New Series: Travelling Back in Time

Over the past few years, I’ve been fortunate enough to take some amazing vacations:

2003: London and Amsterdam
2004: London, Amsterdam, and Brussels
2005: Venice, Florence, and Rome
2006: Paris, London, Amsterdam
2007: San Francisco, Venice, Barcelona
2008: Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Stockholm
2009: Palm Springs
2010: Positano, Paris, Amsterdam
2011: Maui, Kauai (my first solo vacation!)

There have been a few other vacations to San Francisco and Seattle sprinkled in there, but I can’t remember the dates. For almost all of my trips, I’ve kept a travel journal, usually in the form of a blog. Unfortunately, some of those journals no longer exist, but now that I’ve settled into this domain, I’ve decided to re-publish the surviving entries here, in the hopes they find a new audience and just maybe, spark a conversation about one of my great passions – travel.

This first series is from our trip to Italy in 2005, and the post below was written in an insomniac haze from our apartment during our first night in Venice.

October 15, 2005 – Insomnia

It is now 11:15pm, Saturday, Oct 15, Venice time. I had collapsed into bed about 4 hours ago hoping that I would be able to sleep through the night and wake up bright and early ready to take on my first full day in Venice.

Mother Nature had other ideas. Without going into biological detail, every time I travel to Europe I experience considerable digestive issues for the first few days. Whether it is simply due to not sleeping for 24-plus hours, dodgy airport diet choices, recycled airplane air or any other number of indignities visited upon an American travelling abroad, I have no idea.

So … at 11pm I woke up, stomach protesting, and, not having any Tums at the ready, cracked open a container of “Yogurt Intero Compatto” – in the cutest little glass jar – with the hopes that the good bacteria in the yogurt would kill anything sinister that was clinging to my digestive tract. I’m sitting here in our quiet apartment craving stimuli, but not quite ambitious enough to try and figure out how to turn on the satellite TV. I’ll just get things rolling with my first post from Italy.

PDX > ORD > LHR

The Portland to London portion of our journey went smoothly enough – our plane left Portland exactly at 9am and we shared the bulkhead row with a nice, normal lady who was well-versed in the intricacies of how to make polite conversation with strangers and more importantly, when to stop. The nearly four hour flight was a smooth one, and we landed at Chicago O’Hare with about three hours to kill. Since Michael considers O’Hare almost a second home, we navigated that giant airport with ease and enjoyed a nice (but ridiculously expensive) quiet lunch in an Italian-ish restaurant called Andiamo, located in the airport Hilton. Afterwards, Michael went shopping in the model airplane store and I got a tan at the Hilton fitness center. It was a nice relaxing break in the trip and the 3 hours went by quickly.

We arrived at our gate with plenty of time to spare and finally boarded the 777 for the Chicago to London leg. Situated in the bulkhead row of Coach with my “1st Class Sleeper” pillow, an ample supply of “No Jet Lag” tablets, and lots of legroom, I was looking forward to a relaxing 8 hour flight – maybe even an hour or so of sleep. The 10 month old baby to my right had other ideas.

Attempts to drown out the screaming with my headphones were futile, so mercifully the baby fell asleep within about half an hour, although it seemed like at least triple that at the time. The food served was actually edible, and I made sure to drink plenty of water. We stepped off the plane in London knowing that it was going to be a pain – previous experiences landing at Heathrow had steeled us for a less than efficient experience – but even my sleep-deprived pessimistic self didn’t predict what a cluster it would be.

Heathrow, WTF? 

After winding through a labyrinth of ugly, dingy, low-ceilinged corriders following signs that seemed to delight in torturing us (this way! no, wait, that way!) we found ourselves at a dead stop on a narrow flight of stairs going god knows where. After a few minutes of confusion, we realized we were caught in a backup of passengers trying to catch a shuttle bus that would carry us from Terminal 3 to Terminal 1. As we wound our way through the bowels of Heathrow, I began to wonder what someone might do if they only had an hour to make a connection there, instead of the 3+ hours that we had. Emerging from the bus even sweatier and grouchier than before, we got in line for security.

Having resigned ourselves to the reality that is post-911 airport security, M took off his shoes and placed them on the belt. Well – that elicited such a violent reaction from the woman working the line that you would have thought we had told the Queen Mother to go “F” herself or something! I was behind M and so this woman took her wrath out on me, and I told her she was being extremely rude and he was just trying to speed the process along, but that didn’t seem to matter a bit to her. I was probably *this close* to being arrested for daring to call her on her rude behavior.

After getting our boarding passes for the last leg of our trip, we were told that since Michael is Premier Executive with United, we could take advantage of the British Airways lounge which was adjacent to our next gate. The lounge turned out to be a nice quiet respite from the zoo of Heathrow, although we didn’t realize until it was time to board that we could have actually taken a SHOWER there. That would have been nice, as we were both nicely drenched in airplane odor by then.

We were so excited to have this nice lounge RIGHT NEXT DOOR to our boarding gate, C14. Except that “boarding” in this case didn’t mean walking down a jetway, it meant squeezing onto yet another crowded and sweaty shuttle and going round and round in the bowels of Heathrow for what seemed like ages until we finally climbed up the stairs of our BMI jet which was located conveniently in the middle of Timbuktu.

Ciao, Venezia! Que Bella!

The London to Venice flight was short and uneventful and we found the Venice airport to be easy to navigate. After a few minutes we found the Bancomat, bought tickets for the bus to Piazzale Roma, and were on our way to the island of Venice. I called our apartment rental agent and she promised to meet us at the vaporetto stop in an hour.

After some minor fumbling, we bought two passes for the vaporetto and boarded the #1 towards the Ca D’Oro – where our agent had promised to meet us. We enjoyed the sights of the Grand Canal still somewhat shocked that we were actually IN ITALY. We disembarked from the vaporetto and waited a short time and I called Barbara again and she showed up about 5 minutes later. She led us the short distance to our apartment, through narrow “calles” and up and over two bridges spanning two minor canals.

I could create an entire book out of pictures of Venetian doors and windows.

Barbara gave us a tour of our apartment – although it wouldn’t win any design awards it is spacious, conveniently located just off the beaten track, extremely quiet, and overlooks a beautiful little garden:

Not to mention that for an extra 7E per day, you can have a computer with broadband access in the apartment. (What a lifesaver that is turning out to be for me at this moment). After unpacking our meager bags (we brought ONLY small carry-on luggage which turned out to be a very smart decision) we both showered and I think it was the best shower of each of our lives. Immediate slimy body film needs taken care of, we decided to head out into the neighborhood in search of dinner.

French Fry Pizza?

We were starving and going on 27 hours without sleep and so we dove into what was probably a tourist trap restaurant called Pasqualgio, located on the Strada Nova which is the main street in our area. The Strada Nova reminds us both of the Kalverstraat in Amsterdam.

The Strada Nova during a relatively quiet period.

We each ordered pizzas and although they looked absolutely huge, the crust was wafer thin and crispy and M was able to finish his without a problem. I on the other hand made the mistake of ordering a pizza that was topped with marinara, cheese, and french fries! M said that the menu said “frites” but I read it as “patates” and so I though the potatoes on the pizza would be thinly sliced rounds like we have at Pizzicato. Oh well, live and learn! I ate only half of my thin pizza and left most of the french fries behind. Total cost for two thin pizzas and two glasses of bierra alla spina was $25 Euro including service.

Hunger satisfied, we popped into our neighborhood supermercato, called Billa, for some staples. Visiting grocery stores in other countries is always fun for me, and although the store was very crowded and I was running low on tolerance for other humans, it was still interesting to try and decipher what some of the labels were saying, remembering the time in Brussels last year when we mistakenly bought buttermilk instead of regular milk. So. Gross.

Toting our groceries back to our temporary home, the surreal experience of being in Venice hit me through my fog. Everyone seemed to be out strolling on the Strada Nova – young and old and somewhere in between – chatting, enjoying a gelato, laughing at the two bedraggled American tourists. 🙂

Pure magic after dark.

It’s now 12:30 am and although my stomach has seemed to settle a bit I’m still not feeling quite sleepy enough to make another go of sleeping. Tomorrow (or later today, rather) we plan to focus on walking and exploring and getting our bearings, and possibly visit the Peggy Guggenheim museum as modern art is much more to our liking than that of the Renaissance (oops – can we say that here?)

Stay tuned – more to come!

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