Wednesday, 22 May 2013


I've been to Venice many times in the last few years. But, stepping out of the Santa Lucia railway station on a lovely spring afternoon recently, the gently rippling Grand Canal before me, the sunshine making Venice shimmer in the haze, was for me like meeting up with a dear friend after a long absence; my heart skipped a beat at that first glimpse. I remembered how much I adore Venice. The sights and sounds and smells; a quiet beauty unlike any other European city I've been to.

The color of water in Venice is a dusky sea foam green – almost opaque yet translucent – reflecting sky, palazzos and gondolas. My research tells me the Dolomite's are nearby and the chalk runoff to the sea creates this effect. Plying the canals are all manner of boats, vaporettos, and of course gondolas, with tanned gondoliers, their muscles rippling impressively under white-and-blue striped shirts, maneuvering their way through.

Erwin’s colleague Cristina was taking a group of students from Conegliano to Venice (some for their first ever visit) to introduce them to her Venice. Erwin and I were along for the fun of it. I say her Venice, because she is a graduate of the University of Venice and is able to show the students a side of Venice not seen by the casual visitor. Her ability to navigate the bridges, narrow allies, and palazzos incredible, her stories spell binding, but above all her love for this city, contagious.

We started out as a large group 18+ but soon broke off into smaller and smaller groups; every one eager to explore and experience Venice for themselves. At first blush navigating Venice may seem daunting. But, once you discover that all roads/allies lead (eventually) to either San Marco or the Rialto or the Ferovia, it’s all good. There’s a saying that if you haven’t gotten lost in Venice you haven’t really been to Venice. Besides, you can always stop and ask for help, or look up at the corners of buildings at intersecting paths for names or directional arrows indicating one of the above mentioned places.

As I mentioned earlier we've seen “the sights” of Venice before, but that didn't stop us from seeing some of them again, or at least just walking by them. You know, just to make sure they weren't just part or a long forgotten dream.

Bridge of Sighs
San Marco

Along the way we stopped for coffee at Caffè Florian; an establishment that’s been around since 1721, and boasts the likes of Goethe, Dickens, Proust, and Byron, among others, as former patrons. The live music added to the ambiance. It was a perfect place to spend an afternoon.

On our way to meet up with the others for dinner we stopped in a church just as they were having evening mass. Erwin wrote about that experience which you can read about here. The delicious dinner consisted of pizza and pastas in the piazza near the Accademia in the early evening. I, along with a few other brave students enjoyed squid ink pasta. I've had it before and was looking forward to savouring this wonderful dish again.

Just as the sun began to set, Cristina led a few of us on a leisurely stroll through deserted allies, and over bridges spanning the calm canals. We stopped here and there for pictures and to gaze at the marvels in shop windows, laughing and chatting, enjoying the company, savoring the moment and the place.

We arrived at the Ferovia (train station) literally a minute and a half after the train we needed back to Conegliano pulled out. Oh well, next train is in another hour, no rush, may as well sit down on the steps in front of the station over-looking the Grand Canal and watch evening descend over this enchanting city by the sea.

Friday, 10 May 2013


It seems like forever ago, since I last blogged. The passage of time has a way of doing that when nearly every day is a new adventure.

From Vienna we returned to Frankfurt for a few days. First of all, Erwin had bought tickets in November to Meatloaf's Last at Bat concert. He wrote a great post about it, which you can read here. But, more importantly, he needed to have some place less distracting (i.e. Frankfurt am Main) to finish up his book, the underlying reason for our Peripatetic Year, which he was able to do. Yay!

Here are the stats:

383 pages
106,752 words of text (no footnotes, appendix, or bibliography included)
111,938 with footnotes
125,712 with everything included
778,140 total characters
655,136 total characters (no spaces)
576 Footnotes
425 Bibliographic entries
24 Appendices

Very proud and happy for him.

On May 3rd, after using Frankfurt as a home base for nearly two months for our myriad of side trips, we packed up our remaining suitcases (two had been sent back to The Rock) and headed for Italy. We took a very loooong but super scenic train ride from Frankfurt, Germany, going through the Tirol, Austria and over/under/through the Brenner Pass, then through the Dolomites down to Venice and finally arriving in Conegliano ten hours later. 

Why Italy? For the last five years Erwin has been running the Italian Field School or MUN in Italy. You can find out more about that here. Even though this is supposed to be a year off from teaching, regular MUN stuff and head of department #$%?!, he wanted to continue the program this year. Plus, 22 students signed up for it. So, for the month of May, he’s donning his professor hat once again and we haaaaave to spend a month in Italy on the university's (for his expenses) dime. Life is tough, but someone’s got to do it. Besides, he/we were already in the neighborhood so to speak and he didn’t want to disappoint 22 students by cancelling the program this year.

This is the fourth time (a volcano cancelled one year) that Erwin has taken a group here, and my third time. We arrived about a week ago and it’s almost a feeling of "coming home"; at least to this part of Italy, Conegliano, a charming city of 35,000, about a 30-40 minute train ride from Venice. We recognized faces in the market, our favorite cafes, or in the piazza, and they recognized us. Very cool!

Until the 2nd of June the Ex-Convento di San Francesco in Conegliano, Italy will be our home. A monastery founded around 1200 on the outskirts of the town. Within the ancient walls of the convent, remnants of frescoes still cling to walls, ceilings, and the ambulatory. You can almost hear the prayers whispered by nuns past echoing from the dark corners and between the Tuscan columns. Early morning breezes come in through the open window ruffling the curtains and bringing with it the fragrance of spring and the sound of church bells, which start chiming at 7 am, the cuckoo birds even earlier than that. Heaven.

The scenery here is spectacular. Stepping out of the train station and looking up you see the San Rocco bell tower, the Duomo, a villa, and at the top, the remains of a 10th century castle surround by cypress trees. Beyond that, picturesque villas nestle in the surrounding hillsides, where vineyards and olive groves reign supreme and churches, with centuries of history, stand guard.

Strolling through town, it’s nice to stop here and there to observe a flower bursting with colour, or the light reflecting through the many shades of green in the canopy of tress.

Plants and flowers trellis from balconies and bleached stone window frames. Benches afford a place to savour and appreciate the ambiance.

While Erwin teaches, I read, explore, and relax in the sun. Side trips with the students will take us to Venice, Milan and Florence for even more adventures. We enjoy glasses of Prosecco in the piazza and cappuccinos or espressos in one of the many cafés and relish the best ever pizzas and pasta dishes.

Life is good, and I am thankful.