Day 4 – Venice

Today was more relaxed. We didn’t have anything planned, so I did laundry. The hotel had a service, but charged much more than I was willing to pay. $1.50 to wash a pair of socks?

After bringing the laundry back to the room, Lisa and I walked around a different part of Venice. It was great. We didn’t have to be anywhere, so we just wandered about and took pictures. Every now and then, we’d stop for some gelato and/or a drink. We stopped to walk through the Church of the Salute, near the Accademia Museum. It was really impressive. The organ was playing softly and everything was very quiet, despite the dozens of people walking around.

For dinner, we decided to try the pizza place recommended by the New York couple we met on Tuesday. Those folks knew what they were talking about; the pizza was delicious! When we were finished eating, we took our time walking back to the hotel and admired more of the city. Another cup of gelato capped off our stay in Venice. We packed for the ninety-minute train ride to Florence and went to sleep a little earlier than usual.

Day 3 – Venice

The weather couldn’t have been better for our 20th anniversary! My day started with a delicious breakfast on the hotel terrace (Lisa decided to sleep in). Later in the morning, we wandered around Venice, looking at shops & deciding what to do for the day. We ended up getting on the vaporetto at the train station and riding it the length of the Grand Canal. We each listened to Rick Steves’ audio tour on our iPods while riding; it was like having a personal guided tour.

Our tour ended at St. Mark’s Square. We wandered around a bit and found another gelato shop (you might notice a pattern regarding Lisa & gelato). We made our way back to the hotel and go ready for dinner. The hotel made reservations for us at an incredible place right off St. Mark’s Square. It was on the roof of a hotel facing the canal and only had 10 tables. We had a gorgeous view and a great meal. Near the end of dinner, we saw a lunar eclipse just over the island of Lido.

A couple from Massachusetts was sitting next to us at the restaurant. It was their first trip to Venice, but not their first trip to Europe. He is the president of the North American branch of an art supply company based in Paris, so he travels a lot. They had just come up from Florence, so we shared stories with them about our time in Venice and their time in Florence.

We walked through St. Mark’s Square on the way back to the hotel and were amazed at the difference between mid-day and evening. It was much less crowded and a lot more fun to walk around. We had to avoid the young men selling flowers (they’ll try to hand one to you, say it’s free for the beautiful lady, and then hound you to pay them). To be fair, I asked Lisa if she wanted one. I would have bought one if she wanted it, but she said she was happy just being in Venice on a beautiful night.

Day 2 – Venice

We tried to catch up on some sleep and slept in this morning. We took a trip to Murano, Burano, & Torcello in the afternoon. Murano is the home to excellent glass artisans. We saw a brief demonstration and then walked through the shop. We bought a small dish for my office. (Lisa thought the colors would work well and it would make my office a bit “homier” to clients.)

Burano was interesting. I hadn’t heard of it, but I think Lisa read up on it a bit. Back in the day, families would all paint their houses the same color. Looking down any street, you could tell who was related to whom by noticing the colors of the houses. The citizens have stopped following that tradition, but city ordinance forbids changing house colors without express permission. It might be the same express, written permission Major League Baseball requires to rebroadcast a game. While walking through town, I saw a place advertising Duff Beer. Being a Simpsons fan, I had to give it a try. It’s brewed in Germany, but I was more impressed with the bottle & name than the actual beer.

We weren’t in Torcello very long, but it was the first inhabited portion of modern-day Venice. People sought refuge there from the barbarians after the collapse of the Roman Empire. Today, only 16 people live on the island. There are some beautiful old buildings still standing (from about 400 AD). We would have liked more time to look around, but I think the tour company was more interested in giving us time at places with more shopping opportunities.

By the time we got back, it was dinnertime. We took a recommendation from the hotel clerk and went to Do Farai. Gorgeous outdoor dining in a quiet neighborhood, excellent food, and a great bottle of wine. Unlike our typical 30-45 minute meals at home, we left about 2 and a half hours later.

We met two other couples at the restaurant, one from New York and the other from Nebraska. They had both been to Italy before and gave us some recommendations for places to eat and things to see. We plan to supplement our Rick Steves book with their ideas and just explore the next two days.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a shop for Lisa’s third dish of gelato for the day. I think she had lemon, raspberry, and coconut on the day. Then it was time for bed to rest up for our third day in Venice and our 20th anniversary!

Day 1 – Venice

We left for our first trip to Europe today! Lisa & I decided to go to Italy for our 20th anniversary.

Our flight from Chicago to Philadelphia on Sunday was delayed because of bad weather in Philly. The delay would have caused us to miss our connection to Venice, so the airline got us onto an Alitalia flight to Venice, via Rome. We got to Venice about 90 minutes later than originally scheduled, but that wasn’t a problem.

The Rome airport was a pain. The security checkpoint was so unorganized, it took forever getting through. But we made it through without any problems and got to Venice (about 21 hours after we checked in at O’Hare).

We were kind if surprised at how unfriendly the people were in the airports. Having flown out of MSP for most of our flights, we were expecting friendly, helpful airline/airport personnel. Most of the people we dealt with at O’Hare, Rome, and Venice seemed annoyed that we were bothering them. I realize they don’t have an obligation to be friendly, but it would have made our trip a little more pleasant.

When we got to the hotel in Venice (Palazzo Stern), the attitude difference couldn’t have been greater. Everyone here is great! We met the owner of the hotel and told her how much we loved it. The room is really nice, and we just had a standard room. I imagine the suites are even more beautiful.

We just sat on the terrace with a glass of wine (Lisa) and a beer (me) and watched the boats go by on the Grand Canal. After the long flights and airport hassles, it was nice to relax. We decided to get some dinner at a recommended restaurant a few blocks away. Of course, we didn’t bring our map and got lost walking through the streets. The back streets are very narrow, basically wide sidewalks between storefronts. The streets empty into large plazas here and there. Even though we had no idea where we were going, it was kind of fun just wandering around and seeing everything. We eventually had some dinner (not at the place we were looking for) and found our way back to the hotel around 9:00. We were beat from all the walking and FINALLY were able to get a good night’s sleep.

Christmas with Lisa’s family

We got together with Lisa’s family on Tuesday, December 28. Luckily, we didn’t have to deal with any of the snow that has been messing with us all winter.

Gretchen had a great “snack buffet,” including my personal favorite, Chex party mix. She also had a delicious ground beef/cheese dip, homemade toffee, and peanut brittle. I did a bit of grazing before opening presents.

Greg, Chico, and I watched the Badgers beat the Gophers in men’s basketball and then cheered on the Vikings as they defeated Philly on a classic Tuesday Night Football game. Yes, Greg & Chico became Viking fans for the evening! (Granted, it was so the Bears would have less motivation next Sunday against the Packers, but I take support where I can get it.)

Lisa had fun watching Shrek 4 with Gretchen, Lynn, and the kids. And Adam and Sean showed us some nice dance moves before bedtime. You can see some of the pictures from our day HERE.

Christmas with Bret’s family

Our Minnesota Christmas get-together was supposed to take place in Chanhassen a couple weeks ago, on December 12. You may remember that weekend as the time that Minneapolis got a foot and a half of snow and the Metrodome roof collapsed. We tried heading up on Sunday, but the drifts outside of Lancaster were too much and we stayed home. So we rescheduled for Brownsdale on Christmas Day.

We had a good time seeing everyone, playing a few games (Mom won at Phase 10 because Megan  helped her), and eating more than we should have. Okay, eating more than I should have.

On the drive home, we stopped in Decorah and picked up a Mabe’s pizza. Mmmm-mmmmm-good! My sister may be jealous, but it was a great way to finish off the holiday!

You can see some of the pictures from our day HERE.

Law office party

The Karrmann Law Office held its annual office Christmas party last Friday night. Even though I just rent an office from them, Phil & Kris Karrmann invited me and Lisa to join them. How many landlords invite their tenants to an office party? Yes, I lead a charmed life.

The party was at Timmerman’s Supper Club in East Dubuque. Great food, great atmosphere, and a great view of the Mississippi.

Check out a few of the pictures we took HERE. Thanks to Phil, Kris, and the whole Karrmann Law Office gang. We had a wonderful time!

Appleton Boychoir Concert

We went to see the Appleton Boychoir concert on Saturday. Adam sings in the Senior Choir and he did a great job!

The Friday night snow made getting out a little tough, but we just gave ourselves some extra time. We drove up to Appleton, saw the concert, and came home Sunday morning.

We had great seats, because we had a clear view of Adam throughout. Like his parents, Lisa & I were very proud of him! He even sang a little for us when we got back to Greg & Lynn’s.

I sat next to Sean during the concert, and he did a good job keeping me in line. Lisa kept trying to get me to goof off, but Sean would put an end to it immediately.

After the concert, the menfolk rode back in the RAV4. I heard some interesting knock-knock jokes about interrupting. I’d heard the one about the cow, but some of the other “interrupters” were new to me. I think Adam & Sean made up most of them, and they were pretty funny!

It was a fun weekend and the concert was excellent!

First snowfall

And so it begins.

We got seven or eight inches of snow Friday night. Luckily, the snowblower started easily. I had to clear out the driveway before we left for Kimberly and the Appleton Boychoir concert.

It’s looking like the snow is here to stay for the year.  Lisa’s a bit bummed, as she was hoping we wouldn’t have snow until sometime in January. We’re not big on the whole “White Christmas” thing.

Anyway, the snow got cleared, we made it to Kimberly, and the snow hasn’t returned yet!

Thanksgiving

Barb, Chico, & Gretchen came over for Thanksgiving last week. We had a nice time and no one peed on the floor (although we had a couple of close calls.) There were some football games on TV, but they must have been exhibition or college games, as the NFL season is over. Isn’t it?

Lisa did most of the prep work and our folks all pitched in with potatoes, stuffing, etc. We also broke out the new dishes, which replaced the set of Corelle we had since 1991. My biggest job was making sure everything tasted fine. I took the job very seriously.

Friday morning, Mom helped me put up the Christmas villages and the tree. After she left, Lisa wrapped the Christmas presents (yes, we’re dorks and got our shopping done before Thanksgiving). The annual Christmas letter will get printed today and we should be mailing out our cards this week.

Hope you all had a happy Thanksgiving!

A Miserable Concert (Lisa’s first post!)

We had the opportunity to see the “Twenty-fifth Anniversary Les Miserables Concert” last night and had a great time. The concert was filmed in London during the performance at the O2 Theatre (remember . . . where Michael Jackson was going to kick off his World Tour) on October 3rd and was shown only in select theaters in the United States.

The buzz of the night surrounded “teen sensation” Nick Jonas’ portrayal of Marius. Les Miserables features some pretty ambitious singing and it seemed a little “challenging” for the Jonas Brother. Poor guy! He seemed about as uncomfortable and on edge as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs.

There was also a pretty great discrepancy between his and the others’ acting talent. Essentially, Bret thought he projected only one emotion: befuddlement. He described the Jonas as “looking like a dog who you’re throwing the ball with and suddenly, you hide it behind your back.” He looked consistently confused.

So, Bret was alternately sighing and snickering all night. But really, what does he know about music? Click HERE to judge for yourself!

Nieces & Nephews page updated

Someone with a vested interest in that page asked when I was going to update it. So I did it while watching the Vikings/Cowboys game today. Let’s go Vikes!

Check it out HERE.

Kids, if you want me to use different pictures for your profiles, feel free to send me some! 🙂

New vehicle!

We finally got a new vehicle. The 2002 Corolla served us well, taking Bret to law school and home every week for three years. But those trips to St. Paul and back took their toll to the tune of 159,000 miles. So we traded it in this week and got a 2008 RAV4.

It took Lisa a few test drives before she got used to driving the bigger vehicle, but she’s liking it more and more. The best thing is the extra room we have now have for storage. We don’t haul a lot, but it’s always been tough to get anything bigger than a set of golf clubs into the Corolla’s trunk or back seat.

The built-in bluetooth connection is pretty neat. Bret can take calls on the road without messing around with his Blackberry (soon to be iPhone?) There are a lot of bells and whistles that we’re still getting used to (yes, I should have said, “to which we are still getting accustomed,” but I thought it sounded pretentious), but it’s working out well.

Chicago trip

Downtown ChicagoWe took a short vacation to Chicago last week. We took off on Wednesday afternoon, saw a show at Second City Wednesday night, walked around Michigan Avenue and the Navy Pier Thursday, went to “Rock of Ages” Thursday night, and came home Friday. We had a great time. Both shows were incredible. Click the links below for info on the shows.

Second City

Rock of Ages

We also took a short boat ride on the lake Thursday afternoon. The weather was fantastic and we had a really nice view of the skyline. A few pictures of our trip can be found HERE.

New roof

We had a hailstorm at the end of July, 2009. It’s taken over a year, but they started work on our roof today! I think everyone in town got new roofs, the contractors will be living off this storm for a few years.

They started in the back and stripped all the old shingles off. I think they’ve got that part re-shingled already. If the rain stays away, they should be done by Wednesday or Thursday this week.

The picture isn’t of our house. Just a random hail storm pic I found online. I’m too lazy to take a picture of our half-shingled roof…….

Hail