Please excuse my absence from blogging – I went to Europe, hurt myself and have been mostly recovering ever since. FYI – cobblestones are tricky things and one should not wear any sort of heel while walking on them unless one is Italian. Those Italian women glide over that stuff. I think they learn to walk in heels.
I had an amazing time and took so many photos that I am going to have to split them up into several blog posts.
I started out the big trip by driving to the airport to catch my 9pm flight in a huge blizzard – probably the worst we have had in years. Ordinarily a trip to the airport is 15 minutes, but this one took almost an hour. When I arrived I discovered…. I had left my passport at home. There was no way to go home, get it and come back before checking in, so a lovely Delta agent secured me a ticket on a plane leaving the next day and I went home. This helped in some ways – I was able to pack things that I had forgotten (such as my PASSPORT) and it also gave me time to sneak in another costume before I left.
I had wanted to make a simple “Borgias” style Italian costume out of bright and shiny fabrics but hadn’t had the time to do it. So I cut everything, assembled the skirt, assembled the bodice, serged all the sleeve bits and then wound up hand stitching everything together on the various planes.
The bad part about missing my plane was that I no longer had most of a day to get situated in my B&B, find my way around and get some sleep before my class at the Royal School of Needlework. I got off the plane in London, took a cab to the B&B and an hour later was in class. My lovely teachers didn’t know I had been up all night till I decided that I couldn’t stitch any longer and told them I was leaving class an hour early due to sleep deprivation. Upon learning the situation they sent me home with instructions to sleep immediately. Hee!
The great thing about the class is that it was inside Hampton Court Palace, where Henry VIII (among others) lived. It was so exciting to be walking around the place he had lived after having spent all that time years ago making the Six Wives costumes. The bad thing is that it was on the 4th floor. I thought I was in good shape for the trip due to strength training. Not so much. But those stairs and walking all over the place in London helped me to get over my blisters and get used to all of it before getting to Italy, which helped.
Everything in the Palace was just lovely. I didn’t get a ton of time to tour it as my class ran at the same time the palace was open, but I did get to eat in the Privy Kitchen, sample a “flight” of cocoa including the oldest cocoa recipe in Europe, and hear a choir practicing in the chapel while wandering in one of the gardens.
I met up with my high school buddy Emily (who currently resides in Wales) back at the B&B and had an excellent dinner in town. After sewing a bit I fell dead asleep. The second day was essentially a repeat of the same, with the exception that I finally figured out how to work the tambour hook! I thought I was doing it right but was making an awful mess of my fabric. Luckily the woman next to me had the same issue, so I followed the instructions given to her and finally figured it out. My stitches were larger than others mostly because I really just wanted to get a feel for going backwards and turning curves. We were given some silk organza and a packet of beads and encouraged to design a paisley pattern and stitch it. Instead I found a pattern in a book that was passed around and copied that, using ALL the beads. As a millinery instructor told me once, “There is always one in every class that has to be different.” <grin>
The class was really wonderful and I spent it surrounded by women from all over the world with varying levels of experience. I would absolutely recommend to take a class there if you ever get the chance.
The evening was spent seeing the sights and having a tapas style dinner in a neighboring town and then stitching everything that needed to be done before arriving in Venice. Emily was a trooper and sewed on buttons, trim, etc.
We spent the following day up in London, visiting the National Portrait Gallery, the V&A and a small fabric shop called Shaukut where they had the most amazing selection of Liberty of London fabrics for incredibly reasonable prices. I bought yardage of several different fabrics, as well as 3 yards of a 1930’s style print to make a dress.
The nice thing about the V&A and the NPG is that they allow you to take photos, although without flash. I was able to take tons of photos with up close details of many different paintings. It was so neat to see dresses at the V&A that I have only ever seen online, or to see famous portraits in person versus on Pinterest. Emily and I did a bit of souvenir shopping, had a great lunch where we got to cook our own steaks on hot stones and finally settled into the airport hotel because we had a very early flight to Amsterdam the next morning.
We arrived bright and early in Amsterdam the next morning and made our way directly to the town center. Getting around Amsterdam is really easy – everything is well labeled, they have an excellent transportation system and you can check any baggage into storage at the airport before heading into town. The airport itself has tons of fun shops and a huge amount of stores selling flower bulbs.
We had several places we wanted to visit and the Albert Cuyp Market was the first. It is really a fun street market with everything from fabric to shoes to cheese. We had really good Persian chicken kabobs and I found some lovely quilted gold fabric there.
From there we wanted to go to the Rijksmuseum. The line into the museum was very long and so we decided to skip it in favor of the Van Gogh Museum. In hindsight I think seeing the Rijksmuseum would have been a better choice since it had costume and paintings and sculpture, but the Van Gogh museum was stunning (so many self portraits!) and offered us many places to sit down. After walking non-stop for days we were both aching and in need of periodic rests. We had really good cocoa in a tiny shop in Museum Square where they also provided blankets to protect you from the wind. It was walking around Amsterdam on the mazes of streets made of varying kinds of cobblestones that I fell down twice. I blame my shoes, my balance and the streets. Emily tucked my arm under hers and prevented me from taking any more headers into the pavement.
We headed out from there to the Anne Frank House, which was not something we were going to miss. The house itself is part of a 3 dwelling museum with a tremendous amount of information on the Frank family, the war, and the impact that Anne’s diary has had on the world. You have to navigate some very small spaces to get into the rooms the family hid inside, but it was worth the waiting in line outside in the cold to see. It was very moving.
Both of us were tired after this so we decided to take a canal cruise which happened to have a docking location right next to the Anne Frank House. It was 40 minutes long and also well worth the time and money. We learned all about how the canals were built, why they were different from other canals (such as the ones in Venice), the history of the city, and the information about what it was like to live there.
We arrived back at the airport and were promptly separated – Emily had to go through passport security and then on to her gate and I had to go through regular security and we wound up in different terminals. I discovered that Amsterdam sometimes has gates where you have to arrive several hours early because you go through an independent security set-up at the individual gate rather than the large security entry. This also essentially traps you at that gate until you board your flight home. So Emily was trapped at her gate and I wandered the airport and ate some excellent cheese and chocolate.
I spent the flight to Venice hand-stitching on the blue Italian to the amusement of an older gentleman sitting next to me. He had lots of questions about my costume, and between my English and his Italian and a lot of hand gestures we were able to communicate. I landed to 50 degree weather and a lovely breeze. It was a welcome change after the snow in Minnesota.
It is remarkably easy to navigate the airport in Venice – there really isn’t much to it. I loaded a cart with all of my luggage and headed down to the water taxi stand, which is about a 10 minute walk from the airport under awnings. I had decided that since I was arriving at 11pm and was by myself that it made better sense to spend the large fee to take a private taxi directly to the door of my hotel and avoid any problems. The ride itself was beautiful with lots of clear water and stars in the sky. Going through the city I heard someone singing opera, a couple in costume kissing in a doorway and Punchinello leaning off of a dock, waiting for his taxi.
The Westin Europa Regina is a truly stunning hotel with a great view of the Grand Canal. I was whisked inside by the handsome concierge, my bags were taken upstairs by the porter and I greeted Elizabeth in our beautiful room with a view of the Basilica of Good Health. It sounds really cheesy, but it was almost magical, and I will never forget it.
Part 2 will be about Venice, Padua and Carnevale. Part 3 will be about Florence and Eleonora, and Part 4 will be about Rome.