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Thursday, September 14, 2006

We've arrived at our castle in Rome

When we arrived at the gates of Scandeluzza Castle in Rome, Italy, it was raining and someone from the castle had to come out and open the gates to allow our driver to enter the inner courtyard. The rain made it all the more eerie and romantic like something out of a fairytale.

Built in the 1700's, this Italian castle recently opened up to the public as a bed and breakfast. We're staying up in the tower of the castle. We have 2 bedrooms with 2 queen sized beds, a twin bed, a fireplace in each room, and a bathroom. Plus free roam of the castle.

Here's Astrid walking in front of our bed in the main room of the tower. You can see the marble seating that wraps around the one corner of the room. Astrid's holding a raccoon doll that was given to her by our host, Xenia (who we later found out is the fiance' of the Italian Prince who owns the castle). Xenia loves children (and can't wait to have many of her own) so she really doted on Astrid and couldn't get enough of her. One of four sides of the tower. These windows face the front, with a view of the large inner courtyard.Another side of the tower. The windows on the left side are of the 2nd inner chamber room that will be Astrid's bedroom.Same hallway, but this time Astrid running down it. Still holding onto her raccoon, while exploring. (We'd end up losing the raccoon in Amsterdam. She dropped it out of her stroller, and when we turned around, it was gone. Someone had snatched it up. Finders keepers.)She loved running around inside the tower. It's the greatest thing for a kid. No furniture or anything that could possible be knocked over, or injure her. Just room to run, and stuff to look at. These arched windows with inlaid bricks that line the walls of the tower are magnificent. I couldn't help but think that archers could be strategically placed inside the tower to protect the castle, or to get even more Monty Python, cauldrons of scalding tar could be strategically poured on those below trying to enter the castle from all sides.Since it was raining, our hosts asked us if we'd like to stay in for dinner and eat in the castle's dining room. Uwe and I were both beat from the journey and knowing that we would need to put Astrid to bed soon, it sounded like a great idea. Why go out to a restaurant (in the pouring rain) when we could enjoy a romantic dinner in the castle (while our little one was sleeping upstairs)?

We ate dinner in the hall of knights. The dining room surrounded by knights armor with a long wooden table, and a great big fireplace in front of us, felt like something out of King Arthur's "Knights of the Round Table". Although it didn't have any of this stuff (meats and such) hanging from the ceiling (like in the photo above). But there was a huge oak barrel next to the fireplace with a huge ham hock. There was also an antique candelabra on our table with lit candles, which Uwe tried to pick it up to see if it was real. It was so heavy, he could barely lift it. It could have belonged in a museum along with so many other antiques and collectibles in the castle. It really felt like we were transported in time to another era. Very cool for our first night (a rainy one at that) spent in the castle.

Our hosts ordered Margarita pizza for us which was delicious and we had some red wine from the Count's winery.

Uwe found a document posted on one of the walls downstairs with the Italian Owner's official Knighthood decree. So in addition to being an Italian Prince/Count, he's also a knight. Hopefully we'll get to meet this Italian Prince/Count/Knight in the morning, as the castle is also his home.

Uwe went up to check on Astrid a couple times during dinner and she was sound asleep. So we enjoyed our dinner, and afterwards we roamed around the castle for a bit (which is how Uwe found the Knight papers) and then we went up to the tower to retire for the evening.

Day 12 - Arrivederci Venice...We're off to Rome!

If I ever have a mid-life crisis you'll know where to find me. I really loved Venice and I'm sad to go, but I'm also excited to see the ancient ruins of Rome.I stopped to take a few last photos of Astrid at the train station.

A close up of my little angel. She's done so well on this trip. It was perfect time for us to travel with her.
"I'm gonna miss Venice too!"

(Ya know that song - "I left my heart in San Francisco?" My version would be, "I left my heart in Venice." I will be back and that's a promise.)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Our last day in Venice (jewelry shopping)

Today is our last full day in Venice. After 3 days of window shopping and looking into countless shops, I bought my first piece of Venetian jewelry.
Here is the beautiful necklace that Uwe picked out for me, hand-made from Murano (Venetian) glass.

I've always wanted to purchase jewelry while traveling. Something that's unique to that part of the world; plus you've got a story to go along with it that reminds you of your vacation each and every time you wear it.

While strolling the streets of Venice we passed shop after shop that specialized in hand-crafted, glass blown, gorgeous pieces of jewelry. It wasn't a matter of "should" I get something. It was a matter of "what" should I choose.

Today, on our last day in Venice, Uwe stopped dead in his tracks in front of a display window and said, "You should get this necklace." It was in a tiny shop called, "domaghi" that could have passed for an art gallery, with hand-crafted pieces of jewelry on display that were works of art in and of themselves, with no two pieces looking alike. Since the glass is hand blown and crafted, each piece of jewelry was unique and one of a kind.

Uwe loves the color red and he was pushing me to get something a little out of my comfort zone, since I tend to be more conservative. I love it. (Not only does it remind me of Venice every time I wear it, but I tell everyone my husband picked it out, to which they respond, "Your husband has good taste." Yes, he does.)

Afterwards we had dinner by the canal. I love the 3 courses they have here in Italy. Each course is delicious and you get to taste 3 different dishes that compliment one another. They also have the perfect serving size (not too much and not too little - but just enough). We didn't realize it but in the end, the dinner we had the first night we were in Venice was the best. We had been walking for awhile and got hungry, so we literally stumbled onto this restaurant. We thought it was a tourist trap because the menu was in Italian, English, and German. (Later we found that since Venice caters to their big tourism industry, most of the restaurants do this.) We had a delicious meal and great wine, but didn't think anything of it. Every night thereafter we tried different restaurants recommended in Uwe's off the beaten path/not for tourists guidebook, but they all fell short of our high expectations from our first Venetian restaurant experience.

The waitresses were even so nice as to fill up Astrid's sippy cup with milk (and asked if we'd like it to be heated up for warm milk). We found that the people here are genuinely very nice and love children.

It'll be our last night sleeping in the Palace, and then in the morning we're off to Rome.

The pigeons in San Marco

Piazza San Marco, (aka St Mark's Square), is the central landmark and gathering place of Venice, Italy. The Piazza itself assumed it's present form in the Renaissance. It's been referred to as "the drawing room of Europe."

More trivia:
  • It is the only space in Venice that is called "piazza". Everything else is simply a "campo" (field) or "piazzetta".
  • It's been the backdrop of many print ads and TV commercials.
  • It's one of the lowest points in the city of Venice and is frequently flooded.
  • The piazza is surrounded by 1) the Basilica (Cathedral) and 2) the Doge's Palace (King's Palace).

This was hands down the highlight of our trip - watching Astrid run around trying to catch pigeons in San Marco. None of that running after a lone pigeon or two. San Marco has THOUSANDS of pigeons. It was HEAVEN for a toddler (and even more fun for her parents - both Uwe and I were laughing and taking photos and videotaping all the while).

Here are a bunch of photos below.

This guy has food, which is how he's getting the pigeons to sit on his arms. You can buy bags of food from vendors to attract the pigeons. Some people had pigeons sitting on their heads (picture a girl screeching while her boyfriend is taking photos). It was the most ridiculous thing. (Oh and on a side note - there's pigeon poop everywhere too.)Astrid came close to catching a pigeon a couple times - even holding one for a brief second - but they each got away. The "hunt" was more fun to watch anyway. She was so excited. We literally had to sit her down and make her "rest". She was out of breath and exhausted from running and chasing the pigeons all over the plaza, but she didn't want to stop.

While I was running after her, filming her, I crouched down at her level for a brief moment and I asked Astrid if she was having fun and in response she ran by with her mouth wide open making a sound I can only describe as pure toddler excitement. It was so much fun to watch. (Uwe and I still talk about this day and watching Astrid chase the pigeons in San Marco.)Post pigeon chasing.Every photo has a story behind it right? Well here Astrid is with a big smile on her face - and guess what she's holding in her right hand? That's right - a feather! =)

Being dropped in the middle of a beautiful maze

After breakfast we decided to forget the map, and just get lost in the city. Our plan was to keep walking, and entering alleyways/corridors on a whim (Which way? You wanna go to the right? Alright let's go!) and see where it takes us.

Wandering the streets of Venice is like being dropped in the middle of a beautiful maze. It doesn't matter which way you go, you'll always end up somewhere interesting. A pigeon sitting on the head of a statue of a priest. More about the pigeons in the later post.
We are family. It's a gorgeous day in Venice.
"Hold on. Stand right there. I wanna take your picture." I suppose I sounded like a broken record, but it was so picturesque and I wanted to have tons of photos to remember our trip in Venice.
"Okay. Now let me take your picture," said Uwe.

I told Uwe that if I ever had a mid-life crisis he'd find me in Venice. I would love to live here and just get lost in the city for 3 months. It feels like a dream to be here. (Now that I'm posting about our vacation, after being back in LA for 5 months - I have to tell ya - I still dream of Venice.)My little one climbing the steps of one of the many bridges in Venice.

It was also perfect timing to travel through Europe with a baby - at 16 months old. First off since she's under 2 years of age, we didn't have to pay for a separate seat on the flight. Plus she's still happy to be in her stroller. Also, it's great fun for her to explore new places and see new things everyday. (A lot of fun for Uwe and I to watch Astrid run around a new place and experience it from a toddler's perspective as well!)

It may become a family tradition/motto - "Take your baby to Europe when he/she is 16 months old - go and we'll pay for it!" I would love to be able to do that for Astrid one day - Pay for her to take her family and 16 month old baby to Europe just like we did when she was a baby.Running to Papa's arms. In LA we call this an alleyway. In Venice it's called a street. It's an adventure wandering down these tiny streets to see where they go to. Some are quite dark and have many turns. Then there are others like this one that get sunlight and are straight. Walking toward Mama (aka the designated photographer on this trip).A close up of Astrid walking down the street in Venice. She looks so sweet in her little orange jumper with the flowers around the collar and green ladybug shoes.That's me. Not exactly sure what I'm standing under, (a little religious shrine I suppose), but it looks old and interesting.Mama and baby. Astrid's chomping on a rice cake. I love this photo of us. I look relaxed and happy, and Astrid looks sweet and adorable as always.

Day 11 - 1st morning in Venice

Good morning Venice.

We're staying at Palazzo Abadessa, a former Palace in Venice dating back to the late 1500's.

The website's description is: "A splendid historical residence situated in one of the most characteristic areas of Venice: treat yourselves to a magical and unforgettable holiday surrounded by period furniture, precious silks and high quality comforts."

This is the palace's entryway/atrium. If you look to the end where the double doors are surrounded by stained glass windows, just outside is the canal, and small dock where our water taxi pulled up to drop us off yesterday and unload our luggage.

Uwe painstakingly researched and booked accommodations for us, for this entire vacation, that included a separate room for Astrid so that we could still enjoy ourselves while she was sleeping (in the evening and during her afternoon naps). We were told we had a suite with 2 rooms, but when we got here we found that something must have gotten lost in the translation, because we had a big suite and sitting area, but just one room.

When we called the concierge, we were told they did have a smaller adjoining room, but it would be an extra $200 a night. We thought about it and then decided we'd just deal with having the pack 'n play and Astrid sleeping with us in our room. We got a call back shortly afterwards that they would open up the hallway which had another room and bath adjoining for Astrid, at no extra charge. They apologized for the miscommunication, as they thought we had an infant, not a toddler, and they understood why we would prefer a separate room for her. It was neat to see that there are all these adjoining doors (with old fashioned skeleton rings) and such that can be opened to connect rooms, since it was a residence at one point in history.

Here's a close up of the door, and that's Astrid in the forefront starting up the stairs. It was hard to take good photos inside the palace because of the lighting. It didn't feel dark because of the natural light that came in through the windows and doors, but it came out dark in photos. Here I tried taking a photo with flash, which tends to wipe out a lot of the smaller details, but you an see Astrid on marble stairs off to the side of the entryway. A spiral staircase, that the palace touts as being one of a kind in Venice, leading to the upstairs floor.The gallery room upstairs.More of the long gallery room.Our breakfast buffet. The lady who owns the palace also lives here, so it has a bed and breakfast type feel to it, with nice touches like the breakfast spread. We had a large selection of the freshest, juiciest fruit. One guest who had been traveling around Europe for a few weeks remarked, "Isn't this the freshest fruit you've had in weeks?!" My thoughts exactly! And they had fresh eggs, cheeses, breads and milk for the baby. A big plus! The owner also doted on Astrid during breakfast.

The stairs to the side of the buffet table lead up to our suite. It's a very narrow, steep staircase. I carried Astrid up and down it, while Uwe carried the stroller (and our luggage when we arrived). A view of the outdoor patio area/garden.It was such a beautiful day we decided to have breakfast outdoors in the patio area which is surrounded by a well kept garden. As you can tell from the photo, I'm enjoying my delicious breakfast, and first morning in Venice.Astrid going for a stroll in the garden, as Uwe and I keep an eye on her to make sure she's careful at the stairs. Yep, she's being careful. Astrid's done exploring the garden, and we're getting ready for another day of wandering around Venice and enjoying the city and not having to be anywhere or do anything in particular, but just enjoy ourselves.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Exploring Venice

Once we checked into our hotel and dropped off our bags, we couldn't wait to rush out and explore the city. "Forget the map, let's just walk around and get lost in the city," we said. A photo taken on one of the many bridges of Venice.
Here you can see the canal and buildings on either side.
Uwe was such a trooper carrying Astrid in her stroller over the bridges. Not only are there stairs on the one side going up, but there are also stairs on the other side going down. So double the work. Uwe's joked that his arms were going to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger's when our trip was over.
We had a few hours of daylight left and weren't going to waste any of it. There are no cars here - just pedestrians and some motorbikes. Walking is the main mode of transportation on the island (and by boat of course to get off the island).
Father and daughter, both happy to be in Venice.
Eating a rice cake.
One of the beautiful cathedrals.A close up of the top portion which is magnificent in and of itself."Venezia è bella!" (Venice is beautiful!) Even the baby is happy to be here, and all smiles.