September 27 - October 5, 2008

September 28, 2008 (Sunday)

We arrived in the morning and since we had no checked luggage (we came with two backpacks which included about 7 kg of my camera equipment) the customs and checkout process was very swift. Right away I located the area of the airport where we could purchase ATVO bus tickets for Venice. The tickets were 3 Euro per person for an air-conditioned bus to Piazzale Roma bus stop in Venice. Once we got off the bus we went in search for our hotel so that we could drop off our clothes and take a shower.

Our cute little hotel on the canal - Hotel Falier.

Beside the hotel.

After arriving at the hotel we were told that we could check in, but that they needed about one hour to clean up the room. We took that opportunity to find a place to eat and have our first Italian meal. Finding a place to eat was not a problem as there are many restaurants all over. The difficulty was finding a place where we could actually afford to eat being on a tourist's budget. Since we had to multiply everything by 1.6 prices seemed very high. We located a little corner shop with bruschetta, pizza and spaghetti for sale. We chose to try the bruschetta. It was a simple meal, but filling and very tasty.

First meal in Venice. Yummy!

After the meal we headed back to the hotel and cleaned up after a long trip. We still had many hours of daylight left so we decided to go to the main square, Piazza San Marco. On the way to San Marco we definitely tried to taste as many Gelato flavors as possible. The Italian ice cream is definitely fabulous! It is made fresh every day and competition between the Ice Cream shops makes sure that they put out quality product with many flavors to attract crowds. Many candy and cookie shops serving coffee made great and cheap stops for snacks.

City in water.

A very old well I found while walking towards San Marco.

I liked how people dried their clothes between buildings.

A typical view when walking around Venice.

This day was mainly filled exploring Venice and getting oriented with pricing of items and food. We also stumbled upon a mask shop (Ca Macana) which was used to create masks for Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut. This shop also had a large mask making workshop a few corners away where you could have a look how the masks were made.

Ca Macana paper mache mask store.

Some of the masks for sale at the store (95 Euro)

A more elaborate example of their creations.

The street that the store is on is a very narrow one.

A very rough building.

Another narrow street.

Old shutters still serving their purpose.

The Grand Canal.

Beautiful scenery everywhere I turned.

Boats parked on the canal.

Out of service gondola.

It costs 40 Euro per person to ride on a gondola.

Pigeons fighting for food. I took the opportunity to first take a picture then pick one pigeon and take it in my hand to give it a hug.

This picture could definitely turn into a great painting.

I took pictures of a lot of door handles and door knockers that were interesting and unique.

Venetian velved store.

A bowl made from hollow glass pipes. Not a very good bowl in my opinion. Will definitely not hold any water.

Piazza di San Marco.

Another side of San Marco square.

A large mask store we found around San Marco.

Gondolier's hat.

Walking East from San Marco.

Interesting old crumbling brick.

A cruise ship leaving the port.

A naughty dog that chased a cat up a tree.

Another interesting door knocker.

The sun is setting in the beautiful city.

This was a door handle.

A beautifully carved sea shell.

Sunset at the Grand Canal.

September 29, 2008 (Monday) - Cannaregio

On this day the plan was to experience more of Venice including the Cannaregio area. After breakfast we headed to the rail station to find out what time we could take a train to Florence. When I saw the train station I was very disappointed. The building looked like it belonged in a communist Russia and clearly it has seen better days.
After leaving the train station with tickets in hand to Florence for Tuesday, we headed towards the Ghetto. The way was busy with locals and tourists looking at various items merchants had for sale. The road leading to the Ghetto was very picturesque. Scenery that I would definitely have to paint at a later time. Arriving at the main square (Ghetto Nuovo) we found ourselves surrounded by little Jewish businesses. The lack of tourists was very refreshing too. I could take my photos without any people in the way.
Leaving the Ghetto I stepped into a Pharmacia hoping to find a razor (one thing I could not pack due to lack of checked in baggage). The lady behind the sash spoke no English, but one of the customers was fluent. She said there is a store that she is going to next and they would definitely have what I need. Sure enough I found what I was looking for and even decided to try a herbal Italian shampoo (oh it smelled good!).

View from a bridge close to the train station.

Candy shop!

A beat up building getting some sunshine.

Drying clothes over the canal.

The only picture that I took in the Ghetto's square.

More pretty scenery.

Next we went towards the water taxi station so that we could reach Murano. We purchased our tickets (2 way for 2 people was 26 Euro) and boarded #41 taxi line. The first stop was at the Isola di San Michele cemetery. It is a cemetery built the same way as the city of Venice, on an island. Murano has about 4 different stops to exit at. We decided to take the second one as most tourists took the first. It was a great choice considering we bypassed most tourists and could actually enjoy walking down the street without having to worry about bumping into people. We found two glass blowing workshops and many glass stores. We spent about one hour walking around and finally we decided on little glass pendants as souvenirs (something practical).

On the way to the boat taxi station.

Isola di San Michele cemetery.

City of Murano. The glass furnices were moved out of the city of Venice for fear high incidents of fire.

Water fountain. Locals and some tourists safely drank the water.

Glass workshop during lunch.

Boat dock.

On the way back we took the #5 line to San Marco station. Once again we were back on the main tourist route. We bypassed them whenever we could by taking narrow back allies. While walking we picked up a thick crust pizza at "Bar Ducale" for 3 Euro each. With nowhere to sit we went to a dead end Fondamenta and I sat down on the street to enjoy my pizza and sharing the crust with begging sparrows. We also felt our feet protesting the long walks without breaks and so we started heading back towards the hotel to rest before the next day's adventure in Florence.

A larger glass furnice.

The water highway is marked by these wooden pilons.

Getting closer to San Marco station.

San Marco station.

Gondolas waiting for tourists.

A detailed ship made out of bronze over a shop.

Bar Ducale.

After some searching I finally found a "No Parking" sign.

Flower pot at our hotel.

September 30, 2008 - Tuesday

First train to Rome is at 8:43. This train also stops in Florence at the Santa Maria Station. One two way ticket to Florence was 68 Euro. The tickets needs to be validated prior to boarding the train otherwise you may get fined for 200 Euro.

This machine is used to validate your ticket at the station.

We arrived in Florence at 11:22. One thing to mention about the Euro Star trains is that they are equipped with a power receptor for people on the go. I used the train ride to charge my backup camera battery on the return train.
When we first started walking around Florence we realized we became accustomed to not hearing traffic noise. Hearing cars and smelling the gas fumes while walking towards the river took away from enjoying the architecture. At first glance I was not impressed with Florence and frankly I was regretting being there (yes I missed Venice a lot). Since we were already there I decided to keep quiet. Once we arrived at the river Arno I felt a little more positive about Florence.

Ponte Vecchio closup.

Ponte Vecchio bridge is the oldest bridge in Florence. The buildings used to house butchers which were later kicked out due to pollution in the water from the leftover scraps they threw out. Currently jewelry shops line the bridge.

We walked West on Lungarno Corsini (the Street name changed as we kept walking West almost every block). We explored the Piazzale degli Uffizi where we decided not to wait 2 hours to get inside the museum. We crossed the river at Porte G da Verrazzano after buying 1 kg of grapes on the street for 2 Euro. When I tried one of the grapes I thought I had a sip of some fine sweet white wine. The grape was like nothing I had ever tasted before. It was sweet, juicy with a flowery hint (my mouth is watering as I'm writing this...). Eating grapes we started climbing stairs then turned into a local back road up a hill. At the top I realized how beautiful Florence really was.

Piazzale degli Uffizi.


One of the two tigers guarding the entrance to Greek mythology sculptures.

View of the square when you exit Piazzale degli Uffizi.

Unfinished Pinocchio.

A large group of painters.

One of the many squares in Florence.

Interesting iron work.

Oh the grapes!

A view from the bridge we took across river Arno.

The backstreet that we took to the hilltop.

Closeup of the hills we saw from the top.

View of Florence.

The green side of Florence.

Many of the citie's bridges.

A closer look.

Duomo of Florence

The view of Florence was definitely worth the pain our feet and legs felt. After spending a good half hour admiring the view we continued to climb some more because we saw some "castle" in the distance. We never really made it to the castle, but we managed to stumble upon "Chiesa Di San Miniato al Monte". Standing on the sidewalk I looked up. Yes I looked up. There were many stairs to climb. I also noticed few tourists. After the painful climb once again I was rewarded with an even better view of the city. I peaked inside the basilica and was satisfied with the quick look of the inside. There were frescos on the walls and ceiling, but nothing spectacular. We descended the stairs and turned left instead of right which would take us back. As we walked on the sidewalk I noticed benches and a path up a hill to my left along the basilica's very high brick wall. We climbed up the small incline and walked on the park path. The path was certainly unexpected. There were no tourists in sight and we only met a few locals who were either jogging or walking their dogs. The path took us around the whole property with views of the country side. Once we returned to our initial starting point we started descending and heading towards the rail station.

View from the Chiesa Di San Miniato al Monte.

A path into a secret garden.

Along the path I found glimpses of the rural Florence.

The "castle".

Home surrounded by olive trees.

More glimpses of the country side.

I looked up and this is what I saw.

The path continues along the walls.

Another peek.

Back to city level.

Gelato ice cream.

Wild boar statue. People rub the nose for good luck.

Chalk picture on the street.


Back in Venice over the bridge.

October 1, 2008 -Wednesday

Our last day in Florence meant more exploring and finally some shopping to be done. After many days of searching through different mask shops we located one which had beautiful masks and fair pricing. I chose a female mask surrounded by pheasant feathers and my mother chose a red joker mask with bells. After purchasing the masks we went to explore a few places that we have missed in the previous days and of course I still had some pictures to take. We stopped at our favorite coffee and pastry shop for a snack. We tried more gelato and enjoyed the canal city for the last time in 2008.

Sewer work.

Espresso and cappuccino at our favourite pastry shop.

The exterior of the pastry shop.

Deliveries in Venice are all done by boats.

Market along one of the more busy streets.

A nice main entrance to a house.

Candy shop!

Pastry and cookie shop.

Smooth curves of a gondola.

Little pizza shop.

Chocolates and Nougat shop.

Closeup of a nougat cake! Mmmm...

Another view of the grand canal.

Souvenir shops lining the street.

Behind the souvenir shops I looked up and noticed a painted ceiling.

Pretty composition of fruits and veggies.

Parked gondola beside a restaurant.

A very rich costume and mask in a shop.

This was a very smooth and soft cheesecake followed by a cappuccino.

October 2, 2008 - Thursday

We slept in a little since our train to Rome was at 12:43. After a late breakfast we checked out and went towards the rail station. We explored more shops close to the rail station for about an hour then headed back to the station. The train was 1 hour early so we boarded and waited. We were joined by a Japanese couple going to Rome. Fifteen minutes before the train departed I went to get some lunch. I had a mushroom pizza for 2.50 Euro. The pizza in Italy is not the same as our North American style. It is usually on a very think crust with a little cheese and one or two toppings.
The train ride was very smooth. I was reading my book (Feast of Souls by C. S. Friedman) so the time went by really quickly. I knew we were approaching our stop when we went through a red brick thick wall. I knew it was the wall that surrounds the city of Rome. Finding the hotel was easy as I booked it very close to the rail station. We dropped our bags and went to look for some dinner. After dinner we went for a 1 hour walk and then back to the hotel to rest.

October 3, 2008 - Friday

After being able to get some sleep we got up at 9:00 to get ready. Then we came downstairs for breakfast. The breakfast itself was not bad, but the dirty table cloths and placemats definitely altered my appetite.

A man sharpening knives on a busy corner.

A typical Roman street busy with cars.

A mini bus definitely made for small streets and low public use routes.

Piazza Santa Maria Nova

First thing on the sightsee list was the Colosseum. The Colosseum was definitely impressive although not as large as I imagined it to be. We walked around it and stopped over to have our picture taken with the Roman army for 5 Euro. Then we walked around the Palatine towards what we thought was the Tiber river.

Colosseum full view.

Roman soldier forgot his helm?

A hawk I spotted while walking around the Colosseum.

First sign of the Roman army. I think the "costume" was from a movie made years ago.

Pillar ruins among the greenery.

Arcodi Constantino.


One of the Romans that we took pictures with.

Looking out for more tourists to make some money from.

The Romans that we took pictures with.

Circo Massimo.

We stumbled upon the Terme di Caracalla ruins. After about a forty five minute walk and no river in sight we asked a local man to point us in the right direction. He smiled and said it was the opposite way. He suggested we use a bus if we want to go as far as the Vatican City. After another forty five minute walk we found a rail station that we could locate on our tourist map we picked up from the hotel.

We stumbled upon the ruins of Tempio di Caracalla after making a wrong turn.

Another part of the Tempio di Caracalla.

The thick wall of the City of Rome.

When we finally started walking along the river it was a very relaxing walk without the masses of tourists. We also saw the Vatican city in the very far distance. There were ruins we spotted along the way past the Piazza dei Cavalleri di Malta. The ruins were on a hilltop. We found the little narrow street that looked like it would lead us to our destination. The climb along the road was worth the effort. The view of Rome was amazing and the atmosphere was peaceful. There were only two other tourists there who had their Canon 5D out to capture the scenery. Once one of them noticed my 70-200mm lens he was quick to ask if he could use it to take some close-ups. I lent him the lens and after he was done he said that he would not like to carry such weight around. So I told him that I don't find it heavy at which his friend started laughing at him.

Walking along River Tiber was very pleasant.

View of Rome from Parco Savello.

Isola Tiberina.

Castel Sant'Angelo and the Ponte Sant'Angelo (bridge).

We made our way down the hill back to the road along Tiber. I think it took about two hours to reach the Vatican. We were able to go into the Vatican crypts for free as it was getting late. We also went into St. Peter's Basilica for a quick look. It was probably the largest basilica I have ever seen. It was also the richest with all the sculptures, paintings, and frescos.
The sun started to set and so we set out towards our hotel. After making a few wrong turns and seeing unplanned landmarks of interest we arrived at the hotel two hours later.

The road to Vatican City.

Set up for the weekly mass.

The square at the Vatican City.

Swiss Guard.

Ceilings everywhere were lavishly decorated in the Basilica of St. Peter.

Pietà in marble by Michelangelo (1499).

Beutiful tall ceilings and decorations of the Basilica.

I put my camera on the floor to capture the beautiful domed ceiling.

Another shot of a different dome.

The altar with Bernini's baldacchino in the distance of the basilica. The Baldacchino is made out of bronze.

Michelangelo redesigned the dome but died before completion of it. Giacomo della Porta and Fontana completed the dome in 1590.

Teatro Marcello.


Trajan's Forums (Imperial Forums)

October 4, 2008 - Saturday

My plan was to check out the Vatican museum and compare it to the Louvre. We purchased a one day pass for the public transportation for 4 Euro per person and took Line A subway from the Roman Termini to the Ottaviano San Pietro station. When we came above ground it poured rain. After securing my camera gear against rain (my backpack has its own tent cocoon) we went out towards the museum. Umbrella business is very strong in Rome and if you are not holding one be prepared to have one offered to you for 5 Euro when it rains and 3 Euro when it clears. Since we didn't need an umbrella as we have no fear for water in the form of tiny droplets we declined all offers.
The lineup was about a forty five minute wait and the tickets were 14 Euro per person. The Vatican Museum is a very rich one with a lot of very old art. We spent about four to five hours walking around including the Sistine Chapel.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio: The Entombment of Christ.

The grounds of the Vatican Museum. Angry clouds brought a lot of rain that day.

Many sculptures lined the walls.

The male statues had a fig leaf placed over genitalia during the reign of more conservative popes.

More paintings on ceilings. Art everywhere you looked.

A view from the museum.

Gallery of Maps.

Every piece of the ceiling was covered with either paintings or sculptures.

The Sistine Chapel ceiling painted by Michelangelo (1508 to 1512).

The Vatican Museum staircase.

Back to the subway (with a stop for some gelato) we exited at Marberini station and made our way to the Pantheon which dates to around 120AD. At the opposite side we went inside a café for some dessert and cappuccino. It was around 19:00 when we arrived at the hotel where we packed our bags to get ready for the journey home.

Inside the Pantheon.

The Pantheon was originally built as a temple to all the gods of Anchient Rome.

Tiramisu after a long day of being a tourist.

Sunset at the Roma Termini station.

October 5, 2008 - Sunday

At 6:30 kids were yelling and screaming for about 1 hour at which time my alarm went off. On this day I also realized why the breakfast tables were so messy in the mornings. There were two large groups of teenagers making a mess!
At 8:00 we made our way to the Roma Termini to catch our 8:22 train to the Leonardo da Vinci Airport. The airport is 33 km away from Rome. At 11:15 the airplane took off to Philadelphia (we took a connecting flight from Philly to Toronto).

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