Friday, May 23, 2008

Let the games begin....

I am now officially and gainfully employed! I took the job today at the airline and start on June 2.

It was a crazy interview process. This was the company that I thought hated me after my first interview. Add in the mix a headhunter (not mine) in another city who wasnt the sharpest tool in the shed to confuse both sides with mis-information.

I had an offer on the table from another company since Monday and was stalling until my interview at PetSmart on Thursday. Loved PetSmart and really wanted the job. They told me they would give me feedback the next day. By the time I got home from that the headhunter said he got me a second interview on Friday at 1pm. Not being thrilled from my last experience I was reluctant but decided to do the right thing and go.

On my way to the airline interview, PetSmart called and said 'thanks but no thanks'. I was bummed and went into my second interview a bit disappointed figuring I would take the offer from Monday. In the directors office, the first thing out of his mouth was 'what questions do you have for me'? To say the least, I was confused.

In the end, it wasnt a second interview but was an offer interview! They had been working on the paperwork and approval ever since that horrid day of the first interview. Between the salary, benefits and lack of desire to accept my other offer from Monday, I said YES.

They whisked me away immediately to pee in a cup and fill out more paperwork than I thought was possible for a job. Medical and dental are effective immediately and those prized flight benefits are effective on the 16th day of my employment. Now I imagine people are going to start being nicer to me because I can get them some cheap flights!

And with this monumental transition back into the 'real world', I think this is a good place to stop the blog (for real this time!). I will enjoy my last 10 days of freedom before I start. I will use this time to get mentally prepared to keep the things about Italy and Venice that I loved close to me so as not to get caught up in the American rat race again. But if that fails, I can fly for almost free to Venice in a heartbeat to have a reminder!

Ciao for now........

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

But its a dry heat!

I have noticed over the past few days and have received some emails that my second home in Venice has been a bit rainy. Quite the contrary here as expected. However, we are dealing with our own wierd weather.

Last week at this time, we were unusually cool for May at about 82 degrees. By Sunday, we had hit our first 100 for the season (105 to be exact) and then the last two days have topped out around 110!!! I have been in this city for over 15 years and its way to early for those numbers. In fact, we shattered a record for having the earliest 110 in the season as well as jumping so quickly into it. However, not all is lost, because a storm is blowing in and we are to be 79 by Thursday! I am sure that is another record.

I dont complain about the heat...never have. It was a choice I made to come here and leave Wisconsin (where it is downright cold alot!). Actually, I only ever complain about being cold! This is evidenced in my blog all year about the cold marble floors and humidity in Venice. I am the person who wears a sweater at work because the a/c is too much for me! So, 110 is not something to complain about in my book. However, it is a bit early in the year and hard to pace onseself knowing that 100 degree temps are around until at least early October. Lets hope after Thursdays storm, the temps decide to creep back up to just 100 for a while!

Here is the million dollar question, however. Would I rather be warm in Phoenix or cold in Venice? For now, I will stay in Phoenix. A job offer has come in and 2 other interviews are happening this week. I guess I will be gainfully employed by June 1. However, I will not count out being cold in Venice again sometime in my future.......

Sunday, May 18, 2008


I paid for the gym all year because they wouldn't put my membership on hold and at $12 a month, I couldnt see myself cancelling and re-signing up at a higher price. The first day I walked in and swiped my card through the machine, the electronic lady told me to stop and check in again. When the counter gal looked at the computer, she said, "you havent been here in 411 days!" How is that for intimidating? But I told her I had a good excuse as I was out of the country. I dont think she believed me!

I tried 3 different exercise classes this week. As of today, we had our first 100 degree day, so being outside (which is what I prefer) is no longer an option until about October. I sure do miss just walking around Venice, climbing bridges and getting that exercise without even knowing it.

My first class was called Power Pump. Its an all over body and weight workout to music. I used to go to something like this before I left so I was prepared. My arms are still as weak as ever but I could tell that all that bridge climbing made the squats a heck of alot easier.

Then I went to Zumba! Apparently a new fad or craze since I have left, its Latin based music with dancing/exercise. Quite the workout actually. I used to think I had some rythym but I am certainly no JLo when it comes to these moves. The good news was there were a few people in there less coordinated than me so I didnt look like a complete idiot.

And finally, I tried Yoga. I tried it years ago and didnt like it. Guess what--I still dont like it. Not my cup of tea doing 'down dog', 'cobra' and 'side warrior' type positions. And surprisingly, it really hurt my knee. Remember the knee drama from January. Its been good since I have left the humidity but I dont think I am ready for the static movements of Yoga yet.

So, there you have it...I have re-entered the gym life of America. One small step in the transition and hopefully one that will have a good side effect in the end. Maybe I can figure the rest of my struggles out while I am swiveling my hips to some Ricky Martin in class next week?!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

So much for gut instinct!

Well, oddities of all oddities happened today when the airline called back and said they wanted a second interview and for me to meet the director of the division! They said they really liked me and my answers and wanted to pursue this possibility further. I looked around the room for some hidden cameras because I was sure this wasnt happening in reality! So, apparently, not only am I suffering from cultural shock, I have also lost all skills at reading people and understanding situations! :-)

I agreed to see them again despite the fact that I was sure they werent impressed with me. Everybody deserves a second chance, right? And afterall, they fly direct from Philly to Venice so they might come in handy some day for a freebie!

On another note, I am having my second American massage tonight. I sure did miss Gianna this last year (as well as a sheet over my body and the lack of paper thong action). She informed me that my neck is a mess and something is up above my right eye. Well, that would be the place where I hit myself with the infamous glass door last June or July back in Venice. Just thinking about that incident makes me embarassed and brings about pain. So, hopefully, she can fix the neck and the head and I might stop getting all those headaches. Of course, the headaches could be coming from the interviews at this point!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Did I mention that I dont want to work anymore? Thats a dream of mine but in the meantime, I am out there interviewing. Despite the stats in the economy there are all sorts of job openings that I am 'qualified' for. And being on and sure takes some of the legwork out the old fashioned way of getting a job.

I had an interview last week with my old boss from three time removed. It went well and surprisingly I was rather excited about working in that environment again despite the fact that it would be a horrendous 25 mile commute each way.

Then on Friday, I got a call from PetSmart. That was fun...great company.....corporate headquarters are here and every Friday is bring your pet to work day. I would never do that to Mr. P...he's been through enough, dont ya' think?!

On Monday, I got a call from last weeks interview. The HR gal called to say they would call me back in the afternoon to make me an offer but she wanted to know my salary range. I told her and never heard back from them! :-)

Then today, I had an interview with an airline. What a horrific nightmare that was. I couldnt speak english or italian, was not impressed with the work conditions and they werent impressed with me. When it was over, we all just sort of got up and left. No one said 'thank you', no one shook hands, no one said 'we'll be in touch'....we just all wanted OUT!

Not a bad start really for the first week back from what I understand. Applied for several more positions this afternoon. Time will tell.

However, to hopefully get a routine (ugh I hate that thought) going, I went to the gym today for the first time in over a year. I loved the exercise I got from walking around Venice and 'hiking' over the bridges and taking bike rides on Lido. But this was way different and I already hurt all over! If I live through the night, I might write another blog entry and let you know if I got hired!

Sunday, May 11, 2008


So last night was my welcome back get together at the Mexican restaurant. Boy did I pig out! I think I was very close to committing the sin of gluttony. Today, for mothers day, my mom wants buffalo wings, so off to Chili's we go! I am actually looking forward to Tuesday's diet at this point.

But the real part that plagues me doesnt seem to have a timeline and I dont really have much control over it. Last night was the first time I had any non superficial discussions with anyone since I have been home. Partly because I didnt want to and partly because I didnt need to. I was listening to my friends talk about various things and the entire time my insides were screaming. I just dont quite feel like I belong and I can relate to these things anymore. It seemed at times like I had changed so much that we were strangers and yet, I remember not too long ago participating in those same conversations.

I tried my best to express myself but it was futile. I rambled and probably offended and, in the end, felt worse than if I had kept my mouth shut. Even now, I struggle for words to describe how I am feeling. I wrote in my book shortly after arriving in Venice that plane tickets dont alter your life--they just transport it somewhere else. I am not sure I believe that anymore. Or perhaps its true and the actual living in Venice is what changed me.

And what has changed? Alot and nothing. I have this tug of war inside when I think about doing something. Just this morning, I thought about how nice it would be to have the morning paper delivered again so I can read it at leisure. But then immediately, I thought that was the old habit I had (and all I ever read were the sales ads anyways) and how much I wished I could walk around Venice instead and view the sights. Its a small thing, I know, but it only escalates from there when I think about my relationships and my future. Its rather maddening.

Perhaps I didnt really know myself before I left and have a better impression now that I am back. Regardless, I am different. I long for the feeling of comfort I had once here and yet I find it strangely repulsive. I dont want to fall into old habits and traits but I desire some consistency. I say to myself that once I have a job, this will all be better and at the same time I think that the job will take me back to that other life where I was someone else and I am not sure I want to be that person again.

This is all too deep and horrific for a Sunday morning and something I have no answers for, so it probably best I stop waxing poetic and move on to something those boneless buffalo wings I am about to eat!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Eat Santa, Eat!

As I continue to try and fit in again in this big ol' country and city, I seem to be relying alot on comfort food to help. And at this point, all food is serving as comfort food! If I dont stop soon, I will have to buy a new wardrobe.

I had a good interview yesterday and 2 more on the horizon next week, so I think someone will hire me eventually. In the meantime, however, I seem to be eating my way through the city. I miss the pizza in Venice and my one restaurant that served up some serious pasta dishes. But here, I can get ANYTHING I want!

Let's see, I went to Chili's and had a blue cheese chipolte hamburger with fries and I stopped at Quizno's for a sub and then I visited my old favorite deli and had the worlds best rueben (been wanting that since Dublin!) and tomorrow some friends of mine are all gathering together for a welcome back dinner at my favorite mexican place where I will eat more calories than humanly possible and drink a very large margarita (or 2!). Monday is a lunch with a former coworker after breakfast with another friend.....

And in between all those outings I have been to the grocery store twice. While I had good intentions of buying only fruits and vegetables, etc., I ended up with Ben and Jerry's ice cream, lots of peanut butter, and a variety of cookies and crackers.

Then there is the water. Its a shame we cant drink the water out of the tap here in Phoenix and I miss that about Venice. But in order to appease us, they have managed to create all sorts of water for sale--flavored, 'smart', vitamin, you name it and they have a gimmick for it. And I am falling for those gimmicks.

I feel full just thinking about all this...the diet starts on Tuesday!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Interview

I have to be honest.... I would rather have a root canal without novicane than go back to work, but since I am not independently wealthy, I went on my first interview today. I havent interviewed in almost a decade so I knew I would be a bit out of practice.

I remember they used to ask stupid questions like, 'if you were a sandwich, what kind would you be?'. This apparently would tell something psychologically important about you and be the deciding factor as to whether or not you would get hired. I decided that in the event, they were still asking this stupid question, I would answer 'tremezzini'. That should keep them occupied for a while!

But they dont ask that anymore....they just give you tons of psychological profile tests to come up with the same answer. And, they check not only your background but your credit and if you have a MySpace site and what you say on it (boy am I glad my blog doesnt have my name in it! haha).

Then came the question of all questions--why did you quit your job and move to Italy? Thinking quickly and knowing that they probably dont want to hear the truth (i.e. I was in the middle of mid life crisis and had to run away!), I chose instead to say: 'An opportunity presented itself that was too good to ignore and I was allowed the chance to achieve a lifelong dream'. Of course, that is true also, but its much more vague and doesnt lead on that I was in the throws of mid life. I think they were satisfied and I managed to get over this politically correct moment.

In the end, however, I dont really care if they were satisfied because this job was not for me. I have another interview Thursday, one Friday and a great call this morning from an airline...I hope they call back to schedule an interview.

However........I suppose now is a good a time as any to share with my blog community what my true dream job is for now. I spent a good 6 months creating my own website for a business I want to start here. How I am going to get it started and have a 'real' job at the same time plagues me, but I will do my best. Check it out and feel free to hire me!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


After a year in Venice, I forgot about crime. Or should I say, physical crime. Its no secret that the Italians are good at corruption and tax evasion but since there really wasnt a lick of crime in Venice, I sorta erased that 'inner fear' from my system.

It wasnt until today that I realized I wasnt in Kansas anymore, Toto! Last I heard, Phoenix was the 5th largest city in the country and the population is well over 2 million compared to my little 2 1/2 mile long island with less than 70,000 residents. So, one would expect some crime I guess. But watching the news for the first time and seeing a variety of murder, rape, robbery, etc. made it all real. Guns and drugs are prevalent again.

And when I got in the car for the much anticipated hair cut, I remembered that we arent really supposed to look at other people in cars because 'you never know'. That brought back memories of road rage incidents I have read about or seen. And before I knew it, I was a bit nervous and wanting. Nervous because I have to be on guard now and wanting because I can no longer walk around by myself after dark (or anytime for that matter) without fear. I am not a person who lives in fear and lets it rule decisions, but I now understand out of necessity how it does affect a person.

I suppose thats the price one pays for living in a large city, but it has certainly made me realize how special it was to be in a place lacking of these things. I think I had a taste of what it must have been like 100 years ago in the US. And short of moving to the cornfields of Iowa, I probably wont experience that lifestyle again soon. Venice calls me.....

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Are you finding everything.....

No, this post isnt about my unpacking (although I did make some progress). Its about how polite everyone is here! Ok, I am sure thats a sweeping generalization, but if I could get a euro for everytime someone has said one of the following to me in my 2 times out, I could come back to Venice soon!

Are you finding everything you need
Can I help you
How are you today
Have a nice day
Thank you
and my favorite...why did you leave Venice!? (ok, yeah, I have been telling strangers about what a great year I just had)

I wont harp on the Venetians anymore because we all know how I feel about their manners but I can tell you it sure does make a difference in your attitude (and for me, transition) when people are friendly. Albeit, its probably just stuff that most people say in passing and they really hope you dont ask them to do anything, but its still nice to hear it. I took that for granted before I left and now actually enjoy it.

I have a friend here in Phoenix who 'never met a stranger'. She talks to everyone she meets or stands in line with and makes eye contact. I never realized how important that was and how affirming it can be. Of course, I suppose it can be annoying to talk to everyone (like that person on the plane next to me from Atlanta to Phoenix who wouldnt stop talking for 4 hours!) So, lesson learned!

You might be asking where I went in my latest outing since I last left you with the idea that I was not going to leave the house ever again! I had a list of things to get outside of the 'brand new and improved and bigger grocery store' and went out to conquer the world and my newfound fear of consumerism.

After making a few stops along the way, it was off to Target to fulfill the list of 'stuff' needed. It wasnt easy in Target as the bright lights, pretty colors and sale items draw you in. I had several conversations with myself about whether I needed that or wanted it and why did I want it after I swore to my blog community that I wouldnt fall into this consumerism trap! In the end, I only walked out with what was on my list which I think was a first for me in Target (and they were sad about it I am sure!). One success under my belt.

So, another thing has been checked off my comes the one I am really dreading...the job interviews. 3 this week and 2 next I think. I have really become accustomed to not working and have had no problem filling up my days--I think I could do it for a living! The thought of working makes me want to say....Ugh! Oh well, theres always hope that I will marry rich! :-)

Editors Note: As an aside, I am just tickled pink after unpacking all my shoes (gosh I love shoes!) that I havent seen in a year. It was like I just went on shopping spree and got all new ones. I think I am doomed to this consumerism thing.....will need to wear some sort of electric collar type mechanism that shocks me everytime I get too close to buying!

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Grocery Store

I made my first venture out into the world yesterday....not because I was ready but because I had to. I had not a lick of food for me and the cat, so to the car and grocery store I headed.

Driving is wierd. You have to pay attention to so many more things than just walking! In Venice, my biggest concern was who was coming up in front of me and should I play the game of chicken with them to see if they will move out of my way. And listening to the radio instead of Italian conversations is almost somehow more distracting. However, just like riding a bicycle, I made it to the store.

The grocery store was an event in itself. While I was gone, they remodeled and made it bigger and better (go America!). I can now not only buy my food there but also most of my household supplies and my furniture! The grocery cart was 'molto grande' compared to the little toy models I was used to. And the room...oh my much room to walk around.

I noticed immediately that the price of fruits, vegetables and cheese was much more expensive than I had left it and much more expensive than Venice. But, as part of the remodel, they did add several international sections so I can actually get a few of the things that I didnt used to be able to buy here.

I ended up staying in the store for almost 2 hours! And I think the people around me thought I had tourettes syndrome. I couldnt seem to focus and had sensory overload, so the only way I could get my brain in gear was to read everything, here I am walking up and down the aisles saying oranges, beans, cookies, tea, ice cream, etc. What a hoot!

After a year of living out of a dorm sized fridge with no freezer, I felt like the world was my oyster. I could buy anything and lots of it (at least as much as an unemployed person can buy!). I purchased a 15 pound watermelon because I could put it in the cart, have someone bag it for me, wheel it out to my car and drive it home to the safety and convenience of my garage instead of the manual labor involved in lugging it over 6 or 7 bridges. Well that, and the fact that it didnt have seeds.

I didnt buy anything in the freezer section (except for that new flavor of Ben and Jerrys!) because I dont think I want anything frozen anymore. I really enjoyed fresh food and not sure I can go back to cans and frozen items...guess that makes me a snob now, but I think it might be worth it. Maybe I should get rid of my fridge and put a dorm one in its place? :-)

However, after that outing, I was ready for home and havent left again since....I hope I dont develop some fear about going out......guess all the more reason to keep up on the blog for a bit more---it will be therapy for me!

Sunday, May 4, 2008


I managed to get 4 hours of sleep in 2 days--I wouldnt call it jet lag because that has never really plagued me, but more of being dazed and confused. Its an odd sensation I am experiencing. I dont feel lost but rather like I dont belong. I suppose this is normal even though I am living in a place I have been for 16 years and I am in my own home. After a year away, so many things have changed and so many have stayed the same.

I unpacked the 5 suitcases--or should I say, I deposited the contents of the suitcases into various rooms in large piles to be sorted later. Nothing was broken which I take as a testament to my packing skills. I should have gotten an Academy award for my packing--no really!

But the TSA did visit the big suitcase (the 88 pounder!). God bless them for emptying it and getting it all back in. They went all the way down to the bottom to check out the alcohol (i.e. limoncello), coming dangerously close to my limoncello glasses! And apparently, the TSA agent was a 2 year old because along the way, they ripped open a Baicoli box of cookies like they were Cookie Monster and taped up a bottle of limoncello (to let me know they were there in addition to the calling card they left) so as to make it impossible to see it or get into it! I hope they had fun.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

And we're home....

Its midnight in Phoenix and 9am in Italy...basically 24 hours from the time I left. I have arrived in no less than one piece and the cat lost another life today, but since he has so many, we arent worried!

I paid $700 today for my suitcases and cat! What a bargain, eh? Then as I was about to go through my last gate to board, I realized that the ticket gal didnt give me back my veterinary certificate....what a drag that would have been! So, just for fun, they made me go through security again (i.e. take shoes off, take cat out of bag, take 2 laptops out of bag, walk through, get dressed and organized, etc.). With all that, even before I left Venice, I felt like I hadnt showered in 3 days.

The flight from Venice was uneventful and almost everyone had their own row because it was empty. I watched 3 movies which was a treat since I havent seen a movie in a year. Ate some horrible concoction they Italian food on the plane and got a lecture from the flight attendant because I had the cat carrier on the seat next to me instead on the floor. She said I was committing some Federal felony and if the pilot knew, he would have to land immediately (nice trick since we were over the Atlantic!).

Being in Atlanta for 3 hours was surreal--my country, my language, my home. First, I had to deal with customs and my 5 the way, there are carts down there but no porters, so be prepared! When I finally made my way through, they saw the cat and told me I had to go to another line. So, I schlepped my 2 carts and the cat whereupon the woman there told me she didnt want to see any paperwork because they dont check cats! "What, you dont think my cat can carry a disease? I worked hard to get this piece of paper and then I almost lost it and had to go back and, just look at it!!!!!!" Obviously, I was tired at that point :-)

The flight from Atlanta to Phoenix was completely booked and pretty turbulent since there happens to be many tornadoes going on right now. Poor Mr. P, lost his lunch a few times. It was a long 4 hour flight for both of us.

Upon arrival, two of my friends greeted me with flowers and candy and tabloid magazines so I could get re-acclimated! We paid the porter to schlep because I really couldnt do it anymore and came back to my house.

Talk about strange feelings, turning down my street and unlocking my door for the first time in a year. The house was immaculate, my mother had brought my car back into the garage and Mr. P seemed to remember his old stompings (either that or he was just so damn happy to be out of the cage!).

So, all the bags are right where we wheeled them in, I ache all over, I ate one candy bar already and I think its time for bed!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Last Day

Or is it? As I am all prepared to go (finally got that last suitcase packed but had to mail another box to myself), I am going to wander around my city today and enjoy a last meal at my favorite restaurant.

I was given an offer yesterday to stay here to work full time with housing provided. So late in the game, but who knows what I will think when I wake up in the morning! Maybe I will just stay, maybe I will go, or maybe I will go and come back.

If there is one thing I learned from this year, its that no matter what type of planning, hoping and maneuvering we do, you just never know whats around the corner!

Its been quite a week of saying goodbyes (at least for a little while) to my new friends here. Very emotional to get that last 'double kiss on the cheeks' Italian tradition...I managed to slip in an American hug every now and then!

I have taken the opportunity to go out late the last few nights and walk the streets after the tourists and locals are long gone. Thats the Venice I love---the stillness, the gentle fog, the lapping of the water and 'whisper' of generations past hovering. I didnt think I would be this nostalgic or this sad. It actually hurts to think of leaving. But then again, it has been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember to live in Venice and, now, to wake up and see the dream ending has to be sad. I have no regrets--its was better than I ever imagined or planned for and I know I will be back.

To everyone who helped to make my year so special.....Marco, Denise, Gerry, Gabriele, Liviana, Monica, Guido, Tommy, Christiano, Elise, Ancelyne, Mimi, Ryan, Jo, Gaspare, John-Henry, Marilyn, everyone from the Pantomime, the cashier Nazi, and all the people who read my blog, who I met, and who visited me......from the bottom of my heart, thank you!

See you soon! A presto!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Let's Review

There were several stories during the year that I mentioned on the blog and now might be a good time to recap where they stand as of now.

First, we have the infamous 4th bridge over the Grand Canal. Back in July I think it was, I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning to get a glimpse of the curved arch of the bridge being transported down the Grand Canal. Almost a decade behind in completion and uncountable millions of euros over budget, it was due to be finished by December 1 last year. Here we are at the end of April and it is still unknown when the first person will be able to walk over it. Despite the insanity of it all, they seem to be concerned now about the fact that all the steps are in glass and someone might just camp out under the bridge to look up girls skirts! How about we try to finish the bridge before we worry about silly things like that?

Second, we have the never-ending vermin problem (i.e. pigeons) in St. Marks Square. The seed vendors were to be out of there by April 1 and as of today, they are still happily selling to tourists. They have lost their appeal and are to be shut down (again) by May 1. This, of course, remains to be seen. The interesting part of this case is that the government has said they would pay the vendors the cost of lost revenue for putting them out of business!!!!! How does one calculate that (because I can assure you that they arent keeping records) and for what period of time does one get reimbursed (for 1 year, for 20 years, until you die)?

Third, last September, Venice initiated a new card for monthly vaporetto travel. Its called IMOB. And by November of last year, everyone was to have this new monthly pass type credit card and be swiping it on the newly installed machines at every vaporetto stop. Well, November has come and gone, not everyone has the pass, the literature explaining how the machines work hasnt even been printed to distribute and there are only 2 (count them 2) techs in the whole city who can install, fix, explain whatever about the machines! The electronic tickets can only be purchased at certain places because those 2 techs havent made it around to all the tobacco shops (who normally sell these sort of things) to install and train them. The new deadline of May 1 doesnt really seem plausible now does it? I guess they will be using paper tickets for a while yet, eh?

Fourth, the elusive street vendors strike again! It really is a comedy routine. You have all of these African men hawking fake Prada and Gucci bags to tourists and once in a blue moon you will see a 'sting' operation where the police will half-heartedly go after these guys making them disperse in all directions and possibly nabbing one (only to release him in a few minutes) and a few bags in the process (which I imagine they take home to their mom or wife or girlfriend). Then weeks and weeks go by with the police turning the other way as they walk past these illegal sellers. Now, surprisingly, the Guardia di Finanzia (the special police force in charge of business regulations) has informed us (the public) that these men are selling illegally made goods! Egads, say it isnt so! Is there a point to this story? Probably not, other than to say that it goes much deeper than the surface picture. These guys will be selling here forever because someone is making money off of them somewhere and in good Italian style, officials are being corrupted and paid off to make sure the illicit bags will remain.

And finally, my internet. As you have probably guessed by now, I still have the connection! I mailed them a letter describing in detail the events of the last 6 weeks (i.e. how I have tried to end my service and return their modem) and also explained to them that I would not be paying the charge they tried to put on my credit card for service through May 2008! I wonder how long I will have to keep denying charges on my card before they figure it out?

So there you have it....some things change but not in Venice...or at least not very quickly. A year has come and gone and so much has been seen and experienced by my eyes and yet, so much remains the same. But as frustrating as some of it can be, its also part of the charm of the place I have called home for the last year.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Lady Viscountess Helen D'Arbernon

Monday night I went to a lecture about the lady in the title. She was born in the late 19th century, was a debutant by birth and marriage and lived a life of travel, art, literature and connections. And she spent a great deal of time living in Palazzo Justinian.

There is a regular meeting (in English) of this group in which they have presentations on various subjects relating to Venice. I had been invited earlier in the year but never attended. I thought it good to catch at least one as I make my way through my 'last time to do...' list.

To make a very interesting but hour long presentation short, there was a professor at the local university (Ca Foscari) who took a smoke break and stood under a staircase at the neighboring Palazzo Justinian. She happened to look up and see an inscription that said Helen D'Arbernon restored this dilapidated staircase in 1902. Serendipity.

After much research to find out who she was and her story, our presenter/teacher unpacked this womans life with picture, paintings and tidbits of diary entries from the likes of Ruskin, Brown and Howard.

I have done much reading about Venice during my year here....always fascinated at the history and web like relations of these famous artists, poets and philanthropists who I have heard in passing but never really knew. The Palazzo itself has a very long and vivid history and legend attached to it and it is no wonder that it caught the imagination and love of Helen. Venice has captured the hearts of many over the centuries in one way or another and I am honored to be in their company.

To be at a lecture where I was being read details of Venetian history and having the privilege of seeing pictures and photographs previously undiscovered or unmentioned was fascinating. Her biographical lecture carried us from Helens birth in England to Constantinople to Rome and, of course, to Venice. We covered Italy in WW1 and we peeked in on the lives of the rich society during that time. I can only imagine the 'fun' our teacher had in her research about this previously anonymous, sometime Venetian resident.

I look forward to the publication of this research to read it in depth now that I know its origin and location. Serendipity for the teacher having her cigarette and serendipity for me to attend this lecture.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Another Cultural Day

I was reminded several times yesterday that I am living in a very cultural place. Back home, the majority of foreigners we see come from Mexico. The occasional other nationality doesnt usually raise an eyebrow as they tend to blend in. Here in Venice, blending is not always so easy.

In the morning as I attended my last church service here, we were honored with some guests from another church that the Reverend officiates. He was having the annual meeting of the church and invited members to attend our service in the morning and stay for the meeting. St. Georges in Venice could easily remind me of my church in Phoenix...nothing but white folk! So, what a great surprise and honor when about 10 Nigerian members of the Padova church showed up in their Sunday best and native costumes. They brought a life to the service that the often reserved English community cant repeat or muster.

Later in the day as I was showing some more people around Venice (it never ends!), the entire Jewish Orthodox Ghetto community walks by Rialto chanting and clapping. What a sight that was--not one you see everyday anywhere. I dont know the occasion but it was great to see them come out of the Ghetto (which doesnt happen much either), dressed in their black frocks with side ponytails and top hats! After crossing the Rialto Bridge, hanging out for a while (all the while singing and clapping), they turned around and went back the way they came!

And still later, we stopped in to visit a church (i.e. be a tourist) and I was surprised to find an entire congregation of Chinese folk having an afternoon service in english! There are many Chinese in the city as they are buying up stores like crazy but I wasnt aware that they had their own services here. And one doesnt really ever walk into a Catholic church in Venice and expect to see a Chinese congregation sitting in the pews.

What a nice reminder yesterday was of how cultures can co-exist even in the smallest of islands. America is often noted as a melting pot of the world, but in my little corner of it, we dont get much culture like that. It was a true breath of fresh air!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Tick Tock

Well, with under a week to go, I have managed to accomplish two things on the 'to-do' list that I never got around to this year. Of course, thats a really poor excuse. How can a person who is unemployed for a whole year not get around to doing something?! Lets just say, the opportunity and the brain were not functioning at the same time until today.

First, I managed to finally come across a certain bridge I wanted to see. With 409 in the city, its not always easy to find just one. But I had heard about the name of this bridge, thought it was funny and felt the need to see it in person. Its called Ponte de le Tette or in english, Bridge of the Boobs! What a great name for a bridge. If those steps could talk, huh? I sure wish I knew why it got that name (something to do with being periously close to the old 'red light' district of ancient days past I am sure). Or better yet, I wish I would have found it earlier in the year and I could have given someone directions....can you see it--go to the Bridge of the Boobs and take a left....... :-)

Second, I finally found number 5 on my top 5 list of favorite churches in the city. There are about 100 so its no small accomplishment to see them all and make a top talent list. I was actually surprised that I couldnt find more than 5 to be honest and had a feeling that the Greek Orthodox church was going to be it. And I was right. I managed to be in the area, remember that I wanted to go there and was lucky enough it was open all at the same time! Its a very small church and pretty non descript from the outside, but in traditional Greek Orthodox flair, the inside is brilliant gold and very serene. Of course, pics were not allowed but I took the opportunity to get some rogue shots when no one was looking!

Quite a successful day all in all. I could come up with things to see and do forever in this city but I am quite pleased about todays events. Check and check. Now, if I could just be that lucky with the suitcases.....

Saturday, April 26, 2008


Do you remember that George Carlin skit about how much 'stuff' we have? Its the one about all we do as humans is collect stuff and move it around--and then we buy containers to put our stuff in (containers like a house and car). Its an old routine of his, but I was struck with my memories of this skit as I attempt to pack for the third time already. I thought I was done but Delta changed their policy again and I cant take a carryon because they consider the cat a carryon! Nice policy since I have to pay for the cat--doesnt make any sense to me but under the current airline circumstances, I dont think it is possible to make sense of any of those fees.

Now, as I remember, I think I packed and repacked three times to come over here (shoes were the big issue back then). So, this shouldnt be a surprise that I would have to do it on the way home. But the real surprise is how come the 'stuff' that fit on the way over isnt fitting on the way back?

Here's the math....I came with 4 suitcases, a laptop and a cat. Some people brought over winter stuff which amounted to another suitcase basically. Over the course of the year, I did purchase a few things and then I went shopping recently to buy some souviners and gifts which amounts to another suitcase. I sent a suitcase home in Feb with a friend and one home last week with my friend. So why am left with 5 suitcases to fill here along with the laptop and the cat instead of the 4 I started with? The math makes sense but the 'stuff' doesnt fit!

I am travelling alone on the way back so we have to add in the challenge of me maneuvering all this 'stuff' by myself through customs in Atlanta as well as what an incredible amount of money its going to cost for all this 'stuff'. Of course, the price for everything has increased since I came over and at last count, we are looking at about $600 for my 'stuff' (plus the cat!). And, unfortunately, even with my math degree, I cant seem to make a difference with that number

So, back to packing my 'stuff'. My mother has given me a mantra to enable me to accomplish what is hopefully the last packing round--'let it go'! This is easier said than done but I have been practicing saying it over and over. My mantra, at the end of round three is going to be 'it is what it is'! And that leaves me to wonder if I truly got that lesson this year about being able to live on less?! :-)

Just for is the link to the George Carlin skit on YouTube.

Friday, April 25, 2008

April 25th

(Editors Note: I am publishing this a day early because my internet is 'supposed' to be disconnected by Friday--by the way, I did call the credit card company and took care of FastWeb my own way! I hope to check email and write a few times more before the flight--I am sure it will be nothing but adventures to share during this last week.)

April 25th in Italy is the equivalent of July 4th in America. Its a big day of celebrating and lucky for them, it falls on a Friday, so many people get a long weekend out of it.

But in Venice, April 25th means something else---those Venetians love to be different than the rest of Italy! Here it is the celebration of the patron saint, Mark. Obviously, the Basilica here is named after him and legend has it that his ruins lie here as well.

Seems that back in the 9th century or so, two Venetians took off for Alexandria to smuggle the remains of Mark to Venice so they could have their own patron saint and be better (or different) than Rome and St. Peters. To make a long legend short, Mark had a dream or vision once that he would spend the rest of life (or death) in Venice and so these Venetians thought it was only just to help a dead guy out. They smuggled his remains in a vat of pork so that the Muslim inspectors in Alexandria wouldnt get anywhere near him and know what they were doing. Mark arrived back safely in Venice and took his stance as the patron saint of the city with the winged lion as his mascot.

During the construction and rebuilding of the Basilica over time, they seemed to have 'lost' the remains of Mark in the building! So much for being revered! Anyway, they had like a huge prayer session and asked for a sign and Marks hand came out of the wall along with some smoke indicating where he was and they promptly moved him to center stage where he remains today.

There you have a Christian, I cant help but be disappointed at this legend. But on the other hand, it is ever so amusing and the Venetians arent really pious about it and dont claim to have the end all authority like you find in Rome, so I get it and take it as another part of what makes Venice Venice.

As for celebrating this day, men are supposed to give a rose to their sisters, mothers, wives and girlfriends. What this has to do with the price of tea in china and Mark's remains I dont know, but I think this is finally the one day of the year that those annoying rose peddlers will be happy!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Cat with 27 Lives

Mr. Peabody never ceases to amaze me. He did really well under the circumstances for having to go to two different vets on two different days. He is basically in great health according to the first one for his age (17) but a little low on fluids. After an IV and a basic exam, I took him home to rest for a day until we did it all over again by going to the State Vet.

The first vet was nice enough to even write me a certificate of his health to present to the State. And after a few formalities of checking that his microchip was working and that I didnt just pick this cat up off the street, I have the paperwork for Mr. P to fly home!

Now, he can rest for a week or so until I have to shove him back in the cage for the long flight back to Phoenix.....he's such a good boy and I bet he will be super excited when his life of travelling is done!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

St. Georges Day

April 23 is the celebration of St. Georges day in England, so my church here is celebrating in kind. Knowing even less about English history and tradition than I do Italian, I asked the Reverend and his wife at bible study Tuesday night for the details.

St. George was a knight type of guy who was living in what is now considered Turkey and at some point in his life/career he saved a town in the area by slaying the dragon (I think the English folk have a great affection for dragons). Later on, Richard the Lion Hearted took a liking to George (after his death, obviously) and what he did and adopted his moniker flag (the red cross) as his own and therefore for England. And, so George became the patron saint of England. Thats it in a nutshell.

As for the celebration here, the church is sponsoring a dragon hunt! I am so sad that I cant attend (Mr. Peabody has a vet appointment in order to figure out what is wrong and hopefully get fixed before the flight). Apparently there are lots of dragons in Venice--who knew! I see the lions all the time because that is the symbol of St. Mark and therefore Venice, but I cant say that I have ever really noticed the dragons. The Reverends wife has assured me that she has personally counted 45 in her district alone!

So, you get an itinerary (short path or long path depending on how much time you want to play the game) and map and are sent off to find dragons. You come back in a few hours with your booty of locations written down, they are cross checked and you are given a certificate of authentication for the number you have found correctly! No prizes, no fanfare, just personal knowledge. And because I love to do silly things like that, I will have to participate later and on my own.

Here's to St. George!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Nothing like having a nervous breakdown on your very own blog, eh?! Every now and then, I think I just have to talk like a sailor for a bit to get all the toxins out and make sure I dont end up with an ulcer some day! But after a day of taking care of the cat and listening to the tranquil nature of the rain beating on the sidewalk, I have somewhat recovered from my outburst!

I have had several mantras this year:

1. This is not a surprise to God
2. No drama
3. Sure, I got nothin' to do

Taking those into account (although at this stage in the game, I actually do have some things to do!), I am having a do-over today (or mulligan for you golfing fans). Its still raining, the cat is still sick and I still dont have a place to send my modem, but I am bound and determined to make this day different and better.

Off I go......

Monday, April 21, 2008

FastWeb Revisited

So, this morning, I walked over to the store that is supposedly going to accept my modem this week after the internet is shut off. If you remember the story last month (yes, I have been working on this little 'project' for a month), they told me I couldnt mail it back to them in Milan but had to drop it off at some store. And they gave me the names of three places, two of which informed me that they are no longer authorized to accept the modems (way to keep your records updated FastWeb). This last place was still accepting the modems as of late March when we called and all I had to do was go a few days in advance to fill out some paperwork to open a ticket.

Not surprising to either you or me, but our final store is suddenly no longer authorized to accept modems!!!!!! If you could see how large the blood vessel on the side of my head is right now, you might have a small indication at how @#$%^&* pissed off I am. I have reached my limit--its neither funny nor acceptable. I am in the throws of packing, have a sick cat on my hand and its frigging raining again. All those niceties I wrote about last week are out the window today...I have to leave this beaureaucratic/inept nightmare for a while. I have officially snapped. Perhaps now would be a good time to go to the grocery store and have a moment with the cashier Nazi?!

However, I am, by nature, a law abiding citizen and will do my best to do the right thing. I have contacted a friend who will, one last time, ask FastWeb for an address to mail the modem back. I will NOT traipse all over Venice again to bogus stores. Either I mail it to them or I call my credit card and tell them not to accept charges anylonger from this @#$%^& company! But for now, I need to go take an Advil to get rid of this headache! :-)

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Final List

Well, here we are...that last of my musings and ponderings of the two places I live. Today, I would like to share the things that I am looking forward to about being back in Phoenix.

1. Being warm! I think I did really well for an AZ girl in this weather. It was a very long fall, winter, spring with marble floors, fog, rain and general gloominess. I cant wait to feel the 100 degrees and constant sunshine beating on my skin again!

2. Knowing where to go and who to talk to in order to get something done. One of my biggest frustrations was knowing how to do things in this country (and trust me, they dont make it easy on you). I found that just finding the right office or person to talk to was just a big a hurdle as actually trying to explain what I want in Italian! And throw in closures during siesta time and all day Sunday just for good measure. I am looking forward to the comfort of knowing the ins and outs of business and government in the US.

3. My couch (I still miss that thing! Best investment I ever made), a garbage disposal, grapes without seeds and whatever else I put on my list way back at the beginning of this year!

4. A good pedicure, eyebrow wax and massage. Yes, I am a girl and I miss my treatments. Right after the haircut, you will find me getting all three of those things within the same afternoon. :-)

5. And, obviously, my family and friends. Its been a long year of emails, skype and plane trips for them to see glimpses of me but it will be nice to be in the same city again.

I imagine there are other things that I could add to this list as well--those would probably be some of modern conveniences that makes America what it is. But I have grown accustomed to being without them, so I guess it will just make it all that much nicer when I get home.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Third List

The reality of leaving is starting to sink in. Yesterday, I mailed a box back home. I was very proud that this box only weighed 15 pounds. However, the issue turned out not to be weight but size. I had to craft my own box in order to send my Carnival mask (and the rain boots that I will never need use of in the desert) home and in the end, it cost me 60 euro to do so! It is supposed to arrive in 6 weeks or so and they didnt allow insurance on it (?)--well, I at least have pictures of me in my mask in case I never see it again! That little adventure spurred me on to think of the things I am not looking forward to back home......

1. Driving--I mentioned yesterday how much I enjoy walking and by the same token, I dont really enjoy driving. Or should I say, the long commutes that are commonplace in Phoenix and the ever increasing traffic jams. Driving is a necessity in Phoenix either due to the heat or the distance. Maybe I can find a job that is only 2 blocks away from me and get my daily passeggiata in?!

2. Consumerism--its funny that I would think this while living on this floating island hotel/gift shop where shopping is one of the major activities. But instead, I have found that I truly can live on less and its not that important to get that new car every 3 years or a bigger house every 5. The American consumer mindset is addictive. Don't get me wrong, one of my first stops back home will be Target! But I am hoping that I can keep my simplicity and not get caught up in the bigger, better, faster syndrome that plagues us there.

3. Alarm Clocks--its been such a dream to wake up naturally for a year. I have found a rhythym in my sleep and I enjoy it. That first day of the new job when the alarm goes off will be a sad day for all of us--me, the cat, and all the people I am about to work with!

4. Crime--the nature of Venice with its labryinth streets and people milling about has created an environment where crime is almost non-existent because of the difficulty in committing such a thing. Back home, this is not the case. While my neighborhood and general living area is not crime ridden (at least not when I left!), I can honestly say that I never felt comfortable walking the streets alone after dark like I do in Venice.

5. Routine--with an engineering background and a human nature of being tidy, organized and on time, I was surprised to find the simple joy I get from 'not having anything to do'. Being able to come and go and experience whatever is lying around the corner at a whim has been a breath of fresh air for me this year. I am hoping that once I settle back into the 'routine' of working and life in Phoenix, that I can steal some of these times away for balance.

And, tomorrow....the last list...what I am looking forward to when I get back home.....

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Second List

As promised, todays list is about the things I am going to miss once I leave. I truly pondered this all day (and have been occassionally thinking of it over the last few weeks as I start to do the 'last time' of something) and with great difficulty, have come up with the top 5.

1. The city--Venice captured my heart years ago as a child before I ever came and every visit I made strengthened that feeling. Now that I am leaving, a part of me will stay here and a part of Venice will come back with me. It is by far, the most remarkable place to me.

2. The food--while Venice is not known for variety, I have yet to tire of pizza and have found several pasta dishes around the island that I love. The bakery below my apartment has some great secret recipe sweets that they refuse to share with me and the freshness of the fruits and vegetables will soon be a distant memory. I was never a fan of red wine but truly love their house wine here and hope to find something back home that can recreate that flavor. The afternoon spritz and the endless flavors of gelato are great treats. I am sure my feeling on limoncello need not be mentioned again here! And, last but not least, coffee. I made it 41 years without drinking the stuff because I thought it was terrible. But now, there is nothing like my morning cappuccino.

3. My new friends--over the last year, I have met several Italians, several Americans and several Britians which I now considered good friends. They have helped to make my year even more special than originally planned. I will miss them and look forward to seeing them all soon again.

4. Walking and train travel--one of the biggest things I wanted to leave Phoenix for was the driving. Its exhausting and my daily commute of 25 miles each way for work took a toll on me. But here, I get to walk everywhere if I want and walking has always been my favorite exercise. At times I have tired of the bridges but I will definitely long for them and the bumpy cobblestone streets shortly after I get home. As for train travel, it is by far the best way to go. You dont have to arrive hours in advance, you can relax and enjoy the view outside and its very economical. I will miss my day trips to local cities.

5. Europe--and by that I mean the fact that in a few hours I can be in another country experiencing another culture with all that it has to offer. Now I suppose I could travel a few hours from Phoenix (by plane) and be in heart of Arkansas and experience something way different also, but it just isnt the same as travelling to another country!

This list was hard to narrow down and its probably seen as very high level....if I listed the individual things that I will miss, I would be typing well past the time my flight leaves! You just cant have an experience like leaving everything you know to live in a foreign place and not have a life changing moment or two along the way. For me, I hope to review my blog for many years to come as a reminder of my blessings and my fortune.

Tomorrows list? What I am NOT looking forward to when I return home.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The First List

So, I am fresh off the bus back from the airport for the last time (until I go) dropping my last visitor off to return to sunny Phoenix. I am in the throws of packing and have come to grips with the fact that it is going to cost me more than I thought to get everything home--who knew I accumulated so much!

I thought I would use the next couple of days to ponder some of my top 10 lists (although I have decided only to make a list of 5). Today, I am thinking about the things I will NOT miss once I leave. And here they are.....drum roll please!

1. The genetic incapability of Venetians to form a line to wait their turn for anything.

2. The incessant pushing, shoving and cutting in line that accompanies this genetic defect.

3. The breathing in of second hand cigarette smoke all day long while walking the streets of Venice.

4. The general rudeness, curt nature and brisk behavior that seems to plague Venetians.

5. Having to pay more for something if I sit down or not getting a Venetian discount because I dont have an 'in' with a business.

Now, I am sure some of you would have thought I would have listed the cashier Nazi but, to be honest, in some strange way I think both she and I like our antagonistic relationship and I bet she is going to miss me! haha

I chose to only list 5 things because I dont think it fair for me to 'complain' about the culture of another country. Afterall, I came here to live in Italy and immerse myself, not to be an American living in Italy. There are other things that I dont care for or wish were different but they arent significant enough to list and I dont lose sleep over them. The list above makes the fur on the back of my neck stand up and therefore made the cut!

Tomorrow....what I am going to miss....a much harder top 5 list to come up with.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Day 3--Capri

On my last day, I had planned on being very adventurous and climbing the 900 stairs (so the guidebook says) from the harbour area to AnaCapri (the top of the mountain area).

AnaCapri is where many of the locals live. I finally saw a few grocery stores and the like as this had crossed my mind before. I thought lugging groceries in Venice was tough but having to carry them uphill is worse than over bridges I think.

Well, anyway, my legs were a bit tired from the previous two days so I opted for plan B which was to take the city bus up. The buses are very tiny...they hold about 15 or so people rather comfortably but they seem to cram in at least 20 or more when it calls for it. For 1.40euro I thought it was a bargain. 'Thought' being the operative word here.

By the time we get about halfway up the mountain, we are into some serious hairpin turns (see pic with tiny little colored specs indicating cars and buses) where the width of the road is only enough for one vehicle and the drop off is deep and not fenced. I remember a similar event in Sorrento--I didnt like that time either! I immediatly got a hot flash and a queasy stomach and got off at the first stop the bus made, walking the rest of the way to the center of AnaCapri!

It was a very quaint little town with a fabulous church (famous for its floor and rightly so) and tons of cheaper ceramic items than a mile or so down the mountain in Capri and the harbour. Even the city benches were made of ceramic tiles and painted with lovely designs. I was also still amazed at how nice everyone was---genuinely enjoying a conversation and showing such manners. I had intentions of riding the chairlift to the very top of the mountain but after looking at it, decided I had done enough damage to my stomach for one day!

I took a bus down to Capri during which I stared at the floor of the bus the entire time so as to not think of the hairpin turns. Then I took my last funicular ride down to the harbour area to have lunch and finish my shopping.

I soooo enjoyed this island and look forward to going back. I will just be sure to bring a bunch of dramamine the next time! :-)

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Day 2--Capri (afternoon)

After lunch I vowed to find that missing hike from my guide book that I missed the day before. I started back the same way and then had the sense to ask someone what to do next. There are pretty good signs along the way, but somehow or other I think I took the extra scenic route the day before and missed the first sign.

This was another 60-70 degree incline hike along paved roads (roads being the size of sidewalks) but just like the day before, the vegetation and singing birds made it all worth while. I finally made it to the top and wandered around the ruins of good ol' Tiberius. He was one of the ancient rulers of Rome and a bit off center (of course, most leaders are, right?!). He spent the last ten years of his reign and life in Capri basically being exiled from Rome for some 'stuff'. As legend and history has it, he apparently was a pedophile among other things. Not that that was necessarily frowned upon in those days, but I guess he figured he could have more freedom away from the big city. He had this huge compound built for him back around 27AD or so I believe...needless to say, its amazing anything is still there and we can actually see it firsthand.

We all know that the Romans were par excellence at building and creating things, so I wasnt quite so amazed that they managed to have this made at the top of this mountain. But what did impress me is how Mr. Tiberius got up there as well as all his visitors. I am sure they didnt have access to the paved roads. It took me at least an hour by them to reach it so I can only imagine what they had to do. All the more reason to stay there once you arrive, I guess. Legend/history also has it that when Mr. T was 'done' with you, he simply had you pushed off the ledge to your death (which by the way, my boat driver Franco called the typical Italian divorce! haha).
The walk down was just as pleasant but somehow or other I managed a wrong turn again and wandered around in places I hadnt seen before until finally meeting up with the main 'road'. Its amazing how I can get lost in a paper bag! But in this case, it makes all that much more fun.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Day 2--Capri (morning)

Fresh off a good nights sleep with some steady rain on the window, I was up and out on my second day. Like most Italian towns, they dont come alive until around 10am. I intended to take a boat trip around the island and stop at the blue grotto. Now, the guidebooks tell you its best to do this in the afternoon, but both boat companies told me the waters were too choppy in the afternoon and they dont run then. Thus, I took the 1030am boat tour!

Our boat had seating for at least 100 but there was only about 25--again an indication that I was there in low season and had planned that right! Our driver was Franco--born and raised in Capri. We stopped at the white grotto (white cave) and green grotto (beautiful green water) and then through the Faraglioni rocks. The one in the middle has an arch built through it from the water erosion. And again, the Italians are not short on reasons to love--they have a tradition that when you pass through the arch in the boat you are to kiss your lover or friend or whatever! They do call Capri the Isle of Love!

Through the arch we went and around the island to small harbour on the other side and then to the blue grotto. This was something that I didnt quite understand from reading the guidebooks. You have to get off your big boat into a very small row boat that seats one comfortably (although they put at least 4 of you in it) and then row over to another boat to pay to get in the cave and then wait your turn. We were 'lucky' enough to arrive just after a very large number of Japanese day trippers came, so our wait was like 30 minutes. After paying, you are rowed up to the cave entrance (about 3 feet around) and told to lie down in the boat! The driver grabs a chain, waits for the waves to be at their lowest point and pulls the boat into the cave where you can sit up again. Timing is everything obviously!

But all that (including getting green around the gills again from rocking in the small boat for 30 minutes) is well worth it once inside. That kind of color cant be recreated nor can my camera give justice to it. Its the same water as everywhere else, but the refraction of light from that tiny entrance paints a brilliant blue hue inside the cave water. Stunning.

Waiting our turn again to get out in the same fashion and then back to the big boat, we arrive all a bit wet and cramped but happy. The boat tour continues on and before we know it, we are back to the main harbour just in time for lunch. I ordered a Caprese pizza which came to me with the bread being warm and cooked and the toppings cold. But those small tomatoes on the inside of the pizza were to die for--the flavor was incredible.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Day 1--Capri

When I last left you, I had arrived on terra firma and was walking my suitcase up the hill to my hotel. Unlike Venice which is basically a flat island, Capri is like a mountain island--everything is up or down there. I think I got an upgrade in my room because it was so much more than I expected--and I wonderful bay window that opened to the sea!

I didnt stay long at the hotel as I wanted to start my exploring. My first task was to take this walk suggested by my guidebook as lasting 3-5 hours depending on how fast one goes. I could have taken the funicular up to Capri town from the harbour but was feeling adventurous and decided to climb. While this wasnt the hardest climb I did over the 3 days, it was a bit more than I thought it would be. Most of the inclines there are between 50-70 degrees. At least they were paved or otherwise I would have thought I was hiking Camelback Mountain in Phoenix!

Once you get out of the touristy shop area, the 'streets' become lined with bouganvilla and wisteria and all sorts of trees and plants. The fresh smell is incredible. And birds are chirping just like you were listening to some relaxation CD. True paradise!

I managed to take a wrong turn--big surprise, Susan gets lost! This meant I missed one of the sights on the walk and I figured I would go back and catch it later by retracing my steps. Well, that didnt happen because the climb got more intense. I found the Natural Arch (i.e. a big hole in the rock) and started descending the stairs to this ancient cave where the Romans used to worship pagen gods. I stopped counting after 200 steps because my knee joints were talking. If I had to guess, it was about 500 steps down---mind you I had to go up first in order to go down. Apparently I was wrapping around the island and about to embark on the 3 famous rocks--Faraglioni.

After sighting them, the walk continues along passing a few incredible villas built into the side of the mountain and you eventually end up getting back where you started. All in all, I was 'hiking' for about 3 hours. All this time, I passed 5 people (of which one I asked to take the pic of me as proof that I was there)! I had no cell service and was wondering what would happen if I biffed it here on the rocks (seeing as how I have post traumatic stress syndrome from falling down the stairs in January)!?

I am actually glad I missed the first turn because I was tired as this point and ready for food. After my 1/2 litre of wine and pizza and dessert, I wandered around shopping and snapping photos and took the funicular ride down!! It truly is beautiful there. Very captivating.

Oh, and the best part (as if there could be anything better) was that my limoncello glasses were everywhere!!!! I was like a kid in a candy store.

Getting there and back

So, I am fresh off the plane from Capri and figured my first blog should tell you about the they say, its all about the journey, not the destination, right?! NOT!

Getting up at 3am to leave is difficult but I managed to do it and that early in the morning, vaporettos and buses are either on time or they arent coming at all! All was good until we were boarding. They cram you into this bus to drive you to the middle of the tarmack somewhere in order to board a plane (still a strange phenomenon to me in this terrorist age). We sat in the bus for a good 10-15 minutes without moving. Then the driver drove us about 200 feet away to our plane! I am not joking. There was a hush in the bus and then a small riot...I learned some new Italian cuss words at 630am that day!

I arrive in Naples with no trouble. Let me first apologize to anyone who lives there or is from there or happens to like it there. I just dont like it. Its a dump and it scares me--this is my second time just passing through and I cant seem to bring myself to stop. Now, there are some things there I would like to see but so far I havent been longing enough to actually make a vacation of it. On the other hand, I have been treated very nicely by the people in Naples and even more so in Capri. If the Venetians could learn something from them about pleasantness, Venice could become great again, I am sure of it! But enough of that.

I take the shuttle from the airport to the ferry. Never have I experienced such traffic. I thought I had seen it all in Mexico City a few years back but they have nothing on the driving in Naples. This is the first time that cars actually drive on both sides of the median at the same time in both directions at the same time and hop over the median at will. Now, I imagine, there are some sort of 'rules' or guidelines for this, but to the observer its chaos. Jaywalking is apparently supported at all costs as well. The bus stops at the Castle ruins by the dock...and when I say, by the dock, I use that term loosely. It was a rather long walk for shuttle that claims to take you to the port. And I joined in (because I had to) with the jaywalking extravaganza. Woo hoo!!!

Just making the ferry by doing my OJ impersonation running up the gang plank, I settle in for my 40 minute or so ride to Capri. The seas were rough but not to the point of white caps. And I thought I was on a pretty decent size boat...about 300 seats or so. However, we rockin and rollin on that trip. After a vaportetto, bus, airplane, and bus ride, I was beginning to get a bit green around the gills. I was very happy to walk on terra ferma again and enjoyed the short walk up the hill to my hotel.

For my return trip this morning, I got to sleep in until 4am! A short walk down to the ferry to catch the first one out at 545am. This was one of those car ferries so it was really large (I have attached a pic of both of my boats!) and I was thankful for the calm ride after 3 days of being green in the water and on the buses in Capri (more on that later). This particular ferry goes to a different port than the one I came in on, so it was useless to me as far as knowing where I was or how to get to the airport. So, I paid an incredibly outrageous price of 55 euro to have a car waiting for me. Granted it was a Mercedes, but still very pricey. We got to the airport in record time as there wasnt as much traffic at 7am. The flight was only scheduled to be 5 minutes late and we boarded that same shuttle bus to the airplane on the tarmack. However, this time we actually drove a decent distance to justify it. And lo and behold, we arrived in Venice 20 minutes early...just in time for me to get my luggage and catch the bus to vaporetto and the short walk back to my apartment.

So, now you understand why I dont buy the 'all about the journey' hoo hoo! Tomorrow and following days.....the good stuff about that place!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Off to Capri

OK..not much of a blog today other than to tell you I am leaving for Capri and will be back to chat with you on Friday. Of course, this all depends on whether Alitalia is still flying (as they are in heaps of trouble over here and I read about the three airlines going under in the US last week). And it also depends on whether or not I can make my flight in the first place...the airline changed my return flight and I have a very short window of time to get from Capri to the ferry and from the ferry to the airport at O dark thirty in the morning on Friday!

However, I will be indulging in limoncello, shopping for those elusive glasses to put my limoncello in (so I can stop drinking from the bottle like a wino! haha) and viewing the sights from the island. So, all in all, worse things can happen than getting stuck in Capri, no?

Back soon........

Sunday, April 6, 2008


I have to admit, I dont know much about my topic least not over here in Italy. But this is what I have learned or surmised over the last year.

Graduation from college takes place three times a is coming up soon. How do I know this? Well, you start to see these large white sheets of paper with character drawings and lots of small print on them hanging on walls all over the city (I saw these in Bassano last week). Apparently, the person who is graduating makes these 'announcements' complete with ideal renderings of their looks and personality (as a foreigner in Italy, I can tell you that its always about boobs and butts!) . In the text, they talk about their accomplishments, the last 4 years of their life in school and others talk about them.

Then shortly before graduating, a group of their friends will 'kidnap' them, make them wear any of a variety of things or outfits that is pretty much deemed humiliating and parade them around the city. All the while, they are chanting this song that sounds vaguely familiar to the tune of Happy Birthday; because of the lyrics (as it was translated for me), I shouldnt really repeat it here. And for the life of me, I am not really sure what the song has to do with the graduation other than that is when they sing it.

This is all an interesting tradition and one of which I cant relate since both of my grad degrees came and went without me attending a ceremony! Oh well, to each his own.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Bassano del Grappa

Thursday, I took what I think is my next to last train trip around the area to Bassano del Grappa. It was originally named just Bassano after Jacopo Bassano who founded the place. Then later on, the name was changed in order to honor the thousands of soldiers who lost their lives in the battles on Mount Grappa during WWI. And even later still, they decided to capitalize on the Grappa thing and sell some liqueur!

The liqueur name grappa comes from 'grappolo' which means a cluster of grapes. Grappa liqueur has been produced in Bassano since 1779 when Bortolo Nardini bought a Grapperia on the Brenta River bank. The Nardini family is still producing it and accounts for about 1/4 of all the grappa sales annually! Grappa is made from the by-products of wine making, the seeds, stems and skins. I was lucky enough to get some free samples of different flavors of grappa. And while it pales in comparison to limoncello (in my humble opinion), it was pretty good!

Bassano del Grappa is also known for the Ponte Vecchio or old bridge which is a wooden pontoon designed by the famous architect Palladio. And the town also has a strong tie to the Alpini which are the elite Italian Alpine mountain troops who had their heydey in WWI and WWII. In the town you will find homage to the Alpini just about everywhere as well as remnants of the war (see the pic with bullet holes on the building).

Around WWII time, there were some actual hangings of partisans by the Germans in the city. They have these well groomed trees that look like gumdrops with plaques and pictures attached to show the people who were hanged from them and the date.

It was certainly a quaint little town and I loved seeing the mountains up close. Oh yeah.....I searched again for the elusive limoncello ceramic glasses because Bassano has their own brand of ceramics. I actually found one (count them--one) that was just made and had yet to be painted or kilned. They told me it was the only one and they werent going to do anything with it, so it really was of no use to me--other than I now know that at least one of them has been made in the world!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Bike Ride

This past Sunday we participated in daylight savings time here in Europe and it seems that not only did the clocks change but the mood changed as well. The sun sets at about 730pm now and still light outside close to 8pm. The people are out and about, the tables have been set up outside again for evening cocktails and the stores are staying open a little longer. The weather has been 'great'....great for the mid to upper 60's for the last few days with bright sun. I think Spring has sprung!

And in keeping with the mood change, I went to Lido yesterday to take a bike ride to some parts I havent seen yet. Lido is like 8-10 miles long and about 1/2 mile wide. I rode from center to the far end and made a 3 hour trip of it. Well, I (we) did stop a few times, so we probably rode for 2 hours total. Let it be known that my butt feels like I rode for 20 hours!

Lido is the one island that allows cars on it but there are so many places for bike riding that are free from car action. We rode along the waterfront by the ancient breakwater system. We stopped at an agriturismo to get some fresh veggies. We swung by a city park that had farm animals (which is where we saw a goat much in need of milking--looked painful!). And we made it all the way to the end where the old military barracks were. Its very peaceful and sleepy like down there at the standing around fixing their fish nets and people sitting in a local square just chatting.

We made it back in time to catch a great sunset....there are some magnificient ones here. And then after I got home and slung my backpack on the table, I noticed something sticking to it. Getting a closer look, I found out I had been the brunt of Pesce d'Aprile and someone had taped a paper fish to my I guess, afterall, the joke was on me!