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.


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.


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.


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.





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.


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

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



Eat and Indulge in Rome – Running, Walking and Working Out in the City

Ever go on vacation and realize that you’ve gained a couple pounds when the button on your jeans doesn’t seem to want to…well…button? This can be the case for many travel-goers when their sweet tooth gets the best of them. But have no fear, you can still satisfy those cravings on vacation and still fit into your skinny jeans. Here’s a look at a how to indulge in one of the most mouth-watering places on earth and keep the weight off.

rome travel aavtravelWhen in Rome…

When walking around in Rome you’ll never have to worry about finding a place to eat–every corner, every street there’s either a family run pizzeria, café or restaurant at every turn. Your taste buds will be satisfied at every meal with Rome’s simple, yet sophisticated recipes.FireovenPizza aavtravel rome

  • Restaurant Spirito DiVino: A family run restaurant where their passion for food shows with every taste. The cost per meal ranges from 24 to 40 Euros ($32 to $53). The four-course dinner has many delicious dishes to choose from; start with the deer bresaloa with salad, grapes and nuts as an appetizer. As your first course, the half rigatoni with white ragu sauce of mixed meats. For the main dish, try the grilled t-bone steak served with creamy mustard and salad. If you still have room after that, the creme brulée will sure hit the spot! Oh, there’s also a wine cellar that holds about 5,000-7,000 wines. You can buy from the glass (6 to 15 Euros/$8 to $20) or the bottle (16 to 800 Euros/ $21 to $1,068)–bring out your inner wino!
  • Li Rioni: Located near the Colosseum, this small, charming little restaurant is where you’ll experience the best pizza in your entire life. The heavenly first bite: the crunch of the thin crust, then the sweet Italian sauce, the melted cheese and then toppings of your choice–all the flavours mixed together so delightfully that you’ll never want to eat anywhere else. A perk: it’s very, very inexpensive.
  • Bar Pompi: Where the gelato is not just ice cream–it’s an art perfected from the ancient recipe by Guiliano Pompi. At Pompi, expect nothing but the freshest fruits and natural flavour. Keep in mind: gelato in Rome is very costly and can definitely break the bank a lot quicker than expected. Prices vary place to place, but expect to pay roughly 13 Euros ($19) each.

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Workout in Rome

If you’re worried about adding on extra pounds due to indulging in the savoring tastes of Roman cuisine, you can still eat all you want and get a workout while on vacation. There are many options that you can consider while away.

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  • LivItaly Tours: A different kind of tour service–get to experience the city history, architecture and landscapes while out for a group run. Not only do you get to enjoy the sites, you’ll learn about each place and get fun facts and the best part — you’ll be burning off calories while doing so. You’ll get to enjoy every minute of your vacation even if you’re working out. There are various tours to choose from that range from 29 Euros ($39) to 89 Euros ($118).
  • Moves Fitness Center: If you’re into the more traditional workout routine, there’s also fitness centers located in Rome. They have weights from 1 to 42 kg, treadmills, ellipticals and the typical compound and isolation machines. There are also different types of classes offered, such as: Pilates, yoga, body sculpting, aerobics and total body workouts.
  • Walking, Jogging, Running Routes: This website specializes in routes created by locals and people from all over the world. You can search the different types of routes (walking, running, jogging, cycling) and even create your own route to share with other people. All routes vary in length and are all over the city. You can even search upcoming events that are happening–maybe you’ll participate in a 5 km!

Rome4 aavtravel rome workout indulgeIndulge in Rome

There’s no need to worry about packing on the pounds while on vacation. You can enjoy all the delicacies that Rome has to offer while staying in shape. You won’t need to buy gym memberships when you get back home if you exercise to make up for stuffing your face the day before. Working out doesn’t have to feel like a nuisance–and it certainly won’t when you’re running by the Colosseum! Don’t let yourself say “should I really eat that?” because chances are this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, enjoy it.

Find us at to plan your next Italy adventure.

Learn Village Culture — The Mamanucas Islands-Fiji

To get the most out of your trip to Fiji, aside lounging at the beach, exploring the island and enjoying various fruity drinks, if you have the opportunity to get invited to a Fijian village–don’t pass it up. It’s an experience of lifetime to be welcomed into a village and immerse yourself in a new culture. You should definitely expect culture shock; Fijian’s have very little, but are very full of life and happiness.

sanasana fiji aavtravelFirst off, it is considered incredibly rude if you show up to a village uninvited and start wandering around. If you become friendly with the locals and they invite you back to their village, bring kava root to the Turaga Ni Koko (head of the village) as a gift of thanks. From there, your host will most likely have you participate in a welcoming (kava) ritual in the Vale ni Bose (meeting house)–meaning they accept you into their village. Many resorts organize village visits for their guests. This is probably one of the easiest ways to get to experience the village life as you will have a guide accompany you making you aware of the ceremony and its rules of respect.

kava ceremony sanasana fiji aavtravelThe ceremony consists of drinking yaqona from a coconut shell which solidifies the friendship between strangers. Sitting around the yaqona bowl and chatting is very common afterwards–it is also the best way to get to know the villagers. You’ll quickly find out that they are very curious people and will most likely ask a lot of questions and want you to take their photo. Keep in mind when taking photos: it is allowed, but remember common courtesy–ask if it’s all right to take a photo before you start clicking.

What not to Wear
When visiting a village it’s important to remember that you’re the guest and that you’re entering a new culture. What may be OK at home, may not be OK at the village. The rule for any village is to dress modestly. Proper dress for women would include below-the-knee dresses or slacks. Women should not wear shorts or walk around in a bikini and men should not be bare-chested. This is not acceptable and considered disrespectful and may have a negative reflection on the hosts. It is also considered rude to wear a hat-so either leave it behind or put it in your bag. The easiest way to make sure you are dressed appropriately is by wearing a sulu. Sulus are traditionally worn by men and women in Fiji and many resorts offer their guests a sulu as a welcoming gift.

Bring a gift 
Many villages are in need of basic supplies. A great gift to bring are school supplies for the children for instance. They don’t need to be fancy. A few pencils, writing pads… it all makes a difference and is greatly appreciated.

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Remember growing up as a kid and your parents would teach you to be polite and on your best behavior? Well, remember all they’ve taught you. Fijian’s are probably the most polite, courteous and generous people you will ever encounter in a lifetime. So reciprocate the kindness. Here are a few tips when invited to stay inside a traditional bure:

  • Accept the offer to stay indoors rather than to pitch a tent outdoors. It sends a message to the villagers that your hosts bure is unpleasant.
  • Take off your shoes and place them on the doorstep.
  • Avoid standing upright inside because it is considered bad manners.

If you’re lucky enough to get invited back to a village to visit, make the most of it. It’s a whole new experience from being on your island resort. You’ll learn to appreciate the little things in life and give you a new outlook on how people live. Fijian’s are great hosts so show your appreciation and give thanks.