It’s Not Over Yet!

Friday was our last full day in Europe, but that didn’t mean we were slowing down…we were going to see every last thing that we could! We got all our luggage downstairs to be held and checked out since we weren’t going to be picked up until 2:30, then we were off for our last tour.

We had booked another tour with Urban Adventures called Socialism in the City. It was a beautiful morning after all the rain the day before, and we enjoyed the walk to the meeting location on a clear, crisp morning.

This chandelier was hanging in an intersection by our Ljubljana Hotel.


I guess they want to make sure they have toast for everyone’s tastes!


We arrived at the designated meeting location at 9:40 for our 10:00 tour and proceeded to wait. We waited, and waited, and waited. I think you know where this is going.  I stayed in one spot while Jim walked all around the area, but unfortunately we never saw anyone even remotely resembling a guide.😢 After an attempt to reach Urban Adventures by phone once and by email twice we carefully documented our presence at the location and gave up. I guess we’re fortunate that in three weeks of travel with the number of tours we had scheduled this was only our second glitch. We were refunded by Urban Adventures a few days after we got home, but it took some effort on my part and I am glad I had the documentation of our wait.


We certainly weren’t going to spend time pouting about the tour and waste our last hours in Ljubljana! I sputtered and fussed a bit (nothing unusual!😊) then we were on to Plan B! Actually, we didn’t have a Plan B, but we made one up as we went along! Plan B meant we did our own thing, aka we wandered around and stopped to see anything that interested us. Our morning included time at the market, a visit to the cathedral, a little shopping for Cindy😁, and lunch at Guzjina.

The market was crammed with bikes…no cars allowed!


If you don’t have your own bike, there are plenty available.



I got a kick out of this dad’s backpack!





These people were protesting something, but we weren’t able to figure out what it was.


Lunch at Gujzina was delicious! We split a salad, and then both chose traditional dishes. We skipped dessert and ran back across the street for some more salted chocolates!😍


Jim had the traditional smoked sausage and I had the turkey fillet.


This picture of salted chocolates is from the Piranske Soline website. I just went into the pantry to take a picture of the ones that we purchased, but it appears that we either have a rodent problem or a my husband has a sweet tooth!
Despite the beautiful morning we had rain off and on, but again it didn’t really stop us. While we were walking back to the hotel we did have quite a downpour, but luckily the heavy rain held off while we were out sightseeing. It really was very Texas-like. We went from brilliant sunshine and mostly blue skies to a downpour with no warning, then back to sunshine just as quickly!

Our driver was right on time and we left Ljubljana at 2:15. At this point, at least in my mind the trip was over with the exception of getting home. It took some time to cross the border, and we made a stop in the tiny Croatian town of Samobor which was a nice break in the drive.


These girls were pretty funny. They knew I was taking their picture, and the longer I stood nearby with my camera the more expressive they became. Just in case you were wondering, the selfie craze is anything but an American phenomenon!


We saw a really neat tradition in Samobor. Wedding processions are composed of not only the wedding party, but the guests as well. Before the ceremony, the group parades through town, led by a banner holder (Barjaktar) who carries the Croatian flag at the front of the procession as they make their way to the church or town hall. It was our lucky day, because we saw two wedding parties in our short visit to Samobor.  One group was on their way to the cathedral, and another couple was leaving a church and strolling through the park with their guests following them.


Unfortunately, it was all downhill after our stop in Samobor. In part it was because in my mind vacation was over, we just weren’t home yet, but it was also because I knew that even though we were still in Europe, our fun was behind us.

We stayed at the Hotel Royal Airport in Velika Gorica, right by Zagreb airport. This hotel was a huge disappointment (despite its #1 Trip Advisor rating) and I would not stay there again. We pre-paid for a deluxe room and got a standard room – by the time I realized the mistake I didn’t want to bother with a move. As if that wasn’t enough, the staff was never able to get our air conditioning to work, and it was stuffy in the room even with the window open.  I also chose the hotel with the understanding they had a shuttle service to the airport, which they did. The problem was they didn’t have a shuttle that ran when we needed to go.🙁


We had dinner in the restaurant right there at the hotel, which was OK, but certainly wasn’t up to the culinary or ambiance standards we’d set over the course of the previous three weeks! We had a kind of odd experience in the restaurant.  I think the only occupants of the hotel were the two of us and a large group of tourists who spoke no Croatian or English. They were occupying 2 big tables in the restaurant when we arrived, and were obviously (and loudly🙄) very frustrated by the lone waiter’s inability to understand what they wanted. All of a sudden they got up en masse and stormed the bar to use the restaurant’s computer! They were searching for images of what they wanted! This went on for quite a while – so long I had to leave before I lost my temper! The group didn’t care at all that there were other customers (us) in the restaurant. They weren’t budging until they got their way. It was one of the rudest and most bizarre exhibitions of bad tourist behavior I’ve ever seen.😢


Once we were finally able to order our food came fairly quickly. Sorry, no food pictures were taken at the Hotel Royal Airport! Our dinner provided sustenance, but nothing worth wasting memory space on!😂 We didn’t linger over our meal.

We took a quick walk around the tiny village after dinner, but we went back to our room fairly quickly because I still had to do some work on the suitcases to redistribute the weight.🙄 As soon as that was done we went to bed. Our alarms (yes, we set more than one!) went off at 4:15 Saturday morning, and vacation was truly over.😭


The flight home was long but mostly uneventful. We were a little surprised in Frankfurt to discover the Lufthansa method of boarding the huge A380 with 500+ passengers was to say, “Everyone can board!” We wondered why people were lining up so early, and now we know. The line was endless!

You know it was a good vacation when you’re not ready to go home after three weeks.

I’m not sure you can tell from this panoramic picture, but this is the seemingly endless line to board our flight from Frankfurt to Houston. It stretched the entire length of the moving sidewalk in the picture, then curved around by the restaurants and shops in the distance.

We did have a bit of an issue after we boarded. We weren’t too worried about overhead space because we were in Premium Economy and the available space was plentiful on the trip over. When we boarded in Frankfurt we discovered the two ladies behind us had decided they shouldn’t have to have anything interfering with their foot space under the seats in front of them (ours) and had put ALL their bags in the overhead compartment. They had more than the maximum allowed number of bags, and had completely filled “our” space with their stuff! The flight attendants were great! They made room for Jim’s bag overhead and put mine in the locker across the aisle from my seat. There was an uncomfortable moment in the process though…Jim muttered something to me about the ladies being selfish, and they heard him. One of the ladies took exception to that and started to defend herself/argue with us, but stopped pretty quickly when neither of us responded. As early as we’d gotten up and as many hours as we had in front of us, we weren’t in the mood for trouble!

Warning…rant ahead! Just my opinion, but it really IS selfish and rude for people to board and take more than their fair share of overhead space. I had the same thing happen to me coming back from NJ in December. The couple who boarded in front of me put their rolling carry-ons AND their backpacks in the bins on both sides of the aisle, and I then had to move a bunch of stuff to make room for my bag.  Even when announcements were made about sharing the overhead bins and flight attendants were trying to create more space, the two of them just sat there smugly with their legs stretched all the way out under their seats.😡 Flying is stressful enough these days, and it seems like there are a lot of passengers who compound the problems and make the experience even worse for everybody! OK – I got that off my chest, now back to the flight home.

The flight itself was great. We had decent food and very attentive service. I didn’t sleep which is no surprise, but I did watch a couple good movies and looked through my pictures from the last few days of the trip. Arrival was uneventful, but it seemed like it took forever to get our luggage. I guess that’s the downside of being on such a big plane when every single piece of luggage has to be claimed to go through customs. The luggage just kept coming, seven or eight new pieces at a time. Luckily all of ours finally arrived and we were out of the airport and home shortly after 3:00 – or 10:00 p.m. in Europe. I know I whine about it because I really don’t like the “getting there” or “getting home” parts, but for an 18 hour travel day things couldn’t have gone much better than they did.


We would go back and do this trip again tomorrow if we could! I’ll wrap everything up in another post with what we learned, what we’ll repeat, and what we’ll do differently next time!


On Thursday, we had a day we had been talking about for almost 25 years!😳 I think a little back story is in order here. Our friend Marjan started working for Jim’s company shortly after the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. Marjan was in the aviation industry in Yugoslavia, and he recognized that with eastern Europe opening up there would be a need for people on the ground in that part of the world who were familiar with how to get things done.

This was back in the good old days, when the company Jim worked for was still privately owned and entertainment and travel dollars flowed freely. I met Marjan the first time he came to Houston at one of Air Routing’s infamous (and long gone😢) company happy hours, and then spent quite a bit of time with him in 1991 when I accompanied Jim on a business trip to London.

Jim spent some time in Slovenia in the summer of 1993, when he took an International business course as part of his master’s degree. The course included a week of study in Berlin, and Jim arranged his travel so he could spend several days in Ljubljana with Marjan before he went to Berlin for his class. Jim loved his experience, and we have been talking about me needing to visit Slovenia off and on ever since. Every time we saw Marjan he would ask us when we were planning to visit.

Getting to Ljubljana was one of the major considerations in selecting our cruise. What I didn’t realize at the time was how small many of the Adriatic countries are and how easy it would be to get to Ljubljana from Venice. Once we figure that out, our plans started to fall into place, and the side trip to Slovenia before we came home was born.

We were so incredibly fortunate to have a “private guide” for our full day in Slovenia. We saw many, many things that it would have been impossible to see with even the best paid tour. Before I start, I will tell you that we saw mountains, rolling hills, alps, valleys, vineyards, lakes, sunshine, snow, and rain. I can’t imagine that it would have been possible to cram much more into a day than we did!

We started out headed for Lake Bled, with a stop at one of Marjan’s favorite golf courses and another stop at the air strip where Marjan took Jim gliding during his visit in ’93.dscf7980


Marjan and Jim at the golf course. We had to act quickly…they weren’t open, and the groundskeeper was none too happy to see us out there!


I know somewhere in this house we have some pictures from Jim’s first visit to Ljubljana. I’ve been driving myself crazy trying to find them, and I’m ready to admit defeat…for now. It does let me know it’s long overdue for me to go through the tubs of pictures we have and get them all converted to digital! They’re of no use to anybody in their current state.

Back to Slovenia — those first two stops were fine, but I was more interested in Main Attraction #1 — famous Bled Cream Cakes and lattes at the Grand Hotel Toplice on Lake Bled. What an idyllic spot! We did have one kind of funny thing happen there. When we walked in there was a fairly big tour group preparing to leave. They were the only other people in the lobby when we arrived. We wanted to take a seat by the windows overlooking the lake. One of the men in the group actually stopped us and asked us to wait so that they could take pictures of their line of suitcases! We waited a few minutes, but they were taking picture after picture and  after about 5 minutes of that nonsense we had finally had enough. We decided our cream cakes and coffee were far more important than their photographic endeavors!😂 After our “snack” we walked around the lake for a little while, and then Jim and I climbed up to Bled Castle for the view.

The Grand Hotel Toplice is the large white building.


The suitcase collection posing for endless pictures. The strange thing was all the suitcases were identical except for color and pattern. The group was trying different arrangements, but we decided we had finally had enough and took a seat.



Worth the wait!


Yes, that’s snow. We would see plenty of it on May 11th!


Probably about as good as a Rouse selfie gets. Our arms are short, and I don’t want to be one of “those” people running around Europe with a selfie stick blocking everyone else’s view!



After we left Bled we drove through the countryside to Bohinj, a beautiful glacial lake nestled in a valley surrounded by the Julian Alps. We spent quite a bit of time there amidst the sun, the rain, the wind, and everything in between! We drove a little further up into the mountains to the base of a ski resort. One of Marjan’s ideas had been to take a cable car up the mountain for the scenery, but it was raining where we were and we could see that it was snowing at a higher altitude so we scratched that plan. After that it was time to go catch a train!

This sculpture reports the current weather. In this location, it’s almost always raining!


A non-selfie taken at Lake Bohinj



When we planned our day trip with Marjan the previous evening he offered two alternatives. One was to drive up into and across the Julian Alps, and the other was to take the car train and go through the mountains instead of over them. Based on the forecast we had chosen the car train, and that was probably smart. The weather changed frequently and quickly during our day in Slovenia and although we had some nice moments, we also had a lot of rain and it was snowing quite heavily up in the mountains.Train 2


The car train was interesting. It is very simply an engine with a passenger compartment, followed by a long flat wooden bed for cars. Car passengers drive on, ride in their own vehicles, and drive off at their destination! I’ve never seen anything like it, but it is the shortest and fastest way through the mountains, especially when it’s snowing!! I would say that our ride in total took about an hour and a half.


We got off the train in Most na Soci, and stopped at Sterk Hotel to stretch our legs and use a restroom. The views there were just spectacular, and that was in the rain. I can only imagine what it would have been like with the sun shining. From Most na Soci we slowly made our way through several small towns and ever changing terrain. The view out the window changed from alpine to rolling hills, but the rain was persistent.


Towards the end of the drive we climbed a pretty steep hill, rounded a sharp curve, and lo and behold much to our surprise we were looking at sunshine over a valley full of vineyards and rolling hills. I have not been to Tuscany (yet😆), but this beautiful area of Slovenia looked very much like the picture of Tuscany I have in my head. This part of Slovenia borders Italy, and shares much of its cultural heritage with the Italians. Some of the family wineries that we saw actually have vineyards in both countries!


Our destination was the Belica winery in Goriska Brda where we had a late, long, leisurely and extremely delicious lunch.

We all ordered off the set menus — Marjan had #1, Jim had #2, and I had a combination!



After lunch we made a quick stop at the Dobrovo Castle which has a wine cellar where many local winemakers store and sell their wines. The castle dates back to 1600 and today the space is used for a restaurant, the wine cellar, and for local cultural events.

This picture of the castle is from the “Think Slovenia” website:


From the castle, we drove to the picturesque medieval town of Smartno (St. Martin). Smartno was completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1976 and has been rebuilt to replicate the original village. The entire village is now designated as a cultural site.


We saw/did a couple of interesting things on our way back to Ljubljana. The first was purchasing some fresh cherries. We drove until we saw a house that had a sign outside indicating that they had cherries for sale. Marjan parked, knocked on the door, went inside, and about five minutes later he emerged with the freshest basket of cherries I’ve ever seen! It’s certainly a different way to do your grocery shopping!

The other thing that I thought was kind of interesting was a road that we were on near Nova Gorica. There was a tall chain link fence on both sides of the road, and there was no place to turn off or enter/exit. That was because we were actually in Italy! The road itself was Slovenian territory, but as it ran through Italy the fences had been erected to create a border.

It was probably close to 8:00 by the time we got back to our hotel. What an awesome day we had! It was worth the almost quarter of a century I waited!😁 We decided to have a quiet evening and start to get ready for the trip home. Since I had been so neglectful on the ship we desperately needed to repack so I did that and (tried to) organize things so that we would only have to open one suitcase when we got to Zagreb. Our trip wasn’t over yet but it was getting close.🙁 All that was left was one more tour in Ljubljana, a trip through the countryside to Velica Gorica (Zagreb), Croatia, an overnight stay at an airport hotel, and the flight home.😢

 The Reason We Came…

We woke up very early Wednesday morning filled with regret. You are probably wondering what we could possibly have found fault with. After all, we were in Venice in a beautiful hotel, the sun was shining, and life was good! Our issue? We were hot! When we got back to the hotel after Tuesday’s Progressive Dinner we discovered the staff had come in and closed all the shutters. It was stuffy in the room but we thought maybe they had to be closed for a reason, so we left them closed and turned on the a/c. Or I should say we thought we turned on the a/c. Unfortunately we woke up early because it was VERY warm in the room. Come to find out, the Italians prefer it warm, and the hotel’s air conditioning wasn’t yet on for the summer.

So…our regret Wednesday morning was that we didn’t open the windows and get a good night’s sleep! Our other regret was that we were leaving Venice too soon, but we had places to go and a friend to see! After all, going to Ljubljana and visiting our friend Marjan were the reasons we chose this cruise!

On Wednesday morning we got packed up and walked to the Jewish ghetto with Lisa and Fred. 


Unfortunately we did not have enough time to visit the museum and take the tour but we did enjoy seeing the ghetto and another part of Venice. As much as we hated to, we said our good-byes to Fred and Lisa😢, and walked back towards the hotel.


When we left the ghetto, we walked back down towards Rialto to take a look at a shirt I had seen in a shop window. Alas I discovered it only came in extra small so that ruled me out!😂😜🙄

I have to say something about finding that shop. I had seen the shirt in a window as we passed by on our food tour Tuesday night. By Wednesday morning I was starting to get my bearings and a sense of direction and I thought I could find the place again. Jim thought I was crazy! I think he was convinced that we were going to get totally lost and miss our water taxi pick up. He was amazed when I walked straight to the store with no wrong turns. After almost 30 years he should know that when I’m  looking for something I want to buy I can find my way with no problems!


We bought street food for lunch (pizza and pastries) and settled down on some steps by a canal for lunch. It would have been really enjoyable if I hadn’t had to defend my territory and my food from the pigeons!

Once we finished lunch it was time to say goodbye to Venice. Our water taxi picked us up at the hotel’s private dock and took us to Piazalle Roma to meet our driver for Ljubljana.


Not sure why anybody would choose this in Venice, but there were people there!


Not what I usually think of when I think of a funeral procession! The canals are truly the streets of Venice!


We chose a company called Day Trip for our transportation from Venice to Ljubljana, and used them again on Friday from Ljubljana to Zagreb, Croatia. Because car access to Venice is so limited we had arranged to meet our driver at Piazalle Roma. Unfortunately our driver did not have a sign with our name on it, and since we didn’t know what type of vehicle he was driving it took a little while to meet up. We were beginning to worry, but we did eventually connect.

The drive to Ljubljana was uneventful, but honestly our driver was a little too chatty for my liking. The Slovenian roads were excellent, and the motion of the car was lulling me to sleep. Much to my dismay every time I dozed off coincided with the time our driver wanted to talk. About politics.😝 Specifically, he wanted to know what I thought about Trump. He also wanted to know why I thought he got elected. I don’t know about you, but the very last thing I wanted to do on my European vacation was think about the state of American politics!

We stayed at the Hotel Adora in Ljubljana. It was a very nice, recently refurbished hotel, and we had a deluxe room on the top floor. Fortunately there was an elevator, because the stairs look like something you would find in Amsterdam. They were more like climbing a ladder than climbing stairs! We thought the hotel was comfortable with pretty, modernized facilities and a friendly staff. It served it’s purpose although we would probably not stay there again. Even though the hotel is located in the pedestrian zone, it is right on the edge of the walking area and next-door to a very busy street so it was noisy with the windows open. Just like in Venice, the hotel’s a/c wasn’t on yet so that wasn’t an option.

For some reason, I didn’t take pictures of the hotel. Kind of strange for someone who takes pictures of absolutely everything! These were taken from the hotel’s website:


The view from our window:


Our friend Marjan came and picked us up shortly after we arrived, and we walked around the center of town for a little while.


We didn’t have a lot of time because we had booked a food tour with Roundabout Travel for the evening. We made plans with Marjan for an epic tour the next day, and we were off to meet our food and wine guide!🥖🥂🍕🍷


Slovenia has been influenced by many different cultures, and the regions and traditional dishes of Slovenia were the focus of our food tour.


Our first stop was at Gujzina where we had Bujita Repa, a turnip stew with millet and pork.😳 If you think that sounds nasty I did too, but when I tasted it I found it to be delicious! This is a traditional dish in Prekmurje, which is in the north eastern part of Slovenia.


We made a quick stop at Piranske Soline, the salt shop so we could taste some salted dark chocolate. Yum!


Our second stop was at a restaurant called Druga Violina. I thought this was an especially interesting restaurant because in addition to excellent food one of their missions is to provide work opportunities for mentally and physically handicapped teenagers and young adults.


We had two dishes at this restaurant. The first was Zlikrofi (dumplings) filled with mashed potatoes and mushroom sauce, and the second was Shtruklji which is rolled pastry filled with cottage cheese and sprinkled with bread crumbs, butter, and sugar. Zilkrofi and Shtruklji are traditional Slovenian dishes that come from Idrija in western Slovenia. Both were very good, but I could have made a meal out of the dumplings with potatoes and mushroom sauce! We also tasted some Shtruklji that were made from buckwheat flour and topped with with walnuts. I thought the buckwheat flour was a little overwhelming, but perhaps it’s just because it’s not a taste that I am accustomed to.


A walk through town brought us to our third stop, Klobasarna, for some excellent Carniola sausage. This sausage, also known as Kranjska Klobasa is similar to Polish sausage. It is served with fresh horseradish and hot spicy mustard, but I thought it was delicious on its own. The sausage is from the Carniola region of Slovenia which used to be part of the Austrian empire.


I know I’m not always the most adventurous when it comes to food, but I will usually try anything once. Stop number four at a restaurant called Ribarnica proved to be the exception to that. It was our fish stop, and I could smell the restaurant long before we arrived!😳 I found the strong smell of fish 🐠🐟🐠 at this stop overwhelming and it really turned me off even sampling the food. We were served large platters of sardines and Adriatic squids, but I didn’t taste either one. I was happy to leave that stop and move on to the next which was much more to my liking!


Our fifth stop was in the wine room at the Royal Hotel, where we were served prosciutto with large chunks of white bread and some Teran wine from coastal Karst. This limestone plateau (also known as the Karst) extends across southwestern Slovenia and northeastern Italy. The cultural influences in the region are heavily Italian, and as we would see the next day, the terrain looks much like Tuscany. The Karst region is also where many of Slovenia’s spectacular limestone caves are located.


Our sixth and final stop of the evening was on the top floor of Nebotičnik, Ljubljana’s first “skyscraper”.  We were treated to a piece of Prekmurska Gibanica, a traditional Slovenian layered pastry from Prekmurje. Prekmurje is the easternmost area of Slovenia, bordering Hungary, and the cultural/culinary influences are Hungarian.

The dessert is made up of several layers of pastry. Between the layers of pastry are poppy seeds, walnuts, apples, raisins, and quark (think whipped cream). I thought dessert was delicious! I must have been very tired, because I didn’t take any pictures of dessert. Here are a couple I found by doing a web search:


This was a very interesting tour with lots of history and a good variety of food. Our guide Tina was wonderful…very knowledgeable and attentive to all the guests.


I thought both tours we did through Roundabout Travel had top-quality guides and good itineraries. I admit, this tour did get a little long for me towards the end. I was feeling the cumulative effects of nine super busy days in a row without a break, topped off with a hot, restless sleep Tuesday. We got back to the hotel around 10:45, and I think I was probably asleep by 11:00!😴

Only two days of fun left, then our airport hotel😧 and long trip home!✈️

Quote Part 1 – Venice Day 2

If Monday was about being tourists and seeing what we came to see, Tuesday we reverted to being travelers and saw what we saw! Alas, before we could see what we saw we had to go through the always painful process of disembarking the ship. The day didn’t have a very auspicious beginning. For only the second time during the trip it was raining, and I don’t mean a sprinkle, I mean it was raining pretty hard.  I thought it was kind of ironic that it really only rained the day we boarded the ship and again the day we got off. We had seen a few sprinkles here and there, but it had always stopped in time to not interfere with our plans. Thankfully, by the time we got off the worst of the rain had stopped and we had just intermittent sprinkles as we walked from the ship to pick up our water taxi. Here’s my last shot of the ship from the taxi:019922dde194ceaf506bd5dd4303dcd6379ac36217


We shared a water taxi with our friends Lisa and Fred who were also staying at our hotel. Yes, the water taxis are expensive, but they give you the freedom to stay wherever you like. I had done a lot of research before I chose a hotel and finally settled on the Hotel Palazzo Abadessa which was on a quiet canal in Cannaregio – close to everything, yet far away from the crowds.


Selecting a hotel in Venice is a little bit different than anywhere else, because in addition to price, the features of the hotel itself, and the location of the hotel you also have to consider how you will get there. At first I was trying to find a hotel that would allow us to use public transportation to get from the ship to the hotel (with all our luggage🙄). Thank goodness I scratched that plan! It was well worth the cost of a water taxi to stay in such a charming place with a dock. Yes, one of my hotel requirements in Venice was that the location be accessible by water and have their own dock. Now that I have been there I think it was a very wise decision. Even if we hadn’t been hauling way too much stuff the streets are narrow and the bridges are plentiful. I would have been in a very bad mood if I had to drag my luggage up and down one or more of Venice’s bridges.


We arrived at the hotel around 10:00 and were instantly charmed. What a beautiful place! We had selected a deluxe room on the Piano Nobile (main family living) floor. Room 26 was the palace kitchen back in the 16th century, and you could still see evidence of the room’s former use in the gigantic fireplace and the huge oversized sink in the bathroom. I loved the hotel and would definitely stay there again!

The Piano Nobile at Hotel Palazzo Abadessa


Here are a couple articles that tells you a little bit more about the hotel:                                 Hotel Palazzo Abadessa   Hotel Palazzo Abadessa and Room 26

Since it was so early our rooms were not ready, but we were able to check our luggage, get a map and directions, and we were off.  Now, I have to tell you finding your way around Venice is not like finding your way around any other city. We were using the map, GPS on our phones, and our sketchy memories from the day before to find the mask shop we liked. We got there, but we also saw a lot of Venice in the process! In other words, we saw what we saw!


Sogno Veneziano Atelier is a small shop that specializes in masks and costumes for Carnivale. We were excited to find them in Venice’s maze of canals and narrow streets, and had an awesome time choosing our masks. Then, much to our surprise and delight, the owners took me and Lisa in back, outfitted us, and took us out onto the bridge for pictures. Getting lost finding the shop was well worth it, and it’s one of my favorite memories from Venice.

Here I am in the mask that’s now hanging on the wall in my family room:


By the time we left the mask shop it was almost 11:30 and we decided it was time to eat and make our way towards Dorsoduro for a 1:30 “off the beaten path” tour. We tried the restaurant (Osteria da Alberto) recommended by the mask shop owners, but in true Italian fashion 11:30 was way to early for lunch so we headed to Dorsoduro. Once again we got a little turned around in the narrow streets of Venice, but we did finally find the Vaporetto (water bus) stop. We bought tickets that allowed us unlimited use of the water bus for a 24 hour period and ended up getting quite a bit of use from the tickets. I thought the Venice public transportation system was a little intimidating on paper, but once we started using it we found it made sense and was very efficient.


I almost felt like I was in Texas – well, not really because it wasn’t hot, but the weather had completely changed from dreary and rainy to bright and sunny. We got off the Vaporetto at the Salute stop and walked around for a while.


We found the Hotel Messner and had lunch in their restaurant. They have a lovely outdoor patio surrounded by flowers and lush foliage where we had a peaceful meal far, far from the hustle and bustle of the popular tourist areas.


At 1:30 we met our fantastic guide Luisella Romeo (See Venice) and spent the afternoon exploring some of the quieter streets and neighborhoods of the Dorsoduro area of the city. I had found her when I was searching for “my kind” of tour because I knew even before we went that Monday would be a very typical tourist day. Luisella works with small groups (around 6 people) and will recommend a tour or tailor a tour based on what a customer requests. I thought she was very professional and passionate about her city. I would book her again without hesitation!


A highlight of the tour was seeing Le Forcole di Saverio the shop where they make the oars and the oarlocks (forcole) for the gondolas. What beautiful craftsmanship! Every gondola and oar is unique to an owner, because the gondolas are built specifically to accommodate a gondolier’s height and weight. As a matter of fact, a gondolier cannot gain or lose more than 10 kg or his boat will become unstable! I can attest to that…even shifting my weight or turning made our gondola rock!

Saverio Pastor is the shop owner and very involved in preserving the tradition and fine craftsmanship of Venetian Gondolas.


This is Squero di San Trovaso one of the original Venetian workshops where gondolas are built and repaired. This builder has been in business since the 17th century.



This was much more my kind of tour what we did on Monday, and this is the type of thing I will look for when we return. Venice is filled with charming neighborhoods and tons of history. I really enjoyed hearing about it from a native Venetian who loves her city.





The Church of San Trovaso — the current building was completed in the 1500s.


The day wasn’t over yet. We still had a progressive dinner with Venice Bites. We took the water bus back to the hotel and had a very short time to freshen up before we were off again. We were all very thankful that we had purchased the unlimited water bus passes. We had two choices to get to the meeting location for the dinner tour – we could either take what probably would have been a 45 minute walk with wrong turns, or we could hop on the bus and take it one stop and be right there. We opted for the water bus!


Lisa, Fred, Jim, and I met up with our hosts for the evening, Maya and Adam, as well more friends from the ship, Jill and Bill.  Maya and Adam are both California transplants who have been making their life in Venice for about six years. They have cultivated a network of small restaurants for their tours, and that is where we had dinner…in a few of the tiny cafes and cichetterie of Venice. We really like food tours because they are an interesting and fun way to see local neighborhoods and discover hidden places that we would never find on our own.

Maya Stonecastle of Venice Bites

We started with a traghetto ride back to Ca d’ Oro, the closest water bus stop to the Palazzo Abadessa. A traghetto is an oversized gondola that is manned by two gondoliers. There isn’t a route per se — the purpose of a traghetto is to take people across the Grand Canal, saving a very long walk to one of the bridges that cross the canal. Locals stand for the short trip, but I decided it would be prudent to sit!😳


The evening was a lot of fun! We had three cicchetti stops, two kinds of pasta and salad for our main course, gelato for dessert, and ended the evening with an Aperitivo Select. Of course, with the exception of the last two stops, wine was prominently featured at each stop.

Our first stop was for fried meatballs at Alla Vedova, or the Widow’s Place. The restaurant is tucked in the corner of a narrow alley by McDonalds. If you’re near Ca d’ Oro and need something good to eat, walk to the Golden Arches and peek around the corner!


Our second stop was at Ai DiVini for traditional meats and cheeses. We sat outside in a private courtyard at this stop. One unusual thing on the platters was truffled honey. I thought it sounded strange, but it was delicious. I couldn’t get enough of it!


Stop number three was a cicchetti smorgasbord!😆 Un Mondo di Vino had cases filled with all types of hot and cold treats, and we were each able to choose two. Of course, each couple made sure they had 4 different items so we could sample more items!

These mugs replicate those used during the days of the Black Plague when it was critically important to not risk spreading the disease.


We enjoyed the walk to our fourth stop. The sun was setting, and the temperature was just perfect for exploring Venice.


Tratoria Storica is another hidden gem in Cannaregio. We had our sitdown “main” meal here, although I had eaten enough cicchetti that I could have called it a day! We had bread, salad, and two kinds of pasta.



After dinner we walked towards Rialto Bridge and stopped for dessert at SUSO. I’ll just let these pictures speak for themselves!


Our final stop was for a nightcap at Ancora on the Grand Canal.  Aperitivo Select is a typical Venetian drink, but I didn’t care for it. I thought it was kind of a strange combination of bitter and sweet, and it didn’t really appeal to me. Even though I was tired and not really interested in my drink, I was fascinated by the location. In the time since we had arrived to start our tour (about 3 & 1/2 hours) the water level had risen significantly. The walkway at the edge of the patio where we were sitting was underwater! It was a visible reminder of how Venetians must always be conscious of water levels and tides because they truly impact their lives.


What a long but fun and enjoyable day! The only bad thing about it was knowing we’d be off and running again about noon the next day in order to get to Ljubljana before 4:00. Two and a half days in Venice was not enough time. We could have filled two or three more days and not scratched the surface! We’ll have to go back!

Quote Part 2 – Venice Day 1

I’m back! I’ve discovered that blogging isn’t as easy or as fast as I thought it would be! When faced with the prospect of finishing this trip report in a timely fashion or doing the things I do to earn money, I opted for the cash. After all, I need to start saving for the next one!

Jim is out of town for the weekend, and I decided this would be a great time to get back to my trip. Things were going just great until I stopped to fix dinner. I neglected to save my work as a draft, and when I came back to it it was gone. Completely. It just disappeared. To partially quote the warden in my favorite movie of all time (The Shawshank Redemption), my post up and vanished like a fart in the wind!

At any rate, I repaired the damage, saving frequently as I went, and I’m finally finished with our first day in Venice. Enjoy!


“The traveler sees what he sees; the tourist sees what he has come to see.”   —Gilbert K. Chesterton

Jim sent me that quote not too long ago, and I think it perfectly sums up our 2 1/2 days in Venice. Unfortunately for us, our first day in this fascinating city was spent as tourists – seeing what we had come to see. A day that I had been excited about for months turned out exactly the way the tour company intended, but wasn’t necessarily what I had in mind (even though it was what I planned). But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me back up a little bit…

I woke up predictably early…I think I must have felt the ship slow way down when we picked up the pilot. I grabbed my camera and went outside where it was just barely getting light and discovered we were already approaching Venice! It was a little misty/foggy, but I didn’t mind because that seemed to add to the charm and mystique of Venice.




We met up with the other three couples we were touring with and left the ship promptly at 7:45 to make our way across town. We decided to take a water taxi to get to the tour starting point. It was expensive at €15/person, but we had a lot of concerns about making it to the starting point on time so we decided to spend the money and go with the fastest option.dscf7346-2

Rush hour in Venice means there are boats of every kind speeding down the Grand Canal. It looks like a disaster waiting to happen, but somehow it all works!

Here’s a house with “on street” parking!


Our tour was called Venice in a Day through Walks of Italy. I booked it very early in the planning process because it sounded like a good introduction for people who had never visited Venice. Shortly after I booked, Walks of Italy changed the meeting time from 9:15 to 8:45. That was concerning because our ship was not due in until 8:00.

Communication with Walks of Italy left the situation largely unresolved until the week before we left Houston. Finally after repeated phone calls I got a promise that a guide would wait for our group if we were running late. Time ended up really not being an issue since we were able to leave the ship so early, but the thought that we were going to be left stranded without our tour caused many in the group quite a bit of concern in the days leading up to the cruise. Anyway, back to our day…

We made it to the start location with no problem, and were soon introduced to our guide for the day, Natalia.


I’m kind of conflicted on what to say. To be fair to Natalia, she was extremely knowledgeable and very pleasant, but she certainly didn’t provide the best guide experience we had in Europe. In fact, in my opinion it was the worst.☹️ Natalia was very much a “stick to the agenda and don’t deviate from the script” guide, whereas Jim and I as well as the people we were touring with all like to take things at a more leisurely pace, stopping when something piques our interest.

Our morning was spent touring the markets, streets, and neighborhoods of Venice, but I’m embarrassed to say I really don’t remember too much about the the sights we saw. Natalia was trying to stay on schedule and she was moving WAY too fast for most of us. If I stopped to take a picture I had to run to catch up. When I went through my pictures I could tell a lot of them were taken on the fly and they had to be deleted.😕 Most of the time I struggle to walk and talk at the same time, so steadying a camera while jogging to keep up was out of the question!😂


Repeated requests from several different people in our group resulted in a slight slowdown, but I still struggled to keep up with Natalia and caught very little of what she said.  I wanted to understand the whys of Venice, and learn how the Venetians have adapted their lives and their habits because of the unique geography of their city.  Our tour scratched the surface, but I thought most of the information was something that could be easily discovered with a web search.  I think the bottom line for our first day in Venice was that we had a guide who truly stuck to the script. She didn’t read us or really listen to what we were saying/asking. She simply guided us through the predetermined agenda. That’s probably fine for many people but it really didn’t work for us. Lesson learned!

One fun thing we did in the morning was visit a mask and costume shop. The owners were delightful, and even though we couldn’t spend as much time there as we would have liked we did grab one of their business cards and vowed to return.


Our morning ended with a gondola ride and then we had time on our own for lunch before we met up with Natalia again in the afternoon. We enjoyed our time on the gondola, and then had lunch at Rosso Pomodoro, the restaurant Natalia recommended. We were glad to have the recommendation, because the restaurants directly surrounding St. Mark’s Square are exorbitantly expensive, and Jim and I didn’t want a repeat of the terrible €55 lunch we had in Rome!😳 We sat outside and enjoyed the relaxation time as well as the awesome people-watching!


After lunch we walked over to St. Mark’s Square to meet Natalia for the afternoon part of our tour. The square is a hub of activity and is filled with pigeons, tourists, peddlers, seagulls, and locals…in that order!😆


We toured St. Mark’s Basilica first. The original church on the site was completed in 832 and burned completely during a rebellion in 976. The current Basilica was consecrated in 1093, and the basic layout remains largely unchanged. There have been many changes to the interior, although the ornate gold mosaics are believed to have existed in some form for many centuries. Right after I took the first photograph I learned interior pictures aren’t allowed, so the other pictures are brought to you courtesy of Wikipedia!


We left the Basilica and went next door to the Doge’s Palace.  


Mailbox where citizens could make secret complaints about neighbors. The most common complaint was about tax evasion, but other things could be submitted for consideration by the head of the district.


Staying the course with the predetermined agenda became a big problem for me in the afternoon at the Doge’s Palace. Natalia seemed to go on and on about every painting and most of us were completely on overload. It got to the point where it was so annoying to me that I pulled my headphones off and just shuffled along in my own little world. I kept looking longingly out the windows where I could see people wandering around exploring Venice while I was enduring yet another lengthy explanation. Maybe the guides for Walks of Italy are not allowed to deviate, but we repeatedly said we had had enough and would like to speed things up, but it never happened.



Bridge of Sighs from the inside…

…and from the outside:


We were happy to walk outside. We knew the end was in sight!😉


It’s sad to say, but I was very happy when the tour ended. I felt like a kid on the last day of school. I loved what I had seen of Venice, and I was eager to explore it at my own pace.

In hindsight, I can’t really blame Walks of Italy because they provided exactly what they had said they would provide. We did no more, and we did no less. I am glad I have seen those “must see” places, because I do not have to go back when I visit Venice again. I know it’s possible to make seeing the “required” tourist sites interesting and fun – Andrea did it in Rome when we visited the Vatican and the Colosseum in the same day. This tour and guide were just not good matches for our personalities or travel preferences. Still, we had knocked out the things that are on everyone’s bucket list and the rest of our time in Venice would be more our style. To put our first day in Venice another way, we saw what we came to see!😏

We were tired and took a waterbus (Alilaguna) back to the ship to spare our feet from another couple miles in unfamiliar territory. We had a nice dinner with friends and finally went upstairs to face the suitcases at 9:30. That means I did not start putting anything in the suitcases until about 10:00! Not a good idea! That was the downside of such a port intensive cruise. We didn’t have any time to relax, and I certainly didn’t have time to pack! We finally got the suitcases out in the hall and fell into bed. Our time on the Westerdam would be over in the morning, but we still had things to see and places to go!