Posts Tagged ‘Venice’

Untours is unparalleled in the travel industry

February 24, 2009
Sampling Dutch street food is among the Untours travel experiences

You, too, can sample street food in Leiden (in this case, herring) on an Untours trip

Even before I knew much about Untours, the Pennsylvania-based (un)tour company, I loved their travel offerings and attitude. Untours supports longer-term travel with a home base, so visitors have a chance to dig deeper than the usual surface tourist activities.

They provide accommodations for one or two weeks, mostly in Europe (they just added a couple North American locations). For a reasonable fee, you get lodging (with a kitchen), air travel (rare) and an English-speaking local host (unheard of). It’s similar to independent travel, but with someone to hold your hand if needed.

Rome is among the travel destions in Italy

Rome is among the destinations in Italy

Also terrific are Untours’ off-the-beaten path destinations. In Holland, untourists stay in the charming university town of Leiden instead of the big city of Amsterdam, in Greece it’s Nafplio instead of Athens, and in Switzerland Untours offers up Ticino, Oberland and villages between Interlaken and Lucerne. It doesn’t ignore big cities completely, especially in Italy and France, the top destinations. Italy choices include Rome, Florence, and Venice, but also Sicily and Amalfi. It’s similar for France. You can choose among Paris, Normandy, Alsace, and more.

I was surprised when Untours, now in its 34th year, recently added New York City and Quebec City to its offerings. Makes me wonder what’s next. Exciting!

Paris at night with its monuments bathed in illumination

"The Eiffel Tower at night is magical," reported one Untours traveler

While I haven’t traveled with Untours, I’ve interviewed several people who have, and they’ve all loved the experience of feeling like they were living in a community instead of merely passing through. For those of you who just have to be on the move, there are ways to combine destinations with Untours “Samplers.” Untours aren’t cheap, but from what travelers tell me, they’re a bargain when you factor in meals, airfare, etc. Check out the prices for yourself and let me know what you think.

Hal Taussig on his daily ride to work

Hal Taussig on his regular ride to work

Like I said, I’ve already loved Untours for years because I had a great feeling about them and their business practices. So I wasn’t surprised but I sure was impressed when last year I learned about Untours founder and president Hal Taussig, 84. Despite his very successful business, he and his wife live in a modest home. Since 1992 they’ve given $5 million in profits from the business to the Untours Foundation, which they founded to help enterprises around the world that create jobs that improve the lives of the poor. Untours has been engaging in “travel philanthropy” way before it became de rigueur. Hal has gotten some great press lately, but you can tell that he’s not in it for the publicity. Thank you, Hal, for inspiring us as travelers and as human beings!


High and dry in Venice

December 11, 2008
Gondolas moored nearby the Piazza San Marco

Covered gondolas moored near the Piazza San Marco

I was reading how Venice has once again flooded, and I feel so lucky that our visit there a year ago was relatively dry. We had rain and chilly weather, but no flooding. We saw the hip high rubber boots that people wear when it floods. I wonder if they rent them to tourists.

Heavy boat traffic in the Canal Grande

Boat traffic in the Canal Grande

Wessel had never been to Venice, and it was so exciting to see the astonishment on his face when we got off the train and started to explore. Nothing, but nothing, compares to Venezia. It was Thanksgiving day, and though the tourist count was low, the center was still crowded. I have no desire to be there in August.

Spaghetti and red sauce as Thanksgiving Dinner

Wessel relishes a traditional Italian Thanksgiving meal of spaghetti with tomato sauce in Venice

We had “Thanksgiving Dinner” at Osteria Kalia (5870A Castello, Calle del Dose. Tel. +39(0)41 528 5153), a reasonably priced restaurant just off the beaten path enough to appeal to locals. In fact, the menu didn’t have a lick of English on it. Wessel ordered spaghetti and red sauce with asparagus and I, already overloaded on starches, avoided pasta and had chicken and potatoes. Of course a little vino came with the meal, and we ordered a nice strong espresso to perk us up for more hours of walking. Even Wessel, with his keen sense of direction, kept getting turned around. That’s the pain and pleasure of Venice.

Venice covered with snow in 1987

Venice covered with snow in 1987

Other than that day with Wessel, my fondest memory of Venice was in 1987. I was living in Vicenza, an hour west. The big news on this February day was “neve” — snow. I hopped on a train, and after several delays reached a completely snow-covered Venice, a rare sight I was told. I ran into a woman I knew who was an art student there and she took me around. She was as enchanted as I was with the snow, and we didn’t get lost once.

Italian master turns stemware into sculpture

July 24, 2008

It took three trips to Venice over some 25 years before I finally ventured to the nearby island of Murano, known for its glassblowers and, of course, glass galleries.

It was one of those things that seemed like a hassle — finding the right boat to ride, getting tickets, etc. Wessel is much more adventurous in that department, so when we went there last November, I let him do all the work. Love that! Indeed it was a bit of an ordeal figuring out boat details. You’d think that with the hordes of tourists in Venice, they’d make it easy, but then perhaps it wouldn’t be such a charming place. Can you imagine not getting lost in the maze of streets and canals? How memorable would that be? 

Ferry from Venice to Murano on a grey fall day

Ferry from Venice to Murano on a gray fall day

The 10-minute boat-taxi ride there would have been incredibly scenic — if we could have seen  anything. Instead, it was raining, so we had to sit inside, and the windows were fogged up. Wessel, of course, ventured out to take photos, and it was indeed beautiful in its own way. When is Venice not beautiful?

Murano, a mile north of Venice proper, is very cute in its own right and sort of like a very miniature Venice. In the summer especially, tourists arrive by the boatload to visit the famed glassmaking studios and galleries. Though the shops vary from low-end to high, most of them quickly blend together.

Engraved glasses from Luigi Camozzo

Engraved glasses from Luigi Camozzo

After popping into several stores along the main street, I was getting a little bored. That is until I happened upon the studio and gallery of Luigi Camozzo. truly an island apart from the others. And, I have to warn you, so are the master engraver’s prices. But if you can’t afford his museum-quality work, ranging from $250 to $7,500 and up, don’t let that stop you from looking.

If you’re lucky, you’ll find Camozzo, 56, in his small workspace at the back of the shop doing what he’s famous for: using an assortment of diamond, copper, and stone-engraving wheels to transform handblown glass vessels into works of art.

Luigi Camozzo at work

Luigi Camozzo at work

Camozzo doesn’t blow the glass; he uses existing pieces. But by cutting, marking, and carving into the glass surface, he adds texture and depth to each piece, elevating them into something even more special. He works his magic on everything from modern sculpture to antique stemware, including paper-thin English and Bohemian crystal.

Amy West apprentice of Luigi Camozzo

Apprentice and artist Amy West

Camozzo doesn’t speak English, but his friendly apprentice, Amy West, who hails from Kansas City, Mo., and has lived around the world, will be happy to explain the fascinating history and techniques of glass engraving. She has her own glass and beadwork on sale there as well, and it’s of course more affordable. 

Here’s the address to the gallery, and good luck finding it! (Be glad it’s in Murano and not Venice, but really, it won’t be that difficult.)

Luigi Camozzo Studio Galleria, Fondamenta Venier Sebastiano 3, telephone (011) 39-041-736-875.