Tag Archive | "Venice"

Travels with Larry Olmsted: 10 Touristy Things You Should Do Anyway

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A Venetian gondola ride? Of course.

A Venetian gondola ride? Of course.

By Larry Olmsted

The word “tourist” has taken on a negative connotation, especially when used to deride an activity or place as a “tourist-trap,” or suggest that a restaurant or sight is only for tourists.

It is true that there are many commercialized or stereotypical sights and activities in certain destinations that are contrived, artificial, or low quality and can easily be skipped. New York is one of the greatest culinary cities on earth, with great food in every price range, so there is hardly a reason to go to the massive Times Square chain restaurants when visiting – there are Olives Gardens, Red Lobsters and Bubba Gumps in lots of other places. Do you really need to pay to take a photo outside Rome’s Coliseum with someone dressed in cheesy gladiator garb? If it’s a cultural experience and understanding of native culture you are looking for, you can do far better than a luau at a Hawaiian mega-hotel.

But there are some downright touristy activities that have stood the test of time and are not only worth doing, they are absolute musts for first time travelers. Are gondolas in Venice purely for visitors? Absolutely, locals do not use them. Are they a bit hokey? Sure. But nonetheless the experience of riding in a gondola on a Venetian canal is so magical and unique to this spot that it simply cannot be skipped. Here are 10 touristy things you should do …


DSC_0067   Award-winning travel journalist Larry Olmsted is a Contributing Editor to US Airways Magazine and Cigar Aficionado Magazine and “The Great Life” columnist for Forbes.com.


The Interview: Kathy Bechtel of ItaliaOutdoors Food and Wine

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Biking in Asolo with ItaliaOutdoors Food and Wine

Biking in Asolo with ItaliaOutdoors Food and Wine

By Ed Wetschler

Most European bicycling trips range from sag-wagon easy to blisteringly hard, but a single ItaliaOutdoors Food and Wine trip often features both extremes, and the same goes for the company’s hiking and skiing vacations. Wondering how they manage that, we sat down (on proper chairs, not bicycle seats) for a chat with co-owner Kathy Bechtel.

Kathy Bechtel of ItaliaOutdoors Food and Wine

Kathy Bechtel of ItaliaOutdoors Food and Wine

EW: What’s your elevator speech about what makes Italia Outdoors Food and Wine unique?

KB: We talk with each guest, learn what their hopes are, and we work to make it all happen. We accommodate different fitness levels and interests, and my business partner, Vernon McClure, and I personally lead the trips. For every custom trip we create a unique itinerary. I’m working on one now that includes experts who want to ride 60-90 miles a day, and mellow riders who may be done at 30 miles.

EW: How can you manage a trip whose participants have such a wide range of skills?

KB: We don’t ride as a group, unless that is what the group wants. We supply maps, GPS units, and everything you need to ride at your own pace. Those who wish to race along, can. Those who wish to stop, visit a church, take a picture, enjoy a snack, can do that. If you wish to ride more, we map out another loop.

We do have a vehicle for support, but it doesn’t follow the participants. If someone on a bicycling trip needs to call a sag wagon, than the operator did not design a good route for that individual. Of course, if you have mechanical problems or are exhausted, give us a call and we’ll find you.

Chefs on Bikes Tour from ItaliaOutdoors Food and Wine

Chefs on Bikes Tour from ItaliaOutdoors Food and Wine

EW: You emphasize cuisine. Doesn’t every bike tour operator do that?

KB: Yes, but when companies run groups of 20 or more, the dining options are limited. Our tours include eight participants, maximum, so we’re more flexible. We can even make changes at the last minute if, say, everyone is dying for a good pizza (which seems to happen every trip). Many tours control costs by offering a fixed menu and not including wine. Our guests choose from the menu, and I order local wines so we can taste and learn while we eat. Also, I’m a chef and cooking instructor, so we have real discussions about food. On our culinary bike tours, such as “Chefs on Bikes,” participants actually get to cook.


Vernon McClure of ItaliaOutdoors Food and Wine

Vernon McClure of ItaliaOutdoors Food and Wine

EW: Is Vernon also a chef?

No, Vernon is a former Airborne Army Ranger and Head of Recreation Programming for U.S. service personnel in Italy. He lives in Italy now and is a certified mountain guide as well as a skiing, snowboarding, scuba-diving, and sailing instructor. He’s an expert in program design and risk management, has designed bicycle tour itineraries, and has a BA in history and Italian studies, and an MA in European literature. He’s also a master at maintaining bicycle equipment.

EW: That’s all?

KB: [Smile] That’s all.

On the slopes in Italy with ItaliaOutdoors Food and Wine

On the slopes in Italy with ItaliaOutdoors Food and Wine

EW: ItaliaOutdoors Food and Wine also offers ski trips. Why might someone book an organized ski trip instead of just traveling alone or with friends or a spouse?

KB: Exploring a new ski area, especially in Europe, can be intimidating for people unfamiliar with the area. A good tour operator will choose the best ski area for the trip – and for each day – based upon snowfall, weather conditions, and crowds. Participants also get the benefit of local guides.

Singles enjoy group trips because they can find other skiers with similar abilities. Couples with differing levels of expertise like groups, too, because they can split up, with each skiing at their preferred pace. And from a safety perspective, I always recommend skiing with a partner, especially when you’re unfamiliar with the area.

EW: Kathy, if you wanted to wow me with your own cooking, what would be on the menu?

KB: The dishes most people love are the simplest. My favorites? Risotto – a straightforward technique, with the right rice, and you can make it so many ways; seafood, mushroom, peas, sausage, radicchio. Also, I like to braise pork in milk. Two inexpensive ingredients, a bit of time, and it’s fantastic. The sauce gets all brown and chunky and delicious, and it doesn’t look at all like milk.

Visit ItaliaOutdoors Food and Wine


ed  Ed Wetschler,  Associate Editor of Everett Potter’s Travel Report, also serves as Caribbean Editor of Recommend magazine and Executive Editor of Tripatini. He has written for The New York Times, Delta Sky, Frommers, Gadling, bank magazines, and other print and new media. He is a past chair of the Northeast Chapter of SATW and former editor-in-chief of Diversion magazine who can navigate Greenwich Village without a GPS. In a previous life he played backup piano for Jay and the Americans as well as The Toys, whom he considers the consummate interpreters of Mozart.

She Said, She Said: Venice

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Venetian Gondola. Photo by Jenny Keroack

By Geri Bain and Jenny Keroack

Inspired by the grand tours of aristocrats past and the more recent adventures of TV’s Gilmore Girls, 18 year old Jenny Keroack proposed that she and her mom, travel writer Geri Bain take their own grand voyage. This summer the two set out to share as much of the Old Worldas thirty days would allow, recording their favorite places and activities along the way.  Jenny’s are in italics while Geri’s are in regular type. Read about their adventures, explorations and all the schleps in between. The following is their installment, logged from Venice.


The train fromVienna toVenice only runs straight through at night, but we’d read that the seven-hour daytime train/bus trip was worth taking in daylight. Seeing the tiny villages nestled into deep river valleys and cliff-top castles, we agreed.


Londra Palace Hotel. Photo by Geri Bain


Settling in: Arriving in Venice, we found our way to Venice’s mass transit, the canal-cruising waterbuses, or vaporettos, and 20 minutes later, were thrilled to see the Hotel Londra Palace. Our Biedermeier-decor room felt quite elegant with its fabric-covered walls, lovely brocade work, high ceiling and marble bathroom. Our first floor balcony provided wonderful views of the lagoon and the lively waterside boulevard, the Riva Degli Schiavoni. The hotel has hosted many luminaries. In fact, Tchaikovsky composed the first three movements of Symphony No. 4 when he stayed here in 1877. We loved that St. Mark’s Square and the Bridge of Sighs were steps away and that water taxis stopped right at our front door, and we especially appreciated our concierge, who mapped out the perfect walking tours for us each day.


Piazza San Marco. Photo by Jenny Keroack


San Marco Square. Piazza San Marco, famous for its beautiful architecture and outdoor cafes, is far from your average European town square. During the day, you’ll find people taking pictures of their children and loved ones feeding and, in many cases, covered in pigeons. Venice is a city that truly celebrates its rats with wings. Off to the side, bands play and dancing in the streets is encouraged. The music continues well into the night; it may be a tourist trap, but having a drink on the square is an only-in-Venice experience and well-worth doing. The two most historic, Il Caffé Florian and Grancaffé Quadri, date back to the 18th century. Just be prepared for the persistent hawkers and even more persistent Italian gentlemen– especially if you’re a girl on your own.

Do Leoni Restaurant. Photo by Geri Bain


Food: It was hard to go anywhere without being tempted by wonderful things to eat. But then what would you expect? After all, this is Italy, and a seaside city at that. Fresh seafood was plentiful and Venice has some interesting ways of preparing it. I loved sarde in saor (sweet and sour sardines). And Jenny loved the seafood ravioli. Our favorite meal was on the terrace at Do Leoni at our hotel, where planters created a buffer between us and the passing parade of tourists and entertainers and we enjoyed the modern twist on classic Venetian dishes. And of course, there was always gelato and pizza by the slice for quick pick-me-ups  as we explored.


Shopping along Calle Larga XXII Marzo. Photo by Jenny Keroack


Shopping. In the tradition of its over 1000 years as a trading center, Venice still offers a diverse shopping scene, from the shops on the ancient Rialto Bridge to the high-priced boutiques of Calle Larga XXII Marzo. My favorite item to look for in Venice was jewelry. While famous for their masks, lace, and blown glass, Venetians also sell fine silver jewelry, much of it crafted right in the city. My mom got textured silver earrings from the craftsman himself at La Foglia D’Oro and I found a locket on a velvet necklace from Israel at Michal Negrin. For clothes, check out Coin, a Venetian company with top brands from all over Europe. Since Venice is basically a city of tourists, stores are found everywhere and stay open late. A piece of advice: if you see something you like off the main streets, get it or forget it. Venice is a maze and you may not find your way back.  


El Museo della Musica. Photo by Geri Bain


A Vivaldi Museum: Walking across San Maurizio square (Campo San Maurizio), strains of lovely music came from what looked like a neoclassical church. It was the former San Maurizio church which now houses El Museo della Musica (Music Museum). Admission is free, and inside, we enjoyed recorded music by Venice-born composer Antonio Vivaldi while perusing a small but fascinating collection of centuries-old stringed instruments and Vivaldi memorabilia. Interpretive panels provided detailed information in English and Italian about the composer and his times. A low-key gift shop offers CDs, books, and tickets for performances by a professional ensemble, Interpreti Veneziani, at the nearby, art-richChurch ofSan Vidal. We didn’t have time, but serious Vivaldi aficionadas may also want to visit the church he attended, La Pieta, with a small exhibition open by appointment only.


Bridge of Spires, a.k.a Ponte delle Guglie, leading to the old Jewish Ghetto. Photo by Jenny Keroack

Jewish Ghetto. My main purpose in going to the Ghetto Vecchio (Jewish quarter) was to find the architecture and landmarks described in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. Locals tried to help, pointing us towards their two oldest bridges and the old town square. We also saw tall, skinny buildings, much like the one where Shylock and Jessica would have lived. However, for those who are less enthusiastic about Shakespearean plays, there are some actual historical destinations. Those interested can join a tour of the quarter’s synagogues and visit  the Museo Ebraico (Jewish Museum) to learn why so many Jews lived here, in Europe’s first ghetto, starting in the 1500s. In fact, the word “ghetto” comes from the Venetian word geto (foundry), for the iron works located on this island before Jews were required to live here. Getting there is pretty walk from center of town; we stopped at a lively street fair along the way, and the ghetto area has some traditional restaurants, like Gam Gam, which was recommended by several locals.

 For more information on Italy and Venice, visit http://www.italia.it or  http://en.turismovenezia.it/.


Next stop: Barcelona

Geri Bain (right), a widely published travel writer and editor, has written about more than 60 countries and contributed to publications including inc.com, N.Y. Daily News and Robb Report. While travel editor at Modern Bride magazine, she wrote an acclaimed guide to Honeymoons and Weddings Away. She is a past president of the New York Travel Writers Association and former editorial director of Endless Vacation magazine.

18-year-old Jenny Keroack wrote for the Observer Tribune from 2009 to 2012 and her work has appeared in the Riverdale Press, Elegant Lifestyles and other publications. She was a researcher/blogger for the N.Y. League of Conservation Voters last summer and is now studying political science at theUniversityofChicago.

Songs of Vicenza: Palladio and its Music

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Entrance to Teatro Olimpico designed by Palladio, Vicenza, Italy

Story and Photos by Julie Maris/Semel

Vicenza, a World Heritage Site, is all about Andrea Palladio who in the 1500s designed palaces, churches, and villas. Referring to classical Roman architecture, Palladio’s unique style influenced architecture from Venice to Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, and to today’s contemporary American houses. Vicenza is Palladio.

For a student of Palladio’s work or anyone interested in Italy’s history and art, Vicenza is imperative. The Palazzo Barbaran da Porto, now the Center for Architecture Studies and the Museo Palladiano, is dedicated to Palladio and to architectural history.

Palladio designed a majestic building for Barbarano and made architecture democratic by demonstrating the beauty of buildings using less costly materials. He rusticated or used rough surfaces on the ground floor exterior walls and smoothness on the upper floor, the contrast accentuated by strong sunlight.  Columns made of bricks were coated with marble plaster in mortar. The result: grand illusions without great expense.

Interior of Teatro Olimpico designed by Palladio, Vicenza, Italy

For the Accademia Olimpica, Palladio designed Teatro Olimpico –– Europe’s oldest interior theatre –– an archaeological version of the Roman amphitheatre. The rectangle proscenium with Corinthian columns, a central arch, and two smaller side gates is elaborately decorated with statues, friezes, and pilasters.

After Palladio’s death, Scamozzi completed a perspective background, trompe lʼoeil, The Seven Streets of Thebes, seen through the proscenium arch. During performances, to maintain the spatial illusion, children stood in the rear of the set. In the spring and fall, the Orchestra del Teatro Olimpico presents classical concerts and jazz.

Palladio designed Palazzo Chiericati, now the Musei Civici with works of

Tintoretto, Veronese, and Tiepolo. His most important commission, with the support of his patrons, was the Logge of the Palazzo della Ragione, the Basilica on the main square of Vicenza.

Students at Piazza dei Signori, Vicenza, Italy celebrating the graduation of student with flippers singing, "Dottore, Dottore." Celebratory students that just completed their university degrees singing “Dottore, Dottore,” the hawking of vendors, covered stalls, and locals shopping for food and crafts at the market in the Piazza dei Signori, the city’s historic center from Roman times, momentarily distract one from noticing the imposing white marble Basilica with its keel-shaped roof and repetition of Serlian windows.


Palladio incorporated classical architecture in modern terms. He was a cutting edge architect with wealthy patrons. His styles included a simple loggia façade; Greek temple façades with pediments and columns for houses; and double columned fronts. Brick, stucco, and terra cotta and interior frescos cut building costs. The Villa Rotunda’s and the Basilica’s interior spaces and harmonic proportions established Palladio as the foremost architect of the Veneto and of his time.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Public Library and City Hall, and the United States Capital in Washington, DC are studies in Palladio’s bilateral symmetry. Pattern books that American architects and builders used in the 17th and 18th centuries and Jefferson’s University of Virginia Rotunda exemplify the great influence of Anglo-Palladianism through the 20th century.

Gondolas and the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore by Palladio, Venice


The exhibition celebrating the 500th anniversary of Andrea Palladio’s birth, Palladio and His Legacy: A Transatlantic Journey organized by the Royal Institute of British Architects Trust will be at the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania until December 31, 2011.

View Julie Maris/Semel’s slideshow of Vicenza



Julie Maris/Semel, with camera in hand at age seven, discovered travel photography as a teenager. Following her passions, she worked with Bill Maris, a well-known architectural photographer, and subsequently for editorial clients, that include Traditional Home magazine and Design New England, producing stories about gardens, architecture, and travel. Her sense of adventure turned to the Antarctic, the Arctic, Asia, and Africa while working for Quark Expeditions, TCS Expeditions, and national tourist boards. Her photographs, Images of India, were exhibited at the New India House sponsored by the Consulate General of India. See more photos at http://www.juliemarissemel.com

Songs of Vicenza: Palladio and its Music (photos by Julie Maris/Semel)

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Fred Plotkin, Italy for the Gourmet Traveler

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Fred Plotkin.

Fred Plotkin is a self-styled “pleasure activist.” But that playful term doesn’t begin to encapsulate his extraordinarily accomplished and diverse background. Fred is one of the world’s leading authorities on Italian food and cooking, the author of Italy for the Gourmet Traveler, which has just been released in its 5th edition. A Fulbright Scholar, he’s taught a course on Fellini at the New School. As a wine expert, he has led tastings and organized cellars for restaurants.

Fred also knows a staggering amount about opera –- he worked at La Scala and the Metropolitan Opera and authored Opera 101: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving Opera. You may have heard him as a guest on the Metropolitan Opera's Saturday afternoon broadcasts, or caught him lecturing onboard a Crystal Cruises or a trip run by the Smithsonian Institution. The author of nine books and countless articles for such publications as Bon Appetit and The New York Times, Fred maintains a dizzying travel schedule but took a few moments to answer some questions about Italy, food and the pleasures of travel.

The 5th edition of Italy for the Gourmet Traveler is just out. I’ve used it as my food bible when I’ve traveled in Italy. How did it come about?

Most of my books seem to be the result of people asking me for advice and information about the things I love –Italy, opera, food, wine, among them. I have traveled more widely in Italy than anyone I know, including Italians. I have always had an eye and nose for that which is local and typical rather than touristy. Italy has an unmatched food and wine culture and I see it as something that should be documented so that it is not corrupted. Thirty years of notes formed the basis of the first edition of Italy for the Gourmet Traveler back in 1996 and there have been updates in 2000, 2003, 2007 and 2010.



 How exhausting is it to update such a guide?

Well, you should know that I do not have a staff. Everything I have written about in this book I have seen, smelled, heard, touched and tasted myself. This is a very personal guidebook that reflects my taste and experience. I never say that something is “the best” without adding the words “I know.”

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12 Sunny Days on a Mediterranean Cruise

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Gerrie_on_gondola (3)
Gerrie E. Summers on the canals of Venice.

By Gerrie E. Summers

As the gondola adjacent to ours moved slightly ahead, the musician inside picked up his accordion and began to play. Che bella cosa na jurnata ‘e sole,” he sang.  At the time I had no idea what any of that meant (What a wonderful thing, a sunny day), but when he got to the chorus, I couldn’t resist the big goofy grin that formed on my face, and I started to sing along: “O sole mio. Sta ‘n’fronte a te!”

I am in Venice, Italy, doing what I had only seen in romantic movies–floating along the Venetian canals in a narrow, single oar boat steered by an Italian man in a familiar white and black striped shirt. Next I was swaying my head to “Volare, oh, oh. Cantore, oh, oh, oh, oh.” It would be days before “Santa Lucia” stopped playing in my head. This is what I call a Triple T – Typical Tourist Thing.

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West on Books: Europe’s Best Bookshops

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Acqua alta

Libreria Acqua Alta, Venice 

By Richard West

Finally in our hotel room in Rome. Unpacking the luggage, all seems well –camera, return-flight valium, phone recharger. Wait! The books. No books.

Good to learn early what's been forgotton, the books we planned to guide and amuse us through Rome-Venice-Vienna-Lucerne-Paris. Luckily, however, we did print a recent story from Everett Potter's Travel Report blog on finding English-language bookshops in, what a coincidence, the very same cities on this trip. Ah, here it is:

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