Friday, September 30, 2011

Thursday, Somewhere in Venice: Lost Again!

Just in case any of you reading this are wondering how we can get lost so often in Venice, take a look at these direction signs:

It probably means that you can get to San Marco either way, but I think the actual translation is: just walk around in circles until you find it!  A couple of days ago we saw a young man wearing a t-shirt that said, in BIG letters, I'm Lost!  I think I need a tattoo.....

We had a busy and full day on Thursday, even though some of our plans didn't quite work out.

First thing in the morning we did a "dry run" to the Sant Lucia train station.  We wanted to find out just how long it would take us to get there--don't want to miss our train to Florence on Saturday! The answer?  Just about an hour from the time we leave the apartment.  We have found that getting from point A to B on the vaporetto in Venice is a time consuming process, and one could probably walk much faster if it weren't for that pesky "getting lost" problem!

So that mission accomplished, we hopped back on the vaporetto and headed for the Rialto market to buy some supplies for a couple more meals.  Fruit, and some more of those delicious greens for a salad.  David tried to talk me into trying horse meat, but nothing doing!  I know, I know--if I'll eat squid ink, why not horse meat?  It just doesn't seem right.

We stopped at a cafe/bar and picked up a wonderful bruschetta type thingy for dinner--I can't remember what they called it--but it was delicious!  We will probably have another for dinner tonight--I'll take a picture.

After dropping of our groceries and dinner, we went back out-our destination being the Jewish Ghetto area of Venice.  We wanted to explore this area and thought it would be a good place for lunch.  We found the general area without a problem, and strolled the very busy streets.  Was different than we expected, and we ended up having a small sandwich and a beer at an Irish Pub!

 Fortified with food and drink, we set off to find the actual island and the Jewish Museum.  We even had a map with route marked.  Well........up and down along both sides of the canal, wandering in the narrow lanes--we just can't find the street.  Finally David sees a sign across the canal (of course it's on the other side!) so back up and over the bridge--and we found the street!  No wonder we didn't recognize the sign--it's wrtten in Hebrew!

We walked through the dark passageway, over a small bridge, and we were in a small square with 3-4 story buildings all around.  This very small area was where thousands of  Jews lived during the war, and each night they were locked onto the island.  Many were deported to the concentration camps, never to return.

It was very interesting--there were several police around, which was unusual as we had not seen many in Venice.  The increased security may have been because it was a Jewish holiday (which we hadn't realize before), but in any case it really didn't feel right taking photos in this area.  I would have felt as though I was intruding.

I had really wanted to go to the Jewish Museum--but of course it was closed because of the holiday! So after reading the memorial plaques around the square, we crossed the bridge back out into the sunlight.

We consulted our map (a lot of good that does!), and decided to explore the Santa Croce area and visit a large church there.  We actually found the church, it's big and pretty hard to miss!  Well, it was closed,   Rats!

By now our feet were tired, and we were in need of a gelato--and we found a lovely one:

 David had hazelnut and pistachio, I chose blackberry and grapefruit.  Very good, but not the best gelato we've had in Venice.  When I told the nice man we were from Alaska, he gave us a big smile and said "welcome home".  I just loved that!

So many flavors--so little time:
 We decided to catch the vaporetto back to our "home" stop.  Although a nice leisurely stroll back would have been lovely, we just we NOT up to getting lost again!

We spent a relaxing evening in our apartment, and enjoyed our simple dinner of salad and that delicious bruschetta thingy.

Friday is our last day in Venice, we have very much enjoyed our time here, but we both agree that 5 days would have been plenty.  Heck--4 days would have been enough if we hadn't spent about one whole day lost!

We are excited to see Florence and explore a new stay tuned.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Marvelous Murano and Beautiful Burano!

We were out the door and at the vaporetto stop promptly at 8;30 this morning, on our way to Murano.  It was another sunny and warm day here in Italy, a great day for a boat ride and exploring two very interesting small islands.

The ride to Murano was about 45 minutes, and we got there early enough that many shops and showrooms weren't open yet.  Our first impression of Murano was that it was very pretty, but not quite as ornate and "fancy" as Venice.  It was also much less crowded!

We stopped at a nice cafe and had an espresso and a cup of fresh fruit for breakfast.  As we walked around waiting for shops to open, we found several fun glass sculptures in public spaces:

Finally the shops and showrooms were open, so we walked up and down the main canals, popping into a shop or show room if something caught our eye.  And there was plenty of eye candy!  There was also plenty of cheap, imported junk, but I had expected that, and just ignored it.  We found that when we went into a showroom to admire some beautiful work, the sales people were very pushy.  We ignored them, too!  I did find some great hollow glass beads and bought enough to make a necklace.  I was also on the hunt for glass insects, as I have been fascinated with them for many years.  We found a wide variety of insects, prices and also a wide variety of skill levels!  Some of the insects were as much as 150 Euros each!!  But I was determined to find "my bugs" made by a local artist.  We finally found a small shop way in the back of a building--and it was full of beautiful bugs!  The artist was hard at work making beetles when we walked in.  I ended up buying quite a menagerie--a beetle, a scorpion, a beautiful spider, a fly and 3 tiny ants!!  I think they will march across my kitchen window sill at home.  I can't post pics of my bugs, as they are each carefully packed away in their own box for the trip home.  But here is a pic of the artist at work, and a pic of some of his other bugs:

After all that bug shopping, we were ready for lunch!  We stopped at a nice canal side cafe, looked at the menu and made our choices in no time.  David had a pizza, which he really enjoyed:

And I had spaghetti con sieppe.  That's squid ink! I've been wanting to try it, and it's a Venetian specialty--so today was the day!  Here's my big plate of yummy squid ink pasta:
It was delicious!  It had nice, tender melt in your mouth chunks of squid, and lots of inky black sauce.  David took one bite--and that was enough for him.   But I liked it, and ate almost the whole plate.
I did think of my dear, dear friend Brenda, and just how much she would love this dish!     ;=}

After that very yummy lunch (even though David said he just might not ever kiss me again!!), it was time to visit the Glass Museum.  It's in a lovely old building, and while it doesn't have a large collection,  it is fascinating.  There are examples of the earliest glass work--from the 1st and 2nd century.  Very interesting to look at.  No photos allowed, however.  We looked at the upstairs exhibit--some strange contemporary installation that we didn't understand.  But photos were allowed in that room, and the Venetian glass chandelier and the painted ceiling were beautiful:

It was now mid afternoon, and after almost 6 fun hours in Murano, it was time to leave.  It has been my dream for many years to visit Murano, and I wasn't disappointed, it's a wonderful place!  I would have really enjoyed getting "behind the scenes" more, especially seeing the making of the glass itself, but sadly that's just not possible.  I am thrilled with my bugs, and especially that I could meet the artist.

It was time for the next boat to Burano, and it's a short ride.  Burano is an even smaller island than Murano, but no less charming.  It has it's own historical specialty, lace.  As in Murano, much of what is sold now is not even made in Burano, but imported.  We did see some beautiful lace, though.

The real charm of Burano is it's colorful buildings--just like a rainbow!  Each house is painted a different color from it's neighbor:

Burano even has it's own leaning tower.  And no, David is not tilting the camera--the bell tower really does lean this much! (compare it to the side of the green building!)
We spent about 2 hours exploring Burano, having a delicious gelato, popping into an old church, and doing a bit of window shopping.  It's a pretty place, very serene and authentic.  I could really get a sense of every day life here, with little children playing in the piazzas, friends calling to each other, and especially these two sweet old ladies having a nice chat in the square:

It had been a long and wonderful day wandering around these two islands.  The boat to Venice was at the pier, so we made our way aboard and found a couple of great upper deck, open air seats.
It was a beautiful ride back to Venice as the sun was setting on another great day in Italy:

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Tuesday in Venice: Sunny, Hot and LOST!

We woke up well rested and ready to go this morning!  Our plan for the morning was to go back to the market area, specifically to see the fish market.

We walked through those great produce stalls on the way to the fish market, just look at these beautiful veggies, especially the zucchini blossoms:

And we have no idea what these are:
The fish market is a very busy place, with many Venetian locals buying fish or seafood for their dinner. We saw so many things we'd like to try, but our apartment is rather "light" on cooking equipment, so we are keeping meals very simple.  But just look at all this interesting seafood:

This young man is cleaning squid and saving the black ink.  They use it in a pasta dish that I'm hoping to try it while we're here.

We also saw a few things we'd just as soon NOT try:
We didn't buy any squid, skate or horse meat, or fuzzy unidentified fruit--but we did buy 3 lemons to use in my new favorite drink: Lovely Italian Limoncello mixed with sparkling water and a slice of fresh lemon.  Very delicious and refreshing--and that limoncello is only 30% alcohol!  Yikes--one small drink is my limit!

Next up: The Leonardo de Vinci Museum.  We had read about this, and it sounded right up our alley--we are such geeks sometimes.  They have replicas of many of his inventions, all displayed with  reproductions of his drawings.  Very fascinating, and some of the models you can actually try!  The list of things he designed is long, and includes early versions of things we still use today.  There was also a display case with a few of his original writings, very neat to see!  Our favorite, of course, was the bicycle.  Unfortunately, this was not one that we could try out!

 Did you know Leonardo also designed an early version of a diving costume, complete with breathing apparatus?
We spent a lot of time marveling over his many brilliant inventions and ideas, and by now it was lunch time.  We found an outdoor cafe in a nice little piazza, split a sandwich and a beer.  A pretty yummy lunch!  We walked on a bit, and had our first gelato of the day (yes, we have had a couple a day!), this time dark chocolate and hazlenut--seriously delicious!

And then, we got very lost!  We were trying to find a certain church--we could see the tall tower in the distance--but couldn't quite get there.  We were like two rats in a maze-- walking around in circles. We wandered for a long time; it was sunny, we were hot and tired.  So we just gave up!  We finally found a vaparetto stop--and got on the very next one that came along--we didn't even care where it was going, we just wanted to stop going in circles!  We stayed on board, and it eventually came to a stop we recognized, so we got right off.  It is soooo easy to get lost in Venice.  They say that is part of the charm, but we didn't feel too charmed for a while there!

After all that, we deserved a second gelato--dark chocolate and caramel this time, mmmm good!

We thought we'd check out San Marco square, and see just how long the line was for the church.  Not bad at all, so in we went.

WOW!  This was probably our 2nd favorite church this trip, right after St. Denis in Paris.  It is very different--just covered in beautiful ornate gold mosaics, marble columns and very intricate inlaid marble floors.  Again, no photos allowed in the church, darn it!  But I did sneak one from right outside the exit, just look at that beautiful mosaic work.  It really glows when the sun hits it, it is truly amazing work.  Much of the church is covered in this mosaic:

It is very hard to get a picture of the exterior, as there are buildings all around, so one can't get far enough away.  But here is the best I could do, which doesn't do it justice.  The exterior is also very detailed and ornate.  You can see that the upper left part is under wraps.
Our day was drawing to a close, so we wandered back to our apartment, taking a new route.  Looked into a few interesting shops, poked our heads into some bakeries and looked at deserts, but nothing caught our eye.  We found a wonderful glass shop with beautiful work, not that awful imported crap that we are seeing everywhere.  We had a lovely conversation with the owner, who is a 3rd generation glass worker.  He had some amazing work--especially the Venetian glass chandeliers.

We cooked a nice dinner of orrichetti pasta in butter garlic sauce with fresh parmigiano reggiano (sp?) cheese, some more of the delicious romanesco, and a green salad.  We even have leftovers for tomorrow!
Tomorrow in Venice:  a boat ride to Murano and Burano.  We are hoping we don't get lost!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Ahhh.....Venice! Our First Two Days

Our travel day on Sunday started very early, our taxi to the airport in Paris picked us up at 4:30 am.  Our Easy-Jet flight from Paris to Venice left from a different airport than we flew into, and it was much smaller and easier to navigate.  We were all checked in with plenty of time to spare, so settled in at our departure gate with our Nooks and a couple of espressos.  Oh--and one last panne chocolate!  As sad as we are to leave Paris, we are very excited about our time in Venice.
After a very uneventful 1 1/2 hour flight, we landed at Marco Polo Airport in Venice.  It was a beautiful, warm sunny day; we sure have lucked out with the weather this trip!
Transport into and around Venice is interesting, to say the least!  From the airport we took a bus to Piazzale Roma, just on the edge of the islands of Venice.  From there we took a vaporetto, which is a water bus!  There are absolutely no cars in Venice proper, the only transport options are walking, vaporetto or private water taxi, which is very expensive.  Oh, there are also gondolas, but I think they’re used only by tourists--and NOT by these two tourists!

We had a V-E-R-Y stressful trip from the airport to Venice proper.  We were running late to meet  Marco, the owner of our apartment.  I couldn’t make our new cell phone work, and to top all that off, we got lost!  It was NOT fun pulling a suitcase through thousands of people in  San Marco Square.  The area around the square is wall to wall people, and we both thought "what have we gotten ourselves into?"

I might as well admit, I had a small meltdown.  OK, maybe not so small--I'll just call it like it was and say it was a major meltdown!   According to David, I was a witch-on-wheels, and he might even be right.  As usual, he wisely remained mostly silent, offering calm and reasonable suggestions to solve our problem.  Men!!  I just don't understand them sometimes........     
But we finally managed to find the tourist office.  They kindly helped us with our phone, and told me that I needed to dial a "00" before the country code and 9 digit number and all was well!  Marco met us at the vaporetto stop, escorted us to our apartment and checked us in.   Whew!
 We really lucked out with this apartment! It’s huge, spotlessly clean and in a great, easy to find location near a vaporetto stop. We quickly unpacked and hit the street--we needed some lunch and a cold beer or two!  We found a little cafe just a few doors down, chose a panini and a couple of beers and finally relaxed for the first time all day!  We sat by a nice couple from Connecticut and enjoyed swapping travel stories.  Here's the view own the charming street, right from where I sit:
(I took this picture at about 7 a.m., just as the cafe owners and shop keepers were arriving.   By about 9 a.m.  this street will be full of people)

Now for some exploring!  Venice is just amazing, full of tiny passages, narrow canals and lovely piazzas and campos. We wandered around, very carefully noting how to get back to our apartment.  We joked about leaving a breadcrumb trail--but I’m sure the pigeons would eat them, and then we’d still be lost! 
We decided to eat dinner out the first night, as the market had been closed on Sunday afternoon so we had no groceries, AND after the morning we'd had, there was no way I was going to cook dinner!   We chose a small outdoor restaurant down a narrow winding passageway a few doors down from our apartment.  They had a prix fix menu with some interesting choices, and the price seemed reasonable.  Hmmmm, not so reasonable after they add on the service charge of 7.50E each AND a charge of 5E for water!  So for a grand total of 65 Euros (about $85) we had a very mediocre meal of pasta,a small green salad,  and a small serving of veal for me and calamari for David.  We looked at the wine li$t, just looked.  Thankfully, they didn’t charge us for looking at that wine li$t!   Lesson learned:  always look for the copertino (cover charge).  I think we'll be eating dinner "in" from now on, we are not the Rockefellers, you know!
So Monday morning, our first trip out was to the Rialto market.  It’s a vaporetto ride (of course) and about 5 stops from our apartment.  It’s a great market with beautiful produce.  We bought some green beens, fruit, some really delicious salad greens, and another head of that yummy romanesco that we had in Paris.  We found a butcher shop, and bought two stuffed chicken breasts wrapped in prosciutto.  Here’s our dinner tonight,  much tastier than last nights, and about 1/4 the cost!

After bringing our groceries back, we headed right back out to find the internet store to buy a 3G internet USB key.  I even managed to get the software installed, and it’s up and running.  Now about that speed........
Uploading pics to this blog is seriously slow and painful.  I’m hoping it’s just the time of day--maybe it will be faster in the morning.  If not, you’ll be seeing fewer pics until we get home!
Our afternoon was spent wandering a new area--we just picked a vaporetto stop and explored from there.  We found a beautiful church.  As we expected, very different architecture here than in France.  There is heavy use of marble, many frescos, and very little stained glass.  Unfortunately, none of the churches we’ve gone into have allowed any photography.    We are hoping this is not the case all over Italy, because we'd love to share them with you. Here are just a few other pics to give you a small touch of Venice:

Cruising down the Grand Canal, this pic is taken from the front of the vaporetto.

A lovely street, with some laundry hanging out.  We see this all over Venice--I don't think dryers are common here.
And here we are on one of the many bridges crossing the many canals in Venice!  Have I mentioned all the steps on those bridges? We are hoping all that up and down is burning off just some of that gelato we're going to eat!

Most of the streets are filled with shops, some touristy and some that are obviously more for the locals.
Of course we went into a lot of them, and I did find a lovely navy leather pocketbook that will be coming home with me.  Shoes?  Oh, yes--lots of shoes to look at!  Haven't bought any here yet, but you never know.......
  We also popped into a couple of small grocery stores--very interesting.  Holy Moly--it's very expensive here!  That's because everything that comes into Venice (or goes out--like laundry, garbage, etc) has to be transported by hand cart, then boat.  A very interesting way of life. for sure.

After our nice dinner, we relaxed with a couple of new beers--a Dinkle and a Dunkle! They were both pretty good:

Not counting our extremely stressful first morning in Venice, we are both really enjoying our wanderings, just taking in the beautiful architecture and watching people go about their every day life.  Everywhere we look, there is something amazing to see.   On Tuesday we plan on going to the fish market, and then to the Leonardo da Vinci museum.  Our plans for the rest of the week include a boat ride to the island of Murano, a long held dream of mine--glass heaven!  We are also planning on going to the island of Burano (lace is their specialty), and visiting several more churches.  Stay tuned!

Saturday, Sept. 24, Our Last Day in Paris

After our very looong day yesterday, we still managed to get a fairly early start this morning.  We didn't want to wast a minute of our last day in beautiful Paris.

I had read about a shopping area that sounded very interesting.  It is an old wine warehouse district that has been converted to shops and restaurants.  It's on the outskirts of Paris, and is quite a Metro ride, with a couple of line changes.

The shopping area itself was a bit of a disappointment, as most of the stores were closed up--as in out of business.  There were many restaurants, and they seemed to be busy.  This area is well of the tourist track, so it was nice to get away from the hordes of (other) tourists.

We did have a very nice surprise--in the small square behind the shopping area there was a bio food fair and market.  Several vendors from all areas of France were selling (and sampling!) their wares--delicious goods like pates, foie gras, beer, lots of cheese, honey and confitures (jams).  These vendors were all small producers, wonderfully friendly and wanted to share their products and talk about them.  We had a fun time looking around, trying to visit with the vendors, and sampling some great food.  We bought a rapeseed/sundried tomato spread and a couple of beers.  Some of the honeys were delicious, but I could just imagine trying to get those home....

Look at all the delicious cheese:

This is the nice man we bought the sundrired tomato spread from;  he very patiently explained the process of making rapeseed oil.  We sampled some, it has a wonderful, delicate flavor.
And here is David discussing beer with a vendor:

We Metro'd back to our apartment and dropped off our purchases, then headed right back out--no sitting around today!

Our plan for the afternoon was to find some old covered passageways.  These passageways were the first "malls", and there are a few of them left in Paris.

But first it was time for lunch, our last lunch in Paris.  We'd planned to find a nice sidewalk cafe in the area we were going to explore and have a nice leisurely last lunch.  Well, we did!   We just happened upon another moules y frites restaurant!  We never get tired of those delicious mussels.  Mmmmm, good!

After our yummy lunch, we set out to find our passageways.  We found 4, the first one was in kind of a sad state--we could see her former beauty, but she was sadly neglected and the stores were mostly closed.  Still an interesting stop, though.  The second one had been converted to some type of educational facility, and there was a meeting of some sort going on.  We were able to go in and look around, but had to go through a bag check first!

Our last passageway was the best--Galleries Vivienne.  She is a grand old dame--elegant and beautiful, full of very nice stores.  The architecture is lovely, very ornate with beautiful glass domes and wonderful details:

After we finished at the Galleries Viviennes, we wandered around this neighborhood, and found ourselves at the Palais Royal!  Where else but Paris can you just happen upon a Royal Palace?
It's a huge palace, and I'm not sure what it's current use is, but the grounds and surrounding park are very nice.  There are statues, a large fountain, and pretty flower gardens.  There were lots of families enjoying the park on this nice fall day.  I saw an old French woman feeding some birds right from her hand.  I took her picture, and she waved me away!
By now it was late afternoon, and as much as we dreaded the thought, it was time to head back to our apartment.  We needed to finalize our packing and tidy up the apartment a bit.  Tomorrow will be a loooong day with a very early start--our taxi is picking us up at 4:30 a.m.

Oh, but we aren't quite finished with Paris yet!  We packed a nice picnic dinner, a couple of beers and a blanket.  Our picnic spot?

And yes, she twinkled just for us!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

I Know Why She Smiles.......

 She is very amused by all these people pushing and shoving just to get a good look at her!

It was VERY crowded, with lots of pushing and shoving to get a good view.  But we were patient, and eventually had our turn.  She is really very amazing, and I would love to be able to sit and stare at her, without the noisy crowds.  I really do wonder what that smile is about!

After our time with Mona, we enjoyed the other art in the Denon wing.  As I remembered from my visit with my Mom 10 years ago, the Louvre is HUGE, overwhelming and very confusing.  We did see everything we wanted to see, but we walked miles! 

We managed to keep our energy up (somewhat) with two espressos and snack breaks during our 5 hour visit!

My favorites were the Dutch Masters (which Mom and I couldn't find last visit), The Winged Victory of Samothrace, and of course, Mona Lisa.

Winged Victory,  2nd century b.c. statue of the goddess Nike:

Some paintings we really liked:

 And a close up of the detail.  This was so perfect it almost looked like a photo!

There was a whole room full of Rubens, which I love because his women are all "chunky" and beautiful,  i.e. "Rubenesque"!

The other very interesting part of the Louvre, and probably David's favorite, was Napoleons' Apartments.
Napoleon lived at the Palace for several years, and his apartment there is just over-the-top beautiful.
It almost made Versailles look plain by comparison!

The Louvre was originally the site of a 12th century fortress, the royal palace was started in the 14th century.  Several French kings have lived there, as well as Napoleon III.

Here are a few of the too many pictures I took of his apartments:

Ceiling detail
Me at the Grand Salon:
Very ornate fireplace:
Just a little sitting alcove in a hall:
Dining room:

A view of the ceiling in one of the stairwells:

And here we are, having a little rest on a carved bench.  Do you think Napoleon sat here, too?

 As we walked through the Palace there were lovely views from each window.  This was my favorite:

We spent 5 incredible hours at the Louvre, enjoying every single second of it. It is an amazing world treasure, and we just barely scratched the surface.  We'll be back someday!

We made a quick cruise through the gift shop (a requirement) and made a very big purchase--a pencil with Mona Lisa on it!

Time to limp on back to our apartment.  It's 9 pm, we are exhausted.  Our feet feel like big bruises, our backs hurt--but we're in Paris, and we love it!

A stop at a nice cafe in our neighborhood for a bowl of soup, and it's only 1 more block to walk home...

Time for a good nights sleep, tomorrow is our last day in Paris.  I'm sure it will be perfect, like all the others.