Thursday, June 30, 2011

Venezia

Sunday started early with a 3 hour drive to our hotel in Venice (where Jenny was waiting!). Our tour guide was generous and let Jenny travel with the group, so she was allowed to tag along for our bus ride to the Tronchetto (the ferry terminal just west of Venice) and then the ferry ride to St Mark’s Square. Our first views of the city!



Next up we had a [dull] walking tour of the city, but it was nice to see some of the sights. Below, the only spiral staircase in the city, the Doge’s Palace, and of course, St. Mark’s Cathedral, a church in the Byzantine style, notably full of treasures plundered during the Crusades, including those four bronze horses on the roof (from the Cathedral in Istanbul!).





After our farewell dinner we rode the ferry and then bus back to our hotel on the mainland in Venice Mestre for our final night on the tour.



The next morning I was up at 4 AM with the group to say my farewells and truly bid adieu to my Stanford Experience, four years I’ll never forget. Afterwards I quickly retreated back to sleep since checkout wasn’t till 10! At 10 Jenny and I left the hotel burdened with our luggage to ride into Venice and then walk to our new hotel, Hotel Caneva. She may have only been one star, but our room was awesome, and she definitely beat our four star hotel on the mainland! Here’s the view from our balcony:




We then headed out for the best gelato and Venice and a quick lunch while working our way back to the train station to get on the Vaporetto (ferry) #1 and ride down the Grand Canal, the world’s most beautiful boulevard.







Our ride ended at the far eastern point of Venice, a tourist-free part of the city, with a way different feel. We then worked our way back into the city, walking by the famous Arsenale, the ship works of Venice which could build a galley a day during their prime!



Next we headed back up the bell tower at St. Mark’s, to catch the city at sunset. Stunning indeed…





And I caught this professional photographer up at the top:



The day ended with a late dinner at La Zucca, an awesome little vegetarian(ish) place in the heart of city. Jenny had pumpkin flan and green peppers with balsamic vinegar (Jenny won) and I headed boneless rabbit cooked with fava beans. Everything was rounded off with a delicious limoncello mousse for desert. Mmm!

Tuesday morning we decided to stay in Venice for the day, putting off a day trip to Trieste. We started the day off by going to St. Mark’s Cathedral, the beautiful Byzantine cathedral in Venice. The size of the place isn’t super impressive because the soft foundation prevents tall buildings in Venice, but the interior is unbelievable. The ceiling is covered in huge mosaics and the floor is full of incredibly intricate marble patterns of dozens of colors. It’s also nifty to see all the treasures Venice took during the Crusades and the slumps in the floor as the foundation has shifted. Sadly I don’t have any photos to show because photography isn’t allowed. You’ll have to go see it yourself!



After St Marks we walked through the Jewish Ghetto, the area where “ghetto” was coined when the Jews were confined there in Venice during the 1400s. We had a delicious lunch of local seafood, starting with an appetizer of sardines, octopus, squid, and fish, and ending with the famous Venezia specialty, squid with black ink. What a crazy dish!



Cooked in white wine with garlic and onions, it was pretty good (kinda of hard to imagine all that ink in my stomach though…)



Next we headed out to Venezia’s cemetery island, home to thousands and thousands of Venetians and some other notable people including Igor Stravinsky and Ezra Pound. It was a nice peaceful escape from the city- no pictures there either.



Finally, it was back to the room for a lovely dinner in our room on the canal.



The next morning we said goodbye to Venice and to head to Lake Como via Milan. A lovely visit to one of the world’s most unique cities!


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Riva del Garda

Friday morning we left Brescia and drove up the east side of Lago di Garda, a beautiful drive tucked onto the lake’s shore for 75 km. We stopped for lunch at a small town about halfway up the lake (too small for me to remember it’s name), and while the food may have been a little lackluster, the views weren’t.



And the view from my table:




After lunch we drove into the city of Riva del Garda, but we were only there for 20 minutes before turning right around and heading back south to Verona (where I’m coincidentally passing through on a high-speed train to Milan as I write this) to see Verdi’s Il Traviata, performed in the old Roman Coliseum. First we had a tour of the city with the most eccentric tour guide I’ve ever met. He has two doctorates, has been a professor at UC Berkeley, and casually alluded to having coffee at the oldest coffee shop in Italy, Dante’s, with Margaret Thatcher, Bill Clinton, and Bill Gates’ mother (but he didn’t like what the new ownership has done with the place…). Highlights of the tour included:

The Venetian Lion that Napolean’s troops wore off to spite Venice:



The tombs of the famous ruling family of Verona



The Scala Family (with their clever iron-working and their opera house in Milan...)



And of course, The Romeo and Juliet Balcony, which was actually built after the play was written, sorry hopeless romantics.



After a quick dinner, we rushed to the opera, and while opera certainly isn’t my thing, Roman coliseums built 200 years before Christ are, and the evening was enjoyable.




After the opera ended at 1 AM, we made it back to Riva at a cool 2:45 AM, and sleep promptly ensued.

The next morning, I woke up (with a sinus infection- boo) early, and Ryan and I walked into town to rent some road bikes. After getting hooked up with some nice Cannondale bikes (for cheap too!), Ryan and I headed off to find the most ambitious ride we could. We were successful.



Our torture of choice was a ride up the Santa Barbara Pass, a pleasant 1100 meters above Riva del Garda. The views were certainly awesome, and we had plenty of time to look at them during our 90-minute climb.



Lunch was a well-deserved Weiner Schnitzel (spelling?) at the top of the pass, where Ryan and I paused for a symbolic photo. I apologize if the shorts are a little much:



WARNING: safety-conscious individuals (mothers included) skip forward one paragraph.

A harrowing 3400-foot descent ensued, with several stops to pop our ears.



After our ride down we rode across to the other side of the Riva for a quick climb up to the town of Trenno, where we were also rewarded with some good views,



And then finally back to Riva to turn in the bikes and take a quick dip in the lake.



That night we had our final concert, in definitely one our coolest venues, the old fortress on the lake in Riva (note the mountains above).



Afterwards, I got a shot to commemorate Tyler, a friend who I played with at Interlochen 5 years ago, and my last concert together (for now?). It was a pleasure indeed. The composer of one of our pieces (The Stanford Concerto) couldn’t help but jump in too.



Next stop: Venice (and Jenny!)

Brescia

After leaving Florence, we headed north to Brescia, with a quick stop in Cremona, home of the world’s famous violinmakers, Stradivarius, and a few others I can’t remember. As much as I love violins and museums separately, and especially violins in museums, the highlight of the town was definitely climbing the 400 foot tall bell tower (and leaving?) built in the 1200’s- it’s amazing that something that tall could be built in the 1200’s!



The view from the top was nice too, although looking down was pretty nauseating, and the spiral staircase was a little scary.





And here’s an obligatory shot of some Stradivarius violins (it’s not one of my best…):




After leaving Cremona we drove another hour to a southern suburb of Brescia, Manerbio. The town enthusiastically greeted us, and we got to hear a concert from the local bands, which included some classics: Another Brick in the Wall (Part II) and 25 or 6 to 4. We had Wednesday free to explore Brescia, which while not all that exciting still had some cool churches and piazzas, displaying all sorts of styles, from Baroque, to Roman, to Venetian to Facist, respectively:






And a cool castle with good views of the city:




That night we played our concert and then returned to Brescia. Thursday we went for a wine tasting in the famous Franciacorta region in the early afternoon and then returned to Brescia to a play a concert at the music conservatory in Brescia, definitely, the loudest and most echo-y venue I’ve ever played in….



Friday started off with a trip up Lake Garda, to Riva del Garda, nestled in the foothills of the Alps at the northern end of the lake…