Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Other Venice

Most have seen the standard pics of Venice...St. Marks Square, gondolas, Rialto....I want to share with you the other part of Venice. There are not enough cards or batteries for my camera to capture the beauty of it all, but this should give you an idea.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Women's Lib

While I do believe that women should get equal pay for the work they do, I am not one to go overboard and insist that a woman could and should do every job a man does. I, for one, am quite ok with never attempting to be a miner or be on the front lines of war or any of those other 'stereotypical' jobs that men have held since the beginning of time. And particularly, I dont want to come to Venice to ride in a gondolier steered by a woman. But, Venice has one.

Alexandra Hai. She fought long and hard to get her position. Yes, she is qualified and I would imagine she makes at least as much if not more than her counterparts. I understand she doesnt stand in queues like the rest of them but works by appointment out of certain hotels as more of a novelty. I have seen her walking around Venice, standing in front of TV crews, etc. but never actually performing her job. She wears an outfit decidely different than the men and I overheard one interview on the street where she said she just wants to do her job and be left alone.

OK...that's all good and well in theory, but if you are going to buck the system, then you have to know that some flack is coming with it. In a recent article, she has spoken out against her male counterparts by saying they are all greedy and thieves (this is no surprise to anyone who has been here more than once and taken a gondola ride). She also insinuated they shorten their tours and they spend their entire time talking on the cell phone instead of explaining to the clients the history they are passing. What a great way to make friends Alexandra!

Now, I happen to agree with her on many of those points. The gondoliers are greedy--having just gotten into an argument with one a few weeks ago about rates--I can wholeheartedly agree. While there are exceptions, they learn just enough general knowlege about the path they are traveling (which anyone can read in a Rick Steves or Fodders book) and now tell you that your time in the boat is not based on time but distance (what a bunch of hooey!). Of course, the gondolier union has a differing opinion about her statements (and probably mine).....they may have rules to the contrary but as with most things in Italy and in life, what is done and what is supposed to be done is not always congruent.

So, good for Alexandra pursuing her dream. But dont cry me a river when the times get hard because you want to be a novelty. At the risk of being sexist (again send your cards and letters to the president and the pope), Venice doesnt need a female changes history and it changes the environment. Some things are better left alone.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Brenta River

I took an all day river tour today down the Brenta River between Venice and Padova. Even though it rained most of the day, it was still great fun and very interesting. Back in the 17th and 18th centuries, the noble families of Venice built their 'summer homes' (summer home is rather a misnomer..these are mansions and the last one is a palace). along the Brenta River. There are about 50 of them along this stretch and my tour went into 3 of them.

I boarded the boat around 9am with about 40 others. We traveled up river which required us to go through 3 locks. It was my first time in a lock...I can only imagine what the Panama Canal is like. You can see this from the pics. Back in the day, horses would walk along the side of the river and pull the boats from Venice to Padova. Our guide was fabulous. She spent the entire day speaking in 3 languages--exhausting.

Although we werent allowed to take pictures on the inside, I got a few of the outside for you. The first was Villa Foscari and a very nice summer home...I bought it (that's me on the round rocks of my new pad!). The second I didnt care for much but the history of it was fascinating. That is also where I was eaten alive by mosquitos--8 bites in all! It was called Villa Valmarana....turns out it is owned by the Gotti family from the US. I wonder if it is the same that has that reality show on TV?

The final villa was Villa Pisani built for the 114th Doge of Venice (there were about 121 Doges I believe). It has 114 rooms--of course it does! The picture you see of me in front of the 'pond' is actually looking toward the horse stable building of the Villa! In the picture, I am looking toward the actual Villa which is basically a replica of the horse stables--to be a horse in that family, huh?! Not only was this villa incredible with the sculptures and paintings by Tiepelo, it has an incredible history. I stood in a room where Hitler and Mussolini met for the first time. And when Napolean conquered Venice and took control of the palace, he lived there for one day..yes, one day (so crazy). He had his bedroom completely decorated for him and even had a bathroom (with a sunken tub) built on his floor (2nd) which was unheard of in that day. All that for one day. In the end, he gave it to his stepson who lived there with his wife for about 7 years before the Austrians took control of Venice and claimed the villa as their own.

I could on and on with what I learned today and show you all 78 pictures I took, but I think you get the idea. I hesitated about taking this trip, but am so glad that I did.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Sounds of Venice

Living on an island is not as quiet and serene as one would think. I am surrounded by the sounds of the day and night, most of which dont often occur on the mainland. First, standing in the middle of St. Marks Square reminds me of the Bible story when God dispersed the nations by giving them different languages to speak. It truly is a Babel out there with people coming from so many countries.

But later in the evening when I am at home and settling in, I hear other common sounds. My apartment is close to a gondola 'route', so I hear the familiar "Oy" to signify that the gondolier is coming around a corner and announcing it to others who might be traveling on that canal.

Until 1030pm I hear the chatter of people at the local Osteria, drinking spritz's and beers and eating cichetti (appetizers). After 1030pm, the Osteria is closed and not a night goes by when I dont hear "this is a dead end" or "I thought you said this was the right way" or just laughter at coming across another wrong turn trying to get back to their hotel.

Unfortunately, later in the evening and early morning hours, I am roused by the regular arguing of the Asian couple across the calle ( you know, the ones who hang chickens in their windows--see previous post). How two people can argue so much and still live together is beyond me. And obviously, they think that with their window open no one can hear them!

Around 5am, I can hear the seagulls coming back from their sleep (whereever it is they sleep). The long cackling noise they make reminds me of a rooster call as a wakeup.

By 6am, the street sweeper is up and working hard...the gentle but persistent 'swoosh' of the broom reminds me how clean Venice truly is.

By 730am, the workers who make deliveries are starting with the sounds of water boat delivery vehicles making their way through the canals (sloshing water, horns, verbal communications).

By 830am, the Venetian workers are starting to mill about on their way to work..they stop at the local coffee shop for their 'cafe normale' (i.e. espresso) and 'brioche' (i.e. croissant) or at the local newstand to pick up their favorite copy of today's newspaper.

At 930am, the stores begin to open again and the sounds of Babel have returned.

The first few weeks I was here, I heard all of these noises consistently and nightly. As with any place, I have learned to sleep through most of it in the evening (except, curse those Asians arguing!). And now, those daily sounds actually provide comfort knowing that all is well in Venice and they daily cycle continues.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Taste Test

As if eating a real fig last week wasnt enough for my immature palate, last night I ate flowers for the first time! Zucchini flowers. They are very popular over here.

They are often served as part of an appetizer arrangement. You buy the flowers, take the stem off and the insides out (be careful as they are fragile). Wash the flower and then stuff it as you see fit.

There are any of a variety of batter recipes, so whatever you prefer is ok....dip the stuffed flowers in the batter, and drop them in a pan of oil to deep fry. As soon as the batter is golden brown, take them out and serve immediately.

Quite a tasty treat! I have included two pics to help you visualize......

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Language Faux Pas

I imagine many of you think I am fluent in Italian by now. I hate to disappoint you but I am far from that. I am better but it is a slow process. Partly because there isnt much need and everyone wants to practice their english and partly because other than ordering food or asking for directions, I dont have many detailed conversations with Venetians. But that is not to say I am not trying. I do meet twice a week with a gal who is very patient with me and is helping me...poor thing--she had no idea what she was getting into when she said yes to me!

I make faux pas all day long but only two of them have been good enough for me to share with others and at their insistence, I am going to put my embarassment on the blog.

First, at dinner one night, I didnt have a fork at my place setting. I thought of the word and was pretty sure it wasnt that word but couldnt think of the exact thing...figured I would give it a go anyway and instead of asking for a fork, I asked for an oar--you know the kind they move the gondola's with! Well, everyone got a great laugh and wondered about my eating habits. Forcola is very close to forchetta, no?

The other mistake, which I am sure will live in infamy, has to do with my head last Saturday. As I was walking around with the pain, I thought it might be a good idea to tell someone in case I die (well, one thinks strange things in a foreign country with a head injury). I didnt want to call home as it was the middle of the night and didnt think I need to raise the flag and get everyone upset. So, I sent a text message to Marco. I tried to do it Italian but didnt have my dictionary onhand (as I was walking around) so I improvised and basically told him that I hit my head and was in need of a suppository! Yep, that's right, a suppository! The best part is that he tried calling me all night when I was asleep (I slept through the phone calls) and was worried but didnt really know if it was serious because who needs a suppository for their head? He wondered how he was going to tell the authorities what the problem was.....was it my head or my butt?! Anyway, I got a huge laugh out of this one as did Marco and I am sure you are quite amused right now as well.

So, now I am not only embarassed because I hit myself in the head, but also because I told someone I needed a suppository for it.....not sure which is worse but since I cant see you laughing, I am ok with writing it here!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Assumption Day

I am still here, lest you think that bump to the head got the best of me! Just been sleeping alot actually....amazing what a bump to the head can do to ones desire for sleep!

Today is Assumption Day. Being that I am Protestant and not Catholic, I havent the slightest idea what it is about! :-) But I do know it is a major religious holiday here in Italy and that everything is closed. In all actuality, however, I kinda liken it to our Labor Day or Memorial Day...there is a meaning behind somewhere that is long lost, but most people spend the day at the beach or BBQ'ing with friends. And so it is here. High mass was going on today at many churches and the bells were ringing non stop all day but the majority of Venetians headed off to the Lido and elsewhere for some R&R.

Although it was strangely nice walking around Venice in the middle of the day without crowds (who told all the tourists to leave today also????), I ended up travelling to another island--Sant'Erasmo.

This is the largest island in the lagoon area--bigger than Venice--and known for producing most of the fruits and vegetables I see in the market apparently. I hear they grow the best artichokes in the region. It was about a 1/2 hour boat trip to the island which is not that far from Burano (the brightly colored tourist trap island that everyone goes to). I knew going into it that there were only two things on the island 'worth' seeing.....the tower and the church (and since the church was built recently, I figured I didnt have to see that).

Right from the bus stop, you could tell that maybe a couple of hundred people inhabit this island as the majority of it is swamp and farm land. No directional signs anywhere, so I used rule number one in Venice--when in doubt, follow the people! I was actually surprised at how many people were on the boat to Sant'Erasmo--about 20.

We walked for a bit and then saw what was supposedly the tower. It was actually more of a two story round building but who am I to judge what is called a tower back then? It was so uneventful that I didnt pay the 5 euro to go in and I didnt even take a picture to show you! Then we strolled over to the only place to eat on the island--Bar Tedeschi (German Bar!) It was basically a glorified Luby's where you grab a tray and point to something you want. So, again, nothing worth photographing for you.

After lunch, we strolled along the beach for a bit. The beach here is no comparison to the Lido...much smaller, more rock but you can basically park your boat right offshore and set up camp. I think this is the draw for most Venetians. And because it was overrun with speedo's I chose not to photograph for both your benefit and mine!

So, not a photographic day but I am still glad I went. Not everything can be exciting in a town, right? And with all the walking I did, I was able to indulge in two scoops of gelato as a treat!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Concussion?? Perhaps. Pain?? Yes!

Well, it was bound to happen. I was going to get injured at some point this year; aside from the occasional blister. And Saturday was the designated day. Of course, I wish I had some great story to share, but instead, I am rather embarassed by it all. However, I have bared my thoughts and ideas on this blog so why not share in my foibles.

It was going to be a busy day. There was alot to do and timing was of the essence. I was up and showered and out the door in time to start the day at 930am. I went to a local cafe to get a cup of cappucino and brioche for breakfast. As usual, it was wonderful (Cafe Zanin is really good!). The cafe is all black marble and glass...very modern, yet retro looking, especially for Venice. I finished, made my way to the cashier, paid my 2.30 euro and went to open the glass door.

In a split second, my mind reminded me that these doors were unusually heavy (as they are glass) and that I need to pull a bit harder than usual. The door handle is positioned more toward the center of the door which sets the equilibrium off a bit and makes it difficult to judge just how wide the door really is (remember, they just opened and so everything was cleaned and without fingerprints at this point).

So I heaved the door open and before I could react, hit myself in the head above my left eye with the glass. I heard the noise of the door vibrate and I heard the noise of the glass hit my head. And then silence. And then darkness. And then birds and stars. The only reason I didnt fall down was because I had some sort of vice grip hold on the door handle. I couldnt tell you how long I stood there or if anyone noticed or said anything to me. I imagine with the noise, a few heads turned.

After the birds flew away, I walked out of the cafe into the bright sun and felt the pain in my head and my eye from the brightness. I was immediately sick to my stomach and very, very tired. I stumbled around as a drunk person for a bit thinking how much of a headache I was going to have all day. I realized it was bad but didnt really know what to do--what IS the italian word for 'hit myself in the head'? So, I did what all people do, right?....I kept walking to my appointment. Along the way, I felt the lump grow bigger and I searched in every possible store for ice. It doesnt exist for sale in Venice. You can ocassionally get ice in a drink at a restaurant if you ask for it, but you cant buy it anywhere.

Needless to say, it was a long day. I should have gone to the dr. or something I imagine but I just remembered that you werent supposed to sleep with a concussion, so I stayed awake until 6pm and then crashed for the evening. I figured if I didnt wake up, at least I went in my sleep which is the way we all dream about it happening. And if I did wake up, hopefully the headache would be gone. And since I am writing this and you are reading it, I obviously woke up and most of the headache is gone. The bump is a bit smaller (no longer looks like a horn growing out of my eyelid) and surprisingly I dont have much visible bruising yet.

There you have it....a stupid action that inflicted pain and agony on myself. I am so proud and so happy that I could share with my cyber friends and family!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

cats and rats and rats and cats

About 10 years ago, Venice was pretty much overrun with stray cats. Its was a love-hate relationship. They kept the vermin away but also had a habit of digging in the trash and making a mess everywhere. So, Venice decided to get rid of the cats--I think it was also a marketing strategy for tourism. Well, now we have a different problem--rats!

I heard about the rats--even read about it, but never saw any until I moved here. In June while walking late at night with one of my Phoenix visitors, we saw this small mammal running ahead of us on the street. We were both happy that it was running ahead of us and in the other direction!

This morning, I went down to my courtyard to throw out the garbage and was greeted by two of them! I am pretty sure I was more startled than they as I moved and they didnt. They just sat there and stared at me---not afraid of the human element at all....rather unsettling. One was small but still much larger than any rat we have seen, I promise. The other one was some mutant thing that had been struck with radiation or something...IT WAS HUGE! Quite the dilemma as he/she was sitting in front of the gate that I needed to exit from. Needless to say, my morning activities were curtailed a bit.

Later, I was talking to my realtor and he said rather casually that her name was Katarina...guess she is like the 'house rat'. I remember as a child, we had a spider living in the bathroom of our house and for whatever reason, no one saw fit to kill him...before you knew it, we had named him Wilbur and would talk about him like he was part of the family. But I am guessing that I wont be truly embracing Katarina in the same way....she was pretty close to the size of a chihuahua--at least with the spider, we knew who was in charge! But next time she is standing in my way, I can at least address her properly now!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Punta Sabbioni

Today was the first of my island adventures. I went to the Lido to meet a friend and from there we road bikes to a ferry which took us to the island of Punta Sabbioni--which is really not its own island but rather an area of an island. The area is mostly agricultural, some restaurants, and they are starting to build apartment complexes, etc. so I imagine they are expecting some sort of 'boom'. We also biked to another part called Tre Porti.

It threatened to rain all day but held out. It was so much fun being on a bike. I think it has been a good decade since I have ridden. Then we just stopped by the roadside and started picking fruit--grapes, plums, figs, and something I think is a version of passion fruit--wait, its a know me..dont know a thing about cooking or shopping for food! We also picked fresh rosemary and lavender. It was amazing...its just there by the road waiting for someone to come by.

I can honestly say I have never eaten a fig (except in Fig Newton's!) but they are really quite tasty. The grapes were wonderful as well. And because it is an agriturismo area, there are no chemicals at all...just eat it right off the tree or vine!

It was really a fun day...just being in the island countryside, riding a bike (which by the way, I am already sore from!), and enjoying the fruits of mother nature. Truly a nice way to appreciate life.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

And then there were 410

Venice has long had 409 bridges; three of which cross the Grand Canal. By the end of this year, there will be four. And last night, I had the opportunity to witness history being made.

Once again, in Venice, it's all about who you know. I am lucky enough to know someone who has access to an apartment on the Grand Canal that has for its view, a picturesque glimpse of the Rialto Bridge. And shortly after 1 in the morning, the top curved part of the new bridge glided ever so slowly and carefully under Rialto heading towards its new home at Piazzale Roma (the bus station).

This was not without controversy. Lined along the edges of the Canal were protesters. You see, the new bridge is not for the Venetians. It is for the tourists, in an effort to ease congestion and transportation. The Venetians would rather have improved housing opportunities or better yet, a new stadium to practice soccer! Although I dont know about the soccer thing, I can imagine the discussion is much like the new Phoenix Cardinals football stadium---a waste of money since they arent ever going to win more than 1 or 2 games a season. However, I will agree to the housing needs. It is no secret that it is extremely expensive to live here and the city is decaying around us at a rate quicker than she is being restored.

But regardless of your view on the new bridge (yet to be named), it was truly a sight to see as it inched under Rialto and curved just so as to not touch the top or the sides. The mayor was there, cheers, boo's and overall excitement was in the air. For about 1/2 hour, the bridge was maneuvered through Rialto before it straightened out and continued on its journey to the end.

Last weekend, the two end pieces of the bridge were erected and somewhere in the next few days, they will hoist this top piece. After that, they will reinforce and cover with glass steps! Due to be completed by the end of the year, I am sure it will be a sight to see.

Monday, August 6, 2007


Once again the joys of being unemployed and having nothing to do have not let me down. I spent many hours over the weekend and on Monday working on my book. By Monday afternoon, I needed a break and went for a walk and an afternoon spritz.

We were sitting next to a table of men from Sardenia. They had brought their own wine and grappa and baby pig to eat! Guess they dont like the food/drink in Northern Italy? Anyway, they were all very friendly and shared their stash. "Attenzione Susan, 16" is what they told me when I took a sip of the wine. They meant 16% Sardenians are hardy people! The cooked pig was fabulous...I am pretty sure I never had a baby pig before and it was a bit sad seeing its little tiny hooves but the taste was harmony in my mouth!

The Sardenians informed me that their island is the most beautiful in the world. Wait, I thought that was Venice and why I was here, right?! And, of course, a fellow American chimed in with Tahiti which made everyone laugh. Perhaps I will have to take a trip down to the second largest island in Italy (Sicily being the first) and see what it is all about.

After the pig, we had a bit of a 'digestive' called Mitro. Digestive drinks are very popular in Germany these have Schnaps and over here they have Grappa and Limoncello. Usually instead of dessert, they will have a small shot of one of these to 'start the digestive' process after their meal. This is probably a good idea since people eat very late and need some extra help with their tummy before going to bed. Of course, we were eating in the afternoon, but who am I to buck tradition?

Eating is a very social event in Italy. In America, we eat with others because its the only time we have to see people--sort of a multi-tasking event. Here, its about the company and the conversation--and all of it is made better by good food and good drink. Who knew that a little afternoon walk would turn out to a meeting of new people and a sharing of culture. I like that!

Sunday, August 5, 2007

What's new?

Wow..its been almost a week since I have written to you! It's just been living daily life here, so nothing exciting to report. I thought about telling you that I had met an Italian man and we decided to get married---sort of leave you hanging for a few days to see how many comments I got, but I figured some of you wouldnt find it quite as amusing as I do! So, instead I wrote nothing. ;-)

I actually have an entire month with no guests (I do have a friend coming for 2 days but she is staying in a hotel with her husband). This is a first for me and a chance to delve into some of the travel I want to do. Of course, you know by now that I cant travel within the EU (have this confirmed in both Italian and English!) until I get that stupid piece of paper from the government. But, I can travel in Italy, and strangely enough, I apparently can travel outside the EU.

So, I have a list now of place to go. Mostly day trips. There are quite a few islands around Venice to check out. All of them very small and known for some historical reason but not really enough to spend more than a few hours at each. Then there are a few towns in the area (within a few hours by train) that are on the list. And I definitely want to get to Croatia (not part of the EU) which is about 2 hours by ferry or 3-4 by train. That might be an overnight trip depending on where I choose to go in that country.

I do have reservations in September for a night in Cinque Terre and 2 nights in Lake Como...very much looking forward to that. And I have a few more ideas in mind for later in the year but havent done much research on them yet.

Its almost overwhelming, so many choices and no idea where to start! I remember that when I used to live in Wisconsin I never went anywhere. Then when I decided to move to Arizona, I felt this need to go out and do as much as I could in 3 months! Silly idea and a bit stressful. So hopefully, with my list in hand, I am going to have a great time exploring. I will keep you updated on pics and adventures.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

I left my heart in San Francisco

So, today was a great lazy day. The weather is still very, very nice from that storm that blew in...only about 77 degrees outside and no humidity. I did my errands and laundry in the morning and met a friend in the afternoon for a spritz (local drink here).

We met at the Bauer Hotel--a 5 star hotel on the Grand Canal. Its actually the only modern building in Venice. It was built by Hitler and his crew during the war as their headquarters here. Needless to say, it looks very modern and sort of sticks out when you you are walking around. But, some rich Italians bought it and turned it into a very successful, worldwide renowned hotel.

I dont normally hang out at 5 star hotels...who wants to pay those prices for a drink or food (I looked at the menu and a basic grilled cheese sandwich was 22 euros!). But my friend said she knew the bartender working, was a good friend, and we would get the Venetian price. Again, its all about who you know here!

Luckily for us, it was a slow day on the terrace for the Bauer, so the bartender made us a new drink which he called 'The Claudia' for my friend. It was filled with all sorts of fruit and some Brazilian liquor...quite tasty. We sat and chatted for a while (another round came from the bar) and I noticed this elderly man (close to 80 I guess) in the corner of the terrace painting. His brushstrokes seemed a bit strong so I didnt think he was doing anything real precise. And since we were staring at the Grand Canale, I figured he was just one of the thousands who fancy themselves an artist.

Sitting one table away was a woman in her mid 30's I would guess, reading a book. The elderly man starting talking to her, went over and put his hand on her shoulder and she reached up with her hand and put it on his shoulder as the conversation continued. I whispered to my friend...please tell me they are not dating, please tell me that is father and daughter! Just then he bent down and gave a nice big kiss on the lips....mystery solved!

Then we started discussing the reasons why these woman date these older men. Obviously, staying at the Bauer, he had money. Looking further, I noticed they both had wedding rings on. And then, he looked strangely familiar. Oh...wait....I know him...that's....oh what is his know that last of the brat pack. Yep, it was Tony Bennett as sure as I am unemployed!

He didnt look quite as spry as he did at his concert tour this last year but I imagine make up and a tux will change a man! And I guess he did fancy himself an artist--not only in the singing arena but in the painting. I wish I would have seen the final product. Of course the converstation continued between me and my friend wondering how they met, why they did that (visions of Anna Nicole Smith and that old rich man swam in my head), etc. Perhaps in the end, it was more a bit of jealousy on my part that this woman had landed her future the easy way!

Oh well. There is my claim to fame for today.....much more exciting than when I saw Elton John over Christmas here. Now if I could just meet George Clooney or Nicolas Cage, I would be all set!