Sometimes Life Happens

For those of you that have been following me, or rather those that were following me, you may have noticed an abrupt halt to my posts. See the thing is, life happens and sometimes those events in our lives require us to stop and reevaluate. My recent life events had a direct effect on how I would write this blog and I needed to stop and take some time to decide if it was even appropriate to continue. Clearly I’ve decided to continue. This blog, for me, is an account of an amazing life experience and I find it pointless and silly to regret or dismiss it just because of what has changed.

So stay tuned to more riveting tales of Euro Adventures!!

 

 

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Nizza giorno due/Nice Day Two

Mmmm Waking up in our hotel room I was reminded about a French culinary joy, the French version of English breakfast. I love Italian food, a vero I do, but their breakfast is very different. Italian breakfast is usually just broiche and espresso. This is fine I guess but Sunday mornings just aren’t the same without eggs. Anyway, a full breakfast is amazing so I was determined to drag Tyler into the first place on the pedestrian walkway with decent prices.

The walkway in the morning was completely different from its night time impressions. The environ is still impressed in my memory now. The tang of the unsettled sea breeze assaulted my nose as soon as we left the hotel. The sky was filled with cumulus clouds; heavy blue-bottomed white beauties were slowly lumdering their way across the sky. The low rumble of thunder was echoing off the mountains behind Nice, as if the earth was murmuring a secret all around us. Looking around I saw the rain falling in fat happy drops, proud that they were the special few that escaped their clouds to land on the pavement, making the colours around us deep and vibrant.

It was impossible to be disappointed with the weather, because it made such a statement. I was too smitten with a thunder storm in December to be concerned about getting soaked, too busy drinking in the crisp, sweet sensory delights to think about umbrellas and future plans

As promised I dragged Tyler into the first promising restaurant and we took a seat on their sheltered, heated patio (it was fairly cool out). I saw the menu, mon Dieu I love French breakfast! Quick point here, I heard some negative things from some Canadians about how the French respond to Canadian french, mostly that our accent sounds akin to southern trash. However, no one’s attitude, anywhere in the world is going to put me off ordering my first coffee of the day! In fact it was the first thing I learned in italian; ‘io bisigno di un caffe’.

Alright ordering caffe wasn’t that difficult and the elderly gentlemen quickly switched to english upon hearing my accent and seeing Tyler’s polite smile as a response. This gentleman was a treat; our breakfast came with caffe but Tyler doesn’t drink caffe so he said ‘no that’s okay’, but the gentlman was trying to insist that it came with the meal. At this point I switched back to french to explain that Tyler doesn’t drink coffee! This gentleman immediately won me over when, not missing a beat, he suggested I just have two!  Alors, when breakfast came my happy tummy sang like a meadow lark, eggs, cheese, fruit, fresh bread and baguette! I swear to God every french person is taught how to make bread and when they learn they are sworn under pain of death to reveal this secret to no one else but another french person. Our little french host continued his hospitalities, he had made sweetened figs with almond paste and was offering them to everyone. Coming back to us he asked me, for the second or third time, if I spoke french and I replied for the second or third time, yes but slowly. We then had a delightful chat about french caffe and his one server who had lived in Montreal. I believe the 4 of us stood there chatting away about Quebec and Nice and other nicities for quite awhile. Our host gave us true Niçois sentiments, ‘I cannot leave my Nice, I was born in the sun’. Nice hospitality 1, Rumours 0.

How I’ve managed to spend 5 paragraphs rambling about breakfast is beyond me but I assure you it was a fantastic experience. Our decision was to begin our day in Old Nice and the Flower Market.

Ah the Flower Market, it was something out of a painting. Our sky was still vieing for our attention, changing fat happy drops of rain for large flakes of fluffy white snow. It was brief but sent the Niçois into a flurry of activity and arriving into the market we saw a riot of colours and a riot of activity, as the vendors moved their flowers under their stalls.

The roses! Tiny pink buds, large white blooms, deep red splashing against bright yellow were at every turn. I couldn’t being to recall every flower I saw but it went from cacti to carnation, baby’s breath to blooming lavender and I walked up and down the stalls smelling and looking and savouring the visual equivalent of fine dining. It was here that I picked up hand crafted soaps and sighed with delight at the vendors with multiple jars of spices and herbs. I thought about buying saffron, even at 4 euro for a few strands it was a steal.

I wondered about the idea of a flower market like this in Canada. Imagine Torontians slowing down long enough to enjoy walking up and down the colourful rows! A flower market to me reflects that there is a society who doesn’t strive to fill every single waking hour trying to be industrious, glamerous or ridiculous.  The simple act of buying fresh flowers each week and putting them on the table, arriving to a dinner party with fresh flowers. Literally the place to stop and smell the roses.

Finalemente Nizza/Nice!

Now I understand I’ve been neglecting my followers, unfortunately one must be employed when they are in their native country. Aka I’ve been working on my business more than writing on a blog.

Arriving in Nice was a bit of a blur for me, the adrenaline that was keeping me awake through our travel was wearing off as we arrived. By the time 3-4pm rolled around I felt like I had two sand bags sitting on my eyeballs and Tyler told me I was as pleasant as a cat taking a bath (my words not his).

I remember getting out of the train station and seeing the sun, the very happy sun. I remember walking, Tyler finding our hotel. We then found out I booked the wrong day to check in, so we went to a little place and I ordered a latte while we tried to figure out what to do. I was floating at this point, the caffe was a bit run down, design circa 1970’s and you could tell the clientele was a group of regulars who didn’t talk to each other much. We ended up getting the hotel situation sorted and just stayed an extra day at our existing hotel! Win!

The hotel was a bit bizarre, for the price we paid I can’t complain too much but I will never feel as warm towards the colour coral pink again, our hotel room reminded me of a bottle of pepto. However, on arrival, the first thing I did was slip blissfully to sleep for a couple of hours so the room could have been decorated with Elvis and disco balls and I wouldn’t have cared.

That evening we took a ramble around. Nice has a pedestrian thorough way with a bunch of really neat shops, big stores and a tram that runs down the centre. It was approaching Christmas so there was strings of lights everywhere and fake-snow covered trees in a little pavilion that I was intrigued by, but it was closed.

I think the best thing about this day was emailing my family back home and telling them about our train trip, how fortunate we were to see the mountains and sit at the front of the train. I also listened to our dear friend Mehdi and scored a beautiful bottle of bordeaux and the night staff was only too happy to open it for me. I invited him to have some wine with us but said he could not while working 😦

How I follow a recipe, Apple Strudel

And for something completely different.

Following blogs I realize I tend to just read one post and move on so many people will read my prior intense post and miss the hilarity of this.

I cook, a lot, on the whim. Which sometimes means you have a sandwich for dinner instead of the venture-gone-wrong. Also I see recipes as more a guideline really, measurements are suggestions and ingredients substitutable at my choosing. Contrast this with my detail oriented engineering partner who believes measurement a decree from the math god, and you hear the following when cooking together:

“Did you measure that?”

“No, it looks about 1/2 a cup”

“But you didn’t measure it!”

“Oh well, don’t worry about it”

“Where’s the <insert item>?”

“Oh, um, we don’t have that, I figured we could just use <this> instead”

“What? How are we gonna make this then? We don’t have xyz! Why bother making it all?” laughingly; “Don’t blame me if our pasta primavera and ends up being tomato omelette”

And so on.

To prove this point I’ve decided to post how I made apple strudel today. Please be kind and remember I’m living abroad and my home kitchen is much better stocked. But I don’t see why I should be deprived the adventure of baking. Last week I made a rather tasty apple upside down cake with no recipe and no butter.

Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients
  • For the Strudel
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) golden rum
  • 3 tablespoons (45 ml) raisins
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (80 g) sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick / 115 g) unsalted butter, melted, divided
  • 1 1/2 cups (350 ml) fresh bread crumbs
  • strudel dough (recipe below)
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml, about 60 g) coarsely chopped walnuts
  • 2 pounds (900 g) tart cooking apples, peeled, cored and cut into ¼ inch-thick slices (use apples that hold their shape during baking)
  • For the Strudel dough
  • 1 1/3 cups (200 g) unbleached flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 7 tablespoons (105 ml) water, plus more if needed
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough
  • 1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar
  • http://chefinyou.com/2009/05/austrian-apple-strudel/

Here’s what ingredients I used:

Ingredients
  • For the Strudel
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) golden rum scotch
  • 3 tablespoons (45 ml) raisins
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (80 g) sugar, about a small pile of it and then to taste
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick / 115 g) unsalted butter, melted, divided  as needed (ended up melting 4 separate times
  • 1 1/2 cups (350 ml) fresh bread crumbs (how can you have fresh bread crumbs?)
  • strudel dough (recipe below)
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml, about 60 g) coarsely chopped walnuts
  • 2 pounds (900 g) tart cooking apples, peeled, cored and cut into ¼ inch-thick slices (use apples that hold their shape during baking)  5 royal galas
  • For the Strudel dough
  • 1 1/3 cups (200 g) a nutella cup full of unbleached flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon pinch of salt
  • 7 tablespoons (105 ml) 4 tablespoonsish of water, plus more if needed
  • 1 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough  olive oil because all we have is olive oil in the house
  • 1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar I almost used balsamic but decided that’d be gross, so I squeezed some tangerine juice in, its acidic right?

Right then time to make the dough! How I read the instructions, blah blah blah blah blah blah blah (about 2 paragraphs worth of blah, something about paddles, dough hooks, etc). What I surmised, mix dry ingredients, add wet slowly, make a ball, knead the ball a bit, cover and stick in fridge. It took about twice as much water as the recipe asked for, which is why measuring is pointless anyway!

Now for the apples, she had 6 steps for the filling. I did this: melt butter, add bread crumbs, pour in some scotch, pour in some sugar, pour in a bit more scotch, add the apples, add a bit more scotch. Stir.

Now I probably, really truly now seeing what she did, should have read the instructions for rolling out the dough bbuuuuttt whatever. I rolled out the dough with a wine bottle filled with hot water, then realizing that I’d be chilling the dough, rinsed it and filled it with ice cold water. Add more melted butter, add apples, roll, add more butter.

I just went and checked on it, its been 30 minutes. Part of the dough leaked and apple filling is all over the bend in the strudel. Bet it still tastes good though! I added more butter to the top and am currently waiting for it to brown…..wait…..wait….wait…. Perhaps I’ll decide what zumba video I will be exercising to this evening due to anticipated apple strudelness. Yes good plan.

Just checked, still not brown or flaky, maybe I wrapped the dough too tight…The upside of bothering to post this foolishness is that I will likely never be asked to host a family meal.

I’ll post on comment on how awesome it tastes when its done folks!

A quick side step about ‘reinvention’

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This is a trend that I have seen with a number of my peers and after reading a friend’s post I feel compelled to air my opinion.

Reinvention, the passion test, the need to recreate who you are, to me, is a tenuous grasp on money-making schemes telling people that in order to be better they must first adopt a certain mantra, read xyz book, attend a course and so on. This of course pulls on the desires of the middle class: Don’t you want to be happier? Don’t you want to be better? Following this program will change you life. Before you write me off as a cynic let me finish; I’m not saying that self-growth isn’t possible from reading different points of view, I wholly believe it is. I take issue with the concept of ‘reinvention’, to me they seem like a diet for the soul.

I have found that reinvention is not about self growth, it’s about creating yourself into an entirely new person without fully understanding what you were in the past. The people I have encountered who do this are a bit wild, gleefully hanging onto the belief that by following this book in 60 days the parts of their past, the parts of themselves they cannot love will have disappeared and they will be walking around with a new persona. They are like fad-dieters really, counting mantras and expressions of self like counting calories waiting for the moment they become ‘a healthy soul’. I shake my head in disappointment. Most of these fads don’t allow for true introspection, only that the right path is to adopt the book/writers/trend, if these books taught true introspection they wouldn’t be able to sell a sequel (I might these people usually have no psychological or social/therapeutic training).

It doesn’t work. Why? For the same reason fad diets don’t work, you cannot be told exactly what to think everyday for the rest of your life anymore then you can be told what to eat, when and how much. There will be a family dinner in which there will be  no skinless, boneless chicken breast and likely a relative whom you dislike. There will be an office party, there will be a social situation with an ex. In all these situations your natural responses and feelings will emerge and the book will possibly not have a tried and true response for it. What will you do? The book says the fad says the anger is wrong, negativity is wrong, wanting to eat for emotional pleasure is wrong, etc, etc, etc.

What is the fad telling you to feel? Shame and guilt. It is trying to teach you that your feelings, yourself is wrong. Our pop culture makes billions of dollars tapping into people’s shame, guilt and greed.

True self-growth takes time, effort and slow but real changes. It is not about reinvention but awakening, gentle nurturing of the self and the occasional self-kick in the butt to see that you do have flaws but as a person you aren’t flawed. That sometimes facing ourselves is challenging but it is where the changes occur. I will apply my example to practicing an instrument. Reading a book about the concepts of practice, the colours of music and how I can change my attitude to practicing is all well and good, but if I don’t pick up the instrument and put in some serious hours of practice I’ll never achieve results. Also when I do pick up the instrument if I fall too far one way or the other; hearing only what I play well or what I only play poorly I am deluding myself in grandeur or self-loathing; neither of which is healthy. I must listen to myself, practice diligently, praise my efforts and strive for my smaller goals each day. This is growth.

I have found people bent on ‘reinvention’ have a tendency to try to bury a part of themselves they don’t like, believing that who they are at the moment isn’t worthy of the world. This is unacceptable, we are all born worthy. I hope that my peers can move past these trends and expectations because it is sad to see people you care about bury themselves in the shame of failure and have guilt for being who they are.

Where the blues of the water and sea meet

Well I got you as far as the train ride into Ventimiglia in the last post. For those of you who fear that all of my posts will become histrionic fear not, my photos of Ventimiglia are worth it (Ventimiglia is also known as Vintimille in french).

Suggested listening for this post: Anoushka Shankar, Breathing Under Water http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_HT-d8W1_M

Have you ever noticed that water will just draw you near? It’s like we instinctively follow the path to the uncluttered skyline, if you’re aware enough you follow the scent and even the sound that water will make. Have you noticed your apprehension as you approach the waves? Your heart rate, your excitement growing until you reach them? Then you stop in veneration and listen to the dull roar of the waves upon the shore. Quite powerless to its effects; infinite and changing, powerful and graceful, and perhaps a part of you admits, another wonder of the world

In Ventimiglia we had such an experience, although I happily admit I’ve had the same joy in many places including Ontario. If you recall in my prior post I said there is no way to plan for the train that takes you from Ventimiglia to Nice, and the website says “One leaves every hour”. Recall yet again my comments about european travel? Naturally there was a train strike, so we had about two hours to kill until the next train came. A very kind gentlemen explained this to me in baby french until I understood him (note this was not the person at the office being paid to do so). My french is now on par if not lower than my italian, but I still get on alright considering.

So outside of the station looking at each other Tyler and I decided it would be agreeable to wander. Our hearts just followed the road straight ahead, leading to the uncluttered skyline, though we couldn’t see water yet. The environ in Ventimiglia is interesting, palm trees!? Alright then! And even more interesting there was a street bazaar lining all the way down the boardwalk (not before we noticed some rather tasty looking things in a shop window).

Recalling it is like a scene from a movie, wandering down the wide open street towards the sunlight and water, over a bridge where a man was feeding birds. It was so blue, warm and bright; like being inside a piece of glass or a marble, seeing everything in saturation, little white houses doting the hills stark in their contrast.

We spent a long time at the beach, watching, taking photos. The people around us were a pleasure and most intriguing. While we were still in Italy, all I heard was french, and the manners were a blend of both cultures. French women, I think, delight in being an oxymoron; they move with insouciance and elegance that I have yet to see another culture master. A tolerably looking french women on her worst hair day will look more put together then I will 30 minutes in front of a mirror. This is not jealously as I have other qualities to be pleased with, but careful past study with hopes of duplicating it; I gave up and contented myself with being myself awhile ago.

The Italian Effect, ahem, on the area had some women moving with more purpose, more character than others. I find the starkest contrast between the two cultures in their women (perhaps because I concern myself more with observing their fashion). Anyway the italian woman is there with her family, some children, some relative, something and is carrying on a conversation. She is put together and done so to be more striking than the french woman, as typically that plays to their features. What only enhances an italian’s woman beauty would completely dominate mine, so their ability to hold such power is also enviable. If the french woman is to be enigmatic then the italian woman is to be bold. Their manners follow their language I think.

We wandered down the bazaar, I’ve become fond of the little design boxes for women’s whatnots and Tyler is always excited to see WW II memorabilia, it’s not something you’d see at a bazaar in North America. Considering the history of V– it has been a place that has felt the effects of war, being so close to borders and the on the coast. I was sad discovering later that we missed the medieval castle and the roman ruins but we only ended up there on the luck of the train company. On our way back I popped into a shop to buy the mouth-watering things we saw in the window. A simple pizza and this dish I cannot find the name for; it’s an egg dish with artichokes, spinach and wrapped in filo pastry……wipes drool away from mouth. It was fabulous and they only make the artichoke one when they’re in season!

I think our journey to Nice was enjoyable as Nice itself, and I really felt at the moment regardless of what Nice offered I enjoyed the experience thus far and was content with that alone.

I think the photos from here are my favourites next to the Lakes in England. The light was excellent.

 

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Murano & Burano

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So why did I put this little part of Venice in its own category? Because it deserves it.

There are a number of little islands that surround Venice that visitors can get to via shuttle boat. Now having been in Italy a while Tyler and I are italian transportation veterans; when everyone says the shuttles run every 10 minutes that means ‘go check the schedule’. We went down the night before and saw that Sunday the schedule indeed alters, as it should. We also saw with shock and dismay the cost of getting a shuttle pass for the amount of time we needed. I won’t lie, I was dubious, we almost didn’t go! Travel guides don’t prepare for the shock!

Next morning we’re on the island all excited to go to Murano. Murano is the glass making island, world-famous for its techniques in glass blowing. Burano is a smaller island famous for its lace making.

For some reason the boat went to Burano first, Tyler and I decided ‘why not?’ and got off at Burano for a look around. Burano stole my heart. It is tiny, there is a little leaning church tower there and a number of tiny shops selling lacewares. The houses are all painted rich colours in line next to each other and no matter where you are on the island you can smell fresh water.  The pace is so much slower, you notice right away the people moving unhurried and with ease, they speak slower, and for the most part don’t hound you to buy something just for looking at a window. What a nice break.

We ended up purchasing two original pieces of art from a local artist there. It was evident he loved his craft and his eye was fantastic. I really liked buying directly from the person at the easel, knowing I was funding paint and supplies instead of a middle man and merchants. It would be lovely if we had an extra day to simply have a caffe and some  lunch on a blanket and watch the water traffic go by.

Some locals who gave a strange look for walking so fast!

Murano was different, again back to that feeling of dollar signs with legs. We were able to watch a number of glass blowing exhibitions. I had to pry Tyler away from our first exhibition, his eyes full of joy and miracles. I remember my Uncle and I watching with the same joy in Sunderland as a man spun hot sand into molten glass and into art. It is a fascinating art.

This guy is Popeye's italian cousin!

In this shop I met a very interesting salesmen who immediately greeted me in english, which I find curious. To play a bit I replied back in italian ‘you know I’m english?’. He laughed and when I looked at him I could see the humour in his eyes. He spoke many languages including Mandarin. Now I know one saying in Mandarin, actually now three, but I said to him my one saying and he replied correctly. We continued to talk about languages and it was here I learned that Venetian is a language in itself. It often mistaken for a dialect to other countries but it is actually quite different. This would explain why I couldn’t catch a word the locals were saying at the newspaper stand. My research quickly shows how different the language is, as an example they have the ‘th’ sound doesn’t exist in italian. They also often drop the sounding vowel at the end of a word, eg pieno = pien,  italians would never do this, they love their vowels too much to miss them! The accent is charming though, it has a hallow, lyrical quality to it that reminds me of skipping or dancing. Anyway he was a delightful gentlemen and probably the friendliest Venetian I met!

In one smaller, off the path shop we saw a man make a formed horse in about 1 minute. Not lying! He took out a hunk of hot glass, spinning it on a pipe and with a twist here and a turn there he had a horse figurine balanced on its tail and still glowing red hot in the middle. He took a piece of paper out and placed it on the figure and it quickly burned away. Incredible.

If you look close you can see the red glow in the centre, indeed he made that in under a minute

This artisan also chatted with us a bit, a little grudgingly at first but he warmed as we asked him about the economy of his work. His english was incredible and he told us all the different places he shipped glass to. In fact he has some large contracts, Bloomingdales, TJ Maxx and Winners in Canada. He spoke glowingly about his student’s work, and how he had many apprentices.

So on our way back Tyler was speaking animatedly about making his own blown glass, building a furnace in our backyard and creating a glass business, while I was thinking ‘water, food, break!’. We ended up in this little place where we paid too much for a sandwich and watched people drink Spritz at 2pm.

We had our first Spritz the night before and searching now for a source I’ve found an italian one describing its contents. Spritz is a typical Venetian apertif/drink and it comes to you as a bright as day. My peers will recall the beautiful colour of C Plus soda, this it the colour of Spritz and while your brain says ‘happy childhood memories’ after your first sip your taste buds immediately response with ‘what the hell was that?’. Spritz is a mix of white wine, Aperol, Campari and soda water, although I didn’t taste any water in mine! To translate it is a mix of three different alcohols. Aperol has a strong flavour, bitter orange and some other things.  Campari is strong in flavour and alcohol content. Now I like martinis, like a gin+vermouth+olive martini so when I say ‘that drink is strong’ you can believe it. Spritz elbows up the martini in the ‘have one and you’re done’ mentality except, oh except it doesn’t taste as strong as it is. This falls into the ‘I might have one but I’m gonna keep my eye on you and decline refills from the waiter’ category. It’s also shocking because you native Venetians settle down to a Spritz or two any time of the day. I’ve only ever had one per sitting, and I can imagine there were a few tourists who have woken up with a surprise and a big head the next day!

No I didn’t buy any glass in Murano, all I could think was ‘my luck I’ll break it while it’s in my suitcase’. After talking to that one gentlemen I figure I could probably find a piece I like in Winners or elsewhere, or even online once I’m more settled in my accomodations….when and if that ever happens!

As a sober aside we did go to see the Jewish ghetto. If you have an interest in such places of war I highly recommend you read up on this little area of Venice. It is a powerful experience to say the least if you go into the plazzo with a little history of the place. The jewish culture is still very much part of this community and I would have loved to dine in this famous restaurant if it wasn’t closed for an event. We did however loiter around the outside and listen to their songs for a few minutes. Some entertainment in Venice after all!

Also yes I saw and was on the Rialto Bridge 🙂 It was pretty cool.

gatto says 'meowa! Che cose fai?'

Why should you go to Venice?

  • the basilica will change your life
  • you don’t need a car
  • you can’t get lost, too badly
  • you can speak english
  • the bridges are really cool
  • the little islands are a slice of life like it was 100 years ago
  • Gelato, seriously best we’ve had in italy

When should you go to Venice?

  • In cooler weather, you avoid the major complaint many tourists have about the smell of the water and the hotels will be cheaper!

Saavy tips/What should you prepare for?

  • The cost, look around for places that have cheaper tourism menus because food is especially dear, which adds up quickly!
  • watch for dishonest merchants, places will inflate their prices and not post them, order clearly and be aware they don’t overcharge
  • Leave anything with a pointed heel at home, you’ll either break your ankle or your shoes in the cobble stones.
  • venere.com has super amazing deals for hotels
  • Pack light, less to carry to your  hotel
  • Eat gelato, everyday
  • Go to the basilica early in the morning, you can get a great shot of the square
  • Go out early in the morning in general to see Venice 🙂
  • Put some of your budget aside and go to the islands, they’re wonderful!
  • If you want to buy a bobble or something you can negotiate the price with the vendors, the vendors anticipate it and mark up their prices accordingly. So smack your hands together and prepare to bargain!

Just click on any of the photos below to enlarge it and scroll through the collection!

Next on our wanderings? One of my favourite places to date, Nice, France.

Venice: Take III

Ah writing in html, sometimes the lovely interface on wordpress takes me for a run. The last couple posts I made I had to, gasp, actually, gasp, edit, gasp, my own work because their spell check function wasn’t working. Even today I found a handful of syntax errors I needed to correct.

Anyway, back to Venice. There is about a zillion different churches in Italy, yeah that’s right a zillion. In the photos below there is one called the Chiesa de Salute Maria. They built it in tribute/pledge/joy to the Virgin Mary in thanks when the plague of 1629 finally ended. This was a mighty plague: “over two years it killed nearly a third of the population. In the city 46,000 people died whilst in the lagoons the number was far higher, some 94,000.” (wiki). Honestly I think it has its social merits too, rather than let the survivors mop around and mourn for too long they put them to work building a giant monument focusing on hope and thanks.

Quick sidestep about my citations. Part of me likes to learn and part of me likes to let people know that I’m not full of nonsense. I know using wikipedia as a reference is considered an academic travesty however, it’s easily accessible and not bad if you’re smart about it. By smart about I mean I check their references, a wiki article referencing a wiki article isn’t a good source. I found that most of the italian history articles are really well written and cited. So that said, if you don’t like my wiki referencing, to quote the great Dr. Cox from the show Scrubs “Well gees that’s just too bad now isn’t it princess?”.

Back to Venice, what did I love about Venice? What didn’t I love? Why should you go?

I loved the streets, especially in the morning before it was packed, strolling the streets and hearing its life without vehicle noise was really nice. I loved watching the difference between the tourist and the native. The native had things to do that morning, they walk with a purpose, and will occasionally make eye contact with you. In the morning the retired natives huddle around the newspaper stand speaking rapidly, in what I later found out to be Veneto, gesticulating in a way that north americans look at with appreciation or awe.

The travellers walk slower or with a different gait, they have backpacks, maps, thicker coats or no coat. I enjoyed looking at the different facial features, bone construction and body types of travellers. I like watching how they interact with each other and the space around them. I was beginning to get pretty good at guessing nationality before hearing them speak. Everywhere you go in Venice you hear italian, french, german, english, american accents and languages ripple through the air.

I loved the variation in the streets, some of them so narrow that you must wait for oncoming foot traffic to pass or quickly adjust your personal space bubble. I watched in amusement a gentlemen struggle with his stroller, sans baby, down a particularly narrow passage. He was a good sport about it, joking with his group about as he went.

I appreciated the sense of variety in civil design, while you’re wandering down a narrow little passage you’ll suddenly pop out into the sunlight in a campo or plazzo, a lovely open space. Campi/plazzi have some raised garden, shrubs and usually a monument or building. At times they have street entertainers or just people sitting on benches enjoying themselves. The variation kept Venice interesting and made it feel open and natural rather than crowded and closed.

There are a few things I didn’t enjoy so much, but every person is different. Venice is a window shoppers paradise, there are more stores than churches and they all sell something unique, something similar and something that catches your eye. After awhile though you start to get ‘stuff’ fatigue. You stop seeing individual items and everything starts to blur, as your brain becomes overstimulated by whirling colours and textures. You begin to think the next vendor who jumps out in front of you and tries to sell you a ‘dodad/trinket/whatnot’ is going to learn some new english words.

Venice is not a party town, it is a place to go for couple in love. Thankfully this happens to be my case but we also love music and were hoping to catch some local live hotspot. Enquiring at dinner we found out there is no such place in Venice! Can you imagine no live music? Anywhere! There is one or two irish pubs here and there but after 10pm your choices for entertainment are…..yeah. Arming ourselves with this information we just ‘saw the sites’ all day until our legs felt like lead, ate supper and went back to the hotel.

I found the employees to be a bit of a puzzle, and although it was not my first introduction to service in europe I was still surprised. I understand how Canadians get our reputation. When you go out for dinner or get a coffee in Canada we. are. nice. We are pleasant, warm, friendly and only too happy to do what we can for you. Service in italy is different; the exchange between employee and patron is more abrupt, especially at a caffe bar. At the restaurant it was like this also, to an extent that varies I imagine, from place to place. I was surprised at the disinterest and disdain in which the employees behave. Now before I get raging comments calling me names hear me out. In north america we work for tips in the service industry so when you go out somewhere you’re accustomed to, well, a certain amount of butt kissing. As a former service industry employee I know that being a good server is difficult because some people believe it is their divine right to have their butt kissed. I typically like to joke around with my servers, as my whole family does, and when I go to new places I like to learn about their culture. So I found the response from servers in Venice perplexing.

At the second restaurant I went to I tried to observe the interaction with european customers and european employees. European customers all but ignore their presence, they order and never break their conversation when the food is served, the drinks are poured etc. I understood more now at this point, servers in europe are shadows and play their role knowing they get paid regardless. Still its weird to go somewhere and ignore a person who is bringing your food, I can’t do it, I have to say ‘thank you’. Sometimes I’ll get a server to laugh a bit!

I loved the desserts there, gah there is dessert on every corner. Gelato I’m pretty sure was sent down from heaven as a gift to the italians for building so many pretty churches. Its soft, its creamy, and they have flavours I’ve never heard of and it’s almost always made daily, on site. Best part is, its made with milk instead of cream so you can enjoy it and not worry about your cholesterol. Mmmm gelato.

Next best thing? Crepes. I don’t care if they stole it from the french or if they invented it or whatever, fight on your own time and gimme a crepe. You can get them filled with sugar and Grand Marnier, no I’m not lying, or nutella or whatever. Naturally I like the Grand Marnier or nutella filled ones. At one place I managed to get an apple strudel, it was probably made to appease the germans. I swear to god it was the best strudel of my life. See? I could go on about the desserts and on and on.

I’m going to write about my absolute favourite part of Venice in the next post because it deserves it. The islands.

In the museum for Vivaldi I was overjoyed, I have saved my followers from having to scroll through the dozens of photos I took of each period instrument I saw. They had  the old musical notation style, neumes, displayed in a case and the adaptations of lutes and guitars. Sigh, I salivated! I think because I saw this exhibit I was so excited when I saw the gentlemen playing the lute on the street.

This is a new way I’ve found of posting my photos and it much simpler! Just click on the photo below to enlarge it and you can scroll easily through my pictures.

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Venice: Take II, Act II

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Plazzo di San Marco/St Marks Square

Is a pretty cool little area and by little I mean enormous and cool I mean gobsmacking. Arriving there I was able to see the aqua alta, or tall water, it happens in October, November, December when the tides change slightly. It wasn’t too bad though so we didn’t have to use hip waders.

first step into the square. The long row of a building is Doge's Palace and it is continued on the other side. The gentlemen in the shot is using a hand cart to transport things, which is typical for the island.

Basilica, Palace and Tower

St Marks in its glory, aqua alta on the left

Okay so I’ve learned that restoration and cleaning is a huge part of these monuments and I have seen the difference between a cleaned and maintained area to a neglected square. Seeing the cranes and scaffolding initially bummed me out because it ruined my photo! Then I realized that national pride and reverence puts millions of dollars towards labour and funding to keep these buildings the magnificent spectacles of history that they are.

Why is St Mark’s a big deal? Well its an architectural minefield with mixed influences spanning across more than 1000 years, starting in 828 C.E. Its difficult, I think, as a Canadian to consider history in that time span. Sure we learn about it in our history classes (depending on which classes you took after our mandatory Canadian history courses). No, we’re not completely ignorant of the rest of the world. But to read about things that existed 828 C.E and live beside it are two different experiences. The rise and fall of the roman empire’s, to me as Canadian youth, felt about as real as the Friendly Giant’s castle in the sky.

Do you see what I mean?

Anyway the building of St Mark’s really did start in 828 and was completed around 1000 C.E and rebuilt time and time again to reflect the awesome edifice we enjoy today. It is considered a prime example of Byzantine architecture; bringing eastern influences of vaulted domes, greek cross ceilings and spires into play. Thing is though the Basilica was constantly adapted. If you can believe they adapted the lower levels to match the gothic styling of the Palace when it was redone. Inside there are gold-leaf mosaics giving it the name ‘The Church of Gold’.

I’m going to post a few photos of mine and then use some of the internet. In my interest I can’t remember if I was even allowed to take photos but sadly only a professional flash/camera and a trained hand can catch the beauty of those cross ceiling.

gold leaf

Enormous structure

clearly not my photo, but an excellent shot

Truly amazing

This was the first large cathedral I had entered and the experience was stupefying. When you look up and up and up and you realize this was built by man, with our hands. There was no drywall, no nail gun, or skill saw. This is a creation of stone, of hand cut, hand tiled floors, painstakingly laid gold leaf mosaic. Part of you becomes very quiet, and it changes you a little if you let it. In a society of cynics and critics it would simple to close off and say ‘so what’? The generation of nothing is cool has left its mark; people fear letting something effect them and fear showing affect like it was a fatal characteristic. Monuments like this give us back the splendor of curiosity and the joy of wonder and awe. The Byzantine rulers were not conservative by nature and I’m so very happy they weren’t.

St Mark's clock

zodiac symbols

St Mark’s clock is one of the largest zodiac clocks in europe and was built in the 14th century. Up next for your viewing pleasure….. more Venice!