Sunday, October 17, 2010

We're Home!

Finally got the chance to post the previous posting. We got in about 8pm last night and Cleo was happy to see us (slightly annoyed by me taking the below picture - but happy, nonetheless). She's stuck to us like glue.

I'm off to get a real Starbucks and breakfast! Yum!


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Back in Heathrow - Got 8-Shots

Well, when I started typing this we had landed back in London at Heathrow...and it was nice to be able to get 8-shots of espresso over ice at least (no such thing as iced coffee here though). Now we have taken off from London on our way home to Seattle.

To wrap up our last day in Venice and 1-night stay in Milan I've got a few pictures here.

Our last afternoon in Venice, Terrie and I took a walk down to the entrance of the Grande Canal. Here's Terrie at the point.

Here I am at the point (and awfully close to the water...but still dry).

On our way out to the point, I hammed it up a bit and got a little daring. Notice the steps lead right into the water....and I'm well within "falling in" distance. :-). But I didn't fall in!

I also took a couple of neat shots of Terrie.

And one of us on the way back from the mouth of the Grande Canal.

After getting back to the hotel, we checked out and grabbed a water taxi to the Venice train station. We took the train from Venice to Milan (about a 2 ½ hour train ride) and arrived at Milan Central train station in the heart of downtown Milan (not very far from where we stayed in Milan the first time). The train station itself is very huge and has the 1930's feel (like from a WWII movie). It is absolutely enormous and has several levels - if I had to guess, probably twice the size of Grand Central Station in New York (for those who've been there).

From there, we had to take a shuttle bus to the Milan-Malpensa International Airport - normally about a 45-minute drive outside of Milan, however, ours was a bit longer due to traffic (see below). Then, once we got to the airport, we had to grab a hotel shuttle to our hotel (they only went back and forth between the hotel and airport - not 45 minutes into the heart of Milan).

The rail station to airport shuttle bus ride was almost as wild as the first taxi ride in Rome - especially since we sat right up front - so I took some videos of it and will be posting those as soon as we get home.

As I said, once we got to the airport, we hopped the hotel shuttle to the hotel. So last night we stayed at the Crowne Plaza at Milan-Malpensa Airport - which was very nice overall, however the room, which was very clean, wreaked of really bad air-freshener and the room was quite warm (while the air conditioner would go down as low as 19ºC - which is 66ºF - the room never got below 75Fº according to the thermometer on Terrie's travel clock). Fortunately the window opened so we were able to get some cooler (albeit, very polluted) air. We were both glad we stayed right at the airport though, since all we had to do was go right from the hotel to the airport this morning.

This morning's check-in at Milan-Malpensa Airport wasn't bad at all. When we had dropped Celeste off there last week she said she had multiple check points in both Milan and London and how chaotic it was. While the airport is huge (even larger than the rail station), and while we did have to hike from one end of Terminal 1 to the other (and back), once we found the British Airways desk, check-in was a breeze as there was no line, and security was very simple as we were pointed to the "Fast Track" lines. Even the Italy foreigner tax (VAT) return process, while somewhat convoluted in and of itself, went smoothly for us and had no lines. We could only surmise on the lack of lines - thinking it was because we are traveling on a weekend. But who really knows...

FYI - In most countries if you are a foreign visitor who makes a purchase in a store of one or more items and the total purchase is greater than a certain value, then you can file to have the tax returned. In the U.S. it is often referred to as the Value Added Tax or VAT.

Upon arriving at Heathrow, we did the standard two security check-points (one I.D. check and one security check) and headed toward the main terminal (where I got a Starbucks for the first time since leaving 2 ½ weeks earlier). I did get selected for the random security check upon boarding but that was no big deal either. I didn't even set off the metal detector with my leg (the metal rod placed in it when I broke my leg years ago). Normally, I set them off all the time.

So now we just have an 9 hour plane ride and we'll be back on Pacific time.

Vacation in Italy was wonderful....but we're ready to be home.

Ciao for now!

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Friday, October 15, 2010

Out of Venezia, Back to Milano

We just got on a train in Venice heading back to Milan where we'll be flying out tomorrow (Saturday) to London-Heathrow and on to Seattle.

Yesterday afternoon we wandered around town a bit, stopping at the Rialto bridge (shown below).

Below is a picture of the people and shops from the top, looking down to the far side.

After a bit more shopping and site seeing, we found a nice little restaurant to eat at (below).

We then hopped a gondola ride - and I'm happy to report it was accident free and I'm still dry.

The gondola ride was neat - taking us all through the main area of Venice and even out onto the Grande Canal (below) where we passed under the Rialto bridge.

That was yesterday evening. As I said, we're now on a train to Milan to fly home.

Ciao for now!

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Veneztia and Murano, Italia

Today we took a private boat ride over to Murano to see the glass blowing and sites.

The boat ride was absolutely awesome! Here, Terrie and I sit in the back of the private water taxi while we head down the Grande Canal towards open sea and the island of Murano.

The sites on the Grande Canal.

The glass blowing was neat to see. Here the apprentice in the black T-shirt assists the two master glass artists in white T-shirts.

They were making beautiful little glass cups in the above picture, but also make other such beautiful things like these (below).

After glass blowing we wandered over to Murano's central canal.

Here I am next to the central canal. They do not have any rails or walls on their walkways. By the way...I'm still dry....even after multiple boat rides and canal walks.

The central canal in Murano is quaint with many glass nick-nacky shops.

We ate a snack afterwards street-side - or, more correctly, canal-side - where there was a wall to keep me from falling in. ;-)

PSYCH! No, Terrie isn't drinking coffee below...she's just taking a sniff of my espresso.

Afterwards, we took a boat ride back to Venice, to the Grande Piazza, and then slowly made our way back to the hotel (below).

Today has been fun!

Ciao for now!

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Venice - The First Night (Still Dry)

I'm happy to report I'm still dry after 16 hours. ;-)

Here's a few pictures of Venezia, Italia from yesterday.

Here's our Water Taxi over to the island. Good thing it's covered...I might have fallen out. ;-)

Here's the boat landing we docked at near the Accademia. Our hotel was about a 10 minute hike up the side canal.

After we got to the hotel, we went exploring. Here's a shot of Terrie just outside our Hotel (Pensione Accademia) looking down the side canal towards the above boat landing (can't see it in the below picture).

A picture of a potentially risky venture...

"Big D" on the Accademia bridge over the Grande Canal.

A night time shot of the Grande Canal from the Accademia bridge. I had to use some serious shutter time for that to turn out...and brace the camera so it remained very still for the whole time the shutter was open (about 10 seconds).

Anyways...we're off to Murano (island of glass factories) to look at glass!

Ciao for now!

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

In Need of Ranch Dressing

Sometimes, you just gotta have Ranch Dressing...

We found it at the Hard Rock Cafe in Venice. I had the Chicken, Bacon (American Style Bacon - Yum!), Honey Burger. Terrie had the Mushroom
Burger. Double Yum!

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To Venizia, Italia

Terrie and I just dropped Celeste off at the airport in Milan where she will be flying home via Heathrow to SEATAC then PDX. We had a great time with her.

We are now on our way to Venice (Venizia, Italia)! Terrie just mentioned we were heading into a high-risk area for me. :-/ You know water and I don't mix well. A gondola ride is a highly risky venture with my "Forest Gump-ness" around water. ;-)

More to follow on Venice. Also, I'll backfill on Milan and Cinque Terre as soon as I get the chance.

For now, we're heading down the Autostrade towards Venice at 130Kph+!

Ciao for now!

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Monday, October 11, 2010

Driving in Italy

I thought I'd post a few things about driving in Italy since talking about the Italia style of driving.

First and foremost...the signage, the road markings, and the signals are quite different in some aspects...and similar in others. And, they are more suggestion and decoration than absolute rules.

Wikipedia has a good amount of information on the signage for Italia roads... but looking at them, you probably wouldn't know which ones to pay most attention to.

Aside from the standard "Stop" and "Yield" signs (by the way, both equate to "Yield" in Italy), I'd say the most important ones to learn are the Prohibitive signs.


Yield to Oncoming Traffic

No Passing

Speed Limit 50Kph
Note: Different numbers mean different speeds.

No Parking

No Stopping or Standing


Keep Right
Note: Or Keep Left if arrow pointing the other way.

Round About
Note: You see a lot of these vs. actual intersections like we have in the U.S.
Tip: Don't wait for an opening...make your own space!

Road Markings:
The road markings are mainly suggestions only. Also, where we have white outer border lines and yellow center lines when driving on a two-way roads (or white lane lines when driving on one-way roads), they don't follow that in Italy.

When driving, typically the road markings are all white unless in a construction zone or temporarily altered road (altered from the norm). When in a construction or altered zone, the road markings are yellow.

In the image above, you can see the we are driving into a construction zone as the road markings are changing from white to yellow. Also, in the upper left corner of the picture (click to make larger if necessary) you'll see the blue arrow signs to denote where to go.

Also, when in the big cities, no one obeys the lane markers.

For parking, it's simple. First, ensure there are no "No Parking" nor "No Stopping" signs (shown previously). If none, determine the road markings.

If Yellow paint markings for parking, these are for official vehicles or loading/unloading only (loading/unloading will also be denoted with signage).

If Blue paint markings for parking, these are paid parking spots (find a meter and plug in some Euros.

If White paint markings for parking, these are free parking spots.

If no markings, just make certain you are not parking in front of an access or driveway and not blocking the thoroughfare in any way. As a reference...

Rules of the Road:
1. Make your own space. Be aggressive!

2. On the Motorway.... ALWAYS KEEP RIGHT unless passing.

3. On the Motorway....give way to faster vehicles. In the below image, the white Fiat was doing 140Kph (about 86Mph) trying to pass the red car and didn't see the BMW doing about 160Kph (100Mph).

For the most part, traffic signals are the same and are generally obeyed...but it's definitely not uncommon to see someone decide to run a red light after sitting there for a couple of seconds.

Anyways...that's driving in Italy!

Ciao for now!

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Pisa and the Leaning Tower

On Saturday we departed Cortona and received goodbye hugs and kisses from the apartment owners.

Ambra (in her and her husband's Cheese and Meat mobile store in the Camucia market)...

By the way...the home-made parmesan cheese was absolutely fabulous!

Her daughter, Sara on the left (Celeste is on the right)...

From Cortona we drove to Pisa, Italy to see the monastery's leaning bell tower. The monastery is to the left in the below picture.

There we had lunch and did the touristy things. :-)

Below is the separate rotunda building of the monastery.

Pisa was just a quick stop, and while we did enjoy seeing the monastery and leaning tower, we found Pisa dirty, somewhat smelly, crowded, and otherwise disappointing compared to the wonderful time we had in and around Tuscany and specifically Cortona. We're all in agreement that Pisa is a good place to stop for lunch, but any longer would have not been worthwhile.

After lunch in Pisa, we headed out to Cinque Terre (Five Towns).

More to follow on Cinque Terre.

Ciao for now!

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