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Monthly Archives: June 2011


We were in Barcelona for a 9-day early summer vacation. IT, who happened to be on business in London, attended a wedding in Paris, and joined us for the week. I had visited Barcelona years ago – before the Olympics were held there in 1992.   We picked this location because my office was going to have a conference there and I was going to stay on afterwards.  But the conference location and schedule changed and by this time, we had already reserved an apartment and made plans so we decided to stick to it.

I wanted to re-watch “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” before the trip but Netflix did not have it on streaming.

The day of our flight to Barcelona was an exceptionally clear day.  Although there were some clouds, I can see the Mediterranean coastline clearly as the flight path hugs the French and then Spanish coasts.  To identify the towns, I have tried to match the stretches of coastline in my shots to that recorded in Google’s satellite map.  This is the geography geek (in Chris) coming through. To compensate for lack of clarity and possibly boredom, please click on the photos to access a bigger version.

The photo above shows The Camargue (lower left corner) in Southwestern France, where the River Rhone meets the Mediterranean sea – a protected wetlands area well known for mosquitoes.

Shown below is roughly where the border of Spain (very left) and France (right) is on the Mediterranean coast.  The beach on the right looks like Argules-sur-mer in France.


Our flight path followed the coastline of Costa Brava.  The town below with a beach and a boat shelter is Palamos in Spain.  The three piers made it easy to spot.

This town on the left with a long pier is Sant Feliu de Guixols.  There are so many beaches along the coast.

Finally, we reached Barcelona.  Since the airport is on the west side of the city, we have to pass in front of the harbor, which essentially offered us a bird’s eye view of the whole city.

East side of Barcelona


I really recommend clicking on the photo to get a bigger version on screen and then click again to zoom in and scroll around.

Downtown waterfront and Barcelonetta on the right side edge. The wedge shape building is the Westin Hotel. The green line of trees leading away from the harbor is the Ramblas which ends at Plaça de Catalunya.  The church of Sagrada Familia is visible at the right edge.


The castle on top of Mount Montjuic is on the left edge of the screen. The white facade of MACBA is clearly visible near the middle.


Looping around the harbor. The church of Sagrada Familia is just caught in frame on the left edge, Torre Agbar in the middle and the twin towers at Port Olympic on the right.


The castle on Montjuic is on the right edge, the Jewish cemetery on the left and with the Olympic park sculpture just above.

The details captured in these pictures are unexpected.  Remember, these were taken from a jet plane through two panes of dirty window using a point-and-shoot camera.

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Just a few pictures of the sights of Milano at night.  The next series of posts will be about Barcelona.  We came back two weeks ago and there are tons of pictures and stories to tell.

Buono sera – questa è Milano di notte.

Duomo

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

The cupola inside the Galleria

Near Duomo

Il Navigli Grande

Near our hotel


Milan’s Duomo is truly gigantic and spectacular in a somber way. The sky above Duomo, if you look up from the piazza, is filled with rows of saints guarding it.

The church was smart to let tourists access to the roof.  One can appreciate the scale of the building and all the ornaments on top. Access by elevator costs two more euros and it was a claustrophobic ride.  Once you reach the top, it does not feel like a roof – it’s more like a public square where people lie down to look at the sky and have picnics.

One can examine the gargoyles up close and personal.  The stones are very colorful too. The roof is full of nooks and crannies. I wonder if the church lets people up there at night.

From the top looking down, the piazza is so full of life.  Tourists, churchgoers, vendors, policemen, pigeons, … This side of the piazza is occupied by Palazzo dell’Arengario and Palazzo Reale, both housing separate museums.

Symbols of Italian’s two most revered institutions – shopping for designer’s goods and the Roman Catholic church – share this piazza in the middle of Milan. The church is taller than the arcade as evidenced by this photo – well, spiritualism triumphs over materialism. Thank god.

The Museo del Novecento (Museum of the Twentieth Century) was opened at the beginning of the year after renovation.  We entered it from the bookstore which faces the piazza.  It was not apparent from the piazza that there is a museum entrance.

We rented an audio guide and spent quite a bit of time at each stop.  I am glad that we got the audio guide as the museum is very difficult to navigate, partly because it is spread over two buildings.  Follow this link to a critical review on the design of the museum.  Apparently, a “museum path” was designed by a group of academics but from a user point-of-view, it did not work for us –  we had to double-back at least twice to find the next exhibit and wondered if we reached the end of an exhibit.

Spiral ramp and statues of the bottom floor

Despite the convoluted layout, thankfully, it has many places to rest and the seatings are smart and interesting. We have no idea who are the designers/manufacturers of these furniture pieces. Let me know in the Comments if you recognize them.

This chair is primarily for use by the guards who stand around all day.  The arm rest is truly clever.

I can use this one at home.  It is more comfortable than it looks

Three-seater:  wall mounted or seemingly floating.

Four-seater: free-standing

The pieces shown below are apparently for visitors’ use, although they look like parts of the exhibition. There were no labels on the wall.

In the same gallery, there is a skylight and a “ghost” of a bookshelf on one wall.  The technique for the ghost is similar to that applied to the furniture.

The “ghost” of a bookshelf

Museo del Novecento (Museum of the Twentieth Century) is located next to the Duomo inside the Palazzo dell’Arengario, and faces the Galleria.  The exhibits are all from Italy created since 1900.  The building looks like one of those in paintings by Giorgio de Chirico (which we saw several in the museum).  This museum features Italian art made after 1900.

One of the first paintings we encountered is the Fourth Estate (Il Quatro Stato) by Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo.  It was painted in 1900 and is an iconic representation of the labor movement in Italy.  The photo below only shows the middle portion of this painting.  On either side are a row of workers marching towards the viewer. And it was powerful.

Furturism is an “ism” that I like – represented by Giaccomo Balla and Gino Severini.  I thought this is the place to see them. But I did not think it matched those few pieces that are on display in MOMA, NYC.  I had a Severini poster in my Time Square apartment living room for years. Some of you may remember it.

I enjoy looking at art in museums and galleries but seldom want to possess any of the pieces. The series of pictures (by Balla, I believe) below is an exception.  I would be very happy to own them and display them in a prominent spot in my house.  Click on the picture to see a full screen version of it.


As you ascend the building, the pieces are more recent and conceptual.

One of the gallery faces Piazza Duomo and a neon light sculpture was hung from the ceiling.

The view from the Museum of the piazza and the galleria.

This sunny spot on the top floor matches the spirit of this painting by Osvaldo Licini but the sunlight cannot be good for it.  This is the first time I saw this painter’s work.  I searched under Google Images and found many which I like.  To me, his style is that of a mix of Klee and Miro.

On display is a can of shit made by the artist, Piero Manzoni – “Artist’s shit” and on the can, it is stated its price is worth its weight in gold. 90 tins were produced in 1961.  According to Wikipedia, tin no. 83 was sold for nearly GBP100,000 by Sotherby’s !

One shop that we wanted to visit is Alessi‘s flagship store, because we want to add a few more pieces to our set of cutlery (Achille Castiglioni). According to our guidebook, it is on Corso G. Matteotti.  Instead, we found Spazio Fornasetti which was a pleasant surprise.  Lina Cavalieri’s face remains mysterious and enigmatic even after having seen 100’s of variations of it.  The storekeeper was friendly but followed us so closely that it was uncomfortable.

Continuing with our search for Alessi, the people at Driade (see earlier post) told us that it is further up via A. Manzoni.  All we found there was a half-renovated/dismantled storefront which says Alessi.  Can’t tell if it is yet to open or just closed.  We gave up. So we walked up and down via  A. Manzoni many times before exploring via della Spiga and via Montenapoleone.

Across the street from Driade at Via A. Manzoni 31 is Spazio Armani – an entire building of Giorgio Armani’s businesses, including a soon-to-open hotel. The front of the entrance is covered by a giant billboard (below).

Given the floor size and varieties of stuff (including electronic gadgets) sold in this retail space, it really feels like an emporium and not a boutique – the real Emporio Armani.  It carries Armani Jeans and their EA7 sporty line in collaboration with Reebok.

In the building, there are separately a book shop (graphics, art, fashion focused) and a caffe with entrances on the side next to the Montenapoleone metro.

Every surface inside Spazio Armani is dark and glossy – yet the caffe is decorated in red, green and black with screens which makes it feels like a Chinese dim sum house from the 90’s.

Tiramisu from the caffe – the layer of chocolate powder on top was so fine that I inhaled some, potent stuff.

Just behind Spazio Armani is this neat looking newstand for the fashionistas.

We also wandered into Manzoni 37 which says Armani Casa.  Upon entry, we noticed that it is only a kitchen and bathroom showroom.  Apparently, Armani has joined forces with Roca (Spanish brand) to make kitchen and bathroom hardware – I mean the large pieces of sink, toilet, etc.  A saleswoman came to tell us that the store that sells furniture and household items is somewhere else (via Sant’Andrea 9) and gave us a map.  I think it happens at this store several times a day.

We did eventually go to the GA boutique on via Montenapoleone which was packed with tourists.  With a rather un-boutique like attitude, one of the saleswoman was trying to hard-sell Sue a python handbag for 2000 euros !  She followed us around and even tried to convince me of the merits of the bag.  I wondered if this sales tactic is used because it had success with Asian tourists before.

Further up via A. Manzoni 12 is the showroom of Artemide, it was closed at the time but one can see Zaha Hadid’s Gensey light in white (placed next to the steps).  Have to go back next time.

This is a continuation of the last post about the Grand Canal of Milan. We got to the canal around dinner time and the tables were quickly taken up by tourists and locals.  On one side, the restaurants have tables on the outside, the other side is a street (Ripa di Porta Ticinese) which allows vehicular traffic.  Most of the bars are on that side (no outdoor seating) and they all seem to serve a very decent spread for the aperitivo.

The bar across the canal with the yellow bug parked in front says “art & friends” – sounds good to me.

Rather randomly, we chose Trattoria L’altro Luca e Andrea, and found a table at the edge of the premise.  The prices were good, the dishes were simple. For starters, Sue had minestrone and I had a melanzana in tomato sauce.  We had pasta as main course (as it was getting dark, no pictures were taken).

By the end of the dinner, we strolled up and down, and the lines outside the geletaria or gelacreperia (they serve ice cream and crepes) are getting long.

We cannot even get inside Gelateria Rinomata. Look at the cones neatly packed behind glass, isn’t this place serious about ice cream !  We went to another geletaria and caught the tram back to the hotel.

While Milan enjoys the title of Design Capital of the World, the interior color of the city’s trams is unbelievably horrible – the ugliest sickly plastic green I have seen and it is covering so much surface area !