The Masons Take Venice

18 Apr

Thursday, April 9

We woke the kids up around 4:30 so we could get to the airport and catch our 6 am flight from Timisoara to Venice. We were thrilled a few months ago when we found that with one of Europe’s discount airlines, WizzAir, we could fly to Venice for about $17 per person. Umm… yes please.

We were a little nervous, though, about whether Italy would be miserable with three small children. There was so much we wanted to see and enjoy, would they allow that with their tiny bladders, quickly exhausted legs, and lack of appreciation for Renaissance art? So I formulated a plan and put it in motion two weeks before we left.

During homeschool, we started studying about the Renaissance. We did art, architecture, religion, music. We threw in a little Roman Empire & Medieval Period for context. We focused specifically on the Ninja Turtle artists, and especially on Michelangelo. We discussed the David, it’s creation, what made it a masterwork. We watched VeggieTales: Dave and the Giant Pickle. We gave the kids something to get excited about when they saw ideas in reality.

But I still wasn’t sure about their interest and stamina, so, inspired by our family tradition of watching The Amazing Race together (the kids LOVE it), I got out my laptop, did extensive research on the places we’d be going and put together…The A-Mason Race. Throughout Venice and Florence, we’d have 4 legs of the race, complete with Detours, Roadblocks and check-ins at the Pit Stop. I knew that if nothing else, this would buy Patrick and I a little time to enjoy ourselves while our kids tried to complete their tasks.

We presented them with their first clue right before leaving for the airport, To say they were excited by the surprise would be an understatement.


Clue #1: Fly to Venice, Italy, locate your car and drive to the mainland city of Venice. When you arrive take the train to the island of Venice where you’ll receive your next clue.

Clue #1: Fly to Venice, Italy, locate your car and drive to the mainland city of Venice. When you arrive take the train to the island of Venice where you’ll receive your next clue.

We followed the instructions on the clue and arrived in Venice around 9am. We took the train into the train station on the island where the kids got their next clue instructing them to find “Lucy.” Once they found her, they had to play a song to receive their next clue. “Lucy” is a piano in Santa Lucia Station that was donated as part of a project to get a piano into train stations across Europe for people to play. After some searching, Rhett spotted “Lucy” and they ran over. Finn opened up the cover and happily played Jingle Bells (his only song) while charmed commuters looked on.


From there, we needed to take a vaperetto to head down the length of the Grand Canal, a brief intro to the city. As soon as the boat docked, I grizzly-bear-mama’d my kids to the very front of the boat, where there were empty chairs with the best view on the boat. In our haste and confusion though, we hopped on the boat going in the wrong direction. Instead of getting a tour of the Grand Canal, which snakes through the middle of Venice, we got a tour of the southern coast and open water. Still gorgeous. We had a reservation at St Mark’s Cathedral for 10:15 and there was no way we were going to make it. Sure enough, we got there about a half hour late but decided to see if they’d let us in. The ticket guy was super nice and just waved us through. I’m so glad I made reservations for most of the places we saw on this trip. The lines at some of them were insane. Everywhere we went, we pretty much just walked right in.

St. Mark’s is incredible. The facade is an overwhelming mishmash of different styles and materials, mostly plundered from this campaign or that. The inside is covered in zillions of tiny mosaics, most of them gold. It’s stunning. The kids’ clue had them looking for eight different things hidden in the artwork or decorations inside the church. This gave Patrick and I time to look around us and enjoy while the kids scoured. Lucy got a little bored after a while, not even the glittery ceilings could hold her attention.


At that point we were getting hungry so we decided to make a Pit Stop and get some lunch. We wove our way through Venice’s tiny alleys, filled with tons of people, to a small place recommended by Rick Steves, Rosticceria San Bartolemeo. It was a winner. Patrick and I had a fresh seafood salad- shrimp, crab, mussels, octopus drizzled with olive oil and sea salt. It was yummy and totally fun to freak the kids out with the octopus tentacles.

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Across from the cafe was a mask store, so of course the kids had to go in and try on their favorites.

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After that, we were back in the race. The next clue took us back to St Mark’s Square, where the kids had a Detour, which is a choice between two activities: Pigeon Perch or Piazza Performer. They chose pigeon perch, as I knew they would. They had to get one of the many pigeons in St Mark’s to land on them. It was waaaay harder than we thought it would be. There were people there that seemed to be pigeon-whisperers. They’d just stand there and the pigeons would land on their arm. Much to my horror, I turned out to be one such person. For background, let me just tell you that one of my biggest fears, given to me by Janae who is even more afraid of this, is having a bird land on my head, get it’s claws tangled in my hair and then try to fly away. Thanks Janae. In Venice this fear was realized and it. was. horrifying. I was just standing there instructing my children to stay still, as they appeared to be pigeon-repellent, when something landed on top of my head and then hopped to the back of my neck where it’s sharp little claws curled around my loose hair. I screamed. Like big time. I ran to Patrick and tried to hold back the tears and not vomit. Ugh. Ugh. Just typing it makes my skin crawl. Patrick’s reaction “Ahh!!! I should have taken a picture!”


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There was a cute family from New Jersey that were of the pigeon-whispering variety and they kindly decided to make it their family mission to get pigeons to land on our kids. The son was sweet and hilarious, given a million instructions, while his mom handed our kids pieces of granola bars, which apparently pigeons are very fond of. Finally, Lucy had a few successful landings and Finn had brief encounters. No matter how still Rhett was or how much granola bar he held out, though, those pigeons could sense the latent energy in his body and steered clear. Poor kid. We called it good and headed to our next destination, a tiny hidden away glass-blowing gallery.

When we go there, it was just a doorway with an elevator guarded by a young guy. We asked if we could see a glass blowing demonstration. He asked if we had a Rick Steves guidebook. Apparently they only do free private demos to Rick devotees. I flashed my Kindle and he sent us up to the workshop, where we were greeted by the gallery manager and one of their masters. We had our own private demonstration and it was so awesome! The kids were fascinated by the molten glass. In less than two minutes the guy turned a lump of glass into a beautiful lily shaped vase. After the demo, the manager walked us through the gallery, explaining some of the more intricate processes and showing off pieces. I was a little worried that it was time for the hard sell, but he could probably tell that expensive glassworks would not survive long in our home. Keeping Rhett, the human octopus, contained so he didn’t knock down their entire inventory, was an Olympic feat. I felt battered after walking out of that shop. Still, it was a highlight for all of us.

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At this point, it was time for gelato. There is nothing in the world quite as good as gelato in Italy. It was divine. We perched on some steps by a canal (this would become a theme for us) to enjoy our treats. We wandered more, our clues leading us on a passegiata to the Rialto bridge to take a family picture, then to the Rialto markets to pick out a new food to try. As you can imagine, Finn wasn’t a huge fan of this last one. He threw a bit of a fit when Rhett and Lucy outvoted him and picked out some dried pinapples and melon. Patrick took him for a walk to calm him down, while we grazed and watched boats row by.

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It was getting late in the day but we still had a bunch of clues to do before we were done for the day. We wound our way across the city to a canal crossing where we were supposed to take a gondola across to the palace on the other side and explore. When we got there though, there was no gondola at the stop. We waited a while and finally realized that we were all kind of done for the day. We decided to pause the A-Mason Race until the next day. We caught a taxi boat back to the train station and rode back to the mainland. Our stay for the night was at a place called Camping Jolly Village. I was skeptical, knowing that it was basically a trailer park, but actually it turned out quite nice. It was clearly for backpackers, with small trailers and even tents that you could rent. Lucky for us, they had newer family size trailers. It was cramped but fine for what we needed. We had dinner at the onsite cafe- pizza and spaghetti carbonara, nothing spectacular- and then headed back to our trailer where we recorded the day on my voice recorder and then dropped like rocks.




One Response to “The Masons Take Venice”

  1. Lisa Adams April 24, 2015 at 11:08 am #

    Oh I’m so jealous! What an opportunity for your family, And you are the COOLEST EVER mom to make that trip into the AMASON race. We’re huge fans of the show too and dream to be on it — or make our version. Someday. Thanks for sharing your journey with us.

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