Friday, June 29, 2012


How's this for a vacation home?

We’re now back in the land where Christian religions dominates. But enroute to here Flat Stanley has witnessed so much diversity! He and we learned that Buddhism is not a religion; it’s a way of life and we spoke with Muslims who fervently disavow the violence that has been done in their name.

I never before this cruise even really knew where Croatia was, let alone Dubrovnik. Nor did I have any knowledge of the history of Dubrovnik although I knew a bit about the countries around it now and the ones who fairly recently were at war.

The walled city of Dubrovnik and the Dalmation coast are spectacularly beautiful! It helps, of course, that our luck with weather has continued. We sailed in along a rocky coast that alternately has high cliffs and deep green forests with the occasional home set so as to overlook the ocean. Sailboats and tour boats abound and I can see why people like to spend time in this area; it’s one of the prettiest coastlines I’ve ever seen.

Until our guide told us a bit about the history of this (now) small town, I had barely heard of it, yet it was as important a trading center as Venice up until the 18th century.

Unfortunately we are a large enough ship to have to dock at the brand new dock facility. Unfortunate because smaller ships can anchor just off the town and be right at the heart of everything although the passengers have to take a tender back and forth. Several of our friends elected to get a taxi and have a couple of hours to see the area; they were rewarded with stunning views of the town from the top of the hill right above it. We elected to walk the wall around the town and that was an interesting experience. It was extremely hot and there is precious little shade available but we got some fascinating glimpses of daily life in Dubrovnik, such as the grappa that is home made in many of the homes. We could see it fermenting on garden walls and on window sills as we walked around.

There were two tours from the ship to walk around the wall of the town; our tour finished the 1.3km walk, the other group had half the group who didn’t want to continue after they were half done. That’s what we heard from our guide; why they didn’t want to continue when they were already half-way there was not elaborated on.

The main street of Dubrovnik stretches from one gate in the wall to the other and after walking that street and stopping for some fresh OJ and cookies, back to the ship we went. We possibly should have stayed in town and had lunch but it was hot and we were thinking without consulting our common sense. But we were lucky in a way: our Cruise Director (in charge of fun on board) fell and may have a broken leg; another woman apparently was abandoned by her tour group; and at least one person collapsed on the wall, probably from heat problems.

The sailaway was yet another spectacularly beautiful one.

From our deck, overlooking the dock area and a very modern bridge to Dubrovnik

Residential Dubrovnik

The walled city of Dubrovnik. We walked most of the wall that goes all the way around the city.

The city from afar.
Flat Stanley walked the wall with us.

Looking down the main street from one gate to the other.

Part of some of the old structures seen from the wall around Dubrovnik.

The town and a fort, from the wall.

Flat Stanley enjoying the view over Dubrovnik.

The wall is quite narrow at points. And hot! as there is no shade.
Flat Stanley had a snack of fresh OJ (yum!) and cookies after walking the wall.
Several backyards. Note the jars on the wall.
Some family is making Grappa on their backyard wall.

Dubrovnik may be a very old city, but it has all the "mod cons" (Aussies for modern conveniences).

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Flat Stanley is back with us!

Two young Italian boys with Flat Stanley

Our first day guide, Laura.

You may recall that Flat Stanley got lost in Istanbul; we were devastated to say the least! But he was well taken care of and has rejoined us here in Venice and is having a wonderful time, including meeting a couple of young boys on Murano Island.
Day two in Venice was not as pleasant as day one both because of the weather (moist and hot and sticky—but no rain!) and because of the tour guide. Day one we had Laura, an effervescent young woman who made everything come alive on the tour. Day two we had Alexandra whose knowledge of Venice was encyclopedic and I swear she tried to regurgitate all that knowledge in four hours! I do really enjoy learning about whatever we’re doing and wherever we are, but taking a group of 35 through a museum and telling us about every painting and every sculpture is way too much!

We went to the Doges Palace; the Doges were the governors, for lack of a better word, of Venice but Alexandra didn’t really explain what or who they were, she just told us all about the rooms of the palace and the paintings and frescoes in those rooms. Often there were a dozen or more paintings hanging plus the ceilings were painted with many frescoes and oils.

After the Doges Palace we crossed the Piazza San Marco to the Basilica San Marco, another disappointment after seeing San Giorgio yesterday. It is arguable the most famous church in Venice so of course there are throngs of people being herded through it. We, and everybody else, had only the time it took to walk along a fabric-covered path between stanchions from which we were not allowed to deviate. So we had less than three minutes to see the interior.

Next it was off by water taxi (a smaller version of the vaporetto, a taxi only holds about eight or ten people where the vaporetto will hold 20–30) to the Ca’ Rezzonico, the home of a very wealthy Venetian who sort of bought their way into the high society of the day, the “nouveau riche” of the 17th century. Some of the information I wish Alexandra had given us is here that the poet Robert Browning died there; that his father had a studio there; that John Singer Sargent had a studio there, and that there were some financial shenanigans that went on. She knew all about the paintings, however, and told us about them in excruciating detail. On all thefour floors. Nonetheless, it IS a beartiful home.

Back to the ship by vaporetto and thence to go through the agony of the security check to get on board ship. The Italians have a truck holding the mandatory x-ray screening followed, for no reason I can ascertain, by the ship’s x-ray screening. I have no idea why the ship (not always, but mostly) has to screen us yet again when the country has already done so. The agony is mostly because all (it seems) 1950 passengers plus a goodly portion of the crew have to check back in at once (it seems) by inserting our “cruise card” (all-purpose electronic card that is your identification and credit card all in one) into what I call the “doink” machine—doink is the sound the machine makes when you insert your card and all is well; if all is not well, it emits a pretty good rendition of a Bronx cheer. One. Person. At. A. Time. The line to get back aboard often stretches for 100 meters.

Sailaway from Venice was beautiful if not as gorgeous as the sail in was—high humidity made the visibility not quite as crisp—but it was great because we could watch it from our balcony while drinking VB beer with some friends. Tomorrow, Dubrovnik and then a sea day before five port days in a row. So you may not hear from me for several days!

One of many bridges over the smaller canals.

Two columns at the canal end of Piazza San Marco.

The throngs in the Piazza.

Flat Stanley at the Basilica San Marco.
Flat Stanley in a exhibition of counterfeit money (although I think the sign says it is authentic American money, circa 1943.

A suggestion box from the far distant past of Venice.

The Bridge of Sighs, so named by the poet Byron.
The view the prisoners would have while walking across the Bridge of Sighs.

Ca' Rezzonico


With some others in our gondola. No, the gondolier didn't sing. You have to pay extra for that.

Approaching the bridge over the canal to our dinner in Venice.

The group that went to dinner for Steve and  Donna's anniversary (they are on the right).

The armory.

No comment.

Several of the women got roses.

Donna, the anniversary girl.

The dinner group, L-R: Pat, Wendy, Mary, Marie, Donna, Steve (at the head of the table), Pam, Randy, Ian, Bob, and Mal.

At dinner.

Some of the staff of the ship. Randy took this picture.

Interior courtyard at the Doges Palace.

A home on the canal.

Doges Palace and Piazza San Marco.

Venice. Water, water, everywhere!

This is how the rich and famous live in Italy

Piazza di San Marco

Flat Stanley overlooking the harbor in Venice
We arrived in Venice on a drop-dead gorgeous day! But I was not prepared for the sheer beauty of the city and the total dependence on water! Everything is water in Venice and I kind of knew that but it is so in-your-face and THAT’S what I wasn’t prepared for.The sail-in to Venice is down the Bacino di San Marco and the Canale Della Guidecca and we sailed right by Piazza San Marco and the Palace of the Doges. Thousands and thousands of tourists and locals (it was a Sunday) thronged the Piazza. We could hardly wait to get in and get touring!

Venice and New York are the only two cities where we will overnight and this evening we will have a dinner at some restaurant ashore that Steve and Donna will pick out for their anniversary. But before that we have a tour—our tour gets back at 1745 and we meet the group at 1800 for the vaporetto ride into the heart of the city. It’s actually a boat shuttle that Princess has arranged but the boat itself is a vaporetto, or waterbus and it will deposit us four bridges from Piazza San Marco.

We began our tour with a gondola ride. While I’m glad we did it, there were six of us, a bit of a crowd in a gondola and it was quite hot, not exactly a romantic ride around Venice! From there we took a vaporetto to a cathedral; well, I don’t actually know if it’s a cathedral, but it’s a pretty big church, San Giorgio Maggiore, and I sort of think of all those really big churches as cathedrals. San Giorgio is pretty impressive on the inside especially because it has a lot of Tintoretto paintings, each about three or four meters high (10 to 13 feet). The outside is rather ordinary but more than made up for by the beautiful surroundings and the stunning inside. Especially considering what we saw the next day at the Basilica San Marco.

We have seen a lot of glass blowing demonstrations, but the tour of a glass factory on Murano was pretty special. Murano Island is the traditional place where Venetian glass is made; in fact it is the only place where it is allowed to be made, even now. Centuries ago the glass makers weren’t allowed to even leave the island; if they did, their hands were cut off! Nothing so draconian any more. Our little glass blower blew a vase for us in about five minutes (we were all sweating just watching him, I don’t know why he wasn’t just dripping sweat all over the glass!) and then followed up by making a horse in about 2 minutes. It was heat up the glass, pull a little bit here and push there and pull a bit more and voila, a beautiful rearing horse!
It was SO hot watching our wonderful glassblower!

Our glassblower with molten glass (NOT lead glass) before he made it into a vase.

Shaping the vase.

The beginning of the horse. He has to work quickly as it cannot be reheated.
The horse has front legs...

...and now gets back legs and a tail

Flat Stanley with some of the Murano Venetian glass art.

Then of course we had the obligatory—but you don’t HAVE to buy anything!—tour of the shop. It seemed that each of us had our very own salesman who followed us from room to room; there were about five showrooms: jewelry, glassware, more glassware, modern glass art, and traditional glass art. Our taste hasn’t changed, we unerringly went right for the art glass that was in the $15,000 range. No, we didn’t buy any. But I wanted to! They didn’t want us to take any pictures but they did let us take a few including one of Stanley in front of some of the art glass. I had wanted to get a glass necklace, but nothing really reached out to me. Randy really has a cheap date!

Dinner that night was the highlight so far of our trip. Steve and Donna found this charming little restaurant, Da Paolo, that was down a canal and over a bridge, next to an armory. The food was to die for, the atmosphere couldn’t be beaten, they had cold beer, and to top it all off, we got to watch the Navy ceremoniously lower the Italian flag at dusk. It was just so perfect and romantic and beautiful and any other superlative you’d care to throw around!

We walked back to the vaporetto in the dark down alleys that I wouldn’t be caught dead in in New York (or I would be dead if I walked down them!) to the Grand Canal and our shuttle home to get ready for the second day in Venice. It was not to be so nice.

One of many, many bridges over the many, many canals.

San Giorgio Maggiore exterior

And the interior

The altar
Even gondolas have stop lights!