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Trip to Italy & Cruise to Greek Islands

Author: Moses Thrasher
Date of Trip: September 2012

Trip to Italy and Greek Isles – September, 2012

Tuesday/Wednesday Sept. 4 & 5 – It was the trip of a lifetime; my first journey to Europe! And we were spending an entire month! My sweetheart and I planned for months. Finally the big day arrived. We live on the Big Island of Hawaii and flew United Airlines out of Kona. After a brief lay-over in San Francisco we landed in Philadelphia at 7:00am. Having eleven hours to kill, we took the train to midtown and had a wonderful time in a beautiful and friendly city. The highlights were Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and a wonderful market place near the train station.(Reading Terminal Market)

Thursday Sept. 6 – Then it was on to Venice. The first thing we noticed is how few Italians speak English. We were staying at a small hotel on the nearby island of Sant’ Erasmo and decided to take a boat from the airport to Venice. We changed some dollars into Euros, purchased our ticket, stumbled through the directions we were given, and after a very long walk carrying all of our luggage, we found our boat. The thirty minute trip brought us to a dock in Venice where we found that we had to walk again, lugging our bags over a bridge with steps, to another landing to catch the local boat to our destination. This was not easy, as everything was confusing and all information was written in Italian. Again, no one seemed to speak English.

Hotel Il Lato Azzurro is a three story “Villa” with small rooms and shared bathroom. There is nothing else on the island, so we spent the next two days in Venice. To someone who has never been, the city is beautiful and romantic with its rich architecture and canals with arched bridges. There are no motor vehicles, so boating and walking are the only ways to get around. However, again I must stress how annoying it was to have the people, especially those in the tourist service industry, be so unhelpful, rude, and unfriendly. The first time someone told us, “Just go over the bridge and turn right” in response to us asking directions, we believed him. After about ten such responses, it became apparent that they were purposefully deceptive with directions and assistance of any kind. It cost 1.5 Euro ($2.20 US) to use the public restrooms. We quickly found that if you stopped in for a coffee or a gelato you could use their facilities.

Friday Sept. 7 – Borrowing a bicycle from the hotel, we rode to the dock and caught a boat to Murano. The island houses some of the oldest and renowned glass blowing foundries in the world. It was fascinating to see hundreds of shops offering thousands of hand-blown works for sale. Unfortunately, we never were given the correct directions to actually visit a foundry. Then it was back on the boat to Venice. We had planned a side trip to the Greek islands. The ship was the Norwegian Jade. Getting to it however, was such a challenge. Again, local directions were confusing. I am so happy that we decided to go on a trial run today.

Saturday Sept. 8 – Even after our “trial run”, getting to the ship was still challenging; taking the right boat, to the right landing, walking to the right terminal, lugging our baggage up flights of stairs to catch the “People Mover” tram, getting off at the right stop. From there we were still a mile from the gang plank. There were no shuttles, buses, or taxis. It was somewhat surreal, walking in the hot sun with hundreds of passengers all wheeling our luggage to the ship.

The Cruise! Once on the ship, and after a long hot shower, we started exploring our new surroundings. I had never been on a cruise before, but it did not take long to realize that the focus of the cruise line was at odds with mine. I was there to experience the Greek Islands; they were there to keep me on board as long as possible spending money. And this floating hotel had endless ways to accomplish this. The food and room were included in the price of the cruise. Everything in a bottle, including water, was an extra charge. So was money exchange, internet, several specialty restaurants, the spa and its facilities, photos taken of you, and of course the stores and the bars. The shore excursions were a big expense if you chose to take them. We opted out on these and most of the extras.

There were 2400 passengers from all around the globe, speaking numerous languages. We met several people on board that we became friendly with. There were at least six no-charge restaurants available, two swimming pools, a large water slide, four hot tubs, shuffle board, tennis and basketball courts, a library, an art gallery, a ship’s helm viewing room, and even a golf driving cage.

We splurged and bought the cruise-long spa package that allowed us to use the lavish hot tubes, steam room, sauna, exotic showers, and the relaxation room. I won a free body treatment. And we both took advantage of the manager’s discount for a massage. Of course, the 24 hour buffet dining room was a constant temptation, which we took way too much advantage of. Oh, and chocoholic night, Yikes!

There was wonderful entertainment on board at no extra charge. We went to the theater almost every night to very professional live performances. I heard a ship musician at the pool playing many of the oldies that I do. Later I met him and found that he was from the Philippines but had always wanted to visit Hawaii. When he found that I was a musician, he invited me to play one evening. That was a highlight for me; playing the Aloha Bar on the Norwegian Jade/Spirit of Hawaii. I guess I did OK. He invited me back the next night as well.

One wonderful coincidence is that the ship we had boarded was an old Princess Cruise Line vessel originally christened as the Pride of Hawaii. All the art and décor was reminiscent of Hawaii. We felt so at home. The main restaurant was reminiscent of a ballroom in Iolani Palace during the days of the Hawaiian monarchy. There was a life size statue of King Kamehameha extending his hand to the people, surrounded by orchids, ti, ginger, and other Hawaiian plants and flowers. The walls were covered with paintings depicting scenes of life in old Hawaii.

Monday Sept. 10 – The first port of call was Corfu. We chose not to purchase the excursion offered by the ship. We walked to the little town to see as much as we could in the limited amount of time allowed. The most memorable event was lunch. We ordered one gyro sandwich, a Greek salad and water. Without us asking for it, they brought bread and the sauce you were to put on the sandwich as if it was included. Even though the menu priced our choices at 15 Euros, the bill was 30 Euros ($42 US). Apparently the bread and sauce, which the waiter failed to mention, was as much as the meal.

Tuesday Sept. 11 – The next stop was Mykonos. We decided to rent a scooter and see the sites on our own. We drove this way and that, passing windmills, the city, the ocean, a couple of beaches, and then we found a Starbucks Coffee shop. What a pleasant surprise, and they had real American coffee!

Wednesday Sept. 12 – Then there was Santorini. Oh my God… What a beautiful place. We anchored out in the bay about 1:30pm and took a ferry boat to shore. The town was at the top of a sheer cliff. There were three ways to the top; walk, ride the donkeys, or take the ski lift. The walk was long, steep and followed the same trail that the donkeys used. (beware of donkey droppings!) The donkeys smelled, and so would we if we rode them. So we opted for the lift. Once at the top, we found and rented another scooter. We wanted to visit Akrotiri, but had heard that it closed at 3:30. We rushed across the island and found out it was open until 5:00, so we spent a couple of hours exploring the ruins of “Atlantis”. We then drove to the opposite end of the island to Oia (pronounced ee-ah) in time for sunset. The area and the town were so beautiful. Snow white buildings with rounded corners and blue rooftops nestled cozily into the vibrant green hillside. We wandered through the cobblestone streets and found a taverina overlooking the bay, where we enjoyed a cappuccino and homemade baklava while watching the sunset over this spectacular island. As sunsets go, I have to say, Hawaii has them beat hands down.

Thursday Sept. 13 – Maybe I was just burning out on the short, energy draining jaunts into these ports, but Olympia did not impress me. It was probably no more of a tourist trap than the other ports, but it lacked the character. I didn’t even bother to do the home of the Olympic Games tour. After an uneventful bus ride to and from town, I was glad to get back to the ship and on to the next adventure.

Saturday Sept. 15 – Back in Venice, we basically repeated the long journey from the ship in reverse. Feeling we had had enough of this town, we went straight to the train station and bought tickets for Bologna. Our train ride was to be the first of many. We could have spent 45 Euro and taken the first class express, but what fun is that. For 15 Euro we got to stop repeatedly and change trains four times. Thankfully we met a family traveling the same route, or we may never have gotten out of the Venice station. We certainly would not have made the connection at Prato, where we had only five minutes to traverse the tunnel under seven train tracks and up the stairs to catch the next train. Of course, we were still lugging all of our bags. Once there, we found the nice and inexpensive Hotel Astoria relatively near the station. After checking in, we set off to explore the town by catching a city bus. It was perfect. Later we had our first real Italian dinner at the Ristorante Bolognese.

Sunday Sept. 16 – This morning there is a huge marathon that has many streets blocked off. So we explored Montagnola Park, a large open area in the center of town. We were starting to feel better about our trip and getting used to the land of Gracie and Prego.

Back on the train, we traveled southwest through Florence station to a town called Figline. Sheri had used time-share credits to book a camping village in the mountains above the town called Norcenni Girasole Club. I guess there may be an American equivalent to this place, but I have never heard of one. There were four thousand “campers”; some in RVs, some in trucks with campers, there were trailers of all sizes, and even some tents. Near the entrance was a little village that serviced the campers with three restaurants, two bars, a grocery market, a gift shop, a laundromat, a wine shop, and of course, a gelato stand. There were also several swimming pools and a spa. We stayed in a two bedroom trailer with a bathroom and kitchen. For the first time, we were able to shop at the market and prepare our own meals. We did walk down to the gelato stand after dinner for dessert.

Monday Sept. 17 – Today we caught the shuttle bus for a 45 minute ride into Florence. Prepared for the unhelpfulness of the locals, we were armed with directions and maps from the camp. Florence… What a beautiful city. The first place we saw was the Santa Maria Novella Church, Tuscany’s most important Gothic church. As we walked past and into the center of town, we kept getting glimpses of an incredible domed structure. We found that it was the Duomo. The famous cathedral dome dominates the skyline of Florence. Close up, it is so huge as to be quite overwhelming. We continued to walk and explore the endless shops and restaurants along the stone streets. Every turn unveiled even more spectacular works of architecture. Having to be back on the bus by 5:00pm, we left, but decided that we were definitely coming back.

Tuesday Sept. 18 – Today is market day in Figline, the little town below the camp. We were up early and on the shuttle bus. The market was fun; lots of local produce, leather, T-shirts, and other manufactured goods. We spent the later morning and afternoon exploring the town. We had our first “picnic” near a small church, eating salami, cheese, bread, and grapes we had purchased at the market. Having a few hours before the shuttle returned, we explored more of the town. We stopped at a little park and noticed that the baby swing was broken. We both wanted so badly to repair it, but had no tools with us. I did find all the bolts and washers needed, but could not reach the top of the bar. Sheri saved the day by finding a wooden box for me to stand on. As we were leaving the park, a woman pushing a stroller past us. I stopped to watch her. She stopped by the swing and lifted the toddler out of the stroller and into the swing. It was instant gratification for a worthwhile accomplishment.

Wednesday Sept. 19 – Having slowed down for a couple of days, I decided to pack up some of the items we had brought on our trip that were mostly for the cruise ship and mail them back to Hawaii. I was tired of carting all that weight around every time we went somewhere. Finding and doing business with the local post office was memorable. We had to catch the shuttle from the camp into town. The driver was aware that we had a large heavy box for the post office, yet he insisted on driving right past it to his official stop, which was a quarter mile away. I had to struggle with this awkward parcel all the way back. Once inside, the post office lady had me place it on the scale. I noticed that it weighed 21.6 kilos. Having no idea of the rules, weight restrictions, etc., I asked her if it was OK to tape it up and mail it. She indicated that it was, so I used a whole roll of packing tape making sure it was secure. When I finished and brought it back, she looked at the scale and now acts as though she never noticed the weight before and informs me that it can only be 20 kilos and that I must open it back up and remove 1.6 kilos before she can accept it. I was hot, tired and furious at the stupidity of this interaction. But I had no choice but to comply. She did at least provide more tape. Not wanting to wait the entire day to catch the shuttle, we had a picnic lunch and decided to walk back to camp. It was a beautiful day and the three to four mile walk took about two hours. Back at camp my lady friend made the best pasta dinner we had had the whole trip. Later, on our gelato run, the owner of the wine shop told us it was going to rain tomorrow.

Thursday Sept. 20 – And rain it did. We decided to sleep in and do nothing all day. We did walk to the spa later. There was no charge to go swimming, but there was a 3 Euro charge to use a towel. I decided to book a massage. The owner said the earliest appointment was at 6:30pm. As that was four hours away, I asked if there was possibly an earlier one, but he said no, he was fully booked. So I killed time until the appointment. When I arrived back, the gates were all locked. There was no one around to ask and no way to get to the spa. After walking all around the area looking for a way in, I finally jumped the fence, but by the time I got to the spa I was five minutes late. The gal there said the owner had already left for the day and I would need to reschedule. I asked her if all the other appointments had shown up. She told me that there were no other appointments all afternoon. I was the only one. Well, that did it for us and the campground. Even though we had booked another night, we packed that evening.

Friday Sept. 21 – We were up early to catch the morning shuttle to Florence. On arrival, our first order of business was to book a hotel near the train station, as we were heading out the next morning to Padova for our next time-share hotel. Sheri stayed with the luggage while I went in search of lodging. Most every place was full, but I did find a cute little hotel; the Hotel Lombardia. The owner was a very sweet gal named Onorita who let us leave our luggage downstairs so we could explore the city. While standing in a long line to visit the Academia which houses Michelangelo’s “David”, Sheri went off and booked a reservation for the next morning. So we walked back through town and found a place to eat lunch and use the facilities. Afterward, we found a street market and then decided to catch a city bus to Michelangelo’s piazza. We got there just before sunset and from this elevated position, we experienced the most awesome view of the entire city. We heard two street musicians; one a duo from Peru playing ethnic flute music (We bought the CD), the other a guitarist playing American oldies and some Italian folk songs. We enjoyed a tasty anti-pasta buffet nearby and walked back through town. On the way we discovered a plaza with columned buildings, a fabulous fountain, and dozens of statues featuring Gods and heroes from ancient myths; all looking so elegant in the dimly lit darkness. There was also a beautiful church complete with sculpted arches and intricately painted ceilings. We found out later that it was right next to the Uffizi gallery. We took note to make sure we returned. We continued on to our hotel for the evening.

Saturday Sept. 22 – We had a nice breakfast this morning and visited with Onorita. What a hardworking gal. She spoke English well enough that we had no trouble communicating. She loved that we were from Hawaii, and said she dreamed of visiting. Then we were off to see “David”. What a masterpiece; the first recognizable one we had seen. We decided that we loved Florence and knew we would return before we left Italy.
After saying aloha to Onorita, we boarded the train. The clerk at the Hotel Mioni Royal had told us to get off at Padova. That required us to repeat the trip we had when we left Venice. This time, I screwed up at Prato and caused us to miss our train connection. By the time I realized where we were and tried to make the mad dash down to the tunnel, under the seven tracks, and back up the stairs, it was too late. Fortunately there was another train an hour later. When we got off the train a little after 7:00pm, it became obvious that we should have gotten off at Montegrotto, the previous station. A local bus driver told us that he could get us there in five minutes, so away we went. The hotel clerk had also said that dinner was at 7:00. The five minute ride actually took nearly an hour. By the time we got there it was after 8:00. At check-in, we received some unexpected news. Hotel policy required us to pay 96 Euro ($140 US) per day for meals. Sheri had booked this place through RCI and they had never mentioned this to her. The clerk admitted that many RCI guests said the same thing. Having no alternative for the evening, we decided to have dinner and discuss it later. As we were late, there were only a few people left in the dining hall. We were told to help ourselves to the buffet, and to order two items from the menu. When we sat down from our first round at the buffet, they started removing it. Then our waitress told us that we had to be out of the dining room by 8:30. Our entrées were barely warm and we felt rushed. We stayed the night, but did not like the hotel or the meal charge.

Sunday Sept. 23 – On our way downstairs to breakfast, we stopped to ask the clerk about interesting spots in the area. We discovered that we were in a resort area, far from anything. There was no town to speak of and nothing to really see. So we caught the train into Padova. The town was interesting, but not memorable. There was a beautiful square with cathedral. We visited an interesting park right on the water with an old church, then back on the train to the hotel. We met a gal from New York and her daughter. They had the same experience with the meal charge. They were told that they would be charged the meal fee even if they left early. We talked US politics with them over a cappuccino and found out that she was a school teacher that had been laid off due to budget cuts. Later, Sheri and I decided that, meal plan or not, we were not going to stay.

Monday Sept. 24 -This morning, we went down and told the clerk that we needed our passports back so we could exchange money. Once we had these and a bountiful breakfast, we checked out without incident and were charged meal fees only for the ones we had eaten. Sweet!

We changed our plans and decided to spend the next five days in Rome. What an inspired decision. After a three hour train ride we checked into the Hotel Marsala we had booked online. It was pretty minimal. We were on the fifth floor with a communal bathroom, but it did have an elevator. Unable to find anything else, we stayed for five nights. The positives are its location close to Roma Termini train station, it was fairly clean, there was an elevator, it offered breakfast and three English TV stations. Wow! We spent a little while exploring the neighborhood and had dinner nearby before going to bed.

Tuesday Sept. 25 – Rome! Where to begin… With map in hand, we began with a bus ride to the Vatican. Following the crowd, we wound up in line at St. Peters Basilica. It moved along fairly quickly and then we were inside an astonishing cathedral. The art and sculpture was intoxicatingly lavish. Most notable were thirty feet tall mosaics with all the detail and shading of paintings, but completely designed with inlayed gemstones. There was marble statuary featuring several different colors of marble; some carved to look like fabric, complete with folds, draped around intricately carved figures of people. There was a sculpture by Michelangelo of Mary holding the crucified body of Jesus across her lap. On the way out we passed through a series of rooms housing the wealth of the Vatican. I saw Popes rings with diamonds, emeralds, sapphires, and rubies; clean and clear, and as big as the first joint of my thumb. There were jewel encrusted crucifixes, tapestries, robes, and other ornaments of devotion. I saw solid gold platters and goblets… I could go on and on and on… My subtle bodies were overwhelmed with the sheer magnificence of it all. I was quite visually exhausted when we left. We hung out near the bus stop and had a gelato and watched a photographer shoot pictures of a new bride and groom in the street with the basilica in the background. We caught the bus back to the hotel and had dinner at the same restaurant as the night before.

Wednesday Sept. 26 – We had the Sistine Chapel on our list, but it was closed on Wednesday. So we went to the Coliseum instead. We got off the bus at the ancient Circus Maximus and started walking. We found a park that featured what is left of ancient Rome and paid 12 Euros admission. It was worth an extra 5 Euros for the guide. We visited the Palatine Hill, the Capitoline Hill, the Roman Forum, the Temple of Jupiter, the Temple of Venus, the Arch of Constantine and the Roman Coliseum.

Afterward we went back to the Basilica at the Vatican. I wanted to climb to the top of the huge dome and see what I had heard was the most spectacular view of the entire city. The only catch was that you must climb over 800 steps to get there. Sheri decided she had walked enough for one day and let me go alone. Actually, there was an elevator for the first 500 steps, so you only had to walk up the last 311. At one point I was overlooking the interior of the basilica. Then the steps became narrower and the curve of the dome seemed to press in against you the higher you went. When I finally got to the top and stepped out on the balcony, I felt a wave of vertigo. I had to steady myself for a few minutes. At first I was hesitant to walk up to the skinny rail that kept you from falling to certain death, but within moments I was bounding around, seeing the sites and taking photographs like it was nothing. The walk down was a piece of cake. I did not even take the elevator.

I reconnected with Sheri and we went off in search of a 3-D Disneyland type effects movie called The Time Machine. It was in the middle of the city, but nestled back in an alley that made it a little difficult to find. But we made it just in time for the last show. It was about an hour long and told the history of Rome using computer generated images from scale drawings of the very ruins we had seen the day before. It was kind of hokey with the “mad scientist” narrator, the moving seats, water misting, and rats at your feet effects. But it did give some history and a good visual of what Rome would have looked like centuries ago.

After the movie we started walking back toward the hotel. It was evening now and we came upon The Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II, a monument built between 1911 and 1935 to honor Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy. In the daytime it is a giant snow white structure with two bronze winged chariots on top. At night is a surreal palace bathed in lights. Our guide at the forum told us a story of how Mussolini gained the respect of Adolf Hitler at the outset of WWII. He feared that Hitler would invade Italy and he would be dethroned, so he petitioned Hitler to accept him as an ally by inviting him to review his troops. Standing on the balcony of this building, Hitler viewed what he thought was 100,000 Italian soldiers. In reality, Mussolini had constructed cardboard images of soldiers standing between the real ones to make his army appear to be massive. The ruse worked, and Italy entered the war as Germany’s ally. As we walked on, we discovered a fabulous little restaurant not far from our hotel called Ai Tre Scalini. We highly recommend this place; excellent food, cozy, friendly and efficient crew, affordable. Any trip to Rome should include a meal here.

Thursday Sept. 27 – We were up early for breakfast, then off to the Sistine Chapel. We caught the same bus as we had before only to find that the Chapel was quite a long walk. This time the lines were long, but there was no admission that day. The building that housed the Chapel was enormous. Each room and hallway were galleries all on their own. Again, the sheer abundance of sculpture, wall art, tapestries, pottery, ornaments, and paintings was astonishing. And it was everywhere; the walls, the floors, the ceilings, the archways, etc. were all covered in art. When we finally entered the Sistine Chapel, it was so crowded that everyone was shoulder to shoulder. It was difficult to get a sense of the true beauty of the place. We were sort of moved along toward the exit by the masses of people.

Once outside we decided to have lunch that we had brought with us. We talked about going back inside. I had briefly gotten separated from Sheri before we entered the Chapel by taking a passageway that forked off in a different direction. I knew from the signs that it led to another area and to a collection by the artist Raphael. Since there was no admission, we decided to return to the entrance, take the other fork, and see the Chapel again. I think it was one of the best experiences for Sheri. She still talks about the beautiful paintings and frescoes by Raphael.

This time the Chapel was much less crowded. As an art student in college I had seen many photographs in many books showing the art in the Sistine Chapel, but there is no way to capture the unbelievable beauty, grandeur, and magnificence of this place in a series of photos. It is a stunning display of art from wall to ceiling, and ceiling to floor. I maneuvered around and positioned myself at the very center, directly underneath Michelangelo’s painting of God extending his finger to Adam. I cannot accurately describe the effect it had on me, but at that moment I had an out-of-my-body experience. Viewing myself from above and about twelve feet away, I saw a shimmering disc of gold, blue, and white light descend over my head and slowly to my feet, and then disappear like a mist. To describe it as awesome doesn’t even come close. I truly believe that I have been changed by this. I do not yet know the significance, the how or the why, but I know it is true.

It was a full but interesting day. We walked for six hours or more, but it was well worth it. After a cappuccino we caught the bus back to our hotel. We stopped at the super marker below the train station and bought dinner and ate it in our room. We then took a walk to a new area across from the train station. We found a gelato place that claimed to be the best in Rome. Of course, we had to try it. The owner proudly told us he made it himself. It was very good. I have no doubt that it is the best gelato in Rome.

Friday Sept. 28 – We spent the day touring the city. We thought we would catch a subway train this time. Sheri bought the tickets and once on the train realized her wallet was gone. She had been pick-pocketed. Not much money lost, but infuriating none the less. We missed our stop and had to turn around at the end of the line. We got off and walked to an ancient ruin of a building that was the actual place where Julius Caesar was assassinated. Then we walked to the Medici palace which is now a French Academy. There was a nearby church that was built for the French monarchy and a square below, where we had our last picnic lunch. We wandered over toward the Parthenon. On the way we passed by a plaza that had a slap-stick entertainer. He was very clever and funny. After the Parthenon, we found a beautiful Renaissance fountain. As night was coming on, we decided to visit our favorite little restaurant again (Ai Tre Scalini) for our last dinner in Rome.

Saturday Sept. 29 – We were glad to leave the hotel, but had really enjoyed Rome. Now we were off to Florence once again and were staying with our friend, Onorita, at the Hotel Lombardia. On our way from the train, painted on the sidewalk, was a beautiful pastel drawing of an angel leaning over the Duomo and the words “Welcome to Ferenzie”. We were happy to be back and this was the perfect greeting. This time Onorita set us up in a corner room with a foyer, a large bathroom and an elevated bedroom. We wandered off in a different direction of town in search of a local restaurant Onorita had suggested. It was very good. I had osso bucco, pasta and chianti.

Sunday Sept. 30 – We were up and off to visit the Uffizi gallery. It houses the largest collection of Italian art in the nation. The line was long because it was a free day. We found that for 4 Euros we could skip the line, so we did. We spent the next six hours immersed, once again in fabulous works of art. There were hallways and room after room of paintings, sculptures, etc. The view of the city and the Tiber River was spectacular from the upper floor. The highlights for me were “The Birth of Venus” by Botticelli, “The Annunciation” by Leonardo de Vinci, and “Medusa” by Caravaggio. Afterwards we walked across a bridge known as the “Golden Road”. It was lined with jewelry shops. In the center was a monument to Cellini, the foremost goldsmith of the Renaissance. The fence surrounding the statue had hundreds of pad locks fastened to it. We found that the legend was that when lovers put their padlock on the fence (and a monetary offering), their love would last as long as the lock remained there. We also found that the caretakers of the monument routinely removed the locks to allow for more. So much for everlasting love… We had dinner at a small out-of-the-way place and took a long leisurely stroll back across town to our hotel. The young man on the night-shift called ahead to our hotel, Il Casolare in Venice to get directions for our journey tomorrow.

Monday Oct. 1 – Here we go again… Back to the train station for our last trip to Venice; four hours, four transfers, back under the tracks at Prato, etc. But wait! Our train did not stop at the first transfer station, or the next, or the next. It did not even look like the trains we were used to riding. It was cleaner, newer, more comfortable seats. Sheri was certain that we had gotten on a first-class express by mistake. We spent the next two hours playing Kings Corner at the fancy card table and expecting to be thrown off at any moment. We arrived at the Venezia Mestre train station two hours ahead of our original schedule.

We were joyous! We had our directions and were two hours early. What could possibly go wrong? We walked out to the bus stop and caught the #15 bus without a hitch. The bus driver assured us we were on the right bus heading to the airport. Eventually he came to the end of the line, left the bus and disappeared. We sat there alone wondering what to do. A new passenger arrived and explained that we were at the other end of the line from the airport and would have to ride all the way back. As we passed the train station we now know for certain that it was only a matter of moments before we reached our hotel. All we had to do was catch the #45 bus at the airport.

When we got there, the driver told us “No, no, no! The 45 does not stop here.” We took that to mean we should go back to a bus stop where we had seen #45 on the sign. Tired of being on the #15, we caught the #5 back the way we had just come. We got off at the first stop, but the #45 was not scheduled to arrive for thirty minutes, so we got on the next #5 thinking we could make up some of the time and catch the #45 farther down the line. To our surprise, the #5 turned off the main road and started heading out into the country. By the time we reached a stop, we were far away from town. We waited and caught another bus back, but it did not stop in town. We were let off at a driveway on the side of the road. We had to walk a half mile along the highway with no sidewalk or shoulder lugging all of our baggage, dodging traffic the whole way.

Back in town, Sheri had had it with the bus drivers. She set out to find out where we were and how to get to the hotel. I stayed with the luggage. She came back armed with information. Thank God. We were finally getting somewhere. We had to go back to the airport, catch the #45 and go past the airport to our destination. So we did. At the end of the line was a casino. The driver pointed off in the distance as to where we could find our hotel.

With luggage in tow, we started off. A quarter mile away we found our street. We turned and started walking. In a few minutes the buildings disappeared and there was nothing but corn fields. I could see cars going down the road for a mile it seemed before they disappeared around the turn. Sheri was 100 yards ahead of me and just left her suitcase and walked. She was looking for house #75. Half way to the turn in the road she yelled back, “#43” and kept walking. I gathered up her case and the rest of the bags and moved to the side of the road. I watched her vanish around the turn. About twenty minutes later, a van pulled up with Sheri and Barbara from the hotel. Four and a half hours! But we finally arrived at Il Casolare, also known as Verde Venezia. Barbara said she would give us a ride to the airport the next morning, and disappeared inside. We were hot, tired and sweaty. A shower and something to drink was in order. But the room was not ready yet. How could that be? The write-up had said check-in was at 11:00am. It was now nearly 5:00pm. We were led out back and told to wait.

Language is an important, need-to-know sort of thing. Most of our set backs on this trip (as in life) revolved around communication challenges. After our shower, I went off to find out about dinner. Barbara’s mother in broken Italian/English conveyed that dinner would consist of anti-pasta, pasta, steak, and insalata and cost 15 – 20 Euros ($22 US) each. It would be served beginning at 7:30.

At about 7:45 we arrived in the dining room. We seated ourselves as the hosts were sitting there watching TV. We waited patiently. A man that we had not seen came to us and asked if we wanted cannelloni or lasagna? Confused, because of the dinner description given earlier, we asked about the anti-pasta, steak, and insalata. He looked at Barbara and said something in Italian that brought her over to the table. “Oh, you want anti-pasta, steak, and insalata?” Trying to explain what we had been told earlier went nowhere. So we just ordered the one of each of what was offered. The man disappeared into the kitchen and reappeared a moment later and placed our dishes in the microwave sitting on the counter.

When he brought them to our table, I asked how much was this going to cost us. Barbara came over again to tell us that it would cost 15 Euros each. We both exclaimed that that was too much and tried again to tell her about the conversation earlier with her mother. She openly expressed her disdain and asked, “What do you want to pay?” We told her we had never paid more than 6 or 7 Euros for lasagna at any restaurant and it was fresh, not microwaved. She said, “All right! 15 Euros then”, and left in a huff. We spent our last night in the room trying in vain to find an English channel on the TV.

Tuesday Oct. 2 – Lordy! Please get us out of here! That is how I felt as we collected our bags this morning and went for breakfast, which was supposed to be included in the cost of the room. It was the most minimal offering we had had anywhere; One croissant and a cappuccino. I asked for, and was brought a bowl of muesli, but no milk. At some point Barbara announced that the ride to the airport she had offered yesterday was now going to cost us 15 Euro. We were livid, and ready to walk the mile or so back to the bus stop just to spite her. I cooled down and agreed to take the ride. It was a silent and thankfully, very short trip. When I had pulled our luggage out of the van and reached for my money to pay her, she drove away without it.

I would not say it was without incident, but we got through the boarding process. Once on the plane I finally felt like we were going home. The time dragged by because I cannot sleep on airplanes. We had bought food at the airport, so with that and several beverage services, we made it to Philadelphia.

In Philly, we had to collect our luggage and go through customs inspection. Then we had to recheck our bags through to Kona. There was some problem that resulted in them hand-writing our luggage tags. It did not feel right to either of us, but we went on to our gate. We landed in San Francisco in around 5:30pm. There was a shuttle to our hotel, and it did show up. That made us appreciate the good ole USA. City Garden Hotel was near the airport, had a shuttle, and was actually nicer than I had expected for the price. A few phone calls later, we showered and turned in for the night.

Wednesday Oct. 3 – We were up early to head for in San Francisco for the day. We had the hotel continental breakfast, which seemed lavish by comparison to most we had in Italy. The coffee was not as good. I liked having cappuccinos every day. We caught the shuttle to the airport. Sheri had the brilliant idea to check in her rolling suitcase so we did not have to carry it all over the city and back. Surprisingly, they checked it at no charge. So we were off to the BART station and to the city.

We walked to Union square from the BART station and caught a cable car to the end of the line by Ghirardelli Chocolate factory. We rode it back and caught a bus to a farmers market near the Civic Center. It was huge and bountiful. We could not help but buy a few things, olives, fresh baklava, halvah, and pistachios. From there we caught a bus to the Haight-Ashbury where we met a couple that owned a tie dye store. He was a tie dye artist who had the distinction of creating the only tie dye album cover. It was for the Grateful Dead. We shared old Haight Street stories and Sheri, sweetheart that she is, bought me a beautiful tie dye tee shirt. We then went in search of a Jewish restaurant called Max’s Opera Café’. We had a Kosher lunch complete with matzo ball chicken soup and corned beef sandwiches.

Then it was back to BART and back to the airport. Once on the plane we were ready for the last leg of this outrageous adventure. But, there was a delay. We sat for nearly an hour waiting for someones luggage to make it to our plane. We had noticed a arge number of Germans on board who were going to Kona to participate in the Iron Man triathlon. When we arrived in Kona, we found out that the “luggage” we had been delayed for in SF were Iron Man bicycles. There were dozens of them in hard shell cases. What was not there was our luggage, and the luggage for about fifty other passengers. Sheri was in line for nearly two hours making sure that our bags were OK and filling out the forms for delivery. They told us our bags had mysteriously shown up in Los Angeles. We believe they took them off to make room for the bicycles.

Either way, it was par for the course that much of our trip took. But that only makes it more interesting to talk about. Who wants to go on a perfect vacation where everything is planned, everything goes as planned, and there are no surprises. Not me. Sounds boring! I do not regret a single moment. Actually I’ll remember many of them forever. But, there is no place like home. I am so happy to live in Hawaii.

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