Cruising the Mediterranean – 3

by Lou on August 27, 2006

“Hey, Deirdre,” I yelled to my wife who was leaning out the other window of the hotel, “They think we’re natives.” We were in Venice, at a small boutique hotel located at Campo Santa Maria del Giglio, just about a 15 to 20 minute walk from St. Mark’s Place.

The hotel was funky, and it’s in two sections. One, the newer section, looks like the hotel ween viewed from the canal, but the room we’re staying in was located in the older section and looked like it might just be another apartment lining the waterway.

Three gondolas were daisy-chaining their way up the canal, and one of the gondoliers was playing the accordion and singing to a group of Asian tourists. We began applauding when he finished singing, and shouted “Bravo” at the top of our lungs. All the gondola passengers turned our way and began snapping pictures of us as though we were native species and not tourists just like them. We blew kisses there way, which they loved, and that was our quintessential Venetian moment.

Venice is a very strange place. It’s a city made for walking, but getting around takes some time, especially if you’re schlepping suitcases, because there are no roads and no cars in Venice. When our cruise ship docked in Venice, we were bussed from the unloading point to another terminal, where we took another bus to Piazza le Roma. From there we had a choice: we could take a water taxi — a speedboat of sorts — for 60 euros, or a water bus for five euros each. We opted for the water bus, which dropped us less than 50 yards from the hotel and gave us a nice, leisurely tour of the Grand Canal to boot.

The walkway between Campo Santa Maria del Giglio and St. Mark’s Place was lined with one expensive boutique after another. What was amazing was that outside of each store there were guys selling knockoffs of the same merchandise, all apparently with no hassle from the police or the shopkeepers. So if you didn’t want a Fendi handbag, or a Gucci wallet, or something from Prada at a couple of hundred to a couple of thousand euros apiece, you could buy knockoffs on the sidewalk for the equivalent of $20 and up.

We toured the Doge’s Palace, aka, Palazzo Ducale, which in on one side of St. Mark’s Place. It also included a walk across the inside of the Bridge of Sighs to the prisons across the canal. They told us these were the new prisons, about 500 years old now, and were built to provide more humane treatment for those who were incarcerated. I shudder to think what the old prisons must have been like, because in the dungeons we visited, a year’s sentence would probably amount to a lifetime.

Getting home was an adventure, as we figured it would be with all the new security measures in place. We dragged our bags from the hotel over a few bridges to the Water Bus station, where we could catch transportation to the airport for 12 euros each. A water taxi would cost 90 euros, and while it was faster, we allowed plenty of time for the water bus ride.

Our connections routed us from Venice to Frankfurt and then to Los Angeles. Getting to Frankfurt was no problem, and when we made our reservations we thought the 90 minute layover between flights would be more than sufficient. Before the latest Al Qaeda incident, it would have been enough, but when we arrived at Frankfurt there was a long, long line for passengers heading to the USA and UK. That was just passport control, and although it moved rather quickly, another, slower line followed. This one was for passenger screening. Everyone was screened with a wand and bags were routinely opened up and checked.

The German screeners were thorough, fast, effective, and efficient. Our gate was right near the screening area, so we didn’t have a long walk once we completed the screening process. Lucky us. They were boarding the flight as we walked up to the gate. Eighty-eight minutes of our ninety minute layover was consumed by the screening process.

My advice to you: If you’re flying overseas, or making a connection in any EU country to the US or UK, allow yourself at least two to three hours for the process. The lines we stood in were filled with folks who had missed their flights and now had to find alternative ways to get home. Not a pretty picture, but a stark reflection on the times we live in.
The flight home was uneventful and we arrived on time. The driver from the car service was waiting for us and we arrived home safe and sound, right on schedule.

Later today or tomorrow I’ll post some of the pictures from our vacation. We were gone 17 days and loved every minute of it.

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