let’s backtrack…get an opinion

Came across a blog TripAdvisor Watch: Hotel Reviews in Focus after I published my previous post “get an opinion…”. Since then I’ve encountered another site, Wallet Pop, whose post I read, “Is TripAdvisor.com one big joke?” Both had me rethinking my referral of TripAdvisor as the greatest pastime with a purpose, since the invention of hula hoops…which was suppose to decrease the size of my hips. Tongue-in-cheek humor aside, I never realized, in my naivete, that scammers would derail a system wherein people could share experiences so that others might avoid making the same mistakes, or get the best value for their money. It seems TripAdvisor is rife with competitors, or vengeful customers, faking reviews for their own benefit, whether to garner an increase in traffic, or deter bookings, or a combination of both.

Old postcards and a magnifying glass.

Image via Wikipedia

It’s been a few months since I’ve needed to use TripAdvisor. From here on out I’ll probably be dissecting their reviews with a scalpel and magnifying glass. But truth be told, I’m so anal about details that I already check to make sure all the “i’s” are dotted, and “t’s” are crossed. I recommend you do the same. Be thorough in your research, trust your gut instinct and common sense, confirm with other sources…like Rick Steves, and don’t hesitate to change your mind, and your plans, should something better happen along.

 

Group of American tourists encounter Rick Stev...

Image via Wikipedia

Blest with a vivid imagination, I can picture myself trying to turn around in a typical, small European hotel shower. Or I can see myself annoyed with the comings and goings of people getting on and off the elevator, if my room is adjacent to one. A sucker for hospitality, I like to bask in the warmth of a friendly, accommodating reception staff. 

 

Perusing the reviews, it’s as though I’d traveled with the writer. After painstakingly researching my topic of interest, I feel comfortable with my final decisions. All I can do is make the best educated guess with the facts at hand. Things may not always turn out as expected, but I don’t wallow in regrets, knowing I did as much as I could.

Image representing Yelp as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

Evidently Yelp has also come under fire for manipulated reviews. All I can say is…proceed with caution. But don’t let a few bad apples ruin the good intentions of most reviewers. Rotten fruit turn up everywhere in life; that doesn’t stop us from living.

 

TripAdvisor Watch: Hotel Reviews in Focus indicated that Google is beginning to relegate TripAdvisor and Yelp to the bottom of their search engine heap. That’s because the internet giant is launching its own review community. Whether for personal gain or because of the bad press TripAdvisor has garnered, or both, Google has seen fit to attempt to beat TA at its own game. Hopefully, we Lilliputians will be the beneficiaries, and not the pawns in some elaborate game of chess.

Wallet Pop offers some sound advice when utilizing review sites, like TripAdvisor. As I scrolled through WP, I noticed it too offers articles meant to guide consumers through the maze of products and services available for purchase. Of course the question that immediately came to mind was “How reliable is Wallet Pop? Does it have an axe to grind, or a pocket to pad, or line, or whatever the saying is?

…wow!……..who can you trust these days?…trust me…you can trust me  …….hugmamma.            

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a venetian stranger

Remember the advice you heard growing up “Don’t hitch rides.” and “Don’t talk to strangers.”  Well, I’ve done both. (Read my posts “a ride with strangers” and “attitude adjustment.”) Of course I didn’t “throw caution to the wind” until I was older, much older. Somehow it didn’t occur to me that I’d be taken advantage of; I was plump, graying, and sagging… just a little. Aren’t those weapons enough to keep the crazies at bay? Although these days I’m not so certain. Nonetheless I continue to enjoy speaking with strangers. As for riding with them, it depends on how desperate I am to see my daughter. Hopefully, I won’t need to “test those waters” again. I can’t imagine that a second experience could be more amazing than my first.

During our trip to Venice, I had one of the warmest encounters with a total stranger. Having left St. Mark’s Square after a couple of very informative, very historical tours of St. Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace, we meandered through the small, back streets surrounding the Square. We were in search of a couple of shops recommended by Rick Steves in “Venice 2008.” On the hunt for a gift for one of my daughter’s male dancer friends, I found “…two fascinating mask and costume shops. The Ca’ del Sol… and Atelier Marega…” While I didn’t purchase a mask from either, I did wander through both, “oohs” and “aahs” spewing forth. The only other time I’d seen a proliferation of masks was in American theme parks, like Disneyland and Busch Gardens. And believe me, they’re not the same.

Venetian masks are serious business.  “In the 1700s, when Venice was Europe’s party town, masks were popular–sometimes even mandatory–to preserve the anonymity of nobles doing things forbidden back home. At Carnevalle (the weeks-long mardi Gras leading up to Lent), everyone wore masks. The most popular were based on characters from the Low-brow comedic theater called Commedia dell’Arte. We all know Harlequin (simple, Lone Ranger-type masks), but there were also long-nosed masks for the hypocritical plague doctor, pretty Columina masks, and so on. Masks are made with the simple technique of papier-mache. You make a mold of clay, smear it with Vaseline (to make it easy to remove the finished mask), then create the mask by draping layers of paper and glue atop the clay mold.” Perhaps I should have kept up mask-making when I left kindergarten. Maybe then I wouldn’t be here attempting to eke out a small income from writing. But it’s better I do what I do best, and leave mask-making to those for whom it is obviously a passion. I found such a person in Barbara Lizza.

Being too overwhelmed by the tremendous inventory of beautiful masks in the shops recommended by Steves,  I wandered in and out of smaller ones. The offerings were fewer, but no less gorgeous. Unable to commit, I asked my husband to continue on and scope out more shops, while I tried to make up my mind in the ones at hand. A few minutes later he returned saying there were no others across the small bridge just ahead. Returning to a tiny shop where I’d been earlier, I was pleased to be the only customer. Moving about more easily than before I admired masks resembling story book animals, hanging from the low overhead beams. They were so charming in their pastel shades, a frog, a pig, an alligator, a rooster, among others. Assuring myself they were probably pricey and inappropriate for dancers in their mid-20’s, I pressed on in my search for the right mask. Sitting on a shelf about knee-high, were exquisite eye masks. They were a matte black, with glitter sprinkled thickly around the eye holes and on the leafy extensions that swept upward on either side. Unable to select from ones bearing silver, gold or red glitter, I picked up all 3 and deposited them near the laptop where purchases were made. Hunched over the computer was a pretty, young woman. Straightening herself, we made eye contact and smiled at one another.

Breaking the silence, Miss Lizza took the mask framed in red glitter and placed it to her face, so that her eyes peered at me through the holes. Ripples of laughter bounced off the stucco walls, as we made small talk. I told her that the masks were for my daughter and her friends who were dancers. That elicited a confession that she’d been a ballet dancer for several years. Rushing to a small room off to the side of the main shop, the young woman rifled through packages on a shelf. Finding what she sought, she turned back toward me carrying a plastic bag filled with used pointe shoes. She removed a pair, proudly showing them to me. I joined in her excitement as she spoke of bygone days. Eager to tell me about her days dancing, she struggled to find the correct words. I admired her fortitude for pressing onward.

It seemed Miss Lizza might have pursued a career in dance, but was dissuaded by family. So while she might have been disappointed, she forged a new career in mask-making. From what I saw of her work in the shop, I expressed great pleasure in her obvious talent. As I am wont to do, I rummaged through my handbag  pulling out a picture of my daughter, cut from a tourist booklet printed in the town where she resides and dances. I showed it to Miss Lizza who gasped, exclaiming how beautiful my daughter was and how proud I must be of her. I then explained that there was a video of my daughter dancing on the internet. Miss Lizza quickly bent down typing away on her keyboard, asking me where she could find the video. We had difficulty bringing it up, but she did find my daughter’s name and Facebook page. Asking if it was okay to “friend” her, I consented.

As this young, Venetian, former, ballet dancer attempted to compose a message, I marveled at what was happening. A world away, a stranger was on the verge of making my daughter’s acquaintance, sight unseen. I was becoming emotional so that when Miss Lizza wrote “Your mother is standing here beside me and…” I began to cry and then bawl uncontrollably. I missed my daughter very much and felt her presence in this young woman perhaps 10 years her senior. As she and I hugged, I felt like I was holding my own daughter in my arms. Miss Lizza comforted me, telling me she could sense how sensitive and sympathetic I was. We laughed in spite of my tears, for we were behaving like long-lost relatives unexpectedly meeting in a shop, with people wandering in and out. After several attempts at saying goodbye, I turned towards the door to see a very tall, very broad young man staring at us looking dumbfounded. Miss Lizza announced that he was her boyfriend, explaining to him in Venetian what had happened. Passing him on the way out, I told him he was very lucky to have a beautiful, charming girlfriend.

Venice remains special for me, and I will never forget that young woman who felt like a daughter,… if only for an hour or so.

ciao bella…hugmamma.