"" Writer's Wanderings: November 2010

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Last Cheerio

As I get things back to normal in this overly quiet house after having six of our eight grands (and their parents) all home for the weekend, I remember fondly a few years ago when I wrote the following story. Wonder what treasures I'll find this time?

It is Monday morning and I’m cleaning. Two little whirlwinds have spent the weekend with us. As a grandparent, I’ve learned that time is precious with little ones, so I don’t worry about a clean house while they are here. It’s funny how your priorities change when you become a grandparent.

Tyler is three going on twenty-one. He’s become a backseat driver.

“Be careful of those semis, Grandpa, they’re dangerous,” he warns. “Don’t drive too fast.”
His sister, Danielle, is 15 months old, doesn’t talk much but flirts her way into your heart. It was her first overnight stay, but I think Mom had more separation anxiety than Danielle. My son teases her. His perception is that his mother let him venture out easily, but then he was eager to go off with his grandparents, and didn’t look back to the woman shredding a tissue as the car drove off with its precious cargo.

Just before Tyler and Danielle’s visit, our youngest grandchild, Kotomi, came to stay a while. She’s only a year old, but she snacked on Cheerios, imbibed milk, and, just as efficiently as her cousins, spread toys all over the family room and into the kitchen.

After Kotomi’s visit, my husband graciously picked up the blocks, the musical toys, the balls and all the other entertaining elements of Grandma’s toy basket while I finished the kitchen cleanup. All too quickly the house was quiet and returned to its childless state. As we sat watching TV that night, I noticed a Cheerio under the coffee table. Reaching down, I picked it up, and then placed it in Bob’s hand.

“Missed one,” I said smiling. He held it for a moment between his thumb and forefinger and reminisced happily about our time with Kotomi.

My cleaning this morning includes wiping off fingerprints from the bay window in the kitchen where Tyler and Danielle watched the birds at the feeders outside. I smile as I recall Tyler’s exclamation, “There’s the ‘picker bird!”

I’m torn between the choice of having clean windows or having the visible reminder of the joy that was brought into our home by their visit. Clean windows win out this time and I spray them with window cleaner and wipe the fingerprint evidence from the panes of glass.

I look into the family room that still needs vacuuming. There is a trail of Cheerios from the sofa to the fireplace. I cannot bring myself to destroy all the evidence of their visit. When I finish cleaning today, I will leave one Cheerio on the rug—one Cheerio for Bob to find so we can sit and reminisce, and anticipate the next visit of the little whirlwinds that fill our hearts with delight.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Time Out!

Time out for turkey and thanks not only for God's blessing of family and friends but for those of you who keep me writing because you keep reading. Thank you!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Do You Kindle?

I've never been much of a tech toy enthusiast. If there's a need, I fill it if I can but otherwise I'm not one for just-gotta-have-the-newest-tech-toy. I do love my e-reader though. I have a Sony PRS 505. Not the newest model on the block but it's like a well-loved book and beginning to show some age.

With that in mind, I'm keeping an eye on what's new. Barnes and Noble have a reader to add to the growing list and there are several off-brands I've heard of. I'm sure Kindle tops them all in sales so far. When I wanted a copy of The Hiding Place to read in a hurry, I couldn't find one at the library and Sony's e-bookstore didn't have what I wanted so I turned to the Kindle store. I cannot download books from Amazon's Kindle store to the Sony (at least I haven't found a way) but they offered a free download of a Kindle for PC program. It worked out beautifully!

The Kindle for PC program was easier to read on the computer than I expected. The format was great and easy to use. It was a great solution and in addition, I found that there are quite a few free books at the Kindle store. For this voracious reader, that's found treasure!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Books For The Road - The Hiding Place

At my prompting, our book club decided to read The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom, ghosted by Elizabeth and John Sherrill. The Ten Boom family was instrumental in saving the lives of many Jews and others involved in the Dutch underground. I remembered reading the book many years ago and a couple of years ago we had the privilege of visiting the Ten Boom home above the old watch shop that was the family's business. Suggesting the reading was a shameful way of getting to show my pictures of our trip.

As the story goes, Corrie, her sister, Betsie, and their father hid Jews in their apartment until they could safely make it out of the city of Haarlem just outside of Amsterdam. The hiding place was in a false wall in Corrie's bedroom accessed through a small square cut in the bottom of the built-in shelves. They did this for almost a year before being discovered and arrested by the Germans and then transported eventually to a concentration camp. Casper Ten Boom died ten days after the arrest and Betsie died just shortly before Corrie was released (which turned out to be a bookkeeping error of the camp).

Betsie was the heart and soul of hope and optimism through her faith in Jesus. We all agreed our favorite part was when Corrie discovered the barracks was infested with fleas. Her sister tells her to be thankful for the fleas--that they needed to be thankful to God in all circumstances. Corrie swallowed hard and tried. Several days later she discovered that the reason the prisoners were so free to do what they wanted in their barracks was because the guards would not enter due to the fleas. It allowed them to have Bible studies and prayer time together with the others.

While there was much horror during the Holocaust, the book does not go into detail. It doesn't ignore it, but it treats it in a way that makes even a more delicate reader able to digest the message of thanksgiving and the telling of the Hope that we can cling to in the direst circumstance. And learn that the best hiding place is in our Savior.

Friday, November 19, 2010

St. Thomas - St. John and Water Islands

When you have been to St. Thomas as many times as we have, you sort of run out of things to do when the cruise ship pulls in. We often just stay on board and enjoy the ship's amenities and the beautiful views thus avoiding the ugly traffic and the shopping areas where everyone believes they are finding a deal. On our first pass at St. Thomas during our back-to-back cruises, we took a ferry over to St. John's where we've gone snorkeling before. This time however we found a tour of the island for $25 each and explored.

Our guide stopped at various places for us to see the views and the other islands that make up this group and then stopped at an old abandoned sugar mill. It was hard to believe that they actually did so much sugar cane farming on the island since there are so many steep hills--can you call them mountains?--that form the island. It was a pleasant morning and we stopped for a light lunch before returning to St. Thomas and our ship. The whole trip cost us almost as much as a ship's excursion, $22 (taxi rndtrp)+$12 (ferry rndtrp)+$25 (tour)=$59/each, but we did it on our own time and there were only five of us on the tour.

The next week our ship stopped again in St. Thomas again. This time we had plans to meet with a friend of my husband's family who lives on Water Island--the island that sits in the middle of the semi-circular bay of the port of Charlotte Amalie. Since our ship docked at Crown Bay, it was a short walk to the Crown Bay Marina where we caught the "ferry" to Water Island. It was quite an adventure in the pouring rain.

Right on schedule, the ferry captain appeared and we paid our roundtrip fare ($10/each) for the trip. It was a pleasant ten minutes (or less) to the island and the rain let up along the way. Our friend was waiting for us with a big island smile--the one that says welcome to paradise, even if it's rainy.

We hopped in the back of the open truck that was covered and had seats built into the sides and got a short tour as we drove to the Virgin Islands Campground that she and her husband run on the island. After a short visit and a break in the rain again, we explored the campgrounds and were surprised to find that they were more like tented cabins. The thing that made it camping was a central bath house and composting toilets (a new innovation to me) as well as a central gathering area where food was stored and eaten.

The views from the campground were spectacular even with the cloudy drab day. Nearby was a beach and a great snorkeling area. They were between guests and expecting to be full-up with a group from Denmark. Oh, did I mention the hot tub? It's the first campground I've seen with one.

All in all, if I had to camp out, this would be the place to do it.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Airport Security - A Brave New World?

Having just flown twice in the last month and thinking of our children and grandchildren flying home for Thanksgiving, I am of course taking great interest in the controversy over the new TSA policies. We did not go through the new backscatter machine or experience the new "pat down" that some are comparing to a "feel up." I cannot speak from experience but the anticipation of many flights in the near future does make me anxious and concerned.

This last trip was with my 89 year old mother-in-law who was confused enough about what she needed to do to get through security. I prayed she wouldn't be put in the back scatter machine or subjected to a pat down. Both times God answered prayer and we made it through without a hitch.

Now I wonder how my children and especially my young grandchildren will fare? We constantly teach our youngsters that they should never let anyone touch them inappropriately in private areas. My one daughter-in-law taught this so well that I had a difficult time once helping my three-year-old granddaughter rearrange her skirt in a trip to the bathroom. "Grandma, you can't look at my private part," she kept repeating even though her parts were covered. Now if she flies, she just might have someone looking at those parts even though they are covered.

Yes, I want to feel safe on a plane flight but I don't want to feel violated before I get on that plane.
What ever happened to the idea of prescreening for travelers? Doesn't it seem logical that it would take less time in security lines if passengers could be issued some sort of ID for travel? Even if it meant a fingerprint on file it would at least be less physically invasive.

And what is next? Trains with security lines? Buses with backscatter machines? Will Homeland Security decide that before we do our Christmas shopping at the mall we need to go through a security line?

Aldous Huxley and George Orwell move over. It's 2010 and this is not a brave new world.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Old Enough For the Smithsonian

The very early years of our marriage were spent in the Laurel, Maryland area which is about half way between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. We spent a great deal of time exploring our nation’s capital and one of our favorite places to go was the Smithsonian Museum. The museum is actually made up of several buildings near the center mall area. The Aeronautics and Space building was always fun as was the building that housed all the historical artifacts from the entertainment world—like Dorothy’s ruby red slippers. When our kids were old enough to appreciate the history and the importance of the nation’s capitol, we took them on a trip to D.C. and of course the Smithsonian was on our agenda.

In the years between our residence in Maryland and our vacation in D.C. with our kids, Bob had worked for Addressograph Multigraph and had helped to design a credit authorization terminal. The equipment was nothing like the little card readers we see in the stores today. On the contrary, it was the size of a small microwave oven. (I would say the size of a large electric typewriter but today many people don’t know what a typewriter looks like.) We still have one of the originals in our basement (Ours obviously sat too near someone’s art project.) It was innovative and the first step to technology for credit card authorization that soon took off and became very sophisticated.

As we visited various parts of the Smithsonian, the kids were duly impressed and/or bored with our stories of the things we saw from our childhood. Eventually we reached a section of “modern” technology and as we walked along one of the kids stopped in his tracks and pointed.

“Isn’t that the thing we have in the basement, Dad?” he asked.

Displayed with several other units was the very credit authorization machine Bob had worked on. Right there in the Smithsonian Museum. Yes, we felt old. So take care when you visit those museums. You just might find a little piece of your personal history collecting dust along with all the other historical artifacts.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Man Overboard -- Almost

I have a friend who refuses to go on a cruise because she's afraid of falling overboard. Certainly there have been enough stories of people lost overboard on cruises. While one or two might involve foul play and a few I suspect suicide, most are from carelessness and usually caused from over indulging in alcohol.

In the picture you can see that the rails on the open decks are chest-high, enough to keep someone from falling overboard--at least if they keep their feet on the deck. The gentleman in the picture kept stepping up on the light box to lean over the side and look at the pilot boat that was picking up the pilot to our ship as we headed out of port. Thankfully the sea was calm and he wasn't inebriated.

And I wonder, if he had fallen overboard, would he or his family have sued the cruise company for the design of the ship that allowed for the light box to be there for him to step on? It's a crazy world.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Books For The Road - A Warmth in Winter

On our last Caribbean adventure, I frequented the book exchage shelf in the lobby of our resort a few times. In addition to a memoir set in Ireland, I also discovered A Warmth in Winter by Lori Copeland and Angela Hunt. Not until I was settled in and cozy and beginning to read did I realize I was into my second book of the week with an angel theme. Since the wind was howling and the rain beating on the sand where I should have been enjoying the sun, I shrugged and continued on. I'm glad I did.

A Warmth in Winter was a delightful book with characters who immediately tugged at your heartstrings. The story centers around Vernie Bidderman, owner of Mooseleuk Mercantile and Salt Gribbon, the lighthouse operator, who despite the vast differences in their struggles are being taught about the ultimate failure and frustration of self-reliance. The two of them live in a small town in Maine called Heavenly Daze (should have been a clue to the angel involvement). Within the town are several angels who live and work there among the townspeople and help to watch over and care for them.

When Salt Gribbons removes his grandchildren from his neglectful alcoholic son and brings them to Heavenly Daze, he tries to keep it a secret for fear they will be taken from him by social services. Eventually, he learns that he can't always do everything on his own. A human "angel" as well as the heavenly type help him out of trouble.

There are five books in the Heavenly Daze series. This was book three. I would be tempted to read more. This book was fun as well as having a great story to tell and the characters were so well developed, that I'd like to go back and catch up on where they've been and what they went on to do.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

18 Days Through Europe in an Audi - Milan. Italy

[Summer, 2004]

Early in the morning, we set out for Santa Marie delle Grazie. We had booked tickets to see DaVinci's Last Supper before we left the states (a wise move---they were sold out when we got there). The yellow line from the station near our hotel took us to Duomo where we changed to the red line which took us to the Cadorna station. From there we walked a few blocks to the church. The train in Venice could learn a lot from the Milanese subway as far as making it easier on the tourist to figure out directions.

Santa Marie delle Grazie is not a very large church compared with others we had seen on our trip but the church and convent hold one of the art world's greatest treasures as well as one of today's most popular controversies. We walked around the church and the courtyard as we waited our turn to go into the old dining hall where the mural is painted on the wall. When your appointed time arrives, your group of 20 people are ushered into an antechamber where the humidity levels are adjusted and pollutants removed from the atmosphere. One more 2-3 minute stop in a second antechamber and the doors open into a dimly lit banquet sized hall. To your right, stretched across the width of the narrow room, is the painting. For a moment, I was breathless.

I had purposely not read the DaVinci Code by Brown. I knew there was controversy surrounding it and involving the painting. I wanted to view it through my own eyes untainted by suspicious symbols and markings interpreted by others. In the preceding 17 days, we had visited countless churches, chapels, and cathedrals. All had one thing in common. They emphasized the particular saint they were named for. Jesus was often the minor figure. Here in a perfect example of one point perspective all of the action, the objects, the walls in the setting, drew your eye to the center where Jesus sat. He was the central focus of the painting. It was a welcome sight.

The colors, the movement of the robes, the anatomical representations were all grand compliments to DaVinci's talents, although I understand that there has been so much restoration done that the colors may not be true to his originals. It is still a magnificent piece and well worth the effort to see. After our allotted 20 minutes inside the room, we exited another door through two more antechambers and out into the sunshine once again.

Back at the piazza by the Duomo, we looked for the restaurant Polly had read about in Steves' book. It is on the top floor of a department store and mall, La Rinascente, and looks out onto the church and piazza. It took a little searching to find the elevator but we were rewarded with a nice light lunch and beautiful view. We could watch people walking on the roof of the cathedral, exploring the nooks and crannies. We added it to our "to do" list.

The cathedral is free if you just want to wander around. It is so full of interesting statues and alcoves, that we opted to rent an audio wand to get all the information. It took about two hours to wander around the inside and stop and listen to the commentary. Since this was all we planned for the day we paid the extra Euros to see the Baptistry. It is underneath the church and shows an excavated foundation that dates back to the 4th century.

For me, the most exciting part of the cathedral was exploring the roof. We paid 5 Euros to ride the elevator to the roof. Slabs of stone make up the roof covering providing the base for all the spires and turrets that rise above your head. The intricacy of the statuary was amazing. We learned later at the Duomo museum that they are repaired and/or replaced when the weather finally takes its toll. The views of the countryside, the city, the cathedral, all lend to some interesting photography.

We let Polly sit where she was comfortable when she decided she was high enough and didn't want to look down. The three of us continued up a few more steps and walked out across the main area of the building. Walking to the front, we found a stone bench and sat for a moment looking back and up at the golden Madonna sitting atop the highest spire.
Bob poked me and nodded his head in the direction of the guard booth. Hands crossed over his chest and head slumped forward, the guard had obviously succumbed to the warmth of the sun and the gentle breeze and was catnapping.

Not being interested in museums, Dick went off to find some more of the great gelato we had the night before while the rest of us went into the Duomo museum across the piazza from the cathedral. The museum held stained glass windows and statues that had been replaced from the Duomo. It showed how the pillars were constructed and some of the plans for the cathedral's construction. Also of interest were some of the vestments of the clergy.

The afternoon was waning and so were we. We returned to our hotel and retreated to our rooms for a bit of a rest and nice long shower. Bob and Dick checked with the front desk to find a nice place to eat for our "last supper". They recommended a restaurant that was a bit off the beaten track but had a wonderful menu and quiet spot where we could reminisce about our 18 days together.

The most amazing part of the whole trip was returning home after being so closely thrown together in a little Audi for eighteen days and realize we were still friends. Not too many families can survive that kind of closeness and want to plan the next adventure. The hard part will be choosing where in the world we want to go now.
[Stay tuned. . .We'll be trying 28 days in Ireland together. Wonder what kind of car we'll have this time?]

Monday, November 08, 2010

18 Days Through Europe in an Audi - Milan. Italy

Milan was a little more than an hour down the highway from Verona. We found the exit and managed the directions for a while but traffic became heavy in city streets and we passed the street we were looking for. When we tried to turn around, a traffic cop wouldn't let us down the street we needed to take. Between her crazy signals, our confusion, and rush hour traffic we found ourselves in quite a mess.

Motor scooters started whipping around us and horns started blowing. Bob got us into the flow of traffic which was moving at a good clip and did a few more turns trying to get back to the direction we were supposed to go. In a phrase, it was "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride." We finally pulled over. I think Bob wanted to stop the screaming. Finding ourselves in front of a hotel (not ours) we sent Dick in for directions. The desk clerk spoke perfect English, had a great map and gave wonderful directions (so much easier than those gas station stops!). We were only a couple blocks from where we needed to be and found the Best Western Hotel Blaise and Francis in a few minutes.

It was a very nice hotel but was about a 15 minute walk through a neighborhood where we truly stuck out as tourists. Given the world political situation, I was a little uncomfortable returning at dusk. Once we were at the subway station, it was not difficult to find our destination and buy our ticket. We exited at the Monte-Napoleone station as the desk clerk had suggested to walk to the Piazza del Duomo. While there were nice stores and shops along the way, most were closing down for the day.

We found the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, a huge glass domed shopping mall with upscale shops, bistros, and cafes and walked through it to the other side which opened onto the Piazza. Before us loomed the huge Duomo (cathedral). Frommer describes it as "lacy". It is that. There are spires and arches and statues and intricate carvings all working together to create a light airy feeling for a massive structure. We promised to give ourselves the better part of the next day to explore it.

We returned to the Galleria to one of the "sidewalk" cafes inside to eat. Polly had heard of a special Milan risotto and we ordered a plate of it to taste. It is a risotto flavored with saffron and a bit of Parmesan. Good but not outstanding was our take. Wonder if it was just not prepared right?

The world soccer finals were being played and as we exited the Galleria to go to the subway, we noticed the crowd beginning to gather in front of a large TV screen set up in the square. Young people wrapped in Italian flags were already beginning to celebrate their team. Looking to glimpse another culture, we opted to get some ice cream (gelato) and find a place on the cathedral steps to watch some of the festivities. Keeping in mind that Europeans in general are very emotional about their soccer, we agreed to split at the first sign of over-enthusiasm. By the time the game was ready to start, we were ready to call it a night and we exited the square and the sports enthusiasts' crowd by way of the Duomo station.

Friday, November 05, 2010

18 Days Through Europe in an Audi - Verona, Italy

[Summer, 2004]

Our exit from Venice was surprisingly easy and we traveled the road about an hour and a half to Verona without any problem. Verona is the fictional home of Romeo and Juliet. We weren't sure what we would find there but it was large enough to at least hold out hope for a good place for lunch. Polly paged through the Rick Steves book and found a first century arena in Verona that deserved a look.

The Arena di Verona was easy to find. It was just down the street from where all the tour buses were dropping off passengers. There are four original arches on the outside and the inner oval is still intact. We climbed the huge stones levels for seating and looked down to the arena floor imagining a Christians vs. Lions event. What an awful thing that must have been. On the lighter side, we did the "wave" and admired the huge staging area for the opera season that was about to begin. They say the acoustics are perfect in there and no microphones are needed.

The other amazing feature of the arena was all the intricate ramps and walkways that were built into the underside of the arena. I was intrigued with the idea of first century architects and engineers designing the whole thing and not having it cave in for 20 centuries.

We walked a ways into the city and found a sidewalk cafe. This was the first place we ran into street beggars. A little boy was working the tables until he was chased by the waiter. Later we saw him with his mother (or maybe his sister) and a baby she was nursing. It was a "baby with a baby". She couldn't have been more than 15 or 16.

A short distance from the cafe was Juliet's courtyard. Through an arched doorway you enter a small courtyard bordered by a building that has an overhanging balcony much like you would envision Juliet's balcony in Shakespeare's story. The walls of the courtyard are covered with love notes and love wishes in every language you could imagine.
Just below the balcony is a bronze statue of Juliet, breast exposed. The statue is weathered except for the exposed breast which is kept polished by many hands posed there for pictures. Polly and I took Bob and Dick by the hand and led them out to continue on our way to Milan.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

18 Days Through Europe in an Audi - Venice, Italy

[Summer, 2004]

When we arrived at the gondola stop, about 60 people waited with us searching the water for the familiar watercraft shape--no gondolas in sight. Just as we were wondering what was going on, a dozen gondolas suddenly appeared and pulled in between the striped poles to let their passengers off.

We boarded our gondola being careful not to move too much. It's almost like getting into a canoe. With amazing skill, the gondoliers used their long tongued poles to manipulate the vessels out of the dock and into the canal. We were part of an armada of gondolas that slowly made its way down the Grand Canal. In the evening, the canal is not as busy so we did not bob around like those who rode earlier.
In the center of the armada, was a gondola with a tenor and an accordion player who serenaded us as we floated between buildings illuminated with the colors of the evening sun. As we entered a narrow canal to navigate the maze of small waterways that lace the island, the sound of Ol Sole Mio resonated from the exteriors of the buildings. Romantic? Yes and no. After all we were with our family and 11 other gondolas filled with people. But the setting could not be matched in the best of romance novels.

It was good we had time to relax for our train ride back was to be very stressful. We arrived in time to catch the last train. The question was--which one went to Mestre where our hotel was located? We finally found someone who assured us we needed to get on the train he pointed to. Once on we realized we were in a sleeper coach. We got off and another person directed us to the same train. This time to a coach full of private compartments. We sat for a while until some others came along with tickets for the seats we were in. Off again.

The signs indicated all along that the train went to a French sounding place. I was panicking. Again an official looking individual directed us onto the train, this time in a different car. This car looked more like the commuter cars we had been in for the ride to Venezia. We relaxed a little and a passenger assured us again that the train would stop in Mestre. Polly and I just kept exchanging glances. Would we sleep in our hotel tonight or in some unknown destination? Thankfully, as the train neared the Mestre station, it slowed and stopped.

On the way out, we asked where the train's final destination was. Sure enough. It was France. Cie la vie!

Oh yes, I can't leave Venice until I tell you about the pay toilets. A must for any self respecting woman. (Our guys said the non-pay toilets were indescribable.) They only cost about .50 Euro and they were very clean and well worth the wait.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Inside The Writer's Mind

Come visit at Inside The Writer's Mind where I am guest blogging at romance author Carol Ann Erhardt's invitation.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

18 Days Through Europe in an Audi - Murano and Burano

[Summer, 2004]

When the last piece of corn was consumed by a greedy pigeon who flew off immediately to the next hand full of corn, we went back to the vaporetto docks and found the line ( #42 or 43) that would take us to Murano and Burano. It took about an hour to reach Murano but it was a pleasant ride. We disembarked at the first stop and found ourselves immediately greeted by salesmen from the glass factories. They welcomed us into a demonstration room where we watched with fascination as a red vase was formed at the end of the blow pipe and then speckles of color were added.
Next a horse came to life from a blob of molten red glass. There were beautiful pieces of colorful glass in all sorts of shapes and sizes on the shelves in the showroom. Prices ranged from 6 euros to...well some chandeliers I understand go for thousands of dollars.

Glass factories are all over the island. This is the place where the glass manufacturers were sent when the citizens of Venice worried that they might accidentally burn the city to the ground. Lots of shops and little cafes line the canals that criss-cross the island. We enjoyed a delightful pizza lunch along one of the canals.

Our next stop was Burano. We found the correct place to catch the vaporetta from Murano. It doesn't run as frequently so we had to be careful of our time. Burano was an even smaller place than Murano. It is known for it's handmade lace. As you exit the vaporetto and walk into the little town, there are a few places along the way were women sit in the lace shops and demonstrate the lace making. Their hands whip through the knots and stitches as the delicate pattern begins to take shape. Not everything in the shops is made there. You need to be sure to ask for the Burano patterned lace. They sell small pieces for about 15 euros.

We caught a vaporetto back to Venice, managing to arrive in time to have a nice dinner before our scheduled gondola ride. Near the famous Rialto bridge was a pretty area full of tables topped with white linen and decorated with small colorful lights. It sat right on the canal. After our $15 coffees, we knew it would probably be expensive but we would only be in Venice once and how bad could it be?
The waiter spoke English mixed with a heavy Italian accent that was fairly understandable. He was also a great salesman. He described the specials. One was a seafood dish with pasta and three sauces. We assumed that he meant there were three sauces to put on the pasta along with little pieces of seafood. Well, no matter. Bob and I knew we were in trouble when he placed a huge tiered bowl of ice with various pieces of seafood, including two half lobsters, crabs and oysters. The sauces were for the seafood. I don't even remember the pasta. The whole thing was somewhere around $200 by the time we added drinks. It was delicious. The view was great. And next time we'll ask the price even though it's a "special".
Now we were truly ready for our gondola ride.

Monday, November 01, 2010

18 Days Through Europe in an Audi - Venice, Italy

[Summer, 2004]

On our second day in Venice, we arrived by vaporetto again, this time taking the one that went down the Grand Canal. We managed to get seats in front and enjoy the spectacular view of the old buildings sitting right in the water. Small docks or steps with platforms lead right to the front doors of some of the hotels along the canal. It would have been fun to spend a night in one of them. Gardens and window boxes and balconies full of flowers caught our attention as we slowly made our way to St. Mark's Square.

It was 9 a.m. when we reached the square and there were few tourists around. The bell tower was first on our list and just opened for the day. We paid our 6 Euros each and took the elevator to the top. The view of the square was wonderful. Looking beyond that, all you could see were rooftops. The canals are obscured by all the buildings. Cruise ships in the harbor dwarfed the buildings and looked out of place from that vantage point.

We walked directly out of the bell tower and got in the line for the basilica. It was already stretching across the square. I had carried our backpack that day and as we approached the entrance, I knew I was in trouble. Security was sending people with backpacks to an area around the corner to check them. If he knew English, he didn't use it. I headed in the direction of where he pointed while the others went on ahead. There was no place I could see that looked like a bag check. I went back to the entrance and found another American who was following an Italian girl to find the place. I followed them hoping this would work as well as following our Italian to Switzerland. The baggage check was not only around the corner but also down a side street and not marked well at all. (Italy goes to extremes--either too many confusing signs or not enough.) I checked the backpack and received a large tag that got me to the front of the line and into the basilica in time to see the Bob, Dick, and Polly on their way out. They waited while I walked with the crowd up one aisle, across the front and down the other aisle.

It was an impressive church but I didn't think it was as beautiful as some of the others we had seen in Germany and Austria. There are numerous scenes depicted with mosaics shimmering in golden highlights. Large domes loom overhead. The floor is a geometric pattern of tiles. There are no photographs allowed and while you are inside, you must remain silent. Also, throughout Italy, there is a dress code for visitors to churches. You cannot wear shorts, sleeveless blouses, or short skirts above the knee. They will, and did, turn people away.

After retrieving our backpack, we returned to the square to see all the pigeons. It rivals Trafalgar Square in London. For a Euro you could buy a small bag of corn and instantly make friends with hundreds of pigeons. Actually they are very gentle and there was only one "accident" recorded which was quickly cleaned up.
We lingered a while and then headed off to find a vaporetto to Murano.
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