Venice

 Venice

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At one time Venice was referred to as the Crossroads of the Renaissance world, in fact The Doge Tomaso Mocenigo referred to Venice as, Mistress of all the gold in Christendom.

We were only going to be here for a day and a half so we stored part of our luggage at the train station. We stepped outside into the late Venetian afternoon sun and checked out our travel alternatives.

What’s a Water Taxi

There were three methods. We could walk; take a waterbus, or a water taxi. The first option was not feasible. After trudging to our hotel in Rome we knew our limitations, we could not carry our luggage that far. The second option was out for the same reason. Waterbuses are just like land buses, they follow a set route and time schedule and the nearest bus stop was too far from our hotel, the Hotel Ala. The last option remained the water taxi.

A water taxi is a speedboat or runabout. They are clean, fast, and usually attractive, and very expensive. It cost us 86,000 Lira or $66 for a 15 minute ride to our hotel. The experience was almost worth the expense. The powerful engines throbbed as we noisily chugged our way through the maze of canals. We arrived at a side entrance to our hotel and buccaneer-style walked up a plank into the lobby. Never, have I arrived at a hotel in such style.

Acropolis

 

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The hotel was small but the employees were very attentive and catered to our every request. When checking in they offered us the opportunity to go on a free tour of the glass-blowing factory on the Island of Murano. This sounded exciting and since they had used one of my favorite words FREE, I immediately agreed to the tour.

Shopping in the Piazza San Marcos

It was now about 7PM and we headed for the Piazza San Marcos or St. Marks Square, the place-to-be in Venice. We walked out the door of the hotel (the front door this time) and down the street. We crossed over a bridge and continued walking following directional signs. We started seeing more shops, exclusive shops, Versace, Givenchy, and other immediately recognizable brands. We must be getting close to the Piazza. On the right side of the walk I saw an ATM, time to stock up. I withdrew 500,000 Lira about $333.

Oh Lord, What Did I Do?

About a half block further I saw a glassware boutique. I looked at the collection they had on display in the window and decided I had to go in (bad move). After looking a few moments I fell in love with a set of wine goblets. Venice is noted for its glassware and these certainly lived up to the reputation. They were beautiful, hand-blown made from Alexandrite glass (the glass changed color based on the temperature of the beverage), and hand-painted with both gold and ceramic dogwood flowers. They bordered on garishness, but I was captivated by their unique beauty. The price was 1,200,000 lira or $800.

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After much bargaining, I bought six goblets and a carafe for this price. Since the proprietor swore I had already cheated him out of his retirement years with my keen bargaining skills, he would not allow me to charge the entire amount. I went back to the ATM to get more money.

I walked back to the shop and told the proprietor that I had obtained all the cash the ATM would allow me to withdraw. We bargained a little more and he agreed to allow me to charge $450 and pay cash for the balance. The next discussion was what to do with my purchase. He said, “No problem.” He would ship it to my home; he did this all the time and never had a problem. That’s fine for him, I had never done this before and I did have a problem. But I had no choice; I surely was not going to carry it around with me.

Mark and I walked out of the shop. I was dazed! “My God what had I done?” I had paid a fortune for something that I might never receive nor could I be sure it would arrive intact. I tried to get assurance from Mark that I had not acted stupidly. Mark in his stoic manner, realizing that I did not really want to hear the truth, gave me assurance.

Why did I do it, and even more questionable, what would I do with it? I had no place to display this treasure but did not want to lose it. My youngest son Gregory had a passion for china and glassware; I planned on giving it to him. I thought perhaps this may assuage some of the guilt I felt because he was not able to join me on this little junket. I also would be assured of having visiting rights to it.

We walked around the Square too tired to really know what we were looking at. We were very hungry and it was starting to get dark. We stopped in a small café on the square, hadn’t we been warned not to do this? We ordered a couple of sandwiches, two Cokes, and for dessert two pieces of cake. We were presented with a bill for 60,000 Lira or about $44 US.

Moral: Don’t eat at cafes in St. Marks Square.

Mark noticed a sign on the wall stating that Richard Wagner used to eat there and meditate while composing his great works. He was probably trying to figure out how he was going to pay the bill. Maybe he did his work at cost plus and charged it to King Ludwig. We’ll talk about him later.

After eating and feeling a bit rejuvenated, we shopped a little, realizing that we would return again tomorrow. As we walked toward our hotel it started raining. We passed a canal-side restaurant that seemed to be very popular and walked down to read the posted menu and get the name. It was the Ristorante da Raffaele. When we got back to the hotel we asked the desk clerk to book reservations for dinner tomorrow evening.

This is an excerpt from my book “Fulfillment is a Place”, a trip taken by my son and I to fulfill my desire to travel Europe. The book is available through Amazon Books

Rome to Venice

Last Day in Rome

Day 8: Sunday, May 26. We were leaving on the train for Venice at 12:15PM. Since this was Sunday, we needed to find a church; this was not a big problem in Rome. We wanted to attend Mass at St. Peters with the Pope, but once again just did not have the time. During breakfast we discussed how we could get to Mass before leaving.

As I was settling our bill with the desk clerk, I heard church bells pealing. I asked the clerk what church it was and where it was located. I was informed that it was Santa Maria Maggiore and that it was two blocks away. This was one of the churches that I had heard about for years and we were right next door to it. We had plenty of time to attend 9:30AM Mass and still catch our train.

Santa Maria Maggiore

Santa Maria Maggiore or Saint Mary Major was constructed in the 5th century under the direction of Pope Sixtus III. This was after the Council of Ephesus in 431 accepted as dogma the fact that Mary was the Mother of God. According to legend Pope Liberius was told by a vision to found a church in a location designated by immaculate snow. The church has been changed and added to over the years. Following the directions from the hotel desk clerk we walked up a hill to the church.

Mass was being celebrated in the Pauline Chapel constructed by Flaminio Ponzio in 1611 and named for Pope Paul V of the Borghese family. The Main altar was surrounded by magnificent marble columns about 30 ft. high, capped by beautiful gilded angels. In the center of the wall in back of the altar was a large painting of the Madonna and child in a frame protected by glass and surrounded by four gold angels. The painting is purported to have been painted by St. Luke but the work has actually been dated to the 11th century, 1,000 years later.

After Mass we walked around the church; at  the far end of a long hall was an altar. The design of the altar was very similar to the main altar in St. Peters. I had no idea to whom it was devoted. We descended some stairs at the side and found a small silver urn. Whose ashes did the urn contain? Nearby there were some confessional booths. I saw a priest emerging from one and hurried over and asked if he spoke English. Imagine my surprise when he informed me that he was from Boston and was there to study. I questioned him about the altar in front of us and the mysterious urn. He told us that we were looking at the holiest part of the church.

The main altar was surrounded by a huge baldacchino (altar canopy) which was modeled after Bernini’s masterpiece. He further explained that the altar protected the Crypt of Confession that houses the silver urn containing five pieces of the manger that once held Jesus at his birth. What a rush that was!

We said farewell and visited the gift shop where we purchased a few souvenirs. It was time to return to the hotel, check out and catch our train to Venezia or Venice.

Rome to Venice with Good Company

We walked to the Roma Stazione for the last time, checked the train schedule to see if there had been any track changes and approached our train, which was waiting for departure. We searched several compartments looking for a place to sit and found a compartment with two unassigned seats so we exercised squatter’s rights and grabbed them. We placed some of our luggage in the overhead rack and the rest immediately outside our compartment where we could watch it. We then waited to see who our travel mates would be for the five-hour ride.

Our companions soon entered the compartment. It was a man and woman and their daughter. He was a professor at Georgia State University and his wife also taught school. They were on a four-month teaching assignment in Heidelberg and had taken some time for a brief holiday in Italy.

We spent the rest of the trip talking to our companions about their experiences in Germany. They had traded homes with a couple in Germany for the duration of this assignment and swapped both homes and cars. They had obtained access to a Mercedes-Benz. Such a deal!

As we glanced out the window, we saw the train was moving across the causeway and pulling into the Santa Lucia Stazione in Venezia.

This is an excerpt from my book “Fulfillment is a Place”, a trip taken by my son and I to fulfill my desire to travel Europe. The book is available through Amazon Books

Florence

Florence

Day 7: Saturday, May 25. It is a beautiful sunny morning and we have a great day of adventure planned. We’re going to use our Rail passes for the first time, and Florence is our destination. My first experience using the Rail pass was very pleasurable. Imagine! No crowds! No lines! No check-in! It was a traveler’s dream.

We picked up a city map in the train station and walked outside into the beautiful city of Firenze or Florence. We walked down the Via De’Panzanii to the Via De’Cerretani it was several blocks, going toward the Piazza Duomo.

Duomo

The Duomo (Italian for Cathedral) has one of the most beautiful exteriors I have ever seen; colored tiles and stones are assembled into a gorgeous mosaic. It looks like the designer had sat with a pad in his hand and spent years performing geometric doodles until the plans were completed. This use of colored tiles is indigenous to Florence; the octagonal dome built without the aid of scaffolding is unique to the Duomo and was considered an engineering marvel.

The Duomo is dedicated to Santa Maria del Fiore, Our Lady of the Flower. It was built on the site of a Christian church; construction of the cathedral began in 1294 and continued until 1436. Some of the most famous Italian artisans cooperated in the completion of the church, Giotto (better known as a painter of frescoes), Arnolfo di Cambio, Andrea Orcagna, and, most notably, Filippo Brunelleschi, who was responsible for designing and building the dome, which dominates the Florentine roofline

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Acropolis

Ghiberti’s Gates

Facing the cathedral and campanile is a smaller, octagonal structure, the Baptistery of San Giovanni (6th-9th centuries), noted for its gilt-bronze doors, elaborately worked in high relief by Andrea Pisano and Lorenzo Ghiberti. These beautiful bronze panels named The Gates of Paradise depict various scenes from the Bible. In a few weeks I’ll be able to compare them to Rodin’s Gates of Hell. I was stunned at the level of detail that Ghiberti had breathed into this magnificent work. The midmorning sun granted a golden highlight to the figures, providing many of them with halos. It was difficult to imagine that these doors had survived all these years, later I read that the original doors are kept indoors to protect them from the weather.

Acropolis

Acropolis

Unfortunately, at the time we were there both the Duomo and the Baptistery were closed and being short of time we pressed onward. Our next target was the Bargello.

Bargello

The Bargello is located near the Piazza della Signoria. A crenellated 94M (308-ft) bell tower tops the building.

The Bargello houses a large collection of sculptures by Italian masters. Among its treasures are Donatello’s David, Perseus by Benvenuto Cellini, and the Rape of the Sabines by Giambologna.  In the Upper Loggia is the Donatello Room and his David and St. George, and St. John, also works by Ghiberti and Brunelleschi. The lower hall houses a collection of 14th century sculpture including several by Michelangelo.

In Search of the Uffizi

Mark and I set out in search of the Uffizi. I had never heard of the Uffizi but it was purported to have the largest collection of Italian Renaissance paintings in the world. We soon found ourselves at a river. This was the famous River Arno, how often had I found that word in crossword puzzles? I looked to the right and further down the river saw a bridge. At this time my mind was concentrating on one objective, finding the Uffizi. Too bad, it would have been nice if I had recognized and crossed the legendary Ponte Vecchio built in 1345. I still regret some of the things we missed because of our time limitations.

We continued to walk around the area and eventually came upon the Piazza de Uffizi where the entrance to the museum is located. We had to wait for perhaps 15 minutes to gain admittance to the museum. I have talked to others that informed me we were fortunate to gain admittance. If I haven’t already said this, “We were very wise to pick the dates for our fantasy trip”. We wandered through the museum; I had never seen such a fantastic collection of Old Masters in one place.

There were paintings by Giotto and others dating from the 13th century; Giotto’s beautiful altarpiece; The Annunciation and Saints, by Simone Martini dated 1333; Filippo Lippi’s hauntingly beautiful, The Coronation of the Virgin dated c:1441-1447; then there was Botticelli, The Adoration of the Magi, the two paintings of Judith and the Discovery of the Corpse of Holofernes, perhaps his most famous works Primavera and the Birth of Venus, Michelangelo’s The Holy Family; Raphael’s Madonna of the Goldfinch and St. John in the Wilderness; Titian’s beautiful Venus of Urbino and Leda and the Swan; another painting that became etched in my mind was Judith and Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi.

You may think I have a thing about Judith. The story is fascinating and may be read in the Book of Judith in the Old Testament of The Bible. The Israelis were under siege by Holofernes (a general sent by Nebuchadnezzar), they were quickly running out of food and water. Judith, an attractive widow, volunteers to save them. She dons her finest clothing, perfume, and makeup, and wanders into the enemy camp posing as a traitor. She proposes that she will show the enemy how to take the Israeli town with no casualties on their part. Holofernes becomes enamored of her. Judith gets him drunk. While he is sleeping she cuts off his head and sneaks out of camp with his head as a trophy. When her treachery is discovered in the morning, the enemy is so unnerved that they depart.

The return trip was uneventful, I don’t remember but I imagine we both slept most of the trip. Still tired from our exciting and strenuous day we returned to the hotel to pack. We were leaving tomorrow for that magical, mysterious, place Venice.

This is an excerpt from my book “Fulfillment is a Place”, a trip taken by my son and I to fulfill my desire to travel Europe. The book is available through Amazon Books

 

 

The Vatican

The Vatican- Sistine Chapel

The Sistine Chapel was named after Pope Sixtus IV who commissioned Baccio Pontelli in 1475 to build a palace chapel and Vatican fortress. The dimensions of the chapel are 40M X 13M. You enter the Sistine Chapel through a side door and walk down some very shallow steps into the main part of the chapel. Everywhere you look you see masterpieces. They start midway up the wall and overflow onto that most famous canvas, the Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The room is a microcosmic museum unto itself. Your eyes look, your brain records, but cannot begin to register and realize the magnificence of the sight. I have visited the Chapel twice and am still stunned by the works that I have seen.

Along the sides are two galleries of paintings. The lower gallery painted by Perugino, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Roselli, and Signorelli depict the following biblical scenes:

  • The Baptism of Christ
  • The Temptation of Christ
  • The Call of St. Peter and St. Andrew
  • The Sermon on the Mount
  • Jesus Handing the Keys to St. Peter
  • The Last Supper
  • Moses Journey Into Egypt
  • Moses Receives the Call
  • The Crossing of the Red Sea
  • Adoration of the Golden Calf
  • The Punishment of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram
  • The Last Days of Moses

The intermediate level depicts paintings of twenty-four Popes from St. Anacletus (76-88) to St. Dionysius (259 – 268). These paintings are in pairs and reside on either side of windows going around the walls. Ghirlandaio, Botticelli, Roselli, and Fra Diamante painted them. Each papal pair is capped by a Lunette (arched painting) depicting the ancestors of Christ; the Lunettes were painted by Michelangelo.

Above all of this is Michelangelo’s ceiling commissioned by Pope Julius II in March of 1508 and composed of thirty-three individual paintings. They begin with the center strip consisting of:

  • God Dividing Light From Darkness
  • Creation of the Sun and the Moon
  • God Separating the Waters from the Land
  • The Creation of Man
  • The Creation of Woman
  • The Original Sin
  • The Sacrifice of Noah
  • The Deluge
  • Drunkenness of Noah

The center strip is bordered on all sides by an additional twenty-four paintings all depicting a variety of scenes from the Bible.

By far the most impressive are those depicting the creation of the world. We observe God in his omnipotence performing tasks we cannot even imagine, moving bits of Heaven and Earth about as if he were sweeping the floors or dusting shelves.

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He reaches out to Adam and animates the supine figure with life and the ability to reason. Who has not seen details of this most famous of paintings, the hands reaching toward each other. One filled with power, the other limp but desirous of intimacy with such power.

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Next we observe the creation of Eve and the couple being driven from Eden after falling prey to the evil advances of the Serpent. At the end of the center strip are three paintings portraying Noah, the Deluge, and sacrificial offerings of thanks. There are another twenty-four paintings around the perimeter.

Just as our eyes became accustomed to the overwhelming sight of Michelangelo’s genius, we turned back toward the door. There it was the most magnificent work of all, The Last Judgment.

This immense work was painted by Michelangelo twenty years after the completion of the ceiling, and fills the entire wall. In the Last Judgment, Christ appears in the center next to Mary. He appears to be the source of a powerful vortex that is calling the dead from their resting-places. The dead rise on the left side of the painting towards a cloud. On this cloud is a group of angels who are the keepers of the Books of Good and Evil Deeds. Each soul is called forth and answers for his deeds. The good are saved and welcomed into Heaven, the damned are sent back down to Charon and the beasts and demons of Hell.

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We finally depart from the tranquility of the chapel and give a last look over our shoulder as we walk through the door. We are back in the hallways again passing displays of numerous gifts that have been presented to the church and its officials over the years. Each a treasure unto itself, silver, gold, ceramic, every media is represented in these gifts.

Farther down the hall we stopped at the Vatican Gift shop. The first thing that attracted my attention was a book of the paintings of Raphael and Michelangelo found in the Vatican Museum. I am so thankful that I purchased this book, you have no idea how much pleasure it gives me to be able to refer back to it to answer questions or just to look again at the beauties of these masterpieces. Incidentally, after coming home I found the same book at our Art Museum bookstore. Oh well, I didn’t carry it around too long, I mailed it home from Munich.

I also purchased a few Rosaries, medallions, postcards, and stamps. In case you didn’t know, the Vatican has its own post office. Who could resist sending mail home postmarked from the Vatican? We quickly wrote and addressed our postcards and headed out. Jackie was really excited when she received her postcard and saw the Vatican postmark.

We walked out the door and around the corner on our way to that wonder of wonders, St. Peters Basilica. We passed sidewalk vendors selling shirts, books, and various religious artifacts.

How many of you have been to see the wonders of the Vatican? Were you as impressed as I was?

Next stop St. Peters . I’ll be looking for you.

This is an excerpt from my book “Fulfillment is a Place”, a trip taken by my son and I to fulfill my desire to travel Europe. The book is .Available through Amazon Books