Sunday, June 25, 2017

New favorite city??

I'm kind of glad that I'm behind on writing about Venice... because it means I get to relive it!

Venice is made up of about 100 islands connected by about 400 bridges. There are canals instead of roads, and boats instead of cars.

This is a canal near our AirBnb. 

Small canal in Venice

Oh yeah... and everything there is beautiful, colorful, and unlike any city I've ever seen!

First of all, let's talk about St. Mark's Square. That's where we started out our day. It's surrounded on three sides by these arched buildings. Most of the buildings hold luxury shops and restaurants. St. Mark's Basilica is on the fourth side. 

St. Mark's Square in Venice

St. Mark's Square in Venice

St. Mark's Basilica in Venice
St. Mark's Square in Venice
I'm so happy that there weren't many pigeons :)
St. Mark's Square in Venice
View from above

I'm thankful I have a smart sister, because she thought to pre-buy our tickets to the basilica. That meant we got to skip the hundreds of people in line and go right on in. I wasn't expecting what was inside...

Mosaics in St. Mark's Basilica

Mosaics in St. Mark's Basilica

Mosaics in St. Mark's Basilica

Gold mosaics cover the whole huge interior. I had so many flashbacks to the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul! They are both in the Byzantine style. I overheard a tour guide say that it took 8 centuries to finish these mosaics.

After the basilica, we went off in search of a gondola ride. We wanted to make sure our boat went through the tiny little canals and not the open water, so we set off into the maze of central Venice. It was a great place to wander.

Canal in Venice

Marissa Houdek Rubino in Venice

Venice canal

Leaning church and bridge in Venice

Eventually we found a gondola and all 6 of us climbed in. It was pretty surreal to actually be in a gondola in Venice!! 

Brothers-in-law on gondola ride in Venice

Gondola ride in Venice

I guess it makes sense because it's a small boat... but it was a little surprising how unsteady it felt at times! We weren't expecting to feel like we might fall out. It was still fun though, in case you were wondering.

From Jenna's last trip to Venice, she remembered a delicious take-out pasta place (Dal Moro's). It must have great reviews online, because it was packed with tourists. 

The funniest thing was the salty owner of a sit-down restaurant down the street. As hordes of tourists passed his restaurant to get take-out, he yelled things like "You'll regret it! You should eat with dignity!!" (accompanied by Italian hand gestures, of course). 

It turned out to be worth it. It was very fresh and served in cute Chinese takeout boxes. We took it back to the apartment and ate with "dignity" there. 

We kept right on going after lunch. Well, after a short nap for the rest of the family while me and David went to go buy more milk. Read the story of the milk here. It was a big part of the trip, believe it or not.

Our next activity was riding to the top of the bell tower next to St. Mark's. Once again, it was super satisfying to skip the line (grazie, Jenna!). I'm not a big fan of heights, but I didn't feel too much like I was going to die thanks to the top being all enclosed.

Doge's Palace and St. Mark's Campanile

There were some stunning views. We thought it was strange that you couldn't see the canals from up high- it almost looks like a normal city from above. Well, a normal European city with cathedrals and old buildings.

View of Venice from bell tower

View of St. Mark's Basilica in Venice from bell tower

View of St. Mark's Basilica in Venice from bell tower

View of Venice from bell tower

View of Venice from bell tower

The Doge's Palace is right next door. This was where the doge, (the ruler of Venice) used to live back when Venice was independent. Of course, it looked like this...

Exterior of Doge's Palace in Venice

Courtyard of Doge's Palace in Venice

Doge's Palace in Venice ceiling

Doge's Palace in Venice ceiling

Doge's Palace in Venice

This mural by Tintoretto was one of my favorite parts. 

Doge's Palace in Venice- Tintoretto painting

As part of the palace tour, you can walk on the famous Bridge of Sighs.

Bridge of Sighs in Venice

View from the bridge
I don't think I've mentioned it before, but this marathon day in Venice was important for another reason as well.... it was David's 25th birthday! We sacrificed having an Italian meal to let David have an American burger at the Hard Rock Café.

We decided to do some shopping and window shopping after dinner. Venice has some unique shopping. Instead of typical souvenirs, you can buy glass and masks! It sounds pretty random when you put it like that haha. Glassmaking has been an industry in this area for centuries. The mask thing comes from the traditional costume in Venice for Carnival (Mardi Gras). 

There are glass sculptures, figurines, vases, chandeliers, and jewelry. I got some sparkly earrings. My parents got a glass version of Buttercup and Jenna found a panda. These people get me. 

Shopping in a Venetian glass shop

The last event of the evening was a Vivaldi concert. David, mom, and Cabren opted to go and me, Jenna, and dad opted to sit it out. I'm still a little scarred from the 3 hour Bach concert in London a few months ago. I'm not ready to risk another concert quite yet ;)

Before heading out the next morning, David and I were the only ones with enough energy to run out and track down the famous Rialto Bridge. I think it was worth it!

Rialto Bridge in Venice

On the drive back to France we stopped for lunch in Verona, of Romeo and Juliet fame. Of course, we had to stop to see the Juliet balcony. It was kind of a tourist trap. It was a challenge to take the obligatory picture without someone coming onto the balcony for their own photo op. 

I'm too cynical to believe that real Capulets actually lived here, but that's the claim. 

We didn't go inside, but Verona has a nice Roman arena.

Roman arena in Verona

Here's my last shot of Italy. Arrivederci for now.

After a few more hours of driving, we had one last family dinner in France. What a trip!! Switzerland, Cannes, Monaco, Florence, and Venice! Venice was my favorite part- it totally blew me away.

It will be hard to ever top this family vacation. Thanks for coming, family! It was an amazing week.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Sheep yogurt and immigration

Usually weekends with David's family are my French immersion weekends. Lately David and I haven't done very well at speaking French together. Ironically, we made more of an effort when we lived in the U.S. 

There's something awkward about having a relationship with someone in one language and then trying to switch to another. Yesterday David tried to speak English to his cousin and he couldn't- it kept turning into French. There's your proof.

So anyways, it's good for me that his family doesn't speak English. We visit them fairly often, so I still get my practice in. It's funny what random words you learn hanging out with native speakers. Here's a few I picked up on this weekend.

un mammifère = mammal

la coqueluche = whooping cough

le parapente = paragliding

And my personal favorite... 

la brebis = ewe

On a related note, apparently I've been eating SHEEP yogurt for a few months hahaha. I was completely clueless. It does taste good though- just sounds weird.

We had a nice weekend in Gap getting a break from the heat. It hasn't been extremely hot in Cannes yet (low 80s), but with an upper floor apartment and no air-conditioning... I've been suffering a little bit. I'm someone that's not bothered by Wisconsin winters, but I'm a baby about summer heat. Maybe it's in my genes.

On Saturday night we drove over to the Lac de Serre-Ponçon in Embrun. It's a beautiful setting in the Alps! The water was so clear. I don't usually have the urge to swim in lakes, but I kind of wanted to in this one.

As far as life updates go...

-We still haven't heard from American immigration. We were expecting the next step of the process to get started in May, but that hasn't happened yet. So it doesn't seem realistic to be back by September (that was kind of a long-shot anyways). Hopefully in October instead.

-I FINALLY heard from French immigration. I was supposed to hear from them by March, but I just barely received my convocation to do a medical visit and have my visa validated. I'm supposed to go to Marseille on July 6th. At that point I will be fully legal, able to work, and have insurance. Of course, it happens now that we'll be moving back soonish...

-I almost moved back to the U.S.! Unfortunately, since I'm a teacher, there's only one time of the year when I can start working. I applied to some jobs (there were surprisingly a LOT of French teaching jobs open) and had some interviews. I was excited to actually be doing something I like and making money, but we decided this weekend that it wasn't worth it. Since David's immigration situation hasn't progressed, we would have had to be apart for at least 2.5 months, but most likely longer. And according to our work schedules and the time difference, we couldn't have even talked on the phone except for on weekends.

So there's that. Maybe I could get lucky again and find another long-term sub gig mid-year. We'll see! For now, I'm going to keep enjoying Europe. 

David and his milk

Before I talk about Venice, I have to talk about milk. Believe it or not, milk was a big part of our trip.

Let me back up. David likes to eat. I've seen him eat hamburgers as a "before-dinner snack" or even as "dessert." 

Usually on trips, he skips breakfast because he's not a fan of European hotel breakfasts. They generally lack cereal, eggs, or bacon. In France, it's more about bread and coffee. 

On short weekend trips, it's not a big deal... but prior our 4 day Italy trip he spent a LOT of time thinking about what he could eat for breakfast. Since we booked an Airbnb with a kitchen in Venice, he had the bright idea to bring along his own cereal and buy milk there. Problem solved! David could eat breakfast!!

He was very preoccupied with procuring the milk. Here are some quotes about the milk situation...

Before the trip:
Are there grocery stores with milk near the apartment? 
I need to remember to bring cereal to go with the milk.

Arriving in Venice:
I need to google directions to the store with the milk.
The stores are closed for the night!! It's too late to go get my milk!!
I have to wake up early, get ready, then go get the milk in the morning.

After the trip:
Are you going to write about the milk on your blog?

All of these phrases and more were repeated several times. Everyone in the family knew that David needed his milk at all costs and nothing would stand in his way.

I'm happy to report that he was successful. He braved the winding streets of Venice and managed to get his milk. He then said a prayer about being thankful for the milk. I think my dad almost choked trying to hold back a laugh at that point.

The milk was such a smashing success that later in the day we returned to the milk store and bought some more for the next day.

And that is the story of David and his milk in Venice. I think the whole family will remember it for quite a while.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Italian Road Trip

On Friday morning, we woke up in Florence. Before leaving Florence behind, we took a few minutes to stop at the Piazzale Michelangelo for a last view of the city.

View of the Duomo from Piazzale Michelangelo in Florence

Our next stop was Siena! This city is special to Jenna because she lived there during her study abroad a few years ago. It's only a little over an hour from Florence, so we were walking through the medieval streets in no time.

Piazza del Campo in Siena

Medieval building in Siena

Small piazza in central Siena

Medieval street in Siena

We ate lunch in the Piazza del Campo, the main square of the city. I had what was easily the best pizza of my life. Afterwards we continued the tradition we started in Florence- gelato every day after lunch.

Piazza del Campo in Siena

Siena is not a very big city, but it has a huge and impressive cathedral. Everyone loved the Duomo di Siena... except for a super pretentious American we overheard complaining that it was "garish" haha. Someone has very high standards. 

Exterior of the Duomo di Siena

Exterior of the Duomo di Siena

I personally liked that it has a lot going on. In general, most Italian cathedrals are more ornate than what you see in other parts of Europe. I'm all for it.

This window is from 1549 and still going strong.
The next leg of our trip was the longer drive of the day- it was time to head to Venice! As much as I loved Florence and Siena, I was so excited to go somewhere new that's been on my bucket list for a while!

On the drive, we learned that you can't read books on Italian road trips. The Italians are very into tunnels. Every hill/mountain has a tunnel going through it. So no reading unless you're very patient and don't mind that you have to pause while it goes dark every 10 minutes. 

None of us really knew what to do or where to go when we got to Venice that night. You can't drive into the city (guess why? water.), so we had to park and then find transportation. The cheaper option would have been to take a vaporetto (water bus). 

However, with 6 people, a ton of luggage, and not knowing where exactly to go, we opted to take a private water taxi instead.

I'm so glad we did! It was the perfect introduction to Venice. It was relaxing and beautiful. And the sun was just starting to set. 

Sunset from a vaporetto in Venice

Sunset in Venice

Before we even got off the boat, I already knew I needed to come back to Venice someday.

We got off at Piazza San Marco. To find our AirBnB, we went to the owner's nearby glass shop. His friends met us there and led us through a maze of narrow and winding streets. When I wasn't near the water, it almost felt like the Old City of Jerusalem! 

More adventures and so many more pictures of Venice coming soon...