Rhodes

July 24, 2014

Rhodes, Thursday July 10.

We woke up at 6:30am. And we were a bit late getting up for breakfast. It was almost 8am and Cabanas was jammed. We did a find a table by the window but it was generally a bit chaotic in the restaurant.

We disembarked a bit later than planned at around 8:30am. It was an easy walk from the ship to the old town of Rhodes. Weather was sunny and windy.

Our first task was to secure some Euros. And we were not too sure about how to obtain the money. Do we go to a bank? Do we have to follow some unusual protocol?

No. Just go to an ATM machine just like in Canada. Stick in your card and out comes money. Armed with some additional Euros we were ready to invade the city. (Click on any photo for a larger image and slideshow)

ATM

However, Rhodes is extremely well fortified. Even today.

Best to know one thing from the start about the Old Town of Rhodes: it’s not laid out on a grid — not even close. There are roughly 200 streets or lanes that simply have no name. Getting lost here is not an option.

When we approached the walls of the Old Town of Rhodes, we knew that we were about to enter the oldest inhabited medieval town in Europe.

We walked around the old town which was literally devoid of tourists. But not for long.

Old Town of Rhodes

Old Town of Rhodes

Old Town of Rhodes

Old Town of Rhodes

Rhodes Shopping Area

We explored this truly delightful town for about an hour or so before we found the Palace of the Grand Master. We spent an hour touring the Palace. A spectacular building with a lot of history related to the Knights Templar.

Palace of the Grand Master

Palace of the Grand Master

Palace of the Grand Master

After the Palace tour, we wandered aimlessly through the old town taking in part of the walled city until we came across the Archeological Museum. Since we were there, we picked up a few tickets and toured the musuem. It was a good tour. Parts of the musuem prohibited photography.

We learned quite a bit about the sophisticated artisans that lived thousands of years ago. They created wonderful vases, dishes, stone tablets etched with writings. We learned about how they treated their dead which consisted of burial caves where loved ones were laid to rest with their most prized possessions.

After the museum, we stopped for lunch at a sidewalk cafe along the main shopping road. We were under a tree that dropped some type of hard berries. Fortunately they missed our food and drink.

After lunch we walked for another few hours stopping at one point for some ice cream.

Rhodes Old Town

Rhodes Old Town

Rhodes Old Town

Rhodes Old Town

We returned to the ship by 3pm. Matthew left for Vibe and Lorraine and I decided to take another hour or so at Rhodes before the ship was to castaway at 4:45pm.

We were looking for a few souvenirs and we picked up a couple of shirts and a dress. We had already bought a souvenir magnet earlier in the day.

Rhodes Old Town

Rhodes Old Town

Rhodes Old Town

Rhodes Old Town

Our evening meal was at Animater’s Palate. Mehmet had encouraged us to arrive on time which Matthew and I did. Lorraine eventually showed up looking very nice in her new dress.

We had to create an animated character as part of the meal experience. In true Disney fashion, we saw our characters come to life as part of an animated feature. It was very clever and we really enjoyed the experience.

We retired back to our stateroom at around 8:15pm. Lorraine spent a bit of time doing laundry. Matthew went to Vibe. Richard went to the couch.

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Ephesus

July 23, 2014

Ephesus, Wednesday July 9

The port of Kusadasi, Turkey was not quite what I expected. (Click on any photo for a larger image and slideshow).

Port of Kusadasi

We arose at around 6:00am. Breakfast at Cabanas and down to Fathoms Deck 3 to queue for our bus. Like the previous day, we were in a bit of a race with a family that was bound and determined to get a seat up front. Didn’t matter as there were no front seats to be had. The seats were reserved for the tour guide and escort.

Upon disembarking the ship at around 8am, we were warmly greeted by our Turkish hosts. The greeting included a red carpet and dancers. There were numerous representatives from the tour operator and they also provided a warm welcome to Turkey.

The bus was very well equipped. A recent model Mercedes-Benz bus complete with wood trim on the seats. The tour operator also provided goodie bags with maps, souvenir items and wipes. Our tour guide was Sinaan. He had excellent English language skills. He was very friendly and very informative.

We made our way to Ephesus which was only about a 20-minute drive from the port of Kusadasi.

Ephesus is similar to Pompeii in that it is an active archeological site that is also open to tourists. Ephesus in certain respects is a far more impressive site. We had the opportunity to see the grounds as well as the Slope Houses.

The ancient city of Ephesus was one of the great cities of the Greeks in Asia Minor and home to the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Today, the ruins of Ephesus are a major tourist attraction, especially for tourists on Mediterranean cruises. Ephesus is a sacred site for Christians due to its association with several biblical figures, including Paul, John and Mary.

Ephesus

Ephesus

Ephesus

Ephesus

One of the highlights was climbing the stairs of the Great Theatre of Ephesus — an outdoor arena that could hold up to 25,000 people.

In the 1st century AD, Paul spent over three years in Ephesus preaching the Gospel. According to tradition, he delivered a sermon condemning pagan worship in this theatre. And according to the Acts 19:23-41, the theatre was the site of the riot of the silversmiths in which those who made silver figures of Artemis rioted because Paul’s preaching was bad for business.

Construction of the Great Theatre of Ephesus may have begun during Hellenistic times: Lysimachus (d.281 BC) is traditionally credited with building the theatre, but so far there is no archaeological evidence for its existence before 100 BC. However, Lysimachus may have chosen the building site and begun the preparation of the site, a process that required 60 years of digging in the mountainside. Yes. 60 years of digging.

A small Hellenistic theatre was probably built here around 200 BC, but the theatre seen today dates almost exclusively from Roman times. Constructed primarily in the 1st century (beginning about 40 AD), it was expanded periodically and used continuously until the 5th century.

Earthquakes damaged the theatre in the 4th century, after which it was only partially repaired. By the 8th century, the theatre was incorporated into the city defense system.

Sinaan: I was listening to all of your commentary during the tour.

Up I climbed to the very top of the stadium. If you look down and just to the right, you can see Matthew in the red hat and shirt. He didn’t make it all the way to the top.

Grand Stadium

Another highlight was the Library of Celsus.

Library of Celsus

And I also have to highlight the Slope Houses.

The Slope Houses were used from the 1st century to 7th century, and then were abandoned. Around this time, after the devastating Arab raids and the continued silting up of the harbor, the remaining inhabitants of Ephesus moved to Ayasuluk hill (near the Basilica of St. John). After being abandoned, the Slope Houses gradually fell into decay. However, a number of them were filled with soil from landslips, which preserved them and their contents.

The Slope Houses are still being excavated and are sometimes covered by a tent, but are usually open to the public. They can be reached by a flight of steep steps from Curetes Street. The ruins have been divided by archaeologists into Slope House 1 (south) and Slope House 2 (north, closer to the Library). Each house had three stories, running water, heating, and an atrium with an entrance onto the side street. We were able to tour the Slope Houses.

Slope Houses

Archaeologist at Work

Slope Houses

We did have a couple of forced stops. One at a shopping plaza where we tasted Turkish delights and we bought a magnet. We viewed a short presentation that seemed to recreate a gladiator battle. Not sure why.

Turkish Tours

But the forced stop only lasted 20 minutes or so and then we were on our way back to port. The second forced stop was a hard sell on Turkish carpets. But we avoided that stop and simply walked away. We did go back to the ship but since we were still in port, we decided to go back out and walk around Kusadasi. And I am glad that we did. We went through the Grand Bazaar in the old town. My, oh my. Those streets vendors are very aggressive. Matthew and I had our Canada caps on and all we heard was “Canada, come and spend your money!”

Grand Bazaar

English was everywhere in the Grand Bazaar. But it looks like Miller had a problem with the Cafe Center’s umbrella.

Cafe Center

You could not pass any restaurant or storefront without being accosted.

Great Bazaar Restaurants

Pizza Pizza? In Turkey?

Pizza Pizza

Only 1 Euro for an orange juice. The bottled water was far more expensive here.

Fresh, Cold Orange Juice

Coloured stairs led away from the Grand Bazaar.

Coloured Stairs

Although the vendors were very aggressive, the Grand Bazaar was an interesting experience and I don’t think I have seen a bazaar like this one anytime before in my life.

Genuine fake watches which, I was told, are much, much better than fake fake watches.

Genuine Fake Watches

Waffles or ice cream cones? I did not see any waffles. Apart from the signs. Perhaps these were genuine fake waffles?

Waffle

There were literally hundreds of souvenir stalls in the Grand Bazaar with street vendors ready to pounce from chairs or from the shadows.

Souvenir Stalls

The ship left port at around 5:00pm. Calm waters. Warm temperatures. I had to encourage Lorraine and Matthew to stop standing in front of the ship so that we could get going. I mean, do people normally just stop in front of a ship like that?

Disney Magic

We had our dinner at Lumiere’s.

Lorraine went to see a Disney production in the main theatre. Matthew went to Vibe. I went to the couch.

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Athens

July 22, 2014

Athens, Tuesday July 8, 2014.

We arrived at the port of Piraeus, Greece.

Early morning breakfast to get ready for our excursion at about 8:15am. This was our longest excursion at around 8 hours. Due to a somewhat aggressive exercise session from the previous day, I had successfully managed to wreck my back and I was in a fair amount of pain. Fortunately we were on a well equipped Mercedes bus seated near the front. Click on any image for a larger photo and slideshow.

Number 2

Our tour guide was Penny and she took us through the highlights of the port of Piraeus which turned to be three ports in one. A port for the cruise ships, a port for the super yachts and a port for the freighters.

Athens appeared to be quite run down. And our guide continually referred to the financial chaos that had engulfed Greece. Many of the nicer areas of the city were actually still under duress with depressed real estate values and, in some cases, abandoned properties. The super yachts were also not immune.

Our first stop was at the newer stadium that was built in Athens to celebrate the history of the games. Whereas yesterday we walked the very first Olympic stadium in history, today we were able to view the Panathenaic stadium in Greece.

Panathenaic Stadium

We drove around Athens and made our way to the National Archeological Museum.

The museum tour began at a rather slow pace. The guide seemed to be spending an inordinate amount of time providing a history lesson about the earliest burial protocols from several thousand years ago.

However, things picked up as we started to move through the museum and then it became clear that there was a lot to see here. Unfortunately, we could only spend about 90 minutes. We had roughly 20 minutes of free time and one of the museum guides directed us to the second floor to view the vases and frescoes. Very impressive exhibits.

National Archaeological Museum

National Archaeological Museum

National Archaeological Museum

National Archaeological Museum

National Archaeological Museum

There were a number of artists in the museum busily at work.

National Archaeological Museum

We returned to the bus and waited for a family that apparently did not get the memo to meet back at the bus for 11:00am. They finally arrived about 10 minutes late which I guess was fun for them as they were viewing the museum artefacts whereas those of us in the bus could only take in the bus seats. Although the bus seats were nice. But not that nice.

Our next step was the Acropolis. It was very hot and crowded however viewing the theatre area as well as the three temples was awesome.

Entrance to the Acropolis

Odeon of Herodes Atticus

20140708_athens_190

From the official website:

The Acropolis, and the Parthenon in particular, is the most characteristic monument of the ancient Greek civilisation. It continues to stand as a symbol in many ways: it is the symbol of democracy and the Greek civilisation. It also symbolises the beginning of the Western civilisation and stands as the icon of European culture. The Parthenon was dedicated to Athena Parthenos, the patron goddess of the city of Athens and goddess of wisdom. It was built under the instructions of Pericles, the political leader of Athens in the 5th century BC. The Parthenon was constructed between 447 and 438 BC and its sculptural decoration was completed in 432 BC. In 1987 it was inscribed as a World Heritage Site (UNESCO, 1987). Uniquely, capturing the gravity of the Athenian Acropolis as a symbol, UNESCO recognises that “[...] the Acropolis, the site of four of the greatest masterpieces of classical Greek art – the Parthenon, the Propylaea, the Erechtheum and the Temple of Athena Nike – can be seen as symbolizing the idea of world heritage” (UNESCO, 2006).

Parthenon

Parthenon

Erechtheion

Being on a high elevation offered remarkable views of Athens.

Athens

Athens

We had the opportunity to walk up to Mars Hill where Paul had preached many years before.

Mars Hill

After the Acropolis, we made our way to the Plaka district for an authentic Greek Souvlaki lunch. I had never eaten souvlaki before and it wasn’t too bad. The restaurant was a bit like family dining in that we were crowded with our tour partners and the food came as shared plates for the most part.

When we finished our lunch, we had the opportunity to shop in the Plaka neighbourhood which turned out to be a bit rough for an apparently upscale area. This is literally what part of the shopping district looked like:

Desolate in Athens

Rough enough that I felt a bit uncomfortable so we did not venture too far from the main shopping area. It did include a bazaar style avenue complete with aggressive restaurant staff that tried to get us to eat more food at their tables.

The Plaka

The Plaka

The Plaka

Tourism

We did enjoy some gelatos at an open square.

Gelato

And then we made our way back to the bus and back to the ship.

We did note that the outdoor temperature had reached 40 degrees Celsius. It was a dry heat.

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Olympia, Greece

July 21, 2014

Monday, July 7th. Katakolon was our first port of call in our cruise. It is a very small town of about 600 people. And, as far as I could tell, it exists primarily to host the cruise ships. As we pulled into Katakolon, there was another cruise ship of about 3,000 passengers. In just a few minutes, the population of the town was going to grow from 600 people to 6,000 people.

First sighting of Greece from our stateroom. Click on any image for a larger photo and slideshow.

Katakolon, Greece

The port of Katakolon already had another large cruise ship. Thousands of tourists were about to descend on this tiny town.

Katakolon, Greece

We boarded a bus that would take us to Olympia. There was a guide of sorts whose name was Ior. She provided a bit of background on Katakolon and a little bit of context for Olympia.

That said, the grounds of Olympia are readily viewed on your own. We had to purchase our tickets which required a brief wait at the gate. It was a very hot day and we were mindful about staying hydrated.

Keeping Hydrated

As you can tell from the photo, Olympia does attract a few visitors. I suspect that most came from the cruise ships.

Tourists at Olympia

Passing through the gates was like passing through time. Structures that had been built for the original Olympic games circa 600 BC were still standing. Not in their original state but as various columns, walls and, as one tour guide put it, rocks on the ground. It was quite a sight to see the ancient grounds.

Mosaic Floor at Olympia

Olympia

Olympia

Olympia

I learned a few things about Olympia. The area was inhabited in the beginning of the second millenium BC.

Tradition holds that the first Olympic Games were held in 776BC, but they might actually have started way before then. The games were a peace treaty between Sparta and Elis, and it was decided that all Greek states could take part in them as long as they respected the sacred truce that must be held during the games. This period of peace was for a month at first, but because so many states took part and people from all over came to watch, it was extended to three months, always during summer.

Because the sacred truce gave the kings and leaders from all over Greece a chance to meet unarmed, Olympia became an important place for political discussions and trade. It also enhanced the feeling of unity amongst the Greeks, along with the language and religion.

Olympia was to be renovated many times, and new buildings were added through the ages. Famous people came here to watch the games, such and Plato and Aristotle.

Slaves and women, especially married ones, were strictly forbidden to watch the games, and if a woman was caught as a spectator, she was immediately thrown off Mt. Typaeon.Women were allowed to compete.

Barbarians were allowed to watch, but not to compete. A competitor had to be a free, unpunished Greek and he had to have trained for the games in his home for ten months, and for one month in Olympia. The winners did not receive any money, but were greatly honored. The prize was an olive wreath from Zeus holy tree, and the winner was allowed to raise a victory statue.

We went out the the old stadium and walked the start and stop markers that were used for the original games. It was a tad to warm to be sprinting although we did see some people race from the blocks.

Olympia Stadium Arch

In this completely candid shot without any prompting from me, Lorraine and Matthew decided to sprint from the original stone blocks of the stadium.

Sprint

The crowds were not so bad once we got on the grounds. Here is a birds-eye view of the stadium. The track itself is 212.54 m long and 28.5 m wide, at least according to my precise measurements.

Olympia Stadium

We were able to get through the grounds in about an hour or so and then we made our way to the Olympus Archeological Museum. The museum was nice. Somewhat small. But air conditioned. And a number of interesting artefacts that helped to reinforce the history of the region. Here is one example.

Olympia

Matthew takes a break on the steps just outside the Archaeological Museum of Olympia. It was a very hot day and we did a lot of walking on the ancient grounds. Both Matthew and I wore our Canada hats. As a consequence, we met many Canadians. Generally, they would engage us by saying something like: “Hey, are you from Canada?”

Archaeological Museum of Olympia

We walked back to the small village of Olympus to wait for our bus. It was a good first port excursion as it was not too long a session. We were still adjusting to the time zone changes and the hot weather.

Lorraine and I dropped Matthew off on the ship and made our way back to the small town of Katakolon. The first thing you see when disembarking the ship is a small tourist information booth. It was not open.

Tourist Information

The main dock building was in a bit of a state of disrepair.

Katakolon

The main street of Katakolon is only a few hundred metres in length. And most of the buildings are small shops.

Katakolon

Katakolon

The dockside area had a number of gift shops under tents.

Tourist Shops

The dock area provided a nice view of the Disney Magic.

Disney Magic

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At Sea

July 20, 2014

Sunday, July 6th was our day at sea. We were still adjusting to the 6-hour time zone difference when we were told to set our clocks back yet another hour. Travelling to Europe is amazing. Dealing with jet lag, not so much.

Today would be a bit of a relaxing day. A chance to enjoy the ship and to prepare ourselves for the upcoming ports of call.

And a punishing 2-hour exercise session at the fitness club. Have to try to keep in shape with all of this eating.

With that, let’s explore the Disney Magic.

The Disney Magic was launched in 1998. She was refurbished in 2008 and went through another refurbishment in 2013. She is 984 feet in length, a maximum width of 106 feet and she can cruise at up to 22 knots. She can hold 2,700 passengers. The Magic has 11 decks.

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, we were in stateroom 7092. (Click on any image for a larger photo and slideshow).

Stateroom 7092

However, many Disney passengers cannot tolerate a minimalist doorway into their stateroom. All around the passenger decks were doors like this one on stateroom 7043.

Stateroom 7043

When we first entered the ship on deck 3, this was our view.

Disney Magic

Disney Magic

Disney Magic

Deck 3 midships is the main gathering area for many of the shipboard events and it would usually include live entertainment and half a dozen photographers taking family portraits. It could get pretty crowded.

Senses Spa and Salon was where the fitness club was located on Deck 9 forward. A beautiful environment. Although I didn’t take any photos of the fitness area — there are some limits after all — the cardio machines overlook the bow of the ship. It was novel to spin and perceive forward momentum with panoramic views of the ocean.

Senses Spa and Salon

The Magic offers three main dining areas plus a buffet. I think our favourite restaurant was Animator’s Palate. It is a 462-seat restaurant on Deck 4.

Animator's Palate

Animator's Palate

Lumiere’s was likely our second favourite restaurant on the ship. More of a formal, elegant restaurant.

Disney Magic

Carioca’s was a bit of a step down from the other two restaurants. Pleasant but not as unique as Animator’s Palate and Lumiere’s.

Carioca's

And finally, Cabanas. I’ll show you the entrance into the restaurant. Beware of buffet restaurants. All you can eat buffet restaurants can be hazardous to your health.

Cabanas

Unique to the Disney Cruise Lines dining experience is the concept of rotating restaurants. We were assigned a table — for this cruise we were table 1 — and each night we went to a different restaurant. We were served by the same dining team. They become good friends during the cruise and their service is unlike anything I have experienced in a restaurant setting. They knew us by name before we met them. Here was our serving team. First was Cedomir from Croatia. He did so many small things to make the cruise memorable particularly for Matthew.

Head Server

Ralex was our drink server. He is from the Philippines. He has served on the Disney Cruise Lines for 15 years.

Drink Server

And Mehmet from Turkey was our server. Wonderful man. Always kind, attentive and very hard-working.

Server

To close off our tour of the Disney Magic, a few shots from around the ship.

Outdoor Dining

Smokestack

Disney Magic

Walt Disney Theatre

Water Slide

Outdoor Lounge

Cove Cafe

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Sailing Away

July 19, 2014

Saturday, July 5th. Today is the day we set sail from Venice.

Our time to leave for the ship was 11:00am so we had the morning to ensure that everything was packed and ready to go.

Not hard to do when you only have a few bags.

Travel Light

Venice is built on an archipelago of 117 islands formed by 177 canals in a shallow lagoon, connected by 409 bridges. I  know this because I counted all of the islands, canals and bridges. I also took photos of all of the bridges — okay, not all, but a few. Here is a sample of a few of those bridges. Click on any photo for a larger image and slideshow.

Bridge Over Canal

Bridge Over Canal

Bridge Over Canal

Bridge Over Canal

Bridge Over Canal

We took a water taxi ride to the main transportation hub in Venice. The photo above was taken on board the water taxi. A short drive to the terminal and we were ready to board the Disney Magic.

Disney Magic

The boarding protocol was much better organized this year. Last year at the port of Barcelona, it was a bit of a horror story. We were given the boarding call number 35 in Barcelona. At the time, I did not understand the significance of boarding call number 35. But, as we gathered in a huge, featureless room, it became clear that 35 was not a good number. We arrived to the Barcelona terminal waiting area at about 11:30am and, after half an hour of Disney calling boarding numbers, we were only at call number 4. Why on earth would Disney transport us from the hotel at 11:00am only to make us wait 2 hours or longer to board?

This year, we had the boarding number 12. And we were on the ship within 30 minutes.

Same stateroom as last year: 7092.

Stateroom 7092

Stateroom 7092

We left the port of Venice in the early afternoon which provided us some excellent views of the city from the ship. We did not have to join the crowds on deck as our verandah faced the city.

Venice

Venice

After an afternoon and evening getting reacquainted with the Disney Magic, we retired for the evening. And the first of many towel creations lay waiting in our stateroom. First day at sea ahead.

Stateroom 7092 Turndown

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Venice

July 18, 2014

Our first full day in Venice was Friday, July 4th. We had no set agenda other than to walk the city. And walk we did. According to my FitBit device, we walked about 12 miles.

Click on any photo for a larger image and a slideshow.

We started by exploring the canals near our hotel.Venice is certainly a city that exhibits character. Some view the character as a city in decay. And, in many respects, it definitely is in decay. But it also has character. Like this home. The building is a bit unusual in that it is all brick and the condition of the building is excellent. I wonder about the bars on all of the windows, both first and second levels. Obviously a bit of concern around the security of the building.

Canal

As before, we elected to spend most of our time away from the main tourist areas. The city itself is surprisingly quiet and all of the canals have wonderful highlights like this particular bridge.

Bridge Over Canal

Water taxis are the limousines of Venice: spacious leather-upholstered cabins, open-air seating in the stern, and private captains to chauffeur you up the Grand Canal or on a high-speed run between the airport and your hotel, they offer an experience that you won’t forget in a hurry. And you won’t forget the price either. A very expensive way to travel.

Water Taxi

Water Taxis

There was a surprising amount of graffiti in Venice. There were slogans like this one:

Graffiti

I’m not sure but I think this slogan is a protest against the MOSE project that is currently underway in Venice. This is a project that is intended to prevent flooding in the city of Venice. The project started in 2003 and it is expect to complete in 2016. The cost is roughly 7 billion euros. Environmentalists and some political groups strongly oppose the project hence the slogan: Grandi opere, grandi affari solo per la mafia which roughly translated means great business for the mafia.

You can learn more about the MOSE project here.

Venice is a relatively compact city and you really cannot get lost. Which is why we used a map. We were lost. Lost without our smartphones and GPS.

Lost in Venice

There are restaurants everywhere in Venice. In the alleyways and by the canals.

Eating in Venice

Eating in Venice

Dinner

And how is the food delivered to the restaurants? By boat.

Freight

Although we wandered away from the tourist areas, we were never really that far from tourists. And most of them carried cameras. It was a bit concerning at first as everyone seems to be carrying a camera and taking pictures of you as part of their touring. Then again, I might just be a touch paranoid.

Smile

Lots of selfies in Venice. And yes. I decided to take pictures of other tourists too. When in Venice…

Selfie

Here are a few other shots from the day in Venice.

Canal

Canal

Laundry

Hotel

And a shot of a leaning tower in Venice. This one is at Campanile di Santo Stefano. The Church of St. Stephen was founded in the 13th Century and underwent renovations in both the 14th and 15th Centuries. The lean is quite dramatic.

Leaning Tower of Venice

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Travel Day

July 17, 2014

Every journey has a beginning and an end.

I like beginnings!

We left Kingston around noon on Wednesday, July 2nd. Our first stop was at the home of Lorraine’s aunt and uncle. They are such a wonderful couple and they had graciously offered us a place to park our car for our time away from Canada and they also drove us to and from the airport.

Of course, just getting into Toronto itself is a nightmare these days. We hit heavy congestion outside Whitby at 2:30pm. Although we were not in a big rush, we did want to have dinner with Keith and Marg before heading out to the airport. So we diverted off the 401 and slowly reconnected with Highway 407.

Three hours later and we had completed the first leg of our journey: Keith and Marg’s home.

After an early dinner, Keith and Marg drove us to Pearson. We arrived at the airport shortly before 6:00pm. We were able to walk right through security. We travelled light — only carry-on. So, no baggage check, no lines at the security gate and no customs protocol.

Our flight was supposed to start boarding at 8:15pm but we did not begin the boarding until 8:45pm. We were flying premium economy which allowed us to board early. We were also flying Air Canada Rouge which meant an older aircraft and a pretty basic flight experience. Seats were okay but we were really not able to sleep. I caught maybe an hour or two of sleep before we arrived into Venice at around 11:40am local time or 5:40am eastern daylight savings time.

In Venice, it was Thursday, July 3rd.

We left the airplane and the arrival gate a bit uncertain as to protocol. Unlike entering the United States where a customs official interrogates you with numerous detailed questions, European entry consists of a customs official with a stamp. And all the only thing they did was stamp our passports. No electronic scanning. No questions.

We made our way to the arrivals area hoping that our transportation to the hotel would be there. And, thankfully, a driver with our name on a placard was there patiently awaiting our arrival.

We had about a 20-minute drive to the main transportation drop-off point in Venice. From there we transferred to a water taxi and we enjoyed about a 15-minute trip to our hotel.
The ride along the canals, particularly the Grande Canal, was incredible. Venice is a stunning city.

The water taxi offered us the first view of our hotel — the Centurion Palace is the tallest palace at the centre of the image below (just underneath and in front of the large dome). Click on any image for a larger photograph and slideshow.

Grand Canal

We arrived at the dock of the Centurion Palace hotel in Venice. The hotel is basically at the farthest point of the Grande Canal. We were fortunate to be upgraded to a suite that overlooked the Grand Canal. Our arrival to the hotel was around noon. We had a few hours before our room was ready so we had lunch on the hotel terrace. The terrace is right by the water so we enjoyed a wonderful meal against an awesome backdrop of majestic palaces, gondolas and water taxis. Lorraine and Matthew strategized on our plans for the afternoon.

The Map of Venice

This was the view from our lunch table.

Grand Canal

After lunch, we walked briefly around the area of the hotel. Immediately outside the hotel was an artist with his dog. A very talented dog. When the artist was not painting, he played soccer with his dog. The dog could play. But, with 34 Celsius heat, the dog did not play for very long.

Artist and Companion

One of a number of stores near the hotel. Lots of interesting and unique products.

Gift Shop

We made our way back to the hotel to get settled into our room. By 3:30pm we were ready to walk through Venice.

And walk we did.

We walked 20 kilometres that day.

The Academy Bridge — Ponte dell Accademia — crosses the Grand Canal at the Galleria dell Accademia, one of the top museums in Venice. This is a popular crossing area for tourists as the bridge offers some excellent views of the Grand Canal. It is also covered in locks. Couples buy locks, place them on the handrails of the bridge and then throw the keys into the canal.

This bridge is also one of the main gateways to the tourist areas of Venice.

Here is a candid shot of Lorraine and Matthew on the Academy Bridge. I never, ever posed them for any of their photographs.

Academy Bridge

There are no cars in Venice. Nor did I see any motorcycles or scooters. And no cyclists. Except for the Forever Bicycles display at Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti in Venice, I did not see any road bikes. Well, correction. I did watch the Tour De France on TV both at the hotel in Venice and on the cruise ship. Yes, I know there was some other sporting thing going on — something to do with a soccer ball. But come on. Was anyone really watching anything other than the TDF??

Forever Bicycles

The display consists of 1,179 steel bicycles stacked and connected together. It took me some time to count them all.

As we progressed into the tourist areas, Venice became more and more congested. Even the canal system.

Gondola Congestion

Too many gondolas, not enough canals.

The square around San Marco was also congested with tourists. The main waterfront boulevard was also full of tourists.

Shopping in Venice

The Promenade near San Marco

The trick to touring Venice? Get away from the tourist spots. There are only a few areas where the tourists flock. And walking just outside of those tourist areas offers an entirely different experience of Venice. Here is a set of photos that show the beauty and the tranquility of the less travelled areas of Venice.

Venice

Venice

Venice

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Venice

Most of the tourists leave Venice at night. Even the Grand Canal becomes silent.

Grand Canal

And the gondola congestion eases off at night. Although you pay more for a gondola ride at night, it is well worth the extra cost.

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We returned to the hotel around 9pm. Exhausted and yet energized by this beautiful and vibrant place.

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