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Arcachon was developed as a resort in the 19th century, and the promenade is populated with large hotels – some with a fancy façade but most are efficient modern constructions.

The big hotels, the shopping streets behind them and the wide, sandy beaches in front are all part of the ville d’été (summer town), the district of Arcachon designed to accommodate and amuse Victorian holiday makers arriving on the train from Bordeaux.

When we were there, Easter was still a bit too chilly for sea-bathing.

The streets were packed with people, however. We were lucky to have found underground parking near the beach after some searching.

We did not have time to explore the ville d’hiver (winter town) which has beautiful splendid mansion so we read in a guide afterwards. Some are visible from the water while we were crossing the bay to Cap Ferret (see later post).

The ferry pier after the last boat service was quiet.

We could not resist the Ferris wheel – never been on one that is on the beach.

For the first revolution, because the sea is featureless, we did not really see/feel how quickly we rose in altitude.

Tiny people we saw … it happened surprisingly quickly.

 

Near the top, looking towards Arcachon Bay …

Very quickly we found ourselves at the very top – the view was magnifique and the breeze was so refreshing. Unforgettable.

Looking towards the mouth of the Bay … we couldn’t quite see the Atlantic which is on the other side of the peninsula.

Before Google Earth, the quiet aerial view of any place, let alone a beach town, at this height must have been so unique.

We will try to go on more in the future, for now, see our other Ferris wheel experience in Vienna, London, and Lyon.

 

 

 

 

While we were staying in Bordeaux-Medoc, we decided to go to the Atlantic coast and visit Arcachon (more about Arcachon in a later post).

To avoid traffic on the main highway, we detoured according to our GPS and drove along D650. Since the landscape is flat, D650 is almost mathematically straight and run parallel to the main highway. We recommend you follow us on Google map as the above map is too small to see it on the post.

The area’s main business apart from tourism is oyster farming in Arcachon Bay (Bassin d’Arcachon). The road runs along the southern shore of the bay linking a number of oyster farming villages. We stopped off at the port of Larros where there is a jetty promenade.

The bay covers an area of 150 km² at high tide and 40 km² at low tide. Obviously we arrived when the tide was low. It was a mess but there was no smell.

The port offered a view that we have not seen before. Boats were moored and beached, until the tidal water returns. Acres of mud as far as the eye can see and in less than 12 hours, all submerged (we assume).

The mud was apparently solid enough for people to walk out. Love to make a time-lapse video of the returning and receding tide.

This bay is the largest oyster culture area in France – “Ostréiculture arcachonnaise” – it even has its own wikipedia entry.

According to Wikipedia, wild oysters have always been collected and consumed there, as evidenced by some writings dating from the Gallo – Roman period. The oyster which was then found in the bay was the flat oyster, or “gravette” (Ostrea edulis). The official exploitation of oysters began in 1849.

Several different species of oysters dominated the bay in succession, first the Portugese Crassostera angulata in 1868 after the flat oysters were decimated by disease in 1920’s, then in the early 1970’s viral outbreaks killed most of the oysters in the bay. It threatened all the farms in the area.

Later it was decided to introduce a Japanese species Crassostrea gigas which is the only species raised today. The jetty has a roll of small buildings presumably housing all the equipment for oyster farming. Some were left rusting outside.

Lining the sides of the jetty are several large oyster bars – but they served a very limited menu. “La Tradition” on the menu includes twelve No. 3 oysters, bread and wine, 19 euros. This is as fresh as one can get but no discount here.

We were hungry and went to a proper restaurant – Les Viviers.

Our 12 No. 2’s.

This was how one gentleman ate his seafood platter solo at Les Viviers.

This lucky fisherman caught a mermaid in his cage.

After lunch, we continued our journey to Arcachon.

Continuing with our Easter Alps to Atlantic trip …

After Saint-Emilion, we headed south directly to Biarritz by-passing the city of Bordeaux (which we would later visit). The drive down A63 was easier, a lot less twists and turns, and the landscape is flat. This area, Landes is part of an estuary but looks a bit like Florida, for different geological reasons.

The day we arrived, the weather was incredibly warm – every one rushed onto the beach – we suspect that most of the people on the beach were locals as the tourists had not yet descended on this place.

Yoga on the beach sponsored by a local radio station.

Biarritz is a beach town on the Côte Basque, French surfing mecca, resort for royalties since the 1800’s, and only 15 miles from the Spanish border.  It is only 50 kilometers from Donostia-San Sebastian where we visited last summer, see here and here.

Our hotel room offered an incredible beach view. We could hear the surf all night.

The colors of the sky and the sea changed quite dramatically during our stay. In front of the hotel is a plaza and a rusty modern sculpture.

It was quiet at night. From a distance, one can see the lighthouse.

The lighthouse – Phare de Biarritz – is dramatic with its sweeping searchlight.

On the waterfront separating the Grand Plage and the Plage du Miramar (not visible) is the Hôtel du Palais (the brightly lit building above), the city’s landmark luxury resort and former royal residence.

A symbol of Biarritz, the Rocher de la Vierge is a rocky outcrop topped with a statue of the Virgin Mary. Reachable via a footbridge built in 1887 by Gustave Eiffel, who is also known to have worked in the capital.

Looking across the Grand Plage late afternoon, the Rocher and footbridge were just visible through the holes and arches in the rocks.

Rock arches.

The above has been predicted to collapse in a few years time.

Surf class

These kayaks came from somewhere, landed on the beach for a while and then paddled back out and left in minutes  …

According to the New York Times, this beach town is back in vogue since its popularity peaked in the 1950’s. The newspaper article (here) was published in May 2017 – two months after we visited Biarritz – we were literally ahead of the Times. <wink>

Lots more photos to come …

 

 

A few more snapshots …

Saint-Emilion is on the east in the Bordeaux wine region and the right bank of the Dordogne. In the region, there are 5400 hectares for growing vines, 800 wine estates and 127 that are listed and opened to the public.

The vineyards of Saint-Emilion are ancient. Back in the Roman times – as early as the second century, vines were planted to take advantage of the limestone soil and temperate oceanic climate (no temperature extremes and rainfall well distributed throughout the year).

Saint-Emilion was ruled by a jurade – a council of local notables – until the French Revolution. In 1948, the council was turned into a guild to promote the wines of the appellation.

For a thousand years, Saint-Emilion exported its limestone for construction use leaving behind underground quarries and miles of tunnels – some becoming wine cellars. This Cave is next to our hotel and uses the remaining defensive wall as a part of the cellar.

There are 3 levels of quality in the classification of Saint-Emilion wines – Grand Cru Classé, 1er Grand Cru Classé B and 1er Grand Cru Classé A (highest).

We have never seen such a range of bottle sizes.

And there is the Comptoir des vignoble in the village main street which deals in high-end wines and has a monolith cellar from the 12th century.

It lists the prices, like stock prices, of four famously good and expensive wines by the vintage year, Chateaux d’Yquem, Mouton, Cheval Blanc and Petrus, outside at its entrance. Petrus 2009 was listed at around 3500 euro.

Another wine store – Merchant of Thirst

We had dinner at L’Envers du Décor which was recommended by the hotel receptionist.

All the tables and several walls were covered with the ends of wine box which were stamped with the name of the wine it contained and its origin.

The wine we ordered – its box happened to appear on our table top.

Fun place.

Saint-Emilion is a popular place because of its environment, history and produce. The communes of Saint-Emilion, there are 22 of them, extends over 238 sq km between Libourne and Castillon-la-Bataille, and bound to the south by the Dordogne river.

The town is named after a monk named Emilion (duh) who came to settle in the 8th century.

We really like it because it is small enough for one to see the entire town which is surrounded by vineyards as far as the eyes can see.

There were numerous monasteries, convents and churches in the region attracting various schools of monks and nuns – Dominicans, Benedictines, Franciscans, Ursulines. It also welcomed pilgrims of the Santiago de Compostela trail which is not far from the area.

There were a fair amount of restoration of houses in the small town but they all seem harmoniously done.

The UNESCO designation in 1999 helped preserved the local ancient practices of wine-making and many old buildings.

This is a old lavoir, a public place set aside for the commune to wash clothes. They were essential until laundromats and private plumbing made them obsolete.  We really liked the set up – a raised lip around a shallow pool of flowing water and a sheltered section.

The center of the village in front of the monolith church and market hall. It was a lively cheerful public place. We did not see the church – a 12 th century building dug into the limestone plateau and whose current structure still forms a single block. We were in fact standing atop of it when the photos was taken.

We are sure the scene is quite common but for urban dwellers like us it felt a tiny bit Renoir-esque.

The “castel daou rey ” meaning the King’s Keep is a romanesque tower, built in the 12th century, where it might have served as the city hall in the past.

Part 2 to come.

Our first night of the 2017 Alps-to-Atlantic trip was spent in Saint-Emilion.  This small medieval village is known for its status as a UNESCO World Heritage site and extremely well known for its red wine.

Our hotel “Au Logis des Remparts” is located at the edge of the village center and was built using a part of the remaining defensive wall. The village is so small that the hotel’s location is essentially central.

There are three floors. There is an elevator for luggage but not people.

One can see parts of the rampart with a walkway on top and a stone parapet.

This village was recognized by UNESCO in 1999 and it was the first wine-making entity that was listed as a “cultural landscape”.

While our room is unremarkable, the garden is heavenly.

Geometrically-shaped trees in the middle.

We and our friends really like it and spent a good few hours lying on the lounge chairs, staring up at the trees, and falling asleep.

We had it all to ourselves.

Can’t remember the last time we had such a naturally serene and relaxing moment.

Since it was the beginning of the season, the owner was moving the sculptures around the garden looking for an optimal place to show them.

The pieces are apparently all available for sale.

The weather was perfect to be outside. But it is too cold for swimming.

The patio has the perfectly shaped shady olive tree (I think it is an olive tree).

We took our breakfast underneath it one morning.

Highly recommended.

We went to Donostia-San Sebastián in early June. It is the European Capital of Culture for 2016.

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Historically, it is a resort town, located in the Basque Autonomous Community, an area with its own local language – Euskara (basque in basque)apparently unrelated to any other languages in Europe.

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For several days, the sky was overcast and judging by the number of bathers on the beach, the sea might be a bit cold (we did not try the water ourselves).

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Mount Igeldo and  Santa Clara island in a distance.

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This is after all the Northern coast of Spain and not the sunnier Mediterranean side.

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It has one of the best in-city beaches in Europe. The beach is flat and deep.

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One can sunbathe and swim right next to major historical buildings and churches.

Zurriola Plage

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La Concha Plage, Mont Urgull in the background

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La baie de La Concha and La Concha Plage

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Paseo de la Concha

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At the eastern end of the Paseo and the beach.

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The city sits at the mouth of the River Urumea. Zurriola Bridge and mouth of the Urumea.

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The Kursaal Congress Centre and Auditorium was designed by Spanish architect Rafael Moneo and completed in 1999. It is the home of the San Sebastian International Film Festival.

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The complex is stunning at night. During the day, it is a bit of a contrast from the 19th century buildings in the area.  But it’s not an eyesore since it is really isolated on the waterfront.

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We would love to spend more time here and enjoy the festivities of the European Capital of Culture but we had to do a day trip to the nearby Bilbao – posts to come soon.

The city has a great website here if you plan to visit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Foro Italico, formerly Foro Mussolini, is a Fascist-era sports complex in Rome, Italy. I(Chris) saw this as a part of a tour of modern Italian architecture.

The forum was built between 1928 and 1938 as the Foro Mussolini (literally Mussolini’s Forum) under the design of Enrico Del Debbio and, later, Luigi Moretti (according to Wikipedia).

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At the foot of Monte Mario, it is home to numerous sports venues, such as the largest sports facility in Rome, the Stadio Olimpico, Rome’s 70,000-seat football stadium.

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From the main road, an open, broad parade ground paved with mosaic tiles lead up to the stadium.

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There were some damages to the tiles. I believe they were not treated as a first priority as repairs go because there is some tension among the Romans about what the stadium represented.

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Benito Mussolini who ruled the kingdom of Italy from 1922 to 1943 is il Duce (the leader). He ruled constitutionally as the prime minister until 1925, when he dropped all pretense of democracy and set up a dictatorship.

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He developed a cult of one-man leadership that focused media attention and national debate on his own personality. Towards the end of World War II, he was captured while trying to escape, and executed by communists.

The tiles are organized to repeat fascist slogans. I can imagine the sight of athletes or soldiers marching in formation over these mosaics.

Duce a noi = Leader to us

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Molti nemici molto onore = many enemies, much honor

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The ornate Stadio dei Marmi with its running track is surrounded by 60 marble nudes, each donated by an Italian state.

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The stadium was inaugurated in 1932.

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It has marble steps lined by marble statues in classical style portraying athletes that perform various sporting disciplines.

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The adjoining building is the seat of the Italian National Olympic Committee (originally built for the purposes of the Fascist Male Academy of Physical Education).

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The forum remains much as it was originally conceived.

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I don’t know what the sport portrayed by this statue is – taming a wild cat ?  – it has no modern day equivalent.

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Foro Italico has hosted important events, most notably the 1960 Summer Olympics.

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The entrance is marked by a huge obelisk, 17m high, made of marble from Cararra.

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Spectacular architecture by fascists, that’s in the past.

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The stadium can stay but we all hope the ideology never comes back.

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Musei Vaticani –  I (Chris) had in Rome an opportunity of a private guided tour of the Vatican Museums, including the Sistine Chapel.

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The tour was about 1 hour long and began at dusk after all the regular visitors had left.

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These are painted on the spaces at the top of columns. Notice the 3D effect created by the vividly colorful foreground and faded monochromatic background.

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The main attractions of the museum are not only the classical and Renaissance objects placed within it but also the artwork on the walls and ceilings.

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The painting above was done in the corner of a room.

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The Gallery of Maps (Galleria delle carte geografiche) is one of my all-time favorites – it is so cool to have all the beautiful and detailed maps in one place.

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The Gallery of Maps contains a series of painted topographical maps of Italy based on drawings by friar and geographer Ignazio Danti.

Venice

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The gallery was commissioned in 1580 by Pope Gregory XIII and took Danti three years (1580–1583) to complete the 40 panels of the 120 m long gallery.

Sicily

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The highlight of the tour is the Sistine Chapel, the last of the 54 halls, the Musei being one of the largest in the world. The papal chapel was built within the Vatican between 1477 and 1480 by Pope Sixtus IV, for whom the chapel is named.

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This is where the Papal Conclave takes place to elect a new pope.

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I was initially told by the guide that photography is prohibited inside the Chapel but an official later indicated that during our visit, it is permissible as long as the flash is not used. Hurrah. I can share !

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The frescoes of the Sistine Chapel were restored between June 1980 and December 1999, instead of appearing monochromatic due to candle smoke, it is now bright and almost spring-like.

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The Sistine Chapel ceiling was painted by Michelangelo (Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, I have never known his full name until just now) between 1508 and 1512. Along the central section of the ceiling, Michelangelo depicted nine scenes from the Book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible.

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One of the most widely recognized images in the history of painting, Michelangelo shows God reaching out to touch Adam.

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Below, appearing at the far end of the Chapel, is the next most famous painting by Michelangelo – the Last Judgement – a depiction of the Second Coming of Christ and the final and eternal judgment by God of all humanity.

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This is, in the eyes of Renaissance catholics, how it all began and how it will end. Fascinating.

If you have been following the blog, you would have read about two Moscow metro stations – Komsomolskaya and Mayakovskaya – as well as the exhibition Subterranean Monument at the museum of architecture. Click on it to read.

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As I did not really have a chance to explore many of the interesting stations during my several days in Moscow, I tried snapping pictures wherever I can.

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Despite the palatial design and decoration of the stations and platforms, the metro carriages themselves are pedestrian, beige and brown color scheme, nothing special … it could have been the metro of any 20th century city.

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The facilities for electronic ticket processing are highly variable depending on the station. The stored value RFID-based fare card is known as Troika (Тройка), like the Oyster in London, or Octopus in Hong Kong.

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These looked as if they are taken from a 50’s sci-fi movie.

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Below are a collection of photos (that I think) will give an impression of not only the beauty in the metro system’s designs and decorations but also the scale and diversity in its implementation across the capital city.

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Wall and ceiling decorations

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Mosaics

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Light fixtures

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and heros …

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If you want to see more stations, goto this link on CNN.

Mayakovskaya (Маяковская) is considered to be one of the most beautiful in the Moscow metro system. The name as well as the design is a reference to Futurism and its prominent Russian exponent, the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky.

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The station was built as part of the second stage of the Moscow Metro expansion, opening on 11 September 1938.

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Dushkin is the archeitect who proposed the use of a special kind of steal elements which allowed metal to be used to support a large amount of load acrosss the full width of the station.

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Located 33 meters beneath the surface, the station became famous during World War II when an air raid shelter was located in the station. During World War II, Stalin took residence in this place.

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The station has two rows of columns serving as support for the three arched vaults and each section formed by the arches opens into a small oval-shaped dome.

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On the ceiling of the station, inside each dome is a mosaic.

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Photo from 1938 at the Moscow Metro Exhibition, see that post here.

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There are a total of 34 mosaics, all by Alexander Deyneka with the theme “24-Hour Soviet Sky” – four sections have been created –  morning, afternoon, night and morning again.

In this mosaic, the planes are lined up to form the letters “CCCP”.

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In 2005 a new second north exit was built, along with a new vestibule. The ceiling was decorated with a mosaic composition from Mayakovsky’s poem “Moscow Sky”.

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Parts of the poem is also displayed.

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A bust of the poet himself.

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This station is the middle of Moscow.

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Think of it as an Oxford Street tube station or 34th Street Herald Square subway station.

In case you missed it, part 1 of this post is here.

 

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The Moscow metro system (Московско метро) is truly fascinating – essential for the citizens and a must-see for tourists. I(Chris) have always been interested in exploring bus and train transit network, especially the maps and stations. So, this is exciting for me.

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Opened in 1935 with one 11-kilometre (6.8 mi) line running from Sokolniki to Park Kultury and 13 stations. As of 2016, it has 200 stations and its route length is 333.3 km. The average distance between stations is 1.7 km. 44 of the stations are national cultural heritage sites.

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It was one of the USSR’s most ambitious architectural projects and the artists and architects worked to design an infrastructure that embodied the ideological and technological success of socialism. With the reflective marble walls, high ceilings and grand chandeliers, this palatial underground environment reminded riders that their tax had been well spent.

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It was pure luck that on the weekend when I was there, the Shchusev State Museum of Architecture opened an exhibition of the original plans and photos of the Moscow Metro. Some photos of architectural drawings were taken from the exhibition which will have its own blog post later.

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This was my stop – the Komsomolskaya (Комсомо́льская) station which is noted for its being located under the busiest Moscow transport hub, – Leningradsky (St Petersburg, Estonia, Finland), Yaroslavsky (western terminal of the trans-Siberian railway) and Kazansky (Kazan, Yekaterinberg) railway terminals. How does the real platform compare to the artist’s impression ?

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The station and the square in front of the station vestibule was called Komsomolskaya to commemorate the Komsomol (All-Union Leninist Young Communist League) members who helped build the metro.

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The square was also named in 2003 as Tryokh vokzalov (Square of the three train stations). The capitals of the columns are decorated with the Komsomol’s badge “KNM”.

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I can certainly testify on its level of activity – even after 11pm, there were a steady flow of riders – many heading for the late night long distance train departures to far flung corners of Russia.

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Apparently, the station was designed to separate passengers leaving and arriving at the station.

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Hence, two galleries are built along the walls over the tracks with bridges spanning the station hall.

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One part of the station was opened in 1935 being one of the “first stage” stations.

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Designed by Dmitri Chechukin, he won the highest honor for workers in science and arts, the Stalin prize grade 1.

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At either end of the exit of the station are panels illustrating the labor of the Komsomol metro builders.

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The second part (Ring line station) was opened in 1952 and designed to impress first visitors of the capital city arriving at one of the three train stations. 34 arches resting on octagonal columns covered by blue grey and pink marble.

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Think of it as a subway station under a combo of Paddington+Euston+St Pancras railway stations or Grand Central + Penn stations.

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The station’s decor is based on Moscow baroque motifs used before the revolution in the Kazan railway station above it. Lenin bust at one end of the platform.

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So much history and artistry in the metro system, not to mention cleanliness and efficiency.

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This station has its own video with lounge music on the a Moscow Metro youtube channel.

More stations to come.

On Valentine’s day February 14, Sunday, we encountered a protest in Tokyo.

Harajuku is the geographic area spreading from Harajuku JR Station south along Omotesando down to Meiji-dori. It is better known internationlly as a center of youth fashion – especially Takeshita dori (竹下通り).  After we crossed Meiji-dori, Sue and IT stopped at a vintage clothes stand to peruse second hand fur coats and kimonos.

We heard them at first, then we see a column of protesters led by a police van, clearing the streets ahead the crowds.

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“Smash Fascism ! Abe out !”

 

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Rappers doing their thing on trucks were leading the chant.

 

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“Take Back Democacy. Keep Calm and No War.”

 

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“Teens stand up to oppose war.”
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People from all walks of life participated. Not just young people.

 

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Young and old people, men and women – . “This is what democracy looks like …”.

 

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The protest was very organized and people were behaving. But it created a huge traffic jam on Omotesando all the way back to Aoyama dori.

 

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We saw the protesters again just outside the Harajuku JR station.

 

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“No nukes. No war.”

 

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“Make some noise, Tokyo”

 

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They certain did make a lot of noise. A peaceful successful protest indeed.

Well, tomorrow is Friday the 13th of May 2016.

We are not superstitious about the number. We just happen to live at No. 13 now and I used to work at Room 1313 on the 13th floor. I(Chris) am just curious about the other No: 13’s – how they look and what’s behind them.

As you will see, we have been snapping pictures of no. 13 around the world …

Paris, where French Food with a nice menu is on offer

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Constigliole d’Asti, Piedmont – hairdressers

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Alright, this is not a street number but it is on the street.

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Funchal, Madeira – Art of open doors project at Rua de Santa Maria

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Cartier, Paris

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Somewhere we forgot where …

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Museum Hundertwasser, Vienna

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forgot …

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forgot also, despite the smirking head

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Studio for sale 13s-6

 

That’s all for now.

Click the links to see part 1, part 2part 3 and part 4.

 

 

 



Yakushima is an island located in 60km (37.3 miles) to the south of the southernmost tip of Kyushu island. With a climate ranging from subtropical to cool-temperate, its diverse and highly unique ecosystem and beautiful nature have been highly regarded nationally but not generally known outside Japan.

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Visiting Japan in February, where could we go ? – we asked ourselves. As far south as possible, but not Okinawa. That’s how we ended up on this island.

We flew south from Kagoshima and the flight was about 35 minutes.
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The airport is tiny. This is the main entrance.

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Our ryokan is near the airport which is on the east side of the island about half way between Anbo and Miyanoura. We did not know it was located just across the main road from the airport. The taxi driver had a good laugh when he found out where we were going and had to unload our bags.

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Yakushima is developed only along its coast except in the west where the steep mountain slopes run all the way into the sea. A road encircles the island connecting the towns together, and the majority of Yakushima’s hotels, beaches, hot springs, and museums are within a short distance of it. The main attraction – the cedar forests are located in the mountainous interior and are accessed by a few roads from the larger towns, such as Miyanoura and Anbo, which lead to the various hiking trails and nature parks.

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Miyanoura (above) is the largest town in Yakushima, home to the Miyanoura Port where the ferries from Kagoshima arrive and depart.

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We did not bother to rent a car and relied on public transport to see Shiratani Unsuikyo and Yakusugi Land (see later posts). Buses run about once per hour along Yakushima’s coast. We passed small villages along the main road and saw a cemetery by the sea.

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Vending machines by the main road.

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Local hardware store and supermarket – also by the main road.

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Since it was offseason, buses into the interior were down to twice a day: from Miyanoura Port to Shiratani Unsuikyo and from Anbo Town to Yakusugi Land.

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We were quite worried about missing the bus since there were hardly any people living in the interiors of the island.

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Anbo is the other town with a port. Most businesses appeared closed – well, it was a weekday afternoon.

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We would have bought flying fish sashimi at this fishmonger if it was open.

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The Mos burger (equivalent of McD in Japan) was open.

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The island’s business is mostly farming and tourism.  Sweet potato from this and several islands nearby are well known within Japan. This shop in Anbo sells vegetables by a honor system, take what you want and leave your money in the bucket.

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About 10 minutes walk on the main road from the airport, we found improbably an Italian restaurant – il mare – likely the only one on the island. The chef (likely also the owner) is Japanese. We were the only customer there for lunch. The place looked well kept so it must be more popular in the evening or during the summer.

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Venison bolognese was prominently featured on the menu – the deer was sourced locally. IT tried it and I had a pasta al funghi myself.

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Across the main road from our ryokan is a cedar wood workshop and showroom.  Beautifully-crafted pieces, quite expensive, but unique they are.

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There is really not much to see or do on the island – apart from hiking, waterfalls, hot springs and seeing the primordial cedar forests. Just what we needed to escape the city for a few days,

After so many posts about Venice and art, we will now turn to Japan where we spent our two-week winter vacation in February 2016.

First, we are very sorry for the people of Kyushu, especially in the area around Mount Aso and Kumamoto who endured the earthquakes in April 2016 that caused deaths and a lot of damages. We hope the people, towns and villages in the area escaped without much loss.

The first two days of our vacation were spent in southern Kyushu near Kirishima and Kagoshima (which are about 2 hours drive from Kumamoto). We hired a taxi for the day and used it to tour a mountainous area and a shrine north of Kirishima, and then Kagoshima.

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Our driver does not speak English but he was super-nice. He showed us the roadside hot springs, deers and took us to eat freshly hand-made soba noodles for lunch. The entire Kyushu is volcanic with hot springs everywhere, hence the onsen in our ryokan.

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Certain roads pass through open vents and the sulfurous fumes are thick and choking.

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Our destination is a small crater lake – Lake Fudoike不動池 (which means literally “immobile pond”) next to Mount Io 硫黄山 (which means “sulfur mountain”).

That’s what the lake looks like on the ground (sorry about the size of the panoramas).

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View downhill behind the lake.

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The lake, 200 m in diameter, was partly frozen.

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Pretty to look at …  but apparently the water is very acidic …. pH4.5.

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While the driver took IT and Sue to use the restroom and buy snacks down the hill, they left me behind so that I can walk further up the hill.

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I did not see any of the volcanic ash and lava, as the lava flow is on the other side and at a higher altitude. The map above shows the direction of the lava flow which appears as waves.

There must be a geological reason for the flatness of this mountain top.

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I saw a few trees like this, the wind must be strong and persistent year round. The environment is harsh as there are very few trees.

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Multi-language sign about the lake which is a part of the Kirishima Geopark. It is so tourist-friendly.

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The Geopark contains 20 small volcanos that have been active from hundreds of 1000’s years ago to recent times.

Can you imagine how it would have felt hiking there and encountering an earthquake ?

The local people are tough and prepared and we are confident they will recover and rebuild swiftly.

 

 

 

 

 

This is the last of three posts on water transport, and it is about the gondola and water taxis. For centuries the gondola was the chief means of transportation and most common vessel within Venice. There are just over four hundred in active service today, virtually all of them used for hire by tourists. They are essentially dressed-up water taxis.

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While in previous centuries, gondolas could be many different colors. Now, all gondolas are supposed to be painted black.

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Four passengers are about the maximum number of passengers that can be accomodated.

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The gondolas still have a role in public transport in the city, serving as traghetti (ferries) over the Grand Canal. The service is offered only to residents and cost about 1-2 euros. I saw one operating in the morning ferrying commuters near the Rialto market.

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The historical gondola was quite different usually having two rowers. The banana-shaped modern gondola was developed only in the 19th century and the construction continued to evolve until the mid-20th century, when the city government prohibited any further modifications.

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Every detail of the gondola has its own symbolism. The iron head of the gondola, called “fero da prorà” or “dol fin“, is needed to balance the weight of the gondolier at the stern and has an “S” shape symbolic of the twists in the Canal Grande. Under the main blade there is a kind of comb with six teeth or prongs (“rebbi “) standing for the six sestieri (districts) of Venice.

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For some, one extra prong juts out backwards toward the centre of the gondola (see photo below), symbolises the island of Giudecca. The curved top signifies the Doge’s cap. The semi-circular break between the curved top and the six teeth is said to represent the Rialto Bridge.

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It is propelled by a gondolier and never poled like a punt as the waters of Venice are too deep.

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The profession of gondolier is controlled by a guild, which issues a limited number of licenses (425) granted after periods of training and apprenticeship, and a major comprehensive exam which tests knowledge of history and landmarks, foreign language skills, and practical skills in handling the gondola typically necessary in the tight spaces of the canals. Here, he had to tilt the gondola and bent over sideways in order to squeeze beneath the bridge and then steer the boat tightly to turn right.

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Gondola traffic jam is quite common.

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The modern water taxis are essentially speed boats. They are just as popular as gondolas and can take more passengers.

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Taxi stands

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They run typically between the airport and a hotel in the city.

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It is a bit pricy. But if there are several people, it is worth it simply for the thrill of speeding across the lagoon right after a flight to a hotel with its canal side entrance.

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Some tourists arrive by cruise ship – much bigger ones than these river crusies (see pictures online).  These mega ships apparently cause environmental problems for the city (affects the silt at the bottom of the lagoon ?).

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If you have missed them, part 1 and part 2 of Buses, Taxis and Gondolas are here and here.

 

Part 2 of this three-part posts is about all the other types of boats that we saw on the canals, beside buses, taxis and gondolas. As the canals are the main thoroughfares for the city, most if not all of the services are delivered by boats. It was fun spotting these boats.

Parcels by DHL

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Polizia

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Carabinieri (military police)

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Ambulanza (by the way, in the background of this photo is an island (isola di san michele) dedicated to serve as a cemetery, cimitero)

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Garbage disposal  – we saw men picking up by hand household garbage in bags placed in front of homes, and putting them into metallic carts, the carts were then pushed up to the edge of the canal where the carts are grabbed and loaded into the boat.

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Refrigerated storage (perishables for restaurants)

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General delivery (?)

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Heating oil delivery or drainage ?

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Delivery of clean linen and pickup of used ones (laundry for hotels and restaurants)

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We saw these boats frequently, considering that most of the businesses in the city are in the hospitality sector.

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Construction debris collecton

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Repair shop for boats (“garage”)

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Gas station

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It was fascinating for city dwellers like us who are used to seeing these services delivered on wheels. Not until one sees it, the functioning of the city completely lacking motor vehicles was hard to picture in the mind.

The waterways of Venice are world famous. The city is made up of 118 islands and 150 canals. It is home to over 400 bridges and the only way to travel in this city is either on foot or by boat. Click here and here to see our posts about the Grand Canal.

This post and the next two will be dedicated to what travel the canals. We will start with the buses, and finish with taxis and gondolas.

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The waterbus in Venice are known as “vaporetto”. We bought the Venezia Unica pass which allowed unlimited use of the vaporetto service for 5 days. Sue and I arrived by train, getting off at the Stazione di Venezia Santa Lucia, and got on our first vaporetto ride at the Ferrovia stop – we took Linea 4.1 to get to Fondamente de Noue where we made our way to the apartment.

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The vaporettos operate just like buses, quite frequently, the service is basic but reliable. At smaller stops, boats will come from both directions. So it is important to watch the board or the sign on the boat otherwise one can quite easily be going in the opposite direction.

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Linea Uno (No. 1) zigzags along the Grand Canal running from Piazzalle Roma to San Zaccaria near Piazza San Marco, and then enters the lagoon to get to Lido, making 20 stops. Not only it is great for tourist to see the canal, it also offers a quick way to get from one side of the canal to the other.

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In 1881 a regular public transport service with mechanically-propelled vessels began in Venice. In 1978, the current Venice Public Transport Company (Actv or “Azienda del Consorzio Trasporti Veneziano”) began operating. In 2010, ACTV owns approximately 620 buses and 160 boats and 150 floating pontoons. There are 19 scheduled lines.

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The vaporettos are super-crowded at certain times of day and the conductor is non-forgiving when it comes to crowd-control. I (Chris) was separated from Sue and IT and the crowd while getting off the boat at Accademia (I was too busy snapping the pictures for this blog). And I got stuck behind people who were not disembarking (with strollers and luggages). The conductor let a few people on and promptly put the chain across the little ramp, and signaled the boat to leave. My protests (verbal and eventually gestures) were totally ignored. Thankfully, there were enough boats going back and forth. I reunited with them within 15 minutes.

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Waterbus routes between the airport and the city and the lagoon area are provided by Alilaguna. We used Alilaguna service to reach the airport (Aeroporto di Marco Polo).

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The airport is located on the mainland 4.3 nautical miles north of Venice in Tessera.

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The waterway that connects the airport and the Venice lagoon operates just like a two-way highway on land.

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We saw pets on people’s boats.

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These dogs were watching the owner who got off the boat to bum a cigarette from a tourist nearby.

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More boats in our next post.

Wandering back and forth on the Grand Canal is one way to experience the “Invisible Cities” described in Italo Calvino’s fiction (1972). It would have been sublime if we could read it leisurely and try map the literal to the physical.

Here are more photos of the Grand Canal. We have obviously spent some time touring/commuting on a vaporetto. To see part 1 of this post, click here.

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One end of the canal starts near Piazza San Marco and the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute (one with the domes).

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The photo below shows one of the exits of the Grand Canal at the other end (top of the inverted “S”).

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The name “Salviati” on this building may not legible in this photo. It is a family of very successful glass makers and mosaicists who started in Murano – we will have a post about this island later. Apparently, the Salviati family constructed the building at 235 Regent Street in London which houses the Apple Store now.

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More mosaics here.

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These buildings, near Piazza San Marco, have been converted into fancy hotels, each having a private canal-side entrance.

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Guests can be picked up from Marco Polo airport and dropped off directly in front of the hotel.

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Or one can walk onto a gondola from the hotel lobby.

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Many people go to a restaurant by boat.

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Church of San Simeone Piccolo

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Venice’s palaces, churches, and buildings are supported by thousands of wooden pilings that date back hundreds of years. As long as they’re submerged, the pilings do not rot -but when they come in contact with the air when the canal is being cleaned, deterioration could begin.

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Apparently, the Grand Canal does not need much dredging because of the tides that sweep silt and sewage out to the Adriatic sea. But the narrower ones need the cleaning once every few decades otherwise the canal becomes too shallow even for gondola and a foul odor develops.

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The Grand Canal is indeed magical.

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We will come back later with photos of the boats on the canals of Venice.

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