Big City Tales

Venice: Veni, vidi, vici

August 9, 2013
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Vessels of all shapes and sizes navigate the busy, and sometimes choppy waters of Venice’s Grand Canal.

When travelling in Italy it is hard not to harken back to the glory days of the Roman Empire and the many conquests of its illustrious leaders.  Chief among the lost list of conquerors is Julius Caesar, whose epic battles at home and abroad contributed to the demise of the former corrupt republic and the establishment of a new noble state.

During his reign, Caesar was known for famously crossing the Rhine and the English Channel as part of his expansion efforts, and for coining the phrase “Veni, vidi, vici” following his triumph in Britain.  Given Caesar’s connection to the water, his immortal words are a fitting reference to how it feels as a tourist coming to Venice for the first time.

Being surrounded by water and an abundance of narrow, winding channels can be unnerving, but once your bearings are straight navigating this unique terrain is a breeze, and you’ll find yourself feeling like the mighty ruler himself. Yes, when it comes to visiting Venice, it is entirely possible to say: “I came, I saw, I conquered!”

The Grand Canal

A good place to start your conquest of this ancient marine city is on the Grand Canal where traditional gondolas can be found side-by-side with modern water taxis (vaporettis) and luxury yachts. Whatever your preferred mode of transportation, you’ll definitely need your sea legs to be in shape to get around Venice. The charm of a crooning gondolier will appeal to couples out for a romantic tour of the Venice lagoon waterways; while the speed and efficiency of vaporetti operators will attract those wanting to get from point A to B in short order.

Gondolas

When in Venice, do as the tourists do: indulge yourself and take a traditional gondola ride!

The Rialto Bridge

As the most photographed bridge in Venice, the Rialto Bridge has the added distinction of once being the only way to cross the Grand Canal on foot. As beautiful as it is functional, the bridge owes its unique design to architect Anthony da Ponte who constructed a higher than usual arch to allow passage of galley ships common in the 16th century. Other notable features include three walkways, a decorative portico, and merchant shops on both sides.

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Opened in 1591, the Rialto Bridge is a busy crossing point between the San Marco and San Polo districts.

St. Mark’s Square / Bell Tower

Anchoring one end of the Venice promenade, St. Mark’s Square is home to the Bell Tower, St. Mark’s Basilica, and the Doge’s Palace among other must-see sights. The large open square provides ample space for outdoor concerts, as well as milling about with the plethora of pigeons who happily make their home here. Stylized street lanterns highlight the master skills of local glass-blowers, who demonstrate their craft and sell their wares nearby, but the main attractions in the square are the opulently designed/decorated basilica and palace that are as equally beautiful on the inside as they are from the outside.

St Marks Tower

The bell tower in St. Mark’s Square is one of Venice’s most recognized and visited landmarks.

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One of the decorative columns in St. Mark`s Square that serve as the gateway to Venice.

The Promenade

Known as the Riva degli Schiavoni, the world-renowned promenade along the Venice waterfront starts at the Doge’s Palace and stretches to the Arsenal, Venice’s ancient shipyard area. The area is typically full of tourists eager to shop, eat, and soak up the Italian sun, which on a summer’s day may see temperatures approaching 40 degrees Celsius. The promenade is thus the ultimate hot-spot in Venice in more ways than one, and it’s not uncommon to see luxury yachts of the rich and famous anchored along its pier.

For those who prefer a little history and culture over a bunch of tourist traps, the Vittorio Emmanuele II monument and La Pieta church will satisfy your cravings. The former pays homage to the first king of Italy; while the latter was the home parish of Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi, who composed and performed many of his early Baroque pieces here.

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Detail of Vittorio Emmanuele II monument located at the centre of the Venice promenade.

The Arsenal

Established in the 12th century, the Arsenal quickly rose to prominence as one of the most unique and efficient ship-building facilities in the world. At its peak in the 1500s, the facility employed up to 16,000 skilled workers who could turn out a ship’s galley in less than 24 hours, a remarkable feat that was due in part to a production line technique that was far ahead of its time.

Nowadays, the Arsenal is not accessible to the public but the main entrance gate can still be admired, and is a worth a trip to do just that!  Considered to be Venice’s first Classical Revival structure, the gate was built in 1460 and its ornate façade ultimately provided the inspiration for other buildings under construction at the time to take on similar stylistic elements.

The Arsenal

The Arsenal was once the world’s largest shipyard.

With its numerous winding canals, charming gondoliers, and jaw-dropping gorgeous architecture, it’s easy to be inspired by all that Venice has to offer and it truly is a place to come, see and conquer!

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Feast Your Eyes on Florence

July 22, 2013
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The Piazzale Michelangelo offers one of the best views of Florence, Italy and features a large statue of David.

Nestled high in the Tuscan hills, the city of Florence offers up one idyllic scene after another.  Be it the incredibly detailed and delicate exterior of the massive Duomo di Firenze (Florence Cathedral), the grandeur of the larger-than-life statue of David in the Galleria dell’Accademia, or the breath-taking panoramic view of the city from the Piazzale Michelangelo, there is plenty to feast your eyes on in Florence.

An Artist’s Haven

Despite the fact Florence may not be Italy’s largest or most famous city, at the peak of its development during the Renaissance the city was a mecca for the great artists of the day who served as patrons of the powerful Medici family.  Eager to demonstrate and show-off their incredible wealth, the Medici spared no expense in commissioning a series of buildings, public landmarks, and works of art that remain to this day amongst the most splendid examples of Italian craftsmanship.

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Detail of Brunelleschi’s massive dome that is the crowning glory of the epic Florence Cathedral.

The Duomo and David

The handiwork of two famous Italian artists, Brunelleschi and Michelangelo, is on display throughout Florence; the most famous of the former being the Duomo dome,  the latter being the David statue.

Mammoth structures in terms of size and artistic impact, the dome and statue dominate their respective landscapes and are amongst the most visited city attractions. While the dome is fully accessible and photographable (you can even climb to the top and take a walk around the exterior), the statue of David is less so with it being housed in a museum meaning that viewing hours are restricted and pictures are prohibited in order to safeguard the integrity of the marble. That said, two replicas of the statue are located in outdoor venues (one in Piazzale Michelangelo, one in Piazza della Signoria) and provide plenty of photo opportunities to capture the splendor of Michelangelo’s sculptural masterpiece.

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Detail of Michelangelo’s iconic and stately statue of David that stands in the Piazza della Signoria.

A Sculptural Garden

Along with the replica of the David statue, the Piazza della Signoria features the Neptune Fountain, which symbolizes Florence’s status as a naval power in the mid-to- late 1500s; an equestrian statue of Cosimo I de’ Medici, who is proudly shown on his mount making a triumphant return to the city as its ruling power in 1537; and an imposing statue of Hercules, the mythical hero who is thought to have filled in the swampland Florence was founded upon.

The piazza is also in close proximity to two buildings of historical significance: The Uffizi Gallery that houses the most extensive collection of Italian Renaissance art, and the Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace) that has served as city hall since the 1300s.

A Famous Burial Ground

Not far from the Uffizi and Palazzo Vecchio, the Basilica di Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross) is noteworthy as being the largest Franciscan church in the world and the final resting place for some of Italy’s most famous citizens, including Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, and Rossini. Given the celebrated status of the dearly departed buried here, the building is also referred to as the Temple of the Italian Glories.

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The Santa Croce is the burial place of some famous Italians (e.g. Michelangelo and Galileo), earning it the moniker: Temple of the Italian Glories.

A Bridge Like None Other

Crossing the Arno River, the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) is the oldest bridge in Florence and has the unique distinction of having houses/shops built into its design and a pedestrian walkway (the Vasari Corridor) that runs over the tops of the shops. Since the 16th century, the bridge has been the home of goldsmiths and jewellers catering to a wide range of clientele. The Vasari Corridor bustles from dawn ’til dusk with tourists enjoying a myriad of entertainers and some of the prettiest views of the river.

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The Ponte Vecchio is a bridge like none other…shops on the inside and a walkway over its top.

View From the Top

While the Piazza della Signoria is the heart of old Florence, the Piazzale Michelangelo is the city’s prime viewing location where one of the Michelangelo’s replicas of David enjoys an incredible view from the top for all eternity.

Perched high above the city, David overlooks the Arno River with its series of beautiful bridges, and the mass expanse of the city lying just across the river banks. From this vantage point, the Duomo di Firenze, the Palazzo Vecchio, and other historical sites take on a new perspective revealing the full breadth and glory of these ancient, awe-inspiring structures.

Florence is truly a city of fabulous views and if you’re looking for a place to tantalize your eyes, look no further.

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View of the expansive, elaborate and elegant Florence Cathedral from Piazzale Michelangelo.

 


A Perfect Blend of High Renaissance Art and High-Fashion Design

February 28, 2013
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The Duomo di Milano is one of the world’s largest and most beautiful Gothic-style churches.

The Cathedral may be one of Milan’s most visited tourist sites but at this time of year the star attraction is not high renaissance art; it’s the high-fashion design scene at Milan Fashion Week.

Fashionistas of the World Unite

From perennial favourites Karl Lagerfeld and Donatello Versace to newer names such as Veronica Etro, the who’s who of the high-fashion world clamor every year to Italy’s most populous region to reveal their upcoming spring lines. And what a perfect setting to show-off their stuff in!

Art, Art, and More Art

Chock-full of architectural wonders, masterpiece paintings, and elaborate sculptures, it is hard not to be inspired by this beautiful northern Italian city. Little wonder that Leonardo da Vinci was drawn to its charms (he lived in Milan from 1482-1499) and completed some of his best known works, including The Last Supper and Virgin of the Rocks while in the employ of the Duke of Milan.

Some 600+ years later, the city still boasts the feel and charm of the prolific Renaissance period, but now offers a more modern and edgy twist.

Make Way for Modernity

The Pirelli Tower is one of the city’s most unique skyscrapers, noted for its slim design and lofty height that surpasses the Cathedral. Another skyscraper of note is the Velasca Tower that is a 20th century interpretation of a medieval watchtower.

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Capping off the city’s transformation to the modern era is the illustrious Fashion District where tourists, haute couture designers, and Milan’s bevy of “beautiful people” intermingle in a state of pure shopping bliss. While not everyone can afford to drop a pay cheque for a scarf or purse, it doesn’t cost a thing to do a little window shopping – and many can’t resist the chance to do just that!

Whether marvelling at its historic art or revelling in its contemporary glory, Milan surely offers the best of both worlds…Andiabo!

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