reflections

Jan. 7th, 2008 10:32 am
intjonathan: (Default)
I feel kind of bad, usually I try to be religious about blogging my vacations. Last year here, I had hundreds of photos a day to sift through, and lots of activities to write up. I guess in 2008 it feels rather familiar. Same relatives, same house, same car trips in the SUV. After a few theme parks they all develop the same sort of rhythm. Schedule the rides, find a bathroom, escape the muzak, read the map.

We didn't get to go to Mexico this year, as our guide was ill and stuck at home in Arizona. We went to the exotic El Agave restaurant in old town in a (mostly successful) attempt to ease the loss of our visit to La Fonda. We also got to spend that extra day going wine tasting in Temecula, which was wonderful.

The blessing of sunny weather was only extended for the first few days of our stay, then a wicked winter front moved in here and across the whole west coast, bringing heavy nighttime rain and gray, daytime drizzle that felt too much like home, but 10F warmer. Mom was disappointed, as she runs on solar power and was hoping to recharge, but I was thankful - it kept the crowds away from Temecula. Thankfully, we did spend our good weather day in DCA, which is right where I would've wanted to spend it. Standing in long theme park lines is only made tolerable by lovely weather.

I feel like I did a lot of following my stomach on this trip — well, more so than usual. Some combination of irregular hours, sleep, food, and activity meant an often-hungry Jon. Which, as many of you know, can be like trying to keep Dr. Jekyll's antidote in stock.

And so as we drive back to the airport at 10:30 for our 16:50 flight (don't ask), it seems like a trip with no resolution. Like the movie adaptation of the vacation has some plot threads left loose. Maybe it's the writer in me, but I usually look for the narrative in my holidays, and this one was more mad libs than masterpiece.

I certainly have no desire to go back to work, and am unsure how I'm going to make a meaningful attempt at recharging after I return.
intjonathan: (Default)
Like this trip's beginning, its ending started out stressful and is ending happily. If I have to go back to a 28F Seattle from a 60F San Diego, I might as well do it in the exit row on a nearly-empty flight. If I'm going to leave in a rush, have to go through secondary in security, rip my favorite shorts, and generally feel like crawling into a hole most of the day, by gum I'm going to have the easiest flight home of my life. So far so good.

Yesterday we went back to Sea World since we had 2-day passes and little else to do. We saw the polar bears and walruses, penguins and turtles, and listened to lots more muzak. Then we went to Old Town in San Diego for more delicious Mexican food, except about 50% more expensive than the night before.

Bizarrely, we went back there today on our way to the airport to kill an hour shopping. I wasn't much into it.

Which brings me back to now, sitting in the exit row, comfortably typing away at 34,000 feet and feeling the slight delerium of too little food and water recently, after too much food for most of the week. The trip has been an embarassment of riches, one that's caused Whitney and I to look at each other on occasion and say "we're in California/Mexico/a hot tub. We're awesome."

So in case you were wondering, yes, we do say that to each other. This wasn't the first time.

The number one thing I've missed on this trip is my own bed. I can't wait to climb into it for 10 uninterrupted hours. Of course, my house was left a mess, I have to work on Monday, and after 6 weeks of running, 3 weeks of frozen February will have me grayer than wet sidewalk, but everything in time. There is good in the leaving and the coming home.
intjonathan: (Default)
We were warned that it can be rather shocking the first time. Such poverty is strange to American eyes. Such differences so close together.

We left our condo in the Grand Pacific Palisades to visit a very proud, very poor country only 50 miles south. This alone strikes me as extremely odd. Why would you leave? Why is it so different?

The different question is not answerable, but the leaving question is an easy one. Food.

mexico by niralisse on TreemoSo after driving right in to Mexico (easiest border crossing ever...) we sped down to Ensenada to lunch at El Cid, then town to La Bufadora to get tourist-trapped and shout at the blowhole. Then the highlight, La Fonda. Then the supermarket for a bunch of liquor and cheap toiletries. Then the very nice border guard that let us through with two bottles too many. Now we're back and I went swimming and hot tubbing.

mexico by niralisse on TreemoI don't know how I want to feel about the experience. I fancy myself somewhat familiar with the Mexican-American experience, having dated one, but the fact is I really don't know shit. And that's good for me to realize, but it makes me hungry and sad.

I do feel I should write more about it, but I'm overdue for sleep, and the eloquence isn't coalescing. I'll just leave this.

mexico by niralisse on Treemo
intjonathan: (Default)
I need a few days of sleep. This has been, contrary to the nature of a holiday, a few days rather light on sleep. The lovely weather has me completely convinced it's June, but sadly it will fade tomorrow. Knowing this would happen, we packed the first few days here full of theme parks. Today was Sea World.

shark tunnel by niralisse on TreemoI did Marine World Africa USA (tm) many years ago, and this has kind of the same vibe, lots of open space and wandering between outdoor tanks. It's a park that's slow to reveal its cool bits. You have to dig past the horrible piped-in muzak and everything-up-to-11 entertainment. Anheuser-Busch Entertainment - not exactly the NSF - owns and operates the park, so bizarre beer and clydesdale placements abound. Not a word is spoken about where they get their animals, how they're treated, why they're on display, etc. As a conservationist, and a scientist, it was somewhat alarming. split jump by niralisse on TreemoTo say nothing of the Shamu show, which actually made my stomach flip with disgust at the overdone and meaningless "joining two worlds" theme. Not only was the content of the show ridiculous, but there wasn't much actual showmanship. The smaller shows with the dolphins and seals had lots of actual performance by the trainers, with ad-libbing and missed cues. Much more interesting. And so much money! I hope those animals get treated as good as their performance theaters do. Huge rotating video screens, lights and hi-def cameras, waterfalls and enormous pools, etc. etc. etc. This is not a starving-for-grants sea life research facility.

pet dont scratch by niralisse on TreemoBut. That being said, there's lots of touching and splashing and seeing to do. I got to pet dolphins, and shake hands with some sea rays, and watch a guy get spit on by a walrus. We had a lot of fun, but sometimes I felt like it was in spite of the environment. And as mom so accurately posed, "sure, your dreams can come true, but was it Shamu's dream to live in a pool?"

We might go back - we have two-day passes - on Friday and hit the roller coaster and arctic exhibits, but we'll see. Tomorrow we'll be moving to Pacific Palisades for a couple days, then Thursday is Ensenada. I'm looking forward to a change of scenery, bed, and pace.
intjonathan: (WAHA~)
Hey, everything is a lot smaller than I remember it. Like, a lot smaller. I can clear main street in like a minute.

Some stuff's been changed around.

Space mountain is still the best ride in the park, and I'd go on it 5 times in a row again if I could.

Going in January is pretty sweet. The longest wait was 30 minutes. The weather was high 70s and fantastic.

Being older and more aware of the tricks only makes them more wonderous. I love my family's connection to our own kid-ness. Being a cynic in Disneyland is lame. Let's get silly.
intjonathan: (Default)
Is it Tuesday? Something like that.

In the weeks before I left, I grew increasingly resentful of the suburban surroundings I lived in. The car-centric layout, the total absence of public space, the ignorance of environment. Now it's just sort of there. Going to some sensibly-planned cities for a while helped me remember that there are some places that still do it right.

I feel the urge to create, since I have time and space, but I've said quite a lot lately as anyone reading this knows.

75F is about 10F too cool for my taste right now, and I've been seeing 7 a.m. clearly for the first time in years. The "eat when I'm hungry, sleep when I'm tired" has meant a drawn-out adjustment, especially when interacting with people who haven't been on GMT+1 lately.

Hyperboy wants me back to work on their now-rebranded treemo. Josh says the sweet house on Phinney Ridge is still available. I hope these two things work out for the best, as I'd like to have a bunch of money by Christmas because the processor market is about to go - in technical terms - apeshit. AMD bought ATI when I wasn't looking, and Intel has the fastest chip on the market and it's reasonably priced. It's going to be a crazy season and I believe it'll be time to celebrate the savior's birth with new hardware and a sweet place to put it. Oh, and goodwill to your fellow man and all that jazz.

Speaking of new hardware, I just bought 4 USB joysticks, so I'll be throwing a Descent party in the near future.

I thought I missed cooking, but I guess I only missed being able to eat without waiting for food to cook, or pay $15 every time I got hungry, which is frequently. I also didn't miss watching movies, though I watched Beautiful Girls this morning mostly to pass the time and it was still good. I like how it weaves so many different flavors of interaction with the types of girls we love into a coherent story. I know these characters were created around types of relationships they were supposed to have, rather than as real people, but I still like them. Plus it's funny to see the younger version of Natalie Portman's character in Garden State, and she still has all the best lines.
I got a Starbucks card for a graduation present, and haven't the foggiest idea how I'll use it. It'll probably sit on my desk for years, like that tower records gift card from 2001.

It's hard to eat 2500 calories a day when you have to make it all yourself.
intjonathan: (Default)
City I'd live in: Rome
City I'd vacation in: Venice

Heiress I'd marry: the San Benedetto water empire
Nationality I'd marry: British

Best meal: Aquila Nera, both nights
Worst meal: BA food on the flight to Seattle. After 3 weeks of fresh, simple and real, this tasted like "food". Like sandals in Byzantine paintings, or Venetian artists trying to depict England.
Best repeat visit restaurant: La Grotta di Leo, which also had the cutest waitress

Best service: London, everywhere.
Worst service: Italian supermarkets. One checker threatened to kill Nick if he paid for his wine with a 50.

Best wine: Aquila Nera house wine, though any cheap Tuscan Red was wonderful.
Worst wine: British Airways, but that's unfair because their tea was delicious.

Best gelato: Vivoli in Florence, though Gioletti's in Rome was a close second.
Worst gelato: Some rather average places in Venice, although they were usually 1 euro, so whatever.

Most annoying small thing: Exact change: everybody wants it and hates you if you don't have it.
Most flattering small thing: Being mistaken for an italian by both store staff and italians in the street asking me directions.

Toughest mark of pride: calloused feet
Annoying mark of pride: sunburned shoulders

Single of the trip: Gnarls Barkley, "Crazy". This was inescapable.
Video of the trip: Shakira, "Hips Don't Lie". The room was suddenly, rapturously silent every time this video came on MTV Italia. It gets lonely out there, but Shakira knew how we felt.
Song of the trip: Bob Sinclair, "World Hold On". This was everywhere, in ringtones, cars, whistling on the street. It'd be in your head for days.
Worst song of the trip: Jamie Foxx, "One Night Extravaganza". Stick to acting, Jamie. At least the mediocre italian bands you were queued next to were bad in ways we didn't understand.
Non-song of the trip: Ambulanzia sirens, a constant background in Rome. Their monotonic siren sound would whine in your ears long after they left.

Best hotel: Croce di Malta, Florence
Best water: Rome
Best hotel perks: Room view in Venice, pool in Florence, rooftop in Rome. Sorry, can't pick one. An imaginary hotel with a room view and a full pool on the roof would be the most incredible thing ever. I think the pricy hotel in Venice has a pool, but I never saw it.
Worst beds: Croce di Malta, Florence
Best breakfast: NH Harrington Hall, London

Best graffiti: Sadly I was not able to get a picture, but across from the Croce di Malta someone had penned "pity the beautiful" on a garage door.
Worst graffiti: Anything in Venice. What a shame.:
Most comprehensive graffitti: Old Met.Ro. trains are totally covered in it. Many second-class Trenitalia coaches have it as well.

Best "there is no ice in europe" moment:
wine under a fountain on the Ponte Vecchio

Best ridiculous store name:
INTERNET TRAIN

Worst industrial design:
top-button doorknob

Best lion:
Lion on Canova's tomb

Best feeling: freedom.
intjonathan: (Default)
Well, I'm back.

plane map over Canada

I'd never smelled Washington before. It smells wet, and alive.

In bed last night, I looked up and realized that I'm ready. This space of my room is not all of me any longer. As Bill told me when I left for the flight to London yesterday, I'm a man of the world now. I could go back to Italy myself if I wanted to, and nothing here could stop me.

I woke up and wondered what crappy hotel this was that I was sleeping on the floor, and why is this room so small?

Suburbia is really, really ugly. Have you ever really looked at Lynnwood? Seriously, it's like a gray smudge of asphalt and retail. I might be spoiled by thousands of years of art, but I know ugly when I see it. It seems there ought to be something better.

I like all the green here at home though. My car is still covered. I think I'll put off driving it as much as I can. Where's the nearest Tube station? I want some Thai food.

I had cold cereal for breakfast and it was really different. I missed it, but it wasn't as good as I recall. It's funny how attached we get to things just out of routine, and after doing it for so long, you forget what it's actually like. It trades in on the memories and attachment.

This is the starting over. Some heros refuse to return, retiring to the infinite plane of enlightenment and abandoning the world of smallness. I haven't such luck, and my duty is here. No vision yet for what I'm going to make for myself, but I know things are going to look different, whether intentionally or not. Travel expands the mind, and like skin, the mind never returns to its original shape. Unlike skin, you cannot cut out sections of it to shrink it back up. This is a good thing.

When the plane landed, I felt afraid of home.
intjonathan: (Default)
Justin and I hit the streets the night before our free day, definitely tired and full of wine, to see how much walking we could handle and what the fountains were like at night. Rome has easily the most interesting nightlife, with actual young people outside at night, wandering around and being lovers, drunks, friends, and alive. It's fairly safe as well, which was a nice change from the bizarrely shady Duomo area in Florence. There's lots of fountains in Rome, and they're lit from under the water, creating a wonderfully active light that gives a new view on the famous Berninis. We hit the Pantheon, which was a short walk, and Piazza Nuvona, also short. The Four Rivers in the center of Nuvona is really a blast to photograph, every angle has something new. We headed back the other direction to hit Trevy Fountain, which is enormous and very impressive but not as photogenic. I didn't get a chance to throw any coins in, but I'm fairly certain that I'll return anyway. Lots of lovers all over the fountains at night, we concluded that when we return, we're bringing girls.


Neptune fountain in Piazza Nuvona


Justin was barely keeping his eyes open so we skipped the Forum that night and retired. Slept till 11:00 the next day. It was exsquisite, as sleeping that late often is.

For our free day we needed to spend a bunch of euros, so Nick and I did some shopping near the Spanish Steps, then we retired to the roof to read in the setting sunlight.

View from the Spanish Steps
The crowds at the bottom of the steps were shouting for Madonna, who is playing tomorrow night at the Colloseo. Rumor was that she was staying nearby.

Hunger set in, and we set out to the Pantheon to have a fancy dinner right next to it. We found fancy alright, and 180 euros later had enjoyed some very fine dining indeed. Watching the Pantheon as the sun set, we enjoyed buttery-soft fillet, delicious oysters and sparkling wine, and a wicked good 4-cheese pizza. Plus a very entertaining waiter that made it very easy to forget how much you had spend, but hell, why go if you can't live well?

Justin and our oysters
24 euro worth of oysters and sparkling wine. Mmmmm.

Sadly, our early flight today meant a 5:00 call, and we still had to pack and trek down to the Colloseo in the dark for pictures. We ran ourselves right down to empty, but got it done and the results were so worth it. I think we got 3 hours of sleep.

Colloseo and street
Notice the marble curbs.

We rode a nice bus to Fiumicino, and have wandered around in a daze since. This flight to Heathrow is fine, and short, but there's a lot more flying to do today. I'm hoping to find some good tea and scones at Heathrow and get some sleep.

How appropriate that I am now in "The Crossing of the Return Threshold" in Hero of a Thousand Faces.

Finals

Aug. 5th, 2006 10:56 am
intjonathan: (Default)
Our last day of structured museums was pure frosting. Our first stop was the bone rooms of the Capucin monks, from whose name we derive the name for cappucino due to their coffee-colored robes. Space is expensive in Rome, and at some point down the line the bones of 4000 of these monks had to be moved from their burial spot. The monk in charge of this operation felt that these monks deserved a better memorial than a bunch of crosses in the ground, so he used the remains to create 6 little enclaves decorated entirely with the bones of these monks. It's, well, a lot of damn bones. The smell isn't as bad as you'd expect, as these are dry bones, but we definitely had some group members get creeped out and stay outside. I thought it was pretty sweet, but had to run through it so I could accompany Vicki to the Borghese gallery so she could buy the group tickets.


I could stand to live here.

The Borghese gallery is an old Renaissance villa that has been converted into a museum, holding mostly works that the Borgheses commissioned and collected over the years. The real star of the show is Canova's masterpiece Pauline Borghese, and three incredible Berninis. Pauline was Napoleon's sister, and she got around. She had her statue done as Venus, which makes sense. It's actually titillating to behold, which is testament to the incredible life that was breathed into this marble.

Canova's Patricia Borghese

The blazing star of the museum was Apollo and Daphne, an impossibly delicate sculpture. At the end of the leaves on Daphne's fingers, the marble is so thin you can see light through it. The mastery behind this work is peerless. I spent more time with it than any other work on the tour, with the possible exception of Michelangelo's David. You only get two hours in the Borghese, however, so it's not really a fair fight.

Bernini's Apollo and Daphne

There was a Raphael tour visiting as well, which was cool as we didn't get to see much of his work on the tour. Titziano's Sacred and Profane Love was wonderful as well, and the Venetian was a good contrast in style to the stacks of Florentines we've been seeing. Michelangelo, for instance, couldn't draw women, while Titian couldn't draw an ugly one.

We went to the Hard Rock Cafe for lunch. It seems like an odd choice, but it was really eye-opening. If you, like me, have heard the term "culture shock" but never really formed an idea around it, I think I can provide it. Ordering a mushroom and swiss cheeseburger in italian at a Hard Rock Cafe pretty much felt like psychological whiplash. Not a bad thing, necessarily, but it was extremely surreal. We were surrounded by loud rock music, artifacts from Elton John and Flea, and all the waiters spoke italian and outside the door was Rome.

Rome Hard Rock bar

But that burger was so amazing. It's hard to fathom, as we are such food pluralists in America, but just try eating nothing but the same country's cuisine for 3 weeks. See how delicious and surprising another one tastes. It tasted like the first burger ever invented. And there was ice in the drinks! I saw more ice in our drinks than I have seen anywhere else for 3 weeks. Plus I got to sit with Vicki, who will talk about rock and roll any chance she gets, and hear how she went to Newport Folk every year, and how her first concert was folk Dylan and she had a horrible fever, living in my parent's backyard in Seattle, and listening to her hidden rock records while her mom was shopping, but having to watch the window for her to come down the street so she could hide everything.

A few of us met at 17:00 to tour the Capitoline Musem, which had an original gilded bronze Marcus Aurelius, along with Constantine's giant head and the original Etruscan she-wolf. Unfortunately for Vicki, they beefed up security in the last couple years, and you can't wander freely between the two museum buildings. Her tour is based on that principle, so she definitely was ANGEE VICKI when she discovered how much dicking around we had to do for her to simply find the pieces she wanted to lecture on. It being the last museum on a long and grueling tour didn't help.
But we persevered, and found that they'd moved Marcus to a lovely and enormous room, and added a large new wing to explore.

Marcus Aurelius in his new location

It was a funny shift from a guided to an unguided tour, as our guide wandered down blind corridors and read the descriptions of unfamiliar exhibits. In the end we found everything we were looking for and more. It was a pretty sweet museum, actually, and it was nice to tour one later in the day when the temperatures were nicer and the light was better. They also let you get right next to the exhibits, and didn't at all mind non-flash photography. Museum guards here can be really obnoxious about photos and touching things, or even just sitting on the floor. The running joke is that all the english most of them know is "NO FOTO!" Plus after seeing Michelangeo's most famous Pieta from 40 feet away behind bulletproof glass, it was great to get up and smell some art.



We retired to the roof for pizza and wine with a huge group of travellers, for much conversation and eventaully some rousing games of hearts. It's so great to have this beautiful common area on the top of the hotel. It's arguably one of the best parts of the tour, as the view is stupendous and the company is grand. Not to mention the cheap, good food! You can get a chunk of hot pizza and a bottle of wonderful red for like 7 euro, and be set for the night. It's an absolute delight.

Colonna Palace rooftop foot pool

We were really too tired for it, but it was our last chance so Justin and I went out afterwards for the Roman long-exposure madness. We hit the Pantheon, Piazza Nuvona, and Trevy Fountain. Rome is easily the most interesting city for nightlife. There's twentysomethings here! Holy crap! And the area is not full of shady gypsies and pickpockets! Whoa! Actually, it's the safest possible as we're right next to the parliament building and the president's offices. Walk out the door and there's usually 10 polizia between you and the street in any direction. The negotiations for the Israli hostage situation were (are?)taking place somewhere in the city this week as well, so security choppers and caribineri are common sights.

Polizia rovers in front of Il Tempo
This is the piazza next to our hotel.

We were going to hit the Colloseo and Forum last night as well, but Justin had too much wine and wasn't going to make the several-block walk. Hopefully we'll go tonight, though of course it will mean sleeping for about 3 or 4 hours to make the 5:00 bus tomorrow. It'd be worth it though. You only get one shot!

Pantheon at night

Today is our free day, though I wish it wasn't the only one. Time to spend the rest of my Euros, pack up my luggage, and start to wean myself from truly great italian food, cause it's pretty much impossible to find in Seattle. I am very sad to see this trip conclude. There has been so much magic, so much beauty, such constant adventure. I know there is much good in both traveling and coming home, but there is also much fear and sadness. There is death of a life, however brief it was, and the responsibility to return the boon from that life as fully as possible.

One last breath of the free air, and I must find the freedom at home. "As long as there is the West..."

Terraza at the Capitoline Museum
intjonathan: (Default)
Incredible day. Had a reasonable call to get out to the bus that took us to the termini, the central bus/Met.Ro. station. We took about 40 minutes of trains out to Ostia Antica, probably the best-preserved Roman city ruins around. Such a cool place, and so far out that we thought the scouts (or, as we discovered later, altarkids) would never find us. We were wrong.

road to the Antica ruins
Incoming!

Minutes after we purchased our tickets, a thousand of them showed up. Then one of our group discovered his wallet missing, unfortunately, so Bill had to take him to the polizia station and report it. Bill also has been struck with a rough cold and lost most of his voice. It was a poor start. But the scouts thinned out, and we passed on our sympathies, and got to the business of exploring the very cool ruins with our knowledgable guides.

Ostia theater
Nick sizing up the theater orchestra.

It was a very photogenic place, hard to find shade, but it felt great to be hiking again after yesterday's standing marathon. We recited poems and lines of plays at the very well-preserved theater, ate lunch at a marble picnic table, and posed on the ancient latrines.

Roman latrines with dudes

Since we were so far out anyway, part of the itinerary is the lido (beach) at the end of the E line of the Met.Ro. So we got back on the train and rode it all the way to the coast, with its black sand beaches and resort-style accoutrements. The Italians have beaching down to a science. All along the shore are numbered umbrellas, little cabanas, and chairs that you can rent in part or piecemeal. Most of the group rented two chairs under an umbrella (24 euro), or just the umbrella (8). But you got it as long as you liked, and they set everything up for you and it was super nice.

Venezia resort

There were showers, changing rooms toilets, etc. and they were all really clean, well-designed and right on the beach. Of course, since you can't be more than a few minutes away from spending money in Italy, vendors would walk among the chairs selling beads (5 euro), ice water (3 euro), or massages (5 euro per body section). Having to refuse goods and services every 10 minutes is apparantly very italian.

The surf was very rough today, which was fun in short spurts as a physical challenge. And so warm! It was like Bizarro Hawaii, with muddy water and cleaner beaches. Worth it, would love to go back. You could feel the stress dripping onto the sand under your lounge chair.

Feeling like human jelly, we sloshed back to the train for the ride home to find some food. Two trains and a bus later, we chewed through more delicious Autogrill food, then retired to the deck with our wine and cards. We got halfway through our second game of Idiot when we realized that the lightning happening in the south was actually quite frequent, and becoming brighter. We went out from under the canopy and realized it was lighting up the whole sky. A tremendous thunderhead had built up, and the heat lightning was striking every few seconds. No thunder, no visible rain at any distance, just a fireworks show for the gods. Vicki and Bill came out later, and Bill played his guitar while flocks of underlit white seagulls fled the storm as it flashed in the south. It was absolute magic. Sitting there with my chianti, all my senses were soaking in beauty. I could max out this entry and not begin to describe it except to say that all that gold, all the work and money and passion that went into St. Peters was trying to capture what we saw in the sky tonight. To a majesty greater than any man could concieve, a power impossibly great, we can do so little to compare. Watching that lightning and those flocking seagulls was more simple, beautiful and enormous than all the art we've seen on this tour. The circle is closed, and art, our art, is but the climb, the prelude, a scaffolding. The world and its stories are more infinite and passionate than anything we can create.

You ever notice how much lightning looks like nerves, and nerves firing look like lightning? The processes are nearly identical, just on different scales.

It is late and I must go to bed, but today has been achingly good, and despite the cracked-desert sunburn I now have on my shoulders and chest, things are sweet indeed.

St. Peter's dome from the hotel roof at evening.
intjonathan: (Default)
What a killer day. We call at 7:30 to drag ourselves to the metro station, which is not as clean as London but generally pretty similar.

Rome Met.Ro. station
Unlike the Tube, all the underground stations looked pretty much the same.

Stand in line for 30 minutes, and walk into the lovely vatican museum. Now, yesterday we encountered some of the 47,000 euroscouts in town for Jamboree. They mobbed the forum like bratty ants. We did the vatican on a Wednesday, which is the day the pope does an address. These 47,000 scouts had an audience with the pope, which turned out to be a very mixed blessing.

scouts in the underground
No more "way out"

The lovely vatican museum, which is the art history portion of the trip, was actually quite empty. We spent at least 30 minutes in the Sistine Chapel, and got right next to some of the museum's most famous works with the whole group. It's really an incredible collection, and earns its place in history easily. Little was in scaffolding, and only one room on the tour was closed. The Sistine and the Raphael Room had both been cleaned recently, and popped with clarity and those lovely renaissance colors.

The School of Athens
This was in the Pope's office. It's just one of the wall-covering frescoes by Raphael. It's also much bigger than you'd expect.

Vicki spent 5 years studying the Sistine ceiling, so it was wonderful to have a complete expert on the symbolism and history. She generally knows her stuff about everything on the tour, but the depth at the Sistine was truly remarkable. What a place! Even looking at postcards afterwards, you see these iconic images so differently after you've seen them in person.

the Sistine from the ground
It's really, REALLY hard to get good pictures in the Sistine. See if you can find God's butt!

The flipside of having the museum to ourselves was having to share St. Peter's with 40,000 scouts. It was worse than any concert I've ever attended. Lines, lines lines. They aren't accustomed to hosting tens of thousands on a Wednesday at St. Peter's, so the security line was 30 minutes long just to get into the 90,000-capacity basilica. Once inside, it's so big that even a stadium feels small, so that wasn't bad.

St. Peter's, with altar

When we went back out to climb the cupola, however, things got ugly. I and 4 others split from the group to relieve ourselves, but when we tried to join the group again, discovered that we'd exited a security checkpoint. Once you enter the secure zone at St. Peters, you better not have to pee. So we had to go all the way back to the security line, go through that, then get in line for the cupola. We had figured we could find our group, but no way. The line was full-width, all the way from the front of the basilica porch to the outside center. We waited for 90 minutes. There was one guy selling tickets to all us thousands.

lines under the St. Peter's porch

Now, to their credit, Vicki said that in 15 years of visiting, she'd never seen crowds this bad. So I can understand them being a little unprepared. Tell that to my poor feet, though. What a nightmare. After all that waiting, it was almost a relief to climb 320 stairs up the cupola. What actually was a relief was the view, which was supreme.

cupola view from St. Peter's
Yes, THAT view.

Miraculously, Vicki and some others were waiting for us back in the basilica when we came down. We wanted nothing but to pee, eat, and cool off, in any order convenient. We caught a bus back and got our wishes. I took a dip in the tiny pool, had a shower, then Justin and I picked up a couple big pizzas for 10 euro each.

Spizzico pizza, Rome

Nothing like a big pizza and a bottle of Chianti to ease such a long day. I'm dehydrated, exhausted, my feet are killing me, but tomorrow we're meeting at 9 to take a Met.Ro train to Ostia. There we'll see some Roman theater ruins and then... the beach. A black sand beach, to be exact, where we'll float in the Medeterranian, eat leftover pizza and fresh cheese, and generally not stand around and look at art. I can't wait.
intjonathan: (Default)
Despite everyone's silent protests, we're getting up at 6ish this morning to make a 7:30 call time - our earliest since we bussed out to Venice at 03:00. Bad memories indeed. But the Vatican is way across town, and the necessity of pants makes starting early, before the sun has wreaked its terrifying work, a must.

caeser crossing the street

Yesterday we toured the heart of Rome, seeing the Forum, the Colloseo, and the tiny church of St. Peter in Chains. It was some butt-kicking tourism. There's little shade in the ruins - they are ruins, after all - so we found what we could and talked there. Going into a church to stand around and look at art felt like a relief. Change of pace, good, change too far in the other direction, bad.

the Forum from the east

Michelangelo's Moses
Horny Moses is Angry!

The Colloseo is really fun, actually, it feels a lot smaller than it is, much like the Kingdome. We still use the same basic design for every stadium today, which is really incredible. There's a lot that's not very known about it either, such as how the floor was done, or how they made the roof. If you stand in a quiet spot, you can still hear the crowds cheering.

colloseo
ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?

scouts at the Colloseo
Scouts clogging up the pathways

The Forum is a great space, but everything feels very small. We arrived during EuroScout Jamboree, so 12-year-olds from Germany, Hungary, and other countries have swarmed the place. Over a million people lived in this city at its peak, and it doesn't seem like the forum would be big enough to handle the traffic. 2-chariot streets in the city center? Hmm.

Triumphal Arch of Septum Severus
It's not usually this busy. Notice the matching hats.

Breakfast time. Sending postcards today from the Vatican, hopefully I'll get some pretty stamps. Oh and, what's up enormous vatican museum.
intjonathan: (Default)
For our free day in Florence, we did a whole lot of nothing. Slept till nearly 11:00, went to the rosticceria for breakfast at noon.

pizza and fruit
A lovely 10 euro worth of breakfast. That's the first banana I've had in 2 weeks, and it was amazing.

Came back, hit the pool, sat out and read. Played with our inflatable fish-whale hybrid that another tour member bought us. It's got a blowhole and a vertical tail. Go figure.
hotel pool
Our lovely pool.

Concluded that we've been paying too much for wine, so we bought our own. A chianti and a tuscan red found their way into our hands, then I hit the streets to finish buying some gifts, mostly for myself. Goat kid leather and cashmere driving gloves? Sure!

Shopping is hard, so we went back to the pool to enjoy our cheap chianti. A glass of the house red ordered from the pool bartender is 5 euro, so we felt like we were beating the odds.

hotel pool bartender

Feeling very hungry and slightly inebriated, dinner was deemed necessary. Two courses and 20 euro later, I enjoyed real italian pesto linguine and pollo limone. Very smooth, a good end to our stay. We went upstairs to the rooftop terrace of our hotel for the first time, and became annoyed that we had not discovered it much earlier.

croce di malta terrace

I must pack, as we have a 10am call tomorrow for our 11:30 train. It's a short ride to Rome, which will be very busy indeed. 5 days hardly sounds like it will be enough. We have had a very full stay here in Firenze, and it is time to bid farewell. It is a city full of surprises, with much to see and experience. Like the quiet red wines in every restaurant, it is very different at the end of the meal. I met a guy in Ballard that lived here for a time, and I've had to think about what that might be like, as he was a web guy too. As the least crazy city on our trip, it does present itself as a place that you could actually make a life in. She is not beautiful when you meet her, and some mornings you don't want to see her face. But she has great stories, though, and every meal is a song. Arrivederci, Firenze! We have loved fully and eaten well.

florence sunset from the terrace

P.S. I'm all caught up on journal entries, so if you feel like reading this story from the beginning, start at this entry. Note that some of the ordering is weird due to time zone changes. Even livejournal, it seems, gets jet lag.

siena high

Jul. 30th, 2006 01:31 am
intjonathan: (Default)
Yesterday was several small museums. First the Bargello, with lots of sculpture by Donatello, Michelangelo, and more. It used to be the city prison, but in the Renaissance it was converted to a museum, to house the ridiculous amount of art they were creating. It was definitely a fancy prison, if in fact the building looked similar then. I went with Vicki and company to Yet Another Tiny Trattoria for a big salad, then we went back to the Duomo museum, which contains most of the art from the Duomo itself. We aren't touring the Duomo because all the significant art from it was moved into the museum. It's a particularly well-done place, actually, it was newly remodeled last year and is one of the few modern-looking museums we've seen. It includes Donatello's Magdalena, which is the first piece that Vicki has broken down in front of and had to stop her lecture.

Donatello's Magdalena

One of the ladies on the tour, an avid photographer, discovered that her camera and all its photos had gone missing. She has not really recovered. I know for a fact I would feel similar, and have been extra careful since. It's a very frightening prospect.

What remained of the morning's group proceeded to the church of Santa Croce, which had most of the famous italians buried there, including Michelangel, Galileo, Machiavelli, and, curiously, Marconi. It's a very lovely gothic cathedral, but the best part was the Pazzi chapel right next door. The Pazzi were Yet Another Rich Banking Family in Florence, and they had their own personal chapel for things like baptisms, weddings, etc. It was plopped right next to Santa Croce, but artistically it couldn't be further away. While Santa Croce is a huge gothic basilica designed to make you feel small in the wide universe, the renaissance way, due to the study of Roman work, led to a space designed for "the mode and measure of man." You feel at home in the small space, and then you open your mouth.

Pazzi chapel, interior

It was designed as a "perfect building," based on mathematical shapes and proportions. All of it took into account the acoustics of the space, which are just flawless. We all sang "Amazing Grace," then anyone could stand in the center and try it out. Sections from "Ave Maria," pop songs, anything that came to mind, although given the 3-4 second reverb, only sacred music really sounded any good. I did "O Come O Come Emmanuel," which was really fun to drag out the notes on.

La Grotta di Leo menu and check
We ate well that night. Two courses, all around.

I don't know that it was the best idea, but today I went to Siena to see its hills, lovely views and steep streets. It was an 8:15 curtain call, so we hiked to the bus station to hurry up and wait for our 9:10 rapido bus. The SITA buses are the intra-city buses in Tuscany, and they're really nice. Mercedes coaches whisk you from city to city for the unfortunate price of 6.50 euros each way.

SITA bus

Siena has some nice museums, and a huge gothic basilica. This is one of the few basilicas in the region that runs north-south, as what is now the main nave was intended to be the transept, and the nave was supposed to be even bigger. Unfortunately, they completed one large endpiece and some supporting columns, then the plague hit in 1340. So they stuck with what they had, but we did get to climb the unfinished endpiece for an incredible view of the city.

unfinished nave
This is as far as they got.

Siena from high
But scope out the view from the top!

We then went down to the campo where they run the Palio horse races every year. They run two, one in July and the other in August, between 10 of the 17 city wards. Three laps of the half-circular campo are raced, and only the horse must cross the finish line. The loser is the competitor who comes in second. Those are the only rules. You can imagine what this leads to. Standing in the space and imagining what it must look like is quite vivid, as it is a small piazza as piazzi go.

Siena campo

We ate in a little rosticceria that had an etruscan cave in the back, it was delicious and filling and I was absolutely starving. Nick and I ran down the now-wet, steep streets to catch the 14:10 SITA back to Florence, which we made easily. It's a small town.

wet siena hill

Did some shopping, and got really frustrated that there's so little open in the evenings and weekends here. "Retail hours" are pretty much business hours in Florence. Our only free day is on a Sunday, which is when all the big flea markets are closed, so it'll be pretty quiet tomorrow. I wouldn't mind, but I still need a bunch of stuff, and a bunch of it is best bought here. Que sera, sera. I got a killer tie with St. Mark's lion on it, though.

Dinner at the Grotta di Leo again, which is still good. I'm going to be insufferable when I get home. Though I am craving thai food.

Even though I couldn't find a good tripod, tonight was more long-exposure madness.

Duomo tower and uffizi courtyard

I read somewhere that if you spend a day in Florence, you'll hate it, but after a week, you'll love it and want to return. I can see it growing on me in its absence more than anything. It is not a city that gives up its treasures easily. They are distant, down narrow streets and whispering among the buzz of the mopeds and ambulanzia. A Californian who moved here some years ago described the city's "complete and total resistance to change," which is truly the city's brillance and weakness. There still aren't buildings any higher than the Duomo, and they all have that red tile roof, but they let cars drive all around the priceless marble Duomo facade, and hide the David in a little alley next to vendors hawking fake Chanel.

big german sheperd

I'm looking forward to a day off, as I'll need it before Rome. We'll be running like dogs to see all there is there.
intjonathan: (Default)
We used our 10:15 reservations and waltzed right into the Accademia yesterday morning. Firenze's Accademia, unlike Venezia's, is very small and mostly constructed to house the David and Slaves. Despite this, it takes a while to go through, as spending time with these works is necessary.

accademia gallery with david at the end

You can read in any book that the David is 14 feet tall. That doesn't really tell you anything. It's a number. This is a big darn statue.

David butt
Vicki's favorite angle.

We had our time, then went across the square to the tiny San Marco Convent, home of dozens of Fra Angelico's frescoes. Angelico was a Franciscan monk who was very talented and humble. His work is very light, airy, with great use of color. He had a huge annunciation scene at the entrance to the cells that was just stunning. Real gold glitter in the wonderfully colored wings on Gabriel, great sense of space, a just lovely work. It was a pretty cool monastery, but not photogenic, nor were photos allowed.

We had lunch at a great little rosticceria nearby, then some folks went to Fiesole but I was totally exhausted. I went back to the room and slept right through an afternoon thunderstorm! We finally took advantage of the pool, which was totally amazing. Just what I've been craving since Venice. We managed to find some good dinner on our own, too.

trattoria menus
Crazy framed menus!

Another night on the hard beds in this hotel, and we were off to the Uffizi Gallery for loads of Bottecelli. One cool thing I learned about Bottecelli's works is that they typically have many interpretations, typically including one pagan and one christian. The Birth of Venus, for example, can be read as an annunciation scene. Bottecelli is well-known for being rather pleasant, but in person these works are very large, and much stronger than you'd expect. There's a reason the Birth of Venus (aka "That gal on the shell") is so well-known, and it's that in person, it's really moving. Great works lose none of their power with familiarity.

Uffizi courtyard
The Uffizi courtyard looking toward the Medici palace.

I stuck with the tour past the Botticelli room and into the rest of the Uffizi, which was pretty large, and had surprises scattered throughout. I was treated to Tiziano's The Venus of Urbino, which is heartbreaking. We saw a lot of Tiziano's work in Venice, his hometown, but this is definitely him at his best. The impossible softness of both composition and color is masterful.

We were in the Uffizi for about 4 hours, which sounds short but will nearly kill you. Art is hard! The first floor had a huge Leonardo exhibit, but it was very hot and I was too hungry to stay long. I breezed through it, sadly. Managed to get lost coming home, so by the time I found the hotel again I was stumbling with exhaustion. I grabbed Nick and went to the nearest trattoria quickly. Unfortunately, eating between 14:00 and 17:00 is really rare, as most italians are enjoying a siesta at that hour. We barely got service, but that was alright, as my pizza came quick and was delicious.

We've the rest of the day off to enjoy the slow drying of today's thunderstorm. Every day so far, at around 15:00, the sky pours rain while the city siestas. It makes the evenings cool, which is great. Here's to keeping it up. I've got clean laundry again, 8 euros later, and tomorrow is full of sculpture to see.

wet Via della Scala
intjonathan: (Default)
We encountered a noisy surprise when our train stopped in Florence - a thunderstorm! Our hotel is a short walk from the train station, but any walk at all meant getting soaked in the thunderous downpour. It wasn't about to stop, so we braved the hot wetness and made a run for it. I fared better than most, but man what a rain. It felt wonderful after being surrounded by water we couldn't dip our feet in, much less drink.

rainy Florence train station
This wasn't our train, ours was much nicer. If you travel Trenitalia, don't go second-class. First class is just right. Plus the cars aren't covered in graffiti.

Florence feels more like a real city than Venice - an easy thing to do - but after living in Disneyland Italia for a week, we never really missed the city things. Cars, gypsies, noise, crosswalks, etc. We like the prices, and the laundromat, but I keep walking right into streets without looking, and I don't like having to be so vigilant; it's distracting and frustrating when I'm trying to appreciate the art that just leaps out of every corner.
We had what looked to us like a cheap dinner, then went walking to the lovely Duomo and Uffizi plazas. The rain has made for a very cool evening, which is wonderful! After days of never being outside without sweating bullets, this feels like a whole other country. Vicki lectured at some length at the Duomo, which was a real treat. Lovely all-natural colored marble facades on every side of the church, including the campanile.

all-natural hot tourists
Whoops, got a little distracted.

Duomo front and campanile
There's the Duomo! The lantern at the top of the dome is covered in scaffolding, unfortunately. The campanile looks great though.

We're all exhausted and are looking forward to much sleep tonight, so I'll try to post a couple backlogs from early in the trip, thank God we have free internet here. It'll take some time to get photos uploaded, I'm up to about 600 and there's a lot to sort through. Any backdated entries are not likely to show up on your friends page, so watch my journal the next few days for backlogged entries. I promise it'll be worth it.
intjonathan: (Default)
Today Bill led an optional train trip to lovely Vicenza, the departure for which which I and most of the group slept through. We're all dragging pretty badly, understandable after so much heat and activity. There were lots of "what're you doing today?" "sleeping" conversations. About 6 people went on the trip and were very happy with it, but I was alright with that.

stop deportation graffiti

I got to sleep in, enjoy a light lunch, and walk out to the Frari, which I missed yesterday. The Basilica di San Maria dei Frari is an enormous gothic church, containing Donatello's John the Baptist, Titziano's Ascention, and the bones of both Titian and Canova. Plus lots of stained glass, rose windows, and sculpture. Really a treat, and worth the hike and 2.50 euro entry.

Frari altar

We returned and got a glowing reccommendation for the Doge's palace tour, so we went out to that at about 5. It was expensive, 12 euro, but the place was wall-to-wall Tintoretto paintings, including the 25-metre wide Paradiso. There was also a Titziano fresco, St. Christopher, that just popped with life like a good fresco should. We crossed the Bridge of Sighs into the dungeon, which was really small. It's also the only dungeon I've visited with marble walls.

marble carving in the dungeon

The Doge's palace was totally enormous and covered in lovely paintings and architecture, and I would've loved to tour it with Vicki in tow, but it would be like a week wandering around there. Sadly, we only had 2 hours, but it was great.

sinking marble
Warped marble floors, a common sight here.

By 19:00 Nick, Justin and I were starving, so we went to a new place that Bill had talked about wanting to try. It turned out to be one of the top 3 meals I've ever eaten. This is the food I came here for. Every piece of food on that table was a symphony.

aquila nera pizza

The house wine was the best I've had here, and all the pizzas we had were just flawless. We were there two hours talking about everything from music top-5s to theological backgrounds. One of my favorite things about eating out here is that I don't have to be all hushed. Great big conversations are the order of the day! The table next to us asked if we were theological students. :) Not quite, art history and computer science, gratzie. We're... well-read.

aquila nera wine glass
Red wine is always served cold in Italy. It's quite refreshing.

Hopefully tonight I can drag Justin out for some long-exposure madness in the streetlights of Venezia. The best indeed!

trattoria at night

simplicity

Jul. 23rd, 2006 01:31 am
intjonathan: (Default)
As we grow more familiar with the city, our activities simplify and we spend less time with Vicki and Bill telling us how to get around, and more actual getting around. Today the group activities were the Accademia, the Peggy Guggenheim museum, the Frari church, and a gondola ride. I only made the Accademia and the gondola, as I nearly fainted in the sweltering Accademia. This would've been bad, not necessarily because of my failing energy and health risk, but because I would've missed the rest of the lovely work there.

giant freaking last supper
Tintoretto's enormous last supper. When the french restored it a few years back, they discovered 7" on either side that had been turned under. They restorede the edges, but when it was returned to Venice, it no longer fit in the room!

Real solid stuff, not that much of it, but great mid-renaissance Venetian work. I've discovered Tintoretto and Tiziani (tit-zee-ah-nee or tih-shen) and loved both. The Frari has an incredible Tiziani that I'd like to see tomorrow. It's way across town, but I could take a vaporetto. I'd probably go alone though. :(

I lunched with Vicki and others at a little sandwich shop on the "other side" of the canal, near the Accademia. I mention it because no tourists generally go there, so service was brusque but the food was delicious. Canatello lager is pretty good when it's 30C! Just don't let it dehydrate you or you'll be sorry. I went back for a siesta around 13:30 and the roads back were covered in fake-handbag vendors. It was actually hard to navigate, there were so many. It's difficult to take pictures as they hate that. Their engish is also too good, it's a little creepy. They're harmless, but annoying, like a lot of things here I guess.

After a wonderful 3-hour siesta, I woke my roommates for our gondola ride. This was a real treat.

our set of gondolas

It's funny though, these things have this huge reputation but really, you sit in a boat to see the back canals and talk to your friendly gondolier for an hour. You have to approach it like something fun to do, and get involved. Nothing will happen on the boat if you don't look for it. I saw a lot of couples sitting quietly, staring straight ahead and not really looking around or talking much. Our group is smarter, though, and we quizzed him on everything from the history of his boat (it was his father's) to the average rent on the Canal Grande (2000 euros/month residential, 5000 commercial).
Tide was very high today, as there is a Carnival ship in town. Many of the bridges are very low, and in the winter they sometimes cannot go under in the gondolas. He had to duck quite low as it was. He did not sing, but he spoke italian, english, spanish and french.

our gondolieri

grand canal from the water

Dinner was at a lovely restaurant next to San Zulian. More stunning italian cuisine, including a market-fresh caprese and some great spaghettis and vino rosso della casa.

caprese

Also, unexpected gelato pile!

a.c.e. and cookie gelato

This was 1.75 euros, about $2. And apparantly the really good gelato is in Firenze! I don't know what to make of that... it gets better?
Also, try the A.C.E. gelato, it's carrots (carota), oranges (arancia) and lemon (limone) that all adds up to good.

I was sitting in my room this afternoon thinking I could go for some macaroni and cheese and maybe a tv show... all this richness for the senses can be a little much after a while. The whole city is a postcard, and you can hardly buy bad food if you've got a clue. I do miss cooking though. I want to hit the fruit market tomorrow and get some raw food, my first for some time. I miss cooking and evergreens. I know, I know, poverino has had too much good cucina and vino, but this is a long way from home.

One thing I don't miss is cars. Wander a side street in venice at night, and it is silent. The Adriatic is very still, and the wake laws are very strict around Venice, so the canals and coast are very quiet. The tourist district shuts down after 11, so there's just no noise. Were an annoying industrial fan not right outside my window, it would be totally quiet here.

There is much left to do here, I haven't gone out at night for some long-exposure photography fun, nor have I made it to the Frari, and I'm not sure whether I'll go to Vicenze tomorrow or not. I'd love to see the Teatro Olympico, but it's an all-day trip and I really need a day off.

I've only just spent the 150 euros I started with. Not bad at all for 3 days in Italy's most expensive city. Haven't bought any Murano glass or anything yet though, so that's just food and admissions. The ATM by our hotel ran out of money and won't be stocked until next week, so scrambling for change is common. Italians hate making change, but all their prices are very round, so it's a very different money-spending routine. Very few smaller places and no historical sites take plastic, so ATMs and breaking big bills is the order of the day.

Wireless internet access has so far been impossibly pricy. I'm tempted to buy a SIM card, call home, have someone buy a bunch of Fon credit, and tell me where the APs are. Swisscom Eurospot charges over 20 euros a day for metered internet access at the hotel. I don't think so...

Still living like a king, I can see the dome of San Marcos from my single-bed room, and I'll be enjoying the best of Venice for the next couple days. Salud!

hotel room view at morning
intjonathan: (Default)
Made a surprisingly easy 8:30 curtain call with time to spare. Breakfast here was much like in London, except more pastries and less fancy cheese. And more annoying waitstaff, who insisted on getting our room number and seating us individually. Service was courteous, however, and the food plentiful and good. They also had delicious complimentary cappucino. There are no Starbucks anywhere in Italy. Good coffee of many varieties is too easy to find. Cappucino is available like tea in London.

pigeon feeders in San Marco Square
Piazza San Marco is always full of pigeons. Feeding them is a popular activity, as you can buy bags of corn for a euro from nearby vendors.

Our first activity was San Marco cathedral, the giant refrigerator door of Venetian religious art. In the Byzantine tradition, of which this 5-domed beauty is a lovely example, the church was considered God's house. And shouldn't you make God's house the prettiest one in town? So they did.

San marco at sunset

Enormous, glittering mosaics cover the ceiling, all in real gold and colored glass. Light streams through cupola windows, creating shafts across the tremendous space of the interior. Fine marble mosaic patterns wave across the floor. Every inch of space is designed in some elaborate tribute to the glory of God, his disciples and his saints. Really incredible stuff. Tragically, they allow neither shorts nor cameras, so all I have to take home from my visit is strong memories and a smelly pair of pants (even the big churches get hot here). At the back of the church you can pay another 2 euro to see the golden screen that was stolen from Constantinople and finished with thousands of precious stones and colored icons. Walking past the back domes, there are scenes depicting the disciples, but there are 14 - Mark has been added. It is his church, after all, where his remains lie under the altar. His image, the winged lion, is at the peak of many towers and mosaics here.

campanile lift ceiling
This was on the top of the lift in the Campanile.

The outside front of the church has four beautiful classic Greek horses, the originals of which are stored in an anteroom at the top rear of the cathedral.

San Marco's horses, with Vicki
Nobody actually knows where these horses came from.

Copies now stand outside, to protect the originals. To see the originals is another few euros, but it is well worth it, as they let you out on the roof. You can also see all the wonderful dome mosaics up close, especially the renaissance ones in the back. We hung about and took pictures of the square from way up, then went down to cross the square to the Campanile.

San Marco square from the basilica roof
The lines on the square were for church processionals, to show the processors where to stand.

Campanile is just an Italian word for clock tower, but in the San Marco square area there is only one il Campanile, and we were to go to the top. After a very hot wait in the queue, a lift whisks you up the 100-some foot tower to stand below the 4 bells and see almost all of Venezia and the islands. Vicki insisted we stay till noon, as there was a surprise. It turned out to be a rather loud one - the bells ringing!

Video of Campanile bell

We broke ranks for lunch and more delicious cafe food, then met back at the Campanile for the vaporetto ride to San Giorgio across the water. The vaporetti are Venezia's boat bus system, used for getting around the island and its neighbors.

San Giorgio Maggiore vaporetto stop
The vaporetto stations float.

San Giorgio is a lovely Greco-Roman cathedral in the traditional cross design, very stark and elegant. A surprising contrast to the haunted beauty of the Byzantine cathedral, it had a very mathematical appeal.

view from the San Giorgio campanile

It also had a campanile, which we paid the 3 euro to ride the lift up, for a different view of Venice from the front. Unfortunately I was on a later bus to this cathedral, and did not get many good pictures. There were two gorgeous paintings there, however.

San Giorgio Maggiore

On our return to Venezia we broke for dinner. My roommates and I had picked up a visitor to the group back at the vaporetti ticket counter, a young English lady visiting from Munich. She had gotten on our half-price group ticket to the cathedral, and we let her tag along for the lectures. She seemed eager for company, but had to return to the mainland shortly, so she invited us out for some wine at a good bar she had found earlier in the day. She had a hard time finding it, however. It turned out that she worked as a translator in both Spanish and German, and could communicate easily here with her Spanish. Based on her experience, if you are a young English lady needing directions in Venice, don't ask a woman. Also, if you're going to drink in a non-tourist bar, know exactly what you're ordering, and don't sit outside. We encountered the most humorless Italian women, especially the surly bartender. It seemed strange, as most of the local surliness can be attributed to simply being misunderstood, but that didn't apply here. It was sure nice to be hanging out with someone who spoke, lost though she may be.

Anyway, the bar she had in mind was closed until 6pm, but we found another one (tended by said surly Italian woman) and parted ways, she to attend her friend's wedding, us to eat and sleep.

Nick and our englishwoman
Our english visitor and Nick.

Tonight was pizza night. We had a reservation for the whole group at a Vicki-recommended local place, an accomplishment that is hard to comprehend. You try calling a small Venetian pizzaria and ask for a table for 30, and see how many "no, no, no"s you get before they'll take you! The group enjoyed $8 pitchers of incredible local wine, perfectly cooked thin tossed-crust pizzas, and a very bemused waitstaff. We celebrated all 4 July birthdays on the tour by singing "Happy Birthday" in Italian, much to the amusement of the staff.

La Perla menu
Try to find the pepperoni!

We're all exhausted most of the time. Jet lag is still biting at my sleep, and being out in the element (heat) is very draining. My ankles are swollen, likely due to dehydration, and my posture is ruined by ducking in all the low-ceilinged doorways and lifts. Nobody knows what day it is, and most sense of time is punctuated only by the occasional bell tower. Traveling here is darn hard work, and it's worth every minute.

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