Monday, September 26, 2011

More Venice, Gondolas, and Beach at Lido

Raelene here again. We got up early today, had breakfast at our hotel, checked out and stowed our packs for the day at the hotel front desk. The plan today involves catching a night train to Vienna so we had only one night in Venice.

Rialto Bridge

We walked to Rialto bridge and went shopping in the outdoor markets. We walked by an outdoor cafe that had some delicious smelling and looking lasagna. It was an expensive spot because it was right on the Grand Canal that had a cover charge as well but the lasagna and water was delicious. We savoured it.
After wandering and contemplating, we decided to splurge and take a gondola ride. It also was expensive but an experience I will always remember with no regrets. It was quite peaceful compared to the starting and stopping of the water bus. We asked our gondolier how many canals were in Venice, which if I recall correctly he said 550 canals... and 520 bridges. It was impressive the way the gondolier navigated the long boat into narrow canal passageways without rubbing anything but he said he's been doing this for 33 years so he has had some practice. Oh, and a gondola runs around $40,000 euros so that's another good reason not to bump into anything.



When I was looking at glass objects in a little shop, the friendly shop owner told us about it being a perfect day to go to the nearby Lido island with a large beach facing the Adriatic. Our water bus tickets that we already had would get us there in 45 minutes so we hopped on and went to check it out. We walked across the narrow island, took off our shoes to walk in the sand and water, snapping a couple photos as the sun was getting lower in the sky.

Beach at Lido



It would have been great to have had a beach day here, the sand and weather was great, but we had a prepaid reservation on a train to catch so headed back towards the water bus dock. On the way, we grabbed some pizza and wine at the beach town street side restaurant. Back at our Ca d'Oro area, we had some gelati and sat for a few moments at our hotel terrace that had been right outside our hotel room door before grabbing our packs to head overnight on a train to Vienna.


Sunday, September 25, 2011


Raelene here...We arrived in Venice at noon. After figuring out how the water bus transit works, asking the information people what stop we would need, and getting a pass for the next 36 hours, we made our way to our hotel. The water bus motored us to our Ca d'Oro stop/dock. I like being on the water and was immediately enchanted by the place.
The streets or passageways between buildings are narrow and a little labyrinth-like if they are not straight through to a canal. It was an adventure finding the entrance to our hotel. Later, as we were exploring the neighbourhood, we saw the same street name as the one for our hotel on a parallel street a few streets down! There is not much room for signs in these walking streets that can sometimes be more narrow than hallways in some people's houses I've been in. We found our hotel and checked in to the cute little hotel room, dropped our bags and headed out to explore.


First stop was San Marco, St. Mark's Square. We wandered through this area, stopping for gelati and going over a few canal bridges and by the water ambulance boats, and headed across to the other side of the island.

San Marco

We hopped another water bus to Murano, an island famous for glass work. Unfortunately, at this time late on a Sunday afternoon, we didn't spot any demonstrations of the craftspeople working with glass but were able to admire the glass sculptures and objects in the shop windows.

Murano sculpture across the bridge

We wandered down some side streets seeing pomegranate trees and finding a dead end or two, then tracing our steps back, we hopped another water bus and rode it around the island at sunset until we reached San Marco again.


They had different classic musical playing groups taking turns at the different outdoor cafes there. We had been warned to not order a cappuccino in the square here since it apparently will lighten a person's wallet by 18€. We headed by water bus back to our hotel to look for more affordable dining and found a nice little place with an outdoor patio where Doug had some salmon and I had spaghetti. We were ready to call it a day.

Link to brief video clip of groups playing

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Roma Part 3: Last chance to see the greatest hits

Today we went shopping in the markets at Campo de Fiori near Piazza Navona. We checked out the Dorothy Circus Gallery which sold artwork by the who's who of Juxtapose Magazine. They had everyone from Ron English to Gary Baseman and sold prints, books and even dunnies from some of our favourite artists. However everything was priced accordingly so we left with only a gold foil printed business card.


We walked over the Sisto Bridge to Trastevere where we found our favourite place to eat in Rome. It was a little family run trattoria on a tiny side street. Rae had a gnocchi and I had a plate of some delicious cod.


Fed and rested, we headed to the Colosseum where it was European heritage days so admission was free. The line was very long but they were announcing that if you paid 5€ for the audio tour you could skip the line. Since this was less than regular admission and very few people were taking advantage of the offer, Rae and I skipped the line and got the audio tour. This way we would spend less time in lines and fit in more sights.



We toured the Colosseum where Rae fought a panther to the death and then went on to walk through the never ending Roman Forum. We saw Nero's house, Augustus' house and a bunch of other people's houses in this ancient ruin.

Roman forum

We then hopped another bus and checked out the Trevi Fountain at night where we shared a gelati.


After we looked at the Spanish Steps, we headed back to our neighbourhood where the prices were more reasonable. We quickly learned that in Europe, the price of your meal is in direct relation to the quality of your view or proximity to a monument.

Tomorrow we put our wallets to the test in Venezia.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Roma Part 2: Pantheon to the Vatican

Today we got up late to recover from the marathon of sight seeing we had yesterday. We made our reservations for our next two destinations and picked up another metro pass. We started this time at the Pantheon taking a look inside.




We continued to Piazza Navona where we had a drink and checked out the market. This day they had some kind of procession of fire fighters and emergency workers marching through the piazza.


Next, we hopped a bus to the Vatican where we had a gelati.


Here they had no beer stands, I miss Oktoberfest. The Vatican was closing soon and Rae didn't want to mess with the guards in the striped pajamas, so we went back to the hotel and went for supper.


At supper we had mussels, drank wine and at the end, the waiter gave Rae a rose so I punched him in the face.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Rome in a Day

Today we got a metro pass for the day and started out at the colosseum. Then we hit every tourist spot in Rome by foot: the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, the Roman forum from across the Circo Massimo. By the end of the day it felt as though we had walked through the entire Roman Empire.


Trevi Fountain

Spanish Steps

Near Circo Massimo

We ended the evening at a nearby restaurant. I had a pizza, Rae had the lasagna and we shared a great tiramisu that had to be prepared using a pound of butter.

Tomorrow we do it all over again.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Train to Rome

This day was spent on a train, the longest thus far, heading from Munich to Rome. The Alps were beautiful and we were treated to the rare September snow caps.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Neuschwanstein Castle

Wanting to see the Alps up close, we took a day trip to Neuschwanstein Castle in the Bavarian Alps. I guess technically it was a palace and not a castle because it didn't have much fortification. This place is said to be the inspiration for Walt Disney's Snow White Castle in Disneyland.
We took the train to Füssen and a bus to the castle area.
The Marienbrück (bridge) over the waterfall gorge was a great vantage point to photograph the castle. The boards on it were springy and there were loads of people wanting to take photos. I got off of there as soon as I got the shots I wanted.


We went to another vantage point where you could see five lakes below the castle.


Then to the castle tour. This was a prime example of German efficiency. You have only three minutes to go through the gate when your ticket group's number is called. Otherwise, your ticket expires. The visit to each room is timed down to the second. As you enter one room, the group ahead of you is exiting. No photos inside are allowed...except directed outside through the windows. Each room was themed on one of Richard Wagener's operas, except the throne room which has a Christian theme. Ludwig died before the throne was built so there was none but the grand flushable toilet with it's leather seat was fit for a king.
After the quick tour of the castle and two gift shops on the way out, we returned to our bus by way of the waterfalls in the gorge (beautiful).


Once we arrived back in Munich, we returned to Oktoberfest. On the advice of our tour guide, we checked out the traditional fairground and beer tent. This one felt more family oriented and was likely much as Oktoberfest was like in earlier times.


Doug shot a cross bow dart gun in a little shooting range and rode a goofy bike (which didn't have the axles in the middle of the wheels) in the Velodrome. Check out the video of it at

Tomorrow, Roma!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Oktoberfest Day 1

This morning another guest in our hotel right next to the fairgrounds of Oktoberfest greeted us as we sat down for breakfast.
"Are you guys here for Oktoberfest?" he asked in a Rhode Island accent. We replied with "Yes, It's our first one" to which he responded "I'm not looking for any money for anything, but I got two reservations for the Hofbräu tent on Sunday and I can't use them. You want em?" "Yes!" I said before could finish his sentence. "What you got there is the golden egg." he said as he handed me the printed copies of the reservation.
After breakfast we head out to see the parade and see if we could get into a tent.


For another link to this same short parade video clip see

Friday, September 16, 2011

Fast train to Munich

Before catching our train to Munich, we walked around Mainz to take pictures.


If you ever plan to take the train to Munich the day before Oktoberfest, be sure to make a reservation on the train ahead of time. We stood or sat in the aisle on the floor for a 4 hour leg of the trip. I'm only glad that the train went as fast as 300 kilometers per hour or it would have been even longer.

ICE train to Munich

Upon finding our accommodations, we boarded the three person elevator and checked into our home for the next few days. Up next, Oktoberfest!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Press Time in Mainz


On this day we made our way to the Gutenberg Museum to reach the pinnacle of our graphic design nerd-iness, surpassing our trip to the Bauhaus-Archiv museum in Berlin (we'd have it no other way). As in the Bauhaus museum, we were not allowed to take photos of the exhibits, but this might have saved us from buying another expensive camera memory card. Many of the exhibits were only in German as was the demo of the printing process performed on a replica of the original Gutenberg press. Even without translation, we were impressed with their collection of illuminated scripts, pages designed by Aldus Manutius, and their collection of Gutenberg Bibles secured and guarded in a bank vault.


Over a pizza lunch, we planned out some more of our trip, deciding to include Rome on recommendation of our Italian-Canadian friend Leandra.
On another recommendation from our German language teacher, who had spent time in Mainz, we dressed up and went to one of her favourite wine houses for supper. The food was delicious but we only managed to eat half as the portions were huge.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

First Impressions of Mainz


We arrived a little early in Mainz so we dropped off our packs at the hotel until we could check in. In the meantime, we decided to look into river boat cruises on the Rhine. We found the small Eis (ice cream) stand that served as the river boat ticket office and booked a three hour tour... a three hour tour (a cheesy Gilligan's Island reference).
Before the boat trip started, we stepped into a Bavarian kneipe (pub) that was wall-to-wall filled with Japanese business men and women, creating an odd experience as I drank my Paulaner.
The boat ride along the Rhine gave a unique perspective of Mainz, with country and western elevator music as a soundtrack.
Later in the evening, we wandered the narrow, winding streets of Mainz's Altstadt (old city). We came across a statue of Johannes Gutenberg, Mainz's most famous resident and innovator of movable type. You could sense the city's pride in their local hero in the statue's generously endowed package which was quite noticeable from street level. This piqued our interest into seeing the Gutenberg Museum the next morning.

Gutenberg Statue

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Day in Köln

Today, we had breakfast at our hotel then went to the Wallraf-Richartz art museum for a few hours. We stopped for a delicious oversized lunch at a pub patio in the Heumarkt square not far from the museum.
After looking at the Rathaus (that's where the politicians work, by the way), we stopped in at our hotel then went back to the cathedral to sketch. I tried to sketch the Köln Dom but only had 16 more hours left in Köln so I decided to be realistic and snapped photos instead.
We were exhausted so picked up a couple pretzels and drinks and had a brief nap.
In the evening we went back to the cathedral to take some night time photos.


Tomorrow morning we're off to Mainz.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Travel to Köln

We traveled to Köln (Cologne). After checking in, we walked along the Rhine river bank and around the outside of the Köln Dom (Cologne Cathedral) before stopping for supper on a patio near the cathedral square. There was a group of musicians playing classical music.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

"You Are Leaving the American Sector"


Today we went to the Fernsehturm (tv tower) and had some cake and coffee in the revolving restaurant while snapping photos between bites. This was a great view of the places we had wandered around over the past couple of days.


We then made our way over to the Checkpoint Charlie museum. It was very interesting to see the many methods people used to try get over or through the wall. There is one example of a person getting across between two surfboards, with hollowed out parts. Other examples with suitcases, inside a big box of machinery, in a stereo amp, using hot air balloons, etc. Necessity is the mother of invention.


We stopped for a pretzel and lemonade then wandered over to a large plaza nearby called Gendarmenmarkt. There were buskers playing violins at the statue in the centre. We headed over to Potsdamer Platz to look at some of the buildings there, took the transit system over to the area by the zoo (but didn't go to the zoo because it was about to close). We took a double decker city bus back to Alexanderplatz and had supper. Doug had blackened chicken from a cow. (when Doug pointed out to the waiter that he'd actually ordered blackened chicken, he pointed to the steak on the plate and said "yeah, blackened chicken").
After hurrying back to the hostel before the impending rain storm, we settled in for our last night in Berlin. Tomorrow, Köln.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

"Holiday in the Sun", the Berlin wall with Kelly and Klaus

Today was special because Klaus surprised Kelly by coming to Berlin for one more visit before we leave the region. We had lunch together on a patio then went to the DDR museum. Klaus grew up on the East Germany side so it was great to hear his personal stories and memories about the pieces in this museum.


We then headed out of the city to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. It was sobering to walk around a place of so much suffering. There were so many stories on display. We left at sunset, a little worried that we may get locked inside since it closed at 6pm. I came away feeling sad that such suffering occurred but also impressed with the strength of the human spirit for the survivors. It's good this place is remembered. I am so appreciative of what a good life I have.


We followed this up by heading to the East Side Gallery. We had supper at a Bavarian themed restaurant near there. The East Side Gallery is a kilometer or so of the Berlin Wall that has graffiti art painted on it. Beautiful stuff. At an opening in the wall was a beach bar with sand and bonfires that we stopped for some cola before continuing to see the last stretch of it.