Travel Day, May 10, 2006

We woke up to a perfectly glorious day.  Cloudless, blue skies, warm.  Wish we could have swapped yesterday's weather for this.  Of course, this is best for flying.  Although we celebrated yesterday, what a shame to have to spend my birthday on a plane.  We had our continental breakfast sent to the room.  We had reserved a private water taxi for 8:45 to take us to the Marco Polo Airport.  The ultimate in luxury when you're in Venice.  The bellman takes your bags down & simply passes them over to the captain right at the "curb" (so to speak).  Someone from the front desk there to see you off. 

Katie waves goodbye to the hotel staff as we pull away from the landing stage.

You can't help but get misty eyed pulling away; watching all those lucky tourists who are stating their day w/ a leisurely stroll.  Passing Piazza San Marco, the Campanile, St. Marks Cathedral & the Doge's Palace.

Our driver took us through the middle of the islands using some of the smaller canals.  We saw boats dropping off supplies.  We even saw a casket being taken from a boat up to a church for burial.  You have to keep reminding yourself that the canals are their streets; & everything takes place there.  Racing fire boats, police, ambulances.

We made it to the airport landing stage by 9:30; plenty of time for our 11:30 flight.  It's a hefty walk (if you are so inclined) from the stage to the airport terminal.  We took a minivan ride (€20) w/ our luggage.  As we feared, Katie' big suitcase was overweight.  So, we're on our knees taking stuff out of hers & putting it in mine.  Although I doubt that we took out enough weight, the counter agent took pity on us; & let it pass.  Wasn't sure if they'd make me take off the TSA approved locks; but they didn't say a thing. 
Flying over the Alps


Venice, May 9, 2006

We got off to a slow start today.  Katie was up at 10; & me at 10:30.  Too late for breakfast downstairs, so we ordered it sent to our room.  I had my prosciutto from the grocery store on a roll.  Our luck finally ran out with the weather.  It was pouring rain outside.  First on the do list was to visit the tourist exchange office so I could get a VAT tax refund on the glass I bought yesterday.  We oogled the gorgeous jewels in the shops around St. Mark's Square.

The square seems to be overrun w/ school groups today. Long lines of children holding hands so as not to get separated from their group. Another interesting observation is the protocol for large masses of people walking down narrow alleyways all carrying umbrellas. You either had to tilt them sideways or hold them up higher or down lower than the next person. The street vendors hit a gold mine selling rain ponchos & umbrellas. Since we were just up the street, we walked down to the Hotel Daniele.

 Italian Flag

We had heard how beautiful it was; & it really knocked our socks off.  The lobby & adjoining salon were breathtakingly gorgeous.  Massive chandeliers hanging from the ornate ceiling.  The 4 story lobby had a white & yellow glass skylight.  I felt conspicuous taking pictures like a tacky tourist; but I'm sure many more before me had done it too.  By now, it was after 2; & we were getting hungry.  Since we're celebrating my birthday a day early, we thought we'd splurge.  I wanted to revisit Sempione Restaurante since we enjoyed it so much last visit.  It's a confusing place to find; & after failing to follow the map, we asked for directions.  When we got there, they said we'd have to eat fast as they closed at 3.

We had a nice window table.  I had prosciutto & cantaloupe (extra sweet) & spaghetti w/ meat sauce.  Katie had the same along w/ a nice mixed salad.  It was an excellent meal.  She had a small glass of house wine for €.75.  I had coke from a glass bottle.  It really hit the spot.  It tasted like Coke used to taste back in the old days.  From there we decided to take the trip out into the lagoon & visit the Lido (island).

It's a really happening place in the summer.  The only beaches around are on the Lido; & they're covered from one end to the other by tiny cabanas.  For the fun of it, we hopped on a city bus & made the loop.  We got off on the main street which is quite cute.  Nice shops & sidewalk cafes.  We saw a courtyard area that had a massive canopy of the most beautiful white wisteria.

Across the street was the most ornate palazzo style hotel - frescoes & large mosaic pictures on the facade.  Even in the gray drizzle it was awe inspiring.

It was close to 5; so we got back on the vaporetto & headed to the hotel.  I needed one last dose of cappucino.  Since the famous Harry's bar is right next door to the hotel, we had to do the typical tourist thing & stop in.  I had cappucino (€6); & Katie had the obligatory Bellini (€15).  I was surprised to see how small it was (the bar & the drink size).  It was quite good, yet overpriced (as is everything here).

We were back to our room by 6.  Thought we'd get a jump start on packing.  We have so much breakable stuff to get home with; it's going to be a challenge.  We made dinner reservations for 8 in the hotel restaurant.

We were given a beautiful table by the window; & we had a fabulous meal.  We started w/ (huge) white asparagus baked w/ parmesan cheese.  Katie had an awesome fish soup w/ saffron.  It had tons of these huge chucks of fish.  I had a delicious cream of asparagus soup with curried shrimp.  She ordered one of the specials, orzo (which turned out to be a bust).  I had the most divine slivers of calves liver w/ sauteed onions & polenta.  We were stuffed to the gills.  So, now it's almost 11:30.  Katie has gone up to finish packing; & here I sit trying to get this last installment of the travel diary on this #x&**** Italian keyboard.  I can still hear the rain pouring down on the glass roof over my head.  We're hoping that it won't be like this in the morning when we leave for the airport.  Although I'll be glad to get home; I will be sad to leave this fascinating place.

Venice, May 8, 2006

It was mostly cloudy when we got up about 8.  We went down for continental breakfast in the canal side cafe in the hotel.  Quite a few gondolas were tied up right next to the tables; & the gondoliers were polishing & getting ready for their day's work. 

It was about 9:30 by the time we headed out for the day. The little street (actually an alley) at the side of our hotel is a famous one. On the corner is Harry's Bar (home of the Bellini cocktail); & then down the whole street are stores for all the famous designers. They are small stores w/ very little merchandise. We purchased a 24 hr. pass to use the vaporetto (water buses). We headed toward the Realto Bridge to see the farmer's market before it closed.


We had so much fun oohing & ahhing over the beautiful vegetables, fruits, flowers & pastas.

Would you believe they have pasta in every color imaginable, shaped like gondolas, the  Rialto Bridge, Christmas trees, dollars signs; even penises!

And luscious looking gelato; which (believe it or not) we didn't even partake of once during this trip.

Katie shopped at a stall for some leather stuff.  I spotted some colorful Murano glass (cup shaped/pendant style) lamp shades.  The kind that drop down from long skinny cords from the ceiling.  They would be perfect over the bar; & I had to have them.

By now, we were loaded w/ shopping bags & needed to make a run back to the hotel.  It started spitting rain; so being able to hop on the vaporetto was a Godsend.  A quick look down the Grand Canal today reminded me that this is their main "highway"; & rush hour can be a bitch.  It's culture shock to see food delivery, ambulance service & fire patrol clogging the waterway.

After lightening our load, we got back on the vaporetto & headed to the Cannaregio section where the old Jewish Ghetto is located.  It's supposed to be where real Venetians live now.  We didn't wander very long because we weren't that impressed with what we were seeing.  We were starving; & started looking for lunch ideas.  We happened upon Brek Cafeteria at 2:30.  We picked out some prosciutto, mozzarella, a huge mixed salad, soup (w/ zucchini, barley, mushrooms & pumpkin) & rigatoni w/ zucchini.  We both ate some of each other's stuff.  Katie got a glass of nice house red wine for €1.  All this for less than €20.

We hopped on the vaporetto & traveled further down the Grand Canal to the Dorsoduro section.  I had read so much about Campo Santa Maria Margherita; & it didn't disappoint.  This is the largest square in all of Venice.  Churches, sidewalk cafes, neighborhood markets, people feeding pigeons, teenagers kicking soccer balls, kids on tricycles.  What a great place to people watch.

We sat & had latte & cappucino.  Leaving the campo & heading toward the water, we got lost again.  Even w/ a map there's so many tiny streets that aren't on the map.  We finally figured out that we should study the flow of pedestrian traffic & just follow them.  We found the water; but it wasn't the Grand Canal.  It was the Giudecca Canal.  It has a wide promenade that runs beside the water nearly the full length of the island.  It was starting to get darker & colder.  We were trying to find our way home when I spotted Billa Supermarket (a rarity in Venice, & one that I had heard good things about).  We had to go in & look around.

So much neat stuff.  Beautifully prepared foods, fresh breads, perfect veggies, unusual canned goods, cheeses, etc.

I spent a lot of time picking out the perfect pkg. of prosciutto.  Everything about it was interesting.  Katie wished we were in an apartment so she could cook.  It was even exciting standing in the check out line w/ all the "locals".  (Guess I'm easily amused.)

When we left there we walked across the width of the island of Dorsoduro to reach the Grand Canal.  We hopped back on the vaporetto; & 2 stops later we were back home.  We came in & changed into warmer clothes; & set out again about 8 searching for a pasta place for dinner.  We stopped & read a few menus.  We kept walking toward the sound of guitar music where we came upon Campo San Fantin.  There was a strolling musician playing; & the acoustics were unbelievable.

The menu at Ristorante al Theatro looked good to us, so we got a table outside.  At first we didn't realize that we were right next door to the famous LaFenice Opera House.  Katie had rock lobster bisque; & I ordered cream of asparagus soup.  Although both were water, mine was delicious.  Katie's wasn't that good. So we swapped.  I doctored hers up w/ parmesan cheese & lots of salt & pepper.  We shared a caprese salad (sliced tomatoes & mozzarella).  She had spaghetti w/ tomato & mozzarella.  I had a fabulous spaghetti carbonara.  She had a small bottle of chianti.  It was a great evening out.

On the stroll back to the hotel, we were admiring all the beautifully lit Murano mirrors & chandeliers in the shop windows.  We stepped into Piazza San Marco to see what was going on.  As always, 2 orchestras on either side compete for your attention.  There was a moderate size crowd for a Mon. night at 10.  When we got back to the hotel, we attempted to hook the camera up to the hotel's computer so we could preview our Venice pictures (hooking up to the TV didn't work).  We couldn't get it to work.  We'll just have to wait til we got back home to see what we got.  Finally to bed at 12:45.

Venice, May 7, 2006

Remind me to never embark or disembark a cruise in Venice again!  The simple logistics of doing so is daunting.  We got up about 7; & had breakfast in the D.R.  We were to meet in the lounge at 8:40 in order to get off the ship w/ the last group at 9.  We were docked at the larger pier (Stazzione Maritima) rather then at the San Basilio terminal (which is closer to San Marco).  There was a short bus ride from the ship to the terminal to retrieve our luggage.  The good part about getting off the ship last is there's very little luggage left to search to find your own.  From there we walked about a block's length over to the water taxi platform.  Our luggage was going by separate boat.

                                Katie on the "landing stage"/patio at the Monaco & Grand Canal Hotel

Rather than schlep our bags on the water taxi or paying a hefty price for a private water taxi to our hotel, we purchased transfers from the ship.  The closest point to San Marco that would be transferred to was to the Europa & Regina (another hotel about a half block away).  But things are different in Venice.  To get from there to the Monaco & Grand Canal Hotel you had to walk a block to the left, then a block to the right & then another block toward the water.  To make a long story short, we had the other hotel's porter take our bags half way (over a bridge); & then we had to pull them the rest of the way ourselves.  It was not the ideal way to start the day.  But when we arrived at our beautiful hotel, we soon forgot about the ordeal (well, maybe not soon).

We were surprised that our room was ready at 10:30 am. Twin beds (although pushed together) & lots of antiques, red & gold brocades & beautiful Murano glass wall sconces.  By contrast, the lobby area is ultra modern w/ a lovely outdoor restaurant right on the Grand Canal. There's a cozy bar & a whole floor of sitting rooms, dining rooms & grand ballroom all in old Venetian style.  Gorgeous murals & frescoed ceilings.

After unpacking a few things, we went out to wander around.  Since the weather forecast doesn't look very good for the next 2 days, we decided to make the most of this beautiful, sunny & warm (about 70) day.

We walked a few blocks to the private water taxi stand that takes guests across the lagoon to the famous Hotel Cipriani. I can still hear Robin Leach talking about it years ago on Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous. We were told we should have lunch there. Even their water taxi is ridiculously plus!

 Pizza Slice

Venice, Italy, May 6, 2006

  No alarm this morning; & it felt nice.  We were starting our approach into Venice about 8 am.

We turned on the TV & watched through the bridge cam & listened as Marion (the guest lecturer) did commentary (remember, this is her 2nd home).  We went to the D.R. for an actual "sit down & be served" breakfast for a change.  It was nearly empty w/ everyone up top watching the passing scenery.  Had a good breakfast, nothing extra special.

I had a 10:30 "Balinese Bliss" massage.  And what is that, you ask?  Well, it started w/ a foot massage; & then a body brushing.  Then a hot oil massage.  It was truly relaxingly blissful.  That hunk, Luis, has magic hands & the softest, sexiest voice.  Makes you melt like "butta" (hehe).  While I was there, Katie started packing.  She'd made a big deal last night when I said it would take me at least an hour or 2 to pack.  Well, it took her more than 2.  Having to pack a separate suitcase for the rest of our hotel stay in Venice; then one w/ dirty clothes & things we won't need again.  We've bought some weighty, bulky things which would only fit in her big suitcase.  And since her case was at the weight limit flying over here; we have to guess & redistribute stuff into my suitcase.  In other words, it was a challenge having to pack & repack most of our stuff.

Less than 3½ hrs. after having breakfast, we're back upstairs for the lunch buffet.  Today was a gloriously sunny, warm day (probably low 70's); so we ate at a table outside aft.  We both had a delicious corn chowder.  Katie had a plate w/ beet salad, bean & carrot salads & pasta vegetable salad.  Then she had Moroccan chicken, tea, blueberry cobbler & a double macaroon filled w/ coconut & hazlenut cream.  She said they were delicious.  I had my final dose of blue cheese dressing, a few BBQ ribs & had the pasta station create one last serving of my "signature" pasta.  I will really miss that too.  I had more than I could eat; so Katie had some pasta post dessert.

After lunch we went out by the pool (which was deserted) to make a phone call to our friends Alex & Sue in England (the friends we made 3 yrs. ago on the Med. cruise).  Sue was out shopping; but we got to talk to Alex.  I think Katie really wanted to go into Venice.  But I hadn't even begun to pack; & I knew it would take hours & didn't want to be doing it at midnight.  There was some paperwork to be filled out; & we still had to retrieve our passports from Reception.  This ended up taking the rest of the afternoon.

With the room cluttered w/ clothes & suitcases, we got dressed for dinner.  Katie went up to the Horizon's Lounge & had a drink while I worked on our travel report.  We were able to get Jose & Mihaela's table again tonight.  The D.R. was unusually quiet.  I lot of people must be eating ashore tonight.  Some are probably flying straight home after disembarkation in the morning & wanted to make the most of their one night in town.

Anyway, we had another marvelous dinner.  Katie had gnocchi tossed w/ 4 cheese cream sauce & linguini sauteed w/ roasted eggplant, zucchini, bell pepper & tomato as appetizers.  I had a fabulous wild mushroom & honey roasted shallot napoleon in a port wine sauce, as well as lime marinated scallops & salmon ceviche for mine.  Outstanding!  We both had the broccoli & almond soup (another winner).  She had a frisee salad w/ fennel & beet chips w/ orange pistachio dressing; & thought it was too sweet.  I asked for a plain mixed salad so I could have my blue cheese just one more time.  Katie had red snapper "Hawaiian style" steamed in Chinese cabbage leaves & stuffed w/ minced fillet of pork, fried rice & mushroom sauce.  I had the prime rib w/ a side order of that delicious linguini that she had as an appetizer.  We both had this lovely white grapefruit sorbet & cappucino for dessert.  We're both stuffed to the gills.

The Chef was making the rounds in the D.R. again tonight; & we asked him to pay our compliments to his staff who do a fabulous job.  The Maitre d' was nice enough to give me a huge envelope filled w/ all the menus during the cruise.  I still can't believe I didn't wag my camera into the D.R. once to take pictures of these gorgeous dishes.  It was a fabulous dining experience for us.  We now must go back & finish our packing; & get our bags out in the hall by 10:30.  I've heard there are some w/ early flights that will be disembarking as early as 3:30 in the morning.  Fortunately, we'll be in the last group to disembark.  It's always sad saying goodbye to the staff & crew that we've become so attached to.  But, it's on to our next adventure....exploring Venice.

Dubrovnik, Croatia, May 5, 2006

Katie got up @ 6; & I slept til about 7 (having gotten my shower before going to bed last night).  We anchored off the coast of Dubrovnik a little before 8. 

Our tour today took us in a southeasterly direction to the Konavle Riviera & the town of Cavtat (prounounced SAV-tot).  We tendered in; & met our guide, Antea, outside the walled city.  We were informed onboard that due to the arrival of V.P. Dick Cheney security would be tight at the port.  We had just started our walk through the old gated city when Antea gets a call on her cell telling us to come back to the ship; there was some sort of "situation".  We started to walk back when a few mins. later she gets another call telling us it's okay to proceed w/ the tour.  We later learned that the ship's paperwork wasn't "in order"; but it was straightened out right away.  We boarded our bus & started our 45 min. ride to a small town in the Konavle region called Gruda.

There we stopped at this charming restaurant, Konavoski Dvori, which has a working water mill alongside the River Ljuta.  It also houses a trout farm.  We sat outside next to the waterfall close enough to the stream to touch it.  The waterfall was so loud; can imagine (trying) to fall asleep next to it.  We were served wine & a ham/cheese sandwich by people in native costume (at 9:45 am).  The ham was more like prosciutto; the cheese probably homemade; & the bread divine, the scenery along this drive is gorgeous.  The mountainside is so many shades of green.  There are the tall dark blue/green Cyprus trees, bay (leaf) trees, the silvery green olive trees against a backdrop of grass that slopes down to the flatlands where there are large squares of farmland, cattle & vineyards.  Soon we were making our stop at the resort town of Cavtat.

The guide had a little to say about the town's history; & we were given about 25 mins. to walk along the waterfront & look in the shops.  I parked myself at the Dolphin Cafe while waiting for Katie & had a cappucino.  We arrived back to the gates of Dubrovnik about 1.  Where the bus dropped us off there was a line of black Mercedes limousines just outside the gate with men wearing dark suits, sunglasses & ear pieces standing guard.  Antea told us that the President of Croatia was in the area.  She gave us a nice walking tour of the walled city; & I was snapping pictures like crazy.  Good thing we were here today rather than tomorrow when 3 ships will be docked here. 

At 2 we weighed anchor to start the final leg of our journey to Venice.  Katie & I went right up to the lunch buffet & sat at a table outside at the stern.  The weather couldn't have been more perfect today.  Bright blue sky, a mild breeze & low to mid 70's.  It was a great day.  Katie had a busy afternoon w/ fitness classes & a beauty shop appointment.  I spent time on the computer.  They keep it almost as cold in the library as they do in the Compt. Ctr.  Afterward I had to go back to the cabin & get under the covers to warm up.  We had hoped to make reservations to dine back in the Polo Grill tonight; but they were booked w/ another long waiting list (for both restaurants).  Katie came in about 5:30; & I barely recognized her (well more than barely).  She had color & highlights & the greatest haircut.  She looks rather spunky & "hip".  Everyone who has seen it, loves it.

We got showered & dressed for dinner about 7:30.  When we arrived at the D.R., there were a lot of people gathered in the bar outside & a line waiting at the Maitre d' stand.  Turned out everyone was trying to dine at the same time.  While we were waiting in line to ask for a table, a man cut in front of us.  Katie didn't like it; & asked him if he was meeting someone.  He said he was, which turned out to be a lie.  We saw him & his wife later waiting in the bar too.  Then the bar server ignored Katie when she wanted to order a drink.  As those of you who know her, she began to fume.  She complained to the maitre d' about the man cutting in line; but his hands were tied.  What could he do anyway?  We wanted to sit in Jose & Mihaela's section; but it was full.  I think they were trying hard to "make nice", so they put us at a table for 2 by the window next to Jose's section (so he could still come over & wait on us).  Well, that didn't go smoothly either.  Jose & Mihaela were swamped; & the regular waiter for our table wasn't going to go out of his way.  We had to beg for glasses of water; & then the bread basket wasn't brought around.  Katie got up to complain again;but by this time Mihaela was making her way over w/ bread & apologies.  I looked at it as they were trying to accommodate our request as best they could; & we could expect slower service.  But this was not acceptable to Katie.

Both Jose & Mihaela were trying so hard; but she still had that face of steel.  Finally the Maitre d' came over & sat down & tried to smooth things over.  She says I'm too easy & sweet; & I say she's demanding & doesn't cut anybody any slack.  It was a "tense" evening.  But on a lighter note - the food.  We both asked for an appetizer portion of the cannelloni w/ ricotta, fresh tomatoes & mozzarella.  It was fabulous.  We both also had this great seafood bisque w/ Armagnac.  In addition I had a grilled marinated vegetable terrine appetizer & Black Angus fillet of beef Wellington w/ red wine sauce.  Katie had the beef Wellington & the grilled FL lobster tail butterflied w/ herb garlic butter & saffron rice.  Katie had creme brulee' for dessert; & I had orange sorbet.  It was a very good meal.  I will definitely miss those cream soups & sorbets.  We were one of the last out of the D.R.; & Jose asked us to go to the Regatta Lounge because the crew was going to sing in the final show.  I couldn't say no; but Katie just looked at me like I was being a sucker again.  We then stopped by the photographer's to pick up the CD of photos that they had burned for me.  I plugged in the camera & started to go over today's photos on the TV; but Katie fell asleep right in the middle of it.  Oh, well!
 Oh Jeez