24 Hours (or less) in Venice, Italy

Water, water everywhere is what most people think about Venice. However, our experience was more like people, people everywhere.

Venice in peak travel season

It’s true. Roughly 30 million tourists flock annually to the area which is no more than 160 square miles. If it’s summertime (peak tourist season) and you don’t like crowds, you may want to only spend a day or two in the famous city of canals.

Another thing to think about is this: Venice is not ADA compliant. If your hotel isn’t on a canal, a water taxi will do you no good. Instead, you will have to carry your luggage through the tiny street and over bridges which consist of steps, not ramps.

Since our cruise departed Venice and my spouse and kids had never been, we stayed overnight and saw many sites in the limited time.

We arrived around 3 pm via the direct public bus from the airport to the Piazzale Roma – the last place cars can go on the island. It was only about a half-mile walk to our hotel but it was difficult due to having to cross several canals twice. It wasn’t the walking that was hard, but the carrying our luggage up and down the steps on the bridges. Once we got settled and met up with my in-laws, we walked back to Piazzale Roma to take the vaporetto for the Grand Canal cruise.

Now to enjoy Venice! We downloaded the Rick Steves free audio guide of the Grand Canal cruise on two of our phones. We split the ear buds between one of us and one of our children. By getting on the vaporetto (public water bus) at Piazzale Roma, we were the first ones on the boat and got seats at the very front. The  audio tour starts at the next stop, which is the train station.

On the Grand Canal Cruise

Our boat careened around the corner and palatial buildings greeted us on the way. The Grand Canal is wide – considered the major throughway of the city. Boats, gondolas and other vaporetti swam near us. Next thing we knew, we stopped at a dock where more people got on board. The tour was informative and explained various points of interest including both the Rialto Bridge and the Accademia Bridge, as well as the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and the hotel where George Clooney was married. Everything looked Venetian – that is Roman with a Byzantine influence. At the end of the 45 minute ride, we got off and walked back to St. Mark’s Square, passing by the Bridge of Sighs.

Lorenzo Quinn’s sculpture “Support” rises out of the Grand Canal in front of the Ca’Segredo Hotel

Throngs of people walked past us as we headed past the Doge’s Palace and to the church and tower. It was an Italian holiday and we watch military solders carry the flag. Then, we purchased some of the best gelato!

Doge’s Palace

Walking back to the hotel was another experience. Instead of wide open waterways, we zig-zagged among alleyways and pedestrian-only streets. We crossed over the Rialto Bridge which was filled with shops along both side. I took a time-lapse video of the experience. A few times, we got turned around and the streets are so close together that our cell phone navigation system couldn’t find us. After about 25 minutes, we got back to the hotel and went to the Campo Santa Margherita for dinner.

Venice is full of small alleys and squares

After dinner, we walked back to St. Mark’s Square because that’s what Rick Steves suggested. In the evenings, many of the day-trippers have gone home and the crowds thin considerably. This was my favorite time. As dusk approached, we enjoyed crossing the Accademia Bridge where a man strummed his mandolin. Near St. Mark’s we window shopped at the many high-end retailers – Gucci, Chanel, Ferragamo and more.

Entering St. Mark’s Square at night was a completely different experience as an orchestra played near by. Walking around, we could enjoy the beauty of the magnificent architecture. We could have listened to the St. Mark’s Square audio guide, but I was toured out. Instead, we found a sidewalk cafe and ordered wine and tiramisu.

St. Mark’s Square at Night

The next morning we breakfasted at our hotel and set out for the Frari Church. Located near the Piazzole Roma (and further from St. Mark’s Square), this cathedral was less crowded. Tintoretto, Titian and others’ paintings graced the walls of the caverness holy space. I felt I was in a museum, but no – this is an active cathedral and these paintings and sculptures were commissioned to be here. We did download the Rick Steves’ Frari Church audio guide and it helped tremendously.

Inside Frari Church

Passing through the Campo Santa Margherita again, we stopped for pizza and went back to the hotel to gather our luggage for the cruise. Once on the boat, we had amazing views of the skyline. All in all, I felt we had enough time in Venice. The only thing I regret is not buying a leather purse along the way.

Last view of Venice from the cruise ship

 


City of Walls – Dubrovnik, Croatia

Picture a coastline with mountains. That’s the Dalmation Coast and home to our first stop on the cruise – Dubrovnik.

When I toured it back in 1985, it was part of the now-defunct Yugoslavia. I was so taken with the area that I did a large college project on Yugoslavia in my International Business class. However, the Croatian War of Independence began in the early 1990’s and I feared that Dubrovnik as I knew it was gone forever. Nobody expected this UNESCO World Heritage Site to be shelled — but it was.

My husband took a walking tour of the city walls. They are so thick that for 20 Euros, you can walk all the way around the city on top of them. It took him about 90 minutes and he said it was worth every minute of it! Below are pictures he took on top of the city walls.

We booked a private tour and met our guide, Bojhadar at the Pile Gate. Immediately, we transcended to a different era. The pedestrian-only area reminded me of Venice with nooks, crannies and alleyways. The only difference was everything was white – kind of a marble material. The main street is called the Stradun. It is wide from it streets go uphill on both sides. Bo gave us a history of the country started way back to the time of the Ragusas. He walked us past a church where Game of Thrones had been filmed and then to the other side of the Old Town farthest from the Pile Gate at the waterfront. We could see St. John’s Fortress and the marina.

 

Bo mentioned that if you ask where locals eat, the answer is nowhere. There are no locals in Old Town anymore. People who lived here have now rented out the bottom floor for restaurants and the top floors for hotels or b&B’s. Tourism is their major industry. As we walked, I saw people rolling suitcases along the limestone streets. If I thought Venice was hard, this would be super hard to navigate a suitcase!

The other thing was that the streets were slick in places. Bo explained that because so many people walk on the streets every day, they get worn down and slick. Every once in a while, I saw a plaque that showed a picture of what the area looked like when shelled. I had to ask Bo about his story. After the tour concluded, he shared with us what happened to him in 1991.

 

Bo told us he was 10 years old when war broke out. One day, a military aircraft flew overhead. Since they didn’t have any military aircraft, it had to be from the enemy. The next day, school was closed and shortly thereafter the shelling began. They had no power or water. Many would go to the Onofrio fountain to get water. At home, Bo had a 10-month old brother. there were no diapers, no formula. The mom would leave bo at home with the baby brother while she went to get water. Sometimes, the shelling started when she was gone and he was afraid she wouldn’t come home. She did. They finally decided to flee and he said living as a refugee for six months was awful. “I can’t describe it, but it was the worst thing ever.” In fact, things were so bad, they returned to their home in Dubrovnik before the siege was completely over. Everyone from his family was okay, but his grandmother’s house in the country was raided and burned to the ground.

After the tour, we had a quick snack and headed back to our ship.

 

 

 

 


Day Trip to South Carolina – Yellow Branch Falls

Another weekend arrived and we wanted to take the dogs on a hike. We’ve done a lot in North Georgia and decided to try South Carolina instead. Since we’d gone to Lake Keowee for the Solar Eclipse, we decided to explore the surrounding area. Our travels lead us to Yellow Branch Falls in the Sumter National Forest.

Since we were also trying to get some practice driving for our teenagers, we drove up to Clayton and then on a windy road to Mountain Rest. There, we stopped at a local restaurant called the Rooster’s Call for burgers. Since we had the dogs with us, one of us stayed in the car with the dogs (and AC running) while the others ordered. I had the pimento cheese burger which was hearty.

Just about five miles down the road, we parked at Yellow Branch Falls. The trail is about 1.5 miles to the falls. As we climbed up and down, dodging tree roots along the rugged path, we passed friendly hikers and other dogs.  After 1.5 miles, we came to the falls.

 

You can walk on the rocks at Yellow Branch Falls

There were several things I particularly liked about these falls. First, you could walk right up to the rocks. There was no dedicated platform where people were squished together. We had fun climbing the rocks and one person was napping on one of the ledges.

I also liked that although they were not tall, these falls were really wide. The water cascading down wasn’t located in one big burst, but in nice trickles all around. It was like a gentle shower.

After returning to the car, we drove literally across Hwy 28 to Issaquena Falls and Stumphouse Tunnel Park. For a $2 parking fee, you can visit both in less than an hour. We drove to the parking lot for the falls. Just a short walk away is a view of the top of Issaqueena Falls. The wooden platform area was crowded and some people were taking the ten minute walk to the base of the falls.

Issaqueena Falls is taller with a 200-foot cascade

We drove over to the other parking lot to see Stumphouse Tunnel. I couldn’t figure out what it would be, but the sign explains it all.

 

 

In a nutshell, construction of a railroad tunnel through the mountain began before the Civil War, but was never completed. Now, you can walk in the tunnel area. Using our flashlights from our cellphones, we could feel the cool air as we walked through the wet, sometimes sloshy, earth.

Entering the tunnel

 

Inside Stumphouse Tunnel

You don’t appreciate the light until you turn around and walk back towards it to exit. Its like another world inside, completely oblivious to the outside world.

After leaving South Carolina, we took a windy path to Toccoa, Georgia. I’d heard there are falls you can almost drive up to on the Toccoa Falls College campus. Our map directions took us to the wrong part of the campus, but a helpful person gave us directions. Some of us were tired and cranky and opted to stay in the car. We went into a Visitor Center, walking through a gift shop and towards the back of the building. I had no idea what to expect. So far, I wasn’t impressed. We continued to walk a few feet and there it was – a tall, really tall waterfall.

Toccoa Falls right on the Toccoa Falls College campus

 

Who knew this would be right here on a college campus? It was another one of those falls where you could walk around and enjoy. One lady had a stroller and when I walked by, something inside yelped. It was a baby – but two small dogs.

 

As we left, we went into the student center to use the restrooms and fill up our water bottles before driving home. The students were courteous and said things like, “How are you doing?” and “Hello.” I later found out it is a Christian college of only 750 students on 1,100-acre campus. It might be worth looking into for our family.

One last view of Toccoa Falls