Monday, July 17, 2006

Milan to Geneva

During our last day in Milan, we went to visit the stunningly beautiful Teatro alla Scala, Italy's most famous opera house, and its adjoining museum. It's amazing.

We also went to the Cenacolo Vinciano to see the painting of the Last Supper. Not because of all the hype about the Da Vinci Code, which I found to be utterly ridiculous, but because we wanted to see the historic painting. After all, we were there, so why not see it?

(Note: if you ever decide to visit museums in Europe, know this: you MUST call ahead for a reservation. We did so more than 6 weeks in advance for this painting and barely got to see it. It was booked solid. We felt bad for the people who were just walking up wanting to see it and were being turned away.)

The building where the painting is housed has some beautiful architecture, but this is about the most attractive view I could get of it, for two reasons: 1) The neighborhood has grown up around it and is crowded; and 2) the place got bombed and only part of it survived (luckily, the part with the painting).

We got there about 20 minutes early, in spite of turning the wrong way on the side street that led to the Santa Maria della Grazie where the painting is kept. There is a lot of security here, and also a lot of protection for the painting. You go through three different set of air-controls with automatic glass doors before reaching the room where the painting is. It's about the size I thought it would be, but looks different than I thought it would - lighter, and less commanding than I thought.

Surprisingly, part of the painting is missing - the bottom part, where the feet of Jesus would be, is now an arched door. It happened when the monks were making some renovations to the place and decided they needed a door, forgetting what was on the other side of the wall, apparently. Oops. I could make PLENTY of comments about that, but won't.

At any rate, the painting is juxtaposed with a painting on the opposite wall by a lesser-known artist, but it, too, was compelling and interesting, a depiction of the crucifixion of Christ.

I would recommend the visit if you are ever in Milan. It's fascinating.

Some final thoughts on Milan, before leaving:
it's not a clean city. It's pretty dirty, in fact.
There appear to be a lot of people with nothing to do just hanging out on the benches and relaxing.
On the subways, people were very polite to my Mom, literally jumping from their seats to offer her a chair as she boarded.
Men tended to be immaculately dressed; everywhere we went, they were in expensive-looking suits, shirts, and ties.
In general, people were stylishly dressed, especially in the shopping district along Montenapoleone.
I liked it, but woudn't go back. There are other places in Italy I'd like to see more, like Florence and the Tuscany valley.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

We interrupt this trip blog post... bring you this photo:

I planted these at the beginning of the season, around March. I have been patiently waiting for these, and another variety I planted with them, to bloom. Finally, today, it bloomed its first. There are about 8 flowers per stem, so it should be a show during the next week or so. They smell terrific.

Jess shot this lovely picture, of course.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Still more Como...

And by now, you're thinking, WTF? He never posts three days in a row! Has never done so since he started writing this blog!

Oh, well, there's a first time for everything.

Okay, some more Como, and then we'll be done with Italy.

Another pretty rhododendron species.

More rhodos.

More azaleas.
Trekking up a steep and long path of concrete slabs that formed stairs, there wasn't  much flora for distraction, I couldn’t figure out why people kept going up the path, but they weren't coming back down. This was a tiring walk! It was steep, and fairly arduous. It was pretty warm, and we had been walking around for about 45 minutes already; about halfway up, Jess told me to go ahead. I didn’t blame him. I wasn’t exactly thrilled about it. What was up there? Was it worth it?
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This is what awaited me when I arrived! Fabulous rhododendrons the size of trees lined the sidewalks, and they were just stunning.

Here's another view...

Here’s a closeup of one of the flower heads on the tree rhodies, which is one of my personal favorites from the entire trip. When we got home, I promptly printed it and had it framed.

I walked back down on the far side of the gardens and found a couple of beautiful vistas overlooking the lake…

When we arrived back at the dock in Como, we looked for a taxi to take us back to the train station, which was about 2 miles from the dock. There didn't seem to be any taxis running. Shit. We began walking back in the direction we thought the train station was, but we didn't know...we just walked. And walked. And walked. Finally, I noticed a street that looked familiar. We started to walk up it, and there was an Italian couple walking with their dog. There was awkward conversation as Jess asked them where the train station was. But they finally understood and showed us; fortunately, we were on the right track and hadn't walked out of our way. But we had just about a minute and a half to make it to the station platform as we turned the corner on the road that led to the station. We sprinted. We made it. It was warm, and we were tired, thirsty, and overheated. Fortunately, the train was cool and comfortable, and we were able to buy something to drink on board.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

More Como

Wow, seven comments yesterday. I think that is a record for me. At any rate…

Okay, so we got on the ferry and crossed the lake to Tremezzo…it's a very short (4-minute) ride. It took longer to get out of and into the docks than it took to cross the lake.

On the shore, you see the Hotel Tremezzo (yellow building). It’s very pretty and the views have to be stunning.

Here's another shot of the hotel, a little closer.

Getting off the boat, we walked across the street to the Villa Carlotta. I can't describe it adequately. It was once a mansion. It's now an arboretum with flowering trees and shrubs that have been around for hundreds of years. I was blown away by the size of the azalea and rhododendron bushes. In some cases, they were trees!

Here’s the entrance:

There were literally hillsides of flowers in bloom of every type. We purposely planned our trip with bloom season in mind, but we were still amazed by the spectacular show that we received everywhere we went.

Here’s a huge Lebanon cedar with some azaleas planted near it. The bark was so interesting and pretty. Note the 80-ft tall tree covered in wisteria in the background.

Another view of the 80-ft tree with the wisteria.

As I said, flowers were cascading down the mountainside. This was about 80 acres all up the mountainside, so it was not easy climbing to some of it.

More flowers!

Part of the arboretum included a Japanese garden. This was the staircase up to the garden. The staircase was a lot prettier than the garden at the top, so that’s what I shot.

Violets surround a Lebanon cedar.

Exbury (deciduous) azaleas on a path.

Okay, that’s it for today. More tomorrow…

Monday, July 10, 2006

Off to Como (2nd day of trip)

The second day of our trip, we were off to the stunning and ethereal Lake Como. Taking the train from Milan, we arrived in Como and took a cab to the waterfront. A number of ferries traverse the lake, going from town to town, filled with tourists. Villages along the lake are literally built into the sides of the Italian Alps, and the homes run the gamut, from modest to stunning. The setting certainly makes even the most humble of the homes appear dreamy.

Even the sidewalks in Como were lovely.

Here's an Art-Deco-styled hotel in Como that I liked.

We headed off from the town of Como up the lake, with Bellagio as our destination. Spectacular homes, built into the hillsides, line the shores.

Hey, if you think these pictures are pretty, you should be there in person. These pictures are a poor representation.

The longer we rode, the prettier it got. Finally, after stopping at a number of towns, we arrived in Bellagio.

No, it's nothing like the casino in Vegas. No, there is no casino in Bellagio. It was a quaint and picturesque village with steeply-stepped narrow alleys going up the hillside, with silk shops, antique dealers, silversmiths, and glass dealers galore. I wanted to stay there all day. Alas, we had much other sightseeing to do, and we had to depart a lot sooner than I would have liked. Sorry, I didn't take any pictures of the narrow little alleys. I could have stayed here for days. The hotel we stopped at for lunch was a period piece, built in the 20s, and was a lot more charming than the brusque waiter who served us our worst meal in Italy on its outdoor porch. I had a ham-and-cheese sandwich on toast that was pathetic. Jess had some type of crepe that was equally low-quality.

After lunch, we hurried over to the ferry dock to catch the ferry back across the lake to Tremezzo. Tremezzo is home to the spectacular Villa Carlotta, and I was looking forward to seeing it. We had seen several television travelogues that advised it was a must-see. As we crossed the lake from Bellagio back to Tremezzo, I could see that I wasn't going to be disappointed.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

But what about vacation?

Yeah. right. I know. But I haven't had the energy or time to post the rest of the pictures and tell the story yet, sorry. Meanwhile, I am flaming mad white we sit here baking in the heat and humidity with no fu(king air conditioning! Two years old and this central air conditioning system has broken down twice. What the hell?! Well, with all this heat, I certainly can't sit here with a 104-degree laptop heating me up. Sorry about that. But I will say that I have UPLOADED all the photos so that I can post them for you very soon! Sorry for the wait. I know, I suck. :)