Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Travelogue – international music

Tuesday, July 31

This was the first day of the 15th International Handbell Symposium. The morning was time to set up the bells. I finally found out which bells I'll be playing and began to mark my music. I'm in an international “orphan” group, those who came by themselves. I am playing British made bells and have British ringers on either side of me. This group also has a couple Germans, a Swiss, and I think an Australian. I haven't met them all yet.

I had a quick lunch in time to be ready for Opening Ceremonies at 12:30. There were the usual speeches by the head of Handbell Ringers of Great Britain (our hosts), the head of the International Handbell Committee, and the Deputy Lord Mayor of Liverpool. All speeches (as well as everything else this week) were translated into Japanese and Korean. There was a procession of flags, this time including Hong Kong, who have been officially recognized has having a handbell guild and put into the rotation for hosting a future Symposium. The heads of the various national guilds played an opening chord (similar to American events where an opening bell is played).

I think I heard attendance is about 450, which makes this the smallest Symposium (at least the smallest I've attended). One in Japan many years ago had 900 attendees, which was the largest.

I met many people that I met at previous Symposiums. Alas, this is the only place I see them.

After the ceremonies came the group photo. We're in a big arena, so the participants filled the stands on one side and the camera man was at the top of the opposite side.

Then we launched into rehearsals for the ten massed ringing pieces. All the music looks interesting, though the Swiss guy, a beginner, gulped at the difficulty. Most of the ten directors are well prepared and know what to do to get a massed ensemble to play together. The exception is the Korean director, which is frustrating because that piece is the most rhythmically challenging. When things fell apart, she kept on going and it was only because of a couple people singing the tune that the rest of us could find our place.

At 7:30 we had a dinner that was also to serve as a mixer, a chance to meet people from other countries. It didn't go well. We were in a restaurant that didn't seem big enough. It didn't have tables and chairs for all of us. The upper floor didn't have good ventilation and got very hot. It took them an hour to serve us all in two buffet lines. The servings were small (they served us and didn't have enough people doing the serving), and they still ran out of some of the menu items. About the time they started serving the house band got going. They were a group pretending to be the Beatles, though they sang more than Beatles tunes. And they were loud. So loud that conversation was impossible. Which defeats the point of the mixer. And when the band took a break, the recorded music system was turned on. It wasn't as loud as the band, it merely made conversation difficult. Someone joked, where are my wire cutters when I need them? I left about 9:15, before the band came back on.

To bed. Rehearsals start promptly at 9:00 tomorrow morning.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Travelogue – laundry, chapter 4

Monday, July 30

As mentioned yesterday I had supper with Michele and her husband. As part of the discussion he told me he had found where there was a laundromat, because Michele needed one soon. She had already found out there is no guest laundry in the hotel. She checked prices for the hotel's laundry service, and found it was $3.50 for just one pair of underwear. He eventually told me he got the info, not from the desk clerk, but from Google. I told him how accurate I found that information in Venice. We asked the desk clerk. She knew of no laundromat.

I checked the hotel's prices for what I needed to wash – five day's worth. It came to $62. Nope, not doing that. This morning my first stop was to change the last of my Euros into Pounds. Then I went to the street where the laundromat was reported to be. Didn't find it.

I went straight to a nearby information center. The person there indicated a street a ways to the northwest. Since I wanted to head east I saved it for later.

Late in the afternoon I searched out the laundromat. It was actually a dry cleaner. I told the owner I wanted to wash the amount of clothes I could fit into my backpack. She quoted a price, which comes out to $37. I asked where I might find a coin laundry. She said there was nothing in the downtown area. One had to go 20 minutes – by car.

So I spent more than an hour this evening washing clothes in the bathroom sink. It didn't take long to have trouble finding room to hang things to dry. I'll have to do it once more anyway.

Strange that the room next to mine is the “ironing room.” I checked – it does indeed contain irons and ironing boards. With hand washed shirts, I may need to use it tomorrow evening. An ironing room but no laundry room.

I headed east from downtown to the Catholic Cathedral. It is quite an architectural marvel.

The the inside was rather dark because very few lights were on. Even so it is quite pretty. Especially what is called the lantern, the part that sticks up above the altar and looks like a crown from the outside. The claim is this is the largest stained glass window. The small platforms and ladders along the side makes me wonder if trumpeters stand there on Easter morning.

The historical displays at the entrance say the place was built in the 1960s. Alas, it leaked. In the 1980s a great deal had to be restored to correct the problems.

Here's a photo of the interior.

From there I walked past the Anglican Cathedral (I'll be back) and on to Chinatown. This is said to be the largest Chinatown (it seemed rather small to me) and the largest such gate outside of China. Alas, the street is very much not open for lunch.

I found this bit of fun in a small park. And I do mean small. These things and the trees are all there is.

I did find a good restaurant for lunch, then did some shopping for supplies and books. I had mentioned I needed one for the flight home. I bought three.

Tomorrow is the start of the International Handbell Symposium. The schedule through Saturday is quite full, so I don't know when my next post will appear. I've already started meeting handbell people who are staying at this hotel. Some I've met from previous symposiums, others I've gotten to know by name through the handbell email list.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Travelogue – supplying a photo

I mentioned in my previous post that the convention center looks better from across the river. I found a photo to prove that. The site is for Handbell Ringers of Great Britain, the folks who are hosting the International Symposium that I'll be attending starting Tuesday.

So follow this link and scroll about 2/3 of the way down for a view of the convention center. There is a huge red brick building in the background on the right. That is the Anglican Cathedral, where I'll be next Sunday. On the left in the background is the crown of the Catholic Cathedral. I hear it is an architectural wonder and I plan to visit it tomorrow.

Travelogue – bored with museums?

Sunday, July 29

I wasn't going to spend any time watching the Olympics, but it is rather hard to avoid it. The hotel lobby (where breakfast is served) has BBC News with stories about the games. There is also a big screen set up outdoors in the pedestrian shopping district downtown. And this evening's restaurant had TVs with actual competition.

I had dinner with Michele, the woman who lead the Hanover workshop with me, and her husband. She is here early because she is in the American All Star bell choir and will perform later this week (I auditioned, but didn't make it, so it must be a high-powered group). I grumbled about yesterday's flight delays, but my difficulties were minor compared to his. He had a complicated itinerary from San Diego to Amsterdam to meet Michele which fell apart with a flight delay. He got to Amsterdam not too far behind schedule, but only today – three days and three hotels later – did his luggage catch up with him. It had her All Star music in it.

I slept rather late. After breakfast I decided to explore the Albert Dock area my hotel is a part of. This is the picture from my hotel window of the “dock.” I was taken later in the day.

It was raining. I didn't get wet because I was under an overhang, but when I got to the end of the shelter, which was at the Liverpool Tate Museum, I decided it would be the right time to see their special exhibit. This exhibit contrasted the paintings of Joseph Mallord William Turner (I hadn't heard of him either) with Claude Monet and Cy Twombly (another unknown). Turner lived from 1775 to 1851, and surprised me by painting in an impressionistic style. He prized the “atmosphere” of the work over the details. Yes, Monet (1840-1926) had seen Turner's work. Twombly was born in 1928 and died just a year ago and is very much an abstract and avant garde artist. One surprise of the exhibit was seeing an English impressionist painter a couple generations older than the French men who took up that style. The other surprise was in seeing how close some of Monet's works came to being as abstract as Twombly's works. No photos allowed so I bought postcards.

The rest of the museum featured modern works. Very little of it connected with me.

You may have wondered, after my rebellion at seeing another church or museum in Venice, why I would start my visit to Liverpool with a museum. None of this art was from the Renaissance and very little of it had religious themes (though Monet has some stunning images of churches). However, I'll still give the Beatles museums a wide pass.

I spent the afternoon walking along the riverfront, first past the convention center where I'll spend lots of time this week. It is better viewed from across the river.

I went back past Albert Dock and onward from there. Here is one of the government buildings along the river.

I then turned inward (with a map provided by the hotel) to the pedestrian shopping district in the downtown area. That included finding a bookstore and browsing for a book for the homeward flight. I'll go back tomorrow after I've gotten more Euros changed to Pounds.

Tonight's restaurant was “American” and featured lots of burgers as well as American and Mexican dishes. Michele had fajitas. Her husband had ribs. I had smoked chicken.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Travelogue – the airport slog

Saturday, July 28

I'm finally in Liverpool. It was one of those days.

I was out of my Venice hotel by 7:45 (declining their breakfast that didn't really open until 8:00, though the desk clerk said I could get coffee). It was a lot easier to walk over two canals and take the vaparetto to the train station than it would have been to walk over numerous canals and take the bus. The price was double that of the bus, but it was worth it.

When I got to the airport I found my flight to Zurich was delayed due to bad weather in the Zurich area. They already knew I might have connecting problems and told me how to deal with them. Though the connection might also be delayed...

The flight was to take off at 10:05. It actually took off at 12:30. As I boarded, they handed me a new boarding card for the connection, with me already booked on a later flight.

I arrived in Zurich hungry and was pleased they supplied me with a meal voucher (though I had to stand in line with everyone else rebooking flights).

I had found a multi-language bookstore in Venice because I was getting close to the end of all the books I brought. I finished one and started the new one while waiting. It is about an English man who married an Italian woman and is living in Italy. He is finding his kids aren't English. I may have to buy another book for the flight home.

The replacement flight was to leave at 5:15. It was also delayed. Out of the first 30 flights on the departure board (arranged by original departure time), half of them were delayed. We departed sometime around 6:15. The flight was almost two hours but with a time change. After landing in Manchester and through customs (only four non-EU people on the flight) I changed money and got something to eat. Such a relief to know my waitress spoke English (though it wasn't a British accent). So for $17 I had a bowl of chili and rice.

At 8:00 I headed for the trains. The agent told me he would put me on a local train because I would get to Liverpool earlier and told me I should head to track 1 pronto because it would depart in 5 minutes. Uh, dude, there are tracks 1A and 1B. Which? I changed in downtown Manchester, went on to the big station in Liverpool (this train was express) and took the underground to the station near my hotel. I arrived here about 10:15. That means when I head home on a noon flight I had better leave the hotel well before 8:00.

The weather is much cooler than in Italy. And it is raining. As we prepared to land in Manchester I saw a double rainbow outside my window. Alas, by the time I convinced the camera to not focus on the glass it was gone.

This room is huge compared to what I had in Italy! It is easily bigger than the combination of the rooms I had in Rome and in Venice. By the time I leave nine days from now I'll have spent a hefty chunk of money. The hotel is part of the Albert Docks, which is a repurposed warehouse district and is now quite posh. I'm in this hotel because the convention center (where the Symposium will be) is across the street – and other hotels nearby are even more expensive.

It is after 11:00 now. I may have gained an hour but I was up really early. I'm not setting my alarm.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Travelogue – opening ceremonies

Ah! BBC News isn't showing the Olympic opening ceremonies! They're only doing human interest stories about people who are in the show, such as talking to the parents whose kids are performing. Bah!

So I switched to channel one. The show looks pretty cool though the commentary is in Italian. And without commercials. Or at least not until 45 minutes into the show.

I think I followed the story of Act I. The video of Daniel Craig collecting the Queen was pretty weird and her jumping out of the helicopter made me laugh. I noticed how much of her they showed when she jumped. Why are the kids in the Signing Choir in their pajamas? Oh, they're doing a hospital scene related to bedtime stories. I did catch the commentators mention Peter Pan, Mary Poppins, and Harry Potter, presumably as bedtime stories.

Rock music through the decades wasn't so interesting. It looks like time for lighting the flame. I think it is bedtime before the athletes enter.

The show started at 10:00 local time. It is now after 11:15. Early day tomorrow

At least I'll be home in time for the closing ceremonies.

Travelogue – reaching my limit

Friday, July 27

I asked at the front desk about Olympic Games Opening Ceremonies. The clerk looked up something online and said it would be on channel one at noon. That seemed like an odd time – why would London have their big event at 11:00 am. local time? Even so I did a bit of shopping, bought a pizza roll (clumsy thing), and got back to the hotel at noon. Channel one didn't have anything Olympic, so I scanned the channels and soon found the BBC. They had a countdown clock showing another almost 10 hours. It was hot enough a midday siesta sounded like a good idea, but was not to happen.

So, back on the street. I went to the Rialto bridge and market. I hear it is the place to be at 9:00 am. but at 12:30 vendors are packing up. The place reminds me a lot of Detroit's Eastern Market. This is the view from the high point of the bridge of the shopping street which is still going strong.

I wandered through the San Polo shopping district and at about 2:30 I felt bored. As I mentioned yesterday, there weren't any more museums or churches I wanted to see, even though I ended up outside a church with a Tintorello ceiling. I had wandered through all the shopping districts and side streets I wanted. I suppose I could have done a side-trip to another nearby city, if I had thought of it soon enough. But I guess I'm done with Italy, at least for this trip. It is good I'm flying out tomorrow.

About that time I noticed a nearby museum proclaiming “The Genius of Leonardo da Vinci.” After a bit of hesitation I decided I might as well. The museum had looked through Leonardo's notebooks for all the devices he described – the pyramid parachute, the helical flying machine – and built replicas for many of them. Some could only be admired, but I was encouraged to turn the levers and cranks on the rest of them. Here's one of them, a machine with wings that flap. But I was through that museum in an hour.

Strangely, I found another museum touting the same idea. I didn't find out whether it was the same as the first or a continuation.

I saw a gelato stand with an advertisement for Zero&Zero. It took me a moment to register what that would mean. I looked closer. It looked like zero lactose and zero fat and maybe zero sugar. I asked. Indeed it was sugar free. Alas, only in vanilla. Even so I got some, just to support the concept. It was nicely cold, but rather bland.

I wandered some more, through San Polo and Dorsoduro districts and across the Grand Canal. Back near Piazza San Marco I went into the park tucked between the plaza and the water, found a shady bench and sat and read for a while.

I did have a nice Italian dinner – saltambuco (I think that's how it is spelled), which is veal cutlet with a thin slice of ham on top. This was served in a sauce flavored in sage. For a side dish, I had polenta. Dad would recognize it as fried corn mush, but its origin appears to be Italy.

I'm now in front of my TV waiting for the Opening Ceremonies to begin. Still a ways to go. I probably won't stay up for the whole thing because I have to get up early to fly to Manchester and take a train on to Liverpool.

I found leaning towers are not confined to Pisa. I've seen two in this city. Here's one.

Photo 488

Travelogue – flowers in glass

Thursday, July 26

In deciding what to do today I looked over my guidebook's list of top spots. My reaction was: No more churches. Unless they really have something outstanding and different to offer. I checked a few descriptions. No outstanding and different. Museums? I've seen the big ones already. There is one close to here known for the architecture of the building and not so much for the contents of its exhibits. Next?

I bought a day-long pass for the vaparetto (water bus) system. I first took it around the north part of the city, then down the full length of the Grand Canal. That included a view of the museum known for its architecture. Yes, the Grand Canal is busy with boat traffic.

That museum:

Vaparettos have to dodge gondoliers (as well as the other way around).

I thought of going on along the south edge of the city, but I realized I needed lunch soon and there didn't seem to be many restaurants in that direction. So I got off and walked back to near Piazza San Marco. I found a Chinese restaurant with good prices. My $15 bought a small serving of cashew chicken (no vegetables), steamed rice, and fizzy water. Soy sauce helped with the blandness.

My table was just a few inches from an Asian family of parents and pre-teen son. They caught my attention because the father came in with a shrimp-mussel pizza from down the street. Ever try to eat pizza with chopsticks? The waitstaff didn't blink with the food brought in because the family also ordered a great deal of food from the restaurant.

It is noticeably warmer today than it was earlier in the week, bordering on hot.

Back on the vaparetto for an express run to the island of Murano. This took 20 minutes from San Marco on the south side around the eastern end of the city to the island a ways off the north side.

Murano has been famous for their glass works for many centuries. There was a time (15th Century?) in which all the mirrors in Europe were made in Murano. And if you were rich the mirrors came with etched images.

The workshops do not allow visitors, but the island has lots of shops of their work. There is also a pretty cool museum showing off the stuff that regular people can't buy. I was quite fascinated by the museum's room of 20th Century pieces. In another room there were glass reproductions of characters or figures from famous artwork. This included stuff by Picasso and Chagall.

Murano is famous for stretching out canes of glass and then cutting the canes into small pieces. The cross section of the cane has some kind of intricate pattern. A bunch of the small pieces may be placed together with the end-patterns showing and then fused together. This design is known as “millefiori” or million-flowers. Alas, all the shops have signs saying no photos.

I do have a photo of a public glass sculpture. Maybe this is where David Chihouly got his ideas?

Another famous Murano product is glass chandeliers. I went into one showroom and the biggest and most intricate chandeliers had price tags of $20,000 and $25,000. They're big enough I'd have to buy a new house, one with higher ceilings – and fancy enough to match the chandelier.

Shortly after arriving on Murano I solved the problem of being hungry from the light lunch. I saw a grocery store and bought a container of watermelon chunks for $2.50. It was quite good.

I took the vaparetto back to San Marco and went up the Bell Tower. At 6:00 pm. there isn't a line. I had put the zoom lens on my camera, but had to take it off. Too many things were too close to the bell tower. The photo is of the domes of St. Mark's and Venice to the northeast.

The Bell Tower has bells in it! A couple of them started ringing at 6:30.

Another vaparetto ride, this one back up the Grand Canal. By this time it was 8:00 and time for supper. My annoyance at paying $30 for dinner every night won out and my wallet rejoiced at an out-of-the-way place with low prices. Alas, that was at the expense of my tastebuds. The $19 meal featured stale bread and a lettuce salad showing its age.

Today's other annoyance. Before I came I bought a bus ticket to get from the airport into the city and a 12 hour vaparetto pass. Since I was arriving at 5:00 pm. there was no need to use the pass immediately and I could save it for another day (like today).

But the 12 hours started when I validated the bus ticket. When I tried to use it today it was expired. The arrangement is obviously (as I see now) for someone who is flying in, seeing Venice in a day, and flying out. That wasn't me and the site didn't say so.

I guess I had some feeling about this because I didn't buy the return bus ticket (and it may be a * lot* easier to get to the airport by vaparetto). I had a bad feeling about it because when I collected my ticket at the airport I got one piece of cardboard, not two.

I will certainly complain. Why would I want a 12 hour ticket when I arrive in town late afternoon?

Travelogue – glorious antiphonal brass

Wednesday, July 25

I'm sitting in the laundromat, so yeah, the hotel desk clerk yesterday evening was correct in giving me the location. The stained shirt I wore today wasn't so bad. Most of the stain is below the belt, the rest hidden by my arm.

I've noticed a few things about this city of Venice and the people here.

Green plants in public places are rare. Nearly all the time the pavement of the street stretches from building to building with no green landscaping to soften the joint between street and building. There are some plants, most in tubs or flower boxes hanging from the sides of buildings or on the railings around a restaurant's outside tables. What is rare is for the pavement to be interrupted for shrubs or trees (though there is one tree in the small plaza near my hotel).

There are green oases in private spaces, such as a courtyard or fenced yard. There are also occasional public parks with flowers, shrubs, and trees. Other than that, very little. Now that I've thought about it. I don't think I've seen a squirrel. I have seen lots of birds, especially pigeons around St. Mark's Plaza.

I've mentioned I keep close tabs of where I am on the map in my guidebook. Today I noticed how few other people are walking around with maps in hand. They couldn't all be locals. That was reinforced by someone asking me for directions. He was American and hoped I was local. What I had was almost as good – I whipped out my map. We happened to be close to my hotel, so I could easily point him in the right direction, even without a map. When I asked he said he normally just walks in the general direction and usually gets to where he wants to go. That reminded me that there are signs that mark the route to the major tourist areas (and the signs reproduced on t-shirts). It is easy to spot “Per San Marco” on the side of a building and follow the arrow.

Walking through the narrow streets one doesn't get much of a view of the sky. I can see what is overhead, but I didn't see much of yesterday's sunset and wouldn't see much of approaching storms. I mention that last part because yesterday was overcast and a couple times I could see a good chunk of sky it did look threatening. Which reminds me... weather in Venice has been pleasantly warm, not hot. There is a bit of humidity that is noticeable when leaving an air conditioned building. I haven't yet seen rain on this vacation.

I've seen a few restaurant menu signs that give as much prominence to Russian and Japanese as to English, French, and German and even one sign that gave more.

There aren't many public places to sit. There are lots of tables and chairs in plazas, but these are owned by restaurants for their customers. But benches to allow anyone to sit are rare.

On to the events of the day.

I got in line for St. Mark's Cathedral a bit after 10:30. It was a half-hour later when I got inside. Alas, no shortcuts possible. As my guidebook suggested I first went to the museum upstairs. It has displays about the restoration work that has been done (this place is old! several hundred years older than the current St. Peter's in Rome). There are also views across the nave inside and the plaza outside.

The soundtrack for this visit is any one of the antiphonal brass pieces written by Giovanni Gabrielli. I stood in the balcony overlooking the nave and could hear one of them in my head. I think Giovanni inherited the post of master of the church music from his uncle and this is where he did much of his composing. There are two narrow balconies on either side of the nave and Giovanni could put a handful of brass players in each one and have the music bounce back and forth between the two. I suppose it is possible he could have instead put musicians in the balconies at the ends of the transepts, though that was probably too far apart for good ensemble playing. Either way the sound would have been glorious (which was the point).

St. Marks is old enough that there was a lot of influence from Constantinople when it was built. This place has a far different look than St. Peter's or other churches I've seen. There are a lot of Eastern details. Another big difference is because it is so old the decorations are mosaics, not statues or paintings. The five domes of the ceiling and much of the walls are covered in mosaic with the space between figures in gold. My first thought was to describe all these golden mosaics as beautiful. Alas, they also tell a story of a dominating power working to hold onto its position.

I wasn't allowed to take photos in the church, so here is one of the exterior.

After lunch I thought of going up the bell tower, but the line was long and one long line a day is enough. Instead I headed across the Grand Canal to the Gallerie Accademia. An art school was founded here so the gallery holds a lot of fine work for the students to study. Alas, it was all more of the late Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque stuff I've been seeing for the last two weeks. Saints and Madonnas all over the place. Some of the iconography could get a bit weird – there was no way a saint from the Middle Ages could actually have been seen with an infant Jesus. My favorite painting (or at least the idea for it – much was hidden by restoration work) was one depicting the Last Supper. The artist included all kinds of other people – those from the lower classes, dwarves, and various unsavory types. The Inquisition strongly objected. The artist (alas I forget who) didn't change the painting. He simply renamed it to something like “Feast Day.” I like his thinking.

From there I took the antidote and visited the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. She became an avid collector in the 1920s and quite active in the 1940s. After exhibiting her collection in various places, she bought this building beside the Grand Canal and installed all those works she owned. There are several Picassos, several Jackson Pollocks, and at least one from the major Cubists, Expressionists, and Surrealists of the time (Salvador Dali included). The photo is of the headboard that Alexander Calder made for Peggy's bed.

When that place closed for the day I followed the Grand Canal out to its mouth with a good view of the Bell Tower and Ducal Palace. Then I walked along the far side of that district. It was rather strange to see a big cruise ship go by, quite out of scale of everything around it (and this was much smaller than the cruise ship I was on several years ago).

I had supper at a restaurant close to my hotel. The service was rather slow (which is why I'm waiting for the dryer after 10:30 at night). I tried a “one plate meal” of pasta and meatballs. The taste was pretty good, though the meatballs were fried and there wasn't nearly enough protein for my needs. I left about half the pasta on my plate, prompting the waitress to wonder if I liked it. I'll go back to my standard meat dishes tomorrow. I ordered a mixed salad to go with the pasta. It had carrots and lots of different kinds of lettuce.

Ha! I made it all the way back to my hotel without consulting my map! Of course, I was merely retracing my steps.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Travelogue – taking my laundry out for a stroll

Tuesday, July 24

I'll get today's frustration out of my system first. It is time to do laundry again. It is one day earlier than I would have liked, but one of my shirts has a reddish splotch on it. I'm sure it isn't food. It could be ink from something in my suitcase. I counted the days remaining in my trip and I'll have to do laundry twice more anyway. So. Time to find a laundromat.

My guidebook says: “Self-service laundrettes are few and far between in Venice. The best places to find one are in the university areas of San Polo and Santa Croce.” Both of those districts are rather large and his description isn't specific enough to go looking.

This morning I asked about a laundry at the hotel desk. The clerk said there is one near the hospital not far from here and he circled a particular street. I went there on my way to Piazza San Marco. No business having to do with laundry on that street. I'll come back to the Piazza in a moment.

After my day of being a tourist, I went back to my room to actually deal with laundry. I did not want to drag the suitcase around the city, even if it only had a few clothes in it. So I put all the dirty stuff in my backpack. I decided I would avoid the problem of putting clean clothes in a dirty backpack by washing the backpack too. It does have a sweat stain or two.

Before heading out I checked Google for “Venezia lavanderia.” It gave me four hits in the city. Two were listed as “secco” which I know from my music percussion class means “dry” – a dry cleaner. So I noted the location of the other two and headed out.

The first one was wrong – there was no laundry there. I even asked a shop clerk. I decided a quick dinner at a cafeteria was in order so I could save time. The good part is it was only $20. The bad part is I would have paid about $6 for that meal in America. I left the cafeteria at about 8:00.

I was close to Piazza San Marco, so I thought to ask the tourist information centers there. The one on the Piazza closed at 7:00. The other, by the canal, closed at 2:30 (that's worse than banker's hours!). On to the other Google suggestion, this one by he Arsenale. It was a pleasant walk along the waterfront, lots of people about, good views across the water.

But no laundry where Google said it would be. This was actually a residential area. Yup, Google struck out twice.

So I went back to the area around the hospital and checked every side street. No laundry.

I got back to the hotel at 9:00. The sun had set and it was definitely twilight. I asked the evening clerk and he indicated two possibilities and I marked them on my map. Neither is near the hospital. I thought of going out again, but I'm not keen on trying to navigate this city in the dark. I always have a map with me and consult it frequently. When I don't it is very easy to go in the wrong direction (this from a guy who has a very good sense of direction).

So, I took my laundry out for a stroll. Though frustrating, it was a pleasant evening. I saw parts of Venice few tourists ever see. I guess I'll be wearing the stained shirt tomorrow.

Back to the touristy things.

My first stop was Museo Correr. I went here first so I could buy a museum pass without a long line. The museum is part of the buildings that wrap around the piazza. One section is the royal apartments used with the ruling Hapsburgs (Austrian) were in residence. Another section has coins, another is archaeological. There are even a couple 17th and 18th Century libararies. No photos – they weren't allowed.

I had left my backpack at the cloakroom and picked it up before going to the cafe. I asked about the toilet and the cloakroom clerk told me to go through a door and down a flight of stairs. The cafe provided a quick lunch, but I had drunk enough water that I thought I should visit the toilet again while I could. A different clerk in the cloakroom and this one said going through that door was not possible. She said I should use the toilet in the museum. I tried to explain my ticket was good for only one entry and I had already been in. But I recognized a battle I couldn't win. I didn't need to go that badly.

On to the Ducal Palace. This was quite a place! This where the Doge lived and where the various city governing bodies met – I couldn't begin to explain the various committees, legislative bodies, appeals courts, etc. Each had it own hall with suitable paintings on the walls and ceilings to impress outsiders and give the impression that Jesus and Mary had granted these people the right to rule. Venice was a democracy, with complicated rules for electing the next Doge to insure no corruption. But it was democratic only if you were part of the aristocracy and there were ways to make sure that no riff-raff became part of the aristocracy. One room towards the end of the tour is a hall big enough to hold representatives from all the important families, perhaps 2000 in all. It is the largest room in the city and one of the biggest in Europe. The photo is of the courtyard.

I'll go back to the Piazza for the Cathedral, but I'll do it when I don't have my backpack with me (perhaps tomorrow while it is still full of laundry). They won't let that in and they don't have their own cloakroom.

It was only 4:30, too early for dinner. So I wandered around the San Marco district and found the instrument museum. This comes with a soundtrack – Vivaldi's Four Seasons. In addition to displays of old instruments there were signs describing the life of Antonio Vivaldi. This was his home and the location of the girl's school where he taught for many years. It is also where he composed most of his music. The photo is of some old oboes.

There are advertisements around town for concerts of the Four Seasons, but I won't go. They seem geared towards the tourist. Besides, I'm not a big fan of his music.

On the way back to my hotel I passed the Grand Canal and the Rialto Bridge.

I got an email today asking why I'm in Italy. The cuisine is probably totally wasted on me.

Yup, I don't do well on Italian cuisine. Pasta and pizza are both too high in carbs. Seafood usually means shrimp and calamari. I don't like garlic and don't drink wine. Gelato has too much sugar. Prosciutto can be weird (the word means “ham” but it can be dried instead of cooked). The food is quite expensive.

So why am I in Italy if not for the food? Art, architecture, history, getting to explore another culture (if not the food), seeing Venice while there is still a Venice to see. Because I'm in Europe and haven't been south of the Alps before.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Travelogue – German bell heaven

Friday, July 20

Breakfast promptly at 7:30, out of my Florence hotel at 7:55, to walk to the train station to get the bus to the airport. After the fiasco with the double-booked rooms I had the worrying feeling that something wasn't going to go right. But I was at the train station by 8:10. The bus to the airport was only 5 minutes late and the Italian on the front of the bus was obvious and the bus kept following the signs to the airport.

The airport in Florence is small. Only 9 gates and maybe 3 flights an hour. One goes through the gate and directly onto the back of a bus (yes, the rear of the bus opens wide) that will take us to the plane.

I had over an hour in Zurich and needed to get lunch. The clerk at the sandwich stand made it clear I could pay in Euros but change would be in Swiss Francs. I got a sandwich, strawberries, and mineral water and paid 16 francs by credit card. Then I noticed across the way the exchange rate was about one franc for one dollar. In Zurich I again took a bus from and to the plane.

In Hanover my driver, Dagmar, (one of the local participants in the handbell workshop) immediately recognized me because she had done an internet search and found my personal web page with my photo. She drove me to my host family. She usually drove me either in the morning or evening every day. My hosts drove the other times.

I had a quiet afternoon with my host family. They have a nice house with a small yard they've turned into a garden. They have a harpsichord, so I spent time reviewing my workshop and symposium music.

It is much cooler in Hanover. I need a jacket or sweatshirt to be outside.

I'm in Hanover to be one of the leaders in a handbell workshop. The local handbell choir knew how starved German bell groups are for information about proper technique and what can be done with bells. So they organized this workshop. About six weeks ago one of the leaders had to back out due to medical problems. Since I would already be in Europe I said I could fill in. I was the only one to respond. I spent much of June preparing handouts and lesson plans for the workshops I would teach and working out the schedule with Michele, the other leader, and the organizers.

At about 5:30 I got to the church hosting the event. I looked over the setup, met organizers and other participants, had supper, and conducted my first rehearsal – it was fun! Even if I didn't understand a lot that was said.

Saturday, July 21

Breakfast included joosberries from the garden, a little bit tart for my taste.

The day was spent teaching and rehearsing. Weather was cold and overcast, threatening to rain. I had the beginners most of the day. Two women in my group were dressed similar to nuns. They said they were not Catholic, but Methodist deacons.

I had time after lunch to walk and found a flea market in the nearby square. Nothing I wanted. Didn't stay long due to cold weather and the feeling I should conserve energy for teaching.

My host family gave me a key to their house. They were out for the evening when I got back.

Sunday, July 22

I rehearsed the beginners in the morning. They needed the extra work. At mid-morning we performed a “concert” of the music we had been working on. Our audience was a few member of the church who came early. It went well, though I suspect a few of my beginners got left behind in the dust. One section of the piece I conducted was supposed to be fast. We hadn't rehearsed it enough to even attempt to do it at the proper speed.

I did one final workshop in the separate building where I had rehearsed beginners while the church held its morning service.

After the service we were back in the church. Michele did a solo concert (something she is well known for). The audience, including members of the church, demanded an encore. She had nothing else prepared, so repeated one of her earlier pieces.

There was a director's meeting after lunch. I sat in on it, though it was all in German. One participant told me what topic was being discussed (where to find tables so import tariffs don't have to be paid) and translated the funny comments. One director lamented that he worked with school students and some of them left at the end of the year. Another responded, “At least you can schedule that. My group is all seniors and they usually don't schedule their deaths.”

Dagmar took me and a couple guys on a walking tour of downtown Hanover. The weather was sunny and warm enough to not need a jacket. These guys were ringers who were also friends and would be driving on to Stuttgart yet that night. We saw the 19th Century city hall (quite an imposing building). Inside were four models of the city – 1689, 1939, 1945, and today. Yes, the model from 1945 shows the destruction of most of the city.

This photo is of the 1689 model.

From there we walked over to a church that was bombed in the war. Though several other churches were also bombed (including the one hosting our workshop), they were rebuilt. Not this one. The walls are standing, but the roof is gone. It serves as a memorial of the war.

We walked around more of downtown before heading to an Afghanistan restaurant for supper. There were eight of us around the table – The four of us who had just been walking, Michele, one of the organizers, and a couple from Switzerland. The food was good – I had turkey curry. It was an enjoyable three hours.

Everyone thought the workshop was a great success. My teaching and work with beginners was much appreciated. Participants talked about how much they had learned. Michele was asked whether she would come back. By the end of the event she had 7 groups wishing to host her. She has family in the Netherlands so would welcome the chance to visit them again and have an opportunity to defray some of the expenses. I asked her, “Do you need a sidekick?”

I got back to the house well after my host family went to bed. I had a wonderful time this weekend.

Monday, July 23

Yet another driver, this one to take me to the airport. The flight to Munich a bit turbulent, though fine views of the German countryside. The flight to Venice was on a puddle jumper – seats for 80, only 33 on board. I got some beautiful shots of the Dolomite section of the Alps. There were clear views of Venice as we landed – on the other side of the plane.

So, yes, I'm in Venice now. The bus dropped me off in the depot just over the bridge from the mainland. The rest of the city is one big walking district, no cars, no buses, no scooters. I stopped at the nearby train station to ask the tourist information center to verify where my hotel is. Venice addresses are weird (I think they are numbered by district, not street) and I had doubts Orbitz had located it accurately. Alas, I waited in line for an hour.

The city isn't all that big. I figured I could walk to the hotel dragging my suitcase. But the city isn't handicapped (or rolling suitcase) friendly. There are lots of canals and while there are many bridges over them each bridge has steps to make sure there is room for gondolas to go underneath. Few of those bridges have ramps, and those are just as steep as the steps. Alas, my suitcase is seriously falling apart (and it wasn't just because of today's walk).

The hotel is nice, but the room is small. I really don't have a good place to open my suitcase.

I spent the rest of the late afternoon and early evening walking around Venice. Many streets are quite narrow and a detailed map is essential. Even with a map there were times when I wasn't quite sure where I was. But I'm tired, so after dinner I came back to the hotel, even though it was not yet 8:30.

Travelogue – no saints

Thursday, July 19

It's that time of the week again – laundry time. I'm sitting in a little laundromat and have about an hour before the wash and dry is done. This one is strictly self-serve. There aren't any employees around.

This morning I went to the Duomo Museum. It is given 3 stars (out of 3) by my guidebook. It documents the history of the Duomo, which is rather complicated. The nave was built with a hole left for the dome (something about they wanted one but nobody knew how to build one yet – though that could be my guidebook being a bit snide). They built the dome. They built the choir (the part across the the dome from the nave). They decided the original facade was just too old-fashioned and tore it down. They had design contests for a new facade, but didn't get serious about it until the 1850s, a few hundred years later. Then the new facade went up.

So the museum documents all these changes. There are statues from the first facade, designs for the second, models for this and that, tools that were used to build the dome and descriptions of what had to be done to make it happen, and originals of various things that were getting damaged by the elements (and pollution) and were replaced by copies. My favorite display was the small choir balconies that were created for a festival that have dancing children and youth all around them. The whole thing is to represent Psalm 150. In this photo the kids are playing cymbals. In flickering candlelight the figures would have appeared to move. I don't know why they were taken down and moved to the museum.

After lunch I toured the Pitti Palace. It was built by the Pitti family, then home of the Medici family for 200 years, then for a while by their successors. Even Napoleon took up residence for maybe 15 years and the King of Italy lived there before the capital was moved to Rome. Definitely rich and sumptuous. The various families bought lots of artwork, so the place is now a museum. The major tour was more of the same that I've been seeing for the last week – though this time the the big name artists were Titian and Raphael.

After a snack I explored some of the Boboli Gardens behind the palace. Some of the landscaping inspired the gardens of Versailles. Lots of statues about and one area looks like a Roman ampitheater where outdoor places and concerts were staged. This photo is of the palace from the top of the garden.

My favorite part of the day was the modern art galleries one floor up from the first tour. What a relief! No crucifixion. No Madonna and Child. No annunciation. No taking Jesus from the cross. No Pieta. No road to Emmaus. No collection of saints.

I did have to work through portraits of Important Personages and canvases of huge battle scenes. But then I got to the Italian Impressionists and the work was lovely! Idyllic countrysides, ordinary people, everyday scenes, and landscapes. I saw some techniques that reminded me of French Impressionists, though an Italian impression of an Italian countryside is different from a French impression of a French countryside.

I wondered about a few paintings early in the series (they were arranged in chronological order). The scenes looked straight out of the American Plains, complete with mountains in the distance and cattle drives. The notes were only in Italian so I don't know what it was all about. Then again, the scenes of battles of Italian independence and unification looked a lot like the American Civil War.

Alas, no photos of this wonderful art, though I did get a few postcards.

Dinner was at an out-of-the-way place and decent prices. The meat was “meatballs grilled in lemon leaves.” They weren't exactly balls, more flattened patties between two leaves. The leaves looked too dry and burnt to be edible, so I didn't. The meat had a good flavor. It came with fries (though described simply as potatoes) and I added a drink and salad. All for $26. A bit much for the non-tourist areas. It was also early for dinner. The entire time I ate I was the only customer in the place, normally not a good sign. The hostess and the cook took an opportunity to eat their own meals. The hostess was very much the Italian grandmother, urging dessert or coffee on me and even practically handing me a fresh apricot (which I don't care for).

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Travelogue – David, David

Wednesday, July 18

Florence isn't for sleepyheads. At 7:00 each morning a bell tolls. I think it is in the Duomo Bell Tower. I'm only a couple blocks away. At 7:30 it tolls again. At 7:45 three bells get into the act.

Fine. I'm awake.

It was back to museum hopping today, though not quite so many hops. Again, cameras were not permitted, so I left it in my room. The first was the Museum Bargello (pronounced bar-jello) in what was a 13th Century jail. Lots of fine statues, in particular, four versions of David. There's another one by Michelangelo, though we can't tell if he is reaching for a slingshot or an arrow, so it could just as easily be Apollo. One by Donatello that shows Goliath with a chunk of rock in the forehead that seems more like a statue for a church facade. Another by Donatello showing David as naked (well, he's wearing a hat and boots) which was originally installed in the palace where Michelangelo spent his teen years (see yesterday). The guidebook says this David was created in 1430 and it had been a thousand years since naked men were featured in statues. And a final David by Verrocchio. Alas, the first one was out at another exhibit and I couldn't find the last one. I noticed a few of the artworks were not where the guidebook said they were, but I don't know if the last one was simply moved.

Cue up another soundtrack. This one is the Bottecelli Triptych again by Ottorino Respighi.

Though the guidebook suggested I could do it in two hours, I spent five in the Uffizi Gallery. This is the big one in Florence. It has a lot of art amassed by the Medici family. And I mean a lot. The guidebook and audioguide both mentioned the ways art shifted from the Medieval period into the Renaissance. A big part of that was how painters figured out how to create a 3D image on a 2D surface. In one painting that I saw towards the end of the visit my guidebook documents the things the painter got right, almost right, and quite wrong when working in perspective.

I think I know why the place is named “Uffizi.” I think it is the Italian word for “office” – this was the Medici city office building.

Back to the soundtrack. In one room are two of the three paintings Respighi depicted in his triptych. They are also among the top paintings of this museum. The paintings are Spring and The Birth of Venus. The third movement is The Adoration of the Magi but that one wasn't on display today. I did get postcards of these two.

I wasn't hungry when I went into the Uffizi, even though it was about 12:15. I knew I would be visiting the cafe sometime during the day, even if I had lunch just before going in. As in many Italian cafes, there is a price for standing at the counter and a higher price for sitting at a table. This one threw a new wrinkle into the equation. Some selections were served in glass or porcelain bowls and those could not be served to standing customers. So I sat. I ordered a sandwich and asked about the nice green salad (which was what prompted me to sit). That came with tuna and was $15. Scratch that. Instead I added the fruit salad – which was only $10. For just the fruit.

I'm all caught up on my posting. Just in time. I may be able to post tomorrow, but on Friday I head to Hanover where I'll be doing a handbell workshop and staying with a family. I don't know if they have wi-fi. Even if they do I might be too busy.

Travelogue – museum hopping

Tuesday, July 17

I bought the Florence card last night to give me access to lots of the museums in the city for 3 days. It's pricy ($62) and there are only so many museums that can fit in that time. The big reason for getting it is that it allows me to bypass the line – and for a few of the big ones this is very important.

So today I went museum hopping. I saw all the biggies north of the Duoma. They're all small, taking 90 minutes, tops. Only one allowed photos, so I didn't bother taking the camera (so no photos). Several didn't allow backpacks, so I didn't take that either. Just a guidebook, a novel (for reading when I ate), and a map.

First stop was the Galleria dell' Accademia. This is one of the biggies (with long line to prove it), because Michelangelo's David is here. And, yes, in the flesh it lives up to its reputation. Alas, not much else in the museum is all that interesting (and my guidebook agrees).

On to Museum of San Marco The place used to be a monastery. As the Renaissance started influencing even the monasteries, a Brother Angelico came to this particular place. He had a talent for frescoes and did many for the place. He began to incorporate Renaissance art practices into his own work. The second floor of the cloister has all the monk's cells, each one with an image for the monk to contemplate while waiting for sleep. More than half of them are scenes of the Crucifixion and in most of those St. Dominic is somewhere in the scene. The rest of the frescoes aren't so gloomy or tragic, depicting other events in the life of Jesus. The last room had several illuminated music books. In this case “illuminated” means that designs or pictures were included on the page. Since I had recently read The Swerve (alas, I can't dig up the link of my review), which included descriptions of how monks create these books I was pleased to see the materials the monks used and several examples of finished product. Alas this was the old style of music I don't know how to read.

The next stop was the Medici Chapels. The big room is where the most important half-dozen rulers of the family are entombed. There isn't a whole lot of actual Christian symbolism. However, the place reeks of money and power. The smaller room is the reason why people visit – it was designed by Michelangelo and contains a few of his statues, though in quite unusual poses. The big room is topped by a dome that from the outside looks like a smaller version of the Duomo dome.

Santa Maria Novella was next. The church isn't included in the Florence Card though the museum next door is (but was closed and will be for the rest of my stay). The Church has some pretty cool frescoes behind the altar and in one of the chapels. In spite of the beauty or artistic merit, I've had enough images of The Last Judgment and depictions of sending souls to hell.

The last stop this afternoon was the Medici-Riccardi Palace. The Medici's built the place (and even invited a teenage Michelangelo to live with them). When their fortunes ran out they sold it to the Riccardi family, who added a few things of their own. The building now houses several city government offices. The big attraction is the family chapel with outstanding frescoes. The title is The Three Kings, but we're not talking about the birth of Jesus. These kings are members of the Medici family. Yup, the chapel is a place to show off the family's power.

Dinner tonight was at a Chinese restaurant. I ordered roast chicken with spice, which turned out to be rather unspicy. I also had a bowl of vapor rice (think about it for a moment). When I lived in Germany I found Chinese food there to be rather bland. I wonder if that taste extends to Italy.

Last night the large group of kids spilled into the hotel at midnight, after some evening event. They weren't quiet about it. The desk clerk said they will be here all this week and next. Knowing how noisy they are he proposed a room swap. Out of this large group of kids, most were on the 1st and 2nd floors with one room on the 3rd floor. He proposed I trade rooms with the kids on the 3rd floor. I agreed. It is much quieter up here.

Travelogue – measuring the Renaissance

Monday, July 16

When a man of the Renaissance decides to test a new concept, how does he measure the results? That is part of what one finds at the Galileo Museum, which I visited this morning. It has Galileo's original telescopes, nautical navigation devices, clocks, devices for conducting experiments in chemistry, optics, electricity and magnetism, weather, and the physics before the discovery of the atom. One area talked about military physics – how does one properly aim a cannon and get the correct amount of gunpowder into the barrel? There was also a large section devoted to devices that would demonstrate various concepts (usually electrical) to the general public or science classroom. I found it all interesting, but wished more of the items were explained, rather than just labeled. For example, this is an Armillary Sphere. It is about 4-5 feet in diameter. What does it show and why was it built?

I later learned it demonstrates the motion of the planets (if one considers the earth as the center of the universe).

I was quite hungry after spending the whole morning in the Galileo Museum. I went to the plaza outside a couple other museums nearby, sure to find something. The cafeteria looked good. Alas, the line moved very slowly – once you selected the entree, they heated it in microwaves behind the counter. A half roasted chicken, roast potatoes (or were they fried?), a fruit salad, and frizzanti, and suddenly we're talking $23. I decided I should avoid restaurants in proximity to tourist places.

I found this hotel only serves cheese and yogurt as the breakfast protein. No ham. I found I didn't like the cheese well enough to eat it all week and was pretty sure the yogurt had lots of sugar in it. So after lunch I went to a grocery store I spotted yesterday, in particular one I had noticed sold Skippy peanut butter. The label has the brand name in big type but explains what it is in small type. It is weird to see all the ingredients listed in Italian, Spanish, and maybe Portuguese, and then at the bottom of the label have in English “Product of U.S.A.”

I took a mid-afternoon break because I heard the crowds at the Duomo thinned out in the late afternoon. So I spent time posting a page of my travelogue.

That worked, it took less than 10 minutes to get inside the Duoma. That's when I found what the guide book suggested – the inside is very plain and not of much interest. So, on to the climb to the cupola. For that one I stood in line for a half hour. Then up more than 400 steps. In St. Peter's there are two sets of stairs, one for going up, the other for coming down. That isn't true for the Duoma. There are a few places where one must let traffic pass. The view from on top is well worth it. One sees that everything in Florence has a red tile roof and the outer wall is a shade of white, cream, yellow, or gold. This image is from the dome of the Bell Tower.

Alas, I didn't have enough time for the Duomo museum (highly recommended) or the inside of the Baptistry. Of course, the famous Baptistry doors are always in view.

Taking the advice from lunch I decided to head out a couple blocks from the Duomo for dinner. For something different I headed east. Oops. Practically no restaurants in that direction. By that time of day I really didn't need an hour long stroll. So maybe I need to adjust that advice again.

Towards the end of the school year I encountered a student from the year before. In talking she said she might be taking part in another vocal program in Florence. She had done that previously in the summer before I started teaching. She said it would likely be this week. So I went to a concert put on by the Bel Canto institute, which was a recital of their students. She didn't perform. I also realized those who did perform had been there for a while working with the staff. Most of the singers were pretty good though a couple of them sang without involving the rest of the body. I've seen students like that at school.

Travelogue – on to Florence

Sunday, July 15

I'm in Florence now. I rode the high-speed train from Rome. It actually pulled into the station about 15 minutes early.

This replacement hotel is definitely not as nice as what I first reserved and not as nice as the one in Rome. They do have internet – but only in the lobby. And also not tonight – the gizmo that creates passwords isn't working. So sometime – soon! – I'm going to spend a chunk of time in the lobby and post all my daily descriptions. When I do, this will feel like old news.

This was another wander-the-city day. It is good the temperature is a pleasantly warm rather than the hot of Rome. No idea what the weather report is. I came across vendor stalls in the streets near the Medici Chapel with lots of booths selling things the city is famous for: leather goods (coats, wallets, briefcases, purses) and scarves, plus lots of the usual touristy stuff, like t-shirts.

I bought a large plastic cup full of watermelon chunks as a nice afternoon snack. After I was done it took a while to find a place to dispose of it. I found a trash container near outdoor seating for a restaurant. A waiter called me back and said something like this (in English), “What did you put in there? Take it out! I'm the one who has to empty that thing several times a day. Put your trash somewhere else, not here.” I apologized, said I didn't know it wasn't a public trash bin and asked where I might dispose my cup. He pointed to another bin – which was already overflowing.

I walked past the Duomo (cathedral) a couple times, but it isn't open to tourists today.

On to the Ponte Vecchio, the bridge over the river that's lined with shops. This bridge, when built in the 1300s, was where the butchers and fishmongers had their shops. I can understand why – they could easily push their waste out the back door and into the river. But a century or two later the Medici family built their palace on one side of the river and worked in government offices on the other. They built a private passageway from one to the other, including over the shops on one side of the bridge. The smell of butchers down below didn't smell so sweet, so the family force them out and invited jewelry stores to move in. If you need jewelry in Florence, you know where to find it.

My guidebook suggested a walking tour through the lower class Oltrarno district south of the river. Once done, I decided it wasn't all that great, especially on a Sunday afternoon when the craftsman workshops are closed. I did see this small piece of art (noted in the guide book). It is a niche in a wall and is of a woman holding her nose. Trash cans are usually stored below her. I don't know which came first.

I stayed south of the river and walked over, then up, to Piazzale Michelangelo. It has a stunning view of the city. The Duomo and other landmarks easily rise above everything else. This photo is of the Duomo.

Tonight's dinner featured beef. The description said peppercorns, but the taste was, alas, more of onion. I managed dinner for $25 rather than the $30 of Rome.

I was able to go to a concert tonight. It looks like I'll be able to do that every evening in Florence, if I want to. I was at first surprised that concerts start at 9:15 at night. But when one considers Italians usually don't start dinner until 8:00, it makes sense. Tonight's concert was piano music of Beethoven and Chopin, with a Scarlatti encore. It lasted about an hour. Alas, the stone church that hosted the concert was a bit too acoustically live to hear all the intricacies of the music. After the concert the air temperature was actually cool.

It appears there is a large tour group of teenagers staying in this hotel. They're out somewhere now, even though it is 11:30. When they're here they have no concept of how thin the walls hare and how far sound carries. It could get interesting.

Travelogue – with trumpets blazing

Saturday, July 14

Today's adventures could come with a soundtrack – The Pines of Rome by Ottorino Respighi, last movement titled The Pines of the Appian Way. It is a march that starts quietly and mournfully, but soon gets cranking and ends with a blaze of brass. The music represents ancient Roman Legions returning to the city.

So, yeah, I was on the Appian Way today. The main purpose was to visit the catacombs where early Christians met to worship and bury their dead away from hostile eyes. These underground rooms have niches for the dead and rooms to hold services. There are decorations on the walls. One room had contained the remains of several of the first 10 popes.

The catacomb tours take a break from noon until 2:00. I had a leisurely morning and got out there at 12:30, ready to have lunch nearby before an afternoon tour. Alas, this large stretch of the archeological Appian Way is one big park and there is no “nearby.” I was glad I had bought crackers that morning.

After the tour I continued walking the length of the Appian Way before catching a bus to take me to the subway stop, and back into the city.

I stopped at the Santa Maria Maggiore Church, one of the oldest around here. It has some beautiful mosaics, but they are high on the wall and not well illuminated.

Come to think of it, one could have added Respighi's Fountains of Rome as a soundtrack while viewing the Trevi Fountain and the Festivals of Rome while in the Colosseum. And then there is the march from the movie Ben Hur for viewing the Circus Maximus, but I didn't see that.

On of the few emails I have read (thankfully, no emergencies) asked what I have been eating. So...

Breakfast is provided by the hotel, but I'm rather limited to the cheese, ham, and breadrolls. The rest of what is available would have too much sugar.

Lunch is usually what I can find “on the street” and might be a panini sandwich (usually ham and mozzarella) and maybe some fruit (watermelon is in season, pineapple frequently available). Sometimes I also have a panini for one or more afternoon snack. I've also gone to a cafeteria a couple times – reasonably tasty but the hot food was not all that warm.

Dinner is at a restaurant. I skip the pasta course and go straight for the meat course. I've had veal, chicken, and tonight was turkey. Most of the time the meat is in a pleasant sauce, perhaps with a hint of lemon. Sometimes the meat comes with potatoes, sometimes not, and it is hard to tell which from the menu. Most of the time they serve bread. I try to add a salad, usually mixed greens (though tonight included pear, cheese, and pinenuts). To drink I have frizzanti, fizzy mineral water. That usually comes in a bottle of almost a liter, a lot to drink in one meal. It does take care of any dehydration problem I might have. Between the meat, salad, water, maybe fruit, and service fee the bill usually comes close to $30. I would expect to pay about half that back home.

I carry a water bottle with me. There are a lot of drinking water springs throughout the city. That has (for me) implied that I should have finished the bottle from the previous spring and be ready to fill up when I see another one. With the heat, frequent bathroom breaks are not an issue.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Travelogue – entertaining the Pope

The first order of business today was laundry. The hotel directed me to a place, but it looked to be the kind of place where they did it all for me and charged accordingly. I had passed sheets of paper posted on walls advertising something like “Lavender Laundry and Internet Spot.” An interesting combination. The person there said it would cost the equivalent of $17 and take three hours. That was steep! I asked if he knew other places and he said there were several somewhere around the train station (a few blocks away) but he wasn't anymore specific than that. I trudged onward, my big suitcase behind me (though it only had dirty clothes in it). After asking someone and taking a wrong turn I found a place. This one was $9 and would take 1.5 hours. He would do the work.

I went over to the train station and bought my ticket for Florence for Sunday. It will be 90 minutes on a high speed train. I paid cash because it asked for the PIN on my credit card and I don't know what that is (which keeps me from withdrawing money with it and paying huge interest rates).

A colleague at school (who has spent summers in Italy) and guidebooks recommend seeing the town of Siena. Since I now have an extra day in Rome, I thought I could spend tomorrow in Siena as a day-trip, even though it is much closer to Florence. Alas, no fast trains to small towns. My colleague had described it as a “chooka-chooka” train, said it would stop at every small town, and implied there would be no AC. It would take 3.5 hours to get there (though it is closer than Florence). So, spend 7 hours (round trip) in a sweltering train and pay $60 for the privilege? I'll skip Siena.

Laundry done, I headed back to the hotel to drop it off. I found the window open, letting in the hot air. Sigh. Back to the street for lunch, then on to...

Villa Borghese was once the home and grounds of the Borghese family. The grounds have been turned into a big city park (including a zoo). Here is part of the zoo entrance.

The home has become an art gallery. The guy was rich (nephew of a pope) and wanted someplace to entertain bigwig guests, something suitably showy. So he commissioned all the art in the home as well as paintings on the ceiling. This is one of those places where one must look at the walls, the ceiling, and the floor. Much of the art on the main floor is statues. On the upper floor it is paintings. It is curious that while one of those guests would have been the pope, a good deal of the art is secular, much of that portraying Greek myths, some rather erotic.

The best known statues are by Bernini, the same guy who designed St. Peter's Square. The one at the top of my list is his statue of David. We're all familiar with David by Michelangelo, who appears to be sizing up the situation as his confrontation with Goliath approaches. Bernini's David shows the lad about a half-second before the stone is released, body twisted with effort and face scrunched in concentration. One looks at that and thinks (or says), “Wow!” That is an amazing piece of art! Alas, cameras are not even allowed in the gallery. I bought a postcard, well, a few to include some of the other Bernini statues.

Travelogue – authentic food

Stories from Wednesday (July 11) and Thursday (July 12).

Best quote so far: A restaurant hostess urged me into her place by saying, “We have real Italian food! Our chef is Italian!” I didn't go in.

I spent Wednesday morning at the National Museum of Rome. The first floor (which is the first floor above ground floor) was mostly statues from the Roman Empire. That was the only way Caesar could get his likeness out among the people. So I learned a bit about Roman history and how the style of statues changed over the centuries. That included noting difference in hair style, clothing style, ways the subject was posed, and how the stone was worked. There were also statues of athletes and gods. The most famous in this museum is the Discus Thrower.

On the top floor were reconstructions of rooms from ancient Roman villas. The rich would construct big homes (for the time) away from the city center and decorated them in fine style according to the tastes of the times. Back in the late 19th Century and up through the mid 20th, the construction of various civic projects revealed some of these villas, and some of them were intact – well, intact enough to show walls and floors. The frescoes on the walls and mosaics on the floors were preserved and mounted in this museum. Some of it was amazing. This photo shows a room of frescoes.

I spent most of the afternoon resolving the Orbitz problem, documented in a previous post. I later wrote up a long letter exactly why I was displeased with them. I'll deal with that when I get home.

In the late afternoon I went to the Baths of Diocletian, mainly because it was nearby and included in my morning ticket (and that was discounted through my Roma Pass). There wasn't much of the Roman Baths to see – most of it had been converted into a church. The rest of the displays were about the Italian peninsula before the Romans. I didn't stay long.

I spent the evening wandering. Back to the Spanish Steps (mostly because my Roma Pass included use of the subway system and I hadn't done that yet and that was an easy trip to take). Over to Ara Pacis, a new building enclosing an old animal sacrifice that supposedly brought in the Era of Peace or the Pax Romana of the 1st and 2nd Centuries. Then back across town to find dinner and see the Trevi Fountain all lit up at night. Then back to the hotel.

Thursday was Vatican Day.

The morning started with me sleeping in. I got to the entrance to the Vatican Museum a bit past noon, online ticket in hand. There is a lot in that museum, including a lot of Roman art. While a good deal was quite secular (a great statue of Apollo), one can get tired of another saintly pose by yet another pope. I think my favorite art was by Rafael, titled the School of Athens, depicting many of the ancient Greek philosophers debating each other. As Rafael was painting in this room Michelangelo was down the hall painting in the Sistine Chapel. Rafael was so impressed he included an image of Michelangelo in his own painting (in the front in the purple cloak).

Then it was on to the Sistine Chapel (where no photography is permitted) and St Peter's Basilica. There I took lots of pictures. The place is huge, though everything is done to scale so it doesn't look huge – until you see how small people look in comparison (cherubs are routinely six feet tall – compare to the size of the people beside them).

Along the center of the nave is a series of inscriptions in the floor. Measured from the front of the nave they represent the lengths of other large cathedrals around the world. I'm not sure which one this is, it is simply the one that photographed best. It seems to be a case of, “Mine is bigger than yours.”

St. Peter's and other churches are very strict about a dress code. No bare shoulders, no exposed knees. St. Peter's might turn people away. I saw other churches hand out flimsy shawls so women could cover their shoulders. Weird. But then these are the sexually repressed Catholics.

My Vatican visit ended by taking the elevator to the roof and climbing the stairs to the top of the dome. Great views from up there and beautiful late afternoon weather.

From the Vatican I walked to the Trastevere district, known for its narrow streets and many nice restaurants. And for once I didn't pay $30 for dinner.

Now that I've been walking around town for several days I've noticed that people of a proper weight (which we would probably consider “skinny”) are the norm, not the exception. I'll let you wonder what exactly caught my attention. I think part of it is appropriately sized meals (though if one worked at it one could over eat by getting both the pasta and meat courses. I've hear a lot about “portion inflation” in America, where every restaurant vies to give you just a little bit more than the competition. And Americans believe one portion is whatever is put in front of them.

Another thing I've noticed is few places are air conditioned to American standards. If they are cooled at all, the thermostat would be set much higher than we would. That means it isn't easy to duck inside somewhere to cool off. In many cases all you get is shade (though that can be a help).

When I get into my room I must put the key in a box by the door to turn on power to the room. The lights are not on when I'm not there. That includes power to the AC. It's not running while I'm gone, either. I've also come to the room in midday to see the window open. Alas the AC isn't all that strong so even if on overnight it only cools the room by 4-5 degrees. Right now I'm sitting directly under the AC, even if it isn't the best place to type.

Travelogue – Ancient Rome

Tuesday, July 10 was my visit to Ancient Rome, starting with a morning in the Colosseum.

Then on to Arch of Constantine. He was the one that made Christianity the state religion.

Palatinate Hill, where various Caesar's built their palaces. I overheard a guide say the hill is half brick, half dirt. When one Caesar wanted a new palace he knocked down the old one, put some dirt over it and built a new one. That way his hill was higher than it was for the previous Caesar.

The Roman Forum (lots of ruins).

And Capitoline Museums. This is the courtyard with a few statues in it. Note these are pieces of a mighty big statue (compare to the size of the door).

The Capitoline Museum had a special exhibit about various kinds of documents that had been in the Pope's personal archives since about 1600. Lots of different people had reason to correspond with the Pope. There was even a note on birchbark from Native Americans wanting the Pope to intercede for them.

It was hot. I drank lots of water and filled my bottle at every public water source I passed.

I tried to post this on the evening of Monday, July 16 (the same day as the first photo post), sitting in the lobby to do it, but my blogging service choked on uploading photos. I found it could upload four at a time, but it choked on that. I went back to one at a time, but that failed too. I sure hope I can post this trip before I get home.