Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Good News is - We're at the Wrong Gate

It begins. There is something delicious in that moment when our plane begins it's rumble down the runway. All the plans have been made, all the reservations secured, our home in a state of suspended animation for three weeks, and we feel free of all responsibility. Virginia is as beautiful from the air as any place on earth this crystal clear late summer morning. Below us the kids are starting their school day, the parents their workday, everyone in their place oblivious to our pleasure. We are sliding into a new reality for a while, doing our own bit of time travel.

Tuesday - September 14-15, 2010

Striding down the international concourse at Philadelphia airport two things grab our attention; first, my sister-in-law Lucy had staked out some seats for us at the gate and second, most of the passengers are crowded under the CNN monitor paying close attention to the story running above the banner that says "Eiffel Tower Closed by Terrorist Threat." Uh-oh. What's happened while we were in flight? That's the bad news. The good news is that Lu scouted out the seats at the Paris flight because there was more room than at our gate (destination Marco Polo - Venice). Not wishing this group of passengers any ill, we were still relieved. Funny how that works. My brother Rich, joined us and we made our way to our gate, glad we were not going through Paris this year.

A few observations from the next to last row of our big 767 as we left the Pennsylvania countryside behind us.

1.) Though the four of us are north of 50 years old, it seemed we were the youngest people on the plane (including the flight attendants). There would be no crying babies on this trip.

2.) The flight duration was scheduled to be 8 hours and 45 minutes which seemed excessive.

3.) People are packing more into larger carry-on bags than in the past. There were a number of spirited debates about whether or not a bag could be crammed into an overhead compartment - some pretty sprightly seniors on board.

4.) We have yet to be on a trans-Atlantic flight where a movie that was worth watching was shown. Just saying.

After 7 hours of radio silence (for which we were grateful) the pilot informed us that we were approaching Venice from the west (good), and just passing over the remains of the Italian Alps. I lifted the shade in time to catch the sunrise illuminating the crests. Just beautiful. He also said that the temperature was 60 degrees and the wind calm. Twenty minutes later I wondered about that calm wind comment as he crab landed our behemoth and then took two tries to negotiate the 180 degree turn (on the runway - what they don't have a taxiway?) as we rolled toward the terminal. I couldn't look him in the eyes as we mumbled our thanks at the cabin door. How embarrassing.

With luggage in tow and a prepaid Alilaguna boat voucher in hand, we walked to the dock where the Rosso (Red) line boat was waiting. Great timing. Moments later we were cruising the lagoon toward Murano (an intermediate stop) and then on to the Lido. It was just that simple. For someone who avoids superlatives, that was the best airport to city transit we have ever made. We arrived at this small beach town around 10:00 just as it was awakening (who gets up early in paradise?) The Lido dock is at the head of the main commercial street (Santa Maria Elisabetta). It is a pleasant 10 minute walk past restaurants, stately homes and a big old hotel, to our apartment. Rich and Lu swapped a couple of weeks at their home in San Diego for a couple of weeks here.

The owner (a very nice, funny, and slightly pregnant) young woman named Giulia was there getting everything ready for us, and showing us the ropes, including how to operate the vicious little clothes-washer in the bathroom. Two bedroom, two baths, a kitchen, living room and private yard (with a heavily laden grape-vined pergola). This exceeded every expectation. Rich and Lu went exploring while Kat and I got a couple of hours of sleep, awaking refreshed and relaxed. Different from being in a hotel or pensione, as home exchangers you immediately feel a part of the community. For the next 5 days we are the people who live down the street on the Lido.

At 5:30 we convened a meeting to decide where to go for dinner, and by 7:00 we had a firm plan (we were VERY relaxed). With the luxury afforded residents, we decided not to cross the lagoon, but try a local neighborhood eatery. Rich solicited the advice of one of our neighbors (the fact that she spoke NO English was irrelevant), and she confirmed Giulia's recommendation of the Trattoria Andri, a short walk away. With a small colonnaded flower drenched front, it looked more than inviting. The food was very good (very fresh seafood, naturally), the service excellent, and prices reasonable. It is a favorite of many of the movie stars when they attend the Venice Film Festival but to us it was the local pub.

We stopped at the ticket office on the dock to buy Venezia 7 day passes (€50 each) that covers all boat transportation on the ACTV lines. Individual (valid for 60 minute) trip tickets are €6.50 each, and we planned on using the public transportation a lot for short hops. We agreed that an 8:45 wheels-up the next day was appropriate, and our hard work for the day was done.

It was a beautiful warm evening perfect for strolling, and stroll we did. Fortified with a creamy rich gelato, we made our way down to the beach, past the famous Hotel des Bains (closed for renovations), and along the lungomare. Though early, the street was practically deserted and we could only imagine what it must be like during the film festival when the other stars are in abundance. We checked out the art work as we went, and I have to admit I still don't get most of it. Too old fashioned I imagine. One piece in particular (Plasticman) could give the little kiddies nightmares.

Tired and sated we tumbled into the comfy bed of our new home, in our little Venetian neighborhood.

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