Milan and our Conquering Heros

We had another early four-hour bus ride, leaving Venice, and arriving Milan (Milano) early afternoon on May 31st. The team was scheduled to play an Italian pro level national team at 3:30 pm. After we checked in, we walked to the facilities, had a team lunch at the facility dining area, watched some of a men’s division 3 volleyball game at the main arena, and then walked over to an adjacent building for the match with team Italy.

The OU team has been getting better and better on this trip, and beat the Italian team in straight sets. Wow, were they impressive! It was a show. Everyone played well, and Julia had an outstanding match, mixing her sets well, and frequently fooling the blockers on which direction the set would go.

We returned to the hotel to freshen up. Kelly Williamson, our tour guide gave us some tram passes so we could do some evening exploration and supper on our own in central Milan. The Duomo stop left us by the main square where a National celebration was taking place with the country’s best entertainers rocking on a huge stage. We expored the Galleria Vittorio Emanuale II nearby, a glass-domed arcade containg the best high-end shops in Italy. Kathy and I found a friendly ristorante just outside the Galleria, had supper, and headed back to our hotel by tram for a good night’s rest.

The next day, June 1st, was a free day, to do what we wanted, and then meet by the Duomo at 6:45 for a farewell supper. So we took the tram downtown again, explored the beautiful cathedral inside, and then took the elevator to the roof to walk among the gothic spires and get some great views of the city. Afterwards, we decided to tour the Pinoteca Ambrosia, the oldest museum in Milan. It was only four blocks away from the Duomo, behind the famous La Scala Opera House.

The museum, founded in 1618, did not have an outstanding art collection, but the building itself was a joy to view. The most outstanding collection was Leonardo Divinci’s drawings.

Then we had some coffe and a small dessert before meeting our whole group by the Duomo. We had a wonderful farewell dinner on the second level of an up-scale Ristorante nearby, and took the tram back to our hotel.

The next morning, June 2nd, we left the hotel with the group to ride to Malpensa Airport, where we said goodbye to Julia, and all the friends we made on this trip. It was a real pleasure to get to know the young ladies on the team, the coach, Santiago Restrepo, his family, the coaching staff, the guides, and the other parents. Great memories to share down the road.

Then we turned down the corridor to find our rental car, and start the next phase of our European Adventure, on our own for another eleven days!

Scenic, Watery Venice

We left Rovinj early for a four-hour bus ride to the fabled city of Venice (Venizia). We arrived around 1pm on May 30th. But our tour director had to deal with a transit strike in Venice. Kelly was thinking fast when she lined up three hotel shuttle taxis to get us into and out of the west end of the island on which Venice is built. We made it in time to have a nice afternoon and evening of individual touring and a group dinner.

Kathy and I split off from the group to ride the Vaporettos, water buses that ply the Grand Canal. Because of the strike, we were only able to ride it to the Rialto Bridge. There we met up with Quinn and Laura Spann, their daughter Micaela, and our granddaughter Julia. We hired a gondola and set off for a 40-minute ride through some of the canals (streets) of the city. Great adventure! Afterwards we wandered though the city to Piazza San Marco. It is an immense square, the size of two football field, with an astronomic clock, two ranks of office buildings, St. Marks Basilica, a bell tower, and the Doge’s Palace, which borders the Grand Canal.

We met our tour group in front of the Basilica at 6:45 and had supper at a funky pizza place near St. Mark’s Square. It started raining hard while we were eating. When we left, we had to find our way back to the railway station and taxi park on the west end, across the Grand Canal twice. All you had for reference were occasional signs on the building walls that had an arrow and the words “Via Ferrovia” (to the train station). We got off track at least three times in the narrow streets with the dark and pouring rain. Kathy and I were the last ones to make it to the taxi stand at 9:30. Even though we were on time, it had a few people worried. Wet and soggy, even with raincoats, we rode back to our hotel for a hot shower and a good night’s rest. Tomorrow, Milan (Milano).

Adriatic Resort Town, Rovinj

Our bus pulled into sunny Rovinj, Croatia, the afternoon of May 28th. This town was another pleasant surprise. The old part of the town, a peninsula, belonged to the Venitian empire for 800 years. Italian is the official second language of the larger Istrian peninsula, of which Rovinj is a part. Then we pulled into the Eden Hotel, a luxury resort hotel, complete with multiple swimming pools, a bike rental facility, a beach area, and it’s own foreign exchange desk (the Croation currency is the Kuna). Very nice!

We had a team meal at the hotel, and then walked into the center of town for a match with the Croatia Junior National team. OU put on a good show and won the match. We found a good seafood restaurant to chow down after the games.

The next morning, Kathy and I rented some mountain bikes and set off to explore the old town of Rovinj. Several volleyball players rented bikes too. With beautiful sunny weather, we explored the old town with narrow steep streets leading to the main church. Then we descended to the street market for shopping and treats. We kept running into the volleyball ladies as we were exploring this unique town.

We went back to the gym later with the team to watch them beat the Croatian Junior Nationals again. The players went off on their own to celebrate since they had a day off from playing tomorrow (on to beautiful Venice).

Between the weather, the unique old town, and the posh hotel, Rovinj, Croatia, was filled with unexpected pleasures.

Surprising Bled

We arrived in Bled, Slovenia, early afternoon on May 27th. Bled was a surprise, in terms of scenic beauty, and friendly people. The town and lake are near the Austrian border in the Julian Alps. Former dictator of Yugoslavia, Marshall Tito, vacationed in Bled. The hotel was a few blocks from Lake Bled, and the view from our balcony was spectacular. There is an old castle there built into the side of a high cliff overlooking the lake. We stopped to check out the hockey arena behind the hotel, and found out it’s the summer home of Anźe Kopitar, a star forward for the L.A. Kings.

The lake has a walking path around it of about 3.5 miles. The south end of the lake has a small island containing a church with 99 steps leading up to courtyard. Kathy and I took a small stroll around part of the lake and then joined the volleyball team for the evening match against the Slovenian Junior Nationals. A short bus ride took us to a nice arena in a smaller town for the match. It was an up-and-down battle with the Slovenians winning the fifth set.

Afterwards, the Slovenian team joined our young ladies at a picturesque restaurant for the post-game meal. Everyone looked like they had a good time.

We had time the next morning to take a “Plenta” boat ride to the island. These flat-bottom boats with a canopy usually take 45 minutes to reach the island with oars. But it was raining. One of our tour dads, Quinn Spann, did a great job of arranging a power boat to take a bunch of us faster and dryer to the island. When we got there, Quinn and I had to do our manly thing, and ran up the ninety-nine steps. We have proof because many of the volleyball players were recording our act on their iPhones. We had a nice excursion, stopped to eat the famous Bled Cream Cake, and hopped the bus for an afternoon drive to Rovinj, Croatia.