Adios Barcelona, Bonjour Morocco

2 October 2014

Today the weather was playing nice and we had a full morning to explore the city. We started our adventure with a walk down to the Gothic Quarter. It was a fun maze of small alley’s and beautiful stone buildings.

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Wandering down the alleys and into a few large open squares we found our way to Santa Maria del Mar.

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The building was so imposing surrounded by the much smaller shops. Once inside you could tell that this church was built for royalty. While not as ornate as some of the churches we had seen in Italy, the stone work, chandlers and ceiling arches made my neck ache. If the church wants to make an extra buck, they should really place a few reclining lounge chairs around so you can take in all the detail.

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We continued our little afternoon expedition thru the area by exploring the Born neighborhood. We made our way thru a market just before the actual neighborhood and just followed the roads up, down and around. It instantly became my new favorite area in this city. And there was still some much that we could explore there, but our time was running out and we had to walk back home to grab lunch and collect our bags. It just goes to show that even with a third visit to a city there is still so much to find, see and experience. Maybe on our next visit to Barcelona I will feel more confident in saying that I have truly explored the city.

Our last meal was at the same place we had our first on this visit at tasqueta de blai where we enjoyed our last tapas and got our fill of pork before we head back to a Muslim country.

Feeling like a pack mule, we walked up to the street to the airport bus. As much as I love traveling, I would like to get rid of my heavy bag and/or it is time to start to get rid of some of my clothes. On the brightside it wasn’t humid. It was an uneventful ride to the airport, but little did I know that we were in for quite the adventure to Morocco.

As we sat on the plane waiting for all the passengers to board I sat in shock. We have been on a few flights in the last 10 months but this one takes the cake as the most bonkers. I should have realized in this moment that we were heading to a country I just might not understand at all. I have never seen so much carrying on luggage in my entire life. People were carrying so many large bags and the overhead bins were almost spilling over before the plane was half full. Plus the kid next to me was a nervous wreck, wiping his sweaty palms on is jacket over and over and checking is phone every 10 minutes or so. For the first time flying I was a little on edge myself and closely watching every action of the kid next to me.

Upon arrival we waited in the long lines to clear immigration, where they still do everything manually, before getting our bag and making our way to the train. As we stood in line, or really in more of a cluster, where I made sure I held my space, it was a quick reminder again that we have left Europe and it really time to pay attention to how the locals act and try to blend in as much as possible. We got our tickets just in time to make it on the train. Once at the city center we left the station at found our way to the tram. Just our luck with only paper bills the tram ticket machines only accepted coin. It was a quick oh crap moment until a very nice gentlemen noticed our predicament, as we looked around the machine with a paper bill in hand, and he offered to change our bill for coins and told us the cost of the first and second ticket. And a few minutes later after going thru some very nice looking neighborhoods and a few that had me making sure I knew where my things were located, we were at our hotel.

Not wanting to travel too far for dinner, we found a restaurant close by that also happened to be across the street from the French embassy. The service was great, the building was stunning (I am seriously going to have a problem not taking a picture of everything) and the food was tasty. It was a very different pace from what we had just seen in the airports, but I guess this is how the fancy people see the country.

Today’s Travel: The walk to the gothic quarter and the born neighborhood before walking back home and to pick up our bags and walk to Plaza Espanya to take the aeropuerto bus and catch Veuling flight # VY7340 to Casablanca

Accommodations: Park Suites Hotel & Spa. My mother always said if you have nothing nice to say you shouldn’t say anything at all. Well, sorry mom, I have to say this hotel was pretty much a dump. The thing about this city though is every hotel is ridiculously expensive and they all have poor ratings unless of course you are spending a 300+ a night. When we walked into our room I instantly wanted to gag as it smelled like a two pack a day smoker had spent the last 5 years living in the room and every day the cleaning staff sprayed and horrible floral scent to try and mask it. It also reminded of a place that might have been nice looking 5 years ago when it was brand new but the shody craftsmanship was starting to show. But it was just one night and it was close to the mosque and in a relatively nice area of the city.

Barcelona is always a good idea

1 October 2014

We continued on with our short stop in Barcelona visiting some of our favorite places. Our day started out with a visit to Park Güell. This was our first time to the park since they instituted the new ticket policy and making it a much less crowded experience. That or it is not high season. The design and execution of the buildings and sculptures is still as beautiful as the first time I was there. It is one of those places that I will always visit when I am here.

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After our morning in the park we made our way down to the beach for some relaxation. But first we had to stuff our faces with paella. And we made sure we ate ourselves into a food coma. The portions were huge, but it was so tasty that we both had a hard time stopping.

Our bellies were beyond full so we took a short walk along the beach, before laying down our blankets for some sun bathing and napping.

That evening we wandered around our neighborhood enjoying our last night in the city. We even treated ourselves to a fancy Mexican restaurant. The food was fantastic and I had to stop myself from drinking the hot sauce. I have a suspicious feeling that when we return to San Diego I will be on a Mexican food bender.

Today’s Travel: The subway to Park Güell and walking around the beach

Accommodations: Airbnb

Settling in, in Barcelona

30 September 2014

It was a rainy morning so we took care of the not so glamourous practicalities of Adam getting his haircut, we did some laundry and we did some research on Morocco and Portugal. Today was also the day that we bought a ticket back to the US. It was so weird to book the flight and have a real end date. I think it might take a while for me to accept that reality. Pretty boring stuff but it also meant that I was able to finish my book and just lounge around the house. With the whirlwind pace we have been traveling at over the last few months in Europe it is so nice to just sit on the couch and not do too much.

With the weather still questionable we headed out to find lunch at a Mexican restaurant called Nino Viejo. As it turns out they weren’t going to open for lunch service until next week. The restaurant had not been open that long so we had to find another lunch option. We kept our eyes open as we wandered back along various side streets but we didn’t see anything that caught our attention.

So after our walk we ended up across the street from our apartment at Quimet y Quimet. Based on my pinterest research this place seems to be very popular and it was dumb luck that we found a room across the street. And the tapas here were as good as claimed however it was also a big tourist draw so it was us and many other travelers enjoying a meal here.

We let another rain cloud pass before venturing back out for a walk down Las Ramblas to La Boqueria.

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It was near the end of the day so many of the stalls were closed up but we did find a few places to grab a few snacks including jamon.

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Truth be told, about day four or five when in Spain I begin to curse jamon and by the end of most trips here I tell myself I will never eat jamon again. So of course we laughed as we ate the yummy jamon. I guess with a three day trip here I wouldn’t be cursing this food.

That evening we grabbed pizza and watched futbol with our hosts and spent the evening chatting about our mutual love of travel.

Today’s Travel: Around Barcelona

Accommodations: Airbnb.

Next stop, Barcelona

September 29th 2014

While we thought a 10am flight would mean plenty of time to sleep in before heading out the door, we clearly were not thinking about the time on public transportation to get to the airport. As with most European cities the airports are located on the far outskirts of town and there is usually just one our two lines that head to the airports which translates to, multiple transfers. For us this meant taking a 6:40am train to make it to the airport at 8.

It was a quick flight and we were in Barcelona before lunch. We decided to take the train to the metro which was the longer but cheaper route to our Barcelona home. And when we arrived in the city our phone ran out of minutes as we tried to answer a call from our host. We easy found the place, but in our fog from the last few days (aka hangover) we didn’t realized the apartment number was in our email. It only took us about 15minutes of standing in front of the building and trying to think of what to do next with no cell service or wifi for us to realize we had all the info we needed. At that point I think our host thought we were probably silly Americans who could not read an address. We settled in quickly and began making plans for our short stay in the city. We booked ourselves an evening tour at the Sagrada Família. This would be my third visit and Adam’s second to the ever evolving and still under construction church. The church should be completed in 2026; just 144 years after construction began. And now it is a basilica as the Pope gave this once cathedral this title about a two months after our last visit here. As we walked in we found ourselves pointing out all the things that had changed and all the new details. For the first time it looked and felt like a church and not just a construction site. The architecture is like no other building, let alone church, making it one of our favorite places to visit. Even though the prices to enter continue to rise, it is well worth every penny. And with the evening entry, just before we were about to leave we realized we were just one a handful of people inside so we took that opportunity to just enjoy the silence and find new details in the building.

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It had been a long day so we decided to keep it local for dinner. Lucky for us we had picked a home that was just around the corner from a handful of tapas bars so we headed to la tasqueta de blai for a great selection of tasty tapas. And while I had sworn off alcohol just a few hours earlier, I couldn’t pass up a glass of cava.

Today’s Travel: The early morning train from Watcherhof to the airport where we hopped on Veuling Flight #VY1813 to Barcelona where we caught the train then transferred to the metro to Parallel before walking up the street

Accommodations: Airbnb.  This was a perfect spot for our short stay in Barcelona. To stay within our budget we went with the private room option on AirBnB which meant we had the downstairs extra bed and bathroom of a lovely couple. We could spend a sunny afternoon or late evening out on the terrace is a great way to enjoy the sights and sounds of the city. Plus you are just a few steps away from some of the best tapas in the city, a short walk to the beach, the gothic quarter, and the metro line is at the corner for trips across the city. But it really is hosts like Alba and Gian who make Airbnb a great choice when traveling. From the moment we booked we had instant information on how to get to their home, a response to my questions within moments and upon arrival in the city it felt like we had local tour guides. They provided information on places to see outside of the ‘must-see,’ gave recommendations on places to eat and treated us like old friends as we traded travel stories. Next time we are in Barcelona we will be back!

Oktoberfest: round 2

28 September 2014

We initially hadn’t planned on going to Oktoberfest for a second day, but with the slightest bit of arm twisting we were making our way back to the festival grounds to the Augustiner-Festhalle tent. With this being a Saturday the tents get extremely crowded so we set our alarm for 6:00am so that we’d be able to make it to the beer tent nice and early to be sure we would get a seat (nothing like starting your beer drinking before 10:00am).

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We entered the beer hall which was already packed and managed to find some seats next to some friendly canucknucks and ordered up some beer. Unlike the last beer hall this one was family friendly. There were strollers and babies everywhere and the crowd was fairly reserved.

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And when the few that tried to chug their beers stood up on a bench to show their talents to the world they were quickly pulled down by security. There were just a few that were positioned far away from security to chug their whole liter. This time we were smart enough to have more than just oatmeal for breakfast so we weren’t so inebriated after our liters. The best laugh of the day came when everyone discovered that I may have a little bit of difficulty with being able to wink and everyone proceeded to have a good laugh mocking my lack of winking skills.

The closest to a wink I've ever achieved.

The closest to a wink I’ve ever achieved.

Explaining that I can't wink

Explaining that I can’t wink

How I normally wink

How I normally wink

And now the mocking begins

And now the mocking begins

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We hung out in the beer tent through the early afternoon before we made our way out into the sunlight to wander around the festival gardens before heading downtown to stroll around for a while and grab some dinner.

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Today’s Travel: The train from Watcherhof to Munich central and a walk to Oktoberfest

Accommodations: Airbnb.

Cinderella, Cinderella….

27 September 2014

Needless to say, we had a slow morning and didn’t get going until late morning. Today was the day we were taking our day trip to Neuschwanstein Castle and it was also the day that public transportation was not on our side. We missed the train at Watcherhof by only a few seconds, our tickets were printing as the train arrived and the process was completed as the train pulled away. Since we had to transfer this missed train now meant we added about an hour on to our already long travel day.

As we headed out of the main station we were soon greeted by corn fields, cute community gardens, suburban homes, more rolling foothills and fields and then suddenly the foothills became the Bavarian Alps.

After about four hours, on trains, buses and a few short walks, we finally arrived at King Ludwig II famous Neuschwanstein Castle.

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The plus side of the long journey was that all the walking and travel in the fresh mountain air did make us feel like a human again, that and the mid-afternoon brat we picked up for a snack.

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Once we had wandered around the castle for a while we of course we had to make our way to Marienbrücke (St Mary’s Bridge) to snap our own pinterest worthy shots of the castle.

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While on the bridge we did a quick time check and realized that we would need to make our way back to the bus stop to catch the 5:05 train. And to continue with our not so great travel luck for the day, we missed the bus by three minutes, so being the first in line we noticed that the next bus would not arrive for another hour so we decided to set out on the 3km walk back to Fussen. Well I think it was more like 4km which meant that we arrived after the 5:50 train so we had to wait until the next train.

We finally arrived back home, exhausted around 8:30 and our plans to meet up with friends went out the window. Tomorrow we were crazy enough to head back to Oktoberfest so we were at least smart enough to make sure we got some sleep.

Today’s Travel: On the train from Watcherhof to Munich central to Fussen then on the bus to the bottom of the hill and a walk up to Neuschwanstein Castle

Accommodations: Airbnb.

With love, from Oktoberfest

26 September 2014

While I have read that the traditional anniversary gift for a fifth wedding anniversary is wood or maybe a modern day gift of silverware, or hey if you are a traveler maybe an airline ticket or a cruise. Well I am here to say that the new trend that we have started is a celebration with a few thousand strangers (plus one of your bridesmaids) in a beer hall drinking a few liters of beer at Oktoberfest in Munich.

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Not only did we get to celebrate at Hackerbräu-Festzelt we were able to meet up with one my best friends and one of my bridesmaids, Diana so it was just like a mini-wedding celebration! While D and her friends arrived around 9am to check out the sites and get us a table when the halls which opened at 10, we arrived at the beer hall about 11:30am, which we soon realized was a little late as the place was already packed. Thanks friends for still not adjusting to your new time zone! We quickly joined in the fun and one liter of beer soon turned to three.

Reunited and feels so good

Reunited and feels so good

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Hmmm....delicious

Mmm….delicious

And when we just had a small bowl of haferflocken (oatmeal) the beer goes straight to the brain. We were smart enough to order some brats after liter number two, but that didn’t help too much.

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Soon enough we were being kicked out of our seats as the group that had reserved them for the four o’clock time frame had arrived.

We left the hall, made a quick tour of the carnival rides and headed to Karlsplatz U-bahn to grab a doner before heading on the train back home. I got us to the train station and on the right train and Adam got us off the train and home. This is what happens when one person drinks faster than the other. And clearly it worked well for us. Somehow we made it back home!

Today’s Travel: From Watcherhof to Oktoberfest

Accommodations: Airbnb.

Das good, back to Deutschland

25 September 2014

Waking up before the sunrise and pulling into a raining Munich train station I was ready for a nap before the day was even beginning. However we had planned to hit the ground running with a full day of wandering around the city before we made it to our home. The weather on the other hand didn’t want to cooperate with our sight-seeing adventures so our first few hours were spent in the train station. It did provide some excellent people watching of the people drinking off yesterday’s hangover in their lederhosen or passed out on the staircase. We ventured outside a few times hoping the weather would clear, but it wasn’t until 8am that the rain turned to an on and off again drizzle that we began our tour.

We were both tired so inevitably it took only ten minutes before we were arguing over directions.  Just to prove a point we walked all the way back to the train station to follow the signs which took us back in the same direction, this time however I was put in charge which took us by St. Paul’s church. The weather wasn’t so great we decided to take a quick tour to get out of the rain before making it to Oktoberfest (the next day we realized we walked almost to the next station when we got lost on our first attempt). While the ride operators and food vendors were just arriving to work, there were plenty of attendees beginning to line up to get into the various beer halls. To me it looked like one giant fair with lots beer hall tents. I guess I never realized that there was more to it then just beer. There were more rides and food options than I have ever seen at any US fair, plus the food actually smelled good.

After our short visit there we headed off to the main tourist center, Marienplatz. As with any city’s pathway towards the main tourists’ destination, the streets are lined with shops. There was everything from the Apple store (and yes we did stop in to see the new iPhone 6) to the Gap.

Continuing on with our aimless path we arrived at Viktualienmarkt. There we laughed at the crazy prices for fruit juice drinks, looked at the shops and let our nose take us to a small stand where we bought a sausage and potato plate.

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After our morning in the city we made our way out of the city center to the suburbs. Within twenty minutes the landscape had changed to cornfields and wide open spaces. When we got off at our station we were surrounded by a wooded forest and farmlands. After making ourselves at home we headed out for the evening to Watcherhof which was a twenty minute walk past cornfields and horse stables. While there were a few Italian restaurants, we decided to go with the local beer hall for warm and hearty meal. Just half way thru my meal, I could feel the meat sweats starting. But I would expect nothing less from a traditional German meal.

Today’s Travel: From Munich HBF, walking around sites downtown and out to Watcherhof

Accommodations: Airbnb. We continue to have great luck with our Airbnb rentals. Our home in Hohenbrunn about 30 minutes outside of Munich was perfect for short stay. The walk to the train station was only 10 minutes and the efficiencies of the trains here it really made it nice have the city and countryside experience. The apartment had everything we needed; a comfortable bed (even though it was a futon the cushions were great), a washing machine, a kitchen, a big bathroom and plenty of storage for all of our stuff. And our host was very accommodating giving us info on places to eat and accommodating any of our requests.

Strolling through Venice

24 September 2014

We packed our bags and headed out to explore the city one last time. Our first stop for the day was St. Mark’s and this time we made it inside the church.

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While it was beautiful it was not as spectacular as the church in Siena. That or I am finally becoming super jaded and places others talk so highly of I always in ready to chime in with a ‘well, in [insert city/site here] there is x,y,z.’

After making it out alive from St. Mark’s square we made our way to the Rialto Bridge to snap some photos and just watch the boats and gondola’s go by.

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While hanging out we once again noticed the Mercato Rialto so we wandered on over.

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It was still too early to eat gelato (look at that self-control) so we just found a seat on a small dock next to the market to watch the world go by.

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Feeling the heat of the early morning sun, we deiced to find our way to Basilica dei Frari to grab gelato at Grom and hang out on the steps near the water and people watch. There just so happened to be a family having a few drinks at the bar across the way before a wedding, which provided some great entertainment.

It was then off to see the city from the bell tower at San Giorgio Maggiore Church.

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When we arrived our jaws hit the floor at the cost to climb up to the top so we just wandered around the church and the area around the church. After the short walk we once again found ourselves just hanging out on the walkway with our feet dangling over the water looking out at St. Mark’s square.

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After an hour we  were back on the vaporetto back to St. Mark’s square and walked south, dodging tourists and vendors along the way, until we found ourselves along wandering the streets and hung out in a small neighborhood square to kill some more time. There were kids playing soccer and older women watching the neighborhood from her window and trying to help two tourist get into their rental apartment, which was like watching a game of charades.

As we pondered what we wanted to do next we became a bit restless so we decided to keeping on walking with no destination in mind. We ended up heading north until we came to Saints Giovanni and Paolo Basilica. There was an entrance fee so we just saw as much as we could while standing in the entry way. We headed back out into the piazza which was very popular with kids and moms; I have never seen so many kids running around! We then walked into what I thought would lead us to a cool old pharmacy, but unbeknown to us we then found ourselves walking thru the hospital, which is located on beautiful grounds. I thought I could find a free toilet, but alas I could not.

We carried on our aimess path, taking in the quiet side streets, lovely architecture and people watching for a few more hours before grabbing dinner. After arriving in Venice and finding it nearly impossible to get cheap good eats, we turned to the internet to find Dal Moro’s. During our 36ish hours in Venice we ate three meals here. To say we really enjoyed it would be an understatement, the pasta was fresh and the sauces were so tasty we saw no need to find something else. Plus it is centrally located and easy to walk to from almost anywhere on the island.

Plus you can't beat the views from standing by the canal.

Plus you can’t beat the views from standing by the canal.

After finishing our dinner we made our way back through St. Mark’s Square for a few more photos and then back to our hotel to grab our bags and head to the train station.

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By the time we left for the train station I was looking at the city map and realized that we had walked almost the entire island and a few sections many times over.

Arriving at the station for our night train to Munich an hour or so early we just parked ourselves and our stuff on the ground and waited for the track number to show up on the board. And no train trip would be complete without another fun story. As the ticket taker arrived at our bunk, he looked at our ticket and in German began to tell us that we had the wrong ticket (again based on tone and his pointing). After a few attempts at understanding he grabbed the ticket of our bunk mates and we realized we didn’t print our ticket in the proper dimensions. At that point I wanted to tell him that we printed this at our hotel in Italy where the staff spoke minimal English and we had to print from our email and not from the pdf so dimensions of the QR code were off. After this short lecture, he scanned the code and our credit card and our reservation appeared on the screen. We had a good laugh as we both thought that the next time we are on a train, we will most likely just have a QR code on our phone and we will have to scan it to open the car door. So maybe this ticket taker was going to take his job seriously until technology caught up on the German train system and this guy’s role would be obsolete.

Today’s Travel: Venice to Munich on the night train

Accommodations: Overnight train from Venice to Munich. Just a typical bunk bed 4 berth night train; nothing fancy about it but I was able to get a few hours of sleep.

The Islands of Venice

23 September 2014

With our plans of spending the evening exploring Venice last night having the kibosh put on them, we started today with a full agenda. I guess a full agenda for us as we had three different places we wanted to visit.

We hoped on the vaporetto and after a few transfers we made it to the lovely little island of Murano.

Scenes from the grand canal

Scenes from the grand canal

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We arrived mid-day to a sleepy little island and spent some time just wandering.

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We popped into a few shops and found a quintessential Christmas ornament, Santa the gondolier. We both had no interest in seeing someone blow glass and then getting herded into a shop to buy something. I had seen this a few years back and if we really want to we can always go to Balboa Park on the weekends to watch the artisans blow glass there.

It was then back on the water taxi to our favorite place in Venice, Burano. Each home is painted in a bright cheery color, if my memory serves me from my last tour this has been done so the fisherman knew how to find their homes after many days out at sea. This is one place that actually feels like it is still a living and breathing city.

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While there are sections that are totally touristic, there are still plenty of narrow alleys to explore and take in all the beauty of this city. We also made our way to a nice restaurant that was featured on Mr. Bourdain’s ‘No Reservation,’ and like most places in Europe that are featured on his show, they are now overpriced and provide decent food and relying on his show to continue to bring in business. After lunch we continued to wander around and I think we covered the small island before we made our way back to Venice.

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That evening we made our second and successful trip to St. Mark’s to capture this tourist haven with fewer crowds.

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I was shocked when we arrived and there were still large tour groups going thru. Although it is nothing like the daytime when you can’t even see the ground, only people.

Today’s Travel: Vaporetto out to the islands of Murano and Burano and wandering around the city

Accommodations: Ca’Turelli