Sunday, August 25, 2013

(Not the Last) Tango in Venice

After a lot of walking and exploring, B and the girls headed home to rest before dinner. I stayed behind on a bench at the piazza--a couple of alleyways from the apartment--to enjoy some quiet time, and to sketch a bit.

 Campo San Giacomo dell'Orio

I had been enjoying the peacefulness of the piazza, people watching, when loud crackling noise from a sound system interrupted the silence. Grrr. First thing that came to my mind was a political rally, or  maybe some ecological fund raiser.

A few moments later, the woman beside me on the bench removed her shoes and changed into stilettos. I noticed more activity on the piazza--people started milling around greeting each other, smartly dressed women arriving and chatting.

Then loud tango music began, and one couple started dancing--right in the middle of the square.

More women changed shoes and more couples joined in. They didn't seem to arrive in pairs, yet as soon as a woman stood up in her stilettos, a partner appeared with an outstretched hand.

Buzzing activity now surrounded my park bench. I asked an English-speaking woman behind me if she knew what was going on.

"On Tuesday nights, the locals gather here for an evening of tango," she said. "My mother rented an apartment around here last summer and her landlady told her about it."

I sat, mesmerized, watching couples tango elegantly.

I texted B to bring the kids back out to watch.

They watched a bit, and danced a bit (not too elegantly).

After a while we had to tear ourselves away to go to dinner.

I took this video on my iPhone.

A google search revealed that what we witnessed was a milonga and these Tuesday gigs at Campo San Giacomo are  popular with locals and traveling tango enthusiasts. The exchanges between people also looked formal and polite because proper etiquette is expected of the participants.

If I had gone back to the apartment, I would have missed it. The best part? I never even moved-- everything just unfolded before me-- and my once-peaceful park bench turned into a ringside seat at this popular local soiree.

Our Venice Apartment

One of the joys of traveling in Europe from me is trying to live like a local. For accommodations, I'd rather book and apartment or a small Bed and Breakfast rather than a chain hotel or a luxurious independent.

Our apartment in Venice was in Santa Croce, a less-touristed part of Venice. Casa dei Pittori (House of Painters), a 7-unit apartment building was originally a 19th century mansion that has since been converted to vacation rentals by enterprising couple, Simone and Francesco.

We were met at the train station by Cristiano, a summer employee of Casa dei Pittori. Cristiano helped us wheel our bags from the train station to the apartment, checked us in, and gave us his mobile number. telling us to text him if we had any questions. 

Christiano, college sophomore from Padova

The route to the apartment looked complicated--we passed through narrow alleyways, bridges and piazzas. Good thing we had downloaded  TripAdvisor's Venice Cityguide. This very useful app uses GPS to show us where we are and also points us to where we want to go (It also has restaurant and hotel reviews and all that fun stuff of TripAdvisor).  How bad could it be to get lost in Venice anyway?

Our two-bedroom unit was on the ground floor. Thank goodness, because there were no lifts in the building.  The beauty of being on the ground floor? Take a look at our view.

Our apartment was at the corner of two canals frequently traversed by gondolas. I felt like I was in a movie set.

I immediately explored the other floors--actually just the staircase and hallways--- if only to  look at the interior details.

A 3-minute walk from the apartment brings you to Campo San Giacomo,  a typical local piazza. There are hardly any tourists here.  There's a church, a couple of restaurants, bars, and a supermarket where we bought breakfast provisions, tomatoes, mascarpone cheese and balsamic vinegar (we still had our olive oil from Tuscany).


The kitchen of our apartment rentals always get a lot of use. We let the kids cook whatever they want, by themselves, and then we eat whatever they cook.

 G's pasta pomodoro

The beds were a bit too firm for my taste, and the sala set could use new upholstery-- but the spaciousness of the apartment, the modern galley kitchen and the non-touristy location made up for these little inconveniences.

A delicious pastry/coffee shop, Majer, is close by, and one of the best restaurants in Venice, La Zucca, is only a block away. Cristiano also said the pizza place around the corner wasvery popular, but the kids never wanted pizza, so we didn't get to try it.

Majer on Calle Larga

Check out time is usually the same as a hotel--12 noon. But our  train was not till 9 pm. Cristiano was flexible and allowed us depart whenever it was convenient since he had no guest arriving on that day.  We were able to get another full day in, exploring Murano and Burano, and getting back to the apartment just in time to get our suitcases and walk over to the train station.

We crossed this bridge everyday not knowing we were passing La Zucca each time.

We found this apartment on We've been lucky with online bookings so far, and haven't had the misfortune of booking any major duds. Also, since we're adventurous enough to survive any disappointment, we've actually racked up quite a few unique experiences.

Feeling like a local

 Leaving like a tourist

Casa dei Pittori
Calle de le Oche, 1032, Venezia, Italia 
+39 392 296 1431

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Stormy Weather

These pictures are not of the current storm, but of Typhoon Basyang four years ago.

It's been raining four days straight today and many places are flooded.

Classes in local schools have been called off for the rest of the week.

Angelica and Mataji were still in Manila four years ago.

They lived down the block and would come over every weekend--and anytime school would be called off.

The girls did lots of things together.

Later that same year, there was the devastating typhoon Ondoy which was much worst than Basyang. Then last year, in 2012, typhoon Habagat drowned the city.

Our garden is a bit different now, and the kids are much bigger.

Angelica and Mataji are also back in New York where they now live and go to school.

But these storms still come every July and August and cause so much damage.  Today there's finally some relief from Typhoon Maring.

I hope this is the last typhoon of the season.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Ostia Antica, not Pompeii

When we were in Rome, I wanted to take the kids to see Pompeii. They know about Pompeii from Mary Pope Osborne's Vacation Under the Volcano. They also read the companion book on facts: Ancient Rome and Pompeii by the same author.

The train from Rome to Pompeii takes about four hours (with train change in Naples) and that seemed like too long a day for us. The train tickets were also not cheap.

And then I stumbled on this bit of information: an alternative to Pompeii was the ancient city of Ostia Antica, conveniently located only 40 minutes from Rome, and at the cost of a metro ride--1 euro! 

It took us longer than two hours to get to Ostia Antica because the guys discovered that, at the metro stop (Pyramide), where we going to transfer to a suburban train to Ostia (Porta Roma San Paolo), was the giant, high-end Italian supermarket, Eataly.

It was serendipitous that Eataly happened to be on the way to Ostia because it's the type of place B  and Timmy would go out of their way to visit.

We finally got to Ostia after lunch and the place was deserted except for a handful of other tourists. It  was a nice change from the crowds in Rome. Entrance was cheap at 6 euro, and kids below 18 were half of that.

The ruins are sprawled out and sparingly marked. For something 2000 years old, Ostia is impressively well-preserved.

Mosaics are still intact, and building walls  help you imagine what the city was like then.

It's easy to think you are just walking in a park, without the facts sinking in--these structures are 2000 years old--older than Jesus Christ! Ancient--as in A-N-C-I-E-N-T.  This is not make believe, it's the real deal, and we could've been easily starring in  National Geographic documentary, right here, right now!

It's times like this that I wish we had a personal guide. A good story-teller would've been able to bring the site to life.

Rick Steves has an  audio guide here but I didn't come across it until after we visited Ostia.

After an hour, half the group bailed and headed back to Rome. I told you--they probably felt like they were just visiting a park.  However, it was the last day in Rome for the teenagers and they wanted to shop, while Coco and Kat were joining a tour of the Pantheon and had to get back in time for that.

We decided to stay on and explore some more. We stayed until 6 pm.

This below was a store, with the counter still intact.

 mural of a serpent

In the middle of all these ancient ruins is a museum that houses sculptures and mosaics all found here.

Inside the museum...

Well preserved sculpture and mosaics from 1 B.C.

There is also a museum store and a small snack area.

Back outside...
and here is the floor plan of a typical house.

The communal toilets are intact.

This excursion was a change of pace from exploring crowded Rome. From what I understand, Pompeii would've been overrun by crowds too.

Those interested in archeology and history (and interior design) will be fascinated with Ostia Antica.

Those who are not, will enjoy the stop in Eataly.

authentic decorative classical moldings from the real ancient Rome

If you go, be prepared to spend a lazy, reflective day.  Bring a picnic lunch and try to get a guide to tell you all about Ostia and how life was like in ancient Rome. I think it will make all the difference.


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