48 hours in Venice – Kid Free

This fall I had the rare opportunity to get out of town and vacation with my sister and our friend.  We planned to meet in Venice, Italy for a couple days and then embark on an eight day cruise to the Greek Islands. Woohoo!

img_9109

I used my American Express Points for my flight and took Iberia Air out of Granada’s very small airport through Madrid and landed in Venice, Italy.   When I got there I took a waterbus or water taxi, which I had never done before.  Before I left Spain, the hotel I booked offered me a private water taxi for 130 Euro but that was way out of the budget.  I found out that for 15 Euro I could take a public water taxi – The Alilaguna.  It really was a small boat, and it took about 40 minutes to get to my stop.  Being October, it was quite chilly at night on the water so if you do this, I definitely recommend bringing a sweater and jacket.

I met the girls and they had a glass of Chianti waiting for me (classy move!).  We lugged my suitcase to my hotel, which is not really easy on the cobblestone pathways.  There are not really “streets” or cars or taxicabs but you get through Venice by walking through the intricate pathways up stairs, downstairs and over the many canals.  Right away I was taken with the city.  It’s just so unique.  I found every turn to be magical, with a cafe, Italian restaurant, great shopping and the gondoliers available to take you where you want to go. But getting luggage to the hotel is not so easy. I recommend good walking shoes.

My sis and our friend stayed at the Splendid Venice which was a really cute hotel. They had booked it before I had planned to go and got a good deal. By the time I committed to going it was out of my price range.  The hotels in Venice are really expensive – I was surprised to see that prices are comparative to New York City.  After quite a bit of surfing I found a hotel – The Duodo Palace on Booking.com.  It was $342 for 2 nights which was really good for Venice and included breakfast.  This boutique hotel was located near the Teatre la Fenice. It incredibly charming and the staff was so kind.

 

I got there around 9:30 p.m. and dropped off my luggage at my hotel.  We went out for dinner and things seemed to be closing up so we chose a restaurant close by Al Theatro, right next to the Teatro la Fenice.  We were the last people in there (one night without the kids and I’m closing down the joint) and after dinner we were offered Limoncello.  We weren’t quite ready to go to bed and we were so excited to be in this fantastic city.  One one of the waiters made us a special Italian concoction of gelato and an eclectic mix of Italian spirits then showed us around town.  They brought us to a fun bar and introduced us to a random crowd of locals as well as fellow travelers including a nice honeymooning couple from the states.

The next morning we slept in then visited St. Marks Square and St. Mark’s Basilica.  We got a skip the line pass through venetoinside.com with a time slot in a 10 minute increments.  We were instructed to go into St. Peter’s door which is to the left of the main entrance.  You’re not permitted to bring backpacks in and you must be dressed appropriately – no shoulders showing, or sleeveless or low-cut dresses.  Also taking photos or video inside is not permitted.  Inside was truly beautiful and right away you wish you could snap a few shots.

For lunch we had big decisions to make – pizza or pasta? Pasta or pizza? And what kind.  So many restaurants to choose from! And so what if some of us are lactose intolerant…isn’t that why God made Lactaid?  Oh, and my sister drank Italian beer out of a boot!

We stopped in at the various vendors and little shops and bought some Venetian masks and earring made out of Murano glass.  I usually don’t get time to shop when I’m on the go with the kids so it was nice to take my time!

img_9179

Next we had to do a gondola ride, which was the highlight of my trip to Venice.  It is as amazing as it looks and we had a gorgeous day.  The gondola ride cost 80 Euro for about 30 minutes.  There were people trying to negotiate and the gondola owner was getting really upset and offended.  These guys take their jobs very seriously and they were NOT going to make a deal.

It amazed me how the buildings are actually under water and the first floors of many building can’t be used.

Our gondolier was so cool he wanted to pose for pics with us.  I love the striped outfit so we had to get shirts to send home to my little nieces and nephew (you can find them in every other store).

Saturday night we popped into the Ateneo Di San Basso at the Piazza San Marco and got to check out a little opera.  It was a last minute decision as we walked by the place, the man outside gave us information. Tickets were only 28 Euro and we had the time to spare. It was really beautiful and it’s not necessarily my thing but it was a small crowd, not stuffy at all and the music was Omaggio a Antonio Vivaldi-A Tribute of Le Quattro Stagioni Di Vivaldi (Vivaldi’s Four Seasons) Most of the music was highly recognizable.

After the opera we hit Harry’s Bar and got a spot at the bar – this is supposedly the home of the Bellini.  It was a cozy place on the corner right by the water and it’s legendary for being a great restaurant and watering hole for celebs and famous folks in Venice.  We didn’t see any there but we did enjoy a very expensive – I want to say it was a 16 Euro Bellini!

The next morning I got up and enjoyed a cup of coffee (ALL BY MYSELF!) and the breakfast that was included. It was a simple spread but had all the basics.  No crazy omelet bar, but a European selection of breads, meats, cheeses and fruits.  I planned to meet the girls at their hotel and getting my luggage there seemed like a task so I called on Constantino, a cool porter I met walking around town.  He is available 24 hours and will throw your luggage on a cart and take you where you want to go.  He’s small but mighty powerful! He can be reached at 327 1346658.

From the Splendid Hotel we took the water taxi to the dock where we got ready to sail off into the sunset.  I would certainly come back to Venice again, I fell in love with it’s charm and I know it would be a different experience each time whether it’s with the kids, my husband or my parents we would have a fantastic time in this magical city.

 

 

Advertisements

What I Miss Most About America While Living in Spain.

I took some time off from blogging about our adventures in Europe. Many of my friends seemed pretty distraught during the election process and my blog was probably not a welcomed distraction.  I was preparing to take in some unhappy Americans who had threatened to leave the country (so far, no visitors!) Hopefully this Thanksgiving weekend will bring families together in the U.S. and not tear them apart. I do suggest minimizing political commentary unless you want a serious food fight, pumpkin pie and all!

This year my own family will be in Palm Desert and I’m a bit homesick.  Here in Spain, it’s a normal school day for us on Thanksgiving but we have a nice group of new friends and we are planning a special dinner at a local restaurant (including turkey and pumpkin pie) for the American ex-pats.  They don’t celebrate Thanksgiving here but the stores do announce BLACK FRIDAY specials which made me laugh.

To get into the holiday groove, I have put together the American things I am extremely thankful for (and miss dearly) while we are away. Agree or disagree or agree to disagree but I contend that these things help make American great.

1.) A BIG, FAT, JUICY CHEESEBURGER:

There is nothing like an American burger. Throw on some bacon, mushrooms and cheese and I’m in heaven. The burgers here just aren’t the same and I can’t seem to figure out what kind of meat I’m supposed to buy.  I’ve asked in the stores but I’m not that sophisticated with my Spanish and the folks in the stores don’t seem to know themselves. I’ve tried several kinds of ground meat and the kids won’t eat them.  If anyone knows where I can find amazing ground beef in Southern Spain, do tell.  When I get home to California I’m heading straight to In ‘n’ Out!  What’s your favorite American burger spot?

2.) STARBUCKS:

I miss the fact that I can find a Starbucks at pretty much any town in America, especially in the fall or winter with their cute cups – YES, even The Red One and even when they get your name wrong.  Starbucks in the one spot that embraces the idea of the THIRD SPACE and I don’t think we find that so much anymore in America. This concept was written about by sociologist, Ray Oldenberg, in his book,  Celebrating the Third Space  and is explained as:

 “…Oldenburg identifies “third places” as the public places on neutral ground where people can gather and interact. In contrast to first places (home) and second places (work), third places allow people to put aside their concerns and simply enjoy the company and conversation around them. Third places “host the regular, voluntary, informal, and happily anticipated gatherings of individuals beyond the realms of home and work.”

My favorite thing about Starbucks is the inspiration I draw from the people inside: There are always a few students studying together, a single woman working on a new business plan or some guy writing the next great American novel or screenplay.   The friendly barristas are usually working on a few creative side projects themselves. Whether you’re a fan of the coffee or not, it gives people a sense of community with their board of activities and book exchanges.

3.) BARNES AND NOBLE:

I miss this place for a few reasons, 1.) It’s hard to find books in English here and 2.) Just like Starbucks, it offers a rare third place, where people can browse, see a published author speak and find something in common. I miss visiting there with the kids, they always get super excited about buying a carefully chosen book with a gift certificate they got for their birthday. There are plenty of bookstores here in Spain but haven’t found one with chairs where I could sit down and enjoy them for a moment.

4.)TARGET:

I miss the idea of one-stop shopping at Target. Here in Spain,  I go to seven different stores to get the things I need for the week…on foot. I miss grabbing my coffee (Starbucks) and slowly going down each aisle where I can get school supplies, a bath mat, a sweater, dinner and a birthday present at the same time.

5.) TRADER JOES:

I love seeing what’s in the “Fearless Flyer” each week that would tell me about the new exotic items. At TJ’s I could get the makings of an Italian, Indian and Thai meal for the week and pair them all with a great bottle of wine. Plus, the kids are always willing to try something new that they are cooking up.  For the most part I know I’m making healthy choices for the kids too!

6.) AMERICAN MOVIE THEATERS:

It would be nice to be able to see a first run movie – in English. There is a theatre that has an English screening (with Spanish subtitles) one time a week but it’s about 20 minutes away by cab. Although we are fans of the Spanish self-service popcorn stand here (we might have to import that idea!).

7.) EATING DINNER OUT BEFORE  8:30 P.M.:

Here in Spain, I’m a prime candidate for the “early bird special”.  Even a casual dinner isn’t really possible until 8 pm and that’s too late for this lady. We can get coffee or some tapas but dinner isn’t served until I’m well into my PJ’s Monday through Friday.

8.) RESTAURANT RATINGS:

In LA and NY (and I’m sure other American cities) I appreciate seeing the health code rating clearly in the window. It gives potential customers an idea of its cleanliness. So you know it’s totally safe to head in to your local “dive bar”. Without that information I feel like I’m working without a net. There are tons of restaurant options here but it would be great to weed out the ones that aren’t as clean. It would make choosing one much easier!

9.) BLACK BEANS:

Totally random I know but it’s one of the few sources of protein my family will agree on. The kids love bean burritos but only like the black beans.  Even the Mexican section (a very small section) of the grocery stores don’t have black beans.  They have a million different types of beans that are awesome but of course, I can’t find the one I want.

10.) NAIL SALONS:

I miss the stiff competition of nail salons in many cities in the U.S. where I can pretty much find a salon on every other corner (at least in Los Angeles!).  The competition in America keeps prices low and having so many salons allows me to pop in when I have time.  Here in Granada, an appointment is a must.  My friend and I walked around with our daughters all over town for a couple hours looking for a place on a Saturday – no dice!  Most places offer just manicures and the places I’ve seen for pedicures don’t have the big massage chairs that I love and the foot massage leaves something to be desired.

Tonight is said to be the biggest bar night of the year in the United States, so go out, grab a drink with your favorite people and keep it classy America!

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Big Mistake. Huge.

So I just had a Pretty Woman moment.

You know, the one when Julia Roberts finally has some cash and time to shop.  She tries to buy a bunch of clothes only to be shoo’d away by the judgemental saleswoman. That happened to me, not in Beverly Hills but in Mango in Granada. I’m taking a trip and need a few dresses and that’s not an easy task when you are up against shops closing for siesta and between feeding and taking care of three kids.

I went into the dressing room with 15 items in my hand. It’s necessary for me to try on a bunch of styles in different sizes. – especially since I’m now operating with European sizes. The girl in the dressing room scoffed at me (I’m pretty sure that’s the international sign for “you’re annoying”) when she saw how much I had, then pointed to a sign that indicated I could only bring five items into the dressing room.  That was fine with me and I kindly asked in Spanish where I could put my remaining items. I put them on a rack she was organizing and every time I put something on the rack she aggressively shoved items up against mine. It seemed like there was a problem. Finally I formed the words I needed in Spanish and asked “Que es la problema?” She kept scoffing then finally said “No es normal”. I guess it wasn’t normal that I would try on so many items but it’s not normal I get time to myself to shop either. I countered “Yo. quiero. Comprar. mucha. ropa.” (I want to buy a lot of clothes). She didn’t care. Still there was attitude and she was rolling her eyes (another international sign of annoyance). Soon I found myself yelling in Spanish “No hay problema! Que Es la problema?” She yelled “No es normal.” Finally I threw down my stuff and said ” Yo voy a El Corte Ingles!” ( I am going to El Corte Ingles – It’s like Spain’s Macys’s).  Soon she was apologizing, but man I was bitter but pretty proud that I could actually argue in Spanish. Maybe it’s not normal but it’s not normal not to want me to buy clothes and it’s more efficient if I bring them in first. Chances are I’m not getting dressed and going back out there.

I’m heading to El Corte Ingles now. Maybe I’ll cruise by Mango later with my bags, shrug, and say,  “Big Mistake. Huge.”

I’ve always wanted to do that!

Check it out on You Tube:

And the longer version!