Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Gondola Trips in Venice

Gondola Trips in Venice can be a romantic voyage for a couple. Or it can be a fun group activity shared by 5 or 6 people. Gondola trips in Venice have a lot of flexibility - you can choose to set off in the morning, afternoon, evening or nighttime. You can also choose between long, short and in between rides and you can either go along the Grand Canal or to more out of the way locations.

There are several convenient locations to catch gondola trips in Venice. One way, popular with many, is simply to let your hotel work out the details. They will be able tpo bargain for you, or even include a gondola ride as part of the package. They can often arrange transportation for you from the hotel to your point of embarkation.

The main tourist sections are the best places to board gondola trips in Venince. There are a few of these - though it's hard to narrow them down, since the city is one giant tourist attraction. Tronchetto, the Piazzale Roma, the Doge's Palace in Piazza San Marco are all popular places to catch a Gondola.

You will also find that many of the pedestrian crossings in secondary canals will have men offering a gondola ride. If you decide to take one up on the offer, be sure to exercise caution, especially when handing out money. In general though, you will find less crowded (and slightly less expensive) gondola trips in these less populated areas.

The 2 mile stretch along the Grand Canal is the most popular place for Gondola trips in Venice, because it covers some of Venice's grandest sights, including the Basilica di San Marco, the Campanile and others. But prices here do tend to be a little higher.

Prices currently range anywhere from €80 (about $120) for 40 minutes to €150 ($220) for an hour or more. These, however, are official rates set by the city government. Many gondoliers politely ignore them. Hence, your price could be lower (rare) or higher (more common).

Bargaining for Gondola rides is normal and expected. But do remember the basic principle of supply and demand. There are a relatively small number of boats and lots of tourists. Gondoliers rarely have to do much beyond wait for the next potential customer willing to meet their price. Costs per person can be lowered by sharing a ride with up to six people.

For those who choose to, Gondola Trips in Venice are really are quite fun, though. The romantic aspect is mixed, since you'll be seen by thousands of people crowding the bridges across and streets along the canals. If you can ignore them, and only pay attention to the scenery (or each other), more power to you.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Information on Leaning Tower of Pisa

If you are planning a visit to Pisa, or somewhere near by you probably want some Information on leaning Tower of Pisa.

Work on the Leaning Tower of Pisa began in 1173 AD and there has been an architectural problem almost from its beginning. As a reslt of the soft ground and a shallow foundation, the tower began to lean as early as the time the third floor was completed. This despite the over 13 foot-thick walls at the base. But engineers at the time had few resources to call on. There was no ground penetrating radar, geological science, lasers or huge cranes to right the work.

If you read any information on Leaning Tower of Pisa you'll discover that ironically, the tower is not, or more accurately was not, the main attraction of the site. It was actuually intended as a bell tower for the nearby cathedral. Both are extraordinary works of Romanesque-Gothic art and it's only because of this unfortunate engineering failure that the Leaning Tower of Pisa is the most famous of these two structures.

But far from being considered a failure at the time, it was not completely unknown for buildings to be less than perfect 800 years ago. There are examples in Germany, Ireland and even not far away inside Tuscany of both towers and rectangular buildings that lean slightly. Still, visitors today will be thrilled by the view from below or above.

From the base, standing far back from the tower, one can see the round, layer-cake type facade. The base is somewhat plain, but not far up there are magnificent columns. The elaborate carving is even more amazing when one considers that the major construction effort was completed less than 200 years after beginning.

The project was stalled for about 100 years while the Pisans engaged in battles with Genoa and other Italian city-states of the period. Then, picking up in 1275 AD it stalled again in 1284 AD, just before the belfry was added. Finally, in 1360, the building topped out at 51m/167ft.

From the perspective of distance those who observe carefully can see that not only is the tower leaning (which is obvious), but that it is curved as well. Noting the lean, builders attempted to compensate by making some of the floors taller on the side opposite. The result gives the tower its slight banana shape.

Fortunately, since digging out 70 tons of earth from below the ground, the tower was reopened in 2001. Visitors in bunches of 30 can now go up inside for a 35-minute guided tour. One of the most important bits of information on the Leaning Tower of Pisa is to be sure and get tickets well in advance. It's a hugely popular attraction and often can be fully booked for most of the day. If you are there for more than one day you may want to consider buying tickets 24 hours in advance.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Lucca Italy Attractions

If you are in Tuscany you don't want to miss the Lucca Italy Attractions. Lucca was once the capital of and has green rolling hills, medieval cathedrals and even a cooking school. Lucca is certainly worth a day trip to visit, but you could easily find an entire vacation's worth of things to see and do here.

One of the main Lucca Italy attractions is the city walls. These walls were built during the Renaissance and they are are over two miles long. Taking a walk along the top of the wall is a great introduction to Lucca and you can get some exercise and good views at the same time. The walls of Lucca were originally there to provide defense during the many wars between Italian city-states, but these days, they serve an entirely different purpose, giving Lucca the look of a huge, open castle.

Another Lucca Italy attraction is the Duomo di San Martino. This cathedral is a mixture of Romanesque and Gothic structure and it provides visitors with lots to see. It was originally constructed in the 6th century, and it continued to evolve through to the mid-14th centurt. Inside the cathedral you will find  outstanding sculptures from the early Renaissance period made of marble, including a funeral momument of Caretto, a local noblewoman.

Visitors should be sure not to miss the Via Fillungo. This wide tree-lined boulevard offers plenty of shops and restaurants as well as lots of interesting sights. An authentic medieval area, cafes along the street offer a view of the Tower of Hours and other structures of the period.

After stopping for a coffee or lunch, one of the most interesting Lucca Italy attractions is still to come. The art collection at the Villa Guinigi is the envy of the region. Once the personal property of Paolo Guinigi, ruler of the town in the 1400s, the collection has been expanded far beyond his original holdings. There are figurative arts on display ranging from the Middle Ages up through the 18th century. Sculptures, ceramic objects, gold crosses and much more are housed here.

For opera lovers, a visit to Lucca is a chance to see the birthplace of the renowned composer Puccini. Creator of Madame Butterfly and many more popular works, visitors will get a good idea of where his lush romanticism first was aroused. The family house has been preserved and it is filled with memorabilia from his youth. Scores in the master's hand, photos and even the piano on which he composed Turandot are on display.

If you are planning to be in Lucca for at least a week and you have an interest in Italian cooking you may want to consider attending classes at the renowned cooking school here. Then head over to the Bagni di Lucca spa and imagine former patrons Byron and Shelley entertaining you with a verse while you get pampered in the thermal bath.

Lucca is less than an hour away from Florence, so planning a stop here to take in all the Lucca Italy attractions will definitely be worth your while.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Piazza Navona Fountains in Rome

If you are sightseeing in Rome you don't want to miss the Piazza Navona Fountains. The Piazza Navona has one of the finest examples of Bernini's fountains, built in 1651: the Fontana dei Fiumi (which means Fountain of the Four Rivers). Arrayed around the central rocky mass supporting the almost-obligatory obelisk are four large sculptures executed by his students. One of them, the Ganges, was sculpted by Claude Poussin who would later become a master under his own name.

This Piazza Navona fountain is a tour de force with a sea monster, a lion, palm tree, cacti and many other pieces woven together around the central column.

The cost of this Piazza Navona fountain was so massive  that taxes were levied on bread. This prompted outcries from Roman citizens both rich and poor. However, this controversy is now a part of history, so tourists can simply relax and have a cappaccino while watching the world go by.

Another one of the great Piazza Navona Fountains is the Fountain of the Moor. This is at the opposite end of the piazza and features a Triton (one of the many gods of the sea) riding a dolphin. From this particular view point, there is a lot of opportunities for people watching, while enjoying the warm Rome sunshine.

There are dozens of merchant stalls in Piazza Navona, interspersed among the many cafes and restaurants. You could stop near one and have your portrait sketched by one of the numerous artists dotting the piazza.

There is nightlife until early in the morning, with mimes, beggars, artists and a hundreds of natives and tourists threading through the oval plaza. The piazza was constructed around one of the ancient circuses - a circular area where streets converge, not a show with animals.

Be sure to stop in at the Tre Scalini and indulge yourself in a Tartufo. Or visit the oldest extant bar in Rome nearby, the Caffe della Pace. Here you can enjoy a Campari and take in the ambiance. Confess your sins at the Church of Sant'Agnese, set not far from three of Bernini's famous fountains.

The Fontana dei Calderai (Fountain of the Coppersmiths), later renamed the Fountain of Neptune is also here. Festooned with sea figures, Neptune slaying an octopus, sea horses, dolphins and Nerieds (sea nymphs) it carries Rome's fountain-sea creature theme to the ultimate peak. The fountain is made of the same Portasanta rose marble used for St. Peter's doorjambs.

Or, you can take a short walk to the Piazza Sant'Eustachio, between the Pantheon and Piazza Navona and listen to some classical music. Or catch the bus to the Pantheon.

Don't miss an opportunity to visit these amazing Piazza Navona Fountains in Rome.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Cortona Sightseeing

Cortona is a Tuscan town once little known to travelers booking for Florence. After the publication of the book Under the Tuscan Sun (and the subsequent film and follow-up books) it garnered a place on every visitor's agenda. Here are some tips on sightseeing in Cortona.

Cortona is an Italian hilltop town of 30,000 and there are more sights than a visitor could see in three vacations. Located about half-way between its much more famous neighbors of Rome and Florence this ancient city offers museums, restaurants, villas, biking tours and much more.

The founding date is unknown, but Cortona's streets were walled in by the Etruscans more than 2,600 years ago. Some of that history is still extant near the Porta Guelfa and the Porta Montanina. At the base one can spot Roman repairs made to Etruscan slabs.

Inside, looking out above the walls, visitors will find a breathtaking view of Lake Trasimeno from the square of Piazza Garibaldi. Just past the church is an entrance to a park. The fountain in the center features two bronze dolphins that will reward the effort of the short walk. Just left is an amphitheater that offers a lovely place to sit and see part of beautiful Tuscany.

The Piazza Grande, featuring the Town Hall that dates from the 6th century, is another must-visit location. If your visit to Cortona falls on the first Saturday of the month, be sure to take in the Market. Food, small artifacts and many more interesting items are offered for sale. In nearby Casali Palace there's a National Market of Ancient Furniture held in the Piazza Grande during the last two weeks of August.

From there one can also almost see the ancient burial grounds of Cetona Belvedere. Full of grottoes and caverns to explore, they're one of the many delightful excursions offered. One can also get a clear view of the tallest peak of the local mountain range. Down from the top is located another town worthy of a visit, Montepulciano.

Another worthy short trip entails a visit to the Great Cloister of the Monastero Di Monte Oliveto Maggiore. Built in 1443, tourists will want to see the frescoes depicting the life of Saint Benedict by Signorelli, painted near the end of the 15th century.

Those interested in religious architecture will also not want to miss viewing the church of Santa Maria del Calcinaio, built in 1485. This Renaissance structure is octagonal, an unusual choice for the period.

Another unusual sight within the city walls visitors can take in is the Torre del Pulcinella, a large public clock. It announces the hours by a different technique. Its chimes are a pair of clanging cymbals, rather than a bell.

Not far away is the Museo dell'Academia Etrusca. Despite the name the museum covers not just Etruscan art, but everything from ancient Egyptian artifacts to paintings of the 15th century. Also on display are books, period furniture and sculpture.

By contrast, the Museo Diocesano offers a more focused exhibit. This includes the Cortona Altarpiece from 1432 along with six predella. Predella, in painting, are small paintings that run along a frame at the bottom of an altarpiece.

However long you have for Cortona Sightseeing, an hour or a day, or even a week, time in Cortona is well spent.