Friday, September 25, 2009

Venice, Day 2

I need to clarify--I have not gone back to Italy. I would LOVE to go back to Italy, but these blog posts are simply re-living the two weeks Scott and I spent in Europe in June. The reason why some things are in present tense is because many time I'm copying straight out of the journal I kept while we were traveling. Someone asked me last night if I had been back to Florence and I realized that I hadn't been very clear...sorry! 

This particular morning we slept in and didn't leave the hotel until 11:30. One of the great things about Venice is that you don't have to be busy while you are there. If you stay 2 or 3 days, you'll see everything you want to see and still have plenty of time to wander around and relax. The first thing that we did was head to St. Mark's Square to see the Basilica. We'd been to the Basilica before but we went again, paying admission to go all the way up to the top and to see the museum. The Basilica is fascinating. It's the final resting place of the bones of St. Mark--stolen in the middle of the night during the crusades and smuggled back to Venice in shipping crates. 

The Basilica is one of the more interesting churches that you will see in Europe. It's not classical with it's middle eastern style and it's very distinctive. This is due to Venice's ties with the Eastern world. At one point, Venice was the shipping capital of the world and was the main connection between Asia and the eastern world and modern, classical Europe. 

After touring the Basilica, we climbed to the top for some great views of St. Marks square and the Grand Canal. 
I look like a little bug woman with those glasses. If only I'd known how I looked...

After frying to a crisp on the overlook, we stepped inside to view these guys... 

These four horses once stood on the overlook on top of St. Mark's Basilica. They were the trademark of Venice and made of solid bronze. In the heyday of Venice, this sculpture was one of the most well-known images in Europe. They were so famous that Napoleon carried them off for his personal collection, but they have since been returned to Venice. These are the originals, finally brought into the barn after years of salt-water exposure. Copies of these guys still sit outside on top of the Basilica.

We also toured the Doge's Palace, connected to the basilica. When Venice was in her glory days, the Doge was one of the most powerful men in the world. His palace is fascinating, but no photos allowed, strictly enforced. After a few hours of touring, we took a gelato break and wandered around taking some shots of the city.  
Gondolas are a trademark of Venice, but they cost 75-90 euro for a daytime ride and upwards from 95 euro at night. Scott and I took a gondola ride the first time we came to Venice, so decided to save our money for other important things. Like gelato.

St. Mary's de Salute. This beautiful church was built thanking God for sparing 2/3 of the city during the Plague. 

Ah, the gondoliers. Some charming and handsome, some....not so much. This one was singing, trying to get tourists to pay for a gondola ride as they walked by. I took this picture and ran, half afraid that he would try to lasso me into paying. He had a lovely voice but native Venetian women say that those that succumb to the charms of a gondolier "have slices of ham over their eyes." I think some of the meaning might be lost in translation...

It costs more to by a gondolier than it does to buy a new car and you actually have to take a test to become a certified gondolier. It's one of the biggest businesses in Venice.  

After resting, Scott and I  got ready for dinner. We decided that we would have a nice, canalside dinner ad we found a nice place next to Rialto Bridge. It was touristy, but very romantic and typical "Venice." Our table was right beside the Grand Canal overlooking one of the busiest  part of the canal. There lots of gondolas floating by, music, and was such a nice dinner. 
We had one coke and one water bottle...and lots of glasses. There was hardly enough room for our food! 

Some of our dinnertime views: 

After dinner, we headed to St. Mark's Square to re-live something very special...our engagement! While in college, I spent a semester living in Spain studying abroad. On my spring break, Scott flew over, we met in Milan, we took a train to Venice, and that night he asked me to marry him. The story is very sweet and he was so excited to propose (he had help from Camille). 

Venice is the perfect backdrop for a proposal. We went back to the same cafe on the square and sat at the same table where he popped the question. We asked a nice girl to take our picture and while we were standing there, smiling for the camera, we heard a lady shouting in a foreign accent, "KEEEEEEEES!!!! KEEEEEEES!!!" So we obliged and kissed for the camera and the small crowd that the very nice but very drunk Belgian lady had attracted. 

We told the girl taking our picture that we had gotten engaged there 3 years ago and the Belgian woman asked, "Well, how did it turn out?" I told her that since we'd been married for over two years I thought it had worked out pretty well. We then had a very bizarre conversation with her about Florida, hurricanes, and the Godfather theme song. After she started to actually sing the theme song very loudly, her husband (who spoke no English) dragged her away very apologetically. Apparently, the "I'm-sorry-please-excuse-my-spouse" look is universal. 

After this interesting end to our evening, we wandered back, enjoying Venice at her best---after dark!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Welcome to Venice! Day 1

Apparently I'm on some sort of blogging rampage since this will be the 3rd blog post over the last 24 hours. The truth is, I really enjoy re-living our trip to Europe. It's really fun to look at my journal from the trip and remember so many great moments. Earlier I was looking over my photos from Venice and got so excited that I thought I would go ahead and share some of them tonight (this morning). 

Scott and I have a special attachment to Venice--it's where we got engaged. Besides that, Venice is as beautiful as any photo you've ever seen. There are many things in Europe that were different from my expectations, but Venice is every bit as beautiful as you think.

This day didn't actually begin in Venice. It started in a laundry mat in Florence. Scott and I packed for 14 days in one backpack each. Naturally, we needed to re-wear some things and that meant we had to do laundry. Rick Steves directed us to a local laundry mat and I must say that doing laundry in Europe is a unique experience. 

It was a perfectly quiet Sunday morning and our only company in the laundry mat was a lovely couple from New Zealand. They were biking through Italy. I though maybe they meant on motorcycles but they meant real bikes. How cool is that? I felt like such a weakling compared to them. We started talking and we learned that he was a doctor and they were in Italy for a month but their biking expedition had been sidetracked because she had fallen off her bike and had broken a rib. That's why, as her husband explained, she was "standing like Napolean," which I finally understood to mean that was why she had one arm tucked in her jacket. They were so nice and had the greatest accents. I was feeling pretty sophisticated , having a conversation with some New Zealanders about classical art, when Scott piped up with a question. He asked them, "Hey, do you guys watch that show "Flight of the Concords?" The husband laughed but the woman grimaced and said, "No, that's more.....Kiwi humor." I felt it was the equivalent of someone asking me, "Hey, you're an American. Do you watch that show "Jerry Springer"? and my response being, "No that's more...redneck humor." (and I have no idea what a Kiwi is...I'm still trying to figure that out.)

Despite the fact that we revealed that we had a Kiwi sense of humor, they were so nice and we had a great conversation with them while we were all doing laundry. I guess it's easy to bond with someone when you're folding your underwear in front of them the first time you meet them. Our laundry was done first and we said good-bye to our new friends. I wish I had taken a photo of them, but I didn't. I have no idea why; I have no excuse. I guess it's because I'm a Kiwi. 

After this we headed to the train station for the short train ride to Venice. It was another lovely ride through Tuscany as we headed to Venice. You know you're close to Venice when you run out land and the train tracks are over water. After we got off the train, we headed to find our hotel....which was easier said than done. Venice is a very,very old city with no logic in how they numbered their buildings. We found our hotel quite by accident and were so excited to find that it had...AIR CONDITIONING!! (not always a given in Europe) If you went out on our balcony and stood on your tiptoes, you could see that our room overlooked a little canal.

After settling in, we headed out to see Venice at the perfect time of day...twilight. We grabbed our iPods so we could listen to Rick Steves "Welcome to Venice Grand Canal Cruise" and headed to catch a boat. The Grand Canal may be the best part of Venice. It's "Main Street." It's over 2 miles long, 150 feet wide, and 15 feet deep and it's lined the palaces and expensive hotels. 

This is the Rialto Bridge, lined with shops and lots of tourists.  It's one of the most important(and crowded) landmarks in Venice. 
St. Marks Square is an important stop on the Grand Canal Cruise. It's the political and religious center of the city. It's home to Doge's Palace, St. Marks Bascilica, and millions of pigeons. 

After the Grand Canal Cruise we hopped off at San Marco's, found some dinner, and headed back to the hotel. Wandering through Venice is ideal and we caught these great views as it got dark. 

The Grand Canal as seen from Rialto Bridge

The Grand Canal 

We meandered back to our hotel for some much-needed rest. These two Kiwis were exhausted!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Florence, Day 2

If you know me at all, you know that I love breakfast. Sadly for me, I married a non-breakfast eater. I always eat breakfast in hotels and this morning, I managed to convince Scott that he needed to eat breakfast with me. We had a lovely breakfast of croissants, Nutella, fruit, and coffee....our hotel had a cappuccino machine and they were extremely proud of their homemade coffee. I must have had three or four--SO good. 

Hyped up by caffiene, we headed out to Santa Maria Novella Church, a beautiful church built in the 1200's by Dominican monks. Very quiet, very beautiful, and very strict on their "No Photos" policy.

From there we headed to the leather markets, where I bought an amazing handmade leather purse....and then I got in trouble from Scott because I didn't try to bargain more with the salesman. After my lecture on the art of haggling, we headed to Ponte Vecchio, Florences famous bridge,  to view the gold and silver markets before our appointment at the Uffizi Gallery. 

The Uffizi Gallery was one of the highlights of our entire trip. Even if you aren't an art lover, this museum will give you an appreciation for the classical arts. This museum house the best Italian paintings anywhere by artists: Giotto, Leonardo, Raphael, Caraveggio, Michaelangelo, Botticelli, etc. 

The museum is very specifically laid out and there is only one way to make your way through the exhibits. Armed with our Rick Steeves guided tour of the museum on our iPods, we made our way through the museum. It was fantastic. Obviously no photos were allowed, but I loved every second in this museum. 

Despite the fact that our feet were killing us, we forged ahead and walked to our appointment at the Accademia. The world-famous statue of David is here, along with the unfinished Prisoners, also by Michelangelo. These are the two main highlights of the small museum, but Scott enjoyed the musical instrument display in the back of the museum.

Our feet were protesting with every step, so we thought that was a good excuse for a nap. It had begun to rain, so it was perfect timing! After our nap, we went to a Rick Steves recommended restaurant, Trattoria 13 Gobbi ("13 Hunchbacks"). It was fantastic. The food was excellent and it was the idyllic Italian restaurant--candles, music, etc. I had a steak with roasted vegetables and it was by far the best meal I had on our trip--delicious!

We didn't know that this particular night was "White Night," which means that everyone stays out late. Restaurants and stores are open later and everyone was out--so we decided to stay out too. The city was so fun that night--people were everywhere, there was music and dancing in the square, and we found a great street musician who sang U2. Since we were out, we decided to get dessert at a little cafe known for their fancy desserts. 

I went for the chocolate and I must say...Best. Dessert. Ever. 


If you are reading this blog post you more than likely already know the hard path that Scott and I have been walking these last two weeks. So many of you have walked with us through your prayers and kindness and that path would have been so much darker if it were not for you.

I'm not sure if I ever understood the importance or function of the Body of Christ until I had a miscarriage. I've seen churches surround mourning families, take food to the needy, and reach out to those in need, but I had no comprehension of the depth of the love and compassion in the Body until now. When I was knocked on my face by grief and anger, the Body immediately reached out to help me back up. When my prayers were nothing more than "Why?" and "It's not fair!", people were approaching the Throne of Grace on my behalf. In my darkest days, I never felt that I was alone in my mourning.

We received phone calls, flowers, and mailboxes full of cards. People I'd never met stopped by the house to offer their condolences. I couldn't check Facebook without reading a new message of comfort from a friend.  That Tuesday at the doctor and the next day at the hospital, every single nurse that I came in contact with offered encouragement and their prayers. In our transition between cities and churches, Scott and I received an overwhelming amount of love, condolences, and prayers from church family members that we've loved for years and others that we've yet to meet. Before I had even prayed for comfort, the Lord was already providing it through many of you. 

I know that I serve a God of hope and comfort. Through my grief I am learning to trust my Savior even when I don't understand Him. I am learning that grief can beget joy and hope; and I am learning to say, "Blessed be the name of the Lord," even when He gives and when He takes away. God is good and He is faithful and close to those who are brokenhearted. 

Scott and I are speechless at the overwhelming amount of love and support that we have received from everyone. We could never express how thankful we are to all of you for everything that you have done. We are so blessed. 

"I thank my God in all my remembrance of you..." Phillipians 1:3