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

Venice

Venice

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.

20140703_venice_201

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

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Homeward Bound

July 16, 2014

We made it home from our European adventures although I am a few days without sleep and definitely suffering from the jet lag. All worth it.

I’ll post my travel notes over the next week or so. In the meantime, here are a few shots from our first day in Venice. Click on any of the photos for a larger image.

Water Taxi

There are really only two ways to navigate Venice: by foot or by water. We took a water taxi to our hotel and it followed a path along the Grand Canal. The water taxi looked similar to the one in the photo above.

As you might expect, there are many, many gondolas traversing the various waterways of Venice. And many other types of boats. The waterways are remarkably busy during the day.

Gondolas

Grand Canal

We stayed at the beautiful Centurion Palace hotel in Venice. We had a room that overlooked the Grand Canal. Here is a shot of the hotel courtyard.

Centurion Palace

And a few shots of Lorraine and Matthew at the hotel.

Lunch at the Centurion Palace

Courtyard Rest

Venice offers extensive shopping. The stores range from basic tourist traps to the very high end.

Shopping in Venice Shopping in Venice

And a few classic photographs of the Venice experience.

Grand Canal

Gondola

Hotel in Venice

Dining in Venice

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Venezia

July 4, 2014

Richard and Lorraine in Venice

Greetings from the Centurion Palace in Venice, Italy. After an extended travel time of about 24 hours — and limited sleep of about 2 hours — we arrived in Venice at around noon yesterday.

This is an incredible place to visit and certainly a photographer’s paradise. I will have lots of images to share once we return back from our trip.

We have walked a little over 20 miles in two days and I think we have covered most of the city. The tourist areas are busy but step away from those areas and the beauty of the city is truly remarkable. And without crowds.

We will be heading out to our ship tomorrow and I will be unplugged for about ten days or so.

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Magic Ahead

July 1, 2014

20130824_barcelona_290

This was my first view of the Disney Magic just as we were boarding the ship in Barcelona last year. The Magic was completely refurbished in October of 2013 just after our cruise. An extensive renovation literally from bow to stern.

We return to the Magic in a few days for a cruise that originates in Venice, Italy and makes its way to Greece and Turkey.

cruise

Our flight leaves Toronto tomorrow evening. We fly out at 9:15pm and we arrive in Venice on Thursday around noon local time. We’ll have two and a half days to take in Venice before we board the ship for a ten-day cruise. And then back to Venice for a couple of days.

This is all of our luggage for the two-week adventure in Europe:

bags

I have a small camera bag which contains a Nikon Df body, a 24-120mm and 50mm lens, a Sony RX-100 compact camera, memory cards and a portable hard drive. 8 pounds.

My luggage is in a very tiny Samsonite bag. 14 pounds.

Matthew has a backpack and he is carrying the computer and tablets. 12 pounds for the backpack and 8 pounds for the MacBook Air and two iPads.

And Lorraine has a small rollaboard — which in the picture above appears to dwarf all of the other bags — and that one weighs in at 16 pounds. We carry a surprising amount of clothing in a very small set of bags largely due to the wise advice at OneBag. We will carry everything on to the plane and save on baggage fees and walk directly off the airplane.

Our oldest son will be house-sitting for us. Hopefully no wild parties while we are away.

It has been a crazy few months leading up to this break. I can really use the time to disconnect and unwind.

I’ll post as I am able.

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Hard Ride

June 16, 2014

I usually get a couple of long rides in over the weekends. This weekend I was only able to get out once. A bit over three hours on the bike.

I did the first 40k on my own. Lorraine joined me for the next 20k. I think Lorraine really enjoyed a more challenging loop and she handled the climbs and the S-curves with ease.

After I dropped Lorraine at her car, I had another 20k to get home. The wind was blowing pretty hard and the weather was decidedly cooler for June. After 60k or so, I was beginning to feel a need to fuel. It was morning and all I had before the ride was a protein shake and a small snack bar at the 40k break.

Oh well. Get back on the machine and get back home.

The winds in this area can be challenging. I find them to be a bit discouraging especially when I am fighting headwinds all the way back home. And, as you can see from this chart, my heart rate was elevated just trying to keep to a 26 – 28 kph pace. I was about 10k from home. Not much longer. I think I can make it. So tired. So sore.

beforechase

And then it happened.

A shadow to my left. I look back. There he is. Another rider closing in.

I hate being gapped. I’m not sure why. It just doesn’t feel right. An attack. So, what would a reasonable cyclist do after  70k of hard riding?

Hammer down.

afterchase

Look at those numbers! Heart rate near 170. Spinning 102 rpm. Pushing over 37 kph against 20kph+ headwinds. I’m surprised I’m still alive to tell the tale.

endchase

That little race lasted for about 8k until the other rider finally relented and turned off at Westbrook. Or maybe that was part of his loop. We were pretty much neck and neck the whole time. My numbers improved a little. Heart rate was down to about 145. Funny how a little competition changes everything. With roughly the same heart rate, I was cranking about 12 kph faster. The headwinds did not seem quite so bad at that point.

I didn’t tell Lorraine about the race home. She knew that I did not take it easy on the way back because of the elapsed time. But I don’t think she would understand why I didn’t just smile and wave and simply let the rider pass.

Hard ride.

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Vanhawks Valour

June 13, 2014

This is so cool. Vanhawks has a strong Kingston connection and they demonstrate an example of great Canadian innovation. Their Kickstarter project achieved over $800,000 in funding.

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We voted last night. And the electorate of Ontario provided the provincial Liberals with a majority.

I was disappointed with the outcome of the election and my son was concerned with my reaction. I shared with him a few of my thoughts.

A government that we can afford does not look like this:

Ontario Debt

Since 2005, the Ontario government has almost doubled the total debt of the province. And the Liberals proposed a budget which not only raised taxes but also raised the deficit and the total debt of the province.

Neither approach is sustainable.

Hiking taxes on the top income earners of the province really doesn’t accomplish very much. With a budget deficit of roughly $12 billion and total debt of $300 billion, the $300 – 600 million revenue uplift is insignificant and will do little to deal with the financial challenges that face the province.

Increased spending can only be achieved through increased debt. Looking at the basic net-debt to GDP ratios, Ontario’s ability to raise money through debt offerings will become increasingly more expensive particularly if interest rates go up.

OnDebtRatio

When Drummond filed his report back in 2012, he offered these words to the Ontario government:

Ontario faces two serious fiscal challenges. The first is to get out of the current large deficit. This will take many years, but the task does not end there. It goes almost without saying that every effort must be made to bolster future economic growth rates, and much has been done in that regard, such as reinvesting in education and reforming the tax system. But with a looming slowdown in the expansion of the labour force that is almost upon us and with the province’s weak productivity growth of late, Ontario cannot count on a resumption of its historical strong growth rates. This means that the sharp degree of fiscal restraint needed over the next few years to eliminate the deficit may see a point of some reprieve, but not much. Spending simply cannot return to recent trends.

But perhaps his most telling comment in his report to the government:

Ontario faces more severe economic and fiscal challenges than most Ontarians realize.

The newly elected government will reintroduce the Liberal budget within 20 days. I have no idea how they intend to carry out such a fiscal plan given the reality of Ontario’s financial situation. Here are the highlights of their fiscal plan:

- eliminate the $12.5-billion deficit by 2017-18.

- create a 10-year $2.5 billion Jobs and Prosperity Fund to partner with industries poised for growth. Measures include $10 million for a nine-month paid community work and service program to help graduating high school students, and $5 million in grants for the next two years for new small-scale manufacturers.

- invest $15 billion in transit projects in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area, including the electrification of GO Transit commuter trains and a downtown Toronto subway relief line.

- invest $14 billion in roads, bridges, highways and other transit projects outside the GTHA, including $1 billion to support the development of the Ring of Fire in northern Ontario, with or without financial help from the Harper government.

- provide up to $230 million to expand access to natural gas in under-served communities, including agricultural communities.

- increase taxes for individuals earning more than $150,000.

- increase the minimum wage to $11 on June 1, 2014, and index it to inflation after that.

- create an Ontario retirement pension plan which could be integrated into a CPP expansion in the future.

- guarantee that every Ontarian has access to a primary care provider.

- continue to reduce health-care wait times, focusing on referrals to specialists.

- fund 20 more hospices.

- continue to expand the scope of practice for nurses and pharmacists.

- provide wage increases to child-care workers outside the public school system.

- continue the 30 per cent off tuition grant for post secondary education.

- promise to build new campuses and create spaces for 15,000 more post secondary students in Ontario.

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