Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Day 10 - Venice and then Paris

Sunday, 13th July 2014

The next morning we had a lovely, leisurely start.  The weather seemed a little overcast so we stayed in bed and read our books with a cup of tea. Eventually it got too much for my husband and he hurried me out of bed so we could make the most of our final hours in Venice - big mistake!!!

We had previously seen signs for a exhibition of Da Vinci's machines and decided that we wanted to see that this morning.  This proved to be a little more challenging than expected.  Firstly, I felt inexplicably weird - everything was all swimmy and my brain wasn't working well.  Of course, it didn't help that my beloved had rushed me out without breakfast. Mind you, after the extensive dinner the previous night we probably didn't need to eat for another week.  The other reason it wasn't quite as straightforward as we would have liked was that in the absence of my brain, my husband decided to take charge of the phone and the directions.  This resulted in us ending up completely lost and rather frustrated.  

Eventually I commandeered the phone back again and a few minutes later we were at the da Vinci exhibition.  Curiously it wasn't the original one we had walked past the previous week but by that time we were happy to settle for pretty much anything.  

The exhibition was fascinating and had models based on some of his drawings.  The explanations were in Italian, English and German.

About halfway through I felt so dizzy and unwell that I had to leave my husband in there and go outside to sit down for a while.  Everything was swimming and I felt like the ground was moving under me.  It was incredibly weird not to mention disturbing!

So naturally I consulted Dr Google - 'why does it feel like I'm at sea when I'm actually on land'.  Dr Google came up trumps with a diagnosis of 'land sickness' or 'Mal de Debarquement Syndrome' which made a nice change from its usual diagnosis of incurable cancer.

Wikipedia states:
Symptoms most frequently reported include a persistent sensation of motion usually described as rocking, swaying, or bobbing; difficulty maintaining balance; extreme fatigue; and difficulty concentrating ("brain fog"). Other common symptoms include dizziness, visual disturbances (such as seeing motion, inability to focus etc.), headaches and/or migraine headaches, the feeling of pressure in the brain, confusion, and anxiety. Many patients also describe ear symptoms such as hyperacusistinnitus, "fullness", pain, or even decreased hearing. Cognitive impairment ("brain fog") includes an inability to recall words, short term memory loss, and an inability to multi-task, unable to use a computer for any length of time and some MdDS sufferers report they are even unable to watch television, the symptoms are very debilitating and can fluctuate on a daily basis, affecting greatly daily and social activities.
Interestingly, the condition often abates when the patient is in motion such as in a car, train, plane, or boat. Symptoms are increased by stress, lack of sleep, crowds, flickering lights, loud sounds, fast or sudden movements, enclosed areas or busy patterns.

Sadly Dr Google then freaked me out by saying it can last for years.  However I have an optimistic nature and I was simply happy I had found a logical explanation that didn't involve incurable cancer or me losing my mind.

After my husband emerged we went to find some food.  He was most perturbed that he had been in Italy for numerous meals and hadn't yet had pizza. So we wandered till we found a nice little place that we could get something to eat.  

This place was highly amusing! We sat at a table outside and soon the other tables were filled up.  To our left was an asian couple with multiple cameras. She was wearing a wedding dress and we had seen them around taking photos.  To our right was a group of six older adults who decided it would be hilarious to photobomb this younger couple then confiscate their camera and take group shots of themselves with the bride.  The younger couple took it in good spirit and the larger group were obviously well disposed to have a good time.  They made me chuckle though when the young man asked them where they were from....They replied with thick German accents "Armenia. We are Armenian though our people have been in Germany for seventy years."  

That is certainly some robust cultural identity! 

At this point we only had a few hours left before we needed to get to Marco Polo Airport for the next stage of our adventures.  So we made our way to a nearby gondola stop - in front of Piazzale Roma - and waited for twenty or so minutes for our turn so we could tick it off our list. Imagine going to Venice and NOT riding in a gondola!

As we waited we were amused to see both an ambulance and a police - the boat versions.

Eventually it was our turn!

Wonderfully, as soon as I got into the boat all my dizziness and nausea vanished and I came alive again!!!  I was so happy!

The gondola ride was a lot of fun.  There is nothing like seeing the Grand Canal from sea level!  

However, since the waterways were still very high the gondolier had some challenges with getting under some of the bridges!  At several points he had to lean to one side and on one occasion he got my husband to move to the prow and lean as well!  We only just scraped under and as we went under the bridge we could see the marks of those who weren't so fortunate.

We had previously wondered whether it was worth 80 euros for a gondola ride lasting only 30 mins but I'm really glad we did it.  Its one of those things that is an iconic experience and it would have been a shame to have missed it.

After this we headed back to our hotel to pick up our cases so we could go back to the airport.  We had planned on taking the airport bus but on a whim decided a taxi would be much faster and more comfortable - and it was!

When planning this cruise we decided to tack on a night or two in Paris. We had been there for two nights almost fifteen years earlier and had loved it.  Then when we started looking at activities we realised we would have to stretch it out to three nights.  And we were thrilled when we realised that the day after we arrived would be Bastille Day!  So even though I felt unwell, and was missing my kids terribly, I was excited to be about to fly to Paris!

The flight went really well with a slight hiccup of almost missing the flight despite being and the airport in tonnes of time, and the extended family who decided that they liked our seats better than their own and had no intention of moving.  It wasn't long before we were in Paris!

The train ride was easy to navigate but it was fairly nasty to get off one train and go to another through a tunnel that reeked of urine. Great job on the first impressions Paris!

I had chosen a hotel opposite Gard du Nord for convenience due to our train in three days time leaving at 6am - and we were really happy that we didn't have to schlep our bags far. It was a bit of a seedy neighbourhood though - not far from our hotel was a place that rented rooms by the half hour! 

However it didn't take us long to get settled and we went out for something to eat then returned to the hotel room for an early night ready for a very very busy day the next day!


Monday, 18 August 2014

Day 9 - Venice again

Now comes the worst part of the whole cruise - disembarking!!!

I set my alarm for 5am, which was when we had to have our bags out in front of our doors. I just didn't feel comfortable having them out all night.  That worked fine and I got another hour or so of sleep after I did this little chore.

Sadly, we lost all the photos from our main camera for this day - which is really disappointing as we had some amazing ones.  And now I am going to have to rely mostly on my memory which by the end of the day was seriously impaired by alcohol!

We had breakfast in the TopSail Lounge and got ready to disembark.  The ship arrived in Venice at 8am and we had to schlep our bags to our next hotel, check in and then make it to the entrance of Round Church in Campo della Maddalena by 11:30am.  I was very worried the timing was going to be too tight. But as it happened we were off the ship by 9am and well on our way.

For the last time we followed Suresh, our butler, off the ship. I wished we could take him with us. He was funny and kind and thoughtful and he helped make our holiday super relaxing and enjoyable.  

As we disembarked we could see heaps of trolleys of suitcases being unloaded.  Fortunately ours were already waiting for us and it was only a minute or two before we were exiting the port and leaving the cruise to become a wonderful memory.

Here is my final thoughts about the MSC Preziosa and the Yacht Club and the itinerary we chose...

We had an amazing time!  It was such a new and exciting experience for us that was super enhanced by what is definitely a beautiful and clean ship.  

We were very glad that we chose to upgrade to the Yacht Club.  We are neither of us highly social people and we enjoy peace and quiet - which goes without saying considering we have six boys and constant noise at home.  The Preziosa is a
big ship but there were occasional times that the public decks felt very crowded - particularly when exiting the shows and also getting on or off for excursions.  We spent most of our time in the Yacht Club venues and enjoyed that immensely.  However when we did wander round the ship - with the exception of the busy times noted above - it didn't feel too crowded or chaotic.  

We also found that there are some simple ways of avoiding some of the crushes.  We hated getting the elevator and instead took the stairs most of the time.  These were NEVER crowded!  It became a point of pride to take the stairs from the 4th deck up to the 16th after our excursions.  This may be why neither of us gained any weight on the cruise! 

We found the food to be delicious. We didn't eat in the buffet or the main dining rooms so can't comment on those. But what we had in the Yacht Club was almost uniformly very tasty.  

Our cabin was very clean and comfortable and the bed was great. We loved having a balcony and thought that the position of our cabin was perfect. We were 16029 which meant that below us was the TopSail Lounge and Conciergerie, and above us was the pool and bar.  Our room was only a few metres from the steps up to the pool deck and there was very little foot traffic.  It as super convenient.  

The crew were great! We loved the butlers in the Yacht Club - they were friendly, welcoming, interested and had a wicked sense of humour.  I forget the name of the gentleman who was the concierge but when my husband asked how he could get a book from the glassed shelves in the library he looked him in the eye and said "You just break the glass".  The wait staff were also very droll and enjoyed joking around both with us and with each other.  They remembered us and remembered what we liked and tried to anticipate our desires. This had a huge effect in contributing to our enjoyment of the cruise.

We were also really pleased with our choice of itinerary. Leaving from Venice was magical and we enjoyed having the opportunity to spend a few extra days there.  Olympia and Ephesus were very special to me due to my bachelors degree in Classical Studies. And we simply loved Istanbul and Dubrovnik.  

If I were to do it again, I would like to be able to allow a few more days to recover from the travel before boarding. The jet lag was the single biggest thing that impacted on my ability to enjoy the cruise. Unfortunately that wasn't an option this time due to our time constraints with being away from our kids. I am, however, very much looking forward to our cruise in December as we have a week on land before we cruise and I'm actually going to be able to stay awake this time!!!


Once we left the ship we had the one kilometre walk to the people mover station.  This was very busy and we had to join quite a long queue to get into the station. Even so, we ended up at our hotel (Hotel Papadopoli Venezia) with plenty of time to spare.  Since we were ahead of check in time we left our bags there and continued on to the next exciting thing on the itinerary!

We had been trip planning one Sunday afternoon when we came across mention of food tours. This got my husband very excited so I found and booked us a 'Cicchetti of Venice' food tour with Venice Urban Adventures -

This cost us 65 Euros each and was FABULOUS!!!  It was a huge highlight of our trip!  Our guide was Claire, a native of Venice, who talked non-stop the whole way explaining everything we saw and tasted.  I can't remember how many places we stopped at but we wouldn't have gone into any of them if we had been by ourselves and even if we had, we wouldn't have had a clue what to order.  Taking this tour gave us a taste of a side of Venice we would never have experienced otherwise and it was really amazing!

At each stop we had a small portion of something that was traditionally Venetian together with a small glass of either red or white wine.  One stop was deep fried fish of some kind and what we would class as a toasted sandwich; another was bread topped with creamed cod; another was polenta topped with pickled fish; another was a range of breads with various toppings - I chose the truffled one! The food was amazing and so was the wine. Claire also showed us a fascinating shop where you can buy wine in demo-johns and can take in your own bottles and get them filled 'on tap' with white or red wine.  

We also got to see some beautiful architecture, fascinating old bridges, a phallic shaped doorway that was so shaped for rolling wine barrels in and out, and a baffling public toilet sign!

...and here it is!  Needless to say, I didn't like to take my chances using this one! Yikes!

We really enjoyed the tour immensely and can heartily recommend it!  I must admit though, by the time we had worked our way through about eight (albeit small) glasses of wine we were both feeling rather jolly and somewhat impaired!  So much so that on the way back to our hotel I fell down one of the bridges and skinned my knee - so I can now honestly say that I have left a part of myself in Venice!

After we weaved our way back to the hotel, we claimed our bags and took them up to our room to get settled and sober up.  The room had a kettle in which was a huge help in the second part of the mission.  

Then just after 3:30pm we left the hotel to find ourselves a good position along the Giudecca Canal to watch 'our' cruise ship go past on her next journey.  Unfortunately we had completely different ideas about what direction to head in and neither Google maps or Apple maps was much use - they got very confused with the narrow passages and tunnels through buildings.  We found our way there in good time though (i.e. I got stroppy and insisted that my husband follow me and not the bloody iPhone) and were able to grab a coffee and a good spot.  The cobbles along the waterfront had big puddles and apparently the tide had flowed over them the previous night.  

Here is where I am very sad that we lost our other photos as we had some fabulous ones on the big camera. However we managed to capture a few good shots on the little one. They don't adequately convey how huge this ship is in comparison to all the other vessels in the canal, and indeed the buildings lining it!

It was sad seeing her go into the distance. It really scored the point that the cruise was over! 

Following this, we decided to walk back down to St Marks Square but we failed to account for the fact that we were on the wrong side of the Grand Canal! Whoops!  Which meant that it was time to wander trying to find a way to cross and taking countless photos that would later be lost.  I also found a number of fascinating little shops and bought glass jewellery for myself, my mother and my sister.  My husband also bought some silk ties and cufflinks for very reasonable prices.  

That took up a fair bit of time and by the time we continued on our way it was getting dark and clouds were gathering ominously.  It had been a very hot day and was now feeling quite humid and oppressive.  We were heading vaguely in the direction of our hotel when a bunch of American boys who had been meandering behind us started freaking out and running whilst shouting 'CumulonimbusCumulonimbusCumulonimbus!'  We found that highly amusing but we also picked up our pace as it looked like we were in for a serious drenching.  Then the thunder started rolling in, and the sky started flashing.  Around us, waiters were clearing their outside tables and dismantling their umbrellas - so we started walking even faster!  

We got back to the hotel just as big fat drops of rain started to pelt anyone unfortunate enough to still be outside.  We went up to our room and opened the windows so we could watch the tourists scurrying and the lightening lighting up the sky.  The noise from the thunder was incredible and I was just commenting to my husband that it sounded like the storm was right over us when a bolt of lightening hit a copper dome nearby sending a huge shower of sparks over the buildings.  It completely freaked me out and I closed the windows and refused to stand anywhere near them!  I also pronounced that there was no way either of us were going back outside to find dinner.

So given my cowardice, the only thing to do was to head downstairs to the hotel lobby to see if we could rustle up something to eat.  This turned out to be a remarkably fortuitous choice as our hotel boasted a beautiful covered pavilion housing their restaurant.  Both the service and the food here were remarkable! The wait staff couldn't do enough for us and were constantly bringing out extra complimentary dishes and wines for us to try. We were utterly stuffed by the end.

This was the first complimentary dish they presented us with - some hors d'oevres consisting of little shrimpy things and squid ink. They were interesting to try but I won't be serving them at my next party.

I had ordered the lamb (again!) and my husband had ordered some kind of fish. We were both startled and rather impressed when the waitress wheeled out a large dish on a trolley and proceeded to skin and debone this whole cooked fish in front of us and plate it up beautifully.  It was dinner AND entertainment!

We decided at that point that we had really had enough to eat and we would head back up to our room. The wait staff had other plans!  First they bought out some small jellies to try, then a glass of dessert wine each, then a silver platter with little biscuits. I really couldn't manage another bite but my husband struggled manfully through them.


We were completely done by then so we made our escape and went to bed.