Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Venice is Part City, but Mostly Tourism

Venice is the most beautiful, bizarre city I've ever been. The decor in our hotel is opulent and regal, I feel like a princess here with my Venetian glass chandelier and my gold sheets. And our hotel is right on a canal, so I can hear the gondolas pass me (when they have singers or accordion players in them). It's a beautiful, romantic city with picturesque scene after scene of canals and alleyways and gondoliers and whatnot.

Saint Marks' Square, and gondolas docked for the season

Ahh, bridges.

But literally, every romanticized picture you've seen of Venice is true. Except add about a million more tourists into the mix. The gondoliers wear hats and striped sweaters, there are stalls EVERYWHERE (run by Indian men, funnily enough) selling scarves and glass products and masks and fans and silly aprons and other tacky tourist knick knacks, and there are enough tourists around to eat all of it up. I'm pretty sure the main economy in Venice now is just tourism. It's kind of sad to me, I don't know if I actually saw a true Venetian my entire time here.

I did see cat graffiti and an art exhibit though


There's a zone that the tourists stick to as well. The cruise ships all dock and let everyone off in basically the same area, so from there to the Ponte Rialto (and a radius around there) is FULL of people. But if you walk past that drop off area, it is so dead. Very few people walk that way, which is great for me because that's where the park is and other pretty places and they weren't ruined by hoards of people.


This is the residential neighborhood I found myself hitting dead ends in

Tourism is interesting. And I love watching tourists, because they are such sheep (especially the guided tour groups). They see what the guidebook or their group leader tells them to see, and they don't move their eyes out from behind their camera screen. I wouldn't be surprised if they saw the entire city through the viewfinder of a camera, which is really a shame. I've made sure to keep my eyes on what's around me, and sketch more, instead of taking photo after photo. I cherish my time here more that way, and I think it makes it more special if I DON'T document it out the wazoo.



Our professors only had one appointment for us during the two days we were in Venice, so I spent most of my time here walking around by myself and getting lost. It has been very fun, picking side streets and crossing bridges over canals and people watching. I'll meet up with people for lunches and dinners, but mostly I've just been letting my feet and eyes take me where they want to go. Also, I've been feeling kind of moody lately, so some alone time has been wonderful.

Our appointment was on Tuesday morning at the Fondacione Querini Stampalia, a museum done by Mario Botta and Carlo Scarpa. We were only interested in the Scarpa portion, though. We visited the courtyard and a hallway, which were both done by Scarpa. There was a brilliant staircase down into the water- the wall had two arches with gates in them that let the water in from the canal, and it washed over the last two steps of the stairs. As the tide rose and fell, it affected how far down the steps you could go. It was so cool to see water puncture a building like that.

The same tile pattern is on the floor was was on the wall at Castel Vecchio! Guess Scarpa didn't use his imagination

This basin is what you have to step into to get to the museum. Scarpa lies to use containers that are meant to hold water, to not hold water. Like people, for example

On the left is Mario Botta's addition and how it addresses the water in the canal, and on the right is Scarpa's. Botta's feels like a container, whereas Scarpa's feels like a continuing space. You can inhabit the water and get close to it, instead of being held away from it

The garden was very beautiful as well. Scarpa uses the sound of water to create a sense of tranquility, and clean lines to emphasize that. He is a brilliant architect. I'm definitely going to go home and read up on him, I will probably end up using this building in Venice in my research paper.

This little water feature was brilliant. There is so much detail put into such a small part of the garden, but it is beautiful in its expression

Over the past two days, I have seen: many many tourists, tacky gondoliers and proud gondoliers, enough redheaded British children to make me happy forever, a bar whose entire color scheme was orange, pigeons that fly up and sit on your arms if you hold them out, the residential part of Venice, a very nice park, a bridge with shops built into it (RIDICULOUS), piazzas and piazzas and piazzas, and lots of tiny alleyways.

Jen, Amanda, and I went on girl dates the past two nights, having pasta and wine and great conversation. And tonight, a big group of us went to listen to the San Marco Chamber Orchestra perform Vivaldi's Four Seasons, plus two other pieces. It was brilliant! I really enjoyed it, and the violinists who soloed were absolutely incredible. The finger dexterity they have is something I will never have or understand. It's great.

Venice is a beautiful, sad story in my opinion. It has a rich history and past, but has been so overrun by people flocking to see "Venice" that the city has transformed into a mega tourist haven that has lost its identity. But I will be sad to leave the bridges and canals behind me. Those were wonderful :)

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Beautiful Italy and Suitcases that Make me Want to Punch Things

I feel as if blogging in Italy is going to be a little more difficult than on the rest of the trip. Now that I have only 12 days left on this journey, I'm less inclined to stay inside at night and blog and MORE inclined to buy a bottle of Limoncello and hang out with friends in a piazza.

We last left off in Verona, yes? Arriving in Verona. We only had one full day in Verona, but I enjoyed my time there a lot. The group went to visit the Castel Vecchio, a castel/musem renovation by Carlo Scarpa, in the morning, and had the rest of the day free.


In most renovations we've been in (especially castles), much of the property is roped off and inaccessible. This was not the case at Castel Vecchio. Scarpa created so many nooks and crannies and hallways to explore that in two and a half hours, I didn't see the whole building. The entire complex was a really nice juxtaposition between the old castle and the new intervention. Where the walls of the castle curved, the lines of the renovation were straight. The old historic doorways were preserved, with new doors put in them. And the details of the building! Everything, from how the steel handrails were cut on the laser cutter to how every single staircase was different according to how Scarpa wanted the visitor to approach the next level, was so meticulously and beautifully thought out and executed.

The main entrance hallway

I like the brick pattern- rough stone with polished stone. And the way the old artifacts are hung on the walls.... crazy!

It was truly a beautiful building to visit. I was talking to John about the building, and he pointed out just how detailed the areas of transition were in the building- doorways and windows, for example. And after he said that, I looked down at my sketchbook and realize that is ALL I had been drawing, details of transition. Even subconsciously I was picking up that these were important to the architect, and therefore important to me as someone experiencing the building.

Entrances, bridges, stairs...

I've also been reading a really interesting book, "The Eyes of the Skin" by Juhani Pallasmaa. He's been talking about how the sense of sight is overwhelmingly the only sense that some architects design for, and how buildings should be experienced with all senses. I would argue that the Castel Vecchio is one of those buildings you experience with all of your senses. You see the details, you touch the old stone and the new steel, you sense with your body the feeling of a tight hallway versus a large room, you smell how old the building is... it's really incredible. I didn't lick the building, so I don't know how it tastes, but I can only assume it tastes like stone.

The rest of the day was spent walking around, looking at shops and stalls, and bopping around. We visited Juliet's tower, which was FULL of people being romantic and gooey and leaving notes and locks and gum on the walls for Juliet. I pondered leaving CJ's and my name on the wall, but I didn't have a lock/piece of gum/paper to write on, and I also didn't like how crowded it was. So, I didn't. A fictional character from a Shakespeare play does not dictate the success or failure of my love life. SO THERE.

This wall was built in 50 B.C.

Juliet's plaza

Notes and gum and locks, all with precious letters and sentiments to Juliet

I went out around 3 to sketch. I walked around the coliseum and sat in the park by the fountain, and set to sketching. I made some successful small talk with two older Italian gentlemen, and just chilled and watched the people. In the evening, a large group of us went to the Piazza for dinner. We ate at what we called the Italian equivalent of TGI Friday's- I had spaghetti and a glass of wine, and I was so content.

The Piazza Bra was full of art vendors on Saturday. I wanted to buy a piece, but there isn't enough room in my beer suitcase for art

Sunday morning, we left Verona behind and headed to Venice! I bought a new suitcase in Verona because my first beer suitcase BROKE in Como (don't remember if I told you, dear blog readers), so I was toting the new one behind me. I feel absolutely ridiculous, carrying a hiking backpack AND my messenger bag AND my stupid beer suitcase. I just want to punt it into the canals and forget about it, but all my souvenirs are in it, so I can't.

We spent the majority of our day (that was not occupied by a bus ride) at the Bryon Cemetery. It was designed by Carlo Scarpa for the Bryon family, and took 12 years to complete. It was a beautiful complex. We've studied it in school before, but nothing compares to actually visiting a place.

The traditional part of the cemetery

The two circles represent life and death- one cannot exist without the other

All of these cemeteries we're visiting have got me thinking about the archtiecture of death. In Germany, apparently you only lease your plot for 25 years, then you get dug up and your bones are put in the nearest church in the Bone Vault with all the other bones. You just get tossed in there and mixed up with everyone else. In Italy, they are SUPER into All Saints Day and they regularly visit and maintain the gravesites of their parents and grandparents and great grandparents, and they stack up to six coffins on top of each other at each plot. So the graves are like 12 feet deep or something. But with the Islamic cemetery I visited, the bodies are buried in cloth and will eventually decompose and turn to dust, returning to the earth.

How do you design a cemetery, a place of memories, a place of pause and repose and contemplation and grief? How do you think bodies should be treated once the person inside has moved on? Do you want to be preserved in a box, or return to the earth? These are all questions that you ask yourself if you want to tackle this. Death is scary, and graveyards and cemeteries can be scary too. But not one cemetery we've visited on this trip has been scary. They have all been beautiful. So it's possible to bring beauty to death. You just have to really think about it.

I HATED those stairs. They were the worst things to walk down. Dear goodness

They're getting married, so we can take cheesy photos of them

Jen and Leanna

It didn't take long to get to Venice from the Bryon Cemetery. We hopped off our bus and took a water taxi thing to the general area of our hotel. As luck would have it, the handle of my beer suitcase literally came off in my hands. First I lose a wheel, now I lose a handle. Not only do I look ridiculous with all my luggage, but now it's BROKEN. At least I packed in a backpack and not a first suitcase, I would look even worse with two suitcases.

But Venice is lovely! I was mad at myself on the walk to the hotel because of my suitcase (and I don't want people to laugh at me or pity me or offer to help, this was my choice to bring beer home for CJ and I'll deal with the drawbacks), so I didn't actually look up all that much. But our hotel is RIGHT on the canal and I watched many a gondola float by :)

But we've got two full days here! I'm going to walk around and buy MORE souvenirs (I still have like half my list to buy things for, haha), and sit by the water and be happy and peachy and then enjoy Italy to the fullest!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Architecture in the Fashion Capital

I have left Como behind for more of Italy! Wifi here on out will be unpredictable, I hear I can't get any while I'll be in Florence and the wifi here in Verona costs 3 euros. So hopefully I can keep up the regular blogging!

Our last day in Como was actually spent in Milan. We all caught the 9:17 train and arrived in Milan around 10 ish. Our day was completely unplanned and free! I spent it alternating between hanging with the group, walking around by myself, and catching back up with the group.

Jen and Maddie

We all went to the Galeria, which is a covered street where the fancy stores are, like Prada and Louis Vuitton. And right across the street is the Duomo of Milan, so we went in there as well. They were "selling" photo access in there, so the only photos I took were sneaky ones because I didn't want to pay 2 euros to take photos of a building. This is why I'm glad I have a camera that I can turn the sound off on!

It's very hard to photograph a cross vault arch.

Yey! Group!

The window and floor in the Duomo that I wasn't allowed to take photos of :)

And the front!

We met up with Andrew and Marcus in Milan and bopped around with them a little bit. We strolled up and down the shopping streets, but sadly everything was WAY out of my price range.

I found a GIANT octopus stuffed animal and I wanted it, but it would've required another airplane ticket to fly it home. Maybe the stuffed animal would get two carry on items as well?

I broke off on my own to take a walk to a beer store, and I spent a while in the park. It was a really beautiful park, there were lots of ducks out on the lake and lots of happy children running around. It was a nice cool grey day as well, and the fall colors popped wonderfully. I spent a nice peaceful time there.


I realized in the park that, because I break off on my own so much to hunt down these beer stores, I get to see parts of the city that my friends don't necessarily see. We mostly stick to the city center, the tourist spots, and the really busy parts. But these stores are all in the neighborhoods, the places people actually live instead of the places where people put on a facade and run around. I like it.

We left for Verona on Friday morning, and stopped a couple times en route to the city. Our first break was in the small town of Seriate to visit a church by Mario Botta. The church was magnificent, I loved it! The inside was incredible, the interior was covered in gold leaf and it just glowed. Sound traveled really well in the church as well.

The front of the church! The entrance reminds me of the "iconic architecture" style of Aldo Rossi, who incorporated iconic symbols into his architecture. Making an apartment building? Toss in the shape of a house!

The courses of brich were 6 cm, 13 cm, and 19 cm. Each stone was split, which gave a great texture to the building.

The ceiling!

Looking towards the altar

Looking towards the entrance. The center doors will open for mass on Sundays, whereas we came in through a side entrance door

The back side of the church. The entire place is maintained by volunteers, which says a lot about the community

We noticed that most of Mario Botta's buildings look the same. Circular windows, prominent brickwork. We were excited about this building at first because it doesn't look like his other works, but we realized that it has a similar shape to the middle school we visited in Como... awkward.

After the church, we visited the Teatro Olympico in Vincenza, a building we studied in History of Architecture. It was a theater by Palladio, where he used forced perspective in the backdrops to make the set seem much deeper than it really is. This was a really interesting (and somewhat difficult) place to draw, just figuring out the perspective and the ratio in the front facade and the ellipses shaped seating area. Andrew Wallace made a really nice drawing of the building that made me super jealous.

The garden in front of the theater

Beautiful interior! The stadium seats were surprisingly comfortable

The backdrops were made with forced perspective, so they look much deeper than they really are

It's very funny to see someone walk up and down the stage- at the back they look like giants, and in the front they look like dwarfs

The detail in here was incredible. But it makes sense. In today's society, we have lots of things to do and are fans of instant gratification. Back then, there wasn't actually much to do except dedicate your entire life to creating beautiful statues out of wood or stone

On our way out of the city, we stopped at Palladio's La Rotunda, a beautiful villa that I studied in seventh grade math class. We only stayed for ten minutes, but it's always really fun to see things I learned about like 9 years ago... Sheesh I'm getting old.

Finally, we arrived in Verona! We walked around the city, passing the coliseum and window shopping. We found a neat outdoor market while we were looking for Juliet's house, which I will be returning to tomorrow. I also bought a new suitcase, because the wheel on my first beer suitcase BROKE while I was leaving the Como hotel. LAME.