mapped it: Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice

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Venice appears almost like a dream.  Completely situated on water, the roadways are all canals while the alleys and sidewalks are all built with stone.  At every turn, artists brush paint on their canvases while musicians strum along to the rhythm of the water.  It seems only right to pay homage to the beautiful artwork housed in this picturesque city of the sea.

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L to R: Empor by Vasily Kandinsky & The Antipope by Max Ernst

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Taking an artsy selfie.

Come explore the rich artworks housed at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice along the Grand Canal.  This collector of modern art (married to artist Max Ernst) gathered pieces from Picasso to Warhol, Dali & Chagall.  You will find featured works of Expressionism, Futurism, Abstract, Surrealism & more.  Each painting, sculpture & photograph shares a unique story with its beholder.  We ate up the tales like they were mystery chocolates in a box.

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L to R: (Translated from French) Very Rare Picture on the Earth by Francis Picabia
& La Croix ancree by Antoine Pevsner.

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La Baignade by Pablo Picasso.

Get to it: stop off in the neighborhood of Dorsoduro by water taxi at Accademia (or stay a couple blocks away at a reasonable price like we did!)

Cost: 14 euros per adult.  Discounts offered to students, seniors, & children.

Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m.  Closed Tuesdays & Christmas Day.

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L to R: Flowers by Andy Warhol & Setting for a Fairy Tale by Joseph Cornell.

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L to R: Surface Developpable by Antoine Pevsner & Logogriphe aux Pales Jean Dubuffet.

mapped it: top 3 reasons Venice is the real City of Love

A young couple visiting the city built on water stops in at a wine & spirits shop.  Grabbing a bottle to share, they are told by the shop owner, “You drink Prosecco, you make love!”  The passion-filled Italians encourage bold behavior while the city itself lends to a romantic ambiance by which lovers are sure to be swept away.  Welcome to Venezia, the real city of love.

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In a land where world-renowned lovers such as Casanova & Romeo existed, you are hard-pressed not to indulge in your amorous side while visiting Italy.  The sinking city however (seriously, it’s sinking, so you better visit quick!) knows how to step it up.  Take away the noise produced by auto traffic in a typical city & replace it with the soft sounds of a whirring boat or gondola rowing by.  Now, add in lush gardens & vines crawling up the sides of architectural beauties or pots of vibrant flowers lining each windowsill.  Imagine a nighttime stroll through this urban oasis & watching the city lanterns burn brightly for you.  Here is a lover’s list of things to do in the City of Love:

(Do not) add your lock to the lovers bridge.

This tradition’s origins are relatively unknown, but some claim love locks began back in Serbia a hundred years ago.  Much more recently though, an Italian novel called Ho Voglia di Te (I Want You) by Federico Moccia where two teens place a lock on a bridge as a symbol of their relationship has inspired this tradition to prosper in Italy.  Greg & I attached our pink padlock to the Ponte Dell Accademia (a wooden bridge with special metal railing for the locks) & threw the key over the bridge into the water to show our eternal love for one another.  Taking part in this tradition is controversial though.  Love locks have shown up all across the world.  From Paris to New York and Ireland, bridges all over are covered in this symbolic gesture.  Many love locks have caused deterioration and structural damage to famed bridges.  The Rialto Bridge in Venice faced this problem & it is now illegal to add a padlock to Venetian bridges.  However, the love locks are beautiful street art that you can easily admire & appreciate by reading the names written or engraved.  Maybe it’s time we come up with a new (less harmful) tradition for lovers: any suggestions?

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Take a gondola ride.

Seriously.  Take it.  You may think gondola rides are cheesy & a tourist trap, but there is a very good reason this boat ride is admired by so many.  Gondolas offer a leisurely tour of Venice, allowing you an up-close-and-personal view of the outstanding architecture & a chance to see some of the inaccessible parts of the city.  Expect to pay 80 euros for a gondola ride, which is the standard price for a 40-minute tour (although sometimes you can bargain for lower).  A few tips: a ride at sunset is spectacular.  If you want your gondolier to act as a tour guide, ask a few to find who seems the most talkative.  We preferred a quiet experience for us to enjoy to ourselves.  And make sure to ask the gondolier to take you down the side streets rather than the Grand Canal.  You will have a less crowded waterway as a result & capture incredible views of the city homes & sites.  You can opt to pay extra for a gondolier who will serenade you, but often on the side streets, you’ll round a corner to hear a street musician who seems just as talented playing for you & your lover.

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Indulge in one tourist trap: the San Marco Piazza.

Expect crowds of people & pidgeons.  This famed square is overrun with both tourists & birds, but for good reason.  (Okay, the birds are pushy & a bad result of the tourists, but nonetheless, they are entertaining!)  Shops & restaurants line each side leading up to the San Marco Basilica, so sit down for a bottle of bubbly or a cup of coffee with your lover & take in all the madness.  Let the lively music reverberate through your bones to give you a pleasant desire to sashay your hips & toast to this one-of-a-kind town.  Then, shimmy up to the top of the Clock Tower for a breath-taking view of Venice, the city of love.

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planned it: review of Hotel Ca’ Zose in Venice, Italy

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Venice, a town unlike any other, may appear to be overrun by tourists but you can find sanctuary here.  Sanctuary away from the modern world, away from the daily grind.  Slow down and immerse yourself in a place where it seems as if you have stepped back into another era.  Find out for yourself why no city can compare to the beauty of Venice.

When visiting this grand city, learn about the various neighborhoods beforehand to find the perfect place for your stay.  We chose the neighborhood of Dorsoduro because it is centrally located and is known as being more reasonably priced than the hotels found across the canal.  Formerly known for drawing artists to its’ area, Dorsoduro has turned into a peaceful neighborhood spotted with wonderful restaurants, including a gelato shop, and museums.  We chose to stay at Hotel Ca’ Zose for our visit to Venice.

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Loconda Ca’ Zose has picture-perfect  Venetian style and offers a prime location for sight-seeing.  Practically across the way on the Grand Canal from the San Marco Piazza, Ca’ Zose is tucked away yet easy to find.

The Service

Fair warning though, if stairs aren’t your thing, this is not your place.  Personally, I found the absurd path to our room an entertaining journey.  The concierge, a chivalrous young man, took it upon himself to carry my bags up the long flights of stairs.  Greg was left to lug his bags up one flight of stairs, across a balcony, around a corner and up another couple flight of stairs, much to my amusement.  Even as we left and Greg teased me about having to carry my baggage finally, the gentleman popped out of the adjacent bedroom to offer his services yet again.

The  Room

The decor is charmingly inspired by the Italian Renaissance era with rich warm colors and ornate designs.  The room offers a comfortable bed and a window that opens up to allow the sounds of lapping water and romantic music (from a talented street musician located nearby) to serenade you to sleep.  There is one small issue with the room (and I do mean “small”): the shower is teeny tiny, ideal for a quick hop in before dashing out the door for some serious sight-seeing.  If you’re hoping to relax with a long hot shower however, you might be a tad disappointed.  The extremely helpful staff and ideal location just near the opening of the Grand Canal into larger water makes this place well worth a stay.  Plus, with an available boat landing, you can score a taxi right when you need it (as we did on the day of our departure when a water taxi strike commenced).

The Sites

Ca’ Zose is just a couple of blocks away from the famed Peggy Guggenheim Collection and the Accademia Gallery.  It is also within easy walking distance of the Rialto Bridge where you can score souvenirs aplenty.  Or you can head in the opposite direction and discover the beautiful church known as Santa Maria della Salute (see below).  We were within easy walking distance of most things and a simply taxi ride across the Grand Canal to the San Marco Piazza where you can find the best views of the city from the clock tower.

Book It

Rates are based off of high season for 2015: Rooms start at $160-$305
Rooms include: wi-fi, air conditioning & continental breakfast
Visit here to book your room or learn more: www.hotelcazose.com

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planned it: experience agriturismo in Tuscany

IMG_8174The fertile land of Tuscany offers such picturesque scenery & you can experience it firsthand.  Agriturismo gives tourists the chance to live the luxe life on a farmhouse turned resort in the middle of the beautiful Italian countryside.  These lavish homes are set next to crops of sunflowers, grapes or olive trees to provide you a taste of the country life.  Meals are typically provided from items grown on the property or locally, which means you are guaranteed to have  a scrumptious home-cooked meal at some point.  Plus, if you choose to, there are often opportunities to take part in activities around the farm.  We went with a beautiful farmhouse just outside of Montepulciano that offered the rustic charm of the countryside along with a jacuzzi & a  pool.  Ahh…yes, the sweet life…  Allow me to introduce you to Agriturismo Casa al Bosco:

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This eighteenth-century farmhouse is operated by the lovely Cassioli family.  Constanza (the only English speaker of the family) & her father (who couldn’t speak an ounce of English) were absolutely delightful hosts.  In our failed attempt to understand the bus routes, we relied heavily on a taxi to get us back & forth from the town centre of Montepulciano.  (Read my guide to Montepulciano here.)  That was an unfortunate alternative for two reasons: evidently, there is only one taxi driver in all of Montepulciano (an energetic, charismatic man who drove maybe a bit too fast but always left us with a smile & a friendly wave), which often meant 1) we had long waits for his arrival, & 2) it was rather expensive fare.  However, as soon as the father heard of us taking the taxi to arrive at his abode, he insisted on driving us himself so we could save our money.  Can you believe that generosity?  As if the lavish establishment wasn’t enough to win us over, the hospitality of the owners certainly floored us!

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Our inviting room complete with jacuzzi tub.

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I highly recommend experiencing agriturismo for yourself.  It is a true getaway from the everyday & Agriturismo Casa al Bosco is the perfect place for you to try out this brand of tourism.  Come back on Wednesday for a look at our Halloween party from this past weekend!  Until then, arrivederci!

mapped it: Top 3 Things To Do in Montepulciano of Tuscany, Italy

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Bonjourno!  Welcome to the splendid countryside familiar to all as Tuscany.  Truly, you will find the hills unroll to reveal vineyards & rows of sunflowers for you, winding & dipping & spilling over with beauty.  Montepulciano works well as a home base for you to explore the vast Tuscan countryside, including Florence & Siena.  As our time was limited, we chose to simply ramble through this charming Renaissance town.  Here’s my Top 3 Must-Do items when in Montepulciano:

1. Eat authentic Italian pizza.

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So maybe this doesn’t necessarily fall under a totally Tuscan absolute, but seriously, you better devour some pizza when in Italy.  We just happened to take part in this pleasurable experience while in Montepulciano.  The crust is thin & fluffy (not like the cracker type offered in St. Louis) & the cheese is rich in flavor while the sauce is the freshest I’ve ever tried.  I struggle with finding homeland pizza that stands up to it.

2. Sample the wine of Tuscany.

IMG_8302Vino Nobile is the pride of Tuscan wine.  The deep reds featured here are all DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita), which means they come from a protected geographical location & are produced with the highest level of quality.  In other words, these wines are 100% authentic in origin.  The wine is aged in oak barrels for a couple of years (or more, if it is a reserve).  Sign up for a sample session & you’ll get 6 samples, including a few from reserve bottles.  Soon, you too will understand the many awards lining the walls of this tavern-like building.

3. Put on your best pair of walking shoes & stroll the streets of the walled medieval city, Montepulciano.

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The stony streets of this Tuscan town are utterly gorgeous, from the narrow alleyways that provide a peek of the rolling hills just beyond to the grand churches & colorful shops.  Stop off at the Piazza Grande a Montepulciano for excellent cuisine, wine (featured above) & beautiful historical sites to explore.  It truly is easy to imagine living la dolce vita in a place like this.  Can’t you just see Sophia Loren leaning out one of these flowered windows or balconies?

The sun-baked Tuscan town of Montepulciano is one to add to your wanderlust wish list.  Come back Monday to learn about the historic farmhouse we stayed in & highly recommend!  Till then, ciao!

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mapped it: Monterosso al Mare in the Cinque Terre of Italy (foodie edition)

Monterosso 4The Cinque Terre is one of the finest gems that the Italian Riviera has to offer.  Monterosso may be tourist-infested, but between the beautiful beach & the traffic-free streets, the largest of the five towns is absolutely delightful.  Arriving after a long train ride, we stepped out onto the platform which opened up to a gorgeous seaside street lined with restaurants.  However, we rolled into town rather late, so our options were limited & we simply wanted to fall into bed.  After confusing our map directions, we ended up on the opposite side of town with suitcases in tow & landed in the middle of an outdoor festival.  We lacked the energy to join in the dancing & drinking, but the throng of happy party people certainly seemed inviting & lifted our moods.  We turned back, heading through a tunnel & past the tempting eateries.  I stopped us at the gelateria that was still open & grabbed us a slice of lasagna & dessert to go.  Greg juggled all the suitcases while I managed dinner & we finally rolled into our destination: the 5 Terre Hotel.  One of the owners, a helpful older man, greeted us by complimenting my petite figure & Greg’s strength.  Then, he showed us to our room where we promptly devoured (& enjoyed) our hasty meal choice.  Thus began our foodie experience of Monterosso al Mare.

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The next day, we rambled through town, stopping off to sample wine & homemade pesto, buying some jars to take home with us.  To learn more about the wine we sipped on, read this.  For dinner that night, we chose Ristorante Miky for a fancy dining affair.  Our waiter uncorked a white German wine for us before bringing our main course.  The skilled servers excel at presenting your dish from deboning sea bass to flambeing seafood ravioli (as was the case for my meal).  The waiter proceeded to punch holes in the bread lid, then rolled it back to reveal the mouth-watering contents.  If you get the opportunity, be sure to stop in for this fine dining experience during your visit.

Before bidding adieu to the beautiful sea town, we savored one last meal of prawn pasta sitting out along the main street while taking in the brilliant scenery.  Then, we boarded another train headed for Tuscany.  Come back next Monday to learn about the next leg of our Italian tour.

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mapped it: Monterosso al Mare of the Cinque Terre, Italy

Cinque TerreBonjourno!  Welcome to our first stop in Italy: Monterosso, the largest of the five seaside villages built into the cliffs along the Italian Riviera.  This particular town has a lovely beach that lends to its resort rep.  Add to that some Old World charm & it is all too easy to relax & set your worries aside.

When we first arrived by train to the darling town of Monterosso, Greg & I had grand plans of using this as our launch point for exploring all five postcard-worthy villages.  The hiking trails between the villages are known for their spectacular views & each town has its own unique lifestyle to enthrall you.  Well, supposedly.  I might be able to confirm this for you had a storm not rolled in from the Ligurian Sea to disrupt us.

The storm lasted all three days of our stay, deciding finally to relent as we headed for the train station on our final day.  I scored the above snapshot as we grabbed lunch just before leaving town.  You may think a little storm couldn’t rain on our parade, but the hiking trails are shut down during inclement weather for safety reasons.  So we made the best of being stuck in this Italian seaside village, & that certainly wasn’t hard to do.

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We strolled through the cobbled streets of the Old Town, stopping off at little shops full of delightful handmade goods & any beautiful building that caught our eye.  The Church of St. John Baptist (Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista) is striking with a large rose window & striped serpentine decor.  The church, originally built at the very beginning of the 14th century, was recovering from a devastating flood in 2011.  You could see the flood lines along the wall but that certainly didn’t take away from the beauty of this historic building.

IMG_8105 (2)We stayed just off the main road alongside the sea at the 5 Terre Hotel.  We instantly loved the warmth of the hotel staff & felt right at home when greeted by the resident calico cat (it reminded us of our sweet Chelsea cat).  Our floor-length windows opened up above the garden, which smelled delightfully fresh from the abundant rain.  Greg & I spent most of our time finding keepsakes for our loved ones & sampling the wine of the region: a drier white made from a combination of grapes & the sticky-sweet wine called sciacchetrà produced out of the late harvest.  Only white wine can be produced in the Cinque Terre soil, but as I tend to go for the whites, that was quite fine by me.  The sciacchetrà proved to be too sweet even for me (I have a ridiculous sweet tooth, seriously), but the biscotti paired with it tasted lovely dipped in the dessert wine.

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Stop in next week to learn about the unique food presentation we experienced here in the Cinque Terre.  Till then, ciao!