Venice: Crazy Colorful Burano

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There are some places I go because I want to do something: peruse a particular museum, try a new restaurant, explore a famous monument. Then there are other places that I visit without any big attraction in mind, but simply because they look beautiful. Rue Crémieux in Paris was one of those, and another would have to be Burano, a lovely island in the Venetian lagoon.

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Burano is a 45-minute vaporetto ride from St. Mark’s, and is well worth the trip for one major reason: it is gorgeous. Each building in Burano is painted in a bright color, with the end result being that the island’s streets look like a fabulous Italian rainbow. While the island is also known for its many lace shops, I breezed right by those: I came for the colors, and the colors alone (and, okay, for a bit of gelato too).

And the colors. Oh man, the colors were magnificent. I always take a ton of photographs – why helllllllllo, Captain Obvious – but in Burano it was at another level. The island is picture perfect in almost every way, and under the scorching midday sun, everything looked impossibly bright and vibrant. I sought out favorite colors combinations (maize and blue, of course), I strolled with an equally colorful gelato in hand, I stopped to admire cute little houses with their laundry strung across the facades – simple pleasures, to be sure, but special ones too.

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After a few hours wandering around, I boarded a vaporetto filled to the brim with hot, sweaty, and cranky tourists. As the boat chugged back toward St. Mark’s, I will admit I felt a bit disgruntled at moments myself. But, ultimately, the moments of hassle were worth it. Burano is a treasure.

Venice: The All-Important Murano Vase Mission

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I had a mission in Murano, and it was simple: acquire the perfect vase.

This might not sound surprising – Murano is, after all, known for its glass – but I’m not much for shopping during my travels. And though I would typically reserve my money for food, adventures, and accommodations, this was a special case. Years ago, I had visited Murano and purchased a beautiful blue vase for my mom – but always felt a twinge of regret at gifting the thing. The problem was, I adored that vase, and in the years since, it became something of a running joke, with me constantly threatening to steal it back from my mom. When it came time to return to Venice, then, I knew I would finally have the chance to score one of my very own. The timing was perfect too, as this was in September and I was getting ready to move to New York in October – the vase would be one of the first pieces to decorate my new apartment.

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I boarded the vaporetto at St. Mark’s, excited to see what I would find when the boat docked in Murano. My last visit to the island, in 2005, was only a hazy memory, but I could have sworn that my friends and I walked right off the boat and right into the most perfect little glass shop, with rows and rows of gorgeous vases lining the shelves. Finding one of my own would be easy!

It was, to say the least, not. As it turns out, the trademark style of Venetian glass is millefiori, which…is not my style at all. The vase I had purchased for my mother was simple and modern, and that’s exactly what I wanted too – but that style was apparently in short supply on Murano. That’s not to downplay the Venetian glass at all – it’s gorgeous – but it just turned out that my mission would require much more of a scavenger hunt than I had bargained for.

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In a way, though, my vase odyssey turned out well: it led me to what felt like almost every nook and cranny in Murano, and I as hopped from shop to shop (to shop!), I saw a lot of Murano along the way. The town is lovely, and I enjoyed catching a glimpse of many of its oh-so-colorful treasures.

And as for the great vase hunt of 2014? Mission accomplished. Though it took something like thirty shops, I finally found the vase – a piece of impeccably cut grey glass that sits on my bookshelf at home and never fails to remind me of beautiful Italy.

Venice: Colorful Corners of the Rialto Markets

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I won’t pretend to be a pro at photography – my DSLR manual sits somewhere, collecting dust, despite my annual resolution to learn my camera’s settings – but taking pictures is something I enjoy, to put it mildly. And I can trace one of the reasons for this love to my first visit to Venice’s Rialto Market, way back in June 2005.

On that, my first trip to Italy (and my first big trip abroad), I brought along my trusty point and shoot camera. I took hundreds of pictures that trip, many of them of the two most obvious things: monuments and my friends and I on our many inebriated nights out in Florence. And I treasure each one of those pictures, I do.

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But it was looking at one of my friend’s photographs from Venice, and specifically his pictures from the Rialto Market, that made me think about capturing more: not just the broad strokes of a place, but the quiet colorful details, the small moments that give you the greatest sense of place. He took pictures of wine bottles with humorous labels, of overflowing crates of fresh fruit, of colorful ties lined up all in a row (a shot, you will notice, that I could not resist replicating nine years later). Looking through his photographs, I thought about how he captured the market just as I remembered it – and how I wanted to capture more too. And so, in the years since, I have tried to do just that.

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It was only fitting, then, that I make a long detour through the Rialto Market on this trip. Weaving my way through its many stalls, I remembered why the place is such a font of photographic inspiration. Piles of produce, colorful collections of knickknacks, and all of it just steps away from Venice’s canals: in short, a photographer – or amateur photographer’s – dream. I poked around for a while, happily snapping away, thinking about my trip then, my life now, and all the little colorful details in between.

Culinary Discoveries of a Venetian Cicchetti Crawl

Eating in Italy is, on the whole, easy – in my experience, at least, I haven’t exactly struggled to find good, solid food all over the country. Except, that is, in Venice.

Yes, the food scene in Venice is a bit trickier than other parts of Italy. While I ultimately discovered a few restaurants that I quite enjoyed during my time in the city, the truth is that there are SO, so many other places that are unfortunate: super cheesy, poor quality food, and exorbitant prices. Not surprising, given how frustratingly touristy Venice can be.

That’s why, when it came to planning my time in Venice, I knew a food tour would be more essential here than elsewhere. And that is what, in turn, led me to discover a term that was heretofore unknown to me: cicchetti, which are essentially to Venice what tapas are to Spain. As I learned on my Walks of Italy food tour, in a town where high quality sit-down restaurants can be tough to find, hopping from bar to bar in search of cicchetti just may be a hungry visitor’s safest bet.

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Cicchetti are served at bàcari, little, local bars hidden among Venice’s winding streets. We visited three bàcari on our tour, plus made stops at the Rialto Market, the fish market, and a cafe for a grand grappa finale.

First up was Al Merca, a tiny bar not far from the Rialto. Here, we tried two sandwiches. One was made with sopressa, a typical local salami. It was good, but the other was the star: it contained San Daniele ham, a soft robiola cheese, and grated truffle, and was amazing – the cheese complemented the meat perfectly. We washed it all down with a local Prosecco, made in the hills around Treviso and naturally fermented (unlike much of the Prosecco you will find in Venice, which is artificially created like sparkling water).

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As we made our way to our next stop, we passed through Venice’s bustling Rialto Market (more on that in a later post), wandered along a cute stretch of canal (though, aren’t they all?), and peeked into shop windows (the spice shop was definitely my favorite).

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We finally reached our next stop, All’Arco. This bàcaro was all about the seafood: we tried one piece of bread topped with baccalà mantecato (a cod spread) and another with anchovy and gorgonzola. I was initially unsure how I would feel about the anchovy, though this turned out to be a tasty bite, albeit a strong, salty one, especially when paired with a sharp gorgonzola. We accompanied these bites with a glass of verduzzo, a white wine from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region.

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Keeping with the fishy theme, we next popped into the fish market selling seafood fresh from the lagoon around Venice and the Adriatic Sea. Each stall was fascinating – and more than a little smelly.

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Our third stop was Do Spade, a venerable institution dating back to the 15th century; in fact, Casanova even mentioned the bar in his memoirs. While sipping on glasses of merlot, we tried several tasty snacks: mozzarella in carrozza (little fried mozzarella sandwiches with ham or anchovy inside), meatballs with tomato and polenta sauce, and fried calamari.

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We finished our walking tour at Caffe Del Doge. Here, we ended our meal with two very strong drinks: grappa (a variety so strong I could not finish my glass) and espresso (paired with an essi, an S-shaped cookie). Talk about ending with a jolt!

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I loved learning about Venice’s bàcari; these are exactly the sort of tiny, unassuming places a visitor to the city might easily overlook if they weren’t playing close attention. I was delighted to try a few of them (as was my stomach).

A Tale of Two Smorgasburgs

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There are some New York things that I – along with everyone else, it would seem – just get excited about: a really good bottomless brunch deal, finding a cab in the rain, and the weather being warm enough for a sunshine-soaked walk down the High Line. To that list I must, of course, add Smorgasburg.

Smorgasburg runs each weekend – on Saturdays in Williamsburg, on Sundays at Pier 5 in the Brooklyn Bridge Park – and is filled with deliciousness. And, because there are so many awesome food vendors in one place, it also happens to be filled with crowds. For my money, though, this is one of those rare events that’s actually worth fighting the crowds for.

And fight them I have, twice in the last week alone, as it happens. That might seem a bit excessive, but with the promise of such good food, I found it impossible to say no. And so that’s why, on Saturday I headed to Williamsburg to smorg (yes, I’m making it a verb) with one group of friends,  while on Sunday I made my way to Brooklyn Heights with another. Both trips were delicious.

One of the stars – or perhaps the star – of Smorgasburg is Ramen Burger, which serves exactly what you would expect with a name like that: a burger whose patties are made of ramen noodles. The line for this place tends to be insane, but I decided I had to brave it at least once. The burger was super flavorful, but I’m not entirely sure it’s worth the hype: it’s a little greasy for my liking, and I wish it were topped with more veggies or something to give it a bit more variety and punch.

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Another Smorgasburg favorite: Red Hook Lobster Pound, where I always get the Connecticut style roll: warmed up, and topped with butter and lemon. Perfect:

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I tend to eat my hotdogs plain (yes, really, and yes, I know that people find this strange), so I wasn’t sure if I would like Asia Dog, which serves up hotdogs with Asian-inspired toppings. I tried the “Sidney,” which comes with Thai mango relish, cucumber, red onion, cilantro, and crushed peanuts. The verdict? Absolutely delicious, and perhaps my #1 favorite thing I tried (though it’s hard to play favorites in this crowd).

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One of my friends wanted to try the scallion pancake rolls at Outer Borough, so I decided to tag along. Verdict? Excellent decision. I tried one topped with pork, cucumber, and onions and it was fantastic. Definitely another stand to add to the regular Smorgasburg rotation. They were all sold out of the pork belly version by the time we got to the front of the line; I know which one I will be coming back for.

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When it comes to sweets, Smorgasburg also delivers. My favorite just might be the ice cream sandwiches at The Good Batch. Several of the flavors had sold out before we made our way to the stand (a recurring theme, giving Smorgasburg’s popularity), but the one I ended up with was so tasty that I didn’t even mind: an oatmeal cookie plus some sea salt = ice cream nirvana.

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Another must-try? Dough doughnuts. I know I’ve written this – probably more than once – but I have never considered myself a doughnut fan. Certain places make me reconsider this stance. Federal Donuts in Philly is one, and Dough is another. I had the chocolate with cocoa nibs and it was decadent perfection (the views of Manhattan weren’t so bad either).

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The bad thing about Smorgasburg? There are so many vendors that it’s difficult to choose where to start. The good thing about Smorgasburg? It’s only April. I have plenty of time for return trips this year.

Things That Are Awesome, Vol. 143

The (slightly-belated) roundup of awesome things on the internet this week:

  1. I read this with a friend at work and we were basically cry laughing: 22 Texts You Can Relate to on a Spiritual Level.
  2. Emily takes this lip sync battle by a mile: Emily Blunt’s No Diggity vs. Anne Hathaway’s Love.
  3. Can’t wait for summer TV: True Detective Season 2 Trailer and Orange is the New Black Season 3 Trailer.
  4. Clever: This Woman Fights Gender Stereotypes with Hilarious Cartoons.
  5. I’m ready: Hillary Clinton Election Video Opens SNL.
  6. Man, I miss Paris, and I’d love to do this: A Paris Picnic, Delivered.
  7. Yes: Feminist Ben & Jerry’s Flavors.
  8. Perfect: Here’s a LEGO Set of Female Supreme Court Justices.
  9. So good: Seth Brings Jon Snow to a Dinner Party (who’s so ready for the premiere tonight?!)
  10. Important information: What Is the Emoji Update? 5 Things You Must Know.

(Image via)

Philadelphia Freezing: A Chilly Weekend in the City of Brotherly Love

As I mentioned in my first Philly post, it was unbearably cold the weekend I was in town, meaning my list of “must visits” shrank with every degree the temperature dropped. Despite my frequent “stop somewhere warm because I’m freaking freezing breaks,” I still managed to do quite a bit in Philadelphia.

Number one on that list would have to be Federal Donuts, purveyors of only the finest fried foods: donuts and chicken. I went on Saturday morning for breakfast – a heavenly chocolate peanut butter donut that would make angels weep. Then, intrigued by the chicken, I returned on Sunday for lunch. I chose the sweet soy garlic glaze for my chicken, and it was phenomenal. Federal Donuts, I am still dreaming about you.

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One detail I kept noticing about Philly: murals, murals everywhere. I would love to come back one day and take a mural walking tour, but this time around, I settled for stumbling upon the murals by chance. I saw some pretty cool ones but know I only scratched the surface.

My inner history geek was dying during my visit to Independence Hall, the spot where the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were signed. I got chills peeking into such a history-making place (and I got chills of a different variety while waiting in line to get into the building).

Keeping with the old timey, Colonial theme, I also stopped into Shane Confectionary to purchase ye olde chocolates. I loved the vintage vibes – especially the gigantic old school cash registers – filling the place. I nabbed a box of chocolates to bring back home with me to New York. The woman who waited on me was super committed to squeezing as many chocolates as she could into my box – a trait I highly appreciated.

A few doors down from Shane, I found The Gaslight, a restaurant with an open, industrial vibe. I tried the daily cheeseboard and a side of cornbread. The cheese was good, but the cornbread was great.

I was way too stuffed to eat anything at Reading Terminal Market – a real shame, perhaps – but I was more than game to explore the market anyway. The only problem: this place was crazy crowded, and left me feeling a little too claustrophobic.

At La Colombe, I had a cup of great (and strong) coffee, but what I found myself most enamored with was the coffee cup. Can you blame me?

And finally, I visited the Rodin Museum. As a huuuuuuge fan (an understatement) of the Rodin Museum in Paris, I knew this was a must-visit for me. While the collection was small, I was glad to have the chance to see some of Rodin’s work.

As my Amtrak rolled back to New York, it occurred to me that I had enjoyed Philadelphia but had not quite loved it – a fact, however, that I can’t blame on the city itself, but rather the weather. I cannot wait to come back and visit Philly under sunnier skies. And to eat another one of those donuts, if we’re being real here.