"" Writer's Wanderings: February 2019

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Safari to Monkey Jungle

A couple of years ago we took our youngest Florida grandchild to Monkey Jungle near Miami. It impressed her enough then that she wanted return for her special day out with Grandma and Grandpa. I think she had just as much fun or more this time since she knew what to expect.

When we arrived we heard a whole lot of noise going on. I'm pretty sure it was howler monkeys and I'm guessing it may have had to do with feeding time. At one point they sounded like emergency sirens going off. They quieted down after a while thank goodness.


 We bought three small boxes of raisins and craisins to feed to the monkeys--probably the highlight of the morning. There are little tins attached to small link chains that lead up to the caged walkway that visitors are confined to. The monkeys crawl up to the top of the screen and when you put the fruit in the tin, the monkey pulls it up, stuffs it in his mouth and lets it drop down again for a refill. Of course there is a pecking order and we watched one larger monkey chase off some of the smaller ones to get his fill of fruit.

We were disappointed to see that Mae, the orangutan we'd seen on our first visit was no longer there. I was afraid to ask anyone in front of our granddaughter but I think she may have been past her life span when we saw her and she's since passed on.

The other featured primate is King, a silver back gorilla, who is still there but getting old. He is 50 now and  already living past a usual life expectancy. Since he is in captivity he is receiving great health care. King was rescued from a circus where he was not receiving the best care. The Monkey Jungle facility tried to introduce him to a female gorilla but because the circus had pulled his front teeth, the female deemed him unacceptable because he would not be able to protect her or their young--something that would be necessary in the wild so it was a natural response.

King is quite a character. He has learned to tap his shoulder when he is willing and ready to respond to a learned behavior. He prefers his treats to be tossed to him in a paper bag because he doesn't like it to get dirty. The attendant leading the encounter had a good arm to get it across the gully between King's habitat and the audience. She tossed him a fruity or veggie treat each time he showed us how he stands, walks with knuckles, shows his silver back, etc. And each time he turned his back, glancing over his shoulder on occasion to be sure the green iguana wasn't sneaking up to steal his food, as he ate it.

Birds and several species of monkeys including the cute little squirrel monkeys are scattered around the tropical jungle area that is growing back again after getting ravaged by Hurricane Irma. The Jungle was closed for nine months last year to repair and recover. I posted once before a little more history about the place when we first visited. Click here to learn more.



Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Through My Lens -- The Florida Keys Wild Bird Center

Each year that we migrate to Florida for the winter we take at least one morning to visit the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center. It's just down the road from us and is always an interesting visit. Here are some pictures from this year. If you'd like to know more about the Center and the work they do with local birds that are injured check out my original post from a few years ago.





Monday, February 25, 2019

Fort Lonesome --The Novel


Fort Lonesome published sooner than I thought it would. The paperback is available and the ebook should be as well or not far behind. It's available at Amazon. Pass the word on!

Here's a little about the story:

Ginnie Scott looked forward to the beginning of a new life in Fort Lonesome. She felt a new sense of freedom leaving behind the parents she had so deeply disappointed. She was starting fresh as a preschool teacher where no one knew her past. Little did she expect that the past would catch up with her.

Grant Richards’ life had been through some deep valleys. Just as he thought his heart might mend from the loss of his wife, Becca, he had to cope with his daughter’s perilous brain tumor. Then Bonnie’s new preschool teacher arrived to throw his life into more turmoil. Was she Becca’s ghost? The resemblance was uncanny.

Martin Westfall ruined Ginnie’s life with his rash promises and failures to fulfil them. He’s found her again and this time he won’t let anything come between them, not even a little girl and her cowboy father.

Fort Lonesome, Florida, is classified as a ghost town but the only ghosts in town are the ghosts of the past that come into Grant and Ginnie’s lives. Will those ghosts bring the two together? Possibly, but only if they can overcome their fears and find the hope they need for the future.

This is my eighth novel. I'm getting excited to start on number nine--Letters From Santa.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Remembering the Fjords of Norway

The year 2009 must have been a good year. As I reminisce, I'm finding lots of favorite places we have visited.

The Geiranger Fjord

The desire to visit the Norwegian fjords began for me back in elementary school. One of the words on our spelling list was “fjord” probably because we were studying Northern Europe in our geography books. The picture that defined a fjord must have been taken at the Geiranger Fjord. It is the picture I carried in my head of what the fjords looked like.

We awoke to find our ship anchored at the very end of the fjord at the little town of Geiranger. It was another glorious morning with fresh air and sunshine streaming in the open door of our stateroom. We ate breakfast quickly and hustled to the appointed gathering place to go down to the tenders. (Geiranger does not have a cruise ship pier.)

Having researched the ferry schedule on the internet, we knew that the first ferry to Hellesylt, a little town in the crook of the elbow in the long fjord we had traveled from the sea, left at 8 a.m. Our tender deposited us on shore at exactly 7:55 giving us five minutes to run for the ferry.

Fjord 1 is a company that has ferry boats and buses and does a nice job of providing transportation along with a tour. The ferry was quite comfortable with outside and inside seating and a snack bar. We chose to sit outside on top for the best view of all the spectacular waterfalls and cliffs that make the Geiranger fjord so well-known. The trip to Hellesylt was about an hour long and was narrated in several languages so all could learn of the history of the area and the legends behind the naming of several falls—the most famous being the Seven Sisters Waterfall where seven small falls are gathered together in one place.

Hellesylt was just waking up as we arrived. Three little cafes were opening and a couple of souvenir shops. I might be overestimating, but I believe the main street was about a half mile long. Behind it on a hill was a pretty little church, Sunnylven Kyrkje, built in 1859. It reminded me of the church in Williamsburg, Virginia, where each pew had a little door opening into the aisle and each family had their own pew.

After a few pictures of the town’s central waterfall and the church, we settled down at one of the cafes for cappuccinos and one of the most delicious pancakes I’ve ever had. There was no maple syrup or jam served with it but you didn’t need any. While it wasn’t filled, it had some kind of moist sweetness in it and tasted like a little bit of heaven.

Our trip back to Geiranger gave us a different perspective of the fjord and also better pictures as the sun had risen in the sky. We walked around the little town of Geiranger a bit and then headed for the ship. The view from the ship was too beautiful to waste. We made the best of it the rest of the afternoon.

In the evening, we ate at the Island Buffet. There was a special German buffet and since we eat early, we were able to get a window seat as the ship pulled anchor and began its sail out of the fjord. Unfortunately the weather turned bad with heavy rains so much of the view on the trip out was obstructed. We were glad to have ferried to Hellesylt while the day was fresh and sunny and so very much like the picture I carried in my head for so many years.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Corrie Ten Boom Home Revisited


It was in 2009 that we took a trip to the Netherlands. This was one of my fondest memories of the trip.

The Corrie Ten Boom Home

From the train station we hurriedly pass through the streets of Haarlem taking care not to make a wrong turn. Time is of the essence. We must arrive at our destination by 15:30. We turn a corner and it is there!

The little clock shop, its wooden fa├žade bids us welcome. We turn into the alleyway and see others milling about. In the window to the left of a green door sits the triangular sign with the word Alpina in black letters against a white clock face on a red background. It is the name of a brand of clock but to the Jews who passed through this alley, it was the word for freedom—the signal that the passageway to freedom was safely open.

A lovely white-haired Dutch lady opens the door and bids us enter. We climb a steep narrow staircase to a small hallway entrance with a dining room on one side and a sitting room on the other. We pause briefly to imprint in our minds the linen-covered oak table and cabinets in the dining room and then are directed to the sitting room where we are made comfortable in chairs.

For the next twenty minutes or so, our hostess, Betty, tells us the incredible story of the Ten Booms and their part in helping many Jews escape the Nazis who pursued them. The story is not only spellbinding, it is also interlaced with the message of the love of God for all of us. It is what Corrie Ten Boom would tell us were she there to do so. It is the message that she shared while sharing her experiences in the Nazi camps where she and her sister were taken after their home was searched and too many ration cards were found. The Gestapo never found the six Jews in the special hiding place in the wall.

The hiding place from which Corrie Ten Booms most popular book got its title is a space behind her bedroom wall barely large enough for person to stand in. It is here that the six Jews ran when given the warning that the Gestapo were at the door. Ducking through a small crawl space beneath the last shelf in a linen closet, they scurried through to the small space and there waited until after the Ten Booms were arrested and another Jewish sympathizer was able to free them.

Corrie lost her father and her sister but she returned to this little home and determined she would continue to spread the word of God’s love and His presence in even the direst of circumstances. Betty ends her story with the account of Corrie meeting the guard of the prison camp who had treated them so badly. He had become a believer and begged her forgiveness. It was a difficult thing for Corrie to do but she found freedom in forgiving him.

I glance back at the little triangular sign in the window as we leave. Freedom has a different meaning now.

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

More posts from the Netherlands:
Amsterdam, City of Canals
Anne Frank House
Windmills - Zaanse Schans
Historic Triangle

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Grand Cayman Diving


Looking forward to our annual dive trip to Grand Cayman with our grandson. This will be our seventh year. He started diving when he was 11 on a dare from his grandfather who is still following through on his promise to take him with us each year.

I went back and looked at some of my posts about diving and found this one from 2009. Unfortunately the invasion of the lion fish in the Caribbean have made these guys, juvenile drum fish, even harder to find. The lion fish feed on juvenile fish of most any species. Hopefully there is some progress being made on the culling of the lion fish who have few predators mainly because they are not really native to the Caribbean but having been introduced they say through an aquarium that was devastated in a hurricane. Eventually it is hoped that sharks, eels and a few other larger predators will put lionfish on their menu. Right now it's mainly on the human menu--restaurants have discovered delectable eating.

Diving Grand Caymon--2009

Our second morning of diving gave us some local entertainment featuring the juvenile drum fish. This little gem is hard to find because they usually hide well in the cracks and crannies of the reef. Our little star decided to show off for us and danced his way into a little spot of sunlight. The long fins look like ribbons as he wiggles and turns and scurries around. Out of a dozen snapshots, Bob got about three good ones. When he grows up, he won't look quite as cute--just like a puppy, they outgrow that adorable stage. He'll still be a study in black and white though and likely as hard to find.


This arrow crab decided to come out and play as well. Against my hand it is easier to see how fragile they look when in reality, they are pretty hardy creatures. They'd have to be to survive in this environment.

For dinner we stopped in at Portofino's which is just up the road--or down the road, can't tell which. It is advertised as Italian and has quite a pasta selection but on Tuesdays they feature Indian food and on Sundays a great buffet with local dishes. We each had seafood. Go figure.

Entertainment at the Reef's Rusty Pelican was good. Oldies with a Caribbean flavor. We made it an early night as usual. Too much diving. Too much relaxing. Too much warm balmy weather. Naw!

Other Grand Cayman Posts:
Hell Has a Zip Code
Caribbean Road Signs
Seahorse

Monday, February 18, 2019

Pink--The Manly Color


The other day Bob had a nice pink short sleeved shirt on for church and someone commented on the pink color. I retorted with "It takes a real man to wear pink." And it does. Especially in this day and age when pink is a significant symbol for the fight against breast cancer. But it also reminded me of this old post from 2009.

Takes A Real Man To Drive A Pink Car

"A compact car for a compact price," is what the fellow at the counter at Andy's Rentals across from the airport at Grand Cayman told Bob. What he didn't tell him was the car was not only small it was PINK. Pink, pink, pink. It does blend in with all the lavender, pastel blue, yellow and yes, pink houses on the island.

Now not only is this a pink car, but it has the steering wheel on the right side and all of the usual tools for driving are reversed. For the next few days, we will have a very clean windshield because every time we make a turn, Bob turns on the windshield wipers instead of the turn signal. And, of course, we have to chant the mantra: "Making a right turn but staying to the left. . ." They don't drive on the right side of the road here.

We ate tonight at one of our favorite restaurants on the east end of the island, Over the Edge. It doesn't look like much from the outside--or the inside for that matter but it has a great deck that hangs over the edge of the water and one of the best views of Caymanian sunsets. The food is great too! They make some mean hamburgers as well as delectable seafood dishes. Tonight's special was poached tuna with shrimp over pasta with a very delicate sauce. It was garnished with dried breadfruit slices. They were intriguing. Not a lot of taste. Consistency of dried apple slices and a little sweet.

Nice dinner. Nice evening.




Other Grand Cayman Posts:

Friday, February 15, 2019

The Sun Rises at Haleakala

One of the most spectacular sights we've seen is the sunrise at Haleakala. Here is my post from our visit a few years ago.


We have been to Maui several times and have always been told, "you have to see the sunrise at the top of Haleakala!" Well, this trip we determined we would do it--even though it meant getting up at 3:45 a.m. to drive to the other side of the island and all the way up the volcano to the 10,000 foot summit. Little did we know it would take two tries.

Our first attempt to see the sunrise was considered our trial run. We knew we were probably in trouble when less than halfway up the volcano, the clouds began misting our windshield. We watched the temperature gauge on the car indicate that the outdoor temps were falling the higher we went. We started out at 68 degrees F and dipped to 38 degrees by the time we were to the top.

Windy, wet, and cold, we stood looking east into a shrouded crater and sky that only got a bit lighter as the time of the sunrise came and went. At least, we agreed, we now knew that we could actually be awake enough to enjoy the sunrise should we try again.

And try we did. Successfully! We waited for a day that was forecast to be less windy and cold and hoped that the cloud cover would not descend on the volcano again. The alarm went off at 3:45, I started the coffee, stuck our banana bread breakfast in a bag, and got dressed. Our coffee pot was neat--a stainless steel that acted like a thermos so we just grabbed the pot and took off for our two hour drive.

This time the skies stayed clear as we ascended along with hundreds of others. You don't want to wait too long to get your spot at the top or you'll be disappointed. The parking lot was almost full when we arrived about 45 minutes before actual sunrise time. We didn't go all the way to the summit, about another 100-150 feet up because we were told by a ranger that it was a better view from the visitor's center just below the actual summit.

We found a spot behind two shorter people--the railing that lines the crater there was already lined up with people. The horizon was showing a tinge of beautiful bright color. Fearing to lose our spot and not wanting to miss a moment of the action, we stood there watching all the changes in the sky as the sun came closer to the horizon.

The crater was filled with clouds that had settled in overnight making it look like a huge bowl of whipped cream. But the sky was clear, the temps were only in the mid-40s, and there was very little wind. The amazing thing was how quiet it got the closer it came to sunrise. Hundreds of people literally holding their breath in anticipation.

As soon as the sun crested, behind us the native Hawaiian rangers began a chant to welcome the new day.
Awaken/Arise
The sun in the east
From the ocean
The ocean deep
Climbing (to) the heaven
The heaven highest
In the east
There is the sun
Awaken!

Of course the chant was in Hawaiian and very melodic. The volcanoes of Hawaii are sacred to the native Hawaiians and we have seen in the past on the big island of Hawaii, offerings of fruit and flowers displayed for the goddess Pele.

With apologies to Pele, I think that God's display of the sunrise took first place in my heart that morning.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Tale Tells All

Here's another post from our trip to Maui in 2012. Great memories.


In Hawaii, it is high season in February for whales. Between December and the end of March, thousands of humpback whales make their way back to the place of their birth in the warm waters of the Hawaiian islands. It is not a mass migration but rather a coming and going not unlike a high tourist season when the area might welcome many tourists but not all at one time.

The humpbacks are coming from their home in Alaska. As one naturalist put it, Alaska is the kitchen and Hawaii is the bedroom/delivery room. The whales have spent the greater part of their year feeding in the nutrient rich waters of Alaska where they feed on krill, anchovies, sardines, and a variety of other schooling fish. Then they make the long trek south. Some will stop off in southern California at their breeding grounds. The rest will continue the trek to Hawaii.

Hopefully they have eaten well during their stay in Alaska because they will need all that energy for birthing and breeding neither of which is for the faint-hearted whale. But more of that for another day.

Much research has been done on this species that was almost extinct not long ago. Whaling took a toll on the humpback population. Now that they are no longer hunted and regulations have been put in place to protect their breeding grounds the population has increased 7% in about forty years. At any one time there could be about 3,000 cruising the waters of Hawaii and overall they estimate the Northern Pacific population to be near 20,000. But how do they know they aren't counting the same whale multiple times?

Observers noticed that the tails of whales are distinctive. They each have a pattern sort of like a fingerprint. Naturalists have been taking pictures and studying pictures to determine which whales are returning each year and how many there are. They have even tracked several through the recognition of their tails, or flukes as they are called, as they traveled between Alaska and Hawaii and noted the speed with which they made the trip. The fastest, we were told, was 30 days. Usually it is about six weeks.

The flukes will also tell the story of how much danger the whale has had to deal with. Some have rake marks on them from the teeth of orcas, their natural predator.
They might also have some marks from some of the battles the males have been in with each other over the attentions of a female. Sound familiar? We aren't so different, are we?

While the first sign of a whale is the blow or spout of water shot out when it surfaces, the last you will see of it for a while is the tail. While on the surface it may dive shallowly but when you see the fluke, you know that the whale is headed down for a deeper dive that can last anywhere from five minutes to up to an hour. But the whales are mammals and therefore air breathers. Their lungs are the size of a Volkswagon Beetle. Fill them up and that adult whale, the size of a school bus, is good to go deep.

A whale of a tale, isn't it!

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

A Whale Of A Story

Back in 2012 we stayed  for a period on Maui in Hawaii. It was whale watching time since January through March is when the whales come into that area to have their babies and mate. Here is one of my favorite stories from that trip.

A Whale Mugging


Some call it kidnapped. Others call it mugged. Whatever the term, it is one of the best experiences you can have on a whale watch. Regulations in the Maui Nui basin prohibit approaching a whale any closer than 100 yards. But no one has found a way to regulate the whales approaching a boat closer than 100 yards. When it happens, the boat must sit and idle until the whale is a safe distance away and the propellers can again be set in motion.


During one of our first excursions into whale watching several years ago it happened! We were mugged! Meaning, three whales began swimming around and under our boat. They played with us for almost 45 minutes as we idled in place and eventually turned off the engine to save fuel, making us late getting back to shore. It was amazing to see the creatures up close and personal. They would turn over, belly side up, and zip under the boat giving us a view of the beauty and grace of these gentle giants. We were treated to a spy hop--a behavior where the whale pokes its head above the surface for a look-see.

This trip, we wondered if it would happen again. We had purchased a package deal of seven whale watching adventures, each two hours long, and were on our seventh when we were again treated to a mugging. We were observing a small competition pod chasing after a female when all of a sudden we realized the female was underneath the boat. She had been beside us tail slapping the water--we took it to mean "get lost boys." It was easy enough to figure out that she'd hidden beneath us because the two males competing for her attention all of a sudden changed course and charged toward us. Breathtaking for a moment. Imagine two school bus-sized whales heading straight for you, water frothing as they are coming at full speed!

Just before reaching the boat, they dove and that's when the captain realized that the female was using us as protection. The three whales swam under and around us, between our boat and a smaller boat next to us, and even surfaced with a couple of spy hops (unfortunately, I wasn't in the best position for a photo this time). They circled and dove and splashed and blew whale snot at us for a time and then moved off far enough that we were released and could make a break for town. On the close up encounter of one of the males you can see where it looks like he might have some damage from fighting with other males--but then I'm not an expert and didn't notice it until I looked at my pictures.

Our two hour trip was over as were our whale watching adventures for now. We felt privileged to have had such close encounters one more time.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Fort Lonesome - The Novel

It's coming! It's almost here!

I am working on formatting the manuscript for paperback and ebook publication. It should be ready by the end of March. Stay tuned! Here's a teaser:

Ginnie Scott looked forward to the beginning of a new life in Fort Lonesome. She felt a new sense of freedom leaving behind the parents she had so deeply disappointed. She was starting fresh as a preschool teacher where no one knew her past. Little did she expect that the past would catch up with her.


Grant Richards’ life had been through some deep valleys. Just as he thought his heart might mend from the loss of his wife, Becca, he has to cope with his daughter’s perilous brain tumor. Then Bonnie’s new preschool teacher arrives to throw his life into more turmoil. Is she Becca’s ghost? The resemblance is uncanny.

Martin Westfall ruined Ginnie’s life with his rash promises and failures to fulfil them. He’s found her again and this time he won’t let anything come between them, not even a little girl and her cowboy father.

Fort Lonesome, Florida, is classified as a ghost town but the only ghosts in town are the ghosts of the past that come into Grant and Ginnie’s lives. Will those ghosts bring the two together? Possibly, but only if they can overcome their fears and find the hope they need for the future.

Friday, February 08, 2019

Venice, The First Time--part two



In the morning, we arrived by vaporetto again, this time taking the one that went down the Grand Canal. We managed to get seats in front and enjoy the spectacular view of the old buildings sitting right in the water. Small docks or steps with platforms lead right to the front doors of some of the hotels along the canal. It would have been fun to spend a night in one of them. Gardens and window boxes and balconies full of flowers caught our attention as we slowly made our way to St. Mark's Square.
     It was 9 a.m. when we reached the square and there were few tourists around. The bell tower was first on our list and just opened for the day. We paid our 6 euros each and took the elevator to the top. The view of the square was wonderful. Looking beyond that, all you could see were rooftops. The canals are obscured by all the buildings. Cruise ships in the harbor dwarfed the buildings and looked out of place from that vantage point.
     We walked directly out of the bell tower and got in the line for the basilica. It was already stretching across the square. I had carried our backpack that day and as we approached the entrance, I knew I was in trouble. Security was sending people with backpacks to an area around the corner to check them. If he knew English, he didn't use it. I headed in the direction of where he pointed while the others went on ahead. There was no place I could see that looked like a bag check. I went back to the entrance and found another American who was following an Italian girl to find the place. I followed them. It was not only around the corner but also down a side street and not marked well at all. (There must not be many sign makers in Italy.) I checked the pack and received a large tag that got me to the front of the line and into the basilica in time to see the other three on their way out. They waited while I walked with the crowd up one aisle, across the front and down the other aisle.
     It is an impressive church but I didn't think it was as beautiful as some of the others we had seen in Germany and Austria. There are numerous scenes depicted with mosaics shimmering in golden highlights in the large domes looming overhead. The floor is a geometric pattern of tiles. There are no photographs allowed and while you are inside, you must remain silent. Also, throughout Italy, there is a dress code for visitors to churches. You cannot wear shorts, sleeveless blouses, or short skirts above the knee. They will and did turn people away.
     After retrieving our backpack, we returned to the square to see all the pigeons. It rivals Trafalgar Square in London. For a euro you could buy a small bag of corn and instantly make friends with hundreds of pigeons. Actually they are very gentle and there was only one "accident" recorded which was quickly cleaned up.
     We went back to the vaporetto docks and found the line ( #42/43) that would take us to Murano and Burano. It took about an hour to reach Murano but it was a pleasant ride. We disembarked at the first stop and found ourselves immediately greeted by salesmen from the glass factories. They welcomed us into a demonstration room where we watched with fascination as a red vase was formed at the end of the blowpipe and speckles of color were added. Next a horse came to life from a blob of molten red glass. There were beautiful pieces of colorful glass in all sorts of shapes and sizes on the shelves in the showroom. Prices ranged from 6 euros to...well some chandeliers I understand go for thousands of dollars.
     Glass factories are all over the island. This is the place where the glass manufacturers were sent when the citizens of Venice worried that they might accidentally burn the city to the ground. Lots of shops and little cafes line the canals that criss-cross the island. We enjoyed a delightful pizza lunch along one of the canals.
     Our next stop was Burano. We found the correct place to catch the vaporetta from Murano. It doesn't run as frequently so we had to be careful of our time. Burano was an even smaller place than Murano. It is known for it's handmade lace. As you exit the vaporetto and walk into the little town, there are a few places along the way were women sit in the lace shops and demonstrate the lace making. Their hands whip through knots and stitches as the delicate pattern begins to take shape. Not everything in the shops is made there. You need to be sure to ask for the Burano patterned lace. They sell small pieces for about 15 euros. 
     We caught a vaporetto back to Venice, managing to arrive in time to have a nice dinner before our scheduled gondola ride. Near the Rialto bridge was a pretty area full of tables topped with white linen and decorated with small colorful lights. It sat right on the canal. After our $15 coffees, we knew it would probably be expensive but we would only be in Venice once. The waiter spoke English mixed with a heavy Italian accent that was fairly understandable. He was also a great salesman. He described the specials. One was a seafood dish with pasta and three sauces. We assumed that he meant there were three sauces to put on the pasta along with little pieces of seafood. Well, no matter. We knew we were in trouble when he placed a huge tiered bowl of ice with various pieces of seafood, including two half lobsters, crabs and oysters. The sauces were for the seafood. I don't even remember the pasta. The whole thing was somewhere around $200 by the time we added drinks. It was delicious. The view was great. And next time we'll ask the price even though it's a "speciale".
     When we arrived at the gondola stop there were about 60 people waiting with us--no gondolas in sight. Just as we were wondering what was going on, a dozen gondolas pulled in between the striped poles to let their passengers off. We boarded our gondola being careful not to move too much. It's almost like getting into a canoe. With amazing skill, the gondoliers used their long tongued poles to manipulate the vessels out of their dock and into the canal. It was an armada of gondolas that slowly made its way down the Grand Canal. In the evening, the canal is not as busy so we did not bob around like those who rode earlier. In the center of the armada, was a gondola with a tenor and an accordion player who serenaded us as we floated between buildings illuminated with the colors of the evening sun. As we entered a narrow canal to navigate the maze of small waterways that lace the island, the sound of Ole Sole Mio resonated from the exteriors of the buildings. Romantic? Yes and no. After all we were with our family and 11 other gondolas filled with people. But the setting could not be matched in the best of romance novels.
     It was good we had time to relax for our train ride back was to be very stressful. We arrived in time to catch the last train. The question was--which one went to Mestre? We finally found someone who assured us we needed to get on the train he pointed to. Once on we realized we were in a sleeper coach. We got off and another person directed us to the same train; this time to a coach full of private compartments. We sat for a while until some others came along with tickets for the seats we were in. Off again. The signs indicated all along that the train went to a French sounding place. I was panicking. Again an official looking individual directed us onto the train, this time in a different car. This car looked more like the commuter cars we had been in for the ride to Venezia. We relaxed a little and a passenger assured us again that the train would stop in Mestre. Polly and I just kept exchanging glances. Would we sleep in our hotel tonight or in some unknown destination? Thankfully, as the train neared the Mestre station, it slowed and stopped. On the way out, we asked where the train was going. France. Cie la vie!

     Oh yes, I can't leave Venice until I tell you about the pay toilets—a must for any self-respecting woman. They only cost about .50 euro and they were very clean and well worth the wait. Our guys said the non-pay toilets were indescribable.

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