Saturday, April 13, 2013

St. Stefan's, oddities, back to embarrassing basics

Quite some time ago, a bit over two decades back, in fact, I used to wake up almost every day the same way:  instantly alert, ready to go, my body almost trembling with energy and the need to expend it.  Today, for the first time in all those years, I had a small hint of that energy when I finally got out of bed after noon.  I hope to recapture it all before I go home. 

Most of the remaining daylight today went to wandering Vienna without a plan.  The city certainly affords many lovely urban views. 

Click on any image to see a larger version.

Lunch was at a random restaurant down a side street, a place that turned out to specialize in potatoes (mains) and apples (desserts).  This odd little eatery was full of people speaking German, which is a good sign, and featured in two different places the large and strange Ms. and Mr. Potato.

My lunch was also odd:  potatoes with "green cheese and herbs."  The "green cheese" seemed to be a variant of cottage cheese. 

Though it was reasonably tasty, it was also huge, so I did not come anywhere close to eating all of it. 

Down the nearest main street from the restaurant, yarn bombers had struck.

A little farther along, and part of St. Stephan's came into view. 

Directly across from this majestic gothic cathedral stood this modern building, making clear the dual nature of Vienna as both picture city and global city of commerce.

Did I mention gothic?

Not just on the outside, of course.

Five euros buys you a ride on a small lift to the top of the main cathedral (not the tallest tower).  From there, the colored tiles of the roof are clearer--and definitely large.

The view of the side of the cathedral is if anything better from above than from below.

For no good reason, I rather like large bells, and this one, in the tower you get to visit, was quite nifty. 

The views over the city also did not suck.

Outside, the weather had turned a bit brisk, so the working horses were under their blankets and, yes, ear warmers.

Gelato is everywhere!

No, I did not have any; the potato still owned my stomach. 

I would absolutely have gone into the Die Fledermaus Discotheque, had it only been open.

Did I mention lovely churches appearing down streets?

Or a fountain materializing at an intersection?

The sky was lovely today, but somehow very different from the Florentine and Venetian skies I saw. 

Frequent readers of this blog will know that I love movies.  I've watched a few on pay-per-view while here just to scratch that itch, but I decided to indulge myself this weekend with one or two English-language films.  Given how much wonderful art I've been seeing, I felt it only appropriate that I choose something representative of the great art of America, so I found myself in a Viennese theater watching this soon-to-be-classic. 

In 3D, no less!

Yeah, I'm not proud, but I went there.  I also had a grand time with the silliness of it all. 

Exiting the cinema, what should I find to its left but...another lovely old church. 

Of course.  A fitting counterpart indeed.

Tomorrow, I have no clue what I'll do--which is how I wake up almost every day on this trip.  I quite like that.

Friday, April 12, 2013

St. Mark's redux, more Venice, new city

Only in Venice can you witness a gondola traffic jam!

As always, click on an image to see a larger version.

I can't get over how easy it is to encounter yet another old church or a strange piece of solitary art here.  Like this lovely little building.

Or this little alcove.

Of course, sometimes the magic of Venice is modern magic.

Okay, that's not magic; it just cracked me up.  I wonder if this designer offers the equivalent for men.

A bookbinding shop saved me a lot of money by being closed.  Consider this lovely volume.

Or these two.

I would love to have been able to see if the bindings went over the bindings of the first editions, which these were, or replaced the originals. 

The tour of the upper levels and the outer balcony of St. Mark's were closed when I was first there, but today it was open.  Getting to see a few of the mosaics up close was wonderful.

The view of the cathedral's interior from on high also didn't suck.

Nor did the views of the neighboring bell tower or the two squares.

After a bit more exploring and some pretty tasty gelato, the next stop was an expensive but fun ride in a water taxi to the airport.  A fairly short plane flight and a twenty-minute taxi ride later, and I'm now in a new city.


Here's a typical view (not of my hotel).

Not enough, you say?  Does this help?

Or this tasty treat from the above?

No?  How about this clear giveaway?

Yes, I'm in Vienna, where I'm staying at another fabulous hotel.  This one comes with an amazing luxury:  the best bandwidth I've encountered in any hotel in years.  It's a wonderful treat.

An even bigger treat, though, now awaits me:  sleep.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Doges and the art of the home-court advantage

Some spots afford great views no matter where you look.  One is in front of and to the right of the Doge's Palace here in Venice.  These six shots came from me standing in one place, shooting, turning slightly, and shooting again.

As always, click on an image to see a larger version.

A clearer shot of the lovely structure across the water.

The Doge's palace was the seat of government, functionally equivalent to the de' Medici's Palazzo Vecchio and equally as intimidating, though in somewhat different ways.  It's another do-not-miss Venetian attraction.  The structure grew over hundreds of years into the enclosed fortress it is today.  To give you a sense of the different types of construction, here's a shot from the entrance end of the interior courtyard.

The Venetian systems of government and justice were, to put it mildly, complicated and involved multiple groups with somewhat overlapping responsibilities.  One little tidbit I found interesting was that any citizen could report a crime by sliding an accusatory note through the slot for the relevant administrator.  Here you can see two of those slots.

To gain access to the various bodies of government, one would typically ascend the golden staircase.  Here's a shot down it.

Yeah, you could easily be intimidated by the time you reached the top--and then you'd have to climb another one just like it.

The progressively more luxurious halls that would ultimately take you to the various governing bodies are amazing, rooms crowded with wonderful paintings by Veronese and Tintoretto, among others. They did not permit photography, so I tried to minimize the number of shots I took; most visitors didn't even bother.  Here's a sense of one of the rooms.

The main hall, a room more than a hundred feet wide and more than twice that long, definitely stood its ground against anything the de' Medicis produced.

The paintings in this room, including the Il Paradiso huge piece at the far end, were by the next generation of painters, Tintoretto's son and the students of the masters who painted the works in the other rooms.  These guys just were not as strong as the best of the previous generation, but the art is mind-bogglingly complex and impressive nonetheless.

The armory rooms provided a very different kind of treat.  Dave, if you're reading this, I hope you get to visit them, and I offer this one happy snap for your perusal. 

The prison cells, which you access via enclosed walkways over the Bridge of Sighs, were also well worth a visit, cold and damp even on a reasonable early April day.  They must have been brutal in the winter.

As with so many other places I've visited on this trip, by the time I left this museum, my head and heart were full and craving a break.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Gobsmacked by Venice

Today's journeys through the twisty streets of Venice simply gobsmacked me. 

Canals are everywhere, which is easy to say and completely obvious, but until it sinks in, you have no chance of really getting this place.

As always, click on an image to see a larger version.

Art is also all around.  On a random wall in a narrow alley on the way to the Accademia. 

Or in the facade of the grand old buildings that fill the city. 

Or even in the acts of lovers: Paris, of course, had love locks, but so did Florence, and so does Venice.

Today, though, the most compelling, mind-boggling art stood in the galleries of the Accademia.  Tintoretto, Carpaccio, Titian, Veronese--gigantic works by these great masters and many more filled room after room of this wonderful museum.  Carpaccio and Veronese particularly grabbed my heart with technique and emotion that would not let go of my gaze. 

In one room of the Accademia, one very big room, stands the largest known oil painting, a huge piece by Veronese. 

Yes, they forbid photography, but I had to show you.  Ten other huge paintings fill this room, though this piece dominates them all. 

No book can ever prepare you for this room.  Unless you visit it, you cannot fully grasp the scale on which these men were working.  I feel blessed and fortunate to have been able to come here.  I wish I could bring everyone I know here.  Rooms like this are reason enough to justify the expense to create lifelike virtual reality on a gigantic scale. 

If you ever go to Venice, do not miss the Accademia.

On a more mundane note, Venice also offers great gelato at...the Grom!

Ah, the Grom was tasty today.

On the way back from dinner, Venice hit me one last time, as the water literally bubbling up through vents in the Piazza San Marco slowly flooded it and made it viscerally, not just intellectually, clear that this city is fighting a losing battle against the water on which it sits. 

I hope Venice and its citizens keep up the fight for a very long time to come. 


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