Just wanted to let you all know I made it safely here to Italy and have been driving around the countryside without mishap :) I have limited computer capabilities here (didn’t bring my own) so pictures will have to wait, sadly. Here’s some highlights…
Well, it was pouring in Seattle when I left – Michael could hardly see to drive. The flight left a half-hour late, but was quite comfortable by coach cross-Atlantic standards. The Delta/KLM flight was mostly full, but it didn’t seem too bad, as we had pillows and blankets (haven’t seen that for a while), free headsets, movies, games, drinks, and 2 meals. All the freebies really helped pass the time and add to comfort, and the food was actually good. However, we landed just as late, which meant running through the Amsterdam airport for about half an hour to make the next flight. Added security that didn’t use to be there for international transfers didn’t help. Barely made it onto the plane to Venice – however, my luggage didn’t.
Here is where I was glad I booked a hotel near the airport the first night and had a car. The airport promised to deliver the bag later that evening, but it did not show up. Inquiries at the front desk suggested that actually using any of of the phone numbers provided would not work, as they never answered (stubbornly I tried anyway, to no avail). Their suggestion that I return to the airport and wait proved helpful, as sure enough, the bag was there, with no signs of intent to deliver it anywhere ;) All’s well that ends well. And I got some practice driving around the local area with Italian road signs and a stick shift.
My plan is not to gain weight on this trip, which should be no small feat, considering. Added to that that I had already gained more than I wanted to working crazily before the trip, so losing some would actually be helpful. The first book I read while I was here was a book about how to effect change (in yourself or someone else). This was fascinating – some of their recommendations were 1) keep the changes small enough to feel doable and 2) choose very clear and specific goals. These appeal to the emotional and rational sides of you, both of which have to be engaged.
So, my goals for this trip are 1) look for ways to reduce carbs and portion size at every meal, and 2) look for opportunities to exercise every day. I get exceptions to the carbs rule if the exigencies of travel leave no choice (such as on the plane) or I have an opportunity to try something regional and unusual while NOT on the ship.
Food so far in Italy:
First dinner – Very lightly smoked salmon with herbed yogurt, rocket greens, and little pointy toasts (the only carbs), cold roast beef with more rocket salad
Breakfast at the hotel both mornings – A buffet from which I have chosen omelette, pan-fried mushrooms, and little sausages – all protein except for the first day I added one of my exceptions – a tiny sliver of creamy tart that had an abundance of fresh tiny red and purple berries – don’t know what they were, but they were good! Definitely worth it!
I spent two days driving south of Venice to bird-watch and ended up spending the night at an agro-tourism place. There they served a four-course meal of nearly all seafood – clam fetuccini, steamed mussels with garlic butter, a marinated shrimp and octopus salad, and a tuna-vegetable salad in mayo. All were fab. Since I don’t speak Italian and they didn’t speak any English, I had already resolved that I would eat whatever they gave me – though in the morning I was able to ask for eggs and ham rather than toast and marmalade.
My first bird of the trip was a White Wagtail, not bad (at least it wasn’t a Rock Dove!). I had a somewhat frustrating 2 days of driving around looking for birds, punctuated by occasional bright spots. This area is very agricultural, including the river delta that I thought would be more wild. It also took me some time to figure out the road signs, and I got lost a bunch of times, losing a lot of time. Eventually I figured it out- it actually isn’t that hard except that so many of the little towns and road names look exactly alike to me. I imagine it would be like an Italian trying to drive around in Iowa farm country :D
Anway! I did find a lot of the marshes and lakes eventually, and saw some great birds, including flamingos, spoonbills, and lots of herons and egrets, as well as some surprises, such as migrating rare hawks from Africa. I did not find most of my target land and forest birds. I did spend a morning wandering through a beautiful forest, which must be what most of this area looked like before all the agriculture. It was filled with birds – I could hear them but not really see them. And mosquitoes – who managed to bite me through my jeans and through a jacket AND sweater. Still, it was beautiful and nice to find a place filled with birds.
This area was quite allergenic for me being spring and agricultural, and at this point the mosquitoes and pollen won and I conceded defeat and returned north to the hotel :) Not actually, because I did find lots of new birds for my list. I even got to go on a boat tour of one of the lakes, where we learned about flamingoes and traditional fishing practices (anchovies, sea bass, dorado, shrimp, and molluscs). As mentioned above, I also spent the night at an agro-tourism place, which is basically a working farm/B&B, although this one also had famous lagoons where birds could be seen.
Accommodations and plans
The Hilton Garden Inn has been great – it has public transport to the airport and to the center of Venice, extremely comfortable and modern rooms, free internet, etc. Also a very eclectic clientele – the first morning I awoke to a large group of Japanese tourists at breakfast. Kids start young touring it appears, as this was a group of teenagers chaperoned by adult men. The dinner when I returned from birding had been turned into a disco party/buffet for a large group of Italians. I felt like I had entered the fashionista world – jeans so tight as to be painted on and always worn with 4-inch heels, skirts ultra-short with thigh-high boots (also with 4-inch heels), long perfect hair, high cheekbones, men with designer sunglasses… I’m not sure what kind of group this was but I felt out of place, to say the least! Later I felt better when passing by the bar I noticed that all the “normal” guests were there, eating dinner :D This morning there is every possible nationality represented at breakfast.
Today I’ll be doing the tourist thing in Venice, just wandering around the streets to see what I can see. Tomorrow I’ll be transfering all my luggage to the ship and will still have another day and a half in Venice before we sail. More later!