Italy – 2012

I know, I know. This blog has been mostly neglected since our trip to Barcelona and Valencia for Las Fallas in 2011. I’ve been mostly on Facebook as it is a great place to consolidate. You can find me over there at facebook.com/baldheretic. I may not add you as a friend, but you are welcome to subscribe to my public updates which feature my photography and travel updates as well as the occasional funny cat picture. If I actually know you I’ll likely add you as a friend over there.

That being said, it’s time for another trip! Woo-hoo!

This time we’re back to Italy.

For those of you who have been paying attention for any length of time, you may recall that we were there in 2005 as part of our trip across Europe that included Amsterdam, Brugge, Paris, Venice, Florence and Rome.

That was our second major overseas trip and our first non-English speaking country to visit. It was also when I was just getting started in Photography so the pictures were somewhat primitive.

Three things that make this upcoming trip VERY exciting for me.

The first is the fact that we’re going to focus just on Venice, Italy and Rome. On the last trip we were pretty exhausted by the time we hit Florence and by the time we got to Rome I had lost most of my enthusiasm for the trip due to fatigue. This time around we’ll be in great shape and be able to really give Italy the full attention it deserves.

The second is that, in my humble opinion, my photography has gotten much better since that trip. I’ve picked up a few tricks and some skills since 2005 and I have always thought that, given the chance, I could do a MUCH better job than I did last time.

And the third is the food/wine component. Cynthia and I have, in the last few years, become amateur wine enthusiasts. We had some good wine in Spain and are really looking forward to trying various local wines while in Italy.

Once we are in Italy I will be updating here pretty much daily while were are on this trip, so feel free to stop by and check out select photos and anecdotes from our travels.

Stresscon 3

We’re in final preparations for the trip to Italy and I am at StressCon 3. Flight and hotels have been booked, rail passes secured, initial packing done as well as sorting out exactly which photo gear I will be taking on this trip.

To complicate things, I have a business trip to Orlando during the days leading up to the flight to Italy. That means I go to Orlando for work and fly back to Houston and turn around the next day to fly to Italy. It’s not all that tight of a schedule, but I have had to pack two separate suitcases so my Italy gear will be mostly ready when I get back from Orlando. This throws my planning and preparation out of kilter because I don’t have the week leading up to the big trip to verify everything on my checklist. I have to do it now and maybe a little the night before I leave.

And in keeping with the tradition of The Maiming of the Nose and Ojo Rojo, Cynthia has had a minor medical issue come up. One of her teeth has disintegrated. Old fillings just don’t hold up, I guess.

She has a temporary crown so we are good to go. Poor Cynthia. She’s being a real trooper, though.

Arrival Venice

We caught our flight from Houston to Frankfort late in the afternoon on Thursday and then caught our connecting flight to Venice the following Friday without much incident. Our short hop to Venice had no gate assigned when we arrived so there was a little frustration there, but not a big deal.

After arriving in Venice and collecting our luggage we found our way to the water taxi stand and caught a ride to San Marco which was a short walking distance from our hotel.

We were happy to pay the fee for the taxi rather than catch the much less expensive water bus. Those things get very crowded and, as a I recall from our previous visit, are not very pleasant if you’re jet-lagged and shlepping a bunch of luggage. Plus the view coming in to Venice was spectacular.


By the time we checked in to the hotel we had been awake for going on 30 hours with only about 40 minutes of sleep on the plane.

Even though we had been awake for an insane amount of time we decided to push through. it was a little after 3:00 pm Venice time when we checked in to the hotel, but the weather was fantastic so we unloaded our gear and set out to explore.

Of course Cynthia immediately started hitting on the Italian men. Gondoliers are everywhere and will abscond with with your woman if you are not paying close attention

Venice is as beautiful as a I remember it from 2005. Simply fantastic. But very crowded. Especially around San Marco. But when the sun starts to set it dies down quite a bit. Plus, if you walk out in to the surrounding areas you can find some less populated scenes.

And you simply can’t turn a corner without seeing something that needs to be photographed.


We explored and ended the day with a nice dinner and then went for some much needed sleep.

Internet is spotty here at the hotel so updates are a little slow. Please bear with us.

Venice – The Crowds

To say Venice is crowded would be an understatement. Honestly, I don’t recall it being so jammed packed with tourists like this back in 2005 when we visited the first time. St. Mark’s Square is the worst with lines of tourist queuing up to gain entry to the cathedral and to the Doge’s Palace. Then comes Rialto Bridge lined up with booths selling the worst touristy crap you can imagine and throngs of eager buyers justifying their presence. After that it is the lines of shoppers stopping to look in every window to admire things from tennis shoes to designer handbags. Ugh!

Plus, it was hotter than we expected. The weather sites said 70′s during the day and 50′s at night. When the sun was out it felt much hotter. The evenings were cool, though. And far less crowded.

While we were there, there were at least two gigantic cruise ships that disgorged their load of tourists each morning and collected them each evening.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s an awesome city and we are glad to have visited. Once you got away from the main sites it was very pleasant and picturesque.

The photos below don’t quite capture the magnitude of the crowds, but they give you an idea.

Day Trip – Painted Houses Of Burano

We decided we needed to get out of the crush of humanity that is Venice during the day so we took a boat over to see the painted houses of Burano.

We sorted out how to get tickets and board the boat and even get off the boat to catch the second boat that would take us to the island. It all went very smoothly and even though Cynthia is not a fan of boats, even she enjoyed the trip over as the boat was pretty big and not overly crowded.

The island is really something to see. The houses are each painted a different, bright color and when the sun shines on them they simply glow. There’s a few canals and some bridges which makes it a bit like a miniature version of Venice.

All in all, very cool. We hung out for most of the day wandering the streets. It’s very residential so you would see kids playing or women doing their ironing in an open doorway or cleaning old shoes out of a window. We laughed a bit as we speculated what it must be like for them to look out their window and see picture taking camera gawkers plodding around snapping photos of everything. We laughed as we tried to imagine the same thing back home.

After we were done we caught the boat back and the ride was fine till we found ourselves dropped on the far end of Venice. We had to catch the Vaporetto back to St. Mark’s Square. This ended up being a grueling adventure as probably twice as many passengers crowded on to the boat than it was designed to carry. At the end of the ride Cynthia mustered a joke about how pleasant it was for a claustrophobic woman who hates being on the water to be in this situation.

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More photos can be found in my Flickr set Painted Houses Of Burano, Italy

Venice – Full Circle

I have always treasured this photograph of my grandfather. It shows him standing in front of St. Mark’s Square in 1919 at the end of WWI. When we went to Venice in 2005 I tried to take have my own picture taken in the same spot he was standing. I got close, but there is now a railing around the pole so you can’t quite get there.

It was was the early days of my photography. I tried to line it up and got a pretty good shot of me standing in roughly the same spot. But it didn’t come out so well. Over the years I thought it would be good to go back with the photo in hand and take another picture of me in the same basic spot and holding a copy of the original photo.

This trip to Venice afforded me that opportunity so I printed out a copy to bring with me and below is the result.

Time Lapse Venice

Venice – The Good And The Bad

Venice was a mixed bag.

The downsides:

  • It was crowded with tourists. There were two gigantic cruise ships in port that disgorged their loads each morning.
  • It was VERY expensive. We knew this going in, but it still sucked paying so much for every little thing.
  • It was was hotter than expected. The weather reports put the temps at 75 degrees, give or take. It felt more like it was in the upper 80′s or lower 90′s during the full on heat of the day and it was humid.
  • The upsides:

  • Venice is magnificently beautiful and provided for some great photo opportunities.
  • We had some fantastic food
  • We had some fantastic wine
  • I think the highlight of Venice was walking around and exploring and remembering our first visit. As we were doing this we came across the gondola repair shop we spotted on our visit 8 years ago. The Squero di San Trovaso is the official name. It’s a small square used as a boatyard to build and repair gondolas.

    When we found this spot I knew we must be near the restaurant that we found on our previous visit. Neither of us could remember the name, but we we hoped against hope we might find it again and have a meal there while we were in Venice because it was so good. We knew it was down an ally and off the beaten path so we hunted around a bit to see if we could find it. And we did!

    It’s called Ristorante San Trovaso and it was every bit as good as we remembered it to be. It was our best meal in Venice. Not that any of the other meals weren’t great, but this one was special.

    Sadly, though, I think we’re done with Venice. We enjoyed our visit for the most part but there is no compelling reason for us to return. It’s a big world out there and there’s a lot to see. I am glad to have seen Venice before it sinks in to the sea or is converted into a Euro Disney park or whatever it is that has to happen to save it from it’s ultimate demise due to the ravages of time, tourist and the tides.

    Next stop, Florence!

    From Venice To Florence

    On Tuesday, May 1 we wrapped up a successful visit to Venice. We woke up, packed our things and checked out of our hotel and caught a water taxi to Venezia Santa Lucia railway station. We were fairly certain we could book a train to Florence without much trouble. We had our rail passes, but no reservations. We secured tickets and were on our way in less than an hour.

    It was raining in Venice as we left and, as it turns out, raining in Florence when we arrived. It wasn’t a constant rain, more of an on and off kind of rain.

    When we pulled in to the station in Florence it was in “off” mode so we decided to walk to our hotel which was only a 10 minute hike from the station.

    Situated a bock from the Duomo, it was easy to find.

    When we got to the hotel Cynthia was a a bit discouraged. I booked the hotel based on recommendations from Trip Advisor where everyone was saying how much they enjoyed their stay and how great the owners are and how conveniently located the hotel was to all the major attractions.

    When we got to the hotel to check in Cynthia was not happy. The hotel is on the 4th floor of the building and since she hates european elevators she has to walk up the stairs to get to the room.

    The hotel itself is nothing special. Very small and basic, but clean.

    Cynthia was a bit put off by the fact that our room had 4 single beds in it. Granted, this kind of makes the room look a bit like a dormitory, but it’s not a shared space. We have the room all to ourselves. But this impression combined with the basic nature of the hotel combined with the rain and the fatigue of travel put Cynthia into a bit of a funk.

    Personally, I like the room. It’s clean, the staff is personable and it’s a place to lay our heads when we’re not out and about seeing the sites.

    I did my best to try and lift Cynthia’s spirits, but it was a struggle. We put on our rain coats and set off to do some exploring.

    At this point Cynthia was getting pretty hungry and we stopped at a small cafe to see about getting something to eat for lunch. This was a huge mistake. The place was not very good. And when I say not very good, it sucked. The food was awful and the service was marginal at best.

    As you can imagine, Cynthia was beginning to crater under the weight of so much disappointment.

    We walked down to scout out the Uffizi and have a look at the Ponte Vecchio. The rain finally cleared off, but it was still overcast and damp. Florence is a dark, gritty city made up of stone buildings and stone streets. In these conditions it can be very gloomy.

    Photographically, it was a bit of a bust. The gloom was not very conducive to much shooting. But the sun made a last ditch effort to come out toward the end of the day and this, combined with the rain puddles afforded me a unique photo opportunity

    We wrapped up the day with a nice dinner and a bottle of wine at a restaurant near the hotel. This went a long way toward lifting Cynthia’s spirits. We got back to the room and we both slept some of the best sleep we have had the whole trip.

    Florence – Day 2

    Today the sun rose on Florence and it was beautiful. I have to say, sun is a friend to this city. It changes the entire dynamic of the place for the better.

    We got up early and had a croissant and a cappuccino and set off to catch the sun lighting up the Ponte Vecchio from a nearby bridge

    From there we made our way to the train station to make reservations for Rome in a few days an from there by bus (the number 12) we headed up to Michelangelo Square (Piazzale Michelangelo) which boasts one of the best views of Florence you can imagine. And it was true! Simply fantastic!

    I am so glad I brought the Minolta 70-200mm with me on this trip. It’s a bit heavy to lug around, but oh so worth it for photo opportunities like this one.

    After we took in the panorama of Florence from Michelangelo Square we wandered over to San Miniato al Monte which was a short walk away.

    San Miniato al Monte was founded in 1018 which in and of itself is rather remarkable, but the church itself is not what you are here to see. The sight to see at San Miniato al Monte is the cemetery. Quite possibly one of the most surreal cemeteries I have ever seen.

    After wandering around the cemetery we caught the bus (the number 13) back to the train station and walked back to our hotel to recombobulate.

    While at the hotel I went online to make some reservations to go see Michelangelo’s David at the Accademia Gallery. We knew it was a long shot, but we had to try. After making the reservations online we were told we would know if we were successful within 24 hours.

    After resting a bit more we headed back out to get the lay of the land and do a little more exploring. In our travels we came across Festival del Gelato. It was very festive and bright with a fantastic selection of frozen deliciousness.

    Cynthia had strawberry and I had chocolate. It was delightful and Cynthia’s spirits continued to improve.

    After exploring a bit more we went off in search of dinner and found La Pasticceria Robiglio. The food was great, as was the atmosphere. And we had what may have been the best Sangiovese I have ever tasted.

    At this point we were pretty tired so we headed back to the hotel to get some sleep.

    All in all, a very successful day.

    Florence – Day 3

    We received our confirmation for our reservations to go see Michelangelo’s David at the Accademia Gallery. Our appointment was at 10:15 am so we got up and had some breakfast and headed over to see Michelangelo’s most famous sculpture.

    No camers were allowed so we just walked the gallery and took it all in. Besides the David there are many other works of art in the gallery and it was a pleasant visit.

    Bolstered by yesterday’s success and the continuing good weather we decided to spend the afternoon in Pisa.

    We walked to the train station and bought tickets and within a few minutes we were on our way.

    It’s only about an hour’s train ride from Florence and when you get to Pisa it’s only a 15 minute walk to the tower.

    It was a gorgeous day and the tower looked great having recently been restored and all the scaffolding removed.

    Aside from the tower and the other two buildings there’s really not much to see in Pisa. We took some photos, had some lunch, enjoyed the weather and made our way back to Florence.

    After going back to the hotel and resting a bit we went out to dinner and had a delicious meal and a bottle of wine.

    Florence is turning out to be the best part of the trip so far.

    Florence – Wrapping It Up

    Florence just gets better and better. On our second to last day we headed out for Boboli Gardens. The weather was again very good, if a little overcast. But we didn’t mind.

    The sprawling gardens afforded a few good photos but mostly it was just nice to be out and walking around in such a magnificent garden.

    Cynthia And Tree - Boboli Gardens

    This took up the bulk of our morning and after we had lunch we went back to the hotel room where I caught up on some rest and did a little photo editing while Cynthia made an excursion to the botanical gardens which didn’t really hold much interest for me.

    We ended the day as we typically do while we’re in Italy…having dinner with a bottle of Italian red wine.

    For our final day we took it pretty easy. We’re both rather tired at this point and we know we have all of Rome laying in wait.

    We wandered the city and just took in the sites.

    One thing you will notice in Italy are the gypsies and the beggars. We avoided them fairly successfully, but this one hit below the belt. He was definitley raking in the euros.

    For our last evening we strolled down to Arno River and watched the sun set on the Ponte Vecchio. As the sun was going down I looked behind me and noticed that a rainbow was falling directly on Basilica di San Miniato al Monte, the church that was founded in 1018 that we visited the other day.

    Rainbow On San Miniato al Monte

    A fitting end to a wonderful visit to Florence.

    We had dinner and called it an early evening so we could pack and prepare for our journey to Rome the next day.

    Arrival – Rome

    We caught the morning train from Florence to Rome without any trouble. It was threatening rain, but held off as we walked to the station dragging our luggage.

    The Train Is Here!

    When we arrived in Rome it was raining. We caught a cab to our hotel and soon we were checked in and relaxing in one of the nicest hotels I have ever stayed in. The luxury of the hotel did a lot to bolster Cynthia’s spirits. Bell hops, complimentary bath robes, a welcome to Rome bottle of Chianti, free minibar, free snacks. She was in hotel heaven.

    The rain continued the rest of the day. We did try to venture out, but it was not very pleasant. We bought a couple of umbrellas from a street vender which helped some.

    We got a recommendation for lunch from the hotel, but when we got there the restaurant was closed. We walked for a bit and found another place that was quite good. It was in the basement of the building and smelled of garlic and other fresh Italian ingredients.

    We ordered a bottle of the house wine to go with our lunch which was brought to us in an earthenware jug. The wine was delicious, but very potent. By the time we finished our meal and had coffee and desert I was a little loopy.

    We walked (staggered) back to the hotel and I collapsed into a long nap or a short coma. Three hours in total.

    When Cynthia woke me it was about 7:00 pm and still raining. We decided to go for a walk but were quickly discouraged by the dark and damp and headed back to the hotel after stopping at a grocery store where we picked up some supplies and had some sandwiches in the room.

    We stayed up for awhile but fatigue had set in so we decided to call it a night.

    The weather for the next day called for AM rain and sun in the evening.

    Rome – Day 2

    Our second day in Rome began with rain. But the weather reports indicated it would clear by the middle of the day so we were hopeful we’d get some sightseeing in.

    Our hotel includes a free American style breakfast buffet so we were able to tank up on scrambled eggs, bacon, sausages and abundant coffee and other breakfast treats. This is a huge plus for us as we do a lot of walking on our trips and a good breakfast really helps.

    We had our breakfast and headed off to see some sites. The rain was on and off. Mostly off, but cloudy and threatening.

    We walked to Trajan’s Column, The Colosseum. The Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps.

    Later in the day the sun came out in ernest and we repeated a few sites to see them again in better light.

    All in all, a very good day which ended in good food and wine.