Day 1 - In Transit
Three days just isn't much time to regroup, and repack, especially when you've been on island time for the past week and a half. We managed to get ourselves ready in spite of having half a day less than we thought - I had written on the calendar a noonish departure, but when I checked in for the flight, I realized we left at 6am (meaning a 4am cab ride to the airport).
The kids are really good airplane travelers (early conditioning has paid off). They haven't complained a bit on all these long flights and layovers in airports. Our flight was delayed out of Atlanta for an hour because of thunderstorms (the plane was ready to board, but they close all jetways automatically during thunderstorms). They made up the time in the air, as it landed only 5 minutes late in Venice. While waiting for our flight in Atlanta, I talked with a very nice young man who was a military reporter (broadcast TV/radio) for the Army. He was flying home to Italy after a stop in the US to fill out commendation paperwork for two of his team that died and drop off his gun after a 6-month tour of Afghanistan. This was his second time to Afghanistan with a tour in Iraq in between. He was very encouraged by the progress being made in both places. I asked what Afghanistan was like and he basically said "chaos". It is very much a 3rd world country - with tribes of people who never go beyond their own area. Some don't even know they have neighbors a few miles down the road, unless they have fought them for some reason. The concept of a centralized government is totally foreign to them. He said that fighting in Iraq was at least against an enemy with a purpose - fighting for their collective country. Fighting in Afghanistan is very random - the enemy has no purpose other than to kill and no fear - they aren't fighting for anything in particular. He said it is getting better as they have been herding the insurgents into more concentrated pockets. The NATO troops have been doing a lot of work to educate about infrastructure - sanitation/water and get food crops planted in place of the drug crops that were forced on the farmers by the Taliban. They are also working to get the natural resources that they have to produce income (lapis lazuli, for example is being mined and turned into saleable objects).
Back to our travels - our flight was very empty, so the boys both had extra seats to stretch out on so they could sleep. Noah won the prize for getting the most sleep.
Day 2 - Venice, Italy
We arrived about half an hour before Sally and Pat (my sister and her husband who are joining us for the cruise portion of this trip). I was shocked by the ease of entering the European Union. They just looked at our passports and stamped them - no scanning, no baggage checkpoint, no paperwork. Even in Honduras we had to have our bags X-rayed before entering the country. We decided to go with carryon luggage only - each of us has a backpack, which seems to work ok so far.
Jim got some Euros at a Bancomat (ATM), and I decided I should get some too. I waited in a rather longish line, then when I got up there, it went through the motions but no money came out (and no error message). I hope they don't charge me for that. The man at the bank teller window said to try the ATM upstairs instead (though I wasn't in the mood by then to try again since Jim already got some). I know I shouldn't expect it, but there aren't a lot of people who speak English. It seems like there are quite a few tourists, but very few seem to be from the US - most of what we hear is Italian.
We were fretting about getting to the Hotel, as Pat is not able to walk very far at all. After much consternation, I finally asked at the Information booth (go figure) and they said to catch the bus outside which left in 5 minutes and we should be able to see our hotel from the bus stop. Sounded easy. When we got off the bus, the driver pointed us in the general direction, and sure enough, we were right across the canal bridge from the bus. Totally easy. Though it was still morning, the hotel had our rooms ready, and we were flopped on the beds in our gorgeous suites by 11am! We have two triple rooms, so Zach is sleeping in Sal & Pat's extra bed.
Next, lunch. Since we didn't know anything, we chose to get pizza at the restaurant around the corner from our hotel, right on the edge of a canal. Nice view, good pizza, touristy place - but served our purpose. Next it was time to explore. We decided the best thing was to get a water bus pass for the next 3 days, so we navigated our way to the station, then got on the bus. We made several mistakes at this point. Not bringing enough water (the two bottles we brought were gone in no time). It was HOT. We sat inside where the air was stifling, so by the time we got to the other end, Zacharia (we figured it was appropriate to get off at Zach's stop) at St. Mark's Square, we were all about to pass out from heat exhaustion. We made our way from shade stop to shade stop (Pat can't go far at one time) until we saw a sign for Coca Cola, at which point we headed straight for it. We all bought water which we downed immediately, and fortunately they also had gelato, so we made everyone happy again by eating ice cream. The crowds were awful. Tours and hordes everywhere. We decided to skip looking around and head back to do something else. Another mistake was that we didn't all go potty before leaving - there aren't restrooms anywhere! We finally found a public restroom and Zach braved it at the cost of 1.50 Euros. We also found the first of the water fountains. Most squares have a free-flowing fountain where you can fill water bottles.
Sal and Pat went back to the hotel on the "fast" route (fewer stops), while Jim and the boys and I went off in search of a glass shop that I had heard about. Our goal was to keep the boys moving so they could get accustomed to the new time zone as quickly as possible. I had a map, so we got off the bus and started following the map. It was correct, but not easy to follow. We finally started seeing what real Venice was like. We wound through little boutique shops and alleys of homes and across back canals and got to the glass shop which was shut (door business hours said it should be open…). We explored a little more around the block, and when we came back past the shop the owner was just going in. He didn't look like he was going to be open for blowing any glass anytime soon, so we just admired the very cool underwater figures (coral, fish, etc.) in the window and moved on. We wandered the streets for awhile, then hopped on the water bus and went back to the hotel.
We had thoughts of going out on the town for dinner, but couldn't figure out how to easily find a place, so Sally and I cased the neighborhood and found a spot around the corner which was a little less touristy than others. They greeted us with Proseco (very sweet wine starter) while we decided which pasta dish to order. It was all good, though Jim's veal marsala was way too sweet - almost tasted like they added maple syrup.
The boys crashed after dinner, and Sal & Pat were going to join us for a walk, but ended up crashing too, so Jim and I went back out for an evening in Venice. We started walking and found some lively squares with people eating and drinking and milling about, walked over to the Grand Canal and picked up a water bus (we're getting good at them now - found out the best seats are in the open-air front) for a few stops, then got off and started walking again. Firey sky at sunset. We made our way to the Fenice opera house - the subject of the book I just finished reading, and then over to St. Mark's Square where we heard some live performers at the café's and watched the people. It was beautiful. A MUCH nicer city without the tour groups and throngs. My feet are aching. To bed at 11 - accomplishing the task of getting ourselves on the current time.
Day 3 - Venice
In spite of little sleep the past two nights, very little caffeine and keeping myself on the new schedule, I was awakened at 3:30 by somebody's watch beeping (grrr), and couldn't get back to sleep afterward (I tried valiantly for over an hour), then gave in and wrote in my journal instead while the others slept sweetly. Meanwhile, Sally, over in her room, woke up and her watch said 7:00 (close enough to time to get up). She showered, then Pat woke up and showered. She did notice that one clock said 1:30 and another said 9 something, but she went with the 7:30 one (hers). They came and knocked on our door (I heard something, but thought it was Noah making a lot of noise in the other room), then went down to breakfast. Everything was dark (including the outside). The night clerk was sleeping (on watch) in the bar, and jumped up to help them and unlocked the front door so they could go out (they decided maybe not). Sally asked a little timedly, "what time is it ?" His reply, "about 5am". Ha! They went back upstairs but couldn't get back to sleep. They went down to breakfast a little early, then we met them about 8:30 (our appointed time). Zach was still asleep in his room. Pat decided not to go out with us this morning, so he waited in the room while Zach slept, until a little after 11am - checkout time - and then they went down to the lobby to wait for the rest of us to return from our morning jaunt.
Sally, Jim, Noah and I took off this morning on a mission to see the Doge's Palace. The Doge was the ruler/governor of Venice during the years when Venice was one of the most important ports and center of trade in the world. The palace was fascinating. The tour started with columns from the original architecture - the ornamental tops of which were each decorated with friezes of a different theme (Seven Deadly Sins, Creation of the world, Common vegetables, Faces of different cultures, Occupations, etc.). We had fun identifying them before reading the signs. Then we went through the palace rooms council rooms and jail. The map room was impressive with detailed maps of the world created in the 1700s. It was fun to see Noah getting excited about the paintings, figuring out the scenes both mythical and biblical. He was kind of amazed to see that the things he studied in school about ancient civilizations this year actually applied to what he was seeing .
We made our way back to pick up Zach and Pat and the luggage, and went across the canal to the bus depot where there was supposedly a "free shuttle" to take us to the cruise ship. We sat for a bit, then asked the workers there, and they confirmed a "free shuttle" that comes every half-hour and parks right in front of where we were sitting. After an hour sitting in the heat (and 3 more families joining us) without sight of the shuttle, we asked back in the hotel, and they said there was no such thing - take a taxi. We piled all the families going to the ship in two vans with all of our luggage and paid way too much to be taken a short way to the cruise ship check-in. We were not happy, but they greeted us at the door with ice-cold washcloths, cooling our frazzled nerves and making us smile again.
We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the ship. Noah and Zach decided to watch the movie "Invictus" rather than go to dinner in the formal dining room, so they grabbed a slice of pizza afterward and put themselves to bed while us adults had a leisurely dinner. We all ended up in the room at about the same time for bed. Zach couldn't get to seep though. He kept waking me up to tell me he couldn't sleep. Finally Jim gave him his book and a flashlight and told him to read. Sometime after 3 am Jim took the book away and told him it was time to sleep no matter what. Guess letting him sleep in so late wasn't helpful after all.
Day 4 - Venice
It was a slow starting morning. Pat decided to stay onboard today as he didn't want to walk a lot and we had a lot of walking/standing on our agenda. We looked at the water bus map and it said we could catch a boat from the ferry dock nearby, but we couldn't find our way to the ferry boat dock. We finally turned around and followed the crowd to a "people mover" monorail and took it back to the bus terminal that we left from yesterday - only 1 Euro per person (we paid 5 Euros per person for the taxi to take us the same distance), and picked up our usual water bus (vaporetto) from there. We were explaining the water bus system to a few people on the way, as we finally felt like we had the system down by now. Our destination was St. Mark's Square and a tour of the Basilica of St. Mark. Zach did a great job of staying cheery in spite of his tiredness. Noah was hot and tired though. We had to wait for about half an hour to get in - not nearly as bad as we thought it could be. The inside was amazing. The whole thing was mosaics - ceiling, walls and floor. The walls and ceiling mosaic backgrounds were all gold leaf. They had quite a number of relics from other countries - obtained during the crusades .Again, it was a lesson in how important and powerful Venice was in the ancient world.
We made our way through the alleys to La Fenice Opera House to get a tour - Sally and I had both read the book, City of Falling Angels, which talked quite a bit about the Fenice and its burning in the 1980s and it's restoration, so we were both interested. It cost money to get in, so only Sally and I went in while Jim and the boys sat outside - feeling like they had seen enough ornate buildings this morning. La Fenice was truly amazing inside - totally worth the price of admission. The paintings on the walls and the plaster frescos and the gold leaf were ornate and beautiful - we looked at a guidebook with pictures in the gift shop before going in to decide if we should spend the money, and the pictures were beautiful, but didn't do it justice. "Magnifico" was Sally's description.
Since we had been up and down the Grand Canal many, many times, we opted to try to find the route around the outside of the city for our route back. It took some figuring out, but we finally made it onto the boat that deposited us at the ferry dock we were trying to find this morning, and we got to see some new parts of the city that we hadn't seen before. From the ferry dock, it was only a short walk to the now-familiar "people mover" which took us back to our boat. We felt like we had conquered the city.
We celebrated making it back to the boat and through the heat with ice cream. We had the mandatory lifeboat drill, then Jim took the boys swimming while Pat, Sal and I went to the lounge for happy hour and looked at the pictures we had taken so far. The boat pulled off the dock at 5 pm sharp. The boys went off to do their own thing in the kids club while us adults had our relaxed formal dinner again. Zach told me later that he and Noah had ice cream for dinner (nothing else)…well, at least they're having fun.