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

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas pranzo with friends

My friend Marie sent me this photo of all of us around the table, except for her daughter Giorgia who was snapping the picture. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to post it here, as our Christmas pranzo was so enjoyable.

We had the pleasure of being invited to share the traditional Christmas lunch at the home of Marie and Roberto, and their family. Their daughters, as well as his father and mother,were also be present. You couldn't have asked for a better day-- great food, great company, and even a little bit of good old American college football on TV.

We ate and ate and ate-- first appetizers with prosecco. Next we got seated at the table for the first course - a magnificent homemade pumpkin soup. Pumpkin (Zucca) is a very local food, and we have had it served in many ways. This soup was to die for, and I will have to ask for the recipe.

Next came the main event. The tacchino (turkey), may just have been one of the best I have ever tasted. Marie described a new cooking techique passed to her by another friend, which requires covering the turkey with cheesecloth and basting it every 20 min with wine and herbs. I would have liked to have seen this, as there is no cheesecloth to be had in these parts. Marie had Roberto go to the farmacia to buy alot of gauze! The gauze worked!!

Along with the tacchino we had stuffed mushrooms, roasted fennel, creamed onions, mashed potatoes, stuffing and gravy. This probably sounds like a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner! Well, since Marie an American who has lived here for 20 some years, that wouldn't be too far from the truth. However, this was definitely Christmas, and a lovely mix of both American and Italian traditions.

When we could barely move and had finished up seconds, Roberto made scroppino, which we all devoured. I had thought that scroppino was usually a summer treat, but was delighted to discover that it is used year round. I love this stuff. It's a lemon sorbet mixed with prosecco and some vodka or gin. Yummmm.

Still the dolci yet to come.. lots of panettone, cookies, brownies, chocolates and torrone.

It was a perfect afternoon. Roberto's parents Luigi and Sonia were a delight to meet- more native Venetians. We also totally enjoyed getting to know Roberto and Marie's girls, and their friends who dropped in after dinner. Clearly our Italian skills are improving as we were able to understand about 80% of the day's conversation.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Yesterday's adventure ---- la caldaia (the boiler)

La Caldaia. If you have never seen one of these gadgets, let me introduce you to it. It's in every kitchen, it's the magic appliance that heats your hot water - on demand (well sort of on demand, you do have to wait for the hot water to run through the pipes and get to you, so if you are opening the hot water faucet you wait a while until the water runs hot.) La caldaia also provides the hot water necessary for your heating. And yes, it is on the wall. Ours developed some problems recently, it's been dripping water, and not retaining water in the tank. Clearly it needed repairs, so we contacted our "padrone", the owners of the apartment. I love that word "padrone". It's so Godfather-like. He came over to take a look, and told us he'd call us later so he could schedule a repairman when we would be at home. Within hours we got a call. The appointment was scheduled. 8:30 am the next day.

I was the one who would be home at the time, so I prepared my Italian statements in advance in case I had to tell the repairman what was wrong. We've learned that most people outside of the hotel and tourist industry do not speak anything but Italian, and here, it's even worse. Everyone speaks the Venetian dialect. I did a quick little prayer to the saint who's in charge of broken Caldaia's, with the hope that I would NOT have to do any explanations. I double checked my sentences using Google Translate. Oh my god, what would I do without this! I declared myself ready. I was able to go to sleep that night without this hanging over my head.

At about 8:45 am the doorbell rang. I pushed the button upstairs that unlocks the front door, and I heard the repairman enter. Other apartments here have a great system where you can actually talk to the person at the door first using a speaker system, but ours doesn't have that. That's another story!

My preparations came in handy. I did have to explain our problems (maybe I used the wrong saint??) and the guy set to work in the kitchen. I left him alone. Before long, he was asking me to show him the thermostat. Fortunately, I understand pretty well, and was able to direct him to the right place on the wall with no problems. A little bit later, he came asking for where something or other was, and I had no clue what he wanted. It took a little bit of back and forth before I understood that he was looking for an exhaust to the outside of the house. We both searched the kitchen, even pulled out the stove from the wall, but didn't find what he was looking for. Finally we tried pulling a cabinet away from the wall, and there it was. I hope that helped, cause I left the kitchen again.

About an hour later, he was finished doing whatever he was doing. In Italian he proceeds to tell me that we should not turn this one dial higher than where he had set it, otherwise if it was set any higher, pressure would build up in the tank and it would cause the dripping again. I'm not saavy on this kind of stuff, so I just nodded my head and thanked him.

When Mike came home a few hours later, I did the replay of the transaction for him. He's got alot more knowledge of how things work-- but he didn't buy the explanation about why not to set the water temperature any higher. That dial controlled the water temp, and what if we wanted hotter water??? Fortuantely, it seemed as if the water was getting hot enough, so we were ok on that. But.. by this time, we discovered that la caldaia was still dripping. Much less than before, but still dripping.

Guess I will be preparing another set of sentences for the return of the Caldaia guy!!!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Buon Natale....and lots of Aqua Alta

Buon Natale a tutti!! (Merry Christmas to all!). See- my Italian lessons are paying off!

This year we put up our first Christmas tree in Venice. We finally broke down and purchased a fake tree. We've always had a real tree, some years even two of them. Venice, however, is not an easy city for live trees. In fact, our Italian tutor explained to us that most of Italy uses fake trees. If you buy a live tree, you would typically plant it after the holiday in your garden. Since not too many people have gardens, there aren't many live trees. Real trees already cut don't seem to exist here at all. There are no cut Christmas tree stands on every street corner like we are used to in the US. Egg nog isn't readily available here, either, by the way!!

We contemplated finding a live tree, even a small one, however we'd have to haul it across Venice, then also deal with how to discard the tree once the holidays were over. It all seemed way too much work. So, we made our way to the Panorama in Marghera by bus, purchased an acceptable fake tree and some Italian lights to put on it, and hauled it home. Constructing the tree was a breeze; in fact, way less work than we ever expected. We actually had fun! We even hung lights on our balcony. No one decorates the houses here like we are used to in the U.S. No Santas and reindeer on the rooftops, no lights surrounding every door and window, not even wreaths on the doors. About the only exterior decoration we see is a Babbo Natale (Santa Claus) hanging outside a window or on a balcony.

Most of our friends and family in the United States are enjoying a very White Christmas after this past week's blizzard. My mom tells me more is predicted for today.

We did have some snow on Saturday (photos in my last post), about 4 inches, which lasted maybe a day on the ground. However, we've had Aqua Alta every day this week. Really high water! I wish I had photos to post, unfortunately these all occurred during the night, so the water had receeded by morning, at least in our neighborhood.

There's a siren warning system when Aqua Alta (high water) is going to happen, which gives you a bit of time to prepare. About 3 hours before peak tide, the sirens go off all over the city. There's one long loud blast, sort of like an air-raid siren, followed by a series of tones. The series of tones indicate about how high the water will be. Just the first tone indicates it will be about 6-8 inches high, on up to 4 tones, which signifies water over 140 cm (thats's about 4 1/2 feet). Every night this week the water has been between 130-144 cm high, in the lowest parts of the city, about 2 feet high back where we live in Santa Croce.

When the sirens go off, you scurry around to make sure things are elevated and won't get soaked, and also make sure you know where your boots are! We've had water come in the foyer every time, it seeps in under the front door. It takes a little getting used to, for sure.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all !!!!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Snow.Yesterday . .Venice, December 19, 2009

Venice typically doesn't get much snow, and we like it like that! Alot. No more shoveling, and certainly no more driving in winter snow storms for us. We were here on vacation about 4-5 years ago in March when a large snowstorm swooped in overnight dumping about 4 inches on the city. That, we were told then, was the most anyone had seen in 10 years. Well, we've just seen it again. Yesterday, starting early in the morning, a thick heavy snow started falling, and fell for several hours, leaving a lovely 4 inches of snow all over the city.

To make things more interesting, somewhere around 8 am we heard the Aqua Alta sirens.. level 2. That meant we would see between 6-8 inches of water on the streets. I had a few errands to run but didn't give too much thought to the water, thinking most of that would be in the St. Mark's area. It was VERY cold and windy here, and still snowing, so I bundled up, putting on my fleece lined snow boots. My first stop was going to be the pharmacy two canals over, not far from the Carmini church, over in Dorsoduro.

I left the house, and took my normal route to the pharmacy. I turned right, down the street, then left up and over the first bridge... ooops... there's a street full of water, not snow.

I have on snow boots which have zippers for closures. I'm in trouble, water will get in through those zippers. Thinking quickly, I reverse over the bridge and proceed down the street to the next bridge, which brings me to a street that is between two rows of houses, not along a canal. I should be safer here, at least less water. This plan worked nicely, I encountered no water, just snow. Not only was there snow, there was a snowman!!!!

Continuing down this street, I was water-free, until I got to the end ,where it intersects with the Fondamenta. Now I am screwed. There is water, water, water everywhere, in both directions, and I must turn right to reach the pharmacy. I didn't make two steps before I felt a little water seeping through the zipper of my boots. I was hoping the water wouldn't be that high. Hmmmm.. Water 1, Karen 0.

I thought maybe, just maybe, the other side of the street might have less water, and if I could get across there, I could walk to the end of the street, then cross back over to wind up at the pharmacy. I took a quick look across the canal..... no such luck. The water was even higher over on that side. See the woman with the yellow boots? At least she was smart and wore boots made for water, not snow.

I just bit the bullet. I walked down the rest of the street and into the pharmacy, knowing I would just have soaking wet feet. I completed my business after a nice little conversation with the pharmacist, then turned around and walked right back out into the water. And here is where I made mistake number two. Instead of giving up the notion of going anywhere else this morning and just reversing my route and head home, I decided to head to the Rialto, by way of Campo Santa Margharita.

I slogged through even deeper water, crossed over the bridge to the campo in front of the Carmini, and discovered the entire little campo was under water. My feet were completely wet by now, I just kept going. As I made the turn at the side of the church heading into Santa Margharita, I was hit be even higher water. This is unbelievable. If only I had worn my water boots, I would have been dry, but cold. Now I was wet and cold. Not a good combination at all.

I got to the middle of Campo Santa Margharita before I stopped, pulled out my cellulare and called Mike. He had gone out to take photos, most likely headed to St. Mark's Square. Well, well, well. He answered the phone, he was already back at home!!!! He hadn't gotten far out of the neighborhood himself and called it quits. I couldn't even convince him to come back out for a coffee at our favorite caffe. That made my decision for me. I headed home myself, but first stopped for a few minutes to chat with the woman at our favorite fish monger, who was busy selling fish, despite the bitter cold temperatures.

My route home from Campo Santa Margharita is a simple one, and fortunately, it was water-free. All snow the whole way back. As soon as I got in the apartment I pulled off the wet boots, soaking socks, and pants. I turned the boots as inside out as I could, and put them near the radiator. Today the insides are still not dry yet. Maybe tomorrow!

Lesson learned: No matter what, wear the high water boots.

Blog Hiatus

I've received several emails recently asking "What happened to your blog??? and more importantly... how are you doing???" Thanks for jerking me back to attention!!! I've been entirely negligent, allowing everyday life to swallow me up. But.. it's everyday life here that is so important to write about, as each day has been, and continues to be an incredible adventure.

Recent months have found us literally knee deep in some pretty serious knee pain, studying Italian daily, meeting and making new friends, doing alittle bit of "out of Venice" travel and even going solo in Venice for 10 days while Mike did a visit with his family in the US.

So... this is an early New Year's resolution to be more diligent about catching up, and getting back on a regular schedule with my blog-scapades.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Leopold goes to church

This is Leopold. You never can tell what he'll be up to.... here's last nite's fun.....

Last nite, around 9:30, we decided to walk the dogs to our usual spot, Campo Santa Margharita. Most Venetian dogs walk unleashed. We sort of admire that actually, but our two dogs haven't become completely Venetian yet. We do let go of the leash from time to time to see how they'll do. They actually do pretty well. But, by and large, they get hitched up before we open the apartment door. And off we go....

To be honest, Leopold, our Corgi, has done pretty well off-leash, at least there are no streets filled with cars they can run into and get hit. He tends to want to stay right at your heels anyway, not that he is concerned at all about HIM minding you, basically what is going on is that Leo is herding US. That's just what Corgi's do.

Last nite as we walked, Mike and I were noting that it had been awhile since Leo was out loose, and next thing I know Mike bends down to unleash the dog. Leo's doing nicely, I don't pay any more attention. My dog Sam and I begin to get ahead of the others, we are already over the bridge and in front of the church at Carmini. It's 9:30 ish, I see the church doors are open and lights are on, I hear voices coming from it. That's a bit unusual. So Sam and I stop at the doorway for a peek in. There are only a handful of people inside, way up front in the first row of pews, and there is a priest doing what looks like performing a mass of some sort. I'm just looking, when all of a sudden I notice Leopold has entered the church, and is headed down the aisle!!!!!! OH, bedlam is about to ensue!!!

I can't run (arthritis in my knees), and I have Sam on his leash, so I am just about screaming to Mike to run come get Leo out of church. Mike says "What???".

In the mean time Leo has stopped going up the aisle, thank goodness, but is having a good look-see for himself. By this time Mike has arrived at the doorway and is whispering, "Leo, get back over here". Fortunately, Leo is basically a good boy. He just looked back at us, turned his big fat Corgi self around, and trotted himself out the church door.

Thank you, Lord. One big mishap avoided. I can only imagine what that priest would have said if Leo had arrived up at the altar with him.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Surgery, Italian Style

Health care is a global topic this year, and is most certainly on the minds of every American I know. Everytime we meet an American vacationing here in Italy, one of the first questions we are asked is what is the Italian health system like. Since we've just had our first surgical experience in a hospital here, I thought this would be a perfect topic for blogging.

A bit of background info is needed first : My husband Mike was having some abdominal pain, which, after doing some research on WebMd, he self diagnosed as a hernia. He made an appointment with his doctor here in Venice, who confirmed it. The doctor told him the hernia was small, and probably would not be operated on until it got bigger, but, he gave him a referral to a surgeon. The surgeon examined Mike, and decided to operate sooner, rather than later. Since it wasn't life threatening, his surgery was scheduled in July, about 90 days following his first visit to the surgeon. He had several phone calls with the scheduling office at the hospital, everything seemed very efficient.

On the morning of the operation, we left home around 6:15, taking the vaporetto from Piazzale Roma to Ospedale. Mike was to report to Day Surgery at 7:30 am. He had been advised to bring pajamas and clogs with him, and not to eat any breakfast. We arrived a bit early, so we joined a few others already in the waiting room. At 7:30, we queued up outside the nurses office to be checked in. They actually came down the line and called for Mike to come forward. We then discovered he was scheduled to be operated on first that day. Good thing to know.

Following some paper signing, we were shown to a hospital room down the hall which had 3 beds in it. It was large and very clean, and also had a bathroom with a shower. Mike was taken to the bathroom where the nurse shaved an area on his abdomen. Mike was told to take his clothes off, wrap a green sheet around him, and get on the gurney. The nurse covered him with a blanket, and they wheeled him off to the Operating Room.

Here is where I noted a difference between hospitals in the US and in Italy. They did not have hospital gowns, not even disposable ones. You wrap up in a sheet instead. Ok.. I can see that this would save a bit. Hmmm.... Mr. Obama, maybe this would cut a line item out of the health care reform bill.

While the surgery was taking place, I went down into Campo Giovanni e Paolo to Rosa Salva for tea and a brioche. About an hour later I returned to Mike's hospital room to await his return.

Mike was wheeled into his room about an hour later than had been estimated. It turns out he had been given a local anesthesia, but needed something stronger. They knocked him out. His version of this is alot funnier than mine, he retells thinking the room was upside down even. You have to have a little patience with him, he had never been a patient in a hospital before, and this was his first surgery. And, for some unknown reason, he seemed to think it was going to be a party. I had cautioned him that no matter how small the incision might be, it was still abdominal surgery. I thought it was going to sting. I won.

He remained in the hospital room until almost 5pm that day, during which time the nurses came several times to check on him, make sure he could get up and walk about, and get to the bathroom ok. A doctor came in to examine him also, and gave him the final ok to go home. They gave him some pain medication to take with him, and made an appointment for the next Monday morning for a follow-up appointment.

We were incredibly impressed with the care and attention Mike received. Everyone, and I mean everyone, made extra effort to ensure that we understood exactly what we needed to understand. If there was someone who didn't speak English very well, they went and got someone else who did speak better to help them. They didn't have to do any of that, we were the ones who should have been speaking better Italian. In short, we were highly impressed every step of the way.

As for differences... besides the hospital gown, there is one other thing. This cost roughly 75 Euros for the whole thing, including the office visit to the surgeon, the surgery, and the follow up visit. Wow.


Today, August 15, is Ferragosto. It's a national holiday in Italy. Basically what that means is just about everything will be closed, and Italians will be heading to either the beach or the mountains for a long weekend. Ferrogosto is a celebration of the harvest, and also a celebration of the Assumption of Mary into heaven, and dates back to Emperor Augustus. I haven't quite figured out how they mixed a religious holiday with a pagan festival, but, they did.

What we've noticed is that around the first week in August, we start to see signs on shops, caffes and restaurants indicating they are closed for FERIE- holiday. Return dates are somewhere around the last week in August. Looks to me like everyone plans their annual summer vacation to include Ferragosto.

Shops that weren't closed already for the holiday are certainly closed for Ferrogosto. Today Venice seemed empty, at least it was in my neighborhood. We live close to the train station and Piazzale Roma, so we normally see a fair amount of foot traffic coming and going from these areas past our street. Today was particularly quiet. Even the grocery stores were only open half a day. Everyone else must have headed for the Lido.

Happy Ferragosto!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Living the dream -- laundry day!

Laundry here has been one of my biggest adjustments. I'll admit it- I'm a clothes dryer girl. I like my towels warm and fluffy. I really love my blue jeans soft. But-- we have no clothes dryer here. There's no where in the apartment we could even squeeze one in. I have no idea why everyone here in Italy hangs their clothes on the line, but it appears they all love it. I'm sure people could have dryers, but no one does.

I have a love/hate relationship going on with clothes pins. I just can't seem to get through one laundry day without clothes pins falling out of the little bin, falling all over the ground, and even worse, falling off the clothes I've pinned them on. It seems simple enough, but for some stupid reason these pins just don't like me. I am beginning to think it's all because they somehow know I crave a clothes dryer.

More often than not, in the US, I'd leave clothes washing for a weekend day, and get it all done then. A couple of loads of laundry, toss them in the dryer, and bing, bang, boom, laundry is done.
Here, I can't leave the laundry till the end of the week. I'd never get it done. Why? Because my washing machine looks like it's a Barbie washer. It's got teensey tiny capacity, as do all the washers here that I've seen. Besides that, it takes hours for one load to be done. It seems to have a million different cycles, going in one direction, then backwards, then fast, then slow. Who knows what it's doing in there.

This morning, I had to put a load of sheets in. On laundry days, it's critical that first I check the day's weather forecast. It never fails that I will hang out laundry and then it starts to rain. Today things appear to be ok rain-wise. I washed the sheets, walk out the back door to the clothes line, and notice there is a large plastic bag on the porch. That's weird. I picked the bag up, and noticed a note taped to it. The note read " Please can put my yellow towel in. Thanks, Betty B.".

I'm laughing out loud now. This is another classic example of why I love my life here.

Not only is there a bag with a note, but I also notice there is a string hanging down to my doorway from the apartment window two flights up. Now this all makes sense. A few days ago we found a yellow kitchen towel on the ground in our garden. I'd washed it and hung it on the line yesterday. Today, the woman upstairs is asking for her towel returned, with the bag retrieval system!! She knows we don't speak much Italian, bless her soul, she's managed some pretty good Inglese for me!

I folded the clean towel, placed it in the bag, tied it onto the string, and attached my own note inviting them down for wine in the garden so we can get to know each other better!

Gotta love laundry days!! I would never have had this experience back in Baltimore in the basement with my clothes dryer.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Italian National Health Service and the magic Tessera card

(No, this isn't the next Harry Potter book, although the title is a good one for it, and ... I could have used Harry and his wand on this adventure!!!)

Now that we've gotten completely through the incredible administrative maze which is required in order to obtain your health insurance documents here in Italy, I can sit back and write about that whole adventure. This was ALMOST as daunting as obtaining citizenship. Almost. At least we had some previous experiences to draw on, we were somewhat prepared for another nightmare. I don't know why, I just thought this would be easier. Ha, what was I thinking. I should have known by now.

I checked the phone book to be sure I knew the location of the office I was supposed to go to. This looked easy enough, the office was in the Ospedale (hospital), and I know how to find that. I gathered up all our documents, and off we went. Once inside Ospedale, I had to ask a few people where to go, finally one nice man took us to an office labeled "Communications". Oh well, this didn't seem exactly right, but we're game.

Inside, a woman stopped what she was doing to talk to us. She looked at my documents, and then proceeded to explain to that she didn't think we qualified for the health insurance. Not being able to speak alot of Italian was quite a disadvantage in this situation. Three times I pointed out that my Carta d'Identita says "Italian citizen" written on it. On the third try, she finally got it, at which point she became alot nicer. She printed out a map showing us the place we should have gone to, and also some additional information about the Tessera card. Ah, yes, the Tessera card. That was the end goal-- obtaining the Tessera.

This little baby is like having the gold wrapper of the Wonka bar. Once you have this Tessera card, you are good to go. But, we discovered, nothing is ever easy.

The next day we gathered up our documents once again. It takes a good bit of nerves to deal with these beaurocratic issues, and I have to gear myself up for it. I was ready--we headed off to the office in Dorsoduro where we had been redirected. It appears there are local offices in each health district, depending on where your residence is, and you must handle all of your transactions in the appropriate district. We needed to get to a large building known as Ospedale Giustinian. Once in the building, we found the main reception desk just as you walk in. Here a man pointed us to an office around the corner and down the hall.

We had to take a number, then wait our turn, along with the slew of other Italians on the bench. There are two offices here, one for making Prenotazione (appointments), and the second for all other issues relating to your Tessera. Once our number was called, we went inside to one of the counters and showed our documentation to the girl behind the glass wall. She didn't speak much English, but tried hard. What we got out of her pretty quickly is that she didn't think I qualified for the Italian Health Insurance either. Again, I pointed to the line on my Carta d'Identita that reads "Citizenship = Italian". Ahhhh... finally she got it, and became very nice to us. Bada bing, bada boom, she has typed a bunch of stuff into her computer, and printed out a paper card which she handed to me. She also handed me a copy of the plastic Tessera card I would be receiving in the mail. It's as if I had waved a magic wand over her. I love this Carta d'Identita already. After today I have learned to make sure I point out where it says I am an Italian citizen FIRST. That's the key.

A few minutes later, she did the same process for Mike. After all was said and done, we still had two hurdles yet to handle. A) we needed to return to this same office with the final certificate of residence documents for each of us, and B) Mike needed to bring back his permanent Carta di Soggiorno when he received it. Until that time, we had Tessera's that were only good for 3 months. Alright, at least that's a start.

Two weeks later, our plastic Tessera cards arrived in the mail, and we're feeling pretty good about having gotten this far.

Another mission accomplished, we're in the Italian Health System.

Carcofi (Artichoke) festival on Sant 'Erasmo

We noticed a poster advertising the 3rd annual Carcofi festival on Sant 'Erasmo, and I thought it might be interesting to go see what it was all about. It was on a saturday that we had nothing planned, so I put it on the calendar. I got out the vaporetto schedule, determined we needed to take the # 13 from Fondamenta Nuova to Sant 'Erasmo, and worked out that if we left Piazzale Roma on the # 41, we could switch boats at F. Nuove and get out to Sant' Erasmo around 10 am.

Sant Erasmo is a small island just off Burano. It's all farmland. Vegetables and fruit sold at the Rialto market are all grown here.

We set off from Piazzale Roma and changed boats at Fondamenta Nuova. The boat ride to Sant Erasmo is about 30 minutes, with a short stop at both Murano and Vignolo first. We got off at the Cappannone stop on Sant Erasmo, the first stop on the island. I wish I had taken a picture at the dock. You get off the boat, and you see a small refreshment stand to the left, a row of bicycles, some cars and motorcyles in a small parking lot. In front of you is open land, and a pathway. We didn't rent a bicycle. perhaps next time. We stopped for a drink and snack, and set off walking. We didn't have a map, and we let the other people on the boat take off ahead of us. We just ambled for a bit.

We made the bend in the road, we could see water off to our right, and farmland all to our left. Before long we spotted what we were eager to see.... artichokes!

The artichoke plant took us by surprise, we had never seen anything like it. These are the smaller type, purple in color. They were growing in large patches that seemed almost wild.

I'm posting a few pictures so you can get a little tour with us.

Poppies and other wildflowers were in abundance as we walked along the road. This was a treat, a far cry from what we see day to day in Venice.

There are little canals cutting through the fields and large houses here and there.

I haven't seen one of these since we were in Tuscany a few years ago. This 3 wheeled little truck is called an Ape (which translates to " the bee" , I believe). I want one! You can see how little it is, compared to Mike walking next to it.

Even here on Sant Erasmo there are canals. We didn't have a map, no way of knowing how many canals there are. This one in particular had alot of boat traffic on it, but still it was quiet and idyllic.

This boat is filled with wine jugs coming straight from a vineyard. We love seeing these pull up!

The Fort of Maximillian on Sant'Erasmo

Vendor stalls and exhibits set up for the Carcofi Festival. You could buy fresh artichokes and other vegetables, or sample some freshly cooked.

Figs on the vine.. mmmmmm.

We ended our walk at a little bar at this end of the island, and discovered a lovely beach.

The bar served food and wine, and had great outdoor seating with beachfront view. Can't get more authentic than this! We enjoyed fritto misto, sauteed artichokes (of course), homemade gnocchi and prosecco wine. I'm already planning a little beach getaway one afternoon, now that I have discovered the perfect spot!
After a leisurely lunch, we roamed back to the boat dock for the ride back to Venice. A perfect saturday afternoon.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Living the dream- Shipping our household goods over-- finally!

We've been here a year- hard to believe!!! The rented, furnished apartment has worked out beautifully, in fact, we love it. We've been managing with whatever we brought over in our 4 suitcases well, but, to be honest, from time we found ourselves wishing for some of our clothes, or something or other from around our home back in the States. When the house sold we would have to empty it, so the plan had always been to ship just a few select items over to Italy when it came time. That time came, finally. We had a contract on the house. I returned to the US to handle getting us all moved out of it and deal with settlement.

We had to think long and hard about which items we really needed or wanted to have with us now. We made lists, then crossed ALOT of things off the list, as we were trying to be judicious about this. For one thing, we now lived in a much smaller place which was already furnished, so we didn't require alot of furnishings. And== it being smaller, we had precious few spaces to store anything. Not quite like our Baltimore home which had a huge basement, attic and garage for us to fill up! Finally we had the short list of things we wanted to bring back with us.

Timing actually worked out perfectly, as we are allowed one shipment of household goods sent VAT/duty free. For me, this one time shipment had to be done within 12 months of my receiving my dual Italian citizenship. My citizenship was finalized on October 30.

We did some research about international shipments. We knew it would take 6-8 weeks, maybe longer for our stuff to arrive here. We also knew it would be fairly expensive, and since we were footing the bill for this ourselves, we were very conscious about keeping costs down. Cost is based on volume, not weight. Once I returned to the US, I contacted several international movers and began collecting estimates.

I had to provide the companies with a detailed list of the items I wanted shipped, and they gave me a volume estimate. In addition, they also came to the house to see the items first hand, so they would know what needed special packing, etc. Then the volume estimates got revised, based on reality, not just my list. What I discovered is that the final volume estimate turned out to be 3 times larger than the initial paper list estimate. Yikes!

We then had to discuss packing, packing materials, insurance, storage in port on arrival, port fees, and also the land delivery charges once the ship arrived in Italy. In the end, I chose to hire the first company I spoke with, even though they were unable to actually make an in-person visit to the house. I had the in-person information from two other companies, their estimates were very close, and I was able to give these details to the woman at the company we were hiring. Their bid came in about $1500 less than the other two. We handled the contract via email and fax, the deposit was made, and the pickup/moving date was scheduled.

On the moving date, the movers arrived with a huge truck. They spent several hours wrapping up glassware, taking apart a few pieces of furniture, and carefully documenting every thing that was to be put on the truck. Our sleep number bed was probably the biggest and trickiest of the items to be shipped. The guys helped me deal with taking the bed apart carefully, and packing it all up so I would know exactly how to unpack it and reconstruct it properly. What an ordeal. The truck rolled out of sight around 2pm and I knew this was only the end of the first phase. Heaven only knew what would happen in 6-8 weeks time!

Somewhere along the line in all this, we remembered to have a discussion with the movers at their NYC headquarters who were handling the US side of the shipment regarding delivery once the stuff arrived in Italy. The woman we dealt with was Italian, and was aware our stuff was being shipped to Venice. But when we asked her about how our stuff would be delivered to our door, it was clear there was some disconnect. You can't drive a truck up to the house in Venice. You must get everywhere by boat. A truckload of stuff can come into Venice, but then it has to be unloaded from the truck, and loaded on to a boat. This wasn't patently clear to the woman at the movers at first, finally we got that crystal clear. This necessitated an additional $600 charge for the boat transportation portion of the move. We understood that, as we are constantly paying boat delivery charges for everything over here. No surprise.

I received a phone call about a week after I arrived back in Venice telling me our household goods would be leaving the warehouse in Bayonne, NJ on a ship the beginning of the following week. In about 2 weeks time, the ship was scheduled to arrive in Rotterdam, Holland. Holland? My stuff is supposed to be coming to Italy!!! What happened?? The man on the other end of the phone almost laughed at me. No, he explained, it was coming to Italy, just arriving first in Rotterdam. He explained that they can get a cheaper deal at certain ports, and in Italy, it's always iffy about whether there will be strikes at the ports, they prefer to arrive elsewhere if they can. I was ok with all that, as long as there was a plan for our stuff to get to us in Venice. Yes, no problem. It will be transported from Rotterdam to Venice by truck, and no additional charges except a possible port charge, which would be nominal. I was relieved. So our stuff would be on a boat shortly, making it's way here.

Two days after that call, I get an email from a guy in Rotterdam from the movers on this side of the Atlantic. He requested a stack of documentation from me. Copies of my passport, my citizenship, my residence papers, copies of our lease, copies of the inventory of stuff shipped, and filled in customs forms for the Dutch customs people. Because this was to be duty free, we needed to be sure the proper documentation was submitted and approved. We did a few days back and forth on the documentation, and then we waited. On the day our stuff was supposed to arrive in Rotterdam, we got a phone call from this guy, telling us our stuff had arrived and what the next steps would be.

Our household goods would be off loaded from the ship, loaded onto a truck, and 4 days later would arrive in Venice. We had a few email exchanges to clarify where the doors in the house were, how many flights of stairs there were, and if there was balcony access to the house. We were told they would be bringing a special elevator to move the boxes etc. from the ground level up to our apartment level, no extra charge for the elevator. We didn't think they needed the elevator, as we live on the first floor, but they were going to bring it and use it anyway. Here in Italy, the first floor is what we in the US would normally call the 2nd floor.
On the day our shipment was supposed to arrive in Venice, we got a phone call about 9:30 am. The truck was here, they were loading onto a boat, and they would be here in about 15 minutes time. We were ready!

I flung open the living room windows so I could catch a glimpse of our stuff floating down the canal in front of our house. I actually couldn't believe our belongings had actually made it out of the US, and here they were, just as the movers said they would be, on a boat in front of our place. I snapped a photo for posterity!!!
Two guys came all the way from Rotterdam on the truck,and here they were on the boat, to complete the move into our apartment. There was also a boat driver, and his dog. Now, this is where things get alittle funnier.. this SAME boat driver, and his dog, were the ones who delivered our patio table and chairs to us when we bought them on the mainland! I know there are a zillion transportation boats here, what are the odds it would be the same guy???? And to make things a bit funnier, his dog is riding down the canal, sitting on one of our leather chairs, which is on the deck of the boat!!!
The boat driver helped get things moved from the boat to the street, then he, the dog and the boat took off. Probably to go have a glass of wine!! The two movers made quick work of getting everything into the apartment, without the help of that portable elevator I had been told about. It turns out they couldn't fit the elevator on the boat! The only tricky item was our large china cabinet. They just couldn't fit it around the corner and up the stairs. It sat down in the foyer, and every once in a while the guys would go back down and ponder what to do. Finally, after a measuring tape and lots of head scratching, they shifted the china cabinet somehow and up it came.
The whole move was unbelievably easy. There were one or two little things cracked or broken, but a saucer broken in the grand scheme of things is nothing. One piece, the base to Mike's large easel, was not included in the stuff that came off the boat. They double checked the boat, the warehouse in Rotterdam, the warehouse in the US, it just has not appeared. Fortunately, we had insurance - and Mike was actually able to find a company in Italy that could send him the replacemnt part, so all is well.
What an experience, is all I can say. I know people do this all the time, but this was a first for us. We still can hardly believe the Weber grill has made it from Baltimore to Venice! Thanks, Echo World Transport for making this a very smooth transition.

Living the dream- The sleep number bed fiasco

One of the things we've had to adjust to living in Europe is the difference in electricity. Having traveled here many times before, we thought we were ready for this. In previous years we've vacationed here, so we were used to bringing converters for our laptops and other electrical appliances that traveled with us.

When we packed our suitcases for the move over to Venice, we made sure we had the converters with us. Upon arrival, we soon discovered we needed more of them. We looked around locally for converters similar to the ones we had, but found none. We ended up ordering them online from the same company we used before. Unfortunately, they don't ship to Europe, so our solution was to have a friend receive them for us, then ship them over. That worked- until we sent the big household goods shipment over from Baltimore to Venice.

When we sold our belongings, we sold most of the electrical stuff as well, knowing that they just wouldn't work over here. I wasn't happy giving up my Kitchen Aid mixer, or leaving behind several of my favorite lamps, but it just wasn't feasible. We did, however, decide to bring over a few things which would require the use of electric converters. We thought we were covered, we had enough of those.

Then the household goods arrived. After the movers left, Mike and I tackled the job of putting our sleep number bed together. This monster had made it's way safely over on the boat, and we were so excited to have it with us again. We had it all constructed (no small feat as it's like a jigsaw puzzle with many pieces to fit together properly). We plugged the airpump into the electric converter, then plugged that into the wall outlet. POP. That was not a good sound. Yup, we had fried the pump motor. Upon further examination it turns out that the converter box we had used already had a problem, but we had forgotten to throw the dead thing away. Well, wouldn't you know that's what we would do!!! With this motor defunct, there was no way the sleep number bed could be blown up- it requires air in it's chambers.

The bed day was a very funny day. We had made arrangements with our landlord to remove the bed in our bedroom for us, to make room for the sleep number bed arrival. That morning, Mike and I took the existing bed apart, with plans to take it downstairs for the landlord later in the day, after we constructed our bed. So, with the sleep number bed non functional, the only option we had for sleeping that nite was to deconstruct the sleep number bed, and reconstruct the landlord's bed. Once again, we packed all the parts of the sleep number bed up into boxes, and set the other bed back up. I almost hated to inform the landlord that we did not get the bed downstairs for him, as he was so intent on that all being done according to his specific instructions. So here we have our sleep number bed, completely non-functional.

We decided we'd just order a new airpump, and construct the bed when it arrived. No problem. Well, slight problems. Where to store the sleep number bed while we wait for a new pump to arrive was now an issue. There are few enough places to store anything here as it is, and we'd just shipped over boxes of stuff that were going to take up the few spots to stow things we did have. Hmmm. We ended up putting the box spring part up on it's side against a wall in one of the spare bedrooms, and the boxes of other parts got jammed in a closet. This couldn't work as permanent storage, but since we figured we only had to wait until the new pump arrived, we could tolerate this arrangement.

The airpump has been ordered. Wouldn't you know it the company will not ship to Europe. So, again, we have our backup system of shipping to Mike's secretary in the US,and she will send it on to us here. That little electrical disaster was a pricey one- the new airpump costs about $ 500, not counting shipping or VAT.

In the meantime, Mike navigated the Italian internet websites (we're starting to get pretty good at this), and found some more powerful converters. Those were ordered, received, and tested. We're now awaiting the arrival of the replacement pump.

Oh, I don't want to end this blog without this one last little detail. A few days after the bed fiasco, Mike wanted to watch one of our US movies on DVD. I had sent over our DVD player in one of the boxes in our shipment, along with our favorite DVDs. Yup, he fried the DVD player too. Upon further inspection of the insides of the DVD player, he determined he had blown a fuse, but it looks almost impossible to replace without a soldering iron. That's way too complex here, we'll pass on that home repair. Now we'll be on the lookout for a DVD player that has multi-region capabilities.

Maybe Electric Fiascos would have been a better title for this blog. Oh well, you get the idea.

Living the dream- small cravings

People ask me every day if there are any things I miss about the US. My usual answer is "very little". That is true. We've acclimated well, I'd say. And the few things that we sometimes wish we did have, we have managed to find substitutes for. For example- I like Tootsie Rolls. But-- there are so many other lovely desserts and sweets here, I have no problem giving those up.

Seeing as I was recently in the US for a few weeks, I had the opportunity to indulge a bit,and get my fill of a few things while there. Here's my list, in no particular order:

1) Thai food at Thai Aroma!!
2) Indian food at Indian Delight
Note. these are two of my favorite little restaurants in town

3) eat Pork Roll sandwiches -- this is probably a New Jersey thing (also known as Taylor Ham).

4) eat Maryland Blue Crab

5) Watch American TV-- Suvivor, Food Network, a few HGTV shows

6) Go to a movie in English

7) Use the clothes dryer!!!!

See-- that's a short list!!!!

However, in the last few days we've been struggling over a few recipe items that we just can't seem to find - brown sugar,and oh, yes, there's that jar of Cole Slaw dressing I love, or even some Wish Bone Zesty Italian dressing!!!! These are on my "Gee, wouldn't these be nice to have! " list now. But -again, in the grand scheme of things, I really don't miss anything terribly. I've even gotten used to not having a clothes dryer. Hmm... the clothes dryer. I do have a love-hate thing going on with clothes pins over here. Yes, ok, I must admit, I would love a clothes dryer.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Living the dream - Springtime in the garden on Rio Cazziola

The weather has been gorgeous lately, so we've been taking advantage of it to work in the garden. All the flower beds needed a good weeding already, and trees needed some pruning. Just about everything is done now, we can sit back and enjoy the rest of the summer with just some maintenance to the flower beds here and there. I need to go scout around in the next few days to find geraniums for the flower pots in the back yard and on the terrace.

After alot of garden work the last few days, we were able to spend a quiet afternoon of sunshine yesterday. I took the opportunity to snap a few photos.

We were lucky enough to find these steamer chairs on the internet, being sold by a lovely woman in the UK. The price was a steal, compared to what I was seeing them being sold for here in Italy, and she even included the cushions! She agreed to ship them to us here, and we've been enjoying them ever since! What a great addition to our outdoor living space.

My backdoor gargoyle Louis just recently arrived in Venice along with our shipment of household goods. He now has a lovely new home. I love seeing him again, just brings a smile to my face everytime I walk by him!

The irises have just popped out and we are delighted to see them. We've been pleasantly surprised to see things come into bloom- there were daffodils, and hyathis, forsythia, lily of the valley, a few bright red tulips, and now the iris.

This the brick walkway that runs all the way from one side of the garden to the other, and ends at the water door to the canal. There is a grape arbor along the walk, and wisteria growing over the brick wall.
These Venetian lanterns can be seen all over the city, hanging at outdoor restaurants. They are outrageously expensive to buy, but these are from the US!! I found them a few years ago at Home Goods, bought all that they had that day, and have used them in our Baltimore backyard. I couldn't bear the thought of parting with them, so they were part of the household goods shipment. Looks like they belonged here for ages, I think!

I tried to catch a photo of a lizard who was sunning himself on this mossy brick, but he was just too darn quick for me. Maybe next time!!! I love the old pieces of marble columns that are scattered around the garden. It just reminds me of the Roman Forum and I like to think we have our own little piece of ancient Venetian history right here in our midst.

More of those lovely deep blue iris. I wish there were huge beds of them.

The wisteria is just coming into bloom. The smells are delightful. How did we get so blessed to have some of our very own ?

The garden has two palm trees, this one and one a bit smaller. Now all I need is a parrot and a monkey!

Leaping Lizards!!! -- well, almost leaping

A few years ago we spent a few days in a small fishing village near Sorrento, Marina del Cantone. I remember it being very sunny, and as we walked down to the waterfront every day we'd see tons of lizards just lounging in the sun. I loved seeing them, often bright blue or green with a streak of yellow or orange on them. I'm not a huge fan of snakes, but I can handle lizards, and there is something I just can't describe about lizards. These Italian ones would just be soaking up sun, then dart away quickly if they caught sight of you.

I'd forgotten about them, until recently when they've been discovered in our garden here in Venice. They certainly aren't as easy to spot as those ones in Southern Italy, they are in between rocks in the garden, or darting across the grassy lawn. One little baby one somehow made it up the wall of the house and found his little 2 inch self in our kitchen one day! He was gingerly scooted back out the door with the broom, back to Momma Lizard! I've tried sneaking a photo of one, but they are gone before I can get a good shot. One of these days I hope I'm successful, in the meantime, I'm having fun with Lizard sightings!

April 25 in Venice-- a day of Celebrations

Yesterday was April 25. All over Italy, this day commemorates Italy's liberation day following WWII. In Venice, there are additional reasons to celebrate--one, it's ST. Mark's festival, the holiday of the patron saint of Venice. And two, it's the Festival of the Blooming Rose. On the occassion of the Fest of the Patron Saint in Venice, men give the gift of the bocolo- the red rose bloom- to their beloved.

All over the city, you will see women carrying one single rose blossom, given to them by some man who loves them. What a great tradition! Men give them also to their mothers, not only to their inamorata.

There are several versions of how this tradition started, but the one I like most goes something like this:

There was a rose bed growing along side the grave of St. Mark the Evangelist. This rose bush was gifted to one of the two Venetian sailors, Basilio, who "stole" the remains of St. Mark and brought them from Turkey to the city of Venice. The rose bush was planted in Basilio's garden on Giudecca Island. On Basilio's death, his property was divided between his two sons,and the rose bush fell on the borderline of the two divisions. These two factions of the family became rivals, and it is said the rose bush stopped blooming as a result of the bad blood between the two brothers.

Many years later, on April 25, a love sparked between a girl on one side of the family with a boy on the other side. It's said that the two fell in love watching each other through the leaves of the rose bush on the edge of the properties. This love caused the rose bush to blossom again, and the young man gave a rose blossom to the young woman. This love brought the two sides of the family back together again.

In memory of this love story, Venetian men give a rose blossom- the bocolo- to their beloved on April 25 every year. I love this story!!!! Ok, I'm a sucker for a romance, what can I say?

It's very interesting also to me that Hallmark cards don't exist here, but the florists do a huge business.

A trip to the US- Week 4.. the end in sight!

This week is the estate sale, and closing on the house. Two weeks ago big signs went up on our front yard announcing the upcoming Estate Sale. That felt weird to me, and got weirder, as neighbors would stop when they saw me, saying things like " Geez, we thought someone had died, but here you are.". No, we hadn't died, but doing the estate sale does make you sort of feel a bit like you had. Here you are, getting rid of 90% of your belongings, just like what happens after you die. I had moments when I thought I was helping my kids out, by getting this task done for them before I actually passed on!

On Estate sale day, I was running on fumes. I had been up almost all night, tucking things away that I did not want mistakenly sold into closets, then marking the closets "Off limits". The Estate sale agent and her helpers arrived, and I just tried to stay out of their way. Buyers arrived about an hour early to preview things, again, I tried to not pay attention to what was going on. I just had to keep reminding myself that the house had to be empty by settlement day, and I had to be out of there lock, stock and barrel.

When the sale began, people were milling in every room of the house. The sale was conducted room by room, with the room sold as a whole lot when possible. As they all moved into a room, I moved out, as far away as possible. I did not want to know what was happening, and didn't want to get any last minute second thoughts about what items would be sold. Everything had to go. And by 2pm that day, just about everything was gone. Our belongings were flying out of the house. I could not believe how quickly things were leaving. It made my head spin. Finally around 4pm, the house full of people were gone, and my rooms were empty. I was sleeping on an inflatable mattress that night, and had no chairs left to sit on. I still had 3 days left in the house - the whole thing was almost surreal. The last step was to get miscellaneous stuff that did not sell in the sale removed. I had to hire a guy to take away stuff from the garage and basement. This took a couple of days, then the house was broom swept, totally empty.

Bottom line, we didn't make much money selling our possessions- again, we have the downturned economy to thank for that. One woman from our neighborhood who bought something at the sale told me that purchase was the first thing she had bought in 6 months, and she had used a bit of money she had tucked away. I think she spent 30 dollars! I was happy that our belongings were now going on to people who would use them well. I would do this again in a heart beat though. It was the perfect way to liquidate.

The last item of business for me was to sign settlement papers. Debbie, our agent, had arranged with the title company for Mike to sign papers that had been fed-exed to him,and for me to go to their office to sign mine We would not even be present for settlement, which was good for me. I actually was able to leave Baltimore 2 days before settlement. I packed my remaining stuff up into 3 suitcases, which I left with friends to hold for me for a few days. None of that would fit in my Miata! I left Baltimore with a carry on suitcase, on my way to visit with family for a couple of days.

I drove to Delaware, dropped my Miata off with a sports-car consignment guy at the beach who was going to handle selling it for me, and I picked up a rental car. I spent 2 days with my sister in Lewes, another 2 days with my mother in New Jersey, then I returned to Baltimore for one last nite in a hotel at the airport before leaving to return to Italy.

This month in the US has been an incredible challenge for me. Looking back now, it was one more chapter in the adventure Mike and I have been on this last year. We're definitely traveling through life much lighter from now on! And I can't wait to get back home.

A trip to the US- week 3

Yahoo.. the beginning of week 3 I did get my car back from the dealer, all fixed, but not without much agony and heartache through the 14 days leading up to it's return. I'd been getting daily updates from the service manager assigned to my car all this time, so much so that she had by now become a dear friend it seemed. And, when I arrived at the dealership to pick my car up finally, the technicians all came out to meet me. There were hugs and well wishes all around! I almost hated to leave them.... almost!

My spirits were improving, I had my car back, and could get around now to do all the numerous errands I needed to complete. First on that list was to take a box of 200 nearly new CD's to a record and tape shop to sell. Of the 200, they bought 40. Yikes. Again, the economy was not helping my cause here. Next, books to sell. Same story. Used booksellers were just not buying books. I did manage to sell off about 7 boxes of books, for 80 dollars. Did I mention that I had 2 rooms lined with books??? This was depressing.

The day of the international movers arrival was also nerve wracking. I just hoped and prayed that they actually would arrive to begin with. I had done my research, and ended up negotiating a contract with a company based in NYC. I had never done an international move, and had read some horror stories. Heck, I had my own horror stories from local moves I'd done in the past. This move had me scared to death, to be honest. Fortunately, the moving truck arrived as scheduled, and the two young men packed my stuff up and hauled it all to the truck. I have to say these guys were incredible. They packed boxes of my favorite very breakable wine glasses and dishes, gingerly handled my china cabinet which is loaded with glass and mirrors, helped take apart my sleep number bed (no small feat!), and even went to the yard to pack up Mike's Weber grill. Everything was organized, they were meticulous in their work, and left me with a good feeling. So, although I was nervous watching my belongings drive away in their truck, I had a comfort level that this would somehow all work out.

We only had a handful of furniture pieces being shipped to Italy. Nonetheless, the house now, for the first time, looked empty to me. Sadness hit me like a brick that evening. This now was very real to me. We had sold the house, we would not be returning, in two more short weeks someone else would be living in this place I loved so much. Ok.. I couldn't allow myself alot of wallowing. I, afterall, had made the decision to take a huge leap over to Europe, there was no time to look back. Get back to work, Karen! and thank god for Skype and the internet. I was able to stay connected to Mike every day. He was my lifeline, always on the other end with the right words of support and encouragement when I needed it.

In the midst of all my sorting and heaving, packing and hauling, I also had to deal many miscellaneous tasks related to the real estate contract- the home inspection, the appraisal guy, a structural engineer, the termite inspector. Just more stress. Fortunately, we got through each of these. I also got to meet our Real Estate agent for the first time, who , up until now, we had been dealing with via emails, phone and fax. She had worked hard and managed the whole transaction impeccibly. We couldn't have asked for more. Right before we got the contract I started lighting candles here in every church I walked into, praying for a house sale soon. I discovered Debbie had gone to our front yard and buryed an upside down statue of St. Joseph by the For Sale sign around the same time. I am convinced those combined actions turned the tide.

Once again, dear friends and former work colleagues made sure I was eating and had some company. Here at the end of week 3 I was doing more turning down of invitations than keeping them,as time was running out on me quickly. I had only a few more days until the estate sale would take place, then the house settlement, then I'd be on a plane back to Italy.

A trip to the US - more ....

My blogging has been WAYYYY off.. so many things to get back to dealing with once I returned from the US. BUT-- I can't let the story remain unfinished. So, I have to get back to it, and get current on stuff going on here every day.

The first few days back in Baltimore were excruciating, but slowly I managed to get through the first week. During that time there was NO good news about the status of my car from the Maza dealer. I can look back on it now and laugh, however at the time I just felt like the black cloud was surrounding me, and each day's info from Mazda just got worse and worse. First they thought it was the immobilizer chip in the key fob. They even sent a technician to the house to pick up the spare key so they could replace the chip in both. That didn't resolve the problem. Next they thought it was the ECM or PCM or something like that.. the main computer chip in the car, so they replaced that. Problem still not resolved. Six days after arriving at the dealer, the technicians were still scratching their heads, making calls to some other main Miata specialists. To make things even more comical, Mazda was willing to give me a loaner car, but I didn't have a US drivers license on me. Getting a replacement license for the one that was stolen in Florence along with my wallet was one of the first things I needed to do in the US. Since my car died on day 1, I hadn't been able to get to the Maryland MVA to get a replacement. So.. no loaner car either.

I also had three antique dealers come to the house to look at an assortment of items I needed to sell. All of them told me that the market is so bad, they aren't buying big ticket items, or very much of anything for that matter. I had pieces I'd purchased from dealers in Ellicottt City that now I couldn't even sell back! I knew the market was bad. In fact, from the moment I got back into the US I was hearing stories of people being laid off from nearly everyone I bumped into.

Signing a contract with an Estate sale dealer and the international shipper didn't get completed until nearly the end of week 2, later than I had wanted. And, the estate sale woman originally planned to be very aggressive and schedule the sale for the following week, then changed the date to the next weekend as she felt more time to advertise would be best. I had time, but I was pushing to get everything done and go back to Italy sooner, if possible. This change in schedule wasn't going to allow for that.

It turns out that I needed all the time I had. There was so much stuff to go through. Bags and bags and bags of stuff went out to Salvation army. My sister Denise came up from Delaware with a truck to take away yard furniture and garden tools. Unfortunately the weather was ghastly, there was horrible ice storm and my driveway and yard were covered with inches of solid ice. We couldn't get the truck up the driveway even, so we slid everything down it to the street! Thank god we could maintain a sense of humor in all this, and get a bit creative. We used one of the backyard chaise lounges for a sled, loaded it up with stuff and pushed it down the driveway. Well, more like slid it down, and held on for dear life trying to "steer it". By the end of the day we had created a new Olympic winter sport.. the two man chaise lounge slide, and the Rumanian judge was giving us 9.5's. Denise's weekend visit boosted my spirits, I hated to see Sunday come and watch her drive away.

By the end of week 2 I still had no car, but had made huge progress. Both of my children had arrived for a brief visit to collect some family stuff they wanted, each one taking a car load with them. My oldest Shannon also took with her a large stack of my husband's paintings to store for him, which we were not going to be able to store in Italy at this time. Dear friends and work colleagues kept me in good company for dinners, which I sorely needed at the end of some very long days of cleaning out closets, shelves and drawers. I was working myself through the house room by room sorting, donating, or designating to be sold.

Big plans for week 3 included getting my car back (hopefully) and the international movers coming to pack and move stuff out. Such exciting stuff!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A trip to the US- day 2

I'm in the USA to empty the contents of our house and get through settlement, and have made a long list of tasks I need to get through. I need to interview and hire someone to do an estate sale, I need to get estimates from several international shippers and decide which one to hire, I need to have some antique dealers come look at my pieces and hopefully buy them from me, I need to sell several rooms full of old books to a used book seller, I need to sell my car, I need to get tons of stuff to Salvation Army. But first on my list was to get cable and internet installed back in my house for a month, as I needed the internet to function.

Today is the day the cable guy is scheduled to come at 11 am. I had called Comcast a few days before from Italy to set this up, they said no problem and scheduled it for the morning of my second day back in Baltimore. The cable guy arrives on time, but has trouble getting the internet to work. After fiddling with it for a long time by himself, he called some tech support people to assist him over the phone. That seemed to work, we were in business. He handed me a few papers, I signed on the dotted line, and off he went.

As soon as I returned to my desk after showing the cable guy the door, I notice my computer is disconnected from the internet. Nothing I tried worked. I'm fairly technical, but wasn't able to make any magic happen. I resorted to calling Comcast. The woman on the phone found the problem right away, my account had been blocked. That made no sense to me, as the cable technician was just there setting it up. She explained that this is common, when they send someone to work on site they often block the account. OK, whatever you say, please unblock it, I need the internet. Now. She makes whatever change she needs to do and I am in business. Thank you, internet gods- and the Comcast woman. Funny how reliant I am on the internet. Five years ago, I would have not even cared.

Today I line up 3 antique dealers to come look at my furniture, talked to 6 estate sale people and set up meetings with 2 of them, and also scheduled 3 international shippers to come do estimates. I've talked to Mike back in Venice a few times via Skype - another reason I desperately needed internet hooked up. I made arrangements with my sister Denise to come on Saturday and Sunday with a truck to take things she wanted, and also with my two daughters so they could pick things they wanted to keep also. One of them would come on Thursday and Friday, the other one on Monday.

It's completely strange being back in the house after a 12 month absence, and its a little odd to be here all alone. The thought of 5 weeks of being alone is not appealing to me at all, nor is the thought of all the work I need to do to get this big sucker emptied out. I've spent time assessing what needsto go to Salvation Army, I have a project plan worked out for everything, and Mike has emailed me a list of his personal items he wants me to be sure not to sell.

After all that, I am exhausted. Thankfully, my dear friends Steve and Lisa down the street have invited me for dinner. I know I'll eat well, and tomorrow is another day.

Oh- and before I forget to mention this, Mazda has called me to tell me they don't know what the problem is with my car, but they THINK it is something called the immobilizer chip in the key. Oh boy.

My blog absense- a trip back to the USA - day 1

I have been very blog-negligent, but I have been having some little adventures which are certainly blog-worthy. I was in the USA emptying our Baltimore house and getting ready for the settlement. The house finally sold!! Now that I am back in Venice, and fully rested from a very exhausting 5 weeks, I'm ready to blog that experience.

Our living in Italy hinged on a couple of key items:1) getting my Italian citizenship so we could be here legally, and 2) selling the Baltimore house so our money wasn't tied up supporting two residences at the same time. We just aren't wealthy enough to do that, and our long term financial plan required the equity from that house. I received my citizenship on October 30 after a very long 10 1/2 months, and we got a signed contract on the house on January 16, after almost 11 months on the market.

With a signed contract in hand, I quickly booked a flight to the US. All along our plan was to return when the house sold to dispose of our worldly belongings. So, my task was to arrange an estate sale, and ship a few selected items over to Venice. I also had a car to sell, as it unfortunately had not sold yet either. I wasn't very upset about the car, as I would need one to get around during the time I was there, and, probably more importantly, I love that little Miata convertible!!!

I arrived back in Baltimore very late on a Sunday nite, having a flight delay on the NYC to Baltimore leg of the trip. The next morning, I went out to the backyard to start up the car. A few weeks prior we had a friend come put a new battery in it, and come every few days to run the car for awhile, so I knew the car would be fine. The car started right up, I let it warm up a bit-- it was January and very cold-- then got in the car and drove down the street. I was out running errands for two things-- I needed socks, forgot to pack them, and I needed to get a replacement drivers license. My US drivers license was stolen along with the rest of my wallet while in Florence several months earlier.

First stop was a Wal-Mart about 8 miles away for the socks. The car was running well, it felt pretty good to be driving again after being away car-less for 12 months. I pulled into the Walmart parking lot, and the car just stops. No noises, no warning lights on, just stops. I try to re-start it, nothing. I push it into a parking space, and call road-side assistance. I needed to be home in a few hours to meet an international shipper who was scheduled to give an estimate. Two and a half hours later, after sitting in the bitter cold, road side assistance shows up. They were supposed to come in 45 minutes. Ha. I will say that the guy redeemed himself because he worked on my car for a long time. He could not get it started either, but he tried everything. At one point it did start, but it cut out in a minute. We called a tow truck , had the car taken to my local Mazda dealer, and I used their shuttle to get home. So much for day 1 back in the US. This was not how I had anticipated spending my time.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Life in Venice - Another unbelieveable day in Venice.. this one may take the cake!

(Note :This turned out a bit long, but the background stuff is necessary today! The ending makes the read worth it, I think.)

I’ve been slowly learning the ropes of the Italian medical system in the last month. I had no idea my education was still so lacking!!! I’ve managed to get through most of the hoops in obtaining our National Health Insurance, finally, and regret I have been negligent in blogging that tale. I promise I will get on it as soon as I finish this blog episode, as yesterday was by far the most fun I’ve had in a long time.

There’s been a strange faint ringing in my left ear for several weeks now. It’s nothing I’ve ever experienced before, has not gone away, and frankly is bugging me, so when I made my first visit to my new Italian doctor a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned this as well. He referred me to an Ear specialist for tests. Making this new appointment required finding a different building in Dorsoduro, the old hospital at Giustinian. I knew exactly where that was, it shouldn’t be an issue getting there. I just would have to figure out the procedure once I got in the building.

Immediately upon leaving my doctor, I trotted off to Giustinian. No point putting it off, I would have to deal with it soon anyway-- this would be one more little adventure. Once inside the building, there is a reception area where you have to check in. I handed the man behind the window at the reception booth my referral from Dr. Viannello, and also my Tessera Sanitaria card (I’ll explain this one in my blog on the National Health Insurance system ). In short, without presenting this card, you don’t get very far. This man told me to go around the corner to the right, then another left, then the second Sportello on the right. Sportello, btw, could be either a counter or booth or an office, depending on what government office or bank you may be at.

At this Appointment Office, you take a number and wait outside with the rest of the herd. Some days it’s a long line. One by one when your number appears on the Neon sign, you go in and take your turn. When my number came up, I went in, explained to the girl behind the window that I don’t speak Italian very well, and handed over both my referral form and my Tessera card. With no problems whatsoever, she was able to schedule an appointment for me on January 9th, handed me a form with all the information on it, and explained that the doctor’s office is in this same building.

Yesterday being January 9th, I ventured off to Giustinian to meet my new Ear doctor and see what fun would be awaiting me! First stop, the man behind the reception desk. Once he checked out my appointment form and my Tessera card, he instructed me to go to the Primo Piano. I was also able to pick up the results of some recent blood tests from the same window, so I tackled two birds with one stone while there. I was feeling quite confident, I must say. I still had to make my co-payment for this visit, but I had figured out the mechanics of that on my first visit. You make your payment by deposting money into a machine, exactly like the ones you use in parking garages in the USA. The machine prints out a receipt for you, and away you go.

I followed signs to the Primo Piano (first floor, what we in America would call the 2nd floor), but once I got past the next doorway, I was faced with two stairways, an elevator, and no way to know where to go next. Fortunately for me there was a nice nurse in the doorway at the same time who I was able to ask for more directions. I’ve pretty much now made it my routine to first explain that I only speak halting Italian--- my attempt to pre-empt what could be an ugly scene when we get to the point I can’t understand anymore. She was delightful, indicating to follow her. We set off for the next floor via the elevator. This place is HUGE. Thank god for her, I would never have found my way. I need to do some research on what this building was originally. It has to have been one amazing Palazzo or something important to be the size it is. We made some pleasant conversation as we walked, talking about where I was from originally, where I live now, where my mother was born. She dropped me off right at the Ear specialists office, a very long way from the elevator via a windy path of corridors. I remember thinking to myself I would be having a devil of a time finding my way back out without her.

While seated in the waiting area (a few old chairs in the hallway outside the door), a nurse came to retrieve my appointment form, my receipt from the machine downstairs , and my Tessera card. When it was finally my turn, I went in, just a little hesitant. You never know what to expect behind the doors, you know? There was a little man in a lab coat with sort of wild grey hair and glasses. For some reason, I liked him instantly. He smiled when I told him I can’t speak well. “No problema”, he responded, and directed me to sit down in an examination chair, alongside which was a table with an assortment of instruments. He took about 1 minute to look in my ears, then my nose, and asked me what kind of work I do and if I smoke ( I don’t). He already knew what ailed me, but I mentioned that I have been sick with a cold this week. Ok. He took a different instrument, a tiny flashlight gizmo and peered into both nostrils again. Next thing I know he is tilting back my head, and inserting this bent- in- the- middle tweezer- like apparatus into my left nostril. I just wasn’t prepared for that! He was twisting and turning it--gently, mind you-- but honestly, I was afraid something was going to get ruptured in there. God help me, for an instant there I was afraid for my brain . Clearly I don’t know enough about this part of my anatomy!! This went on for more than a few minutes. I had to close my eyes, grip the armrests of the chair and just breathe slowly to relax. Finally he was done. He showed me a huge pile of mucousy-glop he had extracted from my left nostril cavity. This must be the stuff of sinus infections!!! I had no idea! Then my little old dottore smiles and says “Bene” ( Good).

I had to say, “ Dr., I still have this problem with the ringing in my left ear”. Yes. He takes my hand and leads me to an adjoining room, which contains an isolation booth. Yup. An isolation booth. Just like the ones you used to see on game shows where they don’t want you to overhear anything. And this booth was that old,too! I am seated inside it, with earphones on, and have been given instructions to signal with my hand when I hear a tone in my right ear. I do that. Next, I am to repeat that for the left ear. I want to laugh, because there is a window between the doctor and me, and he is looking up at me whenever there is a new tone to hear. The devil in me wanted to just wave my hand at him whenever he looked up at me. I behaved. For the right ear, I had passed with flying colors. On the left side, obviously there was one tone that I was missing, I could tell by the look on his face.

Finished with that portion of the exam, we go back to the other room. He writes me two prescriptions, tells me the dosage information, and sends me on my way. I’ve survived another Italian doctor visit! Not so bad, I’m thinking, feeling pretty proud of myself. If I had only known there was one more twist yet to come. I had to find my way OUT of this building. I walked down several corridors, trying to remember which way we had come on the way in. Every hallway looked the same. I was doomed. It’s late in the afternoon on a Friday, not much going on in Giustinian. There is no one around. I will have to file that tidbit of information for the next time I have to make an appointment here. I decide instead of trying to hunt down the elevator, I would take one of the exit stairwells, as they were clearly marked.

I opened an exit door. Immediately upon entering, I knew something bad was about to smack me in the face. The door shuts behind me, and is locked from this side. The stairwell is completely dark. I bang on the door for a few moments, but I already know no one is on the other side to help me. Only one thing to do, I go down the dark stairs, and am let out in the dark bowels of the hospital basement. And I do mean dark bowels. There is no one down here either. I wandered a bit and found an open exit door into an old courtyard. Ah ha!! There is a gate to the outside. I walk there, only to find it with a large chain and padlock on it. I’m now locked inside here. A woman leans out a third story window of a next door building and asks what I need. “An exit”, I say, in recognizable Italian even. She points me back inside. Not good. Ok. Back inside I go.

I start trying each of the doorknobs on every door going down the corridor in this scary, dark ,deserted basement. Just to remind you, this is a building built in the 1500 or 1600’s probably. (For anyone familiar with Venice, you know that there are no basements here, it is actually the first floor.) Just the same, it’s dark, deserted, old and starting to cause me some anxiety. Each door is locked. Some doors have hazardous waste signs on them, I see a few really old wheelchairs sort of tossed around, and a lot of construction-like cordoned off areas. I keep trying doors, -- one of them opens!!! I push it open wider. Inside is one man, in his drawers and a plaid shirt, standing near an open locker. He looks up and sees me at the door. What have I walked into??? I mumble “Mi Scusi” and back out quickly. Back to trying door handles, but nothing. I am so doomed. I thought I should probably go back into that locker room and have a chat with this guy, but abandoned that idea very quickly.

All I could think was I would be locked in here for the weekend, ‘cause it’s approaching 5pm on a Friday. I have THAT kind of luck. This place would be tighter than a high security lockdown facility. I’m trying a few more door handles a good 5 minutes later when this man steps out of his room and sees me in the hallway--- still . I had no choice but to explain that I had come out of the stairwell lost and now couldn’t find an exit, would he please help me--- in some half English-half Italian mumbo jumbo. He pointed and we walked together, down the hallway I had just come from. Eventually we got to an open doorway. I recognized the reception area where I had started out earlier in this adventure. This dawning on me, I said “Mama Mia!!” . We both laughed. I said “Grazie mille” about a mille times, and we went our separate ways.

The really funny thing is, my new city is quite small. I know it won’t be too long before I’ll pass this man on the street, and recognition will occur. We’ll both know that I have seen him with his drawers on!!! I think I will just have to invite him for a caffe and make a new friend!!

And so goes another day in Venice!!