This is more than a website of photos, it is a place to share photos, adventures, stories, opinions, and information. I hope you enjoy the time you spend here.
Tom Ballard Photography
Yes, every story, good or bad, and every adventure, good for bad, starts somewhere.. And, of course you know by now, if you have read about any of my other adventures, there is always a story... And if there is a story, why not tell it... Sure, it is part of the adventure! They cannot be separated, well not really.. And, so, I am going to share with you the story before the adventure, then the adventure, and then the story after the adventure, because in this case, there is one, and at the time of this writing, the story after the adventure, is still going on.. I will update this later as more facts become available. And, if you are not one to read a lot of stuff, but like looking at photos, you are welcome to jump ahead and look at the shared images without the story, but then, what fun would that be, you would probably be missing the better part of the adventure!
The story you are going to read about, and see some shared images from, come from an adventure I finished on November 18, 2012. It was 6 days of travel by train in Italy, Austria, and Switzerland, then 4 days in Rome, followed by a 16 day Trans-Atlantic Cruise from Rome to Galveston, Texas. For me, the travel part of this adventure started when I left home on October 22, 2012, and ended when I returned home on November 18, 2012.
So, how did this all happen??
In August of 2011, I was in the state of Colorado, traveling around, camping, backpacking, and waiting for the fall colors to arrive so that I could start recording them with my camera. In the later part of August, August 20 to be exact, I happened to be in Telluride checking my email, when I came across an email from a travel agent that had for years provided good deals on cruises to members of my singles group back home. In this email the message read: "16 night cruise-Rates from 625.32 incl taxes! Hurry." So, I hurried and read further. In short the email described a 16 night Trans-Atlantic relocation cruise from Rome to Galveston, Texas. It would leave Rome on Nov 2, and arrived in Galveston on Nov 18. The part I overlooked was the year.. This was 2011, and I thought that the cruise was going to take place this coming November, so. After looking at my calendar, and thinking about my options, I did not think it would work our for me to go.. I would turn 60 on November 1, and I wanted to do that birthday here at home, plus, I would have to really hurry to get back to my home state, get everything ready to go to Europe, then take off.. All this added up to a heart wrenching reply of "NO'" I cannot make the trip, just too soon, and too much would have to be done to go.. I sent the message, and went on with my day. That night I camped up on the mountain above Telluride along what is known as Last Dollar Road.
The next morning, I was up early to watch the sun come up, get my hot drinks, coffee and green tea, and breakfast taken care, then I was off to town to fuel up the car and head on down the road to new places.. At 10:30 AM, my cell phone rang just after I had left my campsite. The voice on the other end said, this is Marlene, the cruise is not this year, it is next year, in 2012!!!!!!! 2012, WOW, I have a whole year to get ready, sure, I can go!!! And, so, I say, Something like let me check on some stuff when I get to town.!!!!!!!! I pull over to the side of the dirt road, we chat a bit, then after a few exchanges of info, we said goodbye and I was off down the road, with a smile, I might be finally going to Europe!!!!! Only to Rome, to catch a ship that is headed to America, but what the heck, it is a start. In town, I check some things on the internet, exchange another message or two, then send Marlene an email with confirmation that I did want to go and I provided my credit card number to place a deposit.
The rest of the time that pasted in Colorado is recorded in one of the other stories here on my site, so I will skip that, and jump ahead a bit.. In short, if I have my dates correct, it was in this year that I had made plans to meet an ole backpacking buddy in Denver, at the airport, on September 10, and I did, then we traveled on north where we caught up with another buddy, drove on to Rocky Mountain National Park, camped, took photos, etc, then headed for Utah, where on September 16, the only DSLR camera I had with me, a NIKON D40, died.. No more photos for the rest of the month as my buddy and I traveled the western states, then returned home at the end of September. At the time that the camera died, my buddy and I were camped in Moab, so it was there that on the 16th of September, I mailed the dead camera back to Nikon. Then we went on with our trip.
I returned home, and eventually got the repaired camera back, but was a bit shy about taking it to Europe, knowing that is was subject to sudden death attacks! After talking to people on the road and back home, I elected to give Nikon another try, and so while at my country place in another state in late November, I ordered a Nikon D7000, plus several additional pieces of equipment, to include a power grip and an 18-200mm zoom lens. And, while I was at my country place in the other state, I got this email: "Hey Tom: I have a roomie for you on the Nov 2012 cruise- Darlene XXXXXX- the fungal who works at XXXXX XXXXX.- are you for it? Marlene"
Darlene XXXXXX as my roommate for the cruise, absolutely.. I know this lady and she meets all the requirements on my checklist, nice looking, fun, and friendly. I know all this because she and I have known each other for several years as both of us are members of the same singles group. So, I quickly responded that YES, I agreed to this offer, 100 percent.. Make it happen. Then it is not long after that till I go an email from Darlene asking if it would be okay to room with me, as there was only one opening left on the cruise and it was with me! I absolutely assured her this would be great fun, and so with that, we were confirmed.. But, that was really only the beginning of another adventure.
Somewhere after the agreement was made, I got an email from Darlene asking if I would be okay with flying to Rome, free!! Free, absolutely, but what is the plan.. Are we going to take her private jet or what.. Well, as it turns out, Darlene was a flight attendant for American Airlines for years, and now has standby privileges with the airline. Assuming we can make the standby thing work, we can go free, or almost free. On this type of flying, one has to pay for the taxes on the flights. And, to go, I had to be registered as her Domestic Companion, or something like that.. No matter, we had the possibility of flying for free, if it all worked out..
Over the course of the next few months, Darlene and I stayed in touch, but rarely every saw each other, as I traveled a lot and she is still working.. We did however meet a couple of times at cruise planning parties, etc.. Then, as time went by, there was talk in the group, about 38 were going, of going early to Rome, and doing some sightseeing before the cruise.. I was all for it. And, as time went further along, the number of days in Rome grew. First it was to be two days, then three, then it moved up to four. Some people even wanted to go for more days! As time went by, I started getting emails from Darlene asking how I felt about going to Rome ahead of the other people, then doing a train tour in Europe for a few days before meeting up with the others.. I agreed to everything she suggested.. She was the one who had to take off work, I was retired..
Was not long until Darlene contacted me with a plan. She had bought train passes for us to travel first class for 5 days in three countries. The countries of choice were Italy, Austria, and Switzerland. OK, so now this trip has grown from a 16 day cruise to a multi-day train trip in Europe, plus time in Rome, then the cruise. I forget how many days that is total, but I think it went from 16 to 26? We left the USA on October 22, and returned November 18. As time went along with the planning, she would make the plan, pay the charges, then I would pay her back when I could send out a check to her. Mostly it was electronic checks from my bank... But, we/she kept the numbers straight, as a matter of fact, she ended up being the accountant for our trip and kept track of all the money we spent, for dividing later, etc.
In November of 2011, I got my new camera and set out to learn how to use it, doing all kinds of little projects. One was the trip to Branson, shared on this site, then a two week cruise in February of 2012, and a two week road trip in Michigan, both shared on this site.. Now I have the basics down, and the camera has been dependable so far, except that is was delivered with dirt on the sensor, and I could not get fast help from Nikon or Amazon where I bought it. So, I cleaned the sensor myself. But, still the sensor would get dirty again easy! Never knew why. By the time October rolled around I had the hang of the camera thing and decided it would be the only camera I would take, as it is super heavy and would use up a lot of my weight allotment on the trip..
In an attempt to keep snatchers from cutting the strap and running away with it, in Europe, I set out to sew a steel cable to the length of the neck strap, then cover it with cloth to sort of hide it, etc. I did pretty good on the first part, but was struggling with how to finish my sewing project. What I did was go to the local sewing shop, by some nylon webbing, with plans of covering the cable with the webbing that more or less resembled the fabric in the seat belts of our cars. But, time ran out on me, as I had plans to meet some friends in Silverton, Colorado, for a camping reunion, with new friends I had met there the year before. Now in late August, we are doing a reunion in the same campground and in the same campsites we had the year before. How great is that!! The point of this story is, I am in Colorado, I am meeting friends, I have my camera and my sewing stuff with me, and I am thinking that when I have a full day to mess with it, I am going to do my best to sew this stuff on this camera strap. Is not going to be pretty, but should work. And, the thread I have bought for this assignment is upholstery thread. I think you could drag a truck with this stuff, and I have some needles large enough to sew carpet. This has to work.
While I am sitting there in camp, I notice that the wife here is sitting in a chair happily sewing away on a baby blanket or something. Whatever it is, it is a sewing thing, and whatever she did to it, she did a lot of it pretty fast, by my standards. So, I just happened to mention to her that I wish I could sew that well as I had a little sewing project in the car that I would have to tackle.. I tell her what the challenge is. She then wants to see the issue and the supplies. I bring all of it to her. The camera, the straps, the thread, the needle, the scissors, the whole thing. After looking at it for minute or two, she says she thinks she can do it. So, I say go for it. Anything will be better than what I was gonna do. I am thinking this will keep her busy the rest of the afternoon. And with that, her hubby and I continue to solve the worlds problems! I looked over at her a few times and whatever she was doing seemed to be anything but a challenge for her, she was moving right along.. And, in just about 30 minutes, she held out the finished product to me and asked if that would do. I was floored, it was perfect! Absolutely perfect.. Not even a loose thread end hanging out!! I was amazed, and I am still thinking her for the work till this day.. Now for the part I did not tell you, and have saved for the end. How did she know how to do all that sewing so good and so fast??? She is an OBGYN surgeon!!! Go figure!! I drive over 1200 miles to get an OBGYN surgeon to do the sewing on my camera strap! Is that different or what!! What I should also add is that her hubby who is sitting here helping me solve the worlds problems, is a PHD electronics wizard who was a big part of the development and improvement of the pacemakers many people have in their hearts today. The bottom line, you could not ask for better people to go camping with, and both are super great cooks, I should know, they cooked dinner for me every night we were camped together. THANKS to TERRY AND TAMMY for all the fun, the food, and the sewing!!!!
And, something that should be mentioned in here somewhere is that each of us who went overseas for this trip, had to exchange dollars for euros!!! Turns out there is a money exchange here in town in the USBANK building. I think 1000 US dollars got me 778 euros, or something like that.. I think the exchange rate was 1.29 dollars for one euro. I think they gave me 785 in paper, then three metal euros, for using to go to the bathroom other there, if needed.. They charge you to eat, then they charge ya to use the restroom, in a lot of places.. I am sort of getting ahead of myself, but I never had to pay for a restroom, as I was always able to find a free one. More on this later.
As the time drew near to leave, Darlene and I went over the check list of what we would do if the free flight thing did not work out as planned.. It was going to be a bit touchy on travel until we arrived in Rome. And, the first stress point took place at the airport the morning we were to take off.. Darlene has a way to monitor the loading of the planes, etc, and she knew when the best times were for us to fly, if all went well, but... However, experience told her that numbers were not everything, luck and mother nature had a lot to do with our flights. Flights are over booked, and people miss flights, etc... So, her choice was for us to be at the airport real early in the morning, and sign up for the first flight, then go from there. The first flight was to Chicago, and it would leave at 0600. She signed us on.. Then we stood and waited.. Then just when it looked as if we had missed, they called our name!!!! Great, we are on, but there is a problem, they will not let me take my backpack that I am carrying as a carry-on.. They say the plane is full, and I will have to check the pack! My heart dropped. All my camera gear, to include flash, cleaning gear, batteries, chargers, etc, etc, are in that bag and I was not going to let it out of my sight! When I was told that I would have to check my bag, and the lady there had already checked it in, I then asked if I could take the camera out. She said yes.. Then I said I will get the bag back in Chicago, right!!! She said, no, I would not see the bag again until Rome!!!!!!!!!!!!!! OMG! I need it in Chicago, and when I said I just wanted to check it to Chicago, not Rome, she flared up and said that it was checked to Rome and that it would have to stay that way or else I would have to give up this flight and try another later.. I looked over at Darlene, who by this time was trying pale real fast. I am sure she was holding her breathe, praying that I would let the bag go.. If we missed this flight, it could cost us big time in terms of travel.. It was either now or never. I turned to the lady and said let it go.. I will just take my chances.. Honestly, I never expected to see that bag again, or if I did, things would be missing and or broken all to hell. I said goodbye to the bag and headed for the plane.. Darlene's color started returning to her face, and her breathing improved as well. After we go seated on the plane, and I had a few moments to do some deep breathing, I resorted back to my ole belief that everything happens for a reason, so, whatever was to be, was to be.. Let it go, and I did.. After that I was relaxed.
We had a nice little flight into Chicago, where we had to spend a day sitting around waiting to get on a 5 PM flight for Rome.. And, again, we did not know if we would be on the flight or sleeping in a hotel room near the airport.. So, it was a long day of killing time, then as 5 PM drew near, our blood pressure started to rise again. The risk of being left behind was very high.. but, we did what we had to do, then got in line and waited, and again, WE GOT ON!!!!!!!!!!!! We were living, right!!!!!!!!!!!!! Once on the plane, Darlene called our travel agent who will confirm our hotel in Rome now that she knows we are on the plane. The deal was that the agent would not confirm our room in Rome until she was sure she were on a flight going over.. We are on. And, then once we were on, we had another nice surprise, an AA flight attendant came an informed us that we could move up to first class as there were two seats open there. Not together, but rather one in front of the other, but who cares.. It was first class.. This means a real meal, drinks, and a place to sleep on the way over.. When we were seated, we were given a glass of champagne and a newspaper to read while the plane finished preparing to take off.. Then, just before the doors closed, an attendant came told us we had to move out of the seats!!!!!!!!!!! What!!! NO, this cannot be, but it was.. It would seem that two people who were about to miss their connecting flight, finally showed up, and they were the rightful owners of the seats we were in.. Well, good for them, but we would have loved to have stayed in those seats! They were nice..
Now that we have been so embarrassed to have been moved from our regular seats to first class, then back to regular seats, we have to calm down and get ready for the trip across the ocean.. To be honest, I did not see a thing.. By the time we lifted off, it was rather dark out, then we flew all night in the dark, etc.. I think there were little monitors that showed where we were, but meant little to us.. We tried to sleep, in all kinds of positions, but nothing worked. We were getting more tired as the night went by.. Then while Darlene was about to get a little sleep, I could see the sun coming up, and when I checked the monitor, it showed that we were over the middle of Spain, moving southeast towards Rome.. I woke Darlene up to see the nice sight. As the light got brighter, we could see the beautiful mountains beginning to take shape. Was an awesome sight. I tried for a few photos, but did not get much.. We did stay awake and looked out as much as we could, but at the altitude we were, there was not much to get excited about, until we started descending to the airport in Rome.
Once in the airport we could go to the baggage claim area and see how bad the damage was to my backpack and my gear.. I just knew it was gonna be one of those days.. We had landed around 0930 their time, and now if was 10 AM and I am waiting for my poor little bag. Then I hear Darlene say, there it is! And sure enough, it came out of the loading port right in front of us, and it was actually almost the first bag to come onto the line.. The surprise, it was just the way I had given it to them.. I grabbed it up, looked inside, etc. Nothing hurt, nothing missing, nothing touched.. It was just as I had left it the day before back home. AWESOME.. I am now feeling way better! And, within a couple of minutes, the two other bags arrive. We can go now.. Darlene tells me we are going to our room, where we will get a shower, get some sleep, then we can start our vacation!!!!!!! Sounds great, I am beat.
Now things are going to get a bit sticky.. We are hot, we are sweaty, we need a room, and per our travel agent, there is a shuttle from the airport to the hotel. We look all over for it. Nothing.. No shuttle.. We must have spent over an hour trying to find this mystery shuttle. We go talk to a taxi person, which is not easy, as many do not do English very well. And, in Rome, there are two different taxi systems, one for in Rome and one for the areas outside Rome, which is what we needed... After pacing all over the place and talking to a lot of people, as best we could, we went back to a taxi person, and rented a taxi to the hotel, which was only two miles away.. The charge was about 20 Eros. After saying yes to the charge, we were loaded up and hauled some 10 minutes away to our little hotel. It is called a residence hotel, as it is tucked away in a residential area. Looks pretty much like all the other homes around it.. But, it is a hotel, and it is named La Maison Jolie. This place was not what I expected, but then I did not know what to expect.. Darlene had been to Europe many times as a flight attendant, so she handled the official work at the desk, plus, she could understand the people many times better than me.. I had real issues with the language, not her. I think she could read their mind or something! Whatever it was, she got us a room and it turned out to be number 17, on the second floor.. The memory photos will tell the rest of the story.. But it was neat.. In a strange kind of way. It was nothing like the rooms we have back home. We got ourselves moved in, we got our showers, and then we headed for bed.. We were whipped..
Something like two hours later, we woke up, got dressed and decided to go find food.. Thought there would be lots of it close to the hotel.. Wrong.. When the man at the desk made suggestions, there were few, and the better options were some two miles away, down at the beach! So, what to do, we took off walking and it was getting dark. But, if you know me, I had a GPS, and I recorded the position of the hotel, for when we needed to get back, etc.. Some two miles later, and with one stop for help, by Darlene, we made it to the beach area, where we shopped around for a place to eat. I do not eat fishy things, which made things more difficult, as these people seem to do a lot of fish and pasta. We did find a little place that had an American name. I think it was called Hemingway!! I will have double check that. I did check. It is Hemingway in Fiumicino. You can find it on Google maps!!
Once inside Hemingway, we were seated, but we were the only ones there! How do these people stay in business... When Darlene and I arrived in this area, we found that it is a beach area next to a beach. We guessed this is a place that makes its money in the summer while people are coming to the beach, which is not clean, so, you have to wonder! But, here we are, and we find that they even have a menu in English.. But even with that, I am lost, so I find what I think is a hamburger, and order it, but I also manage to order an Italian beer, which has a red color.. Was good, but cost about 9 euros or 12 US dollars.. Was draft beer which you will see in the photo set... Darlene got a fish and pasta dish.. She seemed to like it, but I was not impressed by the burger.. Not sure what it was, but it was not like anything back home! However I did eat it and with the beer, I did okay!!!
After dinner, we headed back to the hotel in the dark.. Was a bit cool out, but we were fine.. The walk seemed safe enough. Was not a pretty part of town, with pretty things to see, but it was a nice little stroll. Was the first time we had together to just visit and get to know each other.. Up until now, we had been living separate lives, but heading in the same direction. Now we are together and we have time to get acquainted. Made the walk back to the hotel seem short. Once back, Darlene went through the travel plan and got us set up to take on the train system tomorrow. We left home on the 22nd, it is now the 23rd and tomorrow, we take our first train ride. Also, Darlene made arrangements with the front desk to keep our large luggage bags for us until we return to Rome some five days in the future. Tonight we have to sort out the clothes, deciding what we will be leaving here and what we will be taking with us. She managed to get all her stuff in a tote sort of thing, I loaded my backpack. Much of it was my camera gear and meds, etc. And, for me, even trying to go lite was not lite.. The one thing that I will ask people to watch for in the photos is Darlene's bag of popcorn. While we were at the airport in Chicago, she bought a huge bag of some special popcorn that she likes there. Very expensive, but good!!! I was not sure what she was up to when she bought it, but knowing that she was a professional traveler, I had to assume she knew what she was doing. She managed it well. I guess I never expected to watch a person carry a bag of popcorn halfway across America, and the better part of three countries in Europe.. I have forgotten when the bag of popcorn was finally finished, but it traveled a long way with us!!! We both nibbled on the stuff for days.. Was good!!! Bottom line is, we made it to Rome, got a shower and some sleep, then some food, and now we are packed for the days on the trains ahead of us for some five days. Today is the 23rd, we plan to be back here to pick up or large suit cases on the 29th, then catch up to our buddies who are coming in on that day.
To review the images for the trip up to this point, use the link below:
October 24, 2012, This is our second official day in Europe!!
Excitement is here at full strength! This will be our day 2 of our adventure in Europe, but only our first full day in Europe, but, since we got here yesterday and I need an easy way to keep track of things, I will refer today as day 2.. That keeps it simple..
I think it around 0530 when I hear the alarm go off, and without any hesitation we are both out of bed and getting ready for our first full day.. And, it is going to be full.. We have to learn how to catch a train, ride a train, and then be sure to get off at the right place!!!! If you have ever done it once, it is easier, but not perfect.. But, to do it the first time, is a challenge.. However, that is getting ahead of the story.
I am one to take at least two showers per day, sometimes more.. So, I start the day with a shower to wake me up. I do not remember what Darlene did, but in short order, we were dressed and off to the dining room where we were to eat our first complimentary meal at a hotel.. I had no idea what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised that all the foods that we had to choose from were pretty much like back home.. In the photos you will see how the little breakfast area is set up.. Actually, it is rather simple, but is effective.. The hardest part for us was trying to figure out the coffee machine. In a fair number of places that we stayed, coffee and other morning beverages like coffee and expresso come from a machine.. And, you are not sure what you will get when you press the buttons.. This morning, after a trial run or two, I learned which button to press to get something that looked like coffee but was super strong.. The solution was to get the strong stuff, then cut it with water, to my liking.. Actually I had to do that several times in the days ahead. Works pretty good.. One of the unusual things there is that they most often do not server water in a pitcher, but rather in quart size bottles, etc.. I finally got use to this, but was odd to me for a long time.. And, juices were also served via machines of different kinds. Most often it was orange juice or in some places it was orange and pineapple, I preferred the pineapple.. Other things that are common at most all these breakfast places is pastries, turkey or chicken slices, and several selections of cereal, plus, yogurt. I am not a yogurt person, but most days I did have it just to see how it tasted.. Most were pretty good.
Here is a note to anyone thinking of doing something similar, a breakfast can last you all day.. Most all the time, if not all the time, Darlene and I were on the run all day, so we would really fill up on breakfast, then we would not need another meal until dinner time. This was both a time safer and a money saver. So, it worked for us.. And note, the breakfast is a buffet, you get to eat all you want, so....
We did the breakfast thing, then it was back to the room for our last minute packing, and then to the office to drop off our bags, which would be staying here while we were off running around for next five days or so. Darlene had arranged for the hotel to keep our bags for us while we were gone, and she arranged for us to catch the shuttle that would take us to local train station. Today, we would be headed to Venice!! And, we would be going by train. However, the main train that travels the country does not start at the airport as one might expect. So, you have to manage to get from wherever you are to the main terminal, then catch the big train, which will zip you across country to wherever you want to be.. In our case it was our goal to get to Venice. To do this, we had to catch a shuttle at our hotel, ride it to the airport, then buy tickets on the short train that takes people to the main train station, where people like us have to get tickets for their trip.. And so, we did. As I recall, we had to buy tickets for the short train, but we already had tickets for the fast trains, but still, we had to go in the office and make arrangements to ride. What we had was just a past, not the actual ticket.. When we showed the people our pass and told them where we wanted to go, they issued the ticket, which tells us which car and which seats to go to.
Darlene, being the better person to understand the people and their system, managed to get our short train tickets, got us on, and in short order we were gone.. As I recall, we had to stand up on the trip from the airport to the big train station. But it was only 15 minutes or so in length, so it was not so bad.. That said, I think Darlene laughed most of the way there. As she tells me later, because I was wearing a large travel shirt with two huge pockets on the front, and I had those pockets full of SPOT transmitter, GPS, Camera viewer, etc, I looked as if I had breast that would make Dolly Parton proud!! Whatever, it kept Darlene entertained for the short ride..
Speaking of the short ride, I did not get to take any photos as I recall, but the short train went through some of the worst areas one could imagine. The view from the train was just nasty. There was lots of trashy areas, lots of brush that was full of trash, and nearly every overpass had a hobo village under it.. When we would go under an over pass, I would look out and it was amazing what I would see.. Under one overpass, there had to have been 15 places set up where people were sleeping.. They had actual beds with mattresses set up. Others looked to be just sleeping on the ground, but it was as close to a hobo place as you could get. And, along the long concrete walls near the track, there was graffiti painted everywhere! I did not expect the trash, the hobos, and the graffiti, but it was there in huge numbers.
Once at the big train station, we finally found the train office which is not all that easy to do. But, we did and Darlene did her magic thing and got our tickets from here to Venice. I do not remember the train car number or the seat number, but as I recall, we had to ask a bunch of people before we were sure we had the right train. What we had heard ahead of time and what turned out to be very true, is that the older Italians are very unsociable and very unhelpful. But, the younger ones are just the opposite. So, after several frustrating attempts with the older people, we turned to the young ones and in no time they had us headed in the right direction.. And, this anyone should keep in mind, when they say the train leaves at 10 AM, they do not mean 1010 AM. If they are three minutes late, they are late.. So, getting on the train and getting on in time is a real deal there, unlike the planes etc here! Once seated and bags stashed away, we settled in for the ride to Venice.. This is what I came for, to look our the window of the train and see the country side, and how the people lived. Oddly enough, most of the country we saw looked just like back home.. Go figure. There was little difference there than here! The interesting part is, our train was traveling at around 140 miles per hour. I thought that would really be a rush, but it was so smooth that I hardly noticed, and after awhile, I even forgot about it all together. Looking back, I wish I had taken a photo of the signs that tell how fast we were traveling, but I did not.. Our speed and location was constantly displayed on TV screens on the train. The displays would also tell when we would arrive at the our destination, etc.. Really neat.. In fact the whole train and train experience was neat.. We were traveling in what was sold as first class seating, so I guess we had the best of seats.. If anyone is considering this adventure, pay the extra money and go first class.. The little bit of extra room etc that you get is worth it...
Per the clock in one of my photos, we arrived in Venice around 1:30 PM.. It was not what I expected, based on all the movies I had seen, but it was still an AHHH moment when I realized I was actually in Venice. Just for general knowledge, the train comes right up into the middle of Venice to let you off, then it backs out or something, but when we got off, we were in the perfect place to start our adventure. But what to do? We are here but what do we do next. Then Darlene comes to the rescue again. She looks the place over, goes into the little visitor center that is in what looks like a small trailer. I wait outside, plus mill around while she goes in and does her magic.. After a short time, she emerges and says we are all set to go. Go where? To our hotel! Where? On the other side of town, or somewhere. To get there, we go to the dock, use our 24 hour pass that she has bought, and we use the public water service(taxi) to go to our hotel location!! Took a little doing to figure our how to get on the water taxi, but we did and off we went. She is sightseeing, and I am doing my photo thing.
The water taxi system, as it turns out, has many paths it can take, depending on which taxi you get on, and at which dock... Lucky for us, this was all taken care of by the visitor people and Darlene. Then, after 45 minutes of riding, stopping, riding, stopping, etc, we found the dock where we were to get off. Now we had to find our hotel. And as luck would have it, the hotel was in just the perfect place, right almost in front of the dock!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We had been put in the Pensione Wildner. And when we checked in, we were in room 25, which turned out to be their best room, or darn near to being the best. It was just above the entrance and had two windows that opened out so that we could see all the action around the docks and the gondolas, etc.. We were right in the heart of Gondola Country!! Gondolas everywhere.
After checking out our room, we took off to explore. I wanted to get more photos of the town, etc.. So Darlene let me chose the adventure, but with her help. She had learned that we were very near the St Marks Square, which seems to be very famous there. So, off we went to see that and the church that was there, etc... Then from there, we rushed back to the water taxi and started riding around just looking at the buildings, etc.. We ended up back at the train station, then got on another taxi that eventually took us back to the hotel. It turned out that the ride gave us a great view of the sunset that evening.. Was great.
Back at our dock, it was time to get something to eat, so we went back to the hotel, got the person there to recommend something. We took his suggestion and went to Robertos near St. Marks Square. Turned out to be a very nice choice.. We got to sit outside under an awing, where we could relax, and do some people watching!! As I recall we chose pizza for dinner this night.. Which turned out to be very good.. I forget the price, but I am guessing each pizza cost around 12-15 US dollars. Then, you have to pay for bottled water, if in fact you want water with your meal, and you do want water with your meal.. And, to go a step further, you want the bubbly water, as they call it. We would call it carbonated water.. The cost, about 5 dollars per liter. Then, of course, I tried their draft beer.. And, as I recall it was pretty good. Italian beer was always good, but I was very disappointed with the German beer I would have on the trip. Just did not care for it. It had too much of a bitter taste to it.. Will talk more on this later. I should have reviewed Darlene's records for this note, but I am guessing the meal for the two of us was around 50 euros or 65 dollars. The thing that got our attention and something I questioned was the service charge!! On our bill was a 5 euros cover charge. For what??? In these countries, you are not expected to tip.. If you should get carried away and tip, it should not be more than 1 or 2 euros. I was assuming this cover charge was similar to a tip that was automatically added on.. So, I called the man over and asked, and I even had him show me on the menu where it said they charged a cover charge.. In very small letters and in a sneaky place, there was words that say there was a cover charge!!! What is a cover charge? I still do not know, but in short it is a fee for the use of their table!!! If all you is sit down and buy a bottle of water, you get to pay to use their table.. It is called a cover charge and it is tacked on at a fair number of eating places.. It costs around 5 euros or near 7 US dollars. What a racket! We paid it, and left..
From Robertos, it was time to go exploring. We went back to St. Marks Square, where it seemed that every kid in Venice was trying to sell some kind of little flying device that they would shoot up in the air about 100 feet and watch it come spinning back down. Was kinda neat actually. These little toy things had a blue glow light in them that made them glow for several hours. I am guessing it was that glow chemical that some emergency systems use for lights at night. Whatever they were, lots of kids had bags of them to sell and the price was all over the place, from 5 euros each to 6 toys for 5 euros. We passed on all the offers, but did watch the young men shoot them up in the air..
After dodging the flying show for awhile, moved on to walking some of the back streets. I was amazing to see all the shops hidden back in walkways in the town. We were never lost, as one cannot get lost on an island, but we were disoriented a few times and had to ask for help getting back to the square!! Was an interesting experience. It was in this town that Darlene got her camera out to take some photos, but had data card issues. Then after she and I tried many times to solve the issue, the data card door fell off.. At that point, Darlene gave up, put the sick camera away and that was the end of her photography work. So, all the photos that were going to be taken from here on would be with my camera.. This will become an important issue several days from now, when we are back in Rome. But, for now, we ate, we toured part of town, saw the shops at night, saw St. Marks Square at night, and strolled along the waterfront as we moved back to our room. Was a great day.. Tomorrow, we will be heading north east to Vienna, so we have to get some sleep for the long day ahead of us! Before going on this trip, Darlene said there are two things she had to have, food and sleep. If she got those, she was good to go, and that proved to be true.
To see the images that are shared for day two, use the link below. This will show the travel from Rome to Venice.
I am not one to get up early, which is why you will see few, if any sunrises in any of my photo sets.. I think mornings are for sleeping.. In the really early morning, and sometimes even later in the morning, there is just that perfect mix of light, dark, air temp, air pressure, humidity, quietness, etc, that is just perfect for sleeping, and I am not one to waste it.. Wasting the morning is for other people. So, with that thought in mind, you will now know how hard it was for me to get up when the alarm went off this morning!! Alarms are one of those necessary evils that we have in our life, and yes, I was carrying one of these evil things on this trip, as getting up early was necessary for this adventure! However, to be honest, I think I woke up before the alarm went off this morning. I cannot explain this, maybe I was sick!! OH, well, my photo records show that I was up very early..
I am sure I paced the floor for a bit, made that first run to the bathroom, etc, but then I found myself opening one of the big windows in our room, to see if the rest of the Venice was also awake, like me! Is this one of those places where they are my wavelength?? Do they sleep in or what! To my surprise, when I looked out, there was life outside the window, and might have been the cause of my waking up, and what sparked my interest to look out. What I saw outside was darkness and a heavy fog covering the dock areas all along the walkway in front of our hotel, but there was life out there. Even in the darkness and the fog, there were boats moving around.. How the heck they could tell where they were going and how they kept from hitting each other is a mystery, but they seemed to be doing well at it.. And, what I noticed was that these boats were not carrying people, but rather supplies of different sorts! Some of the things I could identify, but most was covered and I could not tell what was under cover, but in large quantities, there was what appeared to be cleaned laundry items. There was lots of stacked white stuff that looked like towels, wash clothes, sheets for beds, etc.. So, just maybe it was the linen service for the hotels all around us. And, now that I think back about it, I think I saw big bags of stuff that could have been dirty linens, go out yesterday.. So!!!
Whatever the reason, I stood for the longest time and watched the dock area as the sun came up and with the sun came more boats. As more boats arrived, there was a shift from supplies to people! It started slowly but then escalated into a mass of people getting off the incoming boats. And, they were in a hurry!!! Though I never talked to any of them, logic would say that this was the workers arriving here for the day. Guess I never thought about these people living somewhere else and coming here to work.. Later, after looking at some maps of the area, I assumed there are few people who live on the island of Venice, compared to the number of people who work on it.. I am guessing most, if not all of these people were commuters who lived on the mainland, then came here for the day, much the same way our people go downtown to work. But, being a traveler, most islands I have been to, the workers lived on the island and worked on the island. However, most of the islands I have been to were too far from the mainland for the workers to commute.. But, on Venice, I think the most of the workers commute to the mainland each day, then come to the island to serve the tourist. Whatever the real story is, the people were coming in masses and were dressed in just about every way you could think of. Was kinda fun to see life start here for the day.. When we were out last evening and night, it was all about the tourist, now it is all about the workers, then, in a few hours, it will switch back to being all about the tourists!! At this hour of the morning, all the beautiful gondolas are covered and secured. Not a tourist in sight, except for me, looking our the window..
At some point Darlene joined me to observe the mass of people and the action on the docks as the atmosphere transitioned from worker to tourist. Then, after some prep time, we took off to go experience the effect of early morning life around the dock area. Our hotel would be supplying us with a complimentary breakfast this day, but it did not open for service until 0800, so, we have some time to kill.. The first order of business of the day was to get packed up for leaving and making sure we had all the necessary paperwork in order, which is a job Darlene got, because she was good at it. I am not good at this sort of thing, so again, it pays to have a good travel partner!!!! Once packed and paperwork in order, we could then go for our walk and wait for the cafe to open. I am guessing it was around 0700 when we took off on our little stroll along the docks..
What we found when we got to the docks, was mostly quietness and openness. Most all the delivery people had already been there and gone, most all of the workers had already arrived and disappeared into the building complex, so we sort of had the place all to our self, except for a few other wandering souls. So, we took advantage of the opportunity and had ourselves a nice little Venice morning. If kinda felt like we owned the place and everyone worked for us, as we were doing nothing but strolling, looking, enjoying, while the rest of the people were quietly working away, without even noticing we were there. As the day went by, this would surely change as the area would be flooded with tourists and workers offering small items for sale, tours, and gondola rides, which we never got around to doing. Guess we will just have to go back some day.. Oddly enough, gondola rides seem to be something that happens very late in the evening and into the night... I guess the water is just too choppy during the day, with all the water taxi traffic, etc.. Never did check the price for the rides, while there, but talked to someone later who said that a gondola could carry about 6 people, and this person had rode with other people on a short ride of about 45 minutes I think, and as I recall, the ride cost about 60 euros. I could be very wrong about these numbers so if anyone is planning to go, check the prices and options ahead of time, as I think there are many options for the rides..
Speaking of the gondola rides, the movies always show a single gondola drifting romantically along in one of the canals, while a perfectly dressed gondola driver does his magic with the paddle, or whatever, and sings to the customers who are loving couples riding along in style drinking wine and admiring the view. I think I saw that once. But, even then, there was a flood of gondolas all around. In one case, there were two gondolas. One gondola carried the customers, and the other carried a man playing a guitar and singing! Not sure what that was all about! And, as for the well dressed gondola driver, we think of them as being perfectly dressed in their little striped outfit and wearing the traditional hat, well, that is an illusion, most of the time. Most of the drivers are so laid back that they wear no hat, and any ole t-shirt will do. So, if you want the full image effect, you have to look around. Some drivers do play the part, others are just not with it. And, I would also suggest you ask where the trip will take ya. As I saw many gondolas out in the wide areas fighting the very choppy water!! Not very romantic! So, plan ahead.
We ended our little stroll back at the dining area of the hotel, at 0800. This is the when the doors to the dining area opens. Breakfast here was somewhat the norm. We never found two breakfast bars to be the same. The range was from super meager to super awesome. This one was one of the nicer ones. In the photos you will see what we had to eat. One thing that is offered a lot for breakfast in Europe is hog meat, which I do not eat, so I have to skip the hog stuff, but in most places, they have chicken as a second choice, which I always took, to get the protein. As a note, to eating on the road for this trip, Darlene and I found that we were very comfortable with eating a large breakfast, the we had no need for food until we stopped for the evening, at which time we would grab dinner at some local place recommended by the hotel people. I think we were both carrying food bars, etc, for backup, but rarely used them.
After breakfast this morning, it was a rush trip back to the room for last minute tooth cleaning and grabbing our bags, etc.. Then it was down to the front desk to drop off the "key" and head for the dock to catch the water taxi to the train station for the next leg of our adventure!
To stay on schedule, our plan called for catching the water taxi at around 0930, then travel to the train station and catch the train around 11:30? All went as we would imagine as we rode the taxi back to the station. To be honest, there was many taxi options, and we never really learned how to choose which taxi to take.. Somewhere in my photos you will see the map of the taxi service. Since the place is an island, you cannot get lost forever, but you can seem to be lost for a long time. To get to where we wanted to go, we found the easy way was to ask a local which taxi to take, then get on and go, but the problem here is that some taxi rides are more scenic than others.. I tried my best to get on the most scenic rides, but now that I look back, I do not think I did very well.. So, if you are going there, study the system before you go. It is complex, and I cannot think of any reason for the complexity, but to these people, I guess it serves their purpose. Whatever the system, there are two main routes, one that goes out around the island, mainly on one side, and I think it is the west side, then the other takes the large canal route through the island. Both paths offer things to see, but I am guessing most people would prefer the channel through the island as opposed to the route around the outside. I think we got one ride though the island and two on the outside.. The photos will show the difference in the two routes.
I keep speaking of catching the train, and travel by train is all we know that will be happening, but things are going to change this morning. We are going to learn something we did not know about, nor had we heard about. When we got back to the train station, we go into the station, go to the ticket desk and say where we want to go. I hardly understand what is being said, but Darlene gets it, and she makes arrangement for our ride, but this day will not start the day on a train. While Darlene is talking to the agent, I keep hearing the word bus being used. And at some point the female ticket agent takes out one of the schedule books and shows us that there is a bus symbol in some places in the book. What the heck! Turns out, the train does not go to all places, in some places, the trains are connected by bus service! Go figure. And, today, we get to experience this feature of the system. We are headed to Vienna, and to get there, we have to take a bus from here to a town about 30 percent of the way there. So, we have to go catch a bus, ride it for awhile, get off of it, catch a train, then go on to Vienna.. A bus,,,, who would have guessed, but there it is, right there in the book.. You learn something new everyday. And, of course, we get to add something else to our adventure. To be honest, I did not expect much in the way of a 'bus".
Now, the problem, finding and riding the bus. I would expect it to be right there along side the trains, wouldn't you~! But, no,. We have to walk, ride, and wait. The agent tells Darlene to go out the door, follow the side walk over the glass bridge, catch the people mover, get off at the bus stop, catch the bus.. And, with the little map provided, Darlene leads us off to the bus station.. But, guess what, we have to find a thing called a people mover! Whatever that is. We assume it is a bus. But, after looking all over, and not doing well, Darlene ask a cop for info. He points to a sign near us on a post, and then to a building across and further down the street.. Off we go. At the next sign, we have to enter a building. I am super lost by now. Inside we find a sign that tells us we have to have a ticket to ride a "people mover" which is upstairs, somewhere. And, again, Darlene finds a machine that sells tickets for one or two euros per person. Not sure how she figured it out, but she did manage to get us our two required tickets. Now we are off to the "people mover" which is upstairs, somewhere! Once upstairs, we find it. There is one of those things like you see at some airports that zips people from one terminal to another. That is what this thing is.. I think we had to scan our cards to get on.. Once in, the doors close and off we go, but how far is the answer.. Truth is, I think we traveled less than a mile, maybe even less than one half mile. Really all they were doing was getting us from the island of Venice to the mainland.
When the darn thing stopped, we were there. This thing only goes to and from. Not much in between. At the end of the line, we get out, look around and follow the other people getting off. Down the stairs we go and end up outside at a big parking lot.. Now what.. No bus station, no bus, just an empty lot with several slots in the lot that look like places a bus might park if there was one there. No people, no bathroom, no nothing. But, we are brave and we go looking around. At some point, Darlene meets an older lady who say she too will be on the bus with us. And, yes, this is the place to catch it, even though it is not here. This lady might have more money than us. She tells us she lives in Venice part of the time, then Vienna part of the time.. Figure that one out.. OK, so this is the right place. With that I go wondering around looking for things to take photos of.. And as it turns out, I end up gathering rocks to bring back to my friend Nancy who requests these things from my travels.. Had no idea where I will find these things, but today I was blessed with a hold bunch to choose from, and I ended up grabbing several samples to take home for her to study! Problem is, I will now have to carry and keep track of these things for nearly a month! Nancy better be good to me from now on for doing this.. Actually I have hauled these things in to her from all over, to include Alaska and Nova Scotia, and many points in between. Now, back to the story.
Once I finish my mineral collection assignment, which was down by the water in what looked to a trash dump of drift stuff, I head back to where Darlene has been guarding our bags and visiting with other people who have started arriving. In this group is a young 24 year old man from Australia, who will provide us with most of the helpful info we get. Turns out he is a single fella named Milan, who travels here in Europe for about 4 months each year. He has several small jobs back home, but mostly he works for a hostel. He saves up all of his money for his big vacation each year. To start his adventures, he buys a plane ticket to some point, then from there he proceeds to selected hostels in towns he wants to learn more about. Generally he spends about 4-5 days in a town, then relocates and starts a new adventure in a few town. He repeats this pattern for four months, then heads home.
We did learn that we were indeed in the right place and yes a bus would come pick us up. And sure enough, a bus arrived and after verifying this bus would take us to the place were we would catch the train, we gave our luggage to the driver, who stored it in the bus, after which we got on. Oddly enough, we sat downstairs in this two decker bus. Turns out that since we have first class train tickets for this adventure, it also applies to the bus as well. And this bus does have first class setting, which is downstairs. The rest of the people ride upstairs!! There are two stairways to get upstairs. I was impressed. I had thought this bus thing was going to be the low point of our travels, but it turned out to be awesome. The lower level has a real bathroom, which all passengers use, and it even has a beverage bar that all passengers use. Was neat. We had huge comfortable seats assigned to us, but in the end, I went upstairs for the ride. I learned from Milan, who was seated upstairs, there was great viewing from the top deck, so I headed up. Also, I could send out my satellite messages through the front windshield, which I could not do from the lower deck where there was a dark film over the windows. My transmitter would not work through the film, so, had to do it upstairs, but the upstairs is where I spent my time except to go down for potty break and to get more coffee, etc. I rode behind Milan, but close enough that he could tell of his adventures and how he arranges them. Darlene came up for awhile, but did not stay as long as I did. In the photos you will see the mountains that we went though while riding the bus. I expected to see lots more mountains, as the week went but, due to bad weather, these are about the only mountains I will see on this trip. Rain and fog hid the rest of them.
After a few hours on the bus, we came to the town where we would catch the train. We said goodbye to Milan, and headed off to the train. Once on, there was little to do except relax and watch the world zip by at around 140 miles per hour. Later in the day we did have some cold beverages and later yet, we had dinner on the train, as it became obvious that we were going to be arriving late. I think my beverage choice was the German beer which I really do not care for, but it was cold and brought on the relaxing feeling I like to enjoy on a trip like this, so, whether of not it tasted good, it was still nice to have. After the drinks, we had dinner. Dinners on the train are very small compared to meals back home, but they got the job done. I think they cost about 15 US dollars, maybe more. The beers were about 6-7 dollars each.
As we rode along, darkness came and took away our view outside. Then, shortly after dark, we pulled into the train station in Vienna. Not having a clue where we are going to stay for the night, we followed the crowd into the mall across the street. Darlene and I tried to find an information booth, and did manage to find one tucked away in the mall. As I recall, we got to ask the person for hotel info, just as they were closing. Turns out the options were few, for us. We needed to stay close to the station as we were to catch an early train the next day. The best option we had was Motel One, right next door. So, off we went. Turns out if was a very nice place, and the price was within our range. I do not remember the cost, but was about 100 euros, which would be about 130 US dollars. I guess I should have gotten better notes from Darlene's records.
After checking into our room, we did a bit of exploring in the mall next door. Interesting what you can find in other countries.. The most interesting thing to me was the McDonalds. It had really fancy sitting areas and the option to order from a machine and then pay there with a card, etc.. You will see this in the photos.. After the exploring trip, I stopped off at the front desk and managed to borrow an Apple iPad to send an email or two.. Maybe only one. I could not figure out how to use the darn thing! But, the deal was, the hotel had several of these things that they would loan out to people to use if they stayed in the lobby area. To use one, I had to put up a 500?? dollar deposit on my credit card, then once I returned it, the charge was reversed. I only used it for a few minutes, then gave up, returned it and headed to the room to be with my roomie and plan for the next day, which was to be a trip to Salzburg. The interesting point of this room, was that when we walked in, there appeared to be a fireplace in the wall. Actually it was our TV, but had a video playing on it that made it look like fire in a fireplace!! Too cute.. And, as for the room, I think it was the most "modern" looking one we stayed in on the trip. With the alarm set for "early", we were off to sleep, tomorrow would be another fast paced day.
To view the images shared for this day of the adventure, use the link below:
Today I will do something I have never done in my life before, I woke up in Vienna, Austria.. Never done it before, so this adventure is starting off with a first! And, I am up really early again.. Darlene is a slave driver! Well, not really, but, someone has to take the blame for all these early morning wake-up calls! Today, we have another very early train to catch. We also have to eat before we go catch the train, so we do not have the luxury of sleeping in.. Guess that will have to wait until we got on the cruise ship that will take us back to the USA. More on that later. But, for now, it is all about getting up early, getting our butts moving. Actually Darlene has this part down to a science. In her earlier life she had spend years as a flight attendant, so packing light and fast is right up her alley. For me, it is a struggle, all the time. I always get it done, but not with the ease that she does it. All that said, we had already asked and had learned that the dining area would open for breakfast at 0700, I think. So, well before 0700, we were headed downstairs to be the first or one of the first in line for breakfast. As it turns out, the dining area was not behind closed doors as many places are. This breakfast was served in the lobby and I guess it was up to the people to not touch it until 0700. We got there early and found this beautiful setting of food, that was picture perfect.. And, yes, I started taking a lot of images before anyone had a chance to mess it up.. And we intended to wait until 0700 to eat, but others started showing up and diving into the food, so we joined them. It was as good as it looked.. By now, we have a pretty good idea what all the mystery foods are, based on the appearance and the packaging, which is nearly the same across Europe. We did have a couple of surprised that were great, and we had others that we did not care for, and stayed away from in the future.. But, over all the meal was great.. You will see it in the images.
Once finished with the meal and with bags in hand, we were off to the train station across the street. In no time flat, Darlene had our tickets and had us on the train. Then, off we went. This time we are headed to Salzburg. How long we will be there is anyone's guess.. We are just playing it by ear. We really did not have a clue what we were doing next.
When the train stopped in Salzburg, we went outside the station to look around, and what we found was a sign that offered a "hop-on hop-off" Sound of Music Tour for 15 euros. That is about 20 dollars in our money. So, we looked at each other, said why not, and paid the man for a tour, actually two tours! Now we are on the bus and ready to go.. The thing to know about these hop bus tours is that they follow a set pattern, a loop, that they travel constantly, all day, or within certain hours. When you get on the bus, you are given a ticket and a set of little ear bud things to listen with. The plan is for the rider to put the ear buds in their ears, then plug them into the outlets on the bus, which is supposed to be playing a sound track that will let the rider know about what they are seeing out the window. Not sure how they are keyed up to do that, but that is the plan. However, there was an issue for me, I cannot use ear buds, due to the shape of my ears, but I carry a set of headphones that I can substitute as needed. However, I discovered that a wire was broken to one side of my headphones, so I could use only one side. By experimenting, I found that I could place the ear buds in position by my ears, then place the headphones over them to hold them in place. This proved to work fairly well, most of the time.. However, we were somewhat disappointed in that the sound track did less than we expected in giving out info.. I would have expected more.. But, it was better than nothing.
The surprise that never had an answer was that the bus took us from the train station to a bus parking area, where we sit for what seemed like one half hour. Then we took off again. I guess this was their bus terminal, of sorts! While waiting, I looked around for photos, and found some nuts that had fallen from a tree. I photoed the nut and the tree, but never learned what the tree was called.. Might have been a chestnut??
Once the bus got under way, we sat and watched the town and the views go by, while listening to the info on the soundtrack. It would seem this town was made famous by the movie, Sound of Music. As the story goes, the locals were not even aware, for the most part, that a movie had been made there and that it had become famous in the USA, until people started showing up and wanting to see all the places where the movie had been filmed!!! Turns out most of the famous scenes had been "created" from a collection of places, and would best be described as faked, but tourist wanted to see the places. At first the town people found the nutty Americans to be a problem, then they wised up and decided to cash in on the whole thing, and did, and still do! Darlene and I had maps of the trip, and talked about getting off and seeing some of the more special areas, but given the challenges of the weather, etc, by the time the 1.5 hour bus ride was completed, we felt like we had enjoyed enough of the place and chose to get off at the train station and head west again. This time we would be headed to Innsbrook. So, same as always, Darlene manages to get our tickets, gets us on a train that was leaving in just minutes, and off we went!
Nearing 3:00 PM, we arrive in the famous Innsbrook, Austria!! We are here! Now, we need a room, then we can explore here, as it is too late in the day to travel any further west, and I seem to have started coming down with a cold, which concerns Darlene. We head into the mall area nearby, where Darlene finds an info desk and asks for suggestions for a room, medicine for me, and a referral for a place to eat. The good man at the desk speaks better English than me, and is very helpful. I did not find the Italians to speak very good English. I did not find them to be helpful or friendly, but further north, that all goes away and you find some really fun people, like this man. Really enjoyed talking to him.. Also, we will find that the further north you go, away from Italy, the better the food gets.
The man who Darlene talks to, calls a few places and finds a room for us for the evening, for 73 euros, or near 100 dollars. We say yes, and the reservation is make, but we have to walk 15 minutes to get there. The info man draws a map for us, actually he draws the path we should take, on a general tourist map. And, he tells Darlene, the best medicine for me is a bottle of wine make from Zweigelt grapes, whatever that is. And, he suggests a restaurant Old Town, and he marks the area on our map. With that we are off. The first stop is a grocery store in the mall area. Besides the wine, which we do find in there, we also want some zinc for my throat. Problem is, nobody in the store speaks English well enough to understand what we want. In our country, we can get the these zinc lozenges, which one can suck on to the chemicals. There, they did not have.. But, one fellow in line near the cash register understood what we wanted, spoke to us about going to a pharmacy. Problem was, pharmacies were closed this day, due to a holiday! Now what. The man says there should be some open, and he will go check. And, by golly, he does. He comes back and tells us where we can find one!! What a cool thing to do for us.. People are much more helpful up north!!!!!! But, while in the store, we get two different brands of the wine we were looking for. At the register, the checkout man tells me that if I get two of the same brand, I can save money, so, I pay for two of the same brand, leave the odd one with him, go back in the store, get the second bottle from the shelf, work my way back to this checkout fellow, wave the bottle at him, get the nod to go, and we were out the door..
Now, we have to find the pharmacy. The maps and the streets do not always match, in this country and in theirs. But, with work, we find the place and I tell the man I want the zinc for my throat. He ends up selling me a bottle of the pills, for 20 euros, and he becomes interested in our trip, and where we were staying. He suggested we try a place just down the street. So, after paying, we did go check out his suggestion, but it was about 50 euros higher than the other place, so we headed to our original place.
Along the way, we discovered this was going to be one of those "off the beaten path" kind of places, much unlike the "hotels" we had been staying in. We had to go past a lot of construction, under a train track, around behind a college, across a bridge, walk a path along side a river, before reaching our destination.. We were actually about to give up when we met a couple about our age, who were walking towards us. We stopped them, asked if they knew the place for which we were looking. They did not know of the place, but said the address was nearby. They helped us hunt for it. We found it. The problem, such as it seemed, was that we were approaching the building from the backside and could not see the name on the front door. Again, very friendly people that we met. As I recall, this was dating couple that had been together for a couple of years or more. I think they met while he was traveling in Belize, where she was from. He was a local. After dating long distance, they had come up with a plan, as she did not want to marry and move to Austria. She would come live with him for a few months, then he would go there and live for a month, then they start the process over again.. He spoke the local language, but she could care less about learning it, so she just stuck to English!!! After a nice visit, they went on with their walk and we entered the hotel.
When we got there, the poor man that owns the place was pacing the floor, thinking we were lost! But Darlene explained we had to get the wine and the meds on the way.. So, all was good, he had room 24 saved for us.. When she tried to pay, he said no, just pay in the morning! Figure that one out.. He gave us the key and wished us well.. When we asked about breakfast time, he said it was supposed to be at 0800.. We said we would have to pass as we had to catch an 8:15 train. So, he says not to worry, be here before 0700, he would do breakfast early for us and one other couple that also had to leave early! And, so it was.
We went to our room, checked it out, opened the bottle of medicine wine and started the treatment with wine and zinc, for both of us.. Then, after the treatment was completed, we decided to walk to Old Town for dinner. Still it is raining, or nearly so, but we take off anyway. The walk is 10-15 minutes in length, and was a good way to see more of the town. Darkness was on us shortly after we arrived in Old Town, which was inside the walls of an old fort, or similar. The town outside the fort looked typical of what we saw in most places, but behind the walls, the place looked and felt like something from the middle ages!! More or less like they show in the movies... Was neat, but had surprises.. Right in the heart of this old looking place was a McDonalds!!! Just like back home! We passed on eating there and went for the place that was suggested to us, named HAPPS. This is a restaurant on the second floor of one of the "old" buildings.
In the restaurant, we were met at the top of the stairs by a man who seated us and brought our menus, etc. Was a nice atmosphere, much like what I thought I would find all over Europe, but did not. I am not sure what we would have done for conversation had it not been for the couple sitting next to us. They were locals who spoke rather good English. Actually they had to work at it a bit. But they said it as fun to talk to Americans as it gave them a chance to practice their English. They are taught English in the local schools, but without practice, they lose the ability to do conversation, as they have to stop a lot and think about the right words to make a good sentence.. But, with the two of them working together, we had fun visit, and they were helpful in choosing our dinner items.. I ended up with the onion soup, for my cold, and a steak dinner for my tummy!!! Forget what Darlene had, but she liked it. And, the prices, though I cannot remember the amounts, was very reasonable, compared to the places we had been. And, here, you get a whole meal with your entree, pretty much like home. Was great eating. Maybe even the best we had while in Europe. I am guessing we spent about 60 dollars each for dinner. Once out of Happs, we were off for a little more looking around, then headed back to the hotel. Both of us need some sleep. But, on the way back, we found the perfect answer to drunk driving! We found a bar, where apparently everyone comes there on a bicycle!!! There were bicycles all over the streets, and there were lots of young people inside the place drinking up and having a grand ole time.. Would have been fun to have seen how they ride their bikes after the bar closed!
We left the kids to their drunken bike riding and we headed for our room and some rest. We have been talking about trying to make it to Geneva, Switzerland tomorrow night. To do that, we have to start early and move fast.. The owner of the hotel will have breakfast ready for us at 0700, so, we got to be up ready! We are hoping this rain finally moves out so we can see the mountains, etc.. But, the outlook is not good! We do all of our prep work and head for bed. Has been a long day.. Most of it in the rain.
To view the images from this day of adventure, use the link below: