Monday, September 17, 2012

Nosy Parker Blog Moves to New Home on Wordpress!

Nosy Parker has officially moved... please continue following, reading and commenting on Wordpress! Not to fret, previous posts and comments have all been transferred to the new site, and the first new post is live:

I apologize for any inconvenience in the move and hope not to lose any of you dear readers on my move to Wordpress!

The move was prompted by technical issues as well as a desire for enhanced editing and design options. Blogspot just isn't working as a mobile blog... Google won't allow me to log in properly abroad without verification to my American cell phone (which is switched off this month).

So, the new Nosy Parker blog can be found at:


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Adventures in Becoming a Temporary Venetian

We arrived safely in Venice, Italy just past midday Wednesday and have been settling in as temporary residents, rather than tourists. Though we've been here more days than it seems many tourists spend in Venice, I'm sure we've seen fewer sights. The travel and the humid heat has been taking a toll on Mama Jude; so we feel greatly blessed to have such a lovely, comfortable (with A/C!) apartment with spectacular Gran Canal views. We love to watch the constant and varying boat traffic and exchange greetings with the gondoliers who row slowly past our windows and turn onto the tiny canal (called R. d. S. Giovanni Grisostomo) at our corner. Twice now, gondoliers have called 'ciao bella' to me and blown kisses; it's silly, but sweet.

Grateful for my sense of direction, I've wandered around our neighborhood and discovered a nearby pharmacy (where they've been wonderfully helpful and speak English fairly well on my multiple trips), the closest water bus stops, the fresh fruit and vegetable market, the local Billa grocery store, a nice bakery, the nearest Vodafone (to obtain Italian mobile phones), LUSH (hooray!) and the ATM. On our first night in Venice, we ate dinner at a cute little restaurant around a couple corners and down a tiny alley from us; it started to pour rain, forcing the waiters to run our plates outside to the tented tables using huge umbrellas. They were all very sweet and fell in love with Abby (how could you not, really?). We toasted our first night with Moscato di Asti, our favorite wine. Now whenever we pass the restaurant, which is frequently as that is the only way out from the Campiello d. Remer courtyard outside our apartment to the rest of the city by land, the wait staff greet us like old friends.

While waiting in the long line at Vodafone, I struck up a friendship with a lovely British girl named Hannah (sorry Mama for calling her a girl; I know we are women and your generation fought hard for us to be called such). Anyway, Hannah is in Venice on an international study program for anthropology and she could literally be my British twin (personality wise); it's almost scary how much we have in common and how alike we see the world and respond to it. More Diane and Mama Jude are astounded at how much we sound alike, despite the accent. Poor Hannah found herself homeless as her flatmate pulled out of their arrangement at the last moment, and so, of course, we have taken her in while she hunts for an apartment (or shared housing) and she has become part of our little Venetian family. "She adds to the fun," explains Mama Jude of dearest Hannah. Abby loves her too!

At sunset tonight, we embarked on our very first Venetian gondola ride and we were feeling very excited! (For Mama's birthday last year, I took her for a gondola ride in Oakland's Lake Merritt, near my old apartment, but it just isn't the same). So far we have already had the pleasure of Mama Jude's favorite Italian gelato, called Grom, and her other favorite Suso. I enjoyed a couple samples before I felt compelled to choose (and told to do at Suso!), but I intend to return many times. Grom's peach gelato was almost better than a peach! Of course, the peaches we got from the fresh fruit and vegetable market were seriously the BEST peaches we've ever enjoyed! Personally I was thrilled that Grom's current monthly flavor is none other than mint chip -- my absolute favorite -- and it was AMAZING!

For Shabbat, we had a lovely caprese salad spread and lit candles we brought from a previous trip to Tzfat, Israel. We have also enjoyed Margherita and vege pizza and Venetian-style artichoke hearts. Yes, we tend to travel by stomach; we're foodies, we can't help it.

Our front door opens onto a hidden (read: mostly quiet and hard-to-find for throngs of tourists) courtyard, which houses a dock onto the Gran Canal along with a sweet little taverna (Italian pub) popular with locals, a beautiful well and a few other residence doors. One evening this week, we enjoyed a traditional Italian spritz at this little taverna, where we expect we'll likely become regulars. To date, we've seen 2 small weddings and a bachelorette party in our courtyard. We also saw a Venetian funeral on another nearby canal; the coffin, loaded with flowers, was loaded onto a boat with both crying mourners and fascinated tourists watching.

Yesterday Mama Jude was feeling especially ill so she and More Diane stayed home to rest. Because of this, we are so glad that we splurged our budget on the apartment to get the Gran Canal views! By evening, Mama Jude was feeling a bit improved and we went out for a spritz with her friend (and former landlady) Elisa. Having heard many stories of the fun Mama had with Elisa, it was a pleasure to finally meet her.

Since we'll be here for an extended time, as will Hannah, there are certain errands to run, which are more fun to do with a friend (i.e. grocery shopping, transit cards, etc.). So yesterday, while the Mamas rested, Hannah and I walked down the Strada Nuova to Piazza del Roma to get IMOB water bus transit cards. These allow us unlimited rides on the vaporetti (motorized bus-boats that stop at public docks throughout Venice) in September and then we'll be able to buy a few discounted rides for the first few days of October.

Luckily Mama has had the opportunity and ability to go out - even close by and for a short bit - each day. This is important as she has been finding it very difficult to be less mobile and agile in her favorite city. Tonight as we were riding the vaporetto to S. Marco where we would meet the gondolier, I was simply overcome with emotion at the breathtaking sight of Venice at sunset. It was magical and spiritual and inspirational - and in such a way that photos simply cannot capture, it seems. Venice might well be the most beautiful city in the world to me. I finally felt like I got it, like I got why Mama Jude simply had to return to Venice once more, why we had to take this special trip. And I felt so happy to be able to share that moment and those few happy tears with Mama and sweet Abby. These are the beautiful memories we are here to create. And I'm so glad to share it with all of you, my dear Nosy Parker readers!

PS: Please make sure to also follow Mama Jude's blog, for her stories from the trip. And, as always, we LOVE your comments and suggestions and encouragement. It truly fortifies us and makes us want to share more!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Best Travel Tips

In just two weeks time, Mama Jude and I will depart on our very special trip (plus Abby and More Diane round out our traveling party) to Venice, Italy; and friends and loved ones have been sending great advice. I thought I'd share some of the best travel tips. Please add yours in the comments, dear readers!

1. "Pack everything you want to take. Then remove half of your stuff and leave it at home. Next, take twice the amount of money you'd planned." ― Half the stuff, twice the money. OK.

2. "A day in Italy without gelato is a day wasted." ― Eat gelato every day? Happily! I'm a lifelong mint chip addict, but I also love anything with coffee, chocolate and almonds. Of course, I LOVE to try new flavors and can't wait to taste test all over! Don't worry, I'll report back and post pictures.  :)

3. "Try grilled lamb with fresh lemon. Seriously, I don't normally even eat lamb, but it was so amazing it was worth it. Try it and think of me." ― You got it, my friend! I'm not normally a huge lamb fan, but I will give it a shot and toast to you.

4. "Don't take more than you can carry on your own." ― Having violated this rule myself in the past, I am quite sensitive to it now.

5. "Make sure you take a gondola ride ― find an honest gondolier so you don't get ripped off, but make sure you take a gondola ride." ― We are thrilled to experience this one! Mama Jude has never experienced it before, and neither have I; though I took her for a gondola ride in Lake Merrit in Oakland for her birthday last year (with a picnic and our favorite Italian wine, of course).

6. "Be careful of pickpockets." ― This one is true no matter where you travel. Having lived in Israel for a year, I make every effort to remain an alert and responsible traveler. For more safe travel tips, check out the State Department's article on tips for traveling abroad; and, of course, make sure you travel with extra copies of your itinerary, identification and credit cards kept in a different location than the originals.

7. "Be spontaneous and enjoy getting lost in Venice. It's impossible not to get lost so it's best if you just go with the adventure." ― I couldn't agree more on the traveling principle! I love to explore and travel with spontaneity. Thankfully I have a good sense of direction and an adaptable and friendly nature.

8. "Take advantage of the airport lounge. It's worth it. Take a shower, get refreshed, start your trip right." ― Great advice, seems like it would help reduce jet lag too! Luckily were were blessed to have the help of world-class flight expert SuperFlyer at FlightFox assisting with our flights (a mensch and a genius!) so we'll have access to lounges in each of our layovers.

9. "Pack an extra set of clothes and basic cosmetics in your carry-on in case the airline loses your luggage. This way, you won't be stuck; and if the airline gives you a lost-luggage voucher, you can put it toward better use than replacement underwear and deodorant." ― I live by this travel rule. In fact, as I've gotten older, I would much rather travel with only a carry-on. This trip my carry-on will be half filled with medical equipment, plus we're going for a month; so I'm checking a bag and bringing a carry-on.

10. "Be aware of differences in voltage, language, culture, dress, etc." ― We always strive to be culturally sensitive travelers; and we try to not let our clothes, attitudes or appearances scream American (we're very Californian that way). Blending in and experiencing local culture, cuisine and people is what travel is all about for us (we aim to be positive ambassadors from our country). Mama Jude has been studying her Italian again and we practice the phrases together. Our wonderful Venetian apartment has a hair dryer and we've got an adapter so we're all set there! Travel is all about adapting.

Our dear friend Julie, who write an always fascinating blog herself, recently sent us a wonderful Real Simple article on packing smart. The article referenced Real Simple's great Vacation Essentials Packing Checklist on their site to boot! There are loads of travel tips online, but the best are from personal experience. For more travel tips to consider, read Rick Steve's variety of European travel tip articles.

Readers, please add your best travel tips ― Venice specific or otherwise ― in the comments section below!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Traveling Party

Meet More Diane

In just a few weeks time, I will be traveling to Venice, Italy with My Amazing Mama, who's fighting a rare terminal brain cancer, along with our sweet, healing service dog Abby. Given that Mama's condition requires full-time caregiving, traveling abroad alone was a daunting goal. We were determined to go NO MATTER WHAT, but we knew it would be more manageable (particularly in case of emergency) to have another loved one along.
Mother's Day: Mama Jude, Abby, Me and More Diane (L-R)

We're blessed to have Mama Jude's childhood friend Diane, whom we call More Diane, join our special trip.

When I was 3, about when I first got the nickname Nosy Parker, Diane was my teacher at my beloved Bay Area Jewish preschool where my classmates called her Morah Diane (Morah is teacher in Hebrew). Since I joined the class later in the year, I heard "more" and so the name More Diane stuck (it's also cute since she's such a tiny woman). More Diane has been there for every graduation from 5th grade through college ― she's family ― and so it is extra special to share this experience with her.

Diane and Jude as young girls
Mama Jude and More Diane have been friends since they were 3 years old and are like sisters. Their lifelong friendship is apparent is their private giggles, and we were honored to celebrate Pesach and Mother's Day (photo above) with their immediate family this year ― a foodie's dream as Diane's daughter Lisa is a master chef, cake decorator and papercuts artist extraordinaire.

Diane and Jude's families were friends ― the mothers were active B'nai Brith women ― and the two women's lifelong friendship was even featured in a San Jose Mercury News spread some years ago. Diane and Jude have not yet had the opportunity to travel together, but they have loved dressing up in costumes together over the years. Now the two are packing for the trip of a lifetime.

More Diane presenting the quilt she made for Mama Jude
Wonderfully, preparing for this special trip has breathed new life into Mama Jude; she earnestly practices her Italian and gathers travel items. We are so thrilled that it is all coming together (though I confess I'm still nervous). It's just now starting to feel real. We've got wonderful airline tickets thanks to the kindness of top flight expert SuperFlyer at FlightFox ― a real mensch; we've secured the Perfect Venetian Home for Mama's needs, and we're completely blown away by the encouragement and tremendous support we've received from loved ones and strangers. I'm almost done packing, but breaking from packing to party!

Today we are hosting our big "Screw Brain Cancer, We're Going to Venice, Italy" Buon Viaggio BBQ Celebration and More Diane will be a guest of honor! We look forward to celebrating this special trip with our friends and will continue to blog about our adventures!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Finding the Perfect Venetian Home

A small canal in Venice (credit: Mama Jude)
Due to our circumstances (I'm a FT caregiver for my amazing Mama fighting terminal brain cancer), finding the perfect Venetian home had to be Step 1 in our traveling process for Mama's Last Wish Trip to Venice, Italy. We knew it would be most cost-effective and comfortable to rent an apartment for the month and we knew we wanted to be on the mainland of Venice (not Giudecca, Murano or Burano) and so began the hunt.

We searched many different travel sites: HomeAway, HomeExchange, Airbnb, VRBO, FlipKey and Venice for Visitors recommendations, among others.

Apartment hunting in July for the month of September apparently is very last minute of us. Mama's rare, terminal brain cancer meant that we really couldn't plan this trip a year in advance, which it seems was required for some of the most outstanding apartments for rent in Venice. We had only a couple months, at best, to set this all up and make it happen.

Narrowing Down Our Requirements
The main requirement of the apartment was that it have canal views from inside so that Mama Jude could enjoy Venice from the comfort of our home on the days she was not able to go out. Finding a home with canal views is trickier than you'd think since many of the advertised "canal views" were really only if you stick your head out the window and look down (something you'd only discover upon very careful examination of the photos and occasional reviews). This is because the canals are very narrow and from inside the home you really only see other Venetian homes (which are also beautiful, but not the canals by which Mama yearns to sit and observe water traffic). Because of this, Mama Jude really wanted to be on the Grand Canal, which is very wide and provides plenty of canal views with the passing gondoliers and assorted boat traffic.

Since we hoped to bring a close friend to help me care for Mama, we decided that we needed 2 or more bedrooms (I'd share, of course) and that 2 bathrooms would be ideal ('cause 3 women, 1 bathroom just didn't seem like a good idea... seriously), plus a bathtub is needed since standing up in a shower can be difficult and dangerous when your brain is screwing with your balance.

Another huge challenge in finding the right Venetian home is the stairs factor. Many apartments were only accessible through a huge number of stairs and no elevator. This would be very difficult for Mama and truly prohibit her from being able to go out and enjoy Venice whenever she felt up to it. Insider tip: Venetian homes start on the ground floor and when you go up a level, it is to the 1st floor ― which we native Californians would actually consider the 2nd floor. Therefore, we were looking for a ground floor apartment (or one with an elevator, which seemed even less common or likely).
Abby (named for NCIS' Abby Sciuto)

At this point, we knew were already asking for a lot, but also hoped to have sunny and bright rooms, a full kitchen so we could do some cooking, a terrace to enjoy a glass of Moscato D'Asti (our favorite wine!), WiFi Internet access, washing machine to do our own laundry (at least nearby), heating and A/C (summer will turn to fall while we're there) and comfortable furniture (many homes were filled with antiques and felt like museums). Plus, they needed to be ok with our sweet, healing service dog, Abby.

Though these seemed impossible requirements, particularly within our limited budget, I kept on searching, determined to find the closest fit that I could make work.

Views on Venice to the Rescue
After a truly exhaustive search, it felt like the clouds parted when I discovered the highly recommended Views On Venice with more than 70 beautiful apartments of varying sizes and each with breathtaking views.

We are thrilled to have secured a beautiful ground-floor Venetian home with spectacular views of the Grand Canal. The apartment meets our various medical and comfort related needs. We knew it was the one for us when we read one of the many wonderful reviews where the little girl loved to sit and call ciao to the passing gondoliers ― I got goosebumps, Mama got tears. We knew it was the one.
Mama's Favorite Symbol of Venice: Ferro on the Gondola

Views on Venice (VoV) advertises special offers for 3-5 nights and stays longer than 2 weeks, but when they learned of our special trip, they kindly extended a very special deal making our dream apartment just within reach (well, we splurged a bit, but if not at this time in life, when?). VoV also consistently replied promptly and were considerate of Mama's needs. We highly recommend them and we aren't even there yet. We greatly appreciate their support in helping make this special trip a reality.

What's Next?
First, don't worry... we promise to post lots of pictures when we get there. And next up in blog land? A post dedicated to the traveling party... you know Abby is coming with us, but who's the mystery close friend joining us on our this special trip??? Nosy Parker Goes to Venice, Italy with the answer in a special feature blog post  :)

(I'm trying to blog more. But I admit, this feels so weird. I have no idea if anyone is really reading. Except for a few close friends... seriously, hi Lys. To anyone out there, thank you for reading and for your encouragement, albeit silent. Feel free to join in whenever, you are welcome. Ok, I'm going to stop now.)