Friday, September 29, 2017

Afternoon Pick-me-up

I'd rather take coffee than compliments just now.
Louise May Alcott, American author (1832-1888) in Little Women
A beautiful 'flat white' at Boxcar Social aleviates the 3pm energy dip. I had not heard of this coffee type before starting my lakeside job. I think it falls between a macchiato and a cappuccino in the espresso to milk ratio, but I'm no barista. The plethora of options makes my head spin . . . I need a coffee. ;-)

A presto!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Of Silk and Bows

Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.
Samuel Langhorne Clemens (aka Mark Twain), American author and humorist (1835-1910)

On every trip to Italy I indulge in one clothing purchase. I still wear a beautiful skirt and leather jacket bought in the '80s when I was blessed to be able to spend my summers on archaeological digs. And they bring back wonderful memories when I wear them.

Last week (was it only last week??), Bro and SIL made a little (OK, BIG) detour for me from Piazza San Marco so that I could visit the Banco Lotto 10 shop. This shop is special because it sells clothes handmade by detainees in Venice's women's prison as part of a training programme. Each item in the shop is unique and of finest quality and design.

Certainly clothes don't make the person, but my simple/elegant silk blouse makes me feel so good.


Monday, September 25, 2017


It is a big world, full of things that steal your breath and fill your belly with fire...But where you go when you leave isn't as important as where you go when you come home.

Lindsay EagarHour of the Bees

I am home safe although perhaps not so sound. Never mind the dream last night which had me crawling on my belly through a tunnel encouraging Bro and SIL to follow to some site on the other side. (They responded with a look of incredulity and pointed out that we could walk around the barrier.)

Never mind that my morning coffee tasted bad. It wasn't a cappuccino. We won't mention that the croissant was also absent.

Never mind that the weather is more akin to July than late September with a forecast of 29 degrees today.

No, it's even the little things like trying to figure out where I store dish towels.

Jetlag and a small grain of guilt over being away from the office for three weeks has me on an earlier train, so even the morning commute seems unfamiliar.

Oh well, I will no doubt get back into my routine soon enough. Rats! :-)

A presto!

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Magic of Venice - Day Two

Venice, the most touristy place in the world, is still just completely magic to me.
Frances Mayes, American author

Traffic filled the Grand Canal as we headed to Piazza San Marco after breakfast.

Similarly, the confluence of various forms of naval vehicles beside our vaporetto stop as we awaited our return 'bus' left us appreciating the absence of canal rage. Somehow, everything works out.

Our first stop was the palace of the Venetian ruler, the Doge. Venetians were so concerned that their leader might be corrupted by outside influence that he and his family pretty much lived under constant watch -- but what a view they enjoyed!

Every room of this home/seat of government is designed to impress. The might of Venice and her divine right to rule the world was messaged on every surface.

For example, on the wall behind the Doge's throne in Grand Senate Chamber, Tintoretto painted Christ surrounded by a host of some five hundred saints supporting the power of the Doge and the Senate. An incredible work of art.

On the other side of the golden ducat, however, was the system of denouncing fellow citizens anonymously with a slip of paper inscribed a name and an accusation.

Those accused walked this hallway within the Bridge of Sighs that leads from the hall of 'justice' into the prison.

We were lucky -- we got out. At the conclusion of our tour of the Doge's Palace, we enjoyed the Doge's hospitality of a coffee and chocolate croissant with a view.

Regrettably, photographs are no longer allowed inside the Basilica of San Marco, so I can only share a view of the multiple domes, one of the many Eastern influences in Venetian architecture resulting from its trading empire.

A Venetian glass maker performed an artistic miracle with sand and extreme heat, creating a beautiful decanter before our eyes in just a few minutes. 

Following my nose, I zigged and zagged through Venice's alley's and found the little restaurant that I have visited on my previous two trips here over twenty years ago. Good memories hold fast. For our leisurely lunch, we enjoyed fish soup, fish lasagna and grandma's gnocchi.

The food is delicious and the view from the window, past the flower pots, of gondolas passing by adds to the dreaminess of their tiramisu.

This evening we walked out to the Canal to see the sculpture that it part of the Venice Biennale -- a commentary on Venice's plight as it sinks and the water raises.

We went out to enjoy a Venetian tradition of appertivo. I didn't know that there was a wine named after me. It's a nice white.

We stood in the alley and enjoyed our vino and snacks, known as cicchetti.

This is the beautiful display at our second stop of cichetti-hopping.

We ended our evening and our trip with a gondola ride. Yes, it is expensive, but it is something that one must experience -- especially at night. Gliding through the quiet back canals is magical. Tomorrow marks the beginning of our trek home. I am sad to be departing bella Italia but I am taking with me so many new warm memories.



Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go.
Truman Capote, American author (1924-1984)

We have arrived to indulge in our final Italian gem. It is beautiful whether looking south

or north.

The birds-eye views of the Grand Canal from the sixteenth century warehouse/embassy of the German traders are outstanding. For me, being inside the arcaded building that I have studied in books is also an extraordinary experience.

We watched as gondole builders worked to repair one of the city's 500 picturesque boats.

For a view over Piazza San Marco, we took the vaporetto over to San Giorgio Maggiore church which has a similar campanile. This little island was a blissful retreat away from the hoards of tourists in San Marco.

After a quick elevator ride to the top, we had outstanding views over the whole lagoon.

Our elegant/shabby chic hotel is located beside the fish market and our room has a view to the Grand Canal. The building dates to 1288 and it has been a hotel since 1955. There are Murano chandeliers, heavy furniture and multiple carpets throughout.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Florence: City of Art

The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.
Pablo Picasso, Spanish artist (1882-1973)

I am a day behind in posting thanks to a limoncello at dinner last night that put me in the mood for sleep rather than blog posting. My soul was satiated by the art of the day, with the delicacies of Giotto, Botticelli, Raphael, Caravaggio, Michelangelo and Da Vinci, followed by the culinary delights at Nella's.

After six years of conservation work, Leonardo's The Adoration of the Magi has recently returned on display at the Uffizi Gallery. Leonardo left the altarpiece unfinished because he left Florence to work for the dukes in Milan. It's unfinished nature makes me feel a closer link to the artist. Amazing.

In the afternoon we grabbed a train from Florence's Santa Maria Nouvella station and headed to Pisa.

The best lawn in all of Italy carpets Pisa's Plaza of Miracles with the baptistery, basilica and (learning) bell tower. The lovely filigree architecture is all Pisan.

The basilica's interior is awesome.

Galileo is said to have developed his ideas about pendulums as a teenager sitting in the basilica watching this lamp swing in the breeze. (The sermon obviously didn't hold his attention.)

I was bad. I indulged in two cones today. We had one in Pisa but I couldn't resist a second from a shop that we passed on our walk from the Florance train station back to our hotel. Nut butter was topped with caramel.

Finding the hotel's little terrace, we toasted the day within sight of the Arno River.

We made a return visit to Trattoria Nella for dinner because it was so good last night.

We were very fond of the house red wine served in heavy ceramic jugs.

Strangely, there was a contemporary art installation in our old neighbourhood. Entitled "Freedom", it was composed of numerous Vespa bodies running up the wall of a multi-storey hotel accompanied by this Vespa on groundlevel. I would like to tootle around town on this one.

The day ended with a walk over the Ponte Vecchio on which a musician set himself up and was singing (pretty well) Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" as we passed. A very special day.

As I am having internet challenges in our Venice hotel, the next installation will come some unknown future time. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

An Intoxicating City

Everything about Florence seems to be coloured with a mild violet, like diluted wine.
Henry James, American author (1843-1916)

Following a fairly smooth two-hour drive, with only a small detour because I feared we had wandered into one of the city's heavily-fined resident-only ZTL zones, we arrived in Florence, that great birthplace of the Renaissance.

Known for Brunelleschi's daring dome on the Duomo . . .

and Giotto's belltower . . .

and the Accademia Gallery with Michelanglo's unfinished Prisoners and the perfection of David created when he was only 26 years old,

and which that great critic of Renaissance art, Giogio Vasari, wrote, "there has never been seen a pose so fluent, or a gracefulness equal to this, or feet, hands and head so well related to each other with quality, skill and design."

Michelangelo brings to life in stone human ability and confidence to accomplish greatness when infused by divine will.

That gracefulness, quality, skill and design are also evident in the Ferrari that Bro took for a spin this afternoon. It's a thrill to be immersed in such beauty.

Our day concluded with a traditional meal at Trattoria Nella, located around the corner from our hotel. The weather has turned chilly so I opted for ribollita soup that is thickened with day-old bread.  I kept repeating myself saying how delicious it was. The house Chianti poured from a heavy ceramic jug was also delicious. I followed with rabbit and ended by dipping Cantucci biscuits in vin santo. Bro made sure that I made it back to the hotel. Did I mention that it was around the corner. :-)

A presto!

Monday, September 18, 2017

Living like a Count

 We have enjoyed lovely hotels on our visit, beginning in Rome and then in Sorrento. Buoninsegna in the Tuscan hills to the east of Siena is blissful. Bro and SIL have the room with the two windows in the top right. It is called the Limonaia, after the lemons that grow on the property. We are also surrounded by pomegrantes, apples, olives and grapes. This setting has to be good for our health!

Every time we arrive at the entry portal I feel a sense of relief that we have arrived at our home away from home.

Two elegant flights of stairs lead to the main floor with the bedrooms.

The view from the upper portico is breathtaking.

The Villa Buoninsegna was built in the second half of the seventeenth century by Count Pietro Buoninsegni, who is said to have left his ancestral home in Poggio Santa Cecilia over a love quarrel. When the quarrel was patched up, he returned home, leaving the Villa Buoninsegna to be inhabited by a series of tenant farmers, or mezzadri, who managed the estate and split its production. The farm registers listing agricultural products handed paid to the manager are still held by the current owners.

After World War II, Italy's mezzadria system was dismantled and farmers moved to the cities to work in factories.Count Duccio Buoninsegni sold the ancestral home in the 1970s and restored Villa Buoninsegna, furnishing it with fine furniture and paintings. New owners fully restored the Villa in 2003, preserving the original structure while converting it to a guest residence.

This afternoon, we all enjoyed sitting at the dining room on the second floor to connect with family and friends via our computers.

The main floor breakfast room is also very peaceful.

And the breakfast is bountiful with top quality local products. Even the apple juice is artisanal.

I love the colours of the vines that are growing on the villa's walls. Fall is here.

 Sadly, tonight is our last night in this lovely oasis. It has made such good memories.