Every year in late summer, while the beaches are still chock full of vacationers, parents across the country take time to pack up and send off their precious babies for college. This past August, Tim and I did it times … Continue reading
We woke to the most beautiful Italian fall sky and knew it was going to be a great day to visit Venice. We’ve toured Venice on several trips before but this time we were looking to do something a bit different, off the beaten “tourist” path. It’s a bit of a slog to drive from Aviano to Venice, primarily because the most direct route takes you through little towns and hundreds of round-abouts. I’m a fan of the round-about but when you have 3 in a row all within 1/2 mile, it just gets to be annoying. We made it to the parking garage around noon; we selected the Tronchetto lot after trying to get into San Marco and discovering that it had a long waiting line to get in. Not a problem because the walk from Tronchetto includes a chance to admire the cruise ships docked for the day. This afternoon there were four massive ships including one from Princess Lines complete with a jumbotron screen on the top deck showing a movie. I guess some passengers just don’t care for Venice all that much. Once we got closer to the city we decided to veer right–to the art museum–instead of going left, which would put us on a beeline for St Mark’s Square. This was a wise choice because our walk to the Guggenheim Gallery was practically people-free. Every square we came to had about 10 tourists standing in the middle, looking at maps, wondering where to go. It was great fun exploring this side of the city where the alleyways were dark and mysterious and I had plenty of time to casually stroll and peek into the storefront windows. A lot of art was for sale as well as leather gloves in an assortment of rich colors and decorative fur trim. Missing from this walk: the tidal wave of tacky souvenirs and street performers that seem to concentrate near Rialto Bridge and Mt Mark’s Square.
The Guggenheim Museum is a small collection of modern art collected by Peggy Guggenheim and displayed in her home on the island. I chose this museum over the Accademia (which features Italian Renaissance art) because I really wanted to see the inside of a Venetian palazzo. The museum begins with entry to the sculpture garden which is well manicured with ample space to appreciate each piece. The special treat is seeing the corner where Peggy is laid to rest near her dearly beloved dogs. To enter the home, you open huge ironwork doors which give an immediate view of the Grand Canal beyond. A Calder mobile hangs delicately in the foyer. The house is narrow and long and completely white. I imagine this is the best way to display modern art. Many of the pieces are hanging where Peggy had them while she lived here and there are black and white photos of her and various guests in the home in each of the rooms. I was familiar with some of the artists including Jackson Pollock, Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst (who was Peggy’s boyfriend for some years), and Alexander Calder. But Peggy was the consumate collector and most of the pieces were strange and hard for me to appreciate, which I assume is just how modern art is supposed to leave you feeling. Since photography is not allowed in the home, I am sharing some of my favorite pieces through images found on the internet…
Tim and Lilly elected not to go into the museum so when I exited they were eager to continue on our Venice tour. We made our way over the bridges to St Mark’s Square and from there took a vaporetto to San Giorgio island, one of the tiny islands that make up Venice proper. We toured the church there and I took the elevator up the bell tower to get a great view of Venice below. This is the only way I know of–except the new helicopter tours–to gain a better understanding of how all the canals work to move goods and people through the city. We took a stroll along the docks and watched an MSC cruise ship slowly and patiently pull out for their next port of call. Near the church, we enjoyed a cappuccino and glass of wine and just soaked up the sun and Venetian atmosphere.
To close out the day, we had dinner at a Trattoria recommended in the Rick Steves’ book. Our prior experience with these restaurant recommendations hasn’t been stellar, but because it was such a tourist-light day in Venice, we thought it might be easy to score a table. We showed up right when the restaurant opened for dinner and after 20 college kids were seated at a long banquet table, we were ushered to a quiet table in the garden. It was one of the best Italian meals I’ve enjoyed and I have to say it was primarily because of the setting. Little white lights twinkled above us and the scent of lilies blanketed the moist air…the table wine was good and my lasagne bolognese was divine. Of course,we wanted the experience to last a bit longer so we ordered dessert (profiteroles and tiramisu) and cappuccinos. What a way to close out a perfect Venice day.
Living in an empty home for the past 3 weeks has made us desperate for getting out—simply anywhere, we haven’t been terribly choosy. This past week, we drove out to Passau for the afternoon. We had briefly entertained visiting Passau last summer when we were in the beginning planning stages of a Danube River bike ride from Passau (a common starting point for bikers) to Vienna. Since we never got past the internet research stage, Passau disappeared along with the vacation plans. That is, until the monumental floods that Germany experienced this past spring featured Passau prominently as it became completely submerged and traffic was diverted away from the town as crews worked to repair bridges and roadways.
Located on the banks of the Danube River, this jewel of a town is one of the stopping points for the riverboats that ferry passengers up and down Germany’s famous river. The town is actually at the meeting point of three rivers: the Danube, Inn and Ilz rivers, which probably makes this a prime place for flooding. As we walked the streets, we noticed high water marks from past floods. For residents, the flood of 1954 was the last major one recorded; this past spring, the waters managed to climb above that water mark making it the most severe flood since 1501, more than 500 years ago. Repairs are still being made and most of the city’s parking garages were still boarded up. Ground floor apartments and shops had powerful floor fans working to dry the walls and many crews were sawing, hammering and painting damaged walls.
The big draw of Passau, besides the awesome shopping found on the main market street, is St Stephen’s Cathedral and its massive organ, which is the largest church pipe organ outside the US. It used to be the largest in the world, but knowing excess in America, the First Congregational Church in Los Angeles happens to beat the 17,774 pipes ad 233 registers found here. And, wouldn’t you know it? There was a 30 minute organ concert scheduled for noon at the church. We paid 4 euro for a grand tour of the cathedral and then sat mesmerized as we listened to the organ. The concert started out with Bach (the master of organ music) and featured other selections from different musical periods. It concluded with one of the loudest sounds I’ve ever heard from an organ. So loud, that I could feel the vibrations in the marble floor tiles of the church. Now, that’s a concert that gets deep into your bones.
We concluded our mini tour of Passau by walking slowly along the Danube River and looking across to Austria. Tim and I love to imagine what life was like for residents 400 years ago. There is something very alluring about living on a river and watching boats carry people and goods to far away places.