Sunday, December 25, 2011

My Crew

Recently I have been accepted into small group of men about my age who own or hang out in the handful of cafés I frequent in Campo Santa Margherita. I call them “my crew.” I’m not sure how this happened. I did not apply for it, as there is no application, and it was not sudden, but happened slowly. The butcher and fish guy I go to are in this campo, and there is a grocery store there that sells the

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Beggar Woman on our Bridge.

One afternoon we heard the sound of a woman begging on the bridge outside our living room window. We could hear her all through the house giving her loud, pathetic and incessant moaning that she needed food for her children, leaning out into the foot traffic while she did so, shaking a cup with a few coins in it. Now, before your eyes tear up, there are a couple of things you should know about beggars in Venice and, I suspect, in the rest of Europe.

1) They are not homeless. The beggars in Venice commute to work on the train from the mainland. This is their job. Americans in

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

River Cruise Diary: Arrival in Prague

Church in Prague at Night
Living in Venice means we are only a couple hours’ flight from about anywhere in Europe. This year are taking a cruise on the Danube, visiting a number of cities, such as Vienna, Prague, Budapest, and places in between. Our trip started in Prague. Not part of the cruise, but as a few days we tacked onto the beginning.

We arrived in Prague on November 21, 2011, in mid-afternoon after a delay of a couple of hours due to fog. We flew from Venice to Vienna, then to Prague. We later discovered that there is an inexpensive flight directly from Venice to Prague for about 39 Euros on Wizz Air. 

A driver picked us up at the airport and we arrived at our hotel around 4:30 p.m. The hotel, Santini Residence, is very nice and the service is great. For example, the breakfast, which is included in the price of the room, can be delivered to your room for no extra charge. Deliver is prompt and friendly, and the food is very good. You fill out a card and order whatever you want, as much as you want.

We hadn’t had anything to eat since a small pastry at the Venice airport, so we went to a restaurant next door to the hotel called “The Three Violins.” The food was great and the service friendly (although at this hour he was not swamped). I had duck pate as an appetizer, and roasted duck as a main course, along with a glass of dark beer. The duck came with red cabbage, a sweet version of sour kraut, and a big pile of potato dumplings. Karen had goulash and then a cake of some kind for dessert. I recommend the place for its food. The only criticism I would offer is that the music was too loud and of a generally obnoxious variety. When will restaurants learn?

After that we walked around the old part of the city. The beauty of the place surprised me. Although some of it was built in the 9th century, for the most part it was built in the 18th century. Mozart used to hang out here. 

It is obvious that after the fall of communism they put their backs into making at least the historic center comfortable for tourists. Hotels, bars and restaurants abound, as do touristy shops, from designer brands to crass souvenir shops. The streets are clean and safe, and the buildings well maintained.

The historic center has all the trappings of touristy Europe. During the lunch and dinner hours, many of the restaurants have people standing outside trying to get you to come in. I avid such  places. There are also the occasional beggar, particularly on the Charles Bridge at night. They seem harmless, though, as they take a kneeling position where they rest their upper bodies on their elbows, and essentially lay in the street holding a cup and not saying anything. We were never approached by one.

The night was cold, we were full of hardy Czech food, and we were exhausted from our day of travel. We went back to the hotel for the night.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Gold Ring Con in Venice

Recently I have approached twice by people pretending to find a gold ring in the street, and then asking for money for it. Here’s how it works:

As you walk down the street a person will rapidly come toward you, and a short distance in front of you pick up a large ring laying in the street. The ring appears to be solid gold. They will ask you whether it’s yours. You of course did not drop a ring, particularly in a place where you have not walked yet. You say no, and attempt to go your way. They will follow you and try to give it to you. Your natural reaction is to refuse it, and tell them it’s their lucky day. Then they will give you some story about being allergic to gold (gold is inert, no one is allergic to it), or not liking jewelry, or some such nonsense. In the end, they will be such a pain in the ass about you keeping it that you finally give in and take it. You go your way, and they pretend to go theirs. Then they come back and demand money for it.

I don’t know whether the ring is gold or not, but I know someone who paid five Euros to the person and got the ring. Even if the ring is 14 karat gold, it would probably be worth a few hundred bucks at a pawn shop. There are no identifying marks on it, other than a very small stamp on the inside appearing to be the gold stamp. I’m guessing, though, that the ring is worthless.

So, if you travel in Italy there are a few rules to remember.

1.   Don’t take anything from anybody. Beggars and con men will often try to hand you something, like an envelope, or a rose, and then want money. I have even heard of them handing you a baby, and then going through your pockets. Simply refuse, and don’t worry about being polite. They are crooks and liars.

2.   Don’t let anyone get too close to you. If you are in a crowd, well, you’re in a crowd, but otherwise try to keep your distance.

3.   Do not take voluntary assistance from anyone. Unless you are a little old lady struggling to get her suitcase over a bridge, no Venetian is going to help you. There are Gypsies, particularly at the bridges near the train station and Piazzale Roma who will grab your bag acting all helpful, and at the other end demand money. Also, people will greet you at the train station and assist you in finding your train and your seat, and likewise demand money. There is no one at the train station to help you. If you fall for either of these scams, refuse to give them money. What they are doing is illegal.

4.   Beware of anyone (other than fellow tourists) asking you for directions. They will come up and put a map under your face with one hand, and go through your pockets with the other.

5.   Beware of swarms of young girls. They are out to pick your pocket.

            Do some research before you come as to what scams are out there, and always be suspicious of any Italian offering you any kind of assistance. Venice is safe and generally free of scam artists, other than the beggars, but you still need to use ordinary care. There are plenty of pick-pockets.

Note: There are porters in Venice near the Vaporetto stop for St. Mark's, but they have badges and a list of fees. They are worth every penny, but make sure you know the fee in advance.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Gondolas are Made of Wood

Gondola with bottom stripped
 Once I was showing some people around Venice from my home state of Michigan. Very nice people and a lot of fun. They were boaters and professed to know about boats. When I showed them the boat yard where gondolas are built and repaired, they swore that they were made of fiberglass. They were expert on the subject, and no amount of argument to the contrary would satisfy them that gondolas are in fact built entirely of wood (with the exception of a small amount of metal trim).

Over the course of last summer my friend Roberto, who is a gondolier by trade, had one built. Included here is a picture of his gondola on the form they use to construct them. The other day I noticed that one of the gondolas had had its bottom stripped of all paint, revealing the wood underneath. This is the first time I have seen a gondola being repaired with all the paint off the bottom. So I took a picture.

Roberto's gondola under construction

So, friends, as you ride around Venice in a gondola, you can be sure that the boat you are in is made of wood. All of it. Seven different types of wood, and over two-hundred pieces. And they are still made here by hand.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Coolest bar/café in Venice

 When one travels to Italy from the US, it becomes clear very quickly that Italians do not care about air conditioning or ice, although their country is hot as hell. Mood Café in Venice at Campo Santa Margherita has both.

Most bars and restaurants in Venice have signs touting them as being “air conditioned.” Don’t believe it. How can the place be cool if the outside temperature is 90, with 90% humidity, and the door is open? Mood Café, however, is indeed air conditioned and cool inside, even with the door open.

In addition to being cool inside, Mood has one of the best, if not the best, selections of beer in Venice. Not Italian beers, mind you, but a huge selection of Belgians on tap and in the bottle, as well as American, German and English. For example, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Brooklyn Beer. Oh, you want Italian beer? Fine, go somewhere and have an Italian beer. Then, after you realize that they generally suck, come to mood, be cool and comfortable, and drink some decent beer.

 Mood also has a great selection of sandwiches, and during lunch, Max will make you a wonderful salad, and he has a great hamburger.

To top it all off, there is always an English language newspaper available.

So, if you want to cool off after walking around Venice on a hot day, go to Mood Café on Campo Santa Margherita. Look for the black table cloths. Tell them Mike sent you.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Photographs of Venice

To look at my best and most recent photos of Venice go here. To see some other photos, click one of the links below

venice photos

italy photos

gondola photos

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

I wrote a Book

The Ghost of Caroline Wald; a Ghost Story and Horror NovelI am the artistic type. Even as a teenager I painted, wrote music, and wrote stories.  As an adult I have done a lot of painting, the results of which can be seen here, and now I have written a couple of novels. One novel is in the process of being reviewed by an editor, and being rewritten, while the other I published on Amazon for the Kindle to see what would happen.

The story available on Kindle is about a boy who, shortly after turning 18, and in the midst of proving to his parents that he is no longer a child, but a bona fide grown man, meets a ghost, which is living in an abandoned house. This sets his feet on the path of conflict with the ghost, his parents, his best friend, and the cops. The book can be previewed here, and a trailer video I made is here. The book can be downloaded from Kindle for a measly buck forty nine.  Give it a look see, as you can download a part of it to your Kindle for free. The book is called “The Ghost of Caroline Wald.”

Monday, April 4, 2011

There is Justice in the World

I often criticize the Italians for being rude and downright obnoxious, primarily to tourists, on whom, ironically, they rely for their livelihood. When I mention this to other Americans, they often tell me that while this is true, the French are much worse, many of them having recently been in France.


Today while having lunch at a café in Campo Santa Margherita, I observed the Italian waitress be unbelievably rude to some French tourists. The café is called the Orange Café, and can be identified by the orange chairs outside. One of the waitresses there is particularly unfriendly, and should thank God she does not rely on tips. She is so unfriendly that I usually will not go there if I see her. Her manner is unpleasant and rude, and she is clearly quite unhappy in her chosen profession. I don’t know her name, and don’t care to know it.


Today, being Sunday, our usual haunt, Imagina Café, where the waiters are very pleasant and helpful, was closed. We therefore chose the Orange Café because they have some decent light fare for lunch. They were obviously having some sort of kitchen issue, as it was taking a coon’s age to get any food. Next to us was a table of Frenchmen who apparently had ordered some food before we got there. There was another table of French on the other side of us who ordered at the same time we did.


After a reasonable length of time had passed with no sign of the food, one of the French from the first group signaled the waitress herein above mentioned, and asked about the order. The waitress, after ignoring the woman for an appropriately rude length of time, told her that this was a bar, not a restaurant.


Ah, well, even I, who had eaten there dozens of times in the past three years, had been fooled. I was fooled by the fact that they served complete meals, by the fact that there was a fairly extensive menu, and by the fact that the menu said it was restaurant. I was offended, although the remark was not directed to me, and although the victims were French.


Finally their food came, and then my food came. I ate, finished, and paid, all before the other French people got their food. I felt bad for all of them. But not for long. I shortly saw the humor in it, and had to laugh out loud, even while sitting at the table between the two groups of French.


Most tourists will tell you that, when in France, they are treated like something to be scraped off the bottom of ones shoe. The French, when in Venice, are a pain in the ass. They sit on bridges (don’t do that, it is horribly obnoxious), and I have had French people ask me for directions to a place I knew, as it is about a two minute walk from my house, but they refused to believe my directions, and went off in the wrong direction. Okay, fine, I could give a rat’s ass. But the rudeness and obnoxiousness of it go beyond the pale. So, when these people at the Orange Café were treated like shit, I was happy to see them get some of their own medicine. And I’m not even sure they understood how rude the waitress was–she made her comment in English, and as anyone who has been to France knows, they don’t speak English. It only goes to show that if you live long enough, you will see justice done.


As an aside, I have to add that one should not generalize about a people. I gave a photography tour to some French people the other day, and they were delightful. In my experience, though, they were the exception.