Tag Archives: Italy

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.

The Last Day. Anno 79 A.D.

It was late morning on August 24, 79 A.D. The lively city of Pompeii was buzzing with activity. The main street leading to the Forum was busy with carts, carriages and chariots bouncing over the large cobblestones.

main street Pompeii

street PompeiiOn residential streets, pedestrians negotiated their way on narrow sidewalks. The sidewalks were raised because unlike Rome, Pompeii didn’t have a sophisticated sewer system and much of the wastewater found its way onto the streets. Crossing the street with produce from the market or products from the many flourishing shops around the Forum was a balancing act on the large, flat stones provided for the purpose of crossing with dry feet.

street and crosswalk in PompeiiAs usual, people were gathering around the many drinking wells around the city exchanging the latest news and some, without a doubt, also engaging in rumor mongering.

drinking well in Pompeii_edited-2Nobody worried about the fact that the water to these fountains was flowing through lead pipes.

another well in PompeiiThe bath houses were still busy with late morning bathers, men and women enjoying separate quarters. Their clothing neatly tucked away in the “lockers” around the bath.

wall art outside a bath house in Pompeii

inside of the bath house in PompeiiSome people were lingering in the colorfully decorated common areas of the bath house.

bath house frescos PompeiiThis Tuesday morning, life was going on its usual merry ways at the many hotels (and brothels), shops and bakeries in the city.

hotel 2 in Pompeii

bedroom in Pompeii

shop in pompeii

bakery in PompeiiThe morning rehearsals at the Grand Theater had just concluded and the spectators were leaving the venue. It was a perfect morning.

grand theater pompeiiThe smaller Forum was busy too. Young men were competing in athletics, their families cheering them on. Some were standing in small groups discussing politics.

smaller forum in Pompeii

floor mosaic PompeiiAt the affluent villas of the nobel class and newly rich merchants, the morning was spent leisurely around the house.

the floor plan of the latest opened house in PompeiiGuests were entertained in the larger atrium, where the rainwater had been gathered in a shallow “pool” for some cooling on this warm summer morning.

Atrium of the most recently opened house Pompeii

House of Sirico Pompeii

frescos in a house in PompeiiThe servants were busy dusting the frescos and cleaning the mosaic floors in and outside of the house.

most recent house interior mosaic floor Pompeii

floor mosaic pattern PompeiiInhabitants and guests of the most opulent villas facing the sea, could enjoy splendid views from their elaborate terraces and gardens.

view of house interior Pompeii

sea view from the house garden PompeiiThose less fortunate could enjoy the public green spaces sprinkled around the city.

garden 2 in Pompeii_edited-1But the busiest place this morning was the Forum. It was the economic, religious and political center of the city, where municipal buildings, courts, temples and commercial activities were located around the two-story portico.

busy forum in Pompeii

two story pillars at the Forum Pompeii

Forum in PompeiiThe northern end of the Forum was closed by the Capitolium, with Mount Vesuvius rising towards the sky right behind it.

the Forum with backdrop of Vesuvius PompeiiAn ordinary late summer day. Until … around noon, a “cloud of unusual size and shape” appeared overtop Vesuvius.

the eruption of Vesuvius starts PompeiiIt could be seen across the city. At first, there was curiosity. But an hour later when ash started falling, people begun to panic. Many rushed towards the harbor, others started running north or south along the coast, but some 2000 people were hesitant to leave their homes. They would ride out whatever was coming and chose to take shelter in buildings and underground cellars they deemed safe. But the eruption escalated fast. Around 2 p.m. ash and white pumice was falling over the city at a rate of 10-15 cm (4-6 inches) an hour.

vesuvius erupts 2 Pompeii_edited-1By 5 p.m. the sun was completely blocked and there was no light for the people still seeking shelter or running away from the city. Ash, bits of pumice and charred rocks were falling on the city. Fires were burning everywhere. Roofs started to collapse.

vesuvius eruption 3b pompeiiAnd then, in the morning of August 25, just before 7 a.m., a pyroclastic cloud of hot ash and toxic gas surged down on the city killing everyone who had remained in its vicinity. Not one was spared. Men, women, children and animals all perished.

dead woman PompeiiThe eruption buried the city under 4-6 meters (13-20 feet) of volcanic ash and pumice. Life as it had been on that late summer day in 79 A.D. was frozen in time for almost 1700 years.

a man in PompeiiPliny the Younger,  a Roman writer who managed to escape from the city in time, described the eruption in letters to his friend, which were discovered in the 16th century. The ruins of Pompeii were found only in 1748.

artifacts found in PompeiiAbout 80% of the city has now been excavated and as the work progresses, we learn more about that fateful day 1938 years ago.

About 700,000 people currently live around the volcano, which last erupted in 1944.

outer walls PompeiiAs I am starting to “unpack” my latest travels, I wish you all a wonderful week ahead.