New-ish art and definitely Old Art

We tried to leave the neighborhood early this morning, but I foiled the plan by getting into a fascinating conversation with a craftswoman whose storefront I have been looking into for 5 days. Finally I just said, I want to go in. The ever patient Bill said, “then go” and I went. She , Lauretta, makes beautiful objects using grosgrain ribbon sewn onto linen and cotton textiles. She has bags of all sorts, large and small, and some dresses. These were really lovely, but somehow I feared the space that they would take up and a future of sitting on a shelf with lots of other bags I already own. She also makes jewelry out of glass, resin,wire and even ribbon. I was attracted by some of her necklaces,so we started looking at the different styles and colors. She asked where we were from and we told her San Francisco. Oh, I’m moving to Texas in January! , she volunteered.

It turned out to be a wonderful, I hope, love story. She met a young man when she was 17 and he was 21, on the beach on Lido. He had family in Venice but had grown up in South Africa. They spent a day together, and, as she said, had one kiss.

She was a native of the Venetian Lagoon, with family history in the glass industry going back generations. Eventually, she told us that in her mid-30’s she adopted a daughter from Peru, spending 3 months there in the process. Clearly not a woman fearful of breaking with convention!

He moved eventually to the US and settled in Texas, near Dallas. Last year, his sister moved to Venice to work and somehow met a friend of Lauretta’s. The connection was established and Lauretta and a friend flew to Los Angeles to meet this man, again. Apparently, the spark was still there!  they met again somewhere else( neither Bill nor I can recall the details) and decided to marry after she moves to Texas.

She was so excited, but I thought “oh my, this could be awful! Venice to Texas without ever visiting!” We wished her well and purchased a necklace and some earrings and were on our way.

In order to reach the Palazzo Grassi, directly across the Grand Canal from our vaporetto stop Ca’Rezzonico, there used to be a Traghetto, or public gondola service. For whatever reason, it has been discontinued at that location. In fact Bill discovered by some research, there used to be 30 or so Traghetto locations, now there are 7 ( but since the  one near us is listed, we know it is more likely 6,if that). So, we could either walk over to the Accademia bridge, not so far, but through extremely crowded streets that we fought our way through on Monday to get to the Gugenheim, or take a vaporetto one stop. We chose the boat.

The Palazzo Grassi  is now an exhibition space currently housing a large show of varied work by the late German artist Sigmar Polke.We made our way there eventually, stopping yet again for me to  look in a shop that caught my eye. Honestly, not  that much attracts me here. So much is more kitsch than art or good craft.I did buy some gorgeous earrings, enough said.( the theme of purchases is small , is that obvious?)

Sigmar Polke work varies from small “studies” of color on canvas, to water media “drawings”on notebook pages, to room sized paintings using everything from paint on canvas to resin and wood veneer on polyester that becomes translucent. There were also 2 videos.

The building is spectacular- an 18th century palazzo with intricately decorated ceilings and inlaid marble floors. It fronts onto theGrand Canal and has nice campo next door. It was all great fun.

Our next stop was the Scuola de San Roco, and Il Frari church both on the other side of the Grand Canal.  Back on a vaporretto for one stop,taking us across the wide Grant Canal. So much of the pleasure of Venice is the incredible variety of watercraft one sees. From those hulking cruise ships to a tiny one man kayak, lots of “working boats” delivering goods and people to job sites and water taxis and private motor boats of all sizes, the Grand Canal is never a dull place to be. Even the smaller canals, of which there are hundreds, the water is full of entertainment all day and well into the evenings.

The Scuola de SanRoco is an enormous 3 story structure near the church of the same name. The Scuole Grandi, of which there are 6 are unique to Venice.

From Wikipedia:

The Scuole Grandi (literally “Great Schools”, plural of: Scuola Grande) were confraternity or sodality institutions in Venice, Italy. They were founded as early as the 13th century as charitable and religious organizations for the laity. These institutions had a capital role in the history and development of music. Inside these Scuole were born at the beginning of 16th century the first groups of bowed instrument players named “Violoni”.[1]

It also happened that the commissioned some of the best artists of their time to decorate the interiors. San Roco, begun in 1516, contains many paintings by Tintoretto as well as others of his time, and amazing wood carvings lining the gigantic and incredibly elegant meeting rooms upstairs. The ceiling is covered with paintings made to be seen from below that depict Biblical scenes. The walls are also completely filled with amazing paintings showing mostly the life of Christ. It was humbling to be there, even though I had seen it before. It’s so much to take in that 2 or even 3 visits is not too much.

I Frari is a gothic church, started in the 14thCentury and made of brick, very unusual here, for a church. Again the scale is hard to explain. A person feels very small in the building, very inconsequential , which I suspect was the plan. Huge memorials to artists like Canova  and Tintoretto are on the sides. In a side chapel is a 3 part altarpiece by Bellini which depicts Mary and Jesus as a baby and is one of the most serene images of Mary that I have seen. She looks like a proud Mama, holding her son. a normal,attractive, calm woman. Just lovely.

We walked back to our favorite campo, Santa Margarita and had a drink and some olives while we talked about the day and had a few moments of imagining spending maybe a month here, sometime. I don’t think I’d get bored, and Bill feels the same. It’s a tiny place, really, but so incredibly dense that to get to really know it would take a long time.Despite the tourists, the unique charm of Venice still works for me. Imagine the evening without cars, no noise other than occasional boat motors, dogs barking,kids playing , people talking in their houses that you can here as you walk along home. Peaceful, beautiful, my heart feels good here. Tomorrow is our last day,we have to leave by 11 on Friday morning and head to Vicenza.



Published in: on September 7, 2016 at 9:43 pm  Comments (1)  

Torcello and MUURano

We made our way via 2 vaporetti to the island of Torcello, my 3rd visit. First in 1992, then 1999 and now. Lots has changed, but not the main reason for visiting. Torcello is the northernmost of the “Northern Islands” of Murano,Burano and Torcello and the least visited, or it used to be little visited. One goes there to see the 11th century mosaic walls of the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta. In ’92 and ’99, no one seemed to be watching what was happening on the island. Anyone could just wander into the church. Now, there is an admission charge and no photos are allowed. ( I did take a couple with my cell phone,just because. Besides, no flash and no mosiac is going to be hurt by a photo, and I did buy some postcards anyway!).

The main deal is the “Last Judgement”, which must be at least 25feet high and 20 feet wide, composed ,I read , of over 1,000,000 tesserae( the individual pieces of glass used to make the mosiac). In horizontal bands stories of good and evil, Christ’s miracles and that old devil and his Hell are depicted in beautiful shining gold, lapis lazuli blue , reds and lots of shades of Browns and black. If I could put photos in, I would. I urge you to go on -line and look it up.

At the other end of the small building is Mary holding baby Jesus, in a nearly solid gold field. It’s breath-taking! there are saints in a band below her, but she is the main thing. On either side of the curved area where Mary and Co. are located, in the corners,  is the Annunciation. The Angel is on the left, pointing to Mary. On the right is Mary, with her hand out, as if to say, Oh no! This doesn’t sound like a good idea at all!

And the floor is just exquisite- marble inlaid in complex patterns. All of this is nearly 1,000 years old. Sigh. Just lovely.

We looked around a bit more at some old stone carvings, including a “throne” which certainly dates to the early years of the church. It’s outside and everyone takes their picture in it, me too!(See Bill Fall’s Facebook page).

Lunch was next, before heading to Murano where I had never been. On the gently curving brick path from the boat dock to the church were 4 appealing restaurants. I don’t recall more than one before.(that really is about all that is on the island. No town, just the few people who take care of the historic stuff and I suppose, some of the restaurant people.)

We chose the place closest to the church, for no great reason, mostly because it was set way back from the path, in a lovely garden. Oh my, what a great choice! We sat outside in a kind of pavilion with matting on the “roof” and white light fabric hanging from horizontal bars all around. The fabric was gathered at each post, but the breeze caught it and it bellowed out. I only took pictures with my camera, not the phone and now I can’t add them darn it! The food was as lovely as the atmosphere. It is called Ristorante Villa ‘600 and I highly recommend it.

Lunch was just dreamy and we had to hustle to make the next boat to Murano, because they only run once an hour. As we got on , several people asked the deckhand if it stopped at Burano. He said, very slowly MUURano, not BURRano. I can only imagine how many times he is called upon to answer that same question. The vaporetto people are unfailingly polite and courteous, amazing given the crowds and difficult tourists.

My reason for going, finally, to MURano was to visit the shop of Mariana and Susanna Sent, sisters who design and manufacture what is to me the most intriguing glass in Venice.While I can’t bring home anything large( we just don’t have places for more physical objects), they produce fabulous jewelry! I knew the address from their website and figured, “how hard could it be to find on a little island like Murano?” Ha! After asking several different people, who gave us different directions, and walking for about 30 minutes, we finally found a woman walking her two dogs who knew how to get there. It involved another boat ride and then a short walk. Finally – we entered through a serene white marble courtyard containing a small pool on which “floated” several large clear glass bubbles. Their work is most known for the clear glass bubble necklaces that they sold to the NYMOMA a few years ago.They are lovely, ethereal and elegant.  Their aesthetic, clean, simple high contrast at times, excellent materials is very appealing to me. I did buy two necklaces and some earrings. I’m very happy! As we were about to leave the slight raindrops turned suddenly into a thunderstorm. We hung around chatting with the saleswoman, a native Venetian who lives between San Marco and Rialto, of all places! Eventually it seemed to lighten up enough to to head for the dock,only 10 minutes away. I had an umbrella, Bill had a big waterproof hat, so off we went. As soon as we came around the corner, the wind picked up and we got drenched!

Home finally, we took off our wet clothes and collapsed for a while. Out to dinner in our favorite Campo Santa Margarita- full of life and not too many tourists ( we don’t count, of course!).

Tomorrow San Rocco, Il Frari and then the Palazzo Grassi for an exhibit on Zaha Hadid, the amazing architect who died recently. And then, who knows?

Only 2 more days in Venice. I think I have Bill hooked, we may come back again, maybe for 2 weeks? 3?



Published in: on September 6, 2016 at 8:39 pm  Comments (1)  

A Dorsudoro Kind of Day

A Dorsoduro kind of day

I hate to sound whiny, but I seem to be fighting off some kind of upper respiratory bug that settles into my chest in the evenings. Last night, as tired as I was, I slept poorly, waking several times. Bill got up too, we read for a while and then both of us fell asleep until nearly 10!

Once we got moving, we strode off in the direction of the Peggy Gugenheim Collection which is in the same “neighborhood” as our apartment, but faces the Grand Canal quite near the pointy end of the lower 1/3 of Venice. It was about a 20 min walk, including dodging an awful lot of tourists with cell phones out. It’s a beautiful walk,through narrow calles, under “sottoporteghios” or covered passages and over lots of small bridges.

The museum is entered through a garden which holds lots of sculptures and Peggy’s grave. And the graves of a great many of her pet dogs( all listed with their dates). The cafe has moved since I was there last, 9 years ago, more out of the way, but it still has good food. Service was slow and we were anxious to get going on the art viewing. The Museum space is a mid-sized one-story palazzo where Peggy lived for about 30 years, befriending and collecting the works of many of the major artists of the first half of the 20th Century. She even married one- Max Ernst, for a while. She has a lot of his paintings. Also Picasso, Braque, Leger, Klee,Kandinsky,Brancusi,Dali, de Chirico, Mondrian, Magritte,and lots of others. My favorite room is the Jackson Pollack space. It contains 5 pieces, each from a different period in his rather brief career. It also has a small sofa which allows a visitor to sit and experience the paintings in a more relaxed manner. And the windows look out at the Grand Canal!

We spent a few minutes in each room enjoying the art and looking at the photos of the rooms when Paggy lived there. Her books and African sculpture , her bedroom with a headboard by Alexnder Calder!

Leaving Peggy behind, we set out for the church known as Salute, an enormous white domed structure very near the end of the Dorsoduro peninsula. It happened to be the time of the afternoon Vespers, with live organ music! Nice addition to our visit to the 17th Century structure. It is more subdued than most Venetian churches, no gilding at all! Lots of nice paintings of religious scenes. Beautiful pristine white stone dome above a marble tiled floor in an extraordinary spiraling pattern .

From there, and right next door, is a new “museum”, a private one founded by the guy who owns the holding company that controls many of the luxury brands of clothing and leather goods and shoes that are advertised in places like Vogue. We all read Vogue don’t we? In any case, the guy has assembled an enormous collection of contemporary art and somehow managed to convert what had been the old customs building, the Dogana da Mar,into a first class art exhibition space. The current show, a curated slice of the collection has some work I was very impressed with, but a lot of others that left me pretty cold. Lots of fun to wander through the rooms which very in size and shape much more than in a purpose-built museum.

From there we walked along the pedestrian path looking out at the basin of San Marco, at some amazing yachts, at cruise ships being tugged through the Guidecca canal, and towering over the architecture in any direction. It is such a shame that Venice allows these ships to come so close to the city. They alter the perception of the space, not to mention dumping thousands of visitors into the city at one time, mostly in the San Mark’s Square area. We have avoided that part of Venice so far, but maybe Thursday morning will get ourselves up early and see if we can get into the Basilica di San Marco without waiting in a long line.

Stopping for a glass of Campari and some cheese along the Zattere walkway around 6pm, we rested and planned for our trip tomorrow to the northern Islands of Torcello and Murano and probably Burano, just because it’s there! I’ve been to Torcello and I’m excited about re-visiting the 12th Century mosaic of the Last Judgement along with other beautiful sites.

More tomorrow .




Published in: on September 6, 2016 at 5:55 am  Leave a Comment  

Jewish history and Regatta!

I didn’t sleep well at all last night so this morning was a bit rough. I powered through the day, but now, at 9:40pm, I’m pretty near exhaustion. I’ll do my best to relay our day, in part because it helps me remember. Each day of travel has so many aspects that writing every night is the only way I can keep track. Even here in Venice, on my 6th visit, there is so much to learn and to experience!

We made our way to the Ghetto, the original “Ghetto” from which all others are named. In Venice, the  rather small island where Jews were allowed to live was originally the site of a foundry, or “geto” in the Venetian dialect. Sometime before 1500 there was a small population of Jews living in the area. After the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal starting in 1492 thousands of Jews fled to other areas of Europe and the Middle East. Many settled in Turkey among the Moslems ,some went to England, and some to Venice. Venice was an independent city, there was no “Italy” until the mid 1800’s. Somewhat like San Francisco, Venice has a history of diversity as it’s trading reach was enormous- across the Mediterrean and into Asia as well as Europe. Jews were useful as commercial go-between screens and as bankers since they had developed systems of currency exchange to facilitate the flow of goods from different parts of Europe. In Venice they were allowed to have one of 4 “professions”- pawnbroker, sales of cloth( schmatta), commerce and medicine.

By 1516 the New Ghetto was established in Venice and the population had reached around 4000 people. The space was small, so building owners added extra stories to their apartment buildings. A the top of several of the buildings are the synagogues, 2 Ashkenazi, 2 Sephardic and one Italian. We were allowed to visit 3 of them, the two Ashnenazi and one Sephardic, the “Levantine ” one. The Spanish synagogue was open yesterday for prayers, but not today for tours. It was a hot afternoon and climbing up to the top floor of these really old structures required some stamina. There were fans going in the sanctuarys, but it was hot!

The synagogues all shared a similar format, more typical of Sephardic than of Ashkenazi synagogues. The “Bima” or speaking area was separate from where the Torah’s are kept, the “Ark”. In most Sephardic synagogues the Bima is a raised platform in the middle of the synagogue space. In each of these, it was at one end of the room, opposite the Ark. Ashkenazi synagogues generally have the Ark on the Bima, but not here. As the tour guide pointed out, these synagogues were designed and built by Gentiles,not Jews.  There were no Jewish architects or craftsmen, so local people,more familiar with the construction of Christian churches were hired. And, as people became successful, the congregations wanted to display their status with the most popular styles of stone and wood carving. In all of the synagogues we saw the elaborate decorations are unlike an other Jewish structures in Europe. Gorgeous marbles, gilded wood and silver hanging lamps along with carved wood pews give these places a formal and incredibly elegant feeling.

After the tour we stopped briefly for lunch outside at a simple cafe run by an Egyptian (right across from one of the synagogues!),then we headed for the Grand Canal to find a place to watch the ceremonial passing of the Doge’s barge along with many others. A great many people were in Renaisance era costumes. Others were rowing standing up on long narrow boats. After the formal procession there were to be races in different categories of boats.

We found a spot right at the vaporetto stop, in front of a church which appeared to be abandoned, hard to tell. There is a raised area, perfect for sitting. On my Facebook page I have tried to post photos. The Internet connection here is very slow and I’m still not seeing the pictures.

There was a long long wait before anything happened. And it was hot, in the direct sun. I drank all of the water I had with me, and Bill offered to go and find me some more! Such a gentleman! I was worried that I might miss the beginning of the procession if I left and Bill is faster than I. The event was supposed to start at 4pm, but we weren’t sure which end of the canal was the beginning. Finally at around 4:30 music blared out from somewhere and the magnificent barges carrying th Doge of Venice and his attendants, floated by. These were unlike any watercraft I’ve ever seen! Gilded, carved with fantastic animals( darn this internet, I do have pictures  and I’ll work on adding them as soon as I can). The people were all in Renaissance costumes waving at the crowds of people lining the long Grand Canal. Then there were lots and lots of other boats mostly rowed by groups of people from clubs, all standing up to row!  Many were in costumes of one sort or the other, some period some related to a profession. Some boats were decorated with fishing related stuff,like traps and nets.Others were featuring produce , and some were kind of pirate-like.

It was a great event, and then we had to walk all the way across Venice to our apartment since the vaporetto service was suspended until  about 7:30pm. Thanks to Bills’s excellent navigation, we arrived back on Calle Lunga de San Barnabas in about 45minutes. That included quite a few bridges (up lots of steps and down lots of steps) and my knees are registering serious complaints. Dinner was at a lovely place outside on the near-by Campo San Barnabas, really about 2 flat blocks along a narrow “street”. Watching people pass by is great dinner entertainment.

Tomorrow we may start to visit some of the famous churches in Venice.  They have amazing art as well as general decoration. One day we will visit Murano, the glass island and little Burano( famous historically for lace, now for being lovely) and then to Torcello, one of my favorite places.

And then there is so much to do and only 4 more days!



Published in: on September 4, 2016 at 8:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

Venice, never a bad place to be

We slept really well last night. It may have had to do with the wooden shutters over the bedroom windows that blocked all the light, and then the jet lag factor. We were slow getting going today, but that was fine with both of us.

Our first project was picking up our vaporetto (water bus) pass. We decided to get a 7 day pass and bought it on-line, only to realize that it is the same price in person at a vending machine. It really doesn’t matter, but it saves a lot if we end up using the boats more than 8 times in 7 days. We may, or not, but it gives me the feeling of freedom to take the boat whenever I feel like it.

On the way to get the passes, we realized that we had left the print-out in the apartment, so Bill, the faster walker, went back to get it while I stayed , sort of, in the last place we stopped. I ended up returning to Campo Santa Margarhita, where there are benches and some shade and where I met two lovely older men. I sat down on the bench next to them, nodding hello. After a little while the man closest to me said that he and his friend were talking about what they liked to eat. He preferred fish and his friend ate only meat. They were both quite tall, 6’or so, and it turned out that they were both basketball players in their youth, for the Milan professional team.

One man, in a white shirt, said good by and headed out of the square,while the other man,in an orange shirt, continued to chat. His friend had to go home to lunch, his wife was expecting him, he said. The man in the orange shirt didn’t mention a wife, so I suspect he was widowed or perhaps divorced. He told me, with great enthusiasm about how he had gotten to know Bill Bradley in Milan. When Bradley was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, he would come to Milan on weekends to play basketball with the team! This man from Venice played until he was 30 , then became a high school physical education teacher in Venice. He followed Bradley’s political career and knew that he had been a US Senator. He really was lovely to talk with and I may run into him again, I do hope so.

Our next leg of the day’s journey was to find a COOP store and see about buying a SIM card for my phone. I had been told that the offered the best deal. We went to two of them, no luck. Then we stopped at a tobacconist who told us that only the phone companies sell them now. Oh well, we will tackle that later.

We stopped for lunch at a trattoria near San Polo church, sitting outside, drinking lots of cool water. While there were lots of tourists, at least some of them were speaking Italian, so it didn’t feel too familiar! Venice has so so many American tourists, also Russian and everyone else. Still, in some places farther from the Rialto-San Marco area one can feel the sense of life here. Everyone is walking, all the time,everywhere. There is no alternative. You can’t hail a taxi if you don’t feel up to the subway, like in NY. Of course, being San Franciscans, we are aware of the lack of hills! Still there are bridges to climb up and down if you want to go anywhere except a tiny area. I’m amazed at the older folks, carrying their bags of groceries and doing what they have always done- walking.

We took our first vaporetto ride and headed for a nap. Call it jet lag, call it hot weather, I was weary. Lying on the bed, with the window open I dozed to the sounds of a symphony being played at rather high volume from a house across the canal. The occasional boat started up, a gondola or two passed by with laughing tourists , and I heard it all,but nothing was annoying. I drifted sleepily along. Venice is a dreamy place.

Dinner was at a wonderful, very Venetian, restaurant about a 5 minute walk from our apartment. My Brooklyn friends,Steve and Julie, recommended it from their May visit here. We loved the food, the atmosphere, the staff, the other diners! There was a bachelorette party outside,on the bridge.  We were seated at the end of a long table and a family of 5 sat next to us. Lovely kids, beautiful and nice parents.

We walked another 10 minutes to the Zattere, the long wide sidewalk that follows the huge Guidecca canal. My goal was the Gelateria Nico, where we ordered a couple of ice cream treats ( affogato for me- decaf espresso over vanilla gelato, heaven!) and something with some fruit and ice cream for Bill. We sat at a small table facing the water and watched the parade of dozens of watercraft passing before us. From a huge cruise ship (totally out of scale with Venice, awful to see) to tugboats, car ferries, vapretti, to speedy bouncy small boats, some taxis some private transport. Nothing better in my experience!

Walking back took just 10 minutes or so over a couple of bridges, along a canal, through a narrow passage to our front door. Lovely first full day in Venice.

My desire to post photos is at odds with the Internet in the apartment. I need to be able to connect to transfer images from the camera to the iPad, and so far it refuses to cooperate. When I can, I will. In the meantime I hope to put some photos on Facebook which I can do easily from the phone. I prefer the images from my camera,so I don’t know how I will resolve this. Stay tuned!



PS. Bill also has a blog on WordPress: You can follow him,too. We write about different things naturally, so it’s kind of like a stereo experience to read us both!

Published in: on September 4, 2016 at 8:09 am  Comments (1)  

Back in Venice, sigh

We left San Francisco Thursday  afternoon for Amsterdam’s airport where we changed planes for Venice. The flight was fine, only 9 1/2 hours SFO- Amsterdam, not bad compared with Istanbul or Dubai, recent very very long flights we have taken. I watched a couple of movies, including “Demolition” with Jake Gyllenhall, which I enjoyed more than I had expected.

Getting to our rented apartment was more of a hassle than I had expected. My memory of my last visit here in 2007 was that the transfer from airplane to boat-bus was pretty easy, just a short walk from the terminal to the dock. Things have changed at MarcoPolo Airport in the past 9 years and will be changing more, based on the construction going on. We wandered around quite a bit looking for a sign for “Dock”. Not a lot of signs were visible until you were on the right path already.

We eventually found the correct line to be in, only to find that the size of the boats available this afternoon were all rather small, so lots of people were waiting a long time for transport into Venice. It all worked out and Giulia met us at the Ca’Rezzonico Alilaguna stop and we followed her along the Callelunga de San Barnabas to the front door of the apartment building.The place is just fine for the 2 of us. It has one bedroom and one bathroom and a kitchen. The living room/dining room has an air-conditioner which seems to do an adequate job. We dropped our bags and found our way to the Campo Santa Margarita where we relaxed with a bit of limonata(me) and red wine ( Bill) until we figured we had better get up and go to the supermarket before we fell asleep in the chairs on the Campo!

Trying not to over buy, we limited ourselves to breakfast items and then stopped at a produce stand in the middle of the Campo for some grapes and peaches. I so enjoy interacting with people, even over buying fruit that all of these encounters are a pleasure for me. Bill has been studying Italian for a few months and I’m confident that he will be the main speaker on this trip, but I’ll keep on doing my version of communication, even if my pronunciation is wrong!

After an hour or so of collapse, we found a nice near-by Osteria for dinner. I had Two kinds of shrimpy things, prawns and gamberetti which are like small lobsters, with grilled vegetables. And some red wine. A nice entry to Venice.

Tomorrow we have to decided which direction to go- to Rialto via Campo San Polo and many many tiny alleyways, or towards San Marco via the Accademia bridge and Campo San Stefano and lots of other tiny, impossible to believe “streets” and sottoporteghios ( covered walkways) and paths along canals, and always bridges, lots of bridges!

More tomorrow.Buonanotte!




Published in: on September 2, 2016 at 8:05 pm  Comments (2)  

Last day of our tour of Turkey, Gazientep=baklava

On the bus yesterday, as we were nearing Gazientep, I remembered an article from the New York Times about Gazientep, but really about baklava. I had it in my trip envelope and read it again. It mentions watching the men make the baklava at one of the city’s most famous bakeries.

I showed the article to Kadir, just because I thought that he might be interested in another perspective. He read it, and said “would you like to see how baklava is made? ” of course, who wouldn’t? and he got on his phone and next thing I knew, he announced that our group was going in the morning to the Imam Cagdas baklava bakery to witness the process! Oh my, what excitement!!

So, right after breakfast ( I ate lightly), we headed towards the bakery. The bus could only take us part of the way since the streets get narrow. We walked through a rather quiet Gazientep and into the ” Lourdes” of baklava! 

Pilgrimage site for lovers of baklava

We were greeted by the owner who, as Kadir said, looked like a very modest old man in traditional turkish baggy pants, called shalvar, and simple shirt, well dusted with flour. He directed us to go up first one and then another flight of stairs. 

  We entered the bakery in the oven area, and felt assaulted by the heat. One man was manuvering rather small round aluminum pans in and out of a wood-burning oven and another was managing the hot syrup that he poured over the just baked baklava. We then entered a room with several tables where men were fitting filo dough into the pans. Again, it was hot. I was just dripping away standing in one place!They showed us how thin the dough was by draping it over our hands, I could see all the details of my ring through the dough!

In the next room, which was so hot and humid I thought I might expire. Men were taking lumps of dough and feeding them through a machine to flatten them, then the flattened dough went to individual men who rolled it with thin wooden rollers into impossibly sheer sheets of dough.  



(I don’t understand it, but my photoediting abilities have suddenly disappeared!  I can’t add captions or reduce the size of the photos. Oh well, last day of the trip, someting had to go wrong!)

As you can see, the process is very labor intensive, which accounts for the relatively highcost of good baklava. At the end of our tour, we were each handed a still warm square of deliciousness which we savored,or wolfed down as the case may be. Then we headed to the Zeugma Museum of Mosaics.

This new museum was built to house the mosaics from a Roman building which was going to be flooded by the creation of a new dam. The building is lovely, although I realized quickly when some groups of school kids showed up, the acoustics were not given much thought! It echos and sound reverberates very well. We all fled from the kids just so that we could hear each other talk!

In my opinion, the mosaics are not as fabulous as some I’ve seen. I even thought the Antakya Museum’s mosaics were more interesting. Except for the well presented portrait head of,maybe a young woman, or maybe not. It has lumious eyes and great details in the hair. 

We returned to the hotel for a brief visit, then we walked back to the baklava bakery and restaurant for a really delicious lunch topped off with , guess, baklava! this time we had Kadir’s favorite the “carrot” baklava so called because of it’s long triangular shape cut from a round pan. We all licked our fingers as we floated out of the restaurant for the second time today.

Then we walked through the market with Kadir as he pointed out interesting things and asked prices for us so we would know what was reasonable. I decided that I wanted a copper plate with tin coating, with patterns carved into it. I saw several and finally stopped at a small shop and talked, more or less, with the owner/craftsman. He ended up carving my name into the back of the plate for me.While he ws doing that, I looked around his tny shop and noticed some necklaces in a case. I asked to see them and ended up buying one of those too. Nice day!

We walked back to the hotel after cheking out a few more shops.. I collapsed for a while, took a shower, and got ready for our fare-well dinner. 

Group travel has it’s good and not so good aspects. Onthe good side, I know I see much more than I do on my own. I learn or have the opportunity to learn much more about a place than I probably could on my own. On the negative side, being with americans all the time is very separating from the environment. There is little need to learn even basic words in Turkish, although I have finally mastered “Thank you”, more or less. I’ve picked up a bit of menu Turkish and words for directions ( entrance and exit mostly). And a bit more, I suppose. 

Being so well taken care of turns even the most confident adult into a bit of a child. While the trip had some very full days ending with physical tiredness, it also has a relaxing quality because you have given over control of your days to someone else to plan, and plan well. I’m sure I’ll do group tours again, but not more than one a year. Bill and I have discussed other travel ideas including staying a while somewhere, maybe even here in Gazientep!

Tomorrow morning we fly to Istanbul, stay one night and get home on Saturday afternoon. It’s been wonderful and I’m looking forward to being home again.


Published in: on May 28, 2015 at 7:17 pm  Comments (4)  

Mysterious archaeology, up high, long drive, Gazientep

Yesterday wasn’t my best day on the trip. My stomach was unhappy with something I ate and let me know starting around 3am. Then we realized that this replacement hotel played the same game with the air conditioning that many of the other hotels in this part of the country play. They turn it off during the night. So, since cross ventilation is simply impossible in a hotel room, one wakes up in a sweat in a room with a blowing sound, but only warm-hot air. We opened the window, which helped a bit, but really…. not a fun night.

With the help of my friend Immodium, I joined the group and we headed to Goebekli Tepe ( Potbelly Hill), an archaeological site just 30 mins from Sanliurfa. It was an overcast day, so the temperature was cool. We had all read a bit about this place, in guidebooks, but seeing it was a complete surprise to me. The discovery of this place in 1995 and publicized only in 2011 has changed the way ancient history is understood, so far. This site consists of, so far, 6 or 7 stone circles with large carved stone monoliths placed equally around each circle. 

Gobelki Tepe- stone circles with monoliths about 10-12 ft tall


figure carving on a stone monolith at Gobekli Tepe

In addition to this figure, there are animals an other figurative imagery. According to previous theories, humans settled down into communities before undertaking huge projects connected to apparent spiritual practices. However, at this site, no evidence has been found of any settlements. This place is evidence of a communal activity- the entire hill is man-made and it’s huge- but without the kind of communal living that everyone has thought must come first. And, the carved symbols on these rocks pre-date Sumerian or any other hieroglyphics by as much as 8,000 years. There are many more rock circles with monoliths still buried. Only a small percentage of the site has been excavated. 

archaeologists work site at Gobelki Tepe

It’s a wonderful place to see, full of mystery and inspiring for the imagination. How did they carve the really large, like 10-15 ft tall , blocks of stone and move them into place? Who did it? Why? and why did they, after about 1000yrs of use, bury the entire complex under a cover of dirt? Over the next decades perhaps some of these questions will be answered. I just loved the place.

Next we drove towards Mt. Nemrut, where on the top of the 7000+ mountain, King Antiochus built a monument to himself consisting of huge seated statues of gods and of himself. After about 2 hours of driving we changed into 2 minibuses and headed up the long and windy road to the start of the trail to the summit of the “tumulus” an area created by Antiochus to serve as his burial mound. My guts were saying “no” and in all honesty, the rest of me wasn’t all that excited about hiking up over uneven rocks at what is for me a high altitude. So, I chose to stay at the small cafe/gift shop/ tea and coffee spot and await the acounts of those who make the strenuous hike. 

I thought I might do some drawing, but it was a hazy day and the landscape was less than sharp. So, I read a bit, had a nice cup of Turkish tea and enjoyed the solitude. A couple from the tour group arrived, having decided to stop and return at the end of the first set of pretty new, wooden stairs. Then another woman appeared, also choosing to avoid the very uneven rocks in the last part of the hike. 

Then a sort of odd-looking man in motorcycle clothes came down from the mountain top and had a cup of coffee at the table next to me. After a while I turned around and started up a conversation. He was German, spoke excellent English, and was riding his bike around Turkey and Iran for 6 weeks, alone. We looked at his map of Turkey and compared where we each had been. His evaluation of a city relied more on traffic than on what was of cultural interest there! He did appreciate some of the same places, but mostly not. He had been around Iran and felt that the people were very friendly and some areas were lovely. Again, traffic was a main concern and so he avoided Teheran entirely- not a bad decision actually.He was a retired astronomer fro the Max Planck Institute in Heidelberg and clearly a man who liked his solitude, but enjoyed a conversation now and then. He took off on his bike for his next stop before returning to Germany June 3.

When the rest of the group returned, Kadir and the two bus drivers produced a wonderful picknic lunch for us to enjoy before the trip down the mountain and then the 2 1/2 hours into Gazientep. Bill took some photos with my camera, but unfortuneatly I left it set on the wrong mode and most were very overexposed.Here are a few to give you and idea of what he saw. 

head of a statue on Mt. Nemrut


headless seated figures with heads below, the mound in the background was constructed with small rocks carried up the mountain from the Euphrates River way below


eagle and lion and a man- heads from Mt. Nemrut

We arrived in Gazientep around 7pm and trudged up to our rooms on the modern chain hotel, next-door to a shopping mall. I felt like it was time to readjust to modern civilization, and I do like my creature comforts. 

Tomorrow, Gazientep and it’s famous baklava!


Published in: on May 28, 2015 at 2:49 pm  Comments (1)  

Refugee camps, a village with beehive houses, the fabulous bazaar of Sanliurfa, and the amazing disappearing coffee house/ teahouse courtyard

I’m pretty tired, so this may be short.

We left on the early side and headed south to see the border with Syria, a refugee camp, and then an ethnically Arab village which has preserved many of it’s famous “beehive” style homes.

The border with Syria closest to Sanliurfa is also the border crossing closest to Raqqa, Syria, where many hundreds of non-combatant residents were killed by the army of President Assad 2 1/2 years ago, then came under ISIS control and now is back in the control of some other group. We met a refugee from Raqqa this afternoon,who told us his story. More on that later.

The border crossing itself is nothing much to see. We observed several women, all in black, with what looked like suitcases, who seemed to be crossing INTO Syria.  

With the situation just across the border pretty calm for now, it appears that some people are traveling back and forth. We had no idea why.

We next drove to the village of Harran, known as an example of the Arab style of life in Turkey. The village has preserved many of their unique “beehive houses” when most inhabitants choose to move into newer concrete block homes that require less maintenance. ( the old ones need re-mudding most every year, lots of work). They have set up a kind of museum, actually one family’s home, partially furnished with the kind of things that would normally be in a local home. The man whose home it was, and who donated it to start the museum, was there and we could ask him questions through our guide, Kadir. 

small billboard for the “Harran House” that we visited

one family’s home, composed of connected mud brick conical structures, they stay cool


large room in the beehive house, the family had 14 children!

The former owner was very charming, which may account for his large brood! The town also contains an archaeological site consisting of a tower that was originally an observatory and later a bell tower, next to the ruins of a mosque from the 8th century.It is an active site and we saw people carting away soil. 

tower and mosque in Harran, Turkey, near the Syrian border

From Harran we returned to Sanliurfa, passing by a very large refugee camp. It has rows and rows of grey plastic tents, enormous numbers of people are living there. The Turkish government has been supporting the Syrian refugees very well, it seems, including a brand new hospital next to the camp and new apartment buildings nearly finished near-by. The situation is so terrible for so many people who  had nothing to do with the political issues, but were bombed or terrified into fleeing, many with next to nothing. Children are going to schools, but there is not much for adults to do. Some men are seeking work, and we met a man in the afternoon in a coffee house.

Upon our return to Sanliurfa, Kadir announced that we were moving to a different hotel for the second night. There had been many complaints about the first hotel, and the response was inadquate Kadir thought. He worked hard to get approval to move us, just a short distance away. We packed up our things and left them in our rooms, then we all walked into the old city for lunch and a tour of the market.

What a market! I do love a good market and this is a terrific one! It has streets of metal things, of wood things, of men’s clothing and dry goods. Kadir knew it well enough to direct us to an area of silk scarf vendors, where I, among   others ,indulged in just a few more. then we followed him to a courtyard with umbrellas shading tables and sofas with cushions and men drinking coffee and tea. It was so lovely, so perfect, I was thrilled to be there at that very moment! It even had a stream running through it, (and a look alike for Ron Rifkin the actor) 

the magical courtyard

We sat at a long table and Kadir ordered the local coffee for all of us, very dark, thick, only a thimblefull in ech small ceramic cup. He was looking around and spotted a man in traditional arab dress and asked him if he would talk with us. The man spoke very little Turkish and Kadir very little arabic, but they managed to communicate his story with plenty of detail. He was from Raqqa, just south of  Sanliurfa, he had been a butcher. But one day, President Assad’s forces bombed his town and destroyed his business. His wife was blinded. They all fled, on foot, about 100 K (62 miles) to the Turkish border. He was very pleased to be telling his story, and I wanted to share it.He and his family have been in Turkey now for 2 1/2 years. they would love to return to their home someday, Inshallah.


Syrian refugee and Kadir working hard to communicate with each other, and with us


Is it Ron Rifkin or an old Arab man? you tell me!


A stream runs through the courtyard where many men enjoy hanging out. Does anyone work? just asking.

Our tour left the bazaar and headed to the large mosque where we visited the cave where Abraham was supposed to have been born. There are two separate areas of worship, a mens’s area and a women’s area. I ducked under the low stone entrance, and entered a cave. I looked through a large glass window into  more of the cave but this area was full of water. Several women were reading the Koran, one seemed to be napping( I was very envious- it was really hot outside). 

in the women’s area of the Cave of Abraham’s birth

Kadir was now returning to the hotel mess and we had the rest of the afternoon to ourselves. I really wanted to go back to the bazaar and to that enchanting courtyard. Kadir had led us right to it, how hard could it be to find it again? Ha! We walked all over the bazaar for more than an hour. We found other interesting areas, like this courtyard  where all around were men sitting at sewing machines in front of their tiny rooms.

one of the many men sewing in this courtyard, also a tea shop

We saw a bakery and lots of interesting vendors of all kinds of stuff, but we could not find that courtyard with the stream and the men playing cards. I know it is real, but maybe it’s better this way.My initial impression was so strong, it cold never be the same twice. At least that’s how I consoled myself!
We left the market and waled back to the big green lovely park acrosss the way from out first hotel. We sat on a bench for a while and then walked up a long flight of marble steps to where there are several places to have tea or other bevrages while overlooking the park.  

people at the next table , at the tea place overlooking the park

view of Sanliurfa fortress and the park below

This is a lovely town, with a vibrant city center and friendly people. I’d come back if I could.

Moore tomorrow,about today. I’m a day behind again. Life is just  too busy! We have just one more day of the tour, the we fly to Istanbul for one night, then home on Saturday! Bill is totally ready to go home. I like it here, but I have lots to get home for, so I’m ready,almost!

Published in: on May 27, 2015 at 8:22 pm  Comments (1)  

The round-about route to Sanliurfa ( Urfa, before 1923)

Long day on the bus, but that can’t be helped without enormous expense and a different kind of inconvenience. Flying is seldom a pleasant experience these days and we have taken 2 internal flights in Turkey on this trip. We drove for almost 2 hours before stopping for a bathroom break, it was highly appreciated.

Our next stop was lunch and a boat ride on the Euphrates River, or more precisely, a man-made lake formed by a damn on the river. The lake is now about 40 meters, or 120 ft deep, and still the sides of the former river canyon are high above you when on the surface of the lake. 

view from our lunch spot, on the Euphrates River

We cruised up the river/lake for about 30 min, then back again. Kadir pointed out a massive fortress from the Hellenic era, on a site originally started by the Assyrians. It has been in ruins for centuries but archaeologists are starting to reconstruct it. One can see, on the side, how they carved away a big part of the rock at the edge of the fortress to make it harder for enemies to get to the walls. On the side that follows the bend in the river, there are lots of small openings and some columns, very mysterious! 


ancient river fortress, caves and rooms visible from the water


partially submerged village on the former Euphrates River, now a lake reservoir

I”m having computer trouble tonight at our new hotel in Sanliurfa. Getting photos into the blog seems a Herculean task- some won’t upload properly, everything takes forever. And, the air conditioning is not doing very much at all. It’s actually really nice outside, but there’s no cross ventilation, so turning off the minimal a/c is problematic, not to mention the noise from outside! We are just opposite a huge mosque which means calls to prayer at odd hours.So, if there are fewer images than usual, I’m sorry.

The boat cruise after lunch was fun and breezy, making the unfamiliar heat more tolerable. We saw both the fortress in the image above and a partly submerged mosque in a mostly abandoned village flooded by the new lake.

Later we drove past several refugee camps for people fleeing the conflict in neighboring Syria. Turkey has committed billions of dollars to them and built clean, monitored camps and even new apartment buildings. Still, the people are suffering terribly. And we are so close to the border.

Once in Sanliurfa, we got off the bus and followed Kadir on a rather long walk to our hotel.The bus can’t get close due to the narrow winding streets in the center of this ancient city. After checking in , we met again in thelobby and set out for a walk to see the near-by sights- “the Pool of Abraham” and a huge mosque at the edge of a lovely city park. Above the park looms a fortress with walls that stretch for a long way at the top of what looks like a sheer cliff. We left the hotel a bit after 6pm and joined many local people enjoying the pleasant breezy evening.The Pool of Abraham is full of carp that enjoy being fed by visitors and swim to the surface atthe slightest   suggestion of food coming their way. Just touching the surface of the water excites them! 

Pool of Abraham, famous in Islamic texts


The famous carp in the Pool of Abraham

    We walked around the Pool observing people and enjoying the sights. This seems like a lovely city, at least the historic center. We had dinner in a restaurant overlooking the fortress and the mosque, on a terrace. The food was mediocre, but the setting was lovely. The walk back to the hotel involved several sets of steps and passing small shops selling spices, jewelry, clothing, pomegranate syrups and cosmetics. Tomorrow we will have some free time in the afternoon to explore on our  own.

More tomorrow. Perhaps the internet will be acting better and I can up -load photos less painfully. I  had more I wanted to share, but the process isn’t working well, and I’m tired. Good night my friends,


Published in: on May 25, 2015 at 7:42 pm  Comments (1)