Monday, August 29, 2011

Tales from the TRIP - Day 8!

"Ahhhh...Venice!" to quote Harrison Ford. Well, not exactly.

Day 8 started once again with an early morning wake up call and back on the bus we went. Once again it was about a four hour drive. I always thought I might enjoy being a tour guide, but I must say, not even I have the wind to talk for four hours straight, day after day! Simone told us about the history of Italy, about the Medici family, and the historic Romeo and Juliet, about how Venice was was all very interesting, but at some point your brain simply cannot hold one more tidbit of information! Not to mention, most of us would have preferred snoozing a little given our early morning departure.

The bus trip was also occupied with her giving a description of all of the optional excursions that were available, and passing out a sign-up sheet for us to indicate which ones we wanted to participate in. We checked at least one excursion in each city, including the one we had already participated on in Rome. We were to turn in our selections at dinner that evening.

Arrival in Venice consisted of parking the bus and walking a couple of blocks to the pier to catch a 'water-bus' to the area we were going to visit, which included Piazza San Marco (weren't we just there yesterday? Different Piazza San Marco). The ride took about thirty minutes and the views were quite amazing with buildings rising right out of the sea.

It was about five blocks from the pier where we landed back to Piazza San Marco, and then another four blocks back toward the pier to the glass factory - where once again, we had the Venetian Glass/timeshare sales pitch. It was interesting to learn how they make glass - but the best part was the AC and free and clean restrooms! I also have to note that in Venice, when you are thinking of blocks, there aren't streets, there are canals, so at every "intersection" there is a bridge, but the walkway is at such a level that you have to walk up a flight of steps and down a flight of steps at each bridge. Who needs stairmaster?

After our lesson in glassmaking and perusing their shop - which really did have some incredibly beautiful glasswork, especially chandeliers - we enjoyed lunch at one of the outdoor cafes and shopped for a bit before we had to meet up with our group for our optional "gondola serenade" at Piazza San Marco. We made it back to the Piazza about 45 minutes before the meeting time and managed to find about 18 inches of cement ledge to sit on in the shade and wait - the Piazza was as crowded as Rome had been and we were particularly on guard against the pickpockets we had been warned were very common in Venice.

Mom decided she needed a visit to the restroom before getting on the gondola, but there wasn't enough time to get to the glass factory and back, so she decided to take her chances on the public restroom in the Piazza while I guarded our precious real estate. As with most of the restrooms in public areas, she encountered an old woman outside who was collecting the fee - a whopping 1.50 Euro! The woman directed her up the steps - unfortunately, when she got there, this restroom had a turnstile and a man insisting that the woman was just a gypsy and had nothing to do with the restroom - so it ended up costing 3 Euro (about $5!). Then she got locked in the bathroom and couldn't get out until finally someone helped her. Lesson #59 - when in Venice, don't pay until you see the turnstile!

We met our group and walked to the gondola loading area - a few more blocks. We were grouped with two other pairs of ladies we had met in our tour group - Tracy and Joan, who were also a mother-daughter pair about our ages, and Rama and Lori, friends who had just completed their Masters in Library Science and decided to celebrate with this trip to Europe.

Stepping into a gondola is a whole lot like stepping into a canoe - you have to be very careful not to tip it over! Mom and I got in first and got the best seats, forward facing at the back of the boat. Joan and Tracy were next, and then Lori and Rama - poor Rama really got the short end of the stick - she was stuck sitting at the bow, facing the rest of us and getting to see only where we'd been and not where we were headed.
But she was still sweet enough to take each of our cameras and take pictures of our group! (Notice our gondolier talking on the cell phone).

There were about six gondolas for our group and we learned that by 'gondola serenade' what they actually meant was that they would put two fellows who could barely carry a tune in a bucket, much less a gondola, in one of the boats and let them belt out some Italian favorites. The only time we heard them was when we reached the Grand Canal and they pulled all the gondolas together side-by-side, and then spun us around to head back to our starting point. The big excitement came when we realized just after we'd set out that we were somewhat unbalanced and tried to have Joan and Tracy switch sides to even us out. Lesson # 62 - Once in the gondola, DON'T MOVE! Overall, it was a nice ride - probably not worth 37 Euro but, hey, how often do you get to ride in a gondola?

Once we successfully evacuated the gondola, we headed back across the bridges (up a flight, down a flight, walk a block, up a flight, down a flight, walk a block...) back to our water-bus. We were standing on the pier, looking forward to a shaded ride back to the bus, when a linebacker for the NFL plowed into Mom.

OK, he wasn't actually a linebacker for the NFL, he was a short Asian man who had gotten in line for the wrong water-bus and was apparently afraid of missing his ride. But he basically came running down the pier, arms up like a blocker in the Superbowl, and nearly knocked her down as he slammed into her shoulder and arm. He came at us so fast that none of us even saw him coming in time to react. When we got up to our boat and saw him sitting in the one next to us, Mom politely inquired as to his mental health and intellect, but he didn't respond. We can only presume that he also suffered from hearing impairment.

By this time, we were pretty much exhausted, sunburnt, and ready to collapse in a nice cool hotel room. We arrived at the hotel and found (with some difficulty) the welcome reception Simone had promised. Since we were a few moments late, we did not hear the description of the pink liquid that filled the frosty glasses being provided. Given our overheated and parched condition, we each took a nice swig before realizing it was rubbing alcohol - OK, yes, I know, it wasn't rubbing alcohol, and I know I'm no connosieur, but this stuff was awful! It was all I could not not to spew it across the room. Frustrated, we headed to our room, only to discover it was about 90 degrees in there! After several trips to the front desk, we finally got someone to come and fix ours, but apparently it was an issue throughout the hotel - eventually ten guests from our group had to move to another hotel for the evening.

The air conditioning was, I do believe, the final straw. At that point, Mom was hoping the whole Italian peninsula would sink into the Mediterranean. She was exhausted, injured (I left out the part about opening the mini-frig onto her toe and slicing it open), frustrated, insulted, feeling guilty and afraid that I would miss something because she couldn't do it all, and almost ready to pack up and go home.

I'll give God all the credit for the words that He gave me and the sense of calm in the midst of the storm, but I said something along the lines of: "All this STUFF has been here for thousands of years, and it will be here for thousands of years, but you will not. I did not come on this trip to see everything I could possibly see, but to enjoy this time with you and see what we could. From this point on, we are going to do exactly what we want to do and nothing else. If that means in the midst of the next march, we decide to call a taxi to take us to the hotel, then that is what we will do. If that means we don't go on any of their excursions, so be it. We will ride their bus, stay in their hotels and eat any meals that are included, but anything else, we'll just do our own thing. If it costs us more, it costs us more, but I don't think it will because so far every one of these excursions we could have done the part we wanted on our own for cheaper than what we're paying. Most importantly, if we get to see everything, but you end up killing yourself doing it - THAT is not my idea of a good vacation!"

With that said and our room down to 85 degrees, we dressed for dinner and met up with our fellow travelers. When one of the 20-ish travelers couldn't make it to dinner due to heat exhaustion, we took a little comfort in the fact that it wasn't just us who were overwhelmed. We crossed out every one of the excursions we had indicated on our selection sheet - except Dinner/Wicked in London and the dinner/bus tour of Paris at night - over $1000 worth of excursions, and handed it to Simone with a smile. She looked at us strangely and we just said, "from here on out, we're doing our own thing."

I have to admit, we tried to inspire others to join us in our rebellion. We suggested that everyone just slow down on the marches - I mean she couldn't really leave us all behind, right? Or maybe we could offer Stefano an extra tip for picking us up early? I stopped short of suggesting we stow Simone under the bus with the luggage, but it was tempting.

Tomorrow - Day 9, but really Day 1 of the Freedom Tour!

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