Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Italy, The hotel and a few random incidents;

The hotel I stayed at was literally a half block from the train station. It was very easy to find, but when I first saw it I was a bit confused. It was the right name and address, but the hotel looked to nice for the room rates. It had a nice exterior, and the nicest lobby I have ever been in while traveling in Europe. I was the right place though, and I quickly checked in and headed up to my room. The room was a single, a was a typical European room. It was larger then I thought it would be. It had an on sweet bathroom, closet, desk and bench like chair. The bed was a single, and looked like a day bed. The room was very cozy, and sweet.

While I was waiting to board the train to Venice, I was standing behind two men traveling together. They seemed a bit confused and wanted to make sure they had the right train. So one of them started to ask me a question in Italian. So I responded in Italian (this is the best line to learn when going to another country. Say it in the countries language simply to be polite and respectful) I'm sorry, do you speak English?

He responded, "err, little, no good". Then he asked if I spoke French. I responded no, do you speak Dutch? (German, Dutch and the Scandinavian countries all sort of resemble Norwegian) He did not, so we spoke in broken English, and pointing. When we had decided that he and his friend were in the right place, he asked me if I was Australian. It was the first time someone did not assume I was American. I do not know how he got Australian, since I do not think I have an accent that sounds anything but American.

When I was walking back across the bridge by the train station in Venice, I saw 5 or 8 guys with canvas tarps on the bridge steps. Each tarp had hand bags displayed for the tourists to buy, and they were either fake, or stolen. Anyway, as I approached one of the men yelled something to the others. The all quickly grabbed the tarps and ran off in to the ally ways with there merchandise. As I reached the top of the bridge, I saw what the men were running from. Two police officers had turned the corner, and were approaching the bridge. The street seller were so well organized and quick, that the police never knew they were there.

At the Milan airport, many planes leave from the same gate within ten minutes of each other. While I was waiting for my flight to board, a flight going to Brussels was boarding. I had my passport out because my flight was next. I looked up and noticed a women perhaps in her 50's looking at me. She was in line to board the plane and as she got closer to me, I noticed that she had a dark blue passport which meant she was probably an American. When she was just about in-front of me, she eagerly asked if I was an American. I said I was, and she got a huge smile on her face and she told me that she was from Michigan. It must have been her first trip to Europe, and she was heading home through the Brussels hub. I guess I was the first person she saw that was definitely from the states. It was very cute.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

ITALY, A day in Venice;

I boarded a six am train to Venice for a day trip. I watched the sun rise on the train while we passed grape vineyards before arriving on the island of Venice at nine o'clock.

Even with a very good map, is is extremely easy to get lost amid the winding streets and ally ways. There are yellow sings posted high on the buildings, with arrows pointing towards the main tourist attraction. If you happen to miss one of these signs, you may end up turned around and at a dead end.

My first stop was at the Rialto bridge, which is one of only three bridges that span the Grand Canal. This bridge is host to a large market at both ends of the shore, and on the bridge itself. It is also almost always packed with tourists.

On the north side of the Rialto Bridge is a mask shop that I wanted to visit. It is the shop that belongs to a master mask maker, who's work was featured in the movie "Eye's Wide Shut". I knew that I wanted to buy an authentic Venetian mask while in Venice, and I am so happy that the mask I choose came from this artisan. I did not want to get in to to many colors or adornments, so I choose the classic theater mask of comedy and tragedy. The mask maker even singed it for me.

I made my way threw the winding streets until I came upon the San Marco Piazza. I fed the many pigeons here, and they landed in my hands and even on my head! At the head of the Piazza is the Basilica of San Marco. Inside the Basilica are the most amazing mosaics depicting many biblical stories. You can climb the stairs of the Basilica to view the Piazza from the balcony. Up stairs is also a small museum, whose main attraction is four bronze horses which date back to antiquity, and are the only chariot group to have survived from that time period.

I took a little break from the mass amount of tourists, and went for a walk along the Grand Canal. I did a little shopping, and had a gelato while taking lots of photos of the canal and the gondolas.

My next stop was the Doge's Palace that then leeds you across the Bridge of Sighs and in to the prison. While it is in itself unique, the palace was sort of like every other palace I have visited in Europe from that time period.

My last tourist stop was at Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. This is a church I discovered in my research of Venice, that houses pieces from three masters. I was able to view Titian's "Assumption of the Virgin" and the "Madonna di Ca' Pesaro", Bellini's "Madonna and Child with Saints", and a wooden sculpture of John the Baptist by Donatello. Since this church is not one of the popular attraction, I had to rely completely on my map, and the kindness of the locals to help me locate the church.

I made my way back to the train station, and boarded the train back to Milan. The trip was three hours long, and I arrived at my destination after dark. When I had returned to my hotel, I quickly got in to bed and was asleep within five minutes. It was a very long, but stimulating journey.

Monday, October 15, 2007

ITALY, Milan;

I spent more time in Milan and was based there. I went to bed very early each night, woke up very early, and did a lot of walking. My legs were so soar by my last day, that while walking to my hotel, my walk resembled the waddling of a duck. I was able to see all the sights I wanted, and still arrive at them with plenty of time to appreciate where I was.

While in Milan I visited three museums, that each held it's own unique master piece.

When visiting the Brera Museum, I was able to view Bellini's Virgin and Child, Hayez's The Kiss, and Raphel's Marriage of the Virgin.

At Castle Sforzesco, I saw the Funerary monument for Gaston de Foix, Mantegna's Madonna in Glory, and most interesting of all, the last sculpture by Michalagalo. The later was unfinished when Michelangelo died at the age of 89, in 1564. The story goes that he was chipping away at this statue when he passed, most likely of a stroke.

The last museum that I visited was the Ambrosiana Museum. At the Ambrosiana, I saw Leonard's Portrait of a Musician, and the original full size sketch Raphael drew and then used to created the School of Athens fresco located in Rome.

I also visited Santa Maria delle Grazie, where da Vinci's Last Supper is located. While viewing the Last Supper, I realized that is was the first time a famous art piece or landmark, was larger then I had anticipated. To view it you must reserve your ticket to the last supper early because only a limited amount of people are allowed to view the fresco each day. During the high season, you may need to make a reservation three months in advance. As a result, many people are turned away at the ticket counter daily because they were unaware they needed a reservation. While waiting for my time slot, I passed the time by watching people go in to the ticket office, count how long they were there, and if they came right out quickly (they did not have a reservation), observed their reaction to the realization they could not see the last supper. The most common reaction, started off being angry, then annoyed, then sad, and finally acceptance before leaving the church yard. It was quite amusing.

I visited Milan's Duomo. The Cathedrals interior is immense, with many grand stained glass windows, and an intricate tiled floor. You can even climb to the top of the Duomo and walk along the outside of the stone roof.

I walked through Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, which is a large X shaped mall cover by a glass ceiling. The floor of the galleria hosts some famous mosaics, including an image of Romulus and Remus, as well as a depiction of torino (little bull). The Galleria is an impressive example of Milan architecture.

I must say that the highlight of my time in Milan was visiting the last supper. I enjoyed looking at the feet of the decibel's since they are not often included in photos and posters. Unfortunately the feet of Christ were forever lost when a door was installed right under him.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Short trip;

Tomorrow I am heading off on a four day trip to Italy. I will be staying in Milan, and taking a train to Venice for a day trip. I am planning on visiting many architecture sights and museums. I am very excited to go, and looking forward to the 90 degree weather.
New old food;

The other day ben and I walked to the mini-mall up the street from where Ben works, and stopped in at the large grocery store on the main floor. We had only gone in to look around and compare the prices to the store closer to home. There are a few food items that we never got around to finding in Oslo. The items were so unnecessary, that a hunt for them was completely unnecessary. This day however, two of these food items found us.

The first item we came across was macaroni and cheese. It tastes very much like the craft brand, and looks the same. On the box it says, "American Macaroni and Cheese" and even has images on the American flag. The instructions on the back are in Norwegian as well as English. Now normally when ever instruction are given in English, the English flag appears next to the text (the home country flag of any language used is pictured next to the text to help the reader find the correct language). One the box of Macaroni and cheese, the American flag was used to mark the English text.

The other item we found was chocolate chips. This was the first time that I had ever come across chocolate chips in Norway (not that I was looking for them). The chips were richer, and about twice the size as the ones in the states. We bought a bag and made chocolate chip cookies right away. They were all eaten with in two hours of emerging from the oven.