Wednesday, October 31, 2012

TPThursday: Hauntingly Beautiful Venice

While Halloween’s celebrations in the United States came to an end last night, All Saints Day celebrations begin today in cities around the world.  Venice, where we were last week, is among those places observing this more reserved, somber day of remembering the dead and departed.

With Travel Photo Thursday bridging Halloween and All Saints Day (also known as All Soul’s Day or Day of the Dead, depending on location and varying in date by a day or two) here are some of our hauntingly beautiful memories of our stay:

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While Carnivale is the celebration marking end of Lent each year; a time when party-goers will bring these masks to life, there was something about those sight-less eyes peering out of window displays that gave a ghost-like feel to them. . .

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The city is filled with statues of heavenly saints.  This one, deformed by time and the elements, gazed with blind eyes on visitors in Venice’s Music Museum.  Or was he still able to keep an eye on the visitors like me who aimed their cameras at his weather-worn being?

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This skeleton is a modern art installation at the side of the Grand Canal – his sightless gaze as spooky as the saint’s above.

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Ever notice how your imagination comes to life in the dark? As our lone  footsteps echoed on the walkway we thought we heard the voice of an opera singer.  The music seemed to come from someplace above us. . .but from where? It wasn’t recorded, but was it live?

We’d not finished pondering the source of the music when a large rat scurried past me and hurtled into the canal with a corresponding splash – now that one did give me goose pimples!

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As we walked along that dark canal route between the restaurant where we ate and our apartment, we came upon another mask shop with these two fellows looking out at us. The song, Music of the Night from the musical, Phantom of the Opera, came to mind:

". . .Open up your mind, let your fantasies unwind
In this darkness that you know you cannot fight
The darkness of the music of the night. . .”

That’s it for Travel Photo Thursday. Head over to Budget Travelers Sandbox for more photos.  We’ll get back to more practical matters in the coming week with posts about a new guest chef on the Celebrity ship, a don’t-miss-this-restaurant in Bologna, and who to call for tours there and give you a ‘spritz’ of place in Venice and a taste of KLM’s Business Class Food and Wine Celebration. . .

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Venice: Acqua Alta: Water, Water Everywhere

The obnoxiously loud– not-to-be-ignored-but-totally not-to-be-understood– alarm sounded in the dark early morning hours yesterday bringing us out of a deep sleep into a most confused state.

It sounded again at 6 a.m. today, but today we were expecting it.

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(Literally translated: pig’s misery. Slang: anything from “What a shame!” to “Oh, shit!”)

This time we counted the blasts and sound levels just like the residents; today we knew it was announcing: acqua alta, high water or in English, flooding. The number of blasts and levels tell you how bad it will be.

Those picturesque canals in tourist brochures turn ugly and  flood between late October and February each year we’ve learned. Sometimes as often as once a week – we get a double dose this weekend.

To show you what I am talking about, this is the view of the Zattere, the morning we arrived. I took this from a corner cafe where we sat at a sidewalk table sipping coffee:

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This is a photo below shows where our table was on Tuesday and the narrow elevated walkways that accommodate two-way pedestrian traffic to and from the water taxis in this case (those able to operate, that is, during the high water):

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And this is the view from my corner cafe spot yesterday (taken from the elevated walkway):

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(Sorry it’s blurred, I was being jostled by people bouncing the walkway as they eased past me – you are not to stop and take photos, but I wasn’t the only tourist doing so!)

The most popular tourist item yesterday were the stands that materialized it seemed from nowhere selling 40+euro rubber boots:

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So we are now debating packing up and leaving as soon as the water recedes today – should it happen again tomorrow we may not make it to the airport for our mid-morning flight.

Porca Miseria!

The Scout has found us a couple of options: either heading to Treviso, a town on higher ground or the Marriott at the airport (not as charming as the Zattere, but on high ground). 

We were assured by the cafe owner last night that we wouldn’t have a problem with acqua alta on Monday because the borsa would be here: that’s the North wind from Siberia. And from the way the leaves are swirling outside the window, I think it arrived early.

Porca Miseria!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Ciao! Ciao! Celebrity ~ Hello Harmony

We said farewell to our floating home, the Celebrity Silhouette, on Tuesday and have set up our Venice ‘home’ in an apartment called Harmony.

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We arrived in Venice in the early morning, gliding through the darkness on the Guidecca Canal toward the cruise terminal as quietly as the gondoliers who ply the waters of the nearby Grand Canal. (I was among the die-hard 'arrival fanatics' who were up at 4:30 to view our arrival.)

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The ship stayed overnight, so Wednesday afternoon we toasted our old friend from our neighborhood waterside bar as she set sail at sunset to retrace the steps that brought us here.

Our home this week, an apartment rented from the website Vacation Rental By Owner, is in the Zattere; an area away from the concentrated hordes of tourists; a place so down-home that the man at the corner bar knew we wanted our ‘two Americani coffees’ this afternoon when we walked in and we’ve only been there twice since our arrival.

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This is ‘our’ street – we enter our building through the second door down from Joel.  We are on the first floor (that means second floor by US terminology). Our apartment isn’t as cute and warm as the one we rented in Bologna; but it is spacious, clean and functional – and a fraction of the price of hotels here.  So we are in ‘harmony’ with our digs. (Yes, pun intended)

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The kitchen is both the living area and kitchen as the television is against the right wall in this photo.  The bedroom, bath and second bedroom/den down the hall.

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The Zattere is exceeding our expectations; we stroll this section each day to get home.  (BTW, that large ship is a private yacht.)  The only problem is that the days are rushing past far too quickly.  And there’s a lot of city here to explore, so ciao for now. . .I’ve gotta get going!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

With Travel, sometimes it’s the small things. . .

. . .that leave the longest memories.

And for the animal lovers we are, the small things are those little four-footed creatures who can capture our hearts or sadly sometimes break our hearts when we visit those places that have no compassion for their homeless dogs and cats.

I am happy to report to all our fellow animal lovers that this trip has been a good one – for us and the furry ones that we’ve encountered. Today, on TP Thursday, I want to share some of those encounters with you:

Let’s start in Catania, Sicily where this bride and groom were virtually ignored by us camera-toting tourists. . .

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. . .because we were so taken with this charming little member of the wedding party (who WAS watching the bride and groom):

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Then there was the stroll through Bari, Italy’s old town when we happened upon this fellow asleep outside one of the traditional bars (where you can have coffee, sweets, alcoholic drinks or just hang out with the locals). And he could have cared less about the number of tourists aiming camera’s at him:

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Valletta, Malta wins hands down for the care given its ‘street cats’.  They have free rain-proofed and cushioned  public housing in the city park:

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And signs in Arabic and English advise people to only feed them at the ‘feeding stations’ – these are two story structures that offer both food and drink. There was one well fed but camera-shy cat behind the structure just waiting to eat a bit more  as soon as I left:

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This fellow was sunning himself against the exterior walls of Dubrovnik, Croatia’s Old City – totally oblivious to the attention being given him by those of those of us who felt the need to capture his bath on film:

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Just down the road, we spotted a mom and her adolescent children – all were well cared for and despite her camera-shyness, I had to include her photo. (Those of you who remember our still-loved-and-missed “Thai Guy” will understand why she captured my heart):

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This trip has given me hope that animal welfare has caught on world-wide.  If not, at least the efforts are expanding.

That’s it for this Travel Photo Thursday.  Head over to Budget Travelers Sandbox for more travel photos from around the world.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Silhouette Snapshot ~ Kotor, Montenegro

This Celebrity cruise has – as I mentioned earlier – been a near mind-boggling routing filled with ports of call so interesting that we return to the ship with our senses  numbed from the experiences on ashore.

Our day in Kotor, Montenegro was one of those days that will end up in the  ‘near perfect’ file even though it was one of the most demanding (that’s a teaser for a future report about climbing a mountain. . .).

As we were sailing back toward the Adriatic Sea and putting the memories of the day away, we were sipping some well-earned wine and watching the day fade into evening. . .

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I should note here, that with the exception of two days – our stop in Napoli and Corfu when the skies dumped rain for a portion of each day– we have had sunny days and temperatures in the high 70’s. . .not bad for nearly the end of October!

Where has this month gone?  We left home the first of October and now are beginning the preparations for the end of the cruise and phase three of our adventure, ‘living’ in Venice to begin.  We have plenty of cruise tales and tips for you, so stay tuned. . .

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

TP Thursday: A cruise kaleidoscope

Here we are in Bari, Italy nearly midway through the Celebrity cruise that is taking us from Rome to Venice and into autumn in Europe. We’ve had a  kaleidoscope of experiences since setting sail; so many that I couldn’t think of a single topic on which to focus this Travel Photo Thursday. Sometimes travel is like that - it jumbles the mind.

So think of this post as a kaleidoscope of our last week:

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Napoli:  Birth place of Sophia Loren and pizza!

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Catania, Sicily: The Duomo was just one of the many historic sites we visited on this day when we logged 11 miles on the pedometer. Actually, 10 or 11 miles a day is becoming the norm for this trip.

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Valletta, Malta:  Watching the sun rise over this ancient city was magic, simply, pure magic. So much so, that we've vowed to return and spend much more than a single day here.

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Whew!  A day at sea to rest our senses before heading to Corfu, Greece and up the Adriatic for the last half of the cruise.

 I saved one of our favorite photos to end today’s post:

After all, we know that Italy is at the center of the fashion world, right? This fellow was in a Napoli store window – I couldn’t resist closing this post with him.

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Ciao for now!  It’s Travel Photo Thursday so head over to Budget Travelers Sandbox for more travel photos. 

And a note of thanks to those of you who responded so positively to the last post:  Thank you so much for reposting on your FB pages, your tweets , Google + and all the other nice accolades.  They were most appreciated. And it is great to have so many new blogosphere friends.

Monday, October 15, 2012

WAWeekend: A Spa-cation in Washington

This year I finally explored the wonders of ‘the spa’. The ancient rituals associated with healing baths and spa treatments have been around since the time of the Romans, but since I am not one to jump on any bandwagon too quickly, it took me awhile to venture into this unknown somewhat self-indulgent and definitely pampered world.

I wrote about my experience in an article that appeared in The Seattle Times, Sunday, Oct. 14th  - the day Joel and I were exploring Malta.  But thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I was able to see the article within hours of its publication.   Just click the link to access it.

Among the places you’ll read about are:

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Alderbrook Inn, the luxury lodge on the shores of Washington State’s Hood Canal.

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 Salish Lodge (that tiny speck on the left top of this photo – which is actually a  four-story building that overlooks Washington’s Snoqualmie Falls.

I am not telling you any of the inside story here, you must read the article for those.

Because so many of you knew I was researching this article I wanted to answer a question several have asked about whether my expenses were paid by the publication.  They were not.  And freelance writers for the Seattle T imes are not allowed to accept freebies or discounts not available to the general public, so all the experiences and stays I wrote about were done on my own dime.
(And well worth the price, I might add!)

How about you?  When you travel is a visit to ‘the spa’ a must on your To Do List?

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Celebrity Silhouette: Oh the Places You Will Go!

If Celebrity Cruise lines ever needed a new slogan, they could turn to the Cat in the Hat’s, “Oh the Places You Will Go!” and pretty much nail it.

We have started phase two of our Italian Adventure aboard the Silhouette, a ship still in its inaugural season. It capacity is 2,886 guests, its cruising speed 24 knots, for those of you into statistics.

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We boarded the ship in Rome’s cruise port,Civitavecchia, on Thursday – a beautiful, sunny  morning as evidenced by the photo above.  We sat on this deck enjoying a leisurely lunch and sipping a glass of welcome champagne while awaiting the announcement that our rooms were ready to occupy.

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And at 1 p.m. we were settling into our floating home for the next 12 days.  Thanks to a recommendation from the agency we use for booking our cruises we ended up with a balcony large enough for eight people and a room of almost the same size! 

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Everything is large and spacious on this ship – even the lawn art.  Being part of the Solstice Class ships, we do have a 15th floor lawn – that many have remarked is much greener than what they left back home.

Our route will loop us around Italy’s boot:  yesterday we were in Napoli, today Sicily and tomorrow Malta (which was one of the reasons this routing called out to us). Then we have a day to rest our senses before visiting Greece, Montenegro, Croatia and four more ports in Italy before ending up in Venice.

Now that the computer is up and running again (we took a break from computers for a few days) I will tell you more about the wonderful ports we’re visiting aboard this luxurious supersized yacht on which we are sailing.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

TPThursday: When Life’s a Beach. . .

As our summer days come to an end and autumn promises cloudy, cool – and damp – days in the Pacific Northwest, we start daydreaming about sun and sand.  Beaches beacon. Memories of some of our favorite beaches are the topic of today’s post.


Malaga, Spain’s  Costa del Sol: A Sunday morning stroll last November on the beach included a stop to inspect this new-to-us way of fishing. Tall poles were inserted in the sand and the line (barely glimmering in the sunlight) stretched out into the sea – so high you could walk under them.


Ko Olina, O’ahu, Hawaii:  We’ve spent the month of January ‘living’ at Ko Olina the last couple of years thanks to taking a plunge into the ‘timeshare’ world.  This is one of our favorite spots at this development on O’ahu’s western shores, some 30 minutes from Honolulu.

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Copalis Beach, Washington State:  Now you might think this photo, taken last March, is of a cloudy beach, but in this part of the world we have ourselves believing this is ‘filtered sun’.

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Cabo San Lucas, Mexico:  A Carnival Cruise stop introduced us to the beauty of the beaches in this part of Mexico last April.

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Riviera Nayarit, Mexico:  As much as we enjoyed our quick visit to Cabo, it was the week spent at Rancho Banderas, just north of Puerto Vallarta where our place overlooked this beautiful – and little used – beach.

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Victoria, British Columbia, Canada:  While images of beaches may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of this city on the tip of Vancouver Island, all you need do is walk a view blocks from the Inner Harbor and you’ll find them.  Well-maintained trails lead from the roadway overlooking them to the cove beaches below.

How about you?  Has life been a beach this year?

This is post links to Budget Traveler's Sandbox weekly feature, Travel Photo Thursday.  Head over there for more photos.  Hope you’ll stop by again as we tell you of our continuing adventures in Italy this month.  You can subscribe at TravelnWrite or follow along on our Facebook page

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Pasta, Patate e Pane: Ciao D2G!

That title means, “Pasta, Potatoes and Bread: Goodbye to our “Diet 2 Go” – at least while in the city’s whose nickname is “la grassa” – the fat.

Diet 2 Go is the eating style we’ve adopted to keep from gaining weight on our travels (or at home for that matter): no bread, no pasta and no potatoes.
Well, for this week anyway, the D2G is on vacation as well.

We have been most pleased with our stay here – in fact have concluded that we could have spent a week and not seen everything. . .or eaten all that one could eat. Bologna is known for its food. Its restaurants. Its markets. Sigh. . .its temptations.

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Bologna is the birth place of tortellini, those little stuffed pockets of pasta, that as the story goes were created by a short-sighted innkeeper in the 1500’s who wanted them to look like navel of Venus. It also is where tagliette those long narrow noodles were created in 1487, patterned after Lucrezia Borgia’s hair.

Bolognese, the minced meat and tomato based sauce, is named for this town. (And let me make it very clear here: there is no dish called spaghetti bolognese here. . .that was an American invention and it is never ordered here without giving away your nationality!)

Add to that, we arrived in the middle of its Potato Festival. The potatoes grown here are so special they carry the mark of certification: Patata di Bologna D.O.P.   (And the festival, is in its 7th year).

And so it was that we began eating after a trip to the store in the photo above.  But I have to admit, it has been a sinfully fun week at the table and in the kitchen. Let me show you:

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“Mamma Mia!” as they say here.  

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Sunday Morning: At ‘Home’ in Italy

Anna Rita, the owner of the place we’d rented in Bologna, and I wrote several times before our arrival. In one email she said she hoped we’d find the place we expected. . .

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We didn’t. It  quite simply exceeded our expectations!!

MilBolg2012 025 I wrote about this place after we had booked “Cassiopea”, our home away from home.  It had some 50 guest reviews and a 5 star rating. . .it also had a deck that called out to me.  Could it be that good? we wondered. Yes, it could!

(I love ‘my’ deck!)

On this Sunday morning the church bells are chiming and I am watching the sun rise over the neighboring roof tops from the front room of the most charming apartment we’ve stayed in to date in our travels. 

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Our fourth floor apartment is some 60 steps and four flights of stairs from the entry door, so it isn’t for those who can’t walk and haul suitcases that far (now you see why we travel with small bags and wash clothes along the way).

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All the rooms are much larger than we expected and are so beautifully decorated with Anna Rita’s artistic eye.  And details are important to her and her husband Piero – right down to the stapler and tape on the desk where I write to the shampoo and soap in the bathroom and the French Press and coffee in the kitchen.

And several of you knew I had my fingers crossed that Anna Rita was still greeting guests with one of her homemade ricotta cheese tortes. . . .well, she didn’t disappoint. She even had set the table for us! (It is soooo good!)

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We’ve had unseasonably hot weather for our stay here with sunny days and temperatures in the low 80’s.  Our time draws to a close tomorrow as we head south to find that Tuscan Sun – although it can’t be better than here can it?

If you go:  We rented through Vacation Rental by Owner and used PayPal for the required deposit, paying the remainder owed upon arrival.  (Anna Rita and Piero picked us up at the train station – another very nice touch.) We are paying 104 euros, or $135 US which includes the cleaning fee.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Hurtling through time and space to Italy

Monday already seems ages ago. Maybe it is because on this Friday afternoon we are giving our senses a break and spending some time at ‘home’ in Bologna, Italy. Time - moving forward, thinking back - really does take on new dimensions when you travel.

MilBolg2012 002 Monday was the day we said farewell to our summer in the Pacific Northwest and set out to experience for at least a bit of time, autumn in Italy.

Aboard this KLM flight we hurtled from Vancouver, B.C. at 35,000 feet above the earth at a speed of 600+ miles per hour. Quite mind boggling, if you think about it. 

We arrived in Amsterdam 30 minutes early, we’d flown so rapidly, but then found no gate available so we actually entered the terminal at the time we’d been scheduled to arrive.
MilBolg2012 005 From Amsterdam, the land of tulips (as captured in this photo of a wall mural) we caught another flight that would take us to our destination: Milan, Italy.

While my wristwatch reminded us it was the middle of the night Monday  (we’d left home at 8 a.m.), we’d traveled through both space and time to find ourselves 9 hours ahead of that time piece and in the middle of Tuesday.  Amazing when you think about it.

MilBolg2012 006 We caught our favorite low-cost airline, Easy Jet, which took less than three hours to get us to our first stop on our journey: Milan. We arrived there 24 hours on the dot from when we’d left home.
I’ll tell you more in future days.  Ciao! for now.. . 


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