Saturday, May 10, 2014

Two Weeks In Europe



We traveled to Amsterdam, Venice, and Florence at the end of March for 2 weeks.
It is the first time we “squeezed” in three separate cities.

Amsterdam

We flew to Amsterdam, via Panama City, starting here in CR. The train station in Amsterdam is just downstairs in the airport and there is a steady stream of trains taking weary travelers to the Central Station in Amsterdam, a 15 minute ride. How completely civilized! Upon arrival at Central Station we followed the very clear directions to our VRBO apartment, only a 5 minute walk.
Amsterdam Central Station
Typical Canal in Amsterdam
Our first three days in Amsterdam were spent walking along the canals and visiting the Rijksmuseum, Hermitage, Van Gogh Museum, Anne Frank House and the Red light district. The city is filled with people bicycling to and from work, doing errands and traveling with the whole family in many instances. We were often in the bike lanes rather than the sidewalks without realizing it, but a friendly call out or a bell warned and reminded us to get out of the way! It is a very quiet city with few private cars. The trams and the bikes do not make noise.

I enjoyed seeing the houses along the canals and especially loved the slate grey ones with red trim. All are narrow and tall with a large hook for hoisting furniture to the upper floors.

Venice

We flew to Venice and again were pleased with the easy connection from the airport. A bus just outside the baggage area took us directly to Venice and we again had only a 5 minute walk to our “hotel”; a monastery. Our room was simple but perfect with a big window looking over a small courtyard.
A gondola on the Grand Canal
We immediately learned how easy it is to get lost wandering the labyrinth of streets in Venice.  Some of the streets are no more than three feet wide! It took us forever to go a short distance on our way to Piazza San Marco. That was our first “walking tour”. Although we did walk a fair amount during our stay there, we found the vaporettos (water busses) to be not only efficient but wonderful for getting a feel for the ancient city. Such a variety of interesting buildings border the canals. And the water vessels are just as varied, since no vehicles can enter Venice proper, one sees working boats for trash collection, construction projects, deliveries, as well as the gondolas and beautifully maintained water taxis.

St. Mark's Square

We went to the Doge’s Palace and the Correr Museum. The Bridge of Sighs is in the Doge Palace, which is the passage/bridge between the palace and the prison. The museum and the palace were interesting and filled with great art, but we were already becoming a bit “art weary”, therefore opted out of visiting several other museums. It was fun just being there and of course we enjoyed the food.

 

Florence

After 3 nights we took the train to Florence. The train station was only a short walk, but we had to haul our suitcases up and down the bridge steps. The trip was relaxing, we had reserved seats and enjoyed the comfortable and scenic ride. At time we had speeds up to 245 kilometers/hour. Again we marveled at the efficiency and convenience. We could have taken the same train to Rome and other areas beyond.

The Duomo
In Florence we had a very hard time finding our “nunnery”, but finally with help, realized we had passed it right away after crossing the street from the train station. There was construction and we had missed it. But a friendly concierge at a nearby hotel helped us find it.  The room was clean and the location was good, but we chose to check out the next morning after finding an alternative. The other guests were incredibly noisy, and the beds were too short for Norm. The nuns were truly surprised about the noise level. It was apparent that their quarters were much removed; hence they were unaware of the noisy students. We found a very charming B & B around the corner, run by a sweet woman who only spoke Italian. We managed to communicate enough with Spanish and English to cover the key necessities. It was quiet in the room and the building, but the street noise in Florence was relentless. Seriously there were roving bands of adolescents (students on field trips?) out until the wee hours with their hormones causing them to shriek in glee. Consequently, sleeping was challenging!

Copy of David
But once again, our location was excellent and we were able to walk to all of the attractions that we wanted to see. We went to the Uffizi and Academia museums. We were very tired and bored of religious art but there were some things of interest in both museums. At the Uffizi we saw Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Allegory of Spring, both incredibly beautiful.   There were other incredible artworks of including da Vinci, and Michelangelo; we cruised by many others (we were getting numb).  At Academia we saw Michelangelo’s David---all 17 feet of him (carved between 1501 and 1504). No photos allowed in any of the museums, so we will have to go to the internet if we want to remember him and the other art works we saw. We saw several other Michelangelo sculptures as well; all beautiful but David is truly amazing. And of course we had to try as many gelato flavors as possible in Venice and Florence

We decided to explore a garden off the tourist path and found Bardini garden on the map and researched through the internet. It was great walk across the medieval stone Vecchio Bridge over the Arno River and up the hills via narrow streets. We stumbled upon Galileo’s house and observatory/workshop along the way. The garden was uncrowded and we enjoyed familiar spring blooms. The Wisteria tunnel was wonderful, even with only half of the blossoms emerged. The views of Florence from the hill on which the garden is situated provided a totally different perspective.

Back to Venice

One of the bridges that we had cross with our luggage
We bid farewell to Florence after four nights and took the train back to Venice. Upon arrival in Venice we found out that the vaporettos were on strike. When Norm asked how we would get to our hotel location, he was told “you’re walking”. Fortunately it wasn’t far, a 20 minute walk and only 4-5 small bridges (with stairs) to lug our luggage over! What were we saying about the marvelous transportation systems?
We walked to the airport bus the next morning also, even though the strike was over, we needed tickets from our location and there wasn’t a place to buy them. Not a huge problem, the same bridges and a very big one over the Grand Canal---one step at a time!

We arrived back in Amsterdam learn that the airport to central station train was not in service due to maintenance work. But there were plenty of buses to get us to a functioning train that would take us on to Central stations. The only problem was the trains for that leg were few and far between and full. We managed to cram ourselves into the second train and make it to the city Centre. It felt like that should have been utilizing those pushers you see on Japanese trains! What were we saying about the fabulous transportation systems?

Our last full day in Amsterdam was spent at the Botanical gardens. It was a bit funny to be in the huge greenhouses and find several plants that we have in our yard. But outside, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing some of the familiar early spring flowers that we do not see in a tropical climate.

We had another transportation glitch between Panama City and San Jose, the airline had lost our reservation, but it was resolved in time for us to make our last flight and get home to one very happy dog!
You can see more photos of this and some of our other trips at:  http://www.norm-collie.com