The train trip was much nicer on the way back as we caught the fast one, which was air-conditioned. As we entered the first tunnel and picked up speed, I could not help but think of the poor sods that were about to be covered in food wrappers and get the fright of their lives as we flashed past at over 300 km per hour.
We just managed to get to the bike shop before it closed and they promised us it was fixed, I said they told us that in Barcelona but he assured me that the part costing 1600.00 euros had done the trick. I’m glad that was a warranty job and not an accident.
We popped back the campsite and asked if we could leave the bike while we went to see the Museum de Accademia where we had a 15.30pm appointment to visit David. They were happy to look after the bike even though we were heading off as soon as we got back… we decided to ride a little later due to the unpleasantly aggressive heat of the sun in the afternoon. If we could get a few hours in after 5pm it would be a much nicer ride and the sun was not hitting the horizon now until about 9pm and getting dark well after 10 pm. I love Europe in the summer, the fact you can actually do things in the evening.
If you ever want me to have a good rant, just mention daylight savings on the Gold Coast, or rather the lack of it. Who in government in their right mind can’t see the benefit of changing the times accordingly to give the people of the state a few hours extra at night to kick a football in the park or go for a nice walk? Apart from 17 dairy farmers in the middle of nowhere, nobody wants bright sunlight at 4am and pitch black a 7pm. Wouldn’t it be better to tag a few hours onto the end of the day, so children aren’t forced to be home sitting in front of their TV’s or computers as opposed to outside with their mates? No wonder we have an obesity problem… I feel better with that off my chest…
The nicest feeling of pre-booking tickets is the ability to walk to the front of massive queues and slip into the venues without hassle, I know that face on the poor tourists who had been waiting two hours to reach the front… “what the…where do they.. I want to say something but should I”… the power of knowledge is very important for a smooth holiday in Europe in summer…
It’s hard not to be impressed with the artworks in the museum, considering the hundreds of thousands of hours the artists have dedicated to making them. Museum layouts are so extremely important, a bad layout in a museum can leave you walking around in circles and seeing some pieces five time and missing others altogether. The most important characteristic is that it’s intuitive to know where to go and what to see. It can take weeks looking at everything properly so one has to be selective; we chose to see the masterpieces that were highlighted well and leave the best until last. We eventually reached the big man himself. There is a certain “rock star arriving” feel about the journey to the statue, so many people want to see him it’s not a simple case of walk in and view. One has to be patient, which is not so easy for people like me with a certain phobia called “IHST’ (I hate stupid tourists). Especially the ones that have absolutely no interest in art, they seem to just want a photo of themselves in front of art doing a peace sign, probably so they can prove to their friends on Facebook that they have travelled to a foreign country and “look I’m cultured”. Don’t get me started… Damn I am started… You can watch them, they don’t actually look at the works hanging on the wall; they walk up to them, take a photo and immediately walk away. What the hell are they going to do with a jpeg-compressed photo of a masterpiece taken on an iPhone? Print them, hang them in their living room and recreate their journey through an art gallery… Why don’t they just stop, look and enjoy… “IHST”.
This blog is good therapy for me… I feel so much better writing my frustrations down.
So where were we?… David … the masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture created between 1501 and 1504 by the Italian artist Michelangelo. This 17-foot marble sculpture of the man that defeated Goliath shows that the small man can beat the big man if he uses his brain, which is ironic given the scale of him; if he was 17 foot tall how big was Goliath?
It’s an interesting story about how the artist at the age of 26 got the commission to make David. In short, he took aver a failed attempt by two previous artists Agostino di Duccio and Antonio Rossellino.
The original commission was to build twelve large Old Testament sculptures for the buttresses of the cathedral of Santa Maria Del Fiore. Donatello had made one of the statues in 1410, a figure of Joshua made of terracotta, and a second, also terracotta, this time of Hercules.
So David was to be made of marble and Agostino only got as far as beginning to shape the legs, feet and the torso, roughing out some drapery and probably gouging a hole between the legs. Rossellino’s contract was terminated soon thereafter, and the block of marble remained neglected for twenty-five years in the cathedral grounds.
On August 16, 1501, Michelangelo was given the official contract to undertake this challenging new task. He began carving the statue early in the morning on Monday, September 13, a month after he was awarded the contract. He would work on the massive biblical hero for more than two years.
It’s an awe-inspiring piece of work and it’s not until you stand under him and see the almost perfect symmetry of the piece do you realise the shear genius of the sculpture. We are so used to looking at perfection due to computers and modern ways of mass production. We have the technology now to build anything perfectly, take a look at the plastic models sold in the gift shops and you can see man’s new ability, but the fact is that this was done by hand with nothing but a hammer and chisel under the lights of candles.
Speaking of hammers… In 1991, a deranged man attacked the statue with a hammer he had concealed beneath his jacket, in the process damaging the toes of the left foot before being restrained, taken around the back of the building and having you know what kicked out of him… good job he was only a short man and didn’t swing the hammer higher if you get my drift.
Nicola said ‘The David’ had a physique like mine… normally I would give her a shove and say “love is blind, you crazy fool…” but I had just whispered in her ear that I thought for such a big man he had a disproportionality small willy… Kind of hurt a little… but according to legend it was a particularly cold winter the year a male model stood for Michelangelo.
(This photo was taken from Google as we were not allowed to take photos inside the Museum de Accademia)
We were on our way to Venice, capital of damp.
The best opening line I can come up with for my bit on Venice is do yourself a favour… find three spare days in your life to walk with a camera in one hand, a guidebook in the other and buy yourself a ticket to one of the prettiest and most fascinating cities on the planet.
For a start the engineering of the place is a testament to out-of-the-box thinking. The original population of Venice consisted of refugees from Roman cities near Venice and from the undefended countryside, who were fleeing successive waves of Germanic and Hun invasions. In a way a bit like the Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera. Except rather than build your home on the edge of a cliff, Venice is built on an archipelago of 117 islands formed by 177 canals in a shallow lagoon, connected by 409 bridges. The only way for the Barbarians to get to them was across muddy water.
“Hey Fritz, wir have a problem…Dia dam cleaver Romans have outsmarted uns again… Nicht worry Helmut, what until we start manafacturing cars”
Even though there are no historical records that deal directly with the founding of Venice, tradition and the available evidence have led several historians to agree that the city is identified with the dedication of the first church, that of San Giacomo at the islet of Rialto (Rivoalto, “High Shore”), which is said to have been at the stroke of noon on 25 March 421AD
What is remarkable is how the Venetians managed to then expand their waterlogged world. If you don’t have dry land to build on then your only way is to create it. Unlike today, where would simply get dredges and bulldozers to reclaim land to build on, the Venetians did this by constructing a closely spaced network of wooden piles. Most of these piles are still intact today after centuries of submersion, literally holding up the foundations of the city. The brick and stone sitting above these footings creates the beautiful buildings seen today.
It’s all damn clever really, the piles penetrate a soft layer of sand and mud until they reach a much harder layer of compressed clay. Because they are submerged in oxygen-poor conditions, the wood does not decay as rapidly as on the surface.
Most of these piles were made from trunks of alder trees, a wood noted for its water resistance. The alder came from the westernmost part of today’s Slovenia (resulting in the barren land of the Kras region), and in two regions of Croatia. I read somewhere that Russian larch was imported to build foundations too, so all in all there is a massive forest of trees under the city.
We decided after researching accommodation options that we were best to stay out of the city itself, a real shame given the charm of the place at night… but being on a motorbike has its downsides as well as its upsides. One such downside is our gear, which is evenly spread over the bike in five pieces of luggage, including two side boxes that are not the easiest to move, main bag behind Nicola, camping bag on top, tank bag…. this, on top of our helmets, protective gear and boots. So all in all, unless we wanted to load up like a couple of donkeys we are best to simply ride in from a campsite 15 minutes away, park the bike in a free bike-spot next to the train station and walk. We have promised ourselves a return with a small bag to do the nighttime experience.
There is a strange modern design that seems to stump the unwary traveller coming in on a train. On the main bridge crossing over from the station to the first island there is no ramp for the huge luggage cases people bring for their romantic weekend. The bridge is one big curved staircase, so you are forced to pick your case up and struggle in your best Venice frock and shoes to the top, have a breather and give getting down a go without breaking something below the hips. You see the boyfriends’ and husbands’ faces, the “oh bloody great, who designed this ridicules bridge” when they realise they are going to have to muster the strength of Hercules to tackle their partners’ wardrobe changes…
Option two, take a water taxi and again muster the strength of Hercules to lift the wad of cash required to pay for it. Either way it’s going to sting because coming to Venice is not for the person thinking they are in for a cheap holiday. You soon realise after spending some time in the city why it’s so expensive. For a start, sit on the main city canal with a sandwich and bottle of beer and watch the way it ticks and goes about its business; everything from delivering milk to collecting the garbage has to be done by boat as being stuck in the middle of a bay, they is no other option.
We took the public ferry that traverses the canal on our first day so we could see the manmade labyrinth of buildings that make up the banks of this fascinating city. All the buildings that we saw seemed to have been individually designed with meticulous care to compliment the building neighbouring, opposite and the city as a whole. Everything just seems to work really well. Give anywhere enough time to establish a routine and it will generally establish a unique way to tackle the challenges of being what some would consider a logistical nightmare.
One of the only things we both noticed, or rather our noses noticed, was at low tide there seemed to be a slightly pungent smell wafting in the air coming from the direction of the mud flats. A bit like the smell associated with bore water or mild rotten eggs. Perhaps the pollution washed out from the city over the past sixteen hundred years is something that the local council would prefer not to talk about but I would be very nervous if I fell into the water as it looks a bit like boarding school bathwater.
One of the lovely surprises to us was the glassware sold in many places in the city, from the tiny family-run glassblowers to the mass-produced. Had we not been on the bike perhaps we could have been persuaded into a purchasing something to forevermore collect dust on the mantelpiece. But at least we could genuinely decline the kind offers to give us discount, as we don’t have room to collect teaspoons let alone glassware.
The other prevalent and interesting local specialty is the carnival masks that the venetians seem to sell in every tenth shop you pass. From the well-known, phantom of the opera style ‘hide an eye and you’ll never recognize me’, to the ones used by doctors during the plague. It is said that the Carnival of Venice was started from a victory of the “Serenissima Repubblica” against the Patriarch of Aquileia, Ulrico in the year 1162. In the honor of this victory, the people started to dance and make reunions in San Marco Square. As far as I can tell the mask was worn to disguise the wearer, but everything I have read on exactly why a mask seems a bit ambiguous. Apparently, this festival became official in the Renaissance, however, under the rule of the King of Austria, the festival was outlawed entirely in 1797 and the use of masks became strictly forbidden.
After a long absence of a couple of hundred years the Italian government in 1979 decided to bring back the history and culture of Venice, and sought to use the traditional Carnival as the centerpiece of its efforts. The redevelopment of the masks began as the pursuit of some Venetian college students for the tourist trade. Today, approximately 3 million visitors come to Venice every year for Carnival. One of the most important events is the contest for la maschera più bella (“the most beautiful mask”) on the last weekend of the Carnival, a panel of international costume and fashion designers judge the best.
The Plague doctors mask ‘Medico della peste,’ is an entirely different kettle of fish. Charles de Lorme, who was personal physician to the French King, Louis XIII, designed a mask that had a long beak as a method of preventing the spread of disease, while treating bubonic plague victims. The mask was often white, consisting of a hollow beak stuffed with herbs and other potions to prevent the plague entering.
Charles de Lorme describes the mask as follows in his own words:
“The nose half a foot long, shaped like a beak, filled with perfume with only two holes, one on each side near the nostrils, but that can suffice to breathe and to carry along with the air one breathes the impression of the drugs enclosed further along in the beak.
Can you fathom how brave this man was dealing with something that killed an estimated 25 million people, or 30–60% of the European population. The fact that he knew the consequences of trying to relive the pain and suffering of his patients but still got in there boots and all.
Anyway, he lived to a ripe old age of 94, in fact remarrying for the third time at 78 so he sounded like a character.
One other interesting fact about the plague, because it killed so many of the working population, wages rose and some historians have seen this as a turning point in European economic development.
We decided against buying one of these also, as I have personally never particular liked them enough to want one hanging on our wall at home or found the desire to wander around our local suburb sporting one as a fashion accessory. I do though appreciate them as been very nicely made and for some that come to Venice a must-buy. When you write something like that you have to quickly think back to all the homes you have entered of your friends and family trying to recall if you ever saw one hanging in the hallway… don’t want to offend…
We stopped at a man who radiated ‘gondolier’, very proud looking in his striped t-shirt and tight pants, when in Venice and all that…
“Excuse me sir, how much would you charge us for a punt down a canal or two?”
“No sorry, you must have misunderstood me, we don’t want to go to the French Riviera and back…”
“I’m not, its 100 euros for 30 minutes.”
“You what… that’s more money than your president is making and that’s saying something.”
“You want a ride or not?”
So we never experienced the gondola ride in Venice, but I’m sure it was very nice if you don’t mind becoming one of the city’s main attractions. Every time we saw somebody who had forked out the money, they seemed to be the center of attention for all the other tourists trying to get the perfect iconic shot of the Venetian waterway. We saw one poor couple looking very embarrassed gliding along the canal trying to be romantic. Having both sides of the bank and the bridge they were about to go under flanked with over two hundred people taking their photo kind of dashed the poor chap’s moment to whisper sweet nothings in her ear.