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

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Happy 5 to me!

Yesterday was a big day for me, the 5th anniversary of the day I arrived in Venice to begin living here full time. It's been five years of all ups, not one down that I can think of. There has been a minor bump in the road here and there, but nothing that I could classify as a "down".

After five years of my Venice experience, here's what I know-

I've changed.  Venice has changed me.

I've slowed down. I don't whiz through each day.  I've learned how to savor the little moments. I can sit in one place now and just breathe in and out, enjoying the views around me without feeling like I should be rushing somewhere to do heaven knows what. I can just sit and stay in the moment.

Eating is an experience, almost a celebration of good fresh ingredients, it's not just a task. I eat fresh foods every day, which have been purchased in the same day.

I've learned how to live without all the trappings of life I used to think I had to have. I own far fewer clothes and other things, spend far less on "stuff" than I did in my previous life.  I've simplified and have learned to live very happily with less. Downsizing is good.

I'm more healthy than I have been in years. All the stress of my former career is gone, and so are the health issues I suffered from. Walking every day in Venice doesn't hurt either.

I have developed a much greater appreciation for art and history.  I spend my days right smack in the middle of some of the world's most incredible art, in a place rich in history. How could I not soak up a little?  I have always been a science and technology person. Well, not so much anymore.

I think I've figured out the most important thing, which is to live each day to fullest. Life is short. There is no guarantee of any tomorrows,  each today has to be the best day I can make it. This has become my mantra.

I know that I could not go back to my old life, not for anything. So, no looking back. Only looking forward.

To each of you who read my blog, to all of you who send me comments and emails, and to those who have even been brave enough to come meet me in person, I want to extend a huge thank you. I hope you will continue to accompany on my adventures. You honor me.

Hope you will all join me in a toast to my 5 years, and to another 5 and another 5 and another 5......

Festa Veneziana- Carnevale Kick Off 2013

This weekend Venice celebrated the kick off of Carnevale 2013. Officially, the dates of Carnevale this year are February 2- February 12.  This weekend was sort of a pre-Carnevale kick-off for locals.

 Traditionally, Carnevale, which dates back to the late 1090's, was a period several months in length of great merriment and partying ending 40 days before Easter (coinciding with Lent).  The arrival of the Austrians in 1798 brought Carnevale to an end for Venetians.  The event was revived in 1979 by a group of local artisans, however only for a period of 11 days. The exact dates of Carnevale change each year depending on when Easter falls.

Last year, for the first time, Venetians celebrated the beginning of Carnevale with the Festa Veneziana, born of the desire to  give locals a Carnevale event reminiscent of old days, just for themselves, before the masses of tourists descend on the city.  Last night on Cannaregio canal the first event took place, a parade of spectacular floats on the water.  Midday today on the same canal Venetians decked out in masks and costumes participated in a celebration marked by a cortege of brightly decorated boats. The main boat carried La Pantegana, a large winged rat, up the canal to the Ponte de Tre Arche, where the rat was hung suspended from the bridge by a rope.  Accompanying the rat up the canal were boats decorated as a seagull, a fish, a lobster and a seahorse.  At the completion of the boat parade,  the boats docked alongside the canal and all the rowers hopped off to go have a bite to eat and drink at the many food stalls set up canalside.  Local restaurants and bakeries provided typical Venetian food (bacala and polenta, sarde in soar, bigoli in salsa, pasta fagoli, frittele, galani) and drinks ( wine and prosecco) for all.

Here's a little selection of my photos from the day to give you a taste of Carnevale 2013!

The canal side was littered with bags and bags of confetti, one of the the harbingers of Carnevale season.

On the vaporetto with me this morning on the way to Cannaregio were this couple, dressed in their Carnevale finery. Just love his shoes!


Each of the local rowing clubs raised oars in the traditional salute as they passed the reviewing stand.

The rat, la pantegana, being transported up the Cannaregio canal on the main boat along with this year's princess of Carnevale.

During the "regular" Carnevale events costumes tend to be very expensive rentals. Today was for very homemade costumes, something everyone could partake in.

The seagull....
the fish.....

the lobster.....

some little mice....

and the seahorse. 

All  wearing the bauta, a very traditional mask also known as Cassanova's mask.

The rat, hung from Tre Arche. 

Boats and residents, lining the streets along Cannaregio Canal. Sun shining, not too cold, it just couldn't have been any better than this. It was a joy to see the locals out really enjoying this special day. 

One of the many food stalls dispensing free food and wine for all. 

The day wouldn't have been complete without one sighting of the most traditional mask of Venice- the plague doctor.

The remainder of the week will be much quieter, as the next Carnevale event isn't until February 2. 
Here's the link to the official website of Carnevale complete with a listing of each day's events:

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Great Radicchio Experiment of 2013

Early last week while at the market, Mike and I found ourselves discussing how much radicchio is eaten in this city. It's available everywhere, in every season, in four different varieties.  For as much radicchio as abounds here, we also noted that we don't eat it very much. And when we do eat it, it's in a salad. Bottom line- we aren't really fond of radicchio. It has a bitter taste that we are not particularly fond of.

So there we were in the market surrounded by radicchio and all sorts of people buying radicchio, but not us. I wondered what they knew that we didn't. I decided that we should give radicchio another go, perhaps we could discover ways to cook it that would be more interesting and palatable to us. I got in line and bought up radicchio.  I bought the type that is native to Treviso, but not the finger looking variety. There is also a much rounder head of radicchio that looks very much like a red cabbabe that is native to Chioggio, also close to Venice.

 Radicchio from Treviso, the Precoce variety

This one, also from Treviso, is the Tardivo variety

We ate radicchio every day this past week. I'm not kidding. Every day. First we tried a tagliolini with sausage, carmelized onions and radicchio.  Not too bad. 

Next came a lasagna with radicchio, nothing but layers of bechamel and cooked radicchio. This was just ok. We ate leftovers for 2 days.

Another lasagna came next, this time with a ragu of duck and radicchio, and more bechamel.  Better than the first lasagna. We ate this and its leftovers for 2 more days. 

I had a third lasagna to try, a slight variation on the theme using ricotta and marscapone instead of the bechamel layers. I'm sorry to say that by Friday, we could eat no more radicchio. The last lasagna attempt is going to be put off for awhile. 

The results of the experiment, you wonder?  It is unanimous. At our house, we are not radicchio lovers. We're happy we gave it a shot. The recipes we tried were interesting and forced us to step out of our radicchio comfort zone, and yes, I know, we didn't give radicicchio risotto a try. Sad to say, ..... radicchio won't be making it onto the list of vegetables we can't get enough of.  

We're not quite done with our kitchen experimenting though. Next up is the Great Finocchio (Fennel) experiment of 2013. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Happy Anniversary to Mike!

Five years ago today,  my husband Mike arrived at Marco Polo airport with 4 suitcases and our corgi Leopold ,about to embark on one heck of a ride - our new life in Venice, Italy.

Mike may have drawn the short straw, getting the task of coming over from Baltimore first to settle into our furnished rented apartment in Santa Croce. His list of "To-Do"s during the 10 days before I arrived with our other dog Sam was full of some pretty tough chores: get the apartment registered at the comune with the new landlords, apply for his Permesso di Soggiorno, and basically scope out the lay of the land in an area of Venice we were unfamiliar with.

By the time I arrived, Mike knew where the closest grocery stores were, where to buy dog food (a critical item), had met the shopkeepers in Campo Santa Margherita, and had even bought a candleabra for the dining room table. And he had tackled all those nasty bureaucratic items to boot.

He took on the move without one complaint, ever. He willingly gave up his career, his family, his friends, his car, everything he knew in life to move to Venice. Thankfully the wizard granted him courage and bravery, and Mike has demonstrated those every day of the last 5 years. He already had heart.

Over these 5 years Mike has had 3 exhibitions of his art, 2 here in Venice and one in San Remo. He's had 2 commissioned paintings and continues to sell both his oils and his photographs. His first novel is sold on Amazon, the second is in the process of seeking a publisher, and his third is currently in the works on his desk.  No, he hasn't been sitting idle!

Yesterday one of my friends sent me a message saying " Sounds like retirement is going well."  This isn't quite retirement. I'd say it's a "re-inventing".  We not only moved to a new country, we started a new business. We're learning the language, immersing ourselves in the culture, making new friends, exploring every nook and cranny in Venice, and  traveling to new places around the world.

We're happy. Really, really happy.  Most days we walk around with grins as big as a cheshire cat,  pinching ourselves in disbelief that we're here, even after 5 years. We traded in the roller coaster ride we were on for 2 vaporetto passes and the good life in this city- this incredible, grand, glorious city.

  Happy Anniversary, Mike!  Here's to another 5, plus 5, plus 5.......

Friday, January 11, 2013

Luna Park!

Every year just before Christmas time, a caravan of trucks on barges make their way towards Venice.  They unload along the riva close to the Giardini, and like magic, a carnival is born. It's probably the least likely thing you would expect to see here in Venice, but, there it is. A carnival such as this is called Luna Park in Italian.

The weather has been quite foggy for the last several weeks, typical weather here in Venice. Fortunately, I caught a lovely sunny afternoon last week and managed to get some decent shots of our Luna Park this year.

What is interesting to me is there are no signs anywhere advertising Luna Park. If you live anywhere in the city where you do not regularly get to the Via Garibaldi area, you would never even know Luna Park is in operation. It doesn't seem to get much traffic either. So grab your kids, head on down to the riva between Via Garibaldi and Giardini. Spend a few Euro, have some fun. 

Nutella. Obviously!

 Wouldn't be a carnival without a few arcade games, would it? 

An alternative name for this post ought to be "Monkeys in Venice!"

Italian Sponge Bob!  

I watched this girl for probably 15 minutes. She was having one grand old time.

Walking through Luna Park made me wish I could go borrow someone's child and hop on those bumper cars, play a few shoot-the-can games, win a stuffed toy or two, and eat some cotton candy. It's still there this week, there's still time!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Here's to new friends!

We woke to another winter day in Venice shrouded in fog. Not just fog, but the kind of thick fog you can cut with a knife.  Incredible. I had made plans to meet an American woman for coffee this morning at Ciak, a cafe just off Campo San Toma. Linda, another person  just like me who has answered Venice's siren call, is here on vacation again, this time with her son and daughter-in-law. Last time she was here we'd planned to meet but I, at the last minute, couldn't make it. This time nothing was going to keep me away, not even the cold I'd been battling the last few days (it miraculously was much better this morning), nor this pea-soup of a fog. 

As I walked up to the vaporetto stop, I recognized Alessandro, one of my favorite gondoliers, who was also just about to walk onto the boat platform.  After a quick hello, we discovered we were both headed to San Toma, so rode the whole way up the foggy Grand Canal out in the middle open area of the boat. Our conversation had me laughing - each sentence was half in Italian, half in English-  and covered every topic from the weather (FOG!), to the city's problems with the America's Cup race, to my elderly mother, to vacationing in Naples and back to fog.  I was loving the start of this day already. 

Alessandro and I stopped for a macciato together at Ciak. He went off to work, I grabbed a table and a local newspaper to wait for Linda to arrive. I thought it was just going to be Linda, myself, and her son and daughter-in-law. Turns out there would be 4 more joining us, all people who had met through the Slow Travel website.  Susie and  Mark from San Francisco, and  Christie and Paul, also coincidentally from San Francisco arrived at about the same time.  Both these couples, like Linda, come to Venice every year for several weeks to several months. The conversation at our table of 8 flowed on and on,  just like we were long lost high school buddies at a reunion.  Instead, we were strangers who, because of a mutual attraction to this city, and thanks to the internet have become new friends. Thank you, Venice and Al Gore!  

So that was my morning. 

By mid day, the fog had burned off quite a bit. By late afternoon, it had rolled right back in again. Mike and I went off for a walk through Castello with a few stops for errands. Before we got all the way back to Sant'Elena I needed a restroom, which prompted a detour at Osteria al Ponte, very close to the  Giardini.  While having coffee, I noticed a plate of freshly made homemade frittelle on the counter. Try as I might, I could not resist the temptation. These were the Veneziane version- not filled with anything, just fried dough. Sweet, warm, scrumptious.   Best frittelle I've had so far, surpassing my favorites with ricotta. Now that I know they are here, I'm going to have to really hold myself back from making an "unplanned" stopoff here everyday. 

Right before dinner, our doorbell rang. Neither Mike nor I actually recognized it was the doorbell until it rang a few times. We have 2 bells in the new apartment- one downstairs outside by the front door, and a second one just outside our entrance doorway up here on the second floor. When we get visitors, they ring the outside bell. From in the apartment, we can pick up a phone to talk to anyone outside, and there is also a video so we can see anyone standing out there.  Once we buzz people into the building, one of us is always out in the hall outside our apartment door. I feel like Molly Goldberg (ok, I know I am dating myself with this reference), leaning over the railing and yelling down from the second floor. Tonight, when the other doorbell rang outside our door, we had to think twice to figure out there was someone out there. 

Mike answered the door and spoke to whoever it was. Turns out it was our new upstairs neighbor, whom we have met in passing as we are coming or going. Cesare was at the door with an invitation to his birthday party on Wednesday night. 

My day started and ended with new friends. Can't beat that, can I? 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Panevin and La Befana

Today, January 5, is Epiphany Eve. It's an important day for observing some old Italian traditions- Panevin also known as Pirola Parola, and La Befana.

Panevin is a  huge bonfire lit up on the night of January 5, in celebration of the winter solstice. On the top of the bonfire is a figure of an old woman, called Vecia or "old lady". She is supposedly guilty all the bad things that have happened during the past year, and because of that she is burned.

While the bonfire is burning, people near the fire read the smoke and sparks of flames as a prediction of the coming year's harvest. If the smoke and sparks are going to the south and west directions, this means a good harvest. Obviously, smoke going in the opposite directions, the north and east, bring a bad harvest.

Tonight, in areas around Venice, such as Jesolo and Malamocco on the Lido, the Panevin will take place.

(Photos courtesy VeneziaToday)

La Befana, derived from the word epifania, Italian for Epipany, is an Italian children's tradition based on an old legend.  There was an old widow, back in the time of the birth of Jesus, who is known for sweeping, cleaning and baking. One night she notices a bright light in the sky, and later, a group of wise men leading a caravan stop at her house. They invite her to join them on their journey to Bethlehem, but she declines their invitation. Later, she decides she should catch up with them, because she also wanted to visit the special child the wise men were headed to.  She places some baked goods in a bag as a gift for the child, grabbed her broom, and went off after the wise men.  Not long after, she got lost. Angels appearing from this bright light, the magic star, caused la Befana's broom to fly, sending her off into the night looking for Baby Jesus. La Befana still searches the night sky every January 5, dropping in at all the homes of children to see if they might be the child she is looking for, and leaves a gift for any good child.

All over Italy tonight, stockings will be hung for La Befana to fill with candies.  There is a traditional poem for La Befana children sing :

La Befana vien di notte
con le scarpe tutte rotte
col cappello alla romano
Viva, viva, la Befana!


The befana comes at night with her shoes all tattered and torn, she comes dressed in the Roman way, 
Long life to the Befana!

Tomorrow, here in Venice, La Befana is celebrated with a regatta down the Grand Canal, from Palazzo Bilbo  at San Toma to the Rialto Bridge. The race is sponsored by the Canotierri Bucintoro, one of the rowing clubs of Venice. Five of the club's male members over 55 yrs old dress up in La Befana costumes and row down the Grand Canal.  Hot chocolate and vin brule are served by the rowing club on the banks of Fondamenta del Vin. Tomorrow around 10:30 events will begin at Rialto, the race starting at 11. 

Per usual, I will be at my post near the traghetto stop at San Silvestro tomorrow morning, watching the Befana regatta. See you there!

Friday, January 4, 2013

First frittelle of the season!!

I've had a cold since New Year's day, feeling quite crappy unfortunately. Last night as Mike was leaving the apartment for his walk, I asked him to bring back something for me that would make me feel better. Guess what my present was???  FRITTELLE!!!  I still felt crappy, but he sure did give my spirits a big boost!

Frittelle, for those of you who don't already know, are a Venetian treat made only at Carnevale time. It's essentially a fried doughnut, but even better!  The dough usually has raisins and pine nuts in it, and it can be filled with lovely stuffings such as creme , nutella, chocolate, zabaglione, marmalade, and ricotta, or left vuota (empty).

These tasty morsels are perhaps my favorite thing about Carnevale. I look forward to winter just so I can have frittelle. We've even put them in the freezer at the end of the season so I could stretch out my frittelle consumption a little bit longer. Just like in summer when I am a 2 or 3 gelato a day girl, Carnevale season I become a 2 Frittelle a day girl. Every bakery in town makes their own versions, all delightful.

Bakeries stack trays of frittelle in their windows, it's impossible to resist!

The link below is to a video of Cesare Colonnese, a Venetian, who shares his recipe for frittelle. Watch it and enjoy!  Yes, it's all in Venetian, but it's worth taking a few minutes, both to see the frittelle making and to enjoy Cesare!


If you are going to be in Venice this year over Carnevale, I recommend treating yourself to some frittelle. Go on your own "Great Frittelle Hunt".  Try a frittelle in each bakery you pass.  Bet you can't eat just one!!  Some of my favorites places to find frittelle include:

Tonolo near the Frari in Dorsoduro
Majer in Campo Santa Margherita, Dorsoduro  or Via Garibaldi, Castello
Rizzardini by Campo San Polo, San Polo
Colussi by Campo San Barnaba

Carnevale 2013 officially begins January 26, ending on February 12 this year.  My Venetian friends have informed me this morning that eating frittelle before January 7 is not just not allowed.  January 7 is the day Carnevale started in past times,the day after Epiphany, and ended 40 days before Easter.   Since the 1980's, Venice has celebrated Carnevale for just  the last 10 days of that period.  I confess, I have violated the rule.

I tried to argue with my friends based on the fact that I am not Venetian and will never be considered a local, therefore the rule regarding not eating frittelle prior to Jan 7 just doesn't apply to me.  That logic didn't fly!!!   Fortunately for all of us January 7 is just a few days away!!!