Bookmark_VeniceLast week I talked about how my bookmark collection started and shared my Alaska bear bookmark. I thought I would share another beautiful bookmark. This one is from Venice. Venice is one of my all-time favorite destinations, so it is special to me for that reason. The scene (of the Grand Canal) is hand-painted on leather. Leather is an Italian specialty. I love the view of the Grand Canal, which emphasizes the bridges that cross it and the tall buildings that surround it. The gondola ride we took through the canals is one of my favorite memories of all time.

Venice_Florence 001

Hotel keys with tassels

The tail of the bookmark is a tassel, another Venetian specialty. Tassels are thought to have originated in the Middle East and later became popular in France and England. What lies between the two? Venice. Venice was the gateway to Asia and the Middle East, so trends passed through here. This is one trend that stuck. There are shops in Venice that sell nothing but tassels. I was delighted to find that at our hotel, all the room keys were attached to big, beautiful tassels, which you must turn in when leaving the building each day. I found the display behind the hotel desk so beautiful.

Last week I talked about how my bookmark collection started and shared my Alaska bear bookmark. I thought I would share another beautiful bookmark. This one is from Venice. Venice is one of my all-time favorite destinations, so it is special to me for that reason. The scene (of the Grand Canal) is hand-painted on … Read more

Spaghetti Frutti Mari

A huge part of our trip to Italy was the food. I have a friend who lived in Italy until he was 13 and who has returned many times. He told me the food is just fresher tasting there. I knew that Italian pizza is different than the corner pizzeria and I read up on local specialties of the areas we were going to visit. I was prepared (such a sacrifice) to eat several courses at dinner. I thought I knew what to expect. I had no idea how incredible the food was going to be.

Today I begin the highlights of our culinary journey. Today’s post is about Venice, the city I lost my heart to. It’s pedestrian only streets, glorious canals, romantic bridges, and cozy campos were the stuff of fantasy. Fortunately, so also was the food!

Our first meal in Venice was confusing. We were jetlagged and not used to the extreme

Our first Italian gnocchi

heat. We needed to eat and it didn’t matter where or what. We had sandwiches and salads a place in a campo near the Rialto. It was meant to merely be fuel. It instead was stunning. The salad was lettuce, tomato, and fresh corn (this was a constant in the salads we had all over Italy and it was always wonderful) with oil and vinegar dressing (the only kind in Italy). The salami sandwich was out of this world with delicious thin bread and flavorful salami. I knew right away that Italy was going to work out! Our first meal was next to the Grand Canal at the Ristorante Floridian. Spaghetti Fruitti Mari, gnocchi and caprese salad were all stunners. The seafood in the pasta was a wonderful mix of shellfish and fish and all of it was fresh. The gnocchi was tender and perfect. The caprese (first of many) was fresh and bright.

Tartuffo at Caffe Florian

On day two in Venice we had lunch at the Caffe Florian, the oldest cafe in Piazza San Marco, dating from 1720. I think the waiters might have been around then too (that’s an interesting point about Italy: the waiters are all older, distinguished Italian gentlemen for whom this is a respected career OR they are Asian or Indian immigrants). You sit at the chairs in the square and an orchestra (4 dudes, not really an orchestra) play music. The menu is ancient. We enjoyed some sandwiches (club sandwiches and a ham on croissant). We had to have dessert and worked our way through an amazing tartuffo, a lovely plate

Italian cookies at Caffe Florian

of cookies (where in the U.S. are cookies on the dessert menu? NOWHERE. WHY NOT?) and a dish of fruit and ice cream. Your food arrives on a tray which balances on a tiny table. It was an experience to sit in this beautiful, gigantic square, facing San Marco and eat. It was particularly interesting, because the summer before this we went to Vegas and had lunch in the pretend Piazza San Marco at the Venetian hotel, after a gondola ride on their pretend canal! Let me just say, the real thing is much better!

That night we dined at Ristorante Giorgione, next door to our hotel (this turned out to be their last night before closing for the summer holiday, so we got lucky). Some items that graced our table: baby scallops with polenta, farfalle with lamb ragu, sea

Baby scallops

bream, and sea bass. The seafood was all excellent. The baby scallops were delightful. Usually when you get them in the States, they have been frozen and overcooked, making them like little balls of gum. These were tender and sweet. The sea bream was light and moist and  a

Delightful sea bream

true joy.

The third day was our last in Venice and we dined well! We had lunch on the island of Murano, at Al Vetrai, along the main street of glass shops. Again, I had a salad (Insalata Mediterranea), and again it was stupendous. When you think of a good salad here at home, it generally means one that is filled with lots of things like meat, cheese, olives, croutons, garbanzo beans. In Italy, the salads are simpler and come out as an explosion of color and all of the vegetables taste like they came right out of the fields. There was no brown or wilted lettuce and there were definitely no unripe tomatoes. This salad had shrimp and mozzarella on it. Dressing was a bottle of olive oil and one of balsamic vinegar. Perfect. Other dishes at the table for that lunch included a fish lasagna, traditional lasagna, and a fried

Insalata Mediterranean

seafood plate. The seafood plate was so full it was falling off the plate and was far more than one person could eat.  The lasagnas were much like lasagna here at home, with spinach in them, a rich sauce and a deeply browned top. Each piece was about the size of an index card and about three inches thick.

Later that day we enjoyed macarons at a shop near San Marco. This little shop had a whole case of macarons, as well as candy

Huge fried seafood platter

and gelato. The macarons were light and airy and a perfect little pick-me-up for the afternoon. This was also our first experience with the granita, essentially a slushy. They’re sold all over Italy, sometimes in really fun flavors, like melon. My son had many of these throughout the trip and they were perfect when you needed something cold (which we did just about every day!) but didn’t want the richness of gelato. Mostly, these were sweet but once in a while you would get one that was on the sour side, so it was a bit unexpected. The lemon ones were almost always sour.

Our dinner that night was one of the most memorable. A La Veccia Cavanna was in the same general area as our hotel, essentially right behind it. We walked in


and knew this was the real deal. The restaurant had awards and signed photos all over the walls. It is a family-owned place that appeared to have been in business more than 50 years. The walls were simply covered with proclamations and art

Macarons in the afternoon

that seemed to have been created by an owner or family member.  There were autographs from Italian celebs. The lighting was dim. The tables were big. The waiter was clearly a family member (they all showed the family resemblance in the photos, so we knew!). There was an amazing first course buffet we could have had (with a huge ham hock of prosciutto), but didn’t. The food was stupendous. Everyone got a free bellini and everyone sipped it. My husband and I just do not care for alcohol, but enjoyed a few sips of this lovely fizzy peach beverage (our 20 year old


daughter was kind enough to finish them off for us!). Even the 14-year-old thought they were pretty good.

Dinner included: big ravioli (called tortolloni), tagliolini with lobster, beef carpaccio, beef tenderloin with wild mushrooms, sole menuiere, and spaghetti with clams.  The ravioli were very thin and delicate. The tagliolini with lobster was one of our top dishes in all of Italy. At the time I announced it was the best thing I had ever eaten (I think I said this about once a day). The beef tenderloin had a completely different texture than the beef here

Spaghetti with clams

at home. We must talk about the potatoes that came with it.

Beef tenderloin with the world’s best potatoes

This was our first experience with Italian potatoes and they are on my “must learn how to make list.” At almost every meal, we had a dish that came with potatoes. They are cubed and roasted, but they are superbly soft and tender on the inside and crazily crispy on the outside. I’ve got to experiment with roasting them at high temps to see if I can replicate it. I’ve simply never had potatoes that good.

The sole was deboned at the table and was very lemony and

5 Star Tagliolini

delicate. We also had dessert at this wonderful restaurant: tiramisu (invented in Venice, so it was a must!), lemon torte with chocolate chips, and a cream filled cake. A complementary plate of cookies also arrived (we might not have ordered so many desserts had we known). We overate that night and didn’t regret it for a second. We felt welcomed and

cared for in this homey and warm restaurant that truly did make you feel like “when you’re here, you’re family” (now I know why Olive Garden commercials say that!). I didn’t want to leave.

Venetian tiramisu

I have one more food experience to share with you from Venice: the stores. We drooled at many a window and went into a grocery store. Now, keep in mind that there are no cars in Venice. If you live there, you carry your groceries on foot or by vaporetto. I saw many Italian women with little wheeled bags with their groceries in them. The pasta aisle was the biggest thing in the small grocery store. In a shop with about 6 aisles, it was one entire aisle. Clearly there was a need to fill there!

Venice was a food lover’s dream and I particularly loved that there was magnificent seafood and equally terrific pasta everywhere. I could eat in Venice every day of my life I think.

More dining posts to come. What did we eat in Florence, Rome, and Sorrento? How much weight did we gain? What was the stellar dish of the trip? Were we convinced to try more alcohol? Stay tuned to find out!

Temptation everywhere

Delectable sweets in windows

More types of canned fish than you can imagine

Pasta aisle

A huge part of our trip to Italy was the food. I have a friend who lived in Italy until he was 13 and who has returned many times. He told me the food is just fresher tasting there. I knew that Italian pizza is different than the corner pizzeria and I read up on … Read more

Ornaments and egg cups from Rome

I’m halfway through my posts about all of our stops in Italy, so let’s take a rest stop and talk about shopping (don’t worry, there will be lengthy foodie posts to come as well!)


Before I leave on a trip, I try to find out what the specialty items of the area are. For Italy, I determined that I should look for handmade glass and lace (and locally made lace is hard to find and expensive since most of it is just made in factories in Asia now) in Venice, handcrafted paper and leather in Florence, and lemon products and custom-made sandals in Sorrento. Cameos are another specialty in Italy. I also read about glass or stone mosaics throughout the country.

I have several specific collections I am always looking to add to: bookmarks and magnets are the cheapest, although bookmarks can be hard to find. I always am looking for Christmas ornaments, Easter eggs and cups, handmade baskets, locally made soap, fun food items to bring home, and watercolor paintings depicting the area. It helps to have specific things to look for.


The shopping in Venice was fantastic. There were so many stores, it was hard to focus. This was also our first city, so we were jet lagged and trying to adjust to the terrible heat! We took a vaporetto to the island of Murano which was

Murano glass

an amazing place to visit, but they had so much glass that is made there on the island that it was hard to choose! Some of the glass is very expensive. One shop had a few glass mosaic pieces, but none were right.

I found two great bookmarks in Venice, one with a tassel (which they sell many of in Venice) and one with Murano glass.

We bought our Venice painting from an artist in the campo right in front of our hotel, next to a canal. It was one of those perfect settings.


Tray from Florence

There was a lovely shopping section in Florence on the far side of the Arno, just past the Ponte


Vecchio, but I wish it had been bigger. This area had some terrific artisan shops where we bought leather items and a beautiful painted tray. My husband bought a wallet and we got the leather trays I photographed. I found bookmarks here and little books of paintings from each city which will hang on my book tree in my office.

I bought my painting in Florence (the long narrow on in the front of the photo below) in a small courtyard outside the Uffizi where artists were selling their work. Artists were also selling things in the Plaza Repubblica at night. I find that areas where


tourists gather in the evenings are good places to find local paintings that are inexpensive. I rarely pay more than $20 for paintings like these.

I looked at gorgeous stone mosaics in Florence, but could not bring myself to spend a minimum of 250 Euros for one. So those have now taken up residence in the museum in my mind (all the things I wished I had bought and didn’t on all of my trips!).


Rome was a challenge for shopping, but we did find a nice little grouping of shops near the Pantheon. Everything else was junky souvenir shops or expensive designer shopping. There were several shops with nice pottery in Rome.

I bought a painting in Rome, but it’s a print that I saw lots of street vendors selling. I could not find any artists selling original paintings.

I saw a gorgeous handpainted leather purse I came very close to buying, but the back of it had some scratches. They didn’t have any others. Another item added to the museum of my mind.


We took a tour of Pompeii and I did not expect to buy anything there other than my fun little cheap magnet (I buy one every place we go and they decorate the file cabinet in my office). However, our guide took us into a cameo store, where an elderly man sits hand-making cameos.  They were beautiful and my daughter and I each bought one (ok, I bought two). The artist signed them on the back and also wrote our

Murano glass jewelry and handmade cameoes

initials on the back. I really wanted a blue cameo, but they told us those are always made in factories. The ones we bought are handmade from shells.


Sorrento had a wonderful shopping section, very quaint with narrow

Daughter’s custom-made sandals, hubby’s leather bag and belt from Sorrento; leather dresser catch-alls from Florence

alleys and cobblestone streets, just off the Tasso piazza. It was a shopper’s paradise. There were so many shops selling leather purses that I was dizzy!

My daughter had sandals handmade for her here (you go in and pick out the elements you want on them and they have it ready the next day: they do not actually hand-make the sole however – they just put together the pieces you select). Limoncello is a big product here, but I bought lemon soap and honey since we don’t care for alcohol.  My husband bought a beautiful leather bag and a belt here.

We had dinner one night down in Marina Grande, a tiny little beach area. There was an old woman selling lace just behind the beach. She was sitting and doing lacework, so there is a chance the lace I bought did not come from Asia, so I bought one lace doily.

We also stumbled upon a truly fantastic HUGE store called Gargiulio and Januzzi. They sold inlaid wood boxes and plaques, some glass jewelry and a big room of amazing Italian pottery and linens. Downstairs was a big room with marquetry inlay furniture which was gorgeous. I had to get out of that room or I would have had the entire thing shipped home. I bought some pottery and a table runner, as well as an inlay wood box (all still being shipped home, so no photos). Very high quality items and very good customer service. The shipping was free which was a nice bonus.


We visited the island of Capri on a tour, but only went to the town of Anacapri where the shopping was rather limited. I had high hopes for Capri, but didn’t buy much, other than the beautiful hydrangea glass plate I’ve photographed with my Murano glass. My daughter and I bought the lace bracelets I photographed with the lace doily here.

I could not find a painting on Capri (there was one shop in Anacapri with paintings and the owner was so aggressive, I could not even really look at his work. We ended up buying one in Sorrento of Capri the next day, so that worked out ok.

Pasta, regional soaps and lemon honey from Sorrento

Not pictured are t-shirts and sweatshirts other members of the family brought home, as well as a couple pairs of earrings my daughter bought and promptly put into use!

We also had to make an emergency suitcase purchase at a train station! My daughter’s suitcase zipper broke. The train station in Rome had a big suitcase shop and we got a nice one for about 50 Euro, which was a nice bargain. We tried to throw out the broken suitcase, but everyone we asked told us to just set it outside the main doors of the station and someone would take it!

Overall, it was a successful trip in terms of shopping and now I am trying to figure out where to put it all! I have to get the paintings framed, which is always a challenge. I can often find frames and mattes at Michael’s but sometimes they are not standard sizes and I have to have them framed.

I always feel as though I am buying a ton, then I get it all home and it really isn’t a lot. It’s always so nice to have lovely little items to remind me of our trips!




Lace bracelets from Capri; lace doily bought on the beach in Sorrento





Tie, Murano egg, mosaic plate and frame from Rome; tiny books that fold out with pics of the cities from Florence, to go on my book Xmas tree


My cheapest buys: magnets





I’m halfway through my posts about all of our stops in Italy, so let’s take a rest stop and talk about shopping (don’t worry, there will be lengthy foodie posts to come as well!) Pre-Shopping Before I leave on a trip, I try to find out what the specialty items of the area are. For … Read more

Leaving the airport via water taxi

Our two week trip to Italy began in Venice. It was love at first sight for me. This is hands-down the most romantic city I’ve ever visited. Venice is like something out of a fairy tale. It’s like a mystical kingdom: an island set off the shore where there are no cars, buses, taxis, or scooters. The only way to get around the city is by boat or on foot. What this means is that Venice is supremely quiet. There are no engines, horns, or tires squealing. When you are facing a canal, boats go by, but they are quiet (the Grand Canal is the exception – there is a lot of traffic there). The rest of the city is made up of quiet alleyways and calm squares (called campos, which mean fields in Italian).  It was this beautiful silence that first struck me. And all the streets are very, very narrow, not more than 4 people across.


The second thing that captivated me was the architecture. Venice was most definitely

Contrasting architecture styles

Italian, but because of its unique historical position as a gateway between the east and west, it has architecture that reflects French and Turkish styles. It’s an incredible combination of the most beautiful styles from all over Europe and it made the city feel very welcoming and inclusive. The buildings lining the Grand Canal were all originally palaces and the Grand Canal was their Main Street, so their elegant facades face this canal. All buildings situated on canals have doors that open (or once opened) to the canal. This was the front door. You can transport yourself to another time when you look at these palazzos. The buildings have many window boxes with flowers and this is the only greenery you will see in the city. There are no parks, no trees, no grass (except in some private courtyards). You also see a lot of laundry hung out the upper windows of buildings, which felt very Italian to me. And

One of many beautiful doors

then there are the doors. The city is filled with unique and wonderful doors. I took photos of many of them. I was hoping to find a poster of them, but didn’t see one.

The Bridge

Rialto Bridge

The top tourist attractions in Venice are the Rialto Bridge, the biggest and most beautiful bridge spanning the Grand Canal. It is filled with souvenir shops. Climbing to the top of the bridge allows an excellent viewpoint of the Grand Canal. Either end of the canal is also filled with street stalls selling souvenirs. The bridge is pretty to look at, but is choked with junky stores and tourists.

Piazza San Marco

The other big attraction is Piazza San Marco, home to a huge open piazza. It is surrounded on 4 sides by buildings. There are hundreds of pigeons in this square. One end of the square is dominated by the stunning San Marco cathedral. We took a tour inside this beautiful church. The inside of the domes and many of the walls are covered with intricate stone mosaics. The amount of work that went into this art is mindblowing. The church also has a beautiful exterior with many statues. The marble pillars around the front of the building were fascinating because each is different – and

San Marco church

each was stolen from somewhere else in the world. The view from the balcony  is remarkable because it allows you to look out over the lagoon to the Adriatic Sea. You also have a stunning view of the piazza.

Next door to the church is the Doge’s Palace. The doge was the ruler of Venice, but he was not like a king. Our guide told us much about the forward-thinking government of Venice which was a republic ruled by nobles. The palace itself is not very exciting, although the maps painted on the walls were of interest because of how wrong they were, but also because they showed the travels of Marco Polo, native son of Venice and the man credited with opening China to trade with Europe.

We walked over the famous Bridge of Sighs which connected the prisons to the government rooms. Our tour allowed us to skip the lines to get into the church and palace and I highly recommend doing so (the lines were long and stood in the hot sun). I also think it is a good idea to take an actual tour so you can learn what you are looking at and why it is important. Our tour began with a little walking tour of Venice that included the area where Marco Polo was believed to have lived and our guide provided us with much background information that helped me understand the city.

Orchestra at the Florian Cafe

We had lunch in the piazza, at the oldest cafe in Venice, called The Florian Cafe. You sit at a table in the open piazza and an orchestra plays. You, of course, pay through the nose for this experience, since there is a seating fee added to your bill and the food (which was absolutely fine but not amazing) is grotesquely overpriced. It is a once in a lifetime thing though, so we did it.


The shopping in Venice was overwhelming. I have never been in a place with so many shops. There was simply hours of shopping on the main pathways to the bridge and to the piazza. There’s lots of Murano glass to be bought and I did buy some here, but tried to wait for our trip out to Murano itself (an island a short boat ride away).


Vaporetto on the Grand Canal as seen from the Rialto Bridge

There are several types of boat transport in Venice which I carefully read up on in advance. We took water taxis to and from the train station and airport. These are small wooden boats that reminded me a lot of the classic wooden boats you see on American lakes. They have an enclosed portion with benches. They can hold up to about 8-10 people it seemed, but our guides always took us alone in them. When we left the airport, our water taxi traveled on what was essentially a road through the water. It was a specific channel tightly enclosed by wooden pillars, that led the way from the airport to the city.

The rest of the time we were in the city and were not walking, we used vaporettos, which are like water buses or subway lines. You buy a ticket from an automated machine and get on when the boat comes to your stop. There is a specific line with stops listed so it is relatively easy to manage. We heard about, but did not ride in traghettos, small rowed boats that will take you across a canal. We had no need for them since there were plenty of bridges.

We also took a private gondola ride. Our gondolier did not sing (fine by me!) and we


traveled over part of the Grand Canal and many smaller canals. When we were on the smaller canals, it was a quiet, serene ride and was something to check off my bucket list!


All the guidebooks warned me that it is very easy to get lost in Venice. If you are going to the main tourist sites, they are signs on the corners of buildings with arrows and you just follow them without issue. If, however, you are trying to find a specific restaurant, good luck. We had both a paper map and a digital map that tracked our location in real time and couldn’t find anything, ever. We saw a lot of interesting little alleys and campos this way (and as an aside, I have to say I never felt unsafe, even though most of the alleys and campos off the beaten track are as empty as ghost towns).

Overall Impression

One of the many quiet alleys

My overall feeling about Venice was that it is a very European city and not a typical Italian city, particularly when I compare it to the other places we went in Italy. It made me want to see more of Europe, however. The people were all very friendly and spoke very good English, making it easy for us ignorant Americans to communicate. I felt very welcomed and comfortable in this city. Venice is the perfect city to wander in. Go see the top tourist sites, then allow yourself time to just explore.  Venice is now on my list of my all-time favorite places (the list also includes Maine, Savannah, Scotland, Hawaii, Sedona AZ, and the Bahamas). Someday I hope to go back to this mesmerizing city.

Our two week trip to Italy began in Venice. It was love at first sight for me. This is hands-down the most romantic city I’ve ever visited. Venice is like something out of a fairy tale. It’s like a mystical kingdom: an island set off the shore where there are no cars, buses, taxis, or … Read more

Grand Canal in Venice

We are just back from a magnificent two week trip to Italy. While I’m still recovering from jet lag and dealing with the laundry mountain, I want to start to share the trip with you. Be patient with me, dear reader! After 2 weeks away, I have lots to tell you, so I have many posts planned.

For today, I want to give you an overview of our trip. We decided to go with an escorted tour, which meant the tour company was responsible for arranging our air and train travel, hotels and transportation to and from airports and train stations. We then chose some specific guided tours of things we wanted guides for. The rest of the time we were on our own.


Our trip began when we arrived by plane at the Venice airport. Our guide met us and took

Florence from the Piazzelle Michaelangelo

us by water taxi to our hotel. We spent 3 nights in Venice and explored the Rialto Bridge, the Grand Canal, San Marco, Doge’s Palace (guided tour of these last two), the island of Murano, and many little corners of Venice. We took a gondola ride that was almost surreal feeling. Our guide took us by water taxi to the train station at the end of our stay.


We enjoyed the train trip through Tuscany (I would love to go back and explore the countryside). Three nights in Florence were wonderful. Our guide met us at the train station and took us by van to our hotel, on the banks of the Arno. We explored the Ponte Vecchio, Pitti Palace, and took a guided tour that took us by bus to the Piazzelle Michealangelo (for the view) then to the Duomo and the Accademia where we saw the David. We took a train on our own to Pisa for an afternoon to climb the leaning tower. My husband managed to sprain his ankle coming down, so we didn’t get to explore the town.

Spanish Steps in Rome

Our Florence guide took us back to the train station from our hotel.


The train ride to Rome was relaxing and we had our first glimpse of the Mediterranean on the way. Our guide brought us to the hotel for our three night stay. Rome was a magnificent city. We explored the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain (where we threw coins in) and took guided tours of the Vatican and ancient Rome. We also visited the Pantheon. Our guide took us to the train station.


We traveled by train to Naples , where our guide met us and took us to Pompeii. Once there, we had a private guided tour of these impressive ruins. Our guide then drove us to

Sorrento harbor

Sorrento for our 3 night stay, and we enjoyed the stunning views of the Bay of Naples, Mount Vesuvius and the mountainous Amalfi coast. We took an all day guided tour to the island of Capri (this was quite a day and involved 4 buses and 4 boats) where we went to the Blue Grotto and traveled up to Anacapri. On another day, we explored Sorrento’s seaport and swam in the Mediterranean with Mount Vesuvius behind us. Our guide took us to the Naples airport and we flew home from there.

It was the most memorable vacation we’ve taken, I think and my mind is swimming with all the experiences. There was lots of good food (there was only one really bad meal the entire time), I did some great shopping, we took some beautiful photos, and we learned so much about Italy. I will be sharing all of that with you in coming posts. I kept a notebook this trip so that I would be sure to remember the things I want to write about.



We are just back from a magnificent two week trip to Italy. While I’m still recovering from jet lag and dealing with the laundry mountain, I want to start to share the trip with you. Be patient with me, dear reader! After 2 weeks away, I have lots to tell you, so I have many … Read more