Ray's Blog Via Italia

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Prague - April 14-17, 2006

Here are pictures from Prague in the Czech Republic. We got a tour that took us to all the big spots and then afterwards just wandered around the city. The city is mostly a walking city and a photographer's delight. Every corner you turn the gothic architecture is just really astounding. The city was one of the cities in Europe that was not bombed during the WWII so everything is pretty much preserved. The two areas we really spent a lot of time in were the Prague Castle area and the Charles Bridge.

The entrance to Prague Castle

Prague Castle

One of Franz Kafka's former homes

Tyn Cathedral in Old Time Square

The Charles Bridge

Prague Castle at night (view from Charles Bridge)

City view of Prague from the top of the Observatory

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Roman Holiday - April 8-9, 2006

All the hotels in Milan were booked for this weekend because of a huge furniture exhibition and it was also the weekend of the elections for Prime Minister so I did not have a place to stay in Milan. So I decided to go to Rome for the weekend. I tried to do all the touristy things I could cram in two days...luckily I had been to Rome before so I kind of new what to do. Here are some pics from that weekend...

Palm Sunday at the Vatican, there must have been close to 40,000 people in the square

I was trying to get close to the front while the Pope was addressing the crowd

A view of the Vatican City from the top of the St. Peter's Basilica

A close-up of Michelangelo's "La Pieta"

The Trevi Fountain

Sunset at the Colosseum

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Cinque Terre - March 26, 2006

My cousin Angela and her boyfriend Jim came to visit me for a few days and we decided to hike at Cinque Terre (5 Lands). The trip is about 3 hours from Milan with a stop in Genova. We tried to hike all 5 lands but due to time constraints and a really long stop for a freezing lunch at Corniglia (the 3rd land) we could only hike until the 4th land and we ended up taking the train to the 5th land which is the biggest and is called Monterosso. The weather wasn't so great as you can see and it rained a bit but it was a lot of fun and the views are spectacular. The 5 towns are perched on cliffs overlooking the Ligurian sea just north of the Mediterranean. The total distance from the first to the last land is about 9 miles. We ended the day enjoying gelato overlooking the sea while waiting for the train back to Milan. The trip back to Milan was chaotic as we missed our original connection train but luckily the last train heading back to Milan was delayed so we caught it just in time.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

La Scala - March 23, 2006

I was finally able to get tickets for La Scala. I settled on an Italian opera called Lucia di Lammermoor by Gaetano Donizetti. The house was packed and La Scala is considered to be one of the top opera houses in the world so I had to experience it. The opera house has been around since 1778 and recently underwent major renovations. Composers like Giuseppe Verdi and singers like Maria Callas were among the people who performed at La Scala. The interior or the opera house is really different from the exterior which is really unassuming. The interior is exactly what you would expect an Italian opera house to look like, red lining everywhere, grand chandeliers, marble statues everywhere. The house seats 2800 and the stage is surrounded by box seats. The box seats are stacked and go as high as 6 levels up. I was on the first level 8 boxes away from the stage so I thought I had good seats considering I shelled out close to $140! Well, it turns out these tiny boxes can only allow two people to see the stage completely. They seat 5 max per box so I had to stand for most of the performance and lean out behind the two people in front of me. One of the guys in the box actually fell asleep during the show! Aside from the extra work of having to peer out to see the complete stage the production values were top notch. The stage and set designs were so realistic it was amazing. The singers and the costumes too were world class. If I had to go again I would buy tickets further in the back of the "U" shaped row of boxes so I could get a better view but it's definitely an experience.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Some more pictures from my visit to Paris....

Cupid and Psyche in the Louvre

Sacre-Couer Basilica in Montmartre

The Champs Elysee at night

The Royal Palace at Versaille

The Gardens of Versaille with view of the Apollo Basin

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Weekend in Paris - March 17-19

So I went to Paris over the weekend. It was chaotic! You'd think it wouldn't be as busy during the later winter months but it was packed. I can't imagine what it's like in the summer but I saw everything I could pack in a weekend. The Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Champs Elysee, Arc de Triomphe, Montmatre, Versaille...you name it! I am still feeling the pain, I walked 14 miles the first day and 9 miles the second so I definitely got some excercise in but it was a cool first experience in France. Even cooler was that my hotel was a block away from the Eiffel Tower in the 7th district. The people were all very friendly and language was not a barrier at all. Then again I was so used to hearing Italian I found myself answering back to people in Italian by accident! Considering how big Paris is (14 metro lines!) getting around was very easy and I never got lost. Well here are some pics from my weekend in Paris...

It's me in front of the Arc De Triomphe. I am on the Champs Elysee.

Winged Victory at the Louvre. This is a timelapse shot taken from across the hall.
Notre Dame Cathedral
The Eiffel Tower lit up at night with view of Pont d'Lena

I especially like the last picture which is the panaromic shot. This was taken from the top of the Arc De Triomphe. I basically took a series of pictures and stitched them together on my computer. Very cool feature.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Last Supper - March 2, 2006

Ok so I finally made my way to see Leondardo Da Vinci's "The Last Supper". It wasn't easy! First off you have to book tickets weeks in advance so I booked mine for March 2 which was a Thursday (about 2 weeks in advance). The thing with this viewing is that you have to pick a time slot and go in at that time slot. The groups are limited to 25 people per time slot and you can only look at the painting for 15 minutes before they kick you out. I chose the 1PM time slot which would have been my lunch hour and I figured I would have plenty of time to get there and back. Big mistake! In my infinite wisdom I decided to wing it and figure out the location of the church the day of the viewing. As soon as I got off the subway I immediately asked for the right direction. The thing with Milan is that roads are not perpendicular, it's all criss-crossing and diagonal and they can change names after every block! Well I was running for blocks hoping I wouldn't get shut out of my time slot and made it in time (maybe 1 minute late). They gave me the audio tape and I caught up to my tour group and I have to say it was very awe-inspiring. It's much bigger than I thought. The paining is on a refectory wing of "Santa Maria della Grazie". The wing itself is very modern, it has sliding glass doors and the room is climate controlled. The reason for this is that the hall the walls were blown out during WWII but luckily they sandbagged the fresco so it was saved. This is why the wing looks so modern even though the church is hundreds of years old as most of the refectory was rebuilt after the war. The painting is not in the best condition as it is very faded but you can still see the masterful work, the colors and the perspective were really amazing and ahead of its time even though the materials used did not stand up to the test of time. Apparently even Napolean's army had used it for target practice so the fact that it's as well preserved as it is says a lot! Alas, no pictures were allowed inside but I can say now that I've seen the painting with my own eyes.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Venice and Carnivale - February 24-26, 2006

Here are some pictures from the Carnivale festival in Venice. It's the Venetian Mardi Gras where everyone walks around in costumes. The interesting thing was how authentic and intricate a lot of these costumes were. I didn't see any Walmart Halloween throwaway costumes, it was the real deal. Some must have been either homemade or custom made, the lady with the birdcage on her head comes to mind. I couldn't tell if these people were locals or also tourists but the costumes were really impressive. The only bad side about the Venice trip was the food. Everything was overpriced and the service was terrible. Most restaurants charged a 12% fee on top of the cover charge which is per person. I don't know if it was like this because of Carnivale or if it's always like this. Oh well! It was cool wandering around the streets and narrow alleys and looking for hidden gems. I found a jester's hat for $5 euros so I can't complain.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

More Olympics

Here are some pictures from my weekend in Torino. I never could figure out what the official Olympic mascot was suppose to be, he kind of looks like a tooth! He would look perfect hung up in a dentist's office. There are also pictures of the various lights that were strung up between each of the major streets. They contracted different artists to each come up with a distinctive design for each of the streets so it was cool wandering from street to street looking at the artists came up with. There is also a picture of the medals pavillion, this is where the atheletes actually got their medals and went through the whole ceremony and where they would hold concerts and events at night.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Torino Olympics

Long time no post. I have been very busy with work and all but I did manage to go to the Olympics in Torino!! We went on Feb 19th, and we had tickets to see the Women's 1000M Speed Skating finals. Unfortunately USA placed 10th but it was still fun! The place was mobbed and about 50% of the audience was from the Netherlands (probably because they were heavliy favored to win!). I can't remember the last time I saw this much orange as it is the national color. Whenever they would announce someone from the Netherlands the crowd roared and would knock you back to your seat if you were standing. So the results were 1) Netherlands 2) Canada 3) Germany.

Torino is a very cool city too, very small and quaint. Unfortunately it was raining and then it began to snow pretty bad and it was FREEZING but the Olympic experience will never be forgotten. It was pretty amazing to see all these people from different nations all supporting the athletes. Later after the game we went to the Olympic Medals Stage and got as close as we could to the stage. It turns out that Whitney Houston was performing live that night, we only stayed for the first couple of songs...she was actually sounding very unspectacular mostly talking through the songs and not really singing and we were really cold and tired so we headed back to Milano. I am definitely going to pencil in Vancouver for 2010!! I think it would be cool to watch the outdoor events like snowboarding and slalom.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Western Stereotype?

I went into a tourist store called "Gadgets" that was in The Galleria. Up on the third floor they have little stationary items and figurines and right there seemingly out of place is this "Western" blowdryer. Who on earth would buy this at $50EU!!! Maybe gun-totin' Texans who left their gun-racks back home? Regardless, judging from the picture on the box this thing looks like a relic from the 50's.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Itali-Cuban Experience

Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006. Here are some more pics from my weekend trot around the city. I got a pedometer the day before at a sporting goods store called Decathlon (the local sportizi place). According to my pedometer I travelled 19074 steps and walked 6.33 miles. The top photo is the top of The Galleria.

The middle pic is near Brera, by the Santa Maria de Carmine cathedral. The bottom photo is taken from Piazza Cordusio. It was late afternoon on Saturday and everyone was just shopping that day. There were all kinds of street merchants too. Everyone tries to do shopping on Saturday since Sunday most places close.

So....it turns out there is a Cuban restaurant near where I am working! So me and my co-workers trot down to the restaurant and there it was on Via Leonardo da Vinci! It's called Tocororo which is the national bird of Cuba. Even though they tried to make it all "authentic" with pictures of famous socialists like Che and Fidel, the food was actually pretty decent. This more than makes up for the Mexican restaurant I went too that I am trying to recover from. Ciao for now!!