Marathon Day

The rain cleared up, so we packed a lot into the day on Monday. Went through the Accademie Galleries and our fill of Venetian Art in what used to a monastery, I think. Each gallery had written guides that were mostly in the right place, but were marginally useful. The descriptions tended to be focused on where the piece had come from, and what room in the Accademie it had been located in previously, and then a whole lot of "Venetian Art is the Best and Most Important in the World" verbiage...and a little light on information about the artist or the scene being depicted.

Had lunch along the Grand Canal (here is proof that we lied to Ryne about there being no pepperoni pizza in Italy:


And I got my gondola ride! It was actually very very good - totally touristy, but definitely worth doing. We did the "standard" which is a bit of the Grand Canal and then lots of the smaller ones.

The line was short today at San Marco, so despite protests from the younger Weisenbergers, we went there next. The complaints dried up once we were in the basilica. While the claim that Venetian Art is the most important in the world is debatable, there's no doubt that they have the whole "Glory to God" thing down. The mosaic work is stupendous. Wow. Sorry, no photos - not allowed. We went out on the terrace, more great views of the city and the square, and the child who worries me:

We headed over to the Doge's Palace and that was also amazing.

It was a very long day, and way too much time on our feet. Took a short break back at the hotel and headed out to a very good dinner at Pizzaria Casin dei Nobili. I had St. Peter's Fish,  which is apparently tilapia or similar fish in a garlic and parsley sauce. The guys had pizza, and swore it was the last time they would order it...much to the amusement of the couple next to us who were from San Diego and had been traveling since March 12. They were also tired of pizza. It's much more prevalent than you think, and not just at the tourist places. Anyway, this couple gave us some good tips for Rome, including downloading podcasts for the sites, which they felt were generally better than the audioguides - and our experience with audioguides and written information has not been the greatest so far, so we'll try it.

Random Morning Thoughts in Venice

Cold and rainy today, so we have the Guggenheim and Accademie on the schedule, with a gondola ride in the afternoon if it clears up.

Ryne has discovered Nutella. We had a choice of apricot croissants this morning, or "empty" croissants, which is still making me laugh as I type that. Plus rolls, cheese, ham and salami. I can't imagine starting my day with salami, but this didn't seem to bother the guys at all.

It is amazingly quiet here with no vehicle traffic. At night, you here the occasional chugging of a boat on the canal outside the window. This is our view:

Venice Sunday

Woke to church bells this morning, very cool.

After we got through all the hotel-room-switching-thing, we finally ventured out and wandered (because that is what you do here) until we got to San Marco. Went up the campanile (bell tower), but skipped the basilica because the line was waaaay long and we were just fed up with the thought of standing for hours yet again. Although the line was much better organized and logical than any of the ones in Paris.

A few shots from our day -

One of many canals:

The San Marco bell tower (campanile):

View from the campanile:

Ryne in a Carnivale mask:

View from Rialto Bridge:

The Hotel Saga

We were booked for 3 nights at the Hotel alla Salute. As soon as we checked in, we were told that we would have to move the next day to a room in the hotel next door, Hotel Messner, because of a problem with our room. We were too tired to ask what type of problem, although I suspected it was an "overbooking" problem. Room was shabby, but spacious; bathroom was ancient, but workable.

We had already decided to make Easter an easy day and let everyone sleep in. At 10:30, the front desk called and told us we needed to be in the lobby with our bags in 30 minutes. Coincidentally, check out is at 11 am. Bob and I looked at the new room, and it was much smaller, with a private bath quite a bit down the hall. But it was nicer, looked out over the canal, so we were OK with the change. The problem was explained as a "piping problem" in the bathroom, although we had not been told not to use the tub or anything...and incredibly someone was coming on Easter Sunday to fix this problem! Sure.

The real problem we are having is that we paid 200 euro/night for the la Salute - but the room at the Messner rents at 150 euro. But no one seems to understand why we have a problem with this, and why we might want a credit. The Messner is a 3 star hotel after all! And we'll give you free breakfast! And you can come over and use our free wifi! None of which adds up to a 50 euro difference per night! So, we are still working on this. And I am enjoying a complementary glass of wine while I am typing this.

The Messner room:

Easy Jet

Ok, it's cheap. Definitely cheap. $100 USD each, one way, Paris to Venice. But oh my god. We arrived at DeGaulle plenty early, 3 hours ahead. But we couldn't get checked in, because Easy Jet does not allow you to check in earlier than 2 hours prior to departure. So we hung out for an hour, and got in line (another line!) to check in, and it was a looonnngg line...and the agents (swathed in these blue shawls, all female, really odd, considering it's British Air) would come down the line and collect whoever was on deck for the next flight ("Helsinki?" "Casablanca" - Bob and I considered changing our plans on that one!).   Then they assigned you a lane for checking in, and then you stand in another line to get into the gate area, and then ANOTHER line to get through gate security (where I got patted down for no apparent reason, and they discovered that Ryne had a pair of scissors in his backpack - which he had when we left the States and no one caught it), and we were sure we would miss our flight. Made it through and stood in ANOTHER line to get on a bus to get to the plane, no assigned seats.

But we made it to Venice just fine, and on time. Guess it's more efficient than it looks.

The Bakery (Saturday)

So, we still hadn't found the fat man in a beret that was on Ryne's Paris list  - and no way would we make it to the Louvre, which was on Vonn's list. So, Saturday we decided to try to find the "best bakery in Paris" - Laduree, on Champs Elysee. We found it, and it was amazing.

Yummy pastries. And "macarons" are fabulous - those are the round cookie cakes on the plate in the upper center. Black current, chocolate, vanilla and praline. Awesome. It's good they don't make these at home, trust me.

All served in the "bar," a completely art deco space, so incredible.


This is a "crepe complete" - complete with 5000 calories, I'd say.

Crepe, vanilla ice cream, warm chocolate sauce and enough whipped cream to cover your...uh, never mind. Lots of whipped cream. Thank God I paired it with an espresso.

Paris Catch Up - Friday

We went to Versailles today. Took the metro and the train, we have been very successful negotiating transportation in Paris. Cold, damp and windy again today, but we got to Versailles and...wait for it!...stood in a very very long, curving line again to get tickets. We have now spent at least half our excursion time in Paris standing in lines that snake all over the place. Obviously, the French need to take lessons from the British in the art of the queue. Anyway, we managed to get through the ticket line and into the palace before the rain started.

I have to say, Louis XIV really knew how to build and decorate a palace.

Too wet to get out to the gardens, but this photo was taken through one of the windows.

The famous Hall of Mirrors. This photo doesn't do it justice, it is truly amazing.

We also made it to Notre Dame, although we did not have time for a guided tour, which would have been best. The guys had to make do with Mom's rusty knowledge of history and Gothic architecture. And the towers closed just as we were getting in line, so we weren't able to get up close and personal with the gargoyles.


I will go back and post from the Paris days, but wanted to get on and test the wifi in our current hotel in Venice. I will have entire blog entry just for EasyJet (OMG), but we are here, took the bus from Marco Polo Airport then a water bus, which is just intrinsically hilarious...and we are at the Hotel alla Salute. Had dinner somewhere on the Grand Canal near the Accademia, best meal of the trip IMO (splitting a bottle of "house red" with my honey, which turned out to be a very good Italian Cabernet Sauvignon of all things), and now to bed. We have to move to the neighboring hotel tomorrow because of "problems with the room"which could be anything from the condition of the bathroom to an overbooking, they won't really say...

In Which We Don’t Eat Often Enough For A 13-Year-Old, And Other Tales

DeGaulle Airport…it was like going back to a simpler time, but with present-day travel volume. Slow. Ugly. Crowded. Interesting moving walkways that went uphill and looked like flattened escalators, some of them went through tubes…one set of slow elevators to take massive crowds of people to the trains. Side note: the F word is the same in French as it is in English!

We managed to get to the hotel without getting lost, left our luggage and went to find some breakfast. Ryne by this time was ready to faint, I think. He inhaled a chocolate croissant so fast I thought maybe the waitress hadn’t even brought it.

We wandered around the hotel neighborhood, which is just south of the Montmartre quarter and Pigalle and then headed off to the Arc D’Triomphe. Started walking down Champs Elysee and it started to rain, so we headed back to the hotel where our room was ready. It looked like this most of the afternoon:

Woke the guys up, with difficulty, at about 4. Bob had been to the store, so having skipped lunch, we snacked on oranges and chips, and Ryne opted (of course) for a cookie so he could continue to complain every 15 minutes that he was hungry. I dragged them up Montmarte, but the view was so worth it:

And we went through Basilica Sacre Couer – first European cathedral for the boys and as luck would have it, they were having a service with a choir of nuns doing a Gregorian chant-type of thing, wow. So awesome. Beautiful church, gorgeous mosaic work.

Apparently 6 pm is crepes and happy hour in Paris. None of the very cool cafés on Montmartre were serving dinner yet. I was all for the crepes and wine thing, but the guys were not to be convinced so we head back down to our neighborhood, Ryne complaining all the way. Found a café/bar that looked good, where Ryne finally got frankfurters and fries, and discovered that the food here was just not going to be his familiar comfort food. I don’t understand how you can taste the differences between hot dogs when they are covered in ketchup, but I guess Ryne is a connoisseur of the  junk food genre. There was some talk at dinner about a trip to a Parisian McDonald’s tomorrow.

Last Bit Of Jet Lag, We Hope

It’s 10:30 am. We’ve missed the hotel breakfast. Everyone was up in the night, which makes no sense, but that’s jet lag for you. I know I heard someone eating at about 3 am…

Today's plan was to go to the Eiffel Tower, since the rain was holding off. The guidebooks should read "allow 6 hours." And the French have a very casual attitude toward lines. We stood in line for about an hour before we were even sure we were in the right one. After about 3 hours, we finally made it to the ticket booth and the lift (we did consider the stairs, briefly - and we did take them down from the 2nd level and judging by the people coming UP, we made the right choice with the lift!).

The views were great (pics will be posted later), but that was the whole day.


We started out really well this morning, on track to leave by 10 or 10:30 am for the airport for our 2 pm flight to Philly. At 8:15 am, our travel agent friend called – US Air had called her to say that flights were delayed and they wanted us on an earlier flight. Yes, earlier. Like at 11:40 am.

We were mostly packed at that point, thank God. We scrambled out the door at 9, hit traffic on US 23 but made it to the airport in time to get the flight, which was delayed about 30 minutes anyway. Of course, we had plenty of time in Philadelphia, waiting for our 6:20 pm flight to Paris, which left more or less on time.

A Quick Note From Paris

We are here, but my laptop and the hotel wifi are having irreconcilable differences. I qm at the computer in the lobby, trying to get around French Windows and a European keyboard, so excuse my q's, etc. Stuff is in the wrong plqce, as if my typing wasn't bad enough anyway.

I will updqte and add pics later, but we got in fine, got to Arc d'Triomphe and Sacre Couer and Montmartre yesterday. Stood in line FAR too long for Eiffel Tower today it was the only thing we got done (seriously, got there at noon, done at 5), but the weather was great so it was worth it. Tomorrow we try to get Notre Dame and maybe Versailles if everyone can get out of bed early enough!


According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, it will be asparagus season in Italy when we are there. More specifically, white asparagus season. Bob and I are very excited about this. Apparently, restaurants all over Italy offer all-asparagus menus in April and May, right down to dessert - like cheesecake made with an asparagus compote. We love asparagus, but an all-asparagus menu and asparagus dessert is probably pushing the bounds of our devotion.

White asparagus is grown underground - under layers of light soil. Many of the farms are 25 miles outside Venice, and we would love to check it out but I suspect the level of teenage protest would be fairly high.

The article is here:

Random Rainy Sunday Thoughts

Should I wear sweatpants on the plane? I would wear pajama bottoms if I had any that were in wear-in-public condition. Now that I think of it, I'm not sure I have sweatpants that are in wear-outside-the-gym condition, but I'm also not sure I should care. And I keep thinking about our European Tour as kids - my parents took us all on a 6 week journey in 1976 - and I am positive our mother made us dress nice for the plane. I think we also had to dress nicely to go to the doctor too back then.

I checked and it predicts 50 degrees and light rain for Paris while we are there, and upper 50s/partly cloudy for Venice. Sunny and mid-60s for Rome over Easter at least, here's hoping it stays that way when we are there.

Ryne is considering taking his clarinet along and playing in St Mark's Square to earn money. I think this idea has merit as long as he plays the piece he is supposed to play for solo and ensemble the Saturday after we get back.

I have the name of the "best" Paris bakery - Patissiere Laduree. Check these out!


Digital Camera Woes (is it just me?)

I still have my Pentax 35 mm that I bought used in 1985. Completely manual, took awesome pics unless there was user error. As is usual in our household, I moved on to a digital point-and-shoot way after they first appeared on the market, and after much research, bought a Canon PowerShot A70, 3.2 MP. Photos were not nearly as sharp as my beloved Pentax, but that was easy to overlook - I could fit this camera in a purse or even a coat pocket, email the photos, print as many as I wanted, and delete the crappy ones. I used that Canon for years, even after I was told that inexpensive digital cameras should be viewed as high-end disposables with a 2-year life expectancy.

The Canon started having trouble saving and deleting images, but it had had a good life, so I bit the bullet and bought the highly-rated Nikon Coolpix S210, 8 MP. I wasn't impressed, but hey, it was a $120 camera and it fit in my pocket. That was December 2008. By fall 2009, the Nikon was plagued with random over-exposures and focus issues. I no longer had the receipt for the camera, so couldn't return it even if there was a one year warranty, which was doubtful. Another round of research and I bought a Panasonic Lumix ZR1 for about $250. Great camera. Takes HD video that is awesome. Then it crashed and burned after about a month, giving me error messages that required me to turn the camera off and back on after every picture. Exchanged it for the same version, and so far so good.

The boys have May birthdays, and thinking of the upcoming trip (and then Ryne has a Washington DC trip later in April), I figured maybe I should buy them each an inexpensive digital camera. Disposables were an option, but then we would have to lug them around, and how many would be enough? So, Bob and I went to Target, found some Polaroid brand cameras that were on sale for about $40-50. They had to at least be better than the disposables, right? Of course not.  Opened up the better of the two, iZone Series 5 MP (reg. $70) and knew were in trouble right away. Lightweight, cheap feel. No focusing. Funny colors. And Rocky wasn't scared of it (he hates to have his picture taken, but apparently only if you are using a real camera):

Needless to say, the cameras are going back to Target - the flash doesn't work on the one we opened anyway - and we are nudging the price point up a bit.

Time Travel

Ryne and I were talking about the flight to Paris and how long it would take, and I mentioned that we would need to add some hours because of the time change. I always have trouble with this, so I was wondering if it was, like, yesterday there...and Ryne perked up at the thought that we would be time traveling. Unfortunately, it's a just a 5 hour difference ahead, so it's 1:30 AM in Paris right now. But I think they move to "summer time" on Sunday, which adds an hour. Probably not enough to qualify as time travel, which is too bad.