Thursday, March 19, 2015

Photos of Oman

I have finished processing my photos from my trip to Oman, and I've posted them to my photo hosting website. If you have a spare half hour, and simply want to blast through all 221 photos for what I experienced in Oman, simply watch the embedded slideshow in this blog. If you want to pick and choose what you wish to view, there are several galleries to browse.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Photos of United Arab Emirates (UAE)

I have finished processing my photos & video from my trip to the United Arab Emirates, and I've posted them to my photo hosting website. If you have a spare 15 minutes, and simply want to blast through all 133 photos and videos for the U.A.E., simply watch the embedded slideshow in this blog. If you want to pick and choose what you wish to view, there are several galleries to browse from here.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Florence, Italy

September 9, 2014 – Tuesday – Venice to Florence

We arrive in Florence early this afternoon. The bus stops in a local square, we unload ourselves and our bags, and walk a few blocks to the hotel. After getting settled, we go on a walking tour of the centre of Florence. We have an Italian guide with us, but Jennifer leads the tour. Apparently, the Italian guide is with us so the Rick Steves tour group doesn’t get hassled for conducting “unauthorized” tours of the city – Italian bureaucracy in action! We line up for the Gallery of the Academy, and after 10 minutes or so get inside to see Michelangelo's statue of David.

I saw the copy of the David statue in the Plazza della Signoria when I was last in Florence in 2006, but there is no comparison with seeing the original inside the museum on this trip. David is beautifully lit with both outside light coming through a transparent dome, and also flood lights. Jennifer points out how his expression changes depending on where you gaze upon him. His naked body is exquisite, although his right hand is too large. Jennifer explains that the original plan was to mount David high on the front of the Duomo, which might explain why his hand was bigger than normal…otherwise from the perspective of people on the ground, the hand would not be easily visible.

We go for a group dinner to nearby Trattoria Nella this evening. Apparently this restaurant was dropped from the Rick Steves guides, but the owner is glad to have us nonetheless. Jennifer treats us to gelato afterwards, so I am really full by the time we return to our hotel.

September 10, 2014 – Wednesday – Florence

I am awoken at 6:30AM by thunder and lightning crashing and booming over the city. The rain comes down hard, however it is all over by 7AM. An exciting start to the day! Several of us go to the Duomo early this morning and climb up to the top of the dome. It is very close quarters, since the stairs to the top are between the inner dome and the outer dome. We are rewarded with superb views of Florence from the top.

I go to Trattoria Antellesi for lunch, the restaurant next door to the hotel. I have a beer and a wonderful soup called pasta a fagioli, which is a vegetable soup made with pasta, vegetables and bread in a rich and creamy broth.

We go to the Uffizi Gallery this afternoon with a local guide who specializes in the Uffizi. There is a crush of people and groups, so we have to wait about three quarters of an hour to get in. Photos are now allowed inside, but when I checked the Uffizi website earlier, there was no indication of this recent change in policy. So I am stuck using my cellphone camera inside, which is not a disaster, but I would have much preferred to use my dSLR to take higher quality photos.

Quite a few of us go to Giglio Rosso Ristorante for dinner on our own this evening…a recommendation by the hotel front desk with a modest discount coupon. Dinner is good, and they bring around a dessert cart with some really yummy choices!

September 11, 2014 – Thursday – Florence to Rome

I am awoken again this morning at 6AM by thunder and lightning however the rain isn’t coming down hard like yesterday, and it lets up by the time we walk to meet the bus.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Venice, Italy

September 7, 2014 – Sunday – Austria to Venice, Italy

When we arrive at the Tronchetto bus parking area of Venice, we get on the vaporetto and get off in the Academia area. Jennifer previously warned us that an historical regatta was happening along the Grand Canal, which means some bridges and portions of the Grand Canal are closed to traffic. We schlepp our bags through the crowds, but when we reach the Academia Bridge, it is completely jammed, and is chaos. At this point we can no longer roll our bags as we squeeze through the crowds.

It takes us about 20 minutes to carefully cross to the other side and regroup before continuing our rather stressful walk to our hotel, Hotel Serenissima, located just four blocks to St. Marks Square. My room is the tiniest hotel room I have ever stayed in, however it is comfortable and quiet, since it faces the inner courtyard instead of the street. We  go out for a group dinner at Trattoria alla Madonna, a local trattoria. The food and service is very good, and the dinner included salad, main course, wine, dessert. A trio entertains us while we eat, and they make out like bandits when everyone gives them some cash.

Our guide Jennifer arranged an after dinner gondola ride with music for those of us who wanted to go. It was a terrific experience, and illustrates again what I wouldn’t be able to do as a single traveler, however as a group, this is an activity that is well within reach at a cost of about 40 Euros each.

September 8, 2014 – Monday – Venice

We go on an early morning walk with a local guide. We see Marco Polo family’s square, then go to the Venice Hospital area, where we have a break. The hospital looks like a church from the outside. The walk continues through Venice, and we eventually come to a little shop on a canal which sells Venetian masks. The whole group goes inside to see how the Moroccan owner makes the masks. I’m not interested, so I wander around nearby outside. This stop takes about 45 minutes, which is a waste of time for me, although the rest of the group seem to enjoy it.

Our last stop on the tour is the famous St. Marks Square (Piazza San Marco). Timing is important, since at 11:30AM, the lights illuminating the ceiling inside the church are turned on for a short while. Our entrance fee is included in the tour, however I pay an extra 5 Euros to climb the stairs just inside the entrance to the second floor, where the original horses are displayed along with a lot of other original artifacts that need to be preserved from the elements. It is much quieter up here, so I enjoy myself and get some great photos of the gold-covered ceiling and sanctuary with the additional lighting. The bonus is having access to the balcony above the entrance, which gives a terrific view of St. Marks Square, the Duomo and Grand Canal, and the Campanile and clock towers. St. Marks Square is flooded with water this afternoon, since there is a high tide combined with a Full Moon.

September 9, 2014 – Tuesday – Venice to Florence

We schlepp our bags from our hotel to the Tronchetto bus parking area. It is easy going this morning, since the streets have yet to be congested with cruise ship passengers, and of course the regatta is over. We drive from Venice to Florence today on Italy’s wonderful autostradas.
I don’t think Rick Steves buys into this Italian philosophy “The sweetness of doing nothing” since we have little spare time on this tour!  Not that I’m complaining, since we are seeing so many sights and having daily experiences I know I would not find or do if I was traveling on my own.