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

Monday, August 25, 2014

Unlock your love, Venice

Beginning today, locals will begin attaching a sign on those "Lover's Locks" that are attached to bridges all over Venice.  It's a grassroots campaign initiated by Alberto Toso Fei, a well known Venetian author, to enlighten visitors to our city that locks on Venice's bridges are illegal.  

For one week, people will be posting the poster in shops, restaurants, cafes, bars, hotels, as well as attaching them directly on the locks. It's an ingenious idea. I too, will be out with my handfull of signs tomorrow and Wednesday, doing my part. 

I ask you to please, pass the word for Venice. The more people who know that it is not ok to put a lock on a bridge here, the better.  One small step for Venice... 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Blame it on my mother!

Recently, while eating at one of my new favorites on Via Garibaldi, I had a lovely little conversation with one of the owners.  Towards the end of our chat, I introduced myself with "My name is Karen".  He says "Nice to meet you, Carol."  I wasn't surprised, that's a very common response here. No one can pronounce Karen.  I repeated my name to him a second time, to which he replied, " Yes, Carolina, like my girlfriend's name."  At that point I gave it up as a lost cause and went back to eating my meal.

Two days later, at the same little place, the same man greeted me with "Ciao, Carol."  I just grinned and gave him a "ciao" back.

I routinely get the "Ciao, Carol" all over town. I suppose I should just be happy to be acknowledged. It's not their fault they can't pronounce Karen. It's all my mother's fault for not giving me an Italian name!

My mother, Giuliana (now isn't that a beautiful Italian name?) was born and raised in Italy. She moved to the US when she was 19 after marrying my father, who was an American soldier stationed in Naples during the end of WWII.  When my mother had us kids, she named us American names so we would fit in.  Charlotte, Karen, Denise and Charles could have been Carlotta, Camilla, Daniela and Carlo, but no, we had to  have American names!

And so I suffer with most people not being able to say my name. I'd even answer to "Hey, you", I think.

PS.  Mom- I really just want to fit in now!  Is it ok with you if I change my name to Camilla, or Carmella, or Carolina?

Friday, July 25, 2014

A boat, a bus and a schlep on foot.

For those of you unfamiliar with the word "schlep",  let me give you some examples. If it's really hot and you have a long way to walk, you are schlepping.  If you have a lot of things to carry and you have to go up several flights of stairs, you have to schlep the stuff up.  If it's hot, you have a lot to carry, and a long way to walk, you are really schlepping. Ok, so now you can imagine me schlepping.

My Monday involved a 40 + minute boat ride from my end of Venice (way down in the tail part of the fish) to Piazzale Roma, a 10 minute wait for the 24H bus, a 35 minute bus ride out to the hinterlands of Mestre, and then a walk to several shops.  And it was hot. I avoid taking the bus to Mestre like it was the plague. For me it's like going to another planet. I have no idea where I am and  there are tons of cars, buses, motorcycles.  I am afraid I will get killed crossing streets, I always forget to stop and look.  I've gotten so used to not doing that in Venice, and I go to the mainland so infrequently  I just plain forget.

My laptop died over the weekend. Well, that's a slight exaggeration. It didn't quite die, but it would not boot up Windows Vista, the operating system on my laptop.  Mike tried using a restore disk, that didn't work. Nothing worked. I was very tempted to throw the darned thing in the canal. It was 5 years old, and had been giving me problems for quite a while already- it fried power cords 3 times a year. With what I've spent on replacement power cords I could have had a new computer 3 years ago.  My now dead laptop is the reason I had to make a trek to the mainland.

I went online and checked a few of the shops my friend Cat recommended.  Having  found a model laptop with all the features I needed and also in my price range at the Marco Polo Express, I set off Monday to buy it. First on boat, then bus, then a walk.  I figured this should be a piece of cake. Wrong.  I just should have known this was going to be difficult.

Inside the shop, I checked out all the laptops they had on display. The model I wanted was not there. I flagged down a store employee, who explained that the model I wanted could only be purchased online. It could be shipped to the store, or shipped to my home. I decided I wanted this particular model so much that I would do as he suggested, so I called Mike at home and asked him to go online to make the transaction.

Since I was out in the hinterlands and there were other large shops in the vicinity, I spent some time perusing a few other stores. I even purchased 2 pink tank tops!  Yes, I went where Karen had never gone before-- pink clothing.

Feeling good about my adventure (another opportunity to speak only in Italian), I waited for the next 24H bus back to Venice. At least finding a bus stop wasn't too difficult. Once back in Venice, I boarded a boat for the almost 45 minute ride to Sant'Elena, then the schlep to the apartment.

Once I got in the apartment, the nightmare part 2 began.  Mike had been unable to make the computer purchase online because the website wouldn't accept our US credit card.  We've been using this card all over Europe for years now, and this website wouldn't accept it.  I tried also, no luck. I called their customer assistance. Shockingly, they actually answered the phone without having to go through a ridiculously complex phone menu system.  Again, I had a great exercise in speaking Italian with the customer support rep. She also could not make the transaction over the phone, but advised me to go to the Rimini shop, where they had one of the computers I wanted in inventory. I thanked her and hung up.  I was NOT going to Rimini on the train to buy a computer.  I needed a Plan B.

Plan B involved another boat, bus and schlep to Marghera (another city on the mainland not far from Mestre) on Wednesday morning, to a different store.  My mission this time was to come home with a computer in my hand, no matter what. Mission accomplished- after another boat, bus and schlep.

My new laptop, an ASUS, runs Windows 8. It's foreign to me.  Everything is in Italian. Not good. First task was to attempt to switch the language to English, which thankfully was done fairly easily.  Mike was able to load all of my files and photos onto the new machine, and I am still reloading several programs I use. The keyboard (Italian style) is kicking my ass big time. Between figuring out how to navigate Windows 8 and locating keys on the keyboard, it's going to take some getting used to.

Nothing is easy here. I had moments when I was daydreaming I hopped in my car, drove to Best Buy and had the whole thing accomplished in 30 minutes.  But, it's the price you pay for living where we do. I'm not complaining, just laughing with myself over another one of my silly adventures.

I'm past this bump in the road, my new laptop is up and running, and I'm back online.  Life is good, aside from  the boat ride, the bus ride and the schlep.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Hemingway in Venice update

Hemingway has a very distinctive screech. For such a little guy, he is VERY loud. And that's a good thing, because we've been able to hear him every night since we put him back out in the trees in front of our apartment, so we know at least that he is still alive.

We've had some torrential downpours since the day Mike spotted Hemingway in the grass.  It was probably a bad storm that knocked him from a tree in the first place. Because of the bad weather, we've kept a close eye out for him, just in case his little self was blown off a limb and down into the grass again. So far, he's been ok up in the trees. Clearly he is flying better. We hear his screeching from quite a ways down the park from our apartment, and then he returns closer.

Last night we didn't hear him around his normal time (around 11pm), and of course, I started to panic. Mike was ready to take his flashlight out to begin searching for Hemingway again.  Being the worried parent, I had a tough time falling asleep wondering what had happened to him, hoping he was ok.  Hours passed.  Nothing. I finally went to bed, thinking the worst had occurred to Hemingway. I reminded myself that he's a wild bird, and nature needed to take it's course, whatever that may be.

Around 4 am, Mike and I were awakened by a loud screeching just outside our window. We looked at each other, each of us saying at the same time, "It's Hemingway, he's safe!"  And then I wanted to give that owl a serious talking to for having stayed out past his bedtime!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Hemingway in Venice

Yesterday one of my Facebook friends made the comment "There's never a dull moment in the Henderson household!".  Yesterday she was so right!

Sitting along the canal while enjoying a lovely lunch at Gam Gam restaurant in the Jewish Ghetto with friends from Baltimore who were visiting us in Venice, our friend Mike turned to me and said " Hey, you just got an owl!"  Huh??? He handed me his phone to show me a photo. My husband Mike had just posted a photo on Facebook explaining  he had rescued a  baby bird . Sure enough, it was a baby owl.  My husband then sent me a message telling me I had to go buy some beef baby food and a syringe so I could feed the owl. Before our conversation was over, I had already given our baby owl a name, Hemingway. Looks like I was in for a fun afternoon!

In the meantime, we'd heard from another friend who was kind enough to check out some local sources for what to do with the bird. She was able to identifiy it- it's a baby Assiolo owl. And it didn't need to be fed, but it did need to be put back up in a tree or low branches  that evening so it's parents could find it.

My husband put the bird in our downstairs magazzino (storage room) to be  in a safe place. After bidding our friends goodbye, I rushed home to check on Hemingway.

 This is what I found - one very frightened little owl!  But what cutie. One look at him and I knew I wanted to keep him. How could you not? Just look at that little face?  He was totally petrified, so I just whispered to him that he would be ok, he was safe, and we'd do our best to get him reunited with his parents later on when it got dark.

Mike took a photo of Hemingway out where he found him, in the middle of a big open grassy area just in front of our apartment. It's in a place where lots of cats and dogs were, we were sure Hemingway would have been in one of their mouths if he was left on the ground. It was also blazing hot. Mike couldn't have left the bird there. He did the only thing he could think of, he scooped him up into a container and took him to safety.

Mike and I joked about Hemingway, our new family member, during dinner and while we waited for the sun to go down. We wondered what kind of owl he'd grow up to be, made plans for his future, all the things new parents typically do! As soon as the sun went set, Mike went down to the magazzino to get Hemingway so we could try to get him out into a tree.

Shortly after, my phone rang. Mike was on the phone telling me to run down so I could see where Hemingway was.  The little bugger could fly!  He wasn't in the plastic container anymore, he had flown up and landed on a metal bed frame we have stored along a wall in the magazzino. There he was , perched up above my head on this metal frame, just looking down at me.  He's no bigger than my hand, but looks exactly like a big owl, in minature.

We got him scooped up into the plastic container and took him back out to the park area in front of our apartment. The trees that he had fallen from earlier that day have limbs about 30 feet off the ground, there was no way we could climb up there. Fortunately, for us, and for Hemingway, there are several young pine trees recently planted in that area. We were able to let him loose on one of the closest of these smaller pines to where Mike found him.  We said our goodbyes, wished him a safe and happy life, and went inside.

A few hours later, Mike went back out with a flashlight to see if Hemingway was ok out there. Hemingway was not where we left him. He was no where in sight. Hopefully he had reunited with his parents. We already missed him, the little bugger!

We wondered about him all day today. Every time I passed through the park area, I checked out both the ground and the surrounding low trees. No sight of Hemingway.

We had another storm rolling in tonight. Of course, we worried about the owl.  Just as it was starting to get dark, I heard some loud screeches coming from the trees. Mike took a flashlight and went out searching. We immediately thought Hemingway might be in trouble out there.

Guess who was making all that noise tonight?  Yup, our boy Hemingway! Mike followed the sounds of the screeching, which was moving around, so clearly Hemingway was flying from tree to tree. He actually found Hemingway, perched about 20 feet up on a branch. The tiny guy is ok.

He'll probably  keep us up all night with his screeching, too. I imagined that his mother, if he's been reunited with her, has been giving him what's for for being out later than 8 pm last night.  That's our boy!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Vogalonga 2014

Sunday, June 8, is the 40th annual Vogalonga in Venice.  The 30 km rowing event draws participants from around the globe. This year, 1800 boats are registered. Based on last years numbers, that should be around 7,000 rowers.  

The video above is the official video of last year's 39th Vogalonga.  I watched from the sidelines here at Sant'Elena as boat after boat rounded the corner headed out towards Vignole in the pouring rain. Tomorrow's forecast is sunny, in the low 80's. Should be quite a much better experience. 

If you have been reading along with my blog recently, you know I've been spending a bit of time on the water myself. I've been paddling in a dragonboat, first as a guest of the Pink Lionesses of Venice, and now, as a full blown Lioness (albeit one with supporting member status).  I will not be rowing tomorrow, however I plan to be at the boat house early to see the Lionesses off.

Forza Rosa!  Forza Tutti!

Look for me in 2015! 

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Think Pink

A big "Grazie mille" to everyone who lit candles, sent up a prayer to the heavens and/or extended positive energy on my behalf yesterday.  Your efforts were very much appreciated.  Many of you have sent emails and messages asking if I had received any word on how the voting went. Again, thanks so much for keeping me in your thoughts. I spent a very anxious day yesterday waiting to hear something.

I mentioned that I had zero expectations. I take that back. I fully expected the results of the vote to be a big resounding rejection. They had no good reason that I could think of to take me into the group. I had not had breast cancer surgery. Even though according to the by-laws they could vote in "supporting members", in my opinion I didn't cast a compelling reason to grant me that status either. I am not Venetian. Why in the world would they need to have an outsider in their midst?  And, I am not fluent in Italian, nor in Venetian.  Why bother to deal with someone who can't readily communicate with you?  If I were them- seriously- I would have cast a negative vote. So you can see I had convinced myself there was not going to be a  happy ending out of this for me.

Late yesterday afternoon, I received an email from Donatella.  I almost had a heart attack when I read it. Donatella's note announced that  the ladies had voted to  welcome me into their squad. That's right. I am now Venice's newest Pink Lioness. We celebrated last night.

This morning, there was another email from Donatella, this time she opened the message with "Ciao, Lionessa".  That's me- a lionessa!

I need to buy something pink.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Baglioni Hotel's The Great Beauty Experience

I rarely, if ever, blog about anything other than my life in Venice. Today is different. I'm writing about our recent weekend in Rome. I've been to Rome before. Several times. I've done all the touristy spots- the Colosseum, the Trevi fountain, the Pantheon, the Vatican, the Sistine Chapel, the Roman Forum, the Spanish steps, and more.

This trip was different, a very special experience.  I had been invited along with a small group of bloggers to be the guest of the Baglioni Hotels for a weekend at their hotel in Rome, the Regina Baglioni, to participate in a special 2 day package they offer, The Great Beauty Experience,  in celebration of the recent Oscar winning film, La Grande Bellezza.  How lucky can I be?

La Grande Bellezza, a film by Paolo Sorrention, starring Toni Servillo as Jeb Gambardella, showcases well known locations around Rome, in addition to a few that are off the tourist radar. In many ways, the city has a starring role in the movie. Baglioni's 2 day experience includes a special tour featuring many of the locations featured in the film.

There is so much to say about our weekend Roman holiday, I am going to have to break it up into several posts. Today I'll focus on the tour.

Saturday at 9am we gathered in the lobby of the Regina Baglioni  for a brief meet and greet, then were escorted to a luxury vehicle to begin our day long adventure.

First stop- Piazza Navona.

Beata, our expert guide for the day, shared information about the history of the Piazza, the sculptures and their famous artists.

We made the short walk from Piazza Navona to Campo dei Fiori, then to Palazzo Farnese, the current home of the French Embassy, and on to Palazzo Spada. Inside Palazzo Spada we got to see the corridor, a famous optical illusion designed by Francesco Borromini, up close. Until you see it close up it's almost impossible to believe that what appears to be a life size statue at the end of the corridor is only 60 cm high in reality.

Because no photos are allowed inside the gallery, this photo was taken from behind a glass window, so you cannot see the statue at the end of the corridor well.

Back in the car, our next stop was up on Aventine Hill where we visited the scowling face fountain of Giacomo Della Porta, located near Via di Santa Sabina.  In the movie, Jeb stops here at the fountain to wash off his face after a long night of partying Roman-style.

While we were here, I snapped this photo of a group of nuns who had taken a minute to wash off in the fountain also. Do you think they also been up all night painting the town red?

Just beyond the fountain is the Giardini degli Aranci at Parco Savello. From the garden you have a grand vista over the rooftops and domes of Venice. This view is simply spectacular. I can understand why this garden is a favorite spot of romantics.

A short walk down the street from the Giardini degli Aranci  brings you to the Piazza dei Cavallieri di Malta
(Knights of Malta) and the famous keyhole in the wooden door.  If you peer through this keyhole, you can see St. Peter's Basilica framed by the trees in the garden.  My photo doesn't do this view justice. You just have to come see for yourself. Better yet, take the tour.

The Tempietto San Pietro in Montorio, said to be the site of the martyrdom of St. Peter, is the location of a wonderful scene in the movie. A  mother searches for her lost daughter, who is  hiding on the lower level of the Tempietto, and can be seen through the hole in the mosaic floor (see  photo below.).


Gianicolo hill (Janiculum, in English), said to be Rome's eighth hill, has lots to see and beautiful overlooks of the city from several spots. The Fontana dell'Acqua Paolo, one of Rome's largest fountains, also called il Fontanone- the big fountain- was built in 1612 to mark the end of the Acqua Paolo acqueduct, which was restored by Pope Paul V, after whom the fountain is named.  One of the film's early scenes is shot at this fountain.

A short walk from the fountain is the canon at Gianicolo hill. The canon is the very first scene in La Grande Bellezza. Because the canon is fired daily at noon, we chose to save this location for later in the tour rather than begin here, so we could be there when it was fired off.  If you do the same, remember that the canon is very loud when it goes off!

Just above the canon is the statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi. There are never enough statues of Garibaldi, and this one is one of Italy's finest.

From Gianicolo hill we returned back to the Regina Baglioni hotel on Via Veneto for a gourmet lunch in the Brunello Restaurant and lounge More on this in my next post. 

Following the gourmet meal prepared for us by the chef, we continued the second portion of our day long excursion. Next stop, Terme di Caravalla, or the Baths of Caravalla.  The baths, built between 212-216 Ad during the reign of Emperor Caravalla are the second largest public baths in Rome. For me, the baths were one of the highlights of the day. I would love to return to explore inside. 

In the movie, Jeb encounters a giraffe at this location. Today the baths are used as a venue for the Rome Opera. Can you imagine enjoying an opera here on a perfect summer evening? 

Clearly the most breathtaking sight for me was our visit to the Roman Acqueduct. Said to be one of the greatest achievements of the ancient world, I was awestruck standing along side it, in absolute amazement at the sheer scope of this massive waterway, and the ingenuity it must have taken to build it. This portion of the acqueducts near the Appian Way was built in 312 BC,and was part of the complex waterway that carried water into the city of Rome.

The tour wouldn't have been complete without a drive-by of the Colosseum. This is the view from the rooftop terrace of the apartment used by Jeb in the film. Who wouldn't want this view while having morning coffee on the terrace?

We had one last stop to cap off our incredible Great Beauty tour, and that was to catch the view from the Penthouse suite of the Regina Baglioni.  In the movie, there is a fantastic party scene on a rooftop deck in Rome just overlooking this famous Martini sign.  See the movie, you'll know just where we were at. 

 The day wouldn't have been possible without the three people you see in the photo below, our charming companions for the day.

Grazie mille to Beata, Stefano and Raffaella.

Beata, our guide, expertly wove Rome's history, art and the film, La Grande Bellezza into an educational, informative and hugely enjoyable adventure. 

Stefano, driver extraordinare, managed to maneuver us in, through, and around Rome's traffic laden streets all day with efficiency and good humor, getting us to exactly where we needed to be, when we needed to be there. 

Raffaella, the Regina Baglioni's Sales Manager, worked tirelessly to put the weekend package together, allowing us to be treated like royalty.

Grazie mille to Baglioni Hotels,and the entire staff of Regina Baglioni for an incredible weekend. 

Could it get any better than this?  Yes, in fact, it does. Check my next blog for more of the Great Beauty Experience. 

And the dream continues....

                                                    (photo thanks to Pink Lioness in Venice)

I've been reluctant to talk about what happened after my glorious afternoon row with the Pink Lionesses, but I've decided it's time to add more to the story.

Yes, I did go back and row that Friday. Twice in one week! I couldn't have been more blessed. When I arrived on Friday I got very enthusiastic greetings from my fellow rowers, which bowled me over completely. Truth be told, for as long as I've lived in Venice already, I have found Venetians to be quite closed. They stick to themselves. I've not had an easy time of it making friends, aside from expats. But among the locals, I am pretty much ignored. I did not come to Italy to marry an Italian, I don't  have other Italian family here in this area, and don't have school age children. The normal ways to integrate into local life weren't going to work for me. So to be greeted so warmly took me by surprise. These women truly have big hearts.

The row was fantastic. I was expecting to take the same route we did on Wednesday, with a left turn onto the Grand Canal and up all the way to Ferrovia. Instead, we took a right turn and headed towards St. Mark's.  As we rounded Dogana Point, Francesco steered us across the Giudecca Canal. We rowed between San Giorgio and Giudecca Island passing the Cipriani Hotel and out into the open lagoon. We then rowed towards Lido, almost to Sant'Elena!  I could see Ca'Hendersoni from the boat!  We rowed over to San Servolo, then over to San Clemente, and headed back towards Giudecca, passing La Grazia.  Cutting through a canal on Giudecca island we entered the Giudecca Canal, then cut across a canal in Dorsoduro which took us to the Grand Canal by the Guggenheim, and then finally back down one more canal where we all disembarked. Rowing on the open lagoon is quite different than on a smaller canal. This afternoon there were quite a few waves, so we all came home drenched- but smiling. Even me!

The next Monday, I received an email from Donatella asking me to meet on Wednesday to meet with the capogruppo (the head of the group), whom I had not yet met as she had been away on vacation. I was also instructed to come prepared to row, and bring a change of clothes in case we got soaked again this time.
A third row! I was in heaven.

Meeting Anna, the capogruppo, was a bit intimidating for me. She questioned me about why I had asked to join the group, if I was intending to stay in Venice, and if so, would I plan to be active in all the group's activities, including all the non-rowing events. I was fearful my Italian speaking wouldn't be good enough, but I did my best to stammer through my answers. At this point, I had zero expectations.  After the question/answer session, we suited up and went rowing. This time three rowers from the Pink Lioness group in Mestre came over to Venice to practice for the Vogalonga, the huge rowing event coming up on June 8. We rowed in open water again, and yes, we came home soaked. But happy.  I was sitting at the rear of the boat this time, doing my best to row as well as I could. The time before I was a disaster. At one point Francesco yelled out "Karen, megio!" (Karen, better!), which was great encouragement for me.

 After another wet row, we returned to the Maggazino del Sale to clean, dry and put away the boat. As  I was leaving for the day, I got another "Come row with us again next time" invitation. Yes, I went home really happy.

The next day I received another email from Donatella, telling me she had had a phone call from Anna, the capogruppo.  Anna thought I was serious and sincere about why I wanted to join the Pink Lionesses. Yay! I passed that round! Next they would all vote on accepting me as a "supporting" member, meaning I could not particpate in certain events that were only for regular members (a regular member being one who has had the surgery). That was more than ok by me!  The vote is to take place  at their next meeting on May 30 meeting, and in the meantime  I should not row until I heard the results of the vote.

Honestly, I will be completely shocked if I get accepted into the group. There are only two other supporting members and they have a very different association with the group than I do. They were instrumental in helping organize the Venice chapter of the Pink Lionesses and getting the sponsorship of the Bucintoro rowing club.  They really don't have any good reason to bother having me around.

The other day I was sitting on the Zattere enjoying some sun when along came 4 of the Pink Lionesses. They had just finished a row and were on their way home.  They stopped to chat with me (wow- Venetian women stopping to chat with me??  Did that actually happen?), and they reminded me of the vote coming up. I mentioned that I didn't expect to be voted in, and their response was "Don't be silly! We'll see you soon!"

The vote is this Friday. I need all the positive energy in the world, so if you are out there reading this, please send some good thoughts my way. Nothing would please me more than to be able to participate with these marvelous women. Wish me luck.

ps (the photo above was taken on my first row out into the lagoon, and I am in the photo, but I'm hiding right behind the woman with the pink headband in the front!)

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Another of my Venetian dreams comes true

For several years now, whenever I watch one of the boating events associated with one of Venice's festivals, for example the Regata Storica or Vogalonga, I have seen this group of local women dressed in pink rowing in a dragon boat with the name Pink Lionesses.  The photo below was from the Carnevale event in Cannaregio canal in 2013.  Every time I've watched them row, I wished I could be rowing with them. Today that wish came true.

A few months ago, I decided to try to see if I might join their group. There was an email address on their website listed as a contact, so I sent off a message. I got back a response inviting me to attend a holiday dinner they were having. Unfortunately, timing didn't work out for us, so I did not connect on that occasion. 

About 2 weeks ago, I decided I should take another try at contacting them. I shot off another email. This time I received a response inviting me to come row with them that Friday.  As my luck would have it, I wasn't free then either. So I responded with my thanks and asked if I might get a rain check some other day soon.  Yesterday I double checked my calendar, I was going to be free the following day, a day the ladies have a practice row. I sent off an email to Donatella,  the woman who had responded the last time, asking if I might come on Wednesday.  I got back a "Yes!".  I was instructed to show up at the Bucintoro rowing club in the Maggazino del Sale on the Zattere at 3 pm, wearing sweats and tennis shoes. 

Excited and elated, I set off for the Maggazino del Sale on the 4.2 vaporetto today.  I had had zero experience rowing this kind of boat, but was eager and willing to learn. Just as I was arriving, a few other women were also walking in the door, wearing pink jackets. Easy to recognize.I was in the right place. A few seconds later, Donatella entered the room and walked right up to me smiling a huge smile. After brief introductions, I got the two kisses on the cheeks welcome! Then Donatella sits me down and says we need to talk.  She explained that the requirement to be a member of the Pink Lionesses is that you must be a Breast Cancer surgery survivor.  I knew the group was associated with supporting survivors of Breast Cancer, but I didn't know you had to be a survivor. I thought supporting the cause would be enough. I also thought they had a large number of members. They have 15 members here in Venice. 

Donatella went on to explain more about the organization, and how rowing is a very therapeutic way to recover from breast cancer surgery. Sadly, since I had not had breast cancer surgery, I could not be a member. After thanking Donatella for her time, I was about to head for the door. She gave me her big smile again and said, "But come row with us today. Let's see how you do."  She took me upstairs to meet the other Pink Lionesses, they lent me a pink jacket, outfitted me with an oar and a pink life jacket, and we went outside to get the dragon boat into the water. 

Here are 5 of the women in the boat about to be lowered into the Giudecca canal.  A few women go into the water with the boat, then they row around to the next canal where everyone else boards the boat. I got the last seat, partnered with Donatella.  She gave me some tips about how to make the correct stroke with the paddle in the water. Before I knew it, off we went.

I caught on quickly. This is much easier than rowing in the Venetian style standing up.  In the dragonboat, you sit down, like a canoe. There is one person in the tail end steering and yelling out instructions. Francesco, the young man handling that job was fantastic, as were all the women rowing with me today.

There is something special about being in a boat rowing down the Grand Canal. I could barely believe I was actually there, doing something I'd only dreamed of.   As vaporettos and gondolas with passengers passed us, everyone cheered and applauded the pink lionesses.  I wanted to cheer for them myself, but I had a paddle in my hand that needed to be dealt with.

We headed up the Grand Canal towards Rialto. When we got under the Rialto bridge, the women all shouted "Ciao, Ragazze!"  Donatella leaned over to explain they were giving a special tribute to all the other women who had not survived their battle against breast cancer.

As we approached San Marcuolo, we slowed the pace and came to a halt. Each pair of women, starting with the first row, then proceeding row by row to the back, exchanged places on their bench. Donatella explained the changing of positions allows each woman to exercise the muscles in both shoulders and arms each time they practice. Right after we switched positions, we turned the boat around and headed back towards Dorsoduro.

We rowed for an hour and a half.  The women talked and joked amongst themselves as they rowed, but I was afraid if I got in on the banter I'd lose my concentration and wouldn't keep up with the pace of rowing. We made our way back to the canal where we'd boarded the boat to disembark.  As we helped one another out of the boat, each of the women asked me how I liked it and if I was tired. My shoulders were feeling it a little, but I just loved every minute of it.

After every row, the boat is washed before it is put away. I got to join in on the clean up activities too. It was a little sad to have to take off my pink life preserver and jacket.

 There are almost no words to describe how honored I was today to be welcomed by  and to be in the midst of this group of courageous, strong,  beautiful women, and to be allowed to share in something so special. I could not, and would never understand the struggle these women have gone through and continue to face on a daily basis.

As I said my goodbyes, the women called out "Come row with us on Friday!"