Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Monday, June 19, 2017 - Copper Fertility

We had made arrangements for Brian and Emily to spend the day with us as we explored some of this beautiful Tuscan countryside and hill towns. We thought we might be slow moving in the morning, so we arranged to meet them at 11:00 am in the town they were staying in, Bagno Vignoni, just across the river from the wedding site.  I was up at 7:00 am, went for a walk to explore the “town” and the hot spring before the rest got up.  We were a bit slower getting out than we had thought we would be. We texted to say we would be late, about 11:30 am, but it was 11:45 am by the time we rolled into the parking lot for tourists outside this quaint town. Brian and Emily met us in the parking lot.

We strolled through this picturesque town. The town square is a gigantic hot spring pool about 50 yards by 20 yards. All the buildings are made of stone with tile roofs, as are all the homes in the Tuscany area. We walked the streets for a few minutes, then walked to the southern part of town that overlooks the river valley that separates this town from the wedding site about 1/4 mile further south.  We took a couple pictures, then headed to the cars to drive to a couple of Tuscan towns. Brian and Emily rode with Sally and I, Andy, Tabitha and Jeff road together in Andy’s rental. Our destination was Montepolciano, about a half hour away. But first, we wanted to visit the hill town directly above the wedding venue, Castelione D’orcia. 

We drove up the steep and switchbacking road to town, drove through town and parked on the street. We spent the next half hour walking up and down stairs and roads, exploring this town perched on a very tall and steeply sided hill.  We stopped at a COOP grocery store and bought supplies for lunch, arriving about 12:55 pm, just minutes before they closed for the afternoon break, until 3:30 pm. With lunch making hanging from our hands in bags, we walked back to the cars and headed for Montepolciano.

The drive was beautiful, winding through sloping open fields in this hilly area. Each hill top was crowned with either a villa or a town. When we reached Montepolciano, we parked in two parking places we found, then grabbed our lunches and ate on the steps of a school nearby.  With full bellies and bladder beginning to test the elastic limit of tissues, we followed Rick Steve’s map of the town to a WC, a free one, and took care of business. Andy suggested Gelato, and everyone voice approval, but the shop he had spotted across the parking lot was lacking in flavor and site appeal. We began walking up hill through the towns outer defensive wall and into the city. It was not too long before we passed a Gelatoria and were each licking our way through a cone.

Sally had read in the guide book about a wine tasting room at the top of town near the Duomo. We continued our slow meander up the hill, looking in shops and enjoying the area. Eventually, we reached the Duomo. It had not been faced on the outside, so the jumble of brick and stone that was cemented together to construct its outer walls was exposed for all to see.  We took a quick walk through the interior, then exited and headed for the wine shop. Here we found gigantic kegs of wine, 8 feet in diameters, scattered about in an ancient brick labyrinth of a building. Of course, the walk through the wine kegs ended in a tasting room, and soon Tabitha, Emily and Sally were tasting, buying and shipping their favorites home.  The three tea toters, Andy, Jeff and I sat on the nearby steps. Our next visit on this afternoon would turn out to be the highlight of the trip.

Sally had read about a copper smith in this town that did amazing work. It was only a little distance from the wine shop and we quickly located it. Actually, there was two parts to this copper smith business, a workshop and a sales shop.  We found the workshop.  Sally and I were in front, and we walked into the this workshop, cluttered with tools, copper and what looked like a lifetime of accumulated “stuff”. An elderly man was puttering around about midway back in this 30’ deep space. As we looked at a few copper articles, Sally asked if we could step further back into the shop. The proprietor seemed a little grumpy at the suggestion, then his face brightened a bit as the kids came through the door.  Soon he was asking, in Italian, if the kids were married. We told him Andy and Tabitha were engaged, and his face lit up. He made them stand in front of him, together, then rustled around behind them on the workbench, gathering some tools and a 3 inch disc of copper. He began hamming on punches, creating a design on the copper disc, and asking questions of Andy and Tabitha. His eyes twinkled and he would smile and laugh between telling the rest of us, “SILENCIO” and asking if the women were all “generals” and if we men were “soldiers”. Luckily, I had the presence of mind to start videoing right from the start as I had a feeling this was going to be special.  I will put the video up on YouTube soon.  Rather than me explain the hilarity and sweetness of this scene, you will be able to watch it.

When he was done with Andy and Tabitha, he gathered Brian and Emily and did the same thing, creating a decorated copper disc for them, predicting, as he did Andy and Tabitha, that they would have four kids and telling the girls to get “frisky, frisky” to start making those babies and to put the copper disc under their pillow each night to speed the process along.

When he finished with Andy and Tabitha, he grabbed a letter he had received from a previous recipient of his “fertility discs”, showing a picture of him with them and their disc, and then a picture of their baby, born 10-14 months after their visit with him. He truly enjoyed this process!

After about an hour, we left his shop. We all felt it was the best hour we had spent in Italy. We giggled and laughed, repeating his lines all the way back through town to our cars. On the way out of town we spied a grocery store and bought food for dinner that night and hopefully enough for the next few days as there are no grocery stores near us.

We dropped Brian and Emily off in Bagno Vignoni. They were going to freshen up, then join us for dinner at our place.  We returned home, showered, relaxed for a few minutes, then began preparing dinner.  I checked my B&B messages and found a replay from Mauro. Yes, there was a 1 Gb a day limit to the data and his wife had dropped a second set of keys off. Brian and Emily arrived about 8:00 pm and we had a wonderful dinner of pesto salad and a green salad with bread and wine out on the deck.

After dinner, we put on our bathing suits. In the dwindling light, we worked our way down the steep trail right across the road from our place to the hot springs I had scouted on a walk earlier this morning. We found one big enough to accommodate all 7 of us. It was not hot, but warm. We soaked for about 45 minutes, creating enough noise with talking and laughter to certainly annoy those Italian soaking nearby that were hoping for a peaceful experience. We crawled back up the trail in the dark, thankful that Sally and I had brought our headlamps.  It was now near 11:00 pm.

Brian and Emily headed for their place. We showered, then all jumped on the Internet. We exceeded our 1 Gb of data about 11:50 pm, then waited for the stroke of midnight.  As advertised, the Internet came alive again exactly at 12:00 am.  By 1:00pm, Jeff had research his travel options for going to see Joel later in the week, Sally had cruised Facebook and the rest of us caught up on the news and emails. We had not been here n contact with the Caldwells all day, so we had no new news about Joel's condition. I dropped off first at about 1:10 am.  The rest followed in the next half hour.  What a great day.

Sunday, June 18, 2017 - Celebrating Joel and Hailey

Today was mostly a travel day, but ended in a party at the wedding site.  A party without the two for whom the party was being thrown.  More on that further down the page.

We got up this morning about 6:45 am with the aim of being on the road by about 8:00 am. Even though we had managed to strew our stuff all over this apartment, we were breakfasted, packed and out the door by 8:05 am.  Our first goal was the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

We had passed through Pisa three times on this trip and not stopped to see this iconic landmark to engineering ineptitude.  Somehow, it just seemed like a tourist trap.  But, we felt the call to visit. It was right on our way, and who knows, maybe it is more interesting than we thought. 

It was an hour drive to the parking lot, then a 15 minute walk to get inside the walled enclosure. We entered from the north. Admittedly, it was very cool to see it. With its exterior columns, it is a very dainty looking structure.  Yes, it is tilted.  But really makes you realize the tilt is when you see the base of the building.  The south side is indented into the ground about 6 feet.  Somehow the tilt of the base into the ground is as dramatic as tilt of the whole building.

This does bring up a philosophical point. Why is it that a building that was poorly engineered, a mistake, a screw up gets all the attention? There are three other ornate, wonderful buildings right next to the tower, yet the misfit gets all the attention. Is this reflection on the human race? We give  attention to the one who makes the most noise, the squeaky wheel, even of the wheel is substandard, while the stalwart get ignored?  hmmmm . . . . 

We walked back to the car, found a free toilet before we climbed in, then started our southward journey again. We had wanted to drive along the coast, but we found the coast road was a limited access highway, a freeway and a toll road. Finding no alternative, we stayed on it. The toll part of the road ended but the highway continued south, so we paid our toll and continued on.  We stopped in a small beach side town and had sandwiches and fruit for lunch, seated on a picnic bench with the car parked with two wheels up on the sidewalk, mimicking the other cars seeking a resting spot.  The temperature is the shade was perfect. Sunny, warm, slight breeze. We walked to use a bathroom in the park across the street, then on our way again, heading east an inland, aiming for the wedding venue.

I am glad that I had used Google Earth’s street view to cruise the area around the wedding venue. The roads are small and curvy, and the turnoff to the site is a small gravel road that heads downhill steeply.  We found it with no problem and were driving down this road very reminiscent of our or the Caldwell’s driveway when who should we spot walking up the drive but Bill and Pat.  Talk about feeling like we were home.  All that was missing was mud and rain.  Bill and Pat were marking the driveway with blue ribbons to help others find their way. 

At the venue there are two houses, each with a swimming pool.  The first one is occupied by Hailey’s family.  The second one is where the Caldwell family is staying. We continued on to the second house and park in front.  We could only stay about 45 minutes. We had to get to our B&B and meet the owners, get the keys and be shown the place. We found Ross and Crystal in the house. They were in the middle of a FaceTime call to Joel and Hailey.  We had a few minutes to say hi to those two.  Joel looked good, tired but good. He still has double vision and was wearing an eye patch to help. Other than the obvious pain he was working hard to manage, he looked good.  We joked a bit with him, then Hailey thought it best to let him rest.  We signed off.  Bill and Pat soon returned and we got to chat with them for a few minutes, getting the update on Joel. His foot has had some return of feeling, but its prognosis is still not good. The talk of partial amputation is still in the air.  It is a matter of time, waiting to see how much regeneration occurs. The decision of what to do is still quite a few days away.

We left the wedding site and headed 20 minutes south to our B&B.  But, as has happened before on this trip, we had a problem with Internet Service. If you remember reading from last Wednesday, I had visited yet another Vodefone store and got my service working again. Well, it is not working again. This is a major problem. To use Air B&B, you need to be able to contact the host when you arrive so they can meet with you to get you into the place. When with Bill and Pat I had connected via the wifi at the house and let our host know we would be there in 30 minutes. He answered back to contact him when I had reach the contact point, a large cypress tree at the top of the hill above the hot springs. We got to the cypress tree, but without service I had no way to contact him.

We parked, hoping the half hour warning would bring the host to the tree. Nope. Our location was akin to the turn off to Salmon Creek Road from 505 in Toledo, a country spot with occasional traffic.  The one thing we had going for us was the nearby hot springs and that it was Sunday afternoon.  There was quite a few people on foot going to or coming from the hot pools. We exited the car and began asking people if they could make a phone call for us. The first, through broken Italian and English let us know they had no signal. The second, a man on a tractor who had driven up to dump some recycling in a nearby dumpster had signal and happily dialed the number. I spoke to Mauro. He said his wife was on her way. While we waited we chatted with the man on the tractor. He lived nearby and worked indoors at a computer all day, but cherished his weekends when he tended his new olive orchard and worked outdoors. A woman drove up in a Mercedes. I said I wondered if that was Mauro’s wife. He immediately said, “I know Mauro. Yes, that’s his wife. And that horse across the street is Mauro’s horse.  The horse was excited to see the wife, prancing and neighing in the enclosure.  It was apparent she must feed and care for the horse at times. 

This woman in her early 70s drove us down the hill and through a remote controlled gate to a large apartment house on the side of the hill. She led us to the top floor where we found a spacious 3 bedroom, two bath fully functioning apartment.  It is exquisite. She showed us how to operate everything, all in Italian with me doing my best to interpret, then left.  We were stunned. At about 1200 square feet, this tiled and tastefully decorated home was way beyond our expectations.  And for $77 a night?  Wow.  The views out the windows and from the three decks was of the rolling Tuscan landscape. It was beautiful.

We took a break for a few minutes, showered and ate a bit, then drove back to the wedding site for an evening get together. We drove to the Caldwell’s house and met Mary and Bob, friends of Joel and Hailey from Colorado along with members of Hailey’s family. After a while, about 8:00 pm, we walked to the other villa and joined in a dinner party, a meet and greet. 

Andy and Tabitha were driving up from Rome, delayed by a few hours when the place they were to rent their car from closed before they arrived. They made for the airport via train to rent a car there instead. I was keeping in touch with them as they approached and was happy to see them rolling down the dusty gravel drive about 9:00 pm. Brian and Emily Bakotich were also there. Beth and Jay, along with Anna and Harp were also there, but they had flown in that morning and the jet lag had drug them to bed a few hours earlier.

We stayed at the party until 10 or 11, then drove back to the B&B with Andy it tow to show him where we were staying. We all jumped on the web.  After a few minutes we found we could not access any sites, but were presented with a page, in Italian, that stated our data limit had been reached and if we wanted more, we would have to buy it.  Huh? I vowed to send an email to Mauro in the morning asking about this and to get a second set of keys.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Saturday, June 17, 2017 - Marble Mines

When Sally and I passed through Carrara a few weeks ago, going to and from Cinque Terre, we regretted not having the time to go up into the mountains to see how the marble was mined. We were on a schedule, and on a train that did not extend its tracks up the mountainside.  But, now, with a car and an extra day, we were in a position to go see the marble extraction operations.

We did not rush out of our accommodations this morning.  We took our time, had breakfast, packed a lunch and retreated to the car about 9:00 am.  It was only about a 20 minute drive to Carrara, then an additional 10 minutes out of town to the beginning of the mine tours. Sally had done the research the night before and had found a couple of inexpensive tours that would give us a look at the 2000+ year old mining project. We drove up a steep and switchbacking road to a place where tours were assembling, but discovered the tour we had read about was down another fork in the road we had passed.  We drove back down a switchback or two, took the other fork, and were soon confronted with a one lane road that entered a tunnel. With Sally cringing in the back, hoping we did not meet an oncoming car, we drove through the dark tunnel for 3/4 of a mile and emerged in the adjacent valley. Heading up it, we soon arrived at the tour we had read about.

At this point we knew nothing about how they mine marble, so anything we learned was new.  We found the tour was €10 each and lasted about an hour.  As it turned out, the tour we were on was one of the only subterranean marble mine in the area.  We loaded into 7 passenger vans. We noticed that the floor inside the van was thick with white rock powder, as was the entire outside of the van. We immediately entered a tunnel very similar to the one we had driven through 45 minutes earlier.  Soon, the tunnel opened up into a huge cavern. However, this cavern was not natural, as could be seen by the absolutely straight, flat and vertical walls and the perfectly flat floor and ceiling. This cavern was formed from cutting blocks of marble from the walls, floor and ceiling and removing them to market. 

We got an explanation from the tour guide about the mining operation. Only three people work at this. We learned about diamond rope saws, expanding pillows to move the blocks and the price of €7,000 a ton for this very pure white marble that was found in this man made cave. As it was Saturday, mining operations were not occurring, but the equipment was all sitting right where the workers had left it Friday night.  One of the advantages of this underground mine is the constant temperature, 55ยบ, summer, fall, winter and spring.  And due to the moisture in the cave, there is no marble dust floating around.

When done with the tour, they drove us back to the entrance. We turned in our reflective vests and turned our attention to the outside tour about 40 yards away.  This tour was also €10 each. We signed up. In this tour your load into a Land Rover and drive the steep and narrow mining road to the top of the mountain and see the mining operation to remove the marble.

About noon, we loaded into the vehicles and bumped and crawled up the rough switchbacks to about 3500’ above sea level to the top of the mountain.  From here we could see the extent of the mining operations and also close up the adjacent mines.  Our tour guide gave us the details of marble extraction, not too different from what we had learned in the underground tour. Here, it was the scale of the operations and the composition of the mountains that were amazing. It is hard to conceive, but the entire ridge we were on, which included three parallel valleys was made entirely of solid marble. The miners were simply slicing off slabs of the mountain, loading them on trucks and bumping them down the very steep and switchbacking roads to market. Although the equipment used today speeds the process up considerably from 200 years ago, the process has been going on here for over 2000 years. If not regulated, these mountains would soon disappear and be spread across the world as kitchen countertops, roadside curbs, paving stones, bathroom walls and statues. But, someone with a little foresight saw that if the mountains were removed, it would change the weather patterns in the area and perhaps the entire region. Companies are allowed to remove the sides of the mountains to a point, but the top of the mountain must remain intact, to act as moisture and weather catchers. All of the highest peaks still poke up into the sky, but there flanks are now near vertical walls of shining marble newly exposed to the elements after the outer layers had been sliced off.

We bumped back down the road to finish the tour, then drove toward Carrara and a store to buy some lunch making materials.  We found a Conad open on this Saturday afternoon. We piled back into the car with our meats, cheeses, breads, sodas and fruits and headed back toward our room. 

Sally had wanted to see the marble being carved, and was looking for a studio or workshop as we slowly drove through town.  As we were leaving Carrara, she spotted what looked like some marble carvings through an open gate.  We did a u-turn at the roundabout and entered the yard.  Here we found exactly what she was looking for.  It was a “sculpture garden” similar to what we imagined Lorenzo the Magnificent’s to be back in the 1470-1490s at the birth of the renaissance. We learned that an older man in his 70’s owned the property, about an acre and encouraged artists to work in this open area, under tarps and hastily constructed buildings to keep the rain off. There were about 5 artists at work in various corners of the yard. One man was chiseling on a life sized statue of a hiker, carved from absolutely pure white Carrara marble (the €7000/ton variety). In another corner a woman in her early 30s was creating velociraptor dinosaurs in fiberglass from a series of molds she had created from her plaster model. A Korean man in his early 30’s was in a side shed sculpting a piece of pure white marble into a modern piece of art.  We talked with each, and they were happy to share their work and ideas with us. Sally videoed the man chiseling on the hiker statue. It was fun to see how the marble is worked, especially with modern tools, an pneumatic impact hammer and attached chisel.

After 45 minutes of touring the grounds and talking with the artists, we drove back to our room, ate lunch, relaxed a bit, then headed for the beach for a swim. Although Jeff did not accompany Sally and I last night, he was with us today as we returned to the same sliver of public beach, much more crowded on this Saturday late afternoon than last evening, and swam in the Mediterranean for half an hour with us.  

Back to the room, a repeat of last night’s dinner, plus some variations, and another day had passed us by.

We had received a text from Bill and Pat after our return from the marble mines telling us Joel was doing better.  They were on their way to the wedding site in Tuscany, driving from Frankfurt. They said they would return to Frankfurt for the next surgery on Joel’s foot.  That date and time is up in the air, depending on how well his foot and health are progressing. We will learn more tomorrow evening when we see Bill, Pat and the rest of the Caldwell family at the wedding site in Tuscany. 

Jeff outside the interior mountain mine

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Friday, June 16, 2017 - Jeff and Joel

Jeff was in Newark, NJ, ready to make the jump across the “pond” when the news came that Joel was injured in a motorcycle accident and the wedding had been cancelled. He decided to come anyway.  There would be a gathering at the wedding site Tuesday night, when the rehearsal dinner was to have happened, and maybe he would get a chance to travel to Frankfurt and visit with Joel before Jeff returned home. Because Jeff flys standby, he is never sure if he will catch a flight, so he puts himself on many different flights and gets on the first one that has a seat. He had his chits in on flights to Venice, Florence, Frankfurt and Rome.  The first plane to fly was to Rome. Although it was his least desirable location, he hopped on.  Better to take a flight than wait for the perfect one that might not have any empty seats.  He was scheduled to land in Rome at about 7:45 am. 

We woke about 7:00 am, showered, packed and ate breakfast. We left the house about 8:15 am to walk to Europcar to rent our car. We left all our stuff in the B&B, no reason to carry it 3/4 of a mile when we could just drive back and get it. Once back at the B&B, we loaded all our stuff, left our key on the kitchen table and drove away, heading for Florence. Other than a missed turn getting out of Mestre, we were soon cruising down the freeway.

All the freeways we have driven are two lanes.  The right lane is a steady line of freight trucks.  The left lane is where most of the cars drive.  Speed limit? 110 km/hr.  Of course, very few Italians go the speed limit, except the trucks, which travel 5-10 km/hr less than the speed limit. These conditions make driving a pain.  If you get in line with the trucks, you are doing 10 under the limit. If you move into the left lane and try to go the limit, you have cars less than 5 feet off you bumper honking at you to go faster. Driving becomes a game of lane changing.  Pull into the left lane (110Km/hr) to pass trucks in the right lane, all the time watching the rear view mirror.  When a fast approaching car is seen coming up from behind, move into the right lane (95Km/hr) to let it pass, then switch back to the left lane (110 Km/hr).  This cycle is repeated about every 30-45 seconds. For hours at a time.  The fast moving cars in the left are going in excess of 150 Km/hr.  They pull up upon you real fast and are pissed if they have to brake because you are not moving fast enough for them.  I have changed lanes more times driving in Italy over 4 days than I have in a year of driving in the states. Keeps you awake, and alert.

Just before we left Venice, Jeff texted to say he would arrive in Florence at 11:30 am via train.  The earliest we could arrive, baring traffic and wrong turns was about 12:45 pm.  We pressed on, but we knew he would be waiting a couple hours for us. Florence is a bugger to drive in, especially near the train station at Santa Maria Novella.  For this reason, we decided to park outside the downtown area and take the tram to the station to meet Jeff.  We found our parking lot, bought our tram tickets and boarded the tram, which comes by every 10 minutes of so.  About 1:00 pm we met Jeff  outside the Victoria Secrets shop at the Santa Maria Novella train station.  We had agreed to meet at the McDonalds, but Jeff found free WiFi at the shop next to Victoria Secrets shop, so he hung there, using the adjoining business’s WiFi to communicate with us. As good as it was to see Jeff again, it was really disappointing he didn’t bring Robby. It has been 5 weeks since we have seen him.  When we made plans for our long tour of Italy, it was with the understanding that Jeff, Jackie and Robby were coming, and that we would watch Robby for a week during the wedding time. Jeff and Jackie cancelled their plans of bringing Rob. Somehow, having a 15 month old energetic boy on your lap for 14 hours of flying was too daunting. We were disappointed, but we understood.

We walked a couple blocks from the train station to a restaurant for lunch. We did not have anyplace to stay tonight, so while lunch was being prepared, we searched the web and found an apartment for rent just outside Cararra for 90 euro a night. We reserved it while sipping frizzante and beer, then enjoyed our meal.  By 2:30 pm we were back at the tram station. We boarded a tram and 5 stops later were back at our station. Across the street was our parking lot. €2.50 freed our car and we were soon back on the freeway switching lanes all the way to Carrara.

Sally had wanted to be on the coast so she could go swimming. Imagine her delight as we left the freeway, paid our €10.90 toll for using it, and began driving on the shoreside road, passing swimming beach after swimming beach.  Our apartment was a little inland, only a couple hundred yards, from the shore. Although quite stark, it was very roomy.  We settled in, turned on the AC and made ourselves at home. 

We researched the Carrara Mine tour possibilities, then headed to the beach.  Because it was a little late, 6:30 pm on this Friday night, there was parking available right near the beach. We slipped into a spot that was under netting, affording the car shade and keeping it cool.  We walked the beach road passing private beach after private beach until we found the sliver of beach that was public, dropped our towels and shirts in the sand and wadded out into the very warm and comfortable Mediterranean waters.  We swam and floated for 15-20 minutes, then retraced our steps to the car. We drove to the local Conad grocery store and stocked up for dinner, breakfast, lunch and some goodies, then drove back to the apartment and cooked a repeat of last night’s delicious dinner.

Jeff had made it now to 9:00 pm. He had been fighting the effects of jet lag. Having reached his goal of 9:00 pm, he let himself go to bed. Sally and I were right there too, although Sally stayed up and Facebooked a bit before crawling in. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017 - A Relaxing Day

Today marks day 30 on the this amazing trip. Our original plan was to spend a few days in the city touring museums and cathedrals, then a few days in the country recovering from the city experience, then back to the city for another round of culture, then back to the country to clear the mind and prepare for the next onslaught.  Problem is, we run and wear our selves out just as much in the countryside as we do in the city.  So at day 30, we are both getting tired.  Throw in the news about Joel getting injured in a motorcycle accident in Frankfurt on his way to Italy for the wedding, and we need a down day.  Even though we are a 15 minute bus ride from Venice, we decided to just hang near the B&B here in Mestre.  Last night we walked into the town further, to check out a hotel. We found a nice town square. Today, we decided to go to that town square, find a nice table outside a cafe and sit for the day, reading, writing and veging.  Why not stay in the B&B and do the same thing?  We have a bed in our B&B, but not a place to sit.  Lying in bed for the day is just a little too extreme.  

The Caldwells texted us this morning.  They are headed for Frankfurt to see Joel in the hospital.  They checked into flights from Milan, where they spent last night, but there were no direct flights and driving seems like a better option.  It is about a six hour drive. Hailey sent out an email this morning calling off the wedding.  In a very elegant and thoughtful letter she explained that Joel would likely be in the hospital for weeks and there was no way to hold the wedding, but invited everyone coming to the wedding to please enjoy the site. She hoped to make it down Tuesday for a dinner with everyone, depending on how Joel was progressing.

We wandered slowly down the street toward the square. Nearing the square we saw an open market. We stopped in for some fresh beans, tomatoes and onions for dinner.  From there, we staggered over to the square, found a cafe with outside seating and plopped down.  I nursed a frizzante water for an hour while Sally gave the same treatment to a Coke.  We wandered until we found a park bench in the shade and enjoyed a picnic lunch of bread, cheese and fruit.  Then it was back to the B&B. I laid out on the bed to take a break.  Two and a half hours later, Sally was rudely waking me from what turned out to be a ridiculously long nap. Whew!  I must be tired!

We cooked a delicious dinner of pasta, beans, onions and cheese. After dinner, we walked to a grocery store, got a few supplies, then stopped by a florist shop and bought Valentyna some flowers.  We return home, texted, wrote and Facebook’d.  We learned Jeff was flying into Rome in the morning, so we cancelled rooms we had reserved here in Venice and along the east coast of Italy and made plans to head for Florence in the morning to meet him. We also learned that Bill and Pat had made it to Frankfurt and had spent time with Joel.  They said he looked good but couldn’t remember anything from the day of the accident. Valentyna got home about 9:30 pm. We related the story of Joel and the motorcycle accident to her and told her we were leaving in the morning. 

You would think after a two and a half hour nap I would have trouble falling asleep.  Nope. Dropped off like a rock. Sally, too.  Low key day. The rest was good.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Wednesday, June 14, 2017 - The Outskirts of Venice

Sally and I are wearing down.  Our days have run from 6:00 am to 11:00 pm the last week, and the days have been filled with activity.  Our original plan to take vacations from our vacation was a great idea, except, we have played harder on our vacation from vacation days than on our vacation.  The Dolomites were supposed to be restful, but we were up and driving by 6:30 am each morning and not getting done with dinner and packing until 10:30 or 11:00 pm. These last two days, first driving from the Dolomites then exploring Venice with Pat and Bill and then yesterday walking Venice and getting home late has us feeling draggy. Today, we are going to try a low key approach to Venice and explore some possibilities for when Jeff gets here.

Last night, Sally found a campground with bungalow tents for rent for 57 euro a night outside Venice in the town of Fusino, a boat ride away from Saint Marks square.  This morning we thought we would test how this will work when Jeff arrives.  

We took the bus to Piazza Roma, boarded what we thought would be a fast boat around to St. Marks and headed out around the south part of Venice instead of the Grand Canal.  Turns out it was the outside milk run and we stopped at every dock.  Still, we got to St Marks and the Zaccaria boat stop.  From what we had read, this was the terminal from which to catch a boat to Fusino and the campground Sally had spotted. We asked at the ticket booth.  The lady there said we needed to go back to Piazza Roma and take a bus to Fusino.  We rejected that idea.  We went to another ferry worker and she said she did not know, but to try the other ticket booth.  We tried it. The man here said we were at the wrong boat landing.  We were supposed to be at Zattere, not Zaccaria. Ok, truth time.  Neither of us had paid any attention to the name past the first letter, Z. I just assumed there was only one dock that started with Z.  On the boat trip to San Marco we had stopped at the Zattere dock, but I did not make the connection.  Oh boy.  So, we hopped on the the 5.2 line and rode back to Zattere.  Once there, we asked if our day passes we had bought yesterday were good for the ferry to Fusino.  Nope.  A different company ran that boat route. To buy tickets for it, we needed to go to the office over there, about 100 yards from the shore in a little office.  We had to wait for the man in the office to get off the phone.  After he did, we found the tickets were 13 euro round trip each.  Since this was just an exploratory for an idea, we decided that was more than we wanted to spend.  After all, we had day passes for every other boat, why would we pay extra to ride a boat that was not covered by our passes. We had not been to the islands of Lido, Murano or Burano yet.  Better to spend our time exploring them for free than paying extra to see Fusino.

We caught the 5.2 toward Lido and sat through about 4 stops until we were dropped on the island of Lido.  The lagoon was particularly choppy today, with big waves splashing against the water bus, so much so that some spray came in through the open windows.

When we disembarked at Lido the first thing I saw was a Vodafone Store across the street from the dock.  My 5 Gb of data I purchased on June 1 had suddenly quit on Monday, just at the time I needed it to find the Caldwell's. I was anxious to talk to these guys and find out what happened, as I knew I had not used all 5 Gb.

I had to wait about 10 minutes to be helped.  Finally, one of the salesmen was free, Marco, a young man of about 25 years. He explained that the plan I was sold in Siena, the one from the sweet girl who seemed so helpful, was only good for 12 days.  What?!?!  She never told me that.  Of course, I did not ask how long it was good for.  I assumed (never do that with these crooked phone companies) that 5 Gb meant that it was good for 5 Gb, not also a time limit, especially since I said I would be in Italy for another month and needed service the whole time.  She had said I could recharge it when it ran out, but again, I assumed when the data ran out, not a time limit. Marco said if I got a new SIM card he could get me set up with a 10Gb plan that lasted for a month, for 25 euros. hhhmmmm. . .  What question should I be asking that would reveal information he is not telling me?  If it rains three days in the month of June does my coverage end? If I drive more than 500 Km my SIM card speed drops for 4G to 56k modem speed? What????  I could not think of what question to ask that would prevent me from experiencing the gotchas again, so I forked over the 25 euro, had him slip the new SIM card in and walked out the door feeling like I had been ripped off again, but didn’t know how it would materialize.

We walked across the island of Lido to the public beaches on the Adriatic Sea. We did not think to bring swimsuits, so all we could do was look.  Besides, the weather was threatening to thunderstorm today and was heavily overcast with a temperature in the high 70’s. We walked the beach road for a bit, then returned to the ferry dock via a grocery store where we picked up some fruit and other items for lunch.

Marco had told me to wait two hours before switching on the Cellular Data on the iPad. At two hours I switched it on.  “No Service”. hmm . . . We were sitting right outside the Vodafone store, but they close for 3 hours for lunch, (12:30-3:30, yes its true, most of Italy takes a two or three hour lunch.  I find it a great idea.  It slows the pace and allows people interact and enjoy lunch. Greedy America should try it.  People might be happier.) It was 2:30 pm.  I did not want to wait another hour on Lido waiting for them to open. Even though my faith in phone companies is extremely low, we boarded the ferry back to San Marco in the hope that the account would spring to life and we would have the Internet again.  On the ferry ride back, I decided to restart the iPad.  Maybe that would help.  I did. It did. I got service and the internet back.  Yeah!  I wonder how long it will last this time.

The one thing we had not done in Venice was ride in a gondola. A true gondola ride through the city canals is 80 euros for 40 minutes.  This is a little spendy for our budget.  However, there are seven places along the Grand Canal where gondolas act as ferries across the expanse for 2 euros. With this in mind, we decided to walk into a new area of the city, along the Grand Canal until we found a gondola ferry to ride. 

This part of our walk was nice.  The city here was not as crowded and the area was pleasant. Eventually, we came upon a square that fronted the canal and saw a gondola taxi we could ride across.  We stood in line for only a few minutes before 10 of us loaded into the boat and were ferried across the Grand Canal. Total time of the ride? About a minute.  Good enough.  We continued our walk in the direction of the Piazza Roma and the bus that would take us home. It was about 4:00 pm.  We were looking forward to getting home a little earlier tonight and getting some sleep. Sally saw some shoes in a store and stopped into see them.  I joined her while she tried some on, sitting on a stool writing in my blog.  When we stepped out 10 minutes later, the sky was noticeably darker. Threateningly darker.  We picked up our wandering pace a bit, heading for the nearest ferry dock, hoping that a ferry ride would keep us out of the obviously impending rain.  Navigating with Google Maps, we made our way to the Ca’ Rezzonico stop. We walked onto the floating station and sat down to wait for a boat coming in our direction. The lighting was amazing as the dark clouds and lowering sun created a magically light on the Grand Canal. 

The first boat was going the wrong direction.  We could see a boat coming in our direction, just as the sky opened up and rain came down in sheets driven by the wind and serenaded by thunder.  Luckily, we were in the covered boat stop and out of the rain.  The boat pulled up.  It was only 8 feet from the covered boat dock to the covered boat, but the rain was falling so hard it looked like an army was throwing buckets of water at the dock and boat.  We elected to stay in the cover of the dock and wait for the next boat.  Our thinking was, a storm this violent would not last long and would blow itself out by the time the next boat arrived.  Besides, the boat was already packed with people and we might not have gotten under cover had we boarded.

We guessed right.  The wind and rain subsided after another 10 minutes.  The next boat came, also packed with people, but enough got off to allow us room to stand on deck under the cover. We were packed in next to a young woman from Milan on vacation to Venice to see art with her mother.  We enjoyed talking with her all the way to the stop at the train station, where she got off. We continued one more stop to the Piazza Roma stop. We rode the bus back to our neighborhood, but before going to our room we stepped across the street to a Kabab shop and each got one to go for dinner.  Back in our apartment, we enjoyed our dinner.

Showers, catching up on the Internet and the news and we were just about ready for bed. Just as we were quieting down, Sally got a text from Beth Caldwell saying her brother Joel had been in a motorcycle accident in German, near Frankfurt and was in the hospital with a shattered foot and a concussion. WHAT!!!  This was not what any of us wanted to hear!  We texted Pat and Bill. They had heard the news, but did not know anymore than we did. Hailey was flying from Rome to Frankfurt to be with Joel and we would know more when she got there. By midnight, Hailey reported that he was pretty much out of it, hopefully due to the pain meds and not the concussion. His leg was bad.  The doctors had done one surgery on it yesterday.  The doc would be in at 7:00 am the next morning and she would let Pat and Bill know more then.

Sally and I are both sick with this news.  Such big plans for two amazing kids, and now this.  We went to sleep wondering how this would all shake out.  Could Joel make it to the wedding site by Wednesday, a week away?  How bad are the injuries? What about all the family and friends coming halfway around the world for the wedding?  Although all these thoughts flooded our brains, our first concern was for Joel.  Would he be okay? How bad was the foot?  How severe the concussion?  We would not know until tomorrow morning at the earliest, and perhaps later. Up until the last hours, it had been a another great day. Now worry clouded the days end.

Hotel on Lido. 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017 - Venice with the Neighbors

We made plans to meet the Caldwells this morning at 8:30 am at the base of the campanile in St. Marks square. Valentyna had breakfast laid out for us, bread, jams, milk, tea, toast. We quickly ate, then popped out the door to the bus stop to catch the first ride into Venice. When we got to Piazza Roma, we purchased two day passes (30 euros each) for the vaporetta boats, the “buses” on water that ply the grand canal and other areas of the city. We jumped on a Line 1 boat. This boat takes 45 minutes to cruise the grand canal, stopping at each stop along the way.  It was the 7:45 am boat, so we hoped to make St. Marks at 8:30 am. The boat was full, but not crowded. We assumed that most of the people on board were people that worked in the shops of the city.  It was amazing to see how much boat traffic there was on the grand canal. Barges, taxis, buses like ours, individuals in personal boats, garbage boats and more.

We stepped of the boat at the St. Mark’s stop at 8:28 am, and by the time we walked across the square we were a few minutes late, but found the Caldwell’s sitting at the base of the campanile.

We discussed options of what to see and do for a few minutes, then walked around a bit, exploring the area.  Eventually, we all put on Rick Steves’ audio tour of the square and spent the next hour or so learning the history and some of the interesting elements of the buildings and people that surround the square.

In preparation for the wedding and to reduce the luggage load, Pat had mailed their wedding clothes to the wedding site.  Sally had put her shoes and dress in as well. The package never made it to its destination. With tracking number in hand, part of our activities of the day were to find what had happened to the box. There are a number of postal office scattered through Venice, one located just of Saint Mark’s square.  After our audio tour, we thought we should explore solving the mystery of the missing box.

We took a number in the post office and soon Pat and Bill were meeting with a clerk, getting help. It was found the box had been stopped in customs, was sitting in Milan and they were given a phone number to call.  My cellular connection was still not working, so we decided we would walk to the restaurant we had eaten at last night to use their connection. The wifi in Bill and Pats flat had quit working this morning. But, before we wandered the streets from St. Mark’s to the restaurant near the Rialto Bridge, we decided to do a walk through of St. Mark’s Basilica.

The line was about 150 yards long, probably about an hour of waiting, but Sally had read that you can skip the line using a little trick from Rick Steves.  If you have a pack that needs to be checked (because they are not allowed inside), rather than standing in line, go to the pack check room in a building detached from the church about 150’ away, check your pack, then with the ticket you get from them to retrieve your pack, go to the entrance of the church, show the ticket and they let you in immediately.  What the heck, let’s try it.  I checked my pack and got a ticket, but one ticket for four people seemed a little much, so Sally checked her big Rick Steves Italy guidebook and got a second ticket for the Caldwell's. She is so smart!  We walked to the head of the long snake of a line and were instantly admitted.  Nice!  We walked the interior of the church, following along in the river of people and exited 15 minutes later. We picked up pack and book at the check station and headed, in a wandering and unhurried path toward the Rialto Bridge.  Along the way we saw a Kabab shop and stopped in for a quick and cheap lunch. We ate our food on the steps of a bridge over an adjacent canal, right next to a garbage boat that was collecting bins of garbage from workers on shore. The aroma really added to our lunch experience.

Eventually, we made it to the Rialto Bridge and found last night’s restaurant. Standing in the shady lane next to the restaurant, we attached our phone to their wifi and tried to call the number we were given. It appeared to be an incomplete number, not enough digits, and we could not get through. Since we now knew the package was in customs in Milan, we searched the web for the Milan customs office to get an address or a phone number.  Nothing.  We were about to give up and continue our exploration of Venice when a though occurred to me (I am still recovering from this event), “search for the customs office in Italy in Italian rather than English!”  Using Google translate we found the Italian for Customs Office and searched. Bingo! The address and phone number we sought we now had. We tried the phone, but since it was now 12:30 pm, they were most likely at lunch. We mapped the location of the office on Google Maps. Bill and Pat are headed to Cinque Terre tomorrow and plan to swing out of their way to Milan to get the box.

With the “mystery of the missing box” problem advanced as far as possible in Venice, we continued our wandering toward Piazza Roma. Along the way we passed another Post Office and decided that maybe they could give us the correct phone number to call. We repeated the procedure of just a few hours ago. This time a manager like person came out from the back and explained in broken English that the package was in Milan and we would have to go there to get it.  Nothing new, but a good confirmation.

On our way again to Piazza Roma, wandering, shopping and just enjoying the city. Once in Piazza Roma, we boarded the route one vaporette and cruised the Grand Canal with Bill and Pat, listening to Rick Steve’s audio tour as we did. Once again, his tour put the place into context and made the canal more than a waterway with a bunch of buildings on its shores.

We exited the boat one stop past St. Marks Square and headed for Bill and Pat’s apartment to cool off, take a rest and regroup.  Pat and I worked out details on how to us Google Maps for their drive across Northern Italy, Bill took a quick nap and Sally kept us all company.

Refreshed, we headed out again, this time to walk down the waterfront of the Lagoon away from St. Marks. We soon found ourselves in a beautiful park far away from the crushing crowds. On the way back we took another route, found a great restaurant for dinner and enjoyed the coming evening. 

After dinner we walked back towards St. Marks. To avoid the late night bus ride, Sally and I parted company with our good friends about 9:00am and caught a boat for Piazza Roma and the bus home.  We were back in Mestre and our room by about 10:15 pm. We rested a few minutes, caught up on Facebook and did a little blogging, then went comatose in bed.  What a great day!!

Rialto Bridge

St. Mark's Square