Sunday, September 30, 2012

day two - venice with tauck

Today our trip with Tauck began in earnest.  Our Tour Directors, husband and wife Steve and Melissa, and Stephan, were ready to take their groups on the morning's adventures.  (We, along with Mimi and Carl,and Rita and Gene, were assigned to Steve's group). Tauck uses local guides in each city they visit, and they vet them well.  Each guide we had on this trip was well-informed and had obviously worked with Tauck many times in the past.  The company finds its favorites and then uses them  repeatedly.

Our local guide met us in the hotel lobby and we were off to see the Doges' Palace, which was almost right next door to the hotel.  We passed by the Bridge of Sighs, so named because the prisoners who were convicted in the court at the Doges' Palace (on the left in the picture below) had to walk through the bridge to reach the jail on the other side of the canal.  They sighed as they looked through the rock-carved window as they had their last glimpse of the sea and sky.  Here's the bridge from  the sidewalk:

The Doge was the elected supreme head of state and his residence was first constructed in the ninth century.  There were several fires over the years and the buildiings we see today are mainly of the 16th century.  The courtyard impresses visitors immediately, with its size and ornate design:

The magnificence of the interior's design and construction was immediately apparent as we walked up the Golden Staircase:

After touring the building and learning that the Doge was responsible for locking the gates to the city in the evening and unlocking them  in the morning (thus, the importance of being given the "keys to the city"), we crossed over the Bridge of Sighs to the old jail and exited to walk around the corner to St. Mark's Basilica.  Here's one of the views you would have had as you walked to your new residence in the prison....well deserving of a "sigh"...

The lines of people waiting to get into the Basilica stretched almost to the Grand Canal from  the entrance to the building.  Our guide, however, led us to a different door and we entered quickly, bypassing the hordes waiting outside.  The facade of the Basilica, seen below, is lovely - and the interior even more so.  Unfortunately, photos were prohibited inside.

We were on our own in the afternoon and visited the Correr Museum at the end of St. Mark's Square.  Then gelato-hunger attacked and we had tiramisu gelato from a different shop.  The ice cream  tasted very different and our first taste the day before was definitely the winner.

We then followed the suggestion of Steve and Melissa to take the Vaporetto #2 around the whole length of the Grand Canal.  Easily accessible right near our hotel, we popped on after buying and validating our tickets and went to the open-air back seats for a water's view of Venice.  Here's the Doges' Palace and the Campanile from  the water:

The entire circle cruise took us over an hour, with stops all along the way.  We passed by the Club Med 2, having seen one of its tour groups in the morning:

We saw the Rialto Bridge again, this time from  the water:

and chose a nearby restaurant to return to in the evening for dinner:

We took the vaporetto again later in the evening to reach our chosen restaurant, now that we were veteran public transportation riders, only to learn after dining that the #2 line shuts down at 8:00pm  and it's a long wait for the very local #1 line to appear at the Rialto boat stop.  Future riders, beware!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

day one - venice on our own

We slept - we actually slept well - during our first night in Venice.  Not knowing how well we would sleep, we set the alarm  to make sure we had time to get to breakfast.  The hotel's restaurant is located on the top floor and has a lovely terrace overlooking the Grand Canal.  Even the seagulls enjoy breakfast at the Danieli:

The city was waking up and the gondoliers were headed off to work::

We decided to take a walk over to the Rialto Bridge, exiting St. Mark's Square and walking through small alleys to meet the Grand Canal again on the backside of the island.  The bridge was jammed with tourists, cameras in hand, all of whom were trying to get the very "best" shot:

But not everyone in Venice is a tourist, although it seems that way most of the time.  The UPS (boat) driver was hard at work making deliveries, too:

but this gondolier had decided to take a break::

After scoping out the area for a while, we walked back to the hotel via a different route, coming upon this lovely view of a small canal:

We also happened upon one of the bazillion gelato shops in Venice and both had scoops of tiramisu gelato, which we enjoyed all the way back to the hotel.  Delizioso!!

When we arrived back at the Danieli, we saw that Tauck had reserved a section of the lobby for its guests.  Fruits, cookies and drinks were available, so we decided to sit for a bit and recharge.  Earlier we had picked up our Tauck info packet, including a list of all the group's participants - names and hometowns.  We were the only listing from Canandaigua, but it turned out that many other travelers were interested to meet us, as they also had connections to the Finger Lakes area.

The first couple to connect approached us in the lobby as we were resting after our walking adventure.  On first meeting, everyone in the group seemed to share first names and where they were from..  When we said "Canandaigua, New York," Mimi said, "oh, we've been looking for you."  It turns out they lived in Pittsford (as did we) for several years.  I asked her where they lived and when she told me the street name, I asked if she knew my friend, Marty.  She looked at me with wide eyes and said, "she was our hext door neighbor!"  I explained that Marty and I had worked together at Pittsford Ambulance every Wednesday evening for 13 years!  Marty was the driver and I was the medic on the 6-11 shift and we had the best time working together.  We still see each other occasionally, and I will be sure to tell her about traveling with Mimi and Carl.

In the evening, all the Tauck guests met for a welcome cocktail and dinner reception in a private room at the hotel. We walked into the event with another couple, Rita and Gene from Orange County, California, and ended up at a dinner table with them,, Mimi and Carl, and another couple. The three Tauck directors had split up the large group into 3 smaller groups, and those were the groups that would tour together.  We learned that Mimi and Carl, and RIta and Gene were in the same group with us.  And from that night on, we were a happy group of six.  Instant friends and a fun way to start the trip.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

our adriatic adventure begins!

We've just returned from  a great trip to Venice and a cruise down the Dalmatian coast. 

Planned for over a year, departure day finally arrived on September 10.  We flew to Philadelphia, waited around for several hours and then boarded our US Airways flight to Munich.  And we sat.  And sat.  And sat.  Finally the captain came on and said that "the log had been taken from  the plane by the maintenance guys and they didn't know how long it would be to get it back."  What did that mean??  Two hours later, still at the gate and still on the plane, the pilot announced that the log had been returned and they were cleared to depart.  Our 2.5 hour layover in Munich, which seemed generous when we booked it, had suddently shrunk to 30 minutes.

There was nothing we could do about it, so we ate dinner and tried to sleep.  Breakfast was served and we landed in Munich.  40 minutes to make our connection.  We RAN through the airport to get to immigration, got our passports stamped and continued to run to the Lufthansa gate, which was as far as possible from  the immigration check point. Of course.  Is it ever the closest one?  Not that I can remember.

We got to that gate and the agent couldn't find Larry's reservation in their system, although mine was there and we were travelling on the same confirmation number.  She determined that we had been rebooked on a later flight, but managed to get us back on our original flight to Venice with moments to spare.  Up we went over the alps and minutes later we were on our way down to Venice.  After landing, we hiked another 10 miles (or so it seemed) to the baggage area and amazingly our bags made it.  We were never so happy to see the strips of neon green duct tape that we have plastered all over our bags.  (Hint for fellow travelers:  those duct tape strips have helped us locate missing/misplaced bags several times and make traveling with checked luggage on long trips much, much easier).

We were traveling with Tauck for the second time (long-time readers will remember our trip to France several years ago) and we were met by their reps once outside the baggage area.  They led us and a few others to a water taxi, our luggage was loaded on after us, and off we went.  We quickly crossed the lagoon and approached the area of St. Mark's Square.  Boat traffic was crazy busy and the congestion around the small canal to get to our hotel's taxi entrance was astonishing.  Water taxis, private boats, numerous gondolas, a garbage boat and several vaporettos (water buses) were all maneuvering around each other on the Grand Canal. Think Times Square with no traffic lights.

Finally our water taxi was able to enter the canal and pull up to the back entrance to the Hotel Danieli, now a member of the Starwood Hotel Group and formerly the palace of a Venetian shipping merchant.  The hotel lobby was rather overwhelming at first, but we got used to it:

Check in was easy and our room  was ready - good thing, as we were asleep on our feet.  We set the alarm  and took a 3 hour nap, then rallied to walk over to St. Mark's Square and to find some dinner.  Venice was still hopping and there were crowds everywhere.  We managed to find our way around without getting lost and explored several back streets and canals:

After dinner we strolled back to the hotel, once again crossing St. Mark's Square.  Most of the pigeons were off roosting for the night, but the crowds were still enjoying the nice weather and many of the square's cafes had musicians playing:

We said good night to the square and took one last look around before heading "home" for the night: