Category Archives: Travel

Christmas. And Stockholm in My Heart.

Darkness fell early. Around 3 p.m. But it wasn’t really dark. Stockholm, my former home town, was lit up for the holiday season. Chandeliers and Christmas stars lit up almost every window of the respectably old buildings in the city. And the streets were decorated with Christmas lights.

drottingatan X17 UD146The day before Christmas Eve, I decided to take a pre-dinner walk down the memory lane in the historic Old Town. Coming up from the metro station I was happy it wasn’t raining. My puffer jacket proved its worth in the near freezing temperatures and I felt ready for a long urban hike.  A man selling Christmas flowers greeted me from inside his tent.

flower stall X17 UD146I walked the narrow cobble stone alleys admiring the old buildings, a few built as early as the 13th/14th century, most in the 15th to 19th century. All of them modernized for comfortable city living.

Walking on one of the main streets, I made a nostalgic discovery. Our favorite Italian restaurant from the late 70s and 80s, Michel Angelo, was still there.

restaurant Michel Angelo UD146.jpgI walked closer and snapped a picture of a very special table. Husband and I sat there one cold night in February over 30 years ago. And got the fastest service ever. You see, I was expecting our son. And it was obvious he would arrive soon. The waiter politely asked me when the baby was due. I responded truthfully that he was due two days ago. I will never forget the expression on his young face. Needless to say our pizzas arrived in record time. Quattro Stagioni with different toppings for each quarter, like the four seasons.

rest michel angelo table ud146Here I was, so many years later, a reflection in the window of my memories.

I continued my walk trying to find my way to Stortorget, the main town square in Old Town, where the traditional Christmas Market has been held every year since the 1920s.

street in old town 2 X17 UD146My sense of direction has always been poor so I ended up enjoying many an old building on my way. I came to a smaller square, Järntorget, where a big tree lit up the surrounding buildings. And tomtar, reindeers, dala horses and viking helmets filled the shop windows.

jarntorget gamla stan UD146_edited-1

shop window in Old Town UD146I crisscrossed a few more alleys and finally heard the music and saw the familiar sights of the Christmas Market.

xmas market X17 UD146I lingered there between the stalls for quite a while. I was looking for a Yule Goat, just like the one husband had bought over 30 years ago. And found the last remaining one! It is now continuing the tradition in our son’s family glogg UD146_edited-1home. I also found warm glögg and enjoyed a small cup with a ginger bread cookie in the company of visitors from Japan and Poland.

It was all so familiar. Heartwarming. I felt at home right there standing in the crowd sipping my glögg.

Now all warmed up, I continued my journey through the Old Town finding many interesting buildings and churches built starting in the latter part of the middle ages.

And finally arrived at the Royal Palace. It has over 600 rooms, but looking up from the darkened court-yard only a few windows were lit here and there. A soldier stood guard at one of the entrances.

royal palace X17 UD146

Royal palace court yard UD146_edited-4From there I walked down the castle hill and continued towards another island, Riddarholmen, the Island of the Knight. You see, while the earliest findings of human activity in the Stockholm area date back to the stone age, about 6000 B.C., the city of Stockholm was built starting in 1180 and was officially established in 1252 on Stadsholmen, or the Town Island now broadly referred to as the Old Town. The city then gradually expanded onto several other islands connected by bridges.

slottsbacken X17 castle hill UD146From there I could spot Kungsholmen, the King’s Island, were we used to live in our early years in Stockholm. And where we got married at the City Hall seen in the distance.

mot kungsholmen X17 UD146From the bridge to Riddarholmen I also spotted the Royal Opera House lit in changing colors for the festive season.

the royal opera house UD146I then walked over the bridge to the beautifully lit city center…

bridge to old town X17 UD146

sergels torg 2 X17 UD146…and took the metro a couple of stops back to my sister’s home, also located in a century old building in central Stockholm.

gathorna X17 UD146 Once inside, I was wrapped in the warmth of the Christmas spirit…

xmas cheer X17 UD146

xmas star in te window X17 UD146

amaryllis X17 ud146…served delicious traditional meals, loved and hugged by family.

julbord X17 UD146 And I was kissed by a sweet boy. He did a great job in comforting me when I missed Dylan. my sweet boy UD146While being the first without my dad and husband, this Christmas truly nurtured my heart and soul.

Thank you for being here, and for all your encouragement throughout 2017. I wish you all good health, renewed joy, love and peace. May your light burn bright in 2018.

fire X17 UD146_edited-1

Yule Goat.

Snow boots. A hooded winter coat. Gloves. Leggings and jeans. Wool sweaters. Layering tops. Christmas gifts. My trusted carry-on refuses to collaborate. It will not close. And don’t dare to sit on it. I give up and go to fetch my large suitcase. The Florida girl is going to Sweden.

I feel emotional. Browsing my photo libraries for pictures of Christmases past. I travel back in time. All the way to our son’s very first Christmas. He’s crawling under the lower branches of our live Christmas tree. Mesmerized by the lights and the sparkling tinsel garland. It’s Christmas in Stockholm.

MJ first ChristmasOur home is filled with seasonal aromas. Ham and rutabagas, potato, carrot and macaroni casseroles. Meatballs and spicy sausages. Jansson’s Temptation and herring salad. I’m in the kitchen cooking traditional Christmas dishes for my little family. Husband and son play in the living room. The camera clicks.

Christmas foodsSnow. I taste the word. Cold. Fluffy. Beautiful. And again I’m back in Stockholm. Playing in the snow with my son. Husband taking pictures. Those precious moments frozen in time.

Mom and son StockholmAnd soon I will be there again. Same city, different time. Christmas. Hopefully white. Long walks with my sister’s family and their poodle. Beautifully decorated streets and shop windows. Delicious traditional dishes. Christmas market in the historic Old Town.

I look at the old yule goat on my dining table. Its yellow straws and red ribbons are still fairly intact, after faithfully standing on whatever table it decided to jump onto for over 30 years. Every Christmas, on three different continents. It asks me if I remember. I nod.

yule oat 2It is a crisp, snowy December evening. The Old Town is wrapped in Christmas spirit. Seasonal music streams from the market stalls. Warm glögg and lussekatter. Husband stops at a stall and the yule goat becomes part of the family. Life is good.

Now silently conversing with the yule goat Love wraps me in a warm blanket. So much to be grateful for. I wish you all a wonderful, soul-warming Christmas and a happy holiday season. Feel the spirit.

From My Diary. Fall 2017.

Hi there. This is Dylan. Long time no see. And a lot has happened since then. Not all good.

In July dad went to heaven. One day he was here, the next day he was gone. All his things and clothes remained just where he’d left them. His smell was still here. He left without taking anything with him. And he didn’t tell me he was going. Like mom, I’ve been very sad about that. I remember the love he gave me. The back and tummy rubs. And the silly routines we had perfected together. I’m trying to teach mom, but she’s a slow learner. It will take time for her to grasp everything. Dad was a natural. I miss him.

Dylan sadI have a bout of separation anxiety every time mom leaves home without me. I know exactly when she’s planning to leave. And even the thought makes me fearful. Already before she grabs her purse I’m busy hoping she’ll come back. And not go to heaven like dad. To help my anxiety, mom bought me a Thunderskirt. I have to admit that while I don’t like clothes in general, that one makes me feel a bit safer. And it’s warm too. Just right for days like today when it’s windy and almost freezing. Only 55F/13C.

Dylan in Thunderskirt_edited-1And then a hurricane hit our area in early September, the first in almost 100 years. I was not born at the time of the last hurricane, but mom might remember it. Anyway, we took an impromptu trip to Philly. Just hopped on an airplane and left. That was quite an adventure.

philly studio ud137_edited-2It was my first time to fly. The security check was easy, I had a tick mark on my ticket so I just ran through the metal detector before mom. Then I checked out the Admirals Club, but there were no dog treats. Mom gave me a small piece of cheese. Then I flew like a pro. To tell you the truth you don’t actually need to fly. The big metal crate has large wings and it does all the work. You just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Dylan flying_edited-3The hardest thing on this trip was to go to the restaurants with our friends. I had to lie low and be quiet in the booth next to mom. I smelled chicken, bacon, cheese, you name it, but had to keep my head down. No sniffing. It was hard. But somehow I rose to the occasion. Nobody even knew I was there. Right, Gladys?

I have to tell you that I’ve never seen so many geese in my life. They patrolled the vicinity of our hotel every day. Again, I had to practice self-discipline.

Canada geese in Philly_edited-1All in all, it was a great trip. I realized I like to travel. And I hope mom gets me a frequent flyer card. Oh wait, that might not be such a great idea when I think about it. Smells like a double-edged sword. With more miles mom might travel even more. And there’s no guarantee she’d take me everywhere. Like earlier in the fall and again recently. You know, she’s been away twice in the last three weeks. First time she told me she’s going to look for a new home for us. New home? What does that mean? I love my home, my sitter and all my friends, like Bentley and others, at the dog park. I’m not moving. Full stop.

Bentley_edited-1I have to come up with an emergency plan to get that out of her head. All tips are welcome. I just hope it’s not too late.

After coming back, mom took me for a nice outing. We went to see some birds at Fort de Soto Park. We walked the trails near the beaches and found many different birds, big and small.

two willets FDS_edited-1

snowy egret FDS


ruddy turnstone FDSBut the most interesting part of the trip was sniffing around at the old fort. By far. The smells were fascinating. Markings of dogs long gone mixed with faint traces of gun powder around the old canons. I like that stuff.

canon and osprey FDS

canon at FDSThen we found another fort. And the soldiers were still there. Mostly pelicans and cormorants. They were guarding the island. Who knows what might come from the sea.

pelicans FDS

skyway bridge FDSOne pelican even gave me the look. Like questioning my right to be there.

pelican at FDSAt the end of the day I was happy, but exhausted and hungry. My dinner time was dangerously close. But mom said she didn’t want to leave before she found at least one osprey. Right away I pointed out several of them for her. They were pretty far away, but she should have spotted them. Then we finally drove back home. And I got my dinner 30 minutes late.

osprey FDS This past week mom left again. For work, she said. That word always sounds iffy to me. I don’t like anything that smells work. Bad smell right off the bat. I suspect she was doing sightseeing. Who can work four days in a row anyway? Impossible. And my hunch proved right. I caught her looking at pictures that didn’t look like work. Even I recognize the building. I watch the news. MSM. And mom’s not working at the White House, is she? I hope not. But here’s the evidence that she was there. Both day and night. Sometimes she’s so difficult to read.

white house DC

white house at night DC_edited-2

national xmas tree day time DC

national xmas tree at night DCWhatever the whole truth, the main thing is she came back. That she’s here now. Giving me tummy rubs. I just hope this lasts for a while.

Take care now. With love, Dylan

Tears. Gratitude. And Change.

As you may have seen, I have already unpacked my recent travels in Italy. I started fromme 4 years old ud142_edited-1 the top of my suitcase right after opening it. But there is more. And it’s much harder to unpack. The bottom layer of my ‘virtual suitcase’ is heavy with memories all the way from my childhood. Some now wrinkled, others still vivid.

After having to say the final goodbyes to both my dear dad and husband last summer, I had to go back to Finland mid September to take care of dad’s estate with my sister. That’s where my recent trip started. At my childhood’s lake house in Finland. The quiet, peaceful place in the north that’s had a great influence on who I am today.

I have always felt that the many moods and expressions of and around the small lake reflect my life. Dark skies, bright skies, strong colors, soft colors, fire and passions, peacefulness and sadness. I love them all. And I will remember them all.


lake after sunset Finland Aug16 UD142

sunset 2 on the lake Finland UD142

sunrise fire at lake sulunjarvi finland ud142

sunrise on the lake finland UD142

rain on the lake ud142

moon lake Finland Aug16 ud75After losing our mother to cancer in our teen years, we “the sisters”, were blessed to have the world’s best dad with us until this past July. A WWII veteran, despite of failing health in the last couple of years, he was sharp as a knife until the day he passed on. Here pictured at 19 in his military uniform and on his 90th birthday a few years ago. An ironman with the heart of gold. His love is still vividly felt and his wise counsel missed on a daily basis.

While going through all the papers and photos gathered over so many decades we found remarkable things. Among those was an old newspaper article about our dad. He was carrying the Olympic torch as it traveled through Finland to the 1952 Olympic Summer Games in Helsinki. I had heard of it, and knew he had been a great athlete, but never before seen this ‘evidence’. It made me proud…and teary-eyed.

Olympic flame carried by Mikko in summer 1952 UD142_edited-1.jpgIt was hard to put dad’s house on the market, the house he built with his own hands and where we grew up. But since none of us could live there, it had to be done. My sister and I remembered how we used to have a ‘grocery store’ right under the enclosed front porch. Among other neatly packed goods, we ‘sold’ sand in used wheat flour bags…to whomever walked by. Great for pancakes, we used to advertise. So many happy memories.

Mikkos house at night 2 Finland Aug16 UD75In the last picture I took of the house, the wild wines seemed to form a colorful heart on the wall. Symbolic of the love that lived in this house. And that is how I will always remember it.

koivuranta finland home ud142I packed what little I could carry in my suitcases, the most precious memories. When I left for the last time on that overcast Saturday morning, they were filled with melancholy and gratitude.

two suitcases ud142The old Loon I had seen on every visit in the past few years made an appearance far out on the lake, as if saying goodbye.

the loon finland ud142I traveled to London. I would have a Sunday stopover in this familiar city before continuing to Milan for work early on Monday. I would pull myself together.

That evening I took a long walk on the darkened streets and ended up at a small restaurant reflecting on life. Full of twists and turns, but at the end delicious like calamari. If we had the courage and took the time to taste it.

late night snack in London ud142_edited-1Sunday was a gorgeous autumn day. I rode double-deckers, took a boat ride on the Thames and walked for miles. The brilliant fall colors in Hyde Park reminded me it was the season of change. But that was hard to accept.

hyde park ud142I wanted to dwell on memories crafted with my husband in this city. I revisited places I remembered from our honeymoon and several subsequent visits. I passed the Trafalgar Square, where were used to walk among the pigeons. Nelson was still there.

Nelsons Column in Trafalgar Square London UD142I passed the Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral, where my husband had photographed the beautiful interiors such a long time ago.

Westmister Abbey London ud142_edited-1

st pauls Cathedral 2 London ud142I walked around the Tower of London, where we had fun adventures as newlyweds. The landscape around it had changed remarkably. The famous Gherkin, the Shard and other modern glass towers now filled the skyline.

tower of london and the gherkin ud142_edited-1

tower of london and the Shard ud142The newest tower was still under construction, but already invited prospective buyers to visit model apartments. This reminded me that while the old and familiar was still there, new experiences would be added to the fabric of life.

londons newest glass tower apartments UD142The Big Ben at the Parliament buildings had fallen silent. At some point age tends to catch up. But hopefully, when the extensive repairs have been completed in 2021, its famous chimes will be heard again.

the houses of parliament and big ben london ud142The 3500 years old Egyptian obelisk at the Thames, Cleopatra’s Needle, brought back both our honeymoon and our last visit to this city just a few years ago. I could still see myself behind the camera and husband sitting on that sphinx on the right.

cleopatras needle London UD142And passing the London Eye, I realized I had to learn to look into the future, however difficult and meaningless that may feel at the moment.

the London Eye ud142I knew that sooner or later I had to cross that misty bridge to the next phase of my life.

tower bridge 2 london ud142And with that I was on my way to Milan and my Italian experience, grateful for what had been and what was yet to come.

the shard and the plane ud142It was, indeed, the season of change. And I had to accept that.

hyde park in fall colors ud142_edited-1

The Many Faces of Milan.

Italy’s financial center and fashion capital, Milan, was the hub of my recent trip to Italy.  It is a fascinating and stylish mix of old world charm and modern design. Although my stay there was mostly work related (no I don’t work in finance or fashion, but they also host one of the top ranked European business schools), I will share a few experiences and observations I made while crisscrossing the city.

Milano Centrale statues MilanA pleasant surprise, a treat actually, came on my second day in Milan. A memorable dinner at Castello Visconteo. This castle, built in the 14th century, is just over an hour’s drive from Milan. Incredibly charming and a bit mysterious when you arrive at night.

castello Visconteo at night Milan

coutyard of Castello Visconteo MilanI couldn’t get enough of the beautiful decorations, still partly preserved on the walls and ceilings.

a room at Castello Visconteo Milan

the ceiling of the hall in Castello Visconteo MilanAnd the 5-course candlelit dinner was delicious, traditional dishes from Lombardy accompanied by Tuscan wines.

my dinner table at Castello Visconteo MilanI couldn’t take too many pictures at the table, but had to sneak a shot of this perfect Italian version of Crème Brule.

creme brule at Castrello Visconteo MilanOnce my work was done and I had some time to look around, I  realized Milan was quite a green city. And I don’t mean the parks. I noticed that people had surrounded themselves with greenery right where they lived. Rooftop gardens, terraces and balconies with green plants were everywhere. I started snapping pictures of a them as I passed different buildings in the city center. Here’s a small sample.

Roof garden Milan_edited-2

another building with trees Milan_edited-1

another roof garden Milan_edited-2

balconies in Milan_edited-1


green balcony Milan

Another roof garden in MilanThe most amazing green buildings I encountered, however, were the two towers of Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forest) opened in 2014. Together, these two residential high-rise buildings host over 100 apartments and 20,000 plants, among them about 900 trees. I could only get a picture of one of them, but you’ll get the idea.

Bosco Verticale Vertical Forest in Milan_edited-1These trees, shrubs and other plants fight air pollution. They can transform approximately 44,000 pounds of carbon dioxide into oxygen each year. Quite amazing, isn’t it? Needless to say, I was impressed by these green marvels, designed by the Italian architect Stefano Boeri and a large team of specialists.

Milan’s financial power and famous design were evident in the many modern glass towers reaching up towards the sky in the city center.

glass building Milan

modern skyscraper Milan

skyscraper MilanFrom looking up, I went to looking down. The traffic scene on any street always included scooters. In fact, one could see long lines of them for rental at some street corners.

scooter lady MilanAnd I noticed the many innovative parking practices. Here just one example.

smart parking ItalyFrom looking down, I went to looking through…the shop windows at Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, the worlds oldest shopping mall.

vittorio emanuele II MilanIts construction started in 1865, but there was nothing old-fashioned about it. This mall housed shops of the famous designers of our time.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II MilanI went window shopping and saw whimsical fashion creations…some more suitable for the cat walk than my walk-in closet. Or my wallet.

prada fashions Milan

fashion 3 Milan_edited-1And I saw winter gear in muted colors. More my style, with Florida length cropped pants and all, but my wallet still didn’t agree.

fashion 2 Milan_edited-1

winter fashion MIlan edited-1

fashion 1 in Milan_edited-1Some shops offered boots too…

boots Milan_edited-1…and I passed many windows exhibiting exuberant, colorful bags. The price tags were discretely tucked under the bags, and I guess for the typical customer the price didn’t really matter. I have never been a bag lady, but they were nice to look at.

Prada bag Milan

bags 3 Milan_edited-1

Armani bags Milan_edited-1

bags Milan

head gear in the window Milan_edited-2After seeing this pom-pom-fitted head-gear, I gave up. I would not leave with any of those fancy shopping bags with a world-famous designer’s name on it. So I walked out. And was faced with a wall of faces.

Faces of MIlan_edited-1A modern touch on old walls right next to Piazza del Duomo, which is the main city square in Milan. I walked closer and saw the Duomo, Milan cathedral, in all its beauty.

Duomo Milan_edited-1

detail of Duomo MIlan

main entrance of the Duomo MilanLots of people and pigeons outside, but the inside was very peaceful. I spent some time there in silent contemplation. And lit candles for each of the two men I lost recently.

detail 2 of Duomo MIlanWhen I came out I was greeted by a street musician and the many pigeons calling this square home.

Street musician MIlan

lion and pigeons at piazza del duomo MilanI noticed the lion was yawning…and took it as a sign it was time to catch a bus back to my hotel.

sightseeing bus MilanThank you for joining me on this mini-tour.  The always scary-looking beast, Mr. D., and I wish you all a wonderful Halloween week.

halloween Dylan 2017_edited-2


Birthday. Solo in the Fast Lane.

My birthday was coming up. Again. And it would be the first one my husband would not be there to take me out to celebrate the day. I knew I would feel it in my bones. To start a different tradition in the new normal, I decided to take myself out. Way out. I would go to Rome for my birthday.

Frecciarossa RomeI would take the Red Arrow, Frecciarossa, from Milan where I had been working. Two hours and 55 minutes from city center to city center. 297 km/h. In birthday style.

frecciarossa executive class seat RomeAfter a hearty breakfast and a short nap, I arrived…to a different time.

I took a red double-decker ‘carriage’ to the Colosseum. I was intrigued by this massive amphitheater measuring 190 by 155 meters (620 by 513 feet) built in the city center on the grounds of the former palace of the decadent emperor Nero. It was opened by Emperor Titus in 80 A.D., only a year after the eruption of Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii.

old ruins in Rome

old and new in RomeTraveling through the city center, I passed many beautiful structures. When I could see the walls of the Roman Forum, I knew I was approaching my destination.

Panorama from behind the Roman Forum RomeI got out of the carriage. The horses looked exhausted after navigating through the city.

horses at the colosseum RomeIt was a gorgeous late September day. I admired the great works of the Romans, and was in no hurry at all …

next to Colosseum Rome

gate at the colosseum Rome…to enter the Colosseum. I decided to linger outside for a while.  I knew the hunts and wild animal fights usually took place there in the mornings. I could almost hear the cheers of the crowd, over 50,000 people packed inside…watching the combats and waiting for the public executions that usually started around noon. Later, in the afternoon and early evening, they would witness gladiator games and combats.

panorama of colosseum Rome_edited-1Finally I went inside.

colosseum from inside RomeLooking up from the ground floor, I could ‘see’ the elaborate private boxes where the noble and upper-class families enjoyed non-stop entertainment. The more gruesome, the better. The plebs tightly packed on the marble seats of the upper tiers.

the many leyers of colosseum Rome_edited-1Although there were about 100 drinking fountains for the spectators sprinkled on the upper floors, the underground hosted most of the facilities. colosseum underground chambers Rome

There were fresh water pipes of lead, cisterns for gathering rain water, latrines for the patrons and an elaborate system to handle all the waste generated at the arena on daily basis. The stalls housing wild animals and the gladiators’ chambers were also underground.

Most of the gladiators were slaves, condemned criminals or prisoners of war, but there were also a few freed men who wanted to become famous and rich…by keeping up a winning streak. Looking up from the lower levels at the ecstatic spectators must have been frightening. The masses expected bloodshed.

view from the base level colosseum RomeI climbed stairs and walked the ancient corridors pondering about the four centuries this arena was in active use. The entertainment here was elaborate and expensive. At some point the cost accounted for about 1/3 of the Roman annual revenue.

Over the centuries, this amphitheater was damaged by storms and earthquakes. It fell in disrepair by the 6th century, and finally became a quarry for building materials for forts, palaces and churches, including the St. Peter’s Basilica.

colosseum base level RomeAs a result, about 2/3 of the original structures were destroyed, until the restoration efforts started in the 1990s.

Now I needed to balance all these past horrors with some beauty. I hopped on my ‘carriage’ again and traveled through the city center past the impressive Parliament building.

Italian Parliament Rome_edited-1I hopped off at the Castel of St. Angelo and decided to walk to the Vatican.

Piazza and castel St Angelo Rome

castel st Angelo RomeIt was quite a walk, but luckily I am well-trained by Dylan. Approaching the St. Peter’s Basilica, I was suddenly thrown back in time.

approaching st Peters Basilica Vatican RomeI briefly ‘saw’ my husband happily sitting in that square all those years ago.

raimo at vatican RomeBut that picture had already been taken. He was not there. Instead the place was very crowded. Hundreds of people were lining up for entrance.

the crowd in front of Vatican RomeI decided to continue my walk and visit the Vatican museums instead.

Vatican building B Rome

guard at Vatican RomeI needed to experience beauty. Art. Food for my soul. And there was plenty. Like this famous painting of Adam and Eve by Wenzel Peter.

Wenzel Peter Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden Vatican Museum RomeFantastic paintings in the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

ceiling painting at sistine chappel Vatican RomeAnd many sculptures, ancient and modern, like the “Sphere within Sphere” by Arnoldo Pomodoro in the museum gardens.

room with statues Vatican Museum Rome

statues at vatican museum rome

arnoldo pomodoro Sphere within Sphere Vatican Museum RomeNot to mention a large collection of icons and other paintings.

Icons at Vatican Museum Rome

another painting Vatican Museum RomeWhat surprised me was the sizable collection of Egyptian artefacts.

egyptian artifacts at Vatican museum 2 Rome

egyptian artifacts at Vatican museum 1 RomeAt the end of the day I had seen a lot. I had also walked a lot, over 20,000 steps. I was completely ready for a meal freely allowed on birthdays. Quattro Stagioni. Pizza at an Osteria next to my hotel.

IMG_1888I wish you all…a Happy Birthday if you happen to have one, or just solid, ordinary days this coming week. Those days are the best. Be here and breathe deep.

Allure of the Sinking City.

I didn’t have my boots. But luckily I didn’t need them this time. There was no aqua alta. No water came up onto the streets, squares and court yards like I had witnessed when I visited Venice a few years ago for work. However, major flooding, covering almost 15% of the city, now occurs about four times a year when the converging high tides and sirocco winds push more sea water into the lagoon. And minor flooding happens more and more often. This beautiful city is sinking.

Venice pictured from the lagoonPart of the sinking is due to natural compaction of the sediments on the 118 islands that make up the city, but a slightly larger part is due to human activity, such as conservation and renovation of the historic buildings. Some say the huge number of tourists descending on the city center on a daily basis also contributes, at least indirectly, to the sinking. And it doesn’t help that the water levels in the Adriatic Sea are rising due to global warming.

st Mark's Square Piazza San Marco VeniceI felt a bit guilty being one of the about 30 million tourists visiting Venice annually. Tourism has clearly made it more difficult for the locals to live, and afford to live, in the city. Many have already moved to the mainland. And tourism contributes very little towards the overwhelming challenges of conservation and protection against the rising waters faced by the residents. I am all for an entry fee for visitors and all the other limiting measures now contemplated by the Mayor and local government of Venice.

cruise ship in Venice_edited-1I also believe that banning the huge cruise ships from sailing into the lagoon would be a good step in the right direction…just check the scale of this ship compared to the buildings next to it.

my waterbus in VeniceThese thoughts in mind, but happy it was not raining, I set out to navigate my way from the (in comparison) small boat towards Piazza San Marco, or St. Mark’s Square as we call it in English.

I passed the Doge’s Palace, which I had already admired from the water. It had housed over 1000 Doges, elected rulers of Venice, before the “job” was abolished in 1797. The palace had also contained the court, administration and the prison systems of Venice during the medieval and renaissance periods.

the Doge's Palace VeniceOnce at the Piazza, I was fascinated by the gorgeous, intricate details of the Basilica San Marco. I just walked around it and zoomed in on one detail after another.

the horses of st Mark Basilica cavalli di san marco venice

nativity scene at saint marks basilica in Venice

mosaics at San Marco Venice_edited-1

painting on Saint Mark Basilica in Venice_edited-1The sights around the Piazza were just stunning. One beautiful building,  statue, detail or pigeon next to another.

Piazza San Marco Venice

Doorway in Venice

Detail of a pillar in Venice

the clock ringers in Venice

pigeons at Piazza San Marco VeniceI stayed there for quite a while and came across this ancient “letter box” in the wall. It was not one of the famous Boca de Leons through which citizens could anonymously send accusations to the Doge. This one had a more serious clang to it. The accusations of crime had to be signed with the name and address of the accuser. If, after a thorough investigation, the accusation was found correct and a crime had been committed, the accused would be punished. Sometimes beheaded. But should the accusation be unfounded, the accuser would be punished. Ouch. Judging from the discolorations around the letter hole, it seems this method of getting justice had been used quite frequently.

letter box for accusations non-anonymous in VeniceThe “weatherman”, as Venetians call the angel at the top of St. Mark’s clock tower, predicted overcast skies and some wind but no rain for the day. Encouraged by this good forecast, I decided to take a gondola ride.

the weatherman at the top of the clock tower in VeniceI walked to one of the “Gondola stations”. I wanted to see the ordinary houses where people lived, and some of the 430 bridges, cruising through a few of the 170 narrow canals.

gondola station in VeniceAnd after a short wait I was onboard. My gondolier worked hard to get us out to the Grand Canal. It should be noted that it’s not easy to become a gondolier. While the license is often transferred from father to son, the aspiring gondoliers must go to gondola school, do a formal internship of 6-12 months and pass a practical exam in front of 5 gondola judges. Among the approximately 400 licensed gondoliers today, there is only one woman.

My gondolier in Venice

gondolas in venice_edited-2

in the gondola on the great canal in Venice_edited-1We passed many beautiful buildings and churches exhibiting more exquisite mosaics.

mosaic on a house wall in Venice

exterior mosaic painting Venice_edited-1From the Grand Canal we entered the narrow, residential canals, sometimes navigating through traffic jams of gondolas, residents’ boats and water taxis.

canal and gondolas venice_edited-1

my gondola navigates in VeniceBoats were “parallel parked” in the front of the homes just like we would see cars elsewhere.

street parking in VeniceWe glided under some of the beautiful large and small bridges.

on the water in Venice

venice canal and bridge

in the gondola in VeniceAnd I witnessed, with some heartache, the true romance of gondola rides…a musician and a soloist onboard entertaining a couple. But “O’ Sole Mio” didn’t help to bring out the sun.

gondolier musician and solist in VeniceThe gondola ride was a unique experience to say the least. After the ride, I visited a glass factory. Or rather a workshop and sales quarters of one of the producers of the famous Murano glass. They had a small workshop in the city, while their main factory was…on the island of Murano. I watched the Master create a vase, and of course ended up buying some small, but still fairly pricey gifts.

glassblowing venice

Murano glass in Venice_edited-1Walking back to the boat over numerous brides, I got lost. The best way to see Venice, according to some. I noticed I was surrounded by several restaurants and realized I hadn’t eaten since my light breakfast at 5:30 a.m.

bridge in VeniceAfter some pizza and a glass of red wine, I regained my bearings. …and encountered some of the mysteries of this unique city.

mask Venice_edited-1From behind my Volta mask, I wish you all a beautiful Sunday and a great week ahead.