Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Venice and Neighboring Islands

We spent the last three days of our Italian holiday in Venice.  In the middle ages Venice was the second largest city in Europe and most likely the richest in the world.  Most of the magnificent buildings were build during this time period.  
St Mark's Basilica's bell tower dominates St. Mark's square. In 828 merchants from Venice stole the relics of St. Mark the Evangelist from Alexandria.  The Doge's Palace on the right side of this photo adjoins St. Mark's Basilica.

A fresco over one of the entries into St. Mark's.
Another fresco.
St. Mark's square early in the day before the crowds show up.

A gondolier preparing to go under the Bridge of Sighs. This bridge connects the Doge's Palace with the jail cells.  I wouldn't have wanted to be a prisoner in one of these cells.

The courtyard at the Doge's Place.
Pictures are not allowed in the Doge's place but I had to take one just to give you an idea of the splendor. During the middle ages Venice's leadership model was unique. The Doge was an elected ruler.  He was a member of the aristocratic class.  The Doge was elected for life. There was a large body called the Grand Council who elected the Doge. The Grand Council named ten of it's members to a Council of Ten.  The Council of Ten oversaw Venice's diplomatic and intelligence services, managed its military affairs, and handled legal matters and enforcement.  Therefore they provided a check on the Doge's power. You could only be on the Council of Ten for one year. 

Kathy on the Balcony of St. Mark's Basilica.

Venice has lots of small canals and narrow lanes.  While I found our hotel easily it must have be just luck.  We went on a 30 minute walk to find a laundry that was 6 minutes from our hotel.  I felt like Alice down the rabbit hole.  Lots of dead ends. Narrow streets that twist and turn and yet are shown on maps as being straight.  There is hardly any green space in Venice.  Everything is paved over.  And the locals have dogs and many choose not to pickup after their animal.  So if you head to Venice avoid small puddles and watch out for the other stuff.
The Grand Canal lapping into a building. There were signs of settlement across the islands.  A few leaning buildings.  I wouldn't want to come to Venice in October or November when high tides can cover St. Mark's square.
Grand Canal from the Rialto bridge.
Evening light gives the city a pretty glow.
A private water taxi.  These water taxis are everywhere.  There is also a public water taxi system called the Vapoetto.  The boats on this system have regular stops and schedules.
There are boats of all sizes in Venice.  This one has quite a load.  In the background is a Vaporetto boat.  They stop at the floating docks with the yellow stripe.
A captain going up with his ship.
There are some smaller scenic canals.
Another scenic canal.  Not all of the smaller canals are scenic.  Many are just narrow water courses running between two buildings.
Kathy and I caught a water taxi to Murano island to check out the glassblowers and the glass shops.  Then we took Vaporettos to Mazzorbo and Burano islands.

A vineyard on Mazzorbo.  It was nice to see some open space and some green grass.
Burano is known for the colorful buildings lining the canals and streets.
Laundry and colorful buildings.
A young lady poising for a picture in Burano.
An example of one of the leaning towers I mentioned.
Kathy and I happen to be in Venice for the Festa Del Redentore.  This is a festival that is popular with the Venetians as it combines a religious theme with a spectacular celebration.The festival dates back to 1577.  It celebrates the city's deliverance from a terrible plague.
For the festival they build a 330 meter pontoon bridge across the Giudecca Channel. The bridge leads to Palladio's "Redentore" Church.  This church was commissioned in 1577 to celebrate the city's deliverance from the plague.  The pontoon bridge only exist for 48 hours each year.
Venetian families stake out their spots along the channel early in the day.  They bring out tables and chairs and have dinner along the channel waiting for the fireworks.  In addition to the people along the bank there are thousands of boats out on the water with families enjoying food and drinks.
The fireworks don't start until 11:30.  They last about 45 minutes and are pretty spectacular.  I thought I would share 6 of the 200 pictures I took.
I had never seen firework faces before.
Our trip to Italy ended with a bang.  Venice was nice to see once but it was our least favorite stop on our tour of Italy.  Maybe the 104 heat index had a little to do with that.

Look for a blog from Banff in a couple weeks.  Should be a lot cooler there.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Blog 3 Sorrento-Pompeii-Siena

This is the third blog from Italy.  This blog will cover Sorrento, Pompeii, and Siena.  The sunset above was from our first night in Sorrento.  We arrived by hydrofoil from Positano and had just enough time to unpack, enjoy a nice meal, and catch the sunset.

The next morning it was off to Pompeii.  This is a picture of one of the streets in Pompeii.  Every night they would flood the streets to clean them.  Pedestrians could walk across the street by stepping on the large stones.  If there were three stones like this street it meant it was a major thoroughfare. Notice the ruts between the stones from the chariot wheels.  All of the chariots had identical spacing between the wheels so they could negotiate the stones. 

Up to 9 feet of ash covered Pompeii.  20,000 people fled the city.  But about 2,000 stayed behind hiding in their homes.  Most of their roofs collapsed killing them.  If that didn't kill them there was a pyroclastic flow a few hours later that instantly killed all living things.  There is a storage area in Pompeii with thousands of items recovered from the site.  There must be acres of stone vessels all in better shape then these. 

This guy is having a bad day.  There are a few surviving frescoes across the site.

This is part of a 27,000 square foot home. One of the largest in Pompeii.  On the floor of this home there were several murals.  This mural depicts a battle between the armies of Alexander the Great and Darius III of Persia.

You could spend quite a few hours at Pompeii.

Sorrento was a very pretty small town.  It didn't feel as touristy as other places we had been.  At night this street was blocked off so pedestrians would safely walk to all of the shops and restaurants.  I think someone must have been excited about the Picasso exhibit, you can see them pointing from the left hand side of the picture. 

There is an old abandoned mill just a couple of blocks from the main street.  It was active until the 1900's but now it looks more like a fern garden.

This is the road up from the marina.  I though I was going to see a head-on collision as two cars were speeding toward the curve.  But both stopped at the last second. 

There is a nice cloister attached to the Church of San Francesco.  On weekends they have quite a few weddings here.

During the week they have concerts in the Cloister

San Francesco.  While I was taking this picture two Japanese girls jumped in front of the camera and danced all around.  They didn't realize that with a 30 second exposure that they wouldn't show up in the picture if they didn't stand still.  They were very disappointed when they looked at the back of the camera.

From Sorrento we headed to Siena.  We caught a fast train out of Naples to Florence.  The train hit 300 kilometers per hour (185 mph) on our journey.

The highlight of our Siena visit was the Siena Cathedral's library.

This is a picture of the Cathedral. The existing church is built on top of earlier churches. Just a couple of years ago they discovered beautiful frescoes in an earlier church underneath this one.  You can tour the crypt area to see those frescoes.
The inside of the cathedral is stunning. But wait until you see the library. 
There is a pulpit here that is supported by four lions.  Three of which are busy killing animals.  Not sure what the artist intended here.
The top of the pulpit has very fine carvings in marble. But wait until you see the library...
Finally the library.  The two side walls each have five large painted panels.  They must be 15 feet tall.  The end walls have two large painted panels.  Below the panels are music books with pages about 2 foot square.  But there are only about 12 notes on a page.  As Kathy pointed out there would be a lot of page flipping to play a song.
The ceiling of the library.

The third and last library picture.

As part of our church visit we climbed a tower for a panoramic view of Siena. These two pictures give you birds eye view of Siena.
The stairs we climbed.
I heard that the engineer and architect called in sick so the HR guys, Tom and Dean, decided they could lay out the windows as well as anybody.  Here is the final product.
I wonder why this saintly lady has a stern look on her face?

Now I see why.
Siena is a beautiful city.
There are brightly painted buildings.
Soaring towers.
Quiet side streets.
Nice architectural details.

Not bad for a city who lost a major battle to be the dominant Tuscan city to Florence and the Medici family.

Well that's all for this blog.  The next blog will cover Venice and some of the neighboring islands.