Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Palazzo Te photos up on Flickr!

Here's a link to my new photo set from the Palazzo Te in Mantova. Extraordinary place that was primarily the work of one man, Giulio Romano, who designed both the architecture and directed the interior decorations, including painting many of the frescoes himself. Awesome place to visit!

Palazzo (del) Te- Mantua

Monday, August 26, 2013

Day 15- Three hits and a Grand Slam!

Day 15- Three hits and a Grand Slam!

Passed out immediately after dinner last night, so this one's coming in a bit tardy, but you'll get a double dose today (if I don't do the same thing tonight.) Yesterday was a marathon day- took over 500 photos of three of the main sites in town and finished with a real dazzler.

Began the day with a return to the Pitti Palace. Kind of like the Louvre- there's so much to look at it's overwhelming. There was a really cool show of depictions of dreaming from the Renaissance, including several paintings that featured the Zeus and Ganymede composition (originally by Michelangelo) that I used on one of my ceiling murals. 
We then toured the royal apartments there, which are mostly still furnished and are absolutely over the top in terms of both size and decoration. 

Center of a grottesca panel with Zeus and Ganymede from Michelangelo's design- same one I used for the library ceiling at the Villa Tramonto in LA.

Then we met up with Alison Grace Woolley, a fellow decorative painter, at her studio. Always fun to bump heads with a kindred soul who's been walking the same path for a while. I need to spend some more time in her studio, so hopefully I'll get a chance to come back next spring while Lynne Rutter is over here. Alison took us to a little neighborhood trattoria for lunch where we got to witness the famous Italian temper tantrum, with one of the employees storming out from the kitchen, quitting as he left!

Then it was on the Uffizi Gallery, one of my holy grails. While we did actually spend a fair amount of time looking at the pictures on the walls, far more time was spent looking at the amazing ceiling panels in the hallways of the loggia, which are some of the finest grottesca work in the world. If you don't know what grottesca is, go over to my art+works page and you'll find loads of examples and explanations in my pictures. Endlessly free flowing creativity and just fun painting, all informed by a well trained hand

Finished off the day with the grand slam. The Palazzo Vecchio, the "Old Palace" of the Medici clan, was not only stunning in size and decor, but it's also well lit and THEY LET YOU TAKE PHOTOS! It was nice not to have to feel like a sneak while I indulged my passion for this art form. My only regret was that we hadn't scheduled this one earlier; Marianne was starting to flag -she's been a real trooper keeping up with my obsession- and our 72 hour museum pass runs out this afternoon and we still want to see some other sites. 

crazed ornament at the Palazzo Vecchio

As we were emerging the weather was dramatic, lightning on the horizon and we passed by a bridal photo shoot on our bridge. Checked my photos today and the bride is the same one we saw being shot in the Piazza San Marco in Venice a week ago- same dress even. Must have been a bridal fashion shot. Went back to our little cloister and crashed hard after dinner!

This was the same model we saw in Venice- in the same dress!!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Day 14! 

Florence gave us a big day today! Started with a walk in near Santa Maria Novella where we immediately ran into a pretty nice Stile Liberty building, followed by a church and an unexpected cloister with a very old fresco by Ghirlandaio that had been damaged by the floods of 1966. What was cool about it was that in the process of restoring it from the flood, they were able to separate the top layer and preserve it where it had been originally, while they removed and displayed the underdrawing (called the "sinopia") on the adjacent wall. So you could compare the drawing with the finished mural and see what the artist had changed in the process. Very interesting!

"Do these pantaloons make my butt look big?"

We then threaded through the chaotic street markets down to the Medici chapel, which was actually a mausoleum, though in reality it's a gigantic jewel box. It is finished entirely in exotic marbles, with a side chapel that was designed by Michelangelo which has several of his sculptures in it. I love marble, so it was very hard not to photograph there, but I held back. Now I wish I hadn't. At least a few.

"Are you talking to me?"

After that we went to the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, where they allow you to photo (thank God!) After that to the Central Market, where you can pick up just about any cut (or species) of meat you might like, but in our case, we just bought some killer mushrooms, bread, and bits for a picnic lunch, which we ate in the Botanical Garden nearby.

Who knew Nick Nolte was Italian? From the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi.

We then stopped by the incredible Four Seasons Hotel, which is built around the  restored Palazzo Gherardesca, where you can sit and sip tea (free!) on green velvet sofas in the courtyard, surrounded by 16th-century frescos by Flemish mannerist Jan van der Straet, also known as Giovanni Stradano. Really cool spot, and it had no attitude problem at all.

Walked back over to the center of town and looked at the Duomo interior (yawn!) and the Baptistery interior (OMG!) and then ran into a parade for the town's patron John the Baptist, complete with Renaissance costumes, marching bands and flag twirlers, all men. I'll post some video in a bit. 

After that we went into one of the newer museums in town, the Palazzo Strozzi, which had a very cool show placing classical art (ie- Roman era and earlier) next to the Renaissance art it had inspired. Lots of Donatello, Brunelleschi, and other superstars of the Renaissance art world with the pieces they might have seen at the time. While we were there, a thunderstorm started outside and by the time we emerged, it was coming down! Fortunately, there was someone selling cheap umbrellas in the courtyard, so we ran back up to our spot and cooked up a yummy dinner with the big yellow mushrooms we bought at the market earlier. 

Our market selections today. Those orange mushrooms were soooo good!

Thinking we were done for the day, we settled in to internetting and sorting photos, only to discover that fireworks were on the way to celebrate the patron's day. So we went out and grabbed a gelato to wait on the bridge with a whole bunch of locals and tourists and watched a pretty great show of fireworks. Now back home again catching up before starting out again tomorrow. 

Fireworks over the Arno

How's that for an itinerary? Oh yeah, we also booked our rooms for Orvieto and Rome after we came back.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Day 13- Florence [originally posted on facebook June 23]

Arrived in Florence last night to a crummy train station hotel that kind of got us off on the wrong foot here. Crowds of sweaty tourists, shifty looking street denizens, searching for food and a wi-fi connection that worked, etc. Anyone who travels knows the drill. Today we went across the river to our much quieter spot where we'll spend the next 4 days to explore Florence. 

Bridge leading to our new quieter spot in Oltrarno. 

We're actually staying in an apartment that was part of the monastery attached to the Brancacci Chapel (art historians will know this one as one of Masaccio's early masterpieces and an influence on many later Renaissance artists.) 

Sister Marianne, cloister peeker

It's a little funky and dusty, with no AC, but fortunately the weather is great right now and it does have fans. It also has a kitchen, so we can save by cooking our own food. We have a tough time in restaurants since I'm allergic to wheat (no pasta, no pizza, no bread) and Marianne is vegan. On Theresa Cheek's recommendation, we are going to the Central Market tomorrow, so we'll have lots of yummy stuff in our bellies for the next few days I'm sure.

Great knockers!

We bought a Museum pass for 50 Euros today too, so we are majorly committed to going to a lot of places over the next 72 hours that the pass is good for. Our first stop was the Pitti Palace, which overlooks the Boboli Gardens and contains four separate museums in one building. This place was massive!!! And it was built as a house. Unfortunately, the expense of building it bankrupted the family and they had to sell it (to the Medici family, natch) within about 50 years. It's all right, cleaning it would have been a bitch! The damned photo police were in effect here too, so I had to be surreptitious with my shooting. Got some good ones anyways, but it would certainly be nice to be able to frame and shoot details from straight on, instead of always having to sneak from some doorway or shoot from the hip!

In many Italian palazzi and castles you find these steps leading up to the windows.  Not exactly sure, but I'm assuming it gave them some privacy and security from arrows and projectiles. These were some of the most extraordinary ones I saw on the whole trip. Museo Argenti in the Palazzo Pitti.

Trellis ceiling in the Pitti Palace

Well, I'll leave you here- have to go climb a hill and watch the sun set from the Roman Gate overlooking the town whilst enjoying a gelato- first one of the day!!
The Palazzo Vecchio at dusk

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Day 12

Have to keep it kind of short today, as we lost our lease in Bologna (some big concert tonight has everything in town sold out solid.)
Fortunately, every alternative in Italy is pretty decent- we ended up coming down to Florence a day early, but our hotel for tonight doesn't have wi-fi, so we're sitting at a gelateria using the free link.

no idea, but i found it in Bologna

We got in quite a bit of touring before we left, including a great science and art museum in the Palazzo Poggi, in the middle of the University district. Really more of a science museum set in a beautifully painted space, with vitrines full of early science displays of creatures and geology, and a wax model anatomical museum that was phenomenal!

Wax anatomical model in the Palazzo Poggi museum

There was another beautiful library full of antique architectural volumes that had me wishing I had a key, and an interesting military museum with large wooden panels with geometrical motifs that were actually plans for fortesses.

Fortress diagrams made of wood.

When we came out we sat in a little piazza there to drink some water and bathe in the university atmosphere. Lots of bikes and interesting hairdos, with some fun looking cafes all around. We made our way down to the center again and passed by the leaning towers (and their amazing crystalline stone bases) before finding the Palazzo Pepoli Campogrande, which I had sought the day before but missed. The house was built in the XVII century and houses an art collection which is not nearly as interesting as the fresco decorations, most of which were created around 1700 and are in good shape. The house was restored in 1997. 

The bases of the leaning towers of Bologna are made of  massive selenite blocks. Very cool looking up close!

A few more churches and arty bits, and then we jumped on the train down here to Florence, where we will stay 5 days (tomorrow we have a better place with wi-fi) Caught the Duomo at sunset- WOW!

Giotto's belltower next to the Duomo of Florence

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Day 11- To Bologna!

Said a fond farewell to our cool cave in Ferrara this morning and boarded yet another train for Bologna. Gotta say, the Italian train system is cheap, reliable, and often air conditioned even in second class. Our tickets to Bologna cost 4 euros (about $5.50) for a half hour haulin-ass ride between the two towns. Pretty sure you'd spend that much just on the gas, even if you multiply it by two for our tickets. You get there fast and you don't get lost plus you can read your travel notes for the next destination. Very cool!

Old and new ornament living in harmony. Ok, maybe.

Arrival in Bologna was smooth- our new place is again a little apartment with kitchenette within a very reasonable walk from the station and also to the town center. Right as we arrived there was a small earthquake (5.0 centered near to the coast west of here). Not a real shaker, but given all the damage we had seen yesterday, it was enough to make you think about what would happen if a major one hit while we were here. Not a good scenario!!

Who would argue with a hotel that has this on the stairwell ceiling? Nice!

Anyways, got out and walked downtown through one of the city's myriad arcaded sidewalks- nice and shady so we were comfy today, plus the temp has dropped about 5 degrees which is welcome! First stop was the Piazza Maggiore where we had a bit of deja vu seeing the Neptune fountain that our home town has a 2/3 scale copy of. 

Yours may be bronze, but ours (in Palos Verdes) still has squirting boobs!

Then we actually did climb one of the famous medieval towers that clocks in around 300 plus feet (498 steps to be precise!) Normally wouldn't really make me nervous, but because of the earthquake I was a bit, especially where the stairs lean into the center of the hollow tower. I asked the ticket woman if she had felt the quake and if it made her nervous and she replied (in essence) that if it's been here this long...

Looks like a set for Hitchcock's Vertigo. Not for those who don't like heights!

On the way to check out a couple more sites we ran across an amazing arcade that was all painted with grottesca from the 19th century. Outstanding work and I could photograph it to my hearts content! Saw the oldest University in Italy, the Archiginassio, and then went by the market to pick up our cheapie dinner. Don't worry foodies, we'll get some good stuff soon, but the market is actually really fun- the produce is great and the cheeses are amazing and cheap too.

Wonderful covered arcade in downtown Bologna

Friday, August 16, 2013

Day 10- Ferrara is beautiful!

Riding along the town walls in the morning- great way to catch a breeze!
What the heck, might as well make it a habit! Started the day with renting some bikes and heading up to the medieval era walls that go all the way around the town. Beautiful way to start the day! The linden trees are blooming everywhere and they smell almost like jasmine. From the elevated walls you catch little glimpses of the towers and steeples of Ferrara, plus other bits outside the walls. You can circumnavigate the old town in less than an hour, and it's super pleasant. It also has condom machines.

Convenient condom machines near the bike path, because you never know who you might bump into out on your bike

Took in the Palazzina Marfisa d'Este, a lovely old house with period furniture and elaborate grottesca ceilings that are badly in need of a cleaning. Couldn't take many pictures since we were the only ones there and the docents followed us around like bird dogs! Nice to be in a smaller town for less crowds, but this is the flip side of that coin. They also are really serious about their hours; if you're in there at 12:30 and they close at one for lunch, they pretty much breathe on you so you'll leave a bit early. They're probably mostly volunteers, so I get it, but it's not what we're used to and makes you feel a bit unwelcome, especially since we paid 5 Euros to get in.

View from outside of the Palazzina Marfisa d'Este. Since they wouldn't let you take them inside, I took a few from outside. Nyah!

Later went to the Palazzo Schifanoia and the Castello Estense. After all the beautiful maintenance we've seen on the trip it was a bit shocking to see ceilings like this at the Castello. Not through any fault of its caretakers, we learned that this is all damage from the May 2012 earthquakes that occurred in this region. Ferrara was particularly hard hit- the Castello lost part of its tower and a church near the Piazza lost the upper part of its facade. The Palazzo Schifanoia, one of the town's treasures, is still 80% closed, with piles of exterior masonry lying in the courtyard behind. Very sad stuff!

Beautiful plaster entry to the Palazzo Schifanoia.  Most of the interior was closed due to the  2012 earthquake.

So all the tissue paper you see here has been applied to cracks, to keep more plaster from falling off. It is very delicately applied with reversible adhesives that will stay until it can be properly restored. I wonder if they need helpers...hmmmm!

Ceiling in the Castello Estense with paper applied to keep crumbles from falling out of the cracks made by the earthquake in 2012.

In any case, it's nice that they are still open (except for the rooms at Schifanoia) and that they let you look at them even- in their damaged state they are still stunning! This one is called the Hall of games, as the imagery is all based on a 16th century translation of Greek gymnastic exercises as described by Vitruvius in Roman times.The castello has dungeons that were truly chilling, and not just in temperature. Supposedly there was one man in there for 43 years before being released-(shivers!!) 

Went back to our lovely room (I wish I could pack this one up and take it to our other stops- it's really comfy and cheap!) for a lunch of store bought stuff, which is becoming our pattern. Some fresh and roasted veggies, a bit of bread, yummy cheeses-all for about $10.

Hit the bikes again around 5 pm to take in one more Palazzo and get a gelato in the piazza before returning our rides and going back to our cozy cave. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Day Nine- 
[This is where I started journaling while on the trip- days one through eight were written after we came back, while looking through the photos for the chronology of events]

Backside of the Palazzo Municipale in Ferrara.

Well, we couldn't find a cheap last minute room in Padova, so we skipped over it to the charming town of Ferrara tonight, which so far seems like a fine move. Our room here is cheap ($68), spacious, cool, and near the train station, all things we enjoy. On our afternoon stroll (have to stroll, 'cause it's HOT in the afternoon!) we took in the Piazza and the requisite Cattedrale (for its cool shadows) and then up to the Casa Romei, a restored 15th century palazzo that had great decorations from medieval period on, some brought there from churches that had been destroyed. Its been heartening to see many buildings being well cared for on this trip. 

The Casa Romei in Ferrara is a well preserved house built in the 16th century

On the way back to the hotel, we sat in the Piazza for a while to watch the citizens emerge and mingle on their way home. This city loves bikes! Everyone rides one, from kids to grannies! Finally, after picking up some groceries to eat in the room (that way we can afford some splurgy food when we want) we spotted a couple of Stile Liberty (Italian Art Nouveau) houses just around the corner from where we are staying. What a treat! 

Entry to a house called the Villa Melchiori in Ferrara. Sunflowers are the theme of its decorations. Italian Art Nouveau is known as Stile Liberty

Tomorrow we will see the Castello Estense, the Palazzina Marfisa d'Este, and the Palazzo Schifanoia. I think we have determined that we really need two days to do any town- we're just not good at hit and run visits. Going to rent bikes too, so we can join the locals!

Everyone rides a bike in Ferrara. Come to the piazza in the early evening to see the whole town come by!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Good news for photo hounds! I just posted my first set of photos from Italy.
Castello Sforzesco Milano

Day Eight- Venice redub

Today's post is the last one before I get back to where I started doing this during the trip. I have been posting these (some with a few different photos) on my blog page, in case you need to refill, or direct someone who isn't on facebook to them. I'll continue to repost the old ones there so that they are in sequential order until I have the whole trip up. Then god only knows what I'll do with myself (like maybe get some work done?!) 

I guess living in Venice your whole life will do this to you

Becoming very apparent that two days is nowhere near enough time to take in Venice; a week seems more like a necessary minimum. We don't have a week, so we'll just try to absorb as much as possible and vow to return for a longer visit. Got up and had a nice breakfast with our own espresso maker and some wheat free bread I bought at a German bakery across the street from our pad. Little did I know it would be the last time I saw that in Italy, or I would have packed a bag full of it for later. It was good! 

Nice window on the way to the piazza. Starting to know my way around....not!

After hanging our freshly laundered clothes on the line in the courtyard, we headed back to the Piazza, the path already becoming clearer in my head as I began to recognize landmarks. Stopped again to lick the windows of the shoe store and wonder why I wasn't born in that category of human- I'm certainly one who would appreciate $1,000 shoes! The handmade suits also have been calling to me through the store windows. "Steve, come and wear me!" 

Everything at the Palazzo Ducale is X-Large

But I digress. Our first destination on this fine and sultry day was the Palazzo Ducale (or Doge's Palace,) a large agglomeration of building that goes back to the 9th century, though most of it was built around the 15th and 16th centuries, while maintaining a Gothic style that originated in the 14th century. Ducal does indeed describe this place (or perhaps this place describes ducal) with extra large rooms that are somewhat dark and foreboding, but also regal in their gold and ornamented ceilings and walls. They have good descriptions in each room of the function; here is where one entered to be seen by the court, here is where the accused sat before sentencing, etc. Definitely put the fear of god in you! Then you descend to the prison via the so-called "Bridge of Sighs". Ugh! I think I decided on this trip that I really don't enjoy visiting dungeons- it is much too sad to imagine those who spent time in these cold dark places.

 After recovering from that area you enter the Chamber of the Great Council, a gigantic room made to seat up to 2,000 of the local nobility. It faces the lagoon with large open windows to keep it moderate, but it is easy to imagine the good nobles snoozing in their chairs as some discussion of trivia droned on from the raised platform where the Doges would hold forth, backed up by Tintoretto's "Paradiso", the longest oil painting in the world. All around the room, twinned portraits of the Doges glare down from history, including poor Marin Faliero, who in 1355 attempted a coup, and was punished by becoming an "unperson", his name wiped off the record books and his portrait nothing but a black cloth. Oh yeah, he was also beheaded.

Council of the Great Council at the Doge's Palace

After the Palazzo we decided to go for the trifecta, entering into the Basilica di San Marco, which is just next door. Originally the Doges' church, this crazy quilt Byzantine style building has bits of materials from all over, a fitting tribute to Venice's position as gateway to the Eastern provinces and trade center. Colored marbles adorn the entry, and the interior is bathed in golden light from the multiple mosaics that cover the vaults. Some of the mosaics go back to before the church was built, while others were designed by famous painters such as Veronese, Tintoretto, and Titian. The overall effect is dazzling- like being inside a kind of jewel box. There are all kinds of exotic marbles in columns and book matched panels, many of them brought from foreign lands or prized off of antique sites. 

Columns in the Basilica of San Marco were brought from all over .

We then revisited the cafe in the Museo Correr (ok- it was partly due to my desire to take more photos of it- I had the camera set wrong when I was there the day before.) Then we stayed in the arcades and found the Caffe Florian, where I could have spent three times as much for a coffee, but been surrounded by a painted mirror space that is unequaled anywhere. They politely ignored me as I snapped away, but I kind of felt like we should have popped for it, even though it would have been ridiculously expensive! 

Mural in Caffe Florian, a Venetian institution.

We then decided it was nap time and headed back to our little cabana, where the laundry was all dry and toasty. We emerged again at dusk for one more look at the Piazza and a gelato, vowing that we will come back to explore more of it another time. We didn't even get to see the Biennale, which is mostly down in the southern part of town, although what parts we did see in installations around town were less than impressive, if not downright blocking the view! Don't get me wrong, I am not categorically against contemporary art, it's just that I look for art that is a balance of thought and craft, and most of what I see today has (way) too much of the former and not enough of the latter. 

I guess this wraps up my monologue on the trip we took this summer- hope I'll be able to do it again soon! 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Day Seven- Venezia!

Welcome to crazy town! After the peaceful vibe of VIcenza, Venice is like Toon Town, wall to wall tourists wandering with map in hand (looking desperately for the WC), souvenir shops hawking Chinese-made "Venetian" commedia dell'arte masks, and canals full of boats and swooning couples. That said, it's still amazing, and the historical aspects, while somewhat shrouded by the commercial frenzy of summer, still manages to peek through and impress. 

Gondola rides at midday are a bad idea- wait until night, or at least twilight.

Arrived at the train station around one, and instead of using the directions to our place that they had given us, which started instead from the bus station (I'm not going to backtrack 500 yds to start where they tell me to!) I used Google maps to locate our place and headed out confidently. The heat had begun to settle in, so we hugged the shadows as we made our way along the canals and bridges. At some point, I realized we were off track and not finding the apartment, so I got out the directions from the owners as Marianne glowered at me. As I later found out, even Google Maps can't navigate Venice- the address of the place was totally misplaced on their database. In any case, we did find it after a bit of renavigation, and were met there by a very friendly woman who took us up to see the place. It was a lovely little apartment on the third floor, way more space than we actually needed, with a kitchen, and most importantly, a washing machine! We packed really lightly for this trip; one carry-on bag each, and not even a big carry-on, so our clothes needed a refresher about once a week.

This kind of street sign was of no use in finding our place, but it was  a nice distraction.

After putting a load in and settling in for a while, we headed down to find the Piazza San Marco. On the way to the Ponte Rialto (the absolute tourist nexus of the entire island) we passed by some more authentic shops, including a shoe store that made me drool. Hand made shoes for men and women, classic styles that looked beautifully crafted and so comfortable. After briefly taking in the sight of the Grand Canal from the bridge, we navigated the crazy streets until we found ourselves, quite by accident, at the entry to the Piazza and the site I had in mind to begin with, the Museo Correr. 

Coffee shop at the Museo Correr has neo-Pompeiian murals by Francesco Hayez. You can sit here and have a snack overlooking the piazza, even if you're not going into the museum. 

The museum was started in 1836 by Teodoro Correr, a wealthy Venetian who collected all kinds of art during a low point in Venice's history, when many families were selling off parts of their collections. While the collection does have quite a few seminal pieces in it, I was much more interested in the building, a Neo-Classical extravaganza from the period when Napoleon was the nominal ruler of the area. The decoration of the rooms is rich and dense, with the French influence quite evident. As usual, the damned photo ban was in effect, but it was not too hard to avoid detection by the mostly bored looking guards who looked out the windows and semi-snoozed in chairs. The windows were open to the lagoon, and the breeze in the rooms made it a pleasant place to stay out of the heat. Room after room of spectacular ornament (that gets hardly a mention in the tour guides!) culminating in the library, a spectacular room that was marred only by some piece of art from the Biennale that would have served better as easels for something deserving. 

The cartographic library in the Correr Museum has amazing wall decoration and gorgeous maps- unfortunately impeded by someone's idea of "art". I'm sorry, but these pieces were just so simplistic- they belonged at a local art fair, not part of the Venice Biennale! Just my opinion.

We stayed until it was closing time (Marianne seemed a bit relieved- I could have stayed there all night!) and then we went out into the piazza to take in the scene. By now it was starting to get cooler, and the crowds were building all around the shady areas. We looked at the exterior of the basilica, with its crazy quilt collection of colored marbles, then went down by the water to look at Palladio's church across the water (with a ridiculous contemporary sculpture sitting next to it). The criss crossing water traffic looks so chaotic and Italian- I'd be amazed if they don't have regular smash ups out there. All across the piazza, the itinerant immigrant sellers of cheap toys were desperately trying to gain our attention by waving some item and entreating us to buy. "Sorry!" It's strange; we noticed that from one end of Italy to the other, they all seem to have the same items: a little silicone blob that gets thrown down to make a big splat (and then regather itself) and by night, a little glowing projectile that they launch with a rubber band, whence it deploys some kind of rotor to descend to the unsuspecting heads of passers by. Have to watch out for those! And of course whenever it begins to rain, they seem to have a hidden supply of cheap umbrellas nearby that suddenly materialize. We were thankful for that in Florence, when we had a sudden downpour after a museum visit. 

Palladio's Il Redentore church on the lagoon of Venice, also beset by contemporary "art". WTF, people?

We meandered back at twilight, noting how much better it looks under half light, when shadows are long and cover a multitude of sins. Even the tsotchkes look better at night!