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

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Technically "Venetian"

For those of you who have read my blog from the beginning, you may recall the momentous occassion towards the end of 2008 when I received my dual Italian citizenship.  Of the many official documents I received that day, the one that has been most important, besides my Italian passaporto, is my Carta d'Identita.  This special document is probably comparable to a Social Security card in the USA. Here it's used for identification purposes, all over the place, even for boarding planes between EU countries.

Each Carta d'Identita has a unique number, and inside contains information such as your date of birth, place of birth, country of citizenship, address, height, weight, and eye color.On mine, the address is the address of the apartment I had to rent out in Castel San Pietro Terme while I was going through my citizenship process. Since the card is good for 10 years, I have just used it whenever needed and don't give it much thought. Until recently.

Living in Venice is everything I ever imagined it would be- and much more. However, as grand and glorious as it is to be walking these calle day in and day out, that pleasure comes with a downside- a high price tag.  This is no surprise to us, we planned for it. We are fully aware our rent here is much higher than it would be if we lived outside the city anywhere else.  We know that when we buy groceries or clothes or a bottle of wine here in the city, it costs more than it would out on the mainland. There are very few discounts available for residents of Venice.  And herein lies the subject of my blog today. .

Besides our resident discount for the vaporetto, residents of Venice can get into certain museums free on certain days of the week. We can also get into certain churches free by producing documentation verifying they are, in fact, a resident of Venice.  Here's the catch: the documentation necessary changes, depending on who is working the booth at a church on any particular day.  Certain churches will accept my health card, which contains my current address in Venice. Others will accept my Residence permit. A Carta d'Identita would always be good, but it must have a Venice address on it. Mine does not.  Over at the Miracoli church, they used to let me in with my health card. There is a new guard in the booth now, so that isn't good either. They will only accept my Carta d'Identita. Or I have to pay the entrance fee, same as a tourist. Not what I want to be doing on a regular basis. Mind you, there are over 100 churches in Venice and I have a tendency to pop in  any number of them with regularity.

I needed a solution to my little problem. The answer was quite simple- go get a new Carta d'Identita at the Anagrafe office here in Venice. Sounds simple. In reality, it never is.  Dealing with the Italian bureaucracy is such a pain in the behind I can come up with every excuse in the book to avoid it like the plague.  And so, even though it sounds like going to get a new card is simple, I have avoided it. Until now.

I steeled up my nerves, collected all the documentation I could possibly need and more, studied my Italian books  and made notes on the conversation I would need to have with some agent at Anagrafe.  Ok, I was ready. I thought.  I even knew what hours on which days of the week the Anagrafe is open. I marched myself down there, prepared to take a number and queue up in a line for however long it took. I just needed to get this done.

To my great surprise, when I arrived I was the only one in the whole of the Anagragfe office.  I took my number, and still had to wait.  Another lesson in Italian government for you-- there is always, ALWAYS a line, and you will wait. Even if you are the only one there. So I waited patiently.   It was only about 5 minutes waiting, but it seemed like an eternity. It was just enough time for my stomach to begin to tie in nots and the nerves to set in. My number comes up on the big electronic board in front of me announcing which sportello (counter) I am to report to. I walked over and took up my place. Let the nastiness begin, I thought to myself.

I made pleasantries with the gentleman behind the big plexiglass divider, and announced I needed a new Carta d'Identita.  He looked at my document and said "No, it's not expired, you have years left".  I proceeded to exlain I needed it to have my Venetian address on it. He appeared to understand.  He did not ask for any of my documentation. He took my current carta, did some typing on his computer,  and requested I verify my current address. Then, he asked for the three photos which I was prepared for.  I handed over my photos.  He printed a bunch of papers, stapled a bunch of stuff together, then did the ritual stamping of the official stamps with great vigor (that's another thing Italians love to do- stamp the crap out of everything).

I handed over the fee- 59 cents- and he handed me my new Carta.  Well, what do you know! All the Italian lessons and hours of studying are paying off, these visits are becoming less painful.  I stowed my new Carta in my wallet and was about to leave when I realized I hadn't taken  back my old Carta.  I stepped  to the plexiglass divider once more, and asked the clerk for my old Carta d'Identita.

"No", he said.  What???  I wanted that Carta. I am not sure I can even describe to you how important that card is to me. It's symbolic of one of the most important events of my lifetime. It means I am finally Italian. I did not want to part with it, no matter what.  And how was I going to explain that to this man???

Somehow, I did manage to get my meaning across to him, because he cracked a smile, and proceeded to do something I am sure he doesn't do very often.  He pulled my file back out of his stack, unstapled my old carta from the form, and walked over to his copy machine.  He made a copy of my old Carta, then returned to his desk and re-stapled everything back toether.  He handed me the copy, smiled, and announced that with my new Carta, I am Venetian.  Oh, how I wish.   But, on a brighter note, I will be getting those discounts in the churches from now on.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Highlights of our recent trip

Finally, I've organized my 1,000 + photos. Here are highlights of our recent trip. Enjoy!

Danube River Cruise 2011 Slideshow: Karen’s trip from Venice, Veneto, Italia to 9 cities Praga, Vienna, Budapest, Norimberga, Karlovy Vary, Linz, Melk, Regensberg (near Forchheim, Baviera, Germania) and Passau (near Böckstein, Salisburgo, Austria) was created by TripAdvisor. See another Germania slideshow. Take your travel photos and make a slideshow for free.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Christmas gift from our Butcher

It's a HUGE holiday weekend here- Christmas Eve, Christmas and then Monday, Santo Stefano day.Santo Stefano day (Festa di Santo Stefano) is the celebration of the announcement of the birth of Jesus and the arrival of the 3 wise men. Three important holidays back to back, and that translates to  LOTS of eating.  So, we've been getting ourselves prepared  for the last few days.

Thursday I spent the morning at the Rialto fish market picking up everything we needed for our Christmas Eve feast. Traditionally, Christmas Eve  (Vigile di Natale) is the day Italian families usually eat fish. The Christmas Eve dinner in most parts of Italy is called the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Seven courses, all fish. We're not going quite that far- but we will have some smoked salmon, shrimp, oysters and baked salmon.  We'll be stuffed at that point, but must leave room for a traditional Italian Christmas dessert- Panettone!

Another mission on Thursday was to find the duck breasts we're making for Christmas dinner. Mission accomplished.  By the time I finished marketing on Thursday, I had just about everything needed for the weekend food fest.  When we double checked our cooking plans after I got home from shopping all over Venice, I discovered there were a few items still needed, so I sent Mike out with a list yesterday afternoon.

Mike's first stop was the butcher's to pick up some sausage for Christmas morning breakfast. As he was paying, the butcher gave him a Christmas gift- a Cotechino!!!!

I've seen them in the grocery store, and knew what it was, but have never eaten one. Cotechino is a traditional Italian meal served on New Year's day. It's sausage like, made of pig parts and lots of spices including mace, cumin, coriander, nutmeg, cinnamon, clove and cayenne. I had to look up a recipe for it.  You pierce the skin with a fork, wrap it tightly in foil, and either simmer it in water for several hours, or cook it in the oven. When ready to serve, you peel off the casing, slice it in thick slices and eat it while it's still hot with either polenta, lentils or potatoes.  Guess what we're eating for New Year's??

The butcher on the corner by the Scuola dei Carmini ,who has been open a little under a year now, has been one of our favorite new additions to our little neighborhood. Besides the fact that he has the best meats, this is another opportunity for us to shop local, and develop a relationship with the owners.  For us, one of the draws of the Italian lifestyle has been the little mom and pop stores.  We love being able to pop into the wine store, the cheese store, our local fish guy, or the butcher on a regular basis. It's a good life.

Buon Natale a tutti.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Buon Natale a Tutti!

 I've been enjoying the holiday season here in Venice. Christmas in Italy isn't what we're used to in the United States. There are far fewer decorations on houses or in shops. It's definitely not the commercial event it is in America!  The main focus of the holiday is food and the company of  family and friends. Food and family is central to the Italian lifestyle, and if you can imagine, it's even more so at holiday time!

Christmas trees aren't as numerous here in Venice, although you do see one here and there lit up in a window.  As with everything else, a tree is difficult to maneuver in this city. If you are thinking about getting a live tree, it would be very very small. Not only do you have to think about getting it into your apartment, it's the getting it out after the holiday that is also a problem. For the first time in my entire life, we have an artificial tree.

Window decorations in homes are also few and far between. Wreaths on doors just don't happen here. Shops decorate their windows, but it's limited. There are a few very elaborate Nativity scenes (prescepe) set up in both Churches and shop windows.

This year the city has put up more lights in the streets than I remember ever seeing before. There are even lights at Piazzale Roma. The photo above was one of my favorite locations this year- it's over a cafe at the Accademia Bridge.

While this next link has nothing to do with Christmas lights, it does relate to Christmas!  It's a great little video of Aqua Alta here on Christmas night 2009.  Doesn't look like we'll have to worry about Aqua Alta, it's been a season of unusually low water so far this year.  While there is snow to the north of us, no snow here either.

 I couldn't resist sharing this one. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Vegetable boat at Campo San Barnaba closing

If you have ever been in Venice and spent any time in Dorsoduro, you'll hopefully have some memories of walking by a boat moored at Ponte dei Pugni, just down the canal from Campo San Barnaba. The boat -actually it's a produce shop- is closing  on December 24.  Run by 3 brothers, the shop has been in the family for 63 years. I'm sad today at this discovery, because this is a part of Venice that can never be replaced. I'm feeling sorry for myself, because I'll miss this Venice landmark, I walk by it nearly everyday. I'm feeling sorry for the countless numbers of people who from December 24 on won't know what they've missed when they walk by this bridge on their way to and from Accademia.  A piece of Venice is gone for good.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

New Vaporetto line- the Boat of Art!

Today in the news I read an article announcing a new Vaporetto line beginning April 25, 2012. This new line, the "Boat of Art" will leave from the Train station and end at San Giorgio Maggiore, with 8 stops in between, and will run every 30 minutes.  It will work like the Hop-On, Hop-Off buses you see in lots of big cities, and will require a special ticket. Purchasers of this special ticket, which will be available on line as well as at ACTV ticket office,  will also receive a welcome kit including a city map and other information about cultural institutions who are partners in the project.

Alright, now we have yet another initiative to aid tourists. I'm wondering how different this is will be from purchasing a 12 hour vaporetto ticket. Isn't that just like Hop-on, Hop-off? You can get on and off anywhere you like, anytime you like within the 12 hour time period.  I am going to hope that the advantage to using this special boat/ticket will divert the crowds of tourists from the regular vaporettos. That would be a huge advantage.  You may see me personally directing people to the ACTV ticket office.  Ok, people, step right up, buy your Boat of Art ticket today!!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Another lesson in patience

Being an expat has many joys, but also many, many frustrations. On a good day, there is bound to be something that just throws you for a loop, something you never expected you'd have to deal with, but you must. Something small, something so ordinary you just can't believe it you are going to have to spend time figuring out how to cope.  We've gotten used to these little blips on the radar. At first, any one of these little inconveniences would give us quite a bit of heartburn. We'd manage to get through them all fortunately. None of them has sent us screaming back to the USA, but still they are the little things that make you learn what you are made of!  Yesterday's little incident showed us that we certainly have come a long way, and have learned a great deal of patience.

The postal system in general in Italy is an enigma to us. Basically, we've learned to avoid it.  Packages almost never get to us, you can pretty much kiss them good bye. Or, if you are lucky enough to receive them, it may be months after you expected them when they arrive.  The cost of postage for us to ship a package to the USA is always much more money than the item we were trying to send cost to begin with.  That being the case, we've stopped sending gifts home for birthdays or Christmas.  So here it is Christmas and Mike and I need to get a few gifts to our families. This year, instead of the shopping, wrapping and mailing packages, we decided to  rely on the internet for our shopping. Seems like the perfect solution. Well, so we thought.

Yesterday Mike shopped on line for our holiday gift for his parents. When he found just the perfect gift, he proceeded to place his order.  Mike went through all the steps to complete his purchase, but when he got to the screen where he was to enter his billing address, he noticed there was no option to enter an address anywhere other than one of the states in the U.S. We don't have a US billing address.  We have a US credit card, but an Italian billing address.  He tried everything he could think of, but no luck.  The realization that we may not be able to make a purchase because we don't have a US billing address was so frustrating! Really wanting to make this purchase for his parents, he resorted to phoning the company's customer service department.  And things got a bit worse from there.

The first customer service agent put him on hold, which shortly afterwards disconnected.  He made the call again.  This time, the agent had no clue how to help him, but promised to find someone who could.  The person who was supposed to be able to help him directed Mike to call yet another number.  Mike asked him to please just try to figure it out.  Thirty minutes later, after a conversation that I could not believe had transpired between my husband and this customer service agent, the transaction was completed.

I know my husband well. I was convinced if we actually had a phone you could slam the receiver down with, that it would have been slammed about 2 minutes into the call. There were no cuss words muttered or screamed even. I'm frankly surprised his parents are actually going to be receiving anything after the ordeal this purchase was turning into. Instead, Mike perservered. This was  the most incredible display of  patience (of which he has nearly none of)  I've ever experienced in our time together!

One gift down, 5 more to go!

Note: the photo has nothing to do with this post in particular. It's one of the Christmas ornament booths at the Christmas market in Vienna. Just wanted to share a little holiday spirit.  Next time I'll pass the eggnog!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Ice skating rink open in Campo San Polo

On December 9th, the largest ice skating rink ever set up in Venice was opened to the public in Campo San Polo. It will be open until the end of Carnevale on February 21, 2012.   (Hours are Mon-Thurs 3-7pm, Friday 3-9 pm, Sat 11-9pm and Sunday 11-7pm)  Along with the ice rink there is also a small Mercatino - shopping area- where there are some stalls set up for vendors selling foods.

This is not me in the photo, although I will admit I am very tempted to take a spin around the rink.  Not sure if that's something my new knee would be happy about though! In the center of the rink is an interesting structure that is lit up at night.  I love how it sits right on top of the campo's pozzo (well)!  When we were at Campo San Polo yesterday afternoon, there was a good number of families enjoying the skating. It's good to see this kind of activity for a change. Normally we just see crowds of tourists. 

I'm a mercatino girl, I just can't get enough of them. We used to have a nice sized mercatino di Natale in Campo Santo Stefano, however that hasn't happened in the last two years. I'm very happy to see this small one at San Polo, and I'm sure I'll be back several times to purchase cheeses and salami's during the coming weeks.  Here's a few photos of the vendors stalls at Campo San Polo for you to get a good idea what it's like.

Several varieties of cannoli- covered with chopped nuts, chocolate chips, and my favorite- with maraschino cherries on both ends!

These are all marzapan candies!!Lots of them!

 This liquirizia (licorice) from Calabria looked like large chunks of coal. I wonder how many kids will be getting some of this in their stockings!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Ok, here we go! I finally found an app for my iPad that will allow me to create and post my blog, so I'm giving it a test run here.....