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

When is the best time to travel to Italy?

Thinking of visiting the Amalfi Coast? Or going on a romantic getaway to Venice? And you want to visit the largest amphitheatre in the world? Italy has and always will be a popular tourist destination; with Rome being ranked 12 out of 100 top city destinations in the world. While in the midst of dreaming and planning out your vacation, you might wonder, when is the best time to go Italy? There are a few factors that likely influence your decision: The weather, the crowds, the time you have available, and your budget. Amalfi Coast Italy aavtravel The Seasons
Just like any destination, there are high and low seasons for travel–high season meaning cities crawling with tourists, and long wait lines for popular attractions. Low season on the other hand can mean you encounter closed shops or restaurants and the weather might not be as nice.

High and low season influence cost, particularly airfare and hotel pricing. Train tickets, transfer and sightseeing tours & tickets are usually not affected by the season.

High Season
Italy’s high season generally starts in May, it runs through to Mid-July, slacks for a month and picks back up in September through October. Easter is also a very popular time for tourist to flock to Italy, so depending on when Easter falls, high season could start as early as April. This applies to just about majority of the very popular destinations throughout Italy, such as Rome, Venice, Tuscany, The Amalfi Coast, The Lakes, Milan and Sicily.

One exception are parts of Northern Italy where skiing is one of the major tourist attractions. Prices in those places peak throughout the winter months.

Tuscan Hill Italy aavtravelMay 1 is Italy’s Labor Day. Many shops, restaurants and some tourist sites will be closed since it’s a national holiday.  This is the first big month for travel, so if you think you’ll be crowd-free, think again. However, crowds are nothing like June, July and August. May is about as good as it gets weather-wise, it’s not too hot, and not too cool. It’s a beautiful time to visit, clear skies, very little rain. It will be perfect for a walk on the beach, however it will likely be still a bit chilly for swimming in the Mediterranean. Generally you can expect the weather to be in the 70s, and it only gets warmer when June rolls around. July tends to be very packed and it’s not unusual to wait hours at ticket lines to attractions. The weather gets hot. You can expect temperatures to soar to the 80s and 90s. Restaurants and hotels do not necessarily have air-conditioning so if you have a hard time with heat, it is something you will want to pay particular attention to.

assisi italy aavtravelCome August most people can’t take the heat, and leave for the beach. Availability is much better at that time, however pricing might still be up. Most Italians are headed to the shores in August for the Italian holiday Ferragosto, so a lot of family owned shops, restaurants, cantinas and cafes will be closed, although the big attractions will remain open. August can make cities like Rome feel like a ghost town, so if you’re the type to enjoy big crowds and people watching, this is not the time to go.

Portofino Italy September is also one of the busiest month for travel, particularly for European tourists as they usually have a long fall break. Popular destinations will book up quickly, especially Tuscany. September doesn’t seem like it would be a contender for the most desired time to go, but why? The weather. It’s still summer in Italy, and September still has beautiful 70 and 80 degree days; it’s pretty much like June. September is a really great time to go in terms of weather but remember, make sure to book well ahead of time, AAV Travel recommends at least 6 months ahead of time.

Low Season
The rest of the year is pretty much considered low season in Italy, though there is a rise in tourists around holidays such as, Christmas, New Years and Valentine’s Day. November marks the start of the low season, which goes up till the end of March. For most Italian cities, you can expect to get a lot of rain, about 4.5-5 inches of it during the month. The weather will be quite mild, with temperatures in the 40s and 50s with grey skies. Keep in mind that there are other Italian holiday’s that may have closures for some of the sites, especially the Vatican; Nov. 1 (All Saints Day), Dec. 8 (Feast Day of the Immaculate) and Dec. 26 (Santo Stefano).

Although it will be busy in the major cities come New Years, it will quiet down by the second week of January. Hotels and airfares will be cheaper, so if you want time to wander around sites minus crowds and can handle the cold, January is the time to go. January is the coldest time of the year in Italy (30 degrees), so pack warm clothes, though the more south you go, the milder it will get. It is a great time to experience an authentic Italy with less tourists. However, you will also miss out on the people watching while sipping on a coffee in the piazza. Lago Trasimeno aavtravelOther things to consider is though January and February are in the low season and there tends to be a substantial drop in tourists, places like Venice and Viareggio will be busy with celebrating Carnevale, so they’ll have higher prices compared to other Italian cities such as Rome and Florence. If your prime reason to visit Italy during the winter is to ski the Alps–which is the best time–it is also the most expensive.

 Shoulder Seasons
In-between the low and high seasons are a few months of time called the “shoulder seasons.” Typically, the shoulder seasons have reasonable weather and prices. March and October are considered those sweet spots between the high and low seasons. Though weather can be unpredictable and it’s mostly mild, you can still get fairly beautiful weather that ranges from  40 to 60 degrees, with chances of little rain.

This is considered to be one of the best times to visit Italy  if you’re willing to take a chance on the weather, or you want less crowds so you can roam freely and take your time at tourist destinations.

tuscany italy aavtravelThe Vatican
If Rome and the Vatican are on the top of your list make sure to check the Papal city’s schedule of events. A canonization for example can mean an invasion of people for the time you are there. This will affect your sightseeing as well as availability in major ways.

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stephanie jellett aavtravelWritten by STEPHANIE JELLETT
Stephanie Jellett is interning as a travel writer and social media manager at AAV Travel. You can contact her at stephanieljellett@gmail.com

 


in conjunction with AAV Travel’s Italy Expert
stefanie pichonnat aavtravel

STEFANIE PICHONNAT
Stefanie Pichonnat is the Italy Specialist at AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm specialized in creating and customizing personalized travel itineraries. You can contact her at stefanie@aav-travel.com

How to Not Look Like a Tourist in Rome

trevi fountain rome aavtravelBeing a tourist is one of those things were it has its perks and downsides…let’s be real, some people just don’t like tourists and never will. But, everyone has had their own share of experiences, whether good or bad. When I was a teenager I went on a trip to Quebec City with my family. We went to the shopping mall and I wanted to try on some clothes and see if there were different sizes out back…well, I don’t speak French (which is their primary language), so that led to a lot of hand gestures, frustration and eventually I just gave up and left.

Carrying a DSLR around your neck in a new place does have its perks though, for instances: I was in Philadelphia on a university trip walking downtown with a friend of mine. I had my Canon out taking photos of the skyscrapers, the old architecture and the monuments when I was approached by a woman who asked if I was a tourist, pointing to the “big fancy camera around my neck.” Laughing, I told her yes, I was from out of town. She told me that if I wanted a panoramic view overlooking the entire city to go City Hall before 4 p.m. because they let people up the tower. Sadly, I didn’t make it before City Hall closed, but it was a really nice gesture that I appreciated.

Now, it doesn’t bother me to completely play tourist when I’m in a new place, but others prefer to blend in on vacation. When going to a new place it’s pretty instinctive to research about it first and get to know the basics, such as: language, culture, history and customs. Every place is different, so it’s important to learn about it beforehand.

Viva Italia!
Italy is very well respected for their culture, which differs from what we’re used to. Not only does Rome have a different language from us, they aren’t on a fast-track like we’re used to. Imagine sitting down to eat at a quaint little Italian restaurant and you devour your meal…now imagine the dirty looks you’ll get from the other locals around you who are taking small bites, eating slowly and appreciating their meal. To make your trip go smoothly, follow these tips and etiquette and you’ll be blending in in Rome in no time.

rome colosseum aavtravelCiao! Boungornio and Bounasera
Italian is the official language of Italy and 93 percent of the population are native Italian speakers. Though in bigger cities it won’t be a problem to find someone who speaks English at the hotel. Before you head out on your trip to Rome, start practicing some basic words and phrases in Italian. If you have your trip booked months in advance, start learning the language right away–not only does this get you excited about it, it helps you develop your new language.

  • Grazie — Thank you
  • Prego — You’re welcome
  • Per favore — Yes please
  • Mi scusi — Excuse me/Pardon me
  • Non parlo molto bene italiano — I don’t speak Italian very well
  • Parla inglese? — Do you speak English?
  • Quanto costa/costano? –How much does that cost? (sg.pl.)

Tip: First impressions mean everything to Italians. When meeting someone for the first time, don’t greet them with ‘ciao!’….that greeting isn’t used amongst strangers. Shaking hands with a smile is the most appropriate behavior between strangers. Once a relationship develops, air-kissing on both cheeks (starting with the left) is very common.

Do’s and Don’t’s of Table Etiquette
It’s fairly common for tourists to wind up going to the “touristy” places to eat on vacation. Get off the tourist path, be that person who people-watches, and learn where the locals go to eat. That way you’re staying away from tourist-packed restaurants and experiencing something most tourists don’t — all while blending in. Another option is buying local food (if you’re staying at a place that has a kitchenette).

Rome Italy It doesn’t matter whether you’re at an upscale restaurant or having a picnic, Italians take their dining etiquette seriously. If you want to avoid getting dirty looks, glares, and turning waiters into enemies, here are some basic do’s and don’ts that’ll help you fit in on your vacation.

  • Do: Pick up cheese with your knife rather than your fingers.
  • Don’t: Order coffee with or after a meal; it’s seen as a way to digest your food AFTER you eat.
  • Do: Put your napkin on your lap and your hands on the table.
  • Don’t: Eat bread before a meal, it’s used to soak up left-over sauces from your meal, not fill you up beforehand.
  • Do: Wait till everyone else has their food to begin eating.
  • Don’t: Request Parmesan for your pizza or any meal…you don’t want to know what happens…just don’t do it
  • Do: Be polite to your waiter, don’t holler across the room to get his/her attention
  • Don’t: Ask for tap water at a restaurant. Italians always drink bottled water or sparkling water.
  • Do: Ask for the bill. A waiter will not bring it unless it is requested or it’s passed closing hours.

romance wine italy aavtravelDress and Sightseeing
Italy is huge on chic, European fashion and they’ll spend a pretty penny on their wardrobe. Observe the locals and what they wear and try and go with that to not stick out like a sore thumb. Women usually tend to wear feminine attire, such as dresses while men wear also be formal with suits, with and without ties (depending on the occasion). The overall trend is elegant, but conservative;old, dirty and ratty clothes are not appreciated.

love romance italy aavtravelThat goes for being in church as well. There are many churches throughout that have beautiful works of art, but remember it’s a place of worship–you need to dress appropriately. Shorts, tank tops and sleeveless garments are taboo throughout the country, so make sure to bring a sweater to cover up. Also, you can’t bring any food or beverages inside churches, so leave that behind!

Do you dare to shed your tourist aura? Get out of your comfort zone–learn a new language, learn from the locals, it’ll enrich your vacation in a way you never thought possible.
stephanie jellett aavtravel

Written by STEPHANIE JELLETT
Stephanie Jellett is interning as a travel writer and social media manager at AAV Travel. You can contact her at stephanie.jellett@maine.edu

 

in conjunction with AAV Travel’s Italy Expert
stefanie pichonnat aavtravel

STEFANIE PICHONNAT
Stefanie Pichonnat is the Italy Specialist at AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm specialized in creating and customizing personalized travel itineraries. You can contact her at stefanie@aav-travel.com

 

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 www.aav-travel.com to plan your next Italy adventure.