Posts Tagged ‘Venice’


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Artisan lacemaking in Venice…

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GOLDEN DAY THIRTY: The Pleasures of Sant’Erasmo

When we think of Venice and going to the beach, the first place that comes to mind is The Lido.  My friend Pamela still talks about one August when she had what she describes as “The Great Gatsby” beach experience there–all so very luxurious, with an amazing seafood lunch, a huge pool, surrounded by loads of fashionable Italians–ladies in big hats and flowing caftans, etc.

Then there’s my friend Angela, a Lido native born and bred, who says, “To get away from the crowds of the Lido in the summer, we go to Sant’Erasmo.” This is the island that lies between Murano and Burano. It’s called The Secret Garden of Venice, as its covered with vegetable gardens and orchards that have supplied Venice markets for centuries–And what vegetables! White asparagus, the finest artichokes, sweet peas, tiny delicious eggplants… AND there’s a dock and tiny beach to take in the sun and enjoy the calm shallow water, without any crowds.

It’s also great to rent bikes and ride the 3.5 mile flat loop around the island, along a  quiet path with pretty views of the Venice mainland and the lagoon.

AND to make the Golden Day complete, there is one restaurant on the island, the Ca’ Vignotto (Via Forti 71, 041 244 4000, lunch daily, dinner Sat only, reservations essential)–that serves just-picked deliciousness, at very reasonable prices. It’s a popular place for locals to go for a divine Sunday lunch.

To get there take the #13 Vaporetto to the Capannone stop–it’s about a 45 minute ride from the mainland. Bike rentals are available at Lato Azzurro (041 523 0642), which is also a B&B where you can check in for a very peaceful stay.


For More Golden Days in Umbria, check out Golden Day Thirty One through Golden Day Forty .

GOLDEN DAY TWENTY-NINE: Padua and the Scrovegni Chapel

It took me several trips to Venice before I could tear myself away for the half hour train ride to Padua–NOW Padua and the Scrovegni Chapel have become a MUST on the Veneto itinerary. Padua is a jewel of a town, with a splendido open market and restaurants to match, AND The Scrovegni Chapel is at the top of my list as far as Italian masterpieces.

In fact, if you showed me two doors and one was labeled SISTINE, the other SCROVEGNI…I would head for Scrovegni. Michelangelo surely got his inspiration from this chapel that was created centuries before his, by the blessed Giotto. YES the Sistine Chapel is an awe-inspiring massive space, but the emotions that Giotto so elegantly expresses in the Scrovegni chapel, his focus on the Life of Mary (which as you know I’m especially drawn to), and the smaller, more human scale of it, makes this chapel extra appealing. PLUS, the visiting experience is so much more peaceful than being pushed along with those Sistine Chapel crowds.

The moment you walk into the Scrovegni, you’ll be wowed by the intense, heavenly blue star studded ceiling that tops 38-Giotto-masterpiece-frescoes.

To visit the Scrovegni you have to make a reservation in advance, or you could take a chance and just show up and wait a bit, the wait time depending on the season. You are escorted inside with a smallish group  (20 or so), shown a film about the chapel, and then brought into the amazing space and lectured by an Italian art historian for your 15 minute visit. Every element of this place is stunning. And you may want to do a little research before you enter, as none of the frescos are marked, and if you don’t speak Italian you may be in the dark as to the meaning of some of the frescos. They tell the story of the Life of Mary and then of Christ as interpreted by a popular novel of Giotto’s day, titled “The Golden Legend.”

To make a Golden Day out of it, spend time in the Padua market in the Piazza delle Erbe, have lunch nearby at Isola di Caprera (Via Marsilo di Padova 15 049 8760244) and a caffe at the classic Caffe Pedrocchi (Via VIII Febbraio 15).

For tickets to the Scrovegni Chapel, go to

Golden Day Twenty-Eight: Experience the Eastern Influences of Venice

I can always count on the wonderful people at Context Travel to take me deeper into an Italian destination. This company leads small group walking tours, led by excellent docents who are scholars, art historians, and/or authors.  One of their newest walks is called Venice and the East, where you’ll be guided through La Serenissima focusing on its  Byzantine and Islamic influences.

Here’s what Context’s Jessica Stewart has to say about it:

One of the things that’s always fascinated me about Venice is its longstanding connection to eastern culture.  You can see this clearly in the architecture of prominent sites like the Doge’s Palace and Basilica San Marco, but also through keeping your eyes peeled while wandering through the tiny meandering streets of the city.

 Heading north toward Cannaregio, turn down a small alleyway by S. Giovanni Crisostomo and you’ll find yourself in a small, quiet square along the Grand Canal called Campiello Remer.  Aside from the view of the Canal and delicious, and reasonably priced, food at the restaurant Taverna Campiello del Remer (Closed Wed), you can admire the amazing architecture of the palazzo here.  A rare building with its medieval staircase still intact, the curved and arching window frames show the strong influence of the eastern world.

Heading deeper into Cannaregio, I end up on the Fondamenta dei Mori, where in the Campo dei Mori you can see statues of three Moors who were supposedly members of an important mercantile family with origins from the East.  To finish the day, I’d pop in to Osteria l’Orto dei Mori, a newer eatery with modern takes on traditional Venetian cuisine.

This part of Venice is my favorite, away from the crowds and by some lovely, calm canals.

Grazie Jessica and Context! You’ve got me pining for future Venice meanderings…


Way back in the 1980’s I lived in San Francisco and was involved in the town’s exciting experimental theatre scene. It was around then that I met Anne Block at a wild workshop in a warehouse south of Market. Twenty years later, we’ve reconnected and discovered that we’ve both been pursuing our passion for Italian travel.

Anne has created a fantastic Los Angeles based tour company called Take My Mother Please*—that provides customized itineraries to  individuals or group travelers who want to explore  Los Angeles, Egypt, Paris, Italy, or other places in Europe.  She brings an infectious enthusiasm to whatever she does, constantly snooping out unusual spots, to give travelers an authentic experience of a place.

She’s so much fun to be with, that I wish I’d been along with her on her last trip to Venice. Instead, I’ll live vicariously…

When I was there last September for the Biennale one of my favorite things to do was to take the #2 vaporretto  from Piazzale Roma and go all the way around the beautiful “back side” of Venice by way of the Canale della Giudecca (instead of through the Canale Grande).

This offers the experience of being out on the open waters of the lagoon with stops that criss-cross from Giudecca to Dorsoduro, showing a lovely, quieter part of “La Serenissima.”
The #2 will take you all the way to the Giardini stop, where you can wander through the Biennale Gardens with its various international art “pavilions,”  each in a different architectural style.

The Venice Biennale International Exposition of Art is over 100 years old, dating from the beginning of the 1900’s. It is the most important contemporary art exposition in the world and takes place in the odd numbered years. But the garden and grounds are also a delight to visit during the even numbered years when there is no exposition.

Walking back along the water toward the center of the city is a treat as well; you can stroll along the wide via Garibaldi and stop for a delicious seafood lunch at a great neighborhood spot, Hostaria all’Ombra (041-523-1179).

Or walk a bit farther, crossing over the bridge at the Arsenale vaporetto stop, then turning away from the water into the Campiello della Pescaria to have a truly splendid meal at Ristorante Al Covo (041-522-3812).

Grazie Anne–I’m making plans for Biennale 2011!


You’ll love hearing  this ensemble, Interpreti Veneziani,  when you come to Venice. You’ll find them at the Chiesa San Vidal, a beautiful Baroque place. Most nights they are playing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (Le Quattro Stagioni). Vivaldi probably came to this church, back in those late 17th-early 18th century times. He was a revolutionary composer, bringing sweeping emotions to the violin and all those sister string instruments.

Interpreti Veneziani has played here since 1987  and they are the best I’ve heard in Venice. They are praised world wide for their youthful exuberance and the clear passion they bring to this music. It’s a thrill to be in San Vidal and hear them play–the sound filling the space without microphones.  Pure, soulful.

You can look up their schedule online and buy tickets (25 euro), or get them while you’re there.

This will be a Golden Evening for the Memory Books. Since the concert starts at 9, you may want to have dinner around the corner at the Fabulous Da Fiore (Calle delle Botteghe, 041 5235310) before. If you do, be sure to order the classic Venetian after dinner drink: Sgroppino, a frothy, cool mix of prosecco, vodka and lemon sorbet.

The calle will be quiet post concert…Venice shutters down early for an Italian place. So you may head back to your bed and flop, with the glorious music of Vivaldi filling your dreams…

Buona sera!


A wonderful way to start a Venetian day is to visit the Rialto Market, following in the traditional footsteps of this magical city. The pescheria (fish market, closed Sun & Mon), tucked behind the bridge, has been a happening spot here for over 1000 years. Surrounding it are vegetable and fruit stalls. Some of the produce is local, from the nearby island of Sant’Erasmo, and some has been brought in on ships from afar. The whole scene under that stunning Venetian light: glistening fresh fish, and (depending on the season)  cabbage from Treviso, persimmons, or white asparagus–blends to make this one of Italy’s most tantalizing markets. Get there early, between 8 or 9, and you’ll be elbowing in with Venice restaurant chefs. If you’re going in April, you’ll see soft shell crab–moleche–lucky you! It’ll be added to the menus for this month, and also if you’re there in November.

Marcella Hazan, the Queen of Italian Cuisine, lived in Venice with her co-writer/husband Victor for many years during the 1980s and 90s, when they  also ran an excellent cooking school.  A typical school day would begin with Marcella leading a trip to the Rialto market.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Marcella Hazan’s cookbooks, listen up! Marcella came before Mario, Lidia, Giada, etc.  Beginning with her first book, published in 1973– The Classic Italian Cookbook–Marcella introduced Americans to authentic Italian cooking with not only wonderful recipes, but great writing that reveals the beautiful philosophy of Italian cooking.

She was generous with giving advice to me while I was writing 100 Places, so I could include  her favorite  restaurants in Venice. One of them that’s close to the Rialto, which makes a perfect stop for lunch is Fiaschetteria Toscana (Salizada S. Giovanni Grisostomo, Cannaregio, 041 528 5281).

So unless you’re renting an apartment, and will be cooking up fish from your Rialto market shopping trip, I’d come here or Muro (Campo Bella Vienna, closed Sunday), a bargain spot hidden behind the fish stalls.

Whatever you do, avoid the Rialto mid-day, when the shlocky souvenir stands on the bridge get mobbed.

This is a place best seen when it’s just waking up…

And while you’re dreaming of Venice, check out Marcella and Victor’s Google Talk

Golden Day Twenty-Four: Follow Nan’s Instructions


Here is what led me to Nan McElroy: Italy: Instructions for Use, which she so cleverly created. I tell everyone I know who’s going to Italy that this is a Must Buy–a wonderfully designed pocket-sized quide and phrasebook that contains all the nitty-gritty details you’ll need–about making phone calls, taking trains, driving, etc.  And for anyone headed to Venice, as JoAnn Locktov wrote in Golden Day 22, you Must download Nan’s Vaporetto Map.

Nan was an absolute joy and inspiration to meet the last time I was in Venice. She’s lived there since 2004 and has immersed herself into Venetian life bigtime–it’s fab to follow along with her on her Living Venice Blog. She’s a member of a woman’s rowing club, is producing a documentary–Voga alla Veneta–that centers around the unique traditional rowing style of the gondoliers, she’s a lyric soloist who performs in concerts around Venice, AND she’s a certified sommelier who leads wine tastings that turn into fun evenings for travelers to learn about Italian vintages–check out Lessons of the Vine for details.

When I asked Nan for her Golden Day In Venice, she wrote back with this imaginative take:

 “They’ll come today,” she thought, “they won’t be able to resist. Not on a day like today.”

The sun glinted off the tops of the canal waves, as if invisible water sprites darted non-stop from peak to peak, setting them all afire as they went. It was one of those brilliant, early spring Venetian days, the sort that inspired the traveler to eschew the collection at the Galleria Accademia or the tour of the Doges Palace for one more sun-warmed caffè al fresco or a choice glass of wine at some cheery bar (Al Prosecco in Campo San Giacomo dell’Orio, perhaps); or a lazy saunter along the Zattere, admiring Palladio’s churches (San Giorgio Maggiore, Le Zitelle – The Spinsters, the Redentore) from afar, ending at the welcoming, green umbrellas of Al Chioschetto for a panino and a Spritz.

Today, whether for the traveler or the local,  “inside” was not an option.

All this was not lost on la Tecolona, as she was known ( her odd moniker being created from the combination of letters from her four owners’ names).  As she bobbed patiently in the side canal in the upper reaches of Cannaregio, nestled under the bridge at Sant’Alvise in a posta barca parking place just her size, she knew that this day, above all, no rower would be able to resist being in barca, taking the boat out for a spin. “Bene,” she thought. “Andemo.” Let’s go.

“Ma dove?” Where, she pondered…

La Tecolona was a s’ciopon, one of the smaller of the traditional Venetian craft, similar to the larger ones conserved by the Associazione Arzanà just around the corner on the Rio Misericordia. She considered these larger batele, the type once used to transport all sorts of merchandise around the city, as fratelli grandi, big brothers, and was glad such an organization had made the effort to save them, so more people could see and touch the world of pre-motorboat Venice.

 It didn’t matter to her where she went today. As long as she was slipping agilely along the Venetian canals, wide, narrow, or Grand, navigating the city’s liquid labyrinth, affording her rowers and their passengers her unique perspective, she didn’t care. She always enjoys the greetings her rowers receive from friends who spot them from the fontamenta or pass by in another boat; the interest from travelers who pause on the bridges to photograph or just take in the unique sight. Even the inevitable advice frequently shouted by expert rowers “of a certain age” to her usually all-female crew — Daghe zo pope! Voga in drio! Scia prua! — was more than welcome, because these same curmudgeons just as often grinned broadly, declaring “Bea barca!” What a beautiful boat.  All this – it’s what makes us a community, La Tecolona thought.

So today, once her rowers arrived with their long oars and fixed their wooden oar locks in her sides and were on their way, there’s no question they would first glide by what  they say is one of their favorite churches, the beautiful Madonna dell’Orto, with its famed collection of Tintoretto’s works. If instead they headed down the Rio della Sensa, they’d likely be spotted by Lorenzo and Michele, proprietors of the exceptional new restaurant Orto dei Mori; they always wave their saluti. If they then headed down the Rio San Felice, they’d surely see Lolo, who offers perhaps the best fish in the city, at Fontego dei Pescatori, and Paolo and Laura just across from him, of Vini da Gigio (everyone knows to let Paolo pick their wine for dinner, she hears her rowers often say). They might even stop for un goto de vin, a glass of wine from the excellent selection at La Cantina, in the Campo San Felice — although that would be more likely on the return. Then again, if they instead turned into the Rio San Sofia, they’d likely “cichettare” at another of their favorites, the Bottega dei Promessi Sposi, in the Calle dell’Oca. It was hard to predict.

Their evening outing might take them then to via Garibaldi and the cheery, lively El Refolo…if there was music, so much the better. Or if her rowers were in the mood for a pizza after their long row, she knew that Tosi Grandi would be their choice.

As La Tecolona continued to bob and muse on the myriad of potential routes and sights she and her rowers might navigate today, her thoughts were interrupted by familiar footsteps and voices overhead. Ora, she thought, se ne va. Now, we go. For both she and her rowers, it would be indeed be a golden Venetian day.

Grazie Nan!

GOLDEN DAY TWENTY-TWO: Follow JoAnn Locktov’s Glittering Footsteps

One of the wonderful things that happened while I was writing 100 Places In Italy Every Woman Should Go, was that I got connected to kindred spirits–people who are as passionate about Italy as I am. One of those wonderful people is JoAnn Locktov.

JoAnn is especially passionate about mosaics, and has written a critically acclaimed book, Mosaic Art and Style, and co-written two others on the topic. Mosaics naturally led JoAnn to Venice, where the interiors of the San Marco Basilica and the Romanesque church on the island of Torcello are stunning examples of this art form.

Thanks to JoAnn, on my last visit to Venice, I spent time at the Orsoni Studio. This place, hidden away in the under-touristed Canareggio sestiere, is a mosaic foundry and workshop that’s been in the Orsoni family since 1888. In 2003, it was decided to open the doors just a bit to the public, so that (by appointment only) I could get into the production facility and see the magic that goes into mosaic making.

*Below: Student Gerda MerwaldThere’s now a vibrant workshop scene happening here. Master artisans teach small classes throughout the year (ranging from 3 days to a few weeks) to pass on the great tradition. The workshop attracts students from all over the world, and classes often sell out, so if you’re interested reserve early.

Back to my friend–fan of Venice and Mosaics–JoAnn Locktov. You can find her in her beloved Venice often and she also manages the PR for several Italian design companies. And since, like me, she’s based in California, we’ve met recently during my book tour.  I asked Bella Giovanna what her Golden Day In Venice would be. Naturally it would begin at Orsoni, where she stays in their artiturismo–one of their 5 B&B rooms in the foundry complex….

Nestled in my beautiful room at Domus Orsoni ,  my pillow rests against a 24k gold mosaic headboard.  The morning sounds of the foundry coming alive mingle with the garden birds. I have my breakfast outside on the terrace, watching the Venetian light reflect off mosaics, making the glass literally dance.

A private tour of the foundry takes me to the elegant gallery with historical and contemporary mosaics, the foundry with furnaces blasting white hot heat, the mosaic studio where classes are taught, the color library where over 2,000 colors of Orsoni smalti are arranged like a repository of intimate rainbows.

I leave the secret walled gardens of Orsoni in the Cannaregio neighborhood and am immediately confronted with the fish vendors, lining the Fondamenta di Cannaregio with their extravagant catch of the day.  These silver and glassy-eyes creatures are from deep in the lagoon.

I make my way to the vaporetto stop, the public waterbus. I’ve down loaded a mini Vap Map and have a perfect pocket sized guide to the times and stops.

I’m going to take the number 1, the slow boat that meanders along the Grand Canal allowing wonderous views of the palazzi and museums planted along the way.

I’m on my way to Dorsoduro, one of the 6 sestieri or neighborhoods that create this island city.  I disembark at the Accademia stop, and although the Gallerie beckons, I head straight for a more contemporary destination. A visit to Venice is not complete without a pilgrimage to my favorite museum, The Peggy Guggenheim Collection. There are other fabulous art collections in Venice however none contain the soul of the very person responsible for the collection’s existence.

The gracious Palazzo Venier dei Leoni is where Peggy Guggenheim made her home. The one story structure built in 1749 is now devoted to exhibiting her luminous collection of modern art. You can feel her presence ~ the staccato click of her heels on the terrazzo floors, her beloved dogs yapping in the courtyard, the buzz of animated conversations with the artists she supported, cajoled, loved and honored.  I usually have an espresso in the museum café, it allows me to linger longer in the garden listening to the ghosts.

Winding back towards the Accademia Bridge I stop and see what new glass jewels Marina and Susanna Sent are showing at their charming shop at Campo San Vio. Their sophisticated designs are both fashionable and immanently wearable.

I continue walking towards Piazza San Marco, crossing over the Accademia Bridge and stopping at the apex to view the Grand Canal in all her majesty. Meandering through numerous campe, stopping for an afternoon cichetti and  ombra in a local bacaro.  One last dark narrow alley and San Marco appears like a mirage, resplendent with prancing horses and glittering domes.

Barbara Grizzuti Harrison in Italian Days writes how, she once “knew a man who wrote a guidebook to Venice, a series of walking tours; his source of pride was that he did not lead his readers through a square more than once.” Harrison was not impressed. She felt that, “ Not going to San Marco every day is like having a unicorn in your living room and ignoring it.” 

By late afternoon I start back towards the Cannaregio, I walk a different path this time, through the bustling Rialto where every little store front beckons with colorful treasures of Murano beads, woodblocked stationary, pastas and confections. I arrive at Campo San Felice on the Strada Nuova in time to eat dinner at a favorite enoteca. The name is La Cantina however you will know it by the wine barrel tables outside, and the convivial Italians spilling out the door. Grab a seat wherever they will let you, and eat whatever they bring you. This is pure relaxation. Being fed the tastiest morsels from the Rialto market by a waiter who remembers my name year after year.

Grazie JoAnn! You brought me back to every golden place…

*Photo by Roger Paperno from Café Life Venice, by Joe Wolff


To begin a trip to Italy with Venice is getting into the dream world immdiately. It’s the perfect place to slow down and surrender to Italian rhythms. You walk and stretch out from the plane ride, you listen to the church bells and the lapping of the water. You feel the softness of the water and melt into the fairytale.

There is no better ride from an airport than taking the boat in from Venice. I remember my first time, how the fantastical island appeared out of the fog–a place I’d seen in so many postcards, now was right there in front of me…REAL…

I’d come in from San Francisco and the flight arrived at the golden sunset hour. My girlfriend Betsy and I dropped our bags and started wandering away from the apartment we’d rented in the Dorsoduro.

We stopped on a small bridge, and as if on cue, a gondola glided toward us, steered by the most handsome of handsome dark-eyed gondoliers. He flashed us a smile, a ciao, and then floated away.

Giddy, we stumbled across another bridge, and there it was: Cantinone Gia Schiavi (Ponte San Trovaso)–a classic Venetian Bacaro (wine bar), where tourists rub elbows with locals. Here is where for the first time I had one of my favorite tastes on earth: A tumbler of prosecco and baccala mantecato (whipped baccala on toast). I was hooked. Betsy and I kept taking the same route to this wine bar during that trip, hoping to see the Gondolier on that bridge again, but we never did.

I remember dinner that night in the restaurant at the Hotel Agli Alboretti. Fegata alla Veneziana, Amarone…the whole afternoon of arrival into evening was a perfect dream of Venice come true.

NOTE: Transportation from the airport to Venice is most cheaply a ferry that costs around 10 euro and the ride takes an hour and a half. On the other extreme, there are plenty of water taxis that cost around 100 euro. The Blessed split down the middle comes with Bucintoro Viaggi, that charges around 30 euros per person–book in advance.