Sunday, November 26, 2017

Venice, Italy

We arrived to Venice by car in the afternoon, they have a massive parking garage on its own little island where we parked the car for the weekend. Ten minutes after parking our car we were on a vaporetto (water bus) to our hotel, where we got situated into Pensione Guerrato-an 800 year old building with charming rooms and not so good WiFi.  Bode liked the bed very much.
The location of the hotel was perfect, two minutes off Venic's most popular bridge: Ponte di Rialto. From the top of the bridge there are fantastic views.  It's a great place to watch gondolas, vaporettos, and boats travel up and down the Grand Canal.  We went early in the morning so that we didn't have to share the space with lots of tourists and travelers.
Hello Venice, you beautiful city you! 
We had a pretty laidback itinerary-exploring the things we wanted to with no time crunch, just the right type of trip I would say! Every turn down every street has a beautiful building and we learned that sometimes the wrong turn will land you right in the water.  
 Ah my boys
Jordan did a great job scouting out a breakfast spot that we enjoyed so much we ate there every morning.  You know its a good place when the barista knows everyone by name, has their drink memorized, and customers are "charged" but never billed.   I'm not entirely sure of all pastries we got we pointed to what we wanted.  We did have quite a few "festive crema sfoglia mezzo" and for sipping they make some great hot chocolate.  If you want to eat like a local try your morning ritual at Pasticceria Rizzardini.  
Bode's head also makes a great crumb saver
Part of what makes Venice such a special place is putting down the map to just wander-forgetting the big, popular sites for a a while and just walk the canals.  It seems like the main city of Venice is small enough that you can walk it in a few hours.  One of my favorite things was just exploring the canals and relaxing in the small squares...
Guaranteed you'll find yourself window shopping for carnival masks
While we didn't go to the Venetian carnival (although we went to one in Cologne...we'll save that story for another day) we stood on the carnival grounds in Piazza San Marco to feed the pigeons. 
Our first stop in St. Mark's Square was a visit to the Doge's Palace.  For centuries the building was once the residence of the duke, the seat of the government, and the Palace of Justice.  The grand staircase welcomes visitors with oversized statues of Mars and Neptune. 
The architecture reminds me of when we went to the Loire Valley and saw Chateau de Chambord. 
The golden staircase
Telling secrets through the slot they used to pass notes through.  
Some seriously impressive ceiling work going on here.  The picture below is of the great hall the Great Council would convene. It has an incredibly gilded ceiling with panels depicting the glories of the Venetian Republic, and the walls are painted with portraits of the Doges.  If you make a visit, make sure to take note of the "missing Doge" who was omitted for trying to raise a coup and was beheaded.  
Our next visit was to St. Mark's Basilica to see its lavish and amazing golden mosaics and colored marble. 
The highlight of the church is definitely the Golden Altarpiece and worth the few extra euros to see. It gives you the easiest way outside of Istanbul to see the loot of the Byzantine Empire.  The magnificent 500 A.D. altarpiece is made of 250 blue-backed enables with religious scenes, all set in a gold frame and stuffed with 15 hefty rubies, 300 emralds, 1,5000 pearls and assorted sapphires, amethysts and topaz.  No photos allowed so here is Google's finest:
When you realize you're hungry and need a break from sight-seeing and window-shopping we found just the place to have a great lunch.  Where we went was authentic Italian, and you'll avoid the tourist maitre d's trying to lure you into an overpriced subpar meal.  Lunch at Tuttinpiedi was so good that we went two days in a row.  The little hole in the wall makes such good homemade pasta for around 7-8 euro, and it has great flavor.  Grab n' go, find a nice spot in a square and enjoy!  Here's what we recommend:
Nero di Seppia // Cuttlefish in Black Sauce
Amatriciana di Gamberoni Affumicati // Smoked Prawns and Spicy Tomato Sauce (AMAZING!)
Pesto alle Genovese // Pesto with String Beans 
Ragu alla Bolognese // Beef Ragu
Jordan was super happy about our selection 
 ...and I can't stop loving on this little boy!
We went on a nice tour through the Jewish Ghetto, starting at the Jewish Museum. In the 1500's the Jews of Venice were force to move to this part of town which was the abandoned site of an iron foundry.  The word "ghetto" was soon used throughout Europe for the neighborhoods of isolated minority groups, but it originated in Venice: geto the old Venetian dialect for foundry.
We went inside all the five synagogues remaining in the Ghetto.  The synagogues were built in a raised position and endowed with light.  The synagogues were not separate buildings, they had to be build inside preexisting structures and reached through private homes because they were limited on space.  Some of them are hard to detect from the outside, would you ever think there was a synagogue inside here?
...and a beautiful one at that!
After re-grouping before dinner we stopped at the Frari Church to see a beautiful masterpiece.  It features the work of three great Renaissance masters: Donatello, Giovanni Bellini and Titian. 
This piece of art is seriously amazing Bellini's Madonna and Child with Saints and Angels has some crazy realism, pristine clarity, rich colors and believable depth. 
We grabbed dinner outside of the tourist part of Venice at Pizza Al Volo.  They had some pretty good pizza if I could say so myself!
Probably the highlight of our evening meals was of course the Gelato.  We loved Gelatoteca Suso, which had an amazing flavor: MANET.  It was a dark chocolate with pistachio cream and sea salt.  We loved it and went there every night for a fix!
Hello deliciousness!
I think it was pretty safe to say that Bode liked it too!
Unfortunately we weren't able to go on a gondola ride through the canals because of the weather...but as we were leaving the sun started to roll in for just a few minutes and we were able to enjoy the last little bit of Venice before heading home.  Quite spectacular if you ask me!
Another great adventure awaits us!

Friday, November 24, 2017

Padua, Italy

On our way to Venice we stoped in Padua for a quick visit.  Padua is one of the oldest cities in northern Italy and is the home to the prestigious university where Galileo, Copernicus, Dante and Petrarch studied.  We came to Padua to see the Scrovegni Chapel.  We booked our visit ahead of time to go into the church, and if you ever go, make sure you are there ON TIME.  They put you in a pressurized room at your call time for about 15 minutes to help control the humidity and temperature to better preserve the paintings.   The church is for lovers of early-Renaissance art, the frescos by Giotto are remarkable!
Jordan and Bode waiting to get into the chapel
 The colors of on the paintings are amazing!
 These paintings must have inspired Michelangelo's Last Judgement

We lucked out pretty good and enjoyed the Fesitival of Chocolate that was happening in the center of town.
Free chocolate tastings from hundreds of vendors.  We tried lots of chocolate and were very happy. We left Padua with our hearts happy, and full of chocolate! If you have time to see the university you should do so, we didn't have time, but that's always a reason to come back! Onto Venice we go!

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Verona, Italy

Verona Verona, what a beautiful city to start off our Thanksgiving road trip.  We drove through the Alps the previous evening having spent the night near the top of the Brenner pass in Vipiteno before heading down into Verona.  Verona's main attractions are its UNESCO recognized Roman architectural ruins, pedestrian-only ambience, world class opera festival, and "home" to the saga of the two star-crossed lovers-Romeo & Juliet.  Keep reading and take some of our recommendations!
We had parked outside of town because driving in the city is only for residents.  Thanks to my navigation skills (or not) we got to the parking structure in a round about way, but nevertheless we made it there.  Once parked, we headed to town to explore.  We stumbled upon a little gem that reminded me of how I had forgotten the taste of real tomato sauce.  The pizza at Rita tastes was good as it looks!  The dough-crispy, the texture-perfect, and everything was made with passion.   We shared a salami and mozzarella slice, and a pear with gorgonzola.
So many delicious looking choices

Both were delicious, and Bode's head made a great crumb holder.
We started out our self-guided walking tour at the Piazza BrĂ . A generation ago this piazza was noisy with cars and now it is open and people-friendly.  Little kids riding their bikes around, and others out on an afternoon stroll. 
We took a stop to read about some of the sculptures (and for a diaper change) in the park.  Little guy trying to wake up...
The fountain called "The Alps" was a gift to Verona from Munich, which is just over the mountains to the north.   In the middle of the fountain there are symbols of the two cities separated by the Alps, carved out of pink marble from the region. 
You can't miss the ancient arena looming over the piazza dating back to the Roman times. Most of the stone around the arena is still original, dating back to the first century A.D.  Over the centuries crowds of up to 25,000 spectators have cheered Roman gladiator battles, raved at medieval executions, and sung along to Andrea Bocelli concerts-all taking advantage of the great acoustics.
Where the street splits is the Devotional Column.  In the Middle Ages, this column blessed the marketplace that was held here. 
We walked down Via Mazzini to the Piazza Erbe and were welcomed by a bustling square of shops and stalls.  The square itself is beautiful, back in the day Renaissance nobles showed off the finely painted facades on their homes, and in the 16-th century Verona was named "the painted city"... I think I know why.
 Love the balconies 
 We wandered through the market stalls of the street selling souvenirs  of all kind
In the middle of the square is the fountain that has bubbled for over 2,000 years, the statue is of Verona's Madonna.  She holds a small banner that reads, "The city of Verona deserves respect and justice."
We came across a Christmas market...Little Bode slept through all the fun
We continued walking until we saw the exotic and very Gothic 14th-centry tombs of the Scaligeri family who once ruled Verona.  The Scaligeri were to Verona what the Medici family were to Florence, so you can imagine how important they were.  Their tombs are built atop pillars, and they are arranged to be looked up to, even in death. 
I loved the wrought iron gates
Our feet kept walking to the waterfront to see the Ponte Pietra and riverfront.  
About 200 yards from where we were was the Duomo, which was started in the 12th-century, and built over a period of several hundred years. This place is painted from head to toe!
Our last stop on our Verona walk before we were hungry for dinner was the house of Juliet. The tiny, admittedly romantic courtyard is a spectacle of tourists posing on the balcony and in line ready to polish Juliet's boob.
 Romeo, oh Romeo, where art though Romeo...
Our dinner was quite a hit, we were really looking forward to our Thanksgiving dinner.  It had previously been planned out a nice  fancy dinner at Trattoria Al Pompiere... Well it was an epic fail.  We got ready to go, Bode sleeping in his stroller, and by the time we got to dinner little man was going bizzerk.  We got settled at the restaurant and took turns calming Bode outside, but he was so inconsolable that we had to ditch the restaurant and take our fancy dinner back to the hotel to eat.
meanwhile...Bode slept soundly...
All in all we loved Verona, a great city and now onto the next! Padua!
Side notes:
-Bed and Breakfast stay:  (B&B Al Filarmonico)

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