Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Venice - St Mark's Square and Murano

Part of wanting to re-visit Venice, was the opportunity to visit some of the places for which it is renowned and of which I had such limited memories of my previous visit. So early on Saturday morning, I left our apartment and wandered towards St Marks hoping to arrive before many of the tourist crowds. My route took me over the Accademia Bridge with the above view of the Grand Canal.

After about 15 minutes I reached an almost deserted St Mark's square. For anyone who has been to Venice, this is a rare occurrence...but at 8am on a Saturday morning, there were only a few other tourists and quite a few joggers.

St Mark's Basilica - the bench like structures in front of the church are the boards that are laid around the city during the aqua alta so people can still get around when areas of the city flood.

I had been into St Mark's Basilica on my previous visit, but hadn't been to see the Doge's Palace - which was my main destination for the morning. The pink and white marble exterior is exquisite.

The palace opened at 8.30, and so I was also able to explore without hundreds of other people. The palace also afforded some wonderful views across Venice.

After I left the Doge's Palace, I queued briefly to go into the Basilica. It feels far smaller than some other European and English cathedrals, but the mosaic work is incomparable.

As I left St Mark's Square the crowds were beginning to build, so I made my way back across the Accademia Bridge for views back towards the Doge's Palace and the Campanile.

I met up with my friends for lunch, and as the weather had become so lovely, we decided to hop on a vaporetto and spend the afternoon on Murano (with an obligatory gelati!)

My last view of Venice as we caught the vaporetto back to collect our bags and make our way to the airport. I am so pleased to have had the opportunity to return to visit after so many years, and explore such a wonderful city properly...

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Venice - a wander through the city

Last weekend, some friends and I spent the weekend in Venice. Earlier in the year I had been talking about how I had once spent 24 hours in Venice about 17 years ago. Unfortunately, that one day was in mid July, the temperature was well over 40 degrees, and we shamefully spent several hours sitting in a fast food restaurant as it was the only place we could find that had air-conditioning. Ever since, Venice has remained on the list of places I wanted to re-visit to explore and appreciate properly. After mentioning this over drinks one Friday evening, momentum took hold and our weekend trip was planned.

My friends had also been to Venice before, so weren't keen to visit the very busy tourist sites. So on our first day we simply wandered from our local area (we were staying in an apartment) across the city, trying to stay off the tourist routes, and exploring the less busy areas.

We stayed in Dorsoduro which is the university quarter. It was a great spot to stay in terms of local bakeries, cafes and restaurants...but we were also able to get a real sense of how Venetians go about their daily lives.

On the canals, we passed produce stores, garbage collection boats and everything in between.

Our footsteps took us towards the Rialto bridge which also afforded us our first daytime view of the grand canal. The local market was still in full swing, with an amazing array of fresh produce for sale.

After exploring the market, we quickly crossed the Rialto bridge and once again headed away from the regular tourist haunts to avoid the large crowds.

This last photo is actually a modern, functioning hospital! By the end of the afternoon we had walked over 8 miles, so we caught a vaporetto back to Dorsoduro and enjoyed an evening of enjoying more Venetian delights (Aperol spritz and cicchetti).

It was a lovely day and a wonderful start to the weekend...

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Getting started with the garage...

One of the biggest (read most expensive) jobs planned for this year's renovation tasks is to make some essential repairs to my separate 1960's garage. It is unusual to have off-street parking in this area, let alone a garage, so as ugly as the building may be it was a big advantage when I decided to buy the cottage.

However, unlike the quite robust build of the house, the garage is showing it's age. It needs a new roof, and has some quite large gaps in the brick courses. The builder who has come to look at it for me has identified that the issue is related to subsidence of the slab underneath the back wall of the garage that will need underpinning. This requires approval from two sets of neighbours (those at the rear and those at the side) for a party wall agreement to be put in place.

The rear neighbours (who will be the most inconvenienced) have been no problem at all - those to the side, who own the other attached garage, have proved a little more problematic. Their property consists of a small commercial shop and outbuildings that they now have planning permission to convert to 5 flats. Part of the redevelopment plans involve demolishing their side of the double garage. The owner informs me that they are in the final stages of selling the property to a developer, so will not undertake any discussions about agreed work. Here's hoping that the sale proceeds quickly, and that the developers are a little more accessible in terms of reaching agreement to progress this work. It would actually be better for me to wait to replace my roof once the other side is demolished...but due to the subsidence issue, I can't have this drag on for months.

When the builder came to quote, we also noted some issues with the wood trim on the front of the garage - with the paint in generally poor condition, and a bigger issue on the left side where the wood had started to rot. Based on our discussion, I decided that this was something I could tackle myself whilst waiting for the other works to be scheduled.

We have had the most beautiful autumn weather this past weekend, so I decided that I needed to make the most of it for outdoor painting. Here is where I started on Saturday morning...

 The area where the trim had started to rot

You can see the poor state of the woodwork. Up close, the cream paintwork on the door itself had been badly applied. I think the door was originally white. So I spent the rest of the day washing everything down, scraping paint, sanding the wood trim and garage door, applying wood filler to repair the left side trim, and then repainting everything - garage door included.

By 5pm, the results were...

...weathertight for the coming winter. The colour of the door also now co-ordinates with the front door and fence.

And because I love a good before and after, these photos show the evolution of the front of my property...

June 2014 - in it's original condition when I completed on the purchase

 April 2015 - front door and fence painted, and front garden landscaped

and today

Sunday, 20 September 2015

A barley-twist leg side table...

Continuing with the theme of furniture makeovers, this is the second item that has had a recent revamp. I picked up with little barley-twist legged side table the weekend I moved into the cottage last year from a nearby village for £5. It then sat in its original state for more than a year as other projects took precedence.

Here it is in its original state - no major issues, though it was quite heavily varnished which had started to crack on the table top. My plan had always been to paint the table, but like with the new chest of drawers I added to the sitting room, I decided to leave the table top as natural wood and only paint the frame and legs. I again used ASCP pure - though partway through painting the legs I was regretting not using spray paint!

Like the chest, I sanded the table top and then added a coat of rosewood stain and several coats of Danish oil.

I love the different grains and colours in the wood that are now able to be seen, and the fresh contrast with the white frame and legs...

Thursday, 27 August 2015

A new sitting room addition...

Over the past few weeks, I've managed to pick up a couple of items of budget furniture. This chest is a new addition and is doing double duty as both tv stand, and additional storage (holding DVD's and CD's), with a basket holding my current sewing and knitting projects underneath.

I had been using this Ikea stand for the first year in the cottage, and it had also served me well for the previous 5 years in my flat. My longer term plan is to have built-in shelves and cupboards made for either side of the fireplace - however, that is likely a task for 2016-7. I came to the decision that I could probably find something that was a little more attractive to serve this purpose in the meantime.

I found this lovely small chest on eBay for £40. It fit the space perfectly, and I also liked the fact that it had slender legs, so it would not feel so visually bulky in the space. The eBay seller had already undertaken a makeover of the piece in ASCP in paris grey. I would've been very happy to keep the grey, but I am not fond of the highly distressed look. So I spent last weekend giving the piece a small revamp.

 To add a bit more interest to this room, I decided to strip the paint from the top of the chest. It received a coat of rosewood wood stain followed by several coats of Danish oil. The rest of the chest has been painted with ASCP pure (which is the whitest paint in the range - but typically does require an extra coat) - I used 3 coats for this. I also replaced the door pulls with small faceted glass knobs.

Although only a 'temporary' solution, I think it is nice to have a more unique and fitting option for this corner of the sitting room...

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Life lately...

Well, I didn't intend to neglect this blog for a month - work has been continuing on small jobs around the is just that many are still only partly complete.

I did spend a weekend in Dublin at the end of July to attend a friend's wedding. I lived in Dublin in 2002-3, and used to visit several times a year to catch up with friends. However, it has been quite a while since my last visit. The wedding was lovely (if somewhat of an endurance event!). The service started at 1pm, and I left the reception after 1am and it was still going strong! However, on Saturday morning I had a chance to walk through some of my favourite streets in Georgian Dublin and have my fill of beautiful doors, before venturing into a very sunny St Stephen's Green.

On the home front, I have recently purchased a couple of items of bargain furniture, so the last few weeks have been spent giving them each a makeover. Two are now complete and so I will show you the updates very soon, and one is almost complete.

I've also started the redecoration of the bathroom. Unlike other rooms wherever I've done all of the work in one go, I am spreading this one out a little (both from an energy/inclination and a financial perspective). I've been sharing some of these snippets on Instagram, but to date I have...

Started covering the dark blue wall paint with white primer. It has had one coat so far, but I think I will do another before the final wall colour.

This actually resulted in a bit of indecision regarding wall colour. While the walls had been dark blue, I was convinced that the wall tiles were white. It transpires that they are actually a beige colour (with a small hint of pink). So my extensive range of Little Greene colour pots came out, and I think I've decided on Wood Ash (top right swatch).

The plumber has been and replaced the modern towel warmer with a more traditional style radiator. 

And this weekend's task is to strip the paint from the cast iron fireplace. I think I will likely re-paint this, but it had so many layers of poorly applied paint, a lot of the detail was ill-defined. The test will be tomorrow when I try removing the peel-away paint stripper.

In other (negative) news I had to call out an emergency plumber this week as I arrived home on Tuesday to find that my water-tank in the loft was leaking, and dripping through to the upstairs landing. The plumber was able to come within a few hours but I have sustained some damage to the hall ceiling and the ceiling in the second bedroom. It also must have been more water than I thought as I discovered yesterday that the water had also made its way down to the bottom floor through the hall floor as I have damp stains on the dining room ceiling. So I'm giving it all a chance to fully dry out, and then some ceiling re-painting will be added to the 'to-do' list.

But in other (positive) news, the UK food network channel has started showing some HGTV programmes - you may recall I became a little addicted to HGTV when I spent a month in the US two years ago. So, I can now have a daily fix of Rehab Addict and Fixer Upper - which both certainly help to keep me focused on getting on with my own projects...