A Surprise Masquerade Ball in Venice

The Bird-Man of Venice

Who would know that our day in Venice would become ripe with intrigue? Imagine, if you will, four mild-mannered women with a love for Italian culture and lifestyle who have just met in Venice for the first time. Immediately engaged in delightful chatter over a lovely breakfast in a most intimate little hotel, it never occurred to us that our day was about to take on such a playful and adventurous turn.

Although our table is just a bit disheveled, we engage in lively conversation while discussing plans for the day. L to R is Orna O’Reilly, myself, Margie Miklas and Victoria DeMaio, great friends as well as talented fellow bloggers (click on names to see their sites).

After breakfast, we embark upon a short and winding walk along the stony streets of Venice to Ca’Macana, one of the oldest and finest mask-making workshops. We have decided to choose and decorate our own masks in the old Venetian way.


Just inside the shop we are greeted with floor to ceiling masks of all shapes and colors. Feathers, plumes and jewels embellish them with a great respect to tradition. I’m instantly captivated by this enormous display of colorful and creative art. A chest lies open lined with little masks of various sizes and patterns. Animal masks are everywhere and seem to be a favorite.


These authentic masks are crafted just as they were 800 years ago by Venetian artisans. There is no end to the creative possibilities involved in mask decor. Patterned cloth wound and curled about the top and sides brings on a whole new persona.


The walls are filled with a menagerie of bells, snouts, plumes and curlicues. I’m especially intrigued by the bird-man with his flat top hat and dark shroud covering. Very mysterious. I wouldn’t want to run into him on a dark and rainy night.



The workshop where we chose our masks and painted them with the assistance of Fiorella, our most engaging and knowledgable instructor

My own little mask is small and elegant. After I choose my paint colors and apply them, it is time to use a hair dryer to finish up the drying process. Afterwards I pick my embellishments of jewels and feathers.

Just need a few plumes and jewels, and I’m ready to party

Our masks are finished and we couldn’t be more delighted. We had a ball of our own right inside the little shop among the spooky phantoms and funny animal snouts. All eyes were on us, and we could have danced the day away. Had the sky not decided to let down a pour of rain the moment we stepped outside the shop after saying our goodbyes, we would have donned our masks and continued our party right down through the streets of Venice.

Our finished masks are ready to wear

For more information about Ca’Macana mask shop in Venice, click here ~

Will Moses’ Sea Gates Save Venice?

“To preserve Venice has always been to interfere in the natural course of events.” Dominic Standish

I love Venice. I love the authenticity, uniqueness, and historical impact of this city built on pilings in a lagoon. Venice is amazing, and I mean exactly that. There is nowhere else in Italy I have traversed that even hints of what Venice encapsulates. I love everything about the ancient Basilica of St. Marks and the Doge’s Palace to the maze of winding streets lined with shops and cafes interspersed with surprising little piazzas. I even love the dip and sway of the stone streets and squares that testify to the patter of many feet over the centuries. Venice is like no other.

Venice is the worlds most intriguing floating museum…

Today, as most of us realize, Venice is threatened by the converging Adriatic sea. Water levels are rising, and floods are common during the winter months. Every year it is worse, and although the Venetians are experts at maneuvering themselves through the watery streets, it leaves a dwindling hope. The frequency of high tides keep getting worse. With every flood the water’s edge and building foundations weaken.

St. Mark’s Square steeped in sea water

So, how do you fight with nature? The floods, which last a couple of hours before receding back into the lagoon, reaches an average of over 4 feet on the streets.

Venice flood

There is an answer, for the next 100 years at least. It’s called the Mose (MOdulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico) or Experimental Electromechanical Module project. You may have heard of it. The 5.4 billion flood barrier project has been in the planning and implementation stages for a number of years. It consists of huge water gates inserted into concrete foundations on the floor of the Venetian lagoon. These gates will have the capacity to protect Venice from up to 10 ft. tides. Three inlets where water enters and exits the lagoon will be manned with these gates and will be operated separately to manage the ‘acqua alta,’ high tides, as needed.

Venice Lido inlet MOSE Gate
The Mose control center is located inside a converted chapel in the old Venice Arsenal. Those operating the gates will raise them for only a couple of hours at a time before putting them back to rest. For now there are up to 9 operators, but hope is to eventually have the station manned 24 hours a day. When there will be a flood, a siren will go off in Venice alerting the people so they can make preparations such as wearing boots, protecting shops, and so on.

According to academic and author Dominic Standish, “Mose is continuing in the tradition of the Venetian Republic, which intervened in the lagoon to protect against natural threats. Ancient Venetians built sea walls and diverted two major rivers – these were huge engineering projects,” he explains. “The Venetian Republic suffered more from flooding than we do now. People were regularly killed by flooding. They had difficulty in predicting it. Venice is much better protected now than it has been for a long time.”

Venice MOSE how it works

The concrete foundations have been lowered in place on the lagoon floor, only awaiting the gates to be inserted.

St. marks squareThe good news is that the biodiversity of the lagoon will not be affected since the gates will only be up a few hours at a time. At a cost of 5.4 billion for the entire project, it is expected to eventually prove to be cost-effective through reduction of repair costs due to flooding.

Once the gates are up and running, time will tell just how effective they will be. But for now it is the only hope of Venice.

I will finish with a quote by Keats, “If the thought of Venice sinking captures the imagination, then it should be as a wakeup call to save the city as an essential basis of the civilization we cherish. The world owes huge debts to Venice, including modern systems of democratic government and the printed book.”

Viva Venezia!

What are your thoughts on these giant sea gates? I would love to know…please share below.

Venice Maritime Power in EuropeFor more information, please click on Inside Venice’s Bid to Hold Back the Tide.

My Latest Italian Adventure ~ A Sneak Peak of Upcoming Articles

4 bella donne....my travel companions in Venice where we began our exciting adventures. With me are Margie Miklas, Ishita Shood and Victoria DiMaio, all fellow Italy bloggers.
4 Bella Donne….my travel companions in Venice where we began our exciting adventures. With me are Margie Miklas, Ishita Sood and Victoria DiMaio, all fellow Italy bloggers.

My Italian adventure was so much more than I ever imagined. After being home four days, I am still reeling from 3 1/2 weeks of experiences with new friends that will remain with me for a lifetime. What began as acquaintances that developed over a period of time on twitter, became solid friendships as we took the plunge and decided to meet in person and have an Italian adventure together. I couldn’t have had a more satisfying, bonding time. I love these ladies, and they will always hold a special place in my heart.

Through them I had the opportunity to meet many of the local people. I found each one to be warm and welcoming, willing to pull me right into their own daily lives without hesitation. We laughed, learned and enjoyed many delicious meals together.

I am so excited to share the many adventures I’ve had, but it would take a book. So I have included a few photos to give you an idea of some upcoming articles I am preparing for you.

You’ve heard of the Venice Carnevale? Well, wait until you read about our own little celebration while making masks.

Mask-making in Venice. Incredibly cool!
Mask-making in Venice. Incredibly cool!

Next we travel down to the heel of the boot. Warm, lovely and surprising. You will walk under those arches and see …..well, I won’t spoil it for you.

Masseria Provenzani in Puglia where I spent 10 days

Masseria Provenzani in Puglia where I spent 10 days

This is us in the mild. At our cooking class we found dough and pepper chunks in the most unusual places, but we always turned out a mean dish.

Cooking Classes! Never knew I could do it and have so much fun!
Cooking Classes! Never knew I could do it and have so much fun!

I could walk this town of Lecce forever. So much to see but easily miss. Don’t let that happen to you….

The baroque town of Lecce ~ incredibly moving architecture
The baroque town of Lecce ~ incredibly moving architecture

As a wine lover, I was head over heels for the local Negroamaro and Primitivo wines of Puglia. Read about a couple of local wineries that are as uniquely different from each other as possible, yet produce equally delicious wines.

Enjoying local wines at the Puglia Wine School.
Enjoying local wines at the Puglia Wine School.
Italian Cuisine that will leave you craving more
Italian Cuisine that will leave you craving more…

Yes, I’m afraid it will. And the key ingredient is the aromatic and tasty olive oil produced in Puglia. We enjoyed our visit to one of the best and had a deliciously prepared picnic in the orchard.

Exotic Polignano a Mare on the Adriatic Coast
Exotic Polignano a Mare on the Adriatic Coast

Exotic is the word. These transparent waters, tall white cliffs and hidden beaches are just the beginning.

If you have seen “The Passion of the Christ” produced by Mel Gibson, you have seen a part of Matera in the Basilicata region. We stayed in a cistern converted into a living space that was, well, unique to say the least. Cave churches, ancient frescos and winding alleys with a very old past.

Moving Matera, city of stones and caves
Moving Matera, city of stones and caves

Of course, there is always more food. This is one of the greatest joys in life and we had the pleasure to enjoy plenty of Italian cuisine.

More food......
More food……

Positano on the Amalfi Coast. My friends and I lived for 5 days in Italian heaven. Sailboats, a visit to the isle of Capri, shopping and breathtaking Mediterranean views while lunching on terraces. It’s all here….

Positano ~ Paradise Italian Style!
Positano ~ Paradise Italian Style!

As the old saying goes, “life is more fun when you share it with a friend.” Not only was the entire experience much more meaningful with my new friends, but I can’t wait to share it all with you. So stay tuned….there is so much more to come.

Italy, Always a Good Idea ~ I Return to Bella Italia



“Italy is a dream that keeps returning for the rest of your life.”  -Anna Akhmatova

Italy is always a good idea. I have often come home from a visit with a feeling of pure saturation. I foolishly think to myself that I have seen all I need to see, that i’ve tasted all I need to taste, smell, touch. But after a month, I am mentally planning my next adventure to bella Italia. There is no getting over it.

So, I will be returning to Italy this late May for three weeks. I am so excited I can hardly sleep. I walk around the house in a state of disorientation. My mind is already miles away….in the land I love so passionately.

This trip will begin in Venice, where I will meet with two friends. We will head toward the heel of the boot in Puglia and enjoy a stay in an agriturismo complete with cooking classes, tours to wineries, and exciting day trips. This area of Italy is somewhat new to me so i’m anticipating a lot of new adventures and discoveries that I can’t wait to share with all of you.

After a stay in Matera, the UNESCO site of the ancient cave dwellings, I will end up in Positano where I hope to relax, enjoy the Mediterranean ambience, and write.

I will be posting some photos as I travel so be sure to stay tuned. E ‘il mio grande piacere di portare a voi i migliori d’Italia! (It is my great pleasure to bring to you the best of Italy.)


Verona’s ‘Faire Old Castle’ ~ Lords of Foul Play?

Castelvecchio, 'old castle', was the most important military structure of the Scaliger empire that ruled the city during the Middle Ages
Castelvecchio, ‘old castle’, was the most important military structure of the Scaliger empire that ruled the city during the Middle Ages

Mystery surrounds Lord Cangrande I (1291 to 1329), early Lord of Verona, like a dark shadow. Historical documents claimed he expired suddenly from polluted drinking water but doubt remained among scholars. Shocking results from a recent exhumation revealed toxic levels of digitalis, a strong poison from the Foxglove family, discovered throughout his liver and colon. It appears that he was likely poisoned under the cloak of medical treatment in the midst of his astounding military victories. One of his physicians was hung afterwards by his successor, Mastino II. Foul play? One would think so.

Lord Cangrande I was the most celebrated of the Scaliger family, the Lords of Verona, who ruled from 1260 to 1387. A noble ruler who was a warrior, prince and patron of Giotto, Dante and Petrarch, he didn’t live to set foot inside Castelvecchio.

Lord Cangrande II della Scala had the castle and bridge built in 1355 for his protection and that of his ruling family. With a reputation opposite that of his predecessor, he was a cruel and tyrannical governor who needed a safe escape route from his abundance of enemies. Venice, the Sforza family and the Gonzaga were a constant threat. He had no lack of forceful neighbors who surrounded his keep in Verona. If needed, the bridge would allow him to escape northwards to relatives in Tyrol.


William Shakespeare was smitten by the walls of Verona and immortalized them through the words of his Romeo ~

“There is no world without Verona walls, but purgatory, torture, hell itself. Hence “banished” is banished from the world. And world’s exile is death.”  Romeo and Juliette, Act 3, Scene 3

The Adige River in Verona passes gently beneath the red brick segmental arches of the Scaliger Bridge. Graceful in bearing, it was the world’s largest span at the time of its medieval construction. White marble lines the lower sections of the nearly 49 meter length, which connects to the powerful fortress of Castelvecchio.

The day I visited the Castle was grey and chilly, making this imposing Gothic structure all the more real. As I crossed the bridge toward the castle, I passed striking M-shaped merlons (see in photo above) that ran along the top of the walls.  The brickwork opened regularly to offer a view of the river and surrounding countryside. Peace and tranquility permeated the ambience of this visually romantic castle fortress.



According to records, a tiny little church existed on this site prior to the castle’s construction. It’s name, San Martino in Acquaro, was adopted by the castle. It became known as Castello di San Martino in Acquaro. In 1404 it was renamed Castelvecchio, Old Castle, and became part of the Venetian Republic as their military compound.


Seven towers in a pentagonal shape give a magnificent character to the castle, which is divided into four buildings. The super lofty castle keep has four main buildings inside. And, a castle is rarely without a moat that surrounds it.

The castle moat is no longer flowing with water from the Adige River, but is full of lush greenery. Notice the equestrian statue of Cangrande I Della Scala at the top center.


Lord Cangrande I Equestrian Statue of Cangrande I della Scalla, sandstone sculpture from the early 14th century housed in the Castle museum. 

The castle remained steeped in historical events. It was brutalized by French troops during the Napoleonic Wars of 1796 when the population reacted violently to the anti-French revolt. During WWII, the retreating Germans destroyed the bridge and tower (Ponte Pietra), which was rebuilt by dredging the river for the original mortar and bricks.

Carlos Scarpa, famous architect of his time, implemented a final restoration of the castle in 1958. Born in Venice, he was an artist very sensitive to historical times. As a result, the Castelvecchio was carefully repaired to its original design.

Castelvecchio at night, photo credits by Google