Verona 2008

Verona was a day trip from Venice

Still standing
The 2000-year-old Roman arena is still used for performances.

Still hanging
According to legend, when a "just" person passes under this archway, the whalebone will fall.
For hundreds of years, popes, politicians, pilgrims and tourists have strolled through without incident.

A long way down
The winding staircase inside the Lamberti tower.

Two gentlemen of Verona
Around Verona's piazzas are many historic buildings that still
include architectural details and decorations from an earlier time.

In need of a bolt cutter
Outside the grafitti-encrusted gate to Juliet's house,
romantics leave padlocks to symbolize their enduring love.

Oh, Romeo...
Rosemary poses on Juliet's balcony.


Venice 2008

Rosemary's Travel Diary

We continued on to Venice [from Bologna via Padua], where we traversed the long causeway to Piazzale Roma, then turned in the car and set off by boat and on foot to our hotel. In the past we have found Venice to be a quiet, peaceful place. This time we chose a hotel overlooking the Grand Canal (and across from the train station) and learned that the atmosphere can be just like a main street in Rome. Big boats chug up and down the canal, new arrivals drag their suitcases along the cobblestones, and a constant stream of laughing, shouting, chattering tourists and citizens passes under our window. After a much-needed (but somewhat difficult) nap, we went out for dinner.

Tue - That tickle in my throat has evolved into a mild case of laryngitis. Otherwise, I don't feel sick, so I am hopeful that this will pass quickly.

Staying in a different part of town gave us a wonderful opportunity to walk through areas we have never seen before. It was a lovely day, and without a specific goal we strolled at a relaxed pace. Starting in the morning we found the streets less crowded with tourists. Normal people were on their way to work, doing their shopping, sitting in the park. We walked all the way to the traghetto near the Salute church. The traghettos are gondolas that ferry people across the grand canal. Very handy when you are far from a bridge, and a cheap way to sample the gondola experience. We continued walking to Piazza San Marco. As usual, a lot of things are under renovation. A big section of pavement around the campanile has been torn up.

After lunch, we realized that the line to get into the basilica wasn't very long, so that's where we went. We started by climbing the steep stone steps to the galleria where we had a good overview of the church interior and access to the balcony for a view of the square. Downstairs, we toured the church interior with the rest of the crowd. It is amazing and inspiring, covered from top to bottom with elaborate Byzantine mosaics, and lots of gold.

In the afternoon we visited Harry's Bar. Famous since the 1930s as a hangout of the rich and famous, it is also a very pricey tourist trap. We knew what to expect, but some people came in, looked at the menu, and quickly left. Of course, we ordered the cocktail that originated here, the Bellini. Two tasty but small drinks (with a little dish of big olives on the side) cost 30.00E. We considered it part of our entertainment budget. It's not a place where we would actually eat (40.00E for an appetizer or a sandwich goes beyond my idea of entertainment) but it was fun to observe those who would. For dinner we went to Ristorante al Teatro, near La Fenice opera house, where we enjoyed dining in the fresh evening air.

Wed - We visited the church of San Giorgio Maggiore, which sits on the little island of the same name, south of St. Mark's Square, across the Canale di San Marco. From the top of the church tower, we had a terrific view of Venice, from a different point of view. After touring the church, we took the vaporetto to the island next door, Giudecca. This is not a touristy area, although it does have some nice hotels and restaurants. We strolled along the waterfront, passing only a few other sightseers, until we came to the huge Hilton Hotel (converted from a 19th century flour mill) at the western end of the island. A short vaporetto ride took as across the canal where we had lunch in a cafe facing the water.

In the evening we met the parents of Andrea Bari, Steve's former teaching assistant. Mario and Marina are delightful, warm-hearted people. I like them very much, and we had a great time with them, conversing in English and Italian (despite my worsening laryngitis). They took us to a good, local restaurant where we had an amazing meal with many different kinds of seafood. It was also fun to walk in Venice with people who really know where they are going; it improved my sense of where things are.

Thu - When I woke up this morning I could tell I was getting sicker. The prudent thing might be to rest, but our hotel room is much too noisy for that. Besides, this was our last full day in Italy, so I decided I might as well take advantage of it. So we bought train tickets and went to Verona.

All day pass
The first sight in Verona's historic center is the 2000-year-old Roman arena. Today it is used as a theater, and while we were there a crew was working on the stage and scenery. Leading away from the arena is via Mazzini, a pedestrian area lined with upscale boutiques, designer shops, and small cafes. Further on, there are a number of historical piazzas, sculptures, and buildings. The Lamberti tower is the tallest tower in town. From the top we had an excellent 360-degree view of the town and surrounding area. Shakespeare set his play, "Romeo and Juliet" in Verona, and the story has been memorialized here for the enjoyment of tourists. A house once owned by the Capello family (inspiration for the Capulet family in the play), radically remodeled in the 20th century, is now called "Juliet's House". Of course, I posed for a picture on the balcony. After a brief stroll through the marketplace and a look at the train schedule, we realized we had time for just a quick lunch, sandwiches from a street vendor. The Eurostar took just over an hour to get us back to Venice.

After a nap at the hotel, we went for a short walk and then to dinner. During the meal, Steve got a message that our flight out of Venice tomorrow had been canceled. Yikes! Apparently a strike in Milan led to the cancellation of all the Easyjet flights in Italy. Fortunately, it was still daytime in the U.S., so he was able to call Evelyn, our travel agent, who provided some helpful advice. We managed to get seats on another airline (for a higher price, of course).

Fri - Last night was just a little bit crazy. My cold got worse and worse until I couldn't breathe. There are plenty of pharmacies here (I bought throat lozenges at one near the hotel a couple of days ago) but they all close early. At 10pm in Venice, you can buy Murano glass and gelato, but good luck if you are sick. If I can't breathe I can't sleep (and then neither can Steve) so I finally asked the desk clerk if he knew of a pharmacy that would be open late. He found the only 24-hour pharamacy in the phone book and called to make sure. By now it was midnight. The night boat doesn't stop everywhere, so we would need to get off at Ca' d'Oro and walk back (not very far) to San Felice. While we were waiting on the dock, a young couple who had just arrived by train asked us for information about taking the boat. They were still shaking from their frightening ordeal. The boy had gotten off the train in Bologna to smoke a cigarette, and the train left before he could get back on. He had the tickets in his pocket, so when the conductor came through for the ticket check, the girl didn't have it, and the police ejected her from the train. We never found out how they got back together, because telling the story made her cry. While I was comforting her, Steve helped the boy find a water taxi that could take them right to their hotel. Then we began our mini-adventure.

It's dark out there

We couldn't find the pharmacy. I knew its name and approximate location, and we had hoped to spot its bright green sign from the street, but we just couldn't find it. I asked lots of people for directions. Most of them told me that all the pharmacies were closed, and when I explained that this was a 24-hour pharmacy and gave them the name, it didn't help. Naturally, people don't know the names of the pharmacies, they just know the green signs, and they obviously thought I was misguided. One very nice man walked along with us for a while, pointing out every pharmacy along the way, but none of them were the one we were looking for, and all of them were closed. A doorman at a nightclub knew where it was (or thought he did), but we were unsuccessful at following his directions. If I'd been well and we hadn't been stressed, roaming the streets of Venice at 1:00am would have been interesting. The town is very quiet. There are a few pedestrians, groups of young people going to one of the pizzerias or bars that are still open, tipsy couples making their way home, a shoeless woman in a long white nightgown. Without the crowds, the streets seem much wider, and it's easy to cover a lot of distance in the cool evening air.

Something different
But we never found the pharmacy. We finally gave up and headed back to our hotel. Outside one closed pharmacy we spotted a vending machine. Optimistically, we took a look, but it did not offer any medication, just condoms, tampons, and razors. [Note: After we returned to the U.S., I looked up the phantom pharmacy on Google Earth. It really does exist, but it's on a side street that we couldn't see from where we were, even though we passed very close to it three or four times that night.] After our time in the moist night air and a little steam treatment in the hotel bathroom, I was able to breathe just enough to fall asleep at last.

This morning we had a little extra time, so we took one last walk in the neighborhood. Then we dragged our suitcases over the bridge to Piazzale Roma where we got a taxi to the airport and boarded our flight to Paris. The hotel shuttle drivers were on strike (one of those scheduled strikes that provides a long weekend for the workers, it will end Monday), but there was a bus making a circuit of the affected hotels, so we finally arrived and checked in. This is just a layover; we are in a Holiday Inn next to the airport and will head for home (through JFK in New York) tomorrow morning.

Medieval buildings weren't wired for electricity, so today we see it all on the outside.

A hotel room in Venice wouldn't be complete without a Murano glass chandelier.

I've fallen and I can't get up
Italian hotel rooms always have these alarm pulls hanging in the shower.
I don't know whether anyone ever uses them, or whether they even work.
But a limited study has revealed that in most cases, if I actually broke my
leg and fell in the tub, the alarm would remain tantalizingly out of reach.

Tipping over
Pisa does not have a monopoly on leaning towers. This one is part
of the Greek Orthodox cathedral, San Giorgio dei Greci, in Venice.

The birds>
The city recently banned the sale of pigeon food, but these fine
examples of Columba livia haven't noticed any difference.

Don't feed them!
No pigeons here, but the Rialto market is filled with flocks of tourists.

The road less traveled
It's always possible to find peace by walking a short distance away from the touristy areas.

Lots of water
Everything is delivered by boat.

A heavy load
These hand trucks are used to haul deliveries through the streets and over bridges.

Construction progresses on Venice's new bridge, connecting the train station
with the car park and bus terminal at Piazzale Roma. It's the first new bridge
in over 70 years, and will be the fourth crossing the Grand Canal.

Just another canal.

Slippery when wet
These slimy steps are convenient for boats but dangerous for drunken tourists.

A luxuriously appointed gondola.

Monstrous cruise ships dwarf the buildings and release thousands of tourists into the streets.

Although not the most used, the Bridge of Sighs
may be the most photographed bridge in Venice.

Crowds gather outside St. Mark's cathedral.

A closer view of details on the roof.

Adventure travel
Kayaking on the Grand Canal.


Padua 2008

Rosemary's Travel Diary

We decided to stop in Padua for lunch and a tour. It rained all the way, and was raining even more when we arrived. Despite Jane's assurances that we were at our destination, we weren't really sure where to go, and we needed to avoid the permit-only zones near the historical center, so we just parked at the first public garage we saw. There are many streets here that have colonnades reminiscent of those in Bologna. After a little bit of random roaming we managed to locate ourselves on the guidebook map. We hadn't been able to find our umbrella, so Steve bought one from a street vendor. We had a light lunch at historic Cafe Pedrocchi and then walked to the Scrovegni chapel. The artwork inside is very fragile, so to help control its temperature and humidity, only small groups are allowed inside at controlled intervals. Tickets must be purchased in advance, and we did not expect to get in, but arriving relatively early in bad weather worked to our benefit, and we were able to get into the very next group. The chapel is filled with frescoes painted by Giotto and his assistants around 1305, illustrating the lives of Mary and Jesus, and a portrayal of the Last Judgment. The work is particularly impressive not only because the style is considered advanced for its time, but also because the entire project was completed in about two years, a very short time considering its size and complexity.

We also visited the Basilica of St. Anthony. In addition to its architecture and artwork, it houses some important relics of St. Anthony. He was known as a highly gifted public speaker; to commemorate his talents, his tongue, jaw, and larynx have been preserved and are on display in elaborate reliquaries. On our way to the church we saw signs pointing to "Galileo's house". There's nothing there but a plain door in a featureless building on an ordinary street. On this walk the sun came out for a short time, and by the time we got to the church it was really too hot. But that didn't last. After leaving the chruch, we continued walking a little farther to reach Prato delle Valle. It is a large oval piazza with a grassy center and sculptures, surrounded by a moat. On a sunny day it is no doubt attractive, but today we found it disappointing, ringed with the ugly tents of flea market vendors who were not shy about urinating in public. By now we were very tired, and it was raining much harder, so we headed back to our car, under the protection of the colonnades.

Late for class?
We stepped into the open courtyard of this old building belonging to the University of Padua.

Some of the pigeons are real
We passed this modern fountain on our way to lunch.

This park is next to the Scrovegni chapel.

Domes and spires
The sun came out briefly while we visited the basilica of St. Anthony.

Nice spurs
Next to the church is Donatello's equestrian statue of Gattamelata.

A roadside vineyard.


Bologna 2008

Rosemary's Travel Diary

Once in Bologna, we had a very hard time getting to our hotel. Jane kept trying to get us to go the wrong way down one-way streets, and we couldn't find an alternative. No matter where we turned, the streets went the wrong way. At one point we could actually see the hotel just a couple of blocks away, but we couldn't drive there. Finally, Steve parked the car and I walked to the hotel. They explained that people with satellite systems have been having lots of trouble because all the one-way streets in the area have recently been switched, but the systems don't know it yet. A very nice hotel employee walked back with me and rode with us so that we could find the only street that would get us where we were going.

We had dinner at the home of Brownlee and Heather, Americans who now live in Italy with their young son, who is already fluent in Italian. They had invited another couple and Heather had put together a delicious array of dishes from the local markets, giving us a sample of real life in Bologna. We spent an interesting evening discussing politics, the music business, literature, food, Italian lessons and traffic.

Sidewalk in Bologna
Sun - We started the day with a visit to the nearest self-service laundry. It was easy to use but seemed expensive: 3.50E for a tiny washload, and another 3.00E for 20 minutes in the dryer. A lot of people just do their washing and take everything home wet to hang it outside. While we were waiting I went to the bar next door and ordered a caffe americano. It was the best cup of coffee I've had so far on this trip. The bartender did it right, putting the standard thimbleful of espresso in the bottom of a good-sized cup, with a little pot of hot water on the side so I could dilute it to my own taste.

We walked to Piazza Maggiore. It's Sunday, so the markets and shops were closed, but around the piazza where tourists roam some of the expensive fashion boutiques were open. This would be a great place to buy some beautiful handbags, but the dollar is weak and I don't have room in my suitcase. [Steve: Good planning on my part to pack light.]

The Basilica of San Petronio is the fifth-largest church in the world. Construction began in 1390 and, as usual, continued for centuries. A revised plan in the early 1500s would have made this church larger than St. Peter's in Rome. The pope simply blocked its expansion by building Palazzo dell’Archiginnasio next door. The palazzo was used by the University of Bologna and now houses the city's huge public library. The church remains unfinished on that side, with rough-looking stonework and bricked-up archways.

Oddly, it's a parking lot
Bologna is known for its miles of colonnades, which give the city a distinctive appearance. These walkways are wide and well protected from both sun and rain, making life just a little harder for the umbrella vendors. Strolling through town, we saw memorials, statues and plaques commemorating many of the famous historical and cultural figures who have lived and worked here, including citizens who died during WWII as part of the Resistance. We visited the church of San Domenica, which houses the remains of the founder of the Dominican order.

We had a wonderful dinner at a restaurant recommended by our hotel, and, of course, gelato afterwards.

Mon - It is pollen season in Bologna. We have seen clouds of the stuff carried through the streets on the wind, and as we drove out of town this morning I noticed piles of it like snowdrifts beside the road. I'm not usually allergic, but my throat has been a bit scratchy. I am hoping for relief as we move north.

Bologna's miles of arcades are pleasant places to stroll.

Guido Reni's portrayal of St. Dominic in a chapel within the Basilica of San Dominico.

Next to Piazza Maggiore is Piazza Nettuno, which showcases
the Fountain of Neptune, built in the mid-16th century.

Construction stopped abruptly on this side of the church of
San Petronio. It looks almost as though it had been sliced off.

The rough interior of an unfinished wall is exposed.

Needs paint
A window overlooking the street.

Sheltered by a memorial to the Resistance, a couple of punks
enjoy a snack while the old men study the faces of the dead.

Interior of the Basilica of San Petronio.

Looking up inside the church of San Domenico.

The young Michelangelo carved this candleholder for the shrine of San Domenico.

On the streets: