Tag Archives: wandering

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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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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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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A little serendipity

Hello everyone! We are finally in Venice. We arrived midday on Wednesday. We broke the trip up into three sections, to give us time to rest in between. Gabriana arranged for carts to pick us up each time so I wouldn’t have to walk very far. We had the nicest cart driver in Charlotte, North Carolina. She was originally from Sacramento, CA, and when we asked her how she ended up in Charlotte, she told us about a website called findyourspot.com. She and her husband answered all the questions and the result was Charlotte. She said they’ve been there 6 years and are very happy, except for the sticky summer heat when they prefer to return to California.

Everyone loved Abby (and she loved everyone too). We were even able to upgrade on one leg of the trip because of her! She was so well behaved on the trip that people were surprised there was a dog board.

We are delighted with our apartment! Our living room faces the Gran Canal. Sitting on any of the couches gives us a view of all the water traffic. We wave to the gondoliers and they wave back. One shouted “Ciao bella” to Gabriana and blew kisses as he went around the corner to the canal on the side of our apartment. We also wave to the passengers and they are so delighted to be on the gondolas, and we too are so delighted to be there, that we have lovely wave-fests.

We got a recommendation from some neighbors about a good restaurant for the first night. It was just around the corner. The kitchen was in a building, but the seating was outdoors and across the way, at tables under umbrellas. It kept raining during the meal and we wondered how they were going to deliver the food. We looked up and saw a rather large waiter holding a big umbrella, with a silly grin on his face, protecting the food. The waiters all came around to talk to us and Abby. We ordered a creme brulee for dessert and were talking about how the creme was so light and just the right amount of sweetness. One of the waiters told us that our waiter was also the baker and that he had made the creme brulee. He was so happy to hear how much we liked it.

We have had some serendipity visit us. One morning we were talking to the guy who owns the motorboat parked in front of our apartment. He was telling us all about renting a motorboat, which Gabriana wants to do. He told us he had just finished delivering a glass piece with the boat and that he and his brother are glassblowers on Murano. We exclaimed that we wanted to go to Murano to see that and he offered to take us on a tour of his glassworks, which is not open to the public. He gave us his phone number to call when we want to come.

We met Elisa, my former landlady (and friend) for a “spritz” yesterday afternoon. It was lovely to catch up. When I asked her about her family (whom I met last time at her niece’s wedding) she said her niece was leading tours on the island of San Servolo. We had been told to be sure to see this by several people. Elisa said she would take us there and her niece would lead us on a tour!

We are feeling very lucky and happy. I told my tripmates about the Italian saying “Dolce far niente,” which means “it is sweet to do nothing.” During the hot part of the day, we are learning first hand how to do that, and getting a wonderful rest.

We had a gondola ride tonight. We had some recommendations from a friend for gondoliers who wouldn’t rip us off. The first one we talked to was Giovanni. He wasn’t working today and we wanted to go tonight. He and Gabriana had such a lovely conversation that he gave us an open invitation to have drinks with him and his wife on the island of Giudecca. We took a vaporetto (water bus) to get to where we had arranged to meet a gondolier for tonight. We went along the Gran Canal and saw the beautiful, ornate and varied buildings against the sunset along the way. I turned to Gabriana and noticed she was crying a bit. I asked her why and she said that it was so beautiful and that she just now got why I wanted to come here so badly and she thanked me for pursuing this dream. I was very touched.
PS: Please also follow Gabriana’s blog, Nosy Parker, to read more about our Venetian adventures: www.nosyparkerblog.blogspot.com. 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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Come along on some of my wanderings

I have a lot of things saved up to share with you. So come along. I’ll do the walking and you can just enjoy. My pedometer read 21,389 steps two days ago!

I’ve heard some funny bits of conversation while I’ve been here.

Earlier this week I took a lovely ride on the vaporetto to Lido and was waiting for my friend, Iva, at the station. A mother and her child got off the vaporetto and started walking toward the street ahead. The child yelled (in English) “Mama, look! They have streets now! It’s not Venice anymore!”

A few weeks ago after it rained, there were puddles on the streets. A grandmother and her granddaughter approached one and the little girl got giddy. As she approached the puddle her grandmother shouted,  “Non andare mezzo del acqua! Non andare mezzo del acqua!”(Don’t walk in the middle of the water.) The little girl did not hesitate and stamped right through the puddle.

I read a description of acqua alta that really fits. Someone was saying that acqua alta isn’t a sudden flood, like some people think. The water doesn’t just rush from out of nowhere. It’s like a bathtub slowly overfilling.

An image that sticks in my mind from Bologna: A guy riding a bicycle with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, singing.

A cannonball was shot at this church on August 6, 1849 and is still lodged in the wall, and marked with the date. A peace treaty was signed on that day, but I don’t know how the cannonball relates to that.

I thought it was interesting to see how supplies were brought in a boat and loaded into this storeroom. It looks like a handy operation.

When I was waiting at the vaporetto stop I saw a sad sign. Someone had gone to a lot of trouble to create a nice ad for babysitting, and no one had even torn off one of the slips with the phone number. When Iva arrived, I showed it to her and we thought about tearing one off so when the person came by to check, she would feel better about her effort. We didn’t do it. We didnt’ want to give her false hope.

As we were going along the walkway from the vaporetto stop to Iva’s school, we saw something that looked out of place. For three reasons. This was a really fancy hotel. Best Western? Italy?

I guess it shouldn’t have surprised me. I saw one near Piazza San Marco a few days before.

I was trying to find Piazza San Marco and I was glad to see that someone had left bread crumbs.

And more:

When I got within sight, I decided it wasn’t worth it.

I know I’ve made a big deal about how fresh Grom gelato is and how interesting Alaska gelato is. In my wanderings, and maybe because I was missing the taste of peanuts, I saw this gelato place and ordered and was NOT disappointed. I have retraced my steps several times since so I can find it easily when the peanut craving returns.  It’s on a tiny street off Campo San Bartolomeo, opposite one of my favorite stores, Promod. It didn’t taste like peanut butter, but another kind of wonderful mixture of peanuts.

When acqua alta comes, people say to be careful of the salt water. If you are wearing regular shoes, the salt can ruin them. My boots got soaked in the rain, but that was just annoying, not disastrous. This is the way that people protect their wooden doors.

This guy was grazing in the garden of Palazzo Albrizzi, where I have gone several times with Elisa and her friends to hear some wonderful free concerts.

I had seen these in the window one night when I was searching for an open bakery for bread and didn’t have time to stop. I went back a few days later and purchased this giant confection called Baci in Gondola, kisses in a gondola. I put my cellphone in the picture so you could see how large this was. It was meringue with chocolate between the two parts.

I went to the island of Giudecca one day a few weeks ago and had lunch at a restaurant overlooking the Giudecca canal. I had heard about someone who had created a houseboat out of a vaporetto, so after lunch I started searching. I finally found it at the far end of the large Rio del Ponte Longo. I could see that it was a boat on the #2 line, since they kept some signage on the boat. It was so charming. I hung out a little while in case they came home so I could ask to see the inside. No luck. Here are some pictures.

On the way back to the vaporetto (after the houseboat that I saw, I’d much rather ride on it) I saw a man “working at home.” It gave a new meaning to the concept. And since people don’t have garages, he was working right in the street. You might have noticed by now that almost ALL the houses in Venice have these green shutters. It was nice to see that they could be given new life.

I’ve seen the sign below all over town. Always handwritten and with a bit of variation. They are telling everyone that they have received this year’s torbolin wine. It’s so refreshing to see the excitement of the wine merchants and the obvious anticipation of their customers. And it didn’t occur to anyone to make a fancy sign on a computer and put it out each year.

I saw these shoes in the window of a shop and noted that all were sleek. There were none of the giant sports shoes we are so fond of in America. I think I’ll go in the next time I see a window like this and try on a pair. I wonder if they are comfortable.

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