I’m backdating this post so it’ll be a little odd that I’m referencing a New York Times article “Venice, Invaded by Tourists, Risks Becoming ‘Disneyland on the Sea’” that was published in early August 2017, and yet I thought it better to date the post when I actually visited.

The NY Times article was, however, pretty interesting for perhaps no other reason than it highlights just how much of a tourist haven that Venice has become. And even more so because they refer to it as Disneyland. This was exactly my thought after arriving in the city. It’s just so picture perfect.

And speaking of pictures, I took many photos during my short 3 day stay in Venice but I have only posted 3 of my favorites here.

The top photo was taken late in the day from the Rialto Bridge. There are only four bridges across the Grand Canal and as you might imagine given the tourists they are all pretty heavily traveled. No doubt I had to almost muscle my way to the edge of the bridge to take this photo.

Despite the overall negative tone of the NY Times article and how the city is overrun with tourists, I still found the city an enchanting place to hang out for a few days. I arrived jet lagged to hang out before beginning a bike tour that would leave from very near the heart of the city. And yes, I did find the city crowded with tourists but having been to the city only once before – and back in the early 90s – I would have to say it didn’t seem any worse or different. On that particular occasion I was most certainly a day tripper arriving on the train from Milan. The city was jammed with people as I recall and it was the same this time.

That said, it was not hard to wander away from the main places like the Rialto Bridge and Piazza San Marco and find that crush of crowds was diminished.

Case in point … The photo I have here of the gondolier rowing up one of the many side canals that are everywhere throughout the city. Note how few people are along the streets next to the this canal. You could find similar throughout the city. Quiet spots with wonderful views and sights to see.

Side note: I don’t know whether these two in the photo are coworkers or brother and sister or what but given the romantic nature of the moment they don’t appear to be “together”. They are about as far apart as you can get in a gondola. Maybe they had an argument earlier in the day … who’s to know? But to me the city seems to really be ideally suited to a romantic getaway. (You can shop till you drop too of course but the authentic feel of the buildings and canals still seems to suggest the reason you go is ideally suited to couples.)

If it had not been for the bike tour I was joining, Venice would probably not have been high on my list of destinations. It’s beautiful of course and I thoroughly enjoyed the visit but I’ve been once long ago – and half the charm is the city hasn’t changed all that much in centuries – and if I were to go again I’d rather have someone join me.

This next photo was taken from one of the Vaporetto that ply the Grand Canal day and night. You do get a sense of the tourist crowd on the Vaporettos for sure. These are basically water buses that go up and down the canal and they are very handy but also packed. It was standing room only and given the temp was quite warm I was fine with that because I would find a place up near the front of the boat to catch the breeze.

I liked this photo in part because of the reflected light but also the brisk business of restaurants and the gondoliers along the Grand Canal.

Thought I’d finish up this post with a few notes about logistics for a visit to Venice. If nothing else, I may be able to refer back to this if I ever plan to go again.

Years ago I had arrived by train. This time though I flew into the local airport. The airport is actually a pretty good distance from the old island city. You have options to get into the city but the main ones are to either to take the bus (low cost), take a regular taxi (car, mid cost) or to take a water taxi (high cost). There may be others … I used this website and found it to be very helpful.

After having traveled over night I was not interested in waiting whatever amount of time it might take for the bus into the city so I opted to take a taxi to the main jump off point of the city, Piazzale Roma. The buses arrive at the same place. And so do the trains for that matter.

If you bus or taxi the way I did to Roma you still have to make it to your hotel destination. There are again options but I simply chose to hoof it. The advantage of taking a water taxi from the airport is you would typically not have to worry about the 2nd leg. The water taxi could very likely take you within steps of your hotel. But it’s also probably > 100 Euro for the one way trip.

Traveling with bike gear – including a bike – I left almost all of it behind at the airport at “left luggage”. 7 Euro per bag for 24 hours. (2017 prices). Worth the cost. There’s absolutely no reason to take large luggage into the city of Venice. Travel as light as possible into the city. I took only a backpack and lived out of it for 3 days just fine.

One last note about traveling around once you arrive. The Vaporettos are so easy and so frequent you have to use them. Basically a bus on water, they allow for a multi day pass you can buy. Online notes like you find at http://europeforvisitors.com/venice/articles/buying-vaporetto-tickets.htm are great and yet what it doesn’t tell you is you can also avoid any lines to buy a ticket and just do it all online using a mobile phone app. I got the app and bought via it and never had a problem. The only tricky bit was that few of the many Vaporetto stations actually have a QR Code reader so you just get on the boat and ignore it. For those (main) stations that have a reader you just skip the line and hold your phone showing the code under the reader and the gate opens like magic. All aboard!

Around Christmas time I was pretty set on doing an interesting bike tour once summer rolled around. I found one that fit the ‘interesting’ criteria and where the timing would pretty well suit as well. And so, I’ve been trying to routinely ride since then. Nothing like planning a bike tour to motivate you to get out on your bike!

On many of my rides since Christmas I’ve had a Garmin device on the bike. Perhaps the majority of the rides – but not all of them. But I found it pretty interesting that the Garmin website had a calendar view that identified the days that you had logged a ride. You can see a screen shot of the calendar in this post.

Seems pretty clear that the time I get a chance to ride has mostly been on the weekends. But I’ve tried to step it up a bit and get in some mid week rides at the end of the work day as well. It’s been easier to do that after Daylight Saving Time kicked in, and while we haven’t gotten into the truly hot weather of central Texas.

If I can keep a similar routine up I hope it’ll make the tour more enjoyable.

We took time out over the Memorial Day holiday weekend to head out into the Texas Hill Country to enjoy some wine tasting at a couple of really great Texas wineries.

‘Wine Country’ in this part of the world often implies just one stretch of highway 290 between Johnson City and Fredericksburg, TX. (About an hour+ west of Austin.) And indeed these two wineries were 10 minutes apart on that very stretch of road around Stonewall. That so many wineries have popped up in that area is no surprise. Fredericksburg is very popular and that stretch of road is highly trafficked. But in reality, while there are grapes growing in the area and on the estates, much if not most of the fruit in Texas wine comes from the ‘high plains’ – up near Lubbock. Soil and temp conditions are just better up there. But… nobody goes up there if they can avoid it so consequently the wine biz has set up shop in central TX. They do grow fruit in the hill country though and have for ages … but most of it used to be peaches. There are still peaches of course but now there’s a lot more vines and grapes.

This visit out that way was mainly to catch a [relative] newcomer to the area. Kuhlman Cellars has only been there a couple of years, and yet judging by the quality of the wine, you’d never know that. I was throughly impressed with the experience.

You need a reservation for a tasting at Kulhman and if same-day, you can call them. In this case though I made the reservation online the day before. That was handy. I got the “Signature Food and Wine Pairing”. It’s the way to go I think. It was a few bucks more but the food pairings were a nice addition and enhanced the experience.

The tasting was a sit-down event and just about right on time per the reservation. A sit-down tasting / pairing isn’t something I see often at hill country wineries but I really liked it. I snapped a shot of the food pairings which you can see here in this post.

We were ably guided through our tasting by Jeremy Wilson. Follow the link to his blog postings at the Kuhlman Cellars blog. By his description, his job is essentially anything that needs to get done. From planting in the vineyard to driving the forklift – but he really likes doing the tastings and explaining everything. He’s very knowledgable about the regional wines.

We were fortunate enough to also briefly meet and say hello to the winemaker Bénédicte Rhyne. She’s originally from France. Her mom was visiting from France and was there that afternoon for a tasting, which was kinda cute. Follow the link for a bio.

There were 5 wines tasted and I enjoyed each. The Sauvignon Blanc was a surprise and very nice. “Green apple, pear and gooseberry.. crisp acidity”. You’d never guess the fruit came from Ft Stockton way out in west TX.

The reds in general were lovely but the 2014 Barranca was a standout. Tasting notes: “violets, sweet baking spice, cedar cigar box and cherry, .., dark chocolate, creme fraiche and intense mineralogy”. (I’m always amazed at how wine writers come up with these descriptions.) Anyway, it was 31% Mourvedre, 30% Tempranillo, 24% Malbec and 15% Sangiovese .. and it was yummy. Pricey at $36/bottle but as things go this is pretty much a specialty item and nicely done at that so you’ll pay a little more.

The photo at the bottom of the post of the vines and grapes is, if my notes are correct, Marsanne. You can read all about this at the winery’s own blog post here.

With plenty of time left of the afternoon we decided to also take in Hilmy Cellars 10 min down the road. I had been there only once and was impressed with their wines. So, off we went.

You can see another couple photos here from Hilmy. The first is one is of their 2015 Persephone. A blend of 2/3 Viognier and 1/3 Chenin Blanc. The white wines in general at Hilmy were excellent. My fav was their 2015 100% Viognier. A bit more floral than the other two white but with enough acid not to make it cloying.

The reds were equally enjoyable but the 100% Sangiovese was my fav and is it then any surprise that we got one of those with a plan to stop by Sorellina pizza on the way back to Austin for a couple of pies? Great combo! (Sorellina is just on the Austin side of the bridge over the Pedernales river and well worth the drive out west on hwy 71 if you wanna take the time.)

The guy in the photo at the bottom is Michael at Hilmy. Didn’t catch his last name. He’s only been in the area for 3 months. He moved from California. He was very knowledgable about the wines though and as you can see, he clearly enjoys what he’s doing.

Vines and Grapes at Kuhlman Cellars, Stonewall, Texas

The Willamette Valley came to Austin – at least for one night. I’m a big fan of Oregon wines and have written here before about visits up there. So I was excited to see an event called “Pinot in the City” come up right here in Austin that showcased nothing but Oregon wines from the Willamette valley area.

First and foremost I appreciated that the organizers somehow managed to make the winery to taster ratio a very good one so that we weren’t all just packed in there like sardines and making it difficult to get a tasting. In fact, it was a pleasure to just take our time, have a bit of food and then go check out the next winery that looked interesting.

In the end, I made note of my two favorites. One white and one red. Perhaps not surprisingly these came from two wineries I have visited in the past. And while these I noted as my favorites, there was nothing that I didn’t like.

The first of these was the Pinot Blanc from Brooks. When I saw they had a white I at first assumed it’d be a Riesling. They make excellent Riesling! But instead it was this 2014 Pinot Blanc. Lemon lime with a round and reasonably full body. I’d love to find some more of this. I don’t see this particular year available on the Brooks website but they have the 2015 there. Might have to give that one a try.

My favorite Pinot Noir of the night, by a nose – because there were so many good ones – was the 2013 Lange Pinot Noir Reserve. If you click through to their website you’ll find tasting notes there which who am I to argue with:

“Bright and lively, the palate shows an array of red berry fruit layered with sweet herbs and hints of rich earth.”

Lange is a lovely little winery to visit I might add. I have been there at least a couple times and hope to visit again one day.

It’s been another fun year of posting to Instagram. For the last couple of years there’s been a website you can use to collect the nine photos you’ve posted that got the most likes – from upper left to lower right. I wouldn’t use the term ‘best’ for these. They’re just the ones that happened to get the most likes. Sometimes that’s just a matter of timing or the hashtags that might have been used. Head over to Instagram and add your own like if any of them grab you.

Instagram 2016 Nine Most Liked

The only time I go out of my way go to Las Vegas is when there is a work related event there. The glitz of Las Vegas can be fun to look at but there’s something very unnatural about Vegas. I suppose that’s an understatement. This glitzy place with large water attractions like the one at the Bellagio and yet it’s right in the middle of the desert.

Regardless, it’s very photogenic and can be a fun place to wander the streets with a camera in hand. Over three nights while there I snapped the photos I’ve posted here. If you follow my Instagram account I posted these there but thought I’d capture some notes about them here as well.

Elvis and his dancing girl were standing on the street outside Caesar’s Palace and begging for attention. Quite literally. For a tip each they were happy to give me a great pose and show those great pearly whites. I really liked how this one turned out, considering how quickly it all transpired. There was not much setup time here. Just a few seconds. It was probably 40 degrees out there at that point so I’m not sure how long they were on the street. Probably not too long.

The black and whites below were each taken on separate nights on different sections of the strip.

The ballerina was all alone and had some music playing but was otherwise seemingly oblivious to passersby. But she was actually a pretty good dancer. I took several shots but this one turned out the best. She wasn’t in this pose but for an instant. And I was lucky to have so little traffic in the background.

The cowboy accordian player was on one of those pedestrian bridges over the street and between hotels. He had a tip basket out and I passed him twice – once going and later returning. On the return trip I tipped him and asked if I could take his picture. As you can see he agreed but he also asked me where I was from and then immediately broke into “Deep in the Heart of Texas” on his accordian.

The last guy with the guitar was out there a couple nights in a row on the bridge between Caesar’s and the Bellagio. I think I tipped him both times I walked by him. He was pretty good. I snagged this shot that second night I saw him out there.

These were some of the interesting people on the strip in the evenings that seemed very approachable. At other times – and particularly very early in the morning – there were some really sketchy people out there. They probably wouldn’t have been too happy with me taking their photo – and I was conference bound anyway.

I did leave Vegas though with the thought it’d be fun to go back and spend more time with the camera and on the streets there, seeing what I might be able to capture.

 

Day 3 had doing a loop ride out of Rocamadour and then right back to stay at the same hotel as day 2.

The weather and the riding on the routes in this area were again fantastic and especially in the morning.

The photo at the boulangerie (bakery) was a particularly fun little stop in the morning. Nothing fancy, just some good coffee and a croissant. That’s Jim on the left there, me on the right.

By mid day we had arrived at a planned activity for the day and that was a visit to Gouffre de Padirac. Quite touristy but also actually pretty cool – quite literally. You descend into this giant hole in the ground to find some spectacular caverns and an underground river. And, it was much cooler down there than up top so I was glad that we had been given a heads up to bring something more to wear. I was also glad to not be in cycling shoes down there. It’s wet, its slippery and you actually do quite a bit of walking up and down stairs.

You’re prohibited from taking photos while on the tour (though that has to be hard to police and I saw more than 1 tourist being admonished) so consequently I don’t have any to post here. I would suggest instead you check out the official website.

The darker evening photo was taken from our terrace dinner location back in Rocamadour. Rocamadour is pretty small. There where other restaurant options but many of us – based on recommendation – opted to eat again at the same terrace restaurant we had been at the night before. Food was again good – I got the duck. The most enjoyable part though was simply being able to dine outdoors in what amounted to room temperature. It was really perfect weather to be outdoors in the evening.

I’d be remiss while I jot notes about Rocamadour if I didn’t also mention the cheese I ate at every opportunity while visiting. I’d never actually heard of it before the visit but the 1st night it was served as part of the dessert courses and then I noticed it was available (along with some meats/cheese) at breakfast the next morning. It was rather aptly named Rocamadour Cheese and was a little goat cheese served in a small flat and round shape. I’ll look for it around here in Austin but I don’t expect to find it. I did, however, find it in other nearby towns. In fact, I bought some more in the town of Sarlat, which would be our next destination.

One last photo. This one was taken from my hotel room window just about sunrise as we prepared to head out and ride to our next destination.

From Rocamadour