Mask Making in Venice

Venetian masks are world famous and a symbol and tradition of Venice. There is no avoiding them when in the city, as every street vendor and souvenir shop carries multiple versions, from the cheapest mass production piece, to the more expensive, unique and handcrafted version. Nowadays, masks are mainly worn during carnival. However, as long as the Venetian Serenissima Republic lasted, until 1797, they were part of the everyday Venetian life. During those days, Venetian nobles put on the masks to be whoever they wanted to be and turn their life into and aventure, gamble, and add a little bit of spice and risk to the everyday life.

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A few of today’s mask artisans open their workshop doors and offer classes. They can range from the actual making of the mask with paper mache, to learning the decoration techniques used. It is a wonderful experience for both old and young.

I wanted to do something special, memorable and had setup such workshop for my children and myself. We had picked a small mask making shop owned by Giorgio Galasso who has been making masks for the past 20 years.

Arriving at his shop is like stepping back in time. Instructions say find the San Zulian church, follow the wall, turn into a small square, and there you are. No street name, number, and most definitely not a place Google Maps knows how to find.

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The artist’s workshop is tiny and although Giorgo says he accommodates up to 5 people in the summer, it seems like 3 are plenty. Giorgio is an older man, long black grey hair, the features of his face almost like a mask. He wears a black framed set of reading glasses, and you immediately feel like you are working with someone who truly knows his craft.

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In broken English he explains that before you start, you have to make a plan. You start with a vision of your mask which you then complete in several steps. He works with my two children, aged 10 and 12, as well as myself, and easily succeeds in making us feel confident in our abilities. We spend a good hour decorating our masks, learning about the different techniques, and materials used. One of my daughters works in the window and becomes the attraction for many passersby, who oftentimes end up entering the small shop, and buying one of Girogio’s masks.

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Once done the masks have to stay in the shop for about an hour to dry. We head for lunch and pick them up on our way back to the hotel.

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We were truly pleased with the result. It is a unique and memorable souvenir to take home from Venice. The masks will always remind us of  the experience which is one we will never forget.

stefanie pichonnat aavtravel

Written by STEFANIE PICHONNAT
Stefanie Pichonnat is the owner and travel consultant at AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm customizing travel itineraries for discerning customers. With her extensive travel experience in Italy she can help you create a wonderful trip. Contact her at stefanie@aav-travel.com

 

 

Venice for a day – A Daytrip from Milan

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It was still dark when we arrived at Milano Centrale. Thanks to the Excelsior Gallia’s location we only had to stroll across the street to make it there. The air smelled moist and crisp on the early mid-February morning.

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Milano’s train station is impressive, a humongous historical building dating back to 1912 when its architect, Ulisse Stacchini, came up with the idea to create  the “Cathedral of Movement”. With 11,000 m2 of marble and the central arch spanning over 72 meters Milano Centrale is easily one of Europe’s most beautiful train stations.

Crossing the deserted hall, which seemed somehow dark, despite the bright, artificial lights, we made our way to the platform.

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The ride from Milan to Venice Santa Lucia station takes about 2 hours 30 minutes. In the early morning hours the landscape had a romantic touch, covered by a layer of mist which softened the classic Italian shapes and colors, almost like a painting. In the distance a view of the Dolomites, the stoic mountain range which is home to some of Italy’s best skiing areas such as Cortina.

Once the train starts crossing the water from Venice Mestre to Venice Island it’s time to get excited. Venice’s train station is very welcoming with its bright, airy and clean setting. As you cross the arrivals hall and step out into the open, you are immediately greeted by the city’s romantic beauty. It almost hits you by surprise, it’s as if you stepped right into a postcard.

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There is daylight now, but the sun still sits low. A romantic mist lingers over the canals, making the skyline of domes and towers of the city look like a pastel water color painting.

Since we hadn’t made any plans, we decided to hop on one of the water buses, the so called Vaporettos, to get closer to the Grand Canal and St. Marks Square. The waterbus system is extensive and  very much like a subway or bus system in a larger city. Instead of hoping onto a train though you are embarking and disembarking a small, one story, passenger ship. Whilst public transportation usually is a quick way to get around, this is different. The Vaporettos are extremely slow.  And, just like a subway or a regular bus, they fill up and get crowded at times, making it not the most comfortable and convenient way to travel.

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Venice’s streets and canals are confusing. To have a map is essential and to look at it often is crucial. It is extremely easy to get lost in the many small passages and sideways. Quite honestly though, Venice makes getting lost as charming as can be. There are so many squares, palazzos, beautiful houses, canals and bridges, always something to see. It is hard to take your eyes off or wonder, if this place really exists. Getting lost also means that you lose the crowd of tourists and all of a sudden find yourself in a more residential area, where flowers are delivered by boat and old people stand at the street corner thoroughly engaged in a chat.

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Presuming that it wouldn’t be busy in February, I was surprised how many tourists were crowding around the major attractions such as St. Marks Square and the Rialto bridge. It quickly becomes clear that Venice is attractive, no matter what time of the year. Some of the lines to enter attractions seemed almost ridiculously long. I cannot even begin to imagine what it must look like in summer. At the end of the day I felt utterly charmed by Venice, it is truly unique and one of the most romantic cities. However, it likely wouldn’t have had the same effect on me during the summer, when it is overrun by tourists and some of the canals exude bad odors.

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stefanie pichonnat aavtravel

 

Written by STEFANIE PICHONNAT
Stefanie Pichonnat is the owner and travel consultant at AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm customizing travel itineraries for discerning customers. With her extensive travel experience in Italy she can help you create a wonderful trip. Contact her at stefanie@aav-travel.com

Indy FastPark Ride & Relax – Best Place to Park your Car at Indianapolis Airport (IND)

honolulu, hawaii, aavtravelWhenever you take a plane to head somewhere, you either get dropped off at the airport or need to find a place to leave your car.

When it comes to parking around Indianapolis Airport there are a few options. If you have an early flight, you might want to choose to stay at one of the many airport hotels that offer so called Park and Fly rates. There are a few things you need to pay attention to when making your reservation:

  • Make sure the hotel’s airport shuttle actually runs during the hours you need it. Some shuttles run 6am – 10pm. So if your flight departs really early in the morning, or comes in really late, you won’t be able to take advantage of the shuttle.
  • Airport hotels can be located around Indianapolis’ old airport, or the new airport. Depending on the direction you are coming from, it makes more sense to stay in one area instead of the other. If, for example, you are coming from Terre Haute, your best options are located in the Plainfield and South Ameriplex area, as these locations will save you a good 20 minutes in additional travel time each way.Ready for take offIf you are looking for a parking solution, you can stay on one of Indianapolis Airport’s official garage or parking lots, or you can choose an off airport solution. The best one, in my opinion, is FastPark Ride & Relax. Here are a few reasons why:
  • The hourly rate is very similar to Indianapolis airport’s Economy Parking. However, if you have an AAA Membership card your receive a 15% discount on the rate!
  • You are picked up and dropped off directly at your car. No need to drag your luggage around  the parking lot or wait. If you can open your trunk with a click, the driver will deposit your luggage right into your trunk when you get off the shuttle.
  • They will even give you a bottle of water when you leave the parking area. What a nice gesture!
  • The parking is covered so you can expect a cleared and ready to go vehicle during those cold winter months. No defrosting and scratching icy windshields. This comes in particularly handy when your landing looks like this!

Snow landing INDHow to get to Indy FastPark Ride & Relax?
If you come from Terre Haute on I-70 follow these instructions:

At the airport exit, stay right towards SOUTH Ameriplex Pkwy

IND Airport Exit coming from I-70WAfter about a mile you will see the first FastPark sign and the rooftops of the covered parking area.

IndyParkRideRelax002Turn right on Stansted Drive, right before Subway.  FastPark IndyIndyParkRideRelax004 IndyParkRideRelax005 FastPark Indy Covered Airport ParkingPark, Relax and have a great trip!

How to plan your time? To be on the safe side, plan about 30 minutes from the time you enter the parking lot to the time you make it to the terminal.

Written by AAV Travel’s Owner

stefanie pichonnat aavtravelSTEFANIE PICHONNAT
Stefanie Pichonnat is the owner of AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm specialized in creating customized travel itineraries. Having personally traveled to many destinations worldwide, she can help you create a wonderful vacation experience. You can contact her at stefanie@aav-travel.com

24 hours in Paris – Paris is always a good idea!

paris, il de la cite, notre dame, seine, aavtravelI will never forget my very first time in Paris. I had just turned 14 and my parents decided to take my sister and I to the City of Lights for a couple of days. It was sometime in the 80’s and the TGV, the high speed train, had just been introduced. This new, super fast train, made traveling from Bern to Paris non-stop and a breeze.

Quite a few memories remain from that visit. Le Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen and Le Magasin Tati, shopping heaven for bargain hunters, or teens on a limited budget. The incredible grandeur of Versailles impressed me forever with its lavishly decorated halls and perfectly manicured gardens. Dinner in a typical French restaurant, somewhere along the Seine river. A charming French waiter who traced a heart of whipped cream on my dessert, timidly asking my parents if he could take me out that night. Me, deeply embarrassed and the laughing stock of my sister. Needless to say, the trip left an everlasting impression.

ile de la cite, paris, seine, river, aavtravelA couple of years later, I returned to stay for a year. The city was still beautiful; but had become somewhat more menacing. I spent my mornings working as a nanny in one of the suburbs and the afternoons perfecting my French at the Alliance Francaise in the 6e arrondissement. Most of my free time I spent roaming around Paris, discovering every nook and cranny, meticulously following the different walks suggested in Michelin’s Guide Vert. For almost a year, I discovered Paris inside and out. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

I’ve returned many times since but this summer was going to be different. I was headed in that direction with my girls and it was their very first time. We only had about 48 hours but I absolutely wanted them to see Paris, even if it was just for a day. It was an incredible experience to watch them get excited, show interest, and wanting to discover more.

Here are a few pictures from our day visiting some of my personal highlights in the city. Enjoy!

carousel, merry-go-round, bercy, paris, aavtravelOur first stop, the carousel at the Parc de Bercy. This is probably Paris’ newest park which is beautiful and consists of 3 different gardens, The Romantic Garden, The Flower Beds and The Meadows. There was no chance we could leave the carousel, without enjoying one of the enormous “barbe à papa” (cotton candy or loosely translated, daddy’s beard).

barbe a papa, cotton candy, paris, bercy, carousel, aavtravelNext on the list was one of my very favorite places in Paris. La Place des Vosges, home to Victor Hugo’s house, located in the area called Le Marais.

le marais, place des vosges, paris, aavtravelplace des vosges, playground, le marais, paris, aavtravella place des Vosges, paris, marais, aavtravelWe headed towards Les Quais de la Seine, the boardwalks by the Seine river where until today, you can find merchants selling old books, magazines, posters and paintings.

quais, seine, marche, livres, paris, aavtravelseine, parisLively St. Michel made for the perfect lunch stop. We opted for Indian food at Le Safran and enjoyed a lovely lunch in their upstairs area.

Indian food, paris, safran, restaurantLe Louvre was already closed when we got there but no matter what, it is beautiful to look at. I remember the controversy of the pyramids when they first installed them and today they are an integral part of these ancient buildings. If you go, make sure to check out La Pyramide Inversée, the inverted pyramid as well, which acts as a skylight.

louvre, paris, aavtravellouvre, pyramides, paris, aavtravellouvre, road, paris, aavtravelWe went on to Le Jardin de Tuileries (the Tuilerie gardens) where the summer carnival was in full swing. We did go on the Ferris wheel which was incredibly overpriced and honestly said, not worth the money. I was however able to get some nice shots. Can you spot La Défense,  Le Musée d’Orsay, Les Invalides, Opéra Garnier and Sacré-Coeur?

tuileries gardens, carnival, jardin des tuileries, paris, aavtraveljardin des tulieries, tuileries, musee d'orsay, paris, gardens, aavtravelmontmartre, opera, paris, tuileries, aerial view, aavtravel, parisDawn was setting in as we headed North to the Montmartre area, one of my absolute favorites because of the incredible view. subway station, metro , louvre rivoli, parisThat evening, it was incredibly busy due to it being Le 14 juillet (Bastille Day).

sacre coeur, montmartre, paris, aavtravelparis, montmartre, view, aavtravelWe decided to head back to the Tuileries to watch the fireworks and walked towards Pigalle where the Moulin Rouge is located.

mourlin rouge, pigalle, paris, aavtravelWe enjoyed the fireworks from a distance and then traveled back to the hotel for a last night in Paris.

eiffel tower, paris, by night, aavtravelBonne nuit mes amis! We had a great time, short but sweet. We will be back!

stefanie pichonnat aavtravelWritten by STEFANIE PICHONNAT
Stefanie Pichonnat is the owner and travel consultant at AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm customizing travel itineraries for discerning customers. With her extensive travel experience in France and Paris, she can help you create a wonderful trip. Contact Stefanie at stefanie@aav-travel.com

 

“Into the Woods” – Cairngorms National Park, Scotland

“Into the woods, it’s time to go, I hate to leave, I have to go. Into the woods – It’s time, and so I must begin my journey”. Those lines kept on going through my head as I watched my daughters running along, disappearing into the thickly spread pine forest near Glenmore. The air was moist from the sprinkling rain, the undergrowth was covered with dew drops, and the smell of pine, moss, and grass, was overwhelmingly fresh.

Glenmore Forest Park CairngormsThe idea that day, was to take a stroll along the Ryovan Pass to the Ryovan Loch which is known for its vividly green color. People say that its color is due to the fact that the local fairies wash their clothes there. Always on the lookout for fairies, we were eager to head that way. I didn’t have much information on how exactly to get there, but knew that we had to park by the National Outdoor Training Center, at Glenmore Lodge.

Once parked, we looked around and simply took the first hiking path spotted. It so happened to lead us up a hill. We climbed through the thick of the pine forest for a good 20 – 30 minutes before emerging on a dirt road, higher up the mountain.

glenmore, crairngorms national park, loch morlich, aviemore, aavtravel, scottish wildflowers, lupinesThe view that greeted us was spectacular! With Loch Morlich and distant mountain ranges. We decided to follow the dirt road further uphill. It soon stopped and led us onto a smaller path through more woods.

cairngorms, hiking, aavtravel, scotlandScotland has so many areas of incredible beauty and it is one of those places, where getting off the beaten path means you will be on your own. The entire landscape is there for you to soak up, and enjoy. It still has a very untouched feel and radiates an incredible energy. It is as if you get to the heart of nature, where everything is pure and you can feel the pulse of the earth and smell of the air as it is supposed to be.

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scottish lupins, flowers, cairngorms, scotland, glenmore, aviemore, hiking, aavtravelcairngorms, scotland, glenmore, aviemore, hiking, aavtravelWe had set out to find a loch colored with fairy water that day, but found an incredible place uphill instead. We never doubted that fairies must live there.  We even spotted a small stream with reddish water. And maybe, just maybe, fairies are as meticulous in separating their laundry by colors as we are.

If this peaks your interest and you want to learn a bit more about Cairngorms National Park and what it has to offer check out some of these videos

 

stefanie pichonnat aavtravelWritten by STEFANIE PICHONNAT
Stefanie Pichonnat is the owner and travel consultant at AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm customizing travel itineraries for discerning customers. With her extensive travel experience in Scotland she can help you create a wonderful trip. Contact her at stefanie@aav-travel.com

 

 

Dominican Republic: Destination Wedding Inspiration Board

This June, I had the opportunity to travel to the Dominican Republic. AMResorts, known for the resort brands Zoetry, Secrets, Dreams, Now, Breathless, and Sunscape, had invited a group of destination wedding specialists to visit their resorts in Punta Cana and La Romana, to get an idea what the resort chain had to offer when it came to creating the ultimate destination wedding dream.

destination wedding, punta cana, dominican republic, secrets, dreams, now, aavtravel, beach wedding, wedding flowersLet me tell you, it was an incredible experience! Each resort showed off, beautifully, what they can do. We got to see many different set-ups and decorations that matched their surroundings, whether it was lush gardens, white sand and turquoise blue water, or a resort banquet room. We savored exquisite food and were enchanted by the many beautiful displays. But that wasn’t all, fire dancers, acrobats, magicians, traditional dancers, live music and much more. We got to experience it all.

destination wedding, punta cana, dominican republic, la romana, secrets, dreams, now, aavtravel, beach wedding, lightup dancefloor, dancefloorHere are some of the photos taken during my time in the Dominican Republic. As you will see, there are quite a few of them. If you have questions about a particular setting or location please reach out. I will gladly share all the information I have. Enjoy the pictures!

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romana, secrets, dreams, now, aavtravel, beach wedding, ceremony location, pond destination wedding, punta cana, dominican republic, la romana, secrets, dreams, now, aavtravel, beach wedding, rehearsal dinner, ruins destination wedding, punta cana, dominican republic, la romana, secrets, dreams, now, aavtravel, beach wedding, sax player destination wedding, punta cana, dominican republic, la romana, secrets, dreams, now, aavtravel, beach wedding, pink, white destination wedding, punta cana, dominican republic, la romana, secrets, dreams, now, aavtravel, beach wedding, hydrangea, flowers destination wedding, punta cana, dominican republic, la romana, secrets, dreams, now, aavtravel, beach wedding, filet mignon, lobster, dinner, reception destination wedding, punta cana, dominican republic, la romana, secrets, dreams, now, aavtravel, beach wedding, cupcakes, desserts destination wedding, punta cana, dominican republic, la romana, secrets, dreams, now, aavtravel, beach wedding, cupcakes, desserts destination wedding, punta cana, dominican republic, la romana, secrets, dreams, now, aavtravel, beach wedding, cupcakes, desserts destination wedding, punta cana, dominican republic, la romana, secrets, dreams, now, aavtravel, beach wedding, reception, raindestination wedding, punta cana, dominican republic, la romana, secrets, dreams, now, aavtravel, beach wedding, private beachstefanie pichonnat aavtravelWritten by STEFANIE PICHONNAT
Stefanie Pichonnat is a Honeymoon & Destination Weddings Specialist as well as an AMResorts Master Agent. She is the owner of AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm specialized in creating and customizing personalized travel itineraries. You can contact her at stefanie@aav-travel.com

 

 

Do-it-Yourself Shore Excursion: Ketchikan, Alaska

Ketchikan is known for its steady rainfall. Big, grey clouds and a soft drizzle awaited us the day our ship pulled into the port. The first thing that stood out, were the many seaplanes looping around the port, landing and taking off. As we learned later, these were taking tourists to the nearby Fjord. As always, we had planned to escape our ship and its passengers as soon as we got off.
seaplanes, ketchikan, alaskaOn this particular day, we were heading to the Rainbird Trail. I hadn’t found much information about it online but knew that it should be short enough for us to hike within the 4 hours we had ashore.

ketchikan, cruise, crown princess, princess cruise, alaskaThe official trail-head is located in downtown Ketchikan, by the Alaska University. Since Ketchikan spreads out to both sides of the cruise terminal, we weren’t quite sure whether to go right or left, and ended up asking a local. We asked for the Rainbird Trail. With a broad grin and pointing uphill he said: “If you can make it up there!”

Having hiked at our two prior Alaskan stops we felt very comfortable and were sure we could manage “the hill”. It was steep alright, and probably took 10 minutes to climb. However, I am really glad we started the trail at its end. It makes for a much better beginning. Once on top of the hill we couldn’t quite make out where to go, so we stopped by the local radio station. Not much was going on that early in the morning, but the lady swiftly pointed us in the right direction and we found the trail’s end in no time.

ketchikan, rainbird trail, alaska, hikingketchikan, rainbird trail, alaska, hikingThe Rainbird trail goes along the mountain side backing Juneau. You basically walk from the cruise port to the University of Alaska, located in downtown Juneau (left side), in very dense rainforest. At first we were a bit skeptical as we would see the harbor and neighboring islands. However, it didn’t take long and we were in the midst of it. It looked like a place straight out of Middle Earth, magical. Densely green, lush, and overgrown, large trees, broken trees, lots of moss, and everything wet, it was simply beautiful and always changing.

Ketchikan012 Ketchikan011 Ketchikan010 Ketchikan009 ketchikan, rainbird trail, alaska, hiking, aavtravelAs it was early in the morning, we were the only ones there. Half way into the trail, we spotted a reindeer. Instead of running off it simply looked at us with its dark black and gentle eyes. I felt as if it was communicating with us. We kept staring at each other for a good 5 minutes, before it peacefully trailed off.

ketchikan, rainbird trail, alaska, hiking, aavtravel, reindeerKetchikan006 ketchikan, rainbird trail, alaska, hiking, aavtravelThe Rainbird Trail proved to be a wonderfully authentic adventure, for a town otherwise thriving with tourist shops and masses of cruise passengers.

Here are a few things you will want to watch out for if you are headed to the Rainbird Trail:

  • It will rain, make sure you have the proper gear and protect your electronics
  • Bring some water to drink
  • Your shoes need good tread and need to be ideally waterproof. The terrain goes up and downhill, there are large rocks, gravel, and tree trunks to cross. Make sure your shoes snug tightly to your foot and your gear is adequate.
  • Chances are, not many of your fellow travelers will know about the trail. And, even if they do, if you start at the end, you will likely not run into any of them until the very beginning of the trail.
  • The trail requires a certain level of fitness. You do not need to be a professional athlete, but it is steep at times and can be a bit challenging.
  • You can do the trail with your children, however they need to be old enough to hike on their own, be responsible as some parts of the trail can seem risky.
  • Bring bug spray just in case
  • To walk the entire trail and back to the ship you will need about 2 hours.
  • The official trail-head is located behind the Ketchikan University in downtown Ketchikan (left side when getting off the ship). I recommend starting at the trail end however, which you can find by walking up Schoenbar Road and then turning left onto 3rd Avenue. Once you turn into 3rd Avenue you will quickly come upon the set of stairs that lead you onto the trail.
  • Tread quietly, you never know what kind of animal you might be lucky to spot

ketchikan, rainbird trail, alaska, hiking, aavtravelketchikan, rainbird trail, alaska, hiking, university of alaska, aavtravelstefanie pichonnat aavtravelWritten by STEFANIE PICHONNAT Stefanie Pichonnat is a Princess Cruise Lines Certified Expert at AAV Travel. With her personal experience in Alaska she can help you create and customize a personalized travel itinerary. You can contact her at stefanie@aav-travel.com