-E.B. White

Saturday, November 19, 2011

VENICE - SEPT. 19TH & 20TH - Well here we are again with a car in a city that does not allow cars.  So once more, we parked our car ($25.00 a day) and took the vaporetto (ferry boat) to Piazza San Marco schleping our bags behind us.  The city has no major streets, and addresses are hopelessly confusing - so finding your hotel can be a challenge.  We had reservations and our one request was that it had a canal view - so needless to say we paid dearly.  After alot of rechecking of our map, we finally found our hotel, checked in and quickly headed out to start sightseeing.     
Arriving in Venice

Again, greeted by lots of people -

and, of course, the entertainers.

Back to our room for happy hour on our private balcony - and check out our $450.00 a night canal view - you can make out the tiny bridge that spans our very tiny, tiny canal.

Yes, this would be our view from the terrace - we can almost see St. Mark's square - well at least the Campanile (bell tower) and it is in the square.

 Proscecco will definitely make things look better.  Then it's time to head out for some night sights.
Relaxing on our private terrace.

St. Mark's Square (we found there to be less crowds at night - nice).

The Rialto Bridge

The Bridge of Sighs - closed for restoration.  Supposedly, a condemned man would be led over this bridge on his way to the prison, take one last look at Venice, and sigh. 

WHATS FOR DINNER -  a veal dish that was very tasty. 

and finally - spaghetti!

The next morning up early for breakfast supplied by our hotel (makes the $450.00 a night less painfull) and then off for a day of touristy things. 

The Campanile in San Marco Square - this dramatic bell tower replaced a shorter lighthouse, once part of the original fortress that guarded the entry of the Grand Canal.  The lighthouse crumbled into a pile of bricks in 1902, a thousand years after it was built. The golden archangel Gabriel at the top always faces into the wind.  

 St. Mark's Basilica was built in the 11th century.  It's decorated with booty from returning sea captains - a kinda architectural Venetian trophy chest.  The bones of Saint Marco are buried at this site. 

St. Mark's Basilica - wow, have a few marble columns.

We decided to hop on a vaporetto and tour the Grand Canal - Venices "Main Street".  At more than two miles long, nearly 150 feet wide, and nearly 15 feet deep it is the city's largest canal.  It's the remnant of a river that once spilled from the mainland into the Adriatic. 

San Marco  - view of the Doge's Palace. 

Gondoliers along the canal route.

Or if you like you can hire private boats to get you here and there.

Or perhaps a Venetian taxi (like speedboat limos) would be another option.  All I know is it gets crazy - glad we stuck to the big water ferry.

Venice's sleek black Gondolas are a symbol of the city.  With about 500 gondoliers joyriding amid the vaporetti, there's a lot of congestion - looks like an accident waiting to happen, to me.

DHL delivery Venetian style.

Coming into the Rialto Bridge vaporetti stop - time for some walking.

Constructed in 1588, it's the third bridge built on this spot.  Until the 1850's this was the only bridge crossing the Grand Canal.  With a span of 160 feet and foundations stretching 650 feet on either side, the Rialto was an impressive engineering feat in its day.  Earlier Rialto Bridges could open to let big ships in, but not this one.  Now much of the Grand Canal is closed to shipping. 

View of Grand Canal from Rialto Bridge.

Back on the ferry to do our final tour of the day - Murano Island - famous for glass factories and glassmaking musueum.

Glassmaking demonstration.

A pull here and a pull there -making the blob into a glass horse.

The finished product.

After you leave the demonstration they make you exit thru their very pricey showroom - "no pressure, no pressure" - next thing we know we are being escroted upstairs to a private showing - again, "no pressure, no pressure".  A half hour later we were still trying to leave - explaining to the gentleman - "we really need to sleep on the decision to spend $12,000.00 on a piece of glass and that we would be back tomorrow".  ARE YOU KIDDING ME? No pressure my ass!

Last night here,  - Arrivederci Venice

Thursday, November 10, 2011

LAKE COMO - WHAT CAN I SAY - SEPT. 17TH & 18TH - what more can you ask for, a blend of water and mountains - our two favorite things. The drive from Cinque Terre was uneventful and our plan was to head to the east coast of the lake to a small town called Varenna.  The weather started out great, but by late afternoon it started to drizzle. This is the only part of the trip that we have not made reservations (scary).     

Weather is starting to turn.

Then just before we approached our destination we came to a slow crawl - Moto Guzzi Rally - equivalent to arriving in Sturgis, SD during Bike Week.  The rally was just a couple of towns away from were we are headed and we have NO RESERVATIONS! 

On a whim,when arriving in Varenna, we pulled up to this charming little hotel and inquired as to a zimmer, of course, they were full, but the owner must of taken pity on us knowing that the rally was going on and offered her friends apartment (her friend rents it out) as long as we agreed to stay two nights and pay cash - halleluja.   

This is what we were forced to stay in for the next two days! Complete kitchen, two bedrooms, full living room, washer/dryer, bathroom with tub and shower.  I should also mention a garage and a view of the lake - for $150.00 a night - unbelievable.

View of lake and Alps from town of Varenna.

We were invited to eat at the restaurant in the hotel - they were serving the "Rick Steve's" favorite meal - this nummy Prosciutto was for starters - four more incredible courses followed. Good thing we are doing alot of hiking.
After a perfect nights sleep - listening to water lapping on the shore - we found this streetside cafe serving Ricks favorite - chocolate croissants and latte.  I am now addicted to espresso shots.

We heard it was going to start raining after lunch (poor Motor Guzzi people) so we decided to do some sightseeing.  A steep and stony trail leads to Varenna's ruined hilltop castle, Castello di Vezio - a 20 minute walk one way.  After climbing 40 minutes and still not finding the castle. We decided to hike back to town via the road where we found two other lost souls trying to find the castle. We offered to drive back up to the castle in our car, only to find out the castle was closed for the day.

View of the town during hike to castle.

   At this point it started rainning buckets, so we returned to our apartment, found a couple of umbrella's and hiked the rest of the town in the rain. 

Making the best of a lakeside cafe for lunch - hey the food and wine are still good.
By mid afternoon the weather was getting chilly and by late evening there were serious white caps on the lake.
Pretty, clean buildings and streets in the town .
Woke up to snow in the Alps.
And of course, as we get ready to leave, the sun is starting to come out.

Time to head for Venice - even in the rain, Lake Como is a must see.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

ITALY - SEPT. 15TH & 16TH - CINQUE TERRE (pronounced Chink-wey Tay-reh) is a remote chunk of the Italian Riviera with not a museum in sight, just sun, sea and wine. It is made up of five towns, Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso.  The towns were isolated until the last century and are now connected by trains and hiking trails.  So a quick, early exit from Rome and we were on our way only to be slowed to a snails pace (an hour delay) due to an accident on the autostrada.  This is another area where having a car was not a good idea.  No driving is allowed in the small villages (unless you are delivering goods) so you pay for parking at the top of the town and leave your car.   
Riomaggiore - the most substantial non-resort town of the group. 
(This is the town we stayed in)
Manarola - a tiny and picturesque town.
Cornigilia - a quiet town and the only one of the five not on the water.

Vernazza - with the closest thing to a natural harbor, overseen by a ruined castle - this town is the jewel of them all.  Families are tight and go back centuries.
Monterosso al Mare - is basically a resort with lots of hotels, umbrellas and beach front.

Arrived around 3:00 in the afternoon, they allowed us to drive our car down the twisty, winding, narrow road to the bottom of the hill to dispense our luggage at our apartment.  Thank goodness our room was only one flight up.
The room with green wrought iron railing/balcony was ours!

Then it was a drive back up the hill to park car for the next two days ($15.00 a day) and hike back down the hill just in time for happy hour on our balcony.

Picturesque views of Riomaggiore

Up early the next morning with a grand plan to hike to all five villages.  From Riomaggiore to Manarola is about a 20 minute hike and features the famous Via dell'Amore promenade "the pathway of love. 

Start of hike at the train station.
Hikers ahead of us on the trail - everyone seems to have found out about this place too.
Views along the trail.
You will see padlocks locked to wires, cables and fences.  Closing a padlock with your lover is a common ritual in Italy.

Approaching Manarola via the trail.

View of Manarola from top of the town.

Harbour in Manarola

Ok, lets get hiking!

Manarola to Corniglia - about a 45 minute walk - this trail was closed for repairs.  So we decided to take the train to the end town, Monterrosso, have some lunch and hike back to Corniglia. 
Leaving Train Station for Monterosso.
and arriving in Monterosso

Like I said before, more of a beach resort town.  We decided to have lunch here and found a cute beachside cafe.

It could have been the surroundings, and maybe the beverages - but this was the best damn salad we have ever had.  I tried to replicate it at home - just not the same.  Now, after several beverages, the 90 minute hike back to Vernazza is not looking so good - let's take the train.
Arriving at train station.
Fun fishing boats in harbour

Gelato Fix!

Also decided to take the train to Corniglia and upon arrival we were informed the town was nowhere near the station. It was actually up the side of the mountain and up some 400 plus steps.  After several hikers coming down to the station suggested it was not worth the trip we decided to skip Corniglia.

   The Train Station

The 400 plus steps up to the town.

We returned to our quiet, quaint little town via the train and relaxed on our private balcony enjoying our glass of prosecco, some brushetta, crackers and cheese and taking in the sights.
Some of us enjoyed the sights more than others. Laundry time after a hard day of lounging on the beach.

More fun sights of Riomaggiore.

Chocolate Croissant and espresso for breakfast - delizioso!

Leaving Riogmaggiore, Cinque Terre - dragging our bags a mile straight up to the car park.  They say - and I agree - that the Cinque Terre is an exceptional place - we loved it here.  Now it's on to Lake Como.