Category Archives: Italy

Life is a Fountain

Fountains seem decadent these days. They use precious water and electricity (or some other magical gravity-based process before electricity was harnessed that I barely understand), and they’re not practical. What are they for anyway? To cool the air? To sit by? To put your feet in? To look at? Originally a water source, and then monuments to popes and kings, they’re definitely one of my favorite forms of art and they were everywhere in Rome (and other Italian cities I visited in October).

Here are two of my favorites: the Trevi Fountain and the Fountain of the Four Rivers by Bernini.

The Trevi Fountain is a major attraction in Rome and has a long history with tourists. Custom says that if you throw a coin in this fountain, you are sure to return to Rome someday. I made sure to toss in 2 Euro just for extra insurance. Also, a friend said they periodically pull the coins from the fountain and use them to feed Rome’s hungry.

I particularly loved the way this fountain looked at night, although it was more full of tourists than I would have liked. Hard to find a place to stand to get a good photo without someone walking into the shot.

The current version of this fountain was apparently built in 1629, although the aqueduct that feeds it dated back to 19 B.C.!

The Fountain of the Four Rivers (Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, below) is in the urban square Piazza Navona and was designed by Bernini in 1651, who won a competition to build it there. The architectural beauty in the background is the Palazzo Pamphili, and although not shown in the photo, to the left is the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone, so ornate and beautiful that I could not keep from crying as I walked through it. Like many churches we visited, no photos were allowed.

Four rivers, one each from the continents known at the time (the Nile, Danube, Ganges, and Plata) are symbolically represented by four river gods.

Although I loved the setting sun on the Palazzo, I preferred the look of the fountain at night, with the water illuminated.

The fountain is topped by an Egyptian obelisk built for Roman Serapeum in AD 81, shown below blocking the moonlight.

It’s interesting that the perception of god-like male beauty has not changed in more than 400 years.

Bernini had never seen an armadillo, but he met someone who supposedly had, and this is his interpretation of that description.

While searching for a park, we stumbled across this beauty below in Rome,  the Fontana dell’ Acqua Paola, dedicated to Pope Paulus Quintus. Rome, in particular, was a city where getting lost was never a dilemma because you were sure to accidentally discover another unforgettable treasure.

Next time I’ll share my photos of the Roman Forum, the equivalent of downtown ancient Rome.

Roma! (Not Just a Tomato)

Rome was such a historic city. Every corner held a giant monument or ancient building. We stayed in the neighborhood known as the Jewish Ghetto, named as such because the Romans forced the Jews of the city to live only in this area of the city for centuries. The area has kosher bakeries, butcher shops, and restaurants, as well as a museum of Jewish relics and history and well-known synagogue and school. We noticed a police presence in the area, still present because the area is still a potential terror target due to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

The most impressive part of the neighborhood was this ancient ruin. The original structure pre-dates the Colosseum, from around 27 B.C. and was built by soon-to-be Emperor of Rome Augustus for his sister Ottavia (Octavia). I was fascinated by the modifications that have been made over the centuries, as you can see in this photo.  

Walking among the ruins was a treat, in the same foot steps as those that lived thousands of years ago.

This arch, called a portico, was built for Ottavia and in later centuries housed the largest fish market in Rome.

Many rounds of work have been done to maintain, modify, and/or continue to use these ancient structures over more than 2000 years.

I took this picture of an ancient Roman fragment because I realized that if you go to any Home Depot, you’ll see these same ancient styles replicated in wood moldings, wall paper, crown molding, and other decor used in modern homes today.  

Tomorrow I’ll share some photos of my two favorite fountains in Rome (there are so many to love).

Sadness in Lovely Vernazza

I’ve been blogging about my fabulous trip to the quaint village of Vernazza in Cinque Terre, showing the breath-taking photos. Unfortunately, last Tuesday, only two weeks after I visited there, the area was hit by torrential rains and subsequent flooding.

Here are some before and after photos of the devastation that they are now having to deal with. Thanks to Dona and Scott for sharing them with me.

Very sad. They have a lot of work ahead of them. If you are in a position to help, please do so.

On an unrelated note, today is the first day of National Novel Writers Month (NaNoWriMo). Although I won’t be going for word count this year, I will be using this as motivation to commit to working on my book for two hours each day for the month of November. It all starts with a commitment and a plan. Are you NaNoWriMoing?

Watch for pictures of Rome tomorrow.

More Cinque Terre

I loved the smell of the fresh salt air as it blew through the canyon-like village of Manarola. All the towns had a terraced nature, the streets winding upward gradually. It was impossible to get anywhere without climbing a hill of some sort.

While there, the science nerd in me couldn’t help taking this picture of the eventful geology of the region. I’m no geologist, but this looks like uplifted sedimentary layers, but also in two directions (geologists, please correct me if I’m wrong).

Each village seems to have dealt with the natural geology in stride, building on cliffs and slopes, terracing bare ground for use as personal gardens, and perhaps bringing in sand to make beaches more savory for tourists.

 The village of Monterosso is supposed to have the greatest number of resorts, and I can see why with a beach with views like this. We made sure to walk down to the water and put our feet in the Mediterranean. We also noticed parachuters riding thermals above the villages, they never seemed to come down on that 80+ degree F day. I can see myself returning to Monterosso with my husband someday for a special anniversary, easily as beautiful and memorable as any Mexican beach I’ve walked.

It was also hard to pass restaurants with an atmosphere like this. I believe this one was in the village of Vernazza, although we visited four villages in a single day, so they started to run together. Each offered quaint little cafe’s where we could stop for a drink, antipasti, or a several course meal.

 

This restaurant in Monterosso (below) offered atmosphere and this view. My camera couldn’t quite pick up the exact, unique tint and shade of blue of the water there.

I could have sat in the marina of Vernazza all day long. Although we didn’t eat there, I’m told there is a great restaurant just to the right of this photo. We went inside the small church center left in this photo. The churches in the villages of Cinque Terre were less ornate and embellished than those in other Italian cities, but equally beautiful and historic. Each was very different, and I like the idea that a single church served most of the population of the village, bringing a small isolated population (pre-tourist inundation) together on another level.  

I took this picture of one of the villages (Corniglia, I think) from another of the villages. Each was pretty close together, connected by narrow walking trails that can just be made out in the photo below (rock below and vegetation above). A train also connected the villages, sometimes passing through ear-popping tunnels in this rough cliff rock.

One village, that of Corniglia, was perched well above the water, and when we stepped off the train the walkway went in only one direction, directly toward a mountainous stack of stairs in switch-back form (below). Someone counted around 430+ steps on the way up. Even with my knee I was able to make it eventually, and I think challenges like this one have helped me in my recovery from knee surgery this week. Of course, after lunch in Corniglia, we did the 430+ back down to the train. I think up might have been easier.

It was hard to leave Cinque Terre after only two nights there. I feel like we barely scratched the surface there so I look forward to returning someday with the whole family to explore for something closer to a full week.

 

It seems like we just missed a lot of upheaval in this area, according this article in the Washington Post. Flooding from torrential rains early last week caused at least nine deaths and significant damage to buildings in these lovely villages, as well as parts of Tuscany.

Tomorrow I’ll share some of the photos of our four days in Rome, a city also recently in the headlines for an “Occupy Wall Street”-like protest that went a little crazy. But more about that tomorrow.

Unforgettable Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre means “five villages” in Italian. You won’t find it  as a single location on a map, but instead you’ll find the names of each village (Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso), which are all part of Cinque Terre National Park. This destination has gained popularity recently, since Rick Steve’s declared it his favorite location in Italy. The villages are literally perched on hillsides along the Mediterranean sea on the northwest coast of Italy. The villages are connected by hiking trails (for which you must purchase a 5 euro National Park pass) and also by train. My companions were not in the mood to hike, perhaps out of consideration of my gimpiness, but more likely because it was the third italian city we’d visited and burning the candle at both ends was catching up to us.

We stayed in the village of Manarola, considered one of the quieter towns. We also stayed there Sunday and Monday nights, two of the quietest nights of the week in most Italian cities. The villages are also connected by roads at higher elevations above each village, but we only rarely saw a vehicle.

Because Manarola was so beautiful and relaxed, we spent a lot of time there and most of my photos are of that village. It’s beauty changed throughout the day and so I just kept taking photos as it got more and more enchanting. We hiked up to a small park perched on a hillside each evening to watch the sunset, drink wine, and be silly together.

Emphasis on the silly.

Cowboy Ken tamed this bucking bronc.

The view from our room was also among the best of the trip. This looks out at the ocean from our room. The park we played in was midway up the hillside from the left.

Each village also had terraced hillsides containing small gardens, presumably of the vegetable variety.

In each of the villages, you can see the influence of tourists. We witnessed a game of “spin the bottle” in this square at the center of the village.

Small shops sold tourist items like post cards, scarves, and hand-made pasta and wine. Very occasionally, we saw a note addressed directly to tourists.

Or I guessed it was for tourists since it included an english translation.

Manarola also had great restaurants. This area is famous for originating pesto and focaccia and well-known for its anchovies and other seafood. Manarola also offered more American breakfast options than any other location we stayed in. 

But instead of American breakfast, I opted for this fruit crepe and a hot chocolate. Hot chocolate in Italy is not made from some powder or syrup, its made of some version of melted pure chocolate. My cup below was so rich and thick it was more like a melted mousse than a hot drink. Mind you, I’m not complaining, simply stating a fact.

I think all my companions would agree that we found a restaurant with the largest portion sizes, la Trattoria Locanda Il Porticciolo, because we all groaned when they brought our second courses and we could barely walk home after eating antipasti, pasta and fish courses at this restaurant mentioned in the Rick Steves’ book.

Tomorrow I’ll share more stunning photos of the other villages of Cinque Terre.

The Real Florence

The food in Florence was one of its best assets. The lovely Donatella of Monte Oliveto suggested the restaurants at which we ate. We had some of the simplest and most savory dishes of our trip at these restaurants. Our favorite was Quattro Leoni (The Four Lions). A zuchini cream soup just a hint of strawberry? Sounds like an odd combination, but it was divine and I only hope I can find a recipe to replicate it at home. Below is the mammoth steak that my travel companions shared. 

And the carcass that remained after their carnivorous orgy.

While in Florence, I couldn’t help but notice the rest of the world as we walked through the streets toward famous museums and delicious restaurants. As an environmental scientist, I’m particularly interested in recycling programs and environmental planning. I had to snap a photo of these public recycling containers. 

And I was fascinated by this approach to curbside plastics pickup in streets that are only 10-feet wide. Below is “the recycling man” who gets to use a mini-crane to empty the big blue container full of the neighborhood’s plastics recycling.

I’m a little afraid to show this to my boys. Using a crane might look so fun to them that “recycling man” might be bumped to the top of their list of “what I want to be when I grow up.” The street is only a foot or so wider than the truck, and there’s no way around it, so just hope you don’t get stuck behind the recycling truck.

While in Florence, we also witnessed the start of a protest. Because it was in itailian, we didn’t entirely understand what was happening.

Some of the signs and banners contained the words meaning labor and jobs so we’re pretty sure this was the beginning of a protest similar to the “Occupy Wallstreet” protests that have been occuring in the U.S.

This protest started on this street and marched along a major street, gaining momentum and noise as it headed toward the center of the city. Obviously, the issues are complicated. Although the sign at the left of the photo is tough to read, it advocates freedom for a Kurdish militant named Ocalan.

I took this photo of a scooter shop simply to show how much they can pack into a small amount of real estate. This store is about 8′ x 20′. Total. Amazing.

Outside of the Uffizi gallery was this piece of modern art work. The picture was on a fence covering restoration work in progress on the building’s exterior. It says, “Gentrification and tourist speculation are killing our hometown.”

Sometimes art is considered good when it speaks a truth that is found no where else. Florence is a deeply historical city going through thoroughly modern changes.

Tomorrow we’ll head to a chain of breath-taking, romantic villages, together called Cinque Terre.

Homesick for Tuscany

Ernest Hemingway once wrote in a letter to a friend, “I’m so homesick for Italy that when I write about it, it has that something that you only get in a love letter.” (from the new book The Letters of Ernest Hemingway: Vol. 1, 1907-1922). I feel the same way. It’s hard to describe the bliss I felt when I was there, the romantic feeling I got walking through each city, church, and museum, even though I wasn’t with my sweet heart. That feeling was strongest when we rode into the hills of Tuscany with villas in the country side and miles of grape vineyards and olive orchards.

This is the estate we traveled to for our wine tasting. A family has owned it for a couple of generations and uses its land to make wine and olive oil. The only view better than the one of the estate was the view from the estate below.

Our wine tasting was a big learning experience for me. I always bought inexpensive wine because I felt like I couldn’t appreciate the difference between expensive and inexpensive wine. But after the class, I’m buying slightly more expensive wine, and spending more time with my choices.

Although the tasting was in an outbuilding of this beautiful home, we were able to walk around it and look in the windows. The owners stay in this villa in the summer, and also host a fashion show here because they have invested in fashion in Milan.

During the tasting, we learned a lot of things I didn’t know before. You should let a wine breath for 10 minutes for every year that has passed since it was bottled. The glass is big and round not so that you can fill it fuller, but so that you may better smell it’s aroma while drinking it. Italians don’t drink wine without eating food. Italian table wine is not really bottled, or meant to be bottled for long, its meant to be drank, so it has less sulfite preservative, and therefore causes fewer headaches and hangovers. We also learned about a few different kinds of wine, including Chianti and a dessert wine called vin santo, that is barreled and placed in the attic for 5 years before it is bottled. I loved its depth and sweetness and will look for it in the U.S. as a special treat.

We also talked about olive oil. When our host cut some bread, put it on a platter, and started drizzling olive oil over it, I thought she was over doing it. That was until I tasted it. She was using fine, fresh olive oil, and it was light and delicious. She told us that lighter, fresher oils are for eating in salads and bread dipping, while older, darker oils should be used for cooking. Many different types of olives go into olive oil, and those picked from an orchard aren’t edible until they’ve been processed for a couple of months to draw out their bitterness. Olive harvest and the making of the oil is apparently a lot like apples, in that they need labor when the olives are ready and they stay up all night around the clock cold pressing the oil out of the olives until the job is done so that they may obtain the “extra virgin” label, which means heat wasn’t used to extract the oil. Heat alters the natural flavor.

After the wine tasting we hopped in the van and drove to a rustic home on a hillside for our cooking class. The home was impressive because it had been built around a 1000-year old watch tower.

They left a lot of it rustic and beautiful. Our class was in the basement of the tower.

We learned to make linguine and my favorite, ravioli. For the filling we put in ricotta, zucchini, and nutmeg. Once I learned how, I was excited to buy my own pasta maker and make a different ravioli every day, with a different filling. Once I recover from my knee surgery, I will be hosting a number of pasta making parties with my friends.

I’m also going to buy a good italian cook book. While in Italy I learned that the secret to italian foods is simplicity, quality ingredients, and choosing the right combinations of foods.

When our pasta making was complete, we went upstairs into the home where a full Italian meal had been prepared for us, including the pasta we made. This big guy was on the 1000-year old stairs on the way up.

The home’s owner, Christina, was a lovely woman who cooks for and let’s tourists into her home several days a week. I was overwhelmed by the decor, the original art, the antique china and furniture, and the atmosphere during our meal. We talked to our host, a mom of two originally from Germany who once did a foreign exchange program in my home state of Michigan. We also sent well wishes to a couple on the tour from the U.S. who were on their honeymoon.

My plate was full of succulent food, and afterward we all sleepy like snakes with big lumps in our tummies. The van ride back to Florence was quiet except for the snoring.

This was the view from the bathroom! I thought about what it must be like to live in a place where you’re surrounded by beauty. It made me want to spend more time making the views from my windows more whimsical.

This is the view down into the valley below the watch tower home. The home’s owner was also interesting. When we arrived he was wearing camouflage head to toe, which I thought was unusual. Later I saw certificates and photos of his service in the Italian military as an alpine ski-parachuter, apparently a corps of specialized service. 

The day of our wine tasting and cooking class was one of my favorite in Florence. We learned so much and returned so satisfied that we slept hard that night.

Tomorrow I’ll write more about the practical side of Florence, its businesses and even its recycling program.

Firenzia (Florence!), Italy

After leaving Venice we took a train to Florence. We all expected it to be a small, quaint city, although none of us knew where we got that idea. On the contrary, Florence is a bustling large city that spans the Arno River. We stayed in a beautifully decorated bed and breakfast called Monte Oliveto, run by the lovely Donatella. My room above was a romantic dream and each morning it came with home-made breakfast outside with a variety of local delicacies including aged cheeses, baked pears, and cappuccino made to order. There was a lovely patio in front, another attached to the men’s bedroom upstairs, and free computer and internet access. I spent several late nights sending messages to my family through Facebook. This B & B was also walking distance to several major attractions.

The first that we visited was the Pitti Palace, which dates from 1458, was built by a banker and later purchased by the Medici family where Renaissance art was gathered and painted there. Napoleon also used the palace for a time until it was converted to a public location in the early 1900’s.

The view from the palace was the best we saw while in Florence. 

The following day we saw the Duomo of Florence, a cathedral church with a breathtakingly detailed exterior.

Every square inch was an architectural amazement.

Across from the Duomo were these famous doors on the Battistero Di San Giovanni (Baptistry of St. John) made by Lorenzo Ghiberti. 

This ceiling inside a dome at the Duomo was just one example of the hundreds of painted domes I saw in Italy. Many had elaborate scenes depicting various religious events such as the crucifixion, the birth of Jesus, or when Mary was told she was pregnant (annunciation).

Florence was also full of talented modern artists. The owner of our B & B, Donatella, worked in watercolor. The artist below, in chalk.

This painting appeared in a window of a small shop. I regret that I didn’t record the name of the artist so I could credit them for this painting in oil. I know when I was breastfeeding twins under a year old, I could relate to the look on this woman’s face.

On this day in Florence I also saw the famous David by Michelangelo who was much taller than I expected. I didn’t take this photo, as they were not allowed.

and saw the Birth of Venus in the Uffizi (although I didn’t take this picture as it was also not allowed). They were my two favorite works in Florence, and maybe for the whole trip.

Tomorrow I’ll write about the wine tasting and cooking class we did in Tuscany!

Thanks for reading, and commenting!

Last Day in Venice

Time is a funny thing. It went by too quickly while I was in Italy, but it also seemed like an incredibly long time to be away from my hubby and kids. We saw several clocks like this one in Venice. A 24-hour clock, but notice that 1 doesn’t start in the same place as a traditional clock. Our back streets of Venice tour guide explained to us that the 1 was placed where most locals started their day, which on this clock looks like 4 or 5 in the morning and then progressed around from there. I also saw a similar clock inside the Doge’s Palace that showed what sign of the zodiac we were currently in. Fascinating.

I took pictures of a lot of boats on this trip, mostly for my sailboat captain husband (I also wrote down the type of each airplane I flew in for the same reason). The brown wooden boat in the middle of the photo below is a typical taxi in Venice.

Venice was also interesting because it had no cars, and therefore, no delivery trucks, so we realized that for every store that contained merchandise, those wares must have come on a very convoluted journey. Goods could be trucked to the mainland, but then must come via boat to Venice and I saw many boats like this one carrying various loads. This one had building materials, some were entirely bottled water, others were refrigerated dairy products. But unless the destination store was on a canal, the goods had to be hand carried in a wooden cart to the store front. 

One evening while we sat in a cafe eating grilled octopus and drinking pinot grigio, we watched a public market full of goods be dismantled by hand, tents, display tables, and all, and then hauled off by hand on specialized metal carts, which would return the next morning to be set up again in the same spot. 

Garbage was also curious in Venice. They haven’t the space to leave out a large can like I do at home in the alley, so Venetians put their garbage out each morning before 8 (or the night before), and a person comes by daily to collect the garbage. Recycling is collected on specified days. This garbage barge then wove through canals collecting the parcels. I took a photo of this one because of the persian rug on the front.

I was frequently reminded how much I missed my little boys while I was away by sites like this one. Apparently, Italian boys aren’t so much different from my boys at home.

Stucco work was being done on the neighboring building next to our apartment in Venice. The workers caught us watching them more than once from our balcony. When they caught us staring, some were flattered, but their boss looked perturbed and simply said, “Prego.” I understood prego to mean, “you’re welcome”, but later discovered that it has many meanings in Italian. It can mean what can I get you?, please come in, please take a seat, please go ahead of me (if you’re holding a door open), I also heard it used as a response to me saying excuse me when I bumped into someone, as in, no problem. It would make sense that the construction boss would say you’re welcome to me in the context of, “you should say thank you for all this free eye candy so I’ll just skip to you’re welcome,” but I think he meant, “can I help you?” The language barrier got in the way here or there, but in this case, I understood his meaning simply from his inflection and demeanor.

We also had a little misunderstanding the night of Ken’s 40th birthday. I stopped by the restaurant at which we had a reservation later that evening. I wanted to clarify that we’d like to sit a fuori, outside, because it was a special birthday. But the waiter thought I said that I was requesting fiori or flowers for a special birthday. When I made the request, the waiter looked troubled, then went to the owner and relayed the request. She looked annoyed and then said in a very dismissive manner that there was no way she could provide flowers for the party on such short notice. Luckily I understood enough italian to realize the misunderstanding. She must have thought we were some pretty high maintenance Americans. The waiter was so relieved when I clarified.

Later the next day I witnessed our stucco worker friends dumping a full bucket of construction waste into the channel. It made me realize that Venice must have storm water management problems above and beyond most places in the U.S. Here, construction workers can dump a bucket on the ground and it will percolate through the yard soil before draining to a nearby stream or storm drain, but in Venice, most things must wash right into the canal. Most canals in Venice are not deep, mostly less than 15 feet in depth. Our back streets tour guide pointed out that Venetians rely heavily on tidal flow to flush out the canals, to move waste out into the sea, and to bring in fresh water. I can only assume that water quality, and the availability of clean fresh water, must be an ongoing concern in Venice.

Here is that bucket of waste 30 minutes after he dumped it in the channel.

I had the most laughs in Venice, and in each of the cities we visited, just sitting in cafe’s and bars with my traveling companions. We met other tourists and some italians while practicing our language skills with waiters and servers. One of our favorite places in Venice was The Jazz Bar. They had giant beers, being toasted below by Scott and Jenny. The walls were decorated with Jazz greats like Billie Holiday and Dizzy Gillespie, while music videos by Mariah Carey and Beyoncé played in the background. 

We also never figured out what a ceiling covered with padded bra’s had to do with Jazz either, but it didn’t keep us from coming back three nights in a row.

One evening Ken prank called one of Jenny’s coworkers in the U.S. and we all had a good laugh.

We never tired of hanging out in pubs and outdoor cafe’s, people watching and laughing at each days events.

Although we only rode the train through Pisa, the only leaning tower we saw was this one in Venice. Venice was built centuries ago in a salt marsh and is supported on wooden posts driven into the marsh clay. Over time, that wood has become petrified and quite solid, but it is slowly sinking nonetheless. Most buildings in Venice struggle with uneven settling, and many of Venice’s towers have had to have their foundations repaired, and many towers rebuilt over the years. This one leans a lot when you really look at it.

Although we weren’t allowed to take pictures, we also visited a famous church in Venice, called the Church of the Friars, that contained Renaissance art by Donatello, Titian, and many others.

Tomorrow, I’ll write about the second city in our tour, beautiful Florence, Italy.

Venice’s Grand Canal

The Grand Canal is like I-5 on the west coast, the major thoroughfare that cuts through Venice. Lined by big hotels, restaurants, and shops, there is beauty in every direction.

One of the more romantic spots in Venice is a major crossing point over the Grand Canal, the Rialto Bridge. A tradition that I was not able to take advantage of is to kiss your sweetie on the bridge. With this view, I sure felt like kissing someone, but my hubby was 6000 miles away so the photo had to be enough. The 3/4 moon was the icing on the evening.

Venice at night was what made me fall in love with the city. Below are the gondola when not in use. I loved the glow of the lighting along the canal at night. We walked and walked and it was even prettier with my white wine buzz.

We took the public “bus” called the vaporetto a couple of times. After our 3 days in Venice, we measured all distances, on land and water, via vaporetto stops. “How far is it to the museo?”

“Oh, its at least 4 vaporetto stops, we better take a cab.”

The vaporetto docking was crude (shown at left in the photo below). Waiting passengers would stand in the little “box” at the end of a dock and the vaporetto would pull up quick, slamming into the dock. An attendant would throw a rope over a large cleat on the dock, slide open a 4-foot door, bodies would crush off and bodies would crush on, and within about 3 minutes, the door slid shut and the vaporetto was on its way. Done. I was amazed at how quickly italian seniors could move compared to those loading a bus at home. I guess it keeps you spry.

We had trouble at first figuring out how to buy vaporetto tickets, since there was no ticket dispensary on the dock. By our third try, we discovered that you could buy tickets at the nearest news stand, but of course there was no sign saying so, we just found out from a kind italian waiting for the next vaporetto while we all pondered aloud how we’d ever get tickets. I’m embarrassed to say we took to vaporetto rides for free until we figured it out. It made me wonder how hard it must be for tourists here in the U.S. to figure out our bus system.

We got some great views of the Grand Canal when we took a “back streets” tour of Venice, the only paid tour we took in our two-week trip. I loved the tour and the great people we met. Our guide answered all my odd ball questions about city planning, geology of the building materials, and idiosyncracies of italian like what’s the difference between per piachere and per favore, which both mean please.

After our back streets tour, we did a pub crawl off the main track. Whenever we took a group photo, we would shout, “formaggio” instead of cheese. We met the lovely Dona from Santa Cruz and had dinner together while she gave us pointers about what to see and do in Cinque Terre.

I marveled at the architecture and beauty of the buildings that lined the canal, first built by Venice’s wealthiest families, and now converted primarily to businesses and restaurants. Our guide mentioned that change is difficult in Venice because there are many laws and ordinances designed to maintain the historic nature of the city. Exteriors can rarely be changed, and even the structure of interiors are highly scrutinized to maintain original artwork and architecture.

We also spent a lovely day at the Biennale, a national art exhibition that is held in Venice every other year, where each country chooses one or two artists to represent them at the show. I loved seeing the range of art, from photography, sculpture, painting, digital cartoons, and film to a range of exhibits that I didn’t even know what to call (other than ‘mixed media’). Some were religious, political, or romantic, while others went for provocative or modern or contemporary. 

Several exhibits were about U.S. film and politics, even though they were produced by other countries. I was fascinated by how other countries viewed and judged the U.S.in their work, it’s culture and public figures, and the fact that of all the art produced in their country, the work about the U.S. was chosen for the exhibition.

The piece above was along the Grand Canal and was one of the most interesting pieces I saw. Each “pixel” in this piece is a hand-painted egg. Literally. I’m blown away by the originality, the sheer time that must have been invested, and the execution of the concept. By the end of this day, I wanted to take an art class just to learn the vocabulary to describe all that I saw. Big thanks to Scott who organized the trip for exposing us to such interesting and stimulating work.

Tomorrow I’ll write about the last tidbits of Venice before moving forward to the second city of our tour, the historic and impressive Firenzia (Florence).

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