Monday, April 15, 2019

Venice

Some city names have a certain allure that makes your skin tingle a little bit, depending on your sensibilities. Paris. Rome. Istanbul. Damascus. Mumbai. They all bring to mind a certain feeling.
Venice is yet another of these cities with connotations all their own. Is it really that crowded? Is it really that beautiful? Is it really worth going?
Well, when it's March, and the sun shines every day, and the temperatures are warm, the answer to all of these questions is all that you could hope for.
Venice in March is by no means devoid of tourists, but outside of St. Mark's Square, you'll find plenty of lanes that aren't filled with camera-toting tourists. Some people find Venice to be far too touristy for their liking, but I wonder how many who hold that opinion only visit for the day, or only visit the main tourist sites of the city?
We arrived in Venice at noon on a Sunday near the end of March, welcomed by a perfectly clear blue sunny sky and a temperature of 20˚C. The boat trip from the airport in the Alilaguna boat with windows covered with salt splashes was uneventful, but pleasant enough once we got into the city's canals.


Giacomo met us at the Sant'Angelo vaporetto stop, and walked us to our apartment in the heart of the San Marco area. He explained the workings of the apartment, then looked at the top of my brow and warned me to be careful in the very low-ceilinged bathrooms (yes, plural!). Off he went, and we unpacked a bit, headed to our balcony to look over the city, then raced over to the Simply Punto to get some groceries for the week. Alas, this market is closed early on Sundays, so we carried on a little further to the Coop, conveniently located right along the busy and somewhat frenetic Grand Canal. Yogurt, milk, a bit of fruit and some veggies (use the little plastic gloves and be sure to weigh everything), and then back to our apartment before venturing out again into this sunny jewel.

Over the Accademia Bridge for the view that I simply could not wait for, and then some strawberry gelati, and a walk along the Zattere to the point, and back to the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute for a little sit-down. Before jet lag fully took hold on the streets, we headed back to the apartment and went straight to sleep.
With a full week in Venice before us, we were in no hurry to do everything all at once, but we might as well start with some of the big ones - the Doge's Palace and assorted St. Mark's museums. The palace is pretty much everything you might expect, with sensational gold ceilings and paintings and frescoes everywhere.


At the nearby Correr Museum, I was transfixed by the display on the history of book printing and Venice's place as a distribution point for those first printed books.
I read the train ticket incorrectly, leading us to miss our early Tuesday morning train to Padua, but fortunately there are many, and our ticket was valid for four hours. With a little bit of running, we managed to get to the church we planned to visit, the church that required a ticket purchased online ahead of time, the ticket that requires you to be there at a certain time and that time only. Otherwise you'll be turned away. Padua is a pretty university town full of students, but for us it was the calzone at what I think was Pizza del Cubo in Piazza dei Signori that we will remember. Well, that and the church was cool too. As was the anatomy hall. And the other church.



On our return in Venice, we walked through Cannaregio and took the long way home.
Wednesday we meandered through Dorsuduro, Santa Croce, and San Polo. One important note: if you are ever in Venice, you must stop in at the Church of San Pantalon. Look up, and your trip has paid for itself.
Thursday was the first of our two vaporetto days, as we sailed over to the Church of St. Giorgio Maggiore, climbing the tower (well, taking the elevator) for what can only be described as a splendid view of the city of Venice, followed by an extended walk through Castello, almost right to the eastern-most point. More church visits, and then we got turned away at the Arsenale. We thought it was a place to go in, but the security guard thought otherwise.


All the literature on Venice says that if you have a few days, you must must must go to Torcello, get away from the crowds and see the island where Venice truly began. A once heavily populated island, Torcello is mostly known today as the home of the Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta, a 7th century church with a few large mosaics. Well, it is nice, and we love seeing churches, but in my opinion, if you've never been to Venice before and are only here for a few days, I would say you could better spend your time exploring some of the many incredible churches in Venice (of which we went into more than twenty) without having to spend two hours on a vaporetto (one hour there, one hour back). Again, San Pantalon was far more awesome than Torcello. History buffs may scoff, but I'm into art and painting, and that ceiling is The Ceiling of All Ceilings. I didn't read anyone anywhere saying that you should see this church. But I am telling you, if you are in Venice only for the day, go to this church. Please google it. San Polo and Santa Croce were also probably our favourite areas of the city (although San Pantalon is actually in the very northern part of Dorsuduro, also quite charming), so it's worth heading over there.
On the way to Torcello, we stopped off at Burano, a lovely small island full of colour. It was a real delight walking around there in the early morning hours with only a handful of others to annoy us.

We stopped in again after Torcello, and I was taken aback at how different the place looked when it was covered with tourists - people in tragically unsuitable attire grabbing at knick knacks on shelves in the street in front of shops and generally making a nuisance of themselves. Ten minutes was all I could handle, then it was back on the vaporetto headed for Venice. It is a nice trip, of that there is no doubt (especially when the warm sun is shining down on you), being on the back of the boat in the open with a view across the lagoon.
I got up early on Saturday to photograph the city at its quietest, and then we set to work seeing the last of the stuff on our to-do list - Accademia Gallery, more churches, a bit more gelati, and Ca'Rezzonico - a palace included in our St. Mark's Museums pass.
First, I should say something about the Accademia, and that is: Don't go. Maybe it'll be a lot different when they are done their renovations, but man, half the place is closed off. Literally half. And then you have to ask, surely we're missing something? Seriously, I have to know that you walk past the sign for the bathrooms to find stairs to the lower floor? C'mon man. There is no way they should be charging full price for what they have on show right now. It really is a disappointment. Granted, they did tell us after we paid that they were doing renovations, but I think a better call would be to say, "Half of our museum is closed. Do you still want to pay twenty bucks to get in here...?" with a voice that trails off so that you know it's probably not worth it.
Second, I would like to say that you really should see Ca'Rezzonica. It's a remarkable place full of some really wonderful art, as well as windows with great views along the Grand Canal.



At some point over the last few days we stopped in at St. Mark's Basilica. We went in the late afternoon, only a few people in line. But...I'm not really fond of sites that have you walk single file through a fenced off area without really any opportunity to explore the place a little more fully. On the bright side, we paid the extra bucks (extra more than zero as it's free entry to the church itself) to get upstairs to see the museum. With that you have the chance to see the church from the second level, which is pretty cool, and can also head out on to the balcony for a great view over the square and piazza to the water.


We awoke early again on Sunday for one last walk in pleasant and crowd-free Venice, and then wandered slowly through Santa Croce and over to the train station. Exactly seven days in Venice and short of an evening shower on Monday, it's been blue skies and warm weather the entire time.
What a beautiful city.







Saturday, December 29, 2018

Eleven Years Ago Today

Eleven years ago today, Saturday December 29th, 2007, we were "stranded" in the coastal town of Gokarna, India, on the Arabian Sea. We were five months into our incredible journey, and this is what I wrote in the blog on that day.


SATURDAY, DECEMBER 29, 2007
Reflection
It was five months ago today that we left home, and thinking about being home is a strange thing. There are no salty beaches there, no ruins. No temples and no sites. There are no cows wandering the streets and no children working in the stores calling out your name. There are no beggars waiting for you outside of restaurants and churches, waiting so that they can show you their affliction or deformity in the hopes that you will take pity on them and give them money. There are no two-thousand-year-old buildings or two-thousand-year-old carvings as large as a city block. There are almost forty times as many people living in Cairo, and more people on the street in front of the Luna Hotel than in all of Winnipeg. There are no pharaohs and no kings, no elephants and no tigers. There are no thirty-degree days in December.*
The extraordinary continues to be revealed to us relentlessly, and there are days here when it seems impossible that any of this is happening, impossible that one day we will be back at home, going back to school and work, back to grocery shopping and meal preparation, summer and winter, friends and family. I wonder if we will be able to grasp the extraordinary in everything we do and see and have.





What a time it was.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Date Minder

Welcome to my latest invention, the Date Minder.
It's a chronological list of the months of the year, including all the days of each month also in chronological order. If that wasn't enough, each of those days is sitting in a little box with enough room to add some important information about that day. Date Minder!
Each month includes a full-colour photo of a fascinating place in our incredible world. But don't let those gorgeous photos overtake the majesty of the Date Minder, an ingenious invention for anyone who has to remember important dates.
Birthdays? Anniversary? Garbage Day?
Date Minder has you covered.
Call today!
2019 Date Minder.
I know it says "calendar" on the cover. No mind. Date Minder. 2019, January to December in the correct order. Nothing like it out there, says Breitbart Shrews.
For order info, head to my website and click the "Contact" button.
Or skip all that and just email me directly! rey @ my web address.
Then tell me you can't survive 2019 without the Date Minder!
Twenty-five bucks solves all your date-related* problems.



8.5 by 11" coil bound, Date Minder opens to 17 by 11", photo on top half, dates on bottom.
Images are full bleed.

*is that ambiguous? In this case, 'date-related' refers to things you might put on your calendar. In case of any discrepancy or confusion (on my part or yours), this guarantee is null and void. That is a guarantee.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

You Win Some, You Lose Some

Excerpted from A Change of View:
From Patras, we followed our instructions to the letter, along the rugged north coast of the Peloponnese, down through Nafplio, into Astros, and ended up down a back lane. We asked some older gentlemen sitting in front of an unsigned restaurant a little ways back if they had any idea where Angelica’s apartment might be. It’s across the street from a little church? “Ah, go to the blue sign and then straight...” Got it, straight past the blue sign...”No, no, go to the blue sign, straight and continue to a crossing, keep going you will find it.” Okay, past the blue sign, to a...”No, no, here, I will come with you.” Uh, it’s a little crowded in here. “Oh, no room. Okay, you must listen. Go to the blue sign, then this way a little bit,” he motions with his entire body. Hey man, that’s not straight! “Continue to a crossing, go straight,” I raised my eyebrows but he carried on, “and you will come to the church.”
We have come to the conclusion, in our extensive European research, that “going straight” means to follow the main road, even if the main road turns at a ninety degree angle, dwindles to a goat path, or merges with a forest.
This same man told us that he was open for breakfast in the morning, and we should drop in. What time do you open? “Seven a.m.” We’ll see you at nine.
There was no address number on the building that looked like it could have been an apartment across the street from the church that was reached by going down the straight road through Astros. Honestly, during our downtimes, I sometimes step back from all this and just marvel at our good fortune.
As I got out of the car, Jonas said, Good luck, Papa. The cleaning lady was supposed to meet us, but there was no one around. I walked up the stairs (“Sea view,” the ad said, so I assumed upstairs) to the open door at the top. Hello? I called loudly. A woman walked into view and smiled that, ‘I’ve been expecting you’ smile. She explained, entirely in Greek, how things worked, and I responded in English. We didn’t really understand a word the other was saying, but with the context and body language, we managed just fine. Then she furrowed her brow, and asked, “Family?” Downstairs, in the car, I pointed. She almost jumped, and said, “Go!” pushing me out the door with two hands, alarmed that I’d make them wait outside. 
She smiled brightly at Jonas and Matthew, shaking their hands, and patting their shoulders, then breaking into full-blown hugs. Then she showed us all around the apartment with renewed enthusiasm. A nice kitchen, large living room, three bedrooms, and five (seriously, 5) sets of patio doors, three of which led to the forty-foot long balcony facing the (albeit distant) sea-view, and the cute little church cross the street. Finished with her explanations, Tasia bid us farewell. All these people that are so kind and helpful, that we will never see again in our lives.
We drove to the supermarket and picked up several bags of groceries, and when we returned to put stuff away, we made a significant discovery in one of the cupboards. A jar of peanut butter. We hadn’t had peanut butter since home, it being a bit of an expensive delicacy here. And we pretty much OD’d on Nutella in Italy, so this was thrilling.
We are in Greece, a kilometre or two from the beach, and we’re excited about peanut butter.
Breakfast at Angelo’s was one of those moments worth writing home about (so if you’ve stuck with me this long, here’s the payoff). He sat us at a table in the middle of the empty restaurant, wiping his hands on his apron as he asked us what we’d like to drink. The boys asked for orange juice and lemonade, and Angelo returned with orange and lemon soda, then he raced off without another word. Ten minutes later, he walks out of the back room with a huge platter of scrambled eggs covered in a couple kinds of cheese, and sliced ham and tomato on the sides. He brought out plate after plate of toast. Then some plums. Then some more toast. A full plate of watermelon. A large bag of plums. “They are from my friend, you take them.” Then two glasses of his homemade wine.

With each successive course, Matthew said, Ho man, this is going to be expensive! or, Wow, Papa, can we afford this? I had to admit, I was starting to wonder. When I went to pay, I pulled out thirty-five euros (about fifty bucks) just to be sure. I asked Angelo what the damage was. Thirty-nine euros. I hesitated for just a second, the money visible in my hand, and when I went to reach into my pocket for the extra, Angelo waved his hands and said, “No, no, is good.” Well, it was a pretty darn good breakfast, and at least now we know that you drink red wine with breakfast, and not white like we always have.

Arriving at Tenuta San Francesco

After a too-long drive around the Gargano Peninsula (I have no idea why we did that), we pass the scene of a dreadful car accident spread across the highway in the northbound lanes, with ten kilometres of cars lined up behind it. The southbound lane continues at the well-over-the-speed-limit rate of 140 km/hr.
Signs for a Best Western keep popping up, and after several failed attempts at smaller, divier joints, we decide to just give in and try it. Two double rooms, the very classy-looking concierge says, will be one hundred and seventy-eight euros. Ugh, my face says. “How much did you want to pay?” We couldn’t just take one room? “No, too small,” he says. My shoulders slump involuntarily. It’s been a long day. He continues in wonderfully-accented, perfect English, “We do know a nice little bed and breakfast. Would you like me to call over?” He dials the number, rattles off some information, listens, then puts his hand over the phone and says, “You speak Italian?” No. “You will manage,” and he waves at nothing in particular. More speaking and listening. “How does eighty euros sound?” Great. “The man will come and pick you up. Please, we can wait outside.” He opens his palm towards the front door.
It’s not busy, so classy concierge waits with us, and soon our helmeted, muscle-shirted, moped-riding hotelier arrives. I exchange a hearty handshake with the concierge. I can’t help but think that I will never see this man again. His face is the picture of kindness as we walk away.
When we drive out of the city and into the countryside, I begin formulating a back-up plan in case this guy tries to lead us into the woods and relieve us of our packs. I make several jokes about why the guy is carrying an axe on the back of a moped, but Laura assures us that everything will be all right. Okay, but if he tries to take us down some desolate gravel road, we are NOT following. Stop it! says Laura.
About ten minutes into rural Italy - and again, could the sky be any more blue? - just as I suspected, we pull into a beautiful property surrounded by vineyards. He stops in front of what looks like a row of townhomes, then walks us over to the main house, passing by a large pool on the way. A woman comes out of the house and shakes our hands, ruffles Jonas’s hair, and pinches Matthew’s nose in that, “You are adorable!” kind of way. Several members of their family follow us all back to the townhouses. It’s fantastic, way better than a hotel. Mr. Moped, who in no way reminds me of a serial killer, is now our second-best friend in Italy (Rosanna will always be number one). 
We awake early the next morning so that we can pack up, then spend some time in that lovely pool. Do I need to mention how blue the sky is again? It’s a perfect pool and a perfect pool day. I think if I’d know about this place a few days ago, Sulmona would not have appeared on this itinerary.
The entire family comes out to say good-bye, and we exchange some small talk about our trip. The son, probably in his very early twenties, has this faraway look in his eyes as though he’d like to come with us. “What are your jobs?” he asks. Today I understand full well the meaning of his body language and tone of voice. I’ve been so caught up in planning this trip, that I haven’t been able to think about it or see it from the outside. Until this moment, looking into this young man’s eyes. We had tons of questions and feedback at home, but here in rural Italy, what we are doing comes into focus, and for a moment, I feel a little pride about finally being able to step out of that shell of comfort, of marriage/mortgage/kids/work. Laura is a teacher, I’m an artist. He looks befuddled. Yeah, it’s pretty cool. We’re very fortunate, I say.

Looking around as we drive out through the vineyards, all I can think is, Man, if I lived in a place like this, I might never want to leave. But then again, I’m not twenty-one anymore.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Spanish Window

If there's one thing I can't get enough of, it's architectural detail. Doors, windows, columns, stairs, carved stone, shaped plaster - it goes on and on.
A recent trip to southern Spain simply presented more opportunity to bask in the warmth of more fascinating building styles. Of course, I can find some of this kind of stuff around my own city, but its familiarity provides ample cover and often tired eyes. Travel has a way of awakening one's mind and spirit to the new and old and the always there, and our time in Andalucia (and Toledo and Madrid) was yet more evidence that this is true.

The chronology doesn't really matter, but it will give an idea of how we travel. Since we only had two weeks, this wasn't slow travel, as in the manner of our 275 day trip around the world with our kids, but it was by no means fast either.
We arrived in Madrid, and within a couple hours were on a train to Toledo. Two nights in Toledo and the we whisked off to Seville for a four night stay. On one of those days, we trained to and from Cordoba, because, you know, more architecture. We then rented a car and drove to Arcos de la Frontera for a walkabout and some lunch, then to Zahara de la Frontera for a climb up the hill to the old fort for some dazzling views across the countryside. After a couple hours, we carried on to Ronda, and spent two nights. Back in the car for a lovely drive to Granada, where we spent three nights under the lights of the Alhambra, then busted it back to Madrid, with a pit stop in Baeza for an extended lunch.
We could've spent one night and a couple days in Seville, and one night in Granada, seeing the Alhambra in the morning and then taking off for somewhere else. That would've given us another five days (!wow!) to see more places. But that's not really us. There is just too much to see and enjoy in almost every place to breeze through without taking some time to just wander aimlessly, sitting at a cafe when your legs call for it, watching the city live and breathe.
In and amongst all this wandering and sitting and breathing, a feeling comes alive inside me, one that asks whether I could live in this place (language barriers aside!) Many times, the answer is yes. I don't know for how long, but for a few months? Certainly. A year? Maybe. I imagine all the places that I would sit with a book, all the new foods I would try, all the streets I'd stalk with my camera, all the alleys in which I would set up an easel.
Here is a celebration of taking it slow, a journey through southern Spain and her wondrous windowed glory.



















Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Ten Years Ago

Ten years ago today, we spent our first full day at our villa in Volissos, on Chios Island, having arrived in the dark the evening before.
Chios was our first rest stop, our first holiday planned during our nine-month trip around the world, and we were doing it up right: two weeks of rest and relaxation on a Greek Island. What could be better than that? Well, arriving in the dark, and unsure what exactly was living in our attic, on an island that smelled like dust (we were later told that it had not rained in a year, and it had also been an extraordinarily hot summer with temps in the high forties celsius), I was thinking that I'd blown it. I spend a good fifteen minutes feeling sorry for myself and feeling like I'd let my family down. Did I mention the smell of dust? After almost eight weeks of travel, we'd be stuck here for two weeks, and somehow, through all my planning and research, this was the best I could do?
As it got a little bit lighter out that morning, I noticed that everything looked like it was covered in dust too. But then, the sun came over the mountains behind us, and the sky began to swell with a blueness that is patented by Greek history. I thought to myself, yeah, this might turn out okay.
The short version of this story is yes, it was a wonderful time.
Sadly, Laura's father passed away a few days after we landed on the island, and Laura went back home for a week to be with her mom. Our two weeks stretched into nearly three.
It seemed like this could really take the wind out of our sails, but Jake's death eventually reinforced our sense that it was important for us to do this kind of a trip while we were healthy and fully able to embrace everything that would be thrown at us, particularly in the coming months, knowing that Syria, Egypt, India, and a few other countries were still to come.
(It also provided an opportunity for us to discover how good people can be when you need them to be, and while I won't go into the full story here, just know that if you are going to Chios, Tassos and Margarita from Hatzelenis Tours are the people you want to talk to. Accommodations, car rental, advice, kindness, ability to help steer you through adversity, just pretty much anything you need, they can manage it.)
And of course, looking back now, and seeing how much has changed in both our family and the world in these ten years, this trip with our two young sons was a treasure that continues to reward us with shared memories and continuous inspiration.
Every country we visited on that trip was special in its own way, as was every single day. Our time on Chios was no different, and one son remains firm in his assertions that Chios was indeed his favourite place of all.
So. Chios.
Here's to you.
An image from the Airbnb listing for our house on Chios. Airbnb did not exist back in 2007 I don't think. Our house at the bottom right. The Aegean Sea at the top, a couple hundred metres from the house.
Another view of the house.

This was our beach, Limnos Beach, the 'north' beach.

Emporios Beach, the 'south' beach.

A typical west-coast beach (there was sand, just not in this picture - and watch out for the spikey balls of death).

Karfas Beach, the 'east' beach by Chios Town.
But it was our beach, Limnos Beach, that was to be our most consistent landing point, our sandbox for those eighteen or nineteen days.
A typical street in the nearby town of Volissos, home of our bakery and our market.

A view from our fort in Volissos.

Mesta, one of the idyllic little towns on our island.

Our trees on the island.


Our sunsets on Limnos Beach, version 1.

Our sunsets on Limnos Beach version2.

Breakfast on day one on our patio.

Our donkey.

Jonas's fingernail also made its return on the island.

And another view to the sea from Volissos Fort.
Our skies in Greece, the top-right six all from Chios.

Our friendly host, Tassos. Your go-to man on Chios. Sadly, Margarita was not in the office the morning we caught our ferry, so I didn't get her photo.

Margarita and Tassos's Hatzelenis Tours website - http://www.infochios.com/index.php?id=agency