Showing posts with label art teacher travels. Show all posts
Showing posts with label art teacher travels. Show all posts

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Art Teacher Travels: Venice

Well, kids, I've shared with you nearly all of my Italian adventures. I've discussed how my mom and I organized the trip (okay, let's be honest: how I organized the trip...and she came along for the ride), our experiences in both Rome and Florence and all that we learned along the way. If you are planning a trip, I hope you have found at least one useful nugget. Along with your passport, knowledge is the most important thing to pack...needless to say, we had to gain ours along the way. Our last place to do just that: Venezia!
Venice, Day 7: What is it with us and train stations, y'all? I shared with you in my last post about our crazy experience in the Rome train station. Thankfully, we had a little train station knowledge under our belt and this time we were able to navigate the train station without help. I will say, the train station in Florence is much smaller and easier to get around. Just an FYI: have some euro on hand as the restrooms are 1 euro a trip. Pay to pee, so to speak.  
So we were all good until we arrived in Venice. Now, if you have never been to Venice, it truly is all on water. There are no cars. Just canals, bridges, super narrow alleyways and very few street signs. This was hands down the most difficult city to navigate. Thankfully, Venice is super small and dominated by landmarks such as the Rialto Bridge and San Marco Square. You can find big yellow signs on the sides of buildings pointing you to either one or the other. If you no longer see those signs, then you've made it to a different part of town. Good luck. 
I got the big idea that when we got off the train, we'd take a water bus to the general area of our hotel and navigate with our map from there. Big mistake. Little did I know that the streets would be so poorly marked. When I called The Star Splendid Hotel (which was truly ever bit of splendid. The most posh hotel we stayed in during our adventure!), the receptionist said, "Our hotel is located between the Rialto Bridge and San Marco Square." Y'all. Literally everything in Venice is located in that very same spot! From our water bus drop off, we lugged our suitcases up and down the stairs of bridges before finally turning to Siri for advice. She was mildly helpful but it was mom's eagle eye in the end that spotted our local. So, take my word: a water taxi is expensive...but it will get you right to the front door of your desired location.  
As with every hotel, despite arriving in the morning hours, each allowed us to go to our rooms. We were stunned by our extravagant digs and the fact that we had a rooftop to gaze over Venice from. Having had so much fun on our previous tours lead by locals, I looked into tours of Venice. Here's a little known secret: there are a couple of tour groups in Venice that offer FREE tours! All you have to do is sign up online. Mom and I had to book it to our tour meet up as the narrow alleys really confused me and almost caused us to miss our tour. I'm so glad we made it in time! These tour groups are every bit as awesome as the ones you pay for.
Our guide took us on a 2 hour adventure all over Venice. These companies offer free tours because of some red tape issue with the local government. They operate off of tips...which is the least we could offer. Our guide was a wealth of knowledge. The history of Venice is fascinating: being made up of a series of islands, people took refuge there to escape Roman and Barbarian attacks. During the 12th century, Venice began to flourish as a trade center between Asia and Europe. Families began to acquire mass amounts of wealth and loved to show off. For example, this spiral staircase, the Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo, was one such extravagance. You can climb the well as see other expressions of great wealth especially along the canals. Look for the windows with what appears to be a rounded cross configuration at the top. 
Our tour took a wee break at San Marco Square. Mom and I later went to the top of St. Mark's Campanile which was a great way to see Venice. You can catch more of that view here:
We also took a tour of the Basilica San Marco. It is free to get in but, like all churches in Italy, you'll need to cover those bare shoulders and exposed knees. I learned to always carry a lightweight scarf with me. But if you forget, you can easily pick one up from the countless vendors selling souvenir scarves for under 5 euro. We were not allowed to take photos inside the Basilica so trust me when I say: it is a sparkly, golden, mosaic'ed wonderment. We learned that the Venetians were told, when traveling to foreign lands, to pillage as much as they could. Which they did and promptly added to the front facade and inside of the Basilica. This is the reason it is so outrageously golden...and mismatched. 
Here's one of the biggest reasons I would recommend taking a guided tour from a local: they take you off the beaten path. It was there that we discovered The Most Beautiful Book Stop in the World
This book shops floods regularly (as does all of Venice!) with water washing right into the shop from the open door that leads to the canal. The damaged books are used as steps and wall dividers...while the rest are piled into old gondolas to keep from being damaged. Here's a clip:
After our tour, mom and I wandered the streets and visited many of the fun pockets our tour guide told us about. She did tell us that despite the very dark alleys, Venice has little crime and is safe at night. Mom didn't dig the alleys...but really, Venice is so small, getting lost is hard to do. That being said, we did find ourselves in a more residential area, completely turned around. It was then that a woman opened her window from her second story home and began shouting at us in Italian. We had NO CLUE what she was saying and she was VERY aggravated with our ignorance. We decided from her wild hand motions that she wanted us to knock on a door that we happened to be standing next to...but in her cranky state, I had a feeling that it was not gonna be a pleasant convo with whomever was behind that door. We were flattered that she thought we spoke Italian but decided to say, "So sorry! English only!" and get outta there quick. 
Venice, Day 8: Our last full day in Italy. We decided to enjoy our last day by getting ourselves on the water. There are so many ways you can do that: water taxi, water bus or gondola. The gondolas are not cheap at 80 euro for a 30 minute boat ride. We opted for the 20 euro, all day pass on the water bus. It was crowded...but we weren't in a hurry. We took the boat up and down the canal and eventually got a seat at the front of the boat. We traveled up and down the Grand Canal and loved it. We did try to do it again at sunset and found that everyone had the very same idea. Word to the wise: when taking the boat, do it at those odd hours of the day like midmorning or early afternoon. 
We were lucky in that the Venice Biennale 2017 was happening while we were there. We were able to see some of the public art and exhibits...but not as much as I would have liked. Like all good vacations, ours was just not long enough. 
Mom easily enjoyed Venice the best because of the water. For her, Rome was a close second. I love Venice, it is amazing...but Florence comes in first in my book. 
Here's a view of San Marco Square from St. Mark's Campanile. Our favorite thing was to see the cities of Italy from above and at sunset. Look at this crammed together's no wonder I got us lost in those endless alleyways. Something we learned is that San Marco's Square floods throughout the year. Narrow planks are set up that rise above the water for people to walk across. There are a couple of cafes on the square that play live music but the most famous is Caffe Florian which opened in 1720. You can still go there today...just be ready to pay through the nose for even a cup of coffee. But it's worth it! 
Venice was easily the place where I found the most lovely of souvenirs. I fell in love with the Murano glass...there is a shop that is on the Rialto bridge which had glass palates, pencils, brushes, tubes of paint and palette knives. I knew I was going to get in trouble when I spotted that place! I had to get some glass paint brushes and pencils, right?
I mean...
We also spotted a bookstore that carried the work of a ceramic artist who mom and I both fell in love with. I had to pick up a piece of his work because I knew it would remind me of this incredible place:
The artist is Riccardo Biavati and I'm just in love!
On our last night, mom and I ate at a great hole in the wall, rubbing shoulders with locals. The food was incredible and the people were delightful. However, if you go to eat in Italy, just know, you are on their time. Don't rush it, just enjoy it. And know that you will have to ask for the bill about 3 times before you get it. We Americans need to slow our roll! Italians got this right.
Venice, Day 9: Our last day! With a mid-morning flight, we really were just hitting the road, er canal, on this day. Thanks to Costco Travel, there was a water taxi as well as a taxi arranged to take us to the airport. The water taxi ride was my favorite. No better way to travel and say good-bye to this incredible place and wonderful adventure. 
Have you been to Venice? What did you love? I went nearly 20 years ago...and had such romantic memories of the place that I was fearful I would dissolve when I got there. But there were only more realized. I love Venice. 
Ready to go back! Until then...

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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Art Teacher Travels: Florence

 Hey there, friends! Thank you so much for the response to my last Art Teacher Travels post. When it comes to sharing photos and memories of a travel adventure, I know it can bore folks real quick. Thank you for hangin' in there with me. I learned so much from this trip to Italy with my mom from the planning, preparing to the actual setting foot in such a beautiful country that I thought I'd share my tips. There is a learning curve when traveling to a foreign country! Here is what I explored, learned and discovered during our three day stay (not long enough) in Firenze.
Florence, Day #4: I'm picking up where I left off in my previous post. On our fourth morning in Rome, mom and I took a taxi from our hotel to the train station, giving ourselves an hour to make the short trek. And I'm really glad we did! If it is one thing I learned while in Italy, it is that Italians love to strike and protest. Good for them! Not so good when you are trying to get from point A to B. The day before, taxi drivers were on strike. Knowing that, I asked at the front desk if we'd be able to get one today. "Oh, yes," said the concierge, "The strike is now over." What he didn't know was that there was a protest about a half mile in front of the train station. This was discovered when our cab driver hit an epic traffic jam complete with honking horns and shaking fists. "This is as far as I can go!" the cab driver said while simultaneously opening our doors and putting our suitcases on the curb. "The station is that way!" he said with a wave of his arm before hoping back into his car and making the most insane u-turn known to man. We joined the herd of suitcase toting folks who suddenly found themselves in same predicament. 
When we navigated through the protest (which we didn't find out the details, unfortunately) and made it to the train station it was just as crazy. The Rome train station is a little bonkers. Thankfully we already had our tickets purchased and in hand (thanks to Costco Travel. More about that in this post)...but no clue where to go or what to do. Again, giving ourselves plenty of time was a gift in a confusing situation such as this. With our tickets in hand and our confused expression, we became the obvious target of a porter. Porters are folks who walk around train stations offering to "help" tourists for a tip. I had read not to talk to porters but I have to tell you, I gladly listened to and tipped the kind gentleman who read our ticket and showed us exactly where to go. Without his help, we might have still been at the train station!

When we arrived in Florence, we exited the train station and went across the street to a tourist office. There I purchased Florence Cards for my mom and myself. Florence cards are expensive (72 euro each) but not only get you into almost all of the museums in Florence but also to the front of the line. I knew we'd get good use out of them. From there, we flagged a cab which took us to Hotel Pierre. Again, we had a hotel that was right in the middle of town, just a few steps away from the Palazzo Vecchio. And check out the chalk art right outside our window!
After dropping off our backs, I filmed a Facebook LIVE from our hotel room. You can still view it here. It was nearly noon so mom and I set off exploring...which is code for gelato hunting. I was thrilled to find this site just a block from our hotel. 

Here is what I love about's a city that never seems to sleep. The palazzo is a large open courtyard where several restaurants are located...and all the action is. We witnessed a wedding, a Renaissance style parade and even a big band playing well past midnight! They leave the Vecchio doors open so you can just roam in and out of the entrance. But if you want to go to the top of the tower or explore the museum, you will have to get a ticket, even if you have a Florence card. If you have a card, you don't have to pay for the ticket...but you do have to have one to enter. More on that in a moment. 
Here is something to be aware of before traveling to Florence: all the museums are closed on Monday. ALL of them. We arrived in Florence on a Saturday and we were intent on just exploring, seeing sites and taking in the lay of the land. I did not want to be inside a museum. That meant we only had Sunday for museums and, I'm gonna just say it: I'm not a museumophile. I don't enjoy spending my day in museums...especially when outside is this gorgeous. So I was pretty picky with what museums we explored. But back to our stroll...
Unlike Rome, Florence is super small and carless. Which I loved! I never felt like I was about to be run down by a Roman on a Vespa. Being small, it's super easy to navigate. The roads are well marked but you really don't need to know them. Just look up: the Vecchio and the Duomo are always there to offer you guidance. 
Having done a little of homework, I knew that the San Lorenzo Market and the Mercato Centrale were something I wanted to hit. Anything with the word "market" in it is gonna get my attention. I had read that the market is closed on Sunday so I wanted to be sure to get there on our first day. I will say this: you can skip San Lorenzo Market. It is just filled with small outdoor stalls of vendors selling the same Made in China leather bags, t-shirts and other cheap souvenirs. Items there are not worth your money. 
Mercato Centrale, however, was a completely different story. This is where the locals go. On the first floor, you'll find a farmer's style market with fruits, veggies, spices, pasta, fish, meat, you name it. It was so fun to explore and gobble up free samples. But the second floor is where it's at! Mom and I rubbed shoulders with the locals while sampling many delights. Here's a video I made of the market:
Hungry yet? 
From there, mom and I walked back through Florence to the Ponte Vecchio. We loved catching a sunset at this spot. 
Florence, Day 5: In my last post, I mentioned the many tours mom and I took with groups in Rome. I had not planned a tour in Florence except for our bike adventure (more in a moment). However, just walking through Florence and seeing so much history, I wanted to learn more...and I didn't want to read about it in a book. So that evening, I booked mom and I another tour. This one was a two hour walking tour with a company called Florence Town. They have a kiosk right at the Republic Square which was around the corner from our hotel. 
I was so glad we took the tour with a Florentine. She was a wonderful story teller and we learned so much about the history while walking all over Florence. Our tour even included a stop for gelato. You can't beat that! 
One fun thing we noticed around town were how clever the street signs are. I need to do a bit of research to find out the story behind these signs. 
But allow me to back track to our walking tour. We explored the Vecchio with new ideas and information. The city of Florence came to be during the Renaissance thanks to the Medici family. With their banking wealth, the Medici commissioned such artists as Botticelli and Michelangelo. In fact, Michelangelo was discovered when he was just an apprentice at the age of 14 and asked to live and work for the Medici family. His statute of David stood for many years outside the Vecchio until it was damaged and finally moved to Academia. You can spot fake Davids all over Rome. 
Get yourself inside the Vecchio, you won't be disappointed. Seeing the glamorously painted rooms...and the exaggerated stories that the paintings tell of the Medici family is quite a site. In a time of kings and queens being the ruling class, it's interesting to think that a family of bankers rose to such power. 
Turns out things did not end well for Michelangelo and the Medici fam. He was slated to design the front of Santa Croce but the pope, a Medici, pulled the financial plug. Extremely upset, Michelangelo wrote the pope a letter which basically said, "What the heck, bruh?!" and immediately left Florence, never to return. That is, until he passed when he was buried in the very church he was not allowed to finish. Crazy huh? These are all the things I learned during my tour. Worth the euro!
We were also introduced to these small vino doors from the Renaissance. Wealthy folks had them outside of their homes. People could tap on the door and ask for wine. If the owners had wine to share, they would pass it to those asking through this small door. 
Our tour ended at the Uffizi Gallery so we whipped out our Florence card and popped in. I mentioned tickets our tour guide stated and we found out: Florentines LOVE their tickets! And finding where to get your ticket is not always easy. Usually ticket "offices" are a hole in the wall near the attraction. They are not always easy to spot. However, if you don't go there and get yourself a ticket, you won't be getting into a museum. For example, the Duomo ticket booth is behind the Baptista. Just think of it as an adventure and you'll be fine. 
The Uffizi is the only museum we visited aside from the Vecchio, the Duomo and countless churches. I have been to Florence before and on that trip, I did go to Academia to visit David, among others. I felt bad not getting to it this time...but not bad enough to spend two hours in the Ufizzi then spend more hours in Academia. 
The Uffizi is like walking into an art history book. Here is a video I made of that trip:
From there, mom and I had to make our daily decision...where to catch the sunset? Since we didn't make it to Academia and see David, we decided to make the hike to Piazzale Michelanglo, catch another fake David and take in the incredible view.
So here's a fun fact: Italy did not become a united country until 1861...long after the US...and we are a "young" country! For that reason, the regions in Italy all have their own "thing": drinks, food, art, icons, you name it. It was fun to find out what each part we traveled to was known for. Florence, it turns out, is known for their Aperol Spritz. Mom and I decided to try one while taking in this view:
I know, right?! We enjoyed the view way more than the drink. Too sweet for me, I'll stick with my red. 
Florence, Day 6: Knowing that everything would be closed on Monday, I decided to book mom and myself a bike tour thru Tuscany! Y'all, I think this was my favorite day of our trip. I found the tour on TripAdvisor and while I am not a biker, my mom loves to ride. This was another trip booked with Florencetown and I really enjoyed it. 
Our ride started with a 30 minute drive out into the Tuscan countryside. Once there, we were given water, a bike and a helmet. Our ride was about 8 miles and, for the most part, downhill. The entire ride I was in a panic thinking that we'd end up having to ride uphill on the way home. Thankfully, we did not! 
Here's a quick glimpse at our ride:
When we reached our destination, we took a tour of the winery and learned so much about the history and process of wine making. 
Our traditional Tuscan lunch was one of the best meals we had in Italy: everything was home cooked and made from veggies grown locally. 
And of course we had wine. Lots of wine. Just not from these ancient bottles of priceless red!
Since it was our last day in Florence, mom and I knew it was the only time we'd have to accomplish our main mission: to climb to the top of the Duomo. All 400 plus steps...after our bike ride. 
To climb the Duomo, you will need a ticket (of course) and you'll need to book ahead of time. They only sell so many spots during the day to prevent overcrowding. Knowing that, we picked up our Monday tickets on the Saturday we arrived to insure we'd get a chance to climb. Again, the ticket booth is behind the Baptista. 
I will admit, I was nervous going in. I'm claustrophobic and it was hot outside. Surprisingly though, the inside of the stairwell was not nearly as warm as I had assumed...probably due to the thick, insulated concrete walls. What ended up being the biggest struggle: all of these stairs!
But then, the view. The view made me forget about my spaghetti legs. 
Again, I had to film a short clip:
We stayed on top for a very long time...mostly because it was such work to get there. Like I said in my previous post, one thing we learned to always do in each city: find a good spot everyday for the sunset and make sure to see the city from above. 
Perspective is everything. 
I really enjoyed Florence, more so than Rome. We only had three days there and I could have easily had another day. 
But what goes up most come down. And so we did. 
I did alright. I just didn't dig the spiral staircase. 
With the endless stairs, I felt like I was trapped in an M.C. Escher painting! 
On our final night, we shopped, dined and collapsed from our adventurous day. Next stop: Venice! Stay tuned! 
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