Archive for May, 2010

Even though the weather was not very good, rainy and cold with little sun, our son Joshua and his girlfriend Kim enjoyed their visit to Europe.  Uli showed them Geneva, the old town and Carouge while I took them to Nyon for a trip to the castle and three small museums as well as to a visit to one of the delicious bakeries in this area. The right thing to do on a rainy day! Here is a photo under Roman ruins in Nyon:

After the weekend they traveled to Germany to visit relatives: both sides of Sylvia’s families. In spite of the weather being bad they had a good time and came back with lots of things to tell us.

The second weekend the weather here was better. So we planned a trip to Chillon castle by train and back by  boat to Lausanne. It was a full day and everyone enjoyed the trip. The castle is always a delight and I got to see it from the boat this time. It also was interesting to see the steep vineyards from the boat. The sun did show itself a few times but  on the boat we had to stay inside.

In Lausanne we saw a photo exhibit and the cathedral as well as old town. A nice dinner rounded off the day.

On Sunday we went to the Gorges du pont de Diable. It was a nice drive through France on the other side of the lake. The Gorge itself was impressive and one went through it with a guide. I am including a photo since this gives the best impression of this awesome place.

Uli and I had coffee while Josh and Kim photographed some mosses (one of Kim’s study interests).

In the evening we were in Yvoire, a medieval town unfortunately too much spruced-up for tourists, but we still enjoyed it and had a classic cheese fondue with debates about life until late in the evening.

On their last day, I took the train with them to Lyon and we enjoyed a nice view, walked through old town, enjoyed St. Nazaire  church and had Lyonnaise food for lunch and some nice cakes for coffee time.

We were sad to see them off but glad we had this good time together.

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Italy, Part 2

The next three days I explored Venice and Padua. It was really hard to choose what to do in Venice but I prebooked some things to avoid wasting time standing in line.
I took the local train to Venice and was able to take the Canal Grande tour right away with the vaporetti, the ships that go along the canal. It was very crowded on them and lots of different boats were on the canal. I still always managed to get a spot outside to take lots  of photos. To see the palaces alongside the canal in all different times of day and light was interesting.

I decided to do the “touristic” things a first-timer to Venice does first. That meant that I took the boat to Piazza St. Marco. I wound my way through the crowds to get to the Doge palace. The staircase up to the chambers was breathtaking (Scala d’Oro). It is all embellished with gilded stucco by Alessandro Victoria.

Ceiling above Scala d'Oro

One went to one room after another admiring the opulence and the craftmanship of famous painters like Tintoretto and Veronese. The details were fascinating but the unity of the whole with the ceilings, floors and walls was intriguing. One leaves a bit dazzled only to be overwhelmed by the next grand display of power: the Basilica of St. Marco. The light fell into some areas and made the mosaics sparkle. The Ascension dome occupied my attention the most. Unique is the Pala D’Oro, over the tomb of St. Marco. It is made of miniature scenes in enamel and said to be decorated with 1401 jewels. I was glad to have had my binoculars with me to really study the details. (Our art history teacher told us to bring those along on art trips.)

After this long sightseeing I took a break and ate a pasta dish with mushrooms and had one of those good coffees (I have gotten used to these strong ones again!). The afternoon I took the boat again in order to get some detail photos of the palaces along the canal. At three I was at the Academia Art Gallery since I wanted to see some of the paintings we discussed in my art history classes. One of them was the Tempest by Giorgione and Veronese’s  Feast in the House of Levi. When I got out again the evening light was very fine, and I got out of the boat at the famous Rialto bridge and strolled through some of the small streets around there, taking bridges across smaller canals and some photos of reflections.

The next day I decided to get off the boat at the St. Thoma station and walk to the huge Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari with famous paintings by Titian and Bellini. Titian’s The Assumption of the Virgin towers high above the altar and Bellini’s Madonna enthroned with Saints is an intimate affair in its side chapel. What beautiful colors both paintings had! In the neighborhood was the Scuola di San Rocco with huge paintings by Tintoretto in one great and two smaller halls.  They were all very moving—I especially liked the use of light in Christ before Pilate and the composition in the Adoration of the Shepherds.

Then I had prebooked a Three Island Tour to Murano, Burano and Torcello. It was burning hot at the quai so the fresh air on the boat in the lagoon was great and I enjoyed taking photos from the boat, The first stop was Murano where the famous glass comes from. We saw a glassblower at work but it was so crowded I did not get to see much. I took some other photos instead, of glassrods and the half closed oven.

Glass Rods in Murano

The next stop at Burano was more exciting—the colored houses were bathed in afternoon light and I took a whole series of reflections. We only had about 30 Minutes at each island so it was a bit rushed. At the last stop, in Torcello, we saw an old church with fantastic mosaics.


It had been two wonderful days in Venice.

The next day I went to Padua on a more leisurely pace. My main goal was to see the Srovegni Chapel with Giotto’s frescoes.  This place we had discussed in depth in our art history class and I had copied an angel in fresco style. It was very moving to see it in real as well as the other frescoes. It felt like a pilgrimage. I was lucky to get in twice because there was an empty slot to go in again (one has to book in advance to get 15 minute slots )so I could see things I had missed the first time! I then splurged and had lunch at the famous Pedrocchi cafe and found out that the Baptistry also had fabulous frescoes by Giusto de Menabuoi (c, 1376)—the whole place was covered with them.  A glance at Donatello’s Gattamelata and then I went home.
I had a great dinner feast out in the countryside with Bettina and Riccardo, sitting outside.

Cafe Pedrocchi

The last day I took the train to Milan and stored my luggage. I wanted to see some paintings at the Breva gallery which I enjoyed,

What a wonderful trip!!!

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Italy, Part 1

There really is no way I can convey what a fantastic week I had in Italy, but I will give it a try. The whole trip started with phoning a college friend (Bettina) who I had not seen for 26 years but kept in touch with. She lives in Vicenza. The week had such variety, long conversations with Bettina and getting to know Riccardo, touring the countryside with them on the weekend, getting  treated to a private tour on Monday with Bettina and her girlfriend, Nadia, who put an incredible itinerary together. I also had time on my own to delve into the arts in Venice, Padua and Vicenza and to make a stop in Milan on my way back. The whole time I had great weather—it only rained on my arrival in Geneva Friday night!

On Saturday I had a nonstop train from Geneva to Vicenza, a beautiful ride through the mountains. I arrived in the afternoon so we had time to explore Vicenza and sit down for a coffee and catch up with our lives and I met Riccardo in the evening.

View of Vicenza from Monte Berico

On Sunday I had the morning to myself and to my delight I found out that Palladio’s Rotunda was only ten minutes away and I hiked up to see it. Such an elegant building which we had discussed in my art history class back at San Mateo college. It was a delight to photograph it from all angles.


In the afternoon I got picked up and after a filling noodle dish we headed out into the countryside. We visited a medieval castle (Marostica) which had an upper part with ruins left and a lower part where every two years live chess matches are held in costumes.


The next stop, Bassano de Grappa, was a medieval town where we crossed an old wooden bridge and rested along the river at the end.

My friends in front of the bridge in Bassano

On Monday we went on the trip that Nadia had organized. It took us to lesser known treasures. She had arranged for two guides and Bettina translated from Italian. We passed the tower where Galilei did his astronomical observations and stopped in a small town called Costozza (Storage). It is full of grottoes where stone had been quarried to build the town. These grottoes were used for storage and as hiding places during wars. We saw Villa da Schio, and the count himself gave us a tour, beautiful rooms, some of them can be rented for weddings. The garden is gorgeous, formal Italian style, with white statues. The wine cellar will delight wine connoisseurs. A very romantic place.

Villa da Schio with Benedict church

We then ascended an old street to the grottoes where you could partially go inside. It was nice to cool off and after that to visit an old Benedictine church with a garden where some cacti were planted.

In the grotto

Then we went back to the village and thanked Gino who had been a fantastic guide explaining the history of the place in detail, and since he spoke slowly I even understood some Italian.

Our guide Gino

After a fabulous lunch we drove off to Lumignano where Angelo greeted us. He guided us through the hills on a hike through the forest pointing out wild orchids and other plants. We came to a patch where the whole forest was covered in white and yellow flowers—it had a fairy-like atmosphere.

Nadia, Bettina and Angelo in the forest

We saw some diggings where researchers are hoping to find bones of Neanderthal men—our guide has helped in some of these. From the hills we looked down on pea fields which are planted here—the climate is favorable for their growth.

Pea plantation near Lumignano

Once down we visited a small chapel were we got to see a “Madonna of the Snow” from 1266. The church had a very spiritual presence with this Madonna. Another church and a decaying palace rounded off the day. We sat at the bar in the village and had a drink with Angelo. This has been a most amazing day: art, nature and wonderful company combined!

To be continued…

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