We've moved from Baltimore, Maryland USA to Venice, Italy in pursuit of living our dream!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Buona Pasqua tutti!

You know it's getting close to Easter when you see these huge chocolate eggs appear in the windows of the bakery shops all over Italy.  When I was little, I remember my mother would receive a huge chocolate egg in the mail from her relatives in Caserta, Italy every year. I thought they had to be the most wonderful thing in the world.   Wouldn't it be incredible to get one of these eggs ?

 Another of the signs Easter is just around the corner are the posters in all of the butcher shops reminding you to order your lamb for Easter dinner.

Just like Panettone is the traditional Christmas cake, at  Easter the cake you see sold in all the shops is called the Colombo,because it is shaped  like a bird (technically a dove), with candied orange pieces inside.  There isn't much difference between a Panettone and the Colombo, besides the shape. The Colombo I bought this year is a miniature, only about 4 inches in length. Unfortunately for me this year I am on a strict diet enforced by my doctor. If I had bought the regular Colombo, I would have had very little will power not to eat  the whole darned thing. At least with this tiny one, I have a shot at not blowing my diet too badly. (It is still safely wrapped in it's plastic, gone untouched the whole day. I'm doing my best to stick to the rules of this diet. I'm quite afraid of this doctor!)


We love to color eggs for our  Easter baskets, however, we have not done any egg dying since we've moved to Italy because the eggs sold in the markets here are brown.  Brown eggs don't dye quite the same as white ones.  This year we found eggs already colored at our local market on Via Garibaldi. We couldn't resist, these came home with us. Already hard boiled too.


Easter baskets are not typical here as they are in the United States.  In Italy the custom is to give a huge chocolate egg. Inside is a surprise of some kind.  We've not done the big eggs in previous years, but this was a year for some firsts.  Besides the colored eggs, this big egg found it's way home with us from the grocery store this Easter.  It's about a foot and a half tall.


We were curious what surprise we'd find inside!  Mike carefully unwrapped the colorful foil, to discover that the egg was sitting in a plastic cup. So the egg wasn't quite as big as we thought it was, but still, it was big enough!


 Eager to see what was hidden inside, Mike broke off a piece of the egg. Inside was a small plastic wrapped package.  It was a mini-bowling game, complete with 6 tiny bowling pins and a ball. "Made in China" was clearly stamped on the label.   This is making it's way into our trash bin in the morning. So much for surprises!

With this diet I'm on, I'm allowed 20 grams of dark chocolate for part of my mid-day snack one day a week. I think we're going to break our egg up into pieces and store them in a zip-lock bag so I can take out 20 grams each week. Our egg won't go to waste!

As you can see, some of our old Easter traditions have gone by the way side, traded for new ones. Living in a different place requires you to adapt to different things.

What are  some of your Easter traditions?

Hope you all had a wonderful day filled with family and friends.
Buona Pasqua!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Could this day get any longer????

Today didn't turn out anything like I anticipated. It was way worse, but it gave me yet another huge reminder that living in a  foreign country isn't always fun and games.  Just maneuvering the simplest of tasks can often times be frustrating beyond belief.  Here's a case in point:  this morning I needed to go to the bank to make a payment to someone elsewhere in Italy by sending money from my bank to their bank account, sort of equivalent to a wire transfer. Here it's called a bonifico.  I was diligent about gathering all of the information I would need before I set out for Via Garibaldi. I'd done this before, I thought I knew what to expect. Confident this would be a piece of cake, off I went.

First there is the fun of just getting inside the bank door to contend with you. If you've never tried this in Italy, I highly recommend you give it a go if you are here, just for the fun of it.  There isn't a normal door at the entrance to bank, but rather a rounded glass door, sort of like a pod or transport system you might imagine being used to "beam you up".  To get into this portal of sorts, you must press a green button located to the right of the door.  You go into the bank one person at a time. First the outer pod door opens, allowing you to enter this portal type thing. Ok, you are now inside the "pod".  Then, you press yet another green button, and a second rounded door opens, allowing you to exit the pod and into the bank.  I get a kick out of this every time I have to use it.

Once inside the bank, you wait your turn. Fortunately this morning, the wait was almost non-existent. I took my seat opposite the clerk on the other side of the counter, whose name is Fabio. I see him frequently up and down Via Garibaldi. Fabio is an interesting looking character, with shoulder length flowing white hair. He looks more like a rock star than a bank teller.

I explain to Fabio what I need to have done, he accesses my account on his computer and announces that I must go to the branch location where I opened my account, at Piazzale Roma, to answer some questionnaire and sign a document before he can do anything for me.  Nothing. I am at a branch of my bank, but he cannot process whatever this questionnaire is, and I can do no banking until this is handled. I have no clue what he's talking about, but decide I need to get to the other bank and get whatever it is taken care of.  I exit the bank, again using the 2 green buzzer door system, and get to the nearest vaporetto stop as soon as I can. It's nearly a 55 minute boat ride on the #1 boat from Via Garibaldi to Piazzale Roma, and the #1 was the boat pulling up.  Rather than wait for a boat that would take less time, I hopped on this one and quickly figured I could disembark at Ca'Rezzonico and walk faster than do the whole ride on the boat.

My decision to walk paid off, I arrived at the bank 20 minutes before the boat would have docked. Again, I entered the bank using the green buzzers and the beam-me-up portal, and waited my turn inside.
When it was my turn at the sportello (that's the counter, in American terms), the clerk tells me that yes, I must answer the questionnaire and sign it.  The questionnaire turns out to be about money-laundering. The bank wants to know where I got all the money I deposited into my account since March 2013.  Here's where things get very funny, and I really wanted to laugh, but knew that would piss everyone off. See, I deposited only 200 Euros in this account in the last 12 months. I kept a straight face as best I could, filled out the form, signed it, and proceeded to handle the matter I went to the bank for in the first place. I had a second matter at the bank this morning also, but decided I needed a big break. The second matter could wait until my screaming headache went away.

Home I went.  I relaxed over lunch and a cup of tea.  At 3:15 pm I made my way back to Via Garibaldi to my local branch, which would be able to service my banking needs now that my money laundering questionnaire had been completed. Fabio, my teller from the morning, was busy with someone else, so I had the pleasure of being served by his colleague (whose name I am trying to forget, so I won't bother to mention it here. HE knows who he is).

The teller processed my transaction 3 times, and reversed it twice, because he couldn't quite make up his mind how he wanted to do it. He could use money that was already in my account, or I could deposit money into my account, or I could just pay in cash for the payment I needed to make. I told him I didn't care how he did it as long as it got done.  What probably should have taken 5 minutes took him 40 minutes. It got done, and I had another whopper headache.

Before I left the bank, I decided to take on one more task. The reason I had to hike all the way to Piazzale Roma to the bank to sign that f-ing form this morning is because I had not moved my account to my local area after I moved apartments. I use the bank about once a year (and you can see why not) so this wasn't a priority for me.  Big mistake.  In Italy, not all services can be done for you in a branch office if it's not the location you opened the account at. I never wanted to have to haul my butt to Piazzale Roma again. Solution: stick around a bit longer and go through the process to have my account moved. I had to see a different agent for this.  (Thank goodness, because I probably would have strangled my friend Teller #2 if I had to deal with him one more minute).

Moving the bank account was painless, thankfully.  However, the whole thing is not a done deal yet. It will take some time, a few days, it is explained to me, to have his colleague at Piazzale Roma do who knows what, and at that time I will be issued a new bank account number. Huh?  Same bank, different branch and it needs a whole new number? I am in disbelief. I don't really care for an explanation at this point, I just want them to do what they need to do and get it all done with. With my headache pounding even harder, I made a very quick exit.  At least in a few days some of these woes will have been resolved. Hopefully my headached will be gone by then also.

Pazienza. Pazienza. Pazienza.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Pardon me, I'm under construction.

My apologies to all of my readers in advance while I attempt to re-charge my blog and inject some new life into it by an overhaul of the design. I'm going to be playing around with a few things over the next few days until I land on something I really like. If any of you have suggestions, I really want to hear them- either regarding layout or content, topics you want me to talk about in the days ahead, anything at all.

Spring is a time of re-birth, and I'm feeling just that.  My blog and I may experience a few growing pains along the way. I expect and welcome it.  Please bear with me.

 Hope you will continue to follow along with me, as I love having each and every one of you here with me.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Buon compleanno, Venezia !

Happy 1593rd Birthday, Venice.

According to legend, Venice was founded on March 25, 421.  We're raising a glass of prosecco to La Serenissima! 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

At the end of the world

Another gorgeous weather day brought all the dogs, and their owners, outside for their afternoon meeting here in Sant'Elena. Yes, this is right outside our apartment, and yes, sadly, it does make me miss our dogs. And yes- this really is Venice!

The other day my friend Cat stopped by for some tea and a chat. When she arrived, she said, "Karen, you really are at the end of the world now."

The next morning I sat down to write an email to our old neighbors in Baltimore who will be visiting us soon in Venice. This will be the first time we've seen them since we've moved to Sant'Elena, and I wanted to remind them that they'd have to figure in some extra travel time when they worked out their flights and arrival plans.  We're no longer a 3 minute walk to Piazzale Roma. As Cat reminds me, we are at the end of the world.

Looking out at the dog convention this afternoon, I found myself thinking this sure is
a pretty good spot to be in, even if it is at the end of the world.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Off the grid for a few days

The internet is truly a powerful tool. It connects me to all of you, and through this blog I've met incredible people, both through emails and in person. Our latest adventure came about through a series of messages on the internet, when I responded to a request made in an online group I belong to for someone who might be interested in house sitting for a few days. One thing led to another and in under an hour of chatting, I was booking train tickets to LeMarche. 

Mike and I will be way off the grid, but with internet connection this time. We'll be spending the week at a lovely villa up in the hills in the LeMarche region of Italy, an area we have not yet been to.  While we'll be without a car, we're still hoping to be able to get out and explore a bit. 

So- the adventure begins today. We board a train right after lunch for Bologna, then transfer trains to Porto S. Giorgio-Fermo arriving around 7 pm. 

We're going to be up in the hills, somewhere a bit above Fermo. From the photos we've seen, the area is just gorgeous. Of course, my camera is going along in the suitcase with me! We're planning on some quiet, peaceful days. Hopefully we'll both get some writing done.  We've just returned from a 12 day cruise on a mega-ship along with 3500 passengers which was anything but quiet, so this will be a welcome treat for us for a few days! 

Happy San Valentino day to you all! 

Carnevale 2014 Begins tomorrow!

One of my favorite Carnevale events in Venice is the kick-off events held in Cannaregio Canal  on the first weekend of the Carnevale celebration.  It's focused on the residents, instead of the tourists. It's a party in the street, but on the canal instead. I love the local feel of it with all the simple homemade costumes and the huge boat parade down the canal. 

Tomorrow evening is a performance on the water. Last year this was a new event, put on by a French group of artists that was truly spectacular.  We'll have to wait to see how this compares to last year. 

Sunday afternoon is the main attraction - the Festa Veneziana.  It's a fantastic parade of boats up the canal with all the rowers in costume. The culmination is the raising of the pategana, a large rat, up out of the water. For a look at last year's event, check out my blog post: http://theveniceexperience.blogspot.it/2013/01/festa-veneziana-carnevale-kick-off-2013.html#sthash.QtC1gTQ7.dpbs

After the parade, there are food and drink booths lining both sides of the canal. This is where it becomes a big street party! Lots of fun, lots of cameraderie, lots of fritelle and lots of confetti!  

FYI- if you are trying to reach Murano or Burano islands either late tomorrow or Sunday, check on the vaporetto schedules as most of the Cannaregio canal will be closed during certain times for the celebration. 


                                                            Buona Festa, tutti!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Fritelle + Confetti = CARNEVALE!

I know, my title today looks like a bit of really weird math. It is an equation, an equation for fun in Venice.

After taking down the Christmas decorations - and you know in Italy you don't take them down until January 6 which is Epiphany - it was a dreary January here in Venice. It rained. And then it rained some more. And then it kept on raining.  And then there was fog. Thick fog. The one thing we had to look forward to was the first sightings of fritelle to arrive in the bakeries around town. It was somewhere around mid January. The second you see the fritelle arriving, you know Carnevale isn't far behind.

 Fritelle are fried dough, with currents and pine nuts in the dough. They can be plain, rolled in sugar or stuffed with an assortment of goodies such as nutella, crema, zabaione, and ricotta.

The other harbinger of Carnevale that I look for is confetti on the streets. When I see the confetti, I know Carnevale is even closer. You an almost smell it in the air, it's that special. Confetti  has been spotted in several locations in the last couple of days, with lots of it in Campo Santa Margherita. I'm counting down days to Carnevale from here on in.

This year, Carnevale begins on February 15 and runs until March 4. The theme is Wonder and Fantasy Nature.  Join me through the whole month as I introduce you to Venetian masks and some of my favorite authentic mask makers around the city, costumes and some of the wonderfully talented people who make them, and the major activities of Carnevale taking place in and around  St. Mark's square.

To whet your appetite, here's a photo of one of my favorite costumes from Carnevale 2013.  I can't wait to see what's in store this year.

To learn more about this year's Carnevale program, check out the offical website at http://www.carnevale.venezia.it/index.php

Sunday, January 5, 2014

La Befana comes tomorrow

The Befana comes by night
With her shoes all tattered and torn
She comes dressed in the Roman way
Long live the Befana!

Tomorrow, January 6, is the day of Epiphany, a Christian religious celebration in honor of the day the three wise men arrived in Bethlehem to visit the baby Jesus.  In Italy, the celebration involves a witch, La Befana, who flies on her broom on the night of January 5 to deliver candies to all good children, or coal to the bad ones!

In olden days, Italian children didn't get gifts on Christmas from Santa, only candies on January 6 from La Befana.  In more recent times, Santa (Babbo Natale) delivers presents to Italian children too. Lucky Italian kids!

January 6 is also marks the end of the Christmas/New Year's holidays. It's a long two weeks of almost non-stop eating, starting with Christmas eve, then Christmas day, then Santo Stefano day on December 26.  There's a little break, but it seems we're still stuffing ourselves on traditional sweets of panettone or pandoro until New Year's eve.  On that night, you eat a  huge meal,  cenone consisting of many, sometimes up to 15, different courses of food.  And, again on New Year's day there is more food,  when families eat a traditional meal of lentils and cotechino, similar to a sausage. Lentils supposedly bring good luck or good fortune in the new year, so of course, you cannot miss eating those.  Christmas trees and decorations stay up until January 6.

In other Italian cities, there is a huge bonfire on the night of January 5 to celebrate the arrival of La Befana. In Venice, things are handled a bit differently.  Tomorrow morning at 10 am there will be a regatta in the Grand Canal starting at San Toma and ending at the Rialto bridge. Rowers will all be dressed as Befanas, with shawls, dresses, hats and wigs.  At the end of the race, there will be mulled wine, hot chocolate and candies for all.

Get your cameras ready tomorrow morning, find a spot along the Grand Canal near Rialto. I'll meet you there!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Beginning 2014 with a plunge!

January 1, 2014 couldn't have started off with any better weather. It was sunny, crystal clear, and warm with temperatures in the upper 50's- the perfect day for the annual Polar Bear Plunge into the Adriatic Sea. Here in Venice,  a group called "gli ibernisti" take a swim at the public beach on the Lido, followed by a lively celebration to bring in the New Year right! 

Although I've known about this event, this was the first year I attended. No, I did not participate- a bit too cold for me to be jumping into the Adriatic. However, I will admit, it was such a warm day and everyone out there in the water was having such a good time, I was truly very tempted to join them.

Music, clowns and lots of bubbles kept the crowd happy while waiting for the swimmers to arrive.
The sea was peaceful and calm. It would have been a wonderful morning for a long walk along the coast.

 At 12 noon, these brave souls donned in bathing suits parted the crowds as they made their way to the beach front.

 The actual swim didn't last long, under 10 minutes. 

 Everyone made their way back to the shore where there was lots of photo taking.
 Unusual footwear! 
 These lovely ladies were adorned with sparkly necklaces just right for the occassion.

 You can tell who the "regulars" are!
 After the plunge, the celebration turned up a notch. The band entertained the crowds with familiar selections of both Italian and American tunes. Many were dancing and singing along.
 Even the dogs were taking advantage of the warm mid-day sun!
 The entire crowd lined up for a bowl of lentils and cotechino, a traditional New Year's day meal in this part of Italy. Eating lentils on New Years is said to bring good luck, similar to eating pinto beans in the USA.  Panettone, pandoro  (traditional holiday sweets) and local wine (sfuso) siphoned from a vat for everyone was an added treat.  The fantastic weather only aided in helping all of us get in the spirit of the celebration. I can imagine in other years taking the swim or being an observer might not be so pleasant depending on how frigid the day is.

Here's to 2014!  I hope this coming year is filled with good health, love, laughter, and dreams fulfilled for all of you.  Buon Anno Nuovo!