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!

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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!

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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.

 

 

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It’s My Class and I’ll Cry If I Want To

I didn’t just cry.  I bawled.  It ain’t easy.  Learning a new language is very difficult even when you are immersed in it.  Two days ago my Spanish teacher here in Granada pushed and pushed iCrying schoolgirln front of the class, asking me the same question over and over as if the answer was with me and I was just holding back from her.  She made me the center of attention, criticized a paragraph I wrote and told me (actually reprimanded me), “You need to think in Spanish. Not in English.” I started to melt down.  I panicked.  How can I think in Spanish if I’m not from here and I don’t completely understand the language?  At that moment, I didn’t know my name much less the difference between ser and estar and how to conjugate verbs into indefinido, perfecto, conditional, etc.  The whole reason I was in the class was to learn to think and speak Spanish.  Yet I was failing.  I felt like a little girl again.  I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes and I was afraid to blink so I stared forward and tried not to move.  It was too late, I blinked and they went streaming down my face.  I was frustrated with myself, really annoyed with her, and it all came out in that moment.

Before moving to Granada I felt somewhat confident about learning Spanish. I had studied it for three years in high school with a very strict teacher who helped me to achieve a 92% on the New York Regents exam.  That was one of my proudest moments in high school.  My teacher had been really tough and pushed us throughout the year, prepping for the exam.  I also studied the language for two years at Villanova University as part of my liberal arts degree.   Now that we are spending the year in Spain I was excited to learn and to enjoy the process.  I think that’s why I got so frustrated – I was flailing or failing at something I actually LIKED and WANTED to do.  Something I chose to do.  I wanted to be a role model to my kids.  There have been days when they’ve come home from school frustrated, telling me they had cried.  I want them to learn resilience and now I’m the one having trouble adapting and feeling afraid to get back up.   I let my sons and daughter know I had a hard day and I could empathize with them.  I’m only studying two hours a day. They are at school for five.  They are studying math, science, social studies, Spanish and French.  I’m only taking Spanish.

It’s been awhile since I’ve learned something completely new and one of my life goals is to learn a new language to keep my mind sharp.  I’m starting to suffer from short term memory loss and at my age, I am very aware that things could head down hill fast if I don’t keep my mind going and continue to challenge myself intellectually.   But it’s not easy.

I was surprised at the visceral response.  My husband later confided that I looked so upset, he was afraid I might punch the teacher in the face.   I suppose in the past I had been studying as a means to an end.  In high school it was to get a good grade to get into college.  In college it was to fulfill a requirement.  But now, it’s something I want and something I need to do for myself.  And that’s where the frustration lies – not being able to do something I want to do.

The tables have turned and the kids have become my role models this week.  I have to get up and go to class – no excuses.  I have to find other ways to study and remember the information using the apps and resources available to me – Duolingo, flashcards, class materials, and watching TV in Spanish.  I will continue to talk to the local people and not be afraid to fail.  Setting smaller goals might help me too. “Becoming fluent in Spanish” might be setting the bar high for the next week or month. Perhaps trying on a new tense each day and practicing.

I salute anyone who has had the courage to learn a new language.  I have plenty of friends, many in LA who speak more than one language and I’m blown away by their ability to speak clearly and concisely and think in two (sometimes three) languages.  It takes confidence and the ability to put yourself out there and make yourself vulnerable.  Learning a new language requires patience and practice and resilience.  You’ve got to want it and to work for it.

I’m going to try my best to get back up and start again.  This teacher is not going to bring me down.  I’ve got this – but I can’t say I’m sad we are visiting London this weekend where I can regroup and feel confident again!

 

 

Playing Hooky with Hockney

Since we took our kids out of school in Granada and brought them to Madrid to see the Oklahoma City Thunder play Real Madrid last night we figured we needed to add some culture to our trip in order to justify the absences.  We stayed the night at the Novotel Madrid Center located around the corner from the Barclaycard Center.  It was perfect because we had three beds in each room that were really comfortable plus a rain shower.  In Europe a family of five has to get two rooms.  The Novotel was the most reasonably priced (133 Euros) and caters to business people and families.  There is a variety of restaurants available down the street for breakfast and we even found one that served eggs or huevos. That’s not always easy to find here.

We took the 20 minute walk through the city with the kids to the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, one of Madrid’s acclaimed art museums.  We saw art by David Hockney, Wassily Kandinsky, Pablo Picasso, Roy Lichtenstein, Salvador Dali and Paul Klee.  And that was just the first floor! (or floor 0 as they call it here).  We were excited to see a painting by Mark Rothko since I had the opportunity to teach a lesson about him as an art docent last year in California. We also caught a special exhibition of Gustavo Caillebotte.

Visting one floor of this museum is plenty when you’re rolling with a crew like mine (2 boys 11 and 8 and a 10 year old girl, oh, and a husband). They were actually pretty interested and I figured less is more in order to make an impact or lasting impression.  We used the headsets so we could move at our own pace, learn more information and find what inspired each of us.

I do recommend heading there if you get the chance to visit Madrid.  I’m in love with this city and all it has to offer!