Sunday, November 22, 2009

Venezia 2009 - Part I

Arriving at San Marco Airport after 13 hours of flying from Dallas with a connection through Frankfurt, we collected the luggage and made our way outside to the middle of a perfect sunny day.

You know that feeling where you've been somewhere before and you know where to go? Well, I was experiencing that because I had been to Venice and this airport two years earlier. Finding the way to the water transport, I made the easy decision to take a water taxi.

You see, last time here I had taken a water bus, which is great if you have lots of time to kill. But with me carrying mom's luggage, I didn't want the hassle. As a warning on the water taxis, people cram in like sardines and it is easy to miss a stop, especially if you are carting around four pieces of luggage.

The water taxi had us to the White Lion on the Grand Canale within 7 minutes. I wish I had remembered to bring my water skis because it was an incredibly fast ride. I also wish I had the foresight to call ahead and have the owner meet us at the canal entry. Most of the buildings in Venice have a door directly on the water side and a door on the 'dry' side. I think it's supposed to be more fancy if you arrive at the water side. Oh well, next time. As you see below, it wasn't a super fancy entryway on the canal side... At least there were no visible four legged carriers of the black plague or anything.

A few doors down from my hotel was the Ca d'Oro, which had a considerably more elaborate canal entry court. It was slightly more expensive to book this ancient museum palace, so I went with rustic charm instead.

Before we were completely out of the water taxi, an annoying man walked up and asked the driver how much to go to St. Mark's square. The driver responded '95 euro', and the man stormed off indignantly because he thought he could get a cheaper rate since the water taxi was already there.

Rounding the corner to the hotel, I noticed right away that the building was ancient. This was great because I enjoy carrying heavy bags up several flights of stairs. No, really.

The White Lion was ideally situated on the Grand Canale, with my balcony having views of the Rialto market and the Bridge. In other words, a perfect place for 1) purchasing a bread, fresh tomatoes, cheese and a bottle of wine and 2) consuming the aforementioned goods while soaking in the incredible architecture and history and chuckling at the occasional tourist floating by in a gondola. This location coupled with a prime location on Strada Nuova ensured a fun stay.

After checking in, I still wasn't tired because I was in Venice! So I went walking through the characteristic back streets until I was good and lost.

I play a game in Venice called 'find the bridges with no handrails'. This time I only found two, here is one...

Monday, November 16, 2009

Leaving the Lake Area (Quando Lasciato il Lago Como)

The day we left Como and started the trek to Florence was best described as 'absolutely perfect' weather. You know, that kind of crisp clear autumn morning that demands even the laziest person to go out for a walk just to enjoy it. So I locked up the Bellagio villa, rolled down windows, then drove up the hill to the Eastside 589 highway.

Well, highway is not exactly the best way to describe it. In some sections, I might have been able to touch both sides of the road at the same time. But that didn't matter, we were enjoying this perfect morning with no traffic or stressful situations. So, I picked up the pace and drove a bit faster.

Then, a car approaching on the other side of the road that looked like a police car waved me over to the 'side' of the road authoritatively (there wasn't much room since I was driving next to a mountain cliff). Was I speeding? I was wondering how much I'd have to pay. My imagination quickly ran with enormous sums and I couldn't help but wonder if it would have been better to have just taken the train.

After a minute the car that waved me down didn't turn around, so I decided to chance it and just start driving again. I cover less than a kilometer and then two cars dart past and both are pointing at my right side of the road next to the cliff wall frantically. Huh? Falling rocks? Danger? They were pretty convincing, so I reason that maybe I should just stop and wait for a few minutes.

I couldn't really see around the curve because of the mountain, so I stopped and waited.
Not twenty seconds later, about three bicycle riders *zoom* by. And then about twenty more, quickly followed by what had to have been hundreds of cyclists. Not just the 'wannabe' amatuers who try to emulate Lance Armstrong that I see around where I live, but honest to gosh professional atheletes in a real race.

I finally had the presence of mind to raise my camera and take a picture of the spectacle on that Lake Como cliffside on an otherwise perfect morning. Eventually, the number of cyclists dropped and finally the support cars and ambulance drove by, followed by a little red caboose.

In retrospect, I'm really glad that I pulled to the side of the road. I'm not sure the windshield wipers could have handled it otherwise.

Quando lasciato il Lago, uomini in auto puntano a ciglio della strada. Perché? Non capito... Era una gara di bicicletta! Nessuno è lesi :)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Sirmione - Ancient Lake Fun, Part II

While driving from Venice to Lake Como, I had to make a long lunchtime stop at a unique spot in all the world. Sirmione is a geological oddity, a very narrow strip of land jutting about two miles out into the ancient Lake Garda.

It's kind of strange to walk for so far in one direction and see water on both sides. Last time that happened, I was on a cruise ship treadmill.

It was rumored to be the location of a villa of Catullus, a close friend of the family of Gaius Julius Caesar, but it was probably a different Roman dignitary who lived here in those days.

It makes military sense that the original villa builders would pick this spot because it is supremely defensible. Well, except from attacks of a flying or swimming enemy. The ancient Romans wouldn't have stood a chance against a nuclear submarine, right?

Here I am standing in the main 'foyer' of the villa. Behind me, as you might guess, is the lake. Apologies for my shoddy state in the photo, but I'd just been driving in Italian traffic half the day when this was taken.

Below, you can see the 'marble beach' view out the 'front door' of 'the' villa... I'll bet they had some great parties out there, even though it would be tough to use a jet ski loaded down with a case of beer because it's so shallow.

The size and scale of the Roman villas makes my house seem so small...

They also had a neat little museum with a diverse collection of implements, mosaics, frescos and such.

I promised some glass and smalti images a few posts back. Here is some off my 'stash' of mixed colors and an Orsoni sample board showing the standard pallette with a pretty large range of value and hue.

And here is the actual result (from my class) of that mosaic from the 6th century. I accidently put up a photo last time of just my empty easel with just the image I was copying in mosaic. Strangely, no one called me on it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Ancient Lake Fun Part I (Divertimento di Lago Antiche)

Driving through rush hour traffic is never fun in any city, but in Milan it can really grind to a halt. We had left Venice earlier that morning by rent car and had lost a bit of time with a fun stop at Lake Garda's ancient city of Sirmione that I'll elaborate on later.

The lady I was renting the villa from in Bellagio was expecting us at 5:00pm, but a helicopter would be the only option which could have made that happen. Luckily, I didn't have to sit in the Milan traffic for the full 360 degrees of the loop around the city, after only a few miles of a parking lot, I saw a workable exit to the north.

Trying to read the road signs in Italian on a big highway system you've never been on with many impatient drivers zipping around is not exactly the relaxing part of the vacation. The trusty GPS guided us to the correct road north for Bellagio after a few wrong turn missteps in the city of Como itself. Up the mountains we went on the narrow twisty east side 589. Suddenly, the lake came into view off to the left (and way down there). Flashbacks to driving in Santorini Greece came to mind, but this was much easier by comparison.

Lake Como (Larius to the Romans) has long been a resort. Pliny the Younger had written about stays in a villa here for hunting and fishing around 2000 years ago, but mine was going to have running wat... nope he had that, a sewer sys... nope he had that, um, electricity! Which was going to be very handy soon since it was beginning to get dark as I was driving on up around the twisty mountain roads.

I gave the owner Francesca a call when in town. She dropped everything and drove up the awesome hill where the villa is located to let us in and give information about the rooms and the area. I knew it was going to be a nice place, but I was surprised at exactly how nice it all was.
My mom loved the view and the balcony, and there was an olive orchard and an infinity edge pool which were part of the property. There was even a nice little cobblestone parking area behind an automatic iron gate.

Speaking of fancy pools, for the record, even as nice as my pool is, I'd gladly trade my house for this villa any day of the week because there are just no views like this in Texas. Francesca is a great business woman, she and her sister run a shop in town and the nice villa in the pristine location was handed down in their family. She had restored it to a very high standard. Although I don't use the term lightly, it was 'chock full' of amenities.

The town of Bellagio is small and pleasant, well except for the 1960's style band bleating out old rock and roll in Italian at one of the hotels. It is by necessity a compact center of town and everything is pretty much within a few minutes walk.
If you go, I recommend stopping at Villa Melzi and by all means, take the boats around and explore. If you want to spend obscene amounts on shopping, I'd recommend taking the boat over to Mennagio and catching a bus to Switzerland.
Or if you just want to relax, you can do like I did and have a few bottles of wine in your own villa while looking over the same awesome lake Pliny did 2000 years ago.

I think I'll be back here soon.