Same time, Next Year

In the spirit of last year’s Fifty Go­ing to Florence, An­ton San Diego and friends take a daz­zling tour of the oth­er­worldly beauty of Venice


Fol­low­ing last year’s #50Go­ingToFlorence, Philip­pine Tatler Ed­i­tor-in- Chief An­ton San Diego and friends find them­selves charmed by the oth­er­worldly beauty of Venice

It was a trip six months in the mak­ing. Fol­low­ing our so­journ to Florence in the spring of 2016 as a col­lec­tive way of cel­e­brat­ing our 50th year, my friends and I won­dered among our­selves: where do we go next? For most of us who have been friends for the bet­ter part of four decades (Oh, those mem­o­rable days at the IS-Manila!), our trip to Florence had been one of many firsts. It was our first time to travel to­gether and also the first time some of us trav­elled to Italy sans part­ners or fam­ily. How­ever, it was also one of the most hec­tic tours any of us had ever been on: we seemed to be for­ever hus­tling from one place to an­other.

We wanted our next trip to have a more leisurely pace in a place that was as fas­ci­nat­ing and as ex­cit­ing as our pre­vi­ous des­ti­na­tion. With that in mind, we knew it had to be a city famed for its oth­er­worldly beauty: the crown jewel of the Ital­ian North, Venice.

Viva la Villa

Our base of op­er­a­tions came about thanks to Lau­rie Jimenez-West­fall who dis­cov­ered a charm­ing Vene­tian villa through Views on

Venice (view­son­ which en­ables trav­ellers such as our­selves to ex­pe­ri­ence Vene­tian life as lo­cals even for a short time.

We were for­tu­nate that the villa Lau­rie se­lected for us was owned by a won­der­ful cou­ple—Fil­ippo and Alessan­dra Gag­gia. The Palazzo, sit­u­ated by the Grand Canal and near the Ac­cademia bridge, was what ev­ery­one had in mind—com­fort­able, spa­cious, el­e­gant, with the Old World Ital­ian splen­dour that we imag­ined.

It was the sort of trip that be­gan with all of us ar­riv­ing from dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions. Jo­jie Ding­cong and Pops Fer­nan­dez drove in from Rome, while the bulk of us flew in from Manila on the 21st of April. I trav­elled with Lau­rie, Mar­i­anne Po, Kit Zo­bel, Rose Anne Bel­monte, and Ina Ayala; Mela Go­zon would ar­rive on a dif­fer­ent flight the next day. When Patty Chilip and Ling Ling King ar­rived two days later, the group was fi­nally com­plete.

The fun ac­tu­ally be­gan as we boarded the wa­ter taxi that is one of the pri­mary mode of public trans­porta­tion in Venice; we laugh­ingly took note that our lug­gage prac­ti­cally filled half the boat. Af­ter­wards, we all set­tled in and scat­tered through­out the villa to rest up. I shared the top floor with Ling Ling and Patty which was per­fect as we all pre­ferred a more leisurely start of the day with a light repast of fruit and yo­gurt as op­posed to the more ram­bunc­tious bunch down­stairs. No­tice­ably ab­sent from our group was Lizette Co­juangco, who had im­por­tant fam­ily mat­ters to at­tend to, but said not to give up her slot next year. This year we wel­comed three lovely friends Rose Anne, Patty, and Ling Ling who all mad e this dream trip, ex­tra special and mem­o­rable.

A Leisurely Pace

Un­like our trip to Florence, we found our­selves am­bling through our Venice trip in a more casual and re­laxed man­ner.

Our first day in the city gave us the op­por­tu­nity to ex­pe­ri­ence an ac­tual bac­aro (food crawl), sam­pling na­tive spe­cial­i­ties as we ex­plored a lo­cal mar­ket. We mar­velled at the sea­sonal cui­sine and how Vene­tian pur­vey­ors and chefs sold and used lo­cally grown and raised pro­duce. It was the per­fect time to sam­ple ci­c­chetti, small plates of beau­ti­fully pre­pared bites, served with some ex­cel­lent wines sourced from nearby vine­yards. My friends were all raves at Ris­torante Oniga near the famed R ialto for the Bucin­toro, a sim­ple yet savoury dish of pasta tossed with fresh seafood, which would prove to be one of their favourite mem­o­ries of the trip. I was not par­tic­u­larly fond of it and was con­tent with ei­ther pizza with an­chovies or the squid in black ink served with po­lenta. We all agreed, though, that ev­ery meal had to end with the glo­ri­ous flavours of ti­ramisu.

Our din­ner at the Aman Grand Canal on our sec­ond day was a strik­ing, so­phis­ti­cated con­trast to the pre­vi­ous day’s more rus­tic out­ing. It was our first en­counter with the other, grander side of Venice. Here, we had some cock­tails, had a tour of the prop­erty, and man­aged to peek into the suite where Ge­orge and Amal Clooney stayed. We also had an amaz­ing din­ner and, of course,

“The re­cent trip I took with the ‘#50PlusGo­ing­toVenice’ team was truly a beau­ti­ful ta­pes­try of fun and friend­ship wo­ven with an awe­some pal­ette of Vene­tian colours and flavours”— Jo­jie Ding­cong

what’s a va­ca­tion with­out some In­sta­gram-wor­thy photos?

It’s funny, though, that most of these ladies and gentle­men (ex­cept for Pops) were not re­ally ac­cus­tomed to be­ing in front of the camera. But once the iPhones were on, they posed like they were com­ing out in a mag­a­zine. (I am sure they knew they were in this one!) I de­light­fully art-directed the shots with fan­tas­tic r esults, if I do say so my­self.

A Feast for the Eyes

We were held spell­bound by the art and ar­chi­tec­ture of the High Re­nais­sance we en­coun­tered dur­ing our tours of the grand Palazzo Du­cale—the Doge’s Palace— and were in­trigued by the work of lo­cal crafts­men and ar­ti­sans at the For­tuny show­room which proved to be a real trea­sure trove.

We were also for­tu­nate to have a pri­vate tour of the Guggen­heim Mu­seum with its breath­tak­ing col­lec­tion of 20th- cen­tury art and t o hear about the col­lec­tor’s life, as well as a trip t o the Palazzo Grassi where we were able to catch the art world’s en­fant ter­ri­ble Damien Hirst’s cur­rent ex­hi­bi­tion, Trea­sures from the Wreck of the

Un­be­liev­able. I was taken along for the ride and be­lieved that a former slave could amass all this tr ea­sure, un­til I saw what looked like a coral- en­crusted Mickey Mouse, a Transformer robot, and Me­dusa’s head with a “Made in China” stamp. Nev­er­the­less, the ex­hibit w as en­thralling; for the artist t o fill two museurms with art that is beau­ti­ful, mind- bl ow­ing, prodi­gious, and even com­i­cal says a lot about Hirst’s bril­liant, as­ton­ish­ing vi­sion and cre­ativ­ity.

But what had to be one of the crown­ing mo­ments of our jour­ney was an in­vi­ta­tion to take tea with Contessa Elis­a­beth Luch­eschi, a mem­ber of one of Venice’s great fam­i­lies. A warm wel­come was fol­lowed up by a sump­tu­ous spread, con­vivial con­ver­sa­tions, a birth­day cake for all of us, and an in­tro­duc­tion to the kind Filipino cou­ple who were part of the lady’s staff and whom she prac­ti­cally con­sid­ered fam­ily—such a tes­ta­ment to the great­ness of heart that Filipinos are best known for!

Shop­ping and Con­ver­sa­tions

Venice is a fab­u­lous place for those seek­ing trea­sures such as the famed glass baubles of Mu­rano and the ex­quis­ite lace and fab­rics of its twin town Bu­rano; but did you know that Venice is also one of the most amaz­ing places to shop in the world? Venice’s DFS Mall or Fon­daco dei Tedeschi is such a place. Strate­gi­cally lo­cated close to the Rialto bridge and op­er­ated by no less than LVMH, it is a haven of de­signer and lo­cal finds. It was fun to watch the ladies shop, par­tic­u­larly af­ter we were in­formed that the head of mar­ket­ing gave us a special dis­count, the first ever given to any group who came to the Mall!

It was not all about tours, shop­ping, and eat­ing. We had nu­mer­ous light-hearted and fond mo­ments among our­selves dur­ing the trip, a great way to re­in­force bonds that were first forged many years ago when we were still in school.

One evening, we held a cook­ing class where we in­vited our hosts and their chil­dren as well as my good friend, Stephen Bow­man of the clas­si­cal mu­sic group Blake. By cook­ing Vene­tian spe­cial­ties like fried sar­dines with onions—some­thing that most of us don’t do in the Philippines— and shar­ing recipes, we strength­ened our friend­ships even as we drew in new peo­ple into our cir­cle.

I can’t end this ar­ti­cle with­out men­tion­ing some­one who made our va­ca­tion even more mem­o­rable: the very lovely and pa­tient Chiara Peluso, our Venice tour guide. She was prob­a­bly our 12th mem­ber since she was with us most of the time. Not only did she give us the best places to visit, but she was also great com­pany. It’s nice to know that we made a very good friend in Venice.

Cel­e­brat­ing Life

It has been a good 40-odd years of con­ver­sa­tions and con­fi­dences. Over time, our lit­tle chats have grown to in­clude part­ners, chil­dren, and our ca­reers. With all of us in our “golden years,” our talks have ex­panded to in­clude our health, what sup­ple­ments we take, and what treat­ments we use to stave off the rav­ages of time.

I have known most of these ladies for so long that to see ev­ery­one com­fort­able in their own skins and liv­ing out their dreams is truly en­cour­ag­ing. We cel­e­brate our unique friend­ships and the mo­ments that we spend to­gether— that is truly special and we are blessed to have it.

We are al­ready plan­ning for our next trip. Whether it takes us to ex­cit­ing Barcelona or the fiel ds of Provence re­mains to be seen— but w e are sure that we will, ag ain, en­joy the pl ea­sure of each other’s com­pany.

We also saw amaz­ing art. Venice’s Guggen­heim Mu­seum was Peggy Guggen­heim’s ac­tual home in the city. Also, for the first time, the Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogma had an ex­hi­bi­tion ded­i­cated to a sin­gle artist, Damien Hirst. His awe-in­spir­ing in­stal­la­tions filled the imag­i­na­tions of ev­ery­one who came to visit, much like the awe and sur­prises that filled our trip.


I re­ally liked vis­it­ing Mu­rano and Bu­rano is­lands and lunch at Cipri­ano on that se­cluded is­land with a beau­ti­ful gar­den. The ro­mance of old Venice was ap­par­ent dur­ing this day trip as we zipped around in those beau­ti­ful Ital­ian speed boats. We en­joyed watch­ing the ar­ti­sans prac­tice glass­blow­ing and lace­mak­ing be­fore these crafts go ex­tinct, and eat­ing beau­ti­ful pasta served by white-coated wait­ers in what seemed to be a coun­try house turned restau­rant.

In truth, I also loved the cof­fee and salami break­fasts, buy­ing shoes and bags as a group, all those photo shoots with the fan­tas­tic light and amaz­ing back­drops, An­ton’s ex­cel­lent plan­ning and drill sergeant de­meanour, and all the din­ners from the fancy meal at the Aman Grand Canal to Pops’ de­li­ciously home­spun salpi­cao.


The re­cent trip I took with the “#50PlusGo­ing­toVenice” team was truly a beau­ti­ful ta­pes­try of fun and friend­ship wo­ven with an awe­some pal­ette of Vene­tian colours and flavours. It is, per­haps, a trip that will be dif­fi­cult to match again in this life­time.

Per­son­ally, one of the top high­lights for me was the visit to the Palazzo Du­cale. The full im­pact of the High Re­nais­sance is so ev­i­dent here in all the great art, ar­chi­tec­ture, and the ar­ray of baroque

de­signs and gild­ing. Oh, my: this is so my place; so def­i­nitely my thing!

All three lo­ca­tions are filled with vivid colours that are so like the friend­ship among 11 vi­brant spir­its. And it will live on in our hearts.


The 10 days that we spent to­gether were days filled with many dis­cov­er­ies.

This was the trip where we dis­cov­ered new places to eat, vis­ited all the his­toric mu­se­ums, and at­tended the lat­est Damien Hirst ex­hi­bi­tion.

While meet­ing a count­ess and see­ing the ac­tual hon­ey­moon suite where Ge­orge and Amal Clooney stayed were an added bonus, the real high­light for me will still be the to­geth­er­ness of friends that have cel­e­brated many happy years of friend­ship. It’s amaz­ing how we have all grown up and cho­sen our own paths; how we have trav­elled all over the world and even gone through rais­ing fam­i­lies. Yet, we con­tinue to cherish the bond that we have had since our grade school years.

The morn­ing chaos of wak­ing up, eat­ing break­fast, and get­ting ready for the day know­ing that An­ton will be pick­ing us up soon will be mem­o­ries that will al­ways be re­mem­bered. We also had our chika mo­ments over morn­ing cof­fee while watch­ing Kit do her Zumba. The best mo­ments, how­ever, were al­ways the ones late at night af­ter we have fresh­ened up and com­pared our pur­chases and ex­pe­ri­ences from the day. This is when we do our “catch up” sto­ries: months upon months of over­due sto­ries that we want to share with each other but rarely ever seem to have the time for.

This trip and its ex­pe­ri­ences make me re­alise how blessed I am to have friends of long stand­ing whom I can run to any­time, who will never judge me: old friends and new ones who shared lots of laugh­ter right in the heart of ro­man­tic Venice.


My good friend An­ton asked me at our group re­union din­ner, “What was the high­light of our trip for you?” As I thought more about the ques­tion, ev­ery­thing was a high­light be­cause of the com­pany I was with in Venice: good, long-time friends just spend­ing time to­gether even af­ter the bet­ter part of 32 years.

My mem­o­ries of Venice in­volve a city filled with his­tory and its own char­ac­ter, so un­like Florence: nar­row stone path­ways to get to where you live, the Pi­azza di San Marco filled with peo­ple from all over the world; the busy Rialto bridge, the new DFS build­ing which used to be the city post of­fice, and the small lo­cal restau­rants hid­den within the nar­row al­leys. Ev­ery­thing had its own per­son­al­ity: the mu­se­ums which housed the lat­est Damien Hirst ex­hi­bi­tion and Peggy Guggen­heim’s won­der­ful col­lec­tion of mod­ern art. And, of course, the Grand Canal where we stayed and where the beau­ti­ful Palazzo de Loredan dell’Am­bas­ci­a­tore is lo­cated.

Venice is a world trea­sure that shouldn’t be missed and is def­i­nitely one for the bucket list!


What were the high­lights for me? Liv­ing like a lo­cal in a beau­ti­ful palazzo right on the Grand Canal and wak­ing up to a per­fect espresso on the ve­randa. We were watch­ing gon­dolas and va­poret­tos whizz by, me­an­der­ing through the streets and al­leys with­out a map, and dis­cov­er­ing the best gelato in the world at Ge­la­te­ria Grom!

I was able to un­der­stand the Vene­tians’ com­mit­ment and pas­sion to their craft when we vis­ited For­tuny. We wit­nessed the pre­ci­sion and skill needed to cre­ate a sin­gle hand-blown wine glass in Mu­rano and how many months it takes to cre­ate a sin­gle lace doily in Bu­rano.

I en­joyed the mar­kets with their fresh pro­duce and the food. It was also a treat to find yummy holes in the wall where there were only ten ta­bles and cramped seating.

Best of all was the cel­e­bra­tion of friend­ship. It was a bless­ing to be with such good friends who are more like fam­ily to me. We have been to­gether since grade school and have re­mained true to this day. With such friends, ev­ery mo­ment was a high­light. These rare mo­ments of abid­ing friend­ship are one in a mil­lion and will be trea­sured for life.


This is the first year that I joined the Fifty+ group and I en­joyed ev­ery minute of it. How­ever, it’s pretty hard to pin­point the high­lights of the trip be­cause ev­ery day was just great and won­der­ful.

But I found one par­tic­u­lar day to be quite special. We all had to go to the su­per­mar­ket to buy some stuff that we would be us­ing for our din­ner. I cooked the spinach—which is some­thing I don’t usu­ally do back home. We all par­tic­i­pated in the home cook­ing class at the palazzo: some did the prep work, oth­ers did the ac­tual cook­ing, and some had to wash the dishes. The din­ner it­self was un­for­get­table, as were the con­ver­sa­tions and bond­ing that came with it.

On our last day, I woke up with a heavy heart as some al­ready left while oth­ers had gone to the mu­seum. So, An­ton, Kit, Patty, and I de­cided to have lunch at the Plaza. W hile en­joy­ing our lunch, we thought about maybe tak­ing a gondola ride since we still had some spare time be­fore leav­ing for the air­port. Lo and be­hold: we saw Diego, the cute gon­dolier, and he gave us one last breath­tak­ing tour of beau­ti­ful Venezia and dropped us off right in front of our palazzo.


This may sound like a cliché but re­ally, the most mem­o­rable part of this trip w as the won­der­ful com­pany of both old and new friends. It was def­i­nitely a huge bonus that we went to Venice, cer­tainly one of the most beau­ti­ful cities in the world!

Ev­ery­thing was mem­o­rable: from our early morn­ing chat­ter in the kitchen to the late night ses­sions when we, one by one, would re­tire to our own beds; quite tired and yet ex­cited for what would hap­pen the next day.

“This trip and its ex­pe­ri­ences make me re­alise how blessed I am to have friends of long stand­ing whom I can run to any­time, who will never judge me: old friends and new ones who shared lots of laugh­ter right in the heart of ro­man­tic Venice” —Pops Fer­nan­dez

“We went ev­ery­where: Mu­rano, Bu­rano, For­tuny, and the Aman—and I still can’t believe we did so much in just eight days! There’s re­ally so much to be said about be­ing with true friends who can make you laugh and en­joy ev­ery mo­ment” — Mar­i­anne Po

We also had a cook­ing l es­son with a lo­cal chef and learnt how to make our favourite Ital­ian dessert—ti­ramisu! And too many cooks in our kitchen def­i­nitely didn’t spoil our meal; in­deed, it made our home-cooked meal even more sat­is­fy­ing.

Ev­ery mo­ment of our trip was truly mag­i­cal: from the un­usual Damien Hirst ex­hi­bi­tion to the clas­sic, Re­nais­sance beauty of the Doge’s Palace and the Basil­ica di San Marco to our best meals at the Ris­toranti e Enoteca Oniga to our beau­ti­ful and com­fort­able palazzo to our ghost tour and our food tour at the Rialto mar­ket. We went ev­ery­where: Mu­rano, Bu­rano, For­tuny, and the Aman—and I still can’t believe we did so much in just eight days! There’s re­ally so much to be said about be­ing with true friends who can make you laugh and en­joy ev­ery mo­ment.


I was in my twen­ties the last time I saw Venice, so see­ing it this year was like re­dis­cov­er­ing a new place. It re­ally is one of the most beau­ti­ful places in the world. You can feel how an­cient the city is in the maze of path­ways, canals, and bridges. It’s a place where you wouldn’t mind get­ting lost; ev­ery turn leads you to an­other beau­ti­ful sight. It truly is a pho­tog­ra­pher’s dream place: the colours, the fad­ing walls, the ar­chi­tec­ture.

I rec­om­mend La Bitta, Ris­toteca Oniga, Aqua Pazza, and Lo­canda Cipri­ani for ab­so­lutely sat­is­fy­ing and au­then­tic lo­cal meals. For the best gelato, look for Grom and try their strac­ciatella [choco­late chips in a pure milk base] flavour! I’m not a big drinker but the Rose­mary Collins cock­tail at the A man Grand Canal bar is some­thing I now look for and want to repli­cate.

Venice is rich with lo­cal ar­ti­sans: many of them work in leather, cloth­ing, jew­ellery, linens, and ce­ram­ics. One of my favourites is Vene­tia Studium for the lux­u­ri­ous vel­vet cush­ions, shawls, and scarves.

I also musn’t forget our last-minute gondola ride just min­utes be­fore we headed to the air­port—a spon­ta­neous de­ci­sion only be­cause the gon­dolier was a cutie!

Cher­ished mem­o­ries made through mem­o­rable meals made to­gether in our rented home, con­stant laugh­ter, late night talks, early morn­ing break­fast chat­ter, and end­less photos to re­mem­ber our trip by. This is truly one for all the bucket lists out there, as one will never re­gret vis­it­ing Venice.

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