Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Venice ~ Grand Canal ~ Italy

We arrived in Venice by train after a relaxing day spent enjoying the wonderful scenery from Paris.  Our luggage was on the same car with us so disembarking takes a very short time.  The trains drive right into the station so once we were off the train, a short walk takes us right through the station and outside.

Our first sighting of the Grand Canal in Venice
We all have different expectations of these wonderful cities we’ve only read and heard about but there was a lot of excitement for us as my sister had been before and loved it; her excitement was contagious!  Within a few moments we were looking at the Grand Canal.  It really seemed like a magical moment.  
Busy traffic on the Grand Canal

There was lots of activity on the water, adding to the excitement we felt, with all kinds of boats travelling in every direction on the narrow waterways.  It is hard to believe that there may not be many accidents here but we’ll trust that they all know what they’re doing and we soon learn that they do, we did not even see any close calls during our visit.
One of many waterways in Venice, Italy

We followed directions we’d been given, bought a ticket for the right water boat and got in for our first adventure in Venice, a ride on the Grand Canal.  It was warm and muggy on this September evening and we were anxious to get to our hotel so we could get back out for some sightseeing, so much to see.
Canals, sidewalks and bridges in Venice, Italy

The boat ride was very short and dropped us off to walk to the hotel from there.  The directions were fairly clear and after following a quiet sidewalk, crossing a footbridge and walking through a tunnel, we have arrived.   
The Square of the Jewish Ghetto in Venice
We arrived to our hotel in the square, the Locanda del Ghetto where we would be staying for the next few days. This photo shows a gazebo at the far end tended to by guards.  We were later to learn that since 9/11, the Jewish Ghetto has chosen to hire guards 24 hours a day and they quietly patrol this square to keep it safe. I will share more of this interesting historical neighborhood on another page.
Locanda del Ghetto in Venice, Italy

We soon learn not to judge a hotel by the exterior on first sight.  We are greeted by a very nice young man who opens the door of this nine room hotel for us and although he speaks with very broken English, is able to welcome us to the hotel.  Our rooms have very modern plumbing and a comfortable bed, we were very happy with it.  This location proved to be great choice, also, as it was quiet which isn’t easy to find in the main commercial part of this city.   
The view from our window in the Locanda del Ghetto Inn

The most exciting thing about our room happened when we opened the inside shutters of the two windows.  We were on a canal and were able to watch the occasional gondola pass by when we took a few minutes to enjoy the quiet outside our windows.  As it turns out, most places are on a canal but in that moment, we had our very own canal and that was great!
Boat launching outside our window

We found that even when there were boats passing, they were very quiet, as was our whole neighborhood.  We did watch as a boat was brought out of storage through a doorway across from us but it seems that most boats are parked along the canal at night.
Calm canal and quiet evening walks in Venice
Our unpacking of bags could wait and we were eager to be outside and do some exploring before the sun disappeared and the night was quiet.  We found a nice little restaurant nearby to eat dinner at before it closed.  Most European restaurants serve late dinners but our quiet neighborhood ones seemed to close earlier, or perhaps when they decided it was time.
Our arrival in Venice was perfect and we looked forward to spending a few days of exploring this wonderful city, which I will share with you, as well.
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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Train travels in Europe ~ Paris ~ Milan ~ Venice

Our travels through Europe were done mainly by train and we were able to see some beautiful scenery.  The windows on the trains are tinted and a bit dirty and scratched but the photos I was able to take through the window are still worth sharing.  I have tried to eliminate some of the reflections that did show up and hopefully these photos will show you the countryside of France on our travels from Paris to Milan then onto Venice.

Misty morning sunrise in France
 We left the Paris Lyon station early one morning and were on our way by the time the sun came up over the misty countryside.  We had a seven hour ride ahead of us to get to Milan where we would make a very fast transfer to continue another 2.5 hours onto Venice so we sat back to enjoy our ride. We had about 920 km (575 mi) total to travel for our trip to Venice on the fast train.
Scenic farmland of France
We travel southeast from Paris to Milan for about 640 km (398 mi) then Venice is about 280 km (175 mi) east of Milan, which is a very busy connection for train travels between France and Italy.  We saw a lot of farming country on this part of the trip. 

Country town in France

We had chosen day trips so we could enjoy the view rather than the overnight train which offers a lower price.  We didn’t choose the Eurail Pass tickets as our travels didn’t work for us but there are several options to choose from when planning train travel.
Quiet river in French countryside
The train made stops along the way and at each one the passengers would come and go so our passports were checked after each stop, but we remained in the comforts of our seats.  No lineups to deal with like there are in the airport and our passports were given only a brief glance with no questions asked. 
Vineyards in rural France
The train did offer a lunch counter but only premade sandwiches and a small choice of those plus a few other snacks. They don’t have a dining car to sit down and enjoy a meal so I would recommend packing a nice picnic lunch for long day trips. 
The Swiss Alps 
 I thought the biggest treat to see on this day of travel were the Swiss Alps.  Our train ride took us past them on this September day so we weren’t seeing snowcaps but the rugged mountains were great to see.
A raised highway follows the train route

We were not sure but this looks like an elevated highway that followed the same route that we were travelling for quite awhile.  
A town nestled at the bottom of the Alps

These trains move very quickly while travelling through the countryside then slow down as they pass through town sites, even if they’re not stopping.  We understand that the fastest speed we were moving at was 200 km per hour (125 mph) but there are some that travel faster.
Farmland prairies near Milan, Italy
We would recommend this travel mode for those that have the luxury of choice. The train stations were located quite central in the big cities we visited rather than the airport which wasn’t as they’re usually several miles outside the main city.  Our total time for travelling this longest day went by quickly and I don’t think it actually took anymore time of our day than it would have had we travelled by plane.  We sure enjoyed our day watching the beauty of the French countryside pass by on our day of travel..

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Joshua Tree National Park ~ Mojave Desert ~ Colorado Desert ~ California

We have visited Joshua Tree National Park several times over the years and especially enjoy taking someone who has never seen it before.  It offers so many different and interesting types of landscape and it never ceases to be an amazing day.  Sometimes it is a drive through, sometimes we are out for interesting hikes but no matter what, these trips are always with my camera in hand.  Of the hundreds of photos that I have taken, I have chosen but a few that hopefully will show the diversity of this National Park.

Joshua Tree National Park ~ S. California

The park was named after the Joshua tree, which were so named by the early settlers that felt the trees looked like the welcoming arms of Joshua as he guided them on their travels.  These trees, also called the tree of life, are seen mainly in the Mohave Desert and because they spread their shallow roots to collect as much surface moisture as possible, they do not cluster together as other trees will do.
Joshua Tree blossom

The time of the blossoms on the Joshua tree can vary some through springtime so it took more than one trip over the years before I was able to finally see this beautiful bloom and get the photos.  There can be more than one bloom on each tree although not always but the blooms are very large and so pretty. 
Climbers on the rocks of Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree Park is known as a world-class rock climbing spot and there are a few places through out the park that you might find some climbers.  These rocks are huge and until you see someone on the rock face, it is hard to realize their size in a photo. We’ve watched many of them go up or down the rocks but never has it ever tempted us to try! 
Intriguing rocks of Joshua Tree National Park

The formation of these rocks is so very interesting.  Many are rounded, which also makes for easy climbing for the young adventuresome grandkids while the picnic lunch is being prepared.  There are some great spots amongst the rocks that make for easy access to a picnic table right beside a parking lot.  There are several camping locations, as well.
A catch basin in Joshua Tree National Park
We were so surprised to see this beautiful place when we were walking in to see Barker Dam.  The dam was originally built years ago by ranchers in the area so they could take advantage of the water from this catch basin.  Eventually they would move on as there just is not enough rainfall in the area to feed their livestock but it is still a great water supply for all the animals that do live in the desert.
Cholla Cactus Garden in Colorado Desert of Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park consists of the Mojave Desert in the higher elevations and the Colorado Desert in the lower eastern side of the park which also means there will be different landscape and growth, all very interesting for spending some time in the desert.  The cholla cactus garden is a great place to stop for photos when you’re in the Colorado Desert of the Joshua Tree Park.  
Cholla cactus coming into bloom

I’ve yet to see the cholla in full bloom but have been there twice when the buds were making their appearance and getting ready to bloom.  The cholla look like a soft fluffy plant from a distance but a close up shows they are full of spikes.  There is a parking lot plus a great walking path so you can wander at your leisure to enjoy these cactii.  
Blooms on the Chuparoasa bush add bright red to the desert colors
My favorite time is when the desert blossoms are there but that may mean more than one visit.  The Mojave Desert is higher elevation and can be chilly with later blooms but the Colorado Desert warms up sooner, being a lower elevation so this can mean some weeks between visits for blossoms.
Creosote bush blooms and Mojave Yucca plant
The desert needs to get some rain, although not a lot in order to make those blossoms appear in abundance, and then it needs some heat to encourage that growth.  The sun shines lots so there is no shortage of that but your timing makes the difference as to which blooms you will see at any given time.  
Coreopsis covers the sandy flats

This little yellow flower, the coreopsis was everywhere I turned at this stop in the park.  They are just one kind of many that will cover the desert floor to make it a pretty sight in the spring. We saw purple, pink and white flowers all through the Colorado Desert of the Joshua Tree National Park.  It is a good idea to travel with a booklet that will identify all these beautiful flowers when they are in bloom.
To learn more about viewing the blooms of the desert, check this webpage for the current schedule.

If you wish to see more of other visits of ours to the Joshua Tree National Park in the past or to learn more about the park, click here where I posted an earlier page.
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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Valley of Fire ~ Nevada State Park

We had heard of the Valley of Fire but really knew nothing other than it sounded like a wonderful place to visit with my camera.  It is located 80 km (50 mi) southeast of Las Vegas so after a visit in that city and an invitation from friends, we headed out for a couple of days to see the Valley of Fire.

Valley of Fire in Nevada
The Valley of Fire, named for the color of the rock at sunrise and sunset, is the oldest and largest Nevada State Park at 34,880 acres and was established in 1935.  There is a 16.9 km (10.5 mi) scenic road that connects the east and west entrances and offers many incredible sights along the way.  It is easy to understand why it has been the location of many movies over the years. 
Campground in Valley of Fire
The park offers 72 campsites at two locations, some sites include power and all sites have covered tables, grills and water. We had a great spot and suggest you arrive early in the day to get a spot to camp, it is a first come basis but they are really all good ones. 
I see a dog face profile in the rocks
The rocks have been formed since dinosaur days and their shapes are caused by relentless forces of erosion.  The formations of sand dunes and sandstone are 150 million years old and continue to change over time.
Formations and color of the Valley of Fire
Surface rocks have been pushed several miles from where they began and forces from within the earth kept changing the landscape over the years. Erosion has resulted in several canyons and sharp angular layers above. 
An old laughing toothless face
The sand grains that form the sandstone shapes we see are almost pure silica with the red color caused by small quantities of iron which produce the rust-like stain.  This gives a great variation in colors and the red lights up when the early morning and evening sun hits them. 
Petroglyphs found in several locations of Valley of Fire
 The petroglyphs, are the pictures that the ancient natives would draw on the rock to tell their story.  No one is real sure about what they all mean but it is interesting to speculate  about the symbols.  The atlatl, a throwing stick or dart thrower used in ancient times was likely their hunting tool and was often shown.   
Cabins in Valley of Fire
These cabins were built shortly after the park officially became a state park, for visitors to stay in on their travels through here.  Native sandstone was used and each one has a fireplace inside for warming up those cold desert nights. 
Blow holes in rock formations of Valley of Fire
All those hollow places are called blow holes and will eventually cause destruction that will take hundreds of years to happen.  That means we will be able to enjoy these beautiful sights for all of our lifetime and many to follow. 
Our view from the campsite
 Our visit was brief but we did get to see the sights of the Valley of Fire in all her glory.Our days were sunny and the sun was warm and we enjoyed every moment.  There are several hiking opportunities and they have a schedule for events happening in the park that one might want to check out for a visit.  
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