Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Queens Pavilion

Part of the Villa D'Este estate, the building we are staying in dates from 1856. Built as part of the works undertaken by then owner Baron Ippolito Ciani who purchased the estate in 1834. He named the new building after Caroline of Brunswick who married the future King George IV. She purchased and lived at the estate on the shores of Lake Como for five years from 1814. So, we have a double corner room on the second floor of the Queen's Pavillion. It really is a beautiful spot with a balcony and view across the length of the estate and lakes edge in one direction, and a private terrace and view of the hill across to the far side of the lake from the other direction. Furnishings are simple, yet elegant with a bank of built in wardrobes, French doors on both sides, marble ensuite and fresh flowers. Perfect. 31.10.2012

Mosaic at Ville D'Este

The 16th Century mosaic located within Villa D'Este is considered one of the most photographed monuments in Italy and is referred to in Edith Wharton's 1904 book "Italian villas and their gardens". Signs of some restoration work suggest that the mosaic will continue to hold a special place in the history of the estate. 31.10.2012

Villa D'Este

Well, having now worked out how to pronounce where we are staying I am looking at the history of the estate. It is as interesting as the place is beautiful, having been a hotel since 1873. Ville D'Este is located in Cernobbio, on the edge of the beautiful Lago di Como. The estate, which includes a number of buildings, beautiful gardens, fountains, mosaic feature walls and water front and relaxation facilities dates from the 16th Century. History oozes from the place. Even one of the retail outlets has been located here since 1907. Even the Chefs garden, where herbs are selected personally by Chef Michele Zambanini, has been in existence for over 30 years. This is but one small part of the 25 acre gardens within the estate. 31.10.2012

Lago di Como

My Italian continues to improve. There is no chance that I will ever stare in Italy as I am able to order from a menu most times unaided. Now, my geographical terminology is improving too as we explore Lake Como. The lake is actually much larger than I had expected, but mostly a couple of miles wide so both sides of the lake are visible. This makes it quite beautiful, in addition to the mountains looming across the lake. The mountains at some point become the Italian Alps, and as such are so high as to already be sporting snow on top. As for the lake, at 420 metres deep it is the deepest lake in Italy. 31.10.2012

Laconda dell'Isola Comacina

It was suggested to us that as we were taking a boat across to Bellagio that we might consider having lunch at one of the local islands. Very unique and accessible only by boat, the island is dedicated only to the restaurant, terrace and bar. It is considered a local landmark, but most tourists would pass by unaware of its existence. That said, the likes of Joan Baez, Gina Lollibridgida, Brad Pitt, Richard Branson and George Clooney have dined there. The menu is a set one, with multiple courses. The interesting thing is that the menu has been unchanged since 1947. As our host Benvenuto Pipuricelli tells us "we have been serving with success since 1947." So, lunch consisted of the following: Antipasto all'isolana - sliced tomato with a slice of lemon, drizzled with oil, with salt and oregano added. Then a variety of vegetables depending on what is in season. Mostly pickled or served cold with vinegar...carrot, cauliflower, capsicum, celery, white beans, spinach, all except for the baked onion and beet root. To this, on separate plates, we're added a slab of fresh ham, plus wafer thin slices of home cured air dried beef. Served with "friendly" bread to soak up the oil and vinegar. Trota alla contrabbandiera - fresh grilled salmon trout. One large fish between two, the cooked trout is skinned, dissected and served at the table. Salt is added, then olive oil and lemon juice. Rottami di pollo in padella - fried, free range chicken opened and "crushed", served with lettuce drizzled in vinegar. Granada all'escavadora - Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is cut from the wheel and a slab placed in your hand. Arance alla castellana - when available, oranges are used, however we had pear slices. This is served with a huge serve of delicious vanilla gelato, all covered with an orange Licquer. This combined with the bottle of white wine we were given made for a tipsy Tammy as lunch progressed. Caffe all'uso delle can agile in armi - a concoction of brandy burnt in the pot with sugar and coffee added. This is the pomp and circumstance part of the meal where Benvenuto tells the history of the island....which, being in Italian, really did sound like a prayer, albeit a long one. Benvenuto looks the part sporting a white shirt, tartan waistcoat and at a particular point in the proceedings adds a multicolored, striped beanie to his attire. I think this too is part of the custom since 1947. Apparently Vidulfo the bishop of Como, Placed a curse on the island in 1169. Benvenuto keeps bad omens at bay by having a fire kiting ceremony, complete with prayer and lots of brandy added to coffee as a way of finishing your visit. 30.10.2012

Lakeside villas

The villas and palazzos along the lakeside really are beautiful, with some dating back to the 15th Century and 17th Century. It seems that few remain in the hands of the original families. Those with constant tenure seem to be owned by the Catholic Church. One gorgeous property was gifted to an Italian Philanthropic Foundation within the last couple of years when the gentleman who owned it passed away. It has been used in the Star Wars series and James Bond as one of the locations for filming, it really is spectacular And is located on a small peninsular so is well positioned to look effective on film. Other villas seem to have become owned by multiple families, one per floor, as a means of making them affordable. With many villas being three levels, this is a good way of sharing access to these beautiful buildings. The villa owned by Donatella Versace has recently sold for €35 million to a Russian millionaire.
A property owned by Sir Richard Branson is available to rent for €100 000 -€150 000 per week.
The property owned by George Clooney is actually three adjoining villas in a cluster, one fronts the lake, then is connected via a long and very private garden to a fourth villa used as a "guest house". I can see why celebrities like it here. Road access is difficult and privacy is ultimate. Part of the lakeshore is so remote it is accessed via the lake only and as such is mostly used as holiday accommodation for wealthy people, rather than their living there permanently. 30.10.2012

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Thanks to the Executive Lounge I have rediscovered Bailey's Irish Cream Licquer. The problem is that I tend to drink it like I drink port, preferring a substantial tumbler of it, on ice of course, rather than a dainty little sip.
Italians love their alcohol with sparkling wine of offer from breakfast, wine at lunch and dinner. Best thing is that it seems to be of good quality and quite well priced. While the small 50ml bottle of Baileys is €15 the going price in the wine merchants is €3 while the larger 750ml bottle was only €18. Whose a happy girl then? 30.10.2012

Lake Como

The only way to really get the full benefit of Lake Como is to explore it by water. This we did today, taking a boat across the lake from where we are staying, and heading up the lake, past private villas and palazzos, across to Nesso which we viewed from the water. With a Roman bridge and waterfall, it is very quaint.
We then went on to Bellagio where we spent an hour or two exploring this pretty little lakeside village.
First stop was a cafe for coffee and hot chocolate. Frank's coffee was the best since leaving home, and I finally had a real Italian hot chocolate. The consistency of chocolate mousse it is hard to decide whether to drink or spoon this....either way it was incredibly good. The entire bill, for two drinks and two extremely tasty pastries was just under €10. Then it was on to explore the hilly little side streets and shops. It really is very quaint and picturesque. Only purchase for the day was a pair of hand made leather men's shoes. At €150 less than half what you would expect to pay at home, and oh so stylish! Frank will christen them soon as we are dining at the swanky hotel restaurant one evening before we leave Italy. 30.10.2012


Other than the historic points of interest it is evident that shopping is the big attraction for people to come to Verona. All of the high end retailers are represented, including Cartier and Louis Vuitton, to there really is something for everyone, including another Disney store. For us the high point was finding a store that we had walked the streets of Venice for but were unable to find. At lunch one day we got chatting to an Australian guy and his Canadian wife. They showed us the Lamy pens they purchased at a third of the price we pay for them in Australia. They gave us the receipt, so we had the name and address of the store, but with San Marco the most we had to go on, we couldn't find it, and eventually called it quits and headed home. I checked online, still couldn't locate the Venice store but noted that Fabriano is actually a company established in 1264, still famous today for fine papers and pens, and based in Verona. So, imagine our surprise when we crossed a street during our exploration of Verona and I spotted the logo. What a fluke, and yes, we did stop in and buy a pen. 29.10.2012


The castle in Verona was quite interesting to visit and actually provides one of the best viewpoints of parts of the city from the Ponte Castelvecchio. The structure dates from 1354 - 1355.
By a fluke we noticed some frescoes on a building which the guide book later identified as the frescoes in Case Mazzanti, again dating from the early to mid 16th Century, 1532-1537. Unfortunately they are now somewhat spoilt by the trashy markets held in the adjacent Piazza delle Erbe. These were reminiscent of some of the bad souvenirs we found in Venice, including the obligatory masks, and once again were a tourist Mecca.

Lake Como bound

This morning we left Venice via water taxi, then on to meet our driver for the road trip to Lake Como. We had decided that as the trip is only about three hours, we would stop in Verona for a couple of hours to have a look around, break our journey, have lunch, then head on. So by mid morning we were exploring the city of Verona. Next largest city in the area after Venice it really is worth a stop of a couple of days. Highlights include old Roman bridges, a Roman theatre and arena - really a small Colisseum, as well as an old castle. While we could still look around the castle, and the outside of the Roman arena, being Monday there was no entry to the museums or internal areas.
Verona is also famous for the role it places in the story of Romeo and Guilietta aka Romeo and Juliette. Not just from Shakespeare fame, you can visit Casa Guilietta, Juliette's house and even her tomb. We did see her house, but being short of time, didn't go to her tomb. Visiting her house was interesting.
There is a gift shop adjacent as well as a statue which has some medicinal power for women who touch her very shiny, brass breast. No thanks. After seeing the house in movies, and knowing of the tradition to leave a letter for a lover, I was stunned (read appalled) by the graffiti all over the entry archway. It was incredibly dirty and so not romantic.

Ostaria de Botti

The Ostaria de Botti - cucina casalinga Veneziana became our favorite local eating place. On the Guidecca Island, a short walk from our accommodation we dined there on three separate occasions, including our last night in Venice. A haunt of locals and tourists, the food was plentiful, reasonable and tasted great. The staff came to know us and the atmosphere was wonderful - even the fake video of the "roaring fireplace". Venice is known for its seafood, so while in Venice I took as many opportunities as I could to sample local seafood, both fish and shellfish. Spaghetti alle Vongole and Spaghetti alle Scoglio becoming firms favorites. 28.10.2012

Navigating Venice

Venetian streets are challenging to navigate. Some because they are so narrow, others because they end in a courtyard or deadend, and others because they change name numerous times along what seems to be the same street. So, it is not unusual for you to walk along Fondamnta S. Bagio, which then becomes Fondamenta S. Eufemia, which then turns into Fondamenta Ponte Piccolo. All without going around a corner or a bend in the road. Then there are the abbreviations. Sometimes the street sign, not freestanding as we are used to, but painted onto the building on the corner, will say "Chiesa.." other times Chiesa is abbreviated to C. The letter S is offen used as an abreviation for San (Saint)To say you need a good map is an understatement. That said, it is so worth exploring the little areas off the tourist path. Exploring the backstreets became one of our favorite ways of whiling away the time. 28.10.2012

Art on show

While I appreciated the art we saw from the perspective of a collection of modern works, the thing that entertained me the most was all of the tourists, viewing the artworks, while wearing their strap on water boots. I really did struggle to keep a straight face. Imagine million dollar art works, posh tourists, American interns giving talks on "modern art" - and visitors looking like they have done five rounds with a garbage bag and lost! Quite amusing. 28.10.2012

Peggy Guggenheim Museum

We decided to visit the Peggy Guggenheim Museum, the only museum destination for our time in Venice. Even so, I think Frank is all museumed out. Seems too like many others thought they would escape the weather by visiting so it was more crowded than I had anticipated. For me, the thing I most like about this collection is not the art work, so much as its location within the palazzo that was at one time Peggy's home. The photos of her in the rooms as they were when she lived their are still of interest. It is quite an intriquing building, and is affectionately known as the unfinished palazzo as it was originally intended to have another couple of levels of living space added, but they never eventuated. As the owner of the last private Gondaler in Venice, Peggy's excentricities seem to have been accepted by the locals. Her beloved dogs are buried in the palazzo garden, as is she, beside Madame Butterfly, Emily, and all of the others. 28.10.2012

Life goes on

So, with waterproof (laminated very kindly by DK publishers)map in hand, off we went. The weather didn't much impact on our plans for the day, however, with the Venice Marathon on today, for the athletes and officials it was always going to be challenging. The winds, not to mention the water played havoc. Even the dog count was down to three. One being carried, one sporting a rain coat, and one bedraggled wet pooch was all I encountered for the entire day. 28.10.2012

Day light saving

The other point worth noting about this morning was that daylight saving began in Venice. The hotel had very kindly alerted us by putting signage out and advising us through Hotel communications (via tv screen). The only problem was that something was lost in translation, so where the signs said "we kindly advise you that as of tomorrow evening...." and they actually meant "this evening". So, guess who woke up at 5.00am ready to blog, have breakfast and explore! 28.10.2012

Aqua alto continues

This morning we woke to the sounds of the aqua alto sirens. Aimed at alerting Venetians to the imminent threat of high water, the sound is at once eerie and mournful, but of so beautiful. Reminiscent of whale song. Quite indescribable, but once experienced, never forgotten. We again waited until late morning before venturing across the lagoon. This time, though conditions were such that no one was allowed to go to San Marco, the water was too high. So we all disembarked at Zafette, our original destination as we were heading to the Peggy Guggenheim museum. Watching tourists get to the end of the pier, then realize there was water to cross was entertaining to say the least. Some stopped dead, others tiptoed through, and others just charged on in. With water ankle deep, there was no easy option - unless like us, you were wearing gum boots. I was interested to see that the best quality overshoes we had seen were selling for €12, so the €15 we invested was certainly the way to go. We really were navigating water until mid afternoon, such was the impact of the high tide. Incredible to see, you really need to be aware of where the water ladden street ends and the canal edge begins otherwise you might end up taken in unexpected dip.
The other element that caught people unaware was the wind. The rubbish bins and street were lined with broken, wind tossed umbrellas. They really offer little protection in these conditions. 28.10.2012

Monday, October 29, 2012

Musee D'Orsay

The Musee D'Orsay (affectionately known as MO) was an interesting one.  We gained access readily as we had an express entry ticket prepurchased through the Hotel.  Well worth the €3 excess we jumped the queue saving ourselves about an hour. Things came unstuck soon thereafter though as signage suggested no backpacks were allowed.  Seeing the queue for the cloaking facilities I asked the guy on the door about photographs and he told me no cameras.  So, we packed away the cameras and I did battle with the queue for the cloakroom.  Bag finally deposited we entered the gallery proper to find that every second person carried a backpack and those who didn't not only carried a camera, but were  using it to document their visit.  We were both pretty peeved at the inconsistent application of of us more than the other. The reason I selected MO as my museum f choice, knowing that I might not get to every one Paris has to offer is that it is the museum of choice for Impressionist and Post Impressionist Collections.  The Louvre seems to hold the earlier works, the Musee D'Orsay these others.  Fine by me.  We studied a lot of these artists when I did Fine Arts many years ago, so poor Frank got a lesson in Impressionist art history.   Highlights for me were seeing so many Renoir's in real life.  Have loved his work since I was a little girl.  His Dance at La Moulin de la Galette being particularly beautiful.  Very large it is quite evocative of what I imagine it was like to live in those times.  Add in a couple of lovely Monet's Poppies, four works from his Rouen Cathedral series and a Haystack and I was pretty happy.  As for seeing Blue Waterlilies and the Japanese Bridge in the garden at Giverny I was smitten.  To see these works in the flesh, knowing that on Saturday I will be standing on the ground in Giverny is awe inspiring.  Remember that I studied fine art aided only by a slide projector.  Seeing works transformed to the same size, enlarged onto a screen is nothing compared to standing before them.  The subtlety of brush strokes, balancing of color palette and nuances of light transform the most mundane subject matter. One artist whose work I had totally underestimated until I saw it for myself was Vincent Van Gogh.  Yes, I have studied a little of his work, know some elements of his life, and have read his letters to his brother Theo, but nothing prepared me for the raw simplicity of his work.  The Musee D'Orsay has a good collection providing an overview of his work.  Favorite for me surprisingly was Starry Night.  The sky is iridescent and literally glows.  The reproduction in the catalogue does nothing to provide insight into the beauty of the original.  I also loved seeing the bedroom of the artist in Arles - one of a series he did of this simple little room.  Another work I enjoyed seeing was The Church at Auvers-sur-Oise, view of the Chevet.  Not the subject matter so much as the detailing of the paint and how Vincent captured the turmoil of the sky. The overall Musee D'Orsay experience was a frustrating one though.  The space itself was overwhelming and difficult to navigate.  Previously a train station, the building was interesting, but the layout of galleries was not intuitive and their was little flow between spaces.  It invested me to see that there was very little English text to facilitate dialogue between nonFrench speaking visitors and the art.  Each major shift of focus had one panel explaining the art movement, but didactics for individual artworks was French only.   The other confusing element was the retail focus.  While their were two little concession stands throughout the building selling books, post cards and small art based trinkets, once you left the gallery spaces and entered what appeared to be the main retail outlet it was a bookshop only.  You could not purchase the art posters, cards, mugs etc that had been available previously.  To make matters worse, you were not allowed to renter the gallery space, having exited the main area.  I consider myself lucky that the little guide book I wanted to purchase was also available in the book shop.  Frank spotted it.  Otherwise I would have no reminder of my visit. 17.10.2012

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Aqua alto

Today we delayed our trip across to Venice for a couple of hours to allow for the waters to recede after high tide.  The aqua alto is making itself felt, with high tides expected at 10.00am and even higher tides tomorrow.  Venice is well situated to deal with water.  With her history she has to be.  It is still interesting to see for those not used to it. Many of the buildings, especially the shops, have metal plates that slide across the doorway, working to keep out the worst of the water.  That said, after the tide recedes, the buckets and mops come out as do the rubber squeegees and everyone sets too cleaning up the water and wiping things down. Before long things are back to normal, except for the occasional pump running to drain the most waterlogged places.  The duck boards remain in place and have to be negotiated for the remainder of the day. As for the tourists, most purchase disposable, plastic leggings and slippers which go on over your shoes, choosing to slop around as they walk.  Locals and the tourists in town for more than a day, wear gumboots.  At €15 a pair they are well worth the investment.  I happily wore mine for the rest of the morning jumping in puddles as I found them. After lunch, with a new suitcase in tow we headed home for a few hours.  We ventured out again late afternoon on a mission to buy gifts, and to choose somewhere to have dinner.  Another great day in Venice. 27.10.2012

Murano mosaic

We were unable to photograph anything within the showrooms, so have included the alleyway that accesses the glassworks. the main frontage of course is via the water. you would be hard pressed to find it if you did want to go back. the mosaic image is one from a random building on Murano, but beautiful and worth sharing. Although we were both rather shell shocked by the Murano experience there was one highlight to the episode.  When we were talking to the salesman while watching the glass making, I mentioned my interest in mosaic.  "Allora, my wife makes mosaic too".  So I gave him my card.  As we were leaving to go to the showroom, he offered to show us something special....taking us into a reserved showroom.  Here there was mosaic art by the artist Luciana Bravura.  Unknowingly, it was one of her pieces in the MAR collection in Ravenna, so when I saw the unicorn I recognized it.  It was the price tag that almost made me collapse - €70 000!  Her mirrors are €35 000 a large crow and a dove were unmarked, but the little armadillo on wheels which I loved was €7500.  Interestingly her work, while stunning is made by pressing tesserae into a self bedding adhesive.  This negates having to grout, and given her propensity for using millefiori works well.  That said, stunning from a distance, less technically perfect up least for me.  Seems to be a preferred way of working in Italy....probably relating to the easy access to smalti, which does not grout well. 26.10.2012


Murano was on the list of places to visit today.  Famous for its glass making, it has been a centre for this industry since the 1200's.  Venice was always well regarded within Europe for its glass production and technical prowess.  Whilst originally developed on the mainland, the risk of fire and need to protect technical skills and ability saw the base for manufactured moved to Murano very early.  Glass makers could be under threat of death, if they left Murano and were discovered.  Such was the skill of glass making such a highly valued secret. We went to the concierge to book a water taxi to take us to Murano, following our practice for each day since we have been here.  The concierge told us that the hotel runs a free service to Murano for hotel guests.  As there is a shuttle to San Marco and back we still didn't catch on, so on confirming we could get the water taxi over, but find our own way back, agreed. What actually happens is that the hotel has an arrangement with one of the glass making firms, delivers hotel guests with their wallets in hand, and the guests buy some Murano glass.  Everyone happy - right?  Wrong.   The foundry we were taken to was Vetreria Bisanzio Gallery and it has been in existence since the 1400's.  We even saw their family tree.   We were invited to watch one of the current glass making experts at work.  In his 70's he works with his son and two helpers.  Yes it was interesting, and to see how the glass is handled and the pieces created was intriguing, but the style of the ornament of a dandy in his dress coat was not to my liking.  Ok, I think, there will be plenty more I do like, no problem. Good theory, but there was a problem.  The suite if showrooms we  were taken to were overwhelming.  Even for me.  You could not move for glass display shelves and cabinets, loaded with glass pieces created by the artisans.  The gentleman hovered advising he would assist with looking and advising prices as required.  It really was quite intimidating.  Then, as I began to realize that what I had assumed was the stock code number, too many with the same "code" was really the price I began to fret.  There were way to many zeros.  Prices were in the €1000's - €35000 for a chandelier, just like the one in our bedroom, €5000 for a glass animal etc.  We looked at each other in amazement.  So much for thinking we might buy something as a gift for someone at home to offset the "free" water taxi ride - which would normally cost about €60 each way.  A basic glass tumbler was €150 and a set of six port glasses was €870.  On to Plan B. Needing an escape plan I developed an "interest" in a glass turtle.  It really was quite beautiful in matt black glass, with cut away green detail, but with a price tag of €5000 was way beyond our budget.  The salesman offered to check to see whether he could reduce the price specially for me.  I told him I would need to sweet talk Frank in order to be able to buy the piece, so we would think about it.  By this stage Frank was nearly hyperventilating, in the mistaken believe I was seriously interested.  The look on his face was classic.  The salesman then escorted us to the door reassuring us we would need to return before 1.00pm to catch the water taxi back to Guidecca Island. Once back in the alleyways of Murano it took me the next five minutes to reassure Frank that I was not seriously considering purchasing the turtle.  We decided we were over Murano and headed back to the main island, happily spending. The rest of our day wandering the backstreets. Funnily enough, reading another guidebook in the evening I came across a warning about tourists being offered "free" boat rides to Murano....too late!   26.10.2012

Friday, October 26, 2012

Marco De Luca

The exhibition I went to MAR to see was by an Italian mosaic artist Marco De Luca.  His work was not only incredible, and of a scale rarely seen in Australia, but it was exhibited in such a way that the mood and lighting set the works off brilliantly.  I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to see this artists works, most of which seem to have come from private collections for the purpose of the show.  Purchasing the catalogue was essential. I now have a record of the scale and detail of his way of working.  Quite architectural even though not graphic.  Textural while being predominantly flat although worked onto 3D surfaces. Compared to the crowds throughout the rest of Ravenna we were virtually alone as we explored MAR.  This provided the opportunity to really enjoy seeing what was on offer.  At one stage, the attendant in the Marco De Luca exhibition had a chat.  Named Stella, this lovely lady must have been in her 70's.   I asked whether it was ok to take photographs.  I had seen no signage to indicate either way, so did the mime to check with her.  Well, in addition to saying yes, she settled in for a chat.  Holding my hand and patting it as we talked.  Her in Italian, me in English.  Then, she came after me to tell me it was ok to use the flash to take photos.  We chatted some more, so I gave her my business card, to try to explain why I had enjoyed the exhibition so much.  She seemed tickled pink, chatted some more, then we left to explore the bookstore, knowing that the Museum was due to close for siesta.  Truly a highlight to what was a wonderful day. 25.10.2012

MAR Ravenna

A message from Sonia King on Facebook had alerted me to the fact that there was another mosaic exhibition of note on in Ravenna.  So as well as visiting the basilicas, and the tomb of Galla Placidia, we sought out MAR.   The Museum of Art, Ravenna is incredible and well worth a visit. Located in a large building on the extreme edge of the tourist precinct the facility must at one point have been a covent or something simliar.  With three levels around a quadrangle, it is quite a beautiful space.  It has a strong focus on mosaic but also exhibits more traditional art forms.  The strange thing was that the painting exhibition upstairs had a fee for entry, whereas the mosaic exhibition was free.  Hey, who am I to argue? There is also a collection of contemporary mosaic.  Whether it is a permanent part of the collection or not I could not work out, but the quality of the work was astounding with large works from the 1950's thorough to now.  The other interesting thing was there were a number of drawings, again on a large scale, that then had a completed mosaic hung next to them.  Again, something I have rarely had the opportunity to see.  I perused these works for some time.  Unfortunately there was not a catalogue of these works, however I did buy a couple of books in the MAR bookstore relating to contemporary mosaic so came away armed with more fuel for research and development of ideas. 25.10.2012

Basilica di San Apollinaire Nuovo

Highlights of Ravenna included the Basilica di San Apollinaire Nuovo.  With the longest mosaic strips I have yet seen, the handmaidens on one side and the men on the other waiting upon Theodora and Constantine.  
My favorite section of mosaic is that which shows Balthasar, Casper and Melchoir stepping out in their leopard skin tights.  This sequence always makes me smile. Adjacent is the Mausoleo di Galla Placidia.  A favorite as it is here that the Ravenna Doves reside.  My favorite section though is the ceiling panel that depicts the night sky.  Such a contemporary graphic given it was designed centuries ago.  We saw too the Battisttero Neoniano, before heading out of Ravenna to view San Apollinaire Classe.  Another classic mosaic which I love because of the colour and the flock of sheep.  Needless to say lots of photos were taken to document the mosaic.

Bicycles rule

Ravenna is not a dog town......with only 12 spotted during the entire day, half of those on our walk to dinner.  Ravenna is a bicycle town, with many locals choosing to cycle...even citizens in their 70's.  Bicycles everywhere, but again no helmets, lights or road rules. 25.10.2012


Today we did a day trip to Ravenna.  By car it is just over two hours from Venice, so we organized a water taxi, then a driver for the day.  The opportunity to view the Italian countryside was appreciated too, although nt he whole not as picturesque as e French countryside we saw enroute to Champagne or Giverny.  We drove through farming areas that were quite flat, crossed the Po River and only saw one small section of mountains. Ravenna really is at the heart of mosaic tradition in Italy, and a historic town to boot.  The mosaic tradition in Europe is much stronger than in Australia.  Understandably perhaps, but here mosaic is revered as art.  There is not the craft versus art argument that must be battled at home.   I have learnt a lot about pricing on this trip.  The studio of Anna Feretti has moved since my last visit.  She is now located just off San Vitale with a showroom, and upstairs area for sale of materials.  It looks too as though she is teaching classes.  Seeing her in business still after six or so years is encouraging.  The stock she is selling in the shop is aimed at the tourist market, technically not as precise as the work that I do, with a frame approx 15cms square priced at €350.   The other interesting thing was that she was hosting an Elaine Goodwin exhibition in a space not much more than an entry foyer.  With catalogue sheet and a dozen or so works on display ranging in price from €700-€1500 it was interesting to see work by this British mosaic artist.  Her work would rank in the top five UK based mosaic artists internationally.  Again, to see her pricing structure, technical ability up close and see her work in real life rather than in a reproduction in a book was vastly rewarding. 25.10.2012

Cost of living

While it seems property in Venice might be expensive, food seems cheap.  At the supermarket we have been buying 6 500ml bottles of water for €1.98.  Eggs cost €1.69 for 10.  We pay $4-$5 dollars for 12.  Aperol, which is an alcoholic mixer is approximately $35 a bottle at home.  In Venice I saw it in the supermarket for €7.95 for the same size bottle.  If only I could get a job I could eat like a King in Venice! The challenge is all of the pizza and pasta.  I think I would turn in to a fat Italian Mama very quickly.  That said, the advantage of Venice is that by necessity you walk a lot, so perhaps it would balance things out. 24.10.2012


Whilst we haven't seen many gypsies here, the Africans selling rip off bags are out in numbers.  To be fair, if you come across them in the back streets they seem to leave you alone, but of you see them in the tourist areas they hassle you to buy a bag.  They must have a series of lookouts as every now and then, they collect their bags over their arms, and disappear for a while, reappearing in another location and continually staying on the move. You would have to be made to buy a rip off designer bag from them.  Other than the fact that I would rather wait until I can afford the real thing - could be waiting a while - I saw a sign at Charles de Gaulle airport that said the fine for being caught with fake designer goods (Rolex, Louis Vuitton) was up to  €300 000 and 3 years imprisonment.  At least that's what I think it said, being written in French I am not 100% sure, but it scared me enough to err on the side of caution! 24.10.2012

Spagetti alle Vongole

From Orsoni we walked looking for somewhere to have lunch.  We settled on a little trattoria in a side street.  It wasn't until we were seated inside that we realized that rather than being for tourists, this was the restaurant of choice for the local workmen.  With a set menu, and reasonable prices, the place was packed....with workmen.  Other than one waitress I was the only female, until towards the end of our meal when another group of tourists also came in for lunch. The lunch menu must be different to the evening menu as when I requested my order, the waiter said, no, lunch menu options only.  On seeing how disappointed I was he said he would ask the chef.  So, I ended up with Spagetti alle Vongole after all.  In honour of Christene, I had been looking for this on every menu I saw since our arrival.  Vongole are a little clam unique to the Venetian area.  I have never seen them in Australia.  The closest thing we have are Pippi's but I think the flavour of Vongole is sweeter.  My wait was justified as it was delicious.  The pasta was al dente and the Vongole cooked simply in a garlic butter sauce.  Yum!  I think I ate my lunch quicker than I have ever eaten anything, ever.  It really was that good. While I can't remember what Frank ate for lunch, I do remember he drank a half liter carafe of the house red with his lunch.  While it was good, we only relapsed as he finished the carafe that everyone else in the restaurant was mixing the water with wine.  Well, that was that, and from that point on, I had a very happy Frank accompanying me on my walk.  I have yet to see him so stonkered!  It was quite entertaining given how unexpectedly it took effect. Dog count for the day was 59. 24.10.2012


Today I had an appointment with Luca at Orsoni.  Suppliers of the best Italian smalti since the 1800's the quality of the product is incomparable worldwide.  With a meeting scheduled for 10.00am we arrived on time, waiting until Luca finished an earlier appointment. It was good to introduce him to Frank, and he kindly took us through the colour library and stock room and the cutting room to show him the process.  While I had seen this previously I never tire of looking at the colour library so was pleased to see it again. It took Luca a little while to place me.  I think he actually had overlooked the appointment, but once we started talking and I told him my hair was a different colour last time, he remembered me.  He started making jokes with Frank about how women change their hair, their dress, their look.  From that point on he was great.  Very charming and helpful.  We thoroughly enjoyed our visit, placing an order for about 17 kgs of smalti.  From the Traditional, transparent and coloured gold ranges.  The colour range available buying it direct is beyond any I can access at home.  The cost is significantly improved too given the freight issues with buying from the Australian distributor.  So, all in all, well worth coming.  With the range of colors I have ordered we have agreed to call back on Friday to collect the materials, thereby allowing time to select and pack what I have requested. 24.10.2012

Piazza San Marco

Following our visit to Vittorio, we headed across Venice, stopping as we saw things of interest.  While we sat and had a coffee we watched a gondaleer clean his craft, then, both finishing our respective tasks at the same time negotiated to go with him to view Venice from her waterways.  We did a full circle, taking just under an hour.  Our gondaleer, who initially said he spoke little English, came out of his shell, and while he didn't sing, he did share little points of interest about buildings we were passing and the history of what we were seeing.  We took photos of everything we saw, and in turn were photographed as we were in a gondola.   It all added up to being a most enjoyable ride. Next we traversed Venice, passing the Rialto area, heading across to Piazza Saint Marco. A Mecca for tourists, this was an area teeming with people.  Definitely not for the feint hearted.  Things have changed somewhat, with signs now stating that the birds (ie pigeons) are not to be fed.  Apparently to do so now, puts you at risk of a fine. As for St Mark's the queue to gain entry was prohibitive.  Add to this, the fact that the deposit point for backpacks was a couple of hundred of metres away in a different building and it all seemed too much.  Having been there previously I was happy not to go in, but just to look at the mosaic on the facade of the building.  As for Frank, I think he reached his church/cathedral/basilica quota back in Paris. We decided instead to sit, in one of the nearby restaurants, and enjoy a glass of Champagne.  Much happier to watch the crowds than to join them. Dog count total for the day was 63.  Top score so far this trip.  The Venetians really do love their pets, with a number of pet stores around town.  The cats of Venice are much more easily spotted than their Parisienne counterparts too. 23.10.2012

A true artist

For our first day in Venice we decided we would try to find Vittorio' s glass workshop. Meeting Vittorio and his wife was a highlight from my previous visit to Venice. Vittorio is a true master craftsman, and his work is known internationally, with a strong following in the US.  His shop is a true treasure trove with little "armies" of birds, insects, fish, and other creatures lined up on display.   A lot of the pieces are from his private collection, and as such, are not for sale. These are the pieces he deems worthy of keeping.  Like any true artisan he is very particular and if a piece is not perfect he will not keep it.  Almost perfect pieces he will sell.  Any others he is not happy with are not available.  While small, the shop is bursting at the seams.  His workbench too is here, as his his reference library.  When I first came to Venice in 2006, Vittorio had no reference to Australian birds.  I made myself a promise if I ever returned to bring him an Australian bird book to add to his collection.  This I did.  In the interim of course, he has got one.  A different edition to the exact one I brought.  He seemed touched though that I brought him the book, and exchanged it for one of his catalogues.  Very kind of him. Vittorio speaks basically no English, his wife generally translates, although she was not at the shop today.  So we made do with both of us chatting away, and smiling a lot.   I gave Vittorio one of my new business cards, with the little Rainbow Bee Eater on it. He genuinely loved it, then took an image from his wall to show me... a micro mosaic of a bee eater which his friend had made.  I am sure he will add my card to the display of items on his wall. The process of selecting one of Vittorio's pieces to bring home is a pure joy.  Last time I purchased a bird each for Mum and Mr T.  This time I chose a piece for me. While it was always going to be a bird, with 100 or so to choose from, it was a challenge.  The window display was entirely birds, and some cabinets were dedicated solely for birds too.  Frank liked a large hummingbird, and while it was exquisite with metallic sheen gleaming across its "feathers" it didn't touch me the same as some of the smaller birds.  So, back to choosing. I finally had a short list - one smaller hummingbird.  Selected from three he was beautiful and as I am also looking at doing a mosaic hummingbird had certain appeal. Frank liked a little Kingfisher, complete with fish hanging from beak.  Yes, he too was gorgeous.  Eventually though I settled on a little Italian bird.  A Cinciarella he is a little yellow and blue bird, with a seed in his beak.  Very chubby and cute. As for Frank?  His final choice, which I did not see coming, was a large spider!  The delicacy of his legs (the spiders, not Frank's) has to be seen to be believed....this is what makes Vittorio the artisan he is. With a final hug and a photo we left Vittorio and his beautiful studio, both clutching our parcels, smiling and knowing that this would be one of the highlights of our trip. 23.10.2012