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david and carol

Our Magnificent Journey
Chapter 1
Europe 1999
London, Paris, Venice, Florence


David and Carol


5.24.99 - 5.25.99

Monday / Tuesday

Days 4 and 5

Paris and Venice

Today we slept late. Got up at 9:00 because we were exhausted, and had our little French breakfast brought up to our little French room in our little French hotel. Carol was feeling a wee bit under the weather and couldn't eat. Sadly, it was to be our last day in glorious Paris, so we packed our bags and left them in a storage area near the dining room. The concierge told us we had an email message - it was from neighbor Boe, letting us know that Cody was fine. God bless Boe.
Revived, we decided to take the metro back to the Latin Quarter. Had some confusion at the metro, where we bumped into a similarly disoriented woman from Toronto - another Carol - who was travelling alone. We all finally decided (guessed) on a direction and wound up once more - you guessed it - at Notre-Dame. We bid Carol des Toronto au revoir and we were off to explore the Quarter once more. Found a quiet cafe and sat outside and enjoyed soupe a l'ongion and soupe des poissons. Sat near and visited with a woman from Sorrento, Italy, who spoke fair English and was excited about her July trip to Miami.
After lunch we walked and window-shopped around the Quarter and strolled up Boulevard St. Michele towards the Sorbonne, where we sat near a square called the Place de la Sorbonne. Some barefoot children played in the fountain as we sat at another outdoor café for an hour nibbling on salad and Perrier.
Our respite over, we walked several blocks to the Jardin du Luxembourge, a large, picturesque park with benches and chairs and flowers and statues and lakes and lovers and lots of birds and people who enjoy feeding them. Before entering the gates to the Jardin, however, we perused the fare at a nearby bread and confectionery shop offering enticing candies and breads of all types. We observed an older, dapper pony-tailed Frenchman purchase something sweet for his son or grandson, then we bought an ice cream cone for ourselves at a stand outside the chic little shop and walked across Rue de Medicis and through the iron gates of the Jardin. Today is Pentecost, a national holiday, so the park is teeming with people. Many shops are closed, and Carol was disappointed because we had wanted to have a picnic on tonight's 12-hour train ride from Paris to Venice. Oh well…

Copy of the Statue of Liberty at the Jardin du Luxembourge
We sat in the lovely, bucolic and serene Jardin for about an hour - first rate people-watching spot. We then walked across to the west side of the Jardin where I took a photo of some cute kids enjoying pony rides, and we searched for - yes, you guessed it - a toilette. Since the public ones cost a couple of francs and we were momentarily coinless, we decided to wait and eventually found a port-o-johnny set off to one side of the park. We made good use of it and walked back to the hotel. On the way we were going to sit at an outdoor café, but just as we sat down we heard and felt a city bus smack into the head of a young pedestrian - actually I believe the fellow walked into the bus. The driver was beside himself, and the kid was stunned. There was a huge head-sized dent in the windshield. Soon the gendarmes came, as well as an ambulance. At this point we both had to find yet another toilette, so the two of us crammed into one of the fancy new one-person public automatic toilettes that you see on the boulevards of Paris. It was clean, but cramped with both of us inside. We had to hurry, since it automatically cleaned itself regularly and can get quite wet. It was a fun, unique experience, and we survived the ordeal. Not bad for two francs…
On the way back to the hotel to retrieve our bags we bought some cheese and cookies at a small market that was open on Pentecost (must have been Jewish.) Said adieu to our wonderful little French hotel, and a very pleasant young French taxi driver chauffeured us to the smoky old train station at Gare du Lyon.
We sat in a corner of the crowded, noisy station and sampled beers, wines and cigars near a French gentleman who fed beer to his little French poodle with his fingers.

Carol on the EuroStar train from Paris to Venice
Finally it was time to board the 8:00 overnight train to Venice. We were escorted to our private first-class cabin, another of Carol's extraordinary travel arrangements. Our compartment was small but very cozy and charming. A Tuscan landscape decorated one wall. We met our neighbors, New Jersians Jon and Michelle Ruben, and took photos of each other with our heads out the windows. It was excruciatingly sad to leave Paris, but as the train slowly pulled out of the station, the concierge brought us champagne and nuts, and we were delighted. We visited with Jon and Michelle and watched our beloved Paris recede into the distance as the picture-postcard French countryside rolled by the windows. This was fun.
We had made 8:30 dinner reservations, so the four of us cautiously walked through the bouncing and shifting train until we found the dining car. We had a sumptuous dinner of pasta, chicken and peas, rolls, desert, wine and coffee, and afterwards drank more wine and sat and visited with Jon and Michelle for several hours as we watched the sun set on France, and then Switzerland, through the large windows of the dining car. It was exhilarating, and we were the last to leave the dining car, to the amusement of the sleepy waiters.

Dinner on the EuroStar train from Paris to Venice
We went back to our cabins, which had been oh-so-cozily made up by the train crew. Carol was delighted to find that our concierge had left us two small, compact and complete toiletry kits, which we kept as mementos.
I took the upper bunk and Carol stretched out in the lower. I could not sleep because when I lay down I suddenly realized that I could stick my feet right out the window and watch the Alps, Switzerland and Italy roll by my feet. I was up all night watching dazzling thunderstorms way up in the Alps, which were magnificent. It rained, and the cool wetness on my feet was soothing. As the sun began to creep up in the East, I wandered back down to the dining car where I watched vineyards, cypress trees and tiny Italian villages roll by in the early-morning sunlit mist. We stopped once in a train station, and I watched a young couple spend at least 20 minutes kissing and hugging. She was on her way somewhere and this was a heartfelt goodbye. As I watched from my spot in the dining car, I saw the sign "Verona," and then it hit me like a bolt of last night's lightning - here I was, in Verona, watching Romeo say goodbye to his Juliet. What a trip…
I walked back to our cabin after spending some precious time absorbing the sublime Tuscan landscape, mesmerized by it, not wanting to miss a mile of it.
We were to have breakfast this morning in our cabins. Carol was sleepily awake, and the concierge brought us a delicious little breakfast of coffee, rolls, cheese, jam and chocolates. We ate while we watched the small Italian villages stirring - people out in the morning sun tending their gardens, their sheep and their vineyards. This was truly a train ride we will never forget.
We never did see Jon or Michelle again, and we were concerned about them. Perhaps he had had a wee bit too much wine. We polished off quite a few bottles of Chianti last night. [I tracked them down when we got back to the U.S. - they were simply doing what we were doing - enjoying a leisurely private breakfast and the hypnotic scenery.]
Soon we were pulling into Venice's Santa Lucia station and said arrivaderci and sincere grazie to the Italian concierge and crew. It had been a memorable twelve hours.
Our little Venetian hotel, the Hotel Florida, was, thankfully, very close to the train station. It was basic, clean and the staff were very nice, cordial and helpful. We were both very excited to explore Venice, but we were exhausted (remember - I had been up watching Europe roll by my feet all night.) So we slept for a couple of hours, quite soundly.
We rose, showered and, refreshed, set out to explore the magic and grandeur of the watery, ancient "Pearl" of Venice, Queen of the Adriatic. Fifteen centuries old, and built on ancient wooden pilings in a lagoon, the city is still sinking and succumbs to periodic tidal flooding. The wealth of Venice had at one time, long ago, been the envy of Europe - a wealth to stagger the imagination. It had once been a city-state overflowing with spices, silks, glassware - trade from the newly discovered routes to the East. Her government was so "democratic" that the framers of our Constitution studied it. Today, her economic, commercial and political power and greatness are but a memory. But what remains is a breathtaking legacy of art, architecture, museums, pallazos, piazzas, and a unique way and pace of life that lives on today.

The beautiful Grand Canal
Venice beckoned us. As the bright mid-morning sun sparkled off the aquamarine canals, we set out to savor her unique flavors. Our goal was the magnificent central pigeon-covered square of Piazza San Marco, with its priceless Byzantine Basilica and tall clock tower. We wandered down meandering narrow sidewalk-sized cobble-stoned streets that suddenly opened into courtyards where people drank wine and laughed and relaxed and visited. The streets have names that translate into "Street of Wines," "Street of Beans," "Street of the Spice Dealer," "Street of the Almond Dealer," and "Street of Assassins." We became lost quite a few times, which we thoroughly enjoyed. We crossed the large and small canals many times over many bridges of varying heights and dimensions. One, the Accademia Bridge, is quite steep, and I was able to capture on film some of the peaceful charm of the Grand Canal. Venice is nothing if not enchanting and romantic. The gondoliers were postcard perfect. The weather was divine, with cool breezes coming off the Adriatic. The vaporetto water-busses worked their way from stop to stop along the Grand Canal. Many immense, elegant ancient buildings with a byzantine flavor, once the palatial homes of wealthy families. Narrow, tall streets, many shops offering wines, foods, jewelry, and art. We saw an interesting artist's studio. This fellow carved some amazingly realistic everyday items from wood, such as shoes, hats, hands and tablecloths.

Typical Venice "street"
Pausing along the waterway across the lagoon from the Lido, not very far from the Piazza San Marco, we indulged in beer and wine and a delicious antipasto di mare, which contained a Venetian specialty - sardines in vinegar and oil with onions. Escuizzito!! Walking further along we came across an interesting looking hotel called Hotel Flora - very elegant with a wonderful private courtyard and fountain.
We finally made our way into the large square of the Piazza San Marco. As we entered this old gathering place, we heard the strains of Elvis's "I Can't Help Falling In Love With You," played by one of several small orchestras situated around the square. This sweet song, the sight of all of the people gathered much as they must have for centuries, the thousands of pigeons, the ornate 13th century Byzantine Basilica di San Marco and the very tall clock tower, the Torre dell'Orologio, made us both very emotional; we stopped to reflect on our love and our lives together and the great fortune that we were able to be here to experience it all.

Carol at the Basilica di San Marco in the Piazza San Marco
Napoleon once described the Piazza San Marco as the "most elegant drawing room in Europe." Nearby is a café once frequented by Hemingway, among others of note. Here also is the gothic Palazzo Ducale, once home to Venice's rulers. We walked amongst the hundreds of people gathered in the square, many feeding the pigeons, and bathed in the warm, pleasant Venetian sun and air. During our stay in Venice we returned to San Marco and listened as the different orchestras caught our attention with various offerings. We heard an Andrea Bocelli tune, "Con Te Partiro," and we were so very glad to be in Italy.

View of the Lido
We began to wander back through the tiny winding streets until we got lost again, and a sweet tiny old Venetian woman did her best to guide us in Italian. We had no idea what she was saying but she was so adorable that we smiled and thanked her profusely. Many, many inviting shops along the way, some quite elegant. We tasted our first of many gelatis along the way.
Back at the hotel I called the office and we rested, then freshened up for more exploration. We went back out into the cool Venetian evening and this time went east down the Lista di Spagna towards the Cannaregio area instead of over the nearby Ponte degli Scalzi traghetto (bridge) over the Grand Canal. Venice is shaped like a backward S and can be confusing at first. A readable map is a must-have.
Locating a quaint outdoor café, we drank wine and I savored a Cubano as we watched the stunningly beautiful Italian men and women as they went about their way and began to end their day. The Italians are exquisite - the people in general are very chic and strikingly attractive. We had such pleasure just sitting there, sipping our wine, tasting the excellent Cuban cigar and watching these gorgeous people.
We began to get hungry, so we retreated a couple of blocks back to Trattoria Vittorio, owned by Vincenza, and highly recommended by Mario, our concierge at the Hotel Florida. The waiter, Enzo, took an immediate liking to us, and poked fun at Carol's indecisiveness when it came time to order. He laughed at her insistence on "no French fries." He was wonderful and funny and we managed to get some great photos which we will snail mail to him and the restaurant. Carol had risotto con fruita di mare and grilled sea bass, both delicious, and I had spaghetti alle vongole, far and away the very best spaghetti I have ever tasted - spaghetti in a rich butter sauce with lots of salt, and smothered with very fresh clams. Molte escuizzito!! We had two liters of the superb red house wine, which had the faint suggestion of sweet flowers, and the entire bill for a most memorable dinner was a mere $50 U.S. The "tourist" menu had dinners for around $13 but we were very happy with our selections. We gratefully thanked Enzo and Vincenzo, and were sad to leave the restaurant.

Spaghetti alle vongole

Enzo and David
Carol went back to the hotel, which was nearby, to, yes, use the toilette, while I huddled with other tourists around some artists who were painting some quite realistic and moody scenes of this fabulous and fun Italian city.
We then walked again towards Piazza San Marco. Venice is small. A brisk walk from our hotel to San Marco, literally across Venice, takes about an hour. Along the way we noticed a concert of Vivaldi and Albinoni going on inside an old church. We put our ears to the large old wooden door and for a few minutes were treated to some lovely and delicate violin music. Finally we arrived at San Marco, and we sat down in the square to listen to the various orchestras. As I massaged Carol's tired feet, we both realized that it was unlikely that we could make the hour's trek back to the hotel. We had walked at least 15 miles today, every step unforgettable. So we dragged our tired selves around the corner to the vaporetto stand and bought tickets on the water-bus back through the curving canals and to our hotel. The vaporetto was crowded with late-night revelers, made thirteen stops along the way, and we enjoyed the ride. We were so exhausted when we finally got back to the hotel that we fell into bed and slept like babies.

Previous Day

Next Day

Day 1 London/Paris | Day 2 Paris | Day 3 Paris

Days 4 and 5 Paris/Venice | Day 6 Venice/Florence

Day 7 Florence | Day 8 Florence | Day 9 Florence

Day 10 London | Day 11 London | Day 12 London

Day 13 Home | Reflections

 copyright 1998 / david and carol lehrman / all rights reserved

 email david@davidandcarol.com