Category Archives: Travel

Better Than a Hoverboard!

Remember those hoverboards that Back to the Future promised we’d have by 21 October 2015?

Were you as exasperated as I was when 21 October 2015 came and went, without the slightest need for public service announcements warning kids to always wear a helmet when hovering? Once again, we’d been deceived by the powerful and secretive Media/Flying-Transportation Complex, just as earlier generations had been deceived when they were promised jet packs and flying cars, and taken in by those fake “1969 Moon Landing” movies that were filmed in a North Carolina studio.

We won’t get fooled again.

Because this time, it’s for real. Our wait is over.

Here’s how the game ball was delivered at Portugal’s Cup Final on Sunday:

When Amazon offers a pre-order option, I’ll be the first to sign up.

Empress Elisabeth of Austria Rides Again

The girl in the painting would soon become Empress Elisabeth of Austria, the wife of Emperor Franz Joseph I. She gave this portrait to the Emperor for Christmas after the two were engaged to be married. It became one of Franz Joseph’s most prized possessions, and hung on the wall above his bed for 60 years, until his death.

It was sold at auction in Vienna last month for €1,540,000 (US$1,721,643).


It’s curious how people, places, and things you’ve never been aware of can make an unanticipated appearance in your life, and gradually draw you in until they become, at least for a while, a prominent part of your existence. An exhibition of Victorian art at the National Gallery totally altered my views on painting, for instance, and led to an ongoing obsession with the Pre-Raphaelites. A few years ago, my appreciation for The Hunger Games eventually resulted in my spending an entire summer reading nothing but teen dystopia novels.

OK, some unexpected tangents are more rewarding than others.

Until a few years ago, I knew next to nothing about Sisi–sometimes written as  “Sissi”–the Empress Elisabeth of Austria. But then in Vienna, I visited the Sisi Museum and the Imperial Apartments in the Hofburg Complex and did The Grand Tour of 40 (out of 1,441) rooms of the magnificent Schönbrunn Palace, the Habsburg imperial summer residence.*

Sisi as Empress

Sisi as Empress

The unconventional and brilliant Sisi has been on my mind ever since. She was a searcher, always looking for something different, something new. She hated court life, and spent months at a time away from the capital, travelling to Morocco and England, Egypt and Corfu, France and Malta, learning languages as she went. She championed the empire’s Hungarian subjects, and they, in turn, idolized her. She was only 16 when she married the 24-year-old Emperor. He loved her passionately; her feelings were less intense.

The more I learn about her, the more I want to know. I just recently discovered that her favorite cousin was another historical figure who has always fascinated me, King Ludwig II of Bavaria, builder of Schloss Neuschwanstein and Linderhof Palace, and patron of Richard Wagner. Researching that relationship immediately landed a spot on my To Do list.


*There are some ravishing pictures of those sites at the links, most of them found on the Net, but a few of them my own. You can also view some pictures of her partially restored apartment in the Museo Correr that I took when I was in Venice this spring.

The Easiest Way to See Venice — Gliding up and down the Grand Canal

I’ve always thought that you can’t really begin to know a city until you feel comfortable using its public transportation. Usually, that means getting acquainted with the city’s subway routes and fare collection methods. In Venice, it means riding a vaporetto.

Vaporetti are water buses, and they serve both residents and tourists, with one not-so-slight difference: The basic fare for residents with a local ID card is €1.50, while for everyone else it’s €7.50. Venice hasn’t stayed rich for a thousand years by not looking out for the main chance.

At those prices, it makes sense for a visitor to buy a multi-day tourist travel card, which allows unlimited vaporetto use for a set fee, starting at €20.00 for one day.

Once you have your card, you’re set to explore Venice by water—the easiest, quickest, and most relaxing way to orient yourself to the city.


Along the Grand Canal

This is the best Travel Tip I can give anyone visiting Venice. Here’s what to do:

Go to the nearest vaporetto stop, and board the first boat from the No. 1 vaporetto line that comes along. The No. 1 line runs the length of the Grand Canal, which is Venice’s equivalent of Fifth Avenue in New York. Unless you board at the beginning of the route, you’ll probably wind up either riding inside, or standing on the deck.

Ride to the end of the line, at which point the boat will go out of service, and you’ll have to disembark.

Now find the nearby boarding dock for the return trip. Stay near the boarding point, so that you’ll be among the first people allowed on board. Then head immediately for the limited number of seats in the outside areas at the front or the back of the vaporetto.

You’ll have a comfortable seat with a terrific view as you ride to the end of the line.

Repeat as often as desired.


You can ride on the inside, which is convenient if the weather’s bad, but for the best trip, try to get an outside seat.

This wonderful mature couple spent the entire trip drinking Prosecco from the bottle and making out like teenagers. Venice does that to people.

Theft in Venice


“Virginia Is for Lovers”  —  Official Slogan of the Commonwealth

“Venice Is for Pickpockets”  —  Unofficial Slogan of the Serene Republic


I got robbed.

Having a wallet stolen is far from unusual in Venice. You might almost call it a typical Venetian tourist activity, although it’s not one that I would recommend to friends.

In the middle of the afternoon one day, I was swarmed by a pack of guttersnipes. I walked past a group of girls who looked to be high school or college age. Clean-cut, well-dressed, un-flashy. They were huddled around a map, and I ignored the scamps.

Half a block later, I noticed that the rapscallions were headed in the same general direction I was, but I didn’t think anything of it. They moved loosely, with some of the rascals walking ahead of me, then pausing or dropping back, to be replaced by another couple of waifs.

It didn’t occur to me that I was being stalked. The first hint I had was when I stopped rather abruptly, and saw that one of the urchins—I think of her as “The Urchin of Venice”—was immediately behind me.

Even so, I didn’t feel threatened. My wallet was safe, inside a zipped pocket, which was itself in my closed knapsack. There’s a wonderful Mark Twain line describing “the calm confidence of a Christian holding four aces.” That was me.

They got the wallet. From inside the zipped pocket, in the closed knapsack.

I discovered it was missing when I got to my restaurant. The ragamuffins hadn’t taken my passport, fortunately, but the only money I had was the change left in my pocket.


So there I was, effectively penniless in Venice. Another old quote, source unknown, crossed my mind:

“When in trouble, when in doubt,
Run in circles, scream and shout”

Always sound advice.

The hero of this story is my brother David. After verifying that the person sending him email messages with the Subject Line:  “Emergency! Emergency! Emergency!” was in fact, me, and not the former Nigerian Treasury Official with whom he’s carried on a longtime correspondence, he wired me the cash to get though my trip. And at a very competitive interest rate, too!


When something like this happens, it’s impossible to avoid a serious bout of “If Only”.

“If only I’d left the museum a few minutes later.”
“If only I hadn’t withdrawn all that money from the ATM yesterday.”
“If only I’d gone to Palazzo Grimani instead of San Pantalon.”

But that way lies madness.

It’s done. It’s only money. Forget it. Move on.


You might have noticed my use of Dickensian words like “urchin” and “ragamuffin” and “scamp” to characterize the thieves. I originally included more accurate descriptors, but, for some reason, that caused my posting to get bounced by the obscenity filter.

Use your own imagination.

Venice Street Scenes

Unplanned Encounters

Some people, places, and things I stumbled across while walking around Venice.


“But He’d Have Walked up that Alley with You, Angel.”  —  Sam Spade, to Brigid O’Shaughnessy

It’s easy to get lost in Venice. You’re supposed to get lost—that’s part of the charm of the city.

You probably have to be born in Venice to really understand the street layout, and all the shortcuts to take and detours to avoid. Some busy “streets” are only three or four feet wide—no cars, remember, so no need to accommodate them by bulldozing your heritage.


A Happy Event


I was wandering around Campo Santa Margherita one afternoon when I ran into a large, loud street party. Groups were singing, people were hugging, and much Prosecco was being put to good use. Many of the young women were wearing the kind of headgear you can see in the picture.

When I asked one of the crowd what was going on, she told me that it was Graduation Day for the Università Ca’ Foscari, the university in Venice. She was wearing a laurel leaf hat to show that she was one of the graduates. Then she called over a couple of her friends, and posed for this picture.


Floating Market

In some of Venice’s side canals, the market comes to you. Buy your groceries right off the boat.


Dueling Weddings

I think there must be a tradition in Venice of having the newly married couple pose for pictures on a tour of historic sites. I was in Campo San Bartolomeo when these two wedding parties collided.

I saw one couple at Piazza San Marco, and then ran into them the next day, still in their wedding clothes, at Campo San Polo. By then, the bride’s gown was muddied and frayed. They didn’t seem to be getting any great joy from the trek, but I’m sure they’ll forget the hassles as soon as they see the pictures.

Crossing the Bridge of Sighs

The passage above the canal, linking the two buildings, is known as “The Bridge of Sighs”. It was used to relocate criminals to prison after their convictions in the courts of the Doges’ Palace. The bridge gets its name from the mournful sighs of the prisoners as they went to meet their inevitably unhappy fates.

Prisoners awaiting the transfer were kept in cells like these, although the cells weren’t so clean and well-lit at the time. They probably smell a lot better now, too.

I took this picture from within the Bridge of Sighs itself, looking down at the happy crowd of tourists and photographers who were there to unknowingly witness my walk into the darkness. All I needed to make it complete was for Septa Unella from Game of Thrones to follow me, ringing a bell and repeating the word “Shame” every few minutes.

(Why, yes, I do, occasionally, get a bit carried away with self-dramatization.)