Venice – the Floating City

Venice – the Floating City

The Canals of Venice
The Canals of Venice

Venice is without a doubt one of the most famous and visited cities in the entire world.  It is romantic, charming, unique, and a bit daunting.  Visiting Venice is definitely a “bucket list” destination to any serious traveler.  Our first visit to Venice was over 20 years ago, and looking back on that adventure, it was a disappointment.  Our subsequent visits, though, were all remarkably memorable.  MUCH has been written about Venice, and I doubt that I can add anything new, but I’d like to make some observations on:  (1) Our first visit, (2) St. Mark’s Square, (3) the canals and  bridges– specifically the Rialto and Academia Bridges, (4) The gondolas of Venice.

Our First Visit to Venice

During the summer of 1997 we spent several weeks in Europe traveling by train.  Our system, we though, was a good one–until our trip to Venice.  We scheduled our trips so that when we moved from city to city, we traveled overnight by rail, arriving at the new city early in the morning and ready to explore.

When we boarded the train for our overnight ride, somehow we were placed

St. Mark's from the Canal
St. Mark’s from the Canal

on an American college car–pretty much a drinking and partying car.  There was virtually NO sleep that night and when we arrived in Venice early the next morning, it was humid and hot, and we were exhausted.  Not a good introduction to a world class city.  Fortunately, we braved a return to Venice and since then have visited several times.  Each visit is more enchanting than the last!  This world class city is amazing.

St. Mark’s Square

St. Mark's Cathedral
St. Mark’s Cathedral

Anyone who visits Venice immediately becomes aware that St. Mark’s Square and the Doge’s Palace are the virtual center of the city.  St. Mark’s Basicila is the main attraction in the square with the famous Doge’s Palace beside it.  The “doge” was a prince ruler of Venice, and over its history there were many of them; Enrico Dandolo did the most for Venice, and this makes him the most remembered doge.

You are allowed to visit the Basilica for free, but often there is a long line to enter.  A shortcut is to go online and for just a few Euros reserve a spot in the Fast Track line.  A walk through this massive cathedral is kept at a steady pace leaving little time to stop and look.  Pictures are NOT allowed.  Once inside the cathedral, you can pay a small fee which will allow you to go up to the roof of the Cathedral.  From there, you will have marvelous view of the Square.

The Doge's Palace
The Doge’s Palace

There is a fee to tour the Doge’s Palace and the tour is guided.  I highly recommend this tour; the price is minimal and the information gained is well worth it.  One of the most interesting parts of a tour of the Doge’s Palace is to walk through the prison and cross the

The Bridge of Sighs
The Bridge of Sighs

“Bridge of Sighs” with its small windows looking out over the canals of Venice.  This small bridge between buildings got its name because the prisoners who passed over it “sighed” at their last view of the city.

There are a couple other places of interest in St. Mark’s

St .Marks Camponile
St .Marks Camponile

Square.  Directly across from the Cathedral and the Palace is the Camponile–or the bell

St. Mark's Camponile bell
Camponile Bell

tower which towers 323 above the square.  Also, for another small fee you can ride an elevator to the top of the Camponile. This is where you can 360 degree photos of St. Mark’s Square and the canals.  The bells are HUGE so cover your ears if you’re there when the bellow are ringing.  Once again, I highly recommend going to the top of St. Mark’s Camponile.

All around St. Mark’s Square are lovely shops and restaurants.  Each restaurant always has live music which, of course, adds to the romantic ambiance.

St. Mark's Square Musicians
St. Mark’s Square Musicians

The most famous restaurant is the Cafe Florian which opened 1720.  You name any famous person, and he/she has eaten there.  Just for grins my husband and I stopped for a cup of coffee.  That is all we had–ONE small cup of coffee each.  The cost:  $32.00 BEFORE a tip.  Just a little “heads up.”

St. Mark's Square
St. Mark’s Square from the Camponile

From St. Mark’s Square dozens of streets and canals spread out into the city.  You can easily get lost in Venice as you meander down the narrow streets passing dozens of elegant shops or as your walk along one of the canals or bridges.

The Canals and Bridges of Venice

Venice and its neighbors Murano and Burano are all areas “rescued” from the

Canals & Bridges of Venice
Canals & Bridges of Venice

sea. Originally, this region was a huge mudflat but as people fled from enemies in Europe, they soon discovered that they could build on pilings and pass between homes and buildings via canals.  Within the city itself there are 117 canals and 409 bridges!  All commerce is transacted via boats on the canals.  This includes deliveries of goods, mail and anything else that is found in a city.  It is common to see water taxis, water ambulances, and even water police.  Truly, Venice is a place that must be experienced personally to really appreciate.

Venice has many bridges but a visit there must include a walk over the

The Rialto Bidge
The Rialto Bridge

famous Rialto Bridge.  It is a huge bridge with shops up and down both sides.  The Academia Bridge (or Ponte del Academia is also a must.  It crosses the Grand Canal toward the opposite side of the city from St. Mark’s.  From this bridge you can get excellent photos of the Grand Canal in both directions.

The Gondolas of Venice

The Gondolas of Venice
The Gondolas of Venice

Possibly, though, the most glamorous and famous transportation in Venice is via a gondola that are guided by the colorful goldoliers.  A gondola is a flat-bottomed boat that for years has been used in Venice because it is so well suited to the lagoon-like conditions.  The gondolier uses only one oar which he guides in a skulling manner.  The oar also acts as the rudder.

Gondolas & Water Taxis
Gondolas & Water Taxis

For centuries the gondola was Venice’s chief means of transportation and at one time there were 10,000 gondoliers.  Today, the gondolas are most a tourist attraction and there are only 400 gondoliers working now.  Even though a gondola ride is rather expensive, it is    such an icon of the city that tourists take these rides by the 1,000s.  Evening gondola rides are especially romantic when the gondolier not only guides the boat, but he also sings to his passengers.

How to Visit Venice

Europe is famous for its trains, and many people travel here by train.  The train station is near the ship dock and the Academia Bridge.  And, of course, you can visit on a cruise; I’ve been there both on Princess cruises and Viking cruises.  Both of these cruise lines, allow two days here which is really great!  If at all possible, allow yourself more than one day in Venice–several days if possible. Look for a later blog here about the Island of Burano.




Montenegro – the Adriatic’s Secret Jewel

Montenegro – Adriatic’s Secret Jewel

“Discovering” Montenegro

City of Kotor
Montenegro: City of Kotor

One of the biggest surprises in visiting the countries near the Adriatic Sea is “discovering” Montenegro!  Whether you arrive by land or sea, you will be filled with awe and wonder at the spectacular beauty.

Because of this, a seasoned traveler might even compare some of the sites to Alaska’s fjords.  Montenegro means”black mountain.”  The mountains around this beautiful little city look black; thus, the early sailors named it Montenegro.

A day in the port of Kotor:

Montenegro’s port city of Kotor recently gained popularity with cruisers.  Each of my three visits here have been absolutely delightful   Kotor, its ancient walls, and the fortification above the city are all UNESCO sites.  Consequently, here are at least three things I recommend for your visit in Kotor:

1.  A city tour:

Kotor City Square
Montenero: Kotor, City Square

Each cruise line will provide a walking city tour; depending on the cruise line, some are complimentary and some are for a fee.  Kotor itself is a walled city, surrounded by a moat.  In the center of the main square is the Tryphon Cathedral.  Kotor’s cathedral is unique in that only one of its towers was

Montenegro: Kotor city moat
Montenegro: Kotor city moat

completed after a severe earthquake in 1979.  The local guides are quite good in giving a brief overview of their city.  The walk is low impact with few stairs.  I highly recommend a city tour for your first visit to Kotor.  There are numerous shops, cafes, and coffee shops in which you may enjoy the ambiance of Kotor.

2.  Our Lady of the Rocks:

Village of Perast
Montenegro: Village of Perast near Kotor

According to legend, this islet was made over the centuries by Croat seamen.  On July 22, 1452 an icon of the Madonna and Child was discovered on a rock in the sea.  As the legend goes, at that time they made an oath that each seagoing vessel would toss a rock toward the rock near the Madonna with the belief that this would bring a successful voyage.

Our Lady of the Rocks
Montenegro: Our Lady of the Rocks, Kotor

After centuries, these many rocks formed a small islet large enough to build a chapel to the Madonna.  Upon returning from a successful voyage, seaman brought  a tribute to the Madonna.  This islet is a treat to visit.  The interior chapel walls are banked with 100s of silver & gold icons given to the Madonna after a successful voyage.

Silver gifts for Madonna
Montenegro: Silver gifts for the Madonna

To visit the islet, you will either travel around the Adriatic coast by bus or boat to the small village of Perast.  From Perast you will take a brief boat ride across the water to the little islet.  On the islet you should receive a guided tour of the chapel dedicated to the Madonna and Child.  If you travel to Perast by bus, you will return by boat and vice versa.  This excursion is a memorable treat.

3.  The Kotor hike to the fortification above the city:

Fortification Hike
Montenegro: Fortification Hike above Kotor

Kotor sets at the foot of Mt. Saint John.  On the top of this mountain is an ancient fortification built by different groups dating back to the 1400s.  Its history is tangled and convoluted.  If you want to know more about this fortification, click here.  For the sake of your short visit, though, you can still climb to the top on an unguided tour.  As you walk though Kotor, veer to the right; eventually, you will come to the beginning of the hike. There is a small fee of just a few Euros.

View of Kotor from Mountain
Montenegro: View of Kotor, from Mountain

The hike to the top is over 1,500 steps.  The steps are wide, steep, curved, and uneven.  Each step is equivalent to two, so a hike to the top and back to the city below is approximately 5,000 steps.  If you are adventuresome and in good health, I highly recommend this!  There is a small chapel about half way to the top that is a good turn around spot.  And, remember to take water.  I’d probably avoid the hike on a rainy day because of the uneven and steep steps. The views of Kotor, the sea below, and the general area from this hike are priceless.

Location and a “little” Montenegro history:

Kotor Salin
Montenegro Sali-in, City of Kotor

Montenegro’s Southwest coast is  the Adriatic Sea.  It received its name because early seaman thought the mountains looked black.  The country is bordered by Croatia to the west, Bosnia and Herzegovina to the northwest, Serbia to the northeast,  Kosovo to the east, and Albania to the southeast.  Its capital and largest city is Podgorica.  The coastal town of Kotor is absolutely a delightful way to enter Montenegro.

In 1042 a revolt resulted in the independence of Duklja from the Byzantine Empire and a new dynasty formed.  In the following centuries, this area was controlled by several different regional powers and the Ottoman Empire.  In 1918 Montenegro became a part of the of Yugoslavia.  At the end of WW II, it became part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia led by Tito.

After the death of Tito, circumstances changed in the Slavic regions.  When Yugoslavia broke up in 1992 with a series of revolts and revolutions, Serbia and Montenegro established the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The other former republics opposed this.  Later, it renamed itself Serbia and Montenegro.  On May 21, 2006 they held an independence referendum.  Then on June 3, 2006 they declared an independent Montenegro.  Three weeks later on June 28, 2006 the country was accepted into the United Nations.  Finally, on Oct. 22, 2007 it was officially named Republic of Montenegro.

Montenegro Today:

Today, the country enjoys a time of peace.  Its economy is based on international trade and tourism.  In addition to the booming cruise ship traffic, the country also offers several world class ski areas. The Euro is the standard of change, and by European standards, their tax rate is low at a flat 9%.

If you have enjoyed this blog (and I trust you have!), you might also love my blog about Dubrovnik, Montenegro’s Croatian neighbor.

City View from the Gondola
City View of Dubrovni from the Gondola
I experienced both Dubrovnik and Montenegro on a Viking Cruise.  I have cruised a lot and love Princess, but Viking is unbelievable.  If you like to cruise, you will love Viking.

Dubrovnik – The Pearl of the Adriatic!!

Dubrovnik – The Adriatic Pearl!

Lord Byron once called Dubrovnik, Croatia “the Pearl of the Adriatic.”  Once you

City View from the Gondola
City View from the Gondola

visit this historic sea coast town, you will surely agree.  Its history is colorful, tragic, and heroic!  My husband and I have visited the city several times and LOVE it.  It’s our favorite Dalmatian Coast city.

Dubrovnik was founded in the 7th Century. For 700 years it was an independent merchant city trading with countries as far away as India and areas of Africa.  For centuries Dubrovnik lived in harmony with other countries and merchant cities.  Despite all this, the city has been devastated three different times.

Walking around the historic walled city is easy and impossible to get lost.  There

City Walls of Dubrovnik
City Walls

is an open gate (with a drawbridge) at each end of the placa.  On the placa you walk from gate to gate in just a few minutes.  But take some time and wander around the narrow streets; enjoy the many shops; and visit a few of Dubrovnik’s 13 unique churches, each with her own set of bells!

Views from City Walls
Views from City Walls

If you have free time in Dubrovnik and want an adventure of a lifetime, “walk the wall!”  At either entry gate you can pay just a few Euros (less than 10) and literally walk completely around the small city.  On your walk you will enjoy breathtaking vistas of the Adriatic and excellent views of the city below.

And.. if you’re even more adventurous, exit the city by the Pile Gate and climb to the top of the adjacent ancient fort.  From the fort you will get even better view of the old City of Dubrovnik!  You can purchase a combined ticket, or buy tickets separately.  The cost of the fort ticket is 50 Kunas.  Note:  The ticket booth is half way up the climb, so buy your ticket BEFORE you begin.  That is a note from experience!

The Tragic Earthquake of 1667:

1667 Earthquake
1667 Earthquake -Artist’s rendering

Dubrovnik’s tranquility was shattered by a catastrophic Earthquake in 1667.  Over 5,000 citizens were killed and a large portion of its priceless Renaissance art and architecture were completely destroyed.   Only two buildings survived this catastrophe.   The city that we see today still reflects the reconstructed baroque style that occurred after the earthquake.

The Arrival of Napoleon in 1806: 

The glory days of the historic merchant city were already declining when Napoleon arrived in Dubrovnik in 1806.  When Napoleon’s generals reached the city after they conquest of Venice, the city officials capitulated and handed the the keys to the city.  By 1815, like most of the eastern Adriatic coast, Dubrovnik became part of the Hapsburg Empire, where it remained until 1918.

Yugoslavia and Croatia

Following World War II Dubrovnik became a part of the new country of Yugoslovia led by General Tito.   General Tito led Yugoslavia was from 1945 until his death in 1980.  Tito loved Dubrovnik and often visited his favorite villa their. His rule was a combination of absolute allegiance to Marxism combined with a rather independent and combative relationship with the Soviet Union.  Tito was the last of the World War II Communist leaders. He was responsible for amalgamating the six different areas of Yugoslavia into a country, but with his death the country began to fragment.

The Siege of Dubrovnik: 1991 – 1992

Following the death of Tito and his dictatorial leadership, Yugoslavia’s six distinctive areas each began to seek independence. Dubrovnik was the city in Croatia that experienced the most devastation and continual bombardment.  The Croatian forces gallantly defended their city against Yugoslav’s Peoples Army  for 238 consecutive days.  During these days 194 of the Croatian army were killed along with 88 civilians.

Replaced Tile Roofs
Replaced Tile Roofs

This bombardment provoked international condemnation of the Serbs.  It became a public relations disaster for Serbia and Montenegro, contributing to diplomatic and economic isolation, for them both.  Croatia officially declared its independence on June 25, 1991.  During this 20th Century Siege of Dubrovnik, 11,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed; in fact, in present day Dubrovnik over 70% of the tile roofs are new!

Tourism is now the Number One industry in Dubrovnik, and visiting the city today you will see little evidence of a war that occurred less than 30 years ago.  Dubrovnik’s proud and tenacious citizens have nearly completely rebuilt their beautiful and historic city!  Split and Sibenik are also interesting Croatian Dalmatian Coast cities that are great to visit, but Dubrovnik remains my favorite. You will LOVE your visit here; I promise!!!

I experienced Dubrovnic, Montenegro, and the Yangtze River on Viking Cruises. I have traveled on over 175 cruises and absolutely LOVE Princess.  But, Viking stole my heart as well.  If you like to cruise, you might want to try Viking!

Thailand: The Land of Smiles!

Thailand: The Land of Smiles

Thailand: The Land of Smiles

Kathy with Ron McDonald
Kathy with Ron McDonald

Visiting Thailand I quickly understood why it is called “The Land of Smiles.”  One visit to any country never makes someone an expert, but our visit to Thailand began to open up the brand new world of the Far East!  Thailand is a gorgeous, tropical country, and its people are extremely friendly.  Thailand is indeed a “Land of Smiles.”  Thailand is a Southeast Asian kingdom that has survived for generations.  The lush jungle atmosphere provides a Thailand visitor with beautiful vistas beyond explanation.  Be ware, though, the humidity is staggering!  Staggering!!

Thailand:  A Land of Buddah

Budha Army
Buddha Army

Beyond the weather and Thailand’s lush tropical environment, the first thing that is noticeable is the omni-present Buddha.  Buddha is everywhere in the form of statues, icons, and monasteries.  It was our privilege to visit several Buddhist monasteries and even visit with several monks.  Possibly the most memorable of the Buddhists shines for us was the Brahman Shrine near Hat Yai.

Brahman Shrine
Brahman Shrine

The Brahman Shrine is dominated by a huge statue of a Three-headed Elephant.  During our entire visit, firecrackers were being fired.  (Apparently, they are fired all day long).  We were told that the belief is that the noise keeps evil spirits away.  Not only were people shooting firecrackers, but they were purchasing dozens

Sacrificial Elephants
Sacrificial Elephants at the Brahman Shrine

of marigold garlands to wrap around the neck of the shrine’s many elephants. (If you want to visit, there is a cable car to the shrine, or you can drive up the mountain and park;  the cost is around 200 Baht, or about $6.00

Pattaya & the Sanctuary of Truth

Gulf of Thailand on near Pattaya Thailand
Gulf of Thailand on near Pattaya Thailand
Public beaches of Pattaya
Public beaches of Pattaya

After a week in the south near Hat Yai with its abundance of rubber trees and villages, we flew north to Bangkok and then took public transportation to the City of Pattaya  on the Gulf of Thailand.  The beaches were beautiful to see, but we

Pattaya Taxi
Pattaya Taxi

didn’t find them particularly clean.  The humidity was even more intense here, but instead of the rural setting, we found ourselves in a major city by the sea.  We found our way around well on the local “taxi cabs”–converted pickup trucks.  Even though we enjoyed the change to the urban setting with its modern malls and busy streets, we really enjoyed the Sanctuary of Truth.

Pattaya’s “Sanctuary of Truth”

The Sanctuary of Truth
The Sanctuary of Truth in Pattaya
Elephant Ride in Pattaya
Elephant Ride in Pattaya

The “Sanctuary of Truth” is situated on the Gulf of Thailand in the city of Pattaya.  It is completely constructed of wood and all hand-carved.  The different sides represent both Buddhism and Hinduism from several different Southeast Asian countries.  The site offers several tourist options that ultimately fill an entire day.  Touring the sanctuary itself is most educational and really a must.  In addition, the Sanctuary grounds offers cultural dances (included in the video clip above), elephant rides, tours of the Sanctuary craftsmen, and boat rides on the Gulf of Thailand.  Please ignore the heat, and take in this most unusual site!

A Day Trip into History

The River Kwai
The River Kwai

Early one morning on our visit to Thailand, we boarded a small van and began one of the most interesting days of our Thai journey.  This day trip took us north to the historic World War II site of the building of the Bridge over the River Kwai.

What a solemn adventure to actually visit the site where so many Allied prisoners of war gave their lives to “help” the Japanese build a bridge from Burma to the sea.

Thai Floating Market
Thai Floating Market

On our way to the site of the bridge we had another “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity when we visited a real Thai floating market.  That, too, was amazing and I highly recommend this entire experience.  When you visit Thailand,  please do your best to visit and experience one of these traditional and fully functioning floating markets.

Visiting Thailand – The Land of Smiles

Obviously, a two week visit to any country is merely a cursory introduction, but our two weeks in this beautiful land was enough to encourage us to return one day, especially to visit the Northern are of Chang Mai.   We were captivated by the people, the lush countrysides, the food, and the hospitality.

Other posts from Kathy Slamp

If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy Cruising the Yangtze River by Kathy Slamp.  I am an experienced Alaska naturalist, so you might enjoy my Alaska posts on this site as well as my specific Alaska website, Alaskathy.

Cruising China’s Yangtze River

Cruising the Yangtze River

Cruising the Yangtze River

Yangtze River Boat
Yangtze River Boat

Cruising the Yangtze River is quite an education.  China was always on our “bucket list,” so in summer 2015 we booked a tour with Viking Cruises.   (As an aside, I cannot share enough good comments about Viking Cruises.  We have cruised a LOT, but this was our first time on an “all inclusive” tour/cruise. We loved it and highly recommend Viking!) Our China tour was two weeks, and everyday opened another world window.

David & Kathy on the Yangtze
On the Yangtze

After two bleary days in Shanghai and attempts to overcome brutal jet lag, we flew from Shanghai to Wuhan to board the Viking boat for five days and six nights on the Yangtze.  Navigating several hundred miles through the heart of China was informative and enlightening; because of this, we felt it was well-worth the exhausting humidity and heat that we endured the instant we stepped outside.

Cruising down the River!

Yangtze River Vista
Yangtze River Vista.

We peacefully cruised past small villages and brand new high rise cities and gorgeous bridges.  Once we cruised into the heart of China, ironically, there were few vehicles of any kind on the bridges and highways  The water was always muddy and murky and the humidity was often over 100%.  The ship provided interesting side trips into villages, optional Chinese cuisine, and cultural lectures, dancers, and singers for our entertainment.  One of the biggest highlights was the Three Gorges Dam. Continue reading Cruising China’s Yangtze River

Zambian Roadtrip – the “Real” Africa

Zambian Roadtrip – Seeing the “Real” Africa

A Zambian roadtrip is like noneother, and we were privileged to take three lengthy Zambian roadtrips, each time going a different direction.  As we motored through these different areas of Zambia, we understood why they call their country, the “real” Africa.  Once you depart the capital of Lusaka, you will experience the typical thatched roof huts of Africa, be able to visit several different game parks, and experience the magnificent and world famous, Victoria Falls.

Zambian roadtrip - A typical Zambian village scene .
A typical Zambian village scene. Zambia is a landlocked African country:

Zambia is a Landlocked Country:

Continue reading Zambian Roadtrip – the “Real” Africa

Cruising in Alaska – A Contrast in Beauty

Cruising in Alaska

Cruising in Alaska is one of the most beautiful and exciting experiences you will ever have.  On many levels, its breathtaking beauty, lush flora and fauna, and its varied animals can be a spiritual experience.

Alaska steamship Baraof
Alaska steamship Baranof, circa 1950s.

My first cruise in Alaska coincided with my 9th birthday, and I fell in love with Alaskan waters at that time.  My 9th birthday was many years ago, so that cruise was on the old Alaska Steamship Lines, on the Baranof! Later we cruised Aaskan waters on a Canadian Steamship liner, the Princess Louise.  Neither of these lines has been in existence for over 50 years now.

The Princess Louise
The Princess Louise

Many years later I hired on as an Alaskan cruise naturalist, and really began Cruising in Alaska.  In this capacity have now cruised in Alaska nearly 200 times.  Regardless, of the number of cruise, Alaska NEVER bores me.  In fact, in liberates me in a way that nothing else can. Continue reading Cruising in Alaska – A Contrast in Beauty

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