Venice, Part II (The Peggy Guggenheim Collection)

Ciao Readers!

Today we continue our trip to Venice, specifically to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.  As I mentioned, we’ve actually been to Venice twice before (before we moved to Italy), but for some reason this museum managed to escape my attention.  Just when I was pretty sure I’d have to wait for a trip to France to see any art produced post-1600, I discovered this oasis of modern art!

Now, if you’re like me, you may have a vague sense of the name “Guggenheim” and be thinking “isn’t there a Guggenheim museum in…..?”  If you’re more art-savvy, you already know that there are in fact Guggenheim museums in New York, Berlin, and Bilbao, Spain.  You may even know that there have been other Guggenheims that have closed (e.g., Las Vegas), and yet others in construction (Abu Dhabi).  As usual, because you can Google this yourself, here’s the short version: The Guggenheims were an über-rich family (made their money in mining and smelting) of Swiss/Jewish ancestry.  With lots of that money they became serious patrons of the arts.  Solomon Guggenheim started the foundation that now runs all of the museums…. which brings us to Peggy Guggenheim and her collection in Venice.

Solomon was actually Peggy’s uncle (interesting fact, Peggy’s father Benjamin went down with the Titanic).  Peggy was an eccentric socialite and art collector who decided to settle down in Venice in 1949, after her divorce from surrealist painter Max Ernst.  She lived out her days there (until 1979) with her art and many dogs (who are buried next to her [see grave picture below]).  That home is now a museum (run by the Solomon Guggenheim Foundation), filled with all of the (modern) art Peggy collected.  It’s pretty mind-blowing that this “museum” and its contents were just one person’s house and stuff!  As you’ll see in the pics, there are Picassos (larger of the two pictured), a Chagall, a Dalí (I love Dalí), a Kadinsky, and many others not pictured (Pollocks, Mirós, Ernsts, a Warhol, and more).   In addition, there’s a very cool garden with some strange sculptures (a G-rated one [I think] is pictured) as well as the actual burial place of Peggy and the aforementioned dogs.  (There’s also a “wish tree” donated by Yoko Ono in 2003.)

Aside from the art and the garden, the other surreal part of the experience was that you really have no idea you are in Venice, Italy.  When we approached the ticket counter, all 3 ticket-takers were speaking English to each other (in English accents), and much to our surprise, all of the arts’ explanations were written first in English, then in Italian.  The museum’s docents had buttons reading “Ask Me About the Art” (in English).  It felt like we stepped through some secret portal to another (English- speaking) country.  Weird.  In any case, we had a great time in this little secret oasis of modernism in an otherwise ancient city.  Thanks for coming along!

Venice, Part I (The City)

Ciao Readers!

Today I am going to take you to Venice, though I am saving the visit to its Guggenheim until next time (it was so cool it gets its own post).  If you have never been to Venice, it is definitely one of those “must see” kinda places.  It’s an incredible city, actually made up of 118 tiny islands, linked by canals and bridges.  There are no cars, so the only means of public transportation is by “vaporetti” (boat-buses) – definitely the most fun type of public transportation ever!  The main focus of the city is the Grand Canal, lined with tons of gorgeous palazzos built between the 13th and 18th centuries.  There are only a few bridges which cross the canal, with the Rialto being the most spectacular (and its base being the location of the daily local produce and fish market).  Some of the little islands of Venice are semi-famous in their own right (Burano for lace, Murano for glass-blowing and Lido for its beach).  All-in-all it is a little fairy-tale place which is hard to describe with words!

In a way, I don’t feel like I’m the right person to take you to this amazing place.  You see, I’ve been here twice before (before we moved to Italy), so I don’t have that same sense of “WOW!!!!” as I did the first time (and it really deserves a major “WOW”).  Maybe you know what I mean – once you’ve been somewhere so amazing it is hard to recreate the experience – either because you are no longer surprised or because you have pretty high expectations for what a great time you should have.  The first time I saw Venice, not only was it the first time I saw Venice, but it was the first time I saw anywhere requiring a passport.  We stayed on a little island off of Venice (Giudecca) in an apartment overlooking the water, requiring us to enjoy taking the boat-buses everywhere (pretty hard to top).  The photo of Steve and I, and the view from our apartment (pics 2 and 3) are from that inaugural visit, in 2006.  Jaded or not, Venice is gorgeous and if you have never seen it in person, no blog post could do it justice.

While we weren’t surprised by how gorgeous Venice was, we were surprised that even though Venice is usually a tourist magnet, this time of year it was much less crowded than Florence and it felt peaceful in comparison (some of this is likely the lack of cars and requisite honking of such cars’ horns).  Since there are only 60,000 full-time residents, without most of the usual 50,000+ tourists Venice averages a day, the town seemed almost sleepy (notice the one lone elderly man crossing a bridge in the picture).  It gave us plenty of room to meander the streets and take photos uncluttered by crowds.

We discovered that many Venetians close up shop for the winter, which left us without the option of eating at one of the restaurants I had pre-researched.  Instead we ended up in what seemed like a popular local seafood place (no English menu, usually a good sign), and while the food was fine, it wasn’t the spectacular food I had in mind from our first visit there (so the picture below is of a memorable meal from 2006).  When we entered the restaurant the day was clear and bright, as you can see from the photos; when we emerged after lunch the city was completely shrouded in fog and you could no longer see across the lagoon (notice the solid white behind the row of gondolas).  After the Guggenheim (which was new to us), we wondered across the Rialto Bridge (the fog mixed with the Christmas lights created a cool polka dot effect in my photo), warmed up with some hot chocolate, and headed back to Florence on the train (about 2 hours).

Seriously, you gotta see it for yourself, but here’s a little sample:

Traveling in Europe

Okay, I have to admit after writing that packing post and thinking about all of the work this adventure requires I had fleeting thoughts of retreat.  To redirect myself I re-read some of my own blog posts and decided to contemplate even more cool things about this move… and whatd’ya know – my enthusiasm was renewed!  On that note – ya know another totally awesome thing about living in Italy?  The rest of Europe!!!

I was watching a “No Reservations” episode from Croatia and it really hit me (in addition to the fact that I apparently watch way too much t.v.) that we will be living just a train ride or a €49 Ryanair flight away from everywhere else in Europe!  The way we can now get to Santa Fe, Colorado or Las Vegas, we will be able to go to Venice or Paris.  How cool is that?

When we traveled in 2008 we got to visit many amazing places (and yes, eat lots of yummy food), so I thought I’d reminisce about a few of those and share a few pics from that adventure.  (If you think I am also subliminally trying to tempt you to come to Italy, you are right!).

There were the more famous places, where we had fabulous experiences, including Paris (I took a pastry class at Le Cordon Bleu, we saw the city and the Eiffel Tower decked out for the holidays and climbed the stairs at Notre Dame) and Barcelona (where we went to the amazing La Boqueria food market and spent days exploring the architecture of Antoni Gaudí).  Then there were the lesser known places, where we also had fab, though more “quirky” experiences, such as the breathtaking Plitvice park in Croatia (which we almost never saw as we got stranded in the middle of nowhere Croatia by an ornery bus driver, but were rescued by nice folks at a lodge, who served us the bbq, pictured below [one is a pig, the other…we have no idea!]), Ljubljana in Slovenia (funky cool Euro vibe meets old communist architecture), Brugge in Belgium (where the best chocolates in the world are made…and maybe somewhat known after the Colin Farrell movie “In Bruges”), Orvieto in Italy (where the incredible [and twisted] Signorelli fresco, “The Damned” is painted in a church, and the first place I ever tried real truffles [shaved onto my pasta] – YUM!), and Bath in England (a town so picturesque and storybook-like I seriously expected Hansel & Gretel to come skipping out of the houses).

Here are photos of the places I just described…  Come check it out for yourself!

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