Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Koper, Slovenia

We woke up fairly early on Tuesday morning since we had an early tour scheduled to see Slovenia. We were very excited for the day's adventures, but started to worry a little when we stepped out on our balcony and saw this:

The weather was not looking so great. We got ready and headed down to the gangway to leave the ship. A few people had already gotten off, but just as we were ready to go, the wind picked up and they closed the gangway because it was too dangerous to go down it with the wind. The cool sites we were going to visit and our planned adventures flashed before my eyes. We waited around hoping the wind would die down. Soon they made an announcement over the ship's loudspeaker. The gangway was closed until further notice because of the weather. We continued to wait, hoping and hoping that we could get off the ship.

After what seemed like forever, but was probably closer to 20 minutes or so, the wind died down enough for them to open up the gangway and we were off! We met up with our tour guides and headed off to the first stop on our itinerary, Lake Bled and Bled Castle. We hoped the weather would improve as we got closer to our destination. The scenery while driving was absolutely gorgeous. There were little towns nestled into the hills and they all had a little white church with a tall, black steeple. Very picturesque. At last we arrived at Lake Bled and continued to be impressed with Slovenia. The weather was a little better. It was absolutely freezing, but the rain and wind had stopped and the sun was making serious efforts to break through. We drove around the lake, stopping in a couple of places to take pictures.

Look at how cold we look:

The building on the hill in this next picture is Bled Castle and that's where we were headed. You can see the snow on the mountains in the background. I'm telling you - we were freezing! Our guide told us that it was way colder than normal and that just the day before temperatures were up in the 70s and it was sunny and beautiful.

In spite of the chilly weather, we were having a great time and thoroughly enjoying the beautiful countryside as we made our way up to the castle. And as we enjoyed the spectacular views from the castle, the sun came out and warmed us up.

You can even see in this panoramic that Mr. Frisby took how the clouds were still moving back and only part of the landscape was sunny.

One of the great things about traveling with other people is that it's so easy to find someone to take a picture of you. Here we are at Bled Castle:

And here is the view from the other side of the castle. Not too shabby. We were seriously liking Slovenia.

After leaving the castle, we made one more quick photo stop along the lake.

Then it was off to Vintgar Gorge. From the pictures we had seen, we were really excited. But, because of the weather and our late start, we were short on time. We had to shorten our visit and could only walk part way through the gorge. The abbreviated version was still gorge-ous. Pun intended.

After our short hike through Vintgar Gorge, we headed to a small medieval village called Radovljica to have lunch and to tour a gingerbread museum. We were supposed to eat lunch in the restaurant where the gingerbread museum was located, but when we got there, the man in charge told us it wasn't open for lunch that day. He said he would still give us a tour of the museum and to head downstairs. When we got downstairs and saw the very small museum,

we opted to skip it and just poke around the town instead. The weather had improved dramatically and we enjoyed checking out the town without jackets and scarves.

We went to another restaurant for a quick lunch and Stella thoroughly enjoyed Aunt Julie's Fanta.

After lunch, we headed back to Koper. Our guides said that if we got back with enough time, they would give us a quick tour of the city before we had to be back on the ship. It was during the drive back that Mr. Frisby realized that, while he had remembered to pack his suit and tie for the formal nights on the cruise, he had not remembered a white shirt. Since the first formal night was that evening, our primary goal upon arriving back in Koper was to find him a shirt. Our guide said she would point out some good stores for us. We got back and went for a short walk through Koper with our guides.

After walking through the old part of town, our guides took us to a store called OVS (or Oviesse - both were correct) where they said Mr. Frisby could probably find a shirt. They told us how to get back to the ship from there, we parted ways, and then Mr. Frisby and I dashed into the store to see what we could find. We were able to get a nice, white shirt, in his size, on sale. And a new tie on sale to boot. Our guides were great!

We then headed back to the ship and enjoyed our first formal night on the cruise. I think we all agreed that Slovenia was awesome. We loved it and I could easily go back and spend more time there. However, it was a very full and busy day and after four very full and busy days in Venice, we needed a little bit of a break. Thank goodness our next port was a little more low-key.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Venice Day 4 - Arrivederci Venezia!

At last we got a decent  night's sleep. We awoke Monday morning refreshed and ready for our final day in Venice. We all had reservations to see St. Mark's Basilica at 10 am (if I remember the time right - it's already getting a little fuzzy). They weren't actually reservations for the Basilica. They were reservations to check our bags. See, there's a HUGE line to get into St. Mark's, but it's because of the security bag check before you go in. So, if you leave your bags somewhere, you don't have to wait in the security line and you can just head in (okay, there's still a bit of a line, but we only had to wait a few minutes). St. Mark's was spectacular. Though the renovations obscured our view of the outside, there were no renovations on the interior, so we could see it all. The mosaics were impressive to put it mildly. Unfortunately, it appeared they were ready for a cleaning. They were somewhat dull and Julie & Terrell said they were much brighter and amazing the last time they visited. Oh well. I was still very impressed. One of the rules in St. Mark's is that you can't take pictures. I'm a rule follower. I don't break rules because I'm terrified of getting in trouble. So, I kept my phone in my pocket and didn't take any. But, a majority of the visitors seemed to be completely ignoring this rule. As a rule follower, it is maddening to be amongst so many rule breakers who are totally getting away with it. I wanted to photo bomb every one of the pictures or put my hand in front of the lens right as they took it. Unfortunately, I'm not that gutsy. So, I just watched them in anger.

After finishing our tour of the inside, we headed up to the terrace. On the terrace, we were allowed to take photos, so I got one of the only mosaic on the outside that wasn't covered by scaffolding.

The terrace also afforded nice views of the Piazza and the lagoon, so we snapped some of those as well.

And, look, another shot of the three of us. And Tracy's backside (I'm pretty sure that's Tracy).

After we finished at St. Mark's, we split up since we all had different things we wanted to see and do before heading back to the ship for our departure. There was one more thing Mr. Frisby and I had seen in our guidebook that we wanted to check out and then there was some shopping I wanted to do. We headed out and found the Scala Contarini del Bovolo.

It's a very cool external spiral staircase. Our guidebook had mentioned that the views were well worth the climb, but the entrance was gated and shut so climbing up was not an option. It looks like things have changed since our guidebook was published. Still it was cool to see. After that, we went searching for a shop that our guidebook had mentioned that looked really cool. Unfortunately, we couldn't find it. Our guidebook had the location mismarked on the map and when we tried to find the address, we had no luck finding the store there. Again, it seems things may have changed since our guidebook was published. Oh well. We had a great time wandering around, soaking up our last few hours in Venice.

We were particularly impressed with this window display of herbs and spices.

After our unsuccessful shopping excursion and fun wanderings, we headed back to the ship. We got back and had our emergency muster drill and then got ready for our sail away. One of the great advantages of having a balcony cabin is evident during arrivals and departures from ports. If you're on the right side of the boat. Fortunately, we were on the right side of the boat leaving Venice and got to enjoy the views from the comfort of our balcony. And, sailing out of Venice is amazing.

Remember the Bridge of Sighs? There it is again!

Venice was absolutely amazing and I would go back in a heartbeat. It's a very unique city and fun to explore. After four days there, we were sad to say goodbye, but excited for the places we were headed to.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Venice Day 3 - Welcome to the Silhouette

Sunday dawned bright and early. Too early. We were hoping to conquer our jet lag and get some decent sleep, but it was not to be. Saturday night was our worst yet. I woke up after sleeping for only a couple of hours and was wide awake for another couple of hours. Then, just as I was getting tired and ready to fall back asleep, Stella woke up. For several hours. And that was that. Tracy and Gaylene had decided to head out early Sunday morning to see some sights and take pictures before the masses awoke and descended on the city. I told them I would join them if I was awake. Since I was very much awake and Stella and Mr. Frisby were both back asleep, I quickly got dressed and slipped out with Tracy and Gaylene. We headed to the Rialto Bridge and loved seeing a very quiet side of Venice in the early morning hours.

After our early morning jaunt, we headed back to the hotel to get ready for the very busy day we had ahead. This was embarkation day, so we had a lot of stuff packed into our schedule including checking out of our hotel and boarding the cruise ship. Before checking out of our hotel at 11am, we had all planned a neighborhood walk together, so we met up in the Piazza San Marco. It was early enough that there were few people in the square, so we took advantage of that and snapped some photos.

Those pesky renovations really ruined our view of St. Mark's Basilica.

After meeting up, we headed out for our walk through another cool section of Venice. We saw some cool little streets and canals and, once again, enjoyed seeing a quieter side of the city.

Look, we actually got a picture of the three of us, together, in Venice!

Our walk took us over the Accademia Bridge which, like the Rialto Bridge, is one of the few bridges that spans Venice's Grand Canal.

The view of the Canal from the bridge is lovely, but the position of the sun when we were there was not the greatest for taking pictures.

 Oh well. Aren't my parents cute?

And, look! Another rare photo of the three of us. If only Stella and Mr. Frisby would cooperate, we might get a decent one.

After more meandering and exploring, we came to another bridge called the Bridge of Punches. It was where neighborhood disputes were settled back in the day by fistfights. The first one in the water lost the dispute. We decided to pose for pictures and Tracy and John's was the best.

More meandering and exploring.

We ended our walk appropriately - with gelato. We stopped at a little gelateria that our guidebook said was the best in town. And, as you could probably surmise from the photo below, it did not disappoint.

Funny thing about Stella: up until this point she had always refused gelato whenever we got it. We would offer her licks of ours and she would vehemently refuse. When we were eating the best gelato in Venice, I decided enough was enough. I bribed the little tyke and told her that if she had a lick of gelato, I would give her a cracker. She obliged and quickly realized what she was missing. She did not refuse another lick of gelato the whole trip.

After finishing our walk, we booked it back to our hotel so we could check out on time. Then, we made the trek through Venice to the cruise terminal where we got our first glimpse of the Celebrity Silhouette. It was GINORMOUS!

We told Stella we would be getting on that big boat. It took her a majority of the trip to realize that the big boat was actually the huge, white, floating resort as opposed to the little orange life boats on the side. One of the most exciting things about boarding the ship was the bed. Our hotel in Venice was a pretty nice hotel. The rooms were decent size (for Europe), the breakfast was good, and the location was fantastic. But, the beds and pillows were TERRIBLE! I mean, TERRIBLE. Undoubtedly, the rock hard pillows and uncomfortable mattresses were contributing to our inability to kick the jet lag beast. So, when we got to our cabin on the ship, I was so excited to see a comfortable bed and a plethora of pillows to choose from. It was a sight for sore eyes, let me tell you.

Though we were boarding the ship Sunday afternoon, we would actually not be departing Venice until the following afternoon. We would be spending our last night in Venice on the ship and I was hopeful we would finally get a good night's rest. After the very long check in and boarding process (during which my dad unknowingly drank a mimosa - awesome!), we were then free to come and go on the ship as we pleased. We just had to be back on the ship by 4pm Monday afternoon for our departure from Venice. While the ship looked awesome and we would like to have run around exploring it a bit, we still had more to do on our itinerary before leaving Venice, so we immediately headed back out to the city. Highest on my list was to go to the San Giorgio Maggiore church which is located on a small island directly across the lagoon from the Piazza San Marco. You may remember it from my last post - you know - the church you could see out the windows of the Bridge of Sighs. I did not care at all about the church (though it is supposed to be a cool one). My main interest was in going up the bell tower for the views of Venice.

After much confusion on how to get back to Venice from the ship and no help from any of the transport workers on the dock, we finally got on the right boat to the city and made our way to the island. We looked around for a bit and soaked in the views of Venice. Even without climbing the bell tower, it was pretty cool.

The church was actually quite pretty and we looked around inside before heading up the bell tower.

After ascending the bell tower, we got our view of Venice and it was breathtaking! The ticket to go up was a bit expensive, but totally worth it in my opinion. Unfortunately it was our one day of bad weather in Venice, but it made for better photos, so I guess it worked out.

After checking out the church and the views of the city, it was time to head back to the ship. We decided to go back via a water taxi up the Grand Canal. As the Grand Canal is the lifeline of Venice, we wanted to see it in all it's glory. We got on the water taxi and found seats at the front that provided great views of the canal, but little protection from the weather. And, it had started to drizzle at this point. While Stella had been a trooper all day, she was, shall we say, exhausted. Within minutes of sitting down on the water taxi, she was asleep in my arms. Unfortunately, this made it difficult for me to look around and really see everything along the canal. But, I had a great view of the side I was facing and Mr. Frisby took lots of pictures. And, Stella got a little nap in, so it all worked out. The Grand Canal really was fun to check out.

At the end of the Grand Canal, we got off the water taxi and caught the monorail back to the cruise terminal. Stella was not excited about having to wake up and continued to doze on Mr. Frisby's head as we made our way back to the ship.

After grabbing a quick dinner at the ship's buffet, we headed off to our comfortable beds, hopeful that we could at last say goodbye to our jet lag and get a decent night's sleep. After all, we had a busy final day in Venice ahead of us.