the last time i was in bellingham, kennedy had not been elected. too bad! it is an architectural museum, full of well-preserved buildings from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, wide streets drifting down to the sea. a waterfront waiting for a revival and sense of scale lost in most cities its size. the trip was short and i’ll be back to spend some time walking the streets with my camera. i also took a quick drive to a small village on the outskirts of bellingham, fairhaven a tourist boutique of well-preserved brick buildings circa late 1800’s. and the station for amtrak, the ferry to alaska and greyhound type bus service. think nelson, but smaller.
on the other hand, we went to shop at bellis fair – don’t bother! what a dull place it is.
we drove home via lynden a truly pleasant farming community just south of the aldergrove border crossing. not sure why we don’t have towns as well-kept as the states, they are good at it. maybe we’re in too big a rush to tear things down.
bern, as you would expect, is very tidy and not without charm. it is also very uniform in its appearance. in fact the entire old town is built with the same coloured sandstone as a result of a fire back in the 1400’s when the town burned down. in fact every building in the olde town is in the same condition it was some 500 years ago!
after checking in to our quite nice hotel, we head off to use up what little light remains in the day. it is very cold and starts to rain lightly shortly after we set out. this is not a problem in bern however as i suspect they get either a lot of snow or rain or both, because they have built some 14 kilometres of covered walkways down both sides of every street in the old town. i take as many pictures as i can before the light goes. there are quaint fountains and statues in the middle of the streets, or affixed to buildings.
it really is quite storybook in appearance as we work our way down hill towards the river the buildings look progressively more « swiss like » with a jumble of roofs, hundreds of chimneys, the odd one puffing smoke. at the bottom of the hill we discover an old church, open but without lights. what a contrast to the ornate ones we’ve seen elsewhere; it is void of decoration except for an old choir from the 1500’s and 3 stained glass windows. by now we’re a bit chilled and stop in for a hot chocolate and a piece of apple cake mmmmm… good.
as we wend our way back up the hill we pass a glittering display of remarkably modern design in the old stores, whether furniture, fashion or jewelery. we also see a couple of workshops where craftspeople are still at work. of all the cities we’ve been to the quality of items here seem to be the best. we did pick up a couple of souvenirs… chocolates… expensive chocolates! i couldn’t afford a watch 🙂
i’m still searching for blair’s gift and we check out a few clothing stores… this is not rick’s favourite past-time and soon he abandons me for the warmth of the hotel. i have no luck and head back to join him before going out to dinner.
we had seen several restaurants on our walk and decided to head back to one that appeared particularly charming. unfortunately, smoking is still very much accepted in switzerland and i’d had enough of smoke filled atmosphere at a restaurant in saltzburg so we passed on our first choice. we end up at the ratzkeller restaurant on one of the main streets and have a wonderfully authentic swiss meal, including swiss wine and strudel to die for. we paid for this indulgence! it was the most expensive meal of our trip (but worth it.) as we ate, it began to snow, you can imagine our delight as it was a perfect mountain experience in a 15th century setting.
we walked home in the light snow for a good night’s sleep in our feather beds.
our hotel looked over the central square which includes the station, clock towers, old building and a futuristic glass canopy that covers a great portion of the square. it was great to wake in the morning to see everything covered in a light blanket of snow.
bern was a nice place to end our trip. tomorrow paris, before flying home.
guten nacht, buona notte, bonsoir (it’s a trilingual country:) see Bern on my flickr slideshow
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
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.
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.
our last day in rome and rick is holed up in the hotel with a swollen ankle. he twisted it a couple of days ago and then compounded the problem by the amount of walking we had to do in pompei.
i’m off to vatican city and an organized tour with angeltours. unfortunaley we left this to the last day as it is near our hotel, we should have checked it out earlier as all of the things we were looking for in the way of shopping were just a short walk or metro trip away. vatican city is a walled compound, they like to call it a country but it is really a walled fortress, then and now. though it is quite old, the inner city does not have a particularly old or even medieval feel about it. shops and cafes abound and everyone is there to make a buck, the average cost is generally more than in rome proper.
my first real experience when i entered one of the gates to the city (or tried) was to encounter one of pope’s guards, dressed in some blue concoction with black floppy hat and jack boots. i did not really want to enter at that point, just take a picure of his cutesy outfit and some of the buildings; this guy had other plans! immediately he is yelling at me to get out; as i’m not really in i figure he’s got it wrong so continue to take pactures of him and his buddy (the one picking his nose in the photos) and some of the buildings. but now the guy is irate and starts to approach me, ‘senore blah, blah, blah’. so i back up a foot so as not to be in his territory and take some more pictures. he’s still not happy and comes closer, so i tell him to (‘please leave’…usually spelled differently and ending in off) and he does. we give each other a roman hand signal and go our separate ways.
after walking around the parts of the city taking pictures of st. peters square and further around the perimeter trying to get shots of the dome i discover a set of stairs that look like they’ll give me a better view…nope! but i did discover the pope’s personal railway and viaduct jutting off from the walls…ah poverty!
lunch on a bench outside the wall, pizza, a ball of risotto and cheese (delicious) and soda, all the while watching the beggers work, some of them appear to be in terrible shape. most people pass them by. i decided to give one woman some change and some of my pizza when i left, only to discover her basket was adorned with pictures of the pope…i guess she’s still hoping.
time for the tour. our guide is a young irish guys with a degree in art history as are most of the guides in the company, others have background in history and archeology.
the tour takes about 4 hours and covers brief history of the vatican, a tour through the vatican museum stopping only for the highlights as it is second only to the louvre in size and impossible to cover it adequately in a short tour. the items we see are impressive and include marble statues, many of them with their wee wee’s chopped off or have had a fig leaf added.as one of the popes had hang ups…when they buried him they lopped of his legs (what goes around comes around.) the tapestries, wall paintings and ceilings are all incredible. interesting there are several items that provide optical illusions including one of the tapestries which maintains the same view as you move past it.
the next stop is what i came to see, the sistine chapel. it is surprisingly smaller than i expected but overwhelming in the intensity of the paintings. the colours are quite intense since it was cleaned a few years back. ironically all of the paintings are copyrighted by fuji film who paid for the cleaning so you have a bunch of guards either shushing you or screaming at people to put their cameras away, in no uncertain terms. these guys remind me of old images of the kgb and just about as friendly. it always surprises me that most religious organizations have real sob’s keeping everybody in order. regardless i got a lot of pictures taken surreptiously of course. next stop st. peters. big, bigger, biggest! this place is monstrous in scale, so large that you would need a fish eye lens to try capture a panoramic view inside. i took a few pictures in raw and hope they turn out as the program i have does not deal with the format. i was surprised to find several dead popes in glass coffins waiting for saint hood, including john paul ii and the guy who lost his legs. though it would have been an awesome sight, i decided against going to the top of the dome (it was a grey rainy day) and another 7 euros over and above the 14 i paid to get in on top of the tour cost of 25 euros.
back to the hotel and pick up rick for our last dinner in rome. i’m still searching for something for my son and thought i’d get a second opinion on some of the clothes i’d seen near the vat city. sore ankle and all i dragged him along to no avail, we could’nt find anything we were 100% sure of.
as you’ve probably guessed, rome, in fact italy has not been as enjoyable as we’d hoped for. our last meal was good, however the service was so poor we ended having to go find someone to pay the bill.
an early start to the day. breakfast at 6:30 and onto the metro and termini station for a trip to naples and pompei.
though we have first class tickets the train does not reflect this. our coach was launched in 1975 which was probably the last time the windows were clean. we literally could see nothing clearly and the compartment left everything to be desired in terms of cleanliness. the only service was a young kid who was flogging bottles of water, coke and home made sandwiches…we settled on water.
the country side is very much like kamloops only hotter and bigger cactus and palms. arriving in naples was going smoothly until we were singled out to take a different exit from the train (we should know better by now!) almost as soon as we stepped out of the coach this unassuming older gentleman approached and spoke to us in very good english. asking where we were going etc. he soon offered to show us the way to the connecting train, chatting all the way. i should have twigged in when he bypassed the ticket agents and went to a food stand and picked up return tickets to pompei (all legit and priced the same as the ticket office.) as soon as we passed the turnstile the guy turns into a slug and demands 20 euros (10 each for being so helpful… his words) after much consternation we decided to give him 10 just to be rid of him…we actually thought he was just being helpful until then…. duh… mmm.)
pompei is just a few steps from the station and is incredible at first sight. we toured for almost 5 hours and covered most of the highlights and then some. it is the most amazing sight i have ever seen and really brings home the history, the life and the advancement of such an ancient time. almost all of the site dates from 2 b.c. or older, the oldest being the amphitheatre which goes back to 70 b.c. and is the best preserved and the world’s oldest.
i was surprised at the condition of the buildings, including the mosaics, paintings and intensity of the colours from so many centuries ago. the well off truly lived well and had more privacy with high walls and gardens that separated them from the vast majority who mostly lived close to poverty. the streets, vendors and even ancient campaign posters brings the whole place to life with little imagination needed.
it was an amazing place to visit and worth the long day trip which took almost 6 hours in total. the return train was no better than the first and had even fewer services (no kid flogging overpriced water, even.) take a look at all my picture of pompei
we’re feeling done in and agree that we’ll put the brakes on today. We limit our activities to a visit to the main station to make all our reservations to naples (pompei) florence and venice. I probably sound like a whinger by now, but we are getting frustrated too often by the total indifference to us as customers and to the endless runaround we are facing. Italy is the only country we’ve experienced this in, almost like they feel like they’ve got the whole tourist thing sewn up and so don’t have to bother offering any kind of concern for the customer. You get the feeling that tourists, for the locals, are just one big nuisance (which is probably true, but it’s clearly the tourists fueling the economy around here, not to mention providing naive victims for the endless scamming that is a constant.)
Today we lined up at the national (domestic) travel section for italian rail where the sign claims everyone speaks english… not! or more correctly, not for us. After being shuffled to two different agents (“no inglese! no inglese! go ‘dere!” – pointing vaguely off in another direction) we finally get someone willing to help us in english — only to overhear the previous two agents speaking english to other customers! Complaining does no good as they smile, offer some inanities and walk away. There are several profanities on the tip of my tongue and i must admit that i no longer hold them back if the the service is not suitable (am i turning into ‘the ugly canadian’ ?!?) They don’t care and i’m getting that way.
After escaping from the station we decide we’ll do a little shopping but have difficulty finding stores until we return to piazza popolo for lunch and discover via de corso which was a major road in caesar’s time and is still in use. There are lots of stores but nothing we want to buy.
On our way back to the hotel we stroll through many fascinating streets with no shortage of character or restaurants. The architecture is almost uniform in design but colour and age distinguish them and provide a rich background to our walk. We stop for a glass of wine in piazza narvona, an old roman circus with some marvelous fountains, which unfortunately like the trevi are under wraps for maintenance. The centre of the circus is full of small scale painters and portrait artists.
our final event for the day is a visit to a very modern museum containing a very ancient structure (the “ars pacis” or arch of peace) as well as a modern art display.
a glass of wine, a nap and dinner near the termini station.
it is our second day or first full day in rome. We’re up late and have a great breakfast at the hotel as part of the price. We head back to termini station intending to transfer to the b line, however the crowds are so intense at termini, that after two trains we decide to hike to the hop-on-hop-off bus as an easier option.
Our first stop is the the forum and adjoining palatine hill. It is spectacular, both as an historic monument and more so as a display of the size and obvious power of imperial rome. These guys did not fool around when it came to erecting buildings to match their egos. It has an obvious beauty and the feel of an era that we all know from our history lessons, making it easy to imagine the goings on in the various buildings and temples.
There are a lot of people here, mostly italian and finding anything resembling a clear guide in english is next to hopeless. Many of the monuments have little or no information attached to them so we spend a great deal of time trying to decide what it is we’re looking at. Unfortunately we don’t get to see some items as they are not well enough marked and the guidebook we picked up seems to function with a randomness only comprehensible (perhaps) to italians. Regardless, it is fantastic site to visit. I have too many pictures to share.
Following the forum and palatine area (where the bigwigs built their palaces and temples) we headed off to see the coliseum. This place is gimungous and worth visiting if only to see the scale of it all. Again too many tourists, apparently mostly italian (fortunately our roma pass lets us walk past a very long ticket line and directly into the site) who likely come from the country to see the capital. There are also a lot of americans, of course, and it doesn’t help our disposition any that everywhere we go we also get mistaken for americans (shoulda attached those canadian flags to our packs, i guess!)
After the coliseum we decide we’re in need of food and water, which we get, for a price… a very steep price by a bunch of razzle dazzle (baffle them with bullshit) artists at a nearby kiosk. Lesson: never buy from a place without a price list. We paid 14 euro for two sandwiches, but another 13 for cokes and potato chips! (That’s roughly $40 for two lousy sandwiches, pops and chips.)
Following lunch we decide to hop on the bus and head back to the vicinity of the trevi fountain and pantheon which we find rather easily. The trevi is a beautiful monument, alas it had a huge crane and men running all over doing some kind of work. With luck it will be operating before we leave. Next stop the pantheon, an amazing and intact building from ancient rome. the floor tiles the condition and the engineering are a marvel considering the age. Next stop, the spanish steps again to get a photo as i didn’t have my camera the previous night. Interesting…i guess (touristos – like us – by the thousands everywhere.) We head for the hotel and a nap before heading out to dinner.
We thought something near the vatican would be happy and asked the desk for a recommendation, and of course! he knew vito who was a waiter at quite a nice restaurant and off we went. Vito was there to greet us and find a table as the place was packed, we think we are the only non italians there. Before we knew what was happening a plate of flat bread is delivered and shortly thereafter we had about a half dozen plates of anti pasta . some of the items were more than everyone else was getting and much more expensive choices. As an example we had a large serving of buffalo cheese which was excellent and a large ball of mascarpone cheese. (we noticed the locals got a small ball with their pancetta) we had a bottle of water and a bottle of chianti ruffino which was quite good. For our main course rick had the largest steak i’ve ever seen and which cost way more than the menu said as they charged by the gram! I had fettacinii with mushroom , excellent and so simple.
The desserts were delicious and vito gave us a free(?) liquor made from lemon…magnifico! It was a special meal and was truly excellent, however we were taken, as we had no way of controlling what was being delivered or the choices for the antipasta and so resigned ourselves to enjoying an authentic italian meal regardless of the cost.
one of the things we are certain of in italy is the structure of kickbacks, bribes or payoffs, whatever you want to call them they are epidemic, even the desk clerk gets a cut by the taxi for calling them or the taxi driver gets paid for delivering a customer to the hotel. everyone is out to screw you, particularly if you are a foreigner. It is leaving a bad taste with us and we’re not sure how we feel about rome at this point…but we’re not enjoying it as much as we expected. The social hierarchy is very evident and i found it distressing the way those subject to others, like the junior waiters, etc. are bullied (you can’t say asked) to do things.