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Getting There: Bellagio

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Bellagio is worth getting to...but just how should one go about it?

You've no doubt heard of Bellagio. But we are not speaking of the beautiful Bellagio Hotel of Las Vegas, but the real Bellagio...the one from which the hotel was modeled, complete with lake, though no fountain and light show exist at the real Bellagio.

Just one of the many lakeside towns you will see on your slow-boat journey to Bellagio

The northern-Italian town of Bellagio has been dubbed ‘the most romantic town in Europe’, and we must agree. What a marvelous setting!

Lake Como and Bellagio

Bellagio sits on an interesting point in the lake district, about 45 miles north of Milan. What is interesting about Bellagio's location is the spit of land on which it is located on Lago di Como (Lake Como).

As you can see on this map, the lake is said to be shaped like a running person, with Bellagio sitting right in can I say this in a decorous way...well OK, the crotch.  

There is no direct train service to Bellagio, so one must travel to Bellagio either by boat or auto. And, as one can get around through most of Italy using trains, with no need for renting an automobile, let's assume are not traveling by automobile. 

The quickest way to get to Bellagio is by taking the train from Milan to Varenna, and then by a short ferry-boat ride to Bellagio. But be forewarned -- this is not the best way to get to Bellagio, as I will explain below.


The Slow Boat

The most pleasant and most excellent path to Bellagio is by a slow boat from Como. The route of the slow boat takes you to between 10 to 16 stops on your journey and the ride will take between 2 and 2 1/2 hours to complete (the number of stops and journey time depends on your departure time). Be warned that there is a fast boat, which is shown on the boat schedule in red as 'Speed Service' -- don't take this boat unless you are going to be late for a dinner reservation at the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni (or better yet, change your reservation time). The speed service? It's a hydrofoil boat that takes only 45 minutes to complete its journey.

Since there is a boat that is a good bit faster than the slower boat, why extend your journey on this slow boat? Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I will be using just a few words -- and many pictures -- to explain why you should take the slow boat to Bellagio.

Your Journey Begins

Your journey to the town of Como will start in Milan. For us, we had taken the overnight-sleeper train from Rome to Milan, so we continued our journey to Como early in the morning from Milan. We wanted to catch to 10am boat, so we would arrive in Bellagio just in time for lunch.

These photos were taken as we worked our way through the train yard at Milan.

It's about 20 miles from Como to Bellagio, and our journey should take about 2 1/2 hours.

The lake opens up before you as our Lake Como journey begins

When you get on the boat, take the stairs up to the upper deck for the best views. 

This is why you are taking the slow boat -- beautiful town after charming town all along the lake

This boat is similar to the one we are on right now

Lago di Como is surrounded by mountains...and the auto road that ends at Bellagio can be seen cutting across the hill on the right

Another lakeside town you would love to visit, but we won't be stopping here

A lot of mountain, with just a hint of civilization

The clock shows that it is almost 11am; as we left at 10am, we are about an hour into our journey

There is still a lot of lake left on our journey

Many of the villas along the way have gazebo-like embellishments...a quiet place to sit and contemplate the depths of the lake - which happens to be 1,340 feet at its deepest point!

I wish we were on this boat together right this very minute, enjoying the scenery

That one tree looks like they got it at Hobby is it so perfectly shaped?!

This photo and the four below it show the most beautiful house on the've seen it in many movies, like: A Month by the Lake; Star Wars: Attack of the Clones; and Casino Royale. The villa is called Villa del Balbianello. It had fallen into disrepair in the early 1900s and was bought and restored by an American. When the latest owner died in 1988, he left it to the National Trust of Italy. It is open to the public (see their website here).

Looks to be a little after noon...just about 25 minutes more and we will be at Bellagio

Ahhh...bella Bellagio -- we are at the Cadenabia stop and Bellagio is just across the lake and it's next!

As we approach Bellagio, we see one of the auto ferries that travels between Bellagio, Menaggio and Varenna

As we near the dock, we can see our hotel dead center...we are on the top floor of the Metropole, second balcony from the left

And here is our journey's end...and we are just in time for lunch

It's time for a journey's end glass of wine with Scott and Debbie...

...and Ellen has one of her favorite snacks, a grissino, or breadstick

I hope that you are convinced that taking the slow boat to Bellagio is the ultimate journey, one at a pace that gives you time to absorb the charming sights of Lake Como. But, of course, you could have opted for the faster conveyance, below.

The 'Speed Service' of the hydrofoil

The Logistics

Here our friend Scott purchases our tickets as soon as we arrived at the boat dock in Como. It is a good idea to get your tickets early, as the boat does fill up quickly.

Below is the boat schedule, as posted at the ticket office. In the orange box, note the dates for this schedule are between the 1st and 28th of October, 2012. The schedules change drastically after the summer tourist season, so be sure you check online for the correct schedule as you plan your trip. 

In the green box is the schedule for the direction of the slow boat from Como to Piona, which is the way we want to go. In the blue box is the yucky hydrofoil Speed Service.

You can see the Navigazione Lago di Como boat schedule on their websiteAt right is the schedule as of today during the summer of 2016 (but be aware that it is only for service through October 2nd). 

So, now you know how to get to Bellagio. Next week, I'll tell you more about the town itself. But trust me, it is a place you will enjoy visiting. 

For a related article on an adventure starting in Bellagio, see my article of 07/28/2015 titled 'Stumbling Upon Something Magnificent'. 


Ciao for now,


Go There: Island of Burano

The locals now draw tourists to Burano to see their brightly colored homes.

The island of Burano is located in the Venetian lagoon. I think of Burano as the 'Graphic Isle', because of the juxtaposition of the simple shapes and vivid colors one finds there. 

There will be fresh linens on the bed tonight!

The Venetian lagoon holds many other islands besides the main island-town of Venice. The two other islands most visited by tourists are Murano, where Venetian glass is still made, and Burano, where Venetian lace was made for centuries.

Chances are that you've seen this award-winning photo before

Chances are that you've seen this award-winning photo before


Though a bit of lace is still hand made in Burano, it has become a lost art due to the competition of machine-made lace from other parts of the world. Perhaps the demise of the Burano lace industry is what makes Burano so colorful -- the locals now draw tourists to Burano to see their brightly colored homes.

Burano is located a bit northeast of the town of Venice and to get there, you will need to take a vaporetto (water bus). It takes about 45 minutes to reach Burano from Venice's Fondamente Nove vaporetto stop. On the way, you soon pass by the cemetery island of San Michele and the glass lover's island of Murano before you get to a long stretch of water -- take your guidebook to pass the time.

The buildings on the island are not of new construction!

There are several nice restaurants on the island, so when it comes time to have lunch or dinner, you won't have any problem getting a typical Venetian meal. Many of the restaurants and shops are located on the main thoroughfare of Via Baldassarre Galuppi. 

For the photos of the colorful homes you see in this article, I spent most of my time on the eastern half of the island. 

Life on the Island of Burano

Some of the local citizenry getting together for their daily chat.

[as always, please click an image for a larger view]

Friends gather for an afternoon chat

Another local keeping an eye on the situation in Burano.

Local wildlife...there are many, many cats

Yes, there are some lovely places to eat on the island, and there is a definite emphasis on local seafoof.


Burano has been settled for many years, and some of the early architectural elements are beginning to shift a bit.

This campanile does not elicit confidence

As on the main Venetian island, religion has play a strong part in the culture of Burano. Here you can see one of the many religious shrines, and a self-aged photo of a glass case housing cherished relics.

The Graphic Side of Burano

Now I introduce you to that very colorful and graphic side of the island of Burano.

Daily Life on Burano -- even the elements of daily chores are pleasantly arranged!

Walls, Windows and Doors -- contrasting colors are de rigueur on the isle.

The next three photos are some of my favorites from Burano because of their strong graphic nature. For these first two, I very consciously revealed a smidgen of certain elements to provide a clue to the composition -- the bit of pavement in the first and a hint of a distant wall in the second.

My all-time Burano favorite which I've titled 'Just Around the Corner' has been an award winner. What is that glowning just around the corner? Let's go find out!

Passages -- even the passages have strong graphic elements.

Crumbling Character -- many of the building's facades show the ravages of time.

Place it Just There -- everyday objects seem to have had studied placement!

Utilitarian Needs Combine with Graphic Needs -- as far as I can tell, this is a fire hydrant -- but I may be mistaken.


Not all is garish color on Burano...there is also a good bit of tranquility, too.

I found my two trips to the island of Burano in the Venetian lagoon to be well worth the efforts. You can indeed still find a bit of hand-made lace, too -- you will have to look a bit and pay a bit when you find it -- but what a nice souvenir! 

I'll see you in Burano!

Ciao for now,



Transforming a Graffiti-Clad Door

Graffiti is pretty much a world-wide problem. I’ve seen it everywhere I’ve been. 

Fool’s names like fool’s faces, always seen in public places

In only one instance did I not find it objectionable, and that was along the parts of the ‘fallen’ Berlin Wall which had not actually fallen. Those who had to live behind that hideous façade had all the right in the world to express their displeasure with it, to decorate it as a way to rebuke it in its defeat.


The original graffiti'd school entrance - two photos stitched together in Photoshop

I was really put off by the graffiti on the very old entrance door in Rome, as seen in the photo to the right. What this doorway serves is the Veneto & Triste Elementary School.

I can’t imagine what draws one to ‘tag’ structures. Though some graffiti artists are really quite talented, it seems that other surfaces could be found where their work would be welcomed, and commissions sought for their talents.

Graffiti is Nothing New

My earliest remembrance of graffiti was on a vacation while we were returning to Texas from Disneyland when I was 10 years old.

While we were stopped at a road-side park (we now just call them rest areas) overlooking a large expanse of west Texas, scratched into the woodwork was someone’s name and address (the address part was pretty stupid, wasn’t it, when one is defacing public property).

My mother had purchased several postcards during our trip so she whipped one out, addressed it, put a stamp on it and mailed it later. On it she had written the following message (from a Burma Shave sign set, I believe): “Fool’s names like fool’s faces, always seen in public places”. And then, “Please do not write on our road-side parks”. See, I was listening to my mother after all! And that learning moment stuck with me.

Transforming the Roman Graffiti'd Door

My first impression was to pass bye the door that you see above, but then I thought, ‘Hey, why not document it as a kind of juxtaposition of the old and new?”. I really hate to put quote marks around that thought because I’m not entirely certain that those were my exact thoughts…but its close, OK?

By the way, that photo above is actually a combination of two photos, one of the lower part of the entrance and one of the upper part of the entrance...the two were stitched together in Photoshop.

To accentuate the timeworn doorway surround, I gave it a good bit of texture and then I darkened it a bit. 

Timeworn entrance to elementary school

At this point, I was just about through, but then I realized I had one more task.

The two don’t-do-it signs (‘no parking – allow free access’ and ‘no parking at night’) and the poster announcing that this is also a ‘primary school’ or kindergarten did not fit my nearly-ancient mindset for this door, so I got rid of them.

Then I noticed the plaque above the door with the historic ‘SPQR’ reference, which stands for Senatus PopulusQue Romanus, or ‘the Roman Senate and People’. No, this door isn’t that old…SPQR is used by the municipal government of Rome today to kind of say, “This is a municipal property”. Anyway, when I saw that plaque, I decided to accentuate it a bit by lightening it.

Final entrance with juxtaposition of old and new

So, there’s the final product. It’s not a photo that I would hang in my house, and it isn’t on my website, but I enjoyed working on it to transform it into the juxtaposition of old and new.

As always, feel free to leave a comment.

Ciao for now,


The Rialto Market of Venice

One of the pleasures of Venice is the Rialto Market. Located near a ninety-degree bend of the Grand Canal, and just a bit northwest of the Rialto Bridge, the market offers both fresh produce in the erberia (vegetable market) and caught-the-night-before seafood in the pescheria (fish market).

All of these photos were taken at the Rialto Market.

[click on an image for a larger view]

One should plan to go around sunrise if you want to see the stevedores unload crates from barges which traveled up the Grand Canal in the early-morning hours. Or, if you want to sleep just a bit longer, plan to arrive around 8:00am to see the market in full swing. But, don’t bother to go in the afternoon or on Sundays or Mondays, as the market is closed.

Is this a working market? With over 100,000 visitors and locals in Venice on any particular day, this is the main source of food for the islands which make up Venice. If you show up early, you will see chefs from virtually all of the Venetian restaurants gathering items that you will find on their menus later in the day.

So, how is the Rialto Market different from the typical farmer's market in the U.S.? There are three main differences. For one thing, there is an abundance of seafood -- like fish, octopus, squid, crab, scallops and several mollusk types.

Second, the produce that is brought to your farmer's market most likely did not arrive by boat -- virtually everything arriving in Venice comes by boat.

The last difference is that your local farmer's market did not exist until the Rialto Market was about 800 years old. The Rialto Market has been serving Venice's food needs since 1097!

Produce of the Erberia

Talk about fresh produce! Just like our farmer’s markets, fruits and vegetables arrive daily fresh from the farms of Italy and surrounding countries. The photos you've been looking at are examples of this veritable cornucopia.

Seafood of the Pescheria

Though I really like the produce that’s in abundance at the market, the seafood is what I find the most interesting, as we just don't have access to such a fine market as the Rialto where I live. There are ‘creatures’ in this market that I’ve never seen in the U.S. seafood markets. Here are just some of the tasty denizens of the sea that you will find at the Rialto Market.

So that's the Rialto Market in Venice, Italy. If you have a chance to visit, I'm sure you will be as wowed with the seafood and produce as I have been. And by the way, all of the photos above can be found in the Food+Wine section of my website...just click on 'Print Store' below for easy access.

I'll close with a photo that was published in Black & White Magazine as part of a four-page spread on Venice a couple of years ago. This photo was taken during the daily cleaning-up-the-seafood-market event each afternoon. And yes, they still use stick brooms in Venice. The photo at right shows that sticks have been delivered, ready to be attached to broom handles. Amazing, isn't it?! 

Thanks for visiting. Feel free to leave comments, below.

Ciao for now,



Transforming the Copse

This posting is not just to show you some nice trees. The gist of today’s blog post is ‘emotional transformation’.

Today, I want to focus on a small, but very famous, group of trees in southern Tuscany.  You can find this copse of Tuscan cypress just a bit east of Montalcino, the home of Brunello wines. The basic photo below was taken in late spring and gives you an overall idea of the copse of which I write. But this post isn't really about a stand of trees.

The Cypress Stand

Straight-out-of-the-camera version of the famous copse sitting in a field of wheat

I’ve taken photos of this copse in both the spring and fall. As you will see, the copse and the wheat land surrounding it take on a completely different personality with each season.

This map shows you the exact location, should you want to find this lovely Tuscan cypress copse on your own. Be sure to click on the map image (and any other image) to see a larger view.

Map showing the location of the famous cypress copse

This famous stand of trees actually has a name – “Cipressi di San Quirico d’Orcia – which you know from your high school Italian to be ‘Cyresses of San Quirico d’Orcia". San Quirico d’Orcia a small town just east of these trees in this valley known as Val d’Orcia.

Transformation to Add Emotion

But this post is not just to show you some nice trees. The gist of today's blog post is 'emotional transformation'. Though the photo above is a nice snapshot, it does not appeal to my artistic sense, and it surely doesn't convey my emotional feelings for this stand of cypress.

Beginning the transformation process for this photo, I decide that the sky is a bit too blah for my taste, so I added clouds photographed on some other day. Here is the next iteration of the photo, with clouds that form leading lines to the copse of cypress.

Added clouds to bring focus on the cypress copse

This might have been a good place to stop, however, each time I see this copse, I feel that some mystery surrounds this tight stand of cypress…what’s in there that creates the need to protect these trees from the farmer’s plow? Why is it fenced in? To keep us out? Or is it fenced to keep something in? Since the photo thus far does not express much mystery for me, I chose to express a darker mood. This final version has much more appeal for me on an emotional level. What do you think?

A darker and more emotional rendition 

Going back into my archives, I retrieved a photo taken in the fall. The field had been harvested and plowed.  Once again, I wanted more than the out-of-the-camera photo, so I worked a bit to create this square version of the photo – I surely do like a square format for many photos, and I think it works well here.

Square rendition of a fal-season version

Square rendition of a fal-season version

For still more drama, I adjusted the lighting and added clouds that conveyed a late afternoon feel.

Later afternoon dramatic clouds rendition

Later afternoon dramatic clouds rendition

And finally, to go even darker, I created a black and white version that transformed day into evening.

Black and white in a late-evening rendition

Black and white in a late-evening rendition

From Photo to Painting

Lately, I have been working on my digital painting skills.  I have always appreciated the painting arts, but I am not adept at handling all of those gooey tubes of paints, and cleaning up the mess is daunting.  With digital painting, I am able to use various ‘brushes’ and techniques to provide you a realistic ‘painting’ from my own photos.  

In this first digital paining, I decided to take the liberty to show storm clouds just beyond the horizon, and since the storm has not yet reached us, I brightened up the cypress copse a bit for contrast. I'm imagining how the air will smell after the storm passes.

A storm is coming digital oil painting

And finally, being a fan of Van Gogh, and having just visited the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in April, I tried to emulate his use of bright colors and the swirly strokes for which he is so famous.

My rendition in the style of Van Gogh

Turn Around

Now, if you are photographing this cypress stand, besides the fact that you are most likely among others photographing the same sight, you are looking due south from the edge of the highway. Don’t forget one of the cardinal rules of photography – after you take your photo, turn around to see what is directly behind you. My friend Terry Gipson mentioned this recently. After a long hike to an overlook of the confluence of the Colorado and Green Rivers, he said in a recent blog post...

The hike back was seeing all the things I missed when I walked out to the overlook…seeing everything as new for the first time.
— Terry Gipson

So, as I turned around, I found the genesis of one of my favorite Tuscan plowed-field photos.

Here is the view in the fall…

Looking north in the fall

…and here is the view from the same spot in the late spring when the wheat is doing its part in the creation of tasty, rustic, Italian bread, and pastas.

Looking north in the spring

I hope you have enjoyed a few emotive views of my favorite copse of Tuscan cypress. The next time I’m there, I’ll look for you!  Until then...

Ciao for now,