To see my tribute to Flo, go here

See about helping Flo's Haitian artist friends at Jakmel Ekspresyon

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Vienna and the return

I boarded the Austrian Airlines plane, notable for the sea of red.
The flight to Vienna went efficiently enough, with a map showing how far east we were going, seeing the Istrian coast, and a warning that we'd be going over a storm on arrival; we landed in heavy rain. There were long hallways to get to the arrivals hall (no stop needed at baggage claim) and I was ready to go to the city. In researching the trip, I'd looked into the trains to the city, then determined that it was instead best to take the bus to Morzinplatz/Schwedenplatz. I found the stop for it, having just missed the 16.50 bus, so I would get the 17.20. Having done most of my research for this well in advance, I didn't remember if it was possible to buy the ticket on board, and didn't see any sign indicating that. I went back into the terminal and found a counter for the Airport Bus line, with two men there talking to each other and a sign big enough to imply "We're closed"; the English text on it said "Comming [sic] soon: buy from Automat or driver," suggesting that those services weren't available yet. I wasn't getting help there. I went to the regular airport information counter, where they confirmed that I could buy on board. Back at the stop, the driver showed up, I put my bag in the hold, and I knew to ask for a Ründfahrt, or round trip, for €13, versus two round trips of €8. The rain had cleared, and the drive was interesting for the road signs directing to several other countries.

It was a 20-minute ride: of the two adjacent squares along the Danube, I'd thought of Schwedenplatz, but it really arrived at Morzinplatz, so it was an extra block between bridges, after I crossed the river, to get to my hotel, the Schick City Central. The man checked me in pleasantly, expressing regret that I just had one night, and gave me a wi-fi login. I got my bearings in the room before going out for my brief walk and dinner. I basically just had went as far as Stephensplatz (St. Stephen's Cathedral), seeing the streets full of people. The restaurant that I'd chosen was EF16, with an entrance in a little alley, where I'd made a reservation. I had a dish of large ravioli, and a Wiener Schnitzel, which overall fell short of expectations. Back through the lively streets and riverfront to the hotel, to bed before too long, as I got a text of Margaret's arrival in Charlotte.

I woke up to broad daylight and the fear that I'd overslept, but it was in fact 5 a.m. I could sleep a little longer and was still up before the alarm-set time of 6.30, which was where breakfast started. The hotel really shone in its breakfast offerings, with a room full of spreads of all kinds of pastries and cold cuts, even sparkling wine but I didn't partake of that. I did well enough before checking out and getting to the bus stop in time for the 7.30 bus. That went well this Sunday morning.

With my boarding pass in hand and no bags to check, I just needed to get to my departure gate. There was the security check and exit passport control, and long hallways to take in this airport that is like the big German airports in having gates on several levels above each other, differentiating Schengen and non-Schengen. With all this, it was 15 minutes from the bus arrival to my gate, two hours before scheduled departure. I'll also note that a cappuccino there cost €4.60, compared to an espresso at Rome airport for essentially the city price of €1.10. Agents reviewed my passport as I entered the gate area, and I got my Chicago-Kansas City boarding pass (my attempts to get a mobile pass on the United app hadn't succeeded).

Then we got past the posted boarding time of 8.40, and they announced a delay from 10.05 to 10.40. I thought this would end all hope of making my 95-minute connection in Chicago, and I asked at the counter about being protected on a later flight. At the gate counter, they said they couldn't help, but I could see about it at the ticket counter at the start of the concourse if there wasn't too long a queue. I found that I could get attention there, but the agent would not give me help. I was back at the gate, and before too long they called boarding, for all Economy passengers. Once I was seated, I heard the man in the couple behind me realize that he'd left his jacket in the gate area. He asked about getting back (the plane being much lower than that gate) and the attendant said she'd see about getting it retrieved. She did in fact show up with the jacket. When the plane pulled away, I was glad to see that the seat next to me was empty, it was around 10.30, and it took off before 10.40. My big worry had been that, once a delay is announced, it tends to get extended.

When flight information was showing on the seatback screen, it was showing an early arrival; apparently flight conditions were favorable. In the typical chicken-pasta choice for dinner, I got fried chicken. After the wine with lunch, I had some sleep; then I spent most of the rest of the flight working on blog composition. The good run of the flight kept up, and we landed early at Chicago O'Hare.

I still had to worry about making my connection. The flight arrived at Terminal 5 for international arrivals; on previous trips, I'd been on the American non-stop from Rome arriving at gate M1, the farthest gate to the northwest; this flight came to gate M19, the farthest east, where it seems like quite a long walk to get to the central customs area. There were some moving sidewalks. As we got close, there were signs saying that people with only carry-ons could keep right. This was posted in several languages, with English to the left, which could disorient people coming off a long flight. Another sign gave the program a name like OneStop. When I finally got there, there was roped-off line to the right just saying OneStop; I confirmed with the woman there that this was where to go with a carry-on. The customs agent confirmed that I was just going with a carry-on, took my landing card, and waved me through. People behind me were asking if they should have taken that line and got it answered. There I was in a hallway along the edge of the building, completely bypassing the customs hall, and winding up in the public arrivals hall.

I knew that I needed to get the train to my connecting terminal, and my United Express flight could use either Terminal 1 or 2. My walking route did not take me by any board that showed my connecting gate. I went onto the United app to determine my gate at Terminal 1. I got the train to that terminal. Since the pass issued by Austrian for a United flight would not show if I had Pre-check, I went to a kiosk (there was a line of them with no one using them) and got a pass which, happily, showed Pre-Check. I had a peek at long lines for regular security, while I went to the special entrance for Pre, where I was cleared promptly. Now there was the underground walkway to Concourse C, and to my gate close to one of the ends of that concourse. Getting between some of the most distant gates, it was 55 minutes from the runway to my connecting gate, and plenty of time before boarding; things had worked out well.

I boarded, with a friendly young woman coming from Paris seated next to me on the regional jet. There was an announcement that the boiler didn't work and there would be no coffee, which I hoped to have, and the plane went through a storm when landing. I had a shuttle to the motel where my car was parked, and I made my way home to see Margaret and the neighbors who had us over. A full day to end a full trip, a great experience as my travel has taken a new form with Margaret as part of it.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Final week in Umbria and Rome

There's much to catch up with as I start this at Vienna airport.  Early on Tuesday morning I went to Perugia airport, where I met the fast-traveling two young women, the neighbors' daughter and her friend, arriving on a flight from Cagliari.  We had a fine time for the little time that we saw them, as the time included their full day trip to Rome on the bus, including missing the return bus so we needed to meet them on the train at Ponte S. Giovanni.

Now another font from offline composition on the plane: After final greetings with the local people we saw every day, we loaded the car for an 8 a.m. departure to Rome, to make the 11 a.m. promised rental return time.  I hadn't had a need for the TomTom satnav GPS we have for Europe before on this trip.  I'd turned it on in the house and it seemed the battery was drained.  I plugged it into the car lighter, and it was having problems getting a signal around even the small Umbertide buildings.  Margaret said a signal came up right when we left the piazza, and I figured I could put the destination in when we next had a stop.  That was at the end of the autostrada, when I filled up with diesel fuel.  After the pumps there was only a place to hover:  I put in the destination as a street intersection:  the device said it was looking through thousands of routes and I handed it to Margaret to say when the route was finally showing.  She saw that it gave walking directions; as she was trying to reset it, it pulled up a last destination on Capri.  Apparently I'd used it for walking directions there, and that was the last I'd used it.  Margaret was not seeing how to change it to driving directions; I'd looked over the route on Google Maps the previous day and had a general sense of it, but I'd have liked to know when the turns were approaching.  The worst problem was when I guessed I was at the spot to turn left, I figured I was fully in the left-turn lane, waiting at a red arrow, but a van behind me was honking, indicating I was blocking the way to go straight with a green light, so I went ahead and went straight.  It turns out that took me on a loop so I could go back and get on the street where I wanted, this time as a right turn.  Hoping I had it correct, I was looking for via Po and there it was:  I was making my way where I wanted in Rome with minimal trouble.  I got to our hotel, the Principessa Isabella, and left Margaret off with most of the bags, a problem since she isn't supposed to lift much and there's an outdoor ramp down to the entrance to turn in before one is in view of desk staff.  I was stopped in the street with no place to pull over, but only motorcycles showed up in the time I was stopped.  I made my way to the designated return spot at the garage of the Hotel Excelsior on via Sicilia.  Europcar staff took over the car when I pulled in, and I later got an email of the final charges for road taxes showing that they'd done dynamic currency conversion converting the charge to dollars, something I disapprove of but the extra charge was small.

I walked back to our hotel, Margaret had not tried to check in; I found that our room would not be ready until 2, ending a string of good luck I've had in that regard in Rome.  We walked towards via Veneto, expecting to find overpriced places if we were thinking of having lunch, but found the Stil Novo, offering an "Easy Lunch."  They offered main dishes with sides for €10.  We got back to the hotel around 1.30, and could get into the room.  Margaret encouraged the dour desk manager to smile, and he did, saying he was dealing with a dental problem, so we had more sympathy about his attitude.

We were settled in the room, and didn't have much of an agenda for these two days in Rome; we'd left open the chance that Lisa and Dawn would be there and we'd do things together.  For now, our stroll took us to Villa Borghese with many people out, leading us back to via Veneto and our hotel.  We had dinner at a Sardinian restaurant, where I had a fried seafood platter and Margaret stuck to Roman specialties.

We awoke to rain the next morning.  We had the hotel's nice breakfast spread and wondered what to do, since we were to check out by noon to move to another hotel (both stays on points).  Margaret wasn't up to any museum visits; we talked about going to Stazione Termini for the enclosed shopping space, although it's a place to be on one's guard.  We started to walk there, with one small umbrella, and it wasn't working; we turned around, preferring to sit in the lobby rather than the small room.  We had the idea to call the next hotel and ask if a room would be ready, and it was.  We checked out and had them call a taxi (actually make an online request), and the rain had stopped.

Our destination was the Hotel de la Ville.  The taxi overshot it and went to the Hassler; we could have walked next door easily enough, but the driver insisted on going around the block to do it right, with the meter running.  We checked in to the nice place at the top of the Spanish Steps.  Margaret's interest now was in taking a walk to Piazza Navona, Campo de' Fiori, and Via Monserrato, where the school where we met was.  We had sandwiches at a bar on the way, and also paused for a drink at the Caffè Farnese.

We'd had some calls and notes during these days to meet with Slow Travelers Wendy and Rob.  Now it was time to meet them for drinks at the Hotel Excelsior.  We got an honest taxi driver taking us between these top-class hotels for €5.  It was a very pleasant meeting with them, in anticipation of more time with them on the Monterey Peninsula in July.

Without having given much thought to where we would have our last dinner, we took Wendy and Rob's suggestion to go to Nino, where I'd eaten decades ago.  It's a Tuscan place in demand, with people waiting outside at the 7.30 opening, and we got in.  We found it tourist-oriented, but nice.

Now it was the eve of our separate departures.  Margaret got her boarding passes printed; I had wanted a mobile BP from Austrian Airlines, but I was running into problems.  They were giving a list of departure places that didn't include Rome or most of the busier airports.  I ran into the same problem also on the business center's desktop.  

In the morning, I saw Margaret off on the limo we'd arranged through Rome Shuttle Limousine.  I could stay in the room a few more hours, getting some texts on her progress, before I needed to go.  Being on my own, I tried the cheap public transport route.  I checked out of the hotel, and went to the top of the Spanish Steps, where there's a metro entrance calling for going down some steps, then getting the elevator.  The metro and other shortcut walkway was very busy, I bought a ticket from the machine, saw how the turnstiles now operate, and took a series of escalators down to the metro tracks.  On the train, a young man gave up his seat to me with my luggage; I guess I now look old enough to deserve such an offer.

I went to Termini, where I'd made an advance  booking, printing the ticket, for the Terravision bus.  I found the Terra Café on via Marsala, on the side of the train station, where I needed to show the prepaid (€4) ticket to get a plastic boarding card assuring my place on the bus.  The ticket said the pass issuance would start 20 minutes before departure; the line was long enough that I figured I'd get to the counter at that point, and I later heard them say it opened at 30 minutes.  I got that pass without problems and could wait on the sidewalk in the shade before the bus showed up at the median in the sun.  There was a woman with a bright vest with the airport name saying when to board; passengers put bags directly in the luggage hold, I boarded without problems, but others appeared to have trouble when they hadn't followed procedure.  We left with a full bus and a long line of people on the median in the sun; I'm not sure what their situation was, but I was glad to have boarded by procedure.

The bus got to Fiumicino airport, in the bus area past the end of Terminal 3, where I hadn't been before, and there was a departure board showing buses to Rome by the different companies.  Since I needed to do regular check-in, I found the designated counters for my flight, got boarding passes including for the next morning's flight, and wasn't challenged in carrying on my backpack.  I got a nice enough pasta dish at the Ciao cafeteria upstairs, and got the code to add value to my Italian cell phone in a year to keep the number active.  Airport security went relatively efficiently, and the departure gate to Vienna was posted only as Concourse D, no number given until within an hour of the flight; like many, I stood around a screen until it was posted, and went to that gate. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

More around Umbria

With Lisa and Dawn, Margaret and I had some active days around some of our favorite places in Umbria.  We had an outing to Montone, the town above us, where we met Slow Traveler Allen and his wife Jennifer, including a look at their apartment.

On Friday, after a brief stop in Città di Castello, we went uphill to Citerna where, as we remembered from before, a grocery store served at outside tables a tagliere, literally a cutting board, filled with excellent cold cuts and a little cup with ravioli with truffle sauce.  It was a pleasant time.

On  Saturday we didn't do much during the day, in anticipation of a big dinner where we were invited by Moira.   Her uncle was my best friend in my middle school days here.  Moira and her mother prepared a very full meal, so nice to be with her and her family, and her encouraging me to be active on Facebook basically led me to reconnect with Margaret, so how to measure the importance of that in my life?

We'd thought it best to avoid Gubbio on the day of the Ceri race Thursday, May 15, with the huge crowds that always go there; we went the following Sunday.  When I wanted to go to the easy parking area on Piazza 40 Martiri, access was blocked; I went way beyond there, not finding any place to turn around.  I eventually got turned around and went to the next choice, the Teatro Romano parking lot, where people were parked in the craziest way and I didn't want to take part.  I turned farther away from the town center and eventually found a fine parallel parking spot.  

We found that there were still crowds and activity there, because of the Ceri Mezzani, a version of the Ceri race for youth (mostly teenagers, I think).  Many youth were decked out in the colors of their teams, and we found people out there running around with smaller versions of these Ceri.  We went to Taverna del Lupo, a longtime favorite restaurant of my family's, where the truffled lasagne dish now had the title of sfogliatine.  Then a climb to Piazza Grande; taking the gradual street downhill, there was a table set up in the middle of the street, where wine was freely given to us.  

On Monday, Margaret wasn't feeling well, and it was time for Lisa and Dawn to move on to Spello.  I drove them, and it gets confusing where one winds up when driving there.  We wound up on the central piazza, and figured out where we were to go to pick up the keys at a bar for their rental apartment.  When we got there,  the bar-restaurant was closed on Monday, and there was no reply at the two phone numbers listed for the agency.  We were puzzling over what to do, and I went into the restaurant up the street, with the door open but well before serving time.  I asked the lady there, who was familiar with the agency, and found the owner's mother, who had the keys and let them in, a happy resolution to a potential problem. So we've had interesting times.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Umbertide, settling in

On arrival, it was nice simply to get settled in Umbertide.  We had some days of basic shopping around  town, including the Saturday farmers' market.

After a quiet weekend, when we were getting updates from Margaret's longtime friend Lisa, who was traveling with her mother Dawn in Florence and Lucca, we got word of their plans to arrive in Perugia Monday.  I got word to them to stay on the train past Perugia to Ponte S. Giovanni station, where it was easiest for us to meet them.  I was worried about it working out, when they were traveling without cell phones, but it all worked out, and we were glad to see them get off the train.  We had them settle into our house, and we went to dinner at the wonderful restaurant down our street, San Giorgio.  Some of us had the great specialty of mezzelune (half-moon shaped filled pasta) filled with a carbonara sauce and asparagus.

A quieter day Tuesday, with walks around town and rain later, was followed by a busy market day Wednesday.  Here are some pictures.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Out of Venice, on to Umbertide

On the morning of our departure from Venice, we didn't look forward to getting our bags over to pick up our rental car.  With the S. Marcuola stop closed, it was a choice between Ca' D'Oro on the Canal Grande, or Guglie on the Canale di Cannaregio.  They were about the same distance, but the former would call for crossing three bridges, the latter one and the start of another before turning.  I asked at a hotel about getting a porter, and got a card for someone to call.  I was expecting high prices, but this porter, Shadhen, available 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., tel. 333 224 1939, quoted €10 for two bags to Piazzale Roma, which seemed too good to be true.  We got him to come after we had the apartment cleaned as well as possible; there was a bit of a delay for him to find our location, but he got there and we also put our carry-ons on his cart.  It was hard to keep up with him on the walk to Piazzale Roma.  I thought it was fair to give him €30, which made him happy.  Compare that to the vaporetto at €7 per person where technically the bags need a ticket too, and it was very nice not to need to handle our bags.

We were at the Europcar office right around the appointed 11 a.m. time.  There was one agent on duty, and it was taking time to check in the previous customer.   Eventually they got to us, booked with a Kemwel voucher.  With our car type of Fiat Bravo or similar, I was skeptical when the agent said we'd get a Fiat 500 L.  A Fiat 500 evokes one thing for someone with a long history with Italy, not good for a long drive, but this was in fact a roomy enough car for our purposes, and a diesel.  I got my bearings well enough to get turned around and onto the bridge out of Venice, being especially alert to follow the speed limits, since I see many stories of people being caught by the speed cameras there.

We joined the autostrada, and it was overall a smooth ride.  We stopped for lunch at an Autogrill near Bologna.  I had cannelloni that could have been warmer, and Margaret had a nice cold plate of mozzarella, prosciutto, tomatoes, and olives.  We exited the autostrada at Cesena, and yes, the machine at the booth accepted my non-chip credit card.  Then it was a superstrada through the mountains to Umbertide, with some slowdowns and maybe one scary moment with lanes merging to one because of construction.

Arrival in Umbertide has been pretty calm, getting initial food from my longtime friend Angelo's grocery store.  On Saturday we had the farmer's market shortly outside our door, we did a little more shopping, and we've mostly had time to settle in before the arrival of friends expected tomorrow.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Venice, the long start

(Now this is showing out of order because of an edit I tried that didn't work.)
After the early arrival of the flight, we got to baggage claim and Margaret got her bag without my noticing, and bag delivery ended without my seeing my bag until I finally did.  In baggage claim I just saw a Travelex ATM; because of Travelex's reputation of high charges at their in-person exchanges, I was reluctant to use their ATM, although I guess any extra charges would have been disclosed.  Then in the arrivals hall, I didn't see any ATMs; I had Margaret watch the bags while I went to the departures level.  There I made two withdrawals of the machine's maximum of €250; I would have preferred €300, but this would cover the apartment payment and getting around for the day.

I got luggage carts that worked like shopping carts, inserting a coin that would be returned when the cart was chained to others.  We loaded it and took it to the Alilaguna dock, for the airport boat where I'd bought tickets online for a 1-euro discount.  I needed to exchange the voucher for tickets at the office by the dock.  There was a wait a little past the scheduled time to board, having them hold the luggage at the top level, somewhat ordered by destination, while we sat in a ring of seats on the lower level.  We had the nice view to make the approach to the city by boat.

I had planned this because the apartment representative had promised tomeet us and take us to the apartment, implying that it would be ready in time for our early arrival.  On Friday, however, I got an email not to expect it to be ready until 11.30, to allow for cleaning after a previous check-out.  I texted about our boarding, and figured we'd sit at a café until we heard it was ready.  There was no obvious spot right at the Guglie stop; as we were starting to look, we got a text to be at the S. Marcuola vaporetto stop in 20 minutes or so.  I looked for that and reached a few dead ends simply opening to the Canal Grande.  i eventually found the spot, and so that this stop, which would be the one of choice, would be closed from Monday through the week.  My phone rang, and I think Sara, the rep, simply turned the corner to see where the ring was coming from.  She and the man with her led us to our apartment, showing us there and it looked very nice, a studio apartment with a kitchen that was very nice and worked as a separate room, with a counter for eating and computer work.  While it was close to the Strada Nova (going by other names), a main walking thoroughfare, it was on a quiet street.
We were determined to keep active through the day.  We chose restaurants from the Chow Venice book and author Shannon's handwritten updates.  We had a nice opening lunch at Casa Mia, towards the Rialto.

We'd booked a 4 p.m. skip-the-line admission to S. Marco.  We walked there:  in the wide parts of the Strada Nova, the crowds were manageable, but we got to narrow areas where the crowds were heavy.  We got to S. Marco and the crowds, herded through, with the mosaics not illuminated as I'd hoped for Sunday.  We got home, after a stop for a spritz, and had a pizza nearby before collapsing for the night.

We slept soundly and late for Monday, with our first mission to get a SIM card for Margaret's iPad.  The €10 to get a lot of data time had a total cost of €25.  We walked to follow a back canal; after some distance, we went and stopped at a café for drinks and light eating, while we explored the GPS capabilities of the iPad with data.  I was encouraging Margaret to make that her device of choice while in Italy.  We went home, and I started working on this blog.  There was some drama when I first found my change wallet in the inner workings of the sofa bed.  I also wasn't finding the case for my iPhone, and I felt the need to fold the sofa bed up to look for it.  I found the case someplace else, and then it seemed that the sofa wouldn't turn back to a bed; eventually with a firm push I got it back.

But then Margaret wondered where the iPad was; had she used it since the café?  She used the Find feature on her phone,and found the iPad showing at the café.  We went back there, it was closed, but we saw the man behind the window who gave it back, what a relief.  Going out for coffee became close to dinner time; we were exploring some options of what to do and decided to go back to Fondamenta degli Ormesini where we'd been twice, and eat at Al Timon.  It was crowded, and we first had a selection of cicchetti; then the waiter suggested we might like the steak, which was priced by weight and huge, quite a full meal.

So those are the basics of these first two days, finding Venice great for its uniqueness, finding some crowds but also areas to get away.

Out on our anniversary and more

Wednesday was our first anniversary, and we woke up late.  From recent SlowTrav discussions, we'd decided that we'd like to go to Burano for lunch at the Gatto Nero.  This was the result of recent mentions on SlowTrav, where it was also made clear that we needed to reserve.  I was worried because when I went to their Web site on arrival, the first date for online reservations was Thursday, there was no answer on their closing day Monday, but on Tuesday I made a reservation by phone without a problem.

On Wednesday, we went to the Guglie stop to take one vaporetto to Fondamenta Nove, where we caught the other line to Burano.  It was a long ride, and we got to Gatto Nero just past our reserved time of 1.  We sat outside, even with a slight chill, and Margaret was impressed when they brought us prosecco, thinking they were marking our anniversary, but in fact they were bringing it even to people who were looking at the menu, although it may have been established that they were waiting to be seated.  The restaurant had a sign up that they were full for the day, but they could still get people in with a wait.  We shared a risotto, Margaret had sole, and I had grilled scampi.  They comped us our dessert and coffee.  It was a great way to celebrate a year of marriage, an I can't completely  come to an understanding of it, but it's a wonderful thing.  We just had a little time to walk around Burano with its multiple colors and great shops, before we made our way home.  

On Thursday, we had a booking for the Secret Itineraries tour of the Doges Palace.  With it starting at 9.55, I figured that, after a quick online check at 9 we could get to the vaporetto.  Well, a few things went wrong:  the S. Marcuola stop closing, meaning we needed to go to to Ca' D'Oro, where we got just as  a run of our line was leaving.  I also hadn't looked at the schedules:  even if they wouldn't be followed exactly, I would know how long the run to S. Marco would take.  When we boarded the next one, there were so many stops and we got in late.  We asked at the palace ticket office about getting in, even rebooking with a later tour; they said it waan't possible, but then a guard led us to join the tour in progress, much appreciated, in being taken through the small rooms with interesting stories.  

Margaret wasn't feeling the best, and asked to leave before joining the regular palace visit.  I made a pretty quick visit of the grandiose rooms with great artwork, and the crossing of the Bridge of Sighs, before exiting and having trouble finding her, before I eventually did.  We then had a look at the Museo Correr, with a lunch at their cafe overlooking the Piazza, before Margaret was ready to go home.

After a rest, we had an afternoon walk including the Jewish Ghetto, very interesting.  Our dinner (reserved) was at Da Alberto, another of Shannon's top recommendations.  It was a popular place with excellent pasta and fish options:  I followed Shannon's advice to favor the specials.

We've been so busy that I haven't been blogging in detail, and it's hard to put final thoughts together about Venice as we leave:  it is a special city, with tourist crowds, but I saw much of it as a living city and a great place.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Getting around Venice

On Tuesday, I was ready to start the validity of the 72-hour vaporetto passes we bought online.  The initial plan was to convert them at the ticket machines at the San Marcuola stop, but I saw when we arrived to check into the apartment that the stop would be closed for the week, so we went to the Ca' D'Oro stop.  The instructions on the voucher said that we could input a code into the ticket machine and get our passes, but I was not seeing any such option:  it was either pay for the tickets, or wave a pass in front of the machine to extend the pass.  We went to the nearby tobacco shop, where they advised us to go to the staffed ticket office at Rialto.  There we were able to convert the passes, and it gets to be questionable what the advantage of the online purchase was.  

The first stop I had in mind was the Accademia.  We got there and had a nice visit of the great collection of Venetian-focused art, with a higher admission price than usual because of show of Carlo Saraceni.  It's impressive to visit grand structures that can't be supplied by land motor vehicles.

A walk afterwards took us to the Zattere, and from Shannon's guide we determined that it would be good to have a light lunch at Cantinone Già Schiavi.  There was a nice assortment of cicchetti, which we had to eat standing.  We found a place to get off our feet, sitting at a café on Campo S. Barnaba.  It wasn't too long to get to the next sight I had in mind, the Frari Basilica, an impressive structure, using it for the first of the three Chorus churches on our museum passes.  Seeing that the Scuola Grande di S. Rocco was nearby, we went there, the climb to the upper floor being rewarded with great artwork.

We got the vaporetto back to Ca' D'Oro and home, and it was close to time to cross the canal again for dinner:  at one of our breaks, I called to reserve at another of Shannon's favorites, La Zucca.  They could get us in at a shared inside table at 7.  Now with the passes, we made the trip one stop to San Stae, and found that.  It's at a nice intersection of small calli and canals.  It was hard to choose from their many dishes, mostly meat-based, many with pumpkin.  We both had tagliatelle with duck sauce and chicken tandoori, an innovative selection.

So, saying that for today; tomorrow's our anniversary.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Getting to Venice

We've settled in Venice and there's a lot to say; I haven't wanted to fall too far behind, but I've been ready to sleep when everything else was done.

To start:  We spent the night before our departure at an airport motel.  I thought, for our 6.55 a.m. departure, we'd need to take the motel shuttle at 5, but got persuaded to have their breakfast starting at 5, and took the shuttle at 5.30, which was fine.  Because I have US Airways' credit card, we had First Class check-in, plus we had TSA Pre-check to clear security quickly, even though the checkpoint, for only US Airways' flights, didn't technically have Pre-Check.  

We were at the gate in plenty of time, and the regional jet to Philadelphia went fine.  It had an early arrival for our 8-hour layover, where we had plans to go into Center City and see SlowTrav friends Terry and Sheri.  We got to the airport train station just in time to get the train 30 minutes earlier than the one we expected to take.  I texted Terry, who was on her way but delayed by traffic.  The Phila. airport train has an odd system where there are no ticket machines or booths at the airport; the only way of buying tickets is with cash on board.  We got off at Market East station; while Terry had planned to lead us from there to Reading Terminal Market, with neither place having a clear-cut main entrance, we went to the market on our own and texted Terry at which entrance we were, and she arrived.  It was great to see her while we took a look at the crowded historic place with a farmer's market and food stands.  We were lucky to find four spaces together at the eating tables, Sheri arrived, and we decided it would be better to find someplace else to eat without so much background noise.

We found Barbuzzo, with a nice assortment of cold cuts while I had a hamburger.  It was very nice to visit, and we went on to a gelato place across the street.  Before long, it was time to return to the airport to be there early.  We entered the train station where we'd entered before, and saw that the ticket booths were in the other side of the station.  We went there because I'd learned the system:  if we showed the recept for our  inbound ticket the same day, we'd get the surcharge for paying on board credited back to the return ticket.  The agent needed to do some paperwork, but it wound up that we spent $16 for our two inbound tickets, but $10 for the return.  Again, because of a small delay on that train, we got to the platform just in time to board the train.

We got back to the airport, and the signage was confusing as to how to get to Terminal A-West.  With our boarding passes in hand with Pre-check, however, there was a checkpoint right there for us to enter.  Another credit card benefit was a one-time entrance for the two of us to the airline club.  It was a little confusing to find, but it was there, right above our departure gate, nice for us to spend our few hours before boarding with a few drinks and munchies.  

We pre-boarded and found our seats.  There isn't a whole lot to report on the flight.  Not having slept much the previous night, I was ready to sleep before takeoff, but I was up for the meal, choosing chicken over pasta.  I got a little sleep, then the little cinnamon roll in the morning, and the flight got in early, around 8.30 instead of 9.15.  We got to baggage claim, Margaret got her bag without my noticing, and bag delivery was complete without my having seen mine; then I did spot it on the belt.