Friday, 15 July 2011

Venice, Italy - Part 1 (San Marco)

Venice - without doubt the most photogenic City I have ever visited. I could be excused for saying Venice is a photographers paradise, and if you're a photography buff yourself then you'll know what I'm getting at if you ever have the pleasure of visiting. I made two trips to Venice within the space of three days - the weather was overcast on the first visit and sunny/cloudy on the second. Weather aside, I intended to make the most of my time here, especially as it may have been my first, second and last visit to this unique place. Water-girt Venice rises on an archipelago of small islands separated by a dense network of waterways, which were rectified down the years, noticably changing the original conformation. Venice lies four kilometers from the mainland and two from the open sea. The longest of the canals, and the widest, is the Grand Canal which divides the city into two main parts that are connected by three bridges - the Bridge of the Scalzi, the Bridge of Rialto and also the Academia. Forty-Five internal canals run into the Grand Canal, which can all be navigated with small boats or gondolas. As many as 350 bridges connect the various zones of the city. Piazza San Marco is a gem among gems in the the field of Italian architecture. This large open space has the Basilica of San Marco, the Palace of Doges and the Logetta (clock tower) on each side. It was here that I made my way into Venice from the boating station after docking a few minutes earlier. The boat trip across from Punta Sabbioni lasted approximately 25 minutes and cost 9 Euro's for a return ticket. The place was crammed with tourists like myself, eager to see what Venice had to offer. The Clock Tower in Piazza San Marco was built between 1496 and 1499 and is undoubtedly one of the most photographed monuments in Venice, mainly because of the two moors that strike the bell at the top of the tower every hour. The Campanile of San Marco is dominated by the lofty bell tower that reaches 100 meters high. Queue's for the tower stretched from its entrance across the way towards the Basilica but I didn't fancy waiting in that lot, opting to explore the more photogenic areas of Veneto instead. Mind you, the view from the top would have been well worth the wait in the queue.

From the Piazzetta I took a swift left turn past the Campanile and into St Mark's Square. Either side of the square is decked with tables and chairs - sit on a chair at your peril! How about 20 Euro's for two cups of coffee - not likely. If you've got money to burn then dive in, but surely no cup of coffee in the world is worth that kind of outlay. Then again, you're paying for the location, a prime spot in the heart of Venice, and that obviously comes at a price. A small orchestra played for the paying customers as they sat watching the world go by. Waiters in white dinner jackets and dicky-bows tended to the customers, lending a rather finishing touch to the art of exclusivety in St Mark's Square. It was interesting to see just how many people were sitting in the restaurant seats - they must have mare money than sense! There was an abundance of Japanese and American tourists among the crowds in St Mark's - many of them formed part of a group that were being guided around the area, enjoying an informal and factual account of ancient Venice up to the present day. I noticed a flyer on the boat across to Venice that advertised a forthcoming open air concert in the square by Sting, former frontman of pop group The Police. The show was billed as Symphonicity, and what a place to play live in on a potentially warm Summer's night. I wonder how much those tickets were going for?

From the Square I headed through the Napoleonic wing, a long walk where exclusive (and very expensive) shops lined the route on one side, with columns along the other that led back into the Square. The first part of Venice had been seen and what an eye-opener it was - a kind of 'How the other half live'. From the Napoleonic Wing I walked through an arch and into Calle Larga, a typical narrow street with high buildings that had plenty of character. At this point the exploration of Venice really started to kick in and I had the feeling I was going to do some serious damage with my camera. It was now time to invite my 10-22mm wide to the party...

To be continued.


Friday, 1 July 2011

Verona, Italy

With plenty of things to catch up on I'll start with my first ever blog entry of a recent visit to a European City. Although I've visited quite a few capital cities over the last few years I've never actually visited one since I started writing my blog. One of my favourite European cities has to be Rome, in Italy - an excellent place to visit in every aspect. At the beginning of June I visited Italy once again with my family, where we spent seven days on the Venetian Riviera, based at Lido Di Jesolo. This was an ideal base for travelling around northern Italy and my intended 'Hot Spots' for photography were Verona, Lake Garda, and top of the list...Venice. We made visits to all three, and Venice twice, where I photographed some of the places I'd missed during our first visit. We were only at Lake Garda for a couple of hours but it was well worth seeing - more on that another day. Venice was the jewel in the crown though, a place that I'll be writing about at length very soon on my blog. In the meantime, if you'd like to view my Venice slideshow on, click here and you will be taken directly to the page. More Venice photographs will be uploaded to my site next week when a new page 'Venice Revisited' will go live.

Todays blog entry concentrates on Verona, a city in Veneto, northern Italy, home to approx. 265,000 inhabitants and one of the seven provincial capitals of the region. It is one of the main tourist destinations in northern Italy, thanks to its artistic heritage, several annual fairs, shows, and operas, such as the lyrical season in the Arena, the ancient amphitheatre built by the Romans. The first shot (above) shows a section of the Arena, which in the past has played host to the likes of U2, Simple Minds, REM and Coldplay, to name just a few. We spent a short time outside the Arena but never went inside, opting to press on and see what the centre of Verona had to offer instead. Arena Di Verona still remains in excellent condition today despite its age. As far as a spectacle is concerned I rate the Coliseum in Rome as a more attractive peice of architecture, although the Arena runs a close second. Having said that, I hear the interior of the Coliseum is no match for that of the Arena, which beats it hands down. Unfortunately I can't verify that - not until I make a return visit, that is. As the grey clouds hung above I headed off through the nearby park with its 'Lemon Squeezer' fountain - quite an eye-catcher! The weather was unsettled according to the forecast on my phone. It looked as though a heavy downpour of rain was imminent. Had to keep an eye on that one as we strolled through Piazza Bra in the old Roman section of the town (see photo 2). Just off the Piazza sits the Palazzo Barbieri, Verona's Town Hall that was completed in 1883.

A walk through Via Mazzini takes you to the centre of Verona which is more commonly known as Piazza Delle Erbe (photo 3). There was plenty of activity here - a large square with shops and restaurants on each side, as well as buildings of architectural interest. Once again a fountain took centre stage, right next to the local market stalls that were also attracting a lot of interest. The Madonna Verona Fountain was built in 1368, although the sculpture on top is much older. The building in the background is the Palazzo Mafei which was completed in 1668. Perched along the top rail are six pagan divinity sculptures - Jupiter, Mercury, Venus, Apollo, Hercules and Minerva. It is one of the few remaining baroque buildings of Verona and is currently used as a mere tourist office! In the Piazza della Erbe you will also find the Lamberti Tower standing at almost 85 metres high. You can climb it if you're fit enough, or spend a Euro and take the lift. Either way its most definately worth it for a panoramic shot of medieval Verona and beyond. Definately recommended.

Romeo, Romeo, where forth art thou Romeo?
Probably third in line behind the American and French guys getting their picture taken rubbing the right breast of Juliet's statue, he he. It's supposed to bring you luck and since she's bronze, she won't slap you! The legendary lovers famed balcony has become a must see stop for tourists visiting Verona. It doesn't matter if they were fictional characters and the balcony was built in the 1930's to provide photo seeking tourists with a photo op, it's fun to dream and imagine Juliet peering out from the balcony waiting for her lover to appear - he never does though - probably down the bookies putting a few Euro's on a nag!

Today, you can stop in the courtyard and see the statue and balcony, although the place is regularly full of tourists having a good old gander. On entering the gates to the courtyard the side walls are covered in graffiti love notes, which is allowed, although you'll be hard pressed to find a blank space to join in the trend. I'm not that superstitious but my sister wrote a note asking to find a special person and that same night she met a nice guy in Venice - he took her out to an exclusive restaurant for a a pricey meal washed down with the finest Vino, before legging it out the back door, leaving HER to pick up the bill - charming eh! Juliet's house houses a small museum and temporary art exhibitions. All the frescoes, paintings, and ceramics on display are genuine antiques from the 16th and 17th century, however, none of them have ever belonged to the Capulets. Photo number 4 (shown here) is the Romeo & Juliet Balcony. What I would have given to throw a bucket of cold water from the balcony onto the dozens of tourists below, he he. Nowt against tourists mind, I was one of them, but there were screaming kids all over the place and I must have been clouted at least five times by swinging backpacks. Ah well.

And that's about it folks. Verona - a lovely place - just a pity the weather wasn't better. Again, it was one of those visits where you see only a minute fraction of what is on offer. Who knows, I might get back there one day to see more.

Coming next - VENICE

Cheers, Ash