Arrivederci, Italy

Italy 2012, continued — final post

Arrivederci means “until we see each other again,” and that finality lingered around us when we woke up early that morning.  No high water siren last night, and we wanted one last walk in Venice before braving the airplane trip home later in the day.

Venice bridge foggy It was foggy this morning, too early for the boatloads of tourists.  We’ve learned that secret over the years, that the tourists don’t get up much before ten and disappear after dinner, so that you have the run of a town during the night and morning hours.

Bird with Umbrella Sign

I think I must have some thirty pictures of this serpent with the umbrella heads; it’s fascinating every time I see it.  At night, the umbrellas light up.

Foggy delivery

Rialto foggy

Rialto Bridge.

Rialto foggy 2

Rialto Bridge with vaparetto.  The vaparetto has a large number of people on it–I guess working Venice is up and around, just not the shop owners.

Venice bas relief wall

Venice Alitalia

Heading into San Marco square.  It’s amazing how quickly we could get there with no one out on the streets.  We have one tiny wrinkle in the day’s plans: we have to buy a separate ticket for our vaparetto to the airport, as it’s run by a different company.  This was discovered last night, too late to do anything about it, so we figure we’ll walk until 9:00 a.m., head over to the ticket agency, rush back to the hotel and hopefully make the right boat to the airport.

San Marco tourists foggy

Some tourists have arrived, standing on the high water walkways in San Marco square.  The fog makes this place seem other-worldly, mysterious.

San Marco in fog

San Marco flagpoles foggy

San Marco docks in fog

San Marco in fog sweeper

gondola in fog1

gondolas in fog 2

gondolas in fog 3

 I looked past the gondolas, to the vaparetto stop, and poked Dave–“Hey! I think I see the ticket agency.”  “It won’t be open.” “Let’s try it anyway.”  Lo and behold, an outlier: there was one ticket window and it was open and we were able to buy the tickets.  Big Relief.  Traveling is just so many moving parts.

San Marco arch

We walk back up through San Marco.

Venice canal foggy1

Venice street sweeper

Venice Louis Vuitton

Venice Lion bas relief

Hoping it is faster, we jump onto the vaparetto at Accademia, and enjoy one more ride up the canal. The fog is beginning to break, and we look for Dave’s favorite building.

Venice Traghetto

Venice grand canal foggy3

There are several cross-canal routes, done standing up on a traghetto.

Venice grand canal red building

We see the “red” building from last night, and a boat appears to be loading giant loud speakers, or some sort of musical equipment.

Venice grand canal red building sign

Now you know as much as I do.

Venice grand canal foggy1

Venice grand canal foggy2

Venice DAE Fav Building

A foggy shot of Dave’s favorite building, with the golden mosaics on the front.

DAE fav building

Our stop at Ca’D’Or comes up and we’re off.

Ca D'or building

It’s named for this building, which used to be ornate, apparently.

Ca D'or corner

Ca D'or window

From here, we walk to our hotel, eat one more of those perfect breakfasts, gather our things and head towards the Fond. Nuvo stop, where we caught the vaparetto to Burano yesterday.  This morning, though, we join a crowd waiting for the airport water bus.  Suitcases get thrown (and I mean, thrown) in the front and passengers go down three steps to sit in the belly of the waterbus.  We had the usual chaos at the Venice airport (the usual Italian bureaucracy has prevented the airport from expanding, and there are signs posted everywhere to let you know), then a flight to Frankfurt, then to Dulles, Washington, then LAX.  We arrive back to our home around 3 a.m., and even though we both were able to snag rows of seats on the Dulles to LAX leg, and sort of stretch out for some sleep, we are tired.

I could put the usual pithy quote about travel in Italy here, but  will spare you.  We do have the desire to go to Italy again, but next time, we’ll try to avoid All Saints Weekend, rainy weather, bad pillows (the only flaw in the Venice hotel), and remember to always bring the granola bars.


Burano, of Many Colors

 Italy 2012, continued: November 2, 2012

Murano and Burano MapWe leave from the Fondamente Nova vaparetto stop, which is on the backside of the main islands, and head straight out past Venice’s cemetery, on an island all its own.  First stop is Murano (glass making) with our final destination for the day Burano (lace making).

Cemetario wall.jpgWe join the throngs of other tourists, load up (we race to the back to get an outdoor seat) and head out past the cemetery, on its own island.

We’d first been to Burano in 2007, when on a tour with our friends to Murano, then Burano.  But the tour guide was in cahoots with the glass-making people and we spent an inordinate amount of time captive in the glass maker’s shop, and only 20 minutes on Burano.  We wanted to reverse that today.

Foggy delivery.jpgBurano_1delivery.jpg

Deliveries–everything’s by boat.


We approach Murano and its “furnaces,” or fornaio.  Each building is a different glass maker.  Murano also is a series of islands like Venice, albeit a smaller cluster. They also make lace here on Murano, a dying art, as it’s time-intensive and the best kind is done by hand.

Burano_3 Murano.jpg

We are going on to Burano, a fishing village, or so the story goes.

Burano_4a.jpgWe land in Burano, and everyone gets off the boat.  Most head straight ahead, but at our first opportunity, we take a left, away from the crowds.  When we were here before, we were captivated by the colorful houses–technicolor, brilliantly painted houses.  The tour guide that time told us that it was a way for the fishermen to find their way back home in the fog, since there has been fishing there since the 6th century.  But now Wikipedia notes that “the colours of the houses follow a specific system originating from the golden age of its development; if someone wishes to paint their home, one must send a request to the government, who will respond by making notice of the certain colours permitted for that lot.”

Whatever the original reason, the houses are like being in another world.  This post is mostly just pictures of these houses, as there’s really nothing I know about them. I could tell you someone famous lives here or there (and they probably do), but if I’d known that would it have changed how we interacted with this amazing colorful island?  I think not.  So, scroll, quickly or slowly, and enjoy the houses of Burano.

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Now, doesn’t it make you want to head to Home Depot and repaint your house?  We were saved from that urge by the fact that we’d done it last year.  Around every corner was a new sight, a new color.  We saw the young man on his scooter, and Dave helped two lost Asian tourists who were trying to find their way to the vaparetto.  We wanted to get lost, so were relieved not to see crowds.

Burano Acqua Alta barriersThe acqua alta barriers (flooding of high water) on their doorways were really high, and we found the one below pretty interesting, marking the years the aqua alta was highest.

Burano acqua alta markingsThe fact that we’d arrived during “siesta” probably accounted for the deserted streets, as we could hear the sounds of dishes and people talking inside their houses, but no one was around.

Burano canal 1We turned right and here seemed to be a main canal.  The reflections of the houses on the water captivated us; please enjoy endure the following similar photos as I couldn’t choose just one.

Burano canal 2

Burano canal 3

Burano canal 4

Burano canal 5

Burano arch

Burano DAE ESEA young couple walked by and we snagged them for our Christmas card photo.  Believe me, I was dying to digitally erase those white dots, but I restrained myself.  If I had really thought I would put this on our Christmas card, I might have put on some lipstick or something. Dave always looks good.

Burano lacemaker 1We cross over the bridge and down the other side is a woman who is working on making lace by hand.  I’m sure this piece will sell for thousands in the shops.  We avoided the shops because, after reading Brunetti, we’ve learned that most of the lace goods come from Asia.  I would have loved to have taken a completed piece of real Burano lace home with me, but I’ll have to be content with this photo.

Burano lacemaker 2

Burano lacemaker 3

Burano washing linesWhat I loved about this photo was the way the washing lines were propped up mid-square with two sticks.

Dave in BuranoThe fabulous Dave.

Shrine 11

shrine 12I think this shrine on Burano was one of my favorites: the blue wall, the tiled Saint Fatima, the white flowers in the green box.  Perfect.

shrine 13I also liked this one–these colors were magnificent.  We were really glad it was a bright sunny day, for although we got shots of people’s laundry (including those black undies near the fuse box in the photos above), the sun lit up the houses like they were illuminated from within.

shrine 14It was now late afternoon, and the Tourist Crankies were setting in because we hadn’t eaten since breakfast and regretfully forgotten our Emergency Granola Bars back in the hotel.  We were approaching the main town area and looked at several restaurants but then reconsidered because we wanted to beat the crush back to Venice so we could enjoy our last evening there.  We’d had such a lovely time by ourselves photographing the colorful houses, that we decided just to head for Venice.  There was a crush at the vaparetto stop, but we were early, so did get a seat on the way home.  I found one granola bar in the bottom of my backpack and we shared that, then we both dozed on the way home, awoken when a rogue wave splashed in through the vaparetto windows, drenching the couple next to me.  I didn’t get wet at all.

cemetario church 2I was able to get a better photograph of the church part of the cemetery this time, the whole building glowing in the setting sun.

Cemetario church
Venice Cemetary brick wall
Cemetary walls 3

Rowers in GondolaGondola practice?

Sculpture Men in BoatThen there was this curious sculpture placed out in the lagoon as we neared Venice. The only thing I could find about it (in English) was that it was a representation of a poor fisherman saving Venice through the appearance of celestial visitors.  Or something.

Church CannaregioBack on Venice, we stopped for a small snack in a local shop, then walked home, passing this (closed) church.  Near our hotel is this water spigot/fountain that we mostly see filled with pigeons.

Venice Pigeon's bath

Water balloonsBut today there were two boys, filling water balloons.


hotelallevitedorataWe refresh, but since we are still hungry, we head out, turning right onto the main drag up through Cannaregio, kind of like we are following their line of red dots (which is direction to Ca’ D’oro vaparetto stop, but in the same direction as we are headed).  Strada Nova is crowded, with shops still vending and people still shopping, a real party and lively atmosphere.  We stop to buy some chocolates to take back with us and some torrone (but it’s not as good as the one by San Zaccharia).

Venice Evening Day2This was a view down one side canal toward the Grand Canal.  We keep going, cross a few more bridges, then wander off to the right, up over two small bridges and see a small restaurant on the canal.

TrattoriaMisercordiaVeniceOut front there’s a guy out front in a spiffy suit, hawking to tourists — hawking to people just like us, who are tired and hungry and ready to eat even though it’s not even six o’clock in the evening and a real Venetian wouldn’t be caught dead sitting down to dinner.  Of course there was the chalkboard with the requisite three courses, the menu with the six languages.  We shrug and say, why not.  It was a good choice.

TrattoriaMisercordiaVeniceDinner2First up, they bring us an aperitivo.  No thank you, we said, we don’t drink.  Shock.  Amazement. Incredulity.

TrattoriaMisercordiaPolentaInstead, a plate of some delicious polenta topped with bolognese sauce was brought to our table for a “starter.”

TrattoriaMisercordiaVenicespaghetticheesegrilledvegDave had pasta with cheese, which looked like to me it was leftover spaghetti pressed into a mold, then cut and lightly baked, then broiled (?).  I think this is a good idea, especially if grilled vegetables are added to the plate, then a drizzle of vinegar.

TrattoriaMisercordiaVenicespicy spaghettiMy pasta course was spicy spaghetti with vegetables.  I had never thought to ramp up the spiciness on spaghetti before, but it was delicious.

TrattoriaMisercordiaVenicesalmonWe both chose the salmon, again, with grilled vegetables.  And the Italian way — the salad at the end of the meal (below).

TrattoriaMisercordiaSalad.jpgHe tried to offer us an after-dinner drink again, but again, we declined.  No dessert? He asked?  No, I said.  I prefer to have some chocolate.

TrattoriaMisericordiaDessertSo they brought us each this delicious treat, on the house.

TrattoriaMisercordiaVeniceowner and ESE.jpg

We really enjoyed talking to the owner, as we were the only ones in the restaurant for most of the meal.  He grew up in Venice, but after marrying, moved to Maestre, but still runs the family business.  We talked about the aqua alta (he was in early that morning, sweeping out, vacuuming, washing down our tables and chairs), as this was his livelihood.  I’d go there again in a heartbeat, as the food was delicious (and the owner spoke English).  He said he moved out to Maestre because it was really hard to raise a family in Venice–not even a place to play soccer.  We say goodbye, but are not ready to say goodbye to Venice yet, so we hop onto a vaparetto and ride down the Grand Canal.

Red Building Grand CanalThis is when you know you are really on the Outside, Looking In.  It’s when you see a building on the Grand Canal all lit up in exotic red, with boats of the glitterati stepping up onto the private loading dock and entering this building.  It looked fabulous to all of us peons on the vaparetto.  Even the drivers were pointing at it.

Nighttime Rialto BridgeRialto Bridge

Nighttime Venice Fish MaketThe Fish Market, after dark.  The action happens here in the early morning.

Nighttime Santa Maria della SaluteSanta Maria della Salute

We get off at San Zaccharia, buy our last wedge of torrone to take home, then walk slowly back to our hotel through the streets, and the happy tourists, and the business-like Venetians, back through the chilled air, Dave and I together in Venice for one last night.

Coming up: one more post before we say good-bye to Italy.

Venice Churches and Sights

Italy 2012, continued


Acqua Alta Venice1

Water overlapping a doorway, across the canal from our hotel

Late in the night, we hear the aqua alta (high water) sirens go off.  A website tells us the following:

So, first a siren is used to alert everyone of the high tide alarm.Next, a signal indicates the expected level of high tide – this signal has between 1 and 4 notes.

1 long sound (8 seconds) on the same note = 110cm level of high tide
2 sounds in an upward scale (4 + 8 seconds) = 120cm ” ” ” ”
3 sounds in an upward scale (4+4+8 seconds) = 130cm ” ” ” ”
4 sounds in an upward scale (4+4+4+8 seconds) = 140cm and above

But we are sleepy and tucked in our bed in our perfect hotel, so can’t quite distinguish the sounds.  It is interesting, though, to think that all around you the sea is rising, covering sidewalks and plazas and streets.

Hotel Breakfast 1

Breakfast is a smaller array, fitting for a smaller hotel (only five rooms, with one on the canal–no, we didn’t get that one).

Hotel Breakfast 2

The breakfast room is cheery, and the woman who is running the breakfast brings us fresh-fresh-fresh croissants with chocolate, another warm roll and some hot cocoa.

Venice breakfast

Just outside is that waterlogged door at the top of this post.  We enjoyed the picturesque setting for our breakfast.  I always love the little “trashcans” that Europeans put on the breakfast tables to hold the trash you might generate (the silver tin).


The cocoa is served in a double-walled glass mug.  It was the best of the trip, I’d say.

Acqua Alta puddle

Lingering effects of the aqua alta in the night

Over breakfast the reality of the high water does change our itinerary for the day, as we’d planned to jet right out to Burano, but read that when Venice has high water, Burano will have it worse.  Since we don’t want to borrow the boots from the hotel, we decide to see some churches in the morning.

Acqua Alta barrierA high water barrier in a doorway.  We saw many of these.

AcquaAlta walkwaysWalking the high water walkways–moveable platforms that criss-cross affected areas.

Canaregio Street

We step out of our hotel to see this: a cobbled street, still wet from the high water, and lovely vine growing across, bringing some greenery to the brick walled passageway.

Canaregio Market

Just down from us is this market.  When we’d passed by it late in the day, none of this was out, and then *poof* in the morning it all pops out.

Canaregio Sun

We are so happy to see the sun, and enjoy how it lights up the Venetian buildings.



DAE canal

Walking in Venice is always a series of ups, downs, take a right–no, left–through that plaza, up those stairs, down those steps, so even getting out and getting around is an adventure, a lovely adventure.

Shrine 7

And while we’re walking, I snapped a few photos of shrines.  I noticed that the coin slot for this one had been filled with cement.

Shrine 8

I’m a sucker for this rich cornflower blue, no matter how it is used.

Shrine 9

Shrine 9a

Venice Doorway

VenetianFlagThe flag of Venice, with its Lion.

Venice ESE

Behind me is what’s known as the jewelbox church, as the marble slabs on the outside of the building are in many colors.  It’s a perfect little church and when we first came to Italy, we could go in with no charge.  Now they will sell you a “church tour” ticket for about 15 euro each ($20 bucks) that lets you in there, plus four other churches that we’d never heard of.  We pass.  Here’s some photos of the outside.  It’s in tight quarters, so hard to get the whole vista.

Venice Jewelbox 3

Venice Jewelbox Church

Venice Jewelbox Church2

Venice Jewlbox4

Venice laundry

Must be laundry day.  I rather think we saw so much laundry hanging out because of 1) we were in less-touristy venues, and 2) the sun was out so the clothes could get dry.

Venice laundry2

Venice with DAE

What we do a lot here: study the map.

We spot the Civil Hospital–Yay! we’re almost there. We’re actually headed to the St. Peter and St. Paul church, which is right next door.  From Wikipedia: “The Basilica di San Giovanni e Paolo, known in the Venetian dialect as San Zanipolo, is a church in Venice, northern Italy. One of the largest churches in the city, it has the status of a minor basilica. After the 15th century the funeral services of all of Venice’s doges were held here, and twenty-five doges are buried in the church.”  Now you know.

Hospital from afar

Venice graffiti

You don’t see much graffiti here in Venice, but here’s some.



The exterior doorway.  There was a modest fee, and then we were free to explore the church.  It’s cavernous, with many chapels, funerary monuments in the walls, and the sun was streaming in, lighting up the church.



I love this shot of the ceiling that Dave took.  He does “landscape” or big picture shots really well.  Somewhere along the line, between here and Burano, his camera developed a problem with the sensors and so went out of commission.  I remember when we used to travel and had only one camera.  Travel is much nicer now that we both have our own, as our photographic interests compliment each other: I like the details and he likes the bigger picture.  After Burano, we shared my camera, but only had a day before we left.





A side chapel.  The ceilings were wonderfully ornate, but I kept taking pictures of the floors, as they were interesting-to-me interlocking patterns. (I won’t bore you with photos.  Okay, maybe one.)



Back to the ceilings.  Do you think they built scaffolds and did all the plasterwork and painting while laying on their back, or made it down on the ground and then affixed them to the ceiling?  I vote the latter.


Beautiful, subtle colors of the aged glass.


SSPeterPaul rosy floor


What is this?  A layered image of a painting in a chapel and the chapel’s glass door reflecting the stained glass window on the opposite wall.  It’s also a sign that the tourist has Church Sights Fatigue and needs to get out and walk around the town.

Venice utility boats

From the sacred to the utilitarian.  This clutch of boats has all kinds: construction, delivery, personal water boats.  But we turn left out of the church and head to San Francisco della Vigna, a church I’d read about on a blog I love to read: Venezia Blog.  The writer of that blog is living my fantasy, of having a home in Venice.  But it’s only that. . . a fantasy, not real.  But I wouldn’t mind if for a month or so.

Venice Glowing Buildings

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More glowing buildings.

San Francesco della Vigna Approach

After walking for a few minutes, passing delivery people, a postman and residents, we come down this narrow calle and can see the front doors of the church.

San Francesco della Vigna Exterior

San Francesco della Vigna facade

San Francesco della Vigna Chapel

Because Dave’s camera is on the fritz, we didn’t get an overview of this quiet church, done in grays and blue-grays, but here’s one (below) from the web:


This is the first church that Palladio built in Venice, and it reminded me of Santo Spirito in Florence (except for the garish touches of red in the above photo–I don’t remember those when we were there).  I made a beeline for the Virgin and Child Enthroned, by Fra Antonio da Negroponte, a painting described as the most beautiful painting in Venice that most tourists never see.  I’d agree.

San Francesco della VignaMadonna

I spent several coins keeping that light going, trying to get a photo of this.

San Francesco della VignaMadonna3

I love the putti swimming in the celestial waters above the Madonna’s head.

Virgin and Child Enthroned detail


But the one the priest wanted us to see was Bellini’s Virgin and Child with Saints.  I’m standing on the steps to this side chapel, as the priest was mopping the floor.  I thought of how our congregations back home clean our church, but I’d never seen it in a Catholic church.  This made me suppose that this was a poorer church, as it didn’t charge admission.  That’s one reason I was happy to donate my coins to the light box on the other painting.

San Francesco della Vignaceiling

Ceiling medallions in nave.

San Francesco della Vignacourtyard

San Francesco della Vigna courtyard2

SanFransiscodellaVigna wall plaque

SanFransiscodellaVigna gift shop

This was the “gift shop,” a side chapel filled with postcards, magazines and newspapers.  I bought three postcards of the glorious Madonna.  One adorned our refrigerator for several weeks after our trip.  The painting is huge, tall, so the postcard didn’t do it justice.  Such is life.  I find that often when I get home from a trip, with the sights and memories fresh in my mind, all my photographs are fairly disappointing.  They are so puny, so lifeless, compared to what I saw.  But after a while the two–my memories and my photos–seem to come to a point of balance, of stasis, and I now, several months later, I find they do an adequate representation of our trip.


Just for reference, this church is in Castello (upper right), just over the border from Cannaregio (upper left).  Our hotel is in Cannaregio (sited at about where the “r” is in Cannaregio).  That notch in Cannaregio on the upper side of the island is approximately where we will catch the vaparetto for our trip to Burano. We’re getting antsy now, and really want to get to Burano, so we retrace our steps to pick up a few things at our hotel.  Some of the sights as we quickly walked back:

Venice streets7

Looking left out of the front door of the church.  Apparently this courtyard stood in for the Police Headquarters in the German television series based on the Guido Brunetti novels.


This little girl made us homesick for our granddaughters.

Venice Shrine4

Venice Shrine3

Venice Shrine 6

Venice canal late in day


Next post: Burano.

Venice, at last!

Italy 2012, continued


Marble Sign next to Convent Door

We’d been reading about the Acqua Alta — high water — that had flooded Venice this year, and seen the photos of tourists wading up to their knees in San Marco plaza, so we decided to stay a while longer in Padua to do some shopping.  That would have been a great idea, but it was All Saints Day, November 1st, and most all of the shops were closed.

Padua Street Musicians

So we stopped and listened to some street musicians, had a sweet at a fancy cafe, then walked back home. . . in the drizzle, packed up and headed to the train station, where we grabbed some lunch and caught a train.  There was some discussion about that, as the train that was supposed to be on our track wasn’t, yet there was one on the track behind us and everyone seemed to be going over there.  Of course we can’t understand the announcements over the garbled loud speaker, although we pretend to listen and try to catch something, anything, of what was said.  In the end, we boarded the train behind us and hoped to play Dumb Americans if it didn’t work out.

Venice Train Station

Venice Train Station.  Notice the woman leaning over taking a drink?  She’s wearing rubber boots that go to her knee.  Nearly all the “real” Venetians had some of those on.  We queued up for the vaparetto pass (long lines) avoiding the few puddles that were on the pavement, and bought ourselves a 3-day pass.

Venice Waiting for Vaparetto

We caught a vaparetto down the Grand Canal to our stop at Ca’ D’Oro , and then a short-didn’t-get-too-lost walk to our hotel.

Arriving Cannaregio Hotel

Alle Vite Dorita Hotel

Hotel Alla Vite Dorata, Cannaregio, Venice, Italy

Alle Vite Dorata landing

Looking out to the small side canal from the breakfast room.

Alle Vite Dorita breakfast

Breakfast room.

Alle Vite Dorita room

We checked in, dropped the bags, and like true web addicts, checked to see if we could get on the internet–PERFECT!  Happy, we went out again.

Venice Jugs of Wine

We could see evidence of high water: the elevated walkways, puddles, damp pavement, and the vino guy sweeping out his shop (notice the soggy bottoms of his barrels).  Apparently Cannaregio has less high water than San Marco, and in addition, the hotel was up two steps, and we found out later that this was done expressly to cut down on high water problems.  We watched people bringing empty bottles to this shop, then taking away filled ones.  Maybe that’s one way they get their wine?

Canaregio Building1

We are pretty happy to be here: Venice is familiar and it’s not raining, even a bit of blue sky.  This was just down the street from our little five-room hotel.

Quilt shop Venice Cannaregio

We walked down the shopping street for a while and found a quilt shop–unbelievable prices, so I didn’t buy any fabric, but it was still fun to see.

Venice Purse Seller

We saw a lot of these, and remembered the Guido Brunetti novel where these purse sellers figured prominently into the plot line.

Venice Canaregio2


Venice glowing Lights streetseller

Several street merchants sold these glowing lights; this shot was taken on our return home.

True Venetians

True Venetians.  The city is mostly overrun with tourists like ourselves, and those who live and work in Venice are dwindling.  There was just enough language that we could communicate with so we understood that they were residents.  They obliged me with a photo at our vaparetto stop.

Venice Rialto Bridge Day1

Finally we are here.  Finally we were on a boat headed down the Grand Canal.  The sun was behind us, making the water dark and lighting up the buildings in front of us, and yes, the Rialto Bridge is still here.  Everything is still here, and it feels lovely to be out on the vaparetto taking in the sights.  Dave and I can’t stop grinning like the pair of happy tourists that we are.

Venice Building on Canal1

Venice Fish Market

Rialto Fish, and sometimes, Produce Market.

Venice Canal Day 1

Venice Building on Canal2

I’m always in love with the hues and rich burnished colors of the buildings, as well as the interesting shapes of the windows, the tiny patios and big balconies, the rich heritage of Venice.  I don’t think you go to Venice to see something new; it’s always about the old, and perhaps the art and the food.  But always always it’s about the Grand Canal and the water.

Venice Building on Canal3

Venice Building on Canal4

Wouldn’t this little glassed-in room be a great place for a study? Although you might not ever get any work done because of looking out the window constantly.

Venice Building on Canal5

Venice Canal Building 10

Venice Canal Building 11
Venice Canal3 Day 1

Venice Academia Bridge Day 1

The wooden span of the Accademia Bridge.

Venice Building detail roof

Detail at top of building as we round the corner to see San Marco Square and the Doges Palace (below).


We are headed one stop further away from San Marcos — down to San Zaccharia.

Venice Crush of People

We cannot believe the crush of tourists everywhere.  We’ve been several times to this city — from December over the Christmas holidays to June in mid-summer — but we’ve never seen it this bad.  We also had a hard time getting rooms in a hotel and we did this four months from departure date.  Someone in the paper shop later that night finally explained to us that all the countries that are Catholic have these days off from school and work, so everyone took a weekend holiday. . . to Venice.

Venice San Zacharia church 2

We remembered how to get to this church, San Zaccharia, for I wanted to see the Bellini Altarpiece.  They’ve improved it with a light (.50 euro) and I gladly contribute as it’s easier to see.  My photo was a bit blurry, even with the light, so here’s one from the web:


Venice shop soaps

Across the courtyard, a shop selling soaps.

Venice with Dave

Venice shrine1

We walk on, headed to the torrone shop.  The best kind ever is purchased here, in Venice, and it doesn’t really keep.  I did bring some home in my suitcase, and it was all gone within a few weeks after being home.

Gondolas passing

I love how this gondoliers is pushing off of the post with his foot; many of them use such resources to keep the boats from jostling or hitting each other.

Venice doorway with medallion

Walking Venice1

See that golden sign up there that says “Per Rialto?”  We learned to follow these toward our destination as we wended our way through the labyrinthian Venetian streets.  Yes, we had a map, and sometimes it even helped.  Mostly you accept that getting lost is part of the experience.

Venice Shrine2

I love the small shrines tucked into the walls, and I determined I would try to photograph more of them on this trip.  Notice the small door with the barely visible coin slot underneath.  Coins for alms, for an extra miracle?

San Marco twilight2

San Marco twilight1

We’ve arrived with the thirty billion other tourists at San Marco square at twilight. The pink light made the marble glow.

San Marco tourists

It is a lovely evening.

VeniceSanMarco eve1

VeniceSanMarco eve2

We linger in San Marcos plaza, watching the street vendors pitch the toy of the moment: a whirring, spinning light which they launch high up into the air–a flying globe of wonder, which drops back down to the plaza, sometimes where it was supposed to.  The bells begin to chime and we are surround by the voices of the crowd, the pealing sounds from the bellower, the excitement that everyone feels for being out in the beautiful twilight, in beautiful Venice.


We start walking toward home, up and over and avoid the tourists.  It’s made a little more difficult by the presence of the aqua alta walkways that go right up the middle of the “street,” cutting down the available walking space.  And of course, we have to stop for pictures like this one.

Dinner night 1

Dinner Stop.  And yes they had a menu in seven different languages, but we are near San Marco, so expect this.

minestrone dinner night 1

This was the best part of the meal: a moderately delicious bowl of minestrone.  And the waiter spoke English to us and the two other American couples in this place.  I’m pretty sure the Italians come much later, if at all, to these touristy spots.

Venice Paper maker

After dinner, more winding ways back to our hotel.  I have to say it feels like a big party out here, with lots of people, lights in the shops, action everywhere.  We stop at Il Papiro, a favorite paper shop of ours, then push on.  We found another shop, Paolo Olbi.  That’s Mr. Olbi up there, wrapping up the purchased folios for me to carry home to America.  I rather like this shop–better than Il Paprio, I have to say.

Shrine Venice Rialto Bridge

A shrine with the face worn off, just under the Rialto Bridge.

Gondola shop window

Where the gondoliers shop?

Venice Canal Night

The view from Rialto Bridge at night, looking San Marco direction.

Venice Hotel Chandelier

When we see this beautifully lit Murano glass chandelier, we recognize where we are–two more turns and we are home to our hotel.

Alle Vite Dorita hallway light

We let ourselves in with our key, and there’s another Murano light in our hallway.  We check our emails, get ready for bed, which includes pulling the shutters on the window slightly shut, and head to bed.  The only unfortunate thing in this nearly perfect hotel are the pillows: one is a slab of foam about the size of a bread box and the other is longish pillar of foam about 5″ in diameter.  There were some more regular-looking pillows but they had fancy pillowcases on them, so I thought they were decorative.  It’s when you travel you realize how much you like your own bed, your own pillows, and your own home.  But it is grand to be in Venice!

Bologna, Sights and Scenes–final

Italy 2012, continued

I thought these lights looked like hanging prom dresses.

Waiting for Dave, back in the hotel, I caught up on journaling and thought about the woman I’d sat next to at dinner the last night in Carpi.  I’d met her at the vinegaria farm and as we exchanged pleasantries outside, she dropped into the conversation that she was a widow . . . of six months.  She’d come back because her husband was prominent in the Collegium Ramazzini and they were doing a memorial for him that night at the final session.  I didn’t attend the meeting, but as happenstance would have it, we sat next to each other that night at dinner in the large, noisy banquet hall, filled with not only our group of nearly 100, but also a younger, noisier group.  I could hardly hear her when she did converse with me, as she spent most of her time talking to someone she knew beside–and across from–her.

I thought of my sister who has gone through this experience, and from watching her and from a lot of reading for my graduate fiction novel learned that many widows considered the first year after their husband’s death to be the time they felt like they were living in a bizarre world. I felt sad for her–here she was in a foreign country, stuck next to some scientist’s wife at some noisy dinner and with whom probably had neither the inclination nor the energy to carry on a conversation. Although out of politeness, she tried.

Back home, if I met someone like her at church, I would probably know what to say, and we would have the luxury of a long-term relationship to carry us over the rough spots.  But when traveling, the rough spots glare a little more, and although she was cordial, she wore her sorrow like a cloak.  I sat next to her seatmate the next day at our final lunch in Carpi and found our more about her, but it only confirmed those early impressions.  I wish we could have visited in other circumstances, for like my sister, she is a studio artist who has mounted several independent shows.  For some reason, either because I was in Italy, or just the crazy conversions of my brain, thinking of the juxtaposition of her husband’s recent death and the art show that he never lived to see, reminded me of that oft-quoted Latin phrase:  Ars long, vita brevis.  Life is short, art eternal.

The key turns in the lock, pulling me out of my journal–Dave’s back and now my universe can turn in its ordered path once more.  Where had he gone?  Up into the university area, strolling the streets and taking photos, like the one above, and the pictures below, with fragments of the setting sun painted onto the buildings:

Neptune fountain from the front.

Detail.  (Couldn’t resist)

Hand in hand, we head out for a walk together.

These candied fruits were like jewels in the window.

I splurge and buy one of a clementine, a pear, and a couple of others.

I expected them to taste differently, but later, in the hotel room that night we ate a piece of each and while they look so divine, they were just gooey candied fruit, like the fruit in fruitcakes, Dave says. But I don’t regret trying them.

We are amazed by the salumerias that we pass by.  Here’s view A (above) and view B (below).

The Bolognians don’t buy regular meats in these shops–they are just for cured meats and some cheeses (in the deli cases below).

We were on the hunt for a vinegar stopper like the ones I’d seen at the vinegaria, for my new bottle of vinegar.  One man told us the name of the device was a “tappo salva soccia,” or “top catches drips.”  Sounds right to me.  We found one in a hardware store.

I wished I could have bought some spiffy sneakers with studs in them, but we figured out (after never seeing a price tag, nor the item in the shops),that these were for display only.  Still . . .

When walking in the evening, the window displays show to their best advantage without the glare of the daylight on the glass.  Couldn’t decide if this display was in sympathy with the American holiday of Halloween, or the European-Catholic holidays of All Souls Day/All Saints Day.  We walked back home to eat dinner near our hotel, and on the way, Dave noticed a purse in the window of a shop.  Yes, we bought it.  I had kind of given up hope of that kind of a souvenir.  I’ve found the best policy is to not to have a pre-determined specific idea of what you want to take home, as you’re likely to be disappointed.  I was happily surprised at this outcome.  (I love my purse!)

We walked back home by way of another fabric shop he’d seen that afternoon (didn’t buy anything, but admired Dave for his fabric-shop-finding skills), and I had him pose by the shadow of Neptune on his fountain.  That’s Dave there, against the wall under Neptune’s knee.  We had dinner at a restaurant across the street, Osteria Le Mura, then went home and ended the day.

The next morning at breakfast, we try to figure out what kind of tree this is outside the breakfast room window, guessing at different things and finally wondering if it were a fruit germaine only to the local area.  I ask the waiter for more information.

He says it’s a “pursey-man” tree.  Pursey-man?

When the lady behind the counter brings out this dish, I understand immediately: persimmon tree.  I hadn’t seen them ever as golden pieces of fruit.  (And now Dave and I refer to them only as pursey-man fruits.  The influence of travel is broadening.)

In talking to some other tourists at breakfast, we find out about a short walk to a lovely church and a viewpoint, so we head out, passing these rows of brilliantly colored trees on our way to San Michele in Bosco (the name of the church).

This is the view of Cathedral St. Petrionous in the center of the city (zoomed in).  You saw our shot of the two towers (complete with satellite tower on top) in the previous post.  It’s a lovely panorama and a fitting way to remember the city.

We head up the hill to the church.

The insignia, inside the church on one of the chapel gates.

The interior is divided into two parts: an upper and a lower, with this saint guarding the stairway.  We tread quietly, as a man is kneeling silently in the first pew.

Around the corner in the sacristy (?), a woman is tending a rack of postcards, in the ubiquitous “gift shop.”  We inquire in our best raised-eyebrow-fake-Italian if there is a cloister.  The torrent of words in reply didn’t help. I find a postcard and point and then there are smiles and lots of pointing, with her hand going this way, then that way.  We pay for a postcard (any one will do) and try to find out where this cloister is.

We walk out the door on the upper left of the church into a long hallway, which used to be part of the church, but is now a hospital.  This ancient fresco clock is high up on the wall.

We focus initially on this wonderful ceiling in a play of light and shadow.  Then I happen to glance down at my feet.

Dave!  It’s a meridian line!  I’d seen it in another one of the churches yesterday, but theirs had Plexiglas over it, so we wouldn’t walk on it (it was in that church that didn’t allow photos), and here this was, just laid out in the hallway where anyone could walk on it.

Linea Meridiana.

We try to follow the directions given to us, but realize that we need to get back to catch our train, so leave the cloister for another day.  I saw later that it was a unique octagonal garden cloister.  Bless the web.  And curse it, for showing me what I could not see.

The train we’ve chosen is just like this one: sleek and shiny and looking like a stalled slithering snake, there on the tracks.  We’d grabbed a snack for lunch, then found our seats, and enjoyed the hour-long (about) ride to Padua.

Because we were in first class, a woman brought around a little cart with snacks, just like an airplane.  Only our flight attendants don’t wear surgical gloves when they pass out the pretzels.

We sat next to a British man who was the registrar for a large university in England, and he said he was pretty worn out by the last round of admissions, so was taking a holiday–first to Rome, then to Venice.  We chatted with him on how the system worked in England, and he told us about the change-over from a government-financed education for the students, to one where they paid for it themselves (with government loans). After talking to him for the entire ride, we agreed that he needed a holiday.  Academics will find each other wherever they go?  We said our good-byes and got off the train in Padua.

Next post: Padua.

Bologna, Sights and Scenes, II

Italy 2012, continued

For some reason, I am quite enamored of these slat-seat metal chairs in photos and have taken pictures of them in New York, San Francisco and now Bologna, although this is the first time I’ve seen them in orange. This was outside a noted coffee shop where folks stop for a bit of refreshment, but we’re on the move.  No stopping allowed.

The old Bologna Town Hall.

And inside, a beautiful ceiling and light.

Across the square I see this stately building.  Wait. Is that what I think it is?  I zoom in for a closer look.

Yes! A fabric shop.  This one carries high-end fabrics meant for suits and expensive dresses, for tailors and dressmakers.  I’m in heaven.

I’ll take a half of a meter, please. It’s a gorgeous piece of wool challis, bound for a scarf.  Or something.

Later that night when we passed by their window, we snapped a picture of their display.  Everything was very close and all sights in the downtown Old Bologna were within in walking distance of each other.  So as a result, we saw some things twice, as we looped around.  Still, I would love to come here in more temperate weather, when the sun makes every building glow all day long.

Old door. Dave had stepped inside this area to photograph the gate leading into the inner courtyard.  He’d become very adept at finding beautiful filigree gates to photograph as the following pictures can testify:

These gates hint at the inner life of these buildings, and Dave said he nearly got hit by a car while trying to get a good angle on a gate.  I guess it was opening out by remote control and the car was behind him, but no worries.  He’s nimble.

One hallmark of Bologna are their passageways, their covered walkways with elegant arches.

This is near the University of Bologna, where Dave went for his walkaround in the afternoon when we split up.  That university is apparently the oldest in the world, according to Wikipedia, and was founded in 1088.  As they note: “it was the first to use the term universitas for the corporations of students and masters which came to define the institution.”

The lady who checked us into our hotel gave us some huge number of miles of covered walkways (or porticoes) something like 66,000 kilometers, but we thought that sounded erroneous. I read later that it’s about 40 kilometers, which is still a lot.  They did shield us from the rain, but they are not always contiguous, or continuous.

We thought of Chad when we saw this, as he runs a bike shop out of his garage, unofficially, though.

This is a close-up of the top balcony, as I was interested in the woodwork at the top.

Poetry Way.  I loved it.

We knew we were on the right track to San Stefano, when this guy poked out his head and yelled, “It’s straight ahead!”

His wife agreed, although she could have been disappointed with my fashion statement of tourist sneakers.  I was amazed that there was a whole chorus of heads about them, all along the eaves of this building.

One thing Italians do well, is set up the shot, or angle by which you approach something.  The building with the heads is the far one on the left.  Behind us is the church.

The points of these walkways converge to the front door, and that door is also framed by side walkways, more colonnaded porticoes.

We head in. (No, that’s not us.)

This is a map of the complex, and the big door is on Church #1-3. Chiesa del Crocifisso. The only info I could find was in Italian, but it is an old-style church, with the #3 room above the #2 Crypt.  No photos were allowed in this area (but it might have been no flash–I don’t know).

We walked to the attached church, which is the octagonal Basilica del Sepolcro, where Petrionius, a Bishop from the 5th century (and who built this complex on top of one where a temple to Isis stood) was buried under a large altar (his tomb is just inside the gated door, in the lit area). Or so one guidebook told us. Of course, I am familiar with the name because of the Petronas Charm spell from the Harry Potter novels.  Ah, the usefulness of popular culture.

Then into the Basilica dei SS. Vitale e Agricola, a dark church with slices of stone for window panes.

We made our way back to #6–the Courtyard of Pilate.  Some say that the large urn was the same one where Pontius Pilate washed his hands of Christ, but that has been disproven. But it was a delightful place, with lots of intricate brickwork in the design of — I’m convinced — thirteenth century quilt block patterns.  Then next door to The Cloisters (#8), back through the Church of the Martyrdom (#7), and we never made it into the other church/museum area (#9-12).

But we did enjoy this courtyard and the cloisters.  All told, the construction on these series of churches stretched from the 5th century through to the 14th century, a range of styles and decor from austere and bone-chilling, to intricate and intriguing.

Yeah, okay.  I love these designs.  Who was it in the 8th century who thought of these?  Who gave permission for such frivolity on basically a very austere church?  I assume that only those who preached and worked there might see this, so was this to balance out the rest?

Looking into the cloister area.

At the top of this small column in this ancient window is a small sculpture of a snail.

This is a fourteenth century sculpture of a rooster, called the Rooster of St. Peter.  For obvious reasons (read that section where Peter had denied the Christ three times before the rooster crowed that morning). I had Dave take the photo because it reminded me of several items in my daughter’s kitchen, when roosters were popular decorating items.  Even though Dave and I traveled as a couple, in one way or another, we brought along all our children in our hearts and minds, finding things that reminded us of them.  They are such a part of our lives that we cannot leave them behind, no matter where we go or what we see.

The Tomb of Somebody Important.  The fact that I don’t know the complete and exact history of this particular little chapel (perhaps if I read Italian?), didn’t obscure the fact that I loved the whole scene — the floor, the wavy lines on the tomb, the peeling ochre paint as a stage set.

Back outside, the colors glow in the sun.

We’ve only hit a few of the things on our list, but we MUST stop for lunch.  It was like some invisible alarm went off and all of sudden the restaurants were full to overflowing, packed, even.  We survey a few, then find our way upstairs to a little place inside Eataly where they serve lunch.  We only have to wait 10 minutes for a table and with some relief sit down.

Eataly began in New York City, but they’ve since opened places in Italy.  How poetic!  But our lunch was delicious and wonderful.  After lunch, I wander aimlessly around the store, feeling the pressure of souvenir shopping for the folks at home.  I’d contemplated giving it up after the last trip, but old habits die hard.  After some discussion about shopping (yes, I need to do some shopping and you’re not helping me), we opt for some individual walking around time.  I expect to find relief in being by myself to get some serious buying done (Dave will admit to being shopping-adverse), but as soon as he walks out the door and disappears into the street, I regret our separation.

I follow where I think he’s gone, but I can’t see him.  I feel so alone, but figure he could probably use the time away from me more than I from him, so I let it be.

Touristing can be a hard business.  The fountain of Neptune, as seen through a passageway.

This is the center of Bologna, the Piazza del Maggiore, which you saw in rain-streaked photos at the beginning of our time here.  It’s much more glorious in the day.

I wander in and out of the Basilican of St. Petronio, but since they don’t allow photos, it is misty in my aging memory.  The outside was monumental, however unfinished (note the ragged brickwork at the top). 

I would have taken photos from the front, from the plaza, but the basilica was draped in reconstruction plastic and it looked like a wide white plastic wall, with cut-outs for doorways.

I went back to Eataly and purchased some balsamic vinegar, an apron and at the tourist office in the Plaza San Maggiore, picked up some more souvenirs.  I had purchased a purse when we’d gone to Florence, and so wanted another from this trip to Italy.  The lady in the tourist office (“So glad you came to me.  I love shopping.”) directed me to one shop in Piazza Cavour, where I found this statue of a musician? professor?  Again, if I read Italian, I could help you out with the history and importance, but I can’t.  I decided to enjoy it on its artistic merits, surrounded by glowing Bolognian buildings.

I did find out that this is a statue of a famous politician, Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour.  Figured.  Who’d ever build a statue to a teacher?  Or a musician?

The only flaw in my plan to do some serious solo shopping was the fact that most all of the stores close between 1 and 3:30 p.m.  So I didn’t buy a purse, nor many souvenirs, but instead walked around (the new Town Hall, above), bought some chocolate, then headed home to wait for Dave.

It was thoughtful of the electrician to run those wires AROUND these corner statues, wasn’t it?

Next post: What Dave did, and the end of our time in Bologna.

Bologna Sights and Scenes, I

Italy 2012, continued

First, one last picture from Carpi. This is the meeting room of the Collegium Ramazzini, with its decorated ceilings.  Certainly not all Ramazzians come every year.  The number of members in the group is capped at 180, because at the time there were 180 Cardinals in the Catholic church and THEY were able to cover the whole earth, so that’s how they decided how many scientists there should be in the collegium.

Through a lovely fluke, the people in the car with us (from Carpi to Bologna) were also going to the same hotel, so the driver dropped us both off.

Since we had just come from a modern, more austere hotel-type lodging, I found this warm creamy yellow interior of this hotel lobby a perfect antidote to the rain outside.Scenes from our hotel.  It’s really a conglomerate of about 5 houses, joined by two courtyards and a breakfast room, so it doesn’t feel like a “hotel.” That little “cottage” on the upper left is one of their rooms, but apparently it’s in great demand.  While we had stairs to our room, the first building has an elevator.

Our bedroom and bath.  I loved the sink with its graceful shape.

These flowers were just outside the breakfast room, near the cottage.  Because of the rain, the internet was spotty, so after taking a bit of a break (we still hadn’t recovered totally from jetlag), we decided to get some dinner at a place the front desk recommended, Da Nello, downtown near the main square.  See the Menu post for more info (it’s coming, it’s coming!).

We walked out on the rainy streets.  Daylight savings time had already come to Italy, so it was dark earlier on the clock. The first picture is right across from our restaurant on a main pedestrian drag.  The second is the main plaza, Piazza de Maggiore.  We walked home and called it a day, praying that the forecasts for a let-up in the rain were accurate.

After a sumptuous breakfast with homemade coffee cakes, we headed out to the first of a few churches we saw.  If you’ve been traveling, sometimes you begin to get church-sights-fatigue, as I did later on in this day.  And as an armchair traveler, sometimes it’s easy to feel the same, as seeing it pictures, flat and in 2D is not the same as experiencing the huge spaces, or a stone angel tucked way up high over the altar, or the glint of the sun through a window,  breaking through after three days of constant rain bringing soggy tourists some relief.

But first, I loved the idea that these grand cathedrals will always need a fix-it man, hanging around to oil the hinges on massive wooden doors, as he did.

In the center it’s a pristine, and light and airy church, with minimal dark wood.

But it had an occasional dark side chapel, with only the light on the Virgin Mary centerpiece, a dim cast from a side window, and a rose of glowing red votives.

The Murano glass chandeliers were simple and beautiful.  Dave and I both took photos of this large “rosette” on the wall, interested in the swirls of rigid cloth and leaning figures, frozen in space.

Every Catholic church has the Stations of the Cross, and theirs were a tableau setting, draped with heavy scarlet damask cloth.

The Magi come to adore the Christ Child: Adorazione.

This checkerboard tomb (?) was in a side chapel.  I like that with all this space, this huge and soaring church, they still have a hard time finding space to store things, so tuck them in a side chapel. (Just a guess.)

The organ and the Murano chandeliers.  This reminded me a little of the church in Munich that is all in white.  Of course, I can remember both of these churches because photos were allowed, although Dave said the fix-it man came and scolded him for taking photos. In many churches we went into there was a sign posted, although it was unclear if it meant no photos. . . or merely no flash.

Around the corner from the altar was this side chapel, a rosette on its ceiling, and if you dropped your 50-cent Euro coin in the turnstile, you were permitted to advance.  If only going to heaven was so cheap or easy.

First up, the choir seats, where dignitaries or singers sit with intricately inlaid scenes at their backs, made of different veneered woods.

And then out into the cloisters, with hedged criss-cross rows subdividing the courtyard with a giant X.  Sunshine is promised.  We can almost feel it.

This almost makes you want to redesign your yard and outdoor patio, doesn’t it?

We were the only tourists in the cloisters.

Backside of the church.

Bell tower.

The sun is out!  We are amazed to see this side of the cloisters start to glow like it was lit from within, until we figured out why: it was laid with red carpet.  Still, I loved the effect.

Obviously NOT on the red-carpet aisle, but it was still lovely.

An unusual sculpture in one of the hallways on the way out.  It reminded us of the sculpture we saw in the courtyard at the Vatican, and which Matthew had on his family blog.

We came full circle back out to the space in front of the church and the sky had darkened up a bit, throwing this statue of Saint Domenic into relief.

Sun again!  I sound like a nut, but really, it’s so nice to see things without holding an umbrella over your head.

St. Domenic’s tomb, I believe. Now I’ve really got to redo the backyard.

With the sun out, the colors of Bologna start to come alive, with ochres, reds, golden yellows.  It really is a beautiful city.

Here’s the men-door-keyholes, similar to what I saw in Carpi, but these are in much better shape. Love the door handles.

Dave took this one.  I stopped to try and photograph the dog, and he was looking right at me, but the windows were all misty, so this is the better shot. Over and over it was reinforced that this was a city, not of tourists, although there were certainly accomodations for us, but a city of working and shopping and normal people.

Here are the two towers, from a shot Dave took later in the day.  In the morning, we were coming at these towers from the other side.  They have names: Torre Garisenda and Torre degli Asinelli.  The shorter one used to be as tall as the one you see looming over the city, but was demed unsafe some years ago because of the leaning, and was lopped off.  The taller one can be climbed.  It’s something like 60 stories.

This is how we saw them, dissected by power lines.

And the next morning, we saw them this way, having climbed a small mountain to get a view.  We laughed to see the radio/cell transmission equipment on the top, certainly not very visible from the ground.  A good use of a tall space, I suppose, but fairly incongruous. Okay, back to the streets.

We’re on our way to San Stefano, a collection of seven medieval churches. More coming in the next post.

Todi, Deruta, Assisi & Pienza

(Italy 2007)

Driving across the countryside is not an efficient use of time while traveling, but it certainly is a beautiful way to travel.  And where we’re going–the backroads work just fine.  We’re on our way to other hilltowns, before our final destination tonight of Pienza. Above is Orvieto, from afar (through a haze, but it is apparent how “on a hill” it is).

We both decided we could live in that house on the hill if we had sacks of money.  But, oh, what a beautiful location.

After traveling for a length of time, we arrive at the bottom of the hill of the town of Todi, in Umbria.  This little church is the Santa Maria della Consolazione, built  between 1508-1607.  Yes, that’s 100 years.

It’s one of those brilliant little Renaissance churches based on a Greek cross.  There’s some thinking that it was built to a plan by Bramante.  I’m always impressed with the architecture of that time, as it seems there’s not a hair out of place on these churches, and they are so symmetrial and ordered.  If ever your life was crazy-time, you’d want to come and pray in a church like this.

Interior Ceiling

Here’s a map of Todi for orientation. Many hilltowns have a long street down the middle, with everything branching off it.  This long street often leads to the main plaza and a church.

We drive up a little further, park below this church,  the San Fortunato (built 1292-1462, according to our guidebook), obviously missing the upper part of its facade.  I liked the criss-crossing steps on the hill, visible on the map above, to the left of the main part of the town.

Todi has a lot of curving streets bordered by buildings.  The shadows leading to the light are a typical scene, with flowers in the window box.

Or hanging laundry. Don’t you wonder who lives in that tiny one-window room just below the tablecloths?  Or what it looks like from the inside? (Maybe a late addition of a bathroom?)

View from through the Duomo’s front doors.

View from the Duomo doorway into the Piazza del Popolo, which was built in the 13th century on the site of a Roman temple to Apollos.  I liked its spare feeling–not a lot of ornamentation.

If I lived here, I could eat every night on that little balcony.  There’s a lot times when traveling here that we would see a picturesque place like this, and wish for a few minutes that we could enjoy their style of living.  But how often would the children and grandchildren be able to see us if we lived across the ocean?  Our family has a pull that no beautiful house can match.

Giribaldi Plaza.  This man was a folk hero, soldier, member of Itay’s parliament and apparently responsible (or contributed heavily) to the unification of Italy.  Didn’t know any of this when I saw the statue–just liked his outfit and his hat, and the fact that the parked cars were an interesting juxtiposition against his rakish stance. He traveled all over the world, married a Brazilian woman, and even came to the States to try and raise money for a ship.

Lovely square tower, so typical of these towns.  I assume all the dots next to the windows once held shutters.

This was on one side of Giribaldi Plaza.  We were thinking about our next meal (lunch) and moving on to try and find a cousin to our Derutan plates hanging on the walls back in our kitchen, so we buy some prosciutto to go with the rolls we had from Orvieto, along with one tomato and two yellow plums.  We stop in Deruta and eat our lunch in the car, then try to find the pottery.  First stop–not the style, but beautiful.  The town appears to be closed for the lunch hour–it’s all deserted.  I’m about to give up home, but Dave spots an open door.

We go in.  This is when I know Dave has ultimate tourist karma, because it’s the shop!

I’d taken pictures of our plates before leaving home and the owner identifies them as his.  He confirms that he sells to a place in Laguna Beach, so we know it’s the right place. We take a long time, but finally choose salad-sized plates to take home.  Here he is putting the wire on the back for hanging.  He then invites us in to see the artists at work in the workshop.

Were you expecting Gepetto?  It’s lunchtime he says (he speaks English), so a lot of them are at home.

It was interesting to me how they used one hand to support the other as they painted.

While we’re there, another tour guide with only three women comes into the shop, and I overhear her say this is the place to come for high quality pottery from Deruta.  After paying for our plates, we find a gelato shop at the end of town and celebrate by sharing.  We head on the highway toward Perugia, then veer off to Assisi.

We can see it from the motorway, high up on a hill, and we begin the climb up to the top (in our car).  Just to the left of that green patch on right (on the map above) is a car park–a garage with LOTS of parking.  This is at the top of the hill, so we begin to wend our way down to the Basilica.

This plaza is the first one we enter at the top of the hill, with its traditional square tower.

The main drag.

A friar on his way past the gelateria.

Flower-filled courtyard.

A favorite shot when I can get it: through an archway into the valley below.

Old frescoes (above and below) above interesting doorways.

A combo drive/walk street.  Or else the paved sidewalks are for shopping carts and baby buggies.

Aqueduct of Assisi: water supply.

Dave in front of a building that looks held together with rods and end posts, but it has a variety of windows, probably from different eras, er–centuries.  Just around the bend from this is the Basilica.  This was the one that was so heavily damaged in the earthquakes in 1997.  I remember seeing all the rubble of the collapsed tower, but we came so I could see the frescoes by Giotto, which are along the walls of the main church.

It was the campanille to the left that was so heavily damaged (I think).  PAX on the lawn in front of the basilica.  We took the tour–Reliquary, Tom, Lower Nave, Upper Nave–but no photos allowed, ending up in the gift shop, where there were no decent books on Giotto’s frescoes.

Okay to take photos of the courtyard, though, just outside the gift shop.  We head back inside the church to admire the art.  Here’s some sampling from the web.

The main part of the church.

Given that I’ll probably never get into Scrovegni Chapel, these were next best thing.  We linger a long time, enjoying all the artwork, walking up and down, but mostly sitting, amazed at these frescoes, still intact from the 13th century.  They portray the life cycle of St. Francis. Above, he eschews rich clothing and his titles so help the poor and needy. Below “Do not touch me,” as he greets Christ.

Head to this website to see more.

Back outside, we take more photos.

The friary? I like the brickwork.

Lower level, I guess where the tour busses arrive and drop off the tourists.

We head back up the street, spotting a nun.  Silly to take photos, I suppose, but it’s not something I’ll see often in my hometown.  Yet, it’s evident it is part of life here in Assisi.

This reminds me of a balcony where a Juliet might talk to her Romeo.  On that day in Assisi, rain drops were falling–spitting, actually–but no rain.

Thirsty, we buy a 2-euro bottle of water and drain it.  That’s one of the things about traveling, you learn not to take easy access to a drink for granted.  I assume these are coats of arms affixed to the wall.

Another balcony on another square tower.  We’re off to Pienza to our hotel.

We found this Hotel–Piccolo Hotel La Valle–on the web, where it was part of a traveler’s diary, then confirmed it was a good hotel on, a cousin to our domestic Trip Advisor.  It was at the edge of the town, and when we opened our windows we saw the countryside below.

Requisite photo of bathroom.  Love the checkboard tiles.

We went to dinner at a restaurant recommended by the hotel desk: Da Fiorella.  It is a very small place, with an upstairs loft-like area overlooking the main floor.

In the front is a fennel, pepper, carrot and raddichio salad.  Dave had grilled eggplant with cheese.  And in the center–heaven–in the form of lightly dressed white beans with onions.

Dessert: panna cotta with berry sauce and berries.  We shared it–delish!

Orvieto, Italy

We arrive in Paris; it was tight a connection on Alitalia until the flight was delayed by two hours and we spent too much money on airport food for lunch, but not by choice.  Welcome to travel.

We board and land in Rome, ready for our adventure.

First adventure: get the rental car, by walking through lots of tubular walkways like this one.  The Slow Travel website had a really good description of how to find these rental car counters, so I knew it was a long way away from our gate.

Into the car and out on the freeway.  Driving in a car around Rome was unusual, because like most tourists, I’d only ever traveled the downtown city center.  It was interesting to see where Romans lived (high rises) and also interesting to see these glass walls on the freeway.  The first time anywhere I think the sense of discovery runs very high and anything different or new is interesting, or at least worth taking a photo of.

Even dumb things like this tanker with interesting stars on the back of it.

Or beautiful things like these fields of sunflowers. We drove to Orvieto and looked for a place to park our car.  We drove around the top of the city (remember this is on a hilltown) three times, before finding a car park.

Then find our way to the hotel.

Dave checks us in. The name of the hotel is Albergo (Hotel) Fillippeschi and it’s on Via Filippeschi 19.

The bedroom.  It overlooked a fairly quiet street.

The bathroom.  Stuff stowed, we head out.  As usual our time zones are scrambled, so it’s stroll for a while until we feel we can do some dinner–usually later in these hilltowns.  We head for the Duomo, as we’ve heard it’s best to see it in the setting sun.

This isn’t a huge town, so we just meander our way over. We come upon the plaza, framed by the side streets.

The striped construction is so interesting–bands of dark and then light flagstone, according to Wikipedia.

The sun’s beginning to glint off the gold glass tiles in the mosaics.  We couldn’t take our eyes off of it.

For a comprehensive discussion of what is just touched on here, *this* website has a lot of great details about the cathedral.

(Imagine the previous photo hooked up with this one.)

We’re not the only ones who think this sight is worth something.  A row of older men sit across the plaza from the duomo chatting away.  From the looks of them, it’s a nightly occurrence in summer, I’d guess.

And on the other side, the distaff side of the town gathers to talk over their day.

We’re back to fascination with this cathedral.  Apparently there are three major cathedrals in this region: Sienna, Florence and Orvieto, but this one gets little attention, as compared to the others.  Certainly the city around it is not as compelling, and perhaps that’s why–size of town.  This is literally the top of a hill, and it’s not very big, whereas the others have spread out more.  But we find the front of this church, and its carvings entrancing, taking photo after photo (this is where a telephoto lens would have come in handy).

I suppose this one is the Creation, although I don’t know who the standing figures are on the left.

Spiraling bands of mosaic up the side pillars.  I’m thinking quilt patterns! It’s a loopy kind of spiral, not even and measured.

The pillars near the front door. You can see the loopiness in that one pillar more clearly.

Reaching out over the edge of the facade in the upper right is a bronze sculpture: the eagle representing John in the New Testament.

Above the huge front doorways are a rose window and another triangular mosaic.

This is taken from the alley across the street.  The plaza is not that large–sort of like Florence’s Duomo–hemmed in by buildings.  Remember that there is not a lot of real estate up here on this hill–not like Venice, which has a grand plaza in front of its cathedral.

Apparently the flying buttresses (seen at the far end of this picture–the curving line) were built to try and help with the distribution of weight.  Later they were found out to be pretty much useless.  This cathedral too over 300 years to build, so I’m sure there were a lot of committees working on this one.

A side door.  Love the green lintel.

These stripes I find, are quite striking, and highlight the architecture of this building.  Strong bold stripes that have lacy filigree bands create another kind of contrast.

We think we’re hungry now and head for dinner.  Three courses, and this is the first.  It’s like a taste of everything.

Pardon the half-eaten meals.  Sometimes we forget to take a picture at the beginning.  These gnocchi were the best I’ve every eaten, anywhere.

Somehow we got our wires crossed and they brought the cheese course.  I thought it would like 3 pieces, but it was a board with about 13 different kinds of cheese.  I told them I’d pay for it, but there was no way I was going to eat it.  Dave had dessert, though, and this is how it was served: a rolling trolley with clear covers over a variety of different desserts.  I had some fresh berries, and Dave chose this baked dessert, but I can’t remember what it was, or what the name of the restaurant was.  It was sort of kitty-corner from the Duomo, on our hotel side.

And this is what we saw when we came out after dinner.  I’m always struck by the color of the skies in Europe–such rich colors, unlike our insipid blah of Los Angeles area.  I suppose if we were on a hill somewhere, away from smog, lights and haze, we might actually get a sky like this.  Nah.

The next morning we, with out screwed up time zones, are up way before dawn, shower and dress and try to go for a walk.  Except they’ve locked the hotel front door and no one is at the desk.  Okay–what if there were a fire?  How would we get out now?  We explore a little, and back in the bar is a little door opens that leads to a little alley.  We’re out and can’t get back in until someone comes to man the desk.  This is the hotel; the woman is standing in the doorway and our room is above her, shutters closed.

A different kind of light shines on the buildings this morning, with different facades and buildings illuminated.  I like the two small windows by the central window, and the bas relief over the deep doorway.

This is supposedly the oldest building (after the cathedral).  The crenelation on that roof is quite interesting.

I love that these buildings have art on the exterior, with a very elegant frame.

I’m going to paint my doorway in bands, just like these.  Do you suppose they scavenged them from when the cathedral was being built?  Tthey are across the side plaza.

Coats of arms built into the building.

We’d seen this clock last night (it faces the side of the cathedral, next to the shop with the interesting black and white doorways).  We think the top contraption is a mechanical clock.

There is more to this town than the cathedral and we go exploring.

A perfect little Madonna and son tile embedded above a doorway.

Senso Unico=One Way.  That’s why we traveled around the town three times the night before trying to find a place to park.  Everytime we’d get close, one of these signs would direct us another direction.

Close-up of the little patio in the picture above.

I’m pretty fixated on mailboxes when I travel.  Someday I’ll do a post on nothing but mailboxes.

This little church wasn’t open, otherwise we’d have gone inside.  It is still quite early in the morning.

They do doorways really well in Italy.

The morning sun is beginning to bring the Italian colors alive, along with fake sunflowers blooming on a balcony above us.

The angles: up, down, slant, rounded, framed by a small alleyway.

Doesn’t the mossy texture on this church invite touch?  And that cross has its own tufts of grass–or lavender–growing up there.

These pictures are taken overlooking the surrounding countryside.

Now we’re back onto our street and are thinking–maybe breakfast?  We wanted to get a start this morning toward Pienza and visit some more hilltowns.  I love this balcony of flowers, but could never replicate them in our desert heat.  Even the arbor is well-defined in vining tendrils.

After breakfast, one last view from our hotel room, as people are starting their day.  We leave our luggage, and decide to try and see the interior of the cathedral.

Orvieto ESE We’re ready.

Orvieto Duomo Int1

I’m always surprised when an ornate exterior leads to an empty interior–much like the cathedral in Florence, I think.

Orvieto Duomo Int2

The Rose window from the inside.  I suppose if we’d been on a tour, they would have turned on all the lights to illuminate ceilings.  I’ve seen some of these photos on the web, but we take our sights as they come to us.

Orvieto Duomo Int3

Orvieto Duomo Int4

Frescos in the side chapel, dating from the Renaissance, about the 1300s according to some websites.

Orvieto Duomo Int5

Looking across the transcept.

Orvieto Duomo Ext.1

Walking down another street, this is the view from below of the backside of the cathedral.

Orvieto Ext 2

And back around the other side. We know the car’s meter is about up, so we head over to the car park plaza.

Orvieto 32

I’m a sucker for a good cobblestone alley; this is walking away from the Duomo.

Orvieto 33

It’s that interesting building again.

Orvieto 34

With a church across and a woman selling herbs and vegetables under her green striped umbrella.

Orvieto 35

Remodeling, Roman/Etruscan style.

Orvieto 36 DAE

Car’s packed, and we’re ready to go.