Sunday, March 30, 2008

Venezia Parte Due!

The next day I woke up, got out of the hotel and went to see Piazza San Marco in the light of day. I don't think words can express what a magical sight Venice is, the skies were bright blue, the sun was shining making all the gold on the buildings glitter and because it was not high season there were not a lot of tourists. Perfect!

The piazza originated as a small plaza in front of Basilica di San Marco in the 9th century and was later enlarged to it's current size in 1177. I went to explore the basilica, which is this amazing mix of various styles of design and architecture - Byzantine, Romanesque, Gothic. I was told that when you walk in the basilica your jaw literally drops, well I can attest to that. The walls are covered in the most amazing mosaics, many of them gold, so everything just twinkles. I figured since I prayed in about every temple, Hindu and Buddhist, that I have come across in the last few months I might as well pray in a church who's faith I was actually born into. So I sat in a little chapel off the main basilica, on the the creaky wooden bench and kneeler and listened to an at least 90 year old priest give Italian mass. After mass, I walked up into the dome of the basilica where you can actually go out on to this roof terrace and take in the sights of the piazza. Really spectacular.

That morning, my aunt Helena and her friend Gertrude had driven down from Switzerland to meet up with me in Venice. It was really nice to have some company - Venice is almost too romantic a city to visit alone. Either be with a boyfriend or some friends and family but not necessarily alone. So once we met up, we went for a fantastic lunch at a lovely restaurant on the Grand Canal, next to the Rialto bridge. We basically walked for hours through the city, past technicolor bright buildings, into fantastically expensive boutiques, we went to the Basilica Frari where I was able to see the famous painting "The Assumption" by Titian. In this painting Titian developed a particular shade of red paint now known by any art student (me) as titian red. We kept walking through the city on these winding roads and alleys over these tiny bridges. We passed antique booksellers, paint pigment stores where the colors are in powder form and you just wish you could stick your fingers in the powder, the color is just that beautiful. I think over all the color and light in Venice is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen, this rosy pink misty light in the morning and in the evening turns white buildings pink and just accentuates the vibrancy of the colored buildings. It is like literally wearing rose colored glasses.

We had a lovely dinner where we received free prosecco (sparkling wine) for apero and a free limoncello for the digestif or after dinner drink. Limoncello is a tart and sweet lemon liquor, served chilled and especially delicious. We visited Harry's Bar for their famous bellinis, prosecco and peach puree. Harry's Bar created the Bellini and was a favorite haunt of Hemingway. What a day!

The following day we went to the local market where we saw all the food the locals were buying for their lunch and dinner, oranges from Sicily, anchovies, artichokes, octopus and all kinds of fish. After seeing where our food came from, we went for our lunch. I had planned to go see the Guggenheim museum after lunch but I was having so much fun with Helena and Gertrude that I decided to skip it and stay with them. Instead of going to the Guggenheim I ended up purchasing a pair of ridiculously gorgeous and sexy Italian shoes, now known as my Guggenheim shoes as they are quite the work of art. Ha ha ha.

After lots of walking, talking, shopping, eating and such it was time to go home the next day. So after breakfast we drove north, stopped at a town by the Garda Lake for lunch, stopped to visit the Virgin "Rosa Mystica" in Montechiari and finally made it back to Switzerland that evening. All in all, a fantastic trip.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Ah Bella Italia!

Since I was having such a good time in Europe I decided to extend my stay another week and upon the suggestion of my cousin Philipp I hopped on the train to Venice. I have loved riding trains since I was a child and this was quite a long one, Luzern, then various towns in Switzerland, Chiasso the border town where ultra serious Italian immigration officers check your passport, then on to Milan, Verona, and finally Venice.

This was my first time in Venice and I was strangely daunted by the fact that I was arriving in this unknown city in the evening by myself. I made my way out of the train station to the Vaporetti (the boats that are the city "buses"). Sitting on the Vaporetti, driving down the Grand Canal, I was breathless. It was evening already and the water glittered with reflections of the lights shining from the palatial villas on the Grand Canal. Every little canal, like an alley, held the promise of secrets and mystery.

I arrived at my stop at the Rialto Bridge and tried to find my way to my hotel through the piazzas and alleys that snake through the city in no logical way. A word to the wise, if you go to Venice, PLAN to get lost. I made it to my charming hotel without major incident and was so excited to see this beautiful city. I dropped my bags and headed to San Marco Square. I walked through little alleys and over little bridges and arrived at this magnificent square. While I was taking it all in a man selling tickets for a concert approached me. He spoke to me in Italian for a bit and at the end of his spiel I laughed and told him I don't speak Italian. But I did buy a ticket and listened to Vivaldi's Four Seasons performed live in a church. Amazing.

After the concert I decided to get some dinner, well unbeknownst to me at the time, all the restaurants around San Marco are very expensive. I walked into a cafe and asked about dinner for which they sent me upstairs. When I arrived upstairs I noticed this was a bit posh for me, ladies in dresses, men in dinner jackets. Oh well, what the hell I'm rocking this fur coat from my aunt and I figured I would play woman of mystery for the evening. So I sat down, received a few curious looks from other patrons and had a lovely glass of wine, pasta dish and tiramisu. After a brief conversation with the Swiss couple next to me I finished up and headed back to my hotel (after getting lost again, OF COURSE).

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Queen of the Mountains

No not me, Mount Rigi that overlooks Lake Lucerne is also known as the "Queen of the Mountains" and that is where I went after recuperating from Fasnacht.

On Thursday, another picture perfect day, Radka, Cedric and I met up with my aunt Amay down by the wharf on Lake Lucerne. We got on a boat that took past the picturesque towns until we arrived in Vitznau, where we boarded a cogwheel railway that would take us up to the Rigi Kulm (peak). In 1497 humanist Albrecht von Bonstetten referred to the Rigi as "Mons Regina" and its description by the local population as the "Queen of the Mountains".

After reaching the top we took a walk around the peak, had a lovely lunch and hiked part of the way down the mountain. One thing I find fantastic about Switzerland is that there are lots of well marked hiking trails every where. The are actually called a "wanderweg" or a wander way. I would almost call hiking the national sport, everyone does it, old and young. The Swiss call it wandering, which seems to give it a more special sentiment than just "hiking". Wandering and exploring versus the effort of a "hike". Interesting.

Anyway, once we reached the point where it was too steep for us to walk further, we stopped off in a little village on the mountain where we had a rest, a cup of tea and a horse pulled sleigh ride. The sleigh ride was great. The four of us sat in this classic sleigh that was pulled by two massive horse and we jingled through the town and forest a bit.

As the light was fading and the air was getting colder, we finally hopped back on the cogwheel train, back on the boat and were back in Luzern.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Fasnacht - Part Deux

So Sunday night as I am lying on the sofa nursing my cold, I get a text message from my cousin Alex. "Good evening! Are u better? Ready to pick it up again tomorrow at 4:45am?" Well unbeknownst to me, the festivities were about to continue early Monday morning.

So at the ungodly hour of 4:15am I walked down into the old town in my old man costume and met up with a Swiss guard, a alp wanderer and a frog. Me and my three bodyguards walked the town, drank lots of holdrio (to keep warm, of course), tracked down the Vikingers, danced and sang. There was lots of carousing and taking part in the revelry going on that morning.

At about 10am, I excused myself, bought something to eat and headed back up to the house for a nap. After a good sleep, I was told the festivities would continue at around 8pm that night. I looked out the window and saw the dismal weather - rainy and cold. It was too much for me to motivate an appearance so I told my bodyguards to go on without me.

Tuesday afternoon I headed to town in civilian clothing to take some pictures and watch the children's parade and some more bands. The weather was pristine and the crowds were in good form. I got myself some holdrio and meandered through town, getting hit with confetti along the way. I watched the children's parade, where young and old were dressed in fantastic costumes and going through town on floats. By the famous water tower bridge I saw fantastic costumes and a concert by a Swiss band who actually brought their alp horns. Quite an amazing sight with the river, the water tower and the mountains in the background! However my main objective was to hunt down the Vikingers and watch their afternoon performance. After searching them out all through the town I finally found them and watched their sensational performance.

After a while it was time to head back home so I could get into costume again. So once I donned my old man costume I made my way back to town to meet up with my cousin Pia and her daughters Jeaninne and Michele. We watched the Monsterkonzert, which is where all the bands parade through town playing their music. Sort of the big send off for the carnival. After the parade we met up with my cousin Alex, the alp wanderer and the frog again. It basically turned into a family reunion of sorts, where we collectively drank lots of holdrio and stalked the Vikingers the rest of the night. We watched the last Vikinger show at about 2am and I finally called it a night after the show. What a way to finish off fasnacht!