Category Archives: Travel

Italy, Ancient Rome

After touring the St. Peter in Chains basilica, and a comfort stop at the nearby gelato shop, our tour group walked to “Ancient Rome”. Our local guide, Nicoletta, did a good job helping us negotiate the local crowds which included a 5k/10k run as part of a health festival. It seems on many weekends, the main street running through this area, “Via dei Fori Imperiali” is closed to traffic for a family friendly party. This weekend, in addition to the race, there were many areas set up to demonstrate various kinds of exercise. Our primary guide Elisabeth had previously instructed us in the two principle rules for drivers and pedestrians in Italy, namely:

  • Red lights and stop signs are optional, and,
  • The white stripes for intersections and cross walks are merely suggestions

Here in Rome we began to understand the third rule:

  • There are no rules for parking, park where you can

This rule makes life more interesting for tour bus drivers, and helps tourists get more exercise walking where the bus drivers can’t get to. Our walking tour went past the Colosseum, famous for its gladiator fights,

the triumphal Arch of Constantine, which was the latest in a series of such arches built to celebrate various military conquests, and also used as the finish line for the 1960 Olympic games,

and the Roman Forum, which was the center of Roman politics for centuries,

In this photo looking over some of the excavated ruins of the Forum, Debbie frames “Santi Luca e Martina“. In a city with over 1000 Roman Catholic churches, it is hard to look anywhere without seeing one which piques interest. Perhaps on a return visit we’ll tour more of them…

As we walked, Nicoletta explained some of the history of each area. Note the pink attention-getting “flag” for us to look for if we get separated. I wonder what tour guides are going to do when there are no more telescoping radio antennas in the world?

After the introductory walking tour of Ancient Rome, most of our group (remember, some were at the Canonization) walked back to the bus and headed to St. Peter’s square for the weekly Papal blessing. Since we had a Papal audience scheduled for later in the week, Teresa and I decided to sign up for a guided tour of the Colosseum. This photo shows the line for self-guided admissions:

There are dozens of people trying to sell guided tours with the promise of “no waiting in line for tickets”. Well, they are telling the truth. You don’t have to wait in line for tickets, they take care of that for you. Not the whole truth though, as you still wait for the tour to fill. The good news is you can sit or walk around as long as you stay near enough to join when the tour is ready, then you skip to the head of the ticket line and enter the Colosseum. There were 80 arched entrances to the original structure, and tickets (made of stone) were free for Roman citizens. Each entrance was numbered, as were the staircases inside. 76 of the entrances were used by common citizens, the northern entrance was reserved for the emperor and the east, south and west entrances were reserved for elite citizens. This photo is of entrance 52 (“LII”).

The pillars above all have interesting “spots”. There’s a story behind them. I learned that the construction methods used in the Colosseum included putting bronze pegs into holes in the stone so the stacked blocks didn’t shift. During the “dark ages”, many of the blocks were chisled at the joints to remove the valuable pegs to be melted down and used to make other metal tools and weapons. You can see the damage better in this picture:

There’s a definite benefit to taking the guided tour, the guides are well versed in the history of the Colosseum and paint a very colorful picture of life in the day, describing gladiator training and competitions, the tenor of the games, etc. There are a few vantage points such as the one below which show just how huge the space is.

There’s a section of “floor” on this end which has been rebuilt so you can walk out into the gaming area for the perspective of the gladiator. The original floor was wooden, and covered with sand. The brick and stone work provided many interesting patterns to attract my lens:

A small section of marble “bleachers” has been rebuilt to show how the five decks of seating would have looked. In its prime, the Colosseum seated 50,000 Romans. The marble from the Colosseum has mostly been “repurposed” in various churches, castles and mansions.

The 240 stone supports on the outside of the Colosseum, near the top, supported long wooden poles which extended through the 240 holes in the stone, one directly above each support. Ropes were used to support a large canvas “web” from the poles above the entire Colosseum to provide shade for the spectators.

From the upper deck on the south side of the Colosseum, there’s a nice view of the Arch of Constantine from above:

And, looking north, you can see where the emperor’s box has been replaced by an altar and cross for Catholic services. In fact, Pope Benedict celebrates the stations of the cross here on Good Friday.

After the Colosseum, our tour continued at the Forum…but we had a long walk back to the hotel so we skipped that. Maybe next time. As we walked past the Forum, we saw quite a few people dressed up as gladiators and soldiers hoping to get paid for a picture. Sorry to disappoint all of you…you weren’t very convincing in your costumes.

There were a few other buskers working the street who had much better costumes. This one didn’t appear to ever move.

And this one changed poses every time someone put a coin in his can.

We stopped for a snack of apples and almonds in a small park near the current main Roman government building

And across the street from the apartment and office used by Mussolini

And across the square were the nearly twin domes of Santa Maria di Loreto and Santissimo Nome di Maria al ForoTraiano.

My brain still hurts when I try to think about why the Romans might have thought there was a need for this many churches so close together. The current population of Rome is about 2.7 million…with over 1000 Roman Catholic churches, that leaves about 2700 citizens, on average, per church. Of course it appears that many more tourists than citizens use the churches.

On our 4 mile walk back to the hotel – did I mention the temperature was in the low 80s with high humidity? – we enjoyed many wonderful sights including a wedding party coming down the lengthy stairs from Santa Maria in Arecoelli which is kind of hidden behind the government building

Our walk took us past the “Commune di Roma/Ufficio Risanamento Borgate”, which in the Roman spirit of reuse has become a lovely historical facade for a row of apartments

When we passed San Nicola in Carcere, a fine example of a church that looks somewhat plain on the outside hiding a glorious inside,

we finally arrived at the Tiber river. A short walk along the river brought us to “Ponte Fabricio”, a walking bridge across the Tiber. This is the only original bridge left intact in Rome, connecting the city to the “Isola Tiberina” since antiquity.

On this bridge we first experienced the famous “locks of love” which couples lock to the bridges to signify the bonds of their relationship. Those who were confident were said to throw the keys into the river and those who hedged their bets kept a spare key 🙂

The word “Isola” gives us two words, “Island” and “Isolation”. This island houses a prison and a hospital, both of which needed to be isolated from the general population of Rome by the bridge. The island was feared as an evil place until a basilica dedicated to San Bartolomeo all’Isola was built.

A second bridge, “Ponte Cestio”, allowed us to cross to the other side of the Tiber river and continue the walk toward our hotel. In the picture below, you can see the Romans are trying hard to control the periodic flooding of the Tiber with high walls.

Along the way, we saw tourist boats and more locks, which you can see are left in some creative places!

With the heat and humidity, we were glad for the shade of the trees lining the river

Soon we came to the “Ponte Sisto”, one of the oldest bridges capable of supporting motorized traffic. Originally built in the 4th century AD, it was partially destroyed in 772 and rebuilt in its current form by Pope Sixtus IV between 1473 and 1479.

These engineering marvels are poignant contrasts to our throwaway society where it seems we have to rebuild our roads every 2-3 years and our bridges every 30 years or so. Across the street from the west end of this bridge is the ancient Acqua Paola fountain, no longer active since the destruction of the Aqua Traiana aqueduct – originally built in the 1st century AD – which provided its water.

Some of the lamp posts were quite decorative

but few of them can compare with the natural beauty all around

As we got near to the hotel, we got a nasty surprise!

The road we were following dead-ended here at this entrance to the children’s hospital and the adjacent medical college. The “roads” we saw on the map were service roads within the compound and we were not allowed through the gate to use them as the shortest path to our hotel. Oh well, back down the hill we go, and through the tunnel to the other side of this ridge. Then we’ll have enough time for a 20 minute nap and a quick shower before heading out to the St. Peter’s Basilica to sing for mass.

Since this entry is getting rather long, I’ll finish Sunday in the next segment. I hope you’re enjoying reading them as much as I am enjoying writing them. As always, feel free to ask questions and/or leave comments, and to share the links with others who may be interested.

Italy, Touring Rome – St Peter in Chains

Today we will experience a lot of Rome.

We start the day with our “usual breakfast” but today we don’t have to have our suitcases packed and ready to load on the bus. We did some laundry last night, and hung it out on our balcony to dry overnight. Good thing we don’t need to wear it this morning because it was very damp outside last night! The weather forecast is for a sunny day with a light breeze…they’ll be ready when we get back.

Our first stop is the Basilica of St. Peter in Chains. its not a very impressive building on the outside. But looks can be deceiving! My first clue should probably have been the artwork on the ceiling of the “porch” outside the front door…simple yet very elegant.

I was just reminded that several members of our group went to the Vatican to witness the Cannonization of seven Blesseds so these photos may be new news to some of them.

Stepping inside, it got fancier fast 🙂 This beautiful fresco in the center of the ceiling above the nave depicts the Miracle of the Chains

The left side of the basilica, walking from the entrance toward the sanctuary, had several side altars which had been converted to tombs over the years. There seemed to be a preoccupation with reminders (the grim reaper, skeletons) of the temporary nature of our human state.

They all had, either on the face of the altar, or on the floor below, an engraved explanation of who was buried there, why they were important, etc. I’m sure it is all perfectly understandable if you know Italian and Latin:

St. Peter in Chains is a “minor basilica” (there’s an explanation on Wikipedia) and also a “titular church”. These are churches in Rome which are assigned to one of the current Cardinal Priests as their home church in Rome. It sounds like in many cases, the assignment is in name only and the Cardinal may or may not bother to visit when in Rome. The current Cardinal Priest of St. Peter in Chains is His Eminence Donald William Wuerl, Cardinal of Washington DC.

The basilica is primarily famous for two things, the first being the relics said to be the chains used to hold St. Peter captive in Jerusalem. While it has been proven that these cannot possibly be those actual chains, they still make a good picture in their reliquary under the main altar:

The second, and probably more famous, feature is Michelangelo’s statue of Moses, which is part of the tomb of Pope Julius II. This tomb was my first introduction to the concept of “pay as you go lighting”. Put a euro in the slot and the tomb is lit for a few minutes. Take your photos now!

Moses is quite impressive

The ceiling above the sanctuary is a beautiful collection of frescoes

Looking back from the altar, another view of the Miracle of the Chains

With significant frescoes, I was surprised that we were allowed to take photos, even flash photos for those who thought the little flash on their camera would make a difference in this huge space, and light votive candles.

The tombs on the right side of the basilica seemed dedicated to displaying paintings rather than statues or the coffins of the entombed

After praying for our friends and relatives, it was time to move on. Adjacent to the basilica was an engineering college. I’m not sure if the locked gates are to keep students in or out…

Our tour guide Elisabeth took this opportunity to explain that it would be quite a while until the next restroom break, and the owners of the sidewalk cafe were quite willing to let us use theirs for free, especially if a few of us were to purchase something from them.

I noticed that not many of our pilgrims were capable of passing up gelato. So of course some of us used the restrooms and most of us bought a yummy treat!

This seems like a good time to take a break from the blog as well. I’ve decided to post this segment separately for a few reasons, including:

  • You’ll get it sooner than if you have to wait for me to finish the entire day’s story
  • The entry is already getting long
  • I’m tired 🙂

So, until the next segment, when we meet Ancient Rome, Arrivederci!

Italy, On Toward Rome

On the fourth day of our journey (hey, that sounds like it should be a song) we enjoyed our “usual” breakfast, scrambled eggs (that weren’t ever cooked quite enough), ring bologna or bacon (which most of us avoided because it was quite undercooked), and various fruits, juices, rolls, sweets, coffee, etc.

No vacation is complete without at least one picture of the hotel room, right?

While our itinerary says “head to Rome”, before doing so we crossed the Arno river for a brief stop at the Piazzale Michelangelo, a beautiful park overlooking Florence. Although it was quite hazy, we had a great view of the city with its tile roofs, steeples and domes.

While Teresa and I bid farewell to Florence,

Bonita decided that “David” needed a little extra support:

Deb Oswald, I did mention there’s another David here for you, didn’t I?

Ann, Diane and Jean try to pretend the bright morning sun isn’t blinding them

Back on the bus, there were a few scenic points I tried to capture through the window. Alas, they all looked like pictures taken through a bus window…

After a drive (or maybe it was a nap) through the beautiful Tuscan countryside, we arrived at our hotel in Rome where we were delighted to see posters advertising our concert! As we explored Rome over the next few days, we saw quite a few of them.

When we checked in, it seemed that Hotel Michelangelo didn’t want anyone to walk away with their room key in their pocket.

Each brass key fob weighed about a pound! We were expected to drop them into a slot at the reception desk whenever we left the hotel and claim them when we returned. Never once did they check our ID to see if we were claiming the right room…

After a quick lunch (yummy pizza) at the sidewalk cafe closest to the hotel entrance, Elisabeth our guide taught about 20 of us how to use the train system. We took the Rome Metro from the “San Pietro” station to the “Piramide” station where we transferred to a regional train known as the “Ostia train”. A few stops later we found ourselves at Ostia Antica, the oldest known Roman sea port. Back in the day, this is where the Tiber River flowed into the “Tyrrhenian” (Mediterranean) Sea. As you can see in this picture, the trains are electric.

And, the train crowds weren’t much different from those seen on any other mass transit system I’ve used, including a wide array of fashion statements.

Over time, the Tiber flooded many times, burying portions of the city and eventually the course of the river changed some and the area which is now dry has been excavated by archeologists. One of the first things we noticed as unique to the area were the “umbrella pine” trees.

Actually called the “Italian Stone Pine” (Pineus pinea), these beautiful trees commonly grow to 34-40 feet but have been known to stretch to 100 feet tall! Some of the very old trees in this area were much taller than 40 feet. Unfortunately they need a more temperate climate than we have in Wisconsin, or I’d try.

The first thing we saw in the site was a cemetery, with both stone coffins

and in-wall (mausoleum-like) crypts

All of the burial spots we saw had been plundered…no skeletons or treasure left. There were signs

and statues

and roads and buildings dating back to the 4th century before Christ.

Historians and archaeologists believe that approximately 2/3 of the ruins have been excavated and that the city may have been founded as early as the 7th century before Christ. It was rather humbling to walk through structures which have stood through a multitude of wars, earthquakes and floods over the last 2500 years and think about our throw-away society where buildings might last 50.

The ruins are quite extensive and we only had time to explore a portion of them. Apparently “community” was the in thing back in the day, as the baths were public, and quite ornate. This mosaic bath floor dates to the 2nd century AD.

The rooftop “patio” overlooking the baths was a great spot for a group photo

The baths weren’t the only thing that was public…this bathroom had seating for 25!

Note the “slots” in the front face of the stone supporting the seats. Hygiene needs were met with a sponge on a stick, manipulated through the slot. The trough running in front of the bench was to collect urine, which was used in the laundry process due to its ammonia content. TMI? Sorry…

Other daily needs were met at the well

And at the bakery where grains were milled by “donkey power” harnessed to wooden poles inserted through the holes in these millstones

Adjacent “rooms” or “buildings” (it’s not clear which based on what remains) contained brick ovens for baking.

Hospitality needs were met at the “House of Diana”, which wasn’t open when we visited.

However the tavern across the street was (open)

And an inviting place for our group to gather

The “ice bucket” on the bar was in great shape, as were the display shelves built into the wall

 and the artwork on the walls

I bet if we go up the stairway across the street

we’ll get a great view of the entrance to the bar

Note the mosaic tiles at the entrance. This was quite common. The rooftop patio was a great overlook of this section of the ruins

Nearby was the market area of the ancient port city, where a mosaic in front of each vendor’s stall described what could be purchased or traded there

Most of the stalls, we couldn’t read the Greek text or understand the meaning of the image(s) in the mosaic. This one was obviously where they went to purchase pet elephants:

After the group picture, we dispersed to explore on our own or in small groups for a while.

I took advantage of this time to check out the flowers,

 spider webs, lizards, statues and shadows

One impressively large building was used, at different points in history, as both a military building and a temple

Although it wasn’t the only temple we saw

Perhaps the most memorable aspect of our side-trip to Ostia Antica was finding an auditorium over 2000 years old!

Even though much of it has been destroyed, it still seats over 4000 people and is still used periodically for concerts. How could we keep from singing?

Our audience was small but appreciative!

After a few moments to revel in the joy of the occasion,

And smell the blossoms,

We marched like good Roman soldiers back to the train station

After an adventure with schedules – the trains run on schedule, “more or less” – we freshened up at the hotel and took over a nearby restaurant for a late dinner and much wine.

You can use these links to learn more about Ostia Antica, or explore the area using Google Maps. And, in case you want to see all of my pictures from this day, I’ve posted them as a slide show on Flickr.

As always, your feedback, comments and questions are welcome!


More Italy Coming Soon

Friends and family, sorry it is taking me so long to finish my blogs about our Italy trip…life is busy. I plan to finish the next installment, about our first day in Rome, on Sunday. I’ll also post instructions for saving my photos to your computer if you want to make prints from any of them. Until then, Arrivederci!

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 🙂

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 🙂

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 🙂

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 🙂 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.

Traveling for Work


This has been a busy spring, with me traveling approximately every two weeks for work. Columbus, OH. Miami, FL. Las Vegas, NV (now), Phoenix, AZ and Washington DC coming up. I’m not a gambler, and walking is good exercise, so I’ve been walking the strip with my camera in the evening.

Here’s a link to some of the photos I’ve taken. Let me know what you think!

Timing in Miami was such that I was not able to visit my Uncle Ernie. Hopefully next time. Timing in Phoenix will allow me to have dinner with dear friends Pat and Robin Hafey.

Traveling for work isn’t the same as traveling for pleasure, but there’s no reason we shouldn’t try to make it as pleasurable as possible!

Outlive Your Life

For the past month, the morning show hosts of the radio station I listen to most while commuting have had a daily segment with Max Lucado. They’ve been discussing his book, “Outlive Your Life: You Were Made to Make a Difference”. This is not a review of the book, there are plenty of those on This is, rather, a reflection on a few gifts I have received – things which will long outlive the giver.

Last weekend, I rode a portion of the Elroy-Sparta bike trail ( some of the Scouts from BSA Troop 24 in Hartland, WI. They’re in better shape and rode many more miles than I, but we had a great time doing it. Purchased by the State of Wisconsin in 1966 for $12,000, The Elroy-Sparta was the first conversion of an abandoned railway to a recreational trail in the nation. I’ve visited this trail, with beautiful scenery, cool damp tunnels, and friendly faces, many times, with family, friends and scouts. Likewise I have enjoyed the Sugar River trail, the Glacier Drumlin trail, the Bugline trail and the Lake Country trail closeer to home and the Paul Bunyan trail in MN. Why? Because my Dad introduced the family to these trails many years ago as a relatively inexpensive way to see cool places while getting a little exercise and enjoying nature!

This morning, my wife referenced a copy of the Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine, pointing out some fabulous photos of “The Ledge” and how we should put it on our bucket list. I knew in an instant the reference must be about the Niagra Escarpment. As I read the article, I smiled as I recalled the portions of the ledge I’ve already visited – Cave Point and Eagle Cave in Door County; Ledge Park in Dodge County; Lime Kiln Park in Cedarburg and countless rock outcroppings in the Kettle Moraine overlooking scenic vistas along twisty roads and hilly trails. How did I know of these things? Of course, my Dad introduced and reintroduced me to them years ago and I have done the same for my children and my friends.

Tonight, my brother will take his sons and other scouts from their troop to Devils Lake. Along the way they’ll probably cross the Wisconsin River via the ferry at Merrimac. While the foot bridges haven’t yet been rebuilt from the 2008 flood damage, they might hike into Parfrey’s Glen nearby. They may have started conditioning earlier this year with a hike along the Root River trail, as I have dozens of times. How do I know of these things? Yes, Dad’s influence again.

Camping. Hiking. Biking. Canoeing. Scouts. Ping-pong. Church. Family. Friends. Driving down random roads and finding wonders like Kitchi t kippi springs ( and always having a camera to capture some of the memories to rekindle the magic when it begins to fade and blur with time. These are but a few of the many things my Dad has done to outlive his life and help enrich the lives of others.

Thanks Dad, for making a difference! I hope and pray that I will be able to outlive my life in ways you are outliving yours!