Outside Terminal 1 at midnight at Dubai International Airport, ready to begin another trip to Europe.
After checking in, swiping my Emirates ID through immigration and passing through security, I caught the short train ride to Concourse D.
My 2:30am flight to Moscow thankfully ontime.
My flights for the trip were all on Aeroflot flying via Sheremetyevo International Airport. Flying on Turkish Airlines via Istanbul but the price and flight schedule worked out better with Aeroflot.
Slovenia was one of my few European countries left to visit. Flights to the country from Dubai were relatively infrequent and expensive though. Venice had also been on my travel radar and with good flight options from Zagreb I settled on a six day itinerary in the three countries.
After 24 hours in Venice I would head east by train to Trieste for a night before continuing over the border into Slovenia. After a two night stay in the capital city of Ljubljana I would take a final train trip to Zagreb before flying home to Dubai.
Grabbing a quick bite to eat in the Marhaba lounge. I had planned the trip relatively last minute. I had some vacation time to use or lose and with the four day National Day weekend I added in a couple of days of leave to have a six day winter trip to Europe.
The Aeroflot 737 waiting at the gate. It had been over 2 months since my last trip so it was great to be travelling again.
Safety demonstration underway soon after boarding.
Flicking through the Russian-language only inflight magazine.
Dinner served soon after take-off. I then put on my eye-shades to get a few winks.
Arriving just after 7am to a still dark and quite cold Sheremetyevo International Airport.
And inside the main terminal after the passport and security check.
After passing on some of the generics airport cafés I opted for a wrap and coffee at Бургер Кинг (Burger King) for breakfast.
The dim morning light over the snow dusted apron.
At gate 44 for the next flight.
Captured Ukrainian sailors on the frontpage of Poccийcкая Газета (Rossiyskaya Gazeta) at the end of the jetway.
About to board the Airbus A320 for the 10:30am departure to Venice.
After pushing back we queued up to get the wings de-iced.
Rising up over the cold winter Russian snowscape.
And up above the clouds and into the blue sky.
Admiring some beautiful photos of the Kuiguk Lakes in Southern Siberia.
Orange juice served once we reached cruising altitude.
Pasta and tuna salad for lunch.
Looking down on the snow dusted Austrian Alps.
Flying over Porto Marghera as we descend on finals to Venice Marco Polo Airport.
The airport had automated passport machines and I was through immigration in only a few minutes.
After exchanging my prebooked online voucher for a proper ticket, I made the 5 minute walk to the jetty to catch the ferry to the city of Venice in the Venetian Lagoon.
About 30 minutes later I arrived in Venice at Fondamente Nove Ferry Terminal. I was staying on the southern side of the city so started to wander in the general direction of the hotel.
I was in no rush so it was great to just meander through the alleys, over the bridges and along the canals.
Despite it being low-season I was expecting alot more tourists and was great instead to see Venetians out and about in their city.
My first impressions of Venice were surprisingly good. I was expecting the city to be inundated with hordes of other tourists like my previous visit to Dubrovnik. Although far from empty, with the winter and the end of the cruise ship season the city seemed to have a nice and bearable balance with the number of visitors.
My room for my one night stay at Residenza Veneziana. Situated only 400 metres from Piazza San Marco and for only €80 a night including breakfast it was quite reasonable.
Pizzeria. I then went out to explore some more of the city.
Tasting the delicious tiramisu and caffè nero at I Tre Mercanti, a gourmet food shop in Campo de la Guerra.
A lady wading through the ankle deep waters of Piazza San Marco. Piazza San Marco is the lowest point in Venice and is hence most prone to tidal flooding. Luckily there were some platforms to walk on that had been setup to allow people to avoid the worst of the flooding.
Looking across to the Piazza with the nearby St Mark's Basilica, the Piazzetta ("little Piazza/Square"), an extension of the Piazza towards the lagoon and the Doge's Palace, which all together form the social, religious and political centre of Venice.
Walking along the Riva degli Schiavoni waterfront with some of the walking platforms visible.
Gondolas berthed in San Marco Basin with the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore top-right.
The Church of San Giorgio Maggiore is a 16th-century Benedictine church on the island of the same name.
As well as the church, San Giorgio Maggiore is home to a library, an open-air theatre and two harbours. It was not hard to see why Monet chose to produce a series of paintings of the picturesque island.
A ferry in the waters of San Marco basin just off Riva dei Sette Martiri.
Pedestrians out for a stroll on Riva degli Schiavoni.
More boats in San Marco Basin.
San Servolo, another island in the Venetian Lagoon. Formerly a military and then psychiatric hospital, it is now home to Venice International University.
Stadio Pierluigi Penzo and home ground of Venezia F.C..
Looking west with St Mark's Campanile, the bell tower of St Mark's Basilica, visible in the distance top-left.
Walking back along Riva dei Sette Martiri.
The sun beginning to set behind San Giorgio Maggiore.
The 15th century Church of San Zaccaria.
Calle Seconda de la Fava.
I had a cicchetti & wine tour in the evening booked so started to make my way to the meeting point at Campo della Maddalena in Cannaregio.
People out enjoying the evening.
The 17th century campanile (bell tower) of Santi Apostoli in Cannaregio.
It was great to just aimlessly wander through the city at dusk.
Fondamenta is a street parallel to a canal other than the Grand Canal or the lagoon (in which case they are called Riva).
At 5:15pm I met up with our guide, Beatrice, for the evening cicchetti & wine tour. Also on the tour was a lady from Canada travelling through Italy and a Slovenian lady who lived in Treviso.
After a bit of a guided walk through the city we hopped on a traghetto gondola to cross over the Grand Canal to Rialto, the heart of Venice.
Beatrice (left) was from Austria but now lived with her Italian partner in Venice. It was quite amazing to see her effortlessly switch from English to Italian considering they weren't her mother tongue.
At WEnice on Calle de le Beccarie O Panataria and about to chose our first cicchetto of the evening. Cicchetti are small snacks or side dishes that are typically served in traditional "bàcari" (cicchetti bars or osterie) in Venice.
I decided to be a little adventurous and chose the Calamari marinated in squid ink.
Our first wine of the evening, the Asolo Prosecco Superiore.
Very tasty and a great first introduction to Venetian cuisine.
Beatrice with our second cicchetto for the evening, Baccalà mantecato on toast at Cantina Do Mori. A classic Venetian dish, it is made from soaked salt cod mashed with extra virgin olive oil until smooth and fluffy.
And served with a glass of their fine Pinot Bianco. Beatrice told us that Cantina Do Mori is the oldest bacaro (tavern) in Venice and was founded in 1462.
After a short walk we arrived at our next stop, Sacro e Profano.
A small and cosy osteria, it was owned and run by two Venetian brothers.
On the menu for us this evening was a glass of the Italian La Prendina Merlot Garda along with some tasty bruschetta.
After three glasses of wine each we were quite merry but still managed to climb the steps at the historic Rialto Bridge.
Inside the bustling Bacarando in Corte dell'Orso.
And enjoying a glass of 47 Anno Domini Cabernet Franc along with a selection of cicchetti.
At our last stop of the evening at Sepa on Calle de la Bissa.
The osteria sold 1/4, 1/2 and 3/4 litres of wine by tap.
Some tasty rissotto with some of the traminer freshly poured from the tap.
And some sweet tiramisu and the Colli Euganei Fior D'Arancio to finish the night.
A really great evening and it was a fun way to see some of the 'hidden gems' of the city while enjoying some really nice wine and food.
Despite the six glasses of wine the previous evening I was able to get up at dawn to explore some more of the city to make the most of the day.
San Giorgio Maggiore in the early morning light.
Boats criss-crossing San Marco Basin.
Looking down on Piazza San Marco.
The Grand Canal centre with Giudecca Island on the left.
The magnificent Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute (Saint Mary of Health), often called simply the Salute.
Consecrated in 1681, it was built as an offering after Venice experienced a devastating outbreak of the plague.
The Grand Canal.
The district of Dorsoduro below with Giudecca Canal just to the east.
The imposing 99 metre tall Campanile di San Marco in the centre of the city. Originally constructed in 1514, it was reconstructed in 1912 after it collapsed in 1902.
Looking east along Grand Canal with the sun just below horizon.
Such a historic and picturesque city and really exceeded my expectations.
The Campanile of San Giorgio Maggiore.
The island of San Clemente in the Venetian Lagoon. Formerly a monastery and then an asylum, it is now home to the San Clemente Palace Kempinski.
A ferry and other boats in San Marco Basin.
The sun now above the horizon as the day begins.
Boats delivering food, laundry and other supplies to the city.
And back at the hotel where this delightful spread was wheeled into my room just after 8:30am.
After breakfast I went for another walk through the city. On the the steps of Rialto Bridge again.
And looking down on the Grand Canal.
Fruit and vegetables at Mercati di Rialto.
At the historic Rialto Fish Market, open since 1097.
It was great to just simply stroll along the canals and explore the city.
A souvenir Venetian mask to take home.
Ponte di Rialto.
A seagull soaring in front of the 15th century St Mark's Clocktower.
An ornate depiction of Christ at St Mark's Basilica.
A gull on a flood walking platform.
Just after 11am I checked out of the hotel and walked through the city to Stazione di Venezia Santa Lucia. Just to the right is the Church of the Scalzi.
And with my €21 ticket for the train to the city of Trieste.
The 18th century Church of San Simeone Piccolo on the other side of the Grand Canal. The next train wasn't until 12:41pm so I had a few more minutes left to spend in the picturesque city.
Inside the Church of the Scalzi (Scalzi in Italian means "barefoot").
A Calzone and an espresso for lunch at the train station cafeteria.
The Trenitalia train ready for the 12:41pm departure to Trieste.
Despite the graffiti on the exterior the interior was clean and modern.
And departing ontime as we make our way over the Ponte della Libertà that connects the islands to the mainland.
Passing green fields as we head north-east.
And arriving at Trieste Centrale just over 2 hours later.
I then headed out to Piazza della Libertà and made the short walk to my hotel for my one night stay in the city.
My cosy room at the Nuovo Albergo Centro. Although quite basic it was relatively new, clean, centrally located and for €40 per night including breakfast it was good value.
I then went out to make the most of the fading afternoon light.
Molo Audace (Audace Pier).
In 1740 the ship San Carlo sank in the port of Trieste. Instead of removing the wreck, it was decided to use it as the basis for the construction of a new pier, which was built between 1743 and 1751.
At the end of the First World War the first Italian Navy ship to enter the port of Trieste and dock at the San Carlo pier was the destroyer Audace. In 1922 the pier was renamed after the Audace in memory of the event.
After belonging to the Austrian Monarchy for over five hundred years from 1382 until 1918, the city was annexed by Italy at the end of the First World War.
Looking up the Canal Grande di Trieste with the 19th century Church of Sant'Antonio Nuovo at the far end. The canal was built between 1754-1756 so that the boats could go directly to the city center to unload and load their goods.
The Ursus, a giant 150-ton floating crane built in 1914 that is an icon of the city.
The sun beginning to set over the Gulf of Trieste.
Christmas trees lining Piazza Unità d'Italia, the city's main square. Previous visitors include Green Day, Iron Maiden, Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel.
The city's municipal building in Piazza Unità d'Italia. Just in front is the Fontana dei Quattro Continenti, built in 1754 to represent the then known four continents (Europe, Asia, America and Africa).
After resting back at my hotel I headed out to dinner at Café Continentale. An amuse-bouche of Baccalà mantecato to start.
For the first course I had the Vicidomini spaghetti with local mussels, clams and plum tomatoes.
And for the second course the delicious sauteed duck breast with wild berry sauce.
After dinner I went for a stroll around the corner to an Illy Cafè for an evening coffee. The company illycaffè was founded in 1933 in Trieste by Hungarian Francesco Illy and the company headquarters still remain in the city.
And enjoying a tasty piece of granatina cake and a marocchino at the end of day 2.