My most favourite place in Italy – VENICE! (despite the
poor non-existent signage -gotta LOVE Italy – and I do!)
Perhaps it was the time of year I visited: Winter. Yes it was cold, but so magical. (despite the poor
non-existent signage) I now wish I had taken photos of ‘that’ signage, but one always thinks of the “what ifs” afterwards… but more on that later.
We arrived in Venice by train from Rome, and sat down at a cafe outside the station on a gloriously sunny warm day (even though it was winter) overlooking a beautiful water scene – of course – to have a coffee and google map our location on the notebook… hmmm, didn’t seem to work very well. So we bought a map from an adjacent tourist shop… hmmmm… still didn’t work very well!
So, after coffee and (hopefully) mapping out our plan we started walking, lugging suitcases behind us. We knew that our accommodation had been booked within the town centre, minutes from the Rialto bridge and Piazza San Marco, so at least we had these bulbs to navigate us- but that was not enough. Normally the narrow windy streets of Italy can be confusing, but when all on water it seemed to multiply x 10! And that’s from someone who is usually good at navigating! The maps were eqully confusing, and the signage has obviuosly not caught up with tourism (I can’t imagine why) becasue many of the “Rialto” or “San Marco” were paper signs nailed to walls. I can’t imagine what the local government are thinking… such a high tourist area, potentially, yet many people we spoke to bemoaned the same issue.
As stipulated earlier, although we were in northern Italy at the beginning of Winter, the day we were looking for our accommodation was surprisingly warm and sunny, which did add to our frustrated mood – though there were lots of wine bars to stop and have a refreshing relax and regroup!
So after much wandering, and it seemed cascading on an ever decreasing spiral we finally found – by fluke – the sign (surprise, surprise) to our accommodation.
But once in Venice it was magnificent!
It was very strange being surrounded by water, and seeing no cars and hearing no traffic noise. Boats are used for everything from ambulance services through to restaurant kitchen deliveries. One afternoon we were sitting in a wine bar with a water view and saw a boat delivering buildng materials to a home being renovated. Bags of cement and other items were craned into the premise from the boat. However, the strangest delivery we saw was a load of coffins…
The two big attractions in Venice are the Rialto Bridge and Piazza San Marco. The Rialto Bridge was completed in 1592, and it has been recently announced that money has been pledged for its restoration from several sources. This is a good thing, because although you can’t tell by the photo (above) there is alot of tagging graffiti on parts of the bridge as well as general wear and tear.
St Marks Basilica dates back as early as 800AD, though it did evolve over the centuries. It is amazing to see from outside – its size is immense, and the inside is breathtaking. Photos were not allowed inside, but the walls and ceiling – and we are talking huge- are covered in tiny mosaic tiles! I bet a few hundred slaves died while building those walls! There is gold and opulence everywhere – it really puts into perspective the wealth of the Catholic church (and perhaps highlights how they should pay tax!)
I think I alluded to the queuing problem in Italy in the Pompeii post, and we struck the same ‘logic’ here! After queuing (thank goodness it wasn’t peak tourist season) we had to then walk five minutes around the corner to a baggage storer (no bags allowed), which we had trouble finding because there was no signage, and then walk back to the basilica…talk about crazy!
The piazza the basilica is located in is also huge, however, parts of it were fenced off from the public due to the Venice sinking problem… they are in the process of trying to float it from underneath…more information can be viewed here.
A great thing about Italy – and which was particularly good in Venice – is the no drink without food concept, so if you don’t order some food you just get some complimentary! We found a great bar in Venice with a very generous buffet Most of the bars had something like this in the evening, whereas at lunchtime people were buying proper meals… so lunch is the main meal of the day with a light dinner – very civilised!
As with many places in Europe dogs are also a big part of family life, and are allowed in shops and cafes. (In Australia this is against health regulations unless it is an assist dog) But one afternoon we were sitting in a cafe and in wandered a pigeon Nobody blinked an eye, it just wandered around picking up crumbs and making itself at home.
The downside of Venice was the rose sellers – mainly refugee men trying to make a living. But it is getting to the point where they almost harass you and force flowers into your hand – not good for tourism.
As we were in Venice at the beginning of winter the misty ambience was particularly magical – the mist would not lift about 11am, then descend again around 4pm – in between it was blue skies and sunny.
At the end of our stay in Venice we decided to catch the ferry back to the station rather than walk – although by now we knew our way around. The ferry ride was good, with many locals using it a work stransport, like a bus service.
Overall I found Venice to be very Middle Eastern in its influence – the shapes of windows, the style of the basilica, the mosaics and the colours. We loved Venice, and we can’t wait to go back, and visit some of the little islands nearby – hopefully before they sink!
It was a cool and partially rainy day when we visited the Colosseum, Roman Forum & Palatine Hill – it was mid December and therefore early Winter in Rome, and that meant it was not tourist season!! This was good as the lines to get into these attractions were nowhere near what they would be during the peak of tourist season. So, we were happy about that small benefit.
Entry to these attractions are bundled together, so if you ever do decide to visit and it is tourist season (or not) queue via the Forum as this line is always shorter than the Colosseum.
Once inside the Forum the epic nature of the city is quite amazing… and huge! Originally a marshland, the Romans cleared the land to create the business and political district which became the centre of Roman Life.
The Palatine is set on Palatine Hill, one of the seven hills of Rome, and was the site that the original settlers in Rome. Eventually though it was to to become the centre of Roman parliament (what modern Western parliament is based on), and as such is where Caligula was killed during a parliamentary session.
Here is some information from: http://www.rometoolkit.com/whattodo/colosseum.htm
The Palatine is the spot on which the first settlers built their huts, under the direction of Romulus. In later years, the hill became a residential district attracting the nobility. In time, however, the area gave way to imperial palaces and drew the famous such as Caligula (murdered here by members of his Praetorian Guard) and Nero.
The Colosseum was the centre of entertainment for Romans, and the site of the gladiator.
Here is some information from: http://www.rometoolkit.com/whattodo/colosseum.htm
When construction was completed on the Colosseum in 80 AD it was the largest amphitheatre built in all of Rome and could house over fifty thousand people! The engineering skill and technology of the day was pushed to its limits by its construction and design. The stadium was even designed to flooded in order to provide for mock navel battles.
The Colosseum was built primarily to entertain the masses in brutal and barbaric games. Some were beast on beast combat to the death. Others were people fighting animals to the death, while the most popular was the human on human combat. Gladiators were slaves, often captured in war, that were trained in special schools to fight each other to the death.
WOW!! I love that bit about the stadium being built to flood for mock naval battles – that snipet of trivia I did not know!
Over all it was a great day and well worth a visit if you’re ever in Rome. Of course there are ruins and history everywhere you look in Rome – but that is a post for another day!
The following pictures are some more images from the day 🙂 Enjoy!!
One of the places I wanted to visit while in Italy was Pompeii – not because of the porn room so many people have told me about, but just because! So while staying in Rome we took the train to Pompeii on a day that began with clear skies and warmth. At that time we had only been on fast trains so this was our first local train experience, complete with busking gypsies walking the carriages.
Being a local train, the journey wove through high density urban living which thinned out a little the closer we got to the volcano. Mt Vesuvius occupied the skyline as we passed it in the train, and after experiencing its size it is hard to fathom that people actually continue to live so close to this volcano.
After alighting from the train the entry to Pompeii was only a short walk. One thing we had noticed about Italy was its crazy, and seemingly inefficient, queuing and entry system, and Pompeii was no different! After standing in a queue to buy tickets we then stood in a separate queue to get a map, and then if we had wanted to store luggage, bags or jackets we would have had to walk in a completely different direction – luckily we didn’t! Why not get given a map with the ticket, and why not have the cloak room next to the ticket box? Oh well…
Walking around Pompeii was amazing, and eerie! An environment frozen in time, including the occasional body. Of course, by following the map we got lost a few times (another thing we noticed about Italy was incredibly inaccurate maps and poor signage) so we decided to follow our noses. My partner, Stobe, had been to Pompeii in 1991 when it was still free to enter, and he said it was now much cleaner and more restorative work had been carried out. Some parts of the city were still in ruin, as excavated, but other parts were being restored to portray how life was lived at the time. Other parts were closed off – either being researched and restored or given a rest.
It was especially surprising to see that some murals in certain rooms had survived, while the adjacent room was devastated… it reminded me of bushfires – one house burns to the ground, while the next house remains untouched. The vividness of the colours in these murals was amazing after a major volcano eruption and two thousand years later.
Another interesting feature in many of the houses was a square shallow pool complete with small drainage channels, set into the floor of what was probably a living area, and directly above the pool was an open square cavity in the roof. Obviously the pool was designed to capture water and transport that water to other areas of the house, but in some houses – maybe all due to the central location of the pools in the homes – it seemed it was also to bath in a social environment, like modern spa baths. The Romans enjoyed public baths, and obviously included them in their homes. Many of these pools had tables located nearby, possibly for food or water jars, and some were complete with inbuilt bench seating.
You may have noticed the above left image has a plant growing inside the room. Pompeii is still largely devoid of plants apart from some wineries that have been planted from seeds that have been found on the site. The orchards have been planted to recreate the vineyards including vines as closely as possible to how they originally were before the eruption. I can’t help but wonder if the above plant randomly sprung up from some sort of seed or remaining rootstock, which would therefore indicate the growing of such plants within the rooms of these homes.
And when it came to entertainment outside of the home, no Italian city is complete without a Colosseum, and Pompeii’s was pretty grand, complete with original marble slabs intact on some of the seating.
As we wandered around the city the clouds began rolling in so that when we were eventually in a good position to photograph the volcano clouds were hugging its peak… why hadn’t I taken a photo from the train?
Toward the end of our wanderings we stumbled across the Necropolis, or cemetery. We came across it at the end of our exploring because the dead were always buried outside the city walls by the Romans. This part of the city was in incredibly good condition, and contained a string of ornate family tombs running along both sides of a central pathway.
And leaving the best till last: the ceramics of Pompeii. Clay was used in ancient times for everything from burial urns to cooking to mosaic surfaces to drainage systems, and many examples survived the volcano.
And what of that porn room you ask?? We didn’t see it! We were visiting during winter and there was quite a large section that was closed off, presumably being rested and cleaned up before the tourist season- I reckon that is where the porn room was located… oh well! I guess that’s yet another excuse to go back to Italy!
Tuscany, as we all may know has a romantic reputation for wine, good food and a slow relaxed lifestyle… so a visit to the area was a must while in Italy. We undertook this trip while in Florence, and decided to do an organised tour for convenience and time’s sake. Normally we keep a wide berth when it comes to organised trips and tours, preferring to navigate ourselves on trains. So after a recommendation from a fellow artist in the Florence exhibition I was involved in we booked our trip and crossed our fingers.
As it was the ‘off’ season (winter) our only choice was the half day trip which included a commentaried tour of the Tuscan countryside, a stop at Castello Monteriggioni for an olive oil tasting, with the final stop being Sant’Appiano for wine tastings. The were transported in a mercedes people mover syle van, so it was a comfortable ride with about eight other people in the tour.
Being Italy during the winter, we were lucky enough to have gorgeous sunny weather for the trip, which enabled us to fully appreciate the scenic route to Sienna (rather than the freeway), and we were able to stop a couple of times and take photos.
During this part of the tour we also were shown -from a distance- Sean Connery’s castle, which he purchased in Sienna because he loves the famous annual no rules horse race, Il Palio, that happens there annually. Unfortunately I could not get a good photo of this castle AND unfortunately I do not believe in horse racing!
After driving for a few hours we arrived at our first stop, the Castello Monteriggioni, a typical walled castle atop a hill – so as to overlook the approaching enemy. Here we tasted some amazing olive oil – and purchased some, as well as a jar of olive oil hand cream which was scrumptious! (a must have for artists)
Unfortunately we arrived at this walled city too late to explore, it was getting dark and late, and we were on a schedule for the wine tasting… so after a quick photo of an old church (which I have no information about) we piled back into the people mover.
After a short upward journey we reached Sant’Appiano, which has been a winery since the 14th century. Today it is run by a family now in its third generation of operation, and they have expanded to offer accommodation for tourists.
The group was given a tour of the winery and then seated in the restaurant for tastings, which included some platters with wine and cold cuts, as it is traditional in Italy that wine is not consumed without food – which was great when we went for an afternoon or evening wine during our stay in Italy! the wines were great, the cheese was great… pity about the cold cuts: being vegetarian!
Don’t go on organised tours anymore! It was a one off and it didn’t work! Even though the weather was great, because it was an afternoon tour it was rushed and we were not able to stop and spend time looking around. Also, though the wine was good, there was not enough of it for the price, and there was no vegetarian option. SO, if you can brave driving through Florence traffic it would be a better option to hire a car, or to go there via train and spend a day or two doing your own thing – in my opinion 🙂
There are three places I have always dreamt of going to in Italy: Pisa (because of bugs bunny cartoons), Venice (also because of bugs bunny cartoons) and the Vatican (probably not because of bugs bunny cartoons).
So when I realised I was definitely going to Italy in October last year I was just a wee bit excited!
Once in Italy the first port of call was Florence because the whole reason for being in Italy was my participation in a group exhibition in Florence! I have a few posts on this blog about the exhibition… you can check out opening night here.
Once exhibition nerves and excitement had calmed it was time to explore, and while Florence was amazing in terms of art, history and culture (that will be in a future blog post) a few short day trips were in order- and one of them was to Pisa!
The day we decided to venture there begun as a gorgeous winters day , but did deteriorate into a rainy afternoon and evening… but it was winter in Italy… so it was OK. In fact, being from Ballarat we were more than acclimatised to the weather!
Alighting from the train and navigating our way to the main attractions was great- lots of gorgeous buildings, streets and of course doorways…
In fact there were lots of amazing doorways throughout Italy – the problem was photographing them! There would always be a car or motorcycle parked conveniently in the way of the best ‘angle’ for the lens… who do these Italians think they are- just because they live there!
Anyway, invariably we had to cross a river to get to the ‘historical’ centre of town – as you always do in Italy: it was a military defence thing back in the day. In this case it was the Fiume Arno river, and just before crossing we came across an amazing Gothic church, Santa Maria della Spina, which was built in 1230. The name Spina (“thorn”) comes from the thorn allegedly in the crown placed on Christ’s head, which was introduced to Pisa in 1333. In 1871 the church was dismantled and rebuilt on a higher level due to dangerous water levels of the Arno river. I would have loved to look in this church, but it was unfortunately closed (I thought churches were supposed to be open 24/7 for refuge, oh well).
On this same road, which ran parallel to the river were several historic buildings, including a mansion/palace dating back to the 11th century, with multiple renovations over the following centuries. During this time it was always occupied by wealthy families and as a result an art collection spanning centuries accumulated – this is a theme in Italian museum history- just look at the Vatican, and numerous castles and palaces which regularly get converted to museums galleries. Today it is the Palazzo Blu, a museum which houses a museum, permanent collection and changing international exhibitions. So of course we went in to check it out… the museum aspect of it comprises the original rooms – family rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms, etc furnished accurately and decorated with the permanent art collection. It was actually well worth a visit, with some amazing artworks spanning centuries, however photos weren’t allowed
Crossing the river into the old centre did not reveal a great difference in structure… the same narrow streets and building styles… whereas in Verona there was a marked difference between the old and new town centres. Like most Italian cities which were originally micro states this was a walled city, and Pisa’s wall was still in good condition. Within the far corner of the wall was the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Baptistery, a cemetery and St Mary’s Cathedral – all squished into , what seemed to me, a really small area.
As you can see from the photos, it was a grey day, but conveniently right across the road was a cute little cafe with a window seat to the tower… unfortunately it was the only cafe with this luxury – I can’t understand why – so tourists were taking turns to share the seating and get their photo taken : apart from a couple of obnoxious individuals, but there’s always some!
After a warming red wine in the cafe we checked out the cathedral, and were able to take photos…no flash is problematic, but at least we could take photos. The churches are so spectacular and overwhelming… even after looking at dozens, the grandiosity doesn’t fail to impress! Even the smallest of churches has masterpieces hanging and statues and carvings littering the walls and ceilings. (I will put in a slight political comment here, and say that I knew the Catholic Church was rich…. but after seeing this – they should be paying taxes!)
By the time we came out of the cathedral it was dark – being a rainy winter’s day, so we headed back to the station via the Roman Baths, the only remaining Roman ruins in Pisa. They were built in the 1st Century AD around the time of the Emperor Domitianus, and even in the dark looked really impressive.
We would have liked to stay longer to explore more of Pisa. Judging by our tourist map there is lots more to see… but I guess that’s an excuse for going back.
Yay…. bought some new journals while in Italy… in Verona… the hometown of Shakepeare’s Juliet!
Lord Byron wrote that Verona was “thrice-blessed” during his travels between it and Venice due to the stunning views along the river Adige which meanders around the borders of the old city centre.
We, however, arrived by train. It was weird, because usually train stations are in the centre of a town, but this station was de-centralised, so arriving in a northern Italian town in winter at 7pm not knowing in which direction to walk to get to the town centre was a bit unsettling. Luckily as we were arriving in the train we saw a huge christmas tree covered in lights, so figured if we walked toward that we’d be going in the right direction – and we were.
Apart from the location of the station, Verona was also very different from any of the towns we had already visited in Italy. Walking from the station to our accommodation was like walking through the wide double sided streets of Melbourne. The streets overall were extremely wide, reminding us of home – even in the historic town centre. I don’t know why this is and am curious to look up some Venetian history about why the town planning seems to be so different to the other towns we have visited in Italy.
Initial impressions revealed a city that had gutted the lower stories of the buildings to be replaced by modern shopfronts – big windows, big merchandise – another feature not as noticeable in other towns. There were also lots of street artists – a characteristic consistent with other towns – but of a different type: more creative and less reliant on ‘tourist’ traffic. And a noticeable absence of beggars and African rose sellers- a confronting and disturbing aspect of the country… but lets not get into politics!
Of course there was lots of history in architecture, statues, churches, and Shakespeare … and we went to a couple of gorgeous restaurants and funky bars. Overall Verona seemed to be a little more cosmopolitan than some other towns we visited in Italy (apart from Venice) and my theory for this is that they are much closer to the European mainland which historically has allowed for a greater cross fertilization, so that culturally this area is more open to new ideas and influences… as opposed to a town in the far south of the ‘boot’ which has been, and continues to be, much more insulated.
We only spent one night and two days in Verona, which was not enough to really explore the town and get a definitive ‘feel’ for the place. So I guess that means we’ll just have to go back!!
PS… I also bought some new noserings at the same gorgeous handmade market I bought the journals…
As regular readers of this blog will know I recently travelled to Italy after being invited to exhibit in Florence by Vivid Arts Network. The exhibition went for two weeks after which we (myself and my partner) spent a further three weeks travelling through Italy… professional development!
While having an amazing time soaking up loads of art, culture, architecture (and wine) I did have some reservations about some of my travels in Italy: dirty streets, bad street signage, harsh uneven cobblestone pathways, rude pushy people – and while I understand all of these things are me projecting my own cultural perspective, it was at times frustrating (even though I had a ball).
But don’t get me wrong – I loved every moment and wouldn’t not do it again, and after spending a couple of weeks at home I have been able to digest and distance myself from some harsher memories and remember some great experiences.
I am planning to share some of these experiences in a series of blog posts focusing on different cities we visited and explore the art, architecture, feelings and general stuff of the area, from a limited “art” tourist perspective. I may throw in the odd poem or two as well which I wrote while in these environments.
Hopefully these posts will be inspiring and mostly enjoyble!
This weeks photo challenge is about geometry, and the example given was architectural – strong bold lines against a clear wispy cloud sky, a great image. For me, however, there is much more to geometry than bold lines. Bold lines tend to me human made structures, so that things ‘fit’ together better. Nature, however, develops curves and crevices as a means to make a better fit, and get the most out of every surface. Often the geometry in nature are fractals, ever repeating patterns in natural objects.
So my post this week is going to feature both types of geometry – all of the images I took while on a residency in Vallauris, France in 2010.