Pirates of the Venetian Lagoon

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Pirate Ship

Editor’s Note: Frank and I are back home safe and sound. But we have a few more stories to tell, so we hope you will tune back in.  We will wrap up with some tips for traveling to Venice, as well as our favorite restaurants and “perfect day” in Venice.  Plus more about our next adventures . . . . .

But first – one of our best nights of the trip. We had dinner aboard the Jolly Roger pirate ship in the Venetian Lagoon.  When I booked this, I thought it sounded kind of kitschy but thought we’d still like it since we’d get a boat ride around the Lagoon, along with dinner.

Well – the big pirate ship pulled up and turned out to be one of our best meals. The main deck was set with candles (on a boat!) and buckets of Prosecco on each table.  A very nice start.

Pirate CAT 2

It looked like rain so they covered our deck with a tarp. And it was a little rocky – so much that one couple got off before we set sail.  But that made it all the more exciting to two sailors.  And away we went.

Pirate View

The kitchen did an amazing job – here’s how they kept the plates ready to be served. I may see if Frank will build one of these for our boat!

Pirate Plates

We had a 5 course meal that was as gourmet as they come, accompanied by as many bottles of wine as you wanted. When you got low, they just replaced your wine bucket with a fresh bottle.  (We had to be a little careful!)

Pirate Dining

We sailed all over the Lagoon – out to Burano and then by the Lido and finally back to Venice. At the end, the Jolly Roger paused with a nighttime view of St. Mark’s Square, served the final course, and played “Time to Say Goodbye” as lightning streaked the sky – wow!  What a night!

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Caffe Florian

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Florian Orchestra.jpg

One of our favorite evening activities in Venice is sitting out under the stars on St. Mark’s Square listening to the dueling orchestras. The coffee bars around the square each have their own multi-piece orchestras that play opera, show tunes, classical pieces, and traditional Italian favorites.  We love walking around and listening – and even dancing right in the middle of the piazza.

Our favorite is Caffe Florian. The Florian has been elegantly serving espresso and aperitivo to Venetians since 1720 and was a regular favorite of luminaries such as Casanova, Lord Byron, and Charles Dickens.  It is simply magical.

My parents introduced me to the Florian – they have shared a dance or two in St. Mark’s Square as the orchestra played.

When I came back with Frank, I took him. We loved it so much that, when Frank and I eloped to Venice last year, we had our first wedding toast there.  My family arranged it all.  My mother and sister even sent the napkins from their wedding so we could feel like they were with us in spirit.


So – Frank and I had “date night” and returned to our special place. As soon as we sat down, the orchestra started playing “When the Saints Go Marching In.”  A perfect song for a Southern girl.  I couldn’t believe it – it took everything I had not to jump up and wave my napkin!  (My mother thinks they recognized me, but I’m not sure that’s true.)

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We cheered, and they played “New York, New York” – Frank’s hometown. They also played “That’s Amore,” the song we danced to on our wedding day.

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We are leaving Venice soon and went back one last time. The orchestra struck up “Time to Say Goodbye” from Phantom of the Opera.  We had tears in our eyes as we sipped our limoncello.  What a wonderful Venetian tradition.

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A Cruise to Padua (Part II)

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Cruise - Boat

Yesterday, I posted about our cruise on Il Burchiello from Venice up the Brenta Canal to Padua. All along the way are stunning villas that were built by wealthy Venetians back in the day to escape the summer heat.  We were lucky enough to be able to dock at three of the most splendid.

Villa Foscari


This villa was built by Palladio (of architecture fame) in 1560. It was built for the daughter of a wealthy family who was having an amorous liaison disapproved of by her parents.  So they banished her to the villa, which is also referred to as Malcontenta.  We could not take pictures inside, but there are wonderful window seats for reading overlooking the garden.  Not a bad life.  (The villa is still privately owned – the owners live on the top floor!)

Villa Wildman


This villa, dating to 1719, also is still privately held. When we pulled up, the gates were padlocked.  Our guide called and someone came out and opened it just for us.  They had marvelous Murano chandeliers and a little ballroom that was just perfect, with a balcony all around.

They also had a gameroom with a dominoes table set up. I took this picture for my Texas family – they are passionate about dominoes.

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Villa Pisani

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This 18th century villa was the largest and most extravagant one we saw.  The Pisani family was one of Venice’s most prominent.  When one of their relatives was elected Doge (like the President of Venice), they commissioned this over-the-top villa, which took 25 years to complete.

Here is Frank at the front door, flanked by very large statues.

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The billiard room and ballroom were really amazing – the ceiling is by Tiepolo.

The villa was so nice that even Napoleon decided to buy it in 1807. Here’s a picture of his bedroom – complete with monogrammed bed.

The gardens were also fabulous.  And another piece of history – Villa Pisani was the site of the first meeting between Hitler and Mussolini.

Pisani - Gardens 2


Dazzled by all that we had seen, we slowly made our way up the rest of the canal. Our boat let us off at the Padua city gates, where we caught the city bus back to Venice (about 45 minutes).

We would highly recommend this outing, especially if you have already seen other highlights of Venice. We spent a day on a boat with beautiful scenery, were treated to a delicious lunch, and learned a little history – a delightful day.

Cruise - Canal

A Cruise to Padua (Part I)

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Cruise - Salute.jpg

Since we have seen many of the sights in Venice, we decided to get out of town. We signed up for a day-long cruise up the Brenta Canal to Padua.

Our barca (boat) was named after the vessels Venetians used to take on this very canal – Il Burchiello.

Cruise - Boat

It was very comfortable with an air-conditioned lower deck and an upper observation deck. We had about 20 people so plenty of room to spread out.  We also had a guide who told us what we were seeing all along the way.  And a perfect sunny day to explore.

We quickly put St. Mark’s behind us and headed to the Southern Lagoon. What a beautiful ride!

The Brenta Canal

In a while, we turned into a narrow canal, the Brenta Canal, which has been used since the 14th century to ferry goods between Padua and Venice.

It includes a series of locks so that boats can rise from sea level to the higher altitudes inland. We have gone through quite a few locks on our houseboat trips so we loved watching the crew lock through.

The scenery was beautiful – rolling countryside followed by village after village.

Villa Life

Back in the day, wealthy Venetians built opulent villas along the Brenta Canal to escape the summer heat (similar to the plantations near Charleston). They would tow a barge up the canal with their finest furniture and stay for the season, throwing spectacular soirees.  Each villa had a boat landing to welcome guests.

Over 100 villas still exist along the canal. We cruised by one stunning facade after another.  Some villas are still private residences, some are seemingly abandoned, and a few are even open to the public.  We were lucky enough to get to visit three of them,  including the villa that was eventually claimed by Napoleon himself – a story for tomorrow’s blog.

Villa Pisani

& Lunch

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Between villas, our burchiello pulled up to a restaurant for lunch. We walked in and the table was set for us with a bottle of local chardonnay and a 4-course meal.  What a day!

Buona Domenica (Good Sunday)

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St. Mark's Basilica.jpg

Buona Domenica is the greeting that everyone says to each other after church on Sunday.

One of our favorite things to do while in Italy has been to attend mass.  You get to sit in a beautiful church, listen to music, and have a very local authentic experience.  I always find it so moving.

Last week, we went to mass at St. Mark’s Basilica. During the day, people line up in the hot sun to get in – the line is probably at least an hour long.  Then they quickly stride through, bumping into each other trying to see the art and read their guidebooks.  Or they have a guide and skip the line but have to practically run through to get to the next stop on the tour.  We know – we have done both of these.

So this time, what a wonderful experience. We walked through the side door, where we told the guard we were attending Mass.  We were early so got a good seat near the front and could sit down (a good thing itself) and really take time to soak up the brilliant mosaics and architecture.  Soon the choir started – from up above us – and the priests walked down the aisle.

The service was in Italian and Latin, but we could generally follow along. And everyone filed to the front for communion at the end – seeing all the faces from all over the world as they walked back to their seats brought tears to my eyes and gave me hope that so many people would take the time while on a trip to stop and pray – in so many different languages.

Here are some tips if you are interested in attending Mass:

  • Time – Most of the larger churches have a website, although you may have to translate the days of the week. Most have mass every day, with more pageantry on Sunday (Domenica). You can also go to the church itself and look for a sign or ask.


  • Dress – We are always amazed (horrified) that so many tourists show up in flip flips, shorts, and sleeveless clothes. It is disrespectful. Women should cover their knees and shoulders (and in more rural areas, their heads). I usually dress more conservatively when I know I am going to church, but I always carry a couple of extra scarves in my bag just in case.


  • No Pictures – We also are surprised that people take pictures or even video throughout the service. One man took a picture of me as I took communion – the priest and I were both stunned. This is just rude. If you want a picture and the church allows, wait until mass is over.


  • Program – Most services have a written program in Italian that is like a script. Even if you don’t read Italian, you may be able to pick out some words and follow along. If completely lost, I watch to see when the person next to me turns the page and then start over. I also figure out who is Italian and watch when I need to stand up.


  • Peace – In Italian, “peace” is “pace” (pah-chay). When you hear this word, get ready to stand up and greet the people around you. You shake hands and both say “Pace.”


  • Communion – In the Catholic church, they have communion at every service. Everyone files to the front to be given the bread by the priest (sometimes they only do bread and no wine). They invite everyone who wants to partake. So it’s ok to get in line and make your way forward. I get in the back of the line and watch the people in front of me to see what they do since every place is a little different. To me, this is the most special part of the service. After you receive your communion, go back to your seat and sit quietly or pray.

So – Buona Domenica! Peace be with you, and have a blessed week!

Veri Italiani (True Italians)

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Basilico & Vino

So we are getting into the swing of being true Italians. I thought I’d share just a bit of our new culture.



We now carry a basil plant around with us everywhere. We had one in Sicily (which we had to leave) so one of our first purchases in Venice was a replacement.  We keep it on our windowsill and snip basil off for almost all of our meals.


Our neighbor has one, too – we feel truly Italian!

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We always love the local wine, but we especially love the homemade stuff. In Sicily, we carried around a jug of wine that the family had made from its own grapes.

In Venice, we aren’t so lucky, but we were fortunate enough to find the place the locals go for their wine. You purchase by the liter and can even bring your old bottles back.  They fill them up straight from the keg for under 3 Euro a bottle!  You can get malbec, cabernet, chardonnay – even Prosecco.  A great deal – and tastes pretty good too.


& Football

The Euro Cup has been playing almost the entire time we have been here. This is like March Madness for European soccer.

We were at Falconara for the early rounds, and the hotel set up a TV in the lobby. Everyone gathered each night – guests from all over the world cheering on their teams.

We were in Siracusa for the equivalent of the “Sweet Sixteen.” We stayed up late with Enza watching Italia and Irlanda (Ireland).

And we have been in Venice for the quarter and semi-finals. They have big TVs in the piazzas where everyone grabs an Aperol Spritz and stands in the middle of the square and cheers.  There was literally no one on the Grand Canal the last night Italy played – everyone was either at home or in the squares cheering.

Frank loves soccer and will watch re-runs of decades-old matches on any given afternoon. So he has been glued to the TV.


Tonight is the final – Portogallo versus Francia (Portugal versus France). Portugal has the highest paid athlete in the world – the great Ronaldo, whom you either love or hate.

We have made sure we will be home with a jug of our favorite young cabernet straight from the keg.

Cin Cin!!*

Soccer 2

* Cin Cin is the Italian equivalent of “Cheers” and means something like 100 years of fortune (100 is cento – pronounced “chento” – hence “chen chen”).




Gondola School

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Gondola - Frank 2

Our apartment is on the Grand Canal, and we watch gondoliers ferry passengers up and down. So when we heard about a Gondola School, we decided to give it a try.

There are different companies that do this, but our school is run by a fabulous group of women rowers who are enthusiastic about teaching this dying art. They teach lessons to help support their rowing club, Row Venice (www.rowvenice.com).  If you read through their bios, you will be super impressed – not only are they smart career women, but most speak a few languages – in addition to being able to row.  They are rock stars!

The Lesson

We met up with our instructor, Sofia, on a backwater canal – better to practice on. Our boat was called a batellina coda di gamero (shrimp-tailed boat), which is wider and more stable for learning.

Sofia snapped our oarlock in place and went through the steps – keep the oar straight with the diamond side up, twist the wrists, lower the oar, push forward, twist the wrists, and start over. If you don’t do each step, the oar jerks out of the oarlock and is hard to recover and put back in (I know this from experience – quite a few times).

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Sofia took the back position (where she rows AND steers), while Frank and I traded off on the front.

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We tentatively made our way through the quiet canals, gaining speed as we gained confidence – although, really, we know that if it wasn’t for Sofia on the back-end, we’d probably still be there.

Soon, we turned into the Venetian Lagoon itself – our eyes got big. There is a LOT of traffic out there!

Gondola Bow

We quickly moved to the shallow part outside of the channel, but we still had to contend with waves, making it hard to keep our balance.

Then Sofia let us try our hand at steering from the back. These are pictures of Frank, who was pretty good!  (He is better at rowing than picture-taking, so none of the pictures of me came out.)

At the end, Frank and I actually rowed us part-way home (him in back, me in front).


Our 90-minute lesson flew by and before we knew it, Sofia announced that it was time to open the Prosecco and head in for cicchetti – small Italian appetizers. These are popular all over Venice, where locals line up to cicchetti bars for a glass of vino and a few little snacks.  You can make a whole meal out of cicchetti.

And even cooler, Sofia knew of a couple cicchetti bars where you can pull up by boat.

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We rowed up and rafted to another gondola, with fenders in between (just like sailboats), sampling the local wine and cicchetti offerings.

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Then, we rowed a little farther down the canal and tied up to the seawall in front of another cicchetti bar.  We felt like true locals.

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P.S. The next morning we admit to being a teeny bit (or maybe a lot) sore in places where we didn’t even know we had muscles! But every time we see a gondolier go by our window, we smile with pride to be part of the tradition.

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Mercato Rialto

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Mercato Pomodoro

One of favorite things about our apartment in Venice is that it is next to the mercato (market). Very early every morning (except Sunday and Monday), the fishmongers set up in the “pescheria” with a dazzling array of fresh seafood.  Next to the fish market are the stalls of vegetables and fruit.  We can buy almost anything we need right here.

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At home, we have been experimenting with Blue Apron – the food box that comes every week with ingredients for gourmet meals and instructions to cook them. We decided to try our own version of Blue Apron – Venezia style.

Every few days, we venture to the market and pick out something fresh, then run home and google recipes.

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We plan all afternoon and divide up jobs. Then we pour a glass of wine and start cooking.  We also apply a few hints we learned along the way from Enza.


Our favorite meals so far:

Tonno Con Pomodoro (Tuna With Tomato) (inspired by Enza)

Pat fish dry and salt/pepper both sides. Add olive oil to skillet on medium/medium high.  Lightly sear both sides so still rare but not cold in middle.

Topping:  Mix chopped tomato, basil, lemon juice, garlic, and olive oil and let marinate for 30 minutes.  Spoon on top of tuna.

Accompanied by asparagi arrosti roasted asparagus)

Salmone  Balsamic0 (Salmon with Balsamic) (our own creation)

Pat fish dry and salt/pepper both sides. Add tablespoon olive oil and tablespoon butter to skillet on medium/medium high.  Pan sear until cooked through (about 4 minutes per side).

Topping: Mix olive oil, good balsamic vinegar, basil, and sundried tomatoes and let marinate for 30 minutes.  Spoon on top of salmon.

Accompanied by melanzane e patate novelle arrosti (roasted eggplant and new potatoes)

Merluzzo Miele e Aglio (Cod with Honey and Garlic) (Blue Apron Recipe )

Pat fish dry and salt/pepper both sides. Add olive oil to skillet on medium high.  Cook one side for 4 minutes.

Flip and add 4 whole garlic cloves and cook one minute.

Sauce:  To fish while cooking, add ¼ cup soy sauce, 2 TBS honey, and 2 TBS butter.  Stir frequently for about 3 minutes until fish is cooked through and sauce thickens.  (This sauce is amazing!)

Accompanied by Panzanella Estate (Summer Bread Salad) – good for stale bread!

Mix fresh peach slices, cherry tomatoes (halved), diced cucumber, and basil; drizzle with homemade white wine vinaigrette and chunks of stale bread (which soak up the vinaigrette) – divine.


Fragole Dolci (Sweet Strawberries)

Mix ricotta cheese with tablespoon of honey, whisk until smooths out and slightly liquid, drizzle in good aged balsamic and give final swirl. Serve over strawberries – we just made that up but it is delicious!

Are you hungry yet?  Buon Apetito!

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My Favorite Island – Torcello

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Yesterday we visited my very favorite island in the Venetian Lagoon – Torcello. And one of my favorite restaurants in the world – Locanda Cipriani.

I have been transfixed by this island ever since my parents and I encountered it when we rented a houseboat for a trip around Venice. We were new at barging and the light was fading.  We panicked and got permission to tie up to the water taxi stop on Torcello – an island we had never heard of.  We were just thankful to be tied up somewhere – even if in the middle of nowhere.

Torcello Sunset

My dad did a scouting mission and reported a number of restaurants so all seemed ok. Well, all the tourists left – and it turns out only about a dozen people actually live on Torcello – along with about 100 cats.  We ventured in to look for dinner, and every restaurant was closed.  We saw a light at a place called Locanda Cipriani and knocked on the door, but they turned us away because they had a private party (complete with a security detail).  They seemed shocked we were there.

We wandered around the churchyard looking at artifacts scattered about, including an unusual looking seat. It was a spooky place.


Soon we were driven back to the boat by more mosquitoes than we had ever seen.

Back on the boat, we read that this island had once prospered but the residents were driven out by malaria-carrying mosquitoes (yikes) – AND that the unusual chair we had seen in the churchyard was actually the throne of Attila the Hun. We spent a nervous night as the only boat tied up to the water taxi stop and were very relieved at first light.

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But Torcello – with its mystery and loneliness – had captured my imagination.

Torcello By Daylight

So – on my next trip (a few years ago, now with Frank in tow) – I wanted to visit Torcello in the daytime. We took one vaparetto after the other to travel the 45 minutes to this most outer island.  And it was as mysterious and special as I remembered.

There is a very simple church there that dates to the 7th century with amazing mosaics – and hardly anyone is there.  It is the most moving church I have visited in Europe – partly due to its silent setting.

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We came back the week of our wedding to visit again. And again yesterday.  Each time it captures me all over again.

Locanda Cipriani

And it doesn’t hurt that my favorite restaurant in Venice is there, too. When Frank and I returned, I once again knocked on the door of Locanda Cipriani – this time with a reservation.  They welcomed us with open arms and with the best pasta dish I have ever had (I have even dreamed about it) – green taglionini with prosciutto and béchamel sauce, baked and served au gratin.

The Locanda is a low-key inn with 5 rooms and a world-class restaurant. It has hosted the Queen Mother, Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Diana and countless movie stars looking to get away from it all.  Ernest Hemingway lived in one of the rooms for awhile writing.  It is a fascinating spot.

In summer, lunch is served in their beautiful gardens.

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The owners also own Harry’s Bar – much more touristy – but those truly in the know make the extra effort to travel to Torcello. A secret spot in the lagoon with a little mystery thrown in.

Locanda Cipriani


A Spritz at the Guggenheim

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Well, we kicked off our Venice stay in style – with a private party at the Peggy Guggenheim Museum. We can’t believe we pulled this off!

I was looking online for ticket information to the museum when I saw that they had a private party the very next night sponsored by Aperol – one of our favorite Italian drinks. It was called HappySpritz” and included admission to the museum after hours and 2 spritzes – for 14 Euro.  Wow – we signed right up!  (This was all in Italian – my workbooks have been paying off!)


Peggy Guggenheim was born a New York socialite. She inherited a fortune when her father went down on the Titanic and, when she came of age, decided to move to Europe and live a more bohemian lifestyle (she is sometimes referred to as a “woman Casanova”).

According to books, she wasn’t a great beauty, but she had a spark that made everyone want to be with her.  She started buying up modern art before it was in vogue and is credited with saving much of the important works of the time from the Nazi invasion of Paris, sending the art to New York for safe keeping.

At age 50, she “retired” to Venice, renovating a dilapidated palazzo along the Grand Canal and filling it with her art. There, she entertained artists, political figures, and movie stars (including Clark Gable) in much-talked-about soirees.

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When she died, she left her home to be a modern art museum. She is buried in the backyard next to the graves of or her pet dogs under a olive tree given to her by Yoko Ono.

With that history, who wouldn’t want to visit Peggy’s house?

Olive Tree.jpg

Happy Spritz

The line was out the door when we arrived – thank goodness we had tickets so could waltz right in. We grabbed our spritz and looked around.  A DJ was playing music, and everyone was dressed up for a night on the town.

The palazzo has a stunning position on the Grand Canal, so we hung out on the terrace next to a giant red Calder sculpture, watching the boats go by.

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Eventually, we made our way inside and wandered through rooms of Picasso, Dali, Chagall, and Pollack. Each room had a picture of how it looked when Peggy lived there.  It actually looked much the same, since these were her private artworks.  My favorite was the headboard in her bedroom – designed by Calder and including places where she could store her earrings – miniature mobiles that were also designed by him.  Wow.

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We danced home – with a little of Peggy’s spirit making our steps a little lighter.

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