Our Favourite Venetian Experiences

10

| Wednesday, 20 August 2014
While Venice may be known for hoards and hoards of tourists crowding St Mark's Square and expensive gondola rides, it's not that difficult to find unique experiences to take in the floating city.

Cruising with Context

I've touted Context Travel on this blog several times and our experience with them in Venice was no exception.  There were a few 'walks' that I had bookmarked for the first portion of our Italian vacation but timing was not on our side and the only one we could squeeze in was "Venice by Boat."  It did not disappoint.

We met our docent, the immaculate private boat and it's driver for close to two hours on the water.  Our docent did a fabulous job introducing us to the city.  We learned all about the history of the city from how it came to be to how it exists today.  We began to understand the challenges a city on water faces and often most interestingly, the quirks that visitors to the city almost never hear.  It was nice to hear a backstory to what we'd already seen but also led us to seek out different areas on foot for the remainder of our stay.

Our time on the boat was fulfilling enough that we decided to forgo the typical gondolier experience and we didn't miss it in the least.

Taking in the Views from San Giorgio Maggiore

Most people visiting Venice opt to visit the bell tower at St Mark's Basilica but we had heard that there was a lesser known tower across the water with fantastic views of the city.  We took a water bus over to the monastery where we were greeted by a practically empty cathedral and tower.  The views from the top were magnificent and with only a few other people in attendance, we could take our time admiring the city from above.  Also, the lift up the tower is half the price of the bell tower at St Mark's.

Wandering

Getting lost is part of the Venetian experience so we decided to embrace it instead of fight it.  Each day we'd set off in a particular direction but without a strict timeline or destination in mind.  Our favourite moments were found in deserted alleys that I'm not sure we'd find again if we tried.  Also fun, trying to draw our route on our city map when we stopped to eat or drink.


Have you been to Venice? What were your favourite lesser-known experiences?

Daytripping to Bath

11

| Sunday, 17 August 2014

There seem to be endless possibilities when it comes to taking an easy day trip from London.  We pondered Cambridge, Oxford, Brighton, York but eventually decided on Bath.  On the eve of my 31st birthday, we grabbed a quick breakfast from a coffee shop near the hotel and walked over to Paddington Station to take the 90 minute train ride to Bath.

First, and really the only, thing on our agenda for the day was to visit the famed Roman Baths.  The actual city of Bath was formed due to the natural hot springs around 70 AD.  The baths are considered some of the best preserved Roman remains in the world and the site of that iconic green water is certainly something to behold.

We followed the audio guide supplied with our ticket and were generally impressed by the labyrinth of different rooms comprising the Roman Baths.  While it has certainly be restored into a museum of sorts, it was still quite easy to picture just how the complex would have been used centuries ago.
From there, it was time for lunch and previous research had us curious about The Salamander.  Joe, being a beer connoisseur, was intrigued by their in house ales and given that it was in the centre of town, it felt like the perfect place to rest our feet and tempt our palates.  Lucky for us, Sunday roast was also on.  It was while we demolished an obscene amount of British fare that the weather decided to turn on us.  Without umbrella in hand, we tried to wait out the rain but just as soon as it would taper off, another short rainfall would drift in so we eventually threw caution to the wind and faced the soggy conditions.

We wandered up to the Circus and on to the Royal Crescent, ducking under porches and behind buildings when the rain reappeared.  Had the weather been on our side, we probably would have lingered longer and perhaps ventured into the city further.  Instead, we looped our way back, crossing the Pulteney Bridge and walking along the river before returning to the train station.
Aside from being impossibly picturesque, Bath is also known for fabulous spas.  For the life of me, I cannot figure out why I did not put two and two together and book us in for a night at a luxe hotel-spa. As we found with our day trip to Bruges, the city was lovely when the crowds thinned out and it would have been nice to spend more time getting to know Bath.

The next time I find myself in the vicinity and needing a little pampering, Bath will certainly be top of the list.

Movements

14

| Thursday, 7 August 2014
The kid around week 28

There are certain milestones in pregnancy that most everyone anxiously awaits.  There's the magical end of the first trimester marking the disappearance of that pesky nausea and then spreading the happy news.  There's the moment when you start to notice your belly protruding and then the moment where your belly no longer resembles what it looks like after a holiday meal but an actual pregnant belly.  There's hearing the heartbeat for the first time and finding out if you've got a baby boy or a baby girl growing in there.  And then there's the movement.

I haven't done a very good job of documenting my pregnancy so I can't tell you exactly when I started to feel the kid grooving but it was pretty early on.  Early enough that I questioned (as many pregnant women do) if it is in fact the baby moving, or if it's gas.  People and blogs and books will tell you it feels like flutters or bubbles.  I'll tell you, it feels like something.  Something that could be mistaken for gastrointestinal things but another something tells you it's not.  Later comes the time when it's unmistakable.  The "whoa, yup. There's someone in there."  Looking back, I can't pinpoint exactly when this happened but I do know that those "whoas" were big enough for Joe to have felt before my first midwife appointment at week 17.

I'm not a particularly sentimental person.  You will not find me oohing and ahhing to anyone and everyone about the wonders of pregnancy.  I haven't come up with any cutesy names for the child occupying my abdomen and I don't sit in his room with tears in my eyes as I sift through his clothes.  But, as this baby grows and his movements are stronger and more pronounced, I can't help but feel a special connection, beyond the physical, with this little boy.

There's the moments where he's stretching and his movements are slow but strong as if he's just waking up and pressing his back, legs and arms as far as the space will allow.  His head or back or bum protrude out the side of my belly making a hard, round surface.  I'll gently push back, sometimes out of discomfort, and he'll respond by either moving on to another spot or pushing back.

There's the times where almost instantaneously after food or drink drift across my mouth, the movements are sudden and sharp.  I imagine him throwing his fist into the air in a sort of, "woohoo, what do we have here?'  These jumps are sporadic and impossible to predict, particularly if I've had something sugary or the temperature more extreme.  A cold drink of water or a hot tea will really start the spastic dance that might last ten minutes or more.  These are the ones that are fun to watch from the outside as my belly contorts with him.

There are times when the movements are undetectable from the outside but completely rhythmic.  Logic tells me he has the hiccups but I prefer to think he's just carrying a beat, tapping along to a song in his head like his Mama is known to do.  Other times, completely unexpectedly, I'll take a single kick to an organ, usually the bladder.  By the time I've complained vocally, it's over.

At night as I'm settling into bed and reading, he begins his workout.  It's as if he crouches himself into a ball and then throws his arms and legs out, flails around a bit and returns to the ball.  Over and over again I'll feel limbs protruding on either side of my belly.  I'll tease Joe telling him his son is acting up and it's his turn to take over or I'll address the kid directly, trying to persuade him to calm down for bedtime.  But, like clockwork every night, he picks up his routine.

These movements are bizarre, occasionally uncomfortable and annoying but also kind of amazing.  While Joe partakes when he can, it's me that knows the schedule and it's me that feels the full breadth of every kick and stretch.  While we've yet to meet face to face, I'm starting to get an idea as to who this little person is - small glimpses into his personality.  I wonder if I'll recognize his moves when he's out, putting the pieces to the puzzle together confirming what I felt but couldn't see.  Even though pregnancy is fraught with more than its share of discomfort, it's in these moments of movement that I'm reminded just how incredible the entire process is.

And that's about as sentimental as I'll get.


An Escape Up the Coast

5

| Tuesday, 5 August 2014
Joe was working like crazy.  A combination of being generally understaffed and unsupported with colleagues on holidays, jobs coming up at the same time and problems with equipment kept him at the office to nearly midnight (or sometimes after) for an entire week.  The poor guy would arrive at home, eat an extremely late dinner and slump into bed only to wake up at 6 and do it all again.  We had planned a night away before everything went nuts but of course, had to cancel the night before as Joe just couldn't get away.  When the following week calmed down, the time away was even more needed as I wondered if he might turn up at home one day telling me he quit his job.

Haugesund is a small city just up the coast from Stavanger and while it's only about 80 kilometres, 2 undersea tunnels and a ferry ride make the journey close to two hours by car.  We had no idea if there was really anything there but we've seen it on the map and road signs over the last couple of years and we were curious.  Known for its past in the herring industry and home to Norway's longest pedestrian street, we hoped it would be a quaint and cozy weekend away.
Well, truth be told, it wasn't.  The town itself felt a little run down and that long pedestrian street wasn't anything to write home about.  It wasn't lined with cute cafes and pubs and it lacked the charm we had hoped for.  After a quick peruse Friday evening, we immediately decided a day trip out of Haugesund was in order.
 Haugesund is also home to Norway's National Monument, Haroldshaugen.  Supposedly, Harald Fairhair is buried here.
Saturday after breakfast, we jumped back in the car destined for Langfoss, one of Norway's many waterfalls.  In 2011, CNN featured an article on the 10 most beautiful waterfalls in the world and Langfoss happened to make the cut.  Thankfully, it was impressive.  The sheer length (2 008 feet) combined with the width as the water crashes out over the rocks and into the fjord certainly make it a sight to be seen.  There is an accompanying hike to the top of the falls however, it's deemed as 'Demanding' and demanding in Norwegian standards is most definitely a challenge that I wasn't up for 7 months pregnant.  Instead, we drove the short drive over the bridge that cuts directly through the waterfall, parked and admired the sight from a number of different vantage points.  On the return trip back to Haugesund, we stumbled across a small Polish cafe in ├ślen that was serving pierogis which might have been a highlight of the entire weekend.  They weren't the same as the Ukrainian variety I grew up eating regularly but they were pretty damn good.

So, Haugesund itself was a bit of a bust but the waterfall and those pierogis saved the trip.  Joe caught a break from his computer and it was nice to be just the two of us in the car with time to chat about life away from the distractions of home.  Sometimes, that's all that's needed.

Venice

9

| Wednesday, 30 July 2014
"Venice never quite seems real, but rather an ornate film set suspended on the water."
-Frida Giannini-

One must visit Venice before it sinks - or so the story goes.  To be honest, Venice was probably the city I was least excited to visit on our Italian vacation.  I tend to feel overwhelmed and unimpressed in places that are famous for being touristy and from what I'd heard, this little city on water was going to be filled to the brim with tourists.  Well, there certainly was a fair share of foreigners gracing the streets but Venice itself had more charm than I could have imagined.

The canals, the boats, the colours, the bridges, the laundry draped out windows, the narrow walkways snaking off in random directions, the quiet corners and the air of mystery that hangs over you as you delve further into the city - it's almost too perfect. 

While we made sure to pass through St Mark's Square, cross over Rialto Bridge and admire the Grand Canal, our days were generally spent delving as far as we could into the city.  It's amazing just how quiet and magical it feels when one wanders away from the crowds.  We had heard that it was easy to get lost in this floating city and yes, when one is seeking out something specific it can seem like you might never find your way there.  However, when your objective is to meander down as many side streets and canals as you can, it's not the disorientating experience you expect.  In fact, it's utterly intoxicating and you can't help but want to burrow further.

"Venice, the most touristy place in the world, is still just completely magic to me."
-Frances Mayes-

While one can't deny that there are indeed a lot of tourists in Venice, one also can't deny that the city is steeped in fascinating history with plenty of quiet corners to feel like you might be the only foreigner in town.

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