Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Venice - Oct Break 2012

We kicked off October travel week a day early with the 6th grader, flying to Venice the day before our cruise kicked off in order to tour the city.  Our travel agent recommended Hotel Flora in the heart of the city and it was full of old world charm.  Here is the inner courtyard where you could enjoy a glass of wine in the evening or breakfast in the morning.

Friday afternoon, we strolled from the hotel over to Piazza San Marco (St. Mark's Square) to take a look.  And I'm glad we did because the next morning it was very foggy and thus resulted in some less than perfect pictures of the scenery.

The basilica is in the midst of restoration and cleaning, but I was still impressed by the intricate mosaics, both inside and out.  Some of the tile pieces seemed to be about the size of my fingernail and I can only imagine how much effort went into creating the multitude of scenes and figures on the ceilings.

Adjacent to the basilica is the Doges Palace.  Isn't the entrance (below) grand?  The exterior was interesting - got an unexpected profile shot of the husband's head.  Unfortunately, we didn't have time to take a peek inside the palace.

The gondolas were amazing to see, cruising through the "streets" past various boat traffic and scooting beneath the many walkways over the water with nary a person getting knocked off or dumped into it.

The next morning, we awoke to fog that never completely lifted.  Not letting that dampen our spirits, we embarked on a two hour walking tour through the very crowded streets of Venice.  If it was this busy in the shoulder season, then I wouldn't have wanted to set foot in this city of water during the high season.   

Above you see the two columns in the Piazzetta which connects St. Mark's square to the lagoon.  Below is a close up shot of St. Theodore, the patron saint of Venice before he was replaced by St. Mark.  This statue of him riding a crocodile just tickled my funny bone.  Beneath Theo is the 15th century clock tower that is located directly across the square from these two columns.  It's pretty obvious which pic was taken on a clear Friday evening versus Saturday morning fog.

On a sunny day, this is the view from the clock tower over to the lagoon.

As soon as our walking tour ended, we trotted back over to our hotel where we retrieved our luggage and enjoyed a private guided tour in a water taxi for the next hour. Churches and palaces and famous bridges (Rialto) were scattered up and down the Grand Canal.  Even in the fog they were a sight to behold.  

And last but not least, a few odds and ends from my lens.  Continuing in the footsteps of the teen, who was on her own senior humanities trip to Florence and Rome, I snapped pics of various dogs and cats over the course of travel week.  In Venice, this was my favorite pooch strolling with its owner near an old decorative well that had been covered.

Reminiscent of buildings in Germany, I spied some sort of dragon creature on the corner.  It seems to me that he's holding what appears to be a cluster of umbrellas in his mouth.  Interesting... and I have absolutely no idea what this represents.

Finally, in honor of halloween today, I'm wrapping up this post with a pic I snapped on the side of a Venetian building as we were strolling along on our walking tour Saturday morning.  I think the four heads are beautiful, in a slightly creepy, maybe their eyes are following me sort of way.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Expensive Tastes

Ollie, the beast, has been boarded with his doggie daycare lady for the past ten days while we were enjoying a cruise during October travel week.  It's the perfect set up - he already knows her since he goes to daycare three times per week and he gets to lounge about in her house with the family (and family dog Gracie, the black lab) instead of in a kennel run all by his lonesome.

The day before we departed, I was sitting on the couch counting out the money I had ordered.  The teen was taking a separate school trip to Italy for her senior humanities class, and so I had to dole out some spending money for her, too.  I had just finished paperclipping the teen's money when the dryer buzzed.  I hopped up to go shake out the clean clothes and get them folded before they wrinkled.  Upon my return to the sofa, Ollie quickly jumped off and scurried beneath the coffee table.  

It seems he was wise enough to leave the scene of the crime, though it was obvious he was the guilty party.  Because I had the coffee table pulled a bit closer to the sofa than usual to more easily count out the money, this also meant that the beast could easily reach its contents.  And that's how he helped himself to the teen's stack of travel money and did the following to it.

That's right - he tore up €90 and £20 of it.  Still within arm's reach, I swatted his furry terrier hindquarters and started in on the shaming.  Bad, bad dog.  Since he seldom does anything to receive a good dressing down, he tucked his tail between his legs and decamped to his kennel adjacent to the laundry room.  He wisely remained there for about 15 minutes until I quit stomping around swearing.  

I picked up the remains of the torn bills, straightened out the money that had been mouthed but not ripped and then panicked because I couldn't find the paperclip.  Had the little twit eaten it?  Great, just great.  After imagining sky high vet bills if he needed emergency surgery while we were gone to remove the paperclip that would no doubt perforate his gut, I decided to do a more through search.  Thankfully, I found it beneath the sofa.

In hindsight, it was rather humorous.  I emailed the above pic to my husband and he told me that I need to save the pieces and take them to the bank to be exchanged for intact ones.  Too bad I can't drag Ollie in there by his ear like the naughty furry child he is and make him explain the situation to the bank folks.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Back to Life, Back to Reality

We just returned from October break and boy am I tired. I've decided I need to go on a Caribbean cruise because these European ones just aren't relaxing. I always feel compelled to sign up for the really long shore excursions to get the most bang for my buck. And eat my money's worth at the buffet... burp.

Once I scale Mt. Dirty Clothes and get a handle on it, I'll shoo the teen off the computer where I've downloaded my pics and get busy blogging about it. With daylight savings time ending tonight when we move our clocks back an hour here in the UK (they don't call it the 100 days of darkness for nothing), I'll be dreaming of the unusually mild Mediterranean weather we've enjoyed the past week. And the warm bread pudding drizzled in vanilla sauce on one of the dessert tables that they served almost every night with dinner. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Old Calton Cemetery - Edinburgh, Scotland

In the late afternoon on our last full day in Edinburgh, the husband and I walked across the street from our hotel to take a look at the Old Calton Cemetery.  Opened in 1718, it contains many interesting monuments and headstones.

I was intrigued by the enclosed burial area above - even has iron bars across the top of it and thus resembles a cage.  I guess somebody decided not to take any chances, keeping the zombies and/or vampire family members from getting loose.

I was pleased to find some Frasers in the cemetery, as seen above.  A few were actually buried here, while others were just memorialized.  The top stone with the names Richard, Thomas and Agnes Ross were all children... sad.

There was no mistaking the monument below, with Honest Abe atop it.  This was erected in 1893 to commemorate Scottish American soldiers who fought for the north during the Civil War.  

I've always had a fascination with cemeteries.  Not in a macabre, obsessed with death sort of way, but rather interested in the lives of people from the past and the stories their epitaphs tell.  

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Say Cheese

On Saturday, October 6, the teen and I caught an early commuter train into London for her senior photo shoot.  We were armed with a couple changes of outfits and hoping for sunny skies.  It rained on and off throughout the night, so I also packed our union jack print umbrella... just in case.  However, the weather cooperated and we enjoyed sunny, cool weather for the teen's 2.5 hours with the photographer.

I intended to bring along my camera to document the photo shoot, but then forgot it since I was distracted with barking up the stairs at the teen, who was running late.  Thus these candid, behind-the-photographer shots were all taken on my iPhone.  In the pics above, you can see we started along the Thames River at Parliament and Big Ben.  Sophie, the photographer from New Zealand, did a great job with this "Iconic London" photo shoot.  

After the bridge shots, Sophie led us to a pair of British phone booth on the other side of the river that were conveniently frosted so the teen could change into a short black dress.  When we viewed the proofs a couple days ago, it was in this spot where there were some really great close-ups of the teen that we chose for her large portraits.  

After finishing the phone booth series, the photographer had the teen change into her final outfit for pics at Trafalgar Square.  On the walk from the river to the square, we chanced upon an old school London Routemaster bus not in service that was parked on a side street.  Bingo - perfect place for some more fun shots.  

And it's a good thing we did because Trafalgar Square was partially closed in preparation for some sort of Asian festival and therefore we couldn't access the famous lions for the teen's final location. Luckily, the photographer had a back-up plan and took pics of the teen at the National Gallery, which fronts the square.  I didn't get any behind-the scenes shots of this because I was guarding bags on a nearby bench.  The photographer knows photos aren't allowed on the portico and that a security guard would shoo us away.  So I watched all of our things while the photographer stealthily snapped some pics of the teen with Nelson's Column in the background before they were spied and asked to leave. 

I spent way more money than I intended for the teen's senior pics, like double what I figured it would cost.  And then when I convert the British pounds to American dollars, I feel slightly ill about the hit our bank account will take.  However, these really are once in a lifetime pictures (in London!) that will hang on the walls of our home for the rest of our lives.  

A saving grace for the pricey pics is that they include bespoke (Brit speak for custom made) frames and mats.  We should receive the CD of our 30 favorite shots in two weeks, but will have to wait about a month for delivery of the framed ones we ordered for us as well as our families.  

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Tough Nut to Crack

The local squirrels have been up to their usual... happily hopping around the backyard, taunting the dog because he can't get to them no matter how much he flings his little terrier body at the french doors in a bid to catch his sworn enemy.  Since we're surrounded by greenery, I see them in the front drive, running along the top of the fence, scurrying through the trees and even venturing onto the back patio for a sip from the old stone fountain.  

Right now we're in the middle of chestnut harvest season and it's keeping the squirrels busy.  We don't have a chestnut tree in our yard, but obviously there is one somewhere near the house because I keep finding the remains of chestnut burrs on the ground.  Plus I've seen a few of the furry little buggers carefully breaking into them since they're covered in a thorny mass that resembles short green porcupine quills.  This isn't squirrel fast food like acorns. They have to stop and really work around the sharp pointies to break into it without impaling their little squirrel hands.  

The last time I saw chestnuts in "the wild" versus roasted and preserved in a Williams-Sonoma jar was way back when we were living in the Boston area from 1993-96.  On my walk to work at Harvard, there were a couple chestnut trees on campus and I stopped on several occasions to gather some off the ground beneath the branches.  They were a beautiful shade of brown and I used them for fall decor since I had no experience with cooking/eating them.  

Maybe I'll chance upon some roasted chestnuts at a Christmas fayre or market and give them a try.  The squirrels seem to think they're quite tasty.

Monday, October 15, 2012


On Saturday, the teen invited nine other senior girls to our house to get ready for Peter and Matt's halloween party.  The guys live less than two miles from us, so we were the designated party prep location for the teen's group of friends.

The younger daughter and I had fun over at nearby Garson's Farm Saturday morning, snooping through their store for halloween plates and cups and napkins and such since we provided nibbles for the girls while they were getting ready.  Garson's already had rack upon rack of Christmas decor - on display since the end of September - but that's a whole 'nother post.  

I thought we might buy some real pumpkins and gourds since the farm has a pick-your-own patch, but then I realized I didn't want (or need) to spend £50 on something that will just rot in a couple weeks and get thrown into the trash. So I rooted through the kitchen cabinets for anything purple or green or orange that looks festive.

I had a few plastic pumpkins in storage cupboards that were shipped over with our household goods, so I added them into the decor mix.  

After about an hour of final prepping - plus a lot of girly squealing and giggling, even though they're in their final year of high school - they were all in costume and ready to go.

Thanks to the UK driving laws, there wasn't one girl out of the ten who is fully licensed to drive over here, so I made two trips in my SUV to drop them all off for the festivities.  And then I returned home to swig caffeinated diet soda so I could stay awake for the return trip to fetch the teen at midnight.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Edinburgh, Scotland

Despite the August crowds, we still enjoyed touring some of the more important local historic sites like Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace.

Edinburgh Castle was quite impressive because 1) there was a local Scotsman that took us on a brief but informative guided tour, 2) there were beautiful vistas of the city, and 3) there was a man playing the bagpipes, really appropriate mood music for the location.

One of my favorite pics from the castle is the dog cemetery for regiment mascots that dates back to the reign of Queen Victoria.  The first picture below shows just a little bit of the cemetery at the very bottom of the picture, but really showcases a great view out to the Firth of Forth.

In the afternoon, we trekked over to Holyrood Palace for a tour.

Since the British monarchs still use the palace for state ceremonies (things like the marriage of Zara Phillips, granddaughter of the queen, last year), I was unable to take any interior pictures.  Of course, it wouldn't be a palace without a really nice fountain out front.

I was really intrigued by the remains of Holyrood Abbey... beautifully peaceful, yet sad and almost eerie.  If only the walls could talk.

As we were touring in Edinburgh, I took some random pics of things that caught my eye.  It seems my interest in crests continues... along with unique places like the Tolbooth Tavern (part of an original tolbooth built in 1591).