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This is the blog of Steve Burkett of Italy, Our Italy

Another Way Into Italy!

Your typical arrival in Italy is by air at one of the large-airport cities, like Rome, Florence, Milan or Venice. But, there is another way…one that is beautiful, fun and relaxing.  It’s the way we’ve arrived in Italy on four different occasions. What way, you say? That’s the train way for a day — from Zurich, Switzerland.

Why start your Italy journey in Zurich? Because, you get an enjoyable start to overcoming your jet lag and getting comfortably acclimated to the Italian time zone without having to sleepwalk your way through churches and museums on your first day in Europe. The Swiss trains are very comfy and you will see beautiful countryside (as you doze off-and-on) heading south.

...you get an enjoyable start to overcoming your jet lag and getting comfortably acclimated to the Italian time zone without having to sleepwalk your way through churches and museums on your first day in Europe.

Flying into Zurich is not a problem, even direct from the U.S.  If you are one of my European readers, you have many options, of course.  Once you arrive at the Zurich airport and leave customs, you have the convenience of a train station right there in the airport. The station name is ‘Zurich Flughafen’, which translates to ‘Zurich Airport’.  It can’t be any easier than that to start your journey!

I will cover three routes from Zurich to Milano, Italy…a direct route, a scenic route, and an absolutely gorgeous route that requires an overnight stay (in Switzerland) that is well worth your time. And, there are bonus stops you can take advantage of along the way.

You will be using the Swiss railway website at www.SBB.CH. Their website is easy to use and is a joy compared to some other nations’ train websites.  Their route solutions will even include cable car and bus connections to get you to your destination…more on that later.

 

Fastest Direct Route

Click on maps to enlarge

This route is simply the one you will find when creating your Zurich Flughafen to Milano journey on the outstanding Swiss railway website. Click the map thumbnail to see the route.

This route will take you just under 4 hours to arrive at Milano Centrale station. But, one of the features of this route that we’ve taken advantage of is a Bonus Stop at beautiful Lake Como…and I suggest that you do this too, of course. See my articles on Go There: Bellagio and Getting There: Bellagio for the wonders of Lake Como and bella Bellagio.

 

Scenic Mountainous Route

Are you up for a train ride that seems to climb straight up the Alps on their way to Italy? Then the route that includes the Bernina Express is the route for you. This map will show you how you will accomplish this journey.

A view from your train, early in the trip

Traveling from Zurich Flughafen to Chur and then St Moritz happens in scenic valleys. The countryside is just as you had imagined it…pastoral green fields with Swiss chalets.

 

However, going from St Moritz to Tirano, just inside Italy, is a whole different experience. As you can see in the accompanying photos, you are in for high-altitude travel. We were right there among the peaks and glaciers.

The high-mountain lakes were still frozen during our late-May Bernina Express adventure

And on this late-May trip, we had this clean, efficient train car mostly to ourselves

And yes, those are skiers at the base of this run. And note the size of the cable car!

This route will take about 6 hours from Zurich Flughafen to Tirano, and then another 2:30 hours to Milano from Tirano. We opted to overnight in Tirano, completing our journey to Milano and then Venice the following day.

Tirano has more of a clean, Swiss influence than one of Italian quaintness, a product of its location sitting almost right on the border. But, at least delicious prosciutto and caprese salad were available.

BerninaSign-1.JPG

It seems that the Bernina Express has been delighting travelers for well over one-hundred years

Here’s your Bonus Stop – Depart the train along Lake Como when you reach the town of Varenna (the Varenna-Esino station) and then take the ferry to Bellagio for the night. Before you go, compare the online ferry schedule to the arriving train schedule to determine your ferry connection timing.  Bellagio is not the only Lake Como overnight spot. A stay in Varenna is a great option. Or Menaggio. Or Cadenabbia.

 

The Ultimate Swiss-to-Italy Route

We’ve done this journey twice and we highly recommend it.

The highlight is an overnight venture to the Bernese Oberland area of Switzerland…specifically through the Lauterbrunnen Valley to the quaint hillside (maybe I should say ‘cliffside’) town of Murren.

Murren is one of those no-automobile towns which is only accessible by cable car. It was a shame to spend just one night here on both of our trips, as there is much to do in this area, especially if you are into a bit of alpine hiking. The scenery is breathtaking, as I hope you can gain from the accompanying photos.

 

That’s the Lauterbrunnen valley in the photo below. Not very spectacular, is it? Our destination is Murren, just on the other side of that ridge. We take a cable car from a point at the bottom-right edge of the photo, which then connects to a small train that moves along the hillside on the middle-right of the photo, terminating at Murren.

This is the view from our cable car, as we begin our ascent. That’s Staubbach Waterfall dropping from the cliff face on the right.

Wow! That’s the view from the hillside-hugging train as we make our way to isolated Murren.

We’ve arrived at Murren’s small train station. Left to right are in-laws Craig and Leslie, my wife Ellen, and me.

 

We are definitely in a quaint, charming, exhilarating, absolutely gorgeous Swiss town, nestled in the Swiss Alps.

The views from town are stunning!

If you’re hungry, this pretty fraulein can help you. Goulash, spaetzle and beer is on the menu. And the view from the deck is amazing!

A highlight of a visit to Murren is the cable car ride to The Schilthorn, made famous in the James Bond hit “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” – debuting 50 years ago.  The views, the views, the views…on the way up, on the way down, and at the top!

Chalets dot the mountainside as we ascend to The Schilthorn.

Low clouds hide the mountain peaks, but we are flabbergasted, yes flabbergasted, by the alpine scenery! When was the last time you were flabbergasted?!

Here is our destination, The Schilthorn of James Bond fame.

Ellen seems to be on top of the World.

 

An early departure will get you to Milano before lunch. But wait, there is another Bonus Stop along the way. Your Milano-bound train will traverse the shores of Lake Maggiore, passing through the lakeside town of Stresa. A stop here for the day…or better yet overnight…will allow you to lunch at Ristorante Verbano on the Fisherman’s Island before a visit to Isolo Bella with its fabulous Palazzo Borromeo and gardens. I will cover a visit to these sights in a future article.

 

Earlier, I praised the Swiss train website. Here’s why: not only is it easy to use, but it guides you effortlessly from one route connection to another, no matter what mode of transportation is involved in your journey. For example, if you wanted to go directly from Zurich Flughafen to The Schilthorn, just plug that into the departure and destination input boxes and you will be presented with the entire solution to your journey, including connections for each of the 5 trains and 3 cable cars needed to make your fabulous 3-hour-and-40-minute trip. And, this Swiss train website does not limit you to trains within Switzerland. Plug in Paris as you destination and you will see solutions for your 5-hour trip to the Paris-Gare de Lyon station. Or, London in 8 hours. Or either Venice or Rome in 7 hours. It’s all there.

 

On whichever route you find yourself as you travel from Zurich to Italy, I am sure that this day of leisure and scenic beauty will be one that will help you to acclimate to a new time zone as you start your next Italian adventure.  I’ll see you on the train…that’s me sitting across from you…and oh, I’m not dozing…I’m just resting my eyes.

 

Ciao for now,

Steve

Venetian Sestiere: Dorsodouro

While we use a period for our decimal place indicator, most Europeans use a comma. And to confuse things a bit more, where we use a comma to separate thousands from hundreds, Europeans use a period.

 

This week, it's time to get back to Venice. Specifically, the sestiere of Dorsodouro (or Dorsoduro in some circles).

Don't remember what a sestiere is? Please, review my previous article of January 3, 2017, titled "Venice's Sestiere".

We like Dorsodouro for its quiet charm. And there is variety in that you have both large and small campi, small canals, and then the walkway along the large, sea-like Giudecca Canal. 

 

This map shows you Dorsodouro's location within Venice...it's the lime-green-shaded area of the map.

 

And in this birds-eye view, you can see detail of the boundary of the Dorsodouro sestiere. 

In the aerial view above, draw an imaginary vertical line down the center of Dorsodouro just to the left of Campo Santa Margherita. Then, focus your time to the right of that line...most all you would want to see in the sestiere of Dorsodouro is in the eastern limits. 


Here are the main attractions of Dorsodouro

Iconic Santa Maria della Salute & the Punta della Dogana

Perhaps the most prominent feature of Dorsodouro is the church of Santa Maria della Salute. You've seen it before in my article of titled, "Transforming the Punta della Dogana". Here is a photo of the Punta and the Salute taken one evening as we dined at Terrazza Daniele. 

Accademia Gallery

The second most prominent feature within Dorsodouro would be the Galleria dell'Accademia (Accademia Gallery), Venice's premier art gallery. It is located at the sourthern terminus of the Accademia Bridge.

This gallery, shown at left, houses magnificent pre-19th century Venetian art.

 

Here is the ceiling of the large room as you enter. This room's entire ceiling is covered with this pattern. That was a lot of work, and we are always amazed at the craftsmanship that went into Venetian buildings. So many happy little faces!

Our favorite Venetian painting at the Accademia is this masterpiece by Giovanni Bellini titled, "Sacred Conversation" (aka "Madonna and Child with Two Saints"). We don't visit Venice without stopping by to say, 'Hello'. Absolutely gorgeous!

Another fine work found here is the San Giobbe Altarpiece, by Bellini, shown below -- just a little worse for wear. The work depicts Mary sitting on a tall marble throne, holding the Christ Child. At her feet are three musician While at the side are, in symmetrical positions, six saints. They are, on the left, Sts. Francis, John the Baptist and Job; and on the right, Sts. Dominic, Sebastian and Louis of Toulouse.

On a religious-art note, Saint Sebastian is depicted often in Italian art and he is readily identified by arrows piercing his body.

Ca' Rezzonico and Its Museum of 18th-Century Venice

This magnificent palace, now the Museum of 18th century Venice, was designed by the greatest Baroque architect of the city, Baldassare Longhena for the aristocratic Bon family. Work began in 1649, but Longhena’s and the client's deaths, together with the financial problems of the Bon family, brought work to a halt, leaving the palace incomplete. In the meantime, the Giambattista Rezzonico family purchased the palace and had it completed. The Rezzonico's family fortunes peaked in 1758 when younger brother Carlo became Pope Clement VIII. After a few years, and with no heirs, the palace fell into disrepair and had several owners, including Robert Barrett Browning. In 1935, Ca' Rezzonico was sold to the town of Venice by the owner, who was a member of the Italian Parliament. 

Today, Ca' Rezzonico is a must-see if one wants to understand what life was like in Venice in years gone by. Both the furnishings and the art reveal Venice's past in this beautiful building. Here are a couple of photos of the interior, taken from the Ca' Rezzonico website.

Below is one of the few photos that I took within the Ca' on a cold, dreary day in January, 2004.

For those who have visited Venice in the warmer months, you will note the dearth of boat traffic on the canal. As a matter of fact, when we left the Ca' and awaited a vaporetto, we saw absolutely no boat traffic in either direction on the Grand Canal -- a rare site, and one of the reasons we so enjoyed our winter visit. You can see my parody of Venetian boat traffic here.

Squero di San Trovaso

The Squero is fascinating in that it is the gondola repair facility of the Venetian lagoon. This is where the gondole are scraped and gussied up for your Romantic Gondola Ride

[click on an image for a larger view]

Here is a digital painting that I created from one of my photos of the Squero di San Trovaso.

Lunch at Taverna San Trovaso

Hungry? Then let's take a break for lunch at Taverna San Trovaso. We've eaten here a couple of times.

In the left photo below, you see the Taverna during aqua alta (high water) event. While on the right, is the Taverna in its normal state when we were there during January, 2004. I'm not sure if the restaurant was open during aqua alta, but it would seem that having 12" of water in your restaurant would cause a problem, wouldn't it?

To the right is the bill for my solo meal at Taverna San Trovaso in October 12, 2012. The amounts are in Euros, or € for short. Let's break it down.

But first, let's talk about calendar dates in the European format. You can see '12/10/12' on the lunch check. in Europe, the format is DD/MM/YY, while in the US we use MM/DD/YY. So the date of the check is October 12, not December 10. Got it?

OK, then. Let's move on to decimal places. You can see on the check that my Coca Cola Light was '3,00'. In the US you would see 3.00. While we use a period for our decimal place indicator, most (but not all) Europeans use a comma. And to confuse things a bit more, where we use a comma to separate thousands from hundreds (eg 2,500), Europeans use a period (eg 2.500). So, 1,234.56 in the US would be written 1.234,56 in most European countries.

Huh. Go figure. 

So, what did I eat? First, we see that I had 'crudo, stracchino', which translates as raw soft cheese, which you can see here -- and in reality it includes prosciutto. I've got to say that this looks like a good bit of prosciutto for 10€, doesn't it?

 

Next we find 'bufala', which translates to buffalo. Now, I'm not actually eating buffalo, but a salad of tomato, olive, argula and a mozzorella cheese made from buffalo milk. NOTE: this is not a buffalo milk as in bison milk, but buffalo milk as in water-buffalo milk. Got it?

Next we find 'Coca Cola Light' -- in our world we call this a diet coke. I neglected to get a photo of this favorite soda during this seating, but fear not, I found one in my archives that was taken in this very Taverna San Trovaso from a previous trip. Here you see my lovely wife, Ellen, pouring this nectar of the gods...at ungodly prices -- 3€, or about 4$ at the time.

 

Next up is '1/4 Cabernet', or 1/4 liter of house red wine. You can see the carafe in two of the photos above. That's about 8.5 ounces of wine for 3€. Reasonable by US standards...and the wine is very good. And at the exact same price as a can of diet coke, one might as well drink wine -- which is what the Italians do.

The last thing we see on the bill is 'Coperto'. This is the 2€ cover, or cover charge for service. One does not typically tip in Italy (and most of Europe), but there is often a cover charge like this one. Stand at a counter to eat your meal and you have no coperto. Sit in Piazza San Marco at Cafe Florian for a cup of espresso and expect a coperto of about 6€. In many restaurants, like this one, sitting to eat adds an additional 2€ -- but hey, there's no tipping.

So all said, my bill came to 30€. One might think this a bit high for a light lunch, but we are in Venice, you know...where everything is brought in by boat... everything. 

One thing fairly unique about Taverna San Trovaso was my server, who was a woman. One does not see many female wait staff in Venice -- we've had only two in several trips. Here is my friendly waitress.

OK. Lunch is over. Let's move on to other parts of Dorsodouro.

 

Campo Santa Margherita

I like this large campo, or field, or plazza...you get the idea. It's the heart of Dorsodouro. It is a center of trade, with numerous shops and markets, like this shop where the famous Venetian masks are being made by hand.

 

It is a place to meet and talk with friends.

 

It's a place for families...including their pets.

 

And for those who attend the Università Ca' Foscari, which is in this very same Dorsodouro sestiere, it is a place for study...as you can see here as these two take notes during the lecture of Profesor Porumbel (to save you looking up a translation, 'porumbel' is Italian for 'pigeon'.

 

And, on wash days, it is a place to hang one's laundry.

 

The Floating Market

On the Rio San Barnaba canal, you can find this floating market. And that looks like none other than our own Debbie Kennedy looking at us from across the canal.

This market boat seems to be semi-permanently moored here, as you can see by the mossy guy ropes.

 

Here is some of the produce you will find at this floating market.

Dinner Time at Ai Gondolieri

OK, we've wandered around a good bit and it's time for dinner. I've got a good place picked out...and since you're getting a bit tired of seafood, this spot should work nicely.

Most Venetian restaurants specialize in seafood...it just happens to be abundant when you live in a lagoon on the Adriatic. However, there is a restaurant where one can get more meaty dishes, and that is Ai Gondolieri. You will find more veal, lamb and beef on the menu here than most any other restaurant in Venice.

It is unfortunate that when we visited Ai Gondolieri in the winter of 2004, I took very few photos with the point-and-shoot camera that I had at the time. But here is perhaps the one photo that I did have, which shows fresh flowers and an edible garnish that awaits when you are seated. 

 

Found While Strolling Dorsodouro

I will leave you with the sights (sorry, no sounds) of the sestiere of Dorsodouro.

Doors & Windows of Dorsodouro

Canal Water Gates

Canal Reflections

Miscellaneous Sights

Here I've jumped into another bridal photo shoot. And is that the same Rialto Bridge model from my San Polo article? I think it is!


Well, that's the charming area of Dorsodouro...a nice, quiet place to visit when you are strolling the streets of Venice.

I'll close with another photogenic, quiet canal scene from Dorsodouro.

I will look for you at Campo Santa Margherita or along one of the many charming canals of Dorsodouro.

Web links...

 

Ciao for now,

Steve

My Instagram feed...

Enjoying Italy-Bought Wine

Isn't it funny how the brain works? Not hah-hah funny, but amazing funny.

To fully understand today’s story, you have to understand that we were naughty this past weekend. Yes, we were very naughty!

Sometimes we have a sudden flash-back to some other time in our lives...it might be triggered by a sound, or maybe a smell...it could be any one of our five senses that brings back a memory, either wanted, or unwanted. My wife and I had an experience this past weekend that brought this home to us. But, it wasn't related directly to a triggering from one of our five senses. So, what was it? 

It was a wine, of all things. It was a wine which we brought back from a trip to Italy in 2014. And it was this wine that brought back memories. And those memories brought back a joy of Italy and a wonderful day in Tuscany.

This is a story about stopping to smell the roses...or if you are want for roses...the wine.

First, I'll give you the backstory for the experience which uplifted our spirits this past weekend. 


The Backstory from 2014

Our memory started as many Italian memories do -- with food. We had just finished an outstanding lunch at Ristorante La Botte di Bacco (The Bottle of Bacchus) in the hillside town of Radda in Chianti. 

 

This charming little restaurant is highly regarded by those who utilize TripAdvisor in their travels, as we do. The upstairs dining room overlooks the street and the surrounding valley below the town. That's our table in the photo at left.

The food is absolutely scrumptious. I have included a few photos below to prove this statement. As we sat down at our nice window seat, we enjoyed the Tuscan countryside on this temporarily-beautiful day.

 

See the photo to the right? When we sat, I'm like, 'Whoa...what is this?!' My wife Ellen, being an expert in such things, let me know that, 'It's like a ginormous bread stick'. And I'm like, "Man, its good!"

 [I'm happy to say that, like it or not, we've like, grown out of saying 'like' all of the time -- like heck we have]

I've never lied to you, and I won't start now as I tell you that I am now a fan of huge bread sticks. And, in the photo to the right, you can see that Ellen has quickly become a huge fan of fried pizza dough that we found in the carb-alicious basket of goodies you see below. 

 

My Instagram feed...

And here are a few photos of just some of our lunchtime treats. Please click on the images, because I want you to get a much closer look at the shaved pear and ravioli, the veal, and the bisteca con carciofo (aka artichoke). Benissimo! 

The white wine above? I don't remember what it was, but it was delicious, as you can tell by the smile on my face, below. But, this is not the wine of which I write today.

You can see the wine of which I write today in the next photo...but though it is, it also isn't. That probably doesn't make much sense, does it? So read on.

The red wine in the photo is a Chianti Classico from the Rocca di Castagnoli winery. See the black rooster on the neck of the bottle? That tells you that the wine is officially a 'Chianti Classico' wine. Chianti Classico does not in itself impart a note of superiority, but is more related to a location. The Chianti wine region is generally a Tuscan area south of Florence, and the Sangiovese grape variety grown there is the key ingredient of all Chianti. And if the Chianti region was thought to be shaped as a donut, the Chianti Classico area could be the hole in the Chianti donut. The town of Radda in Chianti, where we were eating, is located in the Chianti Classico area. You can see that the wine is a 2011 wine, which in summer of 2014 was just right for drinking...it was approachable, as one might say...so, we approached it. 

If you are want to know more about Chianti Classico and it's origins, please read my article of August 25, 2015, about the birthplace of Chianti titled, "Beautiful Places Castello Brolio".

During lunch, the formerly sunny day turned dark and stormy, as you can see below as we looked out of our window-side table. 

So after lunch, we darted from one dry spot to another as we made our way to our car. We took shelter in a couple of tourist stores, then a butcher shop, and in the tunnel-like entrance to this centuries-old courtyard.

 

Having dodged rain drops, we made it to our rented Alfa Romeo Giulia, where we sat for a bit. 

  • "Now what?", I asked.
  • Ellen offered, "That Chianti at lunch was really, really good. Let's see where it's made and go visit the winery."

Sounded good to me. So, that's what we did.

We took a bit of a circuitous route, for which we were rewarded. You might remember an article I wrote back in June, 2015, which was titled "Get Lost!". If you don't remember that article, you can read it here...it's one of my favorites.  

Our reward for taking this route to the Rocca di Castagnoli winery was beautiful scenery as the weather began to clear. Here is one of my very favorite photos of Tuscany...full of rich, weather-lifting scenery, as well as rich memories.

And a couple more photos from along the way in the 'moody weather' vein.

The Rocca di Castagnoli winery sits high upon a hill southeast of Radda in Chianti. Like a lot of wineries in Tuscany, it is housed in centuries-old buildings. 

During our tour of the winery, we particularly enjoyed the barrel-vaulted barrel vault, with row-after-row of colorfully casked wine, aging to perfection.

Want larger casks? You got it!

In the photo of the lone cask to the right, you can see the burned-in graphics indicating that it is an oak barrel from a particular forest. You can also see that it is made from grapes of the 2013 vintage.

Here's the very friendly young man who helped us in tasting the various wines behind the Rocca di Castagnoli label. 

 

And here, he has laid out several wines for us to try. 

 

We had a great afternoon indoors tasting delicious wines, while outside it was off-and-on stormy. Know what we did when we left? That is the subject of another of my very favorite articles titled, "Wild Goose Chase", which is about our ill-fated reservation at one of Tuscany's (formerly) finest restaurants. You can reminisce with us by reading here

Just a quick note about wine tasting and driving. If you haven't tasted wine at an enoteca, or Italian winery tasting room, please understand that you don't get a full pour, nor even a half pour...a taste is all you get...just a sip. So, inebriation shouldn't be in the picture. And just a bit more about drinking in Italy...as our friend Luciano says, "If you see a man who is staggering down the street after having too much wine, we say that he just hasn't had enough to eat!". Such words of encouragement for eating more in Italy are not needed...really.


Fast-Forward to 2017

So finally, now back to my story about this past weekend, and the gist of this article on enjoying Italy-bought wine. That is the whole point, after all.

To fully understand today's story, you have to understand that we were naughty this past weekend. Yes, we were very naughty!

So, there's all kinds of naughty, right? And I'm not sure what degree of naughty you are imagining right now (but of course, you can use the Comment box below to share your thoughts if you feel so obliged), but I have to say that our naughty was in the really-tame-naughty category...mostly.

This past weekend, we had planned to clean up the house. Besides the various misplaced items on our main floor, we had things in our bedroom which we had neglected for awhile, and in our basement (please don't tell anyone this!), we had not put away all of our boxes of Christmas decorations. I know...we are terrible people, aren't we?!

Instead of starting the ball rolling Saturday morning, I completely stopped the ball by suggesting that our day would be better spent laying around in our jammies in front of the fireplace reading our books and drinking wine. With hardly any sales effort on my part, Ellen bought into my program with absolutely no hesitation. So, that's exactly what we did.

I got the fire going (yes, we actually use wood in our fireplace!) and then went down to the basement (aka wine cellar) to grab a bottle of red wine. While Ellen lay on the couch reading in front of the crackling fire, I uncorked the bottle and poured us each a glass.

Ellen: "Dang! What is this? It's really, really good!"

Me: "Let me look. Its a bottle of Chianti Classico from Rocca di Castagnoli."

Ellen: "Isn't that the wine we bought that day when it was raining after we had lunch in Radda in Chianti?"

Me: "Yes, that's exactly what it is! Let's pull up the photos from that trip so we can look at 'em."

So, that's what we did...and we were able to journey back to relive almost every moment of that wonderful afternoon.  It was all brought back by enjoying our Italy-bought wine from our 2014 trip.

And, we were pleasantly surprised to see that it is the exact same wine - vintage and all - that we had for lunch that day at La Botte di Bacco.

And with the added 2 1/2 years of aging, the wine was even better than before than before...markedly better, actually.

Finally, here's proof of our wonderfully quiet day -- proof in the form of...

...our bottle of wine...

 

...our blazing, crackling fire...

 

...Ellen reading her 'book' with wine in hand..

 

...and I with my wine as I finish reading "Somewhere South of Tuscany", written by our lovely friend, Diana Armstrong (see my article "Covering for My Friends"). 

 

We had no roses this past Saturday, but we stopped anyway, smelling the wine instead...and our week will be better for it.

When you next travel to Italy, bring back a bottle of wine, and give this a try for yourself.

 

Mentioned in this article...

 

Finally, on a photographic note, each of the final 4 photos above that were taken this past weekend were captured on my iPhone 7 using the new "Portrait" mode. This mode is meant for photographing people: rendering a person in sharp focus, whilst the background is blurred. I like the way it was able to accentuate the wine bottle tableau, Ellen's glass of wine, and my book. Give it a try if you have this new equipment.

Ciao for now,

Steve

Transforming A Corte

Index of Blog Articles

Today I give you a short transformation. This is where I show you how one of my photos goes from a snapshot to something more in line with a fine-art photograph.

I really like the lion medallions above each side of the entrance. And I also found the plaque, with what I will call a coat of arms, interesting.

Last week, I showed you the sestiere of San Polo...one of the six districts (aka sestiere) of Venice. I have taken several photos within San Polo over the years, and as I was looking through those for last week's article, I came across the one which is the subject of today's transformation.

The site to be transformed is the Corte Petriana. A 'corte' is what we would call a 'courtyard' in English. I could find no translation for Petriana, so I would assume that's the name of the family to whom this courtyard belongs.

Here is the original snapshot of the entrance to the corte.

Ugh. I have to agree with you...not a very pretty site as it sits in the real world. But, as it is my job to transform the real into the Venetian world that I imagine, that's exactly what I did.

First, things are a bit wonky with the alignment of the entrance to the corte. Then, within the corte itself, there are some distractions, like a water pipe and an electrical conduit. 

[As an aside, let me write a few sentences about water and electrical conduits. You will see these throughout Venice. They are not something that one enjoys seeing, but they are necessary. Imagine a Venice of 1,000 years ago, or even 300 years ago -- you will not see water or electrical conduits because they didn't exist. Water was gathered at the local pozzo (which I wrote about here), and electricity had not made it on the scene. The houses in Venice do not have basements (obviously) and all of the walls are made of stone. This pretty much necessitates running both water and electrical conduits up the outside of walls, and then through them. But just for you, in my quest to present you a Venice of days past, I feel compelled to bring a Venice to you without these distractions. OK, now back to the photo transformation.]

Next, I felt the whole areas surrounding the entrance to the corte was not what I would want to personally discover as I was wandering my romantic, ancient Venice -- so I got rid of the walls on each side of the narrow calle (aka street). This required a good bit of demolition and masonry work on my part, but that's my job, and I love it. 

So here is the final photo of Corte Petriana. 

And here is a black and white version if you prefer.

I really like the lion medallions on each side and above the entrance. And I also found the plaque, with what I will call a coat of arms, interesting. Here is an enlargement of that feature.

Note the crescent with the tree on the shield...hmm.  Then there are the two dragon-like creatures at the bottom. A couple of angels are at the top corners. But then there is the curious main feature of person and child. One could assume that the adult is Mary, but it isn't too clear, and perhaps there is a crown on the head? The cross is the hand of the adult is the kicker for me...if the child is the Christ-child, the cross would be a concept that is about 30 years too early. If you have thoughts, please put them into the 'Comments' area, below.

Just so you know...and I figure that you are wondering...I had not Photoshopped the basketball backboard and hoop into the photo...it was there when I showed up...really. But, I decided to have a bit of fun with it, so I've titled the resulting photograph "The Court of the Venetian Baseketmaker". Your absolutely right, that was clever! 

But, I decided not to stop there. So, in the next more whimsical and non-official photo, I've added a basketball in its arc towards the basket, as well as a bit of shadow of the ball's shooter. 

So, there you have it. A transformation of an ugly snapshot into the more charming "Court of the Venetian Basketmaker".

Ciao for now,

Steve

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Venetian Sestiere: San Polo

Index of Blog Articles

A couple of weeks ago, I reminded you what a 'sestiere' is. Don't remember? Read that article here.

The San Polo sestiere ('sestiere' = 'district') is our second favorite – right after San Marco. But San Polo is not a distant second.

< Check out the map at left to see where the San Polo piece fits into the Venetian puzzle.

 

 

There is a lot to see and do – and eat – in San Polo. Click on the map and you will see the rather convoluted layout of this sestiere.

Map of the San Polo sestiere of Venice

Overview

First, the term ‘San Polo’. You may remember that ‘San Marco’ refers to Saint Mark; well, San Polo refers to Saint Paul. 

San Polo is the smallest of the six sestiere of Venice. It is also one of the oldest neighborhoods, as the highest banks of the mud flats where Venice began were located here. And today, it is one of the liveliest of the six sestiere – there is a lot to do here, both day and night.

Below you can see just a portion of San Polo as it sits across the Grand Canal from San Marco.

A portion of San Polo, across the Grand Canal from San Marco

Attractions

Some of our favorite Venetian attractions are found in San Polo.

Rialto Bridge

First, to get to San Polo from San Marco, you will most likely cross over the Rialto Bridge. Because of the need to get to the Rialto Market from San Marco, a wooden bridge was originally constructed in 1255. After being burned in 1310 in a bit of a revolt, and then collapsing (with people on the bridge) in 1444 and then again in 1524, a call went out for a design competition for a more substantial bridge.

In 1591, Antonio de Ponte completed construction of the current bridge based on his winning design -- his bridge has become one of the iconic structures in Venice. I'm not sure if he was born with the name "de Ponte" (translates 'of the bridge') or not, but it was sure a good gimmick to get the bridge job if he wasn't.

Here is a photo of the Rialto Bridge, taken from a romantic gondola ride.

[click any image for a larger view]

The iconic Rialto Bridge

You can see that the bridge is composed of two inclined, shop-lined, ramps with a central portico.

And in the next photo, you can see the steps of the inclined portion of the bridge. And you get an idea just how big this bridge is, as the buildings in the distance are at the mid-point of the Rialto Bridge. Those are shops on each side of the bridge, lining its edge.

It is almost unimaginable how many feet have gone over these steps, as most every visitor to Venice for 400 years has been funneled over the Rialto Bridge.

A lot happens on the Rialto Bridge. Here are a couple of images from a photo shoot that I did for a bridal fashion magazine.

Just kidding. Even though I did take the photos, this is actually just a kind of reverse photo-bombing event…rather than me jumping into the background, I just joined the commercial photographer in shooting the false bride.

Another day on the Rialto Bridge, and another bridal fashion shoot. It must be some sort of bride magnet.

And such drama!

 

Around the bridge is a lot of action. As I’ve mentioned before, everything brought into Venice travels either by boat or foot. Here you can see that the area around the Rialto Bridge is a hub of delivery activity.

And here are a couple more photos showing detail of the Rialto Bridge.

Finally, it was from the Rialto Bridge that I took the photos to create one of my most popular images…”Busy Day on the Grand Canal”.

Rialto Market

Moving on just a few feet from the Rialto Bridge you will find the Rialto Market. As I’ve covered this market in detail in another article, you can see that article and photos of the market in “The Rialto Market of Venice”.

The Frari

One of the most beautiful churches in Venice is Chiesa Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. [‘chiesa’ (key-‘ā-suh) = ‘church’] Also known as The Friari, it is not much to look at on the outside, as you can see here.

But, don’t let the starkness of the outside fool you. Inside are treasures of all sorts, like the almost 20 burial monuments.  

 

Here is a monument to Antono Canova, who is perhaps second only to Michelangelo as a sculptor. 

Though his body lies a few miles away in Tempio Canoviano (The Temple of Canova) which he designed and financed, his heart belonged to Venice, so it is enshrined in this monument. It's interesting that this heart tomb was originally designed by himself to be the tomb of Titian. But, there sits Titian’s final resting place (shown below) right across from that of Canova’s heart. It's nice to be famous, isn't it? I guess...wouldn't know.

One of my favorite parts of The Friari is the choir seating. It is made of carved wood, and each of the ‘seats’ is different, and includes both carvings and inlaid marquetry, as seen in these photos. Please click the photos to get see the beautiful detail.

Then there is Titan’s famous altar piece titled “Assumption of the Virgin”, which you can see here…but which we were denied viewing on our last visit due to restoration work…there is always something being restored in Venice…thankfully. 

And there are other works, like Bellini’s triptych titled “Madonna with Child and Saints”, which sits in the Sacristy. I absolutely adore this assemblage! Here is its setting and a detailed photo.

You'll see more of Bellini's absolutely gorgeous work when we head to the sestiere of Dorsoduro in the near future. 

 It is fortunate that you are not prohibited from taking photos in The Frari, as you are in many other Venetian churches.

Some of you may recognize this golden angel from a recent family Christmas card.

 

 

 

Finally, there’s this poor gentleman, whose fate it is to hold up a good part of the church, whilst being eternally pestered by that seriously macabre figure behind him. Could that be hell, itself?

 

Scuola Grande di San Rocco 

Then there is the Scuola Grande di San Rocco. Shown here is its grand room.

San Rocco (or Saint Roch) was known for his plague healing miracles, which is what got him institutional recognition in this city which was hit hard by the plague. There are a number of ‘scuola’ in Venice. A scuola is a Christian association of lay people that promote special works of charity…maybe like a lodge in the U.S. that takes on charitable work.

The Scuola Grande di San Rocco is chock-a-block full of Tintoretto paintings. Both walls and ceilings hold his huge masterpieces. The most famous being his “Crucifixion”, which is 40 feet across, and is shown here.

Tintoretto's "Crucifixion"

As one cannot take photos within the Scuola, I harvested these from the official Scuola San Rocco website here.

And for a more entertaining view of the inside of the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, just watch the Woody Allen movie, “Everyone Says I Love You”, where he just happens to bump into Julia Roberts in the Scuola.

My feet are already hurting from all the walking we’ve done thus far. Let’s move on to eating in the sestiere of San Polo.

Eating

Da Fiore

I will focus on the premier restaurant of San Polo, and all of Venice, in most people’s opinion…and I can’t argue.

Da Fiore is a culinary experience. I can’t put my finger on why that is. They are not into the culinary chemistry thingie that so many top-rated restaurants are want to put out these days (and yes, we've experienced a 22 course meal of these delights, where upon leaving the restaurant, my wife said to me, “I’d sure like a hot dog”). The dining room is not opulent, though it is charming and has the look of a ships galley to me for some reason…I think it is the curvature of the ceiling, perhaps?

What you get here is really great food…Italian, of course…featuring seafood, of course…serving great wines, of course. And the service is friendly, not overly stuffy, and attentive, of course. Here are a couple of our friendly wait staff.

One of the internationally recognized food critics puts Da Fiore in the top 5 restaurants in the world. ‘Nough said. Here are some photos from some of our visits there.

Here are a couple of photos from a visit on a cold January night in 2004. The grappa was to warm us for our journey back to our hotel in San Marco.

Poste Veccie

Of course, there are other fine restaurants scattered throughout the San Polo sestiere…and we’ve eaten at several. Poste Vecie is particularly nice. Our traveling companion Mike picked this one out years ago, and we were not disappointed. You get to it by passing between the two red-striped barber poles and over the small bridge…

…or by going down this narrow calle [‘calle’ (‘cä-lay) = ‘street’].

Poste Vecie is said to date from the 1500s and like many restaurants in Venice, it claims to be the oldest.

Ristorante Terrazza Sommariva

And there is very nice alfresco, canal-side dining just south of the afore-mentioned Rialto Bridge. Here is the quaint Ristorante Terrazza Sommariva. It is skinny and long enough that we had no idea that our traveling companions Debbie and Scott were eating at the other end during our ‘on-your-own’ time. Here are some lunch-time photos.

Shopping

I would have to say that the shopping for high-end fashion goods is not as prolific in San Polo as it is in San Marco…and personally, I like that. I like to find those little, out of the way gems. Here is one of those shops where the craftsmen carve wood into fabulous works of art, like these in their window. I stopped in for a chat one trip and got invited to visit the workshop. Fascinating.

And on the Rialto Bridge, we were so charmed with the fine jewelry in Jovon that we got my lovely wife a beautiful 35th anniversary ring. This shop, which specializes in carved coral cameos, has been on the Rialto bridge for 83 years, and is still owned and run by the same Jovon family. Again, friendly shop keepers are the rule in Venice!

Lodging

I can’t give you any personal experiences regarding staying in San Polo. There are a number of well-regarded hotels here, though. We find TripAdvisor to be an excellent source of user-reviewed lodging. 

I would say stay here if you want to be close to some great food and want to be off the beaten path. But realize that San Polo does get lots of tourists seeing the marvelous things I’ve pointed out above, so you might not get the tranquility you seek if you are near the main thoroughfare between the Rialto Market and the Accademia (which will be covered in an upcoming article on the sestiere of Dorsoduro). 

Fine

I found a lot of families out and about in San Polo.

I'll close with a few more photos taken within the sestiere of San Polo. Please click and enjoy!

And I say goodbye by presenting these two lovable characters. We love Venice, and we especially love its people!

I hope to bump into you as we walk the calle of the sestiere of San Polo.

Ciao for now,

Steve

 

ps: A reminder once more that language will not be a barrier in your Italy travels...you speak English...they speak English...everyone happy!