Monthly Archives: October 2012

What does it take?

So far, I have posted blog entries for the first three days of our recent trip to Italy. The entries showcased Padua, Venice and Florence. But, I’ve got five days worth of photos to go. When will I be done?

This is an interesting question, both to you my friends and family who are excited to see more of our trip and to my bosses (both at work and at home) who are excited for me to get back to work ūüôā

To answer that question, I need to explain a little bit about what goes into making a blog entry of this sort.

  • I start by reviewing all of the photos from a given day (150-250), discarding the disasters, cropping some, straightening some, correcting the white-balance on some and adjusting the tone or exposure levels on some. This can easily take 3-4 hours.
  • As I review the photos, I review our itinerary and my notes from the trip, sketching out the story I want to tell and selecting photos which help tell the story. This takes another hour or two.
  • Then I write the blog, uploading the selected photos and inserting them into the story. This takes another hour or two.
  • Next, I review the entry, make any edits or adjustments and publish the first draft, up to another hour.
  • Next I start the process of uploading the day’s photos to Flickr. Fortunately this is a process I can start and walk away from. Unfortunately, each upload is limited to 200 photos so I have to come back and add those that didn’t fit the first time.
  • After the Flicker upload completes, I sort the photos by date/time taken (or scanned for a few) and save them as a set. The flicker process takes about a half hour of my time, but takes another 3-4 hours of elapsed time.
  • Finally, I edit the blog to add a link for the Flickr slide show and make any adjustments I thought of while reviewing the slide show.

So, you can see it is difficult to do more than one entry a day, when I have most of the day to work on it – as I did Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I don’t have much free time this week, so I won’t make as much progress. I do have some evenings when I can spend some time and hope to complete a blog for our first day in Rome, with side trip to Ostia Antiqua¬†by the end of the week. We’ll see what happens after that.

Thanks for your interest and kind words of support and encouragment!


Italy, Touring Florence

Oh, where to start? With the daily itineary, of course…

That “drive to Florence” part, that takes 3+ hours. We must not have left on time. And it must have taken a little while to get us all off the bus and to the meeting point because we had about a half hour for lunch before we had to meet for the museum tour. We’re no fools… there’s a great looking sidewalk cafe just down the block ūüôā

In fact, it seems there’s always a great looking sidewalk cafe or a gelato store just down the block. Very dangerous to one’s diet…although I came home 2.7 pounds lighter than when I left so I guess the walking compensated for the pasta, gelato and wine.

This would be a great time to share a picture of the motorcycles and motor scooters lined up along the square in front of the sidewalk cafe. Interestingly, it was “Piazza San Marco”, but very different than the “Piazza San Marco” in Venice. And I don’t remember seeing a church in honor of St. Mark but there must have been one there somewhere…or there wouldn’t have been a square. Anyway, back to the scooters.

I wanted to give a little push and see if they’d fall like dominoes, but the temptation passed quickly. Scooters have several advantages in the cities of Italy, including:

  • They fit on streets where cars and trucks don’t
  • They can weave in and out of stalled traffic
  • They can “split” the lanes of stopped traffic and get to the front of the line at intersections
  • They get the equivalent of 50-90 miles per gallon which is important when gas costs over $8 per gallon.
  • They park in much smaller spaces than cars and trucks
  • They park on the sidewalk if they want to

After lunch, we toured the “Gallery of the Academy”, an art museum associated with the University of Florence. They have a lot of really big, really old, paintings. After I got past “how the heck did they paint something that big”, they all started to look alike. They have a lot of really big, really old, statues, including a bunch of Michelangelo originals. Amazing work, but again they all started to look similar after a while. There are some really odd things displayed along side the good stuff that kind of detract, at least I thought so. Sorry, no photos allowed. They have a bunch of really old, kind of old and not so old copies of the originals made by various art students over the centuries. Hmmm, they look a lot like the originals, at least to my untrained eye. They have a copy of “David” that I could take a photo of, which was good since my art teacher friend Debi Oswald asked me to get a photo of “David” for her. Here you go Debi… he (the copy) really is pink with blonde hair.

One thing that makes Michelangelo’s works stand out is the fact that he did not work from drawings or models. He selected his stone based on what he envisioned trapped inside it then chipped away the pieces that weren’t part of his vision. Wow.

The museum also had a temporary exhibit with a bunch of really old musical instruments. Some of them were pretty cool. I fixated for a while on a Stradivarius violin that was an awesome piece of woodwork. I have no idea how sweet or squeaky it sounded, but the craftsman who put the wood together did a fine job. No photos allowed, of course, which is unfortunate because I think you’d enjoy seeing just how fine the woodwork was. Oh well.

I found plenty of art to enjoy after we left the museum, including some really cool doorways, doorknobs and doorknockers.

Maybe one of you who paid closer attention than I during their college psychology classes can explain why I found the doorways to be more artistic than the paintings and statues. Or maybe we can just enjoy a nice bottle of Merlot while pretending to explain ūüôā

Just down the street from the museum is Il Duomo. The Cathedral. In Florence this is the Basilica di Santa Maria del fiore (St. Mary of the flowers). It includes the largest brick dome EVER constructed. The basilica took 140 years to build. I understand why, and so will you when you see the pictures. Hold on to your seats…this is amazing. The north side:

The west side, which contains the main entrance and faces the Baptistery of St. John:

The campanile (bell tower):

And, the south side:

I took a lot of photos inside and outside and you can see them all, if you want, using the link below. However I would like to share three particular photos, the inside of the dome:

The arches of the naves:

And, the votive candles:

No, the couple wasn’t part of our tour group. No, I don’t know them. No, I don’t have a model/subject release from them. However they so embodied the spirit that I needed their picture. I lit a candle there too and Teresa may have as well. You, my friends and family, were in my thoughts and prayers throughout the trip, not just when I lit a candle.

Outside the church to the west was the Baptistery of St. John. Back in the day, it was opened once a year and all the babies born during the previous 12 months were baptized. An unofficial census count.

The doors to the baptistery, also known as the “gates of paradise” are amazing, depicting 10 scenes from the bible including:1.¬†Adam and Eve¬†2.¬†Cain and Abel¬†3.¬†Noah¬†4.¬†Abraham¬†5.¬†Isaac with Esau and Jacob¬†6.¬†Joseph¬†7.¬†Moses¬†8.Joshua¬†9.¬†David¬†10.¬†Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. (1 and 2 are top left and top right, continuing through 9 and 10 bottom left and bottom right).¬†Go ahead, click on the picture to view it in full size, or save a copy and zoom in to check out the panels. They’re fantastic. It took Ghiberti and his craftsmen 27 years (!) to make these beautiful doors.

If you promise to come back to the blog, I’ll provide links to more information on Il Duomo and the baptistery.

As we continued our tour, I found several other artistic features of the city. Even the garbage cans, sewer covers and port-a-johns at construction sites are worthy of notice:

We saw many examples of reuse and recycling. Old buildings become the foundation for the new, or are incorporated into the new. I found it particularly unsettling to sit in buildings that still look great and function as designed after 800 years or more when I have grown so accustomed to our throwaway culture where buildings aren’t expected to last more than 50 years or so. This tower fits very well with its new neighbors.

Here’s a fine example of a street sign. Unlike Venice, Florence did not have an additional sign with arrows pointing toward the nearest piazza, only the name of the street the sign faced.

A few blocks south of Il Duomo is the Piazza della Signoria. This is another fun place to play around with Google maps. While in satellite view, zoom in to street view and check out the statues. There’s another “David” here for Debi:

As well as a copy of Giambologna’s “Rape of the Sabine” and other classic sculptures.

Frankly, I appreciated these copies much more than the originals in the museum. Why? I could walk right up to them, study and photograph them from any angle. If you ever go to Florence, I would strongly recommend skipping the museum and enjoying the copies. Unless, of course you want to see the paintings.

After a brief stop to enjoy some excellent gelato and appreciate the artistic wooden ceiling at Vivoli, it was time to walk some more.

We found a store devoted to Pinnochio:

A store where I bought a very sharp necktie to wear at our concert in Rome, a wedding dress store, where I took some pictures for Sami:

We filled our water bottles at the straw market, where we bought a nice Italian leather wallet for Matt and a very nice Italian leather poncho wrap for Teresa.

All shopped out, we headed back toward the bus. I took a few pictures of the small vehicles (they have to be small, because the streets are so narrow) for Matt:

Before we got back to the bus, we saw what may be my favorite doorway of the trip:

In a previous life, when I shot film, I felt lucky if there were one or two shots per roll that I felt were worthy of printing. Those shots that I really liked and really wanted. I think I’m better than that now, in terms of what I like and want and keep, but I rarely print anything. This next photo may be the one (out of over 1600 taken on this trip) that I print.

When I tossed a coin in his case, I don’t know if he thought I was paying for the privilege of taking his photo or appreciating his music, but the smile we shared will remain with his song in my heart forever.

After a short bus ride, we arrived at the Hotel Mediterraneo where they had installed a neat ramp on the stairs to make it very easy to get roller-suitcases up the stairs.

To the left of the hotel, you can see the umbrellas of another sidewalk cafe where 6 or 7 of us may have consumed a few bottles of “vino rosso” and “vino bianco” while the sun set.

If you want to see all of the photos I took in Florence, you can view them on Flicker.

Italy, Touring Venice

I’ll start the narrative for Day 2 by clarifying that travel days are tough. Day 1 of the journey actually encompassed two calendar days, one of which we spent on a plane and jumping time zones and the other touring Padua, with very little sleep in between. The rest of the days in my chronicle will be full calendar days, in Italy’s time zone.

The last thing I did each evening was take a picture of the next day’s itineary with my phone. These were posted somewhere in the hotel lobby. Sometimes I had to retake the picture the next morning to get a clear copy. I’m sure that had NOTHING to do with wine consumed the evening before!

A quick warning…I took 297 photos “today”. I’m only going to feature a few of them in the blog. I’ll delete those which need to be deleted and post the rest as a slide show on Flickr with a link at the end of the blog for you to peruse as you wish. If you’ve got a question about any of them, feel free to comment here on the blog and I’ll try to provide clarification.

Our bus driver Allesandro took us to the port of Venice where we boarded a private water taxi. We had several different ones during the day but they all looked similar:

And our tour guide Elisabeth reminded us often to wear comfortable shoes:

The ride from the mainland to the Venetian islands was a bit rough but nobody got sea sick.The perspective from the water was interesting and gave us a feel for how large the area is. If you haven’t spent any time with Google maps, this is an interesting area to explore. Make sure to switch between map and satellite views. We saw everything from cruise ships:

To car ferries, naval special operations ships and merchandise delivery service boats:

Churches, hotels and parks:

Even the garbage gets transported via boat:

Our first stop was at the Ferro-Lazarini glass works on the island of Murano.

Where we saw an artisan make a vase and a horse:

Of course, there was plenty of time to shop! I think Andy suspected I was taking a photo in this showroom:

Since they are afraid someone might copy their designs, photos are discouraged in the showrooms. I don’t think these give away any secrets:

Elisabeth encouraged us to use the (free and clean) rest rooms at the glass factory. While I was waiting for everyone to finish, I found a few interesting architectural photo opportunities:

After Murano, we headed to the main island of Venice for a walking tour along the grand canal and to Piazza San Marcos and the Basilica of St. Mark. Along the way, we passed many hotels and restaurants:

Crossed a few canal bridges:

And learned about the Doge’s palace:

where trials were held with the convicted crossing the “Bridge of Sighs” where it is said that their sighs of desperation were audible as they glimpsed possibly the last daylight of their life out of the two windows on the bridge:

before spending the rest of their life in the very secure prison:

Everyone is told to not feed the flying rats (aka pidgeons). Alas, this instruction is followed about as well as the “no photos” instruction:

There were times I wondered if carrying multiple lenses along was worth it…these shots of statues on top of pillars scream “yes, it was worth it”!

This shot of the bell above Piaza San Marcos also required a long zoom. The mechanical hammer swingers were fun to watch at the top of the hour:

Our “meeting spot” in the piazza was always in front of the Campanile (bell tower) across from the Basilica of St. Mark:

Fortunately the stairs are closed and there is a lift (elevator) to the top for “only” 8 euros (about $10.80) each. The view is well worth the cost of the ride to the top:

But, I’ve gotten a bit ahead of myself. The trip up the Campanile was after our tour of St. Mark’s, so let’s look at a few scenes there. The first thing you notice is the marble:

Then, if you can manage to pay attention to where you’re walking, you notice that the ground water is pushing up through the sidewalk in a few places (thank you Ann for lending your reflection to make the puddle more interesting):

If you’re not careful, you risk whiplash from constantly looking up, then down, then up, etc.

Did I mention there’s lots of marble? And arches?

The arches above the basilica doors are quite ornate:

And the arches inside are even moreso:

This church was confusing… there were some signs that said “NO FLASH PHOTOS”. There were some signs that said “NO PHOTOS”. Yet about 1/3 of the people touring were taking photos, many with flash. So, I took photos too.

The water is pushing up into parts of the church too, so they build little bridges for tourists to follow and keep our feet dry.

At every church we visited, we spent some time in prayer for friends and family, lighting a candle where permissible (churches with fresco paintings don’t allow candles in an attempt to help preserve the paintings).

After our tour of St. Mark’s, it was time to follow the #1 recommendation for visiting Venice: get lost. We walked down many streets that looked like this one:

And saw many canals that looked like this one:

We stopped for lunch at Osteria Leon Bianco and found a seat in the courtyard. I enjoyed a pasta w/ meat sauce dish and Teresa enjoyed a lasagna dish which she raved about for the remainder of the trip.

After lunch, we walked some more, and got un-lost in time for a 3:00pm rendezvous with friends for a gondola ride. Believe me, there’s nothing romantic about cramming 6 people into a gondola…but the price of 120 euros (about $162) for a 35-40 minute ride was best shared, so 30 of us took the ride in 5 gondolas:

And got to see Venice from a different perspective

I wonder what the description was when they applied for that building permit? After the gondola ride, it was time to get lost again. We found stores selling masks for Carnival

And stores selling Ferrari “gear”

I checked out a sharp black shirt sporting the logo for Matt … 58 euros ($78) sorry Matt, it stayed on the shelf. We found a piaza (square) well off the beaten path where a few cute little kids were having a blast with the public fountain.

It was time to find our way back to Piazza San Marco for 6:45 mass in the Basilica of St. Mark. Fortunately I had a good guide:

Who soon had us back in front of the Campanile

We were prepared to sing the mass parts in Latin, but they were spoken (in Italian). We were prepared to sing several selections from our concert plus a 4-part “Holy” for the opening. Unfortunately, the church organ was broken. Our most capable director Laurie Polkus exhibited her skills in flexibility and we sang opening, communion and closing songs acapela.

After mass it was time to get lost for another hour or so.

We found some yummy gelato (Italian ice cream) and wound up enjoying a bottle of wine listening to 3 or 4 orchestras who took turns playing in Piazza San Marco before meeting our tour group for the boat and bus ride back to our hotel.

To see all of today’s photos, visit the Flickr slide show.

Italy, the journey begins

On Tuesday October 16th, after many months of practices, planning meetings, fund raising, etc. 27 members of the adult choir of St. Anthony on the Lake Parish (Pewaukee, WI) and 22 travel companions departed for Italy. Their pilgrimage began like all trips from St. Anthony’s, with a prayer circle in the narthex of the church, led by our retired pastor and spiritual director for the trip, Fr. Joe Hornacek.


We packed into rented “party limo buses” for the trip to Chicago’s O’Hare airport. Fortunately the dancing pole was well hidden and the champagne flutes were empty although the group was pretty sure it was five o’clock somewhere… The international terminal at O’Hare is nothing to write home about and unless you must pass through, avoidance is recommended. After a long flight on a British Airways Boeing 777 and a short layover at London’s Heathrow airport, we were on a BA Airbus 319 bound for Venice, Italy. Everyone with a window seat was treated to a wonderful view of the Alps which separate Italy from Switzerland.

No luggage was lost, money was converted to euros with little pain and we met our tour guide Elizabeth and our bus driver Allesandro for the ride to Padua. You’re right…a long flight, a short flight and a several hour bus ride makes for lots of sitting.

Padua, Italy is the city where St. Anthony, the patron saint of our parish, died and our pilgrimage for the day was to visit the basilica built in his honor. While the size of the church was apparent as we approached,

We were not prepared for the beauty inside. As the basilica is decorated with many “fresco” paintings, and it seems that many tourists don’t understand the meaning of “no flash photography”, no photos were allowed inside the basilica. Next best thing? Scan a post card… The main church:

And, the chapel enshrining the relics (tongue and lower jawbone – he was considered to be a great preacher) of St. Anthony:

As we found out quickly, streets are narrow and there were many opportunities to walk where the bus couldn’t go so we began to stretch out the cramps from plane and bus right away.

This provided many opportunities to see interesting architecture and artifacts…and take a photo or two ūüôā For example, the city seal is embedded in the sidewalk every 100 meters or so. Its a brass or bronze disc about 10 centimeters in diameter.

There were interesting buildings like this one:

And public bathrooms (WC = Water Closet) which were best avoided (you’d think since you have to pay to use them they would at least be clean…but no):

In the center of Padua is a lovely park with a large fountain and many flying rats (aka pidgeons):

Streets near the Basilica were busier and had more kiosks, both on the sidewalk:

And right in the middle of the street:

Despite the uneven cobblestones and insane drivers (“red lights are optional and the white stripe is a suggestion” – Elisabeth) many people ride motor scooters or bicycles and we saw all kinds:

There were plenty of arches like these to catch my lens:

And I’m sure this triumphant arch led to something important at one time although today the area behind it is used for tourist bus parking:

I was surprised at how many ways there are to spell Padua…

In the evening we took the bus to Mestre, for a wonderful dinner at the Antony Hotel and a much needed night of sleep.

So, there you have it, the first day of our tour. Please let me know what you think of this method (blog narrative) of sharing my trip photos. For those who want the old “overload method” here’s all the photos from Italy Day 01, travel and tour Padua.