Category Archives: italy


As people who have lived in the mountains for many years, moving to France has been a dramatic shift in our topographical landscape.  Most noticeably, we have no big mountains nearby.  I do miss the mountains of VT, but Tim?  He gets plain antsy without them.

We managed to find some mountains to ski on in south eastern France after Christmas and it was amazing.  Great conditions, great sun and very, very good melted cheese dinners.  Oh, and the wine.  Yes, there was wine.  But when it came time to think about what we were going to do for the February school vacation, Tim was already on it.  I was thinking something warm and sunny and he was thinking…….mountains.

I was in a holiday fog when he booked some cheap flights to Venice to get us to the Dolomites for some skiing/snowboarding.  And, hey, who can complain about having to go to Italy to get in some turns, even when you’re dreaming of the sea?  Not me.

After our outstanding visit to Venice, we headed up into the mountains with our gear to Cortina d’Ampezzo.  As it turns out, Cortina was not only the setting for scenes from The Pink Panther (1963) and James Bond: For Your Eyes Only, but it was also home to the 1954 Olympics.

Since I never had any Olympic dreams of my own, hanging around in an Olympic town is about as close as I’m ever going to get to the thrill of victory………..or the agony of defeat (yes, I did just quote ABC’s Wide World of Sports).  Rather than set goals to get something really big like an Olympic gold, I tend to set my personal goals much lower.  And when it comes to snowboarding, my goal at the end of every day is to walk, unassisted, off the mountain.  To me, that’s a pretty thrilling victory.  I definitely don’t feel old, but I know I’m just one fall away from ending up in traction.  That would be a bigger defeat than I am willing to face.


When I wasn’t trying to avoid ending up in traction on the mountain, I was hanging around on the town plaza with the many other locals and tourists.  I’m pretty sure that the anti-fur campaign by PETA hasn’t made it to Cortina yet, because I saw more giant fur coats in that town than I’ve seen in my entire life.  What was even more hilarious was that there were so many people who seemed to layer ski gear under a giant fur coat to spend the day sitting on the plaza.  That’s another way to avoid ending up in traction.  Don’t go down any slopes.

We didn’t end up at the beach on this vacation, but we did get some incredible sun and on the last day, it was so hot we were skiing in short sleeve shirts.  Good thing I left my giant fur coat back in France.  I would have really been sweating it out on the slopes.

ps – This is a joke.  I don’t own a fur coat.  Small fuzzy animals belong in the woods, not on a coat.  And they certainly do not deserve to be layered over ski gear for plaza sitting.

I must have sent an ESP message to my (imaginary) friend J. Peterman, the guy from the catalog who I wrote about here.  I guess that J.’s been hanging around in Cortina too because I happened to see this just the other day.


I wonder if J. Peterman was on the plaza writing this text at the same time that I was wondering why so many people were wearing fur coats over ski gear?  I guess I’ll never know………….


I probably shouldn’t admit this, but the last time I visited Venice I almost didn’t get off the train at the appropriate stop because in Italy Venice is not called Venice.  It’s called Venezia.

Although I had studied foreign language in school and was even a Spanish minor in college, it still didn’t dawn on me that the name would be different in Italy.  I was young and broke and traveling around with a friend and spent an inordinate amount of time sleeping on trains, so maybe I was sleep deprived.  In any case, we realized the name difference at the last moment before the train doors closed and threw ourselves off the train into a city of water.  Needless to say, Venezia made a very big impression on me.  That’s why it’s been on my list of places to revisit since we’ve been living in France.

It was almost as if this lion was mocking me, “What, you don’t know that Venice is called Venezia in Italian?  What are you, an American???”


During the most recent school vacation after we had a meet-up with Yoda and developed a deeper fear of spiders, we hopped on a cheap flight to Venice.  The real purpose of the trip was to get back to the mountains that we miss so much from our days in VT, but we were so close to Venice that we had to make a stop.

After hanging around at the Doge’s palace and spending an inordinate amount to time with ancient torture devices and weapons, we hit the streets to track down the library where Indiana Jones hung out.  We had to make the time to go stand where Harrison Ford once stood.  I did it for the kids.  Really.

The entire time we were enjoying the sight of Venice, the boys were angling for a gondola trip.  The gondolas are like giant candy bars lurking at every turn, just screaming to the kids, “Come on, just bug the crap out of your parents until you wear them down enough and they will buy me!”

Despite the fact that I’ve never been on a gondola before, I wasn’t exactly jumping up and down to throw what was likely lots of money to do something so touristy.  I grew up on Cape Cod and that gives me the unique ability to spot a tourist trap at least a mile away.  To add to my tourist trap street cred, I will also mention that on a very eventful road trip to Florida with my family, we even stopped at “South of the Border.”  Oh yes, we did.

The giant Citrus Tower?  Been there too.

But the gondolas are not really like your classic tourist trap, which usually involves one of the following three things: 1) loud music, 2) bright lights, or 3) giant fiberglass animals/pirates.  The gondolas are a distinctly different type of tourist trap because, well,…………………they’re actually pretty cool.

Since I was slowly getting worn down by the peanut gallery, I approached some gondoliers to find out how much damage the trip would do to our wallet.  At one point, I thought about trying to wheel and deal for a better price, but as my former boss would tell you, negotiating deals is not one of my stronger skills (I actually negotiated a work contract at one point in which we ended up paying more than the initial quoted price).  Once I fully realized that there was no way I was getting a deal, I knew we had two options – either skip the ride and hear about the missed opportunity for the rest of our lives, or bite the bullet and get on the boat.  As you might have guessed, we got on the boat.

As I was stepping on to the boat, I fully intended to report that the trip was not worth it, but I can’t say that.  Instead, I will say that it was thoroughly amazing and worth every penny.  It really helped that our gondolier wasn’t wearing a traditional hat and didn’t sing to us.  Instead, we had an honest conversation about the city of Venice.  Here is what I learned:

  • 80% of all tourists visit Venice in the summer
  • 30 years ago, Venice had 120,000 residents and now it has only 60,000
  • the property prices are so high and so few people can afford to live there that there really is no independent culture that exists anymore – everything in the city exists for the tourists
  • every house in Venice was built specifically for a family – there was never any mass building in the city
  • all of the front doors of the houses in Venice face the canals and every family had a gondolier who lived in the first floor of their house to get them around – kind of like a chauffeur
  • the city is no longer sinking, however the water level is still rising in the city due to melting ice caused by global warming
  • gondolas are not symmetrical boats – they are designed that way so that the gondolier can stand on the back and not tip over

It was an incredible ride and I loved every minute of it, mostly because the canals show you things you can’t see on foot.  In fact, it was way better than a giant candy bar, even the kids would agree.

Next time you’re in Venice on a gondola, though, be careful.  The gondolier told me that although the boats are designed not to tip over, every year a couple of loads of tourists hit the water from leaning too far to one side when they encounter the wake from other boats in the bigger sections of the canal.

Even the world’s best tourist trap has its risks.