Bridge of Sighs

I know what you are thinking. I don’t need any reasons, Jessica, because its Venice.

But you do. You still do. Because there is so much more to see in Venice than you can take in over a weekend. Here’s a short list of things we found ourselves doing last week that did not come from a guidebook.

1. Feel small wandering amongst countless churches.

Top of St Mark

2. Pretend you are a Doge for a day.
OK, the guidebooks did recommend this one, but we were suprised how many people we knew who hadn’t gone inside.

Doge

3. Be stunned by the detail in everything.
The street lamps on the Palazzo S. Marco are pink.

Detail in Venice / JessOnThames

4. Notice how laundry looks like art in Italy.

Clothes drying in Venice / JessOnThames

5. Find the world’s craziest bookstore, where there are boats instead of bookshelves.

Acqua Alta Bookstore, Venice / JessOnThames

6. Pause and listen to street music.
He was playing one of my favorite Spanish guitar songs: “Granada”.

Street music in Venice / JessOnThames

7. Take awkward pictures of strangers. This city is made for it.

Strangers in Venice / JessOnThames

8.Go off the beaten path.
We stayed in Cannaregio, which had an entirely different feel to the rest of Venice and killer restaurants.

Cannaregio, Venice / JessOnThames

9. Imagine conversations between gondoliers.
Honestly, what does their office gossip look like?

Gondoliers in Venice / JessOnThames

10.Become a pigeon whisperer.
This child was beyond happy and never even noticed the crowd that had gathered around him.

The Pigeon whisperer, Venice / JessOnThames

 

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D Watterson III

Dear readers, if you don’t already know her, meet Robin. I became an instant follower of Robin’s blog after I read this piece she wrote about her decision to leave London and move back to the States. Its a dilemma I know most of us who live abroad grapple with constantly but I immediately identified with her reasons to move and admired the honesty with which she stuck to what she knew would make her happy. One day an analogy came up about how an international move can feel just like a breakup. And we knew the piece had to be written…

Sometimes I wonder what it’s like for people who live their whole lives in one place. To never have to deal with the constant packing, the lack of ownership, the feeling of not being grounded. To not know what it’s like to live in a forever-temporary state.

To have never gone through a breakup.

But not that kind of a breakup. I’m talking about another kind entirely. The kind that deals with leaving cities, countries, whole worlds behind and relocating to somewhere else.

The kind that has a tendency to leave you penniless, clueless, and starting anew after months of fighting battles over logistical details. Get through those stages, and you’re likely left feeling a little broken-hearted.

Sound familiar?

I’d argue leaving a city and leaving a relationship are more similar than they are different. Many of us have been there, whether it’s breaking up a romantic relationship or breaking up with a city. Both ideas are about leaving lives you’ve built for yourself and starting over again. It’s scary and invigorating; often needed.

Aside from the fact that leaving a city you love and going through a relationship breakup are similar on paper (moves, costs, new experiences), these two seemingly different experiences also have a tendency to bring up similar feelings.

Like the feeling of loss, confusion and being alone in a new place. And the worst, gosh, the worst, is the idea that a place or a person doesn’t belong to you anymore.

I moved from New York to London in 2012, just a few months shy of Hurricane Sandy. It was nothing short of heartbreaking to see my city taken over by a reckless storm. As I watched the coverage on the news and read about it in the Evening Standard, I kept thinking how I should’ve been there, to help, to document, to just be there. How dare I abandon New York during a time like this.

Like so many others, New York was always my city. I grew up dreaming about it, tagged along on my dad’s business trips, and swore I’d move there – and I did, within a week of graduating from college. I stayed for five years and then love took me elsewhere. It tends to do that.

The worst part about leaving New York is, similar to a relationship breakup, the way that it follows you. Once you start paying attention, you might notice that New York is referenced constantly. In nearly every TV show, every movie, on bus advertisements, in songs, and even bagel commercials, for whatever reason New York seems to be a constant part of the conversation. This is all fine, unless you’re currently in the middle of a breakup with your one true love of a city.

It took me a good year and a half of living in London before I stopped comparing everything to New York. Even today, I still haven’t been back, though I’d like to go this year. It’s been three years since I left, early in the morning at the start of June. It feels like a lifetime.

Thinking about New York gives me a little pang in my heart, and if I thought about it, I’d easily be able to conjure up some tears. Like every single tourist t-shirt and tote bag in the city, I love New York and always will.
But that’s how it goes. Leave a relationship, or a relationship with a city, and some of it stays with you.

That’s just the way breakups work.

You can read more of Robin’s beautiful thoughts on her blog, Second Floor Flat (ps – check out her Indie fashion designer directory. She has also designed jewelry that sold at Anthropologie… which essentially makes her my hero.)

Photo credits: D Watterson III, Robin’s incredibly-talented-with-a-camera husband

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Grand Canal, Venice / JessOnThames

Some secrets are really hard to keep. And some are beyond worth it.

5 months ago, my Dad wrote my brother and I suggesting that we surprise my mom for her 60th birthday with a fun trip somewhere in Europe. Anything was possible, as long as we could spread our time equally between relaxing and having some things to sight-see.

At first, our brainstorms took us to Portugal – maybe the Algarve? Then we turned to Southern Spain – too arid? Then the East coast of Spain – enough to do? She had already visited Barcelona so we wanted to take her somewhere she’d never visited before.

Then, an e-mail came one day from my Dad: “Venice”?

YES. It was perfect.

Commence months of planning and plotting: getting my brother over from San Francisco, booking time off from work and finding a place to stay in for a full week that was worthy of a 60th birthday in gorgeous, historic Venice.

Perhaps hardest of all: we had to become expert liars to my Mom. For months.

Our lies were vast and wide ranging. My Dad was “tied up in some new business deals” in Dublin, I “may have been on a film shoot in Belgium” and my brother was busy “researching for a new climate change documentary” in New Orleans. My poor Mom, back in the States with our adorable elderly golden retriever, magically didn’t suspect a thing. She thought she was just going to come over for a calm week in Dublin to visit my Dad while he’s on assignment there.

Last Friday, she arrived in Dublin armed with work to keep her busy over the coming week as she thought my Dad would be busy. She walked into the apartment in Ireland and found boarding passes for Venice waiting for her. My Dad suggested she might not want to unpack her bags. We got fun phone calls hearing about how excited she was for Venice but that she hoped we still might be able to plan a family trip sometime in the near future…

Heh heh heh…

She still had no idea we were all joining.

Fast forward 24 hours later: 2:00 in the afternoon. I’m sitting in the Venice airport (for future travelers… this may officially be labeled as the most boring airport in all of Europe…with a convenient two electrical outlets to supply ALL of the tourists that pass through every year). I’m waiting for my brother to get in from the West Coast. The plan was for my Dad to feign fatigue and ask to take a nap back at the apartment. But due to a ton of rain in Venice that morning, they hadn’t ventured out as planed. I got a text from my Dad at 2:30: “your mom is headed out for a walk…she’ll be back by 5.”

My brother landed, we ran to catch the bus (note: don’t take a land bus, take the water bus if you’re not in a rush trying to surprise your mom) and we started dreaming up all kind of scenarios – what if we ran into her on the street? Do we go up to her or pretend like we just haven’t seen her? What if our Dad misses out on the final surprise? If one of us spotted her, did we need a code word so we could duck into a nearby cafe? (“Sassafras” was too long… we settled on “BIRD!”)

Luckily for us, our poor navigation skills saved the day. We turned down an alleyway headed for the canal where my father had booked the flat. As is often the case in Venice, we found ourselves at a dead-end looking at stairs straight into a canal. But we looked up and saw our Dad’s head peaking out the ornate window of the flat across the street!

BINGO.

By the time we’d navigated back to the right street to cross the canal, my dad was telling my mom about how some local kids were doing something funny outside on the bridge. And when she looked out the window, we were there waving.

It couldn’t have been more perfect if we’d planned it. And I especially loved that the last minutes were completely unscripted.

Happy Birthday Mom!!

(We’ll be in Venice for the next week but I do have some posts scheduled, including a few special guests! You can see my mom’s reaction and other upcoming adventures on Instagram: @jessonthames. Above is the scene after the sun made its appearance, on our walk after the big reveal. )

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