Bel and Phil's Adventures

Our adventures through Europe, America and Asia

Archive for ‘June, 2018’

Rostock and Schwerin, Germany – Cruise

Tuesday 26thJune 2018

We got up and had breakfast at O’Sheehan’s bar and grill. It was fabulous. This restaurant is a complimentary one and opened 24 hours a day. Kim went to a breakfast buffet on the same level as our cabin. We have our cabin on deck 8, which luckily is the same level as the evening entertainment. We were able to get off the ship very quickly and were waiting for our tour group.

They arrived without incident and we headed straight up to Schwerin. The weather didn’t look great, but Phil had checked the weather report and it was going to fine up. We travelled on some Autobahns with the cars almost flying past. Unfortunately the bus could only travel at 100 km/h – whilst the cars have no speed limit at all – hence the almost flying. Our tour guide was Karen and there was another tour guide on the bus as there were two groups on the bus (groups were about 20 in each group and there were 40 people on the bus). They were alternating between each other to explain the things that we were seeing outside the bus.

They were explaining that the government had made a commitment to close all of the nuclear power stations by 2020 and that was why there were lots of massive wind turbines and solar panels in fields next to the autobahn (highway). They were also explaining that this area of Germany is the least populated area so there is still lots of forest around that people enjoy hunting in with wild animals.

We arrived in the outskirts of Schwerin and drove around the massive lake towards the town centre. The driver pulled over so that we could have our first sight of the castle out of the bus window with the gardens in the foreground! Wow! The sun had come out just as we pulled into the city. It is stunning.

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Schwerin Castle in the distance with the gardens in the foreground

We then went into one of the garden areas and split into the 2 groups. We walked through the gardens with Karen explaining different things. This area where we were walking was also used by the Grand Duke (who built the castle)and his family to walk. Any further away and it wasn’t considered a ‘leisure walk’ and so was done on horseback or horse and carriage.

We went into the castle and did a self guided tour – directed by roped off areas. The items in the castle were gorgeous and we enjoyed it, but a lot of the windows were filthy so we couldn’t get many photos of the castle from within the castle. This was disappointing. We couldn’t go into the courtyard as there was a theatre group rehearsing on a purposely build stage. We had an hour to explore the castle.

Phil, Kim and I spent 40 minutes inside and then went outside to take photos of the gorgeous grounds and the magnificent castle. The views across the lake were just stunning.

We met our tour guide and headed into the town of Schwerin, walking through some of their streets. Karen mentioned something and we realised that this northern area of Germany was in East Germany and under Soviet rule until the reunification of Germany in the late 1990’s?. We walked through the square and saw the beautiful church. We then headed for lunch (which was included in the price of the tour). We had decided in advance what we would have – Phil and I had herbed chicken, roast potatoes and some vegetables. Kim had slow roasted pork, spaetzle and some vegetables. We each also got a soft drink, beer or wine complimentary with the meal. Kim went out hunting for Coke zero. I ordered a Diet Coke.

 

We had a lovely meal sitting in the beer garden of this gorgeous old hotel in the sunshine. It was perfect! We then had some free time to explore this beautiful area prior to getting back on the bus. Phil found a place selling ice cream. Kim went shopping and bought a beautiful leather pouch that she can put her passport and other cards needed for overseas travel. It is gorgeous.

We walked back through a different area to get to the bus. Karen was showing us the different styles of buildings, including the ones that were built by the communists. Luckily they ran out of money and didn’t knock down too many beautifully historic buildings.

We got onto the bus and travelled back to Rostock. We had a walking tour through Rostock next, after a quick bathroom break. This is another stunning town. We were amazed by the church and the whole town square. Karen was telling us that Rostock had celebrated their 800 year anniversary last weekend. Eight hundred years old!!!! Wow!

Karen explained different things about the town and then we headed to the church. It was gorgeous. Karen had said that the town of Rostock had been bombed heavily during World War 2 and she showed us some images where every building around the church was bombed, except the church. They were manufacturing planes near the harbour.

The church was beautiful and exuded a feeling of peacefulness. Within the church there were many amazing features. We walked behind the altar and there was an astronomical clock. The clock was created in 1472 and provided the people of the city with amazing information that was advanced for the time. The clock was vitally important so that the bell could be rung at the right time, so the people in the city knew what time it was, as most people didn’t have watches. There was also information for the month, the date, how many hours of daylight and dark, the moon’s phase, which date Easter will fall on and the zodiac.

 

It was astounding that they were able to create something like this so long ago and that it continues to work today. There are a group of volunteers who upwind the clock manually at 8:00 am every day and have done so every day in recent history. During WWII the clock was protected by building a wall around it to protect it in case of bombings, however the people who are upwinding it still needed to access it. Luckily, the church was not bombed during WWII, although other buildings around it were flattened.

Karen explained other points of interest in the church and then we walked out towards the fountain in the town square. Kim opted to stay in the church and spend some more time there and meet us at the bus. The square is gorgeous with lots of open air restaurants and bake houses – although none that sold black forest cake – perhaps it was too late in the day or too hot a day for it. This was the biggest disappointment for me.

We all got back onto the bus, including Kim, who was so happy. Just after we had left, an organist and soloist came into the church and started singing. She said it was so amazing. The acoustics were unbelievable. This is such a beautiful city.

 

The driver and guides opted to take us on a scenic drive through Warnemunde (where the other group’s cruise ship is). It is such a pretty seaside town. We dropped the other people off at their cruise ship and then they dropped us back to ours. We got back about 7:00pm. We walked past Guest Services and so Kim spoke to them about some questions that she had. We then went to dinner at Savor, which is a complimentary restaurant. We ordered off the menu and the food was cooked for us. It was lovely.

After dinner, once again, we headed to Syd Norman’s Pour House for some great music. We had had a few drinks (luckily we have the unlimited drinks package) and we were singing along with the band. No karaoke tonight though – thankfully. We headed back to the cabin and needed to put our clocks forward one hour.

Sea day tomorrow, so time to relax and recharge. We organised to meet for breakfast at 9:00 am

Copenhagen / Cruise

Monday 25thJune 2018

Our cruise day is here! We woke up at 9 am and had breakfast with Kim. We headed back to our rooms to wash my hair, get the blog up to date and for Kim to pack her bags. We checked out and got the cab to the terminal. As we turned the corner in the cab and saw the ship for the first time, we were all astounded! This ship is massive! It is by far the biggest ship that I have ever seen! It’s crazy massive.

The cab dropped us off at the right terminal and we checked in. Everything is organised so well. They had people helping you through security and heaps of stations to check you in. We were on board much quicker than we had anticipated. Unfortunately, the rooms weren’t quite ready, but we dropped off our cabin bag and met our person who will be looking after our room – Eugene.

 

The first thing we wanted to do was a tour of the public areas of the ship at 1:30 pm. He showed us where a lot of the restaurants and shows were and what was available, including the World Cup matches and where you could see them. We were all hungry by this stage and so made our way to the Garden Café on Deck 15. This was a buffet style complimentary restaurant. Everything here is massive. I’ve walked into the restaurant and couldn’t believe how big it was. There were so many choices! It was so hard to choose what to have. We also discovered that they have Prosecco included in our drinks package – although it’s a Pepsi ship – not Coca cola – so Prosecco could be the drink of choice for me.

We headed to our rooms and got sorted and had some down time. I tried to send messages home, but the free wifi isn’t great. We have just left Copenhagen and are heading out into the Baltic Sea. We have our own private balcony with Kim in the cabin next to us.

We had already booked our restaurant for tonight months ago and so we are going to Cagney’s Steakhouse. This was part of our Dining Package as we can choose 3 specialty restaurants over the course of the cruise.  We have decided our entertainment option for tonight as well – Syd Rock Blast – essentially rock favourites from Aerosmith to Van Halen with Bruce Springsteen, Linda Ronstadt and Styx in between.

We have had a rest day today, with not so much walking (luckily my legs and feet are a little sore) although we have walked around the ship quite a bit.

We had a great night out! Cagney’s Steakhouse was absolutely amazingly delicious. The food was brilliant and the service exceptional. We absolutely loved Syd Rock Blast. All three of us were singing along to all of the amazing songs. We had a great time.

We will be docked in Rostock tomorrow morning. We are meeting our tour group at 9:15 am.

Venice, Italy

Sunday 24thJune 2018

We had breakfast at the hotel and then went back upstairs to pack our bags and get things sorted ready to check out. We’re getting pretty good at this. We had uploaded some walking tour photos and were all packed, ready to go by 11:00 am. The young man from the hotel helped us get our bags downstairs and we organised to store the camera and laptop bag behind the counter.

We headed over in the direction of the Rialto Bridge first as we were quite interested in this area. My sister had also suggested some restaurants that were over near there. We found the bridge – with only a little help required from Google and decided to have a drink near there. Phil ordered 2 cappuchinos for him and me. I tried it with 2 sugars and it was pretty good. We took a couple of photos and then crossed the bridge. I found a tea towel souvenir for us and kept looking at handbag shops – still no luck!

We wandered around the market area – although it was almost 12 and so most things were shut. We bought some fresh fruit from one of the fruit stalls – Phil having melon and me getting some pineapple. We then wandered around this area further. We weren’t hungry at this point, so headed back along the typical tourist route back to St Mark’s Square. We passed more handbag shops – still no luck. I had found one I liked in Longchamps – however it was 400 Euros – um no!

We found our way back to the Square but wanted to keep exploring. We wanted to get a better view of Customs House across a canal from St Mark’s. We headed down that way to see if there were some restaurants on the water, but they were all WAY out of our price range. We were clearly in the ritzy part of the city with all of the designer shops over here. Way out of our price range. I didn’t even look at the handbag shops here.

We eventually found a café that Phil was eager to try for lunch. I had cannelloni and Phil had a hamburger. Phil’s hamburger was 6 Euros and it was really plain. We found a bridge to cross the Grande Canal and found this amazing little area near the Gallerie Dell’ Academia. It was so pretty. There was hardly anybody there. Both of our guides – Marc and Elizabetta had said that the ‘tourist’ areas of Venice are really crowded, but once you step away from St Mark’s Square and the Rialto Bridge, it’s actually much quieter. We have absolutely found this to be true.

After wandering around this island, we found a ferry boat to take us back across the Canal. Back in Phil’s happy place – on the water.

 

We got back to San Marco’s Square and walked further along the waterfront. We found a beautiful little café looking out to the water allowing us to enjoy our last snack and final hours in Venice. We have both fallen in love with this city. Both Phil and I think we will definitely come back to Venice – with an emptier suitcase.

We got back to our room to find our porter already waiting for us 30 minutes early. We were pretty much ready, got ourselves sorted and went to the waterfront. He took us a completely different way there so we got to see more of Venice. He was calling out ‘Attencione! Attencione!” essentially moving people out of the way. We were walking very closely behind him, to keep up with him.

We bought our tickets and waited for the ferry. Now this is the way to go to an airport! We were told to allow 1 hour and 15 minutes to get to the airport from where we got on the ferry. The ferry made a few stops along the way prior to reaching the airport. It was so beautiful and a really special way to farewell Venice.

Because we had caught the earlier ferry, we were super early when we got to the airport. We checked in and discovered that we had premium economy tickets – woo hoo – and that the plane had been delayed by 30 minutes – not whoo hooo.

 

We landed at Copenhagen airport at 12:45 am. There were no immigration areas to clear – at all. Initially we had thought that we were still in the European Union – but Denmark don’t use the Euro as their currency but the Danish Krona – so it’s a little unclear. Anyway, we got our bags super quickly – nothing to declare and we were out searching for the taxi line. By this time it was 1:10 am. We found the taxi line – it was enormous! We were so worried it was going to take an hour to get to the front of the line. Fear not! There was a gentleman there organising cabs and we made it to the front of the line in about 15 minutes. We got to the hotel, checked in and were in our room at 2:10 am. Quick shower and to bed. Breakfast at 9am with Kim.

Venice, Italy

Saturday 23rd June 2018

We had found the Walks in Italy tour in Florence so informative and visiting all of the difficult to get into sites in one day was fabulous, so we searched for an option for Venice. We booked on a tour that explored the streets and markets that local Venetians use, including learning about the Rialto Bridge, and heading towards St Mark’s Square and having a gondola ride. The afternoon component then headed into St Mark’s Cathedral and the Doge’s Palace.

We met our tour guide Elizabetta (I think that is how you spell it) over in a square just off the Rialto Bridge – Campo San Giacomo di Rialto. This was an area that we hadn’t explored at all. Phil got us there (with the help of Google maps). We arrived a little early and found some of the same people who had done the tour with us in Florence. They were from the USA and we had a lovely little chat with them. Our guide arrived and she was really lovely. She had lived in Venice her whole life. Elizabetta’s local knowledge was really nice to explain how the locals live amongst this amazing city, with no cars. She pointed out that everyone has to carry their groceries home and that most houses (apartments) don’t have lifts, so you need to choose – light and airy generally means many stairs whilst more convenient on the lower floors, the rooms are usually darker.

We walked around the fruit and vegetable and fish markets. There were many different kinds of seafood, yet we didn’t see any butcher shops. Obviously everything has to be imported in (except the seafood), so things are quite expensive. She explained how Venice started as refugees fleeing the mainland ahead of marauding armies and how people worked together to set up communities. The first multicultural community in the world. She also pointed out that the religious and political sectors were quite separate and the church had no say in how the country was run. Due to not having a lot of natural resources, the early Venetians set themselves up as merchants and travelled along the Mediterranean and Adriatic Sea to import and export goods. Near the Rialto Bridge was the original political and business area of old Venice, whilst the religious hub was St Mark’s.

Throughout our meandering around the streets of Venice, we ended up in a courtyard, where Marco Polo had lived. The ground level of the house didn’t appear to be as grand as the rest of the houses throughout the courtyard. Elizabetta explained to us that Venice is sinking at the rate of about 15 centimetres (15 mm) every 100 years. Given that these houses have been here since the 1400 – 1500’s that’s 1.5 metres that buildings have sunk. When the pavers start getting really crooked, they lift the pavers, add more sand / land fill and then pave on the top of that. This consequently means that the bottom levels don’t appear to be as grand or majestic.

We wandered into St Mark’s Square and Elizabetta showed us where to meet her at 1:30 pm. We then went around the corner for our gondola ride.

Phil and I had the seats at the back. It was such an amazing experience. We were rowed around the canal ‘streets’ by our expert gondolier. It was so peaceful and beautiful. We really got to see just how beautiful this city is. I think we both fell in love with Venice a little more after this. We went out onto the Grand Canal and then back into some quieter canals. All of Venice’s buildings are built to the edge of the canal so to see these beautiful buildings from this perspective was just amazing.

All too soon our gondola ride came to an end. The gondolas have a flat rate charge of 80 Euro for 30 minutes or 100 Euro for 45 minutes. After 7 pm, however, they go up in price to 100 Euros for 30 minutes and 120 Euros for 45 minutes (I think). Obviously this was going to be our only gondola ride. We headed out for lunch and Phil and I headed away from the square (where the huge prices are). We found a restaurant near the square, but a couple of blocks back.

We ordered bruschetta to share. I had handmade ravioli and Phil had chicken with mushrooms. We then shared an apple pie. Gorgeous. We headed back to the meeting point – with Phil getting a gelato on the way. We also checked out some handbag shops to see if we could find any that met my specifications – nope – not a one.

 

We met the group again and headed across the square. Initially the square was smaller with a canal running through it and a church opposite. When Napoleon came to Venice, he filled in the canal, knocked down the church and built a house for himself. She also pointed out holes around the square and actually inside St Mark’s Cathedral – these are there for when they have massive high tides and lots of wind, which can prevent the lagoon from emptying, so there’s so much water, it’s better to relieve the pressure to have points where the water can escape, rather than letting the water find its own way through and destroying the paving and / or the buildings.

 

We headed over the St Mark’s Cathedral and Elizabetta stopped in front of the clock, which we had seen on our first venture into the Square. The clock was constructed in the 15th/16thCentury. It had a 24 hour time and the ‘digital’ time – in Roman numerals clicks over every five minutes. It also has the phases of the moon and mechanical figures at the top who ring the bell. One of the figures rings it in the final two minutes of the hour that the hour is almost over and the other figure rings the beginning of the hour. Each hour they ring the bell the amount of time for the hour, so we were there at 2:00 pm so they rang it twice each.

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This mosaic on the outside of the church depicts how the Venetians were able to get the bones of St Mark through to Venice. They hid them underneath some pork meat that they were bringing in, which the Muslim people found repulsive.

We then went in the skip the line line at the St Pauls Cathedral. We got through and were absolutely blown away by the sheer detail in the mosaics that decorated the church. They are stunning.

Unfortunately photography was not permitted inside the church as it is a religious building and is still used for mass and other religious reasons. I managed a few sneaky ones. I wanted to buy some photos or postcards that detailed some of the images and mosaics inside the church, but they didn’t sell them. All of the images that decorate the church are made of glass mosaics or tile mosaics on the floor. This is because they don’t weigh a lot and look stunning.

Inside the church is was obvious the way that the floor had buckled and moved as the building sank. The lines of chairs were all up and down almost like a wave. Elizabetta also pointed out the holes around the church on the inside, however the main church had stairs going up into it and then the altar and other precious items were up higher again. The part of the church between the exterior and the part going into the church floods fairly frequently.

After St Mark’s Cathedral we then joined the skip the line line for the Doge’s Palace. The Doge was appointed for life, so they generally appointed an old man, so that his time in the job was less. There were strict rules about the role of the Doge, essentially he was there to serve the people of Venice and act as a figure head, but was powerless in terms of governing the city. He was unable to use any influence for his own gain. The politicians were appointed for one year only. During this time they served the city away from their businesses. They weren’t paid by the city or government, it was their way of paying back the city for their good fortune. Consequently, it was generally people who could leave their businesses for a year that took up these positions.

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Looking from the entrance into the courtyard of the Doge’s Palace, with a view of St Mark’s Cathedral

Learning about how the Venetians governed themselves back in the 15thCentury sounds advanced. This system worked so well that it continued until French rule in the 1850’s.

The palace was adorned with many wonderful paintings and other decorations. Many columns looked like marble, however were just painted to make it look that way. There were many scenes depicted in this palace, especially where people had to wait to speak to the politicians. All of the pictures depicted the Doge on his knees ready to serve the people of Venice. There were pictures of Mary and Jesus within these paintings, however they were rarely the focal point. It was really interesting hearing the history and how this system worked.

We then crossed over the Bridge of Sighs – so named as the prisoners were tried in the Palace and then crossed the bridge directly into the prison. It was said that they sighed as they crossed the bridge as they had lost their freedom. Generally it was only political crimes that were tried here, as other crimes such as theft and murder were dealt with over near the Rialto Bridge.

Our tour concluded in the Doge’s Palace near the Grand Staircase. This would have been the entry for people visiting or doing business here and was consequently impressive.

 

Our heads were spinning because we had learnt so much in such a short time. (Our feet were aching too after the big day yesterday and walking around so much today.) We headed back to our room and up the massive 7 flights of stairs – which always seemed much bigger at the end of the day than going down them in the mornings.

I started working on editing the photos from the photo tour, Murano and Burano, updating the blog and downloading and editing the photos from today. Phil went to the laundromat that was just down the ‘walkway’ from the hotel. I also kind of watched the Korea vs Mexico game. Mexico got the win 2 – 0 and were a far better team.

I was getting hungry (it was 8:00 pm) so we decided to go out for dinner. We wandered in the direction of St Mark’s Square and found a little restaurant. They offered for us to go out the back, so we did. It was a lovely little courtyard. We had a delicious meal and a shared a bottle of Prosecco for our last night in Venice – this time. Phil had a pizza and I tried a typical Venetian meal – gnocchi in crab sauce. It was quite tasty. We decided to head towards St Mark’s Square to take some night shots of the Cathedral, but we didn’t have the tripod. It didn’t look that great, so we only took a few photos.

We headed home and kept working on the blog. Slow start tomorrow as we have to check out of the room by 11am. We will fix the bags tomorrow morning after breakfast.

 

Venice – Murano and Burano, Italy

Friday 22nd June 2018

After we recovered from our morning photo tour, and the weather improved slightly, we headed over to Murano and Burano. We got to the right ferry stop without getting lost too much (we used Google maps and ‘Phil’ got us there!). We caught the number 12 ferry which went between both islands and Venice. We needed to buy a daily pass which was 20 Euro each, although the pass lasts 24 hours from time of purchase. The ferries ran every 20 minutes and we were told there was no last ferry back. I was eager to get some more clips for my hair (like Mum had got me when she was here) and maybe a Christmas decoration.

The first stop was in a shop where they offered the chance for you to watch a master create some art. There weren’t supposed to be any photos, but we got a sneaky one in. He was absolutely phenomenal. He made 2 glasses while we were watching. He was completely amazing and mesmerising.

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The master craftsman at work

We kept walking down the avenue and discovered this amazingly beautiful thoroughfare. It was almost 3:00 pm by this stage and we were both hungry, so we sat down at a restaurant. It had the most glorious view and delicious food.

We kept walking along the canal and came upon their town square. It was beautiful with an a decorative glass sculpture. I loved it!

We found some clips and Christmas decorations and small souvenirs for some of the boys. We headed back to the ferry and went to Burano.

We started chatting with a lovely couple from Great Britain. The time flew by. Marc had told us not to go straight ahead when we got off the ferry but to turn left. He had said it wasn’t that big an island, so we couldn’t get that lost.

We took his advice and almost immediately were stopped by the most glorious coloured houses. Now most people know that I love bright colours – I was in my happy place. It was glorious!

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Houses on Burano

Just stunning! Everywhere we looked – it was stunning. We were in our happy place taking photos and crossing canals in such a beautifully coloured place in the glorious sunshine (it had stopped raining). Bliss!

We kept wondering and stumbled upon their main shopping street, including their church and bell tower – which is definitely leaning!

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Looking from one angle towards the church with the shops in the foreground

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Different angle

Phil looked at this shot and couldn’t believe the lean of the bell tower. To be perfectly honest, however he was still reeling from an incident in the square. Whilst I was checking out some of the shops (perfectly acceptable past time), he went to get us some Coca Cola. Whilst in the little pastry shop, a Russian lady came in to get her children a drink each and a pastry each (there were two of them). This is not so unusual. What is unusual is that she paid the shopkeeper with a 500 Euro note! 500 Euros! At today’s exchange rate that is $784 AUD to pay for about $10 AUD worth of things.

Phil’s head was spinning for a long time. Anyway, it wasn’t spinning too much as he didn’t agree to buy a beautiful lace tablecloth that was only about $200 AUD. Next time we come here I am definitely making sure I have space in my luggage to bring something back from both Burano (tablecloths) and Murano (glass bowls and / or cups).

We kept exploring and discovering beautiful places to photograph:

Just as we were ready to head back to the ferry, I spotted some houses that caught my eye. Off we went in search of more great photos.

We were exhausted as we headed back to the ferry. We had obviously just missed a ferry (as no one was waiting) so we had a 30 minute wait. We got the 7:30 pm ferry back to Venice. We found our way home – well Phil did (with the help of Google maps). We ended up stopping at a local restaurant for something to eat before climbing all the stairs up to our room. It was gorgeous, but a late finish.

 

We had walked almost 17 km and 24 flights of stairs through the course of today! No wonder we were tired. We have another walking tour booked tomorrow (naturally there isn’t any other form of transport here on Venice – no cars at all). It has been a massive day – but amazing. We are falling in love with Venice.

Venice, Italy

Friday 22nd June 2018

Today we had our photo tour planned with Marc from ‘photo walk in Venice‘. The weather report said that it was due to rain all morning, so we pushed it back from 4:30 to 6:00 am! Yes that is right – I was up ready to take photos at 6:00 am!!!! Crazy hey?

Anyway we were off. Luckily, when we started it was dry, and hadn’t rained much at all overnight. We headed to St Mark’s Square and experimented along the way.

It was so quiet and walking through the same streets was a little eerie with everything shut and no people around.

We got to the square and there were hardly any people (the advantage of coming so early in the morning). We started experimenting with Marc guiding us by suggesting angles and how to compose our photos better. He mentioned using lines and the geometry of buildings to build interest.

We then experimented around the Doge’s Palace, experimenting with different lines and focusing on details.

We then headed into the side of Venice not often seen by tourists. We wandered through to the Arsenal (military area). We didn’t go inside, just walked around it.

We then headed into a residential area and the heavens opened! We still experimented with different settings.

We then crossed onto another island, which is still part of the Castello district – Isola Di San Pietro. This was much more focused on fishing and other trades.

We started heading back towards our hotel. It was still raining and I was a little wet (although we had umbrellas).

 

We had a stop at a friend of Marc’s who owns a workshop where he creates and repairs gondolier’s oars. It was really interesting.

We got back to our hotel, thanks to Marc’s amazing navigation skills (and not taking the ‘scenic route’ also known as getting lost) and thanked him profusely. We learnt so much and had exactly the kind of tour we were after, having a glimpse into the life of Venetians, albeit in the rain – but we can’t control the weather. We headed up to our room and managed to catch the tail end of breakfast (it was just after 10:00 am). We relaxed and downloaded the photos.

We are really happy with the photos that we took with Marc and if you are travelling to Venice, you should definitely get in touch with him.

 

Venice, Italy

Thursday 21st June 2018

We caught the train from Florence to Venice this morning. The train was late, but was very comfortable.

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We arrived in Venezia SM at the station and followed the signs to the Grand Canal. We stepped out of the station and were instantly amazed. It was just as I’d imagined. There was a large river (or the Grand Canal to be precise) with lots of boats hanging around.

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Just out of the train station at Venezia (Venice)

It was so pretty. We had already decided to get a private water taxi to our hotel – a luxury really as it was quite expensive. However, it is our first time in Venice and what better way to see it!

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View from the water taxi

The driver dropped us off at a pier close to the hotel and gave us instructions to get there. We made it to the square and then couldn’t find the actual hotel. Phil went for a walk looking, then I did and found it. We got to the hotel, and realised there was no lift for the bags! This was a huge concern as there were lots of stairs. The lady at the desk told us her ‘boy’ would help us. He was 20-ish!

Thankfully he carried our bags upstairs. It’s about 8 flights – almost as many as Vernazza. We watched the Australia vs Denmark game where they had a draw 1 all. We then went out to get some food – I was so hungry!

We had a map and my camera! We were off. I had planned on heading to St Mark’s Square – um no – took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up somewhere completely different. Anyway, we found this gorgeous location that had a couple of restaurants. I refused to go any further until I had eaten, so we did.

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View from our restaurant

We had bruschetta. It was the best bruschetta I have had in all of Italy! We tried some of their local sparkling wine, which was beautiful. Phil had a mushroom and pepperoni pizza, whilst I had tortellini with ham and cream sauce. It was such a lovely meal in such a perfect location. We also spoke to Ryan about the game and caught up with him, so that was nice too.

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Delicious bruschetta

We found our bearings on the map and set off again. We reached the ferry terminal we were looking for to go to the airport as we can get a direct ferry there. We walked along the edge of the canal until we found Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s). It was so amazing Phil was speechless. I know – I couldn’t believe it either.

We were completely awed by the whole piazza, which was only highlighted as we moved into the square. Just gobsmacked. It is so amazing! We took some photos as we wandered around the square. Phil was mesmerised by these Italian musicians, so we decided to have some dessert. We looked at the menu and were shocked with how expensive they are. We decided to share a chocolate cake as this was 18 Euros! (which was $28.31 AUD) It was THE most expensive cake I’ve ever had! but the setting (and the cake) were exquisite. It also came with a small amount of free water (most water has to be paid for over here).

We then wandered back to our hotel, after buying some water and a punnet of cherries, from a local grocer in the square close to our hotel.

Early night tonight as we have our photo tour in the morning. We had requested, initially, a super early start, to get some night photos too – however it is predicted to be pouring at 4:30am tomorrow – so decided to push it back to 6am instead. After watching Croatia beat Argentina in a shocking 3 – 0 win, it’s time to go to sleep.

 

 

Florence and Tuscany, Italy

Wednesday 20th June 2018

Today is our last day in this part of the world – for now anyway. We opted to go on a tour that went to some medieval cities that are quite close to Florence. We met the tour group this morning at 8:15 and finally got away around 9:00 am. We were in the group with both English and Spanish speaking people.

Our first stop was Monteriggioni. We only had 30 minutes here. It seemed like a lovely place, but was very small.

It was back on the bus to our next stop, Siena.

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It was market day and there were many stalls set up around the outside of the walls. It looked fabulous and genuine with lots of people out doing their shopping. We headed up into the square of the town, which is shaped like a shell. Our local tour guide – Bernadette was explaining about the horse races that take place in July and August, in addition to other information about the square such as the city hall.

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Wide view

We then walked through the streets of Siena, up towards the Cathedral.

Our tour guide told us that in the medieval days, Siena was one of the biggest cities in Europe. The bubonic plague raced through the city, with 65 percent of the population being killed. It never then reached its previous importance again. The cathedral was stunning and is on the highest hill in the town.

After this, we headed slowly back to the restaurant. We had lunch provided with the tour. We started with some meat, pate and cheese. We then had some penne pasta with a little bolognaise sauce. We finished with a selection of Italian biscuits cut into bite sized pieces. It was pretty ordinary really, although the company was lovely,

Back on the bus and we had a stop at a local winery. We tried different wines, virgin olive oils and even some truffle oil. It was all very delicious, but unfortunately difficult to transport home.

Our final stop was Monteriggioni. This was another really lovely medieval city, but we only had an hour to explore. We headed up into the town. I was looking for another handbag as there are so many shops. One talked to me (it didn’t sing), but at 209 Euros ($330 AUD) it would have to sing AND dance, which it didn’t.

We ended up finding the two squares and cathedral. It was so lovely. Although the landscape around the town was just breathtaking.

We enjoyed some gelato here and would have liked more time to explore. It was back on the bus and back into Florence. We had a quiet evening and are off to Venice tomorrow.

 

 

Florence, Italy

Tuesday 19th June 2018

So after our blog post yesterday, we found some reserve strength and went out exploring again. Phil was keen to walk to the top of the hill overlooking Florence (which Simone had recommended doing at sunset as you could get great photos). This place was the Piazzle Michalengelo. I wasn’t so sure, but wanted to take photos of the Duomo and the Ponte Vecchio. Once we were there, it wasn’t much further. The guy at the front desk at our hotel, Luca, had recommended we get the bus or a taxi, but we decided to walk. It was a great walk until we had to climb up the hill and ALL of the stairs. It was on the top of a hill, after all.

We got there and after having a beer for Phil and a lemon slushy for Bel (and the subsequent brain freeze) we tried to find a space where we could see the view. It was stupendous.

We stayed there until the sunset behind the mountains. It really was special. There was a musician playing some music (which is not uncommon here in Florence). It made for a wonderful atmosphere. It was really so beautiful and makes you appreciate nature and the wonderful world that we live in.

After the sun had set, I was keen to get down to the river to take photos of the different coloured sky reflected in the water. It was MUCH easier going down all of those stairs!

We got to the bridge upriver of the Ponte Vecchio – Ponte Alle Grazie so that we had a view of the Ponte Vecchio. Phil and I differ in our opinions of sunset photos. He likes them lighter, where I like the different colours in the sky – so I tend to take them a little darker.

We were shattered and headed back past the Duomo to get a photo at night:

We made it home and were too tired to look for somewhere to have dinner. The cafe next to our hotel had closed (it was 10pm) and we just couldn’t walk any more. According to Phil’s iPhone we had walked 16.3 kilometres and 14 floors of stairs today!

Tuesday 19th June

Today we went on a walking tour with Walks of Italy. We were keen (read that as Bel was keen) to see Michelangelo’s David and the Uffizi Museum. This tour combined both, but was a whole day tour. We met our tour guide and fellow participants at 8:15am in a square about 15 minutes walk away. We got there and met our tour guide Ishmail. Our first stop was the Galleria Dell’Accademia – where Michelangelo’s David is housed. In all honesty, I had no idea of the sheer size and detail that is included in this amazing sculpture. Our very informative tour guide told us that David is sculpted from one piece of marble, out of a piece of marble that a statue of David had already been started. The defined muscles, the detail in the eyes and the slingshot that would be used to kill Goliath, the veins in his arms and even the detail in the muscles of his legs. It truly was breathtaking. When Phil and I first saw this amazing sculpture, we looked at each other and went wow. For those people who know Phil well, even he was speechless. It truly is an amazing piece of art.

After seeing some of the other artworks, we headed down to the Duomo. The line to get into the cathedral was extensive (at least a 90 minute wait) so we opted to learn more about the cathedral and baptistry. Ishmail was informative and explained the bronze doors of the baptistry in far more detail, highlighting the stories depicted from the Bible and how people would ‘read’ the pictures as most people couldn’t read back in the 1500’s when these doors were commissioned.

We then went to another church – which is very old – Orsanmichele – Church of the Guilds of Florence. It was opposite where the wool guild building was and in olden times was used as a market place, then converted to a church. It was magnificent!

After this, we headed to the Ponte Vecchio (again). Ishmail explained how initially the bridge was a market place selling meat, fruit / vegetables and fish. However, one day one of the Medici family were walking across their private bridge and the smell was so bad, he declared that the markets had to leave as it was a foul stench that welcomed visitors to Florentine. The bridge was built to house shops, so the jewellers moved in and are still there to this day. We then had a break for lunch. Phil and I decided to head back to the Piazza Della Signoria and have lunch near the square.

We had lunch at Il Bargello. It was perfect! It was a beautiful sunny day, the restaurant had water being sprayed fairly regularly. We were sitting in the square in the shade and enjoying watching the world pass by. The food was so delicious. When we sat down, we ordered some drinks and Phil asked for a large beer and Diet Coke, It wasn’t large – it was enormous! Phil ordered a pizza with mushrooms and pepperoni, whilst I had tortellini with pesto and sun-dried tomato. It was brilliant. We had sat near one of the families from our group and got talking. They were American. They had some chocolate cake, and it looked so tasty, we ended up ordering one to share too. It truly was exactly what I had imagined when we planned this holiday.

After our amazing lunch, we headed into the Uffizi. We were in the skip the line line and still had a while to wait. Ismail entertained us by explaining information about the artists and how it would work. We finally got in and went straight up to the 2nd floor. There are a lot of Renaissance art pieces housed here.

There were many pieces of art that are amazing. It is astounding to think that some of these were painted in the 1400’s and 1500’s.

The view from these windows were also beautiful.

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The view from the River Arno

We finished here and we were shattered. We went back to the hotel and had a snooze. Phil then went and got some washing done, whilst I edited photos and started the blog post.

We ended up going out for dinner to this little place across the road, as I felt like pizza. It was great.

We didn’t have a late night as we have an earlyish start tomorrow. We are going on a tour to Siena, San Gimignano and Monteriggioni.

 

Florence, Italy

Monday 18th June 2018

We arrived in Florence yesterday afternoon and just relaxed after our big days in the Cinque Terre and Portovenere and travelling on the train. We did go for a walk and I found a handbag that talked to me, as the shoulder strap on my amazing Vietnamese handbag had broken on the trip to Cinque Terre. We found a place to eat a late lunch, which was ok. Phil had prosciutto pizza and I had gnocchi. It was really nice. We then went back to the room and relaxed. We went for a walk later on in the afternoon and explored just around the hotel. Our hotel is a very short walk from the main train station, across the road from the Santo Maria Novella Church. We got back to our room and did some further research to discover that all of the main museums are closed on Mondays. We booked onto a guided tour for Tuesday that goes to the museum with the statue of David and the Uffizi along with the Duomo. We needed an early night as we have an early start tomorrow morning for our photo tour in Florence. We need to be up at 5:30 am to meet the photographer just before 6:00am in the foyer.

We met our photographer, Simone (pronounced Simm – on – ay), who was very punctual. He led us out into the world of early morning Florence. We first headed for San Lorenzo. It was really lovely. He would give us tips to compose our photos and not just to take what we first see, to have a better look to see if there is a better angle or way to get the shot.

After exploring different angles, we were off again. It was so quiet in Florence at this hour. There were hardly any people around at all. We walked down a street and turned a corner to see this:

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The Duomo in Florence

It was such an amazing sight and so unexpected as we were being guided by Simone. With beauty such as this in front of us, we explored this amazing cathedral complex form many different angles with the gentle rising sun spotlighting some of its beautiful features.

We then turned around and saw how beautiful the facade of the Baptistry was.

It truly was stunning, and hardly any people around. (It was 6:30 in the morning though!) After this amazing sight, we were off wandering the streets of Florence again. The streets are very picturesque and we took many photos of the buildings and different streetscapes that we saw.

Our next main site that we arrived at was the Piazza Della Signoria. This was also beautiful.

We then headed over to the Galleria Degli Uffizi (which was closed today being Monday). Simone explained to us about how the Medici’s (an important family in Florence’s history) had their offices in what is now the Uffizi to run their empire.

We crossed the road to get our first view of the Ponte Vecchio and the Arno River. Wow! Wow! Wow! It was stunning. I know – I’ll have to find some other adjectives and superlatives.

After feasting our eyes (and taking WAY more photos than just this) we headed up to cross the bridge. The morning light was just spectacular shining on this bridge and causing the reflections in the water. It truly was spectacular.

We then crossed the bridge to see the Piazza Dei Pitti. Unfortunately the light wasn’t great here. We then wandered down to the Santa Spirito. This church is dedicated to the Holy Spirit so isn’t anywhere near as ornate as some of the other churches we’ve seen today.

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Outside of the Church

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Image of the inside of the church

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Preparing for a service

Outside of the church was a square with people selling different items. There was an old lady with a fruit and vegetable stall. The fruit and vegetables looked so fresh and succulent.

There was a fruit that we didn’t recognise. Simone bought us one each to try. Mine was so juicy that when I bit into it, some juice spurted out. They kind of looked like apricots and tasted like them too. Simone said they are a local fruit called the nespole.

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The loquat fruits between tomatoes and apricots.

After here, we continued our wandering. The city was well and truly awake now and starting to get really busy (it was 9:00 am after all).

We crossed the Arno again using the Ponte All Carraia and continued our wanderings back to the Piazza Della Signoria.

We stopped at one of the oldest churches in Florence. It was the most important church before the Duomo was built. It was called the Parrocchia Santi Apostili e Biagio. It was so beautiful.

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Parrochia Santi Apostoli E Biagio

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Statue of Mary in the garden next to the church

The Piazza Della Signoria was MUCH busier by the time we got there at 10:00 am). Simone had a chat with us and then left to go home. We relaxed for a while and then wandered back towards our hotel, after detouring past the Duomo.

We made it to a cafe next to our hotel and ordered breakfast. Luckily for us, the chef was okay to make it as it was 11:40am by this stage. It was perfect. We were watching the recap of the World Cup, in Italian of course. An American family came and sat down at the table next to us and we started chatting.

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We enjoyed talking to them for a while and just taking in this amazing place. We headed back to the hotel to relax and to start editing over 600 photos that I had taken and Phil’s 200. We are about to go out exploring to get the afternoon light for the photos. We have a walking tour booked for tomorrow visiting Florence’s best sites.

 

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