10-07-2018 Day 13 A Day with Michelangelo

Who knows why, after such a simple day that we enjoyed yesterday, but neither of us slept well last night.  We finally fell asleep around 2:30 AM and woke at 7, but even those few hours were restless.  We are both grateful for the sofa bed mattress, but still quite tired of being generally uncomfortable.

Sunday morning in Firenze is a wonder of bells, with the calls echoing all through the city and reverberating in all directions. It was a lovely way to begin our day, in spite of the lack of sleep.  Reading our trusty Rick Steve’s Florence guidebook, we decided that this Sunday would be a good day to visit some of the less popular sites in the main part of the city. 

Basilica de Santa Croce from the rear entrance near Scoula del Cuoio

Santa Croce was big on the list, not only for its beautiful facade, but for viewing the tomb of Michelangelo, which he designed for himself. Tucked away in Steve’s book was a little tidbit of information that turned out to be incredibly helpful.  Crossing the river once again, we took the back roads toward the Santa Croce, where we had seen the entrance to Casa Buonarotti, one time home of Michelangelo.

Facade of Santa Croce with sculpture of Dante to the left. The fancy tomb inside the church is merely a memorial and Dante isn’t actually buried here

The Basilica de Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross, is the principal Franciscan church in Florence.  There is a fee to enter this church, and from the main square, the lines are long even on a quiet day.  Just to the south of the church however, is a convent, and tucked away to the rear of the convent is the famous Scuola del Cuoio “School of Leather”.  Rick Steves suggested that one should visit the school, buy entry tickets to Santa Croce there, and enter the church through the back door from the school, no lines. 

Great advice!  Except the church wouldn’t be open until later in the day and we would have to return to the school to buy our tickets and enter.  No problem.  We thoroughly enjoyed visiting the school and reading about their world class leather training.  Even bought a few small leather pieces for presents for our kids and grandkids, and I found a purple wallet as soft as butter. 

Leaving the school, we walked a block or so to enter Casa Buonarotti.  Once again, there was an entry fee.  I never managed to track just how much we spent on entry fees in Florence to see all that we did, but it wasn’t a small amount. 

Although Michelangelo lived in this house as a young man, most of the art was added later by his descendant, Michelangelo the Younger, more than a century later.  We did see a pair of shoes and a walking stick that supposedly belonged to the great sculptor and several paintings of him.  The beautiful frescoes on the ceiling were completed in the 1600’s. 

Two special pieces made the visit worthwhile, both sculpted by Michelangelo when he was only 17 years old.

Madonna della Scala, Madonna of the Stairs reflects a  traditional form of sculpture for the time, with the influence of Donatello and the use “stiaccato” relief which allows a sculptor to create a recessed or relief sculpture carving only millimeters deep.  The illusion of greater depth is created by decreasing the thickness gradually from the foreground to the background.  It is more like a 2D image rather than a 3D sculpture. It stands in sharp contrast to the other relief carved by Michelangelo at Casa Buonarroti.

The Battle of the Centaurs

“The Battle of the Centaurs is a writhing mass of figures three-dimensionally carved into a marble block. The figures are layered in overlapping positions adding to the spatial depth of the work. We can see the artists interest in the massive bulk of the naked male form, a theme that would serve Michelangelo well in future commissions, including his work in the Sistine Chapel.”

Detail of ceiling in Casa Buonarroti

After visiting the leather school and Casa Buonarroti, we still had some time to kill before we could enter Santa Croce due to Sunday mass services being held there.  We decided to walk to the Bargello, a museum we had passed several times on our route to and from the Duomo Piazza.  The Bargello is a small museum, with a few hidden treasures and some obscure art that was nonetheless outstanding.

Michelangelo’s Bacchus is a highlight in this museum

Donatello’s David in bronze is much different than Michelangelo’s David

Dying Adonis by Vincenzo de Rossi was the one that caught our hearts.  Incredible.

We loved the majolica pottery

And the Della Robbia glazed pottery display was dramatic

The city was still fairly quiet as we emerged from the museum to head back toward Santa Croce.  But first we needed sustenance.  We found another little cafe for cappuccino and a pastry, and laughed together about the truly snotty waitress.  She was so harsh and somewhat rude that  it was actually funny.  I guess this happened to us less than we had expected during our Italian visit.

It was around 2 when we meandered back to the rear of the great church, smiling to each other as we looked at the long entry lines.  The shopkeepers smiled as they sold us our entry tickets, remembering that we had made some purchases earlier.  They are very friendly at the Scoula, and directed us to the entrance to the church where there wasn’t a single person in line.

Entering Santa Croce was just a bit overwhelming.  There are sixteen family chapels that compose a large part of the Santa Croce Basilica, considered the largest Franciscan church in the world. Well-to-do families typically had chapels built and decorated in their honor and dedicated to a favorite saint.

In addition the the chapels filled with art, and the beautiful crypts on the floors, it is the tombs that make Santa Croce so thrilling. The list of the famous artists and scientists of the Renaissance that are entombed in this basilica reads like a history of art and science.  Here lies Michelangelo, Michiavelli, Marconi, Galileo, and Rossini. 

We spent a long time wandering through the church, admiring the art and sculpture, until at last we came to the tomb of Michelangelo.  Silly me, somehow this place brought tears to my eyes.  I was looking up and another woman near me looked at me with tears in her eyes as well.  She only spoke Italian, but we laughed and smiled at each other and with hand gestures and eyes we acknowledged that this was somehow an incredible moment for each of us.  I have no idea why, not a clue.  But being here still got to me down deep.


Michelangelo, crazy man, wild artist, genius of sculpture, legendary personality.  It was good to see his work in person and to stand at his tomb and honor him.

We left the church and walked back across the river, reaching our little apartment by 4.  By this time the city was incredibly crowded, and the streets were shoulder to shoulder with tourists.  The big tour buses parked along the Arno River just across from where our apartment is located and we saw them lining up and filling with hordes of people returning from a day in the city center. 

Florence is truly wonderful if you know to get up early before the crowds, find the quiet neighborhoods, go out in the evening when the tour buses have departed.  Also, often short walk to another street will open up space where no one has ventured to go because it isn’t on the main tour walking route. Still, it is very important to get the heck out of downtown before 4pm!

Once again, no fancy dinner out for the two of us.  Are you surprised that Deanna cooked a great supper for us of pasta with veggies, tomatoes, zucchini, and some of Sara’s tomato sauce?  We enjoyed a glass of wine, a bit of chocolate for dessert, and hopefully we will be rested for the next big adventure.

Tomorrow we travel from Florence to the medieval town of Sienna, little over an hour south by bus and a world away from the Renaissance and back into the Middle Ages.  We have a hotel reservation and an idea of where to catch the bus.  Both of us are a bit excited about this one, so hopefully we can sleep tonight.

10-05-2018 Day 11 Quiet Morning and an Afternoon at the Duomo

Current Location:  Sunset House in Grants Pass Oregon

A crowded Piazza Michelangelo viewed from our late afternoon walk toward home along the Arno River.

Maybe you noticed the long silence between October 4th and October 5th.  I managed to write several posts about our journey  to Italy before I had to take a short break.  After uploading the post for October 4th Day 10, I boarded an airplane bound for Missouri to visit my son for almost a week.  It has been a long time since we spent much time together, and I treasured the opportunity to visit.  Blog will follow when and if I ever finish writing about Italy.

I was home for about 36 hours before I once again boarded an airplane, this time with Mo.  We sadly needed to fly to Denver to support her sister Edna as she laid her husband to rest.  We stayed several days, sharing good meals and good memories of her husband Tom with the Colorado arm of the Oukrop family. Mo’s brothers, Dan and Don, also flew to Denver to support their elder sister.  I probably won’t blog about this one, being a sad family event. 

Oukrop Family in Denver

Home again on the 18th, just in time to get ready for Thanksgiving.  Once again, we hosted family here at Sunset House, and I will blog about this one eventually.  But first, time to return to writing about our time in the beautiful city of Florence.

Thanksgiving at Sunset House

Deanna and I woke on this Friday morning, looked at each other and said, “Nope, not going anywhere soon”.  We were a bit worn from all the traveling and sight seeing of the previous few days and decided to go back to sleep.  That is something neither of us does often.  A bit later we woke to share coffee in our living room sofa bed and some of the delicious pastries that we had purchased the day before.

With hundreds of photos of Erculano, Pompeii, and Vesuvius crowding our cameras and phones, it was time to take it easy and try to decide which to keep and which to toss.  So many photos, so many things to remember.  We later decided that dealing with that particular day of our trip to Italy was probably the most complicated.  It was good to get a handle on it.  Neither of us wanted to return home and try to figure it all out after the fact.

Deanna cooked up a great breakfast/lunch of tomatoes, excellent zucchini, and some eggs that had strange peachy colored yolks that we had purchased at a local market.  We ate on the terrace as we completed the last of the photos.  Our method was to upload phone photos to SmugMug, load camera photos onto the laptop, then download everything from SmugMug to the same folder and work from there.  We managed to synch our phones and cameras to the right time so that we could then sort by time acquired to get things in some sort of reasonable order.  Final edits in Lightroom, and everything then uploaded again to the final, publicly visible folder on SmugMug.  Does that sound like overkill to you?  Just try managing photos from 2 cameras and 2 phones. (We had one Lumix and a mini pocket camera in addition to our phones)  It got a bit crazy sometimes., especially when the laptop refused to “see” the photos on our Samsung Galaxy S9 phones.  Much easier to simply upload and download.  Especially with decent Wi-Fi in our apartment.

After our somewhat relaxing morning, we were ready to once again walk to the city center of Florence to visit the interior of the Duomo cathedral, the Crypt beneath the cathedral, and to climb the Duomo steps at our scheduled 5pm time.  We wandered toward town, choosing to skip an afternoon gelato after noticing that our tummies definitely needed a rest. 

Visiting the interior of the Duomo was free of charge, but still required a very long wait in a very long line.  The longer we waited, the more we decided that perhaps we didn’t need to climb the Duomo steps after all.  With lots of fun conversation with our line mates, we offered our Duomo step climbing slot to someone who wasn’t able to get a ticket.

Because there was a threat of rain that day, we both had decided to wear long pants, and Deanna had a light wrap for her shoulders in case she needed to cover her arms against the weather.  What a lucky thing!  We both had completely forgotten the rules for entering the cathedral: arms and knees must be covered!  An official of some sort was walking the line checking people for the correct dress and the young woman and her mother who were behind us in line did not have the proper coverings!  The mother ran off looking for shawls while the daughter held their place in line.  It took forever for mom to reappear and everyone was very worried about her.  She seemed like a bit of a ditz and the piazza was incredibly crowded and busy.  We reached the entrance before she returned and her daughter held back hoping to maintain her place in line when her mom eventually found her.  The other couple which had originally accepted our climbing reservation also were improperly dressed and gave up their place in line to do something else for the afternoon.  Sadly, we couldn’t give away our reservation.

Later, as we explored, we heard someone call to us, and there stood mother and daughter, properly clad in shawls to cover all the necessary parts.  We all laughed and Deanna and I were very relieved that mother and daughter were reunited and didn’t miss their chance to enter the cathedral.

The Duomo, (Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Firore), is the most iconic landmark in Florence. The red tiled cupola designed by Filippo Brunelleschi caps an overwhelming facade of pink, green, and white marble. Work began in 1296, but construction of the cathedral took almost 150 years.  Interesting to me that the beginning of its construction and its consecration cross over the turn from the Middle Ages to the age of the Renaissance.

The Neo-Gothic facade that is visible today replaced the original that was torn down in the 16th century.  Although the exterior is rather overwhelming with its detail and sheer size, the vast interior is a bit of a surprise. In comparison with many cathedrals I have visited, the interior of the Duomo is quite understated. Many of the most impressive sculptures and paintings have been removed to the safety of the Duomo Museum, which we visited earlier in the week.

Even though we did not climb the 463 interior stone steps leading to the cupola, we did admire it from below.  The complex engineering of this dome, using over 4 million red bricks laid in overlapping concentric circles is a marvel.  This allowed the dome to be built without needing a wooden support frame.  I took many photos, but this 360 degree image will give you an idea of what it is like to enter the main part of the cathedral.

A replica of the cupola at the Duomo Museum with information about how it was created.

After exploring the main part of the cathedral, we took the steps the led down to the Cripta Santa Reparata, where excavations between 1965 and 1974 unearthed parts of the 5th century Chiesa di Santa Reparata that originally stood on the site.

Deanna wandered much more than I did in this underground vault of history.  I needed a bathroom, was dizzy from too much looking up, and was seriously worn down.  Sometimes all that stuff can get to be just too much, no matter how fabulous it is. My memory of the crypt is mostly about looking for a place to sit and a place to potty.  Real life enters, even in Florence.

I was happy to return to the relative openness of the piazza, in spite of the huge crowds.  We once again wandered to our Duomo Cafe, this time choosing bruschetta and wine to fortify us for the walk back across the river. 

We had discovered the easiest walking route from our apartment to downtown Florence, along the back roads parallel to Santa Croce, and Casa Buonorotti, places we planned to visit at a later time.  You can only do so much in a day in Florence. Once again, our late supper at home was pasta and veggies, our go to meal during most of our time in Italy.  Easy and Perfect.

09-26-2018 Day 2 The Stairs of Positano

I have found that comments will work if you click on the header for the current post rather than the header for the blog in general. Just an FYI. Looking forward to your comments.

Montepertuso, Italy, Clear and Sunny  72F  22C

On our first morning in Montepertuso we woke to a brilliant sunny sky.  The night had been incredibly windy and all the beautiful terra cotta pots filled with herbs on the terrace had been blown over. 

With the gusty winds our first lovely breakfast provided by Sara was served inside on the dining table rather than on the terrace.  What a breakfast it was!  The star of the show are Sara’s homemade croissants served with her homemade jam.  Breakfast includes these wonderful croissants, eggs, various meats and cheeses, juice, yogurt, panini sandwiches, sweet and savory home baked breads, and some kind of crispy toasts in a package.  It is always much more than we can eat so we save the paninis for lunches when out walking, the yogurts for afternoon snacks, and the breads are piling up in our bread basket.

After breakfast we decided that in spite of the winds, it was a perfect day to walk the stairs down to the town of Positano.  The stairs are a highly recommended activity when visiting Positano. Most often reviews mention the wisdom of walking down instead of up and taking the bus back up the hill.  We thought that was great advice.

There are about 1,700 steps from our village of Montepertuso down to Positano.  This number seems to vary according to different websites but after reading more we have decided that this is a pretty good number.  The elevation difference, however, is not in question and the 1,100 foot elevation drop from our village to the beach is real, regardless of the number of steps. Our step trackers showed that we walked a bit more than 3 miles. No matter how you count it there is a LOT of down.

Positano is built on a cliff of limestone and the roads and stairs snake along the cliff sides with each turn providing another mind boggling view of the town and the sea to the south. The entrance to the stairs is a short walk from the square in Montepertuso along the very narrow road where we have learned to squeeze against the railing as cars pass.  Traffic along these roads is basically indescribable. You have to experience it.

The upper part of the stairway is a bit rural with lush terraced vegetable gardens and scattered homes.  The stairs themselves vary in depth and height and the surface is rough stone.  There are railings in some places and not others but you have to be careful if you use the railings because they are often crawling with tiny ants.  Amazing views open up at almost every turn. 

Approaching town we passed some people going up and others going down as we were.  Notably, most of the people going up were young folks with backpacks heading for the Path of the Gods.  This hike is another highly recommended activity in the area and begins in Nocelle which is a tiny village beyond Montepertuso. I would love to talk to some of these folks AFTER they climbed all those stairs and then continued a hike on the path.  The only one I know who could do it easily would be Mark Johnson.

After about an hour we came to “the pink house” mentioned by a BnB owner we encountered on a porch overlooking the trail who was kind enough to give us directions.

Turning left as he said we found ourselves emerging on a “real” street in Positano filled with tourists, shops, and marked by gorgeous Italian ceramic planters filled with flowers.  We got caught browsing for a bit in the ceramic shops but am proud to say that I didn’t succumb to purchasing anything although those brilliantly colored platters and vases have always been a draw for me.

We walked along the road a bit toward the east before turning and continuing down toward the spiaggia (beach).  The stairs wind down through tiny streets lined with shops and then open up into the piazza  in front of the cathedral.  We skipped visiting the interior for the moment and continued down some more stairs passing a few more shops before arriving at the the lovely Positano Spiaggia.

The BnB guy on the path on the hill had told us about the best gelato to be found in Positano and we found it just past the bar at Cove Dei Saraceni as he had instructed. There we had our very first taste of Italian gelato and it is everything we imagined.  How in the world can simple ice cream not taste anything like simple ice cream! There is a method to purchasing gelato in Italy.  You must first pay at the cashier, decide whether you want a cup or a cone, get your receipt, and only then return to the ice cream counter. Only then do you choose your flavor. There are often small tables and seats in the shop but should you choose to sit instead of walk with your treat there will be another charge.  The same holds true for ordering espresso or cappuccino in the cafe’s.

The beach at Positano is quite tiny without true sand and very few folks laying out in the sun.  There were all types of boats moored in the small harbor from tiny rowboats to big yachts, local fishing boats, speedboats, and several ferries to various locations around the coast including the Isle of Capri, sparkling in the distance.

By this time I was feeling pretty tired walking with the stick compensating for the stupid knee and needed a place to sit.  Not far up the street from the beach we found a nice little restaurant called La Zagara where we were seated at a nice window table for two.  We were initially offered one of those tables in a dark corner that they try to give to unsuspecting tourists.  We had a simple and inexpensive lunch of a slice of pizza and lemon granita tea .  It was delightful.  We were grateful for the use of the restaurant restroom as there are not many public restrooms available in Positano.  On the way out we stopped at the bakery counter of the restaurant to purchase a fabulous pistachio cannoli to take home for dessert.  Italian cannoli was another new experience.  WOW! It was nothing like the tasteless things I have tried only rarely in the states.

We walked back up the stairs to the Duomo The Church of Santa Maria Assunta and took time to enter into the quiet sacred space.  Visiting cathedrals can be a bit overwhelming. It takes time and the willingness to go slowly.  We wandered, read a bit, took photos, and did some oohing and ahhing between us before emerging back into the sunlight.  Deanna and I were both a bit appalled at how some tourists seem to have no qualms intruding into spaces where people are in prayer and contemplation with their cameras.  We both made an effort to be respectful but it takes a bit of effort to get decent photos inside a cathedral no matter how many people are inside. 

Leaving the cathedral, we returned to the Fermata Mobility (the local bus stop) across from the Tabacchi (tobacco shop) where we purchased our bus tickets to Montepertuso.  The fare is 1.3 EU each way and worth every cent.  It is 1.70 EU if purchased directly on the bus.

We have found the people in Italy to be delightful, charming and pleasant, except  when they are waiting for the bus.  This particular activity requires fortitude and a willingness to get in the midst of the push and shove of everyone trying to get on the same bus though the same tiny door.  However, once on the bus, the walking stick and white hair are quite an advantage. Everyone from older men to younger women offered their seat to me! I did take advantage and used the “old lady card” and was very happy that I didn’t have to stand all the way home through the winding streets of Positano high up to the village of Montepertuso.

A view of Montepertuso. Our apartment is right behind the church

With our tummies full from our afternoon lunch, dinner was simple and perfect with another glass of Enzo’s delightful wine from the previous night and our gorgeous pistachio cannoli.

The rest of the photos for this day’s post are located here.

September 24 Exploring Dublin

Catch-up posts from our trip to Ireland.  Most of these posts are quite lengthy, with a lot of detail that is important only to us, or close friends and family.  Feel free to cruise through at whatever speed suits your fancy. All the additional photos of the trip will be located on my SmugMug site eventually, but not just yet.

Ireland Day 4 Dublin

Exploring Dublin (35 of 94) I finally finished writing at 5:30 or so this morning, and was especially happy that I didn’t wake up again until almost 7:30.  Felt a bit groggy and was really looking forward to breakfast, Irish or not.  By the time we got downstairs, the restaurant wasn’t too full.  I tried the crepes this time, flavorless flat things heated up in the microwave with some kind of raspberry sauce that was inconsequential.  I managed two bites.  I hate to waste calories on bad food.  Settled once again on a yogurt and some grapefruit to start the day, but the coffee was actually really good.

I had planned this day for weeks, reading Lonely Planet, walking the streets via Google, measuring distance and routes and trying to decide what we could fit into one short day of sight seeing in this amazing city on our free day in Dublin.  Much of what we wanted to see had been covered yesterday by the Go Ahead tour guide, and the only thing we really missed out on were the tour prepaid tickets to get into Christ Church, The Trinity Library and the Book of Kells, and Dublin Castle.  As the day grew to a close, I was so happy that we were on our own time, our own schedule, and not tagging along with a group, but instead seeing what we wanted to see at our own pace.  Entry fees were a small price to pay for that privilege.Dublin Map

I would imagine that this was the longest day of walking that we will manage on this trip, with the rest of the time fairly well scheduled as we continue west and north circling the country along the coastal cities and towns and into Northern Ireland before we return to Dublin. On this day, the trusty Fit Bit logged 8.22 miles and over 17,000 steps.  Kind of nice to have a little pink device thingy to back up a good reason to be tired this evening.  Mo is at the moment napping, and we are both glad that we decided on a late lunch rather than evening dinner.  I supplemented my writing time here with chocolates from an excellent chocolate store we passed on the way home.  Not Belgian chocolate, but good enough to satisfy the craving.

Exploring Dublin (7 of 94) Before we started our wanderings today I had to look up the chronological history of Ireland, specifically the Republic of Ireland, the major part of the island in the south and west which is no longer under the banner of the United Kingdom.  Northern Ireland is not part of The Republic of Ireland, Protestant rather than Catholic, and still considers itself to be British.  I had memories of the IRA and the conflict in Ireland, referred to here as “The Troubles”.  It was all reasonably settled not too long ago, but reading over the centuries of Irish history was a bit sobering.  Not only was there the famous potato famine during the 1840’s, but there have been repeated famines quite often every few hundred years that have decimated the population and contributed to great emigrations from Ireland.  I am a result of those emigrations, with one of my ancestors coming from Ireland to Virginia in the early 1800’s.

Exploring Dublin (86 of 94) I also learned of the Viking invasions of Ireland in 800 or so, and the establishment of the city of Dublin by the Vikings because they wanted to develop shipping routes.  Eventually they were vanquished, and although I read all this just this morning, I have given up on remembering the dates and sequences except for the general knowledge that Ireland has struggled mightily to be an independent proud Irish country.  I guess I still don’t really understand the northern Irish part. It will be interesting to go to Derry and Belfast and see how much different it feels than Dublin and the rest of the Republic of Ireland.

Exploring Dublin (85 of 94) You cannot spend even one day in Dublin without having some sense of this long history.  There are monuments everywhere, statues and sculptures, and yes, the famous or infamous “Spire”.  It replaced a statue that was blown up by the Republican movement during “The Troubles”, and many folks seem to think it is a bit strange and ridiculously expensive.  Mary said yesterday that the street people can’t even get any graffiti to stick to its slick metal surface.

Highest on my list to see was Trinity College and the Old Library.  I wasn’t even that attached to actually seeing the Book of Kells, realizing that it was only visible under dim light, and only open to two pages of the famous manuscript.

Exploring Dublin (5 of 94)Exploring Dublin (6 of 94) As our morning began, we wandered toward the River Liffey via a few side roads from our hotel, finding a Dominican church every bit as ornate and beautiful as many cathedrals.  There are more than 2,000 Catholic Churches in Dublin, so it is fairly easy to get sidetracked by their gorgeous facades and beckoning interiors.  I knew we had St Patrick’s Cathedral and Christ Church on our list so we managed to ignore the other lovely churches along the way.

Exploring Dublin (8 of 94) Crossing the river via a footbridge into the Temple Bar area, we turned down a side street and there right before me was the red facade of Temple Bar pub.  Before we left home, I found the Earth Cam for Dublin which is trained on this view for live video and was tickled to find it so easily.  At only a little after ten in the morning, the district was fairly quiet, and it was also the middle of the night back home, so not a good time to text Melody and tell her to look for me on the webcam.  We will save that one for later.

Exploring Dublin (12 of 94) Like many great cities, Dublin appears really huge on a map until you actually start walking the streets.  Also, like many European cities there are small side streets that almost look like alleys and large boulevards that have been converted to pedestrian only malls.  It is a great city for walking. It is a great city for people as well, and in spite of English being the common language, I heard a plethora of languages being spoken from all over the world.

Exploring Dublin (18 of 94) Within minutes from Temple Bar we were on Fleet Street leading directly to the famous Trinity College Campus.  I imagined a quiet courtyard, but as we entered the gates, we were surprised to find it filled with canopies, students, noise and signs everywhere.  Seems it was Fresher week, when the nearly 200 extra curricular societies on the campus vie for the students.  Exploring Dublin (25 of 94) A very gracious young man explained all this to us when I finally asked what in the world was going on and was the college courtyard like this every day.  He said being part of the various societies is a huge part of attending Trinity college and sometimes students do forget that they are here to actually get a degree.  The oldest society was the Philosophers Society, established in 1683.

Exploring Dublin (28 of 94) We found out where the Old Library was located and discovered that instead of waiting for a tour, we could simply pay the entry fee to the library and go in without a guide.  I had heard that if you paid this lesser fee of ten Euros, you would see the library but not the Book of Kells.  Not true.  The beautiful, informative, and very crowded display called, “Turning Darkness into Light” is situated at the entrance to the Treasury where the Book of Kells is housed, and once through the Treasury, stairs lead to the main floor of the Old Library.

I wanted to see the library, but was quite happy that our tour also included walking through the Treasury, viewing the two open pages of the “book”.  The Book of Kells is an illustrated manuscript of the Four Gospels, created by Irish monks on the island of Iona around AD 800 before being brought to Kells.  It is one of the oldest books in the world and undoubtedly one of the most beautiful.  Around 850 years after its creation, and protection from the Viking looters, it was finally brought to the Trinity College library. It was once a single book, but has been divided into the four gospels, two of which are on display at any one time, with the other two in safe keeping.

Book-of-Kells3-1920x750px What made the display more haunting were the large illuminated reproductions of the pages on the walls, big enough to see clearly and appreciate the incredible artistic detail painstakingly rendered by lamplight and swan or goose quills of calfskin vellum pages.  Rather incredible.  I am so glad we didn’t miss it.

If you have a desire to see the Book of Kells without going to Ireland, Trinity College has made it available for viewing online at the library’s digital collections website.Exploring Dublin (38 of 94)Exploring Dublin (36 of 94)Exploring Dublin (34 of 94) Exploring Dublin (35 of 94)  Still, it wasn’t even close to the breathtaking moment when we stood at the entrance of the great hall of the Old Library.  Here there are more than 200,000 of the oldest of the more than 3 million books housed by the Trinity College Library.  I was a bit overwhelmed, and overjoyed when I saw that photographs were allowed without flash.  A reminder that culture exists in the world beyond the internet, computers, and instant gratification.  We lingered a long time, just absorbing the history and feeling of the place, remarking over and over to each other how incredible it was to be able to experience it.

Exploring Dublin (55 of 94) Out into the sunlight, through the square, and south toward St Stevens Square was next on our list.  Just a few more blocks, but between Trinity College and the square is Grafton Street. 

Exploring Dublin (49 of 94) Melody, you would have loved it.  Much like the Ringstrauss in Vienna, with all the high end stores and fabulous looking people looking at fabulous stuff.  We ambled along, noticing the few people walking slowly were obviously the tourists, like us, trying to keep from getting overrun by all the locals walking with purpose.Exploring Dublin (59 of 94)

Exploring Dublin (57 of 94) Exploring Dublin (60 of 94) Exploring Dublin (64 of 94) The beautiful St Stevens Square opened up beyond the impressive entry gate to a lovely respite of gardens, shaded pathways, gentle silky pools of water on the pond, and almost quiet.  There were many people lounging on the park benches at the center of the square, enjoying the gorgeous sunshine, and we found a nice little cement bench to sit and rest our bones, which by this time were getting a bit weary.  What a people watching place!  As we left the square, we discovered that the bench where we were sitting was dedicated to a Quaker couple who were pioneers of Irish feminism.  Perfect.

Exploring Dublin (65 of 94) Leaving the park, we once again entered the busy sidewalks, taking an alternate route from Grafton Street west toward the Cathedral district. Our goal was to see both St Patrick’s Cathedral and Christ Church, the official Cathedral of the Anglican Church of Ireland established in 1050 under British rule.

Exploring Dublin (70 of 94)Exploring Dublin (72 of 94)Exploring Dublin (73 of 94) Ever hear that thing, “Oh, one more cathedral..sigh..” ? I know we won’t get back to Dublin, but the the day was extending, we were tired and hungry and a pub sounded much better than paying more than 10 Euros to enter each church and possibly not be allowed to take photographs anyway.  I peered into the doors, noting that the interiors were not as ornate or fabulous as the ones we saw in Malta and decided that exterior views would suffice.

Exploring Dublin (74 of 94) Exploring Dublin (75 of 94) Exploring Dublin (76 of 94) Hungry and tired as we were, we didn’t want to miss Dublin Castle, another magnificent structure with amazing history and a hefty entrance fee for the required tours.  I know visiting the interiors of any of these historic places would be wonderful, especially so if a visit were longer than a single day.  It would be great to see one or two a day, and spend a couple of weeks just hanging out enjoying the history of this amazing place.  Exploring Dublin (77 of 94)Much like landing in a port for a single day on a cruise, we couldn’t begin to touch the wonders of Dublin in a single day.  Dublin is home to world class incredible museums, including the National Museum, the Archaeology and Ethnography Museum, and the National Museum of Ireland Decorative Arts and History.  Dublinair, near Christ Church is an experiential museum in the Medieval part of the city that celebrates the Viking heritage of Dublin.  Much like visiting the Smithsonian, you need many more days that the one we had to absorb all this art and culture.

This day made me especially appreciate how Mui and Erin are seeing Italy, with two full weeks in Rome to actually see all the sights, and even so they are feeling as though they are missing so much.  A great city deserves great time.  Who knows if I will ever have the chance to see Dublin again with my years getting shorter and so many places yet to see.  Still, if any of you kids get a chance to go to Ireland, maybe you can do it in a way that allows more time. And Melody, when you talk of Paris, make it at least two weeks, staying in some little apartment, with lots of time on your own to really experience the city.

Exploring Dublin (80 of 94) I had hoped to see Mulligan’s Bar, which turned out to be all the way back west of the Trinity College campus, or at least return to the Temple Bar area for a pint and some pub food.  Instead, with a bright idea, I approached one of the policemen in Dublin Castle and asked for his recommendation.  With is kind eyes and sweet voice he suggested the “Marechents” down by the river.

Exploring Dublin (78 of 94) With a bit of wandering, we did finally find O’Sheas Merchant Pub and settled into a cozy table for my first pint of Guinness and Mo had a Smithfield IPA from County Cork that was incredibly tasty.  Our beer accompanied Irish pub food, comfort food for me of roast beef and mashed potatoes over some more amazing squash veggies that were crisp and soft at the same time and truly delicious.  Mo’s sandwich was really good, and the big fat fries, … chips…were to die for, thank you Mo for sharing!

pub food at Osheas mo pub food at Osheas  With free wiFi in the pub, I texted Melody telling her that we would be showing up within view of the Dublin Temple Bar WebCam by 3:30 our time, 7:30 AM pacific time.  She texted back that she had the app already downloaded, installed and ready, and she said, Mom, I can hear people so be sure to call me the way you did when I was a kid.  I could holler “Melll-iiiiii-deeeeee” and could reach her anywhere.

sue and mo at OsheasSure enough, at 3:30 we were once again in view of the Temple Bar pub, walking around the corner, waving at the webcam, and laughing with the ladies waiting on the bench for the same thing.  Everyone seems to get a kick out of this.  Melody said later that she heard me call her name and she even took a video and screen shots of us waving at her.  It was silly fun.

Melody saved the video of us waving but it is a bit grainy, so I didn’t attempt to upload it, but if you want to check out the webcam for fun, the link is here.

IT was all just enough fun to propel me the rest of the miles back to the hotel, although even my tired body couldn’t stop me from stepping into the Butler’s chocolate shop for some treats.  I suppose that little bit of chocolate is why I am able to sit here and write rather than being all conked out and sleeping as Mo is doing at the moment.

Some time tonight we will pack up our suitcases again, set them outside the door by 7:30 AM, have a bit of Irish breakfast…ick….and then the tour bus will leave Dublin precisely at 8:15 heading west toward the Royal Stud, Killarney Castle, and our evening destination will be the coastal town of Waterford.

It feels as though we have been here forever, but we have barely begun.

Here is a link to my SmugMug gallery photos of our day in Dublin

Coming Next: County Killarney, Killarney Castle, the National Irish Stud and on to Waterford.

Tour Day in Vienna ends with a Police Escort October 9

morning sunrise from the hotel room window The sunrise this morning was gorgeous.  More so because of all the clouds, I am sure, and it was clear that our day ahead might be a bit dreary. After a long night of being pretty darn sick, even with the medicine, and the frustration of trying repeatedly to get the WiFi to work, I wasn’t feeling very happy. Our breakfast buffet downstairs in the dining room was huge and very crowded, but the breakfast was good.  I still found some good yogurt and muesli and there were lots of fruits and pastries available.  I tried one, but it wasn’t that exciting, not like the croissants in the much less fancy hotel in Budapest.

Stuff I learned on this trip: If you have two people traveling with 2 SLR’s, 2 iPhones, and one iPad to process it all, the photos will become very close to unmanageable.  If I ever go to Europe again, the SLR will stay home and I will use a nifty point and shoot.  Even with the SLR, my photos this time are still more about content than the kind of quality I can get with the SLR over a point and shoot.  The weight isn’t worth it to me unless I am going to someplace that is incredibly scenic and I actually have the time to take some serious photos. But back to the day at hand.

commuting to Vienna across the Danube It is dreary, overcast, and the temperature feels a bit chilly today.  I decided to wear a jacket and my warm sweater, and carry just one stick instead of two, but then thought better of that idea. I also am wearing my Cotton Carrier for the camera, but by the end of the long days, I feel like I am in a straight jacket!  Still, I couldn’t manage it any other way, since it gets incredibly heavy around the neck and over the shoulder doesn’t work at all.  I love my Cotton Carrier.

Tour Day in Vienna 10-8-2012 11-32-24 PM After breakfast we met downstairs for our morning bus tour with another new local guide, a snarky and completely entertaining man named Gearhart. He has a bit of an “attitude” I would say about the socialist government of Austria, and told some really funny stories. He had an interesting perspective on the local culture and I loved his humor.  Some of the women on the trip later made the comment that he was more focused on being “cute” than on imparting information, but I didn’t agree at all.  I learned so much from him about the history of Vienna in relation to the rest of Eastern Europe. He stated specifically that Vienna is what it is today because the United States made the decision to save Vienna from the Soviets. Vienna was on the very edge of the Iron Curtain, and according to Gearhart, the rest of Europe didn’t care much about the little city out there in the east.  Even though Vienna had to be rebuilt after the war, there was a huge difference in what happened to Vienna compared to what happened in Budapest and Prague, and he attributed that directly to the United States and its intervention.

commuting to Vienna from Danube City, with St Stephens Cathedral dominating the skyline As we rode across the Danube toward the city, we could see the spire of St Stephen’s dominating the skyline.  The central part of Vienna is a large circle with the church at the center and surrounded by the Ringstrasse, a large beautiful boulevard that circles the city.  He encouraged us to use the Metro, and to walk the city because it was almost impossible to get lost.  Look for the church, walk the opposite direction to the Ringstrasse, and you know where you are.  Our bus did quite a tour of the city, impaired now and then by one of the hundreds of horse drawn carriages filled with tourists, and gave us the opportunity to see where we might want to go later in the afternoon in our free time.

Tour Day in Vienna 10-8-2012 11-33-54 PM First on the tour was the Hundred Waters House. We emerged from the bus to a long wall of tourist shops filled with inexpensive goods that Gearhart dissed with one of his snarky remarks.  We all laughed, but I did notice that on the way back to the bus, many of us were buying some of those inexpensive goods, including a truly lovely scarf that Melody found.  Cheap is not always a bad thing! Hundertwasser House is down a pedestrian mall and is hard to even describe.  If you are interested in environmental buildings and a true greenie and creative artist, read about Hundertwasser. Quoting from Wiki:

“Hundertwasser’s original and unruly artistic vision expressed itself in pictorial art, environmentalism, philosophy, and design of facades, postage stamps, flags, and clothing (among other areas). The common themes in his work utilised bright colours, organic forms, a reconciliation of humans with nature, and a strong individualism, rejecting straight lines”.

The Gardens at Schonbrunn Our next stop on the tour was the summer residence of Maria Theresa (Theresia in some texts), the Schonbrunn Palace. Schonbrunn is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and is supposedly the most visited site in Austria. Owned by the Habsburgs for centuries, following the downfall of the monarchy in 1918 it became the property of the Austrian government. A bit of trivia ~ John F Kennedy and Nikita Krushchev met here in 1961.

Tour Day in Vienna 10-9-2012 2-29-030 Even though we were arriving early in the day, the tour groups were already gathering in the courtyard in front of the palace for their entry times.  Our guides were all paranoid about being at the gate at exactly the right minute for our entrance.  I guess it is another time when it was OK to have guides to deal with all this.

The Gardens at Schonbrunn Styled to imitate Versailles, the house is imposing and somewhat sterile from the front entrance. Once inside, however, it was breathtaking.  Of course, we were not allowed to take ANY photos at all, not a single one of the interior, since of course they want to sell their expensive picture books in the gift shop.  We didn’t buy any.  The tour was accompanied by reams of information about the Habsburgs and about the Empress Maria Theresa, who was an incredible ruler who had great armies and knew how to use them to control a very large part of the world.  She did all this while having 16, yes 16 babies!  It was important to these royal families to reproduce, since they had unhealthy children that often died and passing on the monarchy was of utmost importance.

Tour Day in Vienna 10-9-2012 1-33-26 AM Another little tidbit.  If someone was called “The Good”, instead of “The Great” or “The Strong”, it probably meant that they were sickly and would die fairly young.  These families repeatedly married first cousins to keep the royal blood pure.  Epilepsy was a severe problem in the family and grew worse over the centuries.

Once we finished the tour of the interior of the house, we were given just half an hour to find our way back outside to the gardens. There was a lot to see here, and once again, our timing was much too short.  Melody walked as fast as she could all the way to the sculpture at the far end of the garden while I tried to have enough time to appreciate the perfectly symmetrical hedges and trees and take some photos.  Even in the overcast light, the gardens were beautiful.

The Gardens at Schonbrunn Our guide again mentioned that all these sites are actually owned by the Austrian government, including the famous Opera House, and there are more than 60 different operas performed there in a year.  You can come for a week and see a different opera every single night.  Of course, this is all paid for by the state, meaning the people’s taxes, and Gearhart made another snarky comment about thinking that maybe the government could make do with 40 different operas per year instead of 60.  He told us that children aren’t very popular in Vienna, and people also hate to pay taxes, and the cost of living is very high.  Somehow the equation doesn’t add up and he wonders just how long Austria can continue the way it is going with no children coming up to pay the taxes to support all this government supported “stuff”. It was interesting to hear.

Tour Day in Vienna 10-9-2012 4-13-42 AM Our tour part of the day ended in the center of town at the great cathedral of St Stephens. As we toured these cathedrals, it became more and more clear that a Cathedral here is most often a very large cemetery, with chapels filled with crypts and graves beneath the stones in the floors.The group returned to the hotel for the afternoon, but we chose to stay downtown, and Ellen and Roger decided to stay with us.  Melody wanted to see the catacombs beneath the great St Stephen’s Cathedral, and we found the group tour was beginning within the hour.  It gave us just enough time to walk around the square a bit and marvel at the architecture.

St Stephens Cathedral A soft spoken young man gathered the tour group and began speaking in German.  UhOh.  Is this tour going to be all in German?  German has always seemed to me to be a somewhat harsh language, but his voice was musical, lyrical and soothing.  I didn’t care if it was German, or if I understood a word.  Then, he started speaking in lovely English, explaining to us softly that the beautiful copper pots surrounding us were filled with the entrails of the Habsburgs and some had the very special donation of a Habsburg heart which I guess all the cathedrals coveted.  The room  was quite tight and small.

As we moved deeper into the depths below the church, we heard stories of all the royalty entombed there, and then the stories of the plague and we found the bone rooms, where hundreds of dead plague victims were thrown because there was no time for burial.  Later the bones were stacked like firewood and as we looked into the room, it took a minute to realize that the walls were made of human bones.  To me it was interesting, to Melody it was devastating. She burst into tears and as we emerged from the church she said that all she could think of was that those people had lives and families and they were nothing more than bones in a wall.  Even with the photos and the exhibits at the House of Terror, I don’t think Melody has any idea of what she would see in the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC.  She might have to get a bit older and a bit more jaded before she visits that place.

Tour Day in Vienna 10-9-2012 3-51-34 AM By the time we came out of the church, it was late afternoon, and we decided that Lorena’s suggestion of “a cawfee” in Vienna was a great idea.  The four of us found an outdoor cafe on the pedestrian mall, with nice big patio heaters going strong in the canopy above us.  I ordered an Irish Coffee and I must say I have never had one quite so strong!  And I am not talking about the coffee part! Roger had a Pilsner, and Melody a Viennese Cappucinno and Ellen had some kind of tall fruity thing that looked wonderful but cold!  We all tasted each other’s goodies, and Melody and I switched!

Tour Day in Vienna 10-9-2012 3-55-25 AM We are all tired, and this evening is a special extra tour (an extra fee of course) to the Prater Ferris Wheel and the hills west of Vienna for a special local dinner in the area where there are a lot of vineyards.  It was time to find the Metro, which was just a few feet away beneath us, figure out the tickets and the stamps, and be sure that we got off at the right stop on the other side of the Danube.  It was simple and fast, and within fifteen minutes we at the Metro exit just a couple of blocks from the hotel.

Tour Day in Vienna 10-9-2012 6-03-28 PM I knew that the Prater Ferris Wheel would be a delight and it was.  The Prater has a wonderful history, beginning in 1766, when Emperor Joseph II donated the area to the Viennese as a public center for leisure. We arrived at the magical evening hour when the light is just beginning to wane and you can see the lights of the wheel and the carousel even though it isn’t dark yet. The Prater Ferris Wheel was destroyed at the end of the war in 1945 but the city knew how important it was to the people and it was rebuilt in 1947. The ride only lasted 15 minutes, with the special dining car just below us and the view of the city in the distance.  I loved it. 

Tour Day in Vienna 10-9-2012 5-54-48 PM One of my favorite moments of all of Vienna was here when we were back on the ground at the base of the wheel.  There were people eating cotton candy, there was a “hammer” and people screaming, and the ferris wheel was turning above me.  Behind me were the bumper cars with kids yelling and all this was accompanied by music across the loudspeakers from the Vienna Waltzes.  Somehow bumper cars and symphony music just seemed so incredibly wonderful there in the park. 

Tour Day in Vienna 10-9-2012 5-53-42 PM Back on the bus for our tour to another part of Vienna, up a bit in the hills, to our restaurant for the evening. It was still cool and rainy, and the tourists that usually fill this small street were much fewer than during the summer months.  The restaurant was warm and friendly and there were local musicians singing and playing folk music.  Another large group of tourists were in the back room singing and dancing along with the band and having a great time.  I wondered how many local people actually frequented this restaurant, famous for its winery.

Tour Day in Vienna 10-9-2012 6-47-24 PM The dinner was family style with a couple of glasses of their wine and included salads of cucumbers and tomatoes and pickles, and then huge platters of roasted pork, ham, and roasted potatoes along with some amazing tasting sauerkraut with finely minced vegetables.  The glasses of wine were big pints, like beer, and by the end of the evening we were all feeling pretty warm and fuzzy.  The life stories started coming out again, and the jokes and laughter were raucous and fun.

2012-10-09 18.59.55 On our way home, our great bus driver Paul, somehow hit the wrong exit and ended up trapped with the big bus right at the entrance of a big parking garage.  UhOh!  Within a minute there was a car of mean looking policemen trying to figure out what he thought he was doing.  Lorena came to the rescue, leaned over Paul, and batted her big brown eyes at the policemen while she explained our predicament.  Those guys just melted, and gave us a police escort while Paul backed the big bus out to the freeway again.  Lorena laughed later, and in her imitable Argentinean accent said, “I know how to play blond when I need to!”

2012-10-09 20.52.53 I’ll close my story of this day with a little note I got from Jeanne after she read my last blog post about the Weiner Schnitzel.

2012-10-09 19.14.16 hey sue—i am with melody about the schnitzel!   i grew up on the stuff– mom made it a lot, since she grew up with an austrian father. of course we loved saying WEENER! i have never really liked it. what is so special about flattened meat coated with bread and fried??? personally i think austrian food is terrible. ha ha ha. have eaten plenty of it and i have spent some time there too, visiting relatives and skiing. i do still love spaeztle though. and my grandpa used to make some really good things my mom called “peasant food”. i think it was stuff dirt poor people would eat. one was called “ribble” and was basically old hot cereal fried in butter with sugar on top. the other was “kaiser shmaren” which means kings mess. we would save old bread ends in the freezer, then you tear it into bits, soak it in egg and fry it in butter and put sugar on top. kinda like french toast nuggets. and finally, “gruba” (no idea how to spell these things) which was a big chunk of fat, cut into bits, salted and broiled to make mini fat crispies. yum!

Photos from our first day in Vienna are posted online here