Aah Venice. Aah travel. Aah culture!!

I feel completely rejuvenated and jubilant after Theo’s and my recent 3-week trip to Italy.

We mostly stayed in Venice but also managed to visit Rome, Cortona, Milan and Verona.

Having a chronic health issue as a life measure is mostly tiring… except when it is used to measure blissful experiences! Then, the bliss manifests because you are so surprised that you could ‘see’, ‘do’, or ‘enjoy.

And the bliss sticks because you remain in disbelief that you saw’, ‘did’ and ‘enjoyed’.

Our Venetian Refuelling was planned as a celebration of 25 years of marriage. In December, Theo and I will have been together for 28 beautiful years – 15 of those weathered a chronic illness.

Silver spoon 25th anniversary at Florian's San Marco, Venice

I feel the last couple of years of the 15 have been significant and positive, though.

Since my spinal cord stim implant, our life and livelihood seachange, and now, with an anti-inflammatory focus, I can feel confident that pain levels will remain right down and my happiness right up.

This is a big announcement for my brain.

Of course, I had my classic moments; a swelling body through the landing in Dubai, feeling like lead weights were strapped to my legs and my insides were growing the whole time we were in Dubai, the impact of fatigue from the sun, rough nights when the stormy weather hit, rising fatigue and pain through the busier days, repercussions as I attempted a few short outings without my trusty seating aid (click on the cushion images a little further down for a video), and more.

But all this while managing to wear sandals (not worn in 15 years), not wearing leggings or firm support around my pelvis and instead enjoying the air and my clothing moving around me, carrying my bag a little more often than usual, being in far less pain, having much less fatigue, being present in the moment and experiencing more moments of happiness than despair.

The issue still directs and impacts life, but we have learned to negotiate the monster, and I am armed to manage it far better.

Our world is opened up again. I’m not entirely free, but I can see I am more able.

Seeing how far I’ve come – from a hardly present state and never out of pain- shows me I can and will continue to progress if I can stick to my current approaches.

I can’t wait for the ‘pain’ years to be outgrown with ‘happy’ years.

With life getting shorter – I’m 53 this year, I’m eager to live as much as possible and make some brilliant memories (and art) before the next health issue kicks in… ageing.

I don’t feel old, but anyone with a health issue will relate to me saying, a lot of living has and is lost on health management.

Our refuelling was nourished by our location – the water, the architecture and through food and art. Italian culture oozes profoundly into both our bodies and minds.

Let me break the experience down for you in the Italian style of ‘uno-due-tre‘:

View of the Canal from Acadamia

Uno: Venetian lifestyle

I’ve always said Venice is like a glorious Byzantine stage-set. It’s hard to believe it’s real; experiencing it through summer warmth is so very special.

The element of mystery is ever present because of the narrow walkways. I’m so fabulously (and dangerously) enticed to keep walking forever so I can keep discovering the scenes around the next turn or over the next foot-bridge.

Thank goodness for the lovely Italian custom of the siesta – my daily recovery checkpoint that guided us back to base daily without fail. And always, the bidet is in the ensuite to welcome your boiling hot body parts.

I was thrilled to feel confident enough to be able to enjoy a gondola ride this visit.

Getting around in Venice is so easy for me. We revisit Venice because I manage best in Venice.

To get around, you either walk or hop on the Vaporetto.

You wake to the sound of canal boat deliveries and the Gondolieri starting their day. You begin to hear conversation and dogs barking, and our 7am alarm was the church bells.

You catch the fast trains to get to other Italian towns or cities. In stark contrast to the size of Australia, Italy’s smaller geographical size means you’re in the next beautiful city in just hours.

That meant with careful planning over three weeks, we could visit two other Italian cities. We chose Milan and Verona.

It was a fulfilling trip, having landed in Rome for a night and then training it to stay with dear friends in Cortona for a couple more nights.

Due: Food

Thanks to Dr Valerio Vittone, I’ve learned much about the effect of the food I choose to eat. So it was a bit awkward heading to Venice, knowing pasta, bread, and most charcuterie were mainly off my eating list.

The easing inflammatory response due to the changes I made to my diet has been great. So, I was not about to throw away the hard work and send the bod backward! 

However, this was a holiday. And for me, a holiday signifies a measured exception to rules – give me a break, right? It’s ‘only’ been 15 years!

It’s also effortless to order great food in Italy on any diet. I could feel confident eating more, given the extra walking and activity. 

Being away from the static computer position and my little insula home setup was bliss. I didn’t have to manage much having Theo by my side, so capacity was up.

I could continue to live this life.

Our daily routine after having breakfast (two hard-boiled eggs for me) was:

  • Walk to an inspiring view where I could get comfortable and draw
  • Theo carried my light materials and helped me setup
  • I would draw while Theo went off looking for the next place to eat/drink
  • Theo would come back and take my art gear
  • Walk to the following location for a drink/nibble
  • Walk back to base for a siesta
  • Short stroll to a pre-dinner drink
  • Short stroll to dinner
  • A short stroll back to base

Just have a look at one of the ways I started my day in the image below…

Soula Painting at S Moise

Bellisima, no?!

So Theo accumulated excellent bearings for Venice’s delightful maze, which helped us find the shortest way around the place.

While doing so, he gathered an impressive list of food recommendations, which I have included in a separate post as it’s a bit long, A Venetian Refuelling (part 2)thanks, Theo!

Tre: Art

The Guggenheim Museum

Of course, an enormous part of our holidays is my art. 

I still remember our first trip to Italy, which marked my return to sketching – it marked the end of a four-year period of being unable to draw! 

It’s hard to believe I lived four decades with the inability to draw when all I can recall is drawing since the age of ever.

We stayed in Florence for four weeks then and vowed to get back to Venice for a more extended stay after a three-day stay-over.

Another art refuelling was seeing our first ever La Biennale di VeneziaThe Milk of Dreams. The global art event is hosted at two venues and includes 213 exhibiting artists from 58 countries. There really isn’t anything like the La Biennale di Venezia.

The gardens and aura of the venue alone were inspiring but seeing all that international art and being in Venice completely charged my creative energy. We visited the Pavilions twice.

Theo took the Vaporetto to check out neighbouring Lido the second time we visited the Biennale while I sat in the ‘Giardini’ and painted a scene I saw that morning in Castello (see below). It was too hot, therefore too much for me to make that short trip. 

And then, we saw even more art exhibitions at various museums and palazzos throughout Venice. 

It’s impossible to visit them all, but the ones always on our list are the Peggy GuggenheimGalleria Giorgio Franchetti alla Ca’ d’OroCa’ PesaroGallerie Academia and the Palazzo Cavalli Franchetti, and they all hosted brilliant exhibitions. 

Cosi: Return to Venice

As soon as possible, of course. 

Meanwhile, I’ll teleport through pencils, paints, my printing press, paper and canvas until I get back there.

I feel so fortunate to have been born with the gift of being able to draw. Not only is art a guiding light – a statement I’ve made often, but it is a way to savour and record life’s most beautiful moments. 

I’ve had to work to find a way to document chronic illness, as it’s not a beautiful or happy thing. I found a way through Ms Soula, and she is there to help me tell the story when I need her.

For the next few months, though, the story is Venice. And I’ll officially mark the occasion with an exhibition of works at Queenscliff Gallery in March. 

Look at me making big plans! Make art, return to Venice, and kick chronic health in the butt!