a struggle.  When people say, "Oh, it's a two minute . . . five minute . . . seven minute walk," we just laugh, now, since we'll probably have to stop several times to flatten my back against a wall for a minute, or to just catch our breath.  Getting in and out of boats is a real challenge -- when we left the airport, I got into the water taxi with no problem, but of course I humiliated myself getting out of it -- the boat was moving up and down, the dock was moving up and down, they were not in sync, and just as I tried to step up, the boat and dock went in opposite directions, and I fell in front of a bazillion people waiting for a taxi on the shore.   Out loud, I was saying, "I'm fine, I'm fine," and inside, I was saying, "I will never see a single one of these people again in my life," and we tried to walk away with as much dignity as possible.

So am I sorry we put Venice on our itinerary?  Hell no, I wouldn't have missed it for the world, no matter how much of a struggle it is; I've seen many people with more challenges than I have managing to get around.  We have absolutely no schedule, nowhere to be at any particular time, so we just do the "senior stroll," and eventually we get to wherever we want to be.  

It's late, so I'll close for the night.  Look for more random thoughts tomorrow. 

Oct 7, 2014

Ciao, everyone!

Well, in three-and-a-half hours we take off in the car for San Francisco; at 4:00 the plane will begin whisking us off to Paris (short change of planes) and Venice, and then we will whisk ourselves to Ferrara, Florence, Siena, and Lucca.

Yes, I'm nervous!  Didn't get much sleep last night.  I think I have everything packed except for a few last minute things, I know what I'm wearing on the plane (comfort first), I'm hopeful that the seating crisis (we're not sitting together on the long haul to Paris) will be resolved so I can relax on the plane, I have our tickets already to get by boat from Marco Polo Airport to Piazza San Marco and directions on how to walk to the hotel from the vaporetto stop . . . what could go wrong? 

It should be about 68 degrees when we get to Venice -- a welcome change from the beastly hot weather we've had here over the past week. Temperatures over 100 degrees, and no air conditioning in anyone's home in Santa Cruz.  Ugh!  But it seems to be over; I'm looking at fog right now.

I'm hoping that I haven't built this up so high in my head that the reality won't match up -- naaah, it's got to be even better.   I'll be posting, so I'll let you know!

Oct 2, 2014

A (Very) Distant Cousin

In the time I've been doing genealogy, I've come up with very few connections, whether through traditional research or DNA research.  I've found one second cousin, and there's a lady in Holland who believes her mother and I are connected, but we haven't found the link yet.  Other than that . . . not much.

A short while ago, I joined the German Genealogy Group, out of New York State, and of course submitted my surnames to their list.  Then last week, a woman emailed me to say that we might be connected through our Heissenbuettel ancestors.  At first, I said that must be a mistake, I don't have any Heissenbuettels, but I investigated a bit further and found out that indeed, I did -- they came in with the nearly 40 people I added to the tree when the brick wall around my great-grandmother came down.

She gave me information about where her ancestors lived, and in what time periods, and I looked at the same things with my ancestors.  And look at this:

Google maps

Her ancestors are from Dorfhagen and Heine; mine are from Feldhof.  If you notice that the scale is 2 miles/inch, that's pretty close, indeed!  So there must be a connection, with that unusual name -- we just don't know what it is, yet.  

But it's fun to find someone you even might  be connected to, even if it goes back to the early 1700's (which it would).  And in the process, I came across a name that has been tickling me ever since -- Hibbel Heissenbuettel.  What a name! 

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