Tag Archives: Venice

Secret passages we’ve found

I brought my stool to draw the church, but got distracted by this door!

We’ve been keeping our eyes open and exploring sottoportegos along our paths. These are covered passages between buildings, which we have found lead us to surprising places.

The first one I remember was several years ago when I ducked out of the rain at Campo Santa Margherita and met PeggySue, from Massachusetts, who was also seeking shelter. We connected and became Facebook friends and even had a visit from her in California recently.

The mysterious tower that is always closed to the public, but advertises its hours in case it is open!

I can’t take credit for discovering this interesting tower, through a sottoportego, off Campo Manin. A friend showed it to me in 2010 and then another friend showed it to me last year, and when we were wandering with friends this year, we remembered and took them in to see it. It is the scala Contarini del Bovolo, a cylindrical brick tower with five floors of spiral staircases faced with white marble banisters, built in 1499. Here is a picture. Tour guides have discovered it too, so we were lucky to get there between groups. Perhaps you saw it featured in one of Gabriana’s videos from our trip recently?

Near our apartment is Campo Bandiera e Moro o de la Bragora where we recently enjoyed an outdoor evening celebration of the autumnal equinox. See Gabriana’s blog Nosy Parker for beautiful videos of that celebration. There are two ways to get to our street from the campo. We can either walk the long way around or sneak through a sottoportego and end up almost next door to where we live! The drawing I made of a door that I liked in the campo is at the top of this post.

A window over the sottoportego with a flower box. What could this room look like?

We were pleased with ourselves when we followed another sottoportego and found a shortcut to the vaporetto Arsenale. We had been walking a more complicated route to the stop at San Marco. This new way even has ramps instead of stairs to cross the bridge! When we get on the waterbus there, it is less crowded and we can more easily get seats. Yesterday on the way home, I looked up and found a charming window garden ON the sottoportego. If you look closely, you can see flowers. I stopped to take this photo, and caught Gabriana enjoying her gelato.

We were in the alley after the sottoportego.

And I just remembered, to get to the taverna and our campiello (little campo, or courtyard) by land last year, you had to go through a sottoportego and and alley. Here is a picture of Gabriana, Abby and me sharing an umbrella one day there last year.

During that trip last year, we met Severine and Marcel, who worked at our favorite taverna, Taverna al Remer. We became Facebook friends and have kept in touch. They took us out for dinner at a bar that Marcel had just discovered… at the end of a sottoportego. Here are some pictures. It was very charming inside, with bottles lining the walls and expensive cologne in the “toilette.” I especially liked the hanging laundry over the doorway to the bar. You can see more details if you click on this photo collage I created below.

Several views of this lovely hidden bar

Several views of this lovely hidden bar

Please also check out Gabriana’s blog “Nosy Parker” to read more about our travel adventures in Venice and join in the fun with some short videos she’s created!

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Old ladies love us!

We seem to have an affinity for old ladies and they for us. We opened our front door one day and greeted an old Venetian woman walking by with her shopping cart with “Buongiorno.” She stopped, surprised, and asked us in Italian if she knew us. We said no, that we were just friendly. She smiled and came over to talk to us. She was born in Venice and had children and grandchildren here. We chatted awhile. She seemed very happy for the encounter. We’ll probably see her again in the neighborhood. Perhaps she’ll stop by for another chat. There is a small “supermarket” across the street where she was headed. I put this in quotes because I was introduced to a real supermarket just around the corner that we will probably use for purchases other than produce.

We were at a concert with our friend Bruno and an old woman was sitting next to him. She engaged us in conversation before and at the end and was just delightful. She was very interested in Abby. During the concert was was a man singing whose voice sounded like a woman’s. I kept watching him and pairing the sound with the movement of his mouth. At first I thought it must be a duet and I just couldn’t see the woman from where I was sitting. We were in pews at the side of the church. We didn’t know you needed a reservation, but we were able to convince them to let us in. (Gabriana is good that way.) The woman told us that a man singing with a woman’s voice was a special thing here and that it took a lot of muscles in your neck and chest. When she said goodbye, she called Gabriana “cara,” which we remember fondly. We walked out together and expressed our delight with each other, kissing on both cheeks, the charming custom here.

We met two Australian women at SoSu gelato and when they seemed confused by the variety, we helped them decide which gelato to order. We told them our favorites. They thanked us outside where we were leaning against the building enjoying our treat. We never make it too far away! They were going to get on a cruise, but were sopping up as much culture as they could before leaving, unlike their cruise mates who they complained only wanted to shop. They told us about the opera nearby they were going to see. We went by afterwards to check on it for ourselves. They also loved Abby and said they missed their dogs at home.

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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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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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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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Miscellaneous Venetian musings

It’s Saturday afternoon and I’m noticing the different rhythms on the Gran Canal. During the week there are many barges picking up garbage, and loading and unloading building materials and boxes. The labels on the boxes remind me of UPS labels. And they are all the same. On Saturday there only seem to be pleasure boats: many gondole, rowboats, a singing crew that sounded like a choir. (We wondered how they found so many crew members with good voices. Oh, I forgot. I’m in Venice, where everyone sings!), water taxis, water buses (called vaporetti and traghettos), motorboats and speed boats. Everyone goes at a pretty slow pace except the ambulance and police boats. It is surprising to see such sudden speed when everything is just humming along. This whole scene is a view that never tires me.

I love to sit on my tiny balcony or in the window seat and wave to the people passing by on gondole. I’ve even been the subject of some photos as they go by. I waved to a gondolier today and he mouthed “Ciao” to me. Quite cute.

Ristorante Da Raffaele

Two nights ago we were all awakened by a wide boat trying to go down the narrow canal alongside our apartment (which feeds into the Gran Canal) and scraping as it went.

Da Raffaele Grilled Fish Presentation

Friday night we had the most wonderful meal at Ristorante Da Raffaele thanks to our Venetian friend (and local university professor) Shaul. The restaurant owner, Renato, came to our table throughout the meal to see how we were doing. Gabriana told him it was the best gnocchi in her life! All the other people at the tables enjoyed her enthusiasm! Lucky for me, our temporary houseguest Hannah joined me in the mixed seafood platter (lots of yummy shellfish). It was all so amazingly fresh and grilled to perfection. They even brought little glasses of our favorite wine (Moscato di Asti) with the delectable desserts! The atmosphere, the food, the people… it was all so wonderful.

Me, Renato and Gabriana (L to R)

After dinner we saw that there was an open store called La Ricerca nearby that looked interesting. This is an understatement. It was one of the rare true Venetian stores where the owner, Allesandro, is an artist and the other things he carries are made by friends of his. The shop featured handmade leather items, including wonderful masks, book covers, stationery, book marks, and many things covered with swirled paper and bits of maps.

Allessandro and his wonderful graphic map of Venice

We noticed a poster of Venice and he came over and explained each tiny part. He was a wonderful story teller. He said the poster was his idea, but he commissioned an artist to do the drawings. We got one and are trying to figure out on which wall we can study it most closely at home. If you live near us you are welcome to come and see this fascinating poster (pictured behind Allessandro in the photo at the right).

Allessandro was closing his shop so he walked us home. We had gotten lost on the way there so it was very welcome. He regaled us with stories all the way home. And he invited us to his workshop where he works on leather.

Cabanas at Lido Beach, Venice

We saw Elisa, my landlady from two years ago, and went to the island of Lido. It has a beautiful stretch of beach. This picture shows how it is different from California beaches. People rent these little cabanas for the summer season. The same people rent year after year and it is very sociable when everyone is there. We were there the day after the season closed. We walked way down the beach, away from all the crowd, and swam by ourselves in the water, which was warm and very refreshing!

We went on the tour of the island of San Servolo, led by Elisa’s niece, Giovanna. I had  been to her wedding two years ago, so it was nice to see her again. The island was beautiful. I can see why it was recommended.

Gardens at San Servolo

The tour was of the main building, which houses an international university now, but had been a convent and then a mental hospital that seemed more like a torture chamber. The artifacts and the images were very disturbing and we all had trouble sleeping that night.

There is so much more to tell, but I’m sure you are getting tired. I will write more later.

PS: Please also follow Gabriana’s blog, Nosy Parker, to read more about our Venetian adventures: www.nosyparkerblog.blogspot.com. All the 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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