Sunday, September 25, 2011

Day 15 – Venice: A gecko stalks at night

We bade farewell to the Ruby Princess this morning, after 12 days on board and over 5,600 km travelled!

Disembarkation from the ship was an early, but impressively smooth process considering the number of passengers all leaving that morning.  Our luggage was collected the night before and put in a storage hold where they were unloaded first thing in the morning.  All we had to take with us were our overnight bags.  We were assigned a disembarkation colour and departure time the night before.   After breakfast we headed to the designated meeting place (my first visit to the on-ship casino!) and waited for our colour to be called. In no time, we were shuttled off the ship and into a building on the docks to identify and clear our luggage through customs. Then our luggage was transferred to our hotel and we boarded a shuttle.

Hotel lobby
It was another beautiful, sunny day as we meandered through the narrow streets to our hotel -- the Hotel Amadeus in the south end of the Cannaregio neighbourhood.   

Hotel courtyard
It was too early to check in to our rooms, so we dropped off our overnight bags and set out to explore.

We started at the nearby Campo S. Geremia and made our way over the Canal di Cannaregio and along the Strada Nova.  

Market near our hotel

Carolina and Sara went ahead to see some sights while
Roisin and I enjoyed getting lost in Venice. 

We wandered through Cannaregio, a bit into
neighbouring Castello, and then down into
San Marco --
browsing in shops, stopping on bridges,
snapping shots of the waterways
and the occasional gondolier,
admiring the architecture, and
just soaking up the atmosphere.  


Venice is a wonderful city to just toss
aside your map and go where your
curiousity takes you.

But if you need to find your way somewhere
specific, some helpful souls added a few clues.

Hungry for lunch, we had a quick and delicious bite 
at the Laterna di Marco Polo. (I’ve eaten more cured meats on this trip than I’d eat in a year at home – much more flavourful and less greasy here.)

After lunch we headed west through San Marco in attempt to reach a sight I had earmarked – the Scala Contarini del Bovolo – and found our way with surprising ease. This stone spiral staircase in a quaint courtyard is five stories tall and is supposed to offer a great view of Venice. Unfortunately the tower was under restoration so I couldn’t climb it as planned but was still happy to have been able to admire it.

Next, we met up with Carolina and Sara to tour the Basilica di San Marco – a Byzantine extravaganza built in the 11th century.  

I’d already been awed by the outside yesterday, but the inside was something else – more than 3.8 sq km of beautiful glass mosaics line the walls, ceilings and floors.  I’ve never paid so much attention to what was beneath my feet before. 

Multiple chapels, altars and graceful arches break up the large basilica, making it seem warm, quiet and serene despite its size.  

Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside. But we were allowed on the upper story outer balcony for a great bird’s eye view of the Piazza and a close up view of some more magnificent mosaics on the exterior.

For the next while we strolled the neighbourhood west of Piazza San Marco, seeing colourful buildings and bridges, and squares like the Campo Santa Maria Zobenigo, Campo S. Vidal,  and the Ponti della Accademia before hopping a vaporetti to our hotel.


A very satisfying day was winding down and so were we.  We checked into our hotel and then found a nearby restaurant with a terrace overlooking the Canal for dinner.  Unfortunately the view was better than the food – the only disappointing meal I had on this entire trip. 
Tired from a day full of walking, but not ready to say goodnight to Venice yet, we opted for the quintessential tourist experience – a gondola ride! 

I’d read they were cheesy and expensive, but we loved every moment of it.  What a great way to see Venice as the sun goes down.  As the bustling city quieted down, the soothing sound of the water lapping against the boat became more noticeable (and the occasional “oy!” as gondoliers called out before turning a tight corner in the narrow waterways).   

Our gondolier was very charming and also great guide, telling us about the city he’d lived in all his life, and giving us a glimpse of everyday life in Venice.

Making our way back to our hotel, we stopped in a square for some gelato and to enjoy the balmy evening a little longer. And then to our hotel, where my plans to shower and crash from exhaustion were foiled by a gecko.  
Yes, geckos are almost cute (for a reptile) and harmless, but that doesn’t mean I want to share my room with one.  (I admit: I have an unrealistic apprehension of anything reptile)

This particular fella was camped out on my bathroom ceiling and, despite my best efforts to ignore it, I couldn't use the bathroom, so went straight to bed. But, once in bed, every time I shut my eyes, I snapped them open again to make sure he hadn’t decided to hang out over my bed.  

Sometime near 1am, still wide awake and needing to use the bathroom, I headed downstairs to seek the help of the concierge to evict my guest.  Unfortunately, the concierge’s English was as limited as my Italian and, after a long and comedic exchange of part charades and part pictionary, he finally understood my dilemma. 

To his credit, he only teased me a bit (okay, a lot) about being afraid of a tiny gecko. 

When we got to my room he assured me with a big wink and dimpled grin that the big bad gecko would be shooed outside the open window in a second.  Into the washroom he went and closed the door. And a good five minutes of repeated banging, thumps and cursing in Italian followed. 

Eventually my Venetian hero emerged, red-faced and dishevelled, but triumphant, announcing in his heavily accented English,  “human one, gecko zero”. 

And then I finally got some much needed sleep.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Day 14 - Sailing into Venice

Saturday morning I awoke with mixed feelings. It was our last day on the ship, but it was our first of four days in Venice!
After grabbing some breakfast and getting most of my packing out of the way, I headed up to the bridge where I found Sara and Carolina staked out by the rail. We were expected to reach Venice around 11:30am and a good number of cruisers wanted to be front and centre as that magical city came into view. 
Approaching Venice
The atmosphere on deck was festive and contagious – it was like lining up for a parade. Cruise staff offered champagne for those who wanted to toast the occasion in style. 

The cruise director pointed out landmarks as the ship slowly navigated from the Gulf of Venice, to the south of Venice and then through the canal network into the centre of Venice to our berth.

The view from the ship's bridge was fabulous. I snapped dozens of photos but here are a few to give an idea of Venice from the water.

La Pieta

The view from the ship as we passed by Piazza San Marco, Basilica di San Marco and the Palazzo Ducale.
Holy steeples -- Venice has over 100 churches.
Santa Maria della Salute

Our ship was one of 10 cruise ships in Venice that day. Captain Tony recommended we eat lunch on board and wait to make our way into the city in the early afternoon to let some of the ships ahead of us finish disembarking first.  We took the Captain’s advice and had a lovely lunch in the International Café and then made our way off ship. We took a bus through the port to the water shuttle launch and, after a bit of a wait in line, finally boarded the shuttle that would take us into Venice.
View from the water shuttle
You’d think after three weeks of visiting some of the most amazing places in the Mediterranean, we’d be nonchalant about one more stop but, no, we were positively giddy over being in Venice, looking everywhere and snapping pics through the window of the water shuttle. 

We disembarked from the shuttle not far from the Piazza San Marco, at the heart of so many famous sights.  We decided to use this afternoon to get the lay of the land in Venice, and save our serious sightseeing for the next few days.

View from the Ponte de la Pieta 

Bridge of Sighs -- takes its name from the sighs of prisoners getting their last glimpse of outside on their way to prison.

We hung out in San Marco Square  (Piazza San Marco) for a bit, and marvelled over the exquisite detail of the exterior of St. Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace. 

Then we ducked into an alley and set out to get lost in the narrow, winding streets, browse through the shops and wander over countless bridges for the next few hours. 

Roisin, Sara & Carolina

Shop window full of some of Venice's famous masks.

Gondola traffic jam
They say that if you find something in a shop in Venice that you want, buy it then, because you'll probably never find your way back to that shop again.  I believe it -- Venice is a maze of winding and interconnected canals and streets.  We had a great time wandering through them, taking in the views from the bridges and the charming buildings lining the canals.
Caught sight of a very cool ceiling through an open window.

Before long we wound up at the bustling Ponte di Rialto, which dates from 1590.  The bridge crosses the Grande Canal and is surrounded by shops.
Ponte di Rialto

View from the Ponte di Rialto

By this time we needed refreshments so we stopped for lunch at a tiny osteria and shared a very tasty pizza margherita and a plate of grilled veggies. 

More tasty gelato
We soon hit the streets again, doing a little shopping and browsing in the windows as we made our way back toward Piazza San Marco.  A shop with limited editions of classic books caught our attention but the 1,300 price tag on an edition of Alice in Wonderland was a little out of my reach. 

An image etched into the ceiling of a covered walkway on the Rio Tera de le Colonne also caught my attention -- a symbol of dice and the date 1691.

We  soon found ourselves back in Piazza San Marco and took a few minutes to enjoy the sight of the Basilica and Piazza in the late afternoon sun before we headed back to the ship. Napoleon called this square the “drawing room” of Europe. Surrounded by many of Venice’s major attractions, the Piazza seemed to be full of people (and pigeons) at all times.

The Basilica

The Campanile

Back on board on the ship, we enjoyed our last dinner and a final chat with the Maitre d', Feliciano. I have to say that he and our waiters were very attentive throughout the cruise and had our preferences down pat from the start.  Tonight I chose a grilled vegetable salad, mussel et frites, and a cheese plate. 

To mark our last night, the waiters entertained the dining room with a procession of Baked Alaskas.

On our way back to our room, I detoured onto the upper deck for a bit of air and to take in the view of Venice and was surprised to see a stunning fireworks display off in the distance.  What a great way to mark the end of our cruise.