the rest of Malta.

Last Wednesday I shared just the morning of our recent visit to Malta.  After enjoying a little coffee break at Caffe Cordina, we met up with our driver and headed toward Ħaġar Qim next.

We made a quick pit stop along the way to see the Blue Grotto, a collection of sea caverns on the south east coast of Malta.

According to Wikipedia, ‘the location of the caves, combined with the rays of sunlight, lead to the seawater mirroring and showing numerous shades of blue on the cave walls and ceilings.’

Several caverns also mirror the brilliant phosphorescent colors of the underwater flora and fauna.

Even just looking down from above we could see the brilliant blue color of the water.  You can take a boat into the caves and I imagine that is quite beautiful.

But we didn’t have time for a boat ride.  We were headed to Ħaġar Qim.  By the way, Ħaġar Qim has an interesting pronunciation.  The “Q” is silent.  Mr. Q got a big kick out of that for some reason, apparently he thinks the “Q” should be silent more often 😉

This megalithic temple complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and dates to 3600 to 3200 B.C.

Obviously no records exist that explain how these temples were used, but it seems to be widely accepted that rituals of some kind took place in them whether they were fertility rituals or some other sort of ceremonies possibly involving animal sacrifices (numerous bones of animals have been found, but I like to think that they were just having lots of barbecues!).

 One of the prehistoric chambers at Ħaġar Qim contains an elliptical hole which is hewn out in alignment with the Summer Solstice sunrise. At sunrise, on the first day of summer, the sun’s rays pass through the hole and illuminate a stone slab inside the chamber.

So maybe they weren’t just hosting barbecues after all.

It’s fascinating to see these sort of structures and to wonder how in the world people managed to build them without any sort of power tools whatsoever.  Compared to that, my little home decorating to-do list from Monday seems like a cake walk, right?

Leaving the temples behind, we next headed to the small, traditional fishing village of Marsaxlokk for lunch.

Unfortunately, the day had been growing steadily more overcast and it started to rain just as we arrived in Marsaxlokk so I didn’t get very many photos.

Their traditional fishing boats called luzzu were very brightly colored.

We had lunch with our guide in a local restaurant and of course we had to order the fish.  I’m not usually a fan of fish, but this was delicious.

After lunch we headed to Mdina.  Mdina is a fortified city that was founded in around the 8th century.  It was the capital of Malta until 1530.  We entered the city through the Mdina Gate, designed by the French architect Charles Francois de Mondion in 1724.

 

Once again, since I don’t actually happen to have a drone, I am going to borrow a photo from the world wide web to show you just how amazing this walled city looks from above.

The church that you can see on the right hand side of the photo above with the big dome and two belfries is St. Paul’s Cathedral.

You may remember that last week I wrote about the Co-Cathedral in Valletta and explained that there was already a cathedral in this diocese which is why that one is called a Co-Cathedral.  Well, St. Paul’s is the first cathedral.

Mdina is nicknamed The Silent City, and according to Wikipedia that may be partially because the number of vehicles allowed inside the city walls are limited to residents, emergency vehicles and ‘wedding parties’.  I found it amusing that the Wikipedia entry specified ‘wedding parties’, and thus I’m guessing that St. Paul’s Cathedral is a popular spot for weddings.  Can’t you just imagine the gorgeous wedding photo ops in this lovely place?

OK, just for fun I had to google some.

Yep, just as I imagined, gorgeous.

I didn’t happen to see any wedding parties while I was there, so my street shots are mainly empty.

Between being there in the off-season, and in the rain, Mdina certainly deserved its nickname of The Silent City during our visit.

While wandering around the labyrinth of passages we passed a door with this absolutely amazing knocker …

That patina is so fantastic, I just had to share it with you guys.

We thoroughly enjoyed our tour of Mdina, and the rest of Malta.  Now that you all know where it is, maybe you’ll put it on your travel bucket list.

If you are enjoying these travel posts, be sure to check back next week when we head to Montenegro!

a maltese morning.

Before I get to today’s travel post, congrats to Laura who is the winner of last week’s giveaway.  I’ll be shipping her prize off to Canada later this week.

It’s a tad embarrassing to admit, but prior to planning our cruise last year I didn’t exactly know where Malta was.  I’m pretty sure I didn’t realize it was an island either.  Just in case any of you are equally clueless about it, here’s a map to put it in perspective for you.

Malta is about 50 miles south of Italy in the Mediterranean Sea.  It’s only 122 square miles in size but has a population around 475,000 making it one of the most densely populated countries in the world.  There are also three UNESCO World Heritage Sites and nearly 8,000 years of fascinating history crammed into those 122 square miles.

Maltese dogs are thought to have originated in Malta, and there really is such a thing as a Maltese Falcon (Falco peregrinus brookei).  However, Maltesers (which are the British version of malted milk ball) are not related to Malta in any way.  They are one of my favorites candies though (and are much tastier than Whoppers), and did you know that you can get them at Target now?

Anyway, fortunately Mr. Q has a much firmer grasp on both geography and history than I do.  As soon as he saw that Malta was on our itinerary he suggested we figure out how to see as much of it as we could on our one day in port.  So once again we hired a private guide.  Joan Sheridan came highly recommended on TripAdvisor.  We booked both Joan and her driver, Chris (who as it turned out is her husband), for the full day.

We’d heard that the sail in to Malta was quite lovely, so we got up early that morning so that we could watch it from the top deck.

We definitely weren’t disappointed, isn’t it a fascinating looking place already?

Joan and Chris met us just outside the pier area.  We hopped in the car and took a small driving tour around the perimeter of Valletta, the capital of Malta, where we were docked.  Then Chris dropped us off at the Upper Barrakka Gardens.  It was incredibly convenient having a driver and a guide, we never had to worry about finding parking and the car always magically appeared to pick us up after touring each site we visited.

Although the gardens were pretty enough …

Joan had really brought us here for the panoramic view overlooking the Grand Harbor and Fort St. Angelo.

From there we headed towards Saint John’s Co-Cathedral on foot.  Along the way, Joan took the opportunity to educate us about the Auberge that we passed by.  An Auberge was a hostel that provided accommodations for the knights of the Order of Saint John.

The Auberge de Castille was completely rebuilt in the Spanish Baroque style between 1741 and 1744.  Apparently the knights required some rather posh digs.

We also had the opportunity to check out some of the famous balconies of Valletta on our walk.

Ironically, even though I had no idea that Valletta was the capital of Malta (or even where Malta was), I had pinned a photo of the balconies of Valletta a couple of years ago.  It was totally cool to find myself seeing them in person.  If you want to learn more about these balconies, check out this link.

You can see a glimpse of the Co-Cathedral at the end of that street above.

I wasn’t terribly impressed by the rather plain exterior, and I have to say both Mr. Q and I were skeptical about spending much time seeing a cathedral.

And by the way, I had no idea why everyone kept calling it a Co-Cathedral so I finally asked Joan why that was.  Apparently when there is more than one cathedral in a diocese, the 2nd one is called a Co-Cathedral.  In this case, the original cathedral for this diocese is in Mdina (which we’ll visit in next Wednesday’s post).

I also have to mention that this was just one of many instances during our tour of Malta where it really paid off to have an experienced tour guide.  There was a long line of people waiting to buy tickets and get inside, and Joan took us to the head of the line and slipped us right in with pre-purchased tickets.  She knew that large tour groups would be showing up soon and she wanted us to see as much as we could before the church became crowded.

Clearly the incredibly ornate interior more than makes up for that plain exterior, huh?  That will teach me to judge a book by its cover!

The ceiling was painted with scenes from the life of John the Baptist by Mattia Preti in the 1660’s.

There are nine chapels around the perimeter of the church, each one was sponsored by a specific division of the knights, and each one attempted to out-do the others with ever more elaborately gilded decoration.  Those knights were a competitive bunch, always wanting to have the most impressive auberge or the best chapel.

However, the real pièce de résistance of the Co-Cathedral is in yet another room.

This is Caravaggio’s painting depicting The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist.  It was painted in 1608 and is the largest painting he did at 12′ x 17′.  Caravaggio was most famous for his use of chiaroscuro (the use of strong contrasts between light and dark) and this painting is brilliant example of that.  Honestly, this painting was breathtaking in person.  I know my photo does not do it justice.

While we studied the painting, Joan told us about the tumultuous life of Caravaggio.  He ended up in Malta in 1607 after fleeing Italy and a death sentence for murdering someone in a brawl.  He was hoping to secure a pardon for his crime.  However, he didn’t change his brawling ways and was arrested and jailed for assaulting someone else in Malta in 1608.  But somehow he managed to create that beautiful painting in between skirmishes.

After being rather overwhelmed by the interior of the Co-Cathedral, we needed a breather.  We stopped off at Caffe Cordina next for a delicious cup of coffee.

Believe it or not we weren’t even halfway through our day in Malta yet.  Chris picked us up at the end of the street (this cafe is in a pedestrian only area) and next we headed off to see the Blue Grotto.  But I’m going to save that, along with the rest of our visit to Malta for next week.

In the meantime, I have a desk do-over to share on Friday so be sure to check back!

 

 

an offer you can’t refuse.

When Mr. Q and I were planning out what to do in the various ports of call on our Adriatic cruise last November we tried to schedule in a bit of variety.  As we were researching our options, it seemed like we were ending up with lots of visits to ancient archaeological sites like Herculaneum, Diocletian’s Palace in Split and the temple of Hagar Qim in Malta.  So when it came to Messina, Sicily we wanted to do something a little different.

We narrowed it down to either a wine tasting tour or a ‘Godfather tour’.  I would have opted for the wine tasting, but Mr. Q doesn’t drink wine so that seemed a tad selfish on my part.  So the Godfather tour it was.

Ironically, neither of us are fans of the Godfather movies.  In fact, we could barely even remember having watched them.  But the tour went to two small hill towns in Sicily that looked absolutely charming and that’s what drew us in.  We did watch The Godfather a few weeks prior to our trip just in case we needed any context for the tour, which as it turned out we did not.

The first stop on our tour was the town of Savoca, a tiny hilltop village that was reached via a narrow, winding road.

This was the rainiest day of our entire trip and going up that wet, narrow road in a huge bus was maybe a tad nerve wracking.  I kept imagining the newspaper headlines at home, American tourists die in tragic Italian bus accident.

I’ll admit, I had to close my eyes a few times.

But it was definitely worth it.  Savoca was utterly charming.

The first site in Savoca was the Bar Vitelli.

In the film this bar is owned by Apollonia’s father.  Our guide told us that at the time of the filming this wasn’t a bar at all, but rather a villa.  Francis Ford Coppola turned it into a bar just for the movie.  Once the movie became a blockbuster, Bar Vitelli was there to stay.

It now functions as both a bar and a small ‘museum’ (ie. tourist trap) with a collection of photographs taken during the filming.  It was a tiny little place though, and there definitely was not enough room for both a bus load of tourists looking at photos and patrons trying to get a drink.  Since it was raining cats and dogs at the time, the crowds were struggling not to spill out onto the patio.  Mr. Q and I gave the inside of the bar a pass and headed to the next site while huddled under our umbrella.

Maybe the rain was a good thing because as you can see, we had the place pretty much to ourselves.

We headed uphill to the Chiesa di San Nicolo/Santa Lucia where the wedding scene between Michael Corleone and Apollonia was filmed.  If you scroll back up the beginning of this post, this is the building that can be seen at the top of the hill in my first photo.

After seeing inside the church we had a very short time to stroll around the tiny village before returning to the bus to head to our 2nd stop, Forza d’Agrò.

Forza d’Agrò is another charming little hilltop village, and it required traveling even more super steep and winding roads to reach it.  Once there we trooped around after our guide for a bit, first visiting the Church of Sant’Agostino.

To be honest, I haven’t found any reference to this church actually having been used in the film.

  It was a lovely spot though.

Next we stopped in front of the Cattedrale Maria S. Annunziata e Assunta which was another filming location for the movie.

Isn’t that a gorgeous old church?

I was also fascinated by this building opposite.

There is just something about that crumbling stucco and those old wooden doors that appeals to me.

We were getting more wet and cold by the minute at this point though, so I made Mr. Q an offer he couldn’t refuse.  I suggested we stop in at a little cafe for a cappuccino.

I left him there enjoying a 2nd cup while I wandered around and took a few more photos of this picturesque little town before we had to head back to the bus and return to our ship.

No need for faux finishes here, these are genuinely chippy or rusty!

They definitely provide some inspiration for creating a faux finish though, don’t you agree?

I loved this fountain that was in the middle of the town square.

I wish I could get moss like this to grow on my own fountain.  I suspect it would require a slightly warmer climate than we have here in Minnesota.

I hope you enjoyed this visit to Sicily and some of the filming locations there for the Godfather films.  I’m hopefully back on track with my Wednesday travel posts and next week we’ll be heading to Malta!

 

herculaneum.

In the year 79 A.D. Mount Vesuvius erupted.  At the time it had been dormant for 800 years, so I imagine that the residents of the nearby towns had no idea what was happening or how to react.  Following the eruption, the town of Herculaneum was buried under 50 – 60 feet of ash.

You can see Vesuvius in the background of that photo, the mountain that has blown its top.  You can also see that Herculaneum sits about 60′ below the ground level of the current town around it.

While our ship was docked in Naples last November, we toured Herculaneum.  We were happy to be out enjoying the sunshine for this tour!  Plus, there is just something amazing about walking around a town that was last populated almost 2,000 years ago.

Did you know that fast food is not a modern invention?  Herculaneum’s residents could visit the thermopolium to purchase ready made hot food and beverages served from counters.

Public baths were also very popular at the time.  Few people could afford a private bath in their home.  The public baths were open to everyone regardless of class and the one in Herculaneum had separate areas for men and women.

In last week’s post I mentioned that most of the mosaics, furnishings and other artwork from both Herculaneum and Pompeii have been moved to the archaeological museum in Naples, however some mosaics are still intact like the Neptune floor in the public bath.

And the amazing mosaics surrounding the garden court of the House of the Neptune.

Many structures were also decorated with beautiful frescoes.

Sadly, many of the residents of Herculaneum fled to some underground boat sheds to shelter from the eruption.  They thought they would be safe in these cave-like structures.

But nothing could have protected them from the surges of extreme heat from the volcano.

These skeletons weren’t excavated until 1982.  Prior to their discovery it was thought that the people of Herculaneum had managed to escape.

It’s sad that the people living around Mount Vesuvius met with such a terrible fate, but at the same time it created such a unique opportunity to study what life was like 2,000 years ago and it was fascinating to tour Herculaneum.  If you ever are in Naples, Italy I highly recommend taking the time to see it!

people of mature age and respected morals.

The third port of call on our recent Adriatic cruise was Naples, Italy.  This was also the third time I’ve been to Naples.  The first time I went to Pompeii with my mom and sister, the second time I went to Capri with Mr. Q and my bff, so this time we decided to visit Herculaneum.

But our tour of Herculaneum was in the afternoon, so that left us the morning to do something else in Naples.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned it here yet, but we were lucky enough to have the ship’s port lecturer at our dinner table on this cruise.

Let me elaborate for those of you who may not be familiar with cruising.  When you book a cruise these days you can usually decide between anytime dining or a set dining time of either the ‘early’ or ‘late’ seating.  If you choose a set dining time, you can also choose to be at your own table for two (or however many are in your party) or you can roll the dice and choose to be seated with strangers.  When Mr. Q and I travel alone we prefer late dining and as large a table as we can get.  Mr. Q is a social butterfly/extrovert and the more, the merrier in his opinion.  And the ‘late seating’ always gives me time for a nap before dinner 😉

I’m always a tad nervous about the possibility of ending up with unpleasant dinner companions, but so far we’ve always been lucky.

Once again, we were quite fortunate this time.  We were at a table for 8 with three other couples.  The first couple was from Canada and were retired from the travel business.  The second couple was from Connecticut currently, however they had immigrated to the U.S. from Moldova (a former Soviet republic) back in the 90’s.  I have to say, Nathan and Svetlana were the nicest people.  We had to work hard to understand them through their still rather thick accents, but it was worth it.  Mr. Q was in heaven because he loves Russian literature and Nathan was clearly a fan as well.  The third couple, Ken and Leslie, were from England.  We were well into our second dinner together before Ken fessed up that he was the cruise’s port lecturer.

How convenient to have the ship’s expert on our ports of call right there at our dinner table every night!

It certainly came in handy for Naples.  When we asked Ken (not to be confused with my neighbor/handyman Ken) what we should do with our morning in Naples he recommended visiting the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli.

He explained that all of the really good stuff from both Pompeii and Herculaneum is at the museum.  Most of the items that you see at the sites themselves are reproductions.  Naturally the originals have been sent to the museum to be protected.

Plus the museum is within walking distance from the ship, or just a short and inexpensive taxi ride away therefore it would be easy to visit in the morning before our tour.

So after breakfast that morning Mr. Q and I headed out on foot to the museum.  It was a bit longer of a walk than we anticipated, but maybe that’s because we had to stop and have coffee at a small sidewalk cafe along the way.  Italian coffee is the best!

I was highly amused by this poster plastered on the wall along our route.

I would never have admitted it out loud on the streets of Naples, but pizza with pineapple on it is pretty much the only pizza that I like.  Shhhhh, don’t tell the Italians!

We were greeted just inside the door of the museum by a young man offering a personal one hour guided tour in English, but it was €60 which seemed a little pricey.  In hindsight, we probably should have at least rented the audio guides which were only €5 each, but at the time we didn’t think we needed them. We hadn’t realized that many of the printed explanations in the museum would be written in Italian only.  Luckily some of the more major exhibits were also explained in English, but I’m sure we would have gotten much more out of our visit with the audio guides.

Also just inside was this model.

It was roped off and surrounded by people working on it though.  I wish I knew more about what is was, but I haven’t been able to find any info on it at all.

Of all the pieces in the museum, I was the most impressed by the mosaics.

It’s really hard to appreciate these in photos.  The one above is only about 2.5′ tall or so, it’s not an entire wall sized mosaic as it may seem in the photo.  So look again at how incredibly tiny those pieces are that make up the mosaic, and the detailed shading in the design giving it a three dimensional look.  Here’s another …

I can’t even imagine the patience it would require to place all of those tiny little pieces!

These little niches likely held small statues, but perhaps they were the inspiration for the telephone niches of the 1950’s!  Who else remember those?

They didn’t just have small mosaics in the museum, they had huge mosaics too.

This is the Alexander Mosaic.  It was a floor in the House of the Faun at Pompeii and it dates to around 120 B.C.

 We also stumbled across a section of the museum called the secret cabinet.  Port Lecturer Ken had warned us about this area … or did he simply tell us that we should be sure to see it?  I’m not sure which now.  Believe it or not, until the 1960’s the items on display here were ‘only accessible to “people of mature age and respected morals”, which in practice meant only educated men’ (Wikipedia).  I’m sure that Mr. Q and I are of a mature enough age, but not so sure about those respected morals.

Anyway, they let us in.  In fact I was even able to take photos at will.  I debated sharing a photo or two here, but I don’t want to end up on some sort of restricted internet list or anything.  I also don’t want to offend the sensibilities of any of my readers.  But if interested, be sure to check out the Wikipedia entry here to read more about the sorts of items that were found throughout Herculaneum and Pompeii.

We ran out of time to see anything more at the museum after that, so we grabbed a cab out front and headed back to the port for a quick lunch before heading out to Herculaneum.  I’ll be sharing that next Wednesday, so if you’re enjoying these travel posts be sure to check back then!

eze in the off-season.

I veered off track a bit with my Wednesday travel post last week and skipped ahead to the end of our Adriatic cruise, but now I’m back on track and today I’m sharing what we did during the first half of the day while our ship was docked in Monaco.

We took a ship sponsored shore excursion to Eze, France.

Eze is a small medieval hilltop village just across the border from Monaco.  It probably took us less than 30 minutes to get there, so it’s not far.  I’m not really sure of the exact timing because our very charming tour guide kept us entertained the entire way sharing interesting tidbits about both Monaco and Eze.

Once again I’m wishing I had a drone so that I could show you the amazing location of this pretty little village using my own photo.  Coincidentally, I was just reading the December 2018 issue of Martha Stewart magazine and guess what?  Martha has a drone.  She uses it to take photos of the sweeping vistas of her own property.  I don’t really think I need one for that, but it sure would be fun to have one for travel.  In the article she claims that drones are ‘more accessible and affordable’ these days.

Regardless, I doubt I’ll get a drone anytime soon.  Plus, I suspect Martha’s definition of ‘affordable’ is slightly different than mine.

In the meantime I’ll borrow this next photo from the web just so you get a feel for the location of Eze, which is perched at the top of a hill overlooking the sea.  You can see the church in about the center of the photo, and above it just a little to the right at the very top is the exotic garden.

Eze has been on my bucket list since the last time we went to Monaco, which was about 10 years ago.  That time we didn’t make it to Eze and I really regretted it.  So when I realized this cruise made a stop in Monaco I knew I had to get there this time.

The only downside to Eze is that it tends to be terribly touristy.  I always say that the reason why places become touristy is because they have something fantastic to offer.  People start talking about the place because it’s uniquely charming, or interesting, or historically significant and then word gets out and everyone wants to go there.  Suddenly the place is overrun with tourists.

But here’s the trick to visiting really touristy places, go in the off-season.  These captivating little alleyways can be thronged with people in the summer, but they were practically empty while we were there.

We stopped for a cup of coffee at this lovely cafe and were literally the only people in the place.

Granted, probably at least half of the shops were closed.  But that doesn’t matter one bit to me, I’m not a shopper when I travel.  I’d much rather spend my time running around taking photos rather than shopping.

While in Eze, we toured the Église Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption d’Èze.

This church was built between 1764 and 1778 on the ruins of an original 12th century church.

I thought the interior had a very French look with all of the gold, pale blue and crystal chandeliers.

Our guide pointed out the permanent arm holding a crucifix coming out from the pulpit.  Do you see it there in the photo above?  I’m not sure I would necessarily have noticed it otherwise.  She said that the priest’s arm got too tired holding up that heavy crucifix so he had a permanent one installed.  I’m not sure if that’s the true story behind it or not, but it was entertaining.

Le jardin exotique d’Eze is located up at the very top of the hill above the rooftops of the village.

  The first time we were in Monaco and visited the Jardin Exotique de Monaco, I was surprised to find that it was mainly a garden of succulents.  That time I was expecting something entirely different, a typical french garden like the one in Giverny that was featured in so many Monet paintings.  But this time I knew what to expect.

I have to admit cacti and other succulents are not my favorites.  I much prefer a lush cottage garden.  But the views from le jardin exotique d’Eze were spectacular.

I don’t think I would have enjoyed Eze nearly as much if we had visited during the summer, but seeing it in November was fantastic.

Not only were there fewer tourists, but the fall colors were beautiful too.

So I say if you ever have the chance to visit Eze in the off-season, and you enjoy charming little medieval French villages, definitely go for it!

traveling back in time.

I had originally planned to share the story of our recent Adriatic Explorer cruise in chronological order from start to finish, but today I simply had to jump ahead to the end.

Why?

Well, two reasons really.  First of all, our visit to the Luigi Bevilacqua workshop inspired a craft project that I want to share with you later this week.  And second, I just couldn’t wait any longer to share this post!

People always ask, ‘what was your favorite part of your trip’ and the answer this time is definitely our tour with Luisella Romeo, a private guide in Venice.

Let me start at the beginning.  Shortly after we booked our cruise, Mr. Q was chatting with someone and she mentioned having toured this incredible workshop in Venice where they still make velvet fabrics by hand.  She said it was one of the coolest places she’d ever toured.  When Mr. Q mentioned it to me, I was intrigued.  Right around that same time, not only was I looking into hiring some private guides for our trip but I was also looking for something unique to do in Venice.  Since we were going to be there on my birthday we were willing to splurge a bit on something special.

That was when I found Luisella Romeo’s website.  Her carefully curated selection of tours looked fantastic and her website was so beautiful, so I checked her out on tripadvisor.com.  She had over 650 reviews and every. single. person. rated her as excellent and many wrote positively glowing reviews.  This is almost unheard of, right?  I mean it’s nearly impossible to make everyone happy.  Usually there is at least one incredibly picky customer that you simply can’t please, but not so with Luisella.

So I contacted her via email and asked if she could arrange a tour for us that would include the Luigi Bevilacqua workshop.  Several exchanges of emails later, we had an itinerary planned and everything arranged.

Luisella met us in Piazzale Roma at the end of the Venice People Mover.  The People Mover is a monorail system that has just three stops, the Tronchetto parking island, the Marittima cruise terminal and Piazzale Roma which is pretty much the entry point into Venice for most people.

Luisella was so charming and enthusiastic right from the start.  I knew we were going to have an amazing morning with her.  She started off leading us through the Piazzale Roma which was thronged with people coming and going.  But after just a few moments we were deeper into the Santa Croce neighborhood on some nearly empty … um, what do you call them? surely not streets … alleys?  corridors?  sidewalks?  passageways?

Whatever you want to call them, there is just no other city like Venice!

Luisella led us up to this very unassuming building.  Once there I’m pretty sure she used a secret password or some kind of coded knock on the door.

This reminded me of that moment in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when Willy Wonka opens the door to reveal the magical wonderland of chocolate inside.

Only instead of chocolate, this place was filled with delicious velvet fabrics.

And one of the other things that caught my eye immediately was this old door that was just tucked behind some equipment.

You can probably just imagine how badly I wanted to dig that door out and get a better photo of it (and then possibly tuck it into my suitcase to bring it home with me), but instead I reminded myself that we were there to see some velvet weaving, not a fabulous old door.

Once upon a time there were as many as 1,200 weavers in Venice making silk fabrics.  However, over time such things as Napoleon’s decree that such fabrics should be made in France rather than in Italy, as well as the industrial revolution and the invention of mechanized production methods, contributed to the downward slide of hand weaving velvet out of silk threads.

Then along came Luigi Bevilacqua in 1875 and he saved several 18th century wooden looms from their imminent demise.

It’s tempting to think that I took that photo in a museum, but this is no museum.  It’s a functioning velvet weaving workshop.  There were a couple of women working on the looms while we were there, although I didn’t take their pictures.

One of the many challenges facing the Luigi Bevilacqua workshop is finding craftsmen who can maintain and repair these looms.  Clearly they need a ‘Ken’, or more accurately they probably have a ‘Ken’ but simply don’t know what they will do when he gets too old to continue working on the looms (I can totally relate to this feeling).

By the way you guys, this was a completely private tour.  It was just Mr. Q and I, our guide Luisella and the Bevilacqua employee who was a lovely woman named Anna who only spoke Italian.  Luisella translated everything for us.

The first thing we saw were all of the patterns.

Don’t quote me on this, but I think our guide said they have more than 3,500 patterns.  The patterns are made with punched holes in cardboard.  Each hole in the pattern corresponds to just one thread.

Honestly, I am totally unable to comprehend how these pieces of cardboard with holes punched in them translate to these gorgeous patterns of velvet …

but somehow they do.

All of the silk threads that are used in making the velvet are hand-knotted onto bobbins, and each bobbin is individually weighted to maintain the proper tension (you can see the little lead weights hanging from each one).

The number of bobbins depends upon the complexity of the design and can range from 400 to as many as 16,000!

And then the weavers take these threads and turn them into this.

It really does seem as though there is some kind of magic at work.

Before the end of our tour we learned the difference between ‘cut’ and ‘curly’ threads.

The ‘curly’ threads are uncut loops of silk while the ‘cut’ threads started out as ‘curly’ threads but were cut by the weaver.  The same color of thread can look so different depending on whether it is cut or curly.

After seeing all that goes in to making this fabric, and learning that a weaver can only produce about 12″ of fabric in one day, I quickly realized that this beautiful handmade velvet was never going to be in my price range.  So I wondered, who buys it and what do they use it for?

Originally the velvet was mainly used for either upholstery, draperies or wall coverings.  Can you just imagine what it would cost to cover an entire wall with this stuff?  Customers have included the White House, the Kremlin, and the Göteborg Stadsteater (that’s City Theatre) in Sweden.  But these days some high end designers are using the velvet for clothing and accessories as well.

At the end of our tour we stopped in at the tiny little showroom where there were some items for sale including handbags and belts.  The one handbag I asked about was €1,500 (or about $1,700 American).

Yep, definitely out of my price range.

Still, it was amazing to tour the workshop and learn about the process of making these beautiful velvet’s.  It was perhaps the closest thing to traveling back in time that I’ve ever experienced.

This beautiful hot pink velvet on a gold background inspired me to try something creative, so be sure to check back on Friday to see how it turned out!

And if you happen to be traveling to Venice any time soon, I can’t recommend both Luisella and touring the Luigi Bevilacqua workshop enough.  They are absolutely worth the splurge!