It’s Beautiful Over There

 

Burano Colors

Europe has a beauty that is diverse and breathtaking, from the natural to the man made. North or South, East or West, everywhere you go there is so much that is just inspiring and, well, beautiful!

Pantheon

Perhaps one of the most beautiful, most perfect buildings is the Pantheon in the heart of Rome. Built by the Emperor Hadiran in about 170 A.D., it is the only Roman building remaining intact. When Germanic tribes swept through Rome to despoil it of its treasures the Pantheon stopped them in their tracks. They refused to destroy it. They were in awe, as we are today, of this spectacular building. No picture does it justice. It is one of those places you just have to experience for yourself.

Eiffel Tower

They were going to tear this down when the World’s Fair was over. Parisians hated it. Beaudelaire would eat lunch in the cafe on the first floor every day because, as he said, it was the only place he could go in Paris where he didn’t have to see the thing. Well, Parisians are not the only ones today who cannot imagine Paris without it. It is one of those monuments that is so much more impressive in person. You finally realize – it is BIG! Really BIG!

Jungfrau

 And then there is the beauty of nature. On a clear day in the Swiss Alps it is hard to imagine anything more sublime. The Swiss love their mountains and spend a lot of time in them themselves. They also work hard to preserve them. We join them in their love of their mountains with a hike of our own right here at the base of the Jungfrau. If the weather cooperates you’ll never forget your day in the Alps.

Burano Flower
But not all of Europe’s beauty is found in the grand. Much of it is right at your feet! So don’t always be looking up. Keep your eyes and ears open to everything around you and you are bound to fill your travel with beauty. It will enrich you trip immeasurably!

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Ah Venezia!

Ah Venice! I think just about everyone who has not been here must have their own romantic vision of what Venice must be like. It’s a good bet their vision is not too far from the reality! Venice is indeed that charming place of imagination and fable, even when weighed down to the water line with summer tourists! Built on wooden pilings driven deep into the clay below, Venice is very much a city of water. Canals are main streets, lined with centuries of architecture in every style from Byzantine through early 20th century.


And everyone and everything, including visitors, gets around on the water. Oh, you can walk Venice alright, and that is what you spend most of your time doing, but Venice without a least one trip on the water doesn’t give you the authentic feel of this most unique of cities.

The Venetians live this every day. Produce boats, fire boats, police boats, delivery boats, ambulance boats, even hearse boats ply the canals going about their workaday business keeping shelves stocked, the public safe, visitors provided for, and the dead buried! It is a marvel to watch!


The tourist comes to Venice for this and for the stunning architecture. Venice’s landmarks are well know, from the Doge’s palace with it’s Gothic facade, the Byzantine marvel of San Marco, and the distinct campanile (bell tower) in the Piazza San Marco.

The campanile actually collapsed in 1903, killing no one and harming only the watachman’s cat. But the Venetians quickly rebuilt their tower with the same brick and a new foundation. It proudly looks over what Napoleon called the best drawing room in Italy – the Piazza San Marco. The Piazza, surrounded as it is by the Doge’s Palace, the Campanile, and San Marco Basillica, is of course tourist central! Absolute mobs of tourists fill this Piazza and the surrounding lanes and canals during tourist season. It may be the most tourist filled outdoor setting in touristdom! Nothing too charming about that. But . . . Venice’s charms really await the visitor who is willing to stick around a while, wait until the tourists head off to their hotels on the mainland, and wander Venice after dark or very early in the morning.


Summer light comes very early to Venice. By 5:00 A.M., even on an overcast day, a cool-of-the-morning stroll reveals the stunning beauty of this crumbling wonder. Deserted streets and canals, the stillness in the air broken only by birdsong rather than tourist rumble – it is absolutely magical!

The harried pace of yesterday, the elbowing past hoards of fellows, the noise and heat and bustle – it is all gone, replaced by a serenity and beauty of a type I have never found anywhere else. The early riser is rewarded in spades here in Venice. And then . . .


. . . there is Venice after dark. The lights sparkling off the canals, late diners enjoying a quiet meal at a restaurant run by folks who don’t know what it means to rush you through your meal, and the far off aria sung by a gondolier to a group of tourists paying way too much for the priveledge . . . just plain magic! There is no other place in the whole of the great wide world quite like Venice!
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We Are Liking This Stuff!

The look of astonishment on their faces (obviously feigned somewhat by Mitch!) is something I look forward to every year. I love to take my Art History students into the heart of Florence with no indication of where we are going or what we are first going to see. So after droping the bags at the hotel we head down the street from the Piazza Signoria toward one of the great sights of all Europe. And it is that sight that they are getting their first look at – the Florence Cathedral!

It is spectacular! There is just no other word for it! Made of the typical Tuscan colored marble of red and green and white, it is a masterpiece of Italian Gothic decoration and design. There is no facade in Western Europe that is as stunning, and to see the looks on the faces of my students when they see what we have only seen in pictures is just great fun! Giotto’s tower rises beside the cathedral and gives a commanding view for miles around, and gives a great look at the gigantic dome that Brunelleschi put on top of the cathedral. In all respects this is one of the great buildings in the world. And just as they are recovering their wits I remind them that just opposite the cathedral facade is one of the sculptural masterpieces they have been waiting for – The East Doors of the Baptistry of Florence Cathedral!

Created by Lorenzo Ghiberti, none other than Michelangelo gave them the name they are know by – the Gates of Paradise. That is what Michelangelo called them when he first laid eyes on them, and Michelangelo did not go around passing out complements. For him to give a nod to another work of sculpture means something. And these doors, 17 feet tall with individual bronze panels three feet square detailing scenes from the Bible in remakable three dimensionality are among the very peaks of Western art. Needless to say, this group of students was impressed as well.
I love Florence. It’s spot on the Arno river is beautiful, and the great Uffizi gallery is a gem of a museum. We had a great time in there, with the first room showing the work of the most important painter in the history of Western art – Giotto. Astounded looks all around as the scale of his altarpiece Madonna Enthroned struck them, and they saw first hand his revolution of three dimensionality in painting. Raphael, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Fra Fillippo Lippi, Caravaggio, Van Honthorst, the list went on and so did the smiles. But Florence itself, astride its beautiful river, is equally the star of the show.Yea, it leans. It leans a lot. I had forgotten. The last time I was here was 1989, and memory hasn’t served me well. In fact, they have straightened the tower by nine feet since I saw it last, so when I saw again how dramatic the tilt is, how astounding that the thing stays up, I really can’t imagine that I climed it when it leaned out another nine feet! Sheesh! And, as far as Pisa goes, this is it. Back on the train and off we went to Lucca,

I like Lucca. We all liked Lucca. Far lest touristy that any other place on our Italy itinerary, it was just fun to wander around and enjoy. Best of all was the medieval rampart, a huge wide earthen wall lined with stone that has now been converted into a wonderful pedestrian and bike way that goes all the way around old Lucca for 2.5 miles. On rental bikes we were off for a leisurly five mile ride under great plane trees and beautiful views of the city. We all highly recommend it.

Venice is like no other. Elegant decay is the best description I can come up with for this unique water world. Venice’s blessing and it’s curse is us – the tourist. Without us Venice would have been lost to crumble and the Adriatic. With us it is a crowded warren of humans elbow to elbow. The only way to really enjoy Venice, to my mind, is to be up and out at 5:00 A.M. That way no one is around, and you have the experience of Venice above. Quiet, serene, rotting and beautiful, Venice captures your imagination and your heart like no other place I know. But not at noon in St. Mark’s Square with the rest of humanity!

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