Monday, May 31, 2010

Sculture di Sabbia

Each year the city of Jesolo, a city north of Venice on the Adriatic Sea, hosts an International Sand Sculpture contest. The annual contest has a different theme each year and this year's 13th annual festival features Pinocchio and his fantastic world. Eighteen artists from all over the world are the painstaking creators of this year's sculptures depicting Carlo Collodi's tale. The sculptures present  the life of the puppet created by Geppeto the Carpenter and all the vicissitudes that lead him to meet the dreadful Mangiafuoco and the untrustworthy Cat and Fox, the craftiness and lies that continually get him into trouble, under the watchful eye of the Talking Cricket and the Fairy with the Turquoise Hair, with their arduous attempts to get Pinocchio back on the right track so that he can become a good boy.

To see pictures of each sculpture with the story of each, visit:

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Florence, Italy

A 16th-century man from Florence, Bernardo Buontalenti, an architect and painter with a passion for cooking, is believed to have invented ice cream, which was then exported all over Europe with the famous “crema fiorentina” and “gelato Buontalenti”. So it is no wonder that Florence hosted the 1st Anuual Firenze Gelato Festival! The festival was complete with a history of gelato exhibit in the Piazza Santissima Annunziata, activities, demonstrations and, of course, ample opportunity to sample gelato! Some of my favorites were the mela verde (green apple) from the Freddie Follie shop and the caffe krunk (coffee crunch) from I Gelati Del Bondi, whose owner has been making gelato in his shop for 30 years.

While wandering the gelato booths in Piazza del Duomo, one can't help but admire the neo-Gothic green, red, and white Duomo. Brunelleschi's Dome soars 100 meters into the sky and remains Florence's tallest building. The Baptistry, with its famous bronze doors, dates back to the 4th century, making it one of Florence's oldest buildings. Lorenzo Ghiberti's famous bronze doors were commissioned in 1401 to mark the city's deliverance from the plague. Each relief panel depicts a scriptural subject: 

   1. Aam and Eve are Expelled from Eden
   2. Cain Murders his Brother, Abel
   3. The Drunkenness of Noah and his Sacrifice
   4. Abraham and the Sacrifice of Isaac
   5. Esau and Jacob
   6. Joseph Sold into Slavery
   7. Moses Received the Ten Commandments
   8. The Fall of Jericho
   9. The Battle with the Philistines
  10. Solomon and the Queen of Sheba

Piazza della Repubblica is the site of the old Roman forum and served as the city's main food market until the 1860's, when it was redeveloped and the triumphal arch was added. The inscription "Antico centro della citta, da secolare squalore, a vita nuova restituito" - "the ancient center of the city, squalid for centuries, restored to new life" - makes a derogatory reference to that fact that the piazza is the site of the old Jewish ghetto.

The fortress-like Palazzo Vecchio rises up in the Piazza della Signoria. The palazzo originally served as the city council, later became the Medici family home, and is today still used as the town hall. The piazza's statues (some are copies) mark the city's major historical events. The Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna were carved from a single block of flawed marble. The Fontana di Nettuno is the Roman god surrounded by water nymphs and commemorates Tuscan naval victories.

The Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) is aptly named as it is not only Florence's oldest wholly-stone bridge, but also its' most famous. Once occupied by butchers, the tenants are now jewelers and art dealers. Padlocks are locked all along the Ponte Vecchio. It is popularly connected to idea of love and lovers: by locking the padlock and throwing the key into the river, the lovers became eternally bonded. But be careful! There is a 50€ penalty for those caught locking something to the fence.

Luca Pitti, a 15th century banker, built his palazzo against the Boboli hill. The Medici family acquired the palazzo in 1550 and turned the hillside into magnificent gardens. Labyrinthine avenues of cypress trees lead to bubbling fountains, grottos, and stunning views of the city. The stone amphitheater is decorated with statues based on Roman myths such as the Fountain of the Ocean sculptured by Giambologna. The large oval lawn is marked by an Egyptian obelisk . Even higher up the hill is Neptune's Fountain. The large Grotto by Buontalenti, in which the artist decorated internally and externally with stalactites to create the illusion of a natural grotto. Don't miss the statue of a portly Bacchus sitting astride a very strained turtle.

After all the climbing on the hillside, hit up the Firenze Gelato Festival for another round of tasting!

To view all my pictures of Florence, visit

Monday, May 24, 2010

Poppy Fields of Italy

The sight of a field of bright, blood-red poppies exploding in mass under the Italian sun is truly one to behold and one I won't soon forget.

An ancient Roman legend explains, rather romantically, how the poppy adopted the name 'Corn' Poppy. According to myth, the poppy was created by the Roman God of sleep, Somnus, in a period when Ceres, the Roman Goddess of grain, was having trouble sleeping after the loss of her daughter, Proserpina; therefore she clearly lacked the energy to make the corn grow. Somnus, realizing the gravity of the situation, allegedly quickly brewed a concoction from the poppy and offered it to Ceres and, so legend has it... "Ceres was soon sleeping like a baby again!" She soon felt rested and relaxed in no time! Ceres suddenly found the energy and turned her attention once again to the corn fields which miraculously began to grow well. The poppy's appearance along field margins has stood as a strong symbol to the Italian ever since and its presence ensures abundant harvests in the fields.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Bergamo, Italy

Bergamo is divided into two parts, the Citta Alta (upper city) and Citta Bassa (lower city), with the two parts connected by a funicular.

Citta Alta is surrounded by 17th century cyclopic defensive walls, fortified by the Venetian Republic. Piazza Vecchia is the heart and jewel of Citta Alta and contains the city's most interesting architecture. The 12th century Torre del Comune, which still chimes 100 times nightly at 10pm in memory of the past age, when the town gates were closed at night for security reasons, offers stunning views over the city and beyond with a climb up its stairs. Palazzo Nuovo, also known as the Biblioteca Angelo Mai, was designed by Vincenzo Scamozzi in the early 17th century but was not completed until 1928. Palazzo della Ragione has the lion of St. Mark on its facade, testifying to the long period of Venetian dominance. It also connects Piazza Vecchia with the Piazza del Duomo by its 12th century portico. 

Piazza del Duomo opens up to reveal the Basilica della Santa Maria Maggiore. Giovanni da Campione's porch in the left transept, which is supported by columns departing from lions in Veronese marble, is quite notable. The arch has a frieze with hunting scenes. A loggia houses statues of St. Barbara, St. Vincent, and St. Alexander. At the peak is a Gothic niche by Hans von Fernach (1403) with the Madonna with Child flanked by St. Esther and St. Grata (1398). Next door is the Cappella Colleoni which is characterized by the use of tarsia and polychrome marble decorations in white, red and black lozenges. Over the main portal is a rose window, flanked by two medallions portraying Julius Caesar and Trajan.

From the Colle Aperto, another funicular runs up to Colle San Vigilio. A short walk on Via Castello brings you to the ruined Medieval castle. Stop to admire the views of the Citta Alta and Citta Bassa below with the foothills of the Alps to the north.

A foot path leads around the fortified walls of Citta Alta and to Porta San Giacomo, the main gate to Citta Alta. From Porta San Giacomo, you can continue down a cobbled path between the fortified walls to the Citta Bassa. It is quite a long way but well worth the walk! Continue along Via Sant' Alessandra to Piazza Pontida, a very lively piazza to relax by the fountain with an Italian granita to cool down with after the long hike down. Then wander down Via XX Settembre to window shop until reaching Viale Vittorio Emanuele, lined with some of the Citta Bassa's most stunning palazzos.  

To view all my pictures of Bergamo, visit