Friday, October 31, 2008

Watery Dreamland

Venezia. Venice. How to describe it: It is otherworldly, beautiful, strange, disintegrating, unique, and ethereal. Howard adds that it was spooky, sinister, and breathtaking. Rick describes it as a “car-free urban wonderland of a hundred islands – laced together by 400 bridges and 2,000 alleys – survives on the artificial respirator of tourism.” He goes on to say that Venice is a “medieval cookie jar, and nobody’s looking.”

Rick suggests getting lost in the city, to just wander. And that is what we did on Friday. First, we took a vaporetti, one of Venice’s public water buses, to the San Marco stop. This excursion took us on the Grand Canal and under the Rialto Bridge (constructed in 1588, yes, 1 -5 -8 -8).

It was raining, so Piazza San Marco, or St. Mark’s Square, had flooded ever so slightly. Rick had warned that this happens, and happens in this square because it is the lowest spot in town. It is hilarious because walkways are set up using wooden benches, people vying to go both ways. So this was how we entered St. Mark’s Church, via a wooden bench.

The Basilica was a beaut, full of massive amounts of mosaics. We weren’t allowed to take photos inside, but we managed to snap a few. And this first photo is the entry - submerged under about four inches of water.

And, we met two very nice young men from Texas while at St. Mark’s. We were inside looking at reliquaries and one of the guys sort of leaned over our shoulders and said, “So, do you know what we’re lookin’ at here?” We started chatting with him and his buddy (a devout Rick Steves' disciple), and it was fun because they reminded us of what it was probably like for Scott and his friend when they travelled to Europe a few years back. And Scott, I found the ceramic mask you bought for me as a gift when you were here! Thanks . . .

After our time at the Basilica, and the Basilica’s Museum, and after a bite to eat, both Howard and I agreed that we were not only arted out, but we were also duomoed, cathedraled, churched, castled, villaed, and basilicaed out. We took Rick’s advice and allowed ourselves to get lost in the city. We’d turn left, then right, go down an alley, then over a bridge, never having a clue where we were. If we saw a sign for San Marco or the Rialto Bridge, we went the opposite direction. We wanted to get lost and it was a hoot!

On our warnderings, we wandered into a bookstore. I am standing at the rear of the store, when I turned, there were the books. Read or swim? Ummm . . .

Okay, this has been one of my favorite stops because of an item that is everywhere: MASKS. I love masks and the masks here were beautiful. Howard bought one for me in one of the first mask shops we saw (it’s still my favorite). Here is the shop and here is my mask:

This was another mask shop. Howard liked the sign and the artist!

I thought of a friend of mine, Paul, who also loves masks. Paul, I couldn’t buy you a full-sized mask, but we did buy you a mask magnet, so that will have to do until you get over here for yourself. I’m sure Michele would love to tag along!

Howard adds his comments on the city:

Venezia is amazingly large, very compact and sinking. Building fronts tilt and sag, whole buildings look slightly askew, and interior floors have valleys and ridges. Venezia is a marvel of construction, renovation, determination, and just plain stubbornness. I found myself in awe and at the same time spooked. The streets get narrower as you get away from water. The avenues along the canals are called Fondamenta, which are wide and easy to walk, progressively decreasing in width to microcalle (calle means street). When you are in a microcalle and the dark is approaching it is flat out eerie. It takes very little imagination to conjure up no good coming to pass in these crooked, narrow passageways. Charming, and yet ….

I love boats. Watching a city do business by the influx of goods by boats of all shapes and sizes is amazing. No cars, no bikes, just boats and pedestrians. If the city wouldn’t make me so claustrophobic, I would love to operate a business in this unique environment.

As for the city sinking into the ocean, it may happen.They have been predicting it since the 1700’s, but in looking around there is a lot of renovation and cranes, which indicate investment. Usually that doesn’t happen if the end is in sight. So, Venezia is probably not going to disappear in our lifetimes, but I would suggest to all, that in the words of Goethe, Italian Journey, 1786, “Venice can only be compared to itself.”

Thursday, October 30, 2008

By the Sea

Dateline: Thursday. Started our day with a nice little breakfast at our B & B (and invited one of the B & B dogs into our room for a visit - we're missing Oliver!):

Then, we set out on foot for the Basilica di San Vitale to see Byzantine mosaics – stunningly beautiful. Also popped into the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia for even more glittering beauty.

Thursday was sunny, and very windy (note the wilder than usual hair). Oh, and Denise, please note the photo with my new watch. Never mind that I'm wearing two pair of glasses below.

Ravenna is bicycle friendly to say the least. The middle of the pedestrian areas are smooth, light colored or painted bricks for bikes only. Meanwhile, us pedestrians had to walk on either side on a much rougher stone surface. People use their bikes to commute and are dressed in their work attire. Young and old, men and women, everyone peddles the streets and it is fun to watch it all. Even the mail is delivered by bicycle!

After much discussion and consulting of Rick, we decided we would head to Padova (English name: Padua) and establish a home base for the next three nights. Our plan is to venture into Venice without the burden of a car or luggage by staying outside of the city. To get to Padova, we went up the coast highway that runs alongside the Adriatic Sea. We stopped at a small beach town, which had essentially shut down and was completely boarded up, where we got out and touched the sand and the sea and snapped a few photos (and collected a few treasures!).

Back into the car and after an hour of driving, we stopped at what we thought would be a small town, but turned out to be quite big, Chioggia. We called it the little brother of Venice as it was filled with canals and little bridges.

This could have been one of the most scenic little towns we have gone through, but either they had a big party the night before and the clean-up crew failed to show up or they are all brain dead and don’t know how to use a garbage can. What litter it had.

The canals are really beautiful and where Rick Steves says that Venice’s local population is leaving or dying at a rate of about 1000 a year (and those left are mainly over 65), Chioggia had the feeling of a very alive and vibrant population even though it is the off season.

We arrived in Padova and got checked into our hotel, the Hotel Al Cason. The room numbers are printed in block letters on the floor outside of the doors - and when you enter the hallway, a series of lights turn on illuminating the way.

True confessions: We had dinner at McDonald’s and went back to our room to watch satellite TV in English! We needed a break from rustic, quaint, and old! The M & M’s are great. Hey Mike, still got that pouch?

As usual, Howard's comments are in italics.

Chianti Sculpture Garden

On Wednesday morning (October 29), we were up and on the road by 9:30 a.m. We didn’t know where we would end up at the end of the day, but we knew we wanted to visit the Chianti Sculpture Gardens. We began our journey toward Siena, which took us off the highway through some beautiful country.

The Chianti Sculpture Gardens, Parco Sculture del Chianti, “where art and nature meet,” are located on top of a Tuscan hill in 32 acres of forest, with a gallery of modern art in a restored pottery factory and home of the owner. The imagination and the resources to put these works of art from over 20 international artists into this one park is fulfilling and inspiring to its visitors. Here is a view from the courtyard of the gallery:

Now, take a walk through the garden with us and see the fun we had. Dayna was, of course, in her normal blasé mood.

And then for a little more fun:

In the parking lot of the Gardens, we had to decide where we wanted to head next. We considered Urbino and hadn’t made it to Cortona yet, but after consulting Rick, we decided we were through with Tuscany. I know it is a harsh thing to say, but one can take only so much natural beauty and old buildings. So off to the Adriatic Sea and the city of Ravenna. In setting the GPS, “Marcie” asked if we wanted to stay off unpaved roads, to which we replied, “Hell no!" (please don’t tell Avis). In the short unpaved sections of road we saw, Dayna took some of the neatest pictures we have taken of the countryside.

In Ravenna, we were met at the door of our B & B, Casa Masoli, by a little, but very alert and active, Italian grandmother. After confirming we were to stay only one night (she spoke no English), she showed us where we were to eat in the morning and then opened a door to show us our room. We thought she was going to take us through this rather grand common area room with arched high ceilings, a love seat, desk, chairs, and a fainting couch, when I noticed there was also a bed in the room. Yes, it was our room, with a bathroom that Rick Steves has correctly described as fit for royalty. What a score for 70 Euros.

Not ready to call it a night, we ventured out for an evening stroll and a bite to eat. A lovely city and we’re anxious to explore it during daylight hours. It is known for its Byzantine mosaics and many of you know that I have worked in mosaics, so I’m pretty excited to see the work of ancient masters!

Note: This has been a joint post by Howard and Dayna