Friday, October 25, 2013

Venice days 1 & 2

First of all, let's talk about how hott my wife looks in a Venetian mask...
Okay, enough said.

The trip from Vienna to Venice was very... interesting. We had decided to kill two birds with one stone and book a double room on the train that we could sleep in while traveling to Venice. When we arrived in our cubicle (that is what it reminded me of) we just saw a bench and that was about it. All the passengers (including us) were looking around trying to figure out if there was something we needed to do to put the beds down or what we should do next (sorry this next picture is blurry, I didn't realize it when I took it). Fortunately they eventually came around and showed us where the beds were hiding and we were quite surprised they managed to fit two beds in there!

Then they brought us "dinner." We though it was hilarious that they would go through all this effort for that one little bowl of fruit. The tray said "enjoy your meal." Well luckily we had already had dinner so it was a nice little snack.

After dinner they came around and put the beds down. It actually was not as bad as I had imagined it being. Natali and I watched a movie and went to bed. The beds were better than expected and the breakfast was actually pretty good. It was a cramped room so moving around was pretty much impossible.

Venice is amazing, especially from an engineering perspective. The methods used to create the foundations of the city over 1000 years ago are really impressive and the waterways are really neat as well. From a photographer's perspective (Natali's), Venice is amazing because each turn results in a new scene with bridges (over 140 total in Venice), water, and vintage buildings. Speaking of the buildings, Natali and I decided that the best way to describe the buildings are that they are "decoratively decaying" because a majority of the buildings look like pieces of the structure are falling off but in a very vintage/interesting way. I'd compare it to the super expensive pants that are all worn out to look old and used that are so popular (but Natali would say that's a terrible comparison for the romantic city of Venice).

Anyway, back to us. We arrived in Venice at 9:00 AM so we had a full day in front of us. We had a few hours before we could check into our place so we did one of the must-do items on our list: got lost in Venice. This is very, very easy to do. The whole city is like a large labyrinth. The smallest alley can turn into a large road and a large road can abruptly end or get cut off by one of the waterways. We got lost many times in Venice, but this time we did it on purpose. Anyone that goes to Venice should definitely have enough time to just get lost and enjoy the best attraction there: Venice itself. We wandered around and found things like the Rialto Bridge and other little streets and alleys.

 It was a little uncomfortable carrying this big bag around before we could check in...

We got situated in our Venice apartment which was right on one of the small waterways. The windows in our room were right over the water so we got to enjoy the boats and gondolas passing by. We made our way over to St. Mark's Square and just roamed around and took pictures of the square. It was a bummer because a large portion of St. Mark's Basilica was being renovated from the outside so we didn't get a great picture of the front of the full building.
We were really excited to start eating Italian food. Austrian food was good but I could eat only so much Schnitzel and Gulosh. Natali's friend told her to try a Bufala Caprese Salad (buffalo mozarella cheese and tomatoes with olive oil and balsamic vinegar) and she was not disappointed. We ate a TON of these salads in Italy (usually with no arugula).

We were torn all day on whether or not we should do a Gondola ride. We had heard that it was way overpriced and that it was a tourist trap but we had also heard that it was a "must-do" while in Venice. In the end we decided to just do it. We hit it just right because after 7:00 the price goes up another 20 EUR but we got there at 6:55 so we still got the cheaper price. The gondaleer was great and pointed out interesting things and sang a little bit. Although it was expensive, I still think that if you visit Venice that you have to take a gondola. Look for the ones that are off on their own in one of the smaller canals. We saw some really touristy places that looked like a gondola traffic jam and didn't look fun. We were mostly alone on our ride and it was really nice.

We went back and visited St. Marks square a little bit longer and got some night pictures of the square but we didn't stay out too late because getting lost in Venice can be quite exhausting.

The next day we headed back over the Rialto Bridge and back to St. Mark's Square. We decided to wait in the line to go inside and see St. Mark's Basilica. We went into some of the other churches in Venice and thought that most of them weren't really worth going in but St. Mark's was awesome. The ceilings are all gold colored and show different people and scenes. The most impressive thing is that they are all mosaics, so the whole ceiling was made by placing tiny pieces of colored tile or rock up on the ceiling to form the pictures. Pictures weren't allowed but we snuck just one.

I thought the Basilica was very interesting and it also has some very interesting history. For example, it is the resting place of St. Mark but St. Mark was buried somewhere else after his death. The Venetians thought this was horrible so two of them went and "stole" his body and brought the bones back to Venice and buried them under the Basilica. This mosaic depicts when the two men bring St. Mark back to the Basilica.

There are other things in the building which were stolen or brought from other places. The most famous (besides St. Mark) are the four horses that are right on top of the main entrance. They were taken from Constantinople and brought to Venice (and we learned during our visit to Istanbul that there are clearly still some hard feelings about the Venetians stealing those haha). We unfortunately didn't get a picture of these cause of the construction.

Right next door to St. Mark's Basilica is the Doge's Palace. This is the place where the Doge (Duke) resided. It is pretty cool because it has no walls and really no defenses. It was like the Doges were saying that they were so powerful that they didn't need those things. Venice as a whole doesn't have outer defenses because the water is so shallow around it that large boats can't get close enough to attack.

Sorry if this is boring but I think knowing a little of the history helps to bring the place to life. So we went into the palace and just wandered around. Here are some pictures of the outside of the courtyard and the first staircase into the main building. Once inside we weren't allowed to take pictures (Natali hates that) so we don't have any of the rooms.

At the end of all the rooms you can go to the prisons which were connected to the palace with a bridge called the "Bridge of Sighs." It is called this because of a writer (forgot his name) who once wrote that this is where the prisoners would take one last look over Venice, think of their fate, and sigh.

We then went wandering around again. We found another church that we would recommend entering called Saint Mary of the Friars. It has some amazing art in it by Titian and some others and they are still where they were intended to be left. These were great but the coolest thing we found in here was the twin sculpture of one that we found in Vienna. Canova had made and designed the tomb for one of the churches in Vienna. After his death, they used his same design and made this one for his own grave. We loved finding these kinds of connections between places we went during our Europe trip.

We then went for some more random pictures around the waterways of Venice as the sun went down. As you can see, it was pretty amazing...

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Vienna Days 3 and 4

We started out going to Judenplatz to see the Holocaust memorial. It is very interesting and meaningful if you know what it represents.  It's thousands of books in a large cube shape with all the spines facing inward and you can't see any covers. It's meant to represent all the life stories of the holocaust victims that we will never know because they were ended so early.
 Our path then led us to Volksgarten where we took some pictures and sat for a little bit.
 (Mozart statue and Treble Clef flowers)
 Our main destination was the Kunsthistorische Museum. The building itself was an amazing work of art and is worth the visit just to see. All of the artwork and other items are just a bonus.

The museum also had some great works of art. The main entrance staircase leads to this amazing Hercules slaying the centaur statue by Canova (remember him? He was the one that did the cool triangle monument and statues in one of the churches we saw on the first day in Vienna that had a twin monument in Venice).

There were other awesome works of art as well. We got an audio guide here so it was interesting to hear some things that we wouldn't have noticed otherwise. For example, this painting of David with the head of Goliath is a cool painting but what makes it even more interesting is that the head of Goliath is actually a self portrait of the artist.
The next painting is a very famous religious painting but there is something particularly noteworthy about it...see if you can spot it:
You may or may not have noticed the little man on the bottom right corner of the picture standing next to a sign. This was also a self portrait of the artist and he is holding a sign identifying himself as the painter :-).
Here are some other things inside the museum that we enjoyed:

The Tower of Babel
 We loved the windblown material arching over her:
 Portrait of the young Empress Elizabeth (Natali thinks this is so cute)
We then headed to the Museum Quarter and went into the Leopold Museum, a modern art museum. The museum focused mostly on two artists: Klimt and Egon Schiele. They both have very unique styles of painting but we thought it was very interesting as well. Here is an example of a Schiele painting and also a few others we really liked from that museum.

Egon Schiele:

 We really loved these grapes haha. They made us hungry. The lines in this painting were just so beautiful and it looked so real.

The bottom floor of the museum was an exhibition that was created for the children that suffered through the Holocaust. All of the artwork is of faces of children, drawn from real pictures taken for concentration camp records. It was very sad going in and seeing the faces of all of these children that suffered so much. We found the drawing of this little boy to be particularly heart-wrenching.

We left the museum just in time for a huge street party on the main road. There were dozens of huge trucks that had music blasting and people dancing on and around them. The trucks were driving down the main road and each had a group of people walking alongside them while they danced or just walked. Natali probably would have joined in if I hadn't been there but we are old married people now so we just watched the youngins as they went by ;-). It was right in front of the Parliament building, which we thought was a little odd.

We had been recommended a restaurant called the Goulash Museum (not really a museum but a restaurant) and tried some more goulash. We were a little disappointed in the goulash but it was still good and is probably one of those things that you just have to try if you ever go to Austria. On a sad/side note, Natali saw this awesome hat store that she wanted to check out but when we were able to go back it was closed. Natali was really sad :(.

 We headed over to Stadtpark after dinner and walked around a little bit. We saw a bunch of homeless people that seemed to have all set up camp along a row of benches there. Each had a tarp and all of their belongings under their bench. It was kind of interesting to see them grouped together like that and the city allow them to do that. The main reason we went to the park was to see the golden statue of Johann Strauss. Natali wanted to see it so I can't even tell you any history or anything else about it.
 Day 4
Sundays are always tricky for us. Trying to find a church and get out to the church is sometimes complicated. Luckily in Vienna they had a ward that wasn't too far away from us, and it was an international ward so it was in English! After church we wanted to see the Belvedere Palace so we headed that way. We didn't go inside but just walked around the outside and enjoyed the gardens and the views. There were lots of fountains and a little breeze that made Natali's skirt flutter as she walked so we had to take lots of pictures of here dress flowing in the breeze.

 We had tried to go inside the National Library the day before but it was closed and we didn't go in the right entrance so we decided to try again. We got inside this time into one section of the library that had a large collection of books from floor to ceiling. Where there weren't any books there were paintings or elaborate decorations. Natali felt like Belle in Beauty and the Beast and just wanted to climb on one of the sliding ladders and start singing. With my help, she was able to restrain herself. It was pretty neat.

We had a little bit of time to spare before we had to go to the train station so we went to a little park and rested for about an hour. It was really nice just to sit there and talk and not have to do anything. Vacations are meant to be relaxing so it was nice to actually relax and not have to worry about where to go next or what we are going to eat. Sometimes it is nice to just sit in the park and read or talk.