SHOTOld entrance to VeniceBy Georgia Benson...

MY BEST

February 21, 1999

MY BEST SHOT

Old entrance to Venice

By Georgia Benson, Timonium

Lunch at al Todaro in Venice guarantees an afternoon of boat- and people-watching near the columns that once marked the main entrance to Venice from the sea. You might see a small wedding procession emerge from a nearby building, the bride managing a long white train, the groom in black tails, followed by a photographer and one attendant carrying a large bouquet. They sail along the crowded walk, San Giorgio Maggiore a shimmering backdrop across the waters of the Bacino San Marco. Venice remains eccentric and mysterious, worthy of a lifelong obsession.

MY FAVORITE PLACE

Rushing through Russia

Kerstin Czarra

Special to the Sun

I got out of the van and looked across the vast, white blanket with 40-mph winds blowing the snow into a transparent whirling dervish. "What are we going to do here?" I asked. Then two mythic-sized native Suzdal men showed us inside and handed us a pile of winter clothing. They motioned for us to put it on. I looked at the red skiing bib that I'd been given. It looked like something out of an extreme-sports movie.

Thirty minutes later, I was grateful for every inch of man-made material Vlad had handed to me. It was 40 degrees below at 50 mph. My friend Kristan had decided to drive. We wound through the valley of Suzdal, a 15th-century village three hours northeast of Moscow on the snow-mobiles. It was pitch black. With the headlight of Sergei's snowmobile to illuminate our path, we whizzed through acres and acres of quiet rolling hills. It was the most exciting 70 minutes of my life. Whizzing by a windmill built in 1465 on a 1997 neon green snowmobile. This is Russia.

Although Suzdal is a summer retreat to many Muscovites, thanks to the Kl'azma River nearby, winter doesn't shut the town down. At the Hotel GTK, snowmobiles are for rent by the hour or day.

As we skimmed along, I felt like an agent in a James Bond film. Sergei and Vlad, the handsome guides, outfitted us with everything we needed: boots, bib, jacket, gloves and helmet. And we didn't worry about getting stuck. When our friend Diane was slowed up by a small embankment, Sergei walked over and lifted the snowmobile out of the snow like he was lifting a tissue.

Kristan and I were transported back to fourth grade and neighborhood sleigh rides. "Faster, faster, whoooo!" we screamed. As we stopped every 20 minutes to make sure the group was still together, our guides just looked at us and shook their heads. Every "Top Gun" image they had about Americans and danger was being illustrated right before their eyes.

Our enthusiasm paid off. We returned to the hotel, still feeling the rush from the ride, and were told through our interpreter that Sergei and Vlad were impressed with our speed. We were invited to partake in the local version of the martini. We stepped outside and drank a shot of vodka in the bracing air.

After the drink and snowmobiling Suzdal at night, we didn't even notice the cold.

Kerstin Czarra lives in Baltimore.

JUST BACK FROM...

Key West, Fla.

Diane and Lawrence Macklin, Pikesville

"My husband and I just returned from gorgeous Key West. This picture was taken in Mallory Square where everyone gathers to watch the sunset each night. There are street performers, entertainers and craft vendors. It is truly something to remember! We took a ferry to the private island of Sunset Key and dined under the stars with a perfect view of the ocean at a lovely restaurant called Latitudes -- one of the most romantic places I've ever dined."

LET US HEAR FROM YOU

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* Give us your best shot -- a terrific travel photo with a description of when and where you took it. In-clude your name and phone number along with the print. (Cash value: $50)

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Send by fax to 410-783-2519, or write to: Travel Department, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278.

Pub Date: 02/21/99

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