venice day 2

Still beautiful but the colours are subdued today as there is no sun. Our breakfast is delivered at 8 sharp, but a single cup of coffee won’t do it. A quick shower and we’re off to find more coffee and get a pass for the museums before the hordes arrive.

The correo is a museum complex on saint marks square which includes the museums: biblioteque, archeological, the ducal palace and correr(civic) museum. the pass also includes an additional museum out of a half dozen other choices, which we initially decide will be the glass blowing on the island of murano.

Our first visit is the ducal palace. The place is incredible, and intact for the past seven hundred years more or less. The quality is in sharp contrast to the palaces of france or even ludwig in germany. There is a sense of refined elegance about it as opposed to the excess of gilded everything at versailles and others. remarkably many objects have survived, from crystal goblets to fierce looking armaments. the paintings by titian, tintoretto and others are astounding and on a scale hard to imagine as some of the rooms are gigantic. not knowing much of the ancient history of venice it was fasinating to discover the role of the ducal princes, the senate and other bodies that kept everything in order, including an ominous prison reached by crossing over the bridge of sighs (think guantanamo with thicker walls and bars.) torture was big here too.

after yet another cup of coffee we headed for the correo and adjoining museums to finish the morning off. more paintings, sculptures from 200 b.c. to the 18th century, and books and furniture covering at least 800 years of history. though they have an incredible library displayed with originals going back several hundred years it was less than expected as the actual biblioteque held only old photographs from the late 1800’s to the beginning of the 20th century. the rooms however are works of art in themselves from the wooden carved ceilings and the amazing painting, many again by titian and bellini among others.

following the museums we caught a vaporetto to the island of murano, famous for its glass works. it was a 40 minute ride as it made stops at many ports on different islands including cimeteo or cemetery island where there are many large mausoleums and presumably where everyone gets buried. the weather has been quite cold and grey all morning and we’re feeling the chill as we wore only lighter clothing.

we don’t spend much time on murano other then to have a very pricey lunch (apparently we’re never going to learn to double check everything before we order.) we checked out the glass displays which are remarkable for both contemporary design, colour and those with a more ornate look. it is pretty fantastic but does not hold our interest and we decide to head back to the main islands, this time on a direct boat to saint marks square, where we head off to get our reservation for our next leg of the journey on wednesday and rick heads back to the hotel and me for another walk through the maze that is venice (still no luck blair!)

the rialto bridge…it’s only pretty in pictures, and i’m sure they have been doctored or taken many many years ago. it is a zoo! the crowds are horrendous, the shops on the bridge range from tacky to expensive with jewelery and other baubles. graffiti abounds on the outer walls of the bridge’s stores which adds to the overall feel of trashy and tacky. as i crest the bridge the street beyond is too scary to contemplate late in the day. it is covered with stalls and so many people that i’m not sure how they are getting by each other. must be time to head home.

before getting to the boat i’m asked to take a photo by a women traveling alone. turns out she’s from bulgaria so we spend a few minutes chatting and discover she arranges tours there for hapless tourists like me. she made it sound quite inviting and gave me her business card to keep in touch. i catch two boats to get back to our neighbourhood just as the sun is setting. it takes me a few minutes more to get to the hotel as i have to linger and take a few shots of a large cruise ship going down the tronchetto lido di venezia that separates our island from la giudecca.

the final few steps from the main quay to our hotel will give you a good idea of venice. from where we get off the vaporetto on a wide stone quay we turn left crossing over a wide canal on a stone step bridge about 50 feet long. the small street to our hotel leads off from the quay and is about 4 feet wide with tall walls on each side about 30 or 40 feet high. we then cross a small stepped stone bridge over a canal about 30 feet wide to another small quay then a sharp left over a smaller stepped bridge which is our canal about 15 feet wide and final sharp right and 50 feet along we’re at our hotel which faces the canal about 10 feet from our window. it is all too beautfuly romantic if you are so inclined. we hear the boats go by, the chat of people and the slapping of waves against the canal wall.

dinner at a very nice restaurant not far from the hotel which makes for an easy walk home. we’ve really enjoyed the food and wine in italy more so than in france. See our 2nd day in Venice here

buona notte


you never told me it would be this beautiful! talk about a living postcard, this is it. we arrived at 11:30 on a fast train from florence and soon caught a vaporetto going to the district our hotel is in. the vaporetto are the boat buses of venice and have schedules and stops just as transit does. we bought a 3 day pass that allows us to go everywhere at any time, so far we’ve used it twice: once to get to our hotel and the second to do the grand tour around the main islands and up the grand canal. i took so many pictures i ran out of juice and have yet to find a place that sells batteries.

our hotel is a lowly 2 star but is clean, very small, quiet and off the beaten path. it has no phone,tel evision or internet, but someone close by does and that’s what i’m using to update the blog. hopefully it will last through wednesday, when we leave. the hotel is adjacent to a small canal which we look directly onto, it too is picture perfect, in fact we’ve seen a couple of gondolas go by but never have the camera ready. anyway the place is bliss, away from the madding crowd and is truly peaceful; i think we can relax here.

we toured around a couple of the islands on foot, again like florence every corner is a new surprise, without exception a painting waiting to be done. the many former palazzos, old churches and the squares offer an infinite variety of colour, light and space. the granddaddies of them all are saint marco’s cathedral and the doge’s palace. the square is huge, it probably held 10’s of thousands in its day. the whole square is surrounded by a colonnade of stacked arches which make it seem like a large cloister with the shimmering church at the eastern end and the doge’s palace next door enclosing it at the eastern end. as with many buildings on our trip, saint marco’s is also covered with scaffolding in various spots. the biggest disappointment though was to discover the bridge of sighs framed in a large wrap with advertising for lancia, an italian car company who are no doubt sponsoring the renovations.

it does not take us long to get lost; this, however is not a bad thing, unless you run out of batteries for the camera…duh. the place is so spectacular i should try a little painting as it reminds me of so many watercolours i’ve seen over the years. in a way it’s repetitious as the bridges have similar designs and the buildings look alike, but the blend of colours and details make the difference.

after a lengthy walk using the sun to guide us (we’re lost again) we get back to the right neighbourhood and find a supermarket for some fresh fruit, batteries and wine…of course. our hotel delivers breakfast to the room but we’re not sure we can hold out till 8 a.m. so need some munchies.

for dinner we hop back on the vaporetto to saint marco’s to search out a restaurant which is not hard to do in this town as they are everywhere, up little alleys, in back rooms and bordering the canals. the meal is low key, salad, chicken followed by a pear tart and a cappucino. beside us is a lone man nursing his wine and looking a bit forlorn. he starts up the conversation and we’re soon discovering yet another interesting stranger. his name is howard levy and he’s a jazz musician from chicago. to our later surprise when i look him up online, he is quite well known, though he had humbly stated otherwise. he was feeling mellow and a bit road weary having been on the road for a couple of weeks, performing in a new city or country every day. he plays in north and south america as well as throughout europe, he’s also played in vancouver a few times. you can learn more about him here. he gets a call from his girlfriend which cheers him up as he tells us he is flying back to chicago tomorrow. we say our goodnights.

we’ve been fortunate on this trip to meet quite a few interesting people, all willing to spend some time in conversation and share their insights on travel country and habits.

a slow ride back on the vaporetto and an early night. See a slide show of our first day in Venice

gondola at rest

buona notte

our first and last bus tour!

get up early for the morning necessities – have breakfast at 6:30 a.m. and head off to the pick-up point for our tour of southern bavaria and the castles of king ludwig ii (the so-called “mad one”) of bavaria and the inspiration of fairytale castles everywhere. we wonder if we’ve hit that age when bus tours are an option for travel … do read on!

the bus is ultra modern as are most modes of transport in europe… we’ll catch up someday i hope. it is a double decker with room service, and comfortable too. the rest of the passengers cover the world (but heavy on those from the excited states of… and spanish speakers from spain and south america.) our “guide” introduces himself as charles but shortly after we left i decided he was schultz as in the old sitcom hogans heroes. he was a sexist, obnoxious kinda guy who could come across as cutsie, but you knew it was a charade. he operated on the principle of military precision and you were not allowed to forget that such-and-such happens at 9:45 sharp and then the next thing at 9:52, etc.

the cost of all this discipline was high – 49 euro each before the cost of admission to the castles another 14 euro – special deal, a one euro discount as the season changed today. it took about an hour and a half to get to the first castle linderhof, a tiny but excessively baroque jewel high in the mountains near oberammergau and fussen. the tour took a half hour all guided and no time to dilly dally or schultzy would be annoyed. for the euro discount we also did not get to see one of the more interesting toys of ludwig, his man made cavern and theatre set where he indulged in his wagnerian fantasies. tour is over and back on the bus (i must say old schultze must have reminded us at least 10 times on the process, times and departures and damn, we left at precisely 11:00 a.m. – not 11:01!

our next destination was oberammergau and the “designated shopping” stop (do not eat, do not buy this, do not, do not – schultz’s stores are the only recommended places to shop – he must get a good kickback). thank god we were able to wander into the town and take a look around and take pictures. it is pretty but has only one purpose to sell cuckoo clocks, wood carvings and religous symbols. oberammergau has a religious festival every ten years called the passion play and its a huge event with lots of religious types coming to get the fix. back to the bus at prcisely 12 noon sharp. schultz has told us several times when and where we’ll be eating even though there is no meal included in the trip.

back on the bus and off to fantasy island. ludwig’s castle neuschwanstein is a truly magical sight perched on a crag facing his dad’s house (hohenshwangau castle) across the valley. we’re advised to eat at a specific hotel and that we must allow so much time to climb the hill to the castle. we start to follow orders, but once inside we quickly decide we’d like to eat at our own pace and alone, so we wander off in search of other eateries and find the perfect spot, warm and cozy inside the restaurant but refreshing, cool and dry on the patio (did i mention that it has rained all day?) while having a real hearty german meal, the heavens opened more and it came down in buckets! meanwhile i indulged in jagerschnitzel and spatzle and rick had pork and bread dumplings with saurkraut… and a beer of course. delicious!!

schultz has left us thinking that nothing exists beyond his recommendations and we have half bought in; however as we begin our 25 minute hike up to the castle (if you’re disabled, out of shape, or otherwise hindered in your movement – you’re not warned in advance, in fact you are reminded several times not to take the horse drawn carrages which go most of the way up.) we hike in the rain with plastic capes, bought at the restaurant, only to discover that there are other eateries near the castle and other venues for shopping which i think we’d have preferred to do had we known.

this castle is incredibly popular! considering we’re here in mid october there are tons of buses. they use a ticket system that designates your tour time, they leave every five minutes precisely. schultz has us sit in a very hot and steamy bus while he takes care of this – “do not leave your seats until i have given you your ticket” – it has an efficiency that leaves you a bit breathless or dumbstruck.

at last we enter, and our young tour guide is interesting to say the least, knowledgable about the history but very peculiar with his gestures and movements. we think he is on the edge of losing his cool as the groups have to move through each room before the next can begin. we had some cranky kids along, too young to be on such a trip. the poor guide used pregnant pauses and cutting glares to no avail, kids are kids. the tour lasts 45 minutes precisely. luddy was a pretty interesting guy, and lived a solitary life almost in total isolation from society and his servants to the point that his dining table sat over a retractable floor which allowed the table to be lowered to the kitchen where it was set, then raised up to the dining room again where ludwig dined alone. the castle was never completed and only 10 of the 100 rooms were finished. the king lived in the caste periodically. for only 170 days in total.

back to the bus as we leave at 4:30 precisely, everyone is damp and the bus is warm – can you say sauna! schultz says he will shut up so we can nap etc … it is the only factual information he gave all day. the castles and scenery were great, the crowds are unavoidable and though i whinge about them there is no way to avoid them. schultz was a pain but he became my personal joke and eased the tone he used. he chose places where i’m sure he got some sort of kickback and never informed us of options or what to expect in terms of the hike, alternate choices etc. i guess it’s part of the trade.

we’re back in munich and it’s dark and raining. we’re going to settle down for a lazy evening of reading and writing with maybe a light supper along the way.

guten nacht.

mein gott were not in kansas anymore!

here we are in beautiful munich after a rather uneventful train trip…a one hour stopover in stuttgart and a decent breakfast on the train. i don’t even want to talk about paris.

munich is interesting, what we’ve seen this afternoon, which is not a lot as we visited an exhibit of walt disney showing at a local museum, ironically an exhibit we missed in paris two years ago and well worth the wait. artists from albert durer to dali and several other notables in between. it was quite a good show with some great art, from the disney studios –original drawing and cellwork, backgrounds, etc. — and the artists who influenced them from many years back as well as some great childrens’ stories and fairytales in the first editions that uncle walt collected on a trip to europe back in the 30’s.

afterwards we took a stroll through the two main platz and saw some great architecture. we also stopped in for a quick beer in the one of the parks before heading off for supper at a very nice restaurant and my first taste of steak tartare (excellent) with some reisling for a chaser. the waiter, host and hostess were great and helped us with everything from how to eat the steak tartare to menu choices and sights to see in munich.

the next few messages will likely be short and have few if any pictures as i’m having to pay for my internet at this hotel… but breakfast is included!

guten nacht.

rive gauche

our last day in paris 😦 and laundry day :((

we both had places we wanted to visit and generally just stroll through the left bank. we had one definite destination which was saint severin church near the sorbonne. it is notable for its age and contrast of modern and ancienne. i went back to take some pictures and rick for his first visit.

rick started the day by taking a stroll down the tuileries and i a walk on the left bank of the seine including the outdoor museum and sculpture garden east of notre dame. of course i took tons of shots of the very modern art mostly from the 60’s and 70’s. i also tried to get a visit to the arab institute but was turned away as only vip’s were getting in at the time i was there! the building is quite unique as it is wired to control it’s environment, however my visit coincided with early morning so nothing too significant was visible.

before going to saint severin, we headed off for a restaurant that rick had tried before but, the street eluded us…until after we ate! we dined at a pleasant restaurant on a plaza in front of the sorbonne, surrounded by students, teachers accompanied by the play of fountains and falling autumn leaves (somehow apropos).

following lunch i headed home to do some packing and study before my last class. i need another suitcase – we both need another suitcase!

rick toured the quay of the left bank along with a final visit to notre dame.

we’re each on our own for supper as i have to dash to class.

bonsoir – au revoir from france – guten tag germany.

yes we are alive!

technology has failed us since leaving austria, actually it failed us before we left austria.

i have been saving the daily write ups and will post at our next hotel, hopefully.

in the meantime we have been in rome for 4 days and just returned from a trip to pompei which was awesome to say the least.

we are either the biggest marks on the planet or terribly naive, but we have been had by everyone from the hotel, restaurants and little old men in naples. crime prevails in italy with kick backs for everyone and we are the bank. we actually no longer trust anyone to be of help here in rome…hopefully better in florence and venice.

more later.

buono notte

inner child?

…we did it! a day at paris disneyland! a full day!

i have to lead off with an observation that i was somewhat hesitant or maybe just not that motivated to go, but i live with this guy who is a disney admirer (fanatic was on the end of my tongue) so this is his trip and i’m happy to go along.

a short 40 minute train ride and we’re there. the cleanest place on earth and supposedly the happiest. as we walked through the gates my first impulse was to drop some paper and see how long it would take till it was cleaned up, good manners won out, however as the day progressed i found it hard to find any litter and imagine the cleaners swoop in and out without being seen.

rick and and i are 55 and 60 respectively (however i appear much much younger!) and this was the first visit for both of us to any of the disney establishments. i guess we think every kid gets to go at some time or other and the kid in us are late in arriving to say the least.

the place is quite remarkable, a perfect setting of ideals and commercial manipulation laid out to keep you entertained and mostly happy. the music blares continuously (think up with people) and the tempo is evenly paced with lots of opportunities to slow down and absorb the event no matter how short. it felt like fun and we took it all in.

we bought our tickets the day before for 49 euro about 72$ which, in hindsight seems like a good deal as we took in most of the rides except indiana jones which was having mechanical problems and remained closed for the entire day.

i have to say the highlight of the day for both of us was the space mountain ride; for me exhilarating and a scream (or at least a few yahoos) and for rick a bit of agony and total surprise as he was expecting something a bit tamer. the ride has at least three 360 loops and is in complete darkness with illuminated planets and stars and a great optical effect at the end as you speed through a red spiral. it was pretty nauseating but i’d do it again, rick not so much! on a bit slower speed, the two other faves were the river boat ride and the surprisingly mystifying peter pan ride – never never land was never so magical.

we took in some of the kid’s rides but i could not talk rick into going on the flying elephants with me so i took a pass as the wait was too long anyway. we did do the tea cups and felt pretty dizzy at the end. the train around the perimeter is really slow but kinda fun in a geriatric way.

food and just about everything in the place is expensive and something we expected (you’d be better of to pack a picnic and drinks); speaking of drinks, this disneyland is the only one to serve beer and wine on the site…vive le france.

i bought a scarf with a mickey silhouette as a souvenir, rick could not decide and ended up taking a pass even though i thought one of shirts would have been cool to have.

the weather held up and we had mostly cloudy with sunny breaks, however in the last half hour the rains were just beginning as we headed back to the station.

we had a truly fun day, one that i’m sure we’ll be nostalgic about for some time to come — those parts that we enjoyed as though we were much younger, and the amazing effort that goes into making the park such a wonder: the details of design, the coordination of events using technology (i.e. the train and river boat meet at a set time regardless of when you board) and the obvious enjoyment that real kids have while there. did you know that parents fork out 60 euros (90$ canadian) or more to buy their kids costumes to become little princesses and other disney characters (they are cuter the hell, running about all over the place) but who pays that kind of money?

where are all the pictures? in rick’s little camera! i was determined to take some time away from hauling around big bertha and as this was more rick’s day than mine he took on the task of capturing it all, unfortunately we don’t have the cable to transfer from his camera so they will have to wait till we get home. (see note below)

note: 11/10/08 photo problem resolved! fnac (a major photo, book and cd store) carries an adapter that takes virtually every kind of memory card. kaching — i was able to move rick’s photos of disneyland and others as well as saving the data from my super small memory card in the phone too.

bon soir

a day of r and r

not much happened today as i’m determined to take a break from the camera and we are both in need of some down time. it has been pretty exhausting as the paris museum pass requires that you use it on consecutive days. as you can imagine 6 days of major museums is a lot of leg work, head work and navigating. all of it interesting and enjoyable though.

being monday it was laundry day and study day for me as i have class tonight; only three classes left to do. grocery shopping for rick.

otherwise, we didn’t leave the apartment until after lunch and then only to go the gare de lyon to arrange our reservations for a day trip to nimes on thursday and our travel arrangements to germany next week. our stay in paris is almost over and it feels like we just arrived. on the way home rick went ahead while i made a small side trip to the disney store on champs elysees to grab two passes for tuesday’s outing to disneyland paris (you gotta keep peter pan happy – aka rick).

the french class is great fun as the instructor, jean, likes to have us role play and uses a lot of novel approaches to make it sink in. that’s it for today.

bon soir.


le petit dejeuner. a quick call to my son blair, who is studying hard, then off to catch the metro to gare de lyon where we connect to fontainebleau, supposedly a 30 minutes ride…which turned into an hour with delays due to track construction. a small inconvenience for a truly magnificent reward.

fontainebleau may be the best grand house i’ve ever seen, for me better than château de chenonceau, versailles and all the places in england and elsewhere that i have visited, and i think for richard too. the place is vast, to say the least and was used extensively by most of the notable royalty from francois I in the 1540’s right through to the bonapartes. the rooms are sumptuous yet more personal in design and scale than most great houses, perhaps because the ceilings are at a more manageable height. there is a sense of it having been lived in and worked in. we saw only a small portion of the total palace, many areas including napoleon’s museum, the chinese collection and other areas require advance reservations to gain access. regardless, the house was worth every minute of the 4 plus hours we spent there, including a stroll through the very extensive gardens.

the gardens were more friendly than versailles, more in the style of calamity brown and the great houses of england. they had an equally long canal, formal italianate gardens, some fountains and sculpted trees or topiary, but overall they were less formal with winding paths, streams, grottoes and sculpture spread randomly throughout.

the history of the place is mind blowing. we saw the room and furniture where napoleon signed his first abdication, the office and bedrooms he used as well as those of marie antoinette, again much more human in scale with personal touches that made it easier to imagine the real person rather than the abstract we’re fed in history books.

during the course of the day we had some interesting chats with a chinese couple we met from beijing. the guy was a graduate of harvard and had impeccable english. we discussed things like politics and the environment and surprisingly, to me, his outlook wasn’t much different than our own. we chatted quite a lot about france, a bit about the different cultures of europe, china and north america. we ran into them throughout the day. our final encounter was at the railway station in fontainebleau where we compared the transit systems in our respective countries (paris and france win hands down).

a quick 30 minutes train ride back to paris, and supper: linguine, european sausage, green beans and wine…of course. you gotta make do! (p.s. after running out to the local five and dime to get a can opener we discovered you don’t need a can opener here (to open the green beans)…pull tabs on the cans…vive le france!)

bon soir.


more and less than expected? we left early, catching the train for the 30 minute trip to versailles at 8 a.m. we arrived just as the palace opened (there’s no other way to describe the place) opulent, extravagant, self indulgent, hedonistic… pick your adjective, they all work.

i guess not having visited before and reading all the reviews, watching videos and travelogues had set me up to think we’d be blown away. in a way we were, you can’t underestimate the incredible detail of baubles, decoration and scale, it is overwhelming. but it did not knock our socks off. perhaps it was the weather, a cold, drizzly day with dark clouds threatening overhead. it took some of the shine away (as it were). we spent about 2 hours going through the various rooms jostling with bus loads of other tourists, all seemingly more aggressive than us in getting their pictures; however, as we discovered, patience is a virtue, and soon the crowd moves on.

almost all of the rooms had modern art installations by an american artist, jeff koons. initially i found it to be fun and always a contrast with the classic opulence. but as we moved on it became a nuisance, often interfering in getting a visual picture of what a room or the lives lived there would have been like.

i think the most impressive experience was seeing the original painting and sculpture. i had no idea of their scale. paintings that are easily two stories high and as fine as they come. living well has its rewards! i took most pictures in RAW format so don’t have interior shots to share (big sigh). as with many of the buildings we are seeing, versailles too was covered with a large amount of scaffolding. regardless it was a magnificent place.

following the palace tour we moved outside to see the gardens before heading off to the other buildings throughout the compound. if you check out my pictures you’ll see that there is an abundance of statues and fountains, all of them glorious and classical in style. too bad the fountains don’t operate in the fall, still (silver lining) you get to see the actual statues in the fountains! we wandered down side paths similar to a maze with tall trimmed hedges and a multitude of choices at each intersection. believe me we did not come close to seeing it all. i loved the classical statues and vases (i held back on taking a picture of every one – which was a good thing as my camera was getting buggy and i was lucky to take the pictures i got.)

after hiking down to the grand canal with several side trips to other paths and gardens and a bite to eat we arrived at the mile long canal. this is a man made lake shaped like a cross where the royals used to bring in gondolas etc to entertain themselves. our destination was the grand trianon the first of three retreats they built to escape from the bureaucracy and royal life. this was a much more human structure with a scale you could relate to and less opulent than the palace but still very elegant, covered with marble and many windows throughout, all looking out on incredible gardens and man made views. from here we headed off to the petite trianon, yet another step away from the reality and politics of court life. for any of you that have visited, i’m sure you’ll agree that the scale is not too dissimilar from a large home today, rooms are rich, but subdued and give a sense of a personal life far different from the palace. life here was very romanticized to the point of reconstructing small roman temples and an orangerie, a kind of greenhouse for those with money.

i didn’t mention that we rented bike when we got down to the end of the gardens before going to the grand trianon. they were bikes we see people using in paris (picture sitting upright and no crossbar), comfortable and enough gears to take you up the gentle hills.

our last stop was marie antionette’s farm. a working farm with gardens, vineyards and farm animals of all kinds. this was the last of the « escapes » as far away from the reality of court life and the turbulence as one could imagine. a storybook setting with thatched cottages and outbuildings so perfect they seemed straight out of a disney fairy tale. it was easy to see the sense of freedom it must have provided. it brought on a kind of melancholy sympathy for the lives they must have lived and the way it all ended for them.

the bikes were great fun and allowed us to cover a lot of the park we would have been reluctant to tackle on foot. what is left of the original 8000 hectares is slightly smaller than stanley park around 800 hectares. everything in it is symmetrical and perfectly groomed, yet it is peaceful and quiet and provides as much solitude as you’d have in the middle of stanley park or any other isolated space. a really great day (sun would have helped, though, as we were chilled for a lot of the time).

home on the train. a light supper and an early night.

bon soir.