venice day 3

our last day in venice with most of the places to see behind us we have a chance to explore a little more.

we stop in at american express to get our reservations to switzerland and paris as the rail station is a hassle, and in our experience so far, not too helpful.

there are only two places on our must see list and unfortunately one of them is closed for the next two days. so we decide to visit an historic church, frari, first started in 1330 and completed in 1420. it is famous for a number of its art works by titian, a carving of john the baptist by donatello and so many memorials, alter pieces, gold, and a beautiful though protected cloister, among others. it is also the burial place of titian and montoverdi the famous composer, and rich with floor and wall tombs of the famous from so far back that the names are worn smooth.. the place is super rich in relics including one allegedly containing a few drops of blood from jesus. the marble carvings and medieval design make it quite compelling, so much so that rick soon has to go back to the bookshop to get a guide book before we continue on exploring its vast interior. there are many other churches in venice like this, perhaps not as rich but many have paintings and carvings by well know artists of the renaissance or older.

we stop for a coffee in a small anonymous square where there is a small bar and we grab a couple of coffees from a tough looking but charming woman who runs the place, i think she takes a liking to rick as he gets a little extra service.

we take our coffee outside and as we’re chatting we notice a very small store that specializes in venician carnival masks. they seem to be of a better quality and while waiting for rick i venture inside. the young couple are friendly and speak english easily; they explain the intricacies of the masks and how they are made. they carry only one artist who is well known and not cheap. joining rick for a second cup we decide we’ll have a look together as we have not bought an “official” souvenir of the trip yet. after looking at a few, rick takes a liking to a particularly interesting one but it is very pricey. when they see the sticker shock on our faces they knock a bit off which makes it more acceptable to us and we make a deal. the wrapping takes much longer than the transaction.

back to the hotel to unload and take a layer of clothes off as it has warmed up a bit. we’re still looking for a jacket for blair and wander back to the same square in the direction of the rialto bridge.

the rialto bridge and another euro just to pee. it is a zoo and i’d warned rick of the crowds (which he despises) luck was with us, it was a little less hectic and we were able to navigate it without much jostling. as i explained in an earlier post the rialto was built in the mid 1500’s and is quite beautiful with its high central arch and buildings spanning the grand canal. it has a central passage with stores on each side and two outside passages where you can see the canal and the horrible graffiti sprayed on the back of every store. At the peak of the bridge are two arches connecting the outside passages, this is the spot for the perfect view of the grand canal and it’s difficult to get through the crowd for an unobstructed look (i’ve become adept at pushing and shoving with the best of them.)

rick wants to get back to saint marks square and i want to try and find the store where i hope to find a jacket for blair. this has become a point of contention as the young owner of our hotel had made the recommendation and he’s about the same age as blair. other than frustration it has become a bit of a joke (or i try to find the humour in it) as i get directions to go to the left of the rialto, to the right of rialto, cross the rialto, cross the rialto and go left …. i’m sure you get the picture. everyone knows of this store but no one know where it actually is! i surrender and make my way back to saint marco’s to join up with rick and our last must see, the inside of saint marco’s church. it is free…sort of! the place is fantastic very much of the byzantium school and covered in gold and colourful mosaics (awesome). to see some of the more notable items such as the gold alter, carvings and the roof you must pay 2 or 3 euros per item so we decide to pass (we’re nearing the end of our trip and feeling a bit burned out on the nickle and dime stuff.)

last stop a stroll along the quay of st marks in search of a small carry on that we can put some of the accumulation of books and knick knacks picked up along the way. (i think we need two!) i find one and on the way back add one more item (i can’t resist…and haggle for a knock-off prada man bag…i probably still paid too much.)

we hop on the vappareto back to the hotel for some unwinding and a nap. rick’s pretty tired so i decide i’ll head out on my own for supper. it’s been enjoyable trying different foods and tonight is no exception as i have salmon tartar followed by pasta with something i can’t pronounce (it was slimy), so it could have been mushrooms this is followed by sword fish all accompanied by white wine and a bottle sparkling water (fantastico!) dessert was sooo good, a simple crepe stuffed with apple, surrounded by rich cream and fresh raspberries…heaven! And a strong italian espresso.

there is a warm breeze as i take a late night stroll along the quay where it is incredibly quiet except for a few workers setting up raised walkways as the waves are already cresting the walls. i sit and watch the last cruise ship of the season escorted by tugs as it heads for its berth. the ship is gigantic, it has a strange looking space age appendage high above the rear deck which i think is a disco or restaurant.

as i head back to the hotel i try a few night shots along our canal as it looks so peacful with the lights reflecting off the water.

rick is packed and ready to go, which means i’ll have to move my butt in the morning to get things in order for an early departure. See our day 3 slideshow here

buona notte.

firenza day 2

a good nights sleep, other than a few mosquitoes which we’ve not encountered before and immediately brings to mind west nile fever (paranoia.) the hotel has a great breakfast and is not too crowded as we’re first to arrive. we’re still getting used to having prosciutto and other sausages to start the day, along with great breads, florentine eggs and other goodies.

we set of to see the piazza santissima annunziata, a medieval square and ancient church just down the road from us. it features brunelleschi’s hospital of the innocents. this is considered the first renascence building from the early 1400’s.

we head towards the duomo, but are soon distracted by a side streets and end up at the bargello (the national museum) to see donnatello’s david. to our great disappointment it has been pulled for a few weeks for a tune-up (they could have waited until the season was over in another week.) this is one of the oldest buildings in florence dating to the 1200’s; it looks like a palace but was actually an administration building then a prison. along with donnatello it has works by michalengelo, cellini, giotto and assorted knick knacks collected by the medici’s.

lunch…pizza for rick and lasagna for me and wine…of course. both are simple and delicious and the house wine tastes as good as some our better wines.

the duomo is the central cathedral of florence and a work of art on the outside and not so much on the inside (it’s free) except if you want to climb to the top of the dome, which i do, but change my mind when i see the line up and decide to do the tower instead, a couple of euro’s cheaper. the tower is only a few yards shorter and has exactly 414 step…and i climbed them all!! the view is incredible and i took pictures in every direction. rick stayed behind as his ankle is still a problem (or so he claims:) ..kidding, he has done well, all things considered, but decides to call it a day as we have a lot of walking ahead in the next few days. after climbing down, we go our separate ways.

i continue on, looking for a jacket for blair (my son) but still no luck as everyone is quoting prices only the medici’s can afford…too bad blair:) i wander down a few streets before heading off to see santa croce church which is near the arno river. i love just wandering the streets, having no real plan and discovering whatever there is as i go. santa croce is a great surprise, brilliantly white (and newer) on the outside, facing a large piazza where musicians are playing excellent music with a variety of instruments, one of which includes some ancient piano cum xylophone cum zither or harpsichord.

inside the church are the graves of the mighty and famous: michelangelo, donatello, galileo, machiavelli and others. it is quite austere but has a wonderful wooden ceiling and many carved gravestone on the floor. the real magic is outside the church in adjoining courtyards. the first is like a cloister full of modern art by popollo and a building partially underground with floor and walls covered literally with wall to wall graves. there is a very old church by brunelleschi and dome which i will have to do some research on as i could not find any info. the most magical experience though is bruncelleschi’s cloister, so peaceful and serene that people are sitting around in a meditative state. it’s quite intriguing to think that this was used so many year ago and is still in tact and equally tranquil as it was then.

as i head home, still window shopping in hope of finding something for blair, i discover yet more palaces, cloisters and piazzas at every turn. so many turns in fact that i get thoroughly lost. yet again the people here are friendly and i struggle with minimal italian asking directions. somehow they understand and i, in turn, can follow their instructions as i move in the right direction. my final request from a guy getting off his scooter gets me home, as he speaks english and is very kind with his time and explanations of where i need to turn etc.

we’re going out to dinner tonight at a restaurant next door to the hotel as we have an early start tomorrow.

buona notte.


ok, i’m over my snit about rome and italians. florence has redeemed italy! the city itself is too magnificent to describe, the red tiled roofs, the towers, the architecture in general, the narrow streets, the way too many palaces and medici clan hovels. the museums…there are so many that i think it is impossible to count.

the people here, starting with our hotel, are excellent, they are helpful and friendly; it probably helps that the view from our room includes the duomo and other domes, and classic houses surround us along with lush gardens.

the clerk at the desk quickly arranged reservations for us to tour the uffizi and accademia galleries (lucky for us) as they are on strike the next day to protest something or other.

we wander down truly narrow streets, so narrow that they are almost dark as little sunlight gets down to the paving stones. we discover, with little direction, the duomo, the ponte vecchio bridge, the uffizi gallery and miscellaneous other sights.

lunch is a pizza at a little restaurant, again friendly and helpful. a scottish couple from douglas, just outside of glasgow, join us in a conversation where we share our experiences. they travel often as they are both retired and it’s a short flight to anywhere in europe. they don’t recommend bus tours, however, as their experience has been similar to ours with ‘schultz’ (for the bavarian castles.)

on to our first museum, the uffizi, statues, paintings and icons everywhere. it amazing to see so much work by artists we’ve heard of most of our lives (michelangelo, da vinci, botticelli, raphael, etc., etc.) and suddenly they are real and in front of us.

we have a short time between museums and wander a little further to the duomo and baptistry and the ponte vecchio bridge, which is a real relic of medieval times and fascinating to actually walk on with its rows of jewellery stores, true to its history of gold and silversmith shops since the 1300’s — talk about longevity!

our next appointment is at the accademia gallery, noted for the statue of michelangelo’s ‘david’. it is a relatively small museum and has both paintings and statuary. the first room is full of michelangelo’s statues that appear unfinished (‘slaves’) but are beautiful as the images emerge from the stone. then, david! pick an adjective: fantastic, beautiful, miraculous…. we are in awe. we walked around and around trying to take it in, you want to touch it but of course it is well protected. they keep you well back, so much so that they forbid photographs… you can see mine later as i’ve become quite adept at surreptitiously taking forbidden images.

the museum also had a special exhibit of russian icons dating back to the 1400’s and truly glorious.

it’s been a long day so we head back to the hotel for a nap and a glass of wine. it must have been the wine, but i never woke up until morning. rick, poor soul, stuck around and ate miscellanous snacks we had in the suitcase and others from the bar fridge in the room.

buona notte.

pop culture and jewish history

it’s been a mixed bag type of day. we slept in until 6 (rick) and 7:30 (stan) and had a generally slow start to the day.

for me it was hard on the brain and the emotions. i started off at the memorial to the deportation of the jews located at the tip of ille de cite, rick had visited earlier so i thought i had an idea of what to expect, but not so. it was a remarkably simple structure, sunk into the ground. the entry into the memorial descends a steep set of narrow stairs which open onto a small plaza with a low opening to the seine covered by bars and spiked shapes evoking barbed wire. the whole setting set my mind to thinking about what had happened not too many years ago, reflecting on the lessons i’d learned at school and wondering if kids today get the same message… when you turn around and face the memorial there is a very narrow opening which you pass through to get to the inside — a long narrow passage with a simple slab under which are the ashes of one of the victims of the nazi camps. the two walls are studded with 200,000 small light bulbs representing all those who were deported from france by the vichy government to the concentrations camps. by the time i left i was feeling quite sombre and melancholy.

meanwhile rick was off exploring the pantheon which he found quite riveting, particularly the wall murals and the vastness of the place.

i was off to the the jewish museum of history taking any interesting street i saw as i wandered. there were lots of interesting small galleries, a quaint shop strewn with antique musical instruments in want of repair or an owner, and silent book stalls along the seine. i crossed over ille st louis back into the marais and the old jewish quarter. on sunday this is one of the few places where business is open (i should have bought milk and other staples before heading home – but didn’t). on the way i passed the shoah memorial and a wall of remembrance to the french who risked their lives to save jews during the second world war. the jewish history museum was fairly interesting (once you get through the security) and was pretty thorough in a chronological layout of the history of jews in france from very early times to the present. it certainly raised a lot of questions for me both on the persecution perpetrated against jews throughout history, and of course the religious aspects which are always perturbing, whether jewish, christian, muslim and all the other late comers. can’t fault anyone for needing some foundation for their spirituality but they always seem to ruin it by getting into the hocus pocus.

after a brief break for a kosher pastrami sandwich and a fanta chaser i headed off to the pompidou centre of modern art. hey its the french thing to do, run the ancient and the modern together. how to explain this without pictures…ummm.

colour, bizarre, weird, fantastic, alive, abstract, meaningful, meaningless, pollack, matisse, max ernst, de koonig, jasper johns, brassai, man ray, chagall, and hundreds of others, some i’d heard of, others totally new.

it really was a fantastic experience to see so much abstract and pop art (including a red hot rhino) from interactive and participatory art to film that would be considered pornographic back home and a room, a very large room, dedicated to a single display of red rope twisted and tacked to the walls. crumpled metal, a buddha surrounded by vultures and pulling out the entrails (tastefully done of course) modern furniture or art shaped like furniture, great sculptures and on and on and on. AWESOME! it’s the kinda of stuff you hear others say they could do that, or their kid or the pet monkey. b.s. it is creative and thoughtful and truly wonderful.

meanwhile the other fellow is exploring underground at the ancient foundations of notre dame and the roman building foundations found at the centre of the city also known as the archaeological crypt. it’s always amazing to see that the different civilizations and their sense of worship seemed to always build on the past of a previous cult, one temple replacing another.

rick closed his day off with a revisit to the conciergerie, where thousands were held prisoners at one time or other before losing their heads — the most famous being that unfairly characterized queen, marie antoinette.

on the way home, deep underground at the châtelet metro station, i came across a string orchestra known as the classique metropolitain. as i love to listen to the violin this was too good to be true. about 6 violins, a cello or two and a bass….marvelous. parisians are really lovers of art and suddenly no one is in a hurry to catch the next train while they stop to listen for awhile. i was so impressed i ponied up 20 euro for a cd, which sounds great by the way. you can see and hear this group on several youtube links

my head hurts from trying to figure it all out, the art and the history. un cafe s’il vous plait.

bon soir.

the louvre et al

this is going to be a short one! i’m sure you all know about the louvre and we’ve been there before. each of us had different reasons for visiting and areas to see. the louvre has three very large wings the denon, sully and richelieu with three floors. this visit we dedicated ourselves to the egyptian and assyrian antiquities as we’d only seen part of them on our last visit. i also threw in a very quick prerequisite visit to see mona, venus and the chick with wings and a couple of delacroixs that i wanted to reconnect with, and the raft of medusa by theodore gericault. you can check out the pictures for more info.

rick called it a day other than some shopping, but i wanted to see the pantheon from the inside so took a walk in the rain and a major wind storm. it is a very dominating structure classical in every sense. inside it is quite open and empty of anything other than columns and wall paintings and, of course foucault’s pendulum, proving to you flat earther’s that the world spins round. it started out as a church and morphed into a grand tomb for the heroes of france. perhaps the most famous resident is voltaire. interesting but sparse and room for many more guests.

quick trip to the bon marche…too expensive and not that interesting.

bon soir.

tour musée – mature content

with versailles behind us we are taking on many of the major museums in paris. today, rick struck for napoleon’s tomb and army museums as well the rodin museum. having been to the little guy’s tomb before i took a pass, however it is quite remarkable both on the outside as well as the central dome under which napoleon along with some of his generals and relatives lie. having only visited the armory before it was interesting to hear of rick’s long day exploring the museums dedicated to world wars I and II and the ancient and medieval collection of arms. i’ll have to rethink another visit. rick sez it’s well organized and covers the historic events of the two wars very well.

turns out we both visited the rodin museum however i spent a bit longer and took a few more pictures than rick. the sculptures are fantastic both in subject and design containing more angst and pain than you’d expect. he was apparently into contortionists as the poses are dramatic to say the least. he was definitely a student of the body and passion i’m sure a lot of religious types would get a bit knotted (most of the time i’ve been in france i can’t shake the vision of john ashcroft wanting to hide the naughty bits with hankies…he’d be busy here as nude art can be found at every turn…kids and adults are expected to figure it out, not hide it…vive le france!). by contrast some of the works in the mansion were moving and delicate in contrast to the heavy bronzes; it’s easy to imagine that rodin would fit in easily with the greeks and romans, or as a contemporary of michelangelo.

following rodin i took a stroll by the government buildings on my way to the musee d’orsay, reknown for its contemporary art mid 1800 to early 1900’s. i spent more time here than expected as i’ve visited before and not too much has changed, in fact i rushed through the first floor of more traditional art and sculpture heading for the top floors and the impressionists. needless to say i took pictures but not too many as my camera is really buggy and has a mind of its own. it thinks the batteries are dead on many of the shots…a little pleading, turn on turn off or a little jiggle and it seems to make an effort for a couple of more shots. my favourite impressionist is camille pissarro, though they are all too amazing it is difficult to find the right superlative so wow, wow and wow will suffice. after two plus hours i had one more museum on my must see list for the day…musée de l’orangerie des tuileries at the end ofthe tuileries gardens.

pissaro is my fave, however nothing can knock your socks off like claude monet’s les nymphéas, i can not describe them to you, hopefully a few of my pictures will give you an idea of their beauty, mystery…and size, they are easily 5 to 15 metres long (or more?) and 3 metres high. there are only two rooms and they are quieter than a library as people sit mesmerized by them for long periods of time. here is a link to a video of them provided by the museum.

phew! that was a long day…but there’s still time for a little shopping before class tonight.

bon soir


a nice leisurely saturday, crisp and sunny, just how we like it. a couple of metro rides to get to montmartre from home but more enjoyable as there is no rush hour today. a lot of places close on the weekends, some on saturday and sunday, others on sunday monday and still others on monday tuesday. makes it tough sometimes figuring out what will be open. there is also a large jewish community which means another group of stores are closed on saturdays but open all other days. i guess it sort of spreads the number of people commuting to a more manageable 3 million a day on the metro system (that’s for you trivia buffs).

we started out the walk from the anvers metro station up through a throng of tourist shops flogging all the junk you never want to really own. the next gauntlet was a throng of black guys selling string bracelets. they were good at cornering the hapless tourist who soon had a string around the wrist before they knew what had happened. at this point the only option is to pay up! rick and i seem to be pretty immune to this, it’s either our size or we’ve gained that parisienne « piss off jack » look that sez you’re a local. we fully intended to take the funicular up to the sacre cour but we somehow ended up doing the stairs, and lots of them, but the day was too nice to get crammed in with all the other tourists going to the top of montmartre.

rick was the guide on this one with a mapped route of all the spots to see and artist residents who’ve lived in the village. it’s hard to imagine today that this was once the countryside, outside of the paris city limits. there is still a remnant of it with a small vineyard still producing grapes on the hillside and an old windmill that was used to press them.

we did a lot of up and down hills on cobbled streets past the places where van gogh, picasso, dali, utrillo and renoir, the composer erik satie’s house and of course toulouse-lautrec’s pad. you can see why it was popular with the artists. i tried to reproduce the scene by utrillo in a photo – have a look and see if you can place it, i tried to find the original but no luck.

afterwards, we descended down rue lepic (do it if you get the chance, better than rue cler any day) toward the sinful end of town…the moulin rouge and then on to pigalle. passing way too many sex shops and the like, including’s a pretty tough neighbourhood not one i’d feel comfortable strolling through at night.

frank, my coworker will be happy to know that it was such a sleazy neighbourhood that the only appropriate placce to eat was McD’s…yes, there are pictures to prove it!

end of day, rick is really under the weather with a bad cold and i’m feeling like i’m next..damn!

yes, i can cook. i’m doing up a full three course meal tonight. shopping at all the little specialty stores was fun and sort of carries you along once you’ve chosen what the main course is going to be…and wine of course.

bon soir.

a night at the opera

…and a full day of tromping around paris. rick and i took different directions this morning, rick feeling a bit under the weather and me up way too early. i wanted to check out more area on the « right bank » which includes parts of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th arrondissements and i think i hit them all. mostly a sight seeing and discovery tour for myself, unfortunately one of the things i wanted to do was visit the jewish history museum but i got there 2 hours before they opened. i did find a lot of interesting places, fountain, churches, buildings etc all documented with a ton of pictures again (they’re for me).

rick on the other hand wanted to get into more detail on notre dame cathedral (his third visit since we arrived) and explore a bit of the left bank. he also spent some time at the jewish deportation memorial, an underground exhibit on the isle de cite. here’s some text from wikipedia on the memorial:

« The Mémorial de la Déportation is a memorial to the 200,000 people deported from Vichy France to the Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War. It is in Paris, France on the site of a former morgue, underground behind Notre Dame on Ile de la Cite. It was designed by French modernist architect, writer, teacher, and town planner Georges-Henri Pingusson and opened in 1962.

Pingusson intended that its long and narrow subterranean space convey a feeling of claustrophobia. »

we both headed home early in the afternoon for similar reasons…frustration at not finding a public toilet!!! there are lots of them, but never when you really need one.

we also needed naps to help us through the evening as we are off to the opera garnier (you may know it from the « phantom of the opera ») to see a ballet.

it is a magnificent building of baroque splendor…it oozes opulence and pretension (it was marvelous) by the gallon. we had loge seats (semi-private box) which we’d bought before leaving on the trip. cheap, but fancy seats (20 euro each) looking down on the stage and the rest of the audience. i think we’d have had a better view though if we’d bought the really cheap seats in the gods as we would have had a straight on view. we forgot the camera so i bought a cheap kodak disposable that i hope captured some of what we saw. i also took some shots with my phone, including a couple of videos. the place is gilded to the hilt and has an incredible chandelier and ceiling painted by Marc Chagall yet again another contrast of modern and classic melding together.

the ballet was « hommage à jerome robbins » with four parts, including classic, contemporary, modern and, if you can imagine, slapstick. i found three of the four pieces to be entertaining with great dancing, the slapstick left me a little flat. music was from ravel and chopin along with a young composer, nico muhly and a the choreographer, benjamin millepied who is the same age as my son providing what i thought was the best piece of dance.

it’s past midnight and time for some shut eye, we had a very late dinner with wine…of course and mousse chocolate, can’t remember the last time that dinner ended at 11:30 p.m.

bon soir.