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Old 11-03-2010   #16 (permalink)
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Yeps, you will NEVER find in ANY menu a pizza hawaiana

[quote=JoanieBlon;1680384]

Italian food in the cities we ate at was VERY different than the "Italian" food that's served up in the USA. The dishes were prepared in a much simpler manner ~ not overloaded with all sorts of EXTRAS.
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Old 11-03-2010   #17 (permalink)
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I LOVED Vienna. AND YOU CANNOT NOT GO TO PRAGUE. Its only 4 hours awayt by train, and SUPER BEAUTIFUL...
unfortunately, it's with a tour group so I have no choice.
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Old 11-03-2010   #18 (permalink)
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Joanie - I love your observations!! They're fantastic and fun things to think about when traveling. I'll have to come up with some on my trip next year!
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Old 11-04-2010   #19 (permalink)
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Joanie, love your obervations. They hit home! Just surprised that you didn't see any cats in Venice. Haven't been there in a long time but went there rather often about 20 years ago and there were always lots of cats.

Waiting for your trip report!
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Old 11-04-2010   #20 (permalink)
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Loving your insights! Thanks!....here is a story of the missing cats of Venice...this must make the mice of Venice very happy.

Last edited by Jacko; 11-04-2010 at 04:49 AM..
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Old 11-04-2010   #21 (permalink)
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Wink At Long Last...Here We Go!

Our trip to Italy was a LONG time in the making. We originally had booked a 7 night cruise from Venice to Rome on the Azamara Quest.



After thinking it over, and talking about it for quite awhile ~ I had booked this cruise over a year in advance ~ which is typical of how I plan trips ~ we decided to cancel the cruise and just do a trip on our own around Italy.

I decided on a rough schedule ~ a few days in Venice ~ then on to Florence ~ then to Pompeii, which Mike and I had both been wanting to see FOREVER ~ and then to Rome for a few days. From Rome we would fly back to Tampa. It seemed that 10 days was a good amount of time for the trip. We planned our trip for the first part of October, one of our favorite times to travel, as the summer crowds have thinned out, the weather is cooler but not yet cold, and costs are sometimes a bit less.

Looking at the British Airways (our favorite airline to Europe) schedules, we decided to fly out of Tampa on Sunday, October 3rd at 6:45pm, which put us into Gatwick about 8:00am on Monday, October 4th, and then take a connecting flight to Venice at 12:50pm which had us arrive at 6:00pm. This schedule entailed us hanging around the Gatwick "Departures Lounge" for quite some time, but gave us plenty of leeway in case there were any flight delays out of Tampa. For our return flight, I scheduled a departure from Rome on Wednesday, October 13th at 7:30am, arriving in Gatwick at 9:10am (there's an hour difference between the UK and Italy), with our connecting flight to Tampa departing Gatwick at 12:20pm, arriving in Tampa the same day at 4:45pm. (there's 5 hours difference between the UK and Florida). With this schedule, we'd have to be at the airport in Rome, which is close to one hour out of the heart of the city, at 4:30am, which, would of course entail getting up EARLY to prepare to leave! Oh well....you do what you have to do.

Both Mike and I belong to British Airways "Executive Club" and have racked up quite a few miles both from flights and use of a Chase British Airways Visa card. We currently have 120,000 miles and I keep thinking that we ought to book a flight to somewhere ~ even for a LONG weekend to use some of them up!

I decided to see if I could use a few of those miles to upgrade our seats for the trip. I was able to book BA's Business Class CLUB WORLD with its fabulous flat, cocoon beds, exclusive lounge admittance on departure, and impeccable service during the flight for our Tampa - London leg. This arrangement leaves you relatively rested and fresh after your overnight trip. From London to Venice and return, I decided on standard coach, as the trip is fairly short. I had hoped to be able to book a Club World upgrade for our London to Tampa leg, but wasn't able to. However, I WAS able to book WORLD TRAVELLER PLUS ~ premium coach ~ which is REALLY almost like our domestic First Class seating. The total for our 2 tickets, including all taxes and fees, which were booked as far in advance as possible ~ about 330 days out ~ was $3,639.86 or $1,819.93 each plus 30,000 miles. I thought for the level of service, and the distance we were traveling, that those fares were VERY good! Also, Tampa is considered to be somewhat of a "premium" city for BA flights, but going through Immigration and Customs here is SUCH A BREEZE that it's worth the extra cost!

As it eventually turned out, British Airways ended up cancelling their Wednesday 7:30am flight out of Rome to Gatwick. Our schedule was changed to a 6:10pm departure from Rome on Thursday, October 14th, arriving at Gatwick at 7:45pm. Our flight to Tampa would leave on Friday, October 14th at 12:25pm. This schedule basically gave us an extra day in Rome and we were able to leave for the airport at about 2:30 in the afternoon ~ a MUCH better hour! We did have to stay overnight at Gatwick, but this was OK with us. Arriving Friday evening in Tampa gave us the entire weekend to recuperate from jetlag before heading back to work.

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Old 11-04-2010   #22 (permalink)
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Once I had our flights taken care of, I starting investigating the best way to move from city to city within Italy. We *could have* rented a car, but decided against that, as I knew that parking within Venice, and parking and driving in Florence and Rome would be a REAL hassle and expensive as well. Another consideration was that neither Mike nor I have ANY knowledge of Italian ~ although I do now know how to order beer (both in bottles and on tap) and wine in Italian and ask for the bill.... so driving through the countryside might have been "interesting" in more ways than one.

I checked out the Trenitalia Website and the Rail Europe Website for trains and schedules. If you are traveling by train in Italy, you WILL be on Trenitalia, but there are several ways of getting the tickets.

In the end, I purchased 3 day rail passes through Rail Europe, which is based in the USA. The passes were sent to me by FedEx before we left on our trip. These passes can be purchased up to 6 months in advance of your first day of travel. I bought our about 2 months in advance. I could have bought tickets in advance from Trenitalia, OR we could have walked up to the ticket windows at the various train stations we would be leaving from and bought them on the day of travel, but for peace of mind ~ not having to deal with any possible language problems or sold out trains ~ I decided that having our train travels booked and paid for in advance was the way to go. We *may* have paid a little bit more than if we bought tickets at the train stations in Italy, but both Mike and I were happy to have this detail all taken care of.

Rail passes allow unlimited train travel for the number of days your passes are good for. When you buy them, you need decide whether or not to travel in First or Second Class. We decided on First Class, as I had read that the cars are a bit nicer and the seats are more comfortable. You also have an assigned seat, so you don't have to compete with other passengers to get seated. One thing that I thought was a bit odd, was that for First Class, you are REQUIRED to have a reserved seat, but the price of the seat reservation in NOT included in the rail pass. It's a separate charge. You receive the train passes for each person, and then you receive a separate "ticket" for each person for each First Class leg of your journey. The passes MUST be validated by ticket booth personnel on the first day of use. There are quite a few rules regarding passes ~ the names on the passes MUST match the names on the passports, a "travel log" MUST be properly filled out on the pass for each day of travel, etc. It all sounded a bit intimidating ~ warnings that IF you should fill out the travel information incorrectly that your pass might be confiscated ~ but it all worked out FINE!! The conductors come through the trains and punch your pass and your seat reservation card.

As I mentioned before, the Italian trains are WONDERFUL!! You can't begin to compare them to Amtrak in the USA. Everything is CLEAN and the ride is SMOOOOOTH!! And FAST on the high speed trains! In first Class, you can have a newspaper (Italian) free of charge, and you're offered Prosecco and chocolates as a little treat. The high speed trains also have a very nice ~ and highly popular ~ cafe' car where you can order espresso, cappuchino, beer, wine, snacks and light meals, such as sandwiches. The Florence to Naples train and the Naples to Rome train also had a dining car. We just had beer and no snacks while enroute.

You take your bags with you onto the train. There are little alcoves at the beginning and end of each car when they can be placed. In our First Class cars, the storage space above the seats was actually large enough to take our 24" bags, so we placed them there for peace of mind. That way they were never out of our sight.

I might add here that we were pestered half to death by an apparent "free lance porter" at the Naples train station who wanted to transport our bags for us. We kept telling him NO! and held onto our bags, as he looked like a gypsy and we didn't want to risk him taking off with them. Besides, our bags have "spinner" wheels, so they're quite easy to move around. (except on cobblestones or up and down stairs!)

Last edited by JoanieBlon; 11-04-2010 at 04:12 PM..
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Old 11-04-2010   #23 (permalink)
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Slim and I were not to fond of the train station in Naples...but the train itself is great!

When you caught the circumvesuvias to Pompeii...did you see a girl playing the accordian for tips? Or did you take that train? We loved Pompei.

I know you haven't gotten to the Rome Part yet...but there were lots of cats there..especially at one of the ruins....our guide called it "Cat City"...and it didn't smell real sweet..if you know what I mean.

Funny about observations...I also made and posted a few on my trip report.
(Not here)
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Old 11-04-2010   #24 (permalink)
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Loving your insights! Thanks!....here is a story of the missing cats of Venice...this must make the mice of Venice very happy.
Thanks for the information about the cats. We thought it was VERY odd that we didn't see ANY cats meandering around Venice. Do people keep any at all INSIDE as pets?

Actually, regarding cats, we didn't see any in Florence either. We DID see a guy in Pompeii carrying a kitten down the street and ONE cat lurking around an outdoor cafe' in the centro. When we got to Rome, we finally did see hoards of cats living in the ruins where Caesar was assassinated. There's an adoption center in the ruins that attempts to place the cats living there in loving homes. The cats were pretty friendly, and we could see evidence of people leaving all sorts of food (including spaghetti!) for them. This interesting historical site were the cats were living was literally just around the corner from the B&B we stayed at in Rome.

Largo di Torre Argentina

Here's some more information about the Cats in Rome.

Observations about Italy just keep popping into my head from time to time... This particular one was kind of strange. In Italy ~ a country KNOWN for all things TOMATO ~ you CANNOT get tomato juice! Mike likes to drink tomato juice at breakfast because it doesn't have the sugar associated with fruit juices. In spite of what juice companies would like to have you believe, it's better to eat the fruit than to drink juice from the fruit... The first two B&Bs we stayed at didn't offer tomato juice ~ although we didn't know just WHY at the time, so we stopped in various groceries trying to find it. It's not sold. BTW ~ at the B&Bs the ORANGE juice was RED (from blood oranges) and the orange colored juice was PINEAPPLE.

Regarding tomato juice, I assume that bars and hotels that cater to American MUST offer Bloody Marys, so I'm wondering just WHAT they're made out of. Thinned down tomato sauce? We never ordered a Bloody Mary while we were in Italy, so I can't answer that question. We stuck with wine, beer, and local drink favorites.

I found this blog addressing the lack of tomato juice in Italy ~

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When we moved to Italy we knew we'd leave some familiar things behind. We also knew we'd bring some of those hard to find items with us; items like chocolate chips, cheddar cheese, seasonings for fajitas - you know, life's essentials. One of the things I never expected to have difficulty finding here in Italy was tomato juice.

I'm not a coffee drinker. Never have been, never will be. I do however love orange juice and for years that was my standard beverage at breakfast. At some point I decided that orange juice had too much (natural) sugar in it, so I switched to tomato juice. It wasn't hard to switch because I LOVE everything tomato.

Now here we are in Italy, the land of the tomato, the place where there are more canned, jarred and boxed tomatoes in the grocery than you can possibly imagine. Whole tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, cut tomatoes, tomato sauce and paste, both double and triple strength. I honestly don't know how the average Italian decides which tomatoes to buy - is one brand better than another? Is it better to start your tomato sauce from whole tomatoes rather than from sauce?

Despite the oeverwhelming choices in the canned tomato aisle, when you get to the fruit juice aisle it's a whole other story. Our local Coop has stopped carrying bottled tomato juice, although you can still get pear juice and carrot juice and pineapple juice, along with scores of other choices.
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Old 11-04-2010   #25 (permalink)
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Slim and I were not to fond of the train station in Naples...but the train itself is great!

When you caught the circumvesuvias to Pompeii...did you see a girl playing the accordian for tips? Or did you take that train? We loved Pompei.

I know you haven't gotten to the Rome Part yet...but there were lots of cats there..especially at one of the ruins....our guide called it "Cat City"...and it didn't smell real sweet..if you know what I mean.

Funny about observations...I also made and posted a few on my trip report.
(Not here)
I haven't even started my *actual* trip report yet.... I thought I'd provide a few of the details on just how I planned this trip, as there seemed to be interest in how I actually go about arranging these excursions.

Yah...the Naples train station sort of sucked compared to the other ones we were in. I've heard that Naples itself is sort of dirty, so we didn't spend any time there. About a week ago, I understand there was some sort of protest by the people of Naples regarding the problems with garbage all over the place. Naples Garbage Protests

There was NO place inside the Naples train station to get a beer and it seemed that many of the shops and cafes had gone out of business. We thought the train stations in Venice and Rome were the nicest.

We didn't take the the privately operated Circumvesuviana Train from Naples to Pompeii. Our train passes wouldn't have been good on that one ~ although I know those tracks are the closest to the ruins in Pompeii. We took the Trenitalia trains to and from Pompeii. These have all second class seating and you just have to jump on and grab a seat ~ PLUS watch out for your bags. There were quite a few "transient" types hanging around, plus little kids (gypsies?) selling trinkets (Sicilian "horn" charms), but all in all, the trip was FINE. That train station, which is on the west side of the city, was just 1-1/2 blocks from Hotel Diana, where we stayed. That was a GREAT hotel ~ but more about it later.....

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Old 11-04-2010   #26 (permalink)
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When purchasing the train passes and then making the reservations, I had to make some decisions about how long to stay in each city, given the time frame I had set with our airline reservations.

We arrived in Venice at 5pm on Monday, October 4th. I booked our train reservations to Florence for Thursday, October 7th. This gave us the Monday evening, all day Tuesday and Wednesday, and Thursday morning to explore the city. Our train left Venice at 11:27am and arrived in Florence at 1:30pm.

I decided that we needed to cut our time short in Florence ~ we would be there only about 24 hours ~ the afternoon of Thursday, October 7th and the morning of Friday, October 8th. Mike and I aren't big on going to museums, which Florence is FAMOUS for. Our train left Florence at 1:10pm and arrived in Naples (going through Rome) at 4:10pm. In Naples, we had about 20 minutes to get to the local train to Pompeii. We didn't have any problems in finding the proper track, as the boards display which track each train is on at least 20 minutes before they are due to depart. The local train from Naples to Pompeii arrived at about 5:00pm.

I scheduled our trip from Pompeii to Rome for the afternoon of Saturday, October 9th. This gave us the evening of October 8th (My BIRTHDAY! ) to explore and enjoy the little city of Pompeii, and the morning, plus part of the afternoon on Saturday to visit the EXTENSIVE! Pompeii ruins and have lunch. We took the local train at about 3:00pm from Pompeii to Naples, and then took the 3:50pm train from Naples, which arrived in Rome at 5:00pm.

If we had been able to stay a bit longer, I would have liked to have spent more time in Venice ~ possibly a week ~ and at least one more day in Pompeii, as we liked the little city SO much! It also would have been nice to take the train to Sorrento.

There are MANY trains available for the various routes within Italy, and they run on schedule ~ except if there's a strike. Happily, we didn't encounter any problems.

Our rail passes plus our reservations for our 1st Class seats ran about US $600.00 for the two of us. Like I mentioned earlier, there are other options available ~ possibly cheaper ~ but we were satisfied with what we paid and the ease of getting around. The customer service provided by Rail Europe was very satisfactory as well. We didn't have to pay anything for FedEx shipping of our passes and related information to us.

As far as I'm concerned, rail if the BEST way to travel around Italy! At least for us! I guess driving around Tuscany might be nice, but the train worked out really well.

That's pretty much all the planning part, with the exception of where we stayed, but I'll address the B&Bs and hotel in my actual report.

Hopefully early tomorrow morning, I'll start on the ACTUAL trip report ~ with plenty of photos....
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Old 11-04-2010   #27 (permalink)
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I am really looking forward to the trip report.

I also made all our reservations for hotels and B&B's. We were both pleased with the places and had no problems with any of them. I decided to make our train reservation from Naples to Rome while in Sorento. We just went to a travel agency. It cost about 44 bucks for 2 first class tickets.

Sorrento is a great base for Pompeii and the Amalfi coast...but It was really touristy. Even though we loved it..it's not on our list to return to. We both got a little car sick on the winding roads.

Loved your pics of Pompei

That reminds me of an observation Slim made. While looking at some of the painted murals in the homes, he remarked.."they must have loved columns so much they even painted them on the walls"

Did you find any "penises" carved into the walls while walking down the streets?

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Old 11-05-2010   #28 (permalink)
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Because I always plan trips so far in advance, it seems like the departure day is never going to arrive, but little by little, time slips away and I finally find myself packing suitcases, and doing the final preparations ~ taking our African grey parrot D-Day to be "babysat" by Mike's sister and her husband and finally taking Wiggy, our cat, to the exclusive cats only boarding spa...

For some reason, on this trip, I was REALLY apprehensive about not knowing Italian, and so was more wound up towards the date to leave than normal.

Finally Sunday, October 3rd arrived and we headed off to the airport. Because we were in BA's Club World, we were able to relax in the comfort of their exclusive lounge, with its unlimited serve yourself bar, and all manner of little finger sandwiches and snacks. It wasn't long before Mike and I settled into our comfortable, roomy seats, had a delicious meal on china, and then stretched out in our totally flat beds for our evening flight to Gatwick, London. These beds are so roomy, that even Mike, at 6'3" can TOTALLY stretch out. The light was REALLY smmoth, and in no time at all, we were asleep.

After a few hours in the Gatwick departure lounge, we boarded our flight for the hop over to Venice. We arrived right on time about 5:00pm at the Venice International Airport, which is located on the mainland north and east of the actual city of Venice ~ Venezia. Immigration and Customs were a breeze. They just scanned our passports ~ NO questions at all were asked and there wasn't ANY Customs check.

After collecting our bags, we stopped at the booth to purchase our tickets on the Alilaguna Motoscafi (Venice airport boat) for our trip into the city. I knew in advance that we should take the "Blue Line" whch makes several stops in route, and that we should get off at the San Zaccharia stop, which is immediately before Piazza San Marco. Our one-way tickets were €13.

It was showering lightly when we made our way on foot to the floating dock where we would board the motoscafi. Happily, the rather long walk-way was covered, so we were protected from the showers. The weather was quite mild ~ and stayed mild during our entire trip ~ even for this Tampa girl with thin blood!

If there's a group of you ~ perhaps 4 or so ~ or if you want faster and personal service ~ you may also elect to take a private Water Taxi into the city. These are located by where you take the Alilaguna buses. The fare for a water taxi for Mike and me would have been €100 ~ or about 4x the price of the bus, but water taxis ARE luxurious, and can hold up to 10 people, so depending on your group and your pocket book, you might want to consider this method of transportation. Mike and I almost had the entire "bus" to ourselves ~ there were 3 other women and a couple with us. Eventually, we picked up some "commuters" leaving their daily jobs on Murano. Almost all these folks got off on Lido.

Here's a photo of an airport motoscafi docked in Venice.



They are almost the same as the vaporetti (water buses) that carry people up and down the Grand Canal and back and forth to the various islands, except they are totally enclosed ~ with an open air area at the rear. Vaporetti also have a large open area for standing in the middle of the boat as well as the rear open area ~ which is REALLY nice on a sunny day! Many of the boat photos were taken from the rear area of a vaporetti we were on.



I had visions ~ based on photos ~ of what Venice "is" ~ but there's no way to fully appreciate the role that water plays in the life of this city without actually visiting there! The "city" of Venice is actually a series of tiny islands criss-crossed by numerous canals. In addition to Venezia ~ there are also other various islands scattered around the central core city ~ Murano, which is famous for its glass blowing ~ Burano, Lido, Giudecca, San Michele, La Vignole, and others. Lido is actually "solid" enough to have some roads and vehicle traffic. Venice has NONE ~ aside from the connecting bridge to the mainland, which allows cars and the train to cross the water out to the island. Once across the bridge, all cars must be parked ~

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Once you have arrived near the lagoon, get on to the Ponte della Libertā - a long straight line with two lanes linking Venice to the mainland -follow the signs for Venice and you will arrive at Piazzale Roma. Here you have to leave your car and start your adventure in Venice, on foot or by waterbus.
In the map below, you can see the location of the airport and also the bridge (ponte) that connects Venice to the mainland.



In Venice, you'll see all sorts of boats ~ but NO cars, motorcycles, or motorscooters! Because of this, you'll mostly be getting around Venice on foot ~ or occasionally by vaporetto. Also, because there are NO VEHICLES ~ the city is VERY QUIET ~ especially in areas away from the Grand Canal.

Here are photos of some of the boats you might see during a visit there.

I wasn't sure just what this boat was ~ it's not a vaporetto ~ so possiblly it's a private water bus?



Private water taxis and a vaporetto ~



Here's a vaporetto follwing the one we were on ~



The vaporetti have various floating dock stops along the Grand Canal and other locations. You purchase a pass for the number of hours or days that you'd like to travel and then scan the pass before you board on little machines that are located on the docks. Vaporetti passes may be purchased at ticket windows near the major stops OR at a Tabacchi which is technically a "tabacco shop" but which sell bus passes, phone cards, and all sorts of other items, depending on how large the shop is. Here's one of the vaporetto stops ~ for Ca' D'Oro ~ on the Grand Canal.



ALL commerce within Venezia proper is carried out by boat ~ and THEN by some sort of hand truck to get the goods to their final destination.

Here are some of the various commercial watercraft you might spot on the Grand Canal or on the Lagoon.

A delivery barge with a flat platform for boxes or crates ~



A hearse carrying a coffin ~



A laundry barge ~ probably carrying linens from hotels. The building in the background with the red awnings is the fascinating fish market.



Deliveries being made at the foot of the famous Rialto Bridge. If you look closely, you can see items being hauled away on hand trucks.



The small crane is being used to hoist a load of garbage ~ that's all collected ON FOOT from the tiny streets and alleyways ~ into a small garbage scow.



Here a construction barge working on a building facing the Grand Canal. Mike and I stayed one night next door at the enchanting Al Ponte Antico Hotel. More on that a little later...





Here's a photo of general morning activity on the Grand Canal ~ taken from the balcony of Al Ponte Antico Hotel (the old bridge ~ referring to the famous Rialto Bridge which is very close by)



Here are some delivery boats and a water taxi in one of the major canals away from the Grand Canal.



This large ferry is transporting commercial vehicles and delivery trucks ~ most likely to Lido, where they have actual roads.



There are many cruise ships and other vessels that sail in and out of Venice ~



This boat is from the "Guardia di Fianza" ~ something a bit like our Coast Guard...



You'll also see various private boats scattered around the waterways of Venice ~



You'll also see ambulances and various police boats too ~ but I never managed to grab any photos of them.

To be continued...

Last edited by JoanieBlon; 11-05-2010 at 08:50 AM..
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Old 11-05-2010   #29 (permalink)
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Hey Joanie, since the name of the airport is 'Marco Polo' I assume that the fourth pic is the 'bus' to the airport.
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Old 11-05-2010   #30 (permalink)
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Hey Joanie, since the name of the airport is 'Marco Polo' I assume that the fourth pic is the 'bus' to the airport.
Could be...but the airport buses we saw and the one we rode on didn't look like that. They all looked like the one named "Giorgione" in the first photo. I was sort of wondering if it might be a private shuttle operated by a fancy hotel.... I tried searching for this "bus" but was overwhelmed by too many "Marco Polo" references....

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