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Norman J. Olson, US
 

 

 

 

An Artist's Travelogue:

From Venice to Fort Lauderdale and Points North

 

October 24, 2011, we (my wife and I) got on the afternoon flight from MSP (Minneapolis - St. Paul, MN) to CDG (Paris) then from Paris, took Air France to Venice… flying on my wife’s employee passes… we fly stand by, and it is always difficult to know if there are going to be any empty seats, especially on other carriers where we do not have any way to check the load before showing up at the airport… but fortunately, there were open seats all the way getting to Venice…

From Venice Marco Polo airport, we took the five euro bus to the Mestre train station… I had found a very cheap hotel ($39) in the suburb of Mirano and according to the information I found, one could get to that hotel by catching a city bus in either Venice proper or Mestre train station that went right by the door of the hotel… and that proved to be the case except that one had to buy a ticket for the bus at a neighborhood bar and that that particular bus stopped about a kilometer away from the train station… good information is always hard to get… reviews of the hotel I had booked said that the bus was right in front of the Mestre train station and well, a walk of a kilometer is not far, but one needs to know just where that kilometer ends or one will be walking in circles for ever… I had tried to find on-line the number of the bus that went to Mirano and searched and searched but finally gave it up…

Well, after asking about ten different people who spoke about as much English as we spoke Italian, we finally figured out how to buy a ticket and that the bus was not at the train station but a kilometer away… since the guy in the bar pointed us in the general direction, we set out walking in a light rain with our roller bags and met a college student who spoke perfect English and directed us to continue ahead for a few blocks to get the Mirano bus… which does not have a number but simply says “Mirano” on the front… well, the bus cost three euros and with that great information, we found the stop and got to the hotel with no problem… the hotel was an old villa all spruced up and painted white with bright red shutters… it was gorgeous… set in a park like area of lawns and large trees… in the back yard was a beautiful swimming pool and the kind of structures that led me to believe that the yard was used for wedding receptions in warmer weather…

Behind the hotel was a road next to a small stream and beyond that farm fields… the room was gorgeous with shutters and double windows open to the trees and a lovely cool breeze… we spent the evening roaming around Mirano and had a nice dinner for just a few euros in a small bar… the next day, we took the bus into Mestre and basically spent the day roaming around Mestre, looking into shops and stores and talking to people we met who spoke more or less English… it was raining but the old buildings were beautiful and with no tourists around, it was very Italian… the next day, we took the bus to Venice where hotels are much much more expensive… parked our luggage and wandered around for the morning… looking at the buildings and canals… there were lots of tourists around, but nothing like in the hot months of summer…

In the afternoon, we boarded a cruise ship and enjoyed the evening sailing down the canal from the cruise port, past the lido and out to sea… with all the lights and boats, if was very picturesque and pretty with the sun setting spectacularly… really a beautiful sight to see… the ship was huge holding something like 2000 passengers… and very beautiful, if a bit tacky as those ships all tend to be… most of the passengers were older so we felt like the young folks… lol… the first port was Dubrovnik… we got off the ship and changed in $20 for the Croatian currency… then caught a city bus to the old town which is the touristy part of the city and is basically an ancient walled city with lots of pricey shops and restaurants…. and it was crowded with people… we walked around enjoying the lively vacation atmosphere and at the end of the town walked out on the pier where we saw a beautiful island in the bay… from that angle, I was certain that this island was the model for Swiss surrealist Arnold Brocklin’s Island of the Dead, his most famous painting… and one of the real classics of romantic art… I don’t know if scholars are aware of the similarity or if Brocklin ever actually visited Dubrovnik but, I know that painting well enough to believe that this island has the same look… and feel…

So, we decided to walk until we got tired and then catch the city bus back to the ship… but, after walking basically up a mountain, we realized that we just had to go down the hill to get to the ship… we still had most of our twenty dollars left, so we stopped at an organic grocery store and bought a few non perishable items as souvenirs… then walked the rest of the way back to the ship…

The next day we stopped at Kerkira in Greece… this was a very picturesque port with a bay with mountains we could see across the bay and shipping to look at… so we walked around the port area and then into the town to look at the shops… and I had a very interesting conversation with a Greek person about the European economic crisis that is so much in the US news… lots of anger directed at what seemed to me to be straw men…

Then we stopped at Messina in Sicily… where we walked around, which is what we usually do in ports and stopped at a lovely botanical park to look at the banyan trees and watch children playing on rows of mechanical horses, space ships, etc… or riding a small pony… it was very warm and relaxing… and fun to watch the kids… we saw a little Yorkie dog that reminded us of our Yorkie Schnicklefritz… who has been dead for a couple years now… I made some sketches of the dog… I had a sketchbook that I carried… which I have been doing lately when traveling and find that although I do make some landscape sketches, I mostly wind up drawing people… in addition to seven drawings mostly finished, I got about thirty pages of sketches on this trip…

In Messina, we watched the fancy clock tower strike noon and the clockworks made automaton figures move around, made a mechanical lion roar, and made a mechanical rooster crow… then it was on through the straights of Messina to Civitavecchia, the port for Roma… there, we took the train from the port into the city and got off by St. Peters Basilica… where we found mobs and mobs of tourists packed shoulder to shoulder and hours long lines to get into the basilica or the Vatican Museum… we did not realize that by booking tickets on line, we could have avoided those lines and gone right into the museum… so, we went to a little café near the square and had a soda and a coffee and watched the tourists milling around… then, I had the bright idea to walk back to the train station by walking around Vatican city… well, it was a nice quiet walk through a residential area, but at a very steep grade which Mary did not enjoy… so, by the time we got back to the station, we were ready to head back to Civitavecchia and so caught the train and did that without really seeing any art in Rome… except we did get to see the dome of St. Peter’s from the back where the basilica, I have read, still more or less resembles what Michelangelo planned… except of course, Michelangelo planned a hemispherical dome instead of the pointed dome that wound up being built…

In Civitavecchia, it was Halloween evening and we chanced upon a children’s program in the main square in which many ghoulishly made up children played games and vied for prizes… the next two days, we were at sea, gliding along on the silky Mediteranian… with a warm breeze, it was perfect to sit in my favorite cruise ship spot, on the Promenade Deck, under the lifeboats with my drawing board and a stack of novels…

After Gibraltar, we landed at Cadiz, Spain… and although it was raining when we got there, the rain cleared before we got off the ship and we had a lovely day, again walking around, people watching and just enjoying the town… we had been told that there was a big storm over the Atlantic and that the ship had no choice but to go through it so the next scheduled stop was cancelled… the storm proved to be the largest seas I have ever seen with thirty five foot waves and the ship tossing and rolling so that I had to take an extra seasick pill… and for one day we were stuck inside as the decks were all closed due to 70 mph winds… which is hurricane force… the ship went south to try and stay at the edge of the massive storm and wound up heading toward North Africa before turning west toward Florida… after that one day, the seas remained high enough to keep the boat rocking but the outside decks were open so I could sit and draw and the weather was generally nice with bits of rain but mostly nice warm breezes and only enough seas to keep me high on the seasick pills… which work like absolute magic for me…

The rest of the crossing was uneventful and after nine days at sea, we arrived at Fort Lauderdale on November 13, 2011… I knew the flights home would be tight and that proved to be the case so... we wound up renting a car with some other employee standby travelers and driving over Sunday night to Memphis… a long drive, but I was well rested from all the sea days and sort of enjoyed the drive through Florida, Alabama and Mississippi… in Memphis, we did not have time to visit the King’s former digs, but after some anxious moments did get a flight to MSP Monday evening… so, were glad to see our beds for sure… we are thinking of going back to Rome, now that we know the drill, in January when there will hopefully be fewer crowds to look at the art and maybe make a visit to Florence at the same time… for the same purpose…

 

        

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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