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Our delightful first days

DSC_0355_3We’ve been here for a few days. Abby is a big hit, putting it mildly. Every few steps we take, someone stops us and comments on the dog. Fellow travelers or Venetians, it doesn’t matter. Many tell us they have Bostons at home or have grown up with them. Many tell us about their dogs, and even share photos. Everyone wants to pet her! The first night this repeated so often while we’d actually been looking for a place to eat that Gabriana laughed and commented that we might starve out of friendliness! But we really didn’t mind. Abby is so loveable and it’s nice to see that we aren’t the only ones who think so.

Just as we were getting home, we ran into Mario, a Venetian guy we had seen earlier who’d asked us about Abby’s breed, a rarity in Venice. We hadn’t realized that he is our neighbor. He said he lives in our same building, but faces the street behind us. This time he was with the Cavalier King Charles cocker spaniel he had told us about. We talked about getting together again, and he will call us when he returns from a 10-day trip to Paris.

Gabriana and John looking out the window

We met a nice couple also from the San Francisco Bay Area. They were staying at the Hilton Hotel on the island of Giudecca, a short boat ride away. They told us about their dogs and how they missed them and about a great happy hour at the hotel every day and suggested we join them sometime. When we got home, we already had an email from them, inviting us to join them the next day.

After several adventures, including rushing to catch the shuttle boat they were going to meet, getting in a ragged line with people crowding ahead, having the guy letting people on the boat put his arm down right in front me, saying “fini” (the next boat was leaving in an hour), rushing to find a vaporetto (water bus) and fighting for the last seat in the outside section after being literally SHOVED aside by an extremely rude young woman. We finally found them and the happy hour. After lots of laughs and fun conversations, we were the last to leave.  Then they showed us the beautiful Grand Canal view from their room. We hadn’t seen Venice from such a high point of view before. We were all spellbound for a while. Here is a picture of Gabriana and John hanging out their window enjoying the view.

Jude loves Mela Verde gelatoLater that night Cindy said she wanted gelato. So, even though we had already had some during the day, we all took the boat back to Venice and set out to find a good place that was open. We are very fussy about where to get “good” gelato. Along the way we all admired the beautiful Piazza San Marco. We stood for a while staring up at the intricately carved sculptures and marveled at the years it must have taken to create and build. We also enjoyed the several dueling orchestras playing to diners at the outdoor tables. The piazza (square) is much less crowded at night and so much more enjoyable. We were not disappointed at Fantasy gelato! I’ll write more later about our gelato standards with some recommendations.

Also, please check out my daughter Gabriana’s blog on our adventures, including some short videos from our trip!

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Returning to Venice!

On our way into Venice from the airport!  I'm kinda happy.

On our way into Venice from the airport! I’m kinda happy.

Well hello again,

I did so well on my trip to Venice last year that we are going again. In fact, I was rejuvenated. After several MRIs this past summer to check on a bothersome growth, the last one showed no change, and I don’t have to have another MRI this month! We were approved, and actually encouraged, to travel again. No question where I wanted to go. So we are in the final stages of departure.

Again we are taking Abby, our medical service dog. Gabriana is busy doing all the paperwork to take her, including driving to San Francisco to bring some papers. I’m glad we live relatively close. I think this office serves  lot of cities.

I packed what I thought I would take. Now I’m being ruthless and trying to eliminate as much as I can. I keep thinking of what it feels like to have too much stuff there. I’m branching out into brighter colors and that feels good. I’ve hidden away my purples and turquoise for too long.

I would like to do some sketching, but travelers are discouraged from sitting anywhere. There are crudely handwritten warning signs posted over tempting seats. I found at a 3-legged stool to stick in my bag or sling over my shoulder. I saw some artists last year who could sit ANYWHERE they liked and that idea stayed with me.

I’m also taking it easy packing. Last year I did too much at one time and did too much lifting to try out the weight. It’s no wonder that I had terrible pains in my side during the trip.

Now I’m working on my “amazements.” This is the word my daughter, Gabriana, used when she was a little girl and was packing her amusements for a trip. It was so cute, I didn’t have the heart to correct her. Now we laugh, but we still use that expression.

What will I want to do for a month when I have down time? And what is easy to carry? I have some books I want to read, but they are hard cover. I can just hear you saying, “What about a Kindle?” But that just seems like one more gadget to bring and I can get Kindle on my laptop and my iPhone. The flight attendant last year was appalled when she saw me reading on my iPhone and INSISTED that it was not good for my eyes and shamed me into stopping. ] I love to do extreme Sudoku, so I plan to print up a bunch for the month. I just have to force myself not to start them now. I’ve already packed my watercolor art supplies, so that is covered.

Since I haven’t finished my Pimsleur Italian lessons, I will probably do that and then try out the conversations the next day. I have a bone to pick with the authors. When “Mr. and Mrs.” Smith and all other couples have a conversation about what they are going to buy, the wife ALWAYS asks the husband for money and he always comment on whether what she wants to buy seems too expensive. Then he throws in the kicker and tells her to buy only un capello (hat), no due (two!) I continue my lesson after I have done some screaming.

Update: we arrived yesterday and are in our glory! Gabriana has written a post about our arrival on her blog, Nosy Parker, along with a short video of the water taxi ride into the city. More to come, after we have had some gelato! This time we are in Castello, a different neighborhood than all of my trips before, so we have new places to explore. It’s fun to hear Italian conversations outside our window. We are right on the street.

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I OPEN SOME TIME

When I was in Venice in 2010 I saw a sign on a shop window that delighted me:

When I was there in 2012 I wanted to go back to the same store to show Gabriana and Diane the funny sign. I guess they had had too many complaints. But they still needed to put in a little twist. What stores open at 12:20? This is what we found:

And this is completely ignoring the Venetian custom of closing during the midday for lunch. Diane had her own ideas about what kind of store this was. I thought they either looked like great Burning Man attire or clothes that an old friend from The Well, Howard Rheingold, would wear. Here are some pictures I took of the inside in 2010. You can make your own guess about the clientele.

I took the 2010 pictures and the 2012 pictures were taken by Gabriana Marks and Diane Rauchwerger. I thank them for their good eyes and fresh viewing of Venice!

PLease follow Gabriana’s blog

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Alessandro’s workshop and a baby named Charlie

Today we contacted Alessandro again. We had met him on the night we ate at Da Raffaela a few weeks ago and he said he would take us to his workshop. On the way, it was chilly, so I stopped and bought a black cardigan sweater at United Colors of Benetton. It’s so much easier to do things like this when you are walking and pass the store. We didn’t have to drive there and find a parking place. We just stepped into the store, found it on the shelf and bought it. Of course, I did try it on first!

By the time we called Alessandro, he was ready to go for lunch. So we did the same. We weren’t hungry enough for a regular restaurant, but we didn’t want to buy a sandwich from a vendor and then have to find a place to sit in the shade and then find (and pay for) a toilet afterward. I didn’t know there were in-between places. We found a “snack restaurant” and could buy sandwiches and sit at an outdoor table; when I asked the waiter if he had any other kind of meat besides ham then he informed me huffily: “This is not a restaurant, madam.” It has become one of our favorite lines to repeat to each other for a good laugh, along with “This is a church. Do not behave indecently.” along with a sign Gabriana spotted in Verona that said “NO SALES ASSISTANCE,” which seems to really spell out the customer service vibe in many stores here.

Another one of our favorites was a sign on the front door of a store we saw (that I had seen on the last trip) said “We open some time.” It happened to be open and we went into a store filled with what looked like Burning Man costumes with huge suit jackets painted with crazy designs and fit for black light. I could not picture anyone from Venice wearing any of the merchandise! Even during carnival!

As we were sitting and having our lunch we noticed a young father and his baby at a table nearby. His wife was also at the table, along with each of their mothers. We couldn’t take our eyes off the father and his baby; he was holding him and kissing him and walking with him and singing to him. It was really dear to see. So, of course, we stopped by on our way out and told him how much we enjoyed watching him with his baby. Diane and I couldn’t remember our fathers behaving that way and we told him. He assured us that “all dads love their babies like this! They just might not show it.” And he said how beautiful he thought his baby is. He was from Brazil and his wife was from Slovakia and their baby’s name is Charlie. I told him that I had a friend named Charlie.  Here is a picture of a dearly-loved Charlie and his doting father.

Charlie and his loving father

The happy family

When we finally found our way to Alessandro’s again, he took us to his workshop a few blocks away. He had big machines that did the cutting and pressing. It’s really a place where they cut all the leather and papers and make all the books. He said his father makes the marbleized papers at home. We saw the bookmark cutter shaped like a ferro and he asked us to each choose which color of leather we would like. Diane and I each got shiny turquoise and Gabriana got pink suede. Then he took the large poster of Venice that he created and cut all the bookmarks from it. He used the cutting machine and the mold for the bookmark. He had molds for all the shapes he cut. We each chose which bookmarks we wanted to bring home as gifts. It means so much to have seen the whole process.

I would really love to know who is reading this blog. Please make comments, however long or short. I like to get a feel for who I’m talking to. It truly feels like you are along on the trip with us and makes us want to share more!

And please also follow Gabriana’s blog, Nosy Parker, to read more about our Venetian adventures: www.nosyparkerblog.wordpress.com

The pictures were taken by Gabriana Marks, Diane Rauchwerger and me.

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Burano

On Burano we had a lovely time enjoying the lace, scarves, and wonderfully colored houses and flowers in pots decorating each house. From the front, each house looked pretty small. The front doors were right on the street with all of us gawkers walking by. To offset this, each house has a flapping piece of cloth hanging over the door. This gives privacy and air. And the cloth is coordinated with the house colors–a very beautiful sight.

A two-tone blue with lovely flowers in the window

We were trying to figure out how a whole island of colorful houses could exist, each a bright, maybe even clashing color to its neighbor. There were NO pastels. Our trip mate Diane, came up with her version of the dialogue: The first person painted his house a really bright color. The next person saw it and said, That’s a good idea, but it’s not MY color. So he painted it a different color. And that is how she thinks it started.

A neighborhood

Another wild neighborhood

We saw one rebel house. It was pure white, with no flowers in front and no hanging flap. A white house seemed so weird in that setting. The other thing we noticed was that some of the two-tone houses were painted with tape put down first to make clean lines. But there were many that seemed to be painted freehand. It just added to the atmosphere! It seemed almost whimsical to us, but when I talked to people on my last visit to Burano, they took it very seriously.

I would really love to know who is reading this blog. Please make comments, however long or short. I like to get a feel for who I’m talking to. It truly feels like you are along on the trip with us and makes us want to share more!

And please also follow Gabriana’s blog, Nosy Parker, to read more about our Venetian adventures: http://www.nosyparkerblog.wordpress.com

All the pictures were taken by my tripmate Diane Rauchwerger.

 

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Another Venice… plus Murano

One day Elisa came and got us and we all made our way to the San Marco vaporetto stop. When I say “made our way,” I mean Elisa took us every which way on all the back roads, the ones Venetians use, to avoid the crowds and get to the vaporetto. I exclaimed to her that we were going all the back roads, and she corrected me and said that this WAS the way! It was fun to be let in on how Venetians deal with all the crowds.

Glass Art Display on Murano

You wouldn’t believe the numbers of people strolling on all the roads with stores or leading to famous places in Venice. We emerge from our quiet little “alley” and immediately have to merge with the crowd; I have never seen so many people on the street before. Picture the crowd leaving a sporting event and streaming back to their cars. This is what it is like, but crowded onto narrow little streets filled with people, strollers, umbrellas, etc.

We have taken to noticing the small roads that lead off the main streets. There we have found another Venice: Restaurants that serve wonderful food for a fraction of the cost, stores and bars that cater to natives, and room to breathe as you are walking. The bars here don’t just serve alcohol.  They serve food too, and people of all ages eat at them.

I had been thinking that I needed a belt, but hadn’t been searching. We looked into a window and saw a shoemaker working on something in the back of the shop. He had an odd assortment of things that he made, besides being the local shoemaker. There were shelves of the shoes he was working on, which I noticed as he led me back through the shop to a mirror to see my belt. His only mirror was the one in his “toilette.” Clearly it was not a retail shop. He gave us his card, which only had a Venetian address: the sestiere (district) and number. When we looked like  we wanted more, he took the card back and stamped more information on the back.  Still no street name though, which he hand wrote on the back of the card so we could find his shop again.

We found his shop on our way home from an island trip to Murano. We arrived  early one afternoon and called Mattio, the glassblower we met on a boat outside our window. He had just bought the boat docked in front of our apartment. When we found out that he was a glassblower, we asked if we could come and visit his glass furnace in Murano. When we called, he said they were finished for the day. They work from 7 am to 2, but they were already cleaning up then. He invited us back the next day.

We set our alarms and left the apartment around 9 am. We were lucky to get a boat right away. We called and Mattio sent one of the workers to get us and we wound around to the furnace on a back street. It was fascinating to see all the steps involved. It is a family operation. He and his brother Marco, blow glass and make the small pieces. Their father, Davide, makes fantastic large museum pieces. Their mother blows glass too and does other odd jobs and bookkeeping, including wrapping pieces for shipping. There were others there too, including an American woman named Shelley who is collaborating with Davide on a large piece. She and her husband are staying in an apartment on the premises. We will keep in touch with her through Facebook.

Here are some pictures from our glassworks visit:

Mattio showing us one of his father’s creations and explaining the process with his hands

Marco with his glass

Here is the American woman, Shelley, who is collaborating with Davide

Davide, Gabriana, Mattio, Giuditta, Diane

Mattio told us about how he ended up there. He and his brother had wanted to get as far away as they could from the family business. They had helped as children, but each made different plans for a future. Mattio went to law school and his brother  studied languages and traveled all over the world. At one point, Mattio dropped out of law school because he wasn’t interested and returned temporarily to the family business. Then he really got into it and now is very happy. His brother was needed at one time and he was between trips. He also came temporarily, but is there and is very happy.

They called their father “Davide” out of respect as the glass master and owner of the business. When we told Davide how much we loved his work, he hugged his son and said that HE was his best work. Then he hugged me too. It was very nice.

While we were on Murano the first day, we walked around and saw all the shops. We found one where the guy was using glass rods and a torch to make small glass pieces in the shop. He and his brother own shops next door to each other. We met Bernardino first and got some things from him. Then he told us about his brother next door, Giorgio, who was using the glass rods and offered to demonstrate for us. Gabriana asked him if he could make a figure that looked like Abby. He got out the appropriate colored rods and 15 minutes later, we had a tiny figure of Abby!

Here is the final product of glass Abby!

On the second day we were on Murano we went to the glass museum. We loved the pieces from the first and second centuries. There were tiny pitchers and vases. After seeing various glass methods, we couldn’t figure out how these pieces were made.

This is getting long, but I have to share two funny signs we saw. One was in the window of a dress shop: “Cheaply Fashion & Chic” and the other was in a church: “This is a church. Do not behave indecently.” That last one gave us a lots of giggles and we wondered what had happened to make them spell out that rule!

Giorgio and a necklace of his that I chose

I would really love to know who is reading this blog. Please make comments, however long or short. I like to get a feel for who I’m talking to. It truly feels like you are along on the trip with us and makes us want to share more!

And please also follow Gabriana’s blog, Nosy Parker, to read more about our Venetian adventures: www.nosyparkerblog.blogspot.com.  All the  pictures were taken by my daughter, Gabriana.

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Our Amazing Campiello (Courtyard)!

Besides housing a very well known,  popular and excellent restaurant, Taverna al Remer, (http://www.alremer.com/) our campiello has offered us many interesting events. In the first picture below, you can see our door on the far left. The stairway goes to the apartments upstairs and the taverna is  behind the archway on the right. Today is Wednesday and the taverna is closed. Usually there are tables set up in front.

Campiello Del Remer

The second picture shows our front door on the right and the dock on the Gran Canal. You can see the vaparetto station across the canal (yellow building in front of the arches). The arches are next to the Rialto fish and vegetable market.

Our dock

On one of our first days, a wedding party arrived at the dock in a water taxi to take pictures and have some champagne before returning to their reception. We went outside to see what was happening. They immediately welcomed us to the “party” and everyone wanted to talk to us and pet Abby. The bride was wearing a beautiful classic simple long gown and the bridesmaids all wore gowns of a pale grey. She was American and the groom was British. They were living in Australia. There were five photographers with them who posed the bride in very formal poses (it seemed endless). We waved goodbye as they took off in their water taxi. Here are some pictures from this adventure.

Bride and Groom

Bridesmaids

Groomsmen

The next day we looked out the window of our living room and saw a wedding taking place right against our window. We could see the shaking hands of the bride as she said her vows. She was wearing a beautiful short dress and was surrounded by all her guests. They also had treats from the taverna. That seemed to be their reception.

Today we heard some clapping and we looked out to see what was up. A couple was standing at the end of the dock and people were gathered around. Lots of kissing followed and shaking of hands. We were too curious for words. Gabriana opened the window and shouted the obvious question to them. The guy shouted back that he had just proposed. We clapped and shouted congratulations.

One night as we were arriving home, we saw a bachelorette party taking place. They were all wearing pink ears and tails. They greeted us as we walked by. Another happy occasion.

Now to tell you about this amazing taverna. A few days ago, it was getting late and we were hungry. I didn’t feel up to going out for food. I said I would eat whatever my trip mates found, thinking they would bring back some sort of sandwich. I expected them to be gone for awhile. Instead, after about 4 minutes they returned with big smiles on their faces! They had gone into the taverna to see what they had. Evidently the server had noticed us in the campiello and asked if we would like to have the food delivered rather than wait to take it home! So Gabriana and Diane came back and set a beautiful dining room table with special table mats and candles and a little while later the sweet server, Severine, came to our door with a feast, which she brought to our lovely table. Here she is bringing us joy.

Our server, Severine

Our taverna dinner

I especially liked the grilled tuna steak. She made several trips and brought us wine and bread. When she came to take away the dishes, we ordered two of their lovely desserts. This time the manager and the server came in to bring the desserts and to wish us well. After we finished the two desserts, we ordered another because it was so good.

Our dessert

Here is a picture of me showing our gratitude to our server.

Thanking Severine for bringing us such a lovely meal!

The next night we took Abby outside and the manager was outside in the campiello having a smoke. He came right over to us for a chat. Tonight, Monday, we weren’t very hungry, so we turned to our “personal chefs” at the taverna. They just brought us food, and when Gabriana and Diane went to order the dessert, the bartender asked if we had tried the tiramisu. When they said no, the manager said he would throw in a tiramisu to our dessert order and wouldn’t charge us! We’ve continued going back and are making our way through their menu. Another day has passed.

Diane and I went into the taverna on our way to explore the city. The manager, Vincenzo, had told us that it used to be a warehouse for rowing supplies. He said that “remer” meant rowing. They were happy to see us and showed us around. Tonight Gabriana went to see them and make some arrangements. The bartender made her a cocktail “on the house” and the staff asked her to join them for drinks after they close the taverna.

We are continuing our adventures, which I’ll tell you about in the next installment.

I am feeling much better this week than last. I was having some stomach and back problems and needed a lot of rest. But because our apartment is right on the Gran Canal, I could be inside and still enjoy fully all the water life of Venice. It’s a never-ending show and parade.

PS: Please also follow Gabriana’s blog, Nosy Parker, to read more about our Venetian adventures: www.nosyparkerblog.wordpress.com The first two pictures were taken by me. All the other photos in this post were taken by my daughter, Gabriana. And please, as always, we LOVE your comments and suggestions and encouragement. It truly feels like you are along on the trip with us and makes us want to share more!

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