December 2017
  • Day19


    January 4, 2018 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ -15 °C

    No pictures, no stories. Just 22 hours since I got out of bed. Our 5 am water taxi had to drop us off for a cab because of too much fog on the lagoon. I was really hoping to pull up to the Venice airport in a water taxi but oh well.

    We missed the brunt of the east coast bomb cyclone, but O’Hare’s international terminal was overflowing with people from flights diverted from New York, Boston, etc. It was crazy and chaotic. Our little puddle jumper down to Champaign was the most peaceful part of the journey. Home again! This was a wonderful trip.Read more

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  • Day18

    Last vaporetto rides on the Grand Canal

    January 3, 2018 in Italy ⋅ 🌙 4 °C

    For our last day, we decided to visit a couple of museums and churches in different parts of town. That means we spent our last day doing pretty much what we have done on the other days -- riding on the vaporetto and walking through the neighborhoods. The Palazzo Mocenigo was our starting place. An 18th century palace preserved with original furnishings and a beautiful collection of 18th century male vests, embroidered of silk, linen, and lace. Wow.

    Then to the Guggenheim, lots to see and great views over the canal. I even saw a Jackson Pollock painting that I liked! After lunch, we navigated our way around to see a couple more churches. My favorite was San Nicolo di Mendicoli, kind of tucked away in a remote corner but we found it.

    Back to San Marco Square for one more walk around (still stupefied by the huge crowds) and then had a hot chocolate and sweet for twice what we spent on lunch in a cafe in the square. But where else can you listen to a piano player, eat a canolo, and look out the window and see the Doge's Palace? We have a reservation for one last Italian dinner in a recommended trattoria near the hotel. Tomorrow morning at 5 am we will be in a water taxi heading to the airport.

    Home sweet home beckons. I was glad to see that the temps have risen a bit. High tomorrow of 8 F (-13 C) with a low of -7 (-22 C). Always sounds so much colder in centigrade!
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  • Day17

    Island hopping, Venetian style

    January 2, 2018 in Italy ⋅ 🌙 3 °C

    I think we got our 120 euros worth on the vaporetto today alone! From 9 till 5 (for Joe) and almost 7 (for me) we were hopping on and off. We visited three outlying islands and saw two drop dead gorgeous ancient churches, with mosaics from X and XI century.

    First stop, Burano, a pretty little island that is home to the Lace Museum (which we did not visit). But walking the streets was a real pleasure, this is a place with a lot of life. From there it was another 5 minutes on another vaporetto to the island of Torcello, which has a Byzantine cathedral and an XI century church. And what is "said to be" Attila the Hun's throne. Amazing, beautiful, jaw-dropping.

    From there to the island of Murano, more on the normal tourist circuit, with its glass blowing tradition, a glass museum, AND an astonishing basilica from the XI and XII centuries. Truly one of the most beautiful romanesque exteriors anywhere. Lunch in a trattoria and a visit to the glass museum rounded out the day. When we got back to Venice, Joe went to "take a load off his feet" while I went out for a couple more hours of walking/vaporetto riding in central Venice. It never gets boring, from San Marco to Rialto to the train station.

    Tomorrow is our last day, and I guess it's only fair that Joe should decide our activities, since he followed me to the ends of the lagoon to see these romanesque churches!
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  • Day16

    Rain on New Year's Day

    January 1, 2018 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 5 °C

    Despite our best efforts, Joe has come down with a little cold. He decided to go back to bed after breakfast, giving me two hours to walk around our neighborhood and get a little exercise. I made it up to see the Calatrava bridge (WHOSE idea was it to put a Calatrava bridge over the Grand Canal?), found a few more churches and nice piazzas, and just as my time was running out it began to rain. I am sure I was wandering in circles, but by following the signs to one end (train station and bus station) or the other end (Rialto and San Marco), I was always able to make it back to my little spot in the middle. I saw a fair number of people using their phones, but I think it is more fun to follow the signs, especially since I had no real destination in mind.

    We decided to spend the day in two museums that had unexpectedly opened on New Year's Day. One, the Modern Art Museum, had a painting by one of my all time favorites, Sorolla. That alone was worth the visit. Picasso, Miro, Calder, Max Lieberman, Klimt, Andy Warhol, Chagall and a few others you'd recognize also had paintings there. Lunch in the museum café was fine if not exceptional, and then we got a vaporetto down to a Doge palace open for visits, Ca Rezzonico. Though the building was much older, they had restored its furnishings and interior decoration to the 18th century style and it was quite grand. Lovely views right over the Grand Canal, those doges and their families had it pretty nice.

    The rain was still coming down a bit, so we decided to head back to the hotel so Joe could get another nap before dinner. I brought my cold-eze and Airborne, so he hopes to nip it in the bud. While he sleeps, I will try to figure out how we will get out to two islands tomorrow, Murano and Torcello, both of which have ancient churches. Murano is also the site of all the famous glass making, and a glass making museum, but I doubt we will be buying too many 45 euro glasses. Though some of them are very pretty! Dinner in a few hours back at a place where we ate a few nights ago. The waitress told us they were one of the few in the area that would be open for dinner on January 1, so we went ahead and made a reservation then.

    Only two more days, can't believe it!
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  • Day15

    Happy New Year from Venice!!

    December 31, 2017 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 4 °C

    Today was absolutely my favorite kind of tourist day. The sun was shining in the morning and the vaporetto was not at all crowded, so we had a Grand Canal ride with great weather and great views. Then we took another across the lagoon to San Giorgi, a church designed by Palladio (the Italian architect whose name has been given to McMansion designers' favorite type of window). Amazing views from the bell tower.

    Then an hour or so walking in the main square area, and realizing how lucky we are that our hotel is not in this part of town. We are in San Stae, well located between the train station and the Rialto/San Marco area. Still lots of tourists, but nothing like the crowds closer in town.

    After a decent lunch in a little trattoria (when in tourist landia it pays to raise your budget a little and go for a white tablecloth place), we got back on the vaporetto and spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the neighborhood named Canareggio. No more than 4 tourists on any bridge we crossed! In fact there were lots of streets adjacent to canals where we saw no gondolas, no trinket shops, nothing but regular people with their laundry hanging from the line outside. We saw a couple of beautiful churches, two in particular, both named after Mary, both gothic but radically different styles. We saw Tintoretto's house, and the churches had lots of Tintoretto and Titian paintings, so even though we didn't go to any art museums today we had our fair share of art.

    Surprising factoid of the day -- We went to the first Jewish ghetto and learned that the name comes from the Italian word for forge, because the Jews here were forced to live in an area of Canareggio that was the site of an old Italian forge.

    Well, tonight is New Year's Eve. We were kind of on the fence about braving the crowds to go down to the square for fireworks, but then our hotel owner gave us his opinion about the crowds and the fact that it will take hours to walk back in the throngs. And then to top things off, we saw the weather forecast is showing possible rain. So after Joe "rests his feet" (code for "takes a short nap") we will go see if there is any food to be had in any place in our neighborhood. If not, we have a bag of clementines and a bar of chocolate, which will hold us till tomorrow if need be.

    Happy New Year to all!
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  • Day14

    San Marco

    December 30, 2017 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 0 °C

    Our first full day in Venice, we decided to bite the bullet and shell out the 120 euros for a vaporetto pass for the two of us. This way we can hop on and off whenever we make our way to the Grand Canal after walking around a neighborhood or visiting a church or museum. We are apparently not the only people with that idea. At 6 pm tonight, the crowds on the vaporetto were crushing -- so much for the idea that you should use a vaporetto trip as a way to enjoy the sights along the canal! I think that getting off at a stop, enjoying the views, walking around the neighborhood and having a cappuchino is the better alternative. Think of your trips on the vaporetto as a necessary evil, you are unlikely to find a way to enjoy the Grand Canal while in transit. And as I have said before, if this is off-season, what can high season possibly be like?!

    But in spite of that, it is an inescapable truth that Venice is a gorgeous city. We visited the Doge's Palace and the Cathedral today, both spectacular. And in the afternoon we walked and walked through old streets to visit the beautiful church of Santa Maria Gloriosa del Frari. Two of my favorite paintings so far were in there, one a Titian (who is also buried here) and the other a 14th century Madonna. Another great dinner, also close to our relatively untouristy neighborhood near San Stae.
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  • Day13

    Arrived in Venice

    December 29, 2017 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 4 °C

    We arrived around noon on the train from Bologna and decided to take the vaporetto to our hotel instead of trying to navigate all those bridges and stone streets with the carry-ons. I think anyone who arrives in Venice for the first time must have a reaction like mine -- jaw drops and you are awestruck.

    We were lucky to snag a table near our hotel at Zucca for a delicious lunch. Joe's tagliatelle with gorgonzola, walnuts and pears was yummy. We made dinner reservations there for Jan. 2 at the only opening they had for the next week. Then we walked to San Marco to see the main square and get our bearings. It's about a 20 minute walk from our hotel and we were happy to see that even though reading a map is pointless, there are lots of signs pointing you to Rialto Bridge, San Marco, Train Station, or Piazza Roma. So with a little bit of a sense of direction it actually isn’t as hard to navigate as I thought it would be.

    Several hours walking around, and we knew we would have no trouble filling the days here. The crowds are pretty huge so I can’t imagine what high season is like. Traffic jams of gondolas in the canals!
    People shoulder to shoulder on the Rialto Bridge! But I understand why.

    I don't want to overdo it with the superlatives, so I will let the pictures speak for themselves.
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  • Day12

    Modena Museum Moratorium

    December 28, 2017 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 4 °C

    We decided to have a low key strolling the streets kind of day, which we stuck to even though there were showers off and on, and the pull of the art museum with its Velazquez painting was tempting. But we decided we were pretty oversaturated with museums right now, and given that we would have many days of many museums in Venice, we opted for the outdoor approach to Modena.

    Of the day trips we have taken, Modena was probably my favorite little town. It is just beautiful in the center -- well maintained, obviously prosperous, and the Piazza Maggiore with its pure, unadulturated, un-updated, "unimproved" Romanesque cathedral is one of the most beautiful I've ever been in or enjoyed from the outside.

    The town market is one of those classics, great for walking around and seeing how lucky the townsfolk are to have this place for all sorts of beautiful looking food. And it’s also the place where balsamic vinegar got its start— we saw some little perfume size jars with prices near 100€. No, I did not buy one.

    And the food was great, the little we sampled. From Joe's cappuchino (pronounced excellent) to our plates of pasta in the Trattoria Giardinetto (mine with a creamy lemon sauce, Joe's was arrabiata, and the pastas were all made on the premises) we were very happy when we got back on the train in the late afternoon for the half hour ride back to our little apartment.

    Sent from my iPad
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  • Day11

    Last full day in Bologna

    December 27, 2017 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 9 °C

    This morning we started in the Resistance Museum, a pretty somber place dealing with Italian fascism and WWII. Lots of information and pictures, with even an interesting room about Italian participation in the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War. We were very happy to get English translations of all of the panels, even though the translation at times was not quite clear!

    Wandering through the old town, we came upon the oldest building of the University of Bologna, which itself is one of the contenders for the title "world's oldest university." Though the city now owns the building, several of the rooms are open for visitors, very nice.

    At noon, we met up with a good friend of our pal Lorraine. Irma, an African Historian at Bologna, took us to lunch at an old lively place where they still make their pasta by hand, the Osteria dell'Orsa. This was the place to eat tagliatelle with bolognese sauce, no doubt about it.

    After a walk through the university district with Irma, we went to the largest art museum in Bologna. Lots of medieval art (yay) and lots of Baroque/mannerist (boo). The rain stopped by the time we left the museum, and one more stroll through the old town looking at all the food and markets was a nice end of the afternoon. Some good dark chocolate was a special treat. We are now trying to decide on dinner, not sure whether to return to a known place we loved or to try something new. Hard choices here in Bologna!
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  • Day10

    Day trip to Parma

    December 26, 2017 in Italy ⋅ 🌫 4 °C

    Today as we walked to the Bologna Train Station, it was misty and chilly. Same when we got off the train in Parma. No sun today, but hardly any precipitation either, so we are not complaining.

    Though most people think of parma ham and parmigiano reggiano when they think of Parma, I think of a Romanesque cathedral and a Medieval Baptistry. They were just gorgeous. Well worth the trip in and of themselves. Unfortunately, Dec. 26 seems to be a semi-official holiday, and though the monuments were all open, all of the salumerias (places selling all those local goodies, like a delicatessen I suppose) were locked up tight. There are also local factories to visit, but they are all out of town and we had no means of transport. So we took our guidebook's advice and went to eat lunch at a place called Trattoria del Tribunale. Best sauteed spinach with garlic and parmesan I've ever had. Plus an eggplant parmegiana for me and a yummy veal cutlet for Joe. Definitely highly recommended if you ever get to Parma!

    After lunch we spent a couple of hours in the art and the archaeological museums —a Leonardo, some Carveggios and an El Greco. And I finally found some pilgrims to Santiago in a 14th century tryptych.

    The one hour trip to Bologna was easy.

    Many restaurants are closed on Dec. 26 in Bologna, but we were lucky and found the Osteria Broccaindiso. Joe’s tortelloni with ricotta and sage was very yummy.
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