Saturday, August 13, 2016


Venice! Venice is such a neat city and probably my favorite city out of the four Italian cities we visited (Venice, Florence, Pisa, Rome). The top tourist draws in Venice are San Marcos Cathedral and San Marcos Square and seeing the canals (including the Grand Canal) and famous bridges. There are also lots of historical buildings and museums to see as well. My favorite thing to do in Venice however was just walking around the city. I loved how cute and quaint it was, and since there are absolutely no roads, just canals, it is much quieter outside the tourist areas than a regular city because... no loud stinkin' cars!

Just your typical, quiet Venetian neighborhood. Everyone gets around on boat or by foot. Our hotel was outside of the tourist area in a quiet neighborhood like this, but they offered a complimentary speedboat shuttle to San Marcos square. We ended up taking the shuttle to San Marcos square twice, and then walked back to our hotel so we could walk through the city. We got to see a lot of the city that way, so we also walked a ton! I think we had about 25,000 steps on our one full day there (we had a red eye flight in our first day, so we only had about a half day to sightsee, then we had one full day to explore Venice, and then we left for Florence the next day. It was a busy week) 

There were lots of Catholic churches, really old Catholic churches, all over Italy and even all over a small city like Venice. We chose a random church to practice some light painting.

Venice was built on over 100 small islands that are connected by bridges, so that is why there are canals all through the city, every canal separates an island. To get to the city from the airport we took a 45 minute waterbus through the lagoon. I didn't realize it before we went, but Venice is right on the ocean (a "duh" now that I think about) so it has kind of a beach city feel to it with the ocean right there and plenty of seafood, although there are no beaches in Venice (there are beaches on some of the other islands in the lagoon though.) 

Dinner at a restaurant pier on the Venetian Lagoon. Lots of seafood on the menu in Venice.

The history of Venice goes waaaay back, to 421 AD (or earlier) when farmers got tired of being attacked and moved out to the marshy lagoon for protection. They built houses by pounding long wooden pile-ons into the mud, and by the 13th century Venice was one of the most important cities in Europe. For over a thousand years the ruler of the Republic of Venice was called the Doge, who was elected for life. While we were in Venice we visited the Doge's Palace, which includes the Doge's apartments as well as the rooms where the Republic's governing bodies met.

The Palace also housed the Venetian judicial courts and is connected to the prison by an enclosed bridge called the Bridge of Sighs. After a prisoner had been sentenced to jail they conveniently only had to be lead across the bridge to the prison. It is said the bridge got its' names because the prisoners would sigh as they got their last glimpse of Venice through the stone bars of the bridge. If you look closely at the picture below the last bridge you see is higher than the others and enclosed. That is the Bridge of Sighs. More from the inside of the bridge later.

One of the major sites in Venice is St. Mark's Basilica, so named because according to legend in 828 AD two Venetian merchants stole the remains of St. Mark where they were in Alexandria and brought them to Venice where a new Basilica was built to house the remains.

St. Marks Basilica at sunset with crowds of tourist

St. Marks Basilica at sunrise with almost no tourists. We got up early the day after we got there and walked through Venice at sunrise to get to St. Mark's Square when it wasn't too crowded. 

 Inside the Cathedral. St. Marks tomb.

 Pala d'Oro, the altarpiece from 900 AD that is made of gold, silver, and gems.

 The Cathedral is famous for it's stone mosaics. This is made out of tiny stones!

After we visited St, Mark's square in the morning nothing was open so we walked around Venice, picked up some pastries for breakfast and sat down to eat them while we watched the boats come in from the mainland with people and families commuting into Venice for school and work. We crossed the Grand Canal and walked out to one of the very end points of the city and visited another basilicaSanta Maria della Salute. This basilica was just opening when we got there, so we were the only ones inside.

Grand Canal in the morning

Robert with the Grand Canal. That is the church in the background we are walking to, but to get there we had to go inland and walk past it to find a bridge that crosses the canal since there are only four bridges that cross the Grand Canal. It's pretty easy to get lost in Venice because the walkways zigzag and dead end all over the place. You can't just walk in a straight line to get from point A to point B.

The two pictures above are inside the Doge's palace. I'm guessing the top picture was part of the Doge's apartment (but I honestly don't remember). The lower picture was a way for people to anonymously report each other.

Rick Steves briefly explains more about the Doge's Palace if you are interested in more information.

This is the view from the Bridge of Sighs, heading over to the prison now. 

Taking in the "view" from the prison. All you can see is the side of the Doge's Palace.
Back outside to the canals.

Remember there are no cars or trucks in Venice, so everything you think of to transport needs to go by boat. The stores were restocked by boat as seen here, even the laundry was taken away from our hotel by boat.

The largest of the bridges that crosses the Grand Canal is the Rialto Bridge built in the 1500s. The inside of the bridge doesn't even look like a bridge. The bridge is lined with shops so when you are walking down the street it feels like you walk up some stairs on a hill and then back down, you can only see the Grand Canal from the very top (and when we were there they were doing renovations and had that part blocked off too).

"Gondola, gondola, gondola!" That's probably the most common phrase heard in Venice because the city's 400 gondoliers are constantly yelling it to get people to ride on their gondola. Gondola's are the traditional mode of transportation in Venice (most locals use motor boats now). They have flat bottoms to navigate through shallow canals and are built slightly titled to one side so the gondolier can steer the gondola using only one oar on one side. Yup, we did take a gondola ride down the canals of Venice.

Mostly we stayed on the small canals and passed regular local homes. But anywhere in Venice is old so we also passed the homes of Cassanova and Marco Polo.

 We ventured onto the Grand Canal just long enough to get a view of the Rialto bridge. The Grand Canal is too busy for a leisurely boat ride like a gondola ride, too many large boats and too crowded. The small canals can get crowded with gondola's though and it's crazy how the gondoliers can steer around each other with just one oar- and legs and arms to push off the buildings.

While walking down a quite Venetian walkway I stopped to take a picture of a random coke can. Robert though it was funny and took a picture of me taking the picture.

I loved wandering around these little alleyways.

These last pictures are all from the top of San Marcos Bell Tower in San Marcos square. We were all prepared to climb to the top, but when we got to the front of the line to go up we realized it has an elevator inside!

View of Venice

St. Marks Basilica from above

A closeup of the cities rooftops.

Oops, not from the top of the Bell Tower, this is from a museum, but I thought the old books looked cool.

I tried to figure out what this says in Italian, and I think it means: Galileo Galilei, with his telescope, from here on August 21, 1609 broadened man's horizons in the fourth centenary. Not quite sure what it means about the fourth centenary (a 100 year anniversary), but in the 1600's Galileo demonstrated his telescope for the Doge of Venice from the top of the bell tower.

The end of St. Mark's square, the Grand Canal on the left, and a view of Venice.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Family Campout to Eastern Utah

For our family summer vacation this year we spent a few days in Eastern Utah camping at Steinaker Reservoir State Park and visiting Dinosaur National Monument and Flaming Gorge.

Day One
Before we left we stopped by Orem to visit Robert's grandma who was in the hospital with pneumonia. She was pretty weak at that time and later she told Robert's mom she doesn't even remember her hospital stay. She has since been moved to as rehabilitation facility in Orem to get her strength up so she can finally go home to Sacramento. She got sick when she came out to visit and be sealed in the temple to her parents.

Lauren was also visiting and Julia was taking pictures with my phone.

Then we drove three hours out to Eastern Utah, just outside of Vernal. We set up camp and had dinner and campfire cones.
Day Two
We went to Dinosaur National Monument and saw their impressive wall of dinosaur fossils. There are over 1,500 fossils on the rock wall from almost a dozen different dinosaur species including Allosaurus, Diplodicus, and Stegosaurus. The kids all got a junior ranger booklet and completed it while we were there so they became junior rangers and got a Dinosaur National Monument Junior Ranger badge.

Some of the fossils you were allowed to touch.

This area used to be the end of a river bed. These dinosaurs died in various places along the dried up riverbed during a drought. Then the river came back and washed all the bones downstream where they all ended up stuck at this one spot.

No, they don't normally let people climb on the fossil wall. The two people behind Robert are the head paleontologist for the site and a visiting paleontologist who was going to be giving a presentation that night.

Micah is such a sweet boy. He's pretty good at posing for me when I want to get a nice picture.

To access the fossil wall, called "The Quarry," visitors ride a tram from the visitor center up to the Quarry building (they have built an entire building around the wall to keep it protected). The kids loved the tram, they called it a bus and it was one of their favorite parts of the trip. On the way up someone on the tram started humming the theme song to Jurassic Park, and it did feel kind of Jurassic Parkish, where you had to take a tram through a closed gate.

With one of the iconic dinosaurs at the visitor center. This dinosaur was one of nine dinosaurs sculpted for the 1964 World's Fair in New York and arrived at the monument in the late 1960's. It has been painted a variety of colors over the years and in this picture it's paint job was inspired by the African Gemsbok (an antelope-like animal). Just a few weeks after we visited I saw on the Monument Facebook page that the dinosaur got a new paint job, this time a more, umm, natural looking paint job, or what you might actually think a dino might look like. So we were one of the last ones to see it with the old paint job. They said this new paint job should last it forty years!

Julia was really into sneaking my phone away and texting people and taking pictures. Her other front tooth, which she has been missing since December, finally come in in July.

 After the Quarry we found a picnic site for lunch and then headed off to explore the monument. We did a driving tour which gave background on the geology and other, later, inhabitants of the monument besides dinosaurs. The tour included getting out to see some of the various sites.

Native American petroglyphs. We saw a lizard petroglyph on the driving tour pamphlet but we couldn't find it among these petroglyphs.

The next stop was a longer hike to the petroglyphs that including a lot of uphill to the side of a cliff.

 That's where we finally found our giant lizard.

Camden was having a great time going uphill, until we got to the top and he realized just how far up we had gone. Then he wanted Dad to carry because he was scared. More petroglyphs.

 Don't let me go Dad.

The view from where we were.

Other inhabitants of the area were early settlers. This was the cabin of a lady named Josie Morris who lived out here by herself for fifty years, until 1963, without running water or electricity.

Having fun back at our campsite. There was a beach to get wet at the reservoir, but we never did make it down to the beach. Getting everyone fed and dressed or ready for bed was our priority when we were at camp. I was also eight months pregnant and not feeling all that adventurous.
 Day 3
This day instead of driving East towards the Monument we drove North to Flaming Gorge. We had some lunch at the reservoir and then went for a hike.

We started our expectations low and just said we would go however long it took until everyone was tired. We ended up going about 1.5 miles roundtrip, and that's with no one in a hiking backpack. Camden actually is a great little hiker when he wants to be, he will even run to keep up since his legs are shorter than everyone else.

Trailhead for our little hike. The end is suppose to have a nice view of Flaming Gorge, but we didn't make it that far.

Then we went on a tour of the dam. We were the last tour of the day and it was only us, so the tour guide gave us an abbreviated kid friendly tour so the kids wouldn't get bored. We mostly just walked through the dam and fed the fish that congregate at the base of the dam, Flaming Gorge was at high capacity so they were letting water out of the reservoir that day right next to where we were and the rate that water shoots out is incredible to see.

Some of the electrical workings inside the dam.

Walking across the dam. It was really windy!

Looking down to where we were.

We got back to camp that evening and had dinner and desert (cinnamon and sugar biscuits cooked over the campfire), but it was really windy and not that enjoyable to be sitting out in. So we made the decision that since we were just going to get up and pack up and leave the next morning we would go ahead and pack up that night. Robert was going to leave for a Ragnar race the next afternoon so we needed to get back early anyway.

It was like 9:00 pm when we left and around 1:00 am (we stopped in Park City to pick up some things Robert had left up at the Holiday's cabin) when we got home. But the kids fell asleep about an hour into it and slept the rest of the way, even Micah who had slept for a long time at the campsite when we got back from the dam! We could not get him to wake up even though it was windy and hot and didn't look very comfortable. Camping can be hard work for a little kid (and the adults)!