Memorial Day Weekend

 We started our three day weekend with a family bike ride.  It wouldn't be fun if there wasn't a flat tire involved.  Luckily Max fixed it in jiffy.  The girls were so impressed that he had all the stuff and knew how to do it.  The bike ride would have been over before it started if they were with just me.
 We biked to a pond and fed the birds before Max left to pick up Aunt Anna and Chris!
What visit would be complete without ribs and Smore's?
 The kids took to Chris like fish to water.  Little did he know he would become the main attraction.  Chris happens to know quite a bit about some of Hanks most favorite people, Batman, Spider-man and Transformers.  Chris even watched Batman with him.  Could it get any better???
 I particularly liked this costume Hank sported.  Spider-man/Batman in his underpants.  Very scary indeed.
 The girls love spending time with Anna.
 One night we took a desert stroll.
 We spent an afternoon in the pool.
 We ate.
 And then we ate some more.
 We got in a little Hobby Lobby.
 But most of all we just enjoyed spending time together.  
We are most grateful to all the men and women that put their lives on the line and have died protecting our freedom and happiness.  We are blessed to live in the greatest nation in the world.

Italy Day Four ~ Venice

We tried our best to conquer Venice our second day. 
 Gondola traffic jam.
Gondola parking lot.

 We started at the Accademia, which is Venice's top art museum.  Venice has a treasure trove of art museums, so we tried to pick the top two.  The Accademia houses art from the Venetian Renaissance.    The paintings capture pieces of Venice's history and capture how grand and lively Venice was.  The Feast of the House of Levi below depicts Jesus' last supper.  However, the splendor and party nature of the scene led to an investigation of Veronese by the Roman Catholic Inquisition.  Such a salacious last supper was bordering on heresy.  He was forced to change the painting.  Instead he opted to change the title.
 Next we went to the Correr Museum where we were able to see Venetian art, armor, statues and paintings.  Max loved the weapons and maps display.  Seeing the maps evolve as their identification of the world grew was fascinating.  I enjoyed the coins and sculpture.
After a morning of art, we headed to the square.
 The amount of intricate detail is wonderful.  I loved all the beautiful architecture.
 At on end of Saint Mark's basilica is the Campanile.  The bell tower was built in 1514 but then collapsed and was rebuilt in 1912.
 The Clock Tower that was built during the Renaissance is at the other end of the basilica.  It connects St. Mark's Square with the Rialto.  At the top of the hour we watched the bronze men hammer the bell.  Love the winged lion at the top, which is the traditional symbol of Venice and featured in it's flag.  The winged lion has been symbolic of Mark the apostle, who is the patron saint of Venice.  St. Mark's remains were brought to Venice in 828 A.D.
 In front of St. Mark's!
The Procuratie Vecchie built in 1520.
 Entry into St. Marks with various types of marble columns and superbly detailed arches.
 The basilica is laid out in a Greek cross, with each arm having a central nave and side aisle.  The floor is all marble in a stunning geometric pattern.  Mosaics cover the walls and ceilings.  The stories of the New and Old Testament are depicted in beautiful detail.  It was hard to absorb so much beauty.  It would take days to examine each masterpiece and learn about the history of the treasures the church holds.
Next was Doge's Palace, the home of the ruling duke of Venice.  The grand staircase.
 It was hands down my favorite museum.  The Gothic architecture, lavish appointments, and ornate rooms were amazing.  Over the Doge's throne is Paradise, the largest oil painting in the world!
We then crossed over the Bridge of Sighs which connects the Doge's palace to the dungeons.  The prisoners would go from this beautiful courtroom and end up in a dark dungeon.
 This may be their final glimpse at Venice as they crossed over.  A reason to sigh for sure!
Our grand finally for our trip was to see La boheme at the La Fenice (The Phoenix) Opera House!  We have never been to an opera.  I am pretty sure it is all down here from here!
We laughed as we posed for our "prom" pictures.  It has been a long time since we both got dressed up.
 La Fenice is one of the most famous theaters in Europe in part because it continues to rise from the ashes.  It has been burned down three times and rebuilt.  The current theater was rebuilt using photos to try and replicate it exactly as it was.  We were completely wowed.
 When Max first got invited to speak, I began planning our trip.  I really wanted to go to the opera.  I looked at tickets and talked to Max about it and he wasn't overly excited to go.  Time went by and I never bought them.  Then as the trip got closer, I decided I was just going to get the tickets and make it happen.  He would have to be my date rather he wanted to or not.  The tickets sure seemed expensive but everything in Venice is really expensive.  The tickets were  through an Italian site so I was Google translating the text as I went through.  But I got the tickets and we were set!
As we walked to the theater, Max asked me what kind of tickets we had.  I said I didn't know.  I got what was left so it was probably behind a pole or nosebleeds.  As we handed the lady our tickets she pointed us to the 3rd floor.  We winked at each other thinking nosebleeds.  Then the man at the stairs escorted us to a private box!  I must have turned a hundred shades of red!   The best mistake I have ever made.  The theater was exquisite.  The opera made me cry.  It is a night I will always remember.  Our vacation in Italy couldn't have ended on a better note.

Italy Day 3

     Our next stop was Venice!  We took about a four hour train ride from Rome to Venice.  It is a elegant way to travel.  I would go by train any day over plane!  They served complimentary champagne and it gave us some time to rest and sleep a little.  We listened to music as we watched the beautiful countryside roll by.

     Once we arrived in Venice I had to make a pit stop at the restroom (too much champagne!).  Welcome to Venice, it will cost you a Euro/person to use the toilet.  Venice is expensive right down to the potty business! 
       We had heard Venice is really hard to navigate and we were the most uncertain buying our vaporetto (water bus) ticket.  I am still not sure if we paid too much, but we got to enjoy a 45 minute ride down the Grand Canal and listened to our Rick Steves audio guide along the way taking in the incredible sights.
 A beautiful canal side garden.
 Fabulous buildings with so much character.
 Our view out of our hotel room.  We got lost right off the boat!  There are 416 bridges connecting 118 islands.  I think we might have crossed half of them searching for our hotel.  Lots of fun with luggage and cobblestone streets.  Max was just starting to get grumpy when he found the hotel.
 All smiles once we got to the hotel balcony.  We made it!
 Charming water streets.
 A photographer's dream with endless beautiful images.
 We spent the afternoon just getting lost in Venice.
 With many things the hype is greater than the reality.  Not here.  It is just as you think it would be.  Half the time walking around I felt we must be in a movie because it was too perfect (minus the mobs of tourist) to be a real city.  We learned that it has a population of only 60,000 and that Venice is losing 1,000 residents a year.  The cost of living is so high that many are leaving.  Many fear Venice will become a just a museum for tourist.
 It was quite charming and romantic everywhere you gazed.
We were asked more than once if we were on our honeymoon.  It's hard not to be in love in such a lovely place.
 View of the Grand Canal from the Rialto Bridge.
 The Rialto Bridge was completed in 1591.  The architecture was so bold that many predicted it would collapse.  It has stood the test of time and remains a lasting image of Venice.  It is one of four pedestrian bridges that span the Grand Canal.
 After seeing a little of the market around the Grand Canal, we headed for St. Mark's Square.  
 We sat in the piazza and enjoyed the live music played by the drink bars in the square.  It was quite beautiful at twilight.
 A trip to Venice wouldn't be complete without an evening Gondola ride.  It was so romantic and peaceful as our Gondolier rowed us all around Venice.
 The Gondolas are just stunning.  This little mermaid made me think of (and miss) my ladies.
     I almost like Venice at night better than by day.  Unlike Rome that never sleeps, things got pretty quite after 8 pm.  The cruise boat tourist have all left and many of the vendors have packed up.  The lights illuminate the beautiful buildings and the lapping water soothed my tired senses.  Under the moonlight in Venice, in the arms of my man, in a Gondola.  Pinch me, I must be dreaming!