4 Days in Venice

Colorful Burano

Colorful Burano

I head back to work tomorrow. My trip to Venice just over a week ago was the final trip of my summer, a send-off for Jane and Emily who are moving on from Prague :(.

Venice is beautiful, with its scenic canals, iconic gondoliers, glass, masks and vibrancy (in the summer). It was amazing watching the traffic on the canals, the garbage boats, ambulances, taxis, vaporetto, delivery trucks and private crafts.

We didn’t visit many buildings but we went to St. Mark’s basilica for a free tour. We paid 2€ to book our entry online and avoid the long ticket line. (Well worth it!) Our entry time was 10:45-10:55, which as perfect for joining the free English tour that started at 11:00. The tour was done by an enthusiastic student intern from England who shared many interesting facts about the cathedral, particularly about the design and the Renaissance and Byzantine mosaics. In one period, a sketch is made before the mosaic is created, but not in the other. (I can’t recall which is which; maybe I’ll look it up.) We paid the extra 1€ to see the Pala d’Oro with its gold and polished, unfaceted gems. We were lucky that the lights were on during our visit; apparently the lights are only turned on for one hour a day!

From the basilica, we went to Galleria dell’Accademia to see some art by Titan, Bellini and other Venetian, Byzantine and Gothic art.

This was a laid back trip, with a focus on lots of (delicious) seafood. We started every meal with by sharing seafood and vegetable antipasti. The seafood was invariably varied, fresh, and delicious. My entree (premi or secondi) often included more seafood. I was trying to avoid wheat, and there is an amazing amount of gluten free available. However, the one gluten-free pizza and bread that I tried was a relative of cardboard. After that, I was reluctant to try the gluten free pasta.

Our last breakfast was at a wonderful bakery, Pasticceria di Chiusso Pierino. I made an exception and tried an almond croissant. Delicious with both sliced almonds and marzipan.

The slideshow won’t below won’t work without flash. See the photos at https://goo.gl/photos/Xv6QQ7eHGDoV6Hb68.

Long Weekend in Vienna

As part of the continuing adventure of summer holidays, we went to Vienna from July 17 – 20.  What a beautiful city, and not so far from Prague. The whole train ride was just over four hours, which makes it an easy trip from Prague.

Entertainment during the train ride

view from train entering Vienna

We got to Vienna early in the afternoon, but given that we had a small child on this trip (3.5 years), we relaxed during the afternoon and just walked around a little to get our orientation. This included walking along the Ringstrasse and finding out about the Vienna pass with hop on/hop off bus access.

Goethe on the Ringstrasse

Mozart in the Burggarten

Since we’d use Priceline to find the hotel, and it was a Marriott with a price of 30 euros for the buffet breakfast (!), we took off to find a local restaurant to fuel ourselves for the day. We’d noticed Chilai near our hotel and decided to go there. They have a variety of breakfast options, and I ended up ordering the breakfast with hummus and falafel. I found the falafel uninspired but my friend enjoyed it enough to have the same meal twice . (The meal was good value so when we had trouble finding our choice the next morning, we ended up there again.) Once we had breakfast, it was time to head off on the yellow hop on/off line for Schonbrunn Palace.

The Vienna pass includes free entry for the grand tour. The entry is timed so it’s good to get the ticket first. We had about an hour to wait so we first went to the carriage museum (Kaiserliche Wagenburg). After the carriage museum, there was enough time to walk around the gardens a bit, but it was a hot sunny day so my friend and her daughter went to the Kindermuseum Schonbrunn and I went off on my Grand Tour. On my tour, I could look out the window and see my friend and her daughter. I think it’s really cool that the museum has a specially designed children’s tour/experience!

After we were done with our tours, we had a nice lunch at Cafe Residenz before going to the Apfelstrudelshow (free with the Vienna pass). The pastry chef was impressive at opening the dough by flipping it in the air and using her knuckles! I was suprised that she rolled the dough in a circle rather than a rectangle, but she said that you can reshape the pastry after it’s filled to make sure that each slide is roughly the same size. She also used a strudel cloth over the rotating board, which she spread the dough on, and used that cloth for rolling the dough and moving it to the baking dish. I found the whole process impressive, but I am not such a big fan of apple strudel (I prefer apple pie). By the end of the show, it was already 17:00, and the sights were starting to close down.

We decided to take the train/bus (free with the pass) to get an overview of the other sites. The vehicle stopped at the (already closed for the day) Gloriette for 10 minutes, which was a great opportunity to enjoy the view. The child had fallen asleep during the ride, so we carried her to the hop on/off bus and headed back to the Royal Opera stop, from where we could walk back to the hotel. I can’t remember what we had for dinner so I suspect we had fruit and nuts, and leftover bread from breakfast (for the child).

I love blackout curtains, because sleeping in was easy the next morning. We left the hotel around 9:30 and went back to Chilai for breakfast. We had another plan, but the cafe was empty and looked uninviting. From breakfast, we walked to the Spanish Riding School for the Piber Meets Vienna show. The free entry with the Vienna pass is for standing. The show was a boring, with only a few horses galloping around, or prancing about. Even the child had little interest in it. We stayed for most of the show (45 minutes) but then went off to other adventures. My friends went to the zoo and I took off for the free 2 hours walking tour.

The walking tour was great for learning the history of the city, but didn’t involve much walking. I could have done it quicker with a Frommers self-guided tour or something like that. Then I went to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, the Sigmund Feud Museum, Donauturm, and to see the Imperial Silver Collection. My main reason for going to the Kunsthistorisches Museum was because it is world renowned, with many famous artists there. I went through a few of the rooms to see the highlights but there was too much to see in one visit. I tend to have an attention span of 1 hour – 1.5 hours for museums. The Imperial Silver Collection is impressive. It’s also interesting how the history of Prague is linked to that of Vienna. The Sigmund Feud Museum is quite small. It’s the place where he lived and had his office for many years. I loved visiting the Donauturm. It was wonderful to get a panoramic view of the city. Definitely worth a visit.

On the final day in Vienna, I went to visit the Belvedere. I first encountered Klimt while attending University of Ottawa. I was walking through the student center when I noticed an display of art prints. I hadn’t realized until going to the Belvedere that Klimt had so many different styles. There are also some lovely paintings by Delacroix and many other artists.

Fare thee well Summer 2014

The five weeks of summer just flew by; I’ve already been back at work for over a month! Somehow, I convinced myself that I had a quiet summer planned and that I would be in Prague. It’s amazing that I managed this delusion given that I had tickets to spend 2 weeks in Southern Africa, a few days in Orleans outside Paris, a few days in Berlin, and a week in Slovakia. Add to this the fact that a friend and her two and a half year old daughter were staying with me for 2 months, and 5 members of my family (not staying with me) would visit for a few days, and my only excuse is that I had originally planned a quiet summer.

Southern Africa was wonderful. I didn’t have the best start with over $600 being stolen from me. I didn’t go anywhere with the money except my hotel (Faircity Mapungubwe Hotel), the hotel shuttle and the airport. I’m just lucky that not all my money was stolen, and I still had my wallet for the rest of the trip. Needless to say, I have no desire to revisit Johannesburg! In the interest of completeness however, I must say that the Apartheid Museum was very educational. Upon entry my ticket indicated whether I should use the entrance for Whites or Non-Whites. Wow, what a powerful way to make the point. The tour to Soweto was interesting, especially Nelson Mandela’s first house and the Horace Mann memorial. However, a large part of the trip was uncomfortable for me as I felt pressure to donate funds to local people who we visited on the tour, and I felt a bit like I was visiting a zoo. Not pleasant …

After Johannesburg, Cape Town was a treasure. Wonderful food, and the freedom to walk everywhere. My hotel in Johanesburg had advised me not to walk anywhere. In contrast, the wonderful staff at Parker Cottage in Cape Town had a map for us and encouraged us to walk around the area. I could easily get sidetracked here speaking about the wonderful staff and delicious breakfasts at Parker, but that would make the post too long! Oh, what fabulous seafood! And high tea at the Mount Nelson… I would visit again just for the food! It may not have been the best idea to go to high tea after a trip to Robben Island however, since I do get motion sickness but I managed to overcome the nausea to enjoy a fabulous high tea with great savory bites and unlimited sweets, teas and coffees.

Robbin Island had mixed reviews on Tripadvisor but I thought that the visit to the prison and tour by the former inmate was poignant and interesting. The bus tour around the island was less interesting to me; the only point of interest to me was the stone quarry where Mandela had toiled for many years.

From Cape Town, we flew to Maun and then on to Kwara Lodge which is a private concession. I saw my favorite sight of the whole trip here: a den of wild dogs with 15 puppies, and over 7 adults in the pack. That was incredible! We also saw some mating lions, a cheetah, hippos, elephants, giraffes, numerous birds, zebra, warthogs, etc. Chobe Elephant Camp was our next stop, which we used as a base to visit Chobe National Park where we saw the most spectacular sight of a leopard in the trip with its (impala) kill, a pride of lionesses eating a baby elephant, and a fish eagle snatching a Egyptian goose from the water. Both places were all inclusive. They struggled to support my friend with her primal diet for snacks and first breakfast, but the selection of food was good and plentiful. From Chobe Elephant Camp, we travelled a short distance to Ichingo River Lodge in Namibia. This was my least favorite place. There was nothing more to see from a safari perspective as we had been on a river safari from Chobe Elephant Camp. We did go for a pleasant hike and saw a huge baobab tree. However, the feel of the lodge was much more old colonial/imperialist than the others. I did catch a tiger fish, on my first (and only?) fishing expedition, which is small consolation.

The final stop was Zimbabwe, which we travelled to by land from Botswana. Victoria Falls Park is wonderful; the walk across the Victoria Bridge to Zambia to see the bungee jumpers and zip liners was worth it. I wasn’t interested in either of those adventures; the helicopter ride that I did instead provided great panoramic views of the falls. I highly recommend it. I found people to be friendly in Zimbabwe. Many people were plying their wares but were not nearly as pushy as in India. In fact, their seemed quite adept at consoling themselves for a missed sale by saying “maybe later”. The Stanley Terrace at the Victoria Falls Hotel has great views of the falls but we were disapointed in the high tea; the bread was stale and the tea selection was sparse. Jungle Junction restaurant had great food, and decent entertainment. I much preferred that over the overpriced, touristy show at the Boma, which was expensive and disappointing.

It felt good to visit Africa again. Living in Sudan was a long time ago but I have some good memories. This trip was well organized (thanks Mark at Gondwana Tours & Safaris) with prompt transfers and smooth travels. A trip to remember!