Monday, August 28, 2017



     We decided to forget the crowds and visit anyway—spending our last few nights in the ancient city of Venice. It had been over thirty years since our last visit, and the beauty of its historical setting, architecture, music, and artwork was calling us back. Situated on a group of 118 small islands separated by canals and linked by 400 bridges, it is one of the top tourist destinations in the world.

     This unique place has become a tourist mecca, causing the locals to leave the historic center and move to the suburbs at a rate of 5% a year. The local population in the old city has declined from 175,000 in 1951 to 55,000 in 2016. The center is now pretty much left to the estimated 60,000 daily visitors and those in the business of tourism like restauranteurs, hoteliers, shop keepers, and trinket sellers. The local community and soul of the old city is diminishing. However, as long as this lovely place keeps floating, and the world population keeps growing, the tourists will come.
Venice is one of the most romantic places in the world, but it's even better when there is no one around.” --Woody Allen

     The first morning, I rose early and headed out to explore the old city center before the crowds showed up. I carefully followed the signs because I knew that I could easily get lost in the most maze-like city I've ever visited. After navigating the many passage-ways, alleys, and winding streets, I arrived at the Rialto Bridge, home to the original merchants of Venice. Built of stone, it was designed by Antonio da Ponte and completed in 1591. On either side of the center portico there are covered ramps with rows of shops. This early morning I was the only one around. I strolled slowly over the bridge and back again, enjoying the view and perhaps feeling a little smug because I avoided the crowds.

     I continued walking another ten minutes to the Piazza San Marco (Saint Mark's Square), the principal public square of Venice that had its beginnings in the 800s. The huge ancient Piazza is surrounded by incredible architecture, monuments, and views of the Adriatic Sea. I took my time to enjoy it and to photograph it from different perspectives. The oldest known mosaic in the world (1260-70) is located above the doors to the Basilica San Marco (Saint Mark's Cathedral). It depicts the 9th century merchants smuggling relics out of Egypt for the Venice cathedral. There were just a few people wandering around at 7 am.—the museums, restaurants, and cafes were all closed.

     Venice is Europe's largest car-free city. The only way to get around is by foot or boat. There are no cars or bicycles, and at one time, they even considered banning wheeled suitcases. Push carts are used for deliveries, construction projects, and garbage collection.

     Next on the agenda was hooking up with my husband, who enjoyed a relaxing morning in our apartment. We felt fortunate to have a spacious first-floor apartment for three nights in the old city (125 euro) booked on Airbnb, where it was referred to as "sweet home with garden."
We found a nearby cafe for an omelet and cappuccino (8 euros) and then headed to the bus terminal to purchase a two-day travelcard (30 euros) for unlimited rides on the vaporetto, also known as the water bus. We jumped on the first vaporetto to come along and spent the rest of the morning enjoying the palace-lined Grand Canal at our leisure.
     Another benefit of the pass is that it allows for rides on the sea to visit the outlying islands. I loved our excursion to Burano which is considered one of the most colorful places in Europe. The multicolored homes are situated along a peaceful channel that is lined with fishing boats. We walked around mesmerized by the beauty of the place and fascinated by the two-three story attached houses with shutters on the windows and curtains hanging over the doors. In the background looms the leaning bell tower of San Martino—the only church on the island. It is also home to the original Burano lace. Visitors can enter the shops, and observe the friendly, elderly ladies doing their embroidering.
     We flew back to the US from the Venice Marco Polo airport which is an easy thirty-minute bus ride from the city. We left behind a charming city surrounded by water that has been sinking for centuries. The low-lying salt marsh that it is built on is dissolving. The sea levels are rising. High tides are at an extreme level. There is heavy boat traffic speeding on the canals and the cruise ships keep coming. Despite the problems, some progress is being made. The MOSE Project, to keep high waters away from the city, is near completion. Pollution and sewage projects are underway. A ban was recently passed to eliminate cruise ships from the lagoon.
     Next time I return to Venice, I'll probably need a ticket and advance reservations to enter. Italy has already imposed visitor limitations on Cinque Terre with a tourist ticket system. I just hope that this spectacular city, with its incredible history, will be around for future generations to enjoy.




Tuesday, August 8, 2017



     One of the most popular tourist attractions in San Diego is Cabrillo NationalMonument, located about 13 miles from downtown at the tip of Point Loma peninsula. It offers spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean, San Diego Bay, Coronado, and the downtown skyline. On a sunny day, it's the perfect place to enjoy a walk, appreciate the beauty of the area, and get a little history lesson at the same time. It's also a short drive from the San Diego International Airport making it a great place to take visitors for a spectacular view of the city and Pacific Ocean.

     Juan RodriguezCabrillo was the commander of three vessels that departed from Navidad, Mexico, heading north with a mission to “discover the coast of New Spain.” On September 28,1542, Cabrillo's fleet entered what is today San Diego Bay, their first landfall along the western coast of what is now the United States. Cabrillo called this inviting harbor “San Miguel” in honor of the saint whose feast was the next day. The area was officially renamed San Diego in 1602. To commemorate his life and explorations, the national monument was established by the Park Service in 1913.

     There is an impressive limestone statue of Cabrillo on a point near the visitors center. It is a replica of the original sandstone statue that was donated to the US by the Portuguese government in 1939. It suffered severe weather damage and was replaced in 1949.
     I arrived on an April day with plenty of sunshine when acres of wild yellow encelia flowers were blooming throughout the grounds. I took my time meandering around the visitor center, enjoying the lovely views before heading over to the Bayside Trail. This is one of the most beautiful hikes in San Diego, and I try to stop by to enjoy it whenever I'm nearby. It follows an old US Army roadway and winds past several military bunkers that were part of the defense system used to protect San Diego Bay during World Wars I and II.

    It's a 1.86 mile round trip hike overlooking the Pacific Ocean, with views that stretch to Mexico and the Cuyamaca Mountains. The first half is an easy downhill walk, mostly on gravel. The return is a gentle uphill climb with a 340 foot elevation gain. The walk offers a chance to observe the sandstone cliffs and coastal sage scrub ecosystem that is becoming increasingly rare in southern California. There are a few benches and interpretive signs along the trail highlighting common plants, birds, animals, and other facts about the area.

     Perched at the highest point of the park is the picturesque Old Point LomaLighthouse that was built in 1855. Unfortunately, high fog at this level obscured the beacon light, causing its closure as an active lighthouse in 1891. It was replaced by the current lighthouse that is located at a lower elevation, in a beautiful setting, closer to the point. The old lighthouse and keepers house are now open to the public as museums and include the original occupants living quarters. The tower of the lighthouse is open to visitors three days a year.
   The tide pools are another popular attraction of this 160 acre park that should not be missed. It is an easy drive down with convenient parking. This area is considered one of the best protected and easily accessible intertidal areas in southern California. With careful exploration and low tide, you should be able to observe crabs, starfish, anemones, snails and many other treasures of the sea.

     Cabrillo is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm. There is an entrance fee of $10 per car. Restrooms are near the visitors center and the lighthouse. Food service is not available so if you plan to linger, be sure to bring some snacks along.
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    Note for those over age 62, the $10 lifetime national parks senior pass will be increasing to $80 on August 28, 2017. Be prepared for extra long waits at the entrance gates because many are just getting around to purchasing them.

Related Posts: "Best Place in California" - August 2, 2014