Colour me Pastel
Day 6 (Friday) – We take the shuttle boat from Lido back to Venice in the morning and return to St. Mark’s. Next we visit The Doges Palace, or Palazzo Ducale, where the Doge resided and ruled the Venetian empire from AD 750 to 1790 give or take a few years.

“For some thousand years, the chief magistrate and leader of the Most Serene Republic of Venice was styled the Doge, a rare but not unique Italian title derived from the Latin Dux, as the major Italian parallel Duce and the English Duke. Doges of Venice were elected for life by the city-state’s aristocracy.”

It is from the Doges Prison that the legendary Casanova made his escape. He was not only reputed to be a great lover but some also claim he invented tiramisu – to provide him with energy. The meaning of tiramisu is “pick me up” although others give it a more interesting sexual connotation.

During our visit of the Prison, Zad could not keep himself from wailing “Help, Help Me” through the bars of the windows at the puzzled tourists outside on the square.

We also get to cross the “Bridge of Sighs” from within the Doges Palace.
“The name “Bridge of Sighs” was invented in the 19th Century, when Lord Byron helped to popularize the belief that the bridge’s name was inspired by the sighs of condemned prisoners as they were led through it to the executioner. (In reality, the days of inquisitions and summary executions were over by the time the bridge was built, and the cells under the palace roof were occupied mostly by small-time criminals.)”

I had been hesitant to visit the Doges Palace – a tourist trap, or so I thought incorrectly – but I’m very glad I did. The art is just extraordinary and there is an interesting armoury (swords, daggers, suits of armour, crossbows, firearms, and torture devices). Not to forget a fascinating collection of chastity belts.

The morning and afternoon are spent sightseeing Venice. We return to the Vecchia Murano Glass Factory to buy a lovely vase (it ain’t cheap) – we had bought a small glass dolphin there yesterday.

In the evening, another boat takes us to the exquisitely picturesque Island of Burano. Incredible for the beauty of its coloured houses. Tradition has it that fishermen painted their houses bright, contrasting colours to identify them on the way home in the misty waters. Their wives say it is so that they can find their way home after returning drunk from the tavern.

Burano is a poor community. Air conditioning is a luxury few can afford here, and with this heat it is common to see the villagers leave all windows and doors open in the evening to get some breeze.

Speaking of AC, we are told that in many of the Hotels in Italy the definition of air conditioning simply means the temperature in the building should be kept one degree cooler than outside.

So if it is 33C (92F) outdoors the Hotel could maintain your room at a breezy 32C (90F) – thankfully we don’t get to stay in hotels with that kind of policy on this trip.

We dine very well at the Trattoria da Romano and return to the Lido on the same boat which brought us to Burano.

Italy defeats the Ukraine 3-0 and once more the Italians go crazy – driving and honking their horns, scooters revving their engines, late into the night.

On to Tuscany – andiamo!

Secret Venice

Off the Beaten Path
Day 5 – Thursday starts off with a visit to a famous glass factory, Vecchia Murano. We then stroll in Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square) where we adeptly avoid being dumped on by the pigeons. St. Mark’s is a little bit of a personal disappointment – I was expecting more, not sure what – but something inspiring – not the inspiration I had felt looking at Ernst Haas photos in my youth (Haas and Helmut Newton were my favourite photographers as a kid).

We line up and follow the tourist herd through The Basilica of St. Mark – very impressive but so restricted – a common thread throughout our Italian trip will be the beauty of the churches and cathedrals.

Later that day, we hire a guide to take us through what is billed as Secret Venice. Well, there’s nothing really secret about where she takes us, but she’s very knowledgeable and pleasant – well except for that incredibly annoying “yooohoooo” she makes after each stop. This sound, meant to keep us from getting separated, drives Zad nuts – even today I can piss him off easily by mimicking it!

Our guide takes us well off the beaten path, through endless colourful winding streets, leaving the tourists behind, viewing Marco Polo’s purported home and other interesting local sites.

The guide is very concerned about the sinking of Venice. Will it still be around 50 years from now? The government still doesn’t seem to have a sound plan in place. It could be the next Atlantis.

We walk for hours in the heat, touring the stores, crossing the Rialto bridge, stopping for delicious Pizza in a restaurant owned and run by Asians (how ironic), and almost sampling gelato at a famous gelateria – almost – talk about self-restraint.

We return to the hotel by boat/shuttle in the evening and dine well at the hotel. All together another great day despite the canicule (the hot period between early July and early September).

Next stop Burano.


Day 4 – later that day we hit Venice – wow, one of the most unique cities in the world (and that’s an understatement). We take a boat ride on a water taxi through the main canal – the experience is just incredible – like being on the main drag in any European city except you’re floating, and boats, not cars, are whizzing by left and right.

Later we take a classic gondola ride through the narrower secondary canals – again, in both cases the views are just breathtaking. As an added bonus, Venice’s mainland is free of cars and scooters – so you are safe, unless you drown (or drink the water straight from the lagoon). In passing, no – the water does not smell in Venice – but I would not want to swim in it either.

We close the day at the striking hotel Hungaria Palace, just off the main drag in the Lido or beach area (a third boat ride is required to get there). The Lido does have cars but it is less noisy, the tourists are less visible than the main Island. Overall a lovely place to stay if visiting Venice.

We are still a little jet lagged and heat tired, but the day has been a very memorable and enjoyable one.

Further exploration of Venice will have to wait until tomorrow.

Romeo and Juliet

Day 4 – Here’s a real revelation – Italians drive fast – formula one fast. The scooters are the worst offenders, Vespas and Suzuki Burgmans and their two wheeling kin dart in and out of traffic with little regard for lanes, white lines, yellow lines – no concern for being flattened by their four wheeled brethren and absolutely no courtesy towards pedestrians.

In fact, all motor vehicle drivers in Italy hold pedestrians in the greatest contempt. At best they see us as nuisances – at worst they are determined to mow us down. It’s a little known fact that each driver has a quota of tourists to run over each summer, fail to comply and your license is revoked.

The weather today is sweltering hot again. High heat, higher humidity. We leave Como for Venice. On the way down we stop at Verona – the city made famous by the tale of Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers. We get to see Juliet’s statue – it’s good luck if you rub her right breast and that’s exactly what each tourist does (the bronze is totally discoloured as a result).

Verona is a disappointment – but the pizza margherita (tomato and cheese only) we have at a café is excellent and not overpriced. In this medieval looking town we stumble across a large and modern video/electronic store. It has all the latest tech toys but most importantly it has air conditioning – oh what a relief.

We never got to see Verona’s 2,000 year old Roman arena and ruins – so I guess I’m being too hard on Romeo’s hometown. Perhaps one day we’ll return and devote more time to exploration.

Later on Day 4 we arrive in Venice.


Day 3 – later that afternoon we drive to Milan – real hot once more – where we visit Piazza del Duomo and the Sforza Castle (we walk the grounds, staying in the shade whenever we can find some).

We also shop at the Galleria and even eat at Mickey D’s – yeah so what? – it was the only time – everything else we ate was real Italian. Ok, so I lied, it won’t be the only time on this trip. How do you say “Would you like some fries with that?” in Italian?

I had always thought of Milan as the “industrial” capital of Italy – but this city is rich in art and history, not to mention one of the fashion capitals of the world.

Unfortunately we did not see the Last Supper at the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie – you need to know the Pope or someone equally as important to get in to see it – unless you want to wait 3 months. Even Dan Brown has to wait, come to think of it they probably won’t even let him in!

Which reminds me of a joke my Texan friend Steve told us:

The Pope just finished a tour of the East Coast and was taking a limousine to the airport. Since he’d never driven a limo, he asked the chauffeur if he could drive for a while. The reluctant chauffeur pulled over along the roadside, climbed into the back of the limo, and the Pope took the wheel. The Pope then merged onto the highway and accelerated to over 90 mph to see what the limo could do.

Suddenly, the Pope noticed the blue light of the State Patrol in his side mirror, so he pulled over. The trooper approached the limo, peered in through the windows, then said, “Just a moment please, I need to call in.”

The trooper called in and explained to the chief that he had a very important person pulled over for speeding. “How do I handle this, chief?” asked the trooper. “Is it the Governor?” questioned the chief. “No! This guy is even more important!”

“Is it the President?” asked the chief.

“No! Even more important!”

“Well, who the heck is it?” screamed the chief.

“I don’t know, sir,” replied the trooper, “but he’s got the Pope as his chauffeur.”

Next stop: Verona.

Francs or Euros

Swiss Excursion
Day 3 (Tuesday): Lugano and Milan

From Como we take a day trip into Lugano on the other side of the border – a Como clone nestled in the Italian part of Switzerland. This is our fourth country since Monday (Canada, Germany, Italy, and now Switzerland).

Lugano must be Italian for expensive – luxury niche boutiques abound, some selling stainless steel watches in excess of 15,000 Swiss francs (that’s muchos deniros in any currency) as well as other merchandise for the very rich or those who like to max out their credit cards. Plenty of Swiss chocolate as you would expect too – and you can pay for your purchase in Swiss Francs or Euros.

It’s in Lugano that a certain and often pressing reality sets in – you realize that finding clean toilets will be a holy quest during the balance of the trip. Unlike Canada, in Europe you must pay for the privilege of exercising basic physiological functions such as taking a leak.

Regardless of whether it’s for number 1 or number 2 (uno or due) toilet rates range from half a Euro to a full Euro – or you can just go to a café, order an espresso and enjoy the facilities at the same time. In passing, the espresso was just awful – it looked and felt like mud and tasted worse than battery acid. Footnote: Euro is also European for expensive.

The variability of the plumbing and facilities in Europe never ceases to amaze me. On average it would take me 10 minutes to identify the mechanism for flushing a toilet and 5 minutes or more to find out how to turn on the faucet. I was tempted to photograph all the WCs as part of a coffee table book project – The Toilets of Italy.

Interesting tidbit – in Italia the hot water is identified with the letter C (caldo) which explains why you hear lots of American tourists scream in agony as they unwittingly scald their hands under boiling hot water. Note to self, C does not mean “cold”.

Next stop: Milan

Como estas?

Lake Como
Day 2 – Later that day!

Hold on, como estas is Spanish and this is Northern Italy – must be the jet lag taking its toll. We are headed for Lake Como near the Swiss border.

It was a short hop from Frankfurt to Milan but it’s been about 30 hours since we last slept – unless you count the short naps in the plane, you know the ones where you nod off and moments later your neck snaps viciously and wakes you up much too suddenly.

At the airport we meet a wonderful couple from Texas, Steve and Liz. After waiting for what seems like hours we finally get on the bus that takes us to the hotel. Como is postcard beautiful – serene lake, mountain homes, cathedrals, narrow streets.

We are caught in the middle of a brutal heat wave – no breeze whatsoever despite the proximity to water – stifling hot even at 9:30 PM. Throughout this trip temperatures will hit record or near record highs – mid-thirties in Celsius (low forties if you factor in the humidity – that’s over 100 Fahrenheit).

For lunch, we eat outdoors in a plaza outside the Hotel, we have our first of many Pizza Margheritas (thin crust, tomato, sliced mozzarella, basil and oil) – wonderful.

This is the year of the World Cup (football/soccer). Italy defeats Australia that night – 1 to 0 – and this little town goes wild, except for the Ozzie tourists – they are everywhere. With the victory comes noise, lots of noise – car and air horns beep for hours – everyone drives way too fast, especially the scooters – what a menace they are.

We stay and eat at the Hotel Barchetta Excelsior that night, nothing special – but we have excellent company, Sean and Marina (a lovely Australian couple) – they need some consoling over the World Cup loss but not that much.

Our room has a great view – of a dirty alley – but we are too tired to care – and just so damn pleased to be here!

Next Stop: Lugano Switzerland!

The Nikon Has Landed

Frankfurt, Germany
Day 2 – After a boring but uneventful 7 hour flight, the Italian trip takes a required pitstop in Frankfurt Germany – we couldn’t get a direct flight from Montreal to Milan (Malpensa) Italy.

The Frankfurt airport is huge and evidently disorganized – so much confusion. Everyone speaks English but with an attitude – most of the airport personnel are at best rude although some thankfully are helpful.

One airport guy, an old dude with a heavy accent screams out “Passport Control” over and over at all the lost and puzzled foreign travelers who come to him for help. He doesn’t even make any eye contact.

Could it be the airport staff don’t care for tourists? Well there are presently tons of them in Germany given the 2006 World Cup of Soccer is being held here. Or it could be that I’m just grumpy after a long sleepless flight in peasant class? Probably the latter. One day I would like to visit and photograph Frankfurt – maybe next year?

Eventually we make it to Passport Control – they don’t even ask us whether we are bringing in weapons of mass destruction – and we actually manage to make our connecting flight to Milan!

Thought for the day: everyone in Europe is a heavy smoker – I have a feeling they encourage smoking, particularly in public places – like airports.

After landing in Milan our next stop will be Lake Como.

Italy 2006

Italy 2006 – 19 Hot Wonderful Days
Day 1 – We fly from Montreal to Frankfurt.
The start of a most memorable journey – 19 days in Italy (well actually 17 days if you remove the two travel days). We leave Sunday afternoon on Air Canada from Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport – formerly called Dorval Airport.

We arrive in Germany the next day, it’s a 6 hour difference, to get a connecting Lufthansa flight to Italy.

It was a long tiring flight – in peasant class – but the beginning of a fantastic Italian vacation: great country, friends, food, and plenty of memories. Each journal entry represents a day, or part of a day, and is accompanied with photographs taken during the trip.

Our itinerary is show on the map below (click for full size). Our first stop is Frankfurt Airport.

19 Days:
1 June 25 – Montreal to Frankfurt Airport
2 June 26 – Frankfurt to Milan Airport, bus to Lake Como
3 June 27 – Como, Milan, Lugano Switzerland.
4 June 28 – Como – Verona – Venice (Lido)
5 June 29 – Venice
6 June 30 – Venice, Burano
7 July 1 – Venice – Ferrara – Florence
8 July 2 – Florence, San Gimignano (Tuscany)
9 July 3 – Florence – Pisa – Amalfi Coast (Maiori)
10 July 4 – Amalfi, Ravello
11 July 5 – Isle of Capri.
12 July 6 – Maiori – Pompeii – Rome
13 July 7 – Rome, Vatican
14 July 8 – Rome
15 July 9 – Rome
16 July 10 – Rome
17 July 11 – Rome
18 July 12 – Rome
19 July 13 – Rome to Toronto then Monteal

Continue to Frankfurt.