Venice and the Dolomites with my Besties

I couldn’t wait to meet up with my friend Vianna and her husband Mark in Fiesole, a suburb of Florence.

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My friend Vianna, creating art in a beautiful place

Vianna is my very best childhood friend and one of my most favorite people on earth. We were inseparable from the time we met when we were 6 until I moved away from the neighborhood when I was 12. Those childhood years are so formative, and with so many shared experiences, we even think alike.

Vianna and I walked around in a little friendship bubble in our lakeside neighborhood, which was a bit crazy in the late 60’s and 70’s—Adults were often out partying on the lake, totally ignoring the kids, who had the run of the neighborhood. While other kids went fishing, built forts or raced around on their sting ray bikes, Vianna and I would hang out at the beach, covering ourselves with muddy ‘beauty treatments’. Or we would go over to her house and perform ‘science experiments’, dumping her mother’s expensive creams and lotions together in the sink to make health tonics that we were sure would sell for millions.   Once, we made a kite out of a paper bag, shaping it like a pair of pants to enter into a kite flying contest. We decorated it with drawings of nasty bugs, decomposing fish, and other disgusting things and named it “Virus Fischwrot, a combination of our names—Vianna Wright and Ruste Fischer. It flew enough for us to win the ‘most creative’ prize in the contest.

We still call each other Virus Fischwrot. It fits us so well.

We had a great childhood friendship and we’ve kept in touch over the years. Vianna and Mark came to stay with us in February, and during the visit, we planned a trip to explore Venice and the Dolomites after Vianna finished up a landscape workshop she was teaching for Artensity, an Ann Arbor company that organizes workshops in Italy and Ann Arbor featuring leading artists. In addition to being very knowledgeable and organized, hosts Debra and Ivano Zamperla were delightful.  I quickly felt welcomed into their community of artists on the trip.

I joined the group on a bus trip in the rolling Tuscan countryside to Siena.

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I was still wheezing away….

So when we arrived in Siena I bit the bullet and took advantage of an opportunity to enjoy a cup of gelato in the Piazza del Campo with one of the artists from Vianna’s workshop.   We watched men putting up decorations for the famous biannual 90-second Palio di Siena horse race in which men ride bareback three times around the square.  It’s not that big and I can imagine that it’s chaos, crammed with thousands of people and horses on race day.  On this Sunday afternoon it is a pleasant place, with families dressed in their finery, just out of church, eating gelato with us in the sunshine.

No trip to Tuscany would be complete without a winery tour. 

A tour of the vinyard was followed by a full lunch with 6 different wines. Yum!  Of course, I bought a couple of bottles, not thinking about where I would put them in my very full suitcase.

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The vines looked very healthy!

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Not a bad spot for lunch

The next morning, after breakfast and goodbye hugs, we hopped the fast train to Venice.

Our AirBnB rental was a comfortable 2-bedroom apartment at Piazza San Antonio, a few blocks from the main train station and a 10-minute bus ride to the island of Venice.  After a very delayed flight and missed connection, Rob joined us later that night.

The next day, we got up and headed to Venice, where we walked along the narrow streets, looked through some of the shops and eventually found our way to Piazza San Marco, the main square.

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Piazza San Marco–Note the Eastern influence on the architecture in Venice

I found Venice a bit underwhelming.

It is a tourist city, designed to extract as much cash from visitors as possible, living its past more than its present or future. It was built on millions of wooden pilings and is gradually sinking.  Strategically positioned in the Laguna Venita in the Adriatic Sea, for centuries it was a merchant city and trade gateway between east and west. Warehouses with beautiful palazzos above line the canals. Most are now empty or used for the tourist trade as storage for the various shops or converted to hotels or restaurants. A 40-minute ride on one of Venice’s famed canal boats is 80 euros. An individual boat with 6 riders can bring in a smooth 480 euros in 40 minutes.  I just couldn’t believe the number of tourists willing to dish out that much money for a ride.

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Is that gondolier talking on his cell phone?

The next day we decided to hop a water taxi to the neighboring island of Murano, famous for its glass making. Glass shops line the streets and we were able to find some beautiful gifts for family and friends.

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Vianna and Mark enjoying some gelato in Murano.  It’s important to eat gelato at least once per day when visiting Italy.

We hopped back on the water taxi and decided to ride down the Grand Canal.

We found a front seat and rode for hours.  This is the way to see Venice!  And all for 25 euros!

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We’re all smiles on the water taxi

This was lovely….Each of these could be a painting.

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We rented a car in Venice and headed north and west to the Dolomite mountain range.

We had a reservation at a guest house in a small ski town named Alleghe.

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Our deck overlooked a lake and beautiful mountains.

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We spent our days driving in the mountains, exploring the countryside and towns in the area.

IMG_3411A storm rolls in over the mountains.  

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I love this photo of Vianna and Mark

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This one too!

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We had to get in on the action!

We stopped for a bottle of wine and some cheese at this glacial river.  The light aqua, mineral-filled water was freezing!

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We even drove into Austria, just to say we did!

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We went to Bolzano, an enchanting town Rob and I had visited during a bike ride we took in honor of our 20th anniversary.

Italy was playing Sweden at the Euro 2016 soccer championship and the restaurant in the town square was filled with revelers.  The entire town erupted in cheers when Italy scored its lone goal.

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We took the lift up to Oberbolzen, a little town in the mountains above Bolzano.

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The view from the lift to Oberbolzen.  Can you imagine living in one of these homes?  Think about how slippery your driveway might be in the winter!!  :-O

All too soon, it was time to leave the mountains and head back to Venice to catch our flights home.

It was a memorable trip, made better by the fellowship of friends!

 

 

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