Pisa

Pisa is a legendary city in central Italy known worldwide for the Leaning Tower. But it has a great deal of other sites than the legendary leaning tower. Pisa has historic churches, palaces and bridges across the Arno river that it straddles. It also offers some beautiful scenery along the Arno River. “Pisa” means mouth and it is believed that it got its name as it is located at the mouth of the Arno river. It was originally a very powerful maritime nation.

Our Trip

From Rome , we drove to Pisa.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa

This famous leaning tower is actually a campanile or bell tower of the Pisa Cathedral located adjacent to it in the Cathedral Square or Piazza del Duomo along with the Baptistery.

The Tower, Cathedral and Baptistery are UNESCO World Heritage sites. The architecture of the tower is beautiful with the six rows of stone arches and one can climb on top to get great views of the city.

The tower began to lean in the 12th century due to the soft ground which could not support the structure’s weight. It worsened through the completion of construction in the 14th century. However, this same soft soil helped it survive four strong earthquakes!

By 1990, the tilt had reached 5.5 degrees. Restoration work has reduced it to 3.97 degrees. Restoration work has also been undertaken to undo the corrosion and blackening due to exposure to wind and rain.

The average height of the tower is 56 metres and has 296 steps.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa

The entrance to the tower

The pillars

The winding stairway

Pisa Cathedral

The other important structure at the Cathedral square is the Pisa Cathedral. The real name of the Cathedral is Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta. It very often gets over shadowed by its own bell tower which is the Leaning tower of Pisa.

The exterior of the Cathedral is ornate with a series of stone and marble arches and bronze doors. The ceiling is done in gold and the interior of the dome has a beautiful fresco .

The Pisa Cathedral

The beautiful arches

The entrance to the cathedral

The beautiful frescoes inside

The Baptistery

The other structure in the Cathedra Square, the Baptistery was also built along with the leaning tower and has a great exterior design with statues, arches and decoration. The dome is half covered with orange tiles and the other half remains bare. It has never been completed.

The Baptistery

Campo Santo ( holy field)

Located at the edge of the Cathedral square is this monumental cemetery said to have been built around sacred soil where bodies rot in just 24 hours. This structure stands where the original Cathedral once stood. It has a large courtyard bordered with artistic arches and inner walls are decorated with frescoes and sculptures.

Campo Santo

The artistic arches

Sculptures inside

We had a short visit to the Cathedral Square in Pisa and headed to Milan.

But there was something interesting which we visited at Italy which has still not found a place in my blog. So , let me add that here. It might interest the car enthusiasts among my readers.

The Ferrari Museum

Located at Maranello, this is a Ferrari company museum dedicated to its sports cars. It has various race cars exhibited besides trophies and photographs related to car racing. Technological innovations in the field are also show cased here.

Some pictures :

Entrance to Museo Ferrari

Some displayed models

The Ferrari factory

With this, we move on to Milan, our final destination in Europe. See you next week at Milan. Till then do subscribe, comment and give your feedback.

The Vatican

The Vatican is an independent landlocked city state surrounded by Rome and as such is the smallest independent country in the world. It became independent of Italy and is a distinct territory under the Pope who is the Bishop of Rome and head of the Catholic Church. The Vatican is the most important holy city for the Catholics, an important archaeological site of the Roman era and a major cultural centre. Understandably it is an UNESCO World Heritage site.

Vatican city contains religious and cultural sites such as St Peter’s Basilica, The Sistine Chapel and The Vatican Museums. They feature some of the world’s most famous paintings and sculptures. Vatican city is enclosed by its walls.

When we visited The Vatican , our guide had emphasised to us that it is very important to stay together in a group and ensure not to lose track of the group. It was extremely crowded and once you lose track of your guide, finding one’s way back is next to impossible. After this warning, he handed us over to the local guide; a lady who was carrying a long pole with a coloured flag. She also emphasised the need to stay together and not get distracted. The coloured flag is held high by the guide so that the group members can see her and follow her even in a crowd. I had not seen this system elsewhere, but of late, I find this being followed at many places.

With the fear of God, we all diligently followed the guide as she weaved in and out through the crowd. We first visited St. Peter’s Basilica.

St Peter’s Basilica :

One of the largest churches in the world, it is located at St Peter’s Square and can accommodate 20,000 people. Constructed between 1506 and 1626, it is the most outstanding example of Renaissance architecture. St Peter, one of the 12 disciples of Jesus and the first Bishop of Rome was buried just below the main altar where the Basilica stands today and hence the name.

One of the most impressive parts of the Basilica is The Dome. The Dome dominates the Vatican skyline and has been the inspiration for the domes at The Capitol in Washington and St Paul’s Cathedral in London. Michaelangelo started the design of this dome.

Most of the important speeches of the Pope are delivered at St Peter’s Square.

Some pictures :

St Peter’s Square

St Peter’s Basilica

The detailed architecture on the exterior of the basilica with St Peter’s statue in front

The impressive dome from outside……note the windows

The beautiful insides of the dome

The main entrance

The main altar at St Peter’s Basilica

St Peter’s tomb with a beautiful fresco in the background

The Holy Door

A huge decorated door which opens only during the “Holy Years” as per the instructions of the Pope is seen here. The belief is that if one crosses the door, one is cleared of his sins.

The Holy Door

One of the most celebrated works of Michaelangelo is ‘Pieta’ which depicts Christ after crucifixion on Mother Mary’s lap. This statue can be seen next to the entrance of the Basilica.

Michaeangelo’s Pieta (Pity in English)

Bronze statue of St Peter is another important aspect of the Basilica. To be noted is the toes that have worn out due to pilgrims touching the toes and kissing the feet

Bronze statue of St Peter

Mummy of Pope John xxiii can be seen preserved here.

Mummy of Pope John XXIII

Vatican Grottoes

St Peter’s Basilica is the resting ground of several Popes and their graves can be seen in the underground level. These are artificial caves decorated with elaborate designs, frescos and paintings.

Besides this, the Basilica is a storehouse of art in the form of frescos and paintings and decorated ceilings. Some pictures..

The last supper ….a celebrated fresco and the decorated ceiling

The Swiss Guards :

Another peculiarity seen here is the presence of Swiss guards who wear very colourful dresses and are armed with traditional and modern weapons. They are responsible for the safety of the Vatican Palace and Pope.

Swiss guard at the Vatican Palace

The Vatican Museums :

The Vatican museums are public museums in Vatican city with enormous collections of art work and sculptures from the Roman era and Renaissance period collected by the Popes. Apart from the art work displayed, some of the extraordinarily artistic rooms of the Vatican palace also form part of these museums.

At the entrance to the Vatican museums ( note the guides with their coloured flags)

Inside the museum

There are several smaller museums inside the main museum complex dedicated to various eras, popes, faiths etc. Some of these are: Sistine chapel, Christian Museum, Jewish Lapidarium, Egyptian museum, Collection of Contemporary Art etc.

A model of Vatican city in the Museum

Works of art form part of the beautiful ceilings of the corridors ,or ,are frescos displayed on the walls of the museum or ceiling. There are small display monitors in the museum where pictures of these great art works are saved. The guide explains the pictures and frescoes from these display monitors.

Guide explaining the frescos from the monitor

Some pictures from the museums:

Large tapestry on either sides of the corridors at the museum

Tapestry on the walls of the museum

Beautifully decorated arch

The beautiful ceiling of the Museum

Resurrection of Christ, one of the most important frescoes

Sistine Chapel

The Sistine chapel is a chapel and the official residence of the Pope. It is also part of the Vatican museum complex . It is famous for the Michaelangelo frescoes that decorate the interior particularly the ceiling . The ceiling has intricate frescoes about which the guide explained to us on the monitor. “The Creation of Adam ” is one of his renowned works which adorn the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

The ceiling of Sistine chapel painted by Michaelangelo portraying the creation of Adam

“Creation Of Adam “by Michaelangelo

Another of Michaelagelo’s famous work, “The Last Judgement “can be seen behind the altar at Sistine Chapel

“The Last Judgement” by Michaelangelo

Guide explaining ‘The Last Judgement” on the monitor

Another important painting is “The Handing over Of The Keys” by Pietro Perugino

“Handing over the keys of heaven to St Peter” by Pietro Perugino

The sculpture of Artemis the Goddess of Fertility is another attractive statue here.

Artemis

After an exhaustive session on history ,art and architecture by the guide, she let us off to the gardens of the St Peter’s Basilica where we had some time to ourselves to walk around and explore.

Most of us were pretty tired mentally and physically and chose to rest under the shade of the trees there. Soon our guide arrived and escorted us back to our hotel ending our visit to Rome. We would head for Pisa the next day.

A small note to my valued readers…

I am taking a two week vacation and hence my next episode will be uploaded after I am back. It will start with Pisa and its leaning tower!

Till I get back to you all, do continue your support in the form of your valuable comments and feedback. I value each one of them .

See you all after a short break…..

Rome

Rome was not built in a day…..so goes the proverb and I am sure you will agree with me by the time you go through this blog! An ancient city with ruins dating back hundreds of years and testimony to the hard work and architectural expertise of the Romans.

A heady mix of ancient ruins, beautiful art and vibrant street life, Rome is one of Europe’s most charismatic cities. Ancient icons like the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Pantheon are a testimony to the city’s golden age while the monumental basilicas are a stamp of it being the seat of the Catholic Church. Ornate squares and fountains add a baroque flavour to the city’s streets. Rome is generally considered the “cradle of Western civilisation and Christian culture.” The Vatican which is an independent country lies within the city boundaries and is the only country that lies within a city.

Rome’s history spans 28 centuries and is one of the oldest continuously occupied cities in Europe. Roman mythology dates the founding of Rome at around 753 BC but it has been inhabited from much earlier. Beginning with the Renaissance, the city saw a very vibrant architectural and urban programme making Rome the artistic and cultural capital of the world. This further led to it becoming the birthplace of Baroque and Neoclassical styles of architecture.

Its historic centre is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Several United Nations special programmes have their offices located here. In addition to the ancient, one finds the latest and most modern day attributes here too. The presence of several fashion brands has made it an important centre of fashion and design.

The Colosseum

One of Rome’s most famous land marks is the Colosseum. It is an oval amphitheatre built with limestone , volcanic rock and concrete in ,central Rome and is still the largest amphitheatre in the world despite its age. It has 4 floors; the first 3 having 80 arches each and decorated with huge statues. It was built in less than 10 years….an amazing feat for such a large structure in those times.

It was the Roman Empire’s entertainment arena for over 500 years. It had room for more than 50000 spectators to watch gladiator fights, public executions, exotic animals and other spectacles. In the medieval era, it was stopped to be used for entertainment and was used or housing, workshops, religious orders and shrines.

What we see today is just a skeleton of the original structure. It has been substantially ruined by earthquakes and stone robbers. During the medieval period iron and lead was extracted to build other structures and the holes we see today are the holes used for this.

Approaching the Colosseum

At The Colosseum

The pattern of repetitive arches

Note the holes on the walls

Renovation work in progress…. unrenovated part seen on the right

An enactment of a scene in Roman history by locals….for tourists to pose for a price!

Inside the Colosseum

On entering, we see the arena ahead of us. The main stage has disappeared and what is seen are cellars used for storing equipment for the shows.

Inside of the colosseum….whatever remains now!

Arch of Constantine

This triumphal arch next to the Colosseum dedicated to Emperor Constantine, was used by victorious leaders to enter the city in triumphal procession.

Arch of Constantine

The Pantheon

Originally a small temple dedicated to Roman Gods, the name means “everything divine”. What is unique about this structure is that it was the first temple built for the common man. All other temples were meant for priests and forbidden to the common man. Its architecture and external beauty are a unique combination of Roman and Greek architecture. The dome of the Pantheon is unique.

The concept of a temple being a place of worship and communication with God started from here.

The Pantheon

The Roman Forum

Is a rectangular plaza surrounded by ruins of several important ancient government buildings which was originally a marketplace. For many years ,the forum was the centre of all activities in Rome like processions, public speeches, criminal trials etc. Today , it is a ruin of architectural fragments

The ruins of the Roman Forum

Monument to the First King

Also called the monument of Victor Emmanuel II , this is a national monument made in white marble in contrast to the ruins of earth coloured buildings seen all over Rome. The focal point of the monument is the statue of a horseman representing Victor Emmanuel II. Just below this is the statue of Goddess Roma and below that is the tomb of the unknown soldier dedicated to all the unknown soldiers of Italy.

An external flight of 243 steps is an additional feature of this monument which also houses the Italian museum of unification.

Monument of the First King and the tomb of the unknown soldier

The External Steps

Roman Aqueducts

As one drives through the city, ruins of Aqueducts are seen everywhere. The Romans constructed aqueducts throughout their territory to bring water to cities and towns. This water supplied public baths, fountains, households and farms. These aqueducts were designed to move water according to gravity gradient within passages of stone, brick , concrete or lead. The ruins of their complex aqueduct systems can be seen all over Rome today and stands testimony to their planning and architectural skills.

Ruins of Roman Aqueducts

Trevi Fountain

An 18th century fountain, it is the largest baroque fountain and one of the most famous fountains . Famous for its intricate artwork decorated in the Baroque style.

The myth about the Trevi Fountain originating in 1954 with the movie “Three Coins in the Fountain,” goes like this: If you throw one coin: you will return to Rome. If you throw two coins: you will fall in love with an attractive Italian. If you throw three coins: you will marry the person that you met.

Wonder how many have tested this out?

The Trevi Fountain

Circus Maximus

The Circus Maximus is one of the largest sports arenas ever built. It was a popular chariot racing stadium. It is now in ruins and all that can be seen is an open area with some ruins. Many movies have been shot here with the background of the ruins, the most popular among them being Benhur.

The ruins of Circus Maximus

Well, I can almost see you agree to what we said when we started out …..it had taken a lot of time, effort and expertise to make a city like Rome. That most of the work of the ancient Romans is now in ruins is also testimony to the fact that nothing is permanent here and everything and everyone has to see a day of downfall. However, we have to accept the architectural skill of the ancient Romans.

As if this was not enough, we have a visit to The Vatican next week. This country within in a city is another amazing creation. See you next week at The Vatican. Till then, keep your comments and feedback coming and of course do subscribe…

Florence

Florence is a city in Central Italy bathed in architectural and artistic charm and depicts a slice of history at every nook and corner. Often called the birthplace of Renaissance, Florence offers a journey of enlightenment and is an art lover’s paradise.

It was a centre of medieval European trade and finance and one of the wealthiest cities of that era. It has had a turbulent political history and been a witness to many religious uprisings and revolutions. This short preamble would have given you an idea of a city with numerous museums, art galleries and sculptures of some of the world’s most famous artists.

The layout and structure of Florence dates back to the Roman era. The architecture reflects the Renaissance period very strongly but has medieval, baroque and neoclassical elements.

The most popular site in Florence is the Piazza del Duomo or the historic central square. The domed cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore also called the Duomo, the Baptistery, the Campanile and the Museo del Opera del Duomo are all located here.

The historic central square Piazza del Duomo

The Duomo Complex

The domed cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is also called the Duomo and is the most famous of the buildings at the Duomo Complex .The multicoloured and imposing cathedral is one of the most iconic buildings in Italy. .

The construction of this cathedral started in 1296 in the Gothic style to a design of Arnolfo di Cambio and was structurally completed by 1436, with the dome engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi. The current extravagant marble exterior was built only in the 19th century.

The building of this dome by Brunelleschi is considered one of the Renaissance’s main building enterprises. The dome is egg shaped and was the largest dome in the world and till date remains the largest brick dome ever constructed. 436 steps takes one to the top of the dome from where the panoramic views of the city are amazing.

Main entrance to the cathedral

The external side of cathedral…note the intricate designs in different coloured marble

The iconic dome of the cathedral

The mosaic work on the interior of the dome

The Campanile or Bell Tower next to the Duomo is 82 metres high , built in different colours of marble and one can climb up to the top.

The Campanile or Bell Tower….note the intricated coloured marble designs

The Baptistery was built even before the construction of the Duomo. It is a octagonal structure. The Baptistery has 3 sets of bronze sculpted and gold plated doors. The most famous is the “Gates of Paradise”. The original doors are now in the museum but their copies can be seen here. The mosaic work on the inside of the Baptistery dome is also very beautiful.

The Baptistery (the campanile and duomo can be seen at the back)

The gold plated “Gates of Paradise”

Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace)

This is the old palace building which overlooks the Piazza Della Signoria, (Political Square) another famous square with Renaissance statues exhibited.

In front of the old palace is a copy of Michael Angelo’s sculpture…David

The old Palace (town hall)

Michael Angelo’s sculpture…David

Loggia de Lanzi

This is essentially an open air sculpture gallery of Renaissance art including the Medici Lions. It has wide arches open to the street resting on columns.

The open air sculpture gallery with Renaissance sculptures exhibited

Perseus with the head of Medusa

The Fountain of Neptune

This is another example of Renaissance sculpture in the Political Square.

Near the Fountain of Neptune

The Old Bridge

Another structure is the Old Bridge over the Arno River. The segmental arch bridge is peculiar in that there were shops built on the bridge which was common practice in that era.

The Old Bridge

Uffizi Gallery

The Uffizi Gallery is an art museum located adjacent to the political square. It holds priceless collections of art work of the Renaissance period. The narrow street between the wings of the gallery is home to a large number of local artists who have displayed their art.

The Uffizi Gallery with the narrow street between the two wings lined by street artists

Talking of street artists, most of the streets of Florence have artists drawing pictures and displaying their art works. A true testimony to their ancestry….perhaps keeping their tradition alive. One can get one’s caricature drawn from them.

Street artists ….a boy waiting patiently as the artist makes his caricature

By the time it was evening, all of us had had a nice fill of art, architecture and history. In fact I found myself trying to recollect some of my school history lessons!!

Returning to the hotel with these thoughts, we were in for some more history the next day……Rome was our next destination.

See you next week at Rome.

Till then keep your comments flowing in, and do give your feedback.

Venice

Venice is an enchanting city ; dreamy and romantic with lots of underlying history and art thrown in.

Venice was founded in the 5th century and built on 118 islands connected by canals with over 400 bridges. These islands lie in the Venetian Lagoon in the Adriatic Sea and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The canals form the main route of transport and the biggest of them called The Grand Canal is lined by Renaissance and Gothic Palaces.

The city got its name from the original Veneti people who inhabited the islands. It was the capital of the Republic of Venice and a major financial centre. In 1979, Venice lost its sovereignty to Napoleon and in 1866, became a part of Italy.

The city today faces many challenges including excessive number of tourists, pollution, flooding during tide peaks and cruise ships sailing too close to buildings. Venice is prone to flooding especially under extreme weather conditions. The sea levels are rising and the land is sinking due to tectonic shifts and excessive digging of arterial wells.

In spite of all that, Venice remains a popular tourist destination and a major cultural centre. Venice is known as the City of Bridges, City of Canals, Floating City etc and is famous for its architecture and art work….particularly of the Renaissance Period. Every building has extraordinary architecture and contains some of the works of the greatest artists. Medieval architecture dominates the landscape here….be it the Piazza San Marco(St Mark’s Square), or the cathedrals or every small building , there are works of famous artists. It has been described as Europe’s most romantic city and also as The Most Beautiful City Built By Man.

Our Trip

One can drive to Venice but cannot drive in Venice…that’s how the saying goes…

One of the main characteristics of Venice are its canals that run through every corner of the city. One can travel in Venice only by foot or by these canals.

We actually drove from mainland Italy in our tour bus and then took a water taxi to St Mark’s Square.

The 4 km long bridge from mainland Italy

The water taxi that transports people to St Mark’s Square.

The Grand Canal :

The Grand Canal is the main water channel in Venice and used as the main route of transportation. It is almost 4 km long and starts near the bus terminus and takes a S shaped path between two of the islands in Venice. It finally opens up into the sea at the waterfront at St Mark’s Square.

The Grand Canal is lined by many magnificent buildings built between the 12th and 17th centuries. The canal passes under 4 bridges and passes markets, gardens , canal-front restaurants and other attractions. One of the jewels of the Grand Canal are its typical Gondolas which one can hire for a ride along the many attractions. The Gondoliers are dressed in traditional attire and if you are lucky you can have them singing for you too!! This whole spectacle of the canal with the Gondolas is iconic of Venice.

The Grand Canal with traditional buildings

The Gondolas on the Grand Canal

Tourists enjoying the gondola rides along the smaller canals

A typical Gondola

The Rialto Bridge:

The most famous of the bridges that cross the Grand Canal, it was originally a wooden bridge but now it is done in stone. During the time when Venice was a great maritime power, the bridge was made of two slanting wooden ramps with a mobile middle part that could be opened to allow ships to pass. This is one of the iconic images of Venice.

The Rialto Bridge across the Grand Canal

The water taxi took us along the Grand Canal and dropped us off at San Marco or St Mark’s Square. Also called Piazza San Marco, it is the hub of tourist activity in Venice

St Mark’s Square is the largest square in Venice and it’s main tourist attraction. In contrast to the winding alleys and lanes of interior Venice where you are constantly hemmed in between buildings, the square offers open space. Lined by architectural marvels like the St Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s palace, the square overlooks a beautiful waterfront. From the waterfront the dome of the San Giorgio Maggiore church and Campanile located in another island of Venice can also be seen.

Two columns; the Column of the winged lion and Column of St Theodore mark the entrance to the square from the waterfront side. These columns brought from Constantinople are considered very special by the locals as they were gifted by the Byzantine Emperor to the Venetians.

The Columns at the entrance to San Marco

There are stylish cafes , gelaterias, souvenir shops and a host of other small establishments all along the sides of the square. The cafes spread out their tables on to the square and people enjoy sitting there and enjoying their drink or meal against the backdrop of these ancient buildings.

Tables set out by the cafes

St Mark’s Square with the St Mark’s Basilica at the back, The St Mark’s Campanile Tower in front

We found a lot of pigeons in the square and many tourists were feeding them.

Pigeon feeding

At the waterfront with the San Giorgio Maggiore church dome and Campanile in another island of Venice in the background

The architectural marvels of San Marco include the St Mark’s Basilica, Doge’s Palace, Campanile tower, and the Clock Tower

St Mark’s Basilica

By far the most important structure at San Marco, this Basilica is one of the most beautiful churches in Italy. Ever since the remains of St Mark was brought here , this cathedral of the Roman Catholic diocese has become an important pilgrim centre.

After the fall of Constantinople, ship loads of art treasures were brought to the Basilica and it has become a treasure house of Byzantine art. These include beautiful mosaics, relics and four bronze horses which adorn its walls.

The queue to enter the basilica was pretty long but we did manage a quick visit there. Some pictures…

St Mark’s Basilica

The imposing domes

The ornate interiors of the dome

The beautiful mosaics that adorn the exteriors

The beautiful bronze horses with more mosaics in the background

Doge’s Palace

Till 1797, Venice was ruled by the Doges from this palace. Standing beside the Basilica, it provides an impressive look to the square with its repetitive arch design and smooth colours.

Built in 9th century AD, it had four sighting towers and defensive walls given its strategic location facing the sea access to the city. Following some fire accidents, the palace was redone in Venetian Gothic style. It was the Doge residence, the seat of government and seat of justice. From the arch windows the Doge would watch the public executions

The Doge’s Palace

The St Mark’s Campanile (Bell Tower)

The Campanile is located in front of the basilica and is 97 metres high with the golden statue of Archangel Gabriel on top. This statue has big wings and when the wind picks up, it rotates. When the angel is facing the Basilica, it will be high tide according to the Venetian’s belief.

The beacon from the Campanile was used by ancient mariner’s to guide them home. The bell tower has five bells that chime at different times of the day .

An elevator ride takes visitors to the platform at the top from which there are great views of the lagoon and the city.

St Mark’s Campanile

The Clock Tower :

The Clock tower is typical of Renaissance architecture. The clock shows the hours, phases of the moon and the signs of the zodiac. Above the clock’s face is a gilded Madonna. Above this is a lion and has a mosaic of gold stars glittering against a blue background. There are two moors on the terrace which strike the bell every hour. One can climb up this clock tower too.

The Clock Tower

The Bridge Of Sighs:

This bridge connects the old prisons in the Doge’s Palace with the new prisons across the River Palazzo. Built in white limestone, this covered bridge has two windows. The sighs of the prisoners could be heard from here and hence the name. Before getting incarcerated in the prison, many prisoners would get their last view of the city from here. So there is something sombre about this bridge.

The Bridge Of Sighs

After a nice round up of the St Mark’s Square a coffee in one of the many cafes was very welcome. Some of us took the opportunity to try out the gelatos too. With memories of a great city and feeling of having got a recap of some history lessons from school, we returned to the hotel.

Many of my regular readers may remember my blog on Las Vegas where a casino called “The Venetian” themed on this city was depicted. For those of you who may have missed it, the link is

https://travel-along.in/2021/10/03/las-vegas-3/

Our next destination was Florence….another Italian city with plenty of art, architecture and history . See you in Florence next week .Till then, keep the feedback and comments coming as usual…..

Innsbruck 2

Welcome to the World Of Crystals….that’s where we are headed to today. Swarovski is synonymous with crystals and we visit Swarovski Kristallwelten at Wattens.

The opening picture features the Giant Crystal Dome at this facility

Swarovski Kristallwelten (Crystal World) is an attraction created by Andre Heller for the famous crystal glass manufacturer Swarovski. It consists of a park, an art museum, retail area and restaurant. It is located at Wattens, a town close to Innsbruck where the company is headquartered. The company was founded in 1895 by Daniel Swarovski. In 1995, to commemorate the 100th anniversary, this attraction was created with a museum with 14 chambers of wonder in the form of a giant. Inside the giant are exhibition spaces based on various themes.

As we enter the attraction, we first enter The Garden which is a well landscaped area of 7.5 hectares with art installations surrounding the iconic Giant symbolic of the Swarovski brand. The Giant has sparking eyes and spews water on to a pool below.

The iconic Giant

One of the main attractions in the garden is The Carousel in black and white made of 15 million Swarovski crystals and illuminated with warm lighting.

The Carousel made of Crystals

Another attraction is The Crystal Cloud made of 8 lakh Swarovski crystals over The Mirror Pool.

The Crystal Cloud

As you leave the garden and enter the giant, you find yourself in a giant Crystal Dome with around 595 mirrors creating an effect of depth and giving one the feel of being inside a crystal. This is so mesmerising that it is a popular wedding venue.

The Crystal Dome

As one moves through the chambers, one encounters an amazing collection of artistic exhibits made of crystal, some of them by renowned artists.

Some pictures of exhibits at the Crystal World…

Inside the chamber complex with an exhibit

The biggest Crystal

The crystal Chandelier

The birds in crystal

The Taj Mahal

And a Christmas tree!!

The retail area was open for anyone interested in making one or more of the crystal ware their own….which entailed heavy jingling pockets of course!!!

Our next visit was to see the Tyrolean folklore show.

This programme included traditional and authentic folk music played on a variety of musical instruments. It is organised by the Gundolf family considered the ambassadors of Tyrolean culture and tradition and introduces the spectators to Austrian culture through song and dance. The traditional attire worn by the performers adds to the authentic feeling.

The performers presented a variety of dances and the beats were very catchy indeed. One dance had the dancers slap the soles of there shoes synchronously and in perfect tune . The singers enthralled us with their incredible songs and yodelling. They played traditional instruments like the alphorn and the accordion. In fact some of the farm implements were improvised and used as musical instruments.

We were also treated to dinner with the waiters wearing traditional Austrian attire adding to the feel.

The highlight of course was at the end when the singers sang the national anthems of all the spectators. And they sang the Jana Gana Mana with such clarity; left us pleasantly surprised. We joined in during this performance!

After the show we were allowed to pose for pictures with the performers.

Some pictures…

The welcome song

Some real enthusiastic and energetic dancers

A variety of musical instruments

Playing the alphorn

Improvised musical instruments

Some more of the dances

And the dinner

After the dinner, we were pleasantly surprised to find one of the performers hop on to the vehicle to drop us off at our hotel.

From Innsbruck we were headed to Italy…..and where else but to the romantic city of Venice.

As we took to the road from Austria to Italy, there were a couple of things that struck me.

Austria is a country with multiple tunnels. Unlike in India where we have winding roads with hairpin bends, in hilly areas; in Austria the road cuts through the mountains. So the ride to Italy saw us passing through multiple tunnels of varying lengths.

A typical Austrian mountain road

The road side had plenty of vineyards and orchards making the ride quite scenic.

Apple orchards along the highway

Vineyards

As we were enjoying the views, our guide pointed out a bridge called Europabruck also known as the Bridge of Europe. This bridge spans the Sill River and forms one of the main routes from Austria to Italy. It was Europe’s highest bridge till it was overtaken by the Italian Viaduct.

Europabruck

After a highway ride of about 5 hours we reached Venice by noon. See you next week at Venice with great sights, history and art.

Till then , keep your comments and feedback coming…

Innsbruck 1

Starting early morning from Engelberg, saying goodbye to majestic Swiss country, we were headed to Innsbruck in Austria.

Enroute Innsbruck, we visited Vaduz, the capital of a tiny country called Liechtenstein. So let me just give you a short round up of Liechtenstein and Vaduz. With 160 square kms of total area, Liechtenstein is the fourth smallest country in Europe. It was once part of the Roman Empire.

After World War II, Liechtenstein was in dire financial straits . In the 20th century, its low corporate tax rates attracted many companies and soon grew to be one of the richest countries in Europe and is a billionaire tax haven. Liechtenstein today enjoys one of the highest standards of living in the world! Vaduz, its capital is today a major centre of commerce and international banking.

Of some relevance to us Indians is that Liechtenstein celebrates its national day on Aug 15th!

Being an Alpine country, it is a popular winter sports destination. Most parts of the country are mountainous with landscapes very similar to Swiss country.

Let me take you through Vaduz with some pictures and short descriptions…

As we reached Liechtenstein….note the similarity to Swiss countryside

Vaduz has an interesting blend of old and new architecture.

Schloss Vaduz (Castle)

This 700 year old castle, lies at an elevation from the main town, almost overlooking it and is the residence of the Prince of Liechtenstein.

Schloss Vaduz

Liechtenstein Centre

This centre provides visitors comprehensive information about Liechtenstein and is very useful to tourists. It is located at the centre of Liechtenstein with all measurements being taken with reference to the zero km stone here.

The Liechtenstein Centre

Stadtle Street

The main street in Vaduz lined by gift shops, cafes, beer parlours, boutiques is Stadtle Street. On this street you also find many statues and sculptures.

Some views from Stadtle Street

Liechtenstein has a host of museums dedicated to various fields. The most popular is the Postal Museum.

Postal Museum

This museum displays a collection of stamps issued by the Principality. It also provides an insight into the postal services of yester years. One can purchase stamps at the nearby post office . These are considered treasures by philatelists.

Liechtenstein has an impressive connection with philately. Walk on the streets and you will find this peculiar sight of Stamps on the pavement.

The entrance to the Postal Museum and Street floors with stamp motifs

Liechtenstein National Museum

It houses more than 3000 exhibits highlighting the country’s history, culture and traditions.

The National Museum

The Parliament Building

Situated in the main square is the Parliament Building which houses the parliament, state archives and government offices.

The Parliament Building

After a short and crisp round up of Vaduz we headed to the Indian Restaurant here for lunch

Our group outside the Indian Restaurant at Vaduz.

After lunch, we travelled further on to Austria and reached Innsbruck.

Austria is an equally beautiful country like Switzerland….what with its Alpine ranges and green vineyards and orchards!

Some pictures

The beautiful Austrian landscape as we drove up

Innsbruck

Innsbruck lies in the Tyrol region of Austria. It is located on the River Inn , the word Innsbruck means “bridge over the river Inn” .

River Inn at Innsbruck

Tucked away in the dramatic landscapes of the Alps, it is a renowned winter sports destination and has hosted several winter games like the Winter Olympics, Paralympics and Youth Olympics. It is also known for its imperial and modern architecture.

View of Innsbruck from our hotel

Olympia World

Innsbruck hosted the 1964 and 1976 Winter Olympics and the sports complexes used for that are still in use today.

Some pictures…

Olympic Stadium Innsbruck ( the famous Ski jump can be seen in the background)

Another stadium which is now used to host various events apart from sports

Bergisel Ski Jump

The famous Ski jump used for the Winter Olympics and now being used for training and other competitions.

The Bergisel Ski Jump

Aldstadt Von Innsbruck (Old Town)

Aldstadt or Old Town is the historic core of Innsbruck. More than 500 years old, this small neighbourhood has brightly painted medieval houses on cobblestone streets and sidewalk cafes .

Street performers are a common sight here.

Views from the Old Town with some street performers too!

The Town Tower (Stradtturm)….another landmark in Old Town

The main thoroughfare of Old Town opens into a central plaza lined by arcades. The Golden Dahl is located here.

The Golden Dahl

This is by far the most famous landmark in the old town. This gold covered balcony was completed in 1500 to commemorate the marriage of Emperor Maximilian I and Bianca Maria Sforza. The royal newly weds would watch festivals and other activities in the square below from this balcony. The roof of this balcony glistens in sunlight. It is not made of gold but has fire-gilded copper tiles which cause the shine. The story ended rather sadly when Bianca could not bear a heir!

The square and Golden Dahl

The Golden Dahl

Helbling House( Wedding Cake Building)

Situated across the Golden Dahl is a peculiar building which has external decorations resembling the icing on a wedding cake. It was originally built as town house but later the icing like decorations were added . The building is uniquely designed so that it captures light.

The Wedding Cake building

Cathedral St James (Innsbruck Cathedral)

Just a minute’s walk from the square is this impressive Baroque cathedral. It was built between 1717 and 1724 dedicated to St James.

With its two bell towers and impressive dome, it it stands dominant in the old town skyline.

The Innsbruck Cathedral

The interior of the cathedral has beautiful frescoes decorating the walls and ceiling.

The main altar

The beautiful frescos on the ceiling and the walls.

After the city tour of Innsbruck, we headed to the Tyrolean folklore show. The beat of the unique wooden instruments used in the show enthralled us. See you next week with more on the folklore show. Till then, keep your comments flowing in and also your feedback. Do subscribe!

Jungfrau

After that exhilarating trip to Mt Titlis, we were headed to Jungfrau.

Our first halt was at Interlaken.

As a vacation destination , Interlaken is an ideal starting point for many Alpine excursions. It lies in a plain between the Lake Brienz and Lake Thun ( hence Interlaken)with the River Aare alongside and surrounded by three mountain ranges…the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau.

In winter, skiers throng the place as it provides easy access to many alpine ski slopes like Jungfrau, Beatenberg or Axalp-Brienz. Mountain railways, ski lifts and cable cars take these ski enthusiasts to their chosen destination from Interlaken.

In summer, the trains to Jungfrau region depart Interlaken . Just around 10 km from Interlaken is the famous paragliding slopes of Beatenberg-Niedrehorn.

Interlaken and its surrounding areas have excellent conference centres making it an international conference venue of repute.

No wonder then , that Interlaken finds itself in every tourist’s itinerary.

Interlaken itself has lots to offer the tourists. Untouched natural surroundings, snow covered peaks and crystal clear lakes make it a tourist’s dream destination .The beautiful turquoise water of Lake Brienz is very attractive indeed!

Some pictures from Interlaken for you to enjoy :

As we reached Interlaken

The 3 Alpine ski slopes seen from Interlaken (Eiger, Monch Jungfrau)

Interlaken (don’t miss the paraglider in the shot)

Lake Brienznote the turquoise coloured waters

A typical Swiss Chalet

A paraglider lands at Interlaken

A closer view of the snow covered Alps as we left Interlaken for Jungfrau

Jungfrau

Jungfrau ( meaning virgin) is one of the main summits in the Swiss Alps and together with Eiger and Monch forms a wall of mountains overlooking the Swiss plateau.

Though various expeditions reached the summit in the 19th century, the construction of the Jungfrau Railway in the 20th century has made it more accessible and one of the most visited sites of the Alps. This rail journey takes one to Jungfraujoch (highest train station in Europe) which is referred to as “Top Of Europe”. The 2 hour journey takes one to a height of 3454 m above sea level. We boarded the train from Lauterbrunnen

At Lauterbrunnen station

The train to Jungfrau

The views from the train were simply beautiful ! Large tower like snow covered peaks against the brilliant blue sky ;amazingly beautiful meadows with wild alpine flowers and cattle grazing around.

Snow covered peaks from the train

Alpine wildflowers near the tracks

Cattle grazing near the tracks

As the ascent of the train continued, the snow covered peaks seemed to come closer and the greenery outside was gradually replaced by a sheet of white!

Views as we reached closer to the summit

Just before we reached the Jungfraujoch station, there was a 7 km tunnel and the train halted at Eismeer station within the tunnel. We alighted here and enjoyed the amazing views of the glacier through windows in the tunnel. Got some great pictures too!!

View from the tunnel window

The Jungfraujoch station was located within a building complex which housed various restaurants and other amenities.

We headed to the Sphinx Terrace (a viewing platform) via an elevator. There we had panoramic views of the Swiss Alps and Aletsch glacier. There is an astronomical observatory located here called the Sphinx Observatory. Adjacent to the observatory is an open viewing deck.

J

The Sphinx Observatory

At the viewing platform

A lone avian visitor

Panoramic view of the Alps from the viewing platform

The Aletsch glacier

We walked on to the Plateau which is an open area where you can walk closer to the glacier.

At the Glacier Plateau

Tourists enjoying the snow at Glacier Plateau

The Ice Palace – another attraction

This unique tunnel carved out of ice and lined with ice sculptures is another attraction here. We walked around the tunnel enjoying the sculptures .Walking on the ice floor can be very slippery and we had to be very careful specially with numb fingers holding on to the railings!

Ice Palace

Ice Sculptures

After enjoying the views and snow we headed to the building complex where there is a Lindt Swiss Chocolate shop . Chocolate making demos were on and everyone got busy with tasting and buying Swiss chocolates.

The Lindt Swiss Chocolate shop

After a very exciting and engaging tour of Jungfrau, we headed back to the station on time to board the train back to Lauterbrunnen and then to Engelberg.

This marked the end of the Swiss visit and we were headed to Austria the next day. See you next week in Austria.

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Mt. Titlis

Mt Titlis needs no introduction .Located in the Swiss Alps at 3239 mt above sea level , it is one of the most popular destinations in Switzerland. Switzerland is a traveller’s dream destination and as such, the entire group was looking forward to this.

We were driven down from Lucerne by bus to the Alpine village of Engelberg. This quaint village surrounded by snow capped mountains is like some of the picture postcards we see of Switzerland. Founded in 1120 by a monk who called it “mountain of Angels”; Engelberg is a great base to explore the Swiss Alps.

Some pictures of Engelberg…

Engelberg…(note the typical swiss wooden homes called chalets )

Engerlberg from the hotel balcony…Titlis lies on the snow covered slope behind

Engelberg at night

We were put up at the Hotel Terrace which was on a small hill and afforded great views of Engelberg town and Mount Titlis. Another unique feature of this hotel was the entrance which was at the foot of the hillock and guests pass through a small underground tunnel before entering the lift which takes you to the topof the hillock.

The Hotel Terrace on the top of the hill…..the orange block is the entrance to the tunnel!

After an enjoyable evening at the hotel premises, we rested for the night and woke up to this beautiful view of Titlis at dawn….

Titlis at dawn….

The big day had arrived and we were all mighty excited….

We had a real surprise here when we found hot idli sambar on the breakfast menu!!This may seem a rather trivial thing but for many people on the tour group who were from south India, it was a welcome change to have their traditional breakfast after more than a week of continental breakfast!! The idlis were welcomed with some loud oohs and aahs!!

After a sumptuous breakfast, we headed to Mt Titlis.

From Engelberg town we boarded the first stage cable car to Mt Titlis. This cable car could take 8 passengers and moved pretty fast. The ride was smooth and afforded some beautiful views of the valley and Engelberg . Being summer, this level did not have much snow and was green. We passed a cable car station where we did not get down as advised by our guide. The ascent continued and the views got better; although we had some low lying clouds. We were asked to alight at the next station called The Stand.

Level 1 Cable Car.

View of Engelberg from the cable car as we ascended

Another beautiful view of the lake and clouds from the cable car

We alighted from this cable car at the station called The Stand and looked around as more members from the group arrived in their cable cars. As we waited here we could see the Rotair gondolas coming down with tourists from Titlis. We patiently waited for our turn to get on to the Rotair.

Waiting at The Stand for the Titlis Rotair

From The Stand station, we boarded the Titlis Rotair or rotating cable car . This cable car took almost 80 people in and moved slowly upwards towards Titlis. The slow rotational movement of the gondola gave us 360 degrees views . I don’t have to tell you…the views were incredible!! Engelberg town and the lake below and the challenging mountain peaks ahead of us. It is important to get as close to sides of this gondola to get the best views. The Rotair finally stopped at the Titlis station in a building that had shops and restaurants.

The Titlis Rotair

View at higher level from the Rotair

Finally we reached the top of Mt Titlis…

We alighted there and were advised to proceed for lunch to the restaurant. The tour company had arranged Indian lunch at the restaurant. So we all proceeded to have lunch. The restaurant aptly named Panorama provides panoramic views of the Alps .We sat cosily by the window enjoying the mountain views and the food.

The complex which houses the restaurant, shops and other amenities.

The inside of the restaurant where one can enjoy food looking out at the Alps

After lunch we stepped out of the enclosure and the scenery around with multiple snow covered peaks was mesmerising! With a few ecstatic shouts from our fellow tour members, we walked around enjoying the scenery. We were above the clouds and it gave us a feeling of being “On Top of the World”…..Carpenter’s style!

Walking around required lot of effort as the feet tend to slip on the ice. Making ice balls was another fun activity. But the fingers got numb after some time. Some of the kids in the group were sliding on the ice and nearly toppled an elderly lady. But it was real fun…

Some pictures….

View of Titlis from the landing platform

At the sheltered area of the platform

Mt Titlis

View of the lake from Titlis….note the ascending Rotair in the foreground

Playing with the snow

The Telecommunication tower on Mt Titlis

We also visited the Glacier Cave which is 150 mts long ice tunnel and is probably 5000 years old where the ice never melts. It was slippery and felt like walking on a skating rink without skates. The cave is lit with a bluish light ( due to refraction)and has supportive railings to hold and walk.

The walk in the cave was fun….but the numbness of the limbs due to cold was an issue! Tiny sparkling ice crystals added to the charm of the cave.

The Glacier cave

Cliff Walk:

Europe’s highest suspension bridge provides the thrill of walking on a partially wobbling bridge and looking down to no where…..can be daunting for the weak hearted!! We took a short walk on this bridge but unfortunately it started snowing and we had to huddle into the enclosure for protection.

The Cliff Walk

Snowing at Titlis

With a lot of reluctance we all came back into the enclosure .

We walked around inside the enclosure and explored the Chocolate shop and the souvenir shop. We did not realise the time pass by and were soon called by the guide to the Rotair platform to catch the Rotair down.

Descending from Titlis also offered great views and we returned to our hotel with great memories of this awesome destination.

Next day we had planned a trip to Interlaken and Jungfrau . So see you next week at Jungfrau….again on ice!!

Till then, keep your comments coming, subscribe and give me a feedback….

Lucerne

Lucerne is considered the most beautiful city in Switzerland and one of the most visited places in Europe.

Towards the end of the last episode, we were at the Rhine Falls in Switzerland after crossing over from Germany. Our next destination in Swiss country was Zurich from where we would go to Lucerne after an overnight halt.

Driving through Switzerland is a wonderful experience with vast areas of green farmland with some grazing cattle and bundles of hay against the backdrop of the snow covered Alps. The Swiss chalets or wooden houses add to the beauty of the place. Now and then, you pass small streams and rivers with pristine clear water and of course some amazing lakes with water in different hues of blue and green.

Let us enjoy some pictures of Swiss countryside….

A typical swiss countryside scene with grazing cattle

A typical Swiss farmhouse

A Swiss Chalet or wooden house

A small stream flows by

And a beautiful lake

We were headed to Zurich.

Zurich is Switzerland’s largest city, located on the banks of Lake Zurich, about 60 km from the foothills of the Alps. It is a financial hub in Switzerland and has many financial institutions and banks located here. It is also a major contemporary art and shopping destination.

The city centre and most of the city’s architectural features extend along the shores of River Limmat which runs through the city centre.

After a short drive through Zurich, we had an overnight halt at a hotel there and proceeded to Lucerne

Some pictures from Zurich…

Lake Zurich

Swans at Lake Zurich

The Limmat river in Zurich

A typical street in Zurich

Lucerne:

Lucerne is a predominantly German speaking city in central Switzerland, located on the shores of Lake Lucerne and River Reuss. Its closeness to Mt Pilatus in the Swiss Alps, well preserved medieval core and elegant historic buildings makes it a tourist’s delight.

The Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrucke in German) is iconic of Lucern.

Chapel Bridge :

It is a 204 mt long covered wooden bridge running diagonally across the river Reuss. Originally built in 1333; it is the oldest covered bridge in Europe! Most of the bridge was destroyed in 1993 but it has been rebuilt. The bridge runs close to the Water Tower, a fortification from the 13th century. The bridge and tower are one of the most photographed scenes in Switzerland.

The inside of the Bridge has 17th century paintings depicting the history of Lucerne. The bridge has beautiful flower beds all along its sides and makes it a beautiful sight to behold!

The beautiful flower beds at Chapel Bridge

The bridge and Water Tower

The Bridge, the Water Tower and a palace on the hill!!!

Lake Lucerne

The town of Lucerne sits on the banks of this beautiful lake which has an irregular shape with snow clad mountains forming the backdrop. Just close your eyes and imagine the scenery I just described. I bet you got transported to Lucerne virtually!!!

Well…enjoy some pictures

The beautiful Lake Lucerne

One can enjoy a cruise on the Lake on one of the early 20th century steamers here.

Lake Lucerne Cruise

After the lake and the bridge, we took a walk along the town . Some pictures….

Lucerne

Outside one of the shops at Lucerne

And we ladies posed for a picture….

We then visited the Lion Monument.

Lion Monument

This monument is in honour of Swiss soldiers who died in the French Revolution. Built inside an abandoned stone quarry, it features a dying lion.

At The Lion Monument

Old Town

The old town on the right bank of the Reuss, still preserves many old houses and the timber framed buildings bordering the stone streets give it a fairy tale appearance. Not to mention the flower beds hanging beside the windows!

Old World Charm!

With a bag load of memories of this quaint city, we headed to Engelberg for the much awaited visit to Mt. Titlis. See you next week on the Alps…

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