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Arrivederci, Roma

Saints, turtles, and flying donkeys.

rain 66 °F

It's a rainy Thursday on May 22nd, our final day in Rome. Today, we're going to do a little cleanup work, visiting some areas of Rome we have yet to see. We start off the day with a short walk, just a few blocks from our apartment, to visit the Fontana delle Tartarughe, the "Fountain of the Turtles".

The fountain is located in the Piazza Mattei. Orginally, it sported water-spouting dolphins instead of turtles, held in the air by the figures surrounding the basin. Unfortunately, the aqueduct serving this piazza just didn't have enough velocity to support all those dolphins, and all they did was dribble. They were removed and placed on a more appreciative fountain elsewhere.

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About 75 years later, someone realized the figures looked a bit ridiculous reaching into the air, since they were no longer holding dolphins. An artist, probably Bernini, was hired to cast some turtles and add them to the rim of the basin, giving those outstretched fingers something to tickle.

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Next stop is Castel Sant' Angelo, across the river. We brave the gauntlet of living statues and jelly monster vendors that ply their trade on the Ponte Sant' Angelo. Security police shoo them away, but it's like trying to hold back the ocean with a teaspoon...as soon as one vendor vacates, another trickles into his space.

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Castel Sant' Angelo was originally the tomb of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. It resembled an enormous drum, with a man-made hill full of trees atop it. By the early 5th century, it had been incorporated into the defensive walls and turned into a military fortress. In the 15th century, the Popes decided it would make a great castle, and began adding Papal apartments to it, dedicating it to the Archangel Michael.

Inside, a wide spiral ramp winds around the drum:

Eventually, you climb a stairway to emerge into the sunlight in the Courtyard of the Angels.

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Congratulations! In ascending that stairway, you've passed through one thousand years of history!

The Papal apartments are all museum spaces now. A temporary exhibit has been set up, highlighting art and archaeology that had been stolen and recovered. This fossil, part of that collection, catches our eye.

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The exhibit has been constructed using false walls...we peek behind them, and spot the original collections of medieval weaponry that these rooms normally display. We're not too disappointed...the weapon collection at the Doges Palace in Venice was, in our opinion, much more comprehensive and entertaining.

Ascending from the courtyard, we begin passing bees carved into the ornamentation. We remember our history lesson from our first visit to Rome, and recall that these bees were the family symbol of the Barberini's, one of whom was elevated to Pope in the 1600's.

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We reach the highest point that tourists are permitted to go, just below the level of the massive statue of St. Michael brandishing his sword that crowns the structure. We have sweeping views of Rome and the Vatican from up here.

A Defensive gun carriage emplacement

A Defensive gun carriage emplacement

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The Tiber River

The Tiber River

St. Peter's Cathedral

St. Peter's Cathedral

Ponte Sant' Angelo. Note all the vendors and buskers lined up along both sides of the bridge.

Ponte Sant' Angelo. Note all the vendors and buskers lined up along both sides of the bridge.

St. Michael

St. Michael

Michael the Archangel

Michael the Archangel

Mine?

Mine?

Since we're in Vatican City anyway, we decide to make an attempt to climb the dome at St. Peter's. We head down to St. Peter's Square, but barricades are being put up just as we arrive. A conference of Bishops is about to begin, and St. Peter's is being closed to the public.

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Leaving the walls of the Vatican, we stop for a bite to eat at a small pizzeria with a single table. As we're eating, a woman comes begging at our table. Oddly, she's not looking for money...she actually wants some of our pizza. We give her a few pieces, and she wanders away.

We head back across the Ponte Sant' Angelo, and begin walking along the Tevere. At the next crossing, we see the impressive Palace of Justice.

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Not far away, we come across this rather amazing piece of artwork, painted on the third-floor wall of a residence:

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We head up to Piazza del Popolo, the major piazza that adjoins the Borghese Gardens and the Via del Corso. Piazza del Popolo is an expansive area. We can see tourists clambering up onto the fountains, to pose with the carved animals. Street performers, jelly monster vendors and living statues all have plenty of elbow room to ply their trades.

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Which catches your eye first, the guy climbing on the lion, or the Statue of Liberty with white robes and pearls?

Which catches your eye first, the guy climbing on the lion, or the Statue of Liberty with white robes and pearls?

Flanking the Via del Corso exit of Piazza del Popolo are the "twin" churches of Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria in Montesanto. The two churches appear at first glance to be mirror images of each other, but they're actually quite different.

Santa Maria dei Miracoli

Santa Maria dei Miracoli

Our travels take us down past the famed Spanish Steps, crowded with tourists despite the showery weather.

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It's time to catch a bus back to our apartment. The nearest stop is at the Parliament building. As we wait, we catch sight of this bunch of young tourists laboring up the hill on pedal-powered hexacycles. Shortly after this photo was taken, they gave up trying to pedal, and got out to push.

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Tonight, we head back to Al Fontanone in Trastevere for our farewell dinner. Tomorrow we'll be heading back home. It's time to say arrivederci to Roma.

Next entry, we'll wrap things up with some final thoughts on this trip. See you then!

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Posted by Zukini 17:30 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Wrapup of our Venice-Sorrento-Rome Trip, 2013

On Friday, May 23rd, we joined our driver from RomeCabs for the early morning trip to Fiumincino Airport for our trip back to Philadelphia. RomeCabs is an excellent and professional service, we recommend them highly.

Since we're flying back to the US on a US Carrier (the dreaded US Airways), we'll be flying out of Terminal 5. We arrive at the terminal more than three hours ahead of our flight, and are delighted to see that the lines aren't stretching out the door. First stop is a basic security and passport check at a US Airways desk. We're provided several plastic bags, and told that we'll need to separate all of our electronics, cameras, cell phones, chargers and cables into the clear bags. Next, it's around the corner to the check-in and ticketing kiosks. Next stop is a thorough security screening, and finally a trip through passport control.

No gates actually exist at Terminal 5, so we board a shuttle bus to Terminal 3. From there, it's just a matter of coffee, pastry, and waiting. We do our waiting mostly standing up, because FCO Airport has seen fit to provide about 50 chairs for every 300 people.

Our plane departs the gate on time, but then sits on the taxiway. The unseasonable weather we've been having has struck again...winds have been kicking up, gusting to just a couple of knots over the maximum allowable for our plane to be permitted to take off. Normally, that's not a real problem...the plane would ordinarily be assigned to a runway that's at a different angle to the wind. Unfortunately, that particular runway is being resurfaced, so we have no choice but to wait until the winds die down.

After several false starts, we eventually do get airborne, and the flight is pretty much uneventful. This time, we're on an Airbus with individual video on demand built into the seatbacks, so with a few long movies the time passes at a reasonable pace. We're served a forgettable lunch, and an unforgettably bad light snack (a so-called turkey sandwich with alleged Cuban sauce...if it's offered to you, I advise you to avoid it).

Arriving at Philadelphia about an hour late, we breeze through baggage claim (mainly because we don't have any), and the lines for customs and passport control, though long, move very quickly. Our biggest miscalculation is forgetting that we're returning at rush hour on the Friday of the Memorial Day weekend. Our normal 2 and a half hour drive home from Philadelphia turns into a 5 hour slog, but we have the rest of the long weekend to rest and recover.

As I write this blog, and think back on the trip, we certainly have some highs and lows. Some random thoughts:

  • Thanks to our friends at US Airways, we really started off on the wrong foot with our late arrival and sleepless travel marathon. We enjoyed Venice, and would love to return and get to know the city better..our biggest regret is that our visit there was shortchanged.
  • We did an astounding amount of walking on this trip...so much so that we needed to buy replacement insoles for our shoes mid-way through. If we were to do things over again, we definitely would have gone with sturdier shoes with some ankle support, particularly for those downhill hikes at Monte Solaro and Ravello.
  • We tried to lighten our travel by relying on technology...we didn't bring paper copies of our guidebooks, instead loading books and pdf files to our phones and Kindles. Somehow, the particular item we needed at any given time was never at hand...the audio tour of Pompeii was on Mrs. Z's android phone, which had crapped out early in the trip. The documents we stored to the internet were inaccessible when we needed them most. Kindles and touch screen phones don't work very well when your hands are wet from the rain. Next time, we'll put up with the few extra pounds to have the actual hard copy with us.
  • Doing this trip with only small carry-on luggage was the best decision we made...it made airports and ground transportation a breeze.
  • In retrospect, I don't know that I would have opted for the driver from Naples to Sorrento and back. I think we would have been able to cope with our light luggage on the Circumvesuviana.
  • With as much advance planning as we put into this trip, we still missed a number of things we had planned on seeing, either because of bad timing or tired feet. We never got around to San Pietro in Vincoli or the Borghese Gallery in Rome. We cheaped out at paying admission to Villa Cimbrone. We didn't see the Blue Grotto on Capri, or the Garden of the Fugitives at Pompeii. We never made it out to Torcello in Venice.

The highlights? Some were planned, some not.

  • The walk from Ravello to Amalfi.
  • The unexpected walk down Monte Solaro.
  • The amazing weapons museum in the Doges Palace.
  • And Orvieto, Orvieto, Orvieto.

I hope you've enjoyed this excursion with us as much as we've enjoyed sharing it. Soon, we'll start our planning for our next adventure, and we'll be sure to bring you along with us.

Until then, safe travels!

Coconut and Grand Marnier Chocolate Cone from Punto Gelato, Rome

Coconut and Grand Marnier Chocolate Cone from Punto Gelato, Rome

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Posted by Zukini 00:00 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

A Return to Venice - May 2014

rain 74 °F

A little late in getting around to posting a recap of our 2014 trip to Italy. On this trip, we visited Venice, with a day trip to Padova, Florence, Amalfi, and Rome. So, let's dive right in, shall we?

Well, it's May 10th, 2014. After having sworn that we would NEVER fly US Airways again after the Gate A13 debacle last year, it's déjà vu all over again. We're sitting in Philadelphia Airport, and we've just been informed that "due to an equipment issue" or flight to Venice is going to be delayed.

We chose US Airways for this trip because:

A) We each have a $300 voucher from our cancelled flight last year
B) They're now flying the newer Airbus A300
C) What kind of a coincidence would have to happen for the same flight to be delayed exactly one year from the original?

But I digress...

Our drive out to Philadelphia today is a breeze, and we arrive at the Clarion Hotel, where we will be doing a reverse park and fly. In other words, we'll park our car here, and when we return in 2 weeks, we'll have an overnight stay at the hotel...a room and 14 days of parking for around $200. Good deal. The Clarion shuttles us out to PHL, the security lines are very light, and soon we're enjoying a nice late lunch at Legal Seafood.

When we arrive at our gate, our plane is there, waiting for us. Except it isn't. Despite appearances to the contrary, we're informed that our flight is going to have an equipment change and will be departing at 8:30pm instead of 6:45pm. Not a terrible delay, but we begin having flashbacks of our two days stuck in Philadelphia last year under almost identical circumstances. Inexplicably, the plane at the gate is being rerouted to Dublin. We later found out that an incoming plane from Venice had been diverted to Dublin due to some sort of a malfunction, leading to all kinds of shuffling of equipment.

Despite our fears, we actually do take off at 8:30pm, and the flight is quiet and uneventful. We watch some video on demand and try to snooze a bit, not very successfully. We make up time in the air, and arrive in Venice only a 1/2 hour late. Since we have no checked bags, we breeze through passport control, and make a stop at the VeniziaUnico machine to pick up our ACTV passes, which we've prepaid for.

We'll be staying at an apartment near San Stae on this trip, so it makes sense to spring for the extra money to take the Alilaguna water bus directly to our vaporetto stop, rather than have to juggle a bus and then a separate vaporetto. People often have a romanticized image of what it's like to sail into Venice from the airport by boat. If you've got a private water taxi, it may be quite nice. If you're traveling on the Alilaguna Orange Line, it looks kind of like this:

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We've rented an apartment called Ca' Cortigiane through AirBnB for our four night stay in Venice. Our rental agent meets us at the San Stae vaporetto stop, and escorts us to our apartment, which is located on a quiet street just off of Campo San Giacomo d'Orio. The neighborhood is pleasant and residential, off the beaten path from the usual tourist track. A CoOp supermarket is right there in the Campo, convenient for stocking the apartment, and a bakery is right across the way.

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The apartment is quite nice, with a small kitchen, bath, dining & living room, elevated bedroom, and a small terrace in the courtyard. The neighborhood is residential, and off the beaten path from the usual tourist track. The only drawback was that the neaby traghetto station was not in operation, so excursions to the other side of the Grand Canal meant backtracking to one of the bridges. It's owned by sisters who manage several other apartments in Venice, and seem to do quite a good job of it.

Our apartment rental

Our apartment rental


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We spend some time familiarizing ourselves with the neighborhood and grab some dinner at Muro San Stae, a delicious pasta with scampi. Our visit to Venice, while longer than last year, is going to be at a much more relaxed pace, with fewer "big sites" to see. We want to spend our time walking the neighborhoods instead of standing in lines.

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Posted by Zukini 14:30 Archived in Italy Tagged venice us_airways us_air cortigiane Comments (0)

Frari Church & San Giorgio Maggiore

semi-overcast 68 °F

Monday, May 12, 2014

Today's plan is to wander down to the Frari church, then out to San Giorgio Maggiore, finishing with a walk through Dorsorduro. Our first stop is Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, in the San Polo district. Inside, we find spectacular artwork by Titian (along with his monument), a tomb for Canova (that only contains his heart), and a number of over-the-top baroque monuments. Photos aren't allowed inside, so we purchase a few postcards from the gift shop.

Frari Church

Frari Church

Titian's Assumption

Titian's Assumption

Frari Church - Doge Pesaro Monument

Frari Church - Doge Pesaro Monument

We wander down toward Piazza San Marco, to catch the vaporetto to the island church of San Giorgio Maggiore. Along the way, we pass through Campo San Toma.

Campo San Toma

Campo San Toma

TIP: If you plan on using the vaporetto system, it's well worthwhile to purchase a daily or multi-day ticket. Individual vaporetto rides, even if only for one stop, are quite expensive.

A Traghetto crossing the Grand Canal

A Traghetto crossing the Grand Canal

Along the Grand Canal

Along the Grand Canal

Santa Maria della Salute

Santa Maria della Salute

San Giorgio Maggiore

San Giorgio Maggiore

San Giorigio Maggiore

San Giorigio Maggiore

The Church of San Giorgio Maggiore is isolated on it's own island, at the eastern end of Giudecca, with no bridges, so the only way to reach it is by private boat or vaporetto. When we arrive, we find the statue at the top of the cupola is wrapped in scaffolding, part of an ongoing project to restore damage caused when the statue of St. George was hit by lightning during a storm, causing him to nearly drop his lance.

Inside, scaffolding reaches high up into the dome, and a team of conservators is working on cleaning the bronze's in one of the chapels.

Scaffolding reaches high into the dome

Scaffolding reaches high into the dome

Statue removed from the top of the church for conservation

Statue removed from the top of the church for conservation

Bronze clad wood is badly deteriorated

Bronze clad wood is badly deteriorated

Altar of St. Stephen

Altar of St. Stephen

We take the elevator to the top of the bell tower for some views over Venice (stairs are not open to visitors here).

Bells of San Giorgio

Bells of San Giorgio

View from the bell tower

View from the bell tower

View from the bell tower

View from the bell tower

View from the bell tower

View from the bell tower

View from the bell tower

View from the bell tower

Next entry, we'll continue on with our visit to Venice.

Posted by Zukini 14:30 Archived in Italy Tagged venice Comments (0)

Dorsoduro and DaVinci

semi-overcast 68 °F

After departing San Giorgio Maggiore, we decide to take a stroll through the Dorsoduro district, an area we missed on our previous visit to Venice. Our first stop is the minor Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute, dedicated the the Virgin Mary in the 1600's in the hopes that Venice would be spared from the plague.

The church is a vast octagonal rotunda, and it's mind boggling to realize that it's foundation is thousands of wooden pilings driven into the mud of the lagoon nearly 400 years ago.

Santa Maria della Salute

Santa Maria della Salute

Santa Maria della Salute

Santa Maria della Salute

Leaving the Basilica, we wander through the quiet back streets of Dorsoduro. It's altogether more peaceful here than the hustle and bustle of Rialto and San Marco. We pass many art galleries and small workshops, a completely different experience than the tourist ticky-tack that inundates other parts of Venice.

A quiet canal

A quiet canal

Triple smokestacks caught our eye

Triple smokestacks caught our eye

From across a canal, we spot woodworkers cutting timbers on an old bandsaw. They're making replacement oarlocks for gondolas, and the shop is filled with handmade pieces designed, not for the tourists, but for the real Venetians plying their trades in the city.

A woodworker makes gondola parts

A woodworker makes gondola parts

As we stroll through the quite campos, we come across a lutist, playing melodies on a beautiful old instrument. We chat with him for bit before he plays a song for us. The lute is a quiet instrument, but it's airy strains still fill the small campo.

A lutist performs for Mr. Zukini

A lutist performs for Mr. Zukini

Further on, we encounter a shop filled with sculpted wood. Rather than practical boat parts, this shop features fanciful objects, like coats, underwear, valises, and socks...all fashioned from wood with an amazing eye for realism and detail.

Shop selling carved wooden clothing

Shop selling carved wooden clothing

Eventually we arrive at the Accademia Bridge, and cross over.

Accademia Bridge

Accademia Bridge

Purely by accident, we stumble across an exhibition of DaVinci reproductions at the decommissioned church of S. Barnabas. We hem and haw a bit at the price, but ultimately decide to pony up and go in. The space inside is filled with accurate models made from DaVinci's designs, and we spend a pleasant hour browsing through.

DaVinci exhibition

DaVinci exhibition

A DaVinci Helicopter prototype

A DaVinci Helicopter prototype

Wooden Bicycle

Wooden Bicycle

Hang gliding, anyone?

Hang gliding, anyone?

A Pivoting Swing Bridge

A Pivoting Swing Bridge

Finally, we swing by Ca' Macana, one of the more famous artisanal mask shops in Venice. Indeed, in addition to beautiful renditions of classic Bauta and Plague Doctor masks, the shop features some very unusual steampunk-inspired works as well.

Ca Macana Mask Shop

Ca Macana Mask Shop

We stop by Do Spado near the Rialto for cicchetti tonight, enjoying some stuffed squid and other tasty goodies, along with an umbra or two of their house red. It's a tiny little place, tucked under a sotoporteggio, and we hang around outside for a bit, watching other patrons, to understand "how it's done". Easy really. Point to what you want, find a seat, and they'll heat it up and drop it off at your table. Very informal, and very tasty. Just be sure to ask for an "umbra"...if you just ask for wine, you'll get their more expensive product, rather than the house red. When you're done, just go to the counter, and pay your tab. Prices aren't marked, but nothing is more than a Euro or two per portion.

Tomorrow, we take a day trip to Padua.

Posted by Zukini 14:22 Archived in Italy Tagged venice Comments (0)

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