Europe -- 1956
Text and photos copyrighted September, 2019 by Fred Gielow
Posted here September 23, 2019

(Source of graphic.)
My parents toured Europe on a trip from May 5 to June 28, 1956. Cities visited: Lisbon, Naples, Pompeii, Amalfi, Sorrento, Rome, Florence, Venice, Milan, Stresa, Interlaken, Lucerne, Wiesbaden, Cologne, Amsterdam, The Hague, Vollendam, Slikkerveer, London, Stratford on Avon, Paris, Versailles, Nice, Monte Carlo, Cannes. After the trip, Mom typed her log onto 256 4-by-7-inch pages (small type). Dad's log (hand written) was 152 pages long.

I decided to post here just the notes for their stay in Venice. "Fred" in Mom's log is Dad. "Ruth" in Dad's log is Mom.

The way back home

. . . . . . . . . .MOM'S LOG . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .DAD'S LOG

May 23. Wednesday. Florence to Venice.

We got up with the birds this morning so that we could finish our packing and get out to do some errands before leaving. I wanted to exchange some silver trinkets for some other silver pieces at Peruzzis on the other side of the Arno. I also stopped to get some pictures of the Duomo, and doors of the Babtistry. Were back at the hotel by eleven and at eleven-thirty, we left for the station. It was fairly close to the hotel so we walked.

The station at Florence was a very nice one although much more modest than the one in Rome. I was impressed mostly by the beautiful large potted azaleas there. They are as high as trees and just loaded with bloom. When we got on the train, we noticed a flurry on the station platform and saw that there was quite a lot of fuss being made over a pretty blond. We learned afterwards that it was Anita Eckberg.

We were taken to a special car which had been reserved for us and shared a compartment with Dick and Irma and Mr. Dontigny. It was quite fun being in a compartment and though it was very hot, we thoroughly enjoyed the trip. The compartments were much as they were the last time I was in Europe [1920s?] and I was so glad for they are as different from our trains. They are very stuffy with heavy velvet curtains and have pictures over the seats below the clothes racks with a mirror in the center and little white tidies on the seat backs. The baggage is always put in through the windows which seems so strange, too. When we had checked to see that our baggage was all there, we were told to walk seven cars down to the dining car and get on there.

As the train was due to start in two minutes and that was a long way to go, we just tore down the platform. Mr. McDuff had to stay back to watch the luggage and said for us to hurry as the train wouldn't wait. That was a strange feeling running all that distance with the thought that the train might pull out before we got there and we would be stranded without luggage, guide, or anything. We made it just as the train pulled out. We had a very good meal in the dining car and sat with Dick and Irma.

We had quite an amusing walk back to our car after lunch for we had to pass through the baggage car, which was full of fish and all sorts of other foul-smelling things, then the third class coaches, which are pretty bare, having wooden seats and no curtains in the compartments, and where we saw the peasants eating their bread and sausage, then the second class coaches where we encountered a very large man in the passageway. The passageway is so narrow that one can hardly get through single file, but passing anyone is a real project. Usually, the person steps into the doorway of one of the compartments to let you pass, but this man was there to enjoy the sensation of the squeeze -- it was quite evident. I was glad there were the four of us.

When we got back to our compartment, we talked for a while but soon we were all dozing.

I see more and more as we go along that the pace is telling on us and we grab any spare moments to catch up on our sleep. We were aroused from our slumbers by Mr. McDuff opening our door and calling out "{Venice in ten minutes."

We sat up and looked out of the window and saw that we were riding over the long causeway just as we remembered Katherine Hepburn had in the picture "Summertime." It was so exactly like it was shown in that picture and our sensations upon arriving at the station were much the same, too. It seemed as though suddenly we had stepped right into that picture.

Here was the street-car boat at the station and every one piled in, then some gondolas picked up other couples and finally a launch came to get us. It was like a dream stepping into this fantastic city.

Our lunch took us along the Grand Canal past the fire station and the traffic light just as we had seen it done in the picture. It was really fascinating. When we docked at our hotel, I had great misgivings for it looked as old and weather-beaten, but it turned out to be a most attractive place. It is built in a U-shape with the U facing the canal. This was planted with grass and bordered with a solid mass of petunias in lavender and white with boxed azaleas about six feet tall along the U at intervals. Out on the grass were little tables and chairs under umbrellas, and here Mr. McDuff left us to enjoy the beautiful surroundings while he went to get the mail, our room keys, etc.

We all "Oh"ed and "Ah"ed over the view of the canal and watched with fascination the traffic as it moved past us. There was every kind of craft both modern and ancient and it was amazing to see how skillfully they maneuvered up and down the canal.

The traffic is so heavy that the canal is quite churned up, yet barges, power boats, and gondolas seem to go along without any apparent difficulty weaving in and out around each other seemingly with no traffic regulations. We were all spellbound.

When we had finished our mail, we went to our rooms and we were enchanted with ours. It was so light and airy with French doors opening onto a balcony and we could just get a peak of the canal. The hotel is so large, that we literally had to walk a couple of blocks to get to our room. We noticed that we crossed over a street for we could see it below when we passed a window in the hall. We are on the third floor and the elevators are a little larger here [compared to earlier hotels]. Our room has pretty maple furniture and we have a nice bath. In fact, there is a nice happy feeling about this hotel. The lounges -- and there are many -- are very nice with soft, pretty lights and attractive furniture and they have a nice warm atmosphere. Our dining room was particularly inviting with pretty pink table cloths and lovely appointments.

It took a little time for our bags to be delivered to our room so while we were waiting, we walked out onto our balcony and found that just as we did so a number of our tour mates were doing the same thing and we waved and talked for a few minutes. It is quite pleasant being with a group and we have gotten to enjoy each other's presence more and more.

After our bags had arrived and we had cleaned up, we met Mr. McDuff in the lounge and were taken to St. Marks' square. Here he gave us a short briefing on how to get about in Venice and a sharp warning not to get lost in the maze of narrow streets.

It was late afternoon and the sun was glinting off the gold of the cathedral, the square was full of people with the pigeons overhead, and music wafted from the two orchestras, one on each side of the square. Little children ran here and there or were pushed in their carriages by their nurses, tourists were snapping pictures everywhere or feeding the pigeons, artists were painting at their easels and the Venetians were scurrying to and fro on business. It was a fascinating scene so full of life and activity and beauty. We felt that we wanted to stay and just drink it in for hours. We all said we knew that we would not be ready to leave Venice when the time came.

We lingered in the square for a long time and walked to the Grand Canal and down a few of the little narrow calles, looked into the shop windows where we saw such beautiful merchandise -- lustrous satins, beautiful tooled leather goods, exquisite glass, fine jewelry, all kinds of objet D'art, linens, pictures, books, and furniture; and then crossed over the little bridge to the street leading to our hotel. There is so much enchantment here and we were thrilled with it all. It is really tricky finding your way about and we didn't find it easy remembering all of the twists and turns.

After dinner, Dick and Irma and Fred and I sat out on the hotel lawn and watched the boats going up and down the canal, their lanterns sparkling in the dark and reflected in the ripples of the water. There was a full moon and the whole scene was bathed in moonlight. It was all so quiet and peaceful with only the sound of the water or an occasional strain of music from one of the gondolas as it drifted by. There were some special gondolas strung with varicolored lights carrying a band of musicians which played soft music and following these were a train of other gondolas with their little lanterns glowing. It made a dreamy picture and filled the air with romance. We sat and drank it in as long as we could, but finally, the air got so moist that we had to go in. We'll never forget this wonderful evening.

May 23. Wednesday. Florence to Venice.

It is now 11:30 p.m. I am in bed, after another great day. Up at 8:00 this morning, and after breakfast and packing, a quick trip back over the Ponte Vecchio to exchange 10 charms for 10 pickle forks. Then a quick snapshot or two of the Duomo and the "Gates of Paradise" doors and we rushed back to the hotel at about 10:45. At 11:15, walked to the fine new railroad station and we were off for Venice.

Had fine lunch with the Winninghams, then dozed in our 1st class compartment until about 4:30, when we landed in Venice. Took a launch to our hotel, the "Europa," which is the best one yet. Find room with two balcony windows, a peek at the canal, a beautiful dining room; good meal, then sat on the veranda overlooking the canal.

Before supper, took a walk to St. Marks'' Square and visited a fine linen shop where Ruth bought a cloth for Ellen [her sister] and doilies and napkins for herself, and then to a glass factory, which was a veritable fairyland. I never before conceived the possibility of glass being processed into so many beautiful shapes and such delicate colors.

Additional thoughts on Italy: all the houses are of stone or masonry construction. Don't believe I've seen a wooden one so far. All have tile roofs -- no shingles. The profuse use of marble and carrara, is amazing. Guide says it is the cheapest (or was) building material here.

Beautiful full moon tonight. Planning a gondola party for tomorrow evening.

This city is very different from Florence, but, in its way, equally fascinating.

Mom took this picture before boarding the boat for the short hop to Venice.

May 24. Thursday. Venice.

We awoke to find the sun shining this morning and hopped out of bed eager to get out and see more of this wonderful city. We lift about nine and our guide took us directly to the Piazza San Marco. The square was already filled with people, and the orchestras were playing while men and women sat at the little tables along the sides and sipped their drinks or had breakfast. It looked just a beautiful in the morning sunlight as it had the night before. The gold domes of the cathedral sparkled and the beautiful white lace work on the Doges Palace stood out sharply against the deep blue of the sky. It was a wonderful day! And this was a wonderful sight.

We crossed the square to the cathedral and our guide took us through. He pronunciation was a little hard to follow, so we did not get all that he said,. He pointed out the water line inside the cathedral showing how far the water had risen in the square on occasions. It was amazing, for it was very high.

From there, we went to the Doges Palace, which was most impressive. The paintings on the ceilings and around the rooms were very beautiful and the one on the north wall of the Great Council Hall by Tintoretto (Paradise) is the largest painting on canvas in the world. It is 74 feet long and 24 feet high and contains 500 figures. The painting was taken down during the last war [WW-II] and thereby preserved for Venice was badly bombed.

We also saw the picture that Goebles had removed from the ceiling of one the the rooms and taken to Germany and which later was found and returned by General Eisenhower. Many art treasures were stolen and lost.

The ceiling in the Great Council Room was very interesting because of its great size and the fact that there were no supporting pillars to hold it up. I was 176 feet long and 85 feet wide. We saw the prisoners room, the room where they were tried, and then crossed the bridge of sighs to the dungeon. It was horrifying to hear of the wicked deeds perpetrated here. It was noon by the time we finished going through the palace and we went back to the hotel for lunch.

In the afternoon, we went by launch to the Island of Morano to see the glass factory. I have never seen such beautiful glass anywhere before as they have in Venice, and it was fascinating to see them blow the intricate pieces. Their display rooms were beautiful and the pieces so varied and delicate. We saw another display of glass in Venice that was truly the most wonderful thing of its king anywhere, I am sure. It was like stepping into a fairyland of glass. There were all kinds of glass chandeliers, glass figures, glass bowls, glass plates, glass pitchers, glass vases, glass cups and saucers, glass ships, and every other kind of object in glass. They were in clear glass or pastel colors or real deep reds and blues and greens and yellows, and all their gradations plus jet black. When the light shown down on all these lovely objects, the room was flooded with sparkling, twinkling lights.

Then we went to a linen store and I bought Ellen's table cloth and a set for Martha [a friend] and a set for myself of table mats and napkins. Here we saw them making Venetian lace, and doing the embroidery. They sat on high stools and embroidered over paper on the fine linen. It is such fine work and requires so much patience.

We got back to the hotel late and dressed for dinner. After dinner, we were to go for a gondola ride. We met outside the hotel and were waiting for Mr. McDuff when Mr. Pot [a long-time friend] and his cousin, Mrs. Smit, arrived. We explained to them that we were just leaving to take an evening ride in a gondola and they said that they had come to make a date with for tomorrow. We arranged to have them come to our hotel at ten-thirty in the morning.

The gondola ride was very romantic in spite of the fact that Mr. McDuff decided to join the Willinghams and us in ours. The gondolas hold four passengers and so Mr. McDuff crowded things a little, but we didn't mind, really.

It was nice to have him along and hear bits of information about things as we went along. It is quite an unusual sensation riding in a gondola. It is so very different. You just slip through the water with the smoothest motion. There is no feeling of jerkiness or spurts of speed. You glide along so quietly and peacefully.

It was so lovely to be out on the water and see the lights along the canal and on the boats that passed us. We had an accordionist and a singer in the leading gondola and it was very pleasant hearing the music as we slipped along. The singer had a nice voice and sang all the lovely opera songs and now and then he would be joined by those in the gondolas following and even by people hanging out of the windows of some of the houses as we went by. It was a wonderful experience and we all thrilled to it.

As we went down one of the narrow canals, we passed a little landing and were suddenly surprised to have someone snap our pictures as we passed. Mr. McDuff says they do it all of the time and throw in a little capsule with the name of the photographer so you can stop the next day and buy the picture if you like. Of course, Mr. McDuff will order one of each gondola load for us. I think it will be kind of fun to have.

We were just coming to the little canal near our hotel when it started to rain, and we were so grateful that it held off long enough for us to finish. It started to rain hard by the time we got to our hotel, so no walking in the square of sitting out tonight. We went to our room and Fred went to bed. I did some chores and wrote in my log and now to bed. It is two o'clock. I made arrangements for a shampoo and wave at the hotel tomorrow and also to get my hair cut. I hope I can make myself understood enough to get a decent one. I have to have it done regardless of what it looks like, it is so dirty and long.

May 24. Thursday. Venice.

Up at 7:30, after a quiet night in a good bed. No street cars, busses, motorcycles, or trains here. Traffic on the Grand Canal slows almost to a halt after midnight.

This morning, on foot, visited Piazzo S. Marko, and the Doge's Palace. The latter had a ballroom 85 feet by 176 feet unsupported by any pillars, and with wooden beams. Imagine that! Larger, by far than our whole lot at home. Same room has the largest painting on canvas in the world -- across one end of the room. It was removed and taken to the Vatican before the Germans arrived. It was by Tintoretto.

Saw another painting here, about 5 feet by 15 feet, which had been stolen by Hermonn Goering, was located by the U.S. Army in a German salt mine, and restored to the Palace by General Eisenhower after the war.

This afternoon, took a trip by motor launch to visit a glass factory on an adjoining island, then toured the Grand Canal. Tonight a gondola ride!

Wonder how they keep St. Marks' Square clean after the thousands of pigeons use it all day. Ruth got "hit" today, and a member of the party remarked that she was now "a pigeonaire of St. Mark's Square."

The gondola party was a success. Five gondolas moving along the canal together very slowly, the two outer ones on each side with our party (everyone on the tour went along, at L-2,000 each, $3.20) and the middle one carrying a musician playing an accordion and a singer who sang arias from Italian operas. As the ride ended (about one hour), it started to sprinkle. We walked over to the square, but the sprinkle turned into a rain, so we hurried back to the hotel.

As we traversed a side canal in the gondola, a photographer took a flashlight photo of us. We may buy that one.

Mom and Dad are in the back seats, the Willinghams in front of them, and Mr. McDuff at the bow.

May 25. Friday. Venice.

The rain was still pelting down when I awoke this morning. I was glad that I had chosen this day to have my hair done. Time is so precious, it is hard to find an extra minute anywhere.

My appointment was at 8:30, so we breakfasted early and Fred went to the writing room to write letters while I went to my appointment. It was sort of funny trying to talk in sign language to the hairdresser for he understood no English and it was hare to express what I wanted. I finally decided to let him do it just as he wanted and got that over to him a little easier. Anyway, the results were very satisfactory.

When I was through, I joined Fred and wrote a few cards before Mr. Pot and his cousin arrived. They invited us to go out to the square and have something to eat or drink and listen to the music. As it has stopped raining, we thought this would be very pleasant. We sat and watched throng in the kaleidoscopic scene. It is a very fascinating pastime. The sun tried hard to peek through now and then, but the sky was filled with dark clouds. We then walked around the square taking pictures and feeding the pigeons. We bought, or rather, Mr. Pot bought us all little cornucopias filled with corn from a vendor. There are many of these vendors on the square and they shake the corn in the cornucopias to make a rattling sound and this draws the pigeons. So, we did the same and the pigeons would sit on our shoulders and on our heads and on our fingers when we would hold them out. It was quite a sensation.

Mr. Pot then took us to the top of the Campanile. We got such beautiful views from there and though the sun was hardly out enough for good picture taking, I snapped a lot just the same. We then walked along the Grand Canal for a little ways to a small park where we sat down and chatted.

All of a sudden, we saw a very black and ominous-looking cloud bearing down on us and we decided to head for a certain hotel where Mr. Pot wanted to take us to lunch. We hadn't gone very far, when it started to pour. When we reached the square, it was almost deserted. The cafes had gotten their tables and chairs under cover and the curtains were drawn on the square. The gondolas were covered and deserted and what few people there were scampering for shelter.

We found that we couldn't get to our destination, so stopped at the Hotel Danieli and had our lunch there. This is considered one of the finest places to eat also, and has a very charming roof restaurant overlooking the Grand Canal, but of course everything outside was covered over.

It was a very pleasant dining room though, inside, and we had a delicious lunch. By the time we had finished, it had stopped raining and once more the square was alive with people.

Mr. Pot and his cousin waked partway back to the hotel with us and then we bid them good-bye. Fred was weary and wanted to take a nap and write letters, so he went back to the hotel. I wanted to poke around a little for a while. The shops are so fascinating. I walked around the square looking in the windows, did a little shopping, and walked down some of the smaller calles and then started back to the hotel. Some of the calles are so narrow, you can almost touch each side at once. Our guide told me that there is one calle that is so narrow, the you must negotiate it sideways!

When I had gotten part way home to the hotel, I met Fred, who had decided to come out and look for me. It was clearing a little more and the sun was even trying to come out, so we decided to go back to the square and take a little walk along the Grand Canal. Before we got back, it started to sprinkle again, and we had to run the last part. We spent the evening writing letters and cards.

May 25. Friday. Venice.

Up at 7:30, breakfasted, and Ruth went to hairdresser here in hotel. I found my way to a stationer's and bought Ruth a map of Italy, an eraser, some cards, and some more paper for our log books. On way back, watched people and pigeons in square for a while.

Day is overcast and cool. Last night was cool, too. It seemed incongruous to sit in a gondola with a topcoat on.

Just as we were leaving the hotel with the tour group for the gondola trip, Mr. Pot and his cousin, Mrs. Smit, showed up. We made a date for 10:30 here in our hotel lobby. It is now 9:45. This morning's log is written with a new ballpoint pen I bought this a.m.

Enjoyed looking over the map of Italy I got for Ruth. Thought it a foolish expense, but I guess I was wrong (again!).

Most of the tour slept in this dull morning. We were the first in the dining room for breakfast. Some are just now entering (9:45).

Later: Met Pot and his cousin, Mrs. Smit; talked in hotel; had coffee with them on Piazzo; went to top of Campanile and took pictures there of surrounding views. Then went to little park off the Grand Canal (behind the square) until it started to rain. Ran for cover, then went to Hotel Danieli for a fine dinner, as guests of Mr. Pot. Coming back, after leaving the Pots, we bought more linens. Still raining.

Later, Ruth went shopping and I wrote letters and cards, washed shirt and bathed. When Ruth come back, we walked for an hour, had dinner, and are now in writing room of the hotel.. Clear out now, moon out, but too cool for a gondola ride. MacDuff gave each of us a small metallic gondola at supper this evening, as a gift.

Gave up going to Lido.

I went to bed at 11:30. Ruth came up at 12:00 and packed until 1:00.

Mom took these pictures of Dad (left), Mr. Pot, and Mrs. Smit at Piazza San Marco, better known as St Mark's Square.

The base of the bell tower, aka: St Mark's Campanile.. . . . . . . . . The Basilica San Marco, aka: St. Mark's Cathedral.

(Mom took all four pictures.)

May 26. Saturday. Venice.

We got up real early this morning for we were to leave on the early train for Milano and I wanted to get a few more pictures since the sun was shining brightly. Most of the group were down to breakfast early and all were feeling rather downcast at the prospect of leaving.

We dashed over to the square and down the Grand Canal for a few pictures and then hustled back. We left then immediately for the station.

Everyone was so heartsick at leaving Venice, we all loved it so and it was such a beautiful morning to be there. But we had to go, so we all threw kisses and farewells at all the lovely scenes along the canals as we rode to the station.

We did not have to wait at the station but boarded our train immediately. We had a compartment with Dick and Irma again and Miss Miller. The scenery was rather pretty for part of the trip to Milano, but not as pretty as what we had had before. . .

May 26. Saturday. Venice.

A day of interesting experiences. Got up early, to find sun shining brightly. Had breakfast and hurried out to get a snap of the Bridge of Sighs before we left by launch for the station.

Cook's organization had everything under control. Porters met the launch and transferred 37 pieces of baggage to our train. Another Cook's man had our compartments in the train all reserved for us and was watching for poachers.

We were off on time for Milano. . .

Photo of tour

This picture of tour members was taken in Rome a few days before the group reached Venice.
Mom and Dad are on the left. Dad has a bow tie. Mom's on his right.

The way back home