October 28 – November 3, 2018
[Despite this post being about Italy, the featured image is from Athens . . . this little boat was at a club near Flisvos/Faliro, with the sunset and flat water in the harbor made for excellent photos.]
Our ever more complicated schedule has meant that visits to the boat are shorter, lots of time in Toronto where it is cold, but here I sit in freezing weather, writing about warmer climates!
For those that don’t want to read through the boring details, the boat remains in the Athens area, and preparations are being made to cross the Atlantic in the new year. For anyone who would like to crew with me, please feel free to reach out. I will create a second post with a tentative framework/schedule. (While some boating experience is very helpful, most of the trip will be about cooking, watching out a window and monitoring gauges. In other words you don’t have to be a great navigator or sailor. The hardest part of the journey will be the confinement on a boat for 14 days (the longest leg), so the ability to play cards, board games and perhaps cook are the keys to success.
Jinhee’s schedule is jam packed with meetings but it always is, and for five years we have been planning to spend some time in Tuscany for her Birthday (September). Myself, I have wanted to go to Venice for years, because it is expected to be overwhelmed by rising seas in the not too distant future. This year, as always, Jinhee’s business meetings were scheduled for Banff during her Birthday (I joined her for a few days before the meetings to celebrate), but I wasn’t about to let another year pass, particularly with all of my travel to Europe.
It didn’t make sense to try to take the boat to Venice (4-5 days on the water from Athens), so we decided to fly there instead. We arrived just in time to experience the fourth worst flooding ever in the city, but enjoyed ourselves just the same. Then with a drive South through Bologna, Florence, Sienna and ending in Rome, we enjoyed the week.
Below are some photos and more details on the trip if you are interested in reading.
Jinhee and I arrived in Venice, from different cities, within minutes of each other and took a bus to our hotel. We selected our hotel based on it being part of the Mariott chain (we have points), and my presumption that everything is really close in Venice. Close for me is not the same as it is for Jinhee or other normal people. St. Mark’s square is quite a walk.
On our arrival it was raining and there was some flooding. You have to understand that we didn’t spend a LOT of time researching the flooding, tide tables or other practicalities of being in Venice, so my brain just assumed that the streets were taking a while to clear after the rain, being at sea level. Well, this was partly true. By dinner time, we discovered that walking to the centre of Venice was a 15-20 minute walk, the streets were packed and as expected, the water drained from the streets. A pleasant evening all around.
What we failed to consider was that the weather is possibly more important to Venetians than it is to boaters like myself. At the front of the hotel, they have a tide chart with the weather in small print. I ignored it.
On our first morning we got a slow start, Jinhee hasn’t had a real vacation in months, and didn’t head out for coffee until around 9am. As we sat in the cafe, we noticed the shop keeper running for a sump pump and putting on boots. I assumed that the water was rising and the pump was a sign that this was normal. As we finished our late breakfast, the locals started showing up in their hip waders with cameras . . . this was my first indication that things weren’t normal. Our story gets more comical from there, but let’s just say we headed back to our hotel to change, and relax for the day.
That hotel that seemed so far away was above the flood level, and while every entrance had 2-3 feet of water in front of it, the hotel was dry. After ignoring that tide chart on day one, we consulted it at least twice a day after that!
During our brief stay, Italy experienced exceptional storms and the high winds (up to 180km/h) pushed water into the Venetian lagoon, and during high tide on that first day, the water was 1.54m (about 5 feet) above normal and was the fourth worst on record. The storms did abate, and the full moon passed (full moons make for higher tides) and our visit was exceptional.
After ignoring that tide chart on day one we consulted it at least twice a day after that! a few of our memories are in the photos shown below
After leving Venice we drove to Bologna, only about 90 minutes away, and we were largely disappointed. Bologna is a nice town if you are young and hip. It rained like crazy (not evident in the photo, I know, but that was the calm before the storm), was very noisy and had a very youthful party scene. I’m not saying we are old, but . . .
With the rain we ate a couple of nice meals (it’s truffle season!), walked through the town square and shopping areas and rested up for the next leg. We did get a picture of Neptune and some cherubs, so it wasn’t a complete washout.
Next on our list was shopping on the outskirts of Florence. We have been on a guided tour of Florence in the past, so skipped the city, but there is an outlet mall that Jinhee really wanted to see and so we shopped. The mall was not very large, was packed with Asian tourists and because we live in Toronto, travel regularly and luxury goods have spread to every corner of the universe, we didn’t stay too long.
Jinhee did finally find a knapsack that she wanted for travelling. With some cool features like a trolley strap and a charger connection, it is perfect for her carry-on while travelling.
The real focus was to drive through Tuscany, so after the shopping excursion, we headed toward Sienna where we were going to stop for the night. By this time it was raining again but we made the best of it.
The Italian countryside is diverse and picturesque. Throughout the trip we captured almost 2,000 images and some are not very appealing (I have dozens of pictures of La Fenice, the theatre in Venice), and some fail to capture the magnificence of the landscape, some pictures we just couldn’t get from the roadway. Yet there are some that capture the territory.
While taking photos we saw a sign for a winery (Casali Di Bibbiano) in Buonconvento and decided to drive in for an unscheduled wine tour. We had a private tour which was a great experience, the grapes could use a little more time.
We visited a monastery which had a surprising number of visitors for a cool November day, and continued to enjoy the spectacular scenery. Finally we stopped by Pienza, another walled town and picked up a small piece of art depicting the iconic rolling hills. The view from the town walls is astounding and is difficult to represent with photos, but here is an attempt.
Overall we had a great trip and will likely move on to other destinations as the boat moves West this winter. It is nice to have finally experienced Venice and Tuscany despite the weather.