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Filtering by Tag: Travel Sketches

A Venetian Morning at Caffe Florian

Sophia Khan

A Watercolor inspired by my sketch at Caffe Florian

A Watercolor inspired by my sketch at Caffe Florian

“In order to paint Venice beautifully, I must enjoy her beautifully.”
- Venice, 2016

Having visited Venice a few times since 1998, I finally treated myself to the pleasure of my own personal “Florian experience,” during my last painting trip to the city, in 2016. The timing was perfection, as two days after writing the above words in my travel diary, I had breakfast at Caffe Florian. I was indeed to enjoy Venice, beautifully.

That morning, I dressed myself as was befitting for the occasion, with a colorful and silky dress. As the city awoke, I boarded the vaporetto from my hotel near the Basilica dei Frari, accompanied by locals who seemed to be headed off for a day’s work. I too was heading to work, in a certain way. I was to dedicate my day to painting a watercolor for one of my trip’s patrons.

I arrived at Caffe Florian, just as it was opening its doors. I was warmly greeted and welcomed to sit anywhere I pleased. I walked around taking in the refined elegance of the interiors before selecting my table. I chose a seat that was in a corner near an open door looking into Piazza San Marco. From here, I could look outward at the piazza in one glance, inward at the cafe in another; my enjoyment drifting between the sights and sounds of both.

I ordered tea, a small plate of macarons, and a strawberry cake. Could one have dessert for breakfast? The question barely crossed my mind at the time. My waiter soon arrived with a silver tray served with my chosen delights. I feasted first, on the presentation itself. The colorful plate of macarons arranged as if an artist’s culinary color palette, complimented by the delicacy of the strawberry cake. The silverware, befitting for the delectable treats to be savored slowly.

As I dined at Caffe Florian, my time felt like a brief yet deeply enchanted and romantic moment in the vastness of time; the near 300 years that the cafe has been welcoming its guests from Piazza San Marco.

My morning at Caffe Florian

My morning at Caffe Florian

Can a place feel both opulent and welcoming? Can an experience be both majestic and personable? I feel that much of Venice and certainly Piazza San Marco has these qualities. Caffe Florian felt like the “icing on the cake” with which the city served this unique blend of experiences for me to enjoy my very own taste.

Before leaving the cafe, I gave myself the added treat of visiting the gift shop. With the help of the kind gentleman who worked there, in a room that felt like a treasure box of delights, I selected a few teas and a blue damask tote. Each gift was carefully packaged into its own gift bag; a gesture celebrating and recognizing the uniqueness of each treat, as well as the care with which each was selected.

I do believe that mornings are a precious and tender time of the day, and that they set the tone for what is to come throughout the rest of the day. Unbeknownst to me, my breakfast at Caffe Florian would lead to the most enjoyable painting session of my painting trip. The warmth and ambiance I experienced at the cafe mirroring themselves in the fuchsia and orange watercolor pigments I was to later paint with.

Every now and then I treat myself to this touch of Florian hospitality through their e-shop. The latest to arrive are their Venetian Mosaic tea, a long time favorite, as well as an elegant pouch in a fuchsia color reminiscent of the cafe’s upholstery. With this, I carry the beauty of my “Florian experience” with me every day.

My latest treats from the doors of Caffe Florian

My latest treats from the doors of Caffe Florian

I thank Caffe Florian for this most enchanted memory and until we meet again, I will remember my time through the flavors, the riches, and the moments that grace my easel, my memories, and my diaries…


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The Sassi of Matera & a Monastery

Sophia Khan

watercolor ~ copyright © Sophia Khan

watercolor ~ copyright © Sophia Khan

There is a place in Italy that once felt like a secret to me.

Not just a secret that Italy kept. But one that I felt in some ways, I also kept.

It is a series of cave dwellings, deep in the south of the country, that I traveled to on a bus through miles of - 'I don't know where I am'- to get to. And I arrived in the town with that same feeling of being somewhere that was both mysterious and other worldly, while at the same time it beckoned me nearer and nearer.

I have had the good fortune of traveling to these caves four times, so far. Four precious encounters. With each visit unraveling more and more of the mystery, and deepening my sense of nearness to it. I might also say that each visit signified a different stage in my life.

The Sassi of Matera.

It is a place that has a story, a history. It is a place where I had the most precious, memorable, and tender encounters with the locals then that in all of my travels through Italy and beyond.

I will hope to share more of my art and these stories with you in a future letter.

For now, I wish instead to perhaps leave but a glimpse, a tiny sliver of my experience there, just as the town had first revealed itself to me.

And it is no coincidence, I feel, that at the same time that I am reminiscing about my travels to these caves, that I also spent a few days at a monastery. A former monastery which has been converted to a learning center.

There is something primitive about both. Something stripped of both unnecessary outward possessions, but also unnecessary inward longings. It is within such emptied places, that we make room for certain things to be revealed.

I will admit that this letter may perhaps seem a bit cryptic, or outside the lines, in comparison with others that I have written. But, I always do write here what is true for me, and right now this is where I am. And writing is a way for me to capture, deepen, honor, and share wherever it is that I may be. Even more so, the creative life for me is one that is closely tied to my inner, or spiritual life.

The workshop that I attended at the former monastery, the Garrison Institute in New York, was about the poetry of Rumi. But....just like the caves, just like the Sassi of Matera, and many of my other travels, the outward form is but the invitation, the initial opening.

It is often the case that the outward appearance of a place is what beckons us to it. But if we have even a sliver of a deeper yearning, we are shown that which deep down inside of us we long to know.

If you are a traveler, in whatever way you might describe travel, or if you are a seeker, in whatever way you might describe seeking, I hope that perhaps this letter can be an invitation. An invitation to take a moment to remember a place that holds special meaning for you. And to bask again in the gem that you may have been gifted along your own winding and beautiful path.

Until next time, wishing you peace, joy, serenity and the warmth of loved ones near & far.

Sketches of the Sassi of Matera, from my travels. circa 2003

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