a field trip to the world: travelling with children

“A ship in harbor is safe. But is that what it was meant for?” Travelling certainly has its risks, but the scales weigh heavier on the ‘just go’ side because new experiences educate our senses and our understanding of others … Continue reading

the gondolier

The twenty year veteran Gondolier whistled, I just called to say I love you, as we floated down the Sansiere san Polo.


This boat really is romantic, travelling between the water corridors around the Grand Canal tipping to the hard right when floating under the bridges at high tide.

Venice is not a tiny island; it is 114 islands and 450 bridges.


Before 1800 there were no bridges. It originated when Romans were fleeing the Barbarians on the mainland. It is easy for me to get lost, which really doesn’t take much. Even Jim got lost, which is really hard to do since he has an inborn GPS.


Today the city is populated with 70,000 permanent residents; that’d be about the same size as our hometown.


This town makes Toronto look unicultural.

We have the Bay and Sears, while Venice has Gucci, Prada, Armani, Armani Jr…better get school shopping done, hee hee.

What our towns have in common is industry, primarily government, if you consider that industry (BTW I really don’t). There is also tourism, he says. No kidding. This very city’s tourism makes the entire country of Italy look like a village.


The gondolier explained different buildings that individual families lived in these massive homes. He knew the architectural periods, which ones housed scuolas, which were apartment buildings, which ones were too cold and too rotten to inhabit.


He explained to me that this church was named after Santa Lucia. He had to prevent himself from rolling his eyes when I asked who she was, one of the major patron saints.

He explained that Angelina Jolie filmed in that building for Accidental Tourist. The Shakespeare play, The Merchant of Venice, is obviously situated here. Popular place!

If you want to eat well, ask a local. The gondolier directed us toward the Il Migliore.


Prosecco (a bubbly white), risotto with scampi, crunchy bruschetta, and zuppa de verdure were divine.


Atmosfera: sitting alongside the canal, fishing boat resting beside me, Hispanic quartet of accordions, mouth accordion, and guitar playing When the Moon Hits the Sky, like a big pizza pie…ah, yes, I AM in love.

the jewish ghetto of venice

No one wanted to plan for pesce…the Adriatic sea offerings. But when in Rome… The cuttle fish ink pasta wasn’t in any of our repertoires. The antipasto plate was perfetto: sardines, escargot, octopus, oysters, something resembling an oversized shrimp that covered the length of my plate, calamari (not breaded), and octopus, of course. There was also a mound of tripe? in the center of the plate…if you like fishy-flavoured connective tissue, this is the fish for you. My favourite was the white fish mush…I asked what they called everything, but I didn’t understand all his explanations…But the cod? mashed in a slurry: molto bueno!



We had to wait till seven, as this is Italian custom (and the ristorantes aren’t open). Combine the fish plate with the verdura—which really was the funghi plate, and the kids were a little underwhelmed at our final dinner in Venice. Papparedelle was an easy winner. With an afternoon gelato around our typical dinnertime, we can accomplish a late dinner though. With all the walking we’ve done, I actually don’t think our waists have absorbed the consequences. The vacanza di camminare.


Instead of a game of Where’s Waldo, the kids have been seeing a common thread from our culture: Rick Steves’ guidebooks. Take a glance at the book someone is carrying, and you know what country they’re from. They are everywhere. Rick Steves should be proud.


Today we headed to the museum of the Jewish Ghetto. The holocaust has always been of interest to me, but listening to the tour reminded me I didn’t have my history straight. When the tour guide talked of Napoleon leading the Jews into a few months of segregational freedom, my mind was whirring.

Hannah saddled alongside me: Napoleon wasn’t in World War II mom.

Venice was the site of the first Jewish Ghetto (or foundary) in Europe, in 1516; consequence of the Spanish Inquisition. Gates and bolts were formed around this tightly housed neighbourhood of low-ceilinged apartments on the Easternmost side of this island. Ghetto residents could only leave for short periods with an armband of a yellow circle or heart. For a very few short months, Napoleon Bonaparte declared equality for all mankind; some left that ghetto.


Twelve years later, they were allowed to build their synagogues; we stood in three of them. They are as ornate as any Catholic duomo, but the Roman Catholic church didn’t give them permission to use the gold that their churches used. There were tiny frescoes crowning the windows, stories in the Book of Exodus. To this day, weddings still take place in the tiny synagogue, reminder that God will maintain his people, no matter how many persecutions they face.


There was no ghetto in World War 2, of course…not in Venice anyway; 1,200 Jews were already living in Venice at the time. Twenty five percent of them, 246 of the mentally ill, sick or uncared for, were deported: they first travelled to Bologna by train, then sent to Auschwitz. Only eight returned home.



Today, 504 Jews live in Venice.


The best place to purchase books for the kiddos on history or science is in these museum bookstores. Of course, this one is primarily Italian, but there is a small section of Inglese, where I found the Jewish approved Diary of Anne Frank. Hannah and I are both engrossed in this adolescent tale. A very different flavor from the recent adolescent hit, Diary of a Wimpy Kid.


Probably I didn’t get enough museum exposure when I was a kid, hence the passionate interest. My curiosity piques as I see the world through my children’s eyes.

murano, burano and turcello

I’ve brought a wool blanket and stuffed it into my backpack for the boat tour to the Murano, Turcello, and Burrano Islands. We pull our soaked sock feet tied in plastic bags and cover ourselves with the blanket, enjoying the view.


When we arrive at Murrano, we are shuttled into a showroom, where the glassmakers demonstrate the creation of a glass unicorn. I am feet away from third degree burns. It is warm and toasty; I might be interested all day.


I am asked if I would like to visit the private showroom upstairs. The girls are with me, Zach off sight from this glass wonderland. As we climb the stairs, I see hand-blown glass, grand chandeliers. There are giant vases and sculptures in all colours. Not something I can bring home in my backpack. He tells me they ship all over the world, at no cost. If I were a collector, I would purchase the Noah’s ark set for Zach, or the Under the Sea dolphin set for Madelyn. In efforts to downsize, this room is not for me. But I smile politely and buy things with my eyes, to store in my memories.

Turcello is my favourite island: I could live here. The water placid and glassy, the overcast capturing this world in an ornamental globe, sitting atop my fireplace mantle. The gelato is really good. The museum is closed, the shops are closed, but there is a playground with trampoline and tire swings, and the children are happy.


Buranno is as charming as I’m told. Smartie-coloured homes like Inuvik, Northwest Territories, but Italian-style. Enough shops to amuse the tourists, pizzerias, gellaterias. We must get another gelato. The best gelato yet, Nutella-flavoured, stracciateli, chocolate fudge with Nutella. This island is known for its lace, tatted lace, lace runners, baby dresses, tablecloths. It reminds me of our gift opening day. Gift after gift of doilies. It is refreshing that somewhere in the world, this is still appreciated.




At the end of these five hours, we are all tired. We just want to cuddle in a warm apartment and sleep. First, an hour walk home in the rain.

the merchants of venice: us!

Venice, we are no longer “Under the Tuscan Sun”. You pour down pleasures of aquatic plentitude upon us. We are now Under the Venetian Rainclouds.

This side of Italy is expensive. Where Firense’s gelato was twice Rome’s price, Vennezia requires water taxis everywhere, ten times more than a New York taxi. They say there is a family price available, but they’re talking two adults and two children. We have been told a few times: you make too many children, and for those offended by that notion, keep in mind that there are very few children here.

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The cost is always directly related to demand, of course. 10,000 tourists depart cruise ships to Venice every day! There’s a reason there are endless knickknack shops of Venetian masks and Murano glass and postcards and calendars of the Pope. And why my lot is tired of the crowds!

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Even on this pouring rainy day, Saint Mark’s Square is a lake of umbrellas, which makes for a rainbow of colours. The kids were eager to walk along the ‘tables’ conveniently placed throughout the square, to access the other side of the Duomo. High tides occur every six hours. Venice is familiar with flooding; glad we got to see it before it goes the way of Atlantis.

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When our triple layers were soaked through, we purchased “I love Vennezia” plastic ponchos from the train station. We made a trip back to our Jewish Ghetto apartment to change our socks, tie our feet in plastic bags and tromp out again, to a water ferry toward San Marcos and a guided tour of the Grand Canal.Italia 2013 166

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We learned that Lord Byron lived here. He didn’t like boats, so he swam everywhere. That’s an alternative I suppose.  A little tricky for a mom of four, unless you’re a duck.

We learned that Wagner (pronounced Vogner), musical writer and performer, when not performing could be found at the world’s oldest casino in downtown Venice. No after-hours outdoor activities for us.

The kids were most curious to learn about a man that was hung from a downtown square for having served great soup—finger food meant something different to this fellow. He was discovered to have stewed human body parts; a finger was found. I am less fond of this tidbit of trivia.

Hannah says she misses home for the food. The pasta? The cioccolota? The gelato? Perhaps the simplicity of home.

I am not there yet, as I could really live on this food. Last night we went to Turista Centrale…okay, that’s not the name, but it was right beside the famous Rialto Bridge, cheap tables with plastic chairs, a menu with HAMBURGERS and polish sausage on it, with pics, so you can just point. AIY. And to my embarrassment, each of the kids ordered hamburgers or hot dogs. This is a sign that this trip is nearing an end!

e’stato un piacere–arrivederci Italia

Second day of travelling…

Three hours, waiting, in an airport.

Reminds me of our return trip from Nairobi last spring. Arriving at Heathrow Airport, after nine hours on the plane, three days stopover in Paris, a Eurostar two hour train trip to London, we hoped for a smooth transition.

We didn’t get it.

We rushed like Matt Damon in a Bourne Identity flick, with a flock of four flittering behind us, to quickly board our nine hour night flight home. Instead, the plane was delayed, three hours.

With nothing to do and well-past exhausting our “kid distracting games”, we were at the end of the end.

We let the kids fly up and down the escalator until they were even tired of escalators. What kid TIRES of escalators?

Needless to say, it stretched us. And we’ve learned through travelling especially, when one HAS to do something, one better do it with as much HAPPY spirit as one can muster; or one is turning pain into self-imposed torture.

So back to the present.

Jim wakes me at 7 in our Roma hotel room to a news piece: Alitalia (plane we’re flying in two hours) is in deep debt to fuel companies. It’s expecting to bankrupt Monday. It’s Thursday. Ha ha ha, guess we can be late…they probably won’t fly this morning.

We take the Leonardo train, leisurely, and eventually arrive two hours pre-boarding, to slowly weave through airport security lines, passport check lines…then they’re searching our long line for anyone flying to Chicago, because we’re minutes away from departing.

A mom behind me barks at a man trying to cut through the forty five minute line: Get out of the line. You’re cutting. We’ve been waiting and I’m about to miss my flight! You go girl!

First time we’re in a line-up late and my hubby is not worried, but I am.

It’s okay, they’re not leaving on time, he attempts to calm me. They were forty five minutes late last time.

Okey dokey, I’ll stop checking the time on my iPod.

Five minutes later, we’re searching for our flight number and ta da, there’s the crowd, waiting. We’re only twenty minutes late for our flight.

The airline rep comes over the loudspeaker to announce in romantically slurred Inglese, it will be another forty minutes, no explanation. Forty minutes later, it’ll be another twenty minutes. Another twenty minutes later, it’ll be an hour.

We create a circle on the floor and start shuffling cards.

And then they call for Business class. We board after, and we’re happily buckled and told we’ll be sitting on the runway for another fifty minutes, because of France, and their strike, or something I did not understand in Italian.

An American fellow next to me asks how long we’ve been in Italy.

Just over two and a half weeks. Possibly three weeks by the time we are off Italian ground.

He laughs when he realizes I’m serious.

And now here I sit, on the airplane toilet, amusing myself with a plug-in, a laptop and, oh, a brisk knock on the door to come out already.


The first day of travelling….

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An uneventful, pleasant, but five hour train trip through Venice, Tuscany, Umbria and into Roma, to stay the night blocks away from the train station.

Our travel day started at 7 and ends at 6 where we eat our final Italian meal and hunker down in a single room of two twin beds and two doubles lined up side-by-side.

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The final day travelling….

The guy sitting next to me, travelling from Toronto to Calgary, tells me it’ll be a long plane trip (3 ½ hours), ha ha ha. He hopes the kids will be okay.

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At the conclusion of every plane trip, we always hear, Wow, you’re kids did so well! Good for them! Good for you guys!

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Poor people next to us are always desperately frightened that they were booked sitting next to the family of six. Who can blame them?

My routine reply to their praise is always: They get lots of practice, thanks.


IMG_3273[1]Selfies at the airport…

Travelling with kids IS a lot of work. Every parent knows that. These travel to or from days strengthen that patience, build our character. It makes for a memorable story of self-induced trouble.

IMG_3274[1]The only person to not sleep on the planes…usually hilariously funny when tired, today is incoherent…

IMG_3256[1]Things we only do at airports…

But it is SO worth it. So, though we might not book our next years’ overseas medical volunteer trip by turning around and travelling to New Zealand afterward, we’ll find a way for the Wiedricks to wander the world.

And as part of our family’s story, we’ll pursue that charmed life. Or as I was told by someone, unaware of my blog title, Abbiamo la vita molto felice! You have a charmed life!

field trip across the pond: one year ago September

“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark”.

“If you knew how much work went into it, you wouldn’t call it genius”.

Michelangelo Buonarotti

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These are quotes from the Michelangelo…the one that sculpted David, or the Pieta, or painted the Sistine Chapel. Who knew he had a last name. He’s iconic. Kind of like Cher, or Madonna, or Jesus.

But then you read things that he said, and you think, he’s pretty real. He’s had some clever ideas to offer humanity. The more I read about famous people that are widely known, the more I understand that these characters have been recorded in history books for reasons beyond their inventions or artistic offerings. The ‘what they did‘ came from ‘who they were‘ and that is what they most had to offer.

Though I realize that having your name known without a last name doesn’t equal rival status to Michelangelo or Jesus. Madonna and Cher have their place in this world, but…

I’ve been reading about Michelangelo with the kids. And Da Vinci, and Julius Caesar, and other greats from Ancient Rome. We’ve been learning about the great structures in Italy: the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Leaning Tower of Pisa. We’ve been learning greetings and numbers in Italian. We’ve been downloading language apps and pretending to stand in coffee shops ordering lattes (or more culturally appropriate, cappuccinos).

Buongiorno. Posso avere caffe latte, per favore.

And then the coffee guy will say, “Quanti ne desidera?”

And I will respond, “Uno“, and then I will have no more words, because my Italian vocabulary will have run out.

So I will continue to let those romantic numbers roll off my tongue, “due, tre, quattro, cinque caffe latte” until my husband will be cardioverting me with the nearest defibrillatore.

Along with the language and history study, we have attempted to cut dessert from our evening repertoire as we are about to include at least a bi-daily event of gelato; it’s as available as tap water. We’ll be consuming wine as it’s less expensive than water. No we’re not heading to the Middle East to see if water can be turned into wine. We’re heading to Rome, Siena and Venice.

As we travel, I invite you to join us on our mini-discoveries, seeing in real time the grandeur of Michelangelo’s works, his rival Da Vinci’s too; treading the ground of Julius Caesar and Tarquin the Proud.

For as Julius Caesar said himself, “Experience is the teacher of all things“.

So to cement the learning, off to our field trip we go…