Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Judith To Go To China

For information on my teaching and travel experiences while in China, please to go: http://judithsilverthorneinchina.blogspot.com/

Monday, February 4, 2008

Heading Home and then to China

I’m finally committed to going to teach in China. I start March 1st in Guangzhou (Guangdong province) at the Guangzhou University for three months, with an option for renewing my contact.

I’m really looking forward to going! I feel I have so much more to offer now that I’ve been travelling about and had to function in other countries where I don’t speak the language. I’ve learned a great deal about how to communicate and feel I can use my experience to be a much better teacher for those learning English as I know how shy one can be and at times how frustrated one can get, as well as impatient with oneself…it’s been really a lot of fun too!

I'm setting up a separate blog for going to China, which is: http://judithsilverthorneinchina.blogspot.com/

Friday, January 18, 2008

Last Impressions of Venice and Trying to Get Home

Saturday, January 19, 2008 - More added since first posted

Check-out time at my hotel was 10 am they said last night, as there is someone to take my room and check-in time is 11 am, so I had to be out, though my flight to Frankfurt wasn’t scheduled until 6 pm. Even with allowing myself 3 hours to get to the airport (which included the two hours ahead I needed to be,) I still had 5 hours to kill. A brunch would take some of the time, and I could leave my luggage behind, but I really didn’t want to see any more of Venice. As it was, check out time was at 11 a.m. so that helped a little.

Then I concentrated on my finishing the Venice part of my blog and doing some writing in the back foyer of the hotel, where I could be connected to the Internet and continue doing research. I had a late lunch at the pizza place, I'd been to the first time.

The meal on my second night consisted of spaghetti with clams, mussels and seafood in a tomato sauce with tiramisu for dessert. I had now tried tiramisu in two places, having watched a friend try a frozen version in a third (the place in Spain). The official “Italian” one in Venice was great, and had more flavour than the one I’d tasted in Madrid, however, I’m not a coffee fan, so the Madrid one won hands down for me, because of the more delicate flavouring and lightness of it on the whole.

I wandered out for supper last night to discover a thick fog. The digital camera did some interesting things with the water crystals when I took shots of the two restaurants on each of the two nights.

Last night’s supper was again a test of what ‘real’ Italian food tasted like and so I had lasagne, and asked for a piece of polenta on the side. A friend in Canada makes polenta that I quite like, so it was a surprise to find the “Italian” version was much thicker and moister, like the consistency of sponge cake, which had been grilled on either side. Too mushy for me! I much prefer the Canadian version. The lasagne was fabulous though, and I was able to order a green salad beforehand, so it was a good meal on the whole. Interesting that so far I’ve rarely seen a cream sauce for spaghetti.

There were other authentic foods I could have chosen like calf’s liver Venetian style and other offal that I really didn’t want to try. There were various strange sounding fish dishes as well, but I had no idea what they were. I stuck with pasta and pizza….the Italians do know their way around those foods!

I walked to the pier to catch my public water 'bus,' which was about five blocks away and over two bridges with lots of steps. Fortunately a kindly older gentleman helped me carry my one suitcase over the bridges and then decided to help me the rest of the way and make sure I got to the right pier. I took some shots in the neighbourhood, mostly of the docks, wharves, and the water.

The public traansportation 'bus' was like the big boat, and a private 'taxi' is the smaller one. The trip took about 40 minutes, and then I had to walk back to the airport through the long partially covered walkway from the docks. That turned out to be the least of my worries.

Seems I was at the wrong airport! Found that out when I couldn't find the line to get into to get my boarding pass. I didn't know Venice had two airports.

Well, they don't. Turns out I had to go to a completely different city: Treviso, though it said Treviso Venice on my ticket, I didn't understand this was a different place altogether....I just thought it was part of Venice. So I quickly grabbed a cab and 70 Euros and 25 minutes later found myself at the right airport north of Venice. Whew! I thought....

Still my worries were not over. I found the right airline, but still couldn't find the line-up to check in for my flight.

That's when I got another jolt! I'd missed my flight...not just by a few minutes, but by a whole day! Then I was really in a panic...especially when I couldn't find my paper itinerary for the flights from Frankfurt, my laptop batteries decided to give out, couldn't find a calendar and I'd had to pee since before getting to the first airport, and I had a long line of people in front of me before I could figure out what to do.

I managed to book a flight from Venice (well Terviso) to Frankfurt later that night- 10 pm, arriving 11:20 pm, but only when I'd forked over another €250 (Euros), but now what was going to do about getting home from Frankfurt? And what about my hotel room I'd booked. Guess I'd missed it too. Well, I got my new ticket, dashed to the washroom, and then wandered around looking for a plug-in for my laptop. Finally I found my travel agent's number in Regina and called her to help.

I had become totally confused as to the dates, days, and times because of the time changes when I was planning everything (and I've never mastered the 24 hour clock)....but it turned out okay. I actually wasn't leaving Frankfurt until the next day and had booked my hotel for the right night. I'd only screwed up the flight out of Venice, and I could still ge there in time for all the rest......Wow, I'd better pay more attention to details, I thought.....so there I was in the Treviso airport, waiting five hours for my flight to Frankfurt....

While I waited to check-in, I set myself up with my laptop at the only plug-in I could find that was available. Although I didn't have access to the Internet, I could work on my novel. I was right around the corner from a food vendor and only a few metres away from the washroom. I had a lovely little 'office' complete with a phone.

Once I was in the final passenger area waiting to board my flight, I met a lovely young Guatemalan couple, who had been stuck in Venice since the night before, sleeping in the airport, because their flight had been cancelled due to fog and there were no hotel rooms (I suspected they couldn't afford one). They'd also missed their flight connection from Paris to Guatemala City. I commiserated with them, though I didn't really know what it was like to have a cancelled flight and have to stay an extra day. They were on a flight leaving just before my flight.

I also met young black man who was living in Germany, but was originally from Texas and was on leave (from the army I assumed.) This was his second attempt to leave as well, though he was on my flight. So it turns out that even if I had made it to the airport for my flight the night before, it would have been cancelled. That made me feel only slightly better. As I'm chatting away to him, I discover that my flight to Hahn Frankfurt airport is actually not the international airport in Frankfurt, but another airport in a town an hour outside of Frnakfurt, and I would once again have to somehow get from the small town to the city....obviously another very costly taxi ride! Sigh! Darn! @*&%*! Still I was happy that I at least had a flight out of Venice.

We all sat and chatted for a bit and then the announcement came that the flight that the Guatemalan couple were on was once again cancelled, so they left in great discouragement to collect their luggage and find out their fate for when they could get another flight out. (Note to self: Probably not a good idea to book a flight on an airline that isn't well-known, or at least one that doesn't fly into international airports.)

I continued to chat with my other new friend (I didn't have names for any of these people, as we'd never formally ingtroduced ourselves.) He used his cell phone to talk with his buddies in Frankfurt and the skies were clear there, so we were hopeful we were leaving. But a few minutes later we too were told our flight had been cancelled. Yikes!

I didn't start panicking at that point, because I was still hopeful I would somehow be given a flight out of Venice in time for my connecting flight in flight to Frankfurt leaving the next afternoon! Wrong! The rumours started and it seemed that the earliest anyone could get out was not until 4 pm the next day. Too late for me. Well, here I was still stuck with a laptop that was only partially charged and no way of connecting to the Internet to find another flight. It was now 10 pm at night and how was I going to get to Frankfurt in time for my flight home (any what was I still stuck in Venice)?

Once again I phoned my travel agent in Regina, this time in a panic....she was busy with a client, but I said this was an emergency to me and could the person who answered the phone either help me or see if he could interrupt. I explained the situation to him and he put Shirley on...I got through part of my explanation, when the time on the phone expired and though I frantically put in another coin, it was a €2 one and it slid right back out again, so I was cut off. I fished out another €1 coin and got through again, but he line was breaking up. Suffice it to say that I tried several times to communicate my plight and ask her to find any flight out of Venice to get me to my connecting flight the next day. Through broken off calls, a phone that finally wouldn't work, finding another phone, asking people for the right change for the phone, etc., I finally manged to hear that my agent had found a flight for me that left 6:55 a.m. the next morning and would arrive at Frankfurt at 8:30 in plenty of time for my 2:00 pm flight.

I had also made sure to tell her that it had to be a flight from the international Marco Polo airpot in Venice to the proper international airpor in Frankfurt, because the only flights out of the Treviso airport were those by Ryanair and they only flew into small airports. My agent e-mailed the itinerary to me, but I couldn't retrieve it, just hoped I could do what I usually did, which was walk up to the ticket counter at the airport, hand over my passport and have them issue my boarding pass. If not I hoped to find a plug in and charge up my laptop. (I rarely had access to being able to print anything out in any place I travelled to, and especially not in Internet Caf├ęs.)

I still had to wait in the long line-up to find out about getting a reimbursement for my Ryanair flight and by this time I was almost the last in the line. When I finally made it to the counter, I was told to fax the number on my paper itinerary. Why couldn't have announced this was beyond me. At this point my friend from Texas told me that the next flight out of Venice on the airline wasn't until next Tuesday afternoon and this was Saturday...he had to hang out for several more days before he could leave. (I'd also discovered in the course of talking to my travel agent, that if I had to change my flight out of Frankfurt, I wouldn't get another one until tuesday either, so I was glad I had another connecting flight, and either way, I would have left Venice as soon as possible.)

As far as my plans went, so far so good, I thought. Not so. Yes, I managed to eventually get a taxi from the Treviso airport to take me back to the proper Venice international airport, which was great. My plan was to sleep in the airport for the three or so hours I had to wait until I could check-in at 5 a.m. for my early morning flight- it was already 12:45 am by this point. (I was no stranger to sleeping on airport benches in some of the major airports inthe world.)

I had a great taxi driver and we zoomed along seeing the night sights and we got to the airport a half hour later. But, it was dark, lcoked up, closed...no way in. Now what? The cabbie new of a hotel close by so he whizzed me over there...it was a Marriott and they wanted what would have been equivalent to $200 (€125) for me to stay there, even for 3 hours. They did direct me down the street to another hotel, which would be considerably cheaper.

The cab driver took me there, and they had a room. HE helped me unload my bags and I forked over another €92. The night manager of the hotel wouldn't give me very much of a discount, about €5 off and then he threw in the €5 shuttle ride to the airport and the wakeup call. So I forked over another €75 and found my way to a beautiful suite with a wonderful big bed in a lovely dark, quiet room, extracting a promise from him that he had to positively wake me up on time and that it was extrememly important that I not miss this flight.

True to his word, he got me up and to the airport on time, two hours early for my flight so that I could check in. I was whizzed through the security process, to the ticket counter, checked in my bags and got my boarding pass.

I sat their groggily for the next couple of hours, praying the flight would be able leave, but the fog had mostly lifted and soon I was on the plane. I had a window seat and grabbed a pillow from an overhead bin and promptly conked out, not even aware of take off...I slept the entire hour and 35 minutes, not waking up until the wheels touched the ground. I stumbled out and collected my luggage after a very long wait, then wandered around aimlessly for a time. I finally had some breakfast, and was able to check in my luggage early. I still had fours hours to kill.

Somehow I made it through the time, partially curling up on seats to sleep, sometimes reading, and sometimes wandering around. At last I was in the air and winging my way to Calgary. Ten hours, three movies, many video shorts, two meals, and several naps later, we landed. Going through customs and immigration was a piece of cake, and I sent my luggage on through to my connecting Regina flight.

Three hours later, I was on it too, and finally landed in Regina at 9:30 pm many, many, many hours after I'd left my Venice hotel room.

Finally getting home to family and friends: Priceless!

Venice Day Three - Gondola Ride

Friday, January 18. 2008

The gondola held five people and there were five of us on board, wobbling along through the back canals. Unfortunately we didn’t really know where we were going and our gondolier didn’t enlighten us.

I know we started in the Canale di San Marco and then headed under a bridge and into the innards of the Venetain lagoon of the Castello area of the city as far as I could figure out. (between the San Marco Square and to the bottom left hand corner of the map.)

I did ask how deep the water was.

One and a half to two metres at low tide we were told, left to imagine the height at high tide, though there was a water line on the buildings. But were they at a usual level or were the lines from storms or spring runoffs? I've since discovered that the Grand Canal is about 10 ft deep and has 3 bridges.

There are about 400 small bridges, which serve as a crossing point for 150 canals, most of which are knee deep or less. During flood times (Aqua Alta), they can increase approximately 1 metre in height. (http://www.answerbag.com/q_view/25689)

A good thing, my nose was a little stuffed up and I’m fighting off a cold as the stench was quite something else. The water was murky and the bottoms of the buildings slimy and caked with barnacles and other sea-like things that I didn’t want to know about. I also didn't want to think about how many dead bodies might be lying on the bottom.

Apparently, "Over time, canals have been filled in to create more building space or to connect various sections of the city. Canals have also been dredged to decrease the amount of silt buildup brought in by the tides. The romanticized waterways create city management nightmares. They are essential for the movement of people and goods around the city, but they are polluted, tend to smell, and very, very difficult to clean. Aqua Alta causes the canals to rise, dispersing dirty water throughout the city. http://www.macalester.edu/courses/GEOG61/ataff/Grand%20canal.htm"

The doors of some buildings were rotted away and I could envisage sinister cloak and dagger scenes of the 15th and 16th century, an underworld I wouldn’t have cared to live in.

Some areas were obviously residential and personal boats were moored along side narrow docks and up to steps and doorways. I could imagine a teenager asking to take out the family 'boat' for the evening. I wouldn’t have wanted to be one of them.

So much for the romantic notion of sailing down a canal in a gondola….