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 (viewsonvenice.com) 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.
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.
LING LING KING
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.