Thursday, March 31, 2011

Comic Relief Sketch

Mom, here's the video I was telling you about:
Comic Relief Sketch
--Peter Kay is amazingly versatile--his show Phoenix Nights has him playing multiple roles, and it's brilliant. Very Northern, too--he's from Bolton, near Manchester.
--The man in the picture at the end is Trevor McDonald, an anchorman from ITV's News at Ten
--I love how Susan's hair gets bigger throughout--it's making fun of this video with Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson (When Susan was on Britain's Got Talent that first time, Elaine Paige was the person who Susan said she wanted to be like)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Elvaston Castle and Park

Cherry blossoms in Ticknall's Village Hall garden
The Old English Garden at Elvaston Castle County Park--I think those might be rhubarb...
Gardens are much less impressive in March...

The Formal Gardens closer to the Castle and the church

I love this one!
The Castle isn't open to the public, due to a lack of funding in the past few years. It's run down, and now the Council want to defund the park entirely, selling off some of the land to private developers. They didn't charge any entry fee to the grounds, though, and it only cost 1 pound to park our car. If they want more funding, just charge 2 pounds to park--your profits would double, and I'm sure people would be willing to pay it.

The Formal Garden
Gravestones in the churchyard
Richard & me in the courtyard

Richard and me in front of the castle

The road to the castle

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Venezia: Day 3 and departure

On the way to the Accademia

Richard & me on the bridge to the Accademia
View of the Grand Canal

Me on the vaporetto on the Grand Canal

San Michele, the island cemetery--Ezra Pound and Stravinsky are buried here!
Richard at dinner, with pizza diavola (spicy sausage) and chianti
Me at dinner with pescatore (seafood pasta) and pinot grigio
San Marco at night

Gondole at night
On our last night in Venice, we took a late night vaporetto ride down the Grand Canal after dinner
The Rialto bridge at night
The Grand Canal at night
Parting shots of Venice--the markets along the canal

First thing in the morning, we went to the Gallerie dell'Accademia. It's currently being renovated, so it was only partially open, but the big ticket 'must-see' pieces were still on display. We saw Veronese's The Feast in the House of Levi, the largest oil painting on canvas in the world (18 by 42 feet!). There were also a few paintings of Venice by Bellini and Carpaccio that were really great to see--it sort of brings the city's history to life. One of them, for instance, had women seeing their men off at the docks.

After the museum, we went ahead and got a 24-hour pass for the vaporetto. It's pricey, but we decided that we would need to take the vaporetto the next morning anyway to get to the bus station, and we might as well just have a boat day (we wanted to see San Michele, the graveyard island, and you can only get there by vaporetto). Besides, it's 18 euro for a 24-hour ticket, and you have unlimited rides for the time period you buy--very clever system.

First we went up the Grand Canal, because we hadn't really done that yet and it's supposed to be the way to see Venice. And because we needed to transfer to another vaporetto to get to Murano, the island where they do art glass. To be honest, the glass pieces were mostly gaudy--very bright, bold colors and designs, and all the shops in Venice and in Murano all had mostly the same stuff. None of it was delicate or ornate like Fenton glass. It was all very modern looking, which isn't really my thing. There were a few nice things, though, and I have to be careful what I say about it, because we did get a couple of souvenirs! On the way there, I got splashed when I sat at the back of the vaporetto, so the rest of the afternoon I felt a bit damp and sea-salty...A very nice Italian woman offered me a kleenex to dry my face & hair off a bit. She smiled and said "Welcome to Venice!" (Everybody else just stared...)

We were there at lunch time, and we looked the menu outside at a restaurant in the touristy bit of the island--they were charging 15 euros/person for their lunchtime menu turistico. Yikes! The hostess came out immediately and asked us (in English, of course) if we were having lunch. She had a look on her face that said 'come inside or go away, make your mind up right now.' You seriously cannot even look at a menu (that was posted outside) without getting jumped on. We said no, grazie, and kept walking. Luckily, we found a supermarket that was tucked away in a very cheesy little shopping centre, upstairs and behind all the little art glass studios. It was full of locals--definitely the one place in Murano where we wouldn't get spoken to in English. We got fresh bread and pastries from the bakery, meat and cheese, fruit, chocolate, bottled water--and I think in total we spent less than 1/2 of what we would've spent at the restaurant with the snotty hostess.

After lunch in Murano, we took the vaporetto to San Michele, where Venetians are buried (there aren't any cemeteries in the city itself). It was very big & beautiful--the graves are very well maintained, and they use a lot of artificial flowers. We weren't allowed to take pictures, but most of the graves had flowers on them, and most of the headstones had photos of the deceased (I've always found that a bit creepy). There are a few famous people buried there--Ezra Pound was the only one I was really interested in seeing, and his stone is a bit of a disappointment. It's small, only says his name, and it's under a bush. Stravinsky is buried there, too, but we didn't bother checking him out...Sorry, Igor, but we're not that into classical music.
(As I said, no photos allowed, so I took this one off google images)

After San Michele, we went back to Venice for a siesta (I took a shower and washed off the sea salt!). We did a little souvenir shopping before dinner. By this point, we were used to the Venetian shopkeepers' style and knew how to act. Basically, don't even enter a shop unless you intend to buy something, and you know exactly what it is that you want to buy. Do a lot of window shopping. Even that can be difficult sometimes--in the little jewelry boutiques around Piazza San Marco, the shopkeepers will stand behind the door and watch you window shopping. It's really disconcerting! My guess is that they have a lot of problems with tourists and this is how they keep them under control...but jeez, it's not fun to shop in Venice.

We had dinner at Aciugheta, that lovely place where we'd had wine the night before. The food was excellent. I did that guidebook recommendation of ordering the specials, and I ordered the linguine with seafood. It was delicious--seriously one of the best meals I've ever had (apart from Cracker Barrel). The sauce was very light--just olive oil and some tomatoes, and there were small strips of steamed zucchini mixed in with the steamed seafood. All the flavours just blended together so nicely--eating new things in a foreign country always gives me inspiration for cooking! I had the panna cotta al limoncello for dessert, and it was amazing, too. I'd never tried panna cotta before, but it's like a pudding--and this one was spiked with lemon liqueur and had mixed berries & berry sauce drizzled on top. Richard had pizza diavola, the spicy sausage one, and coffee-flavoured semifreddo for dessert--it's like a slightly softer ice cream.

We'd thought about having more wine in the bar area after dinner, but we were so tired & full, we decided to take a walk instead. We took some more pictures around San Marco, then had a little vaporetto ride (making full use of that 24hr pass!) up the Grand Canal to Rialto Bridge. We got off there and had some vin chaud (hot wine, they use the French name for it) and walked around a bit before heading back to the hotel. It was a lovely thing to do in the evening.

The next morning we headed back up the Grand Canal to our bus and went to the airport. Leeds was fogged out, so we got diverted to Liverpool (which I had no problem with--I love Liverpool!). We had lunch at the airport (which was surprisingly good), and then Ryanair's chartered buses came to take us back to Leeds. The buses were lovely--we had 4 leather seats around a table all to ourselves, so we put our feet up and relaxed.

All in all, it was a great trip--the good things, like delicious food & beautiful architecture, make up for the bad things, like rude people & getting splashed. I think next time, we'll go to Rome or Florence ;)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Venezia: Day 2

No photos were allowed inside this room of the Palazzo Ducale, so I googled it and found these--Tintoretto's Paradiso, which is in the High Council chamber (Sala del Maggior Consiglio).

The Palazzo Ducale

Piazza San Marco in the morning, before the tourists arrived

I look good in this one....
Richard looks good in this one...
And this one's ok, but you can't see San Marco!
Richard & me in Piazza San Marco--it's so empty in the morning!

The inner courtyard of the Palazzo Ducale
I love all the gold!
A carving in the marble on the prison windowsill
A prison cell in the Palazzo Ducale
In the courtyard of the Palazzo Ducale

The statues are Mars and Neptune, with the Venetian winged lion at the top--it's supposed to symbolize Venice's control over land and sea.

Richard & me at the top of the Campanile (bell tower)
View from the top of the Campanile--that's the Basilica and the Palazzo Ducale

St. Mark's from above

We took lots of shots from the top of the Campanile--it was freezing & windy, so we needed to make the most of it

Rialto Bridge
View from the Rialto Bridge

Looking down the centre of the Rialto bridge towards the markets
Rialto Markets

More of the markets

Mercati antiche--the antique markets
Richard & me along the Grand Canal

Grand Canal from the Rialto Bridge
Richard & me on the Rialto Bridge

Richard got this terrible pop,"Chino"--it seemed like an energy drink, really sweet and gross...

Where the locals live--note the clotheslines!
The Arsenale

Campanile bells ringing

We got an early start on Sunday morning and after the lovely free breakfast, we took some photos in Piazza San Marco. We toured the Palazzo Ducale before the tourists arrived (it opens at 8:30am, and there were hardly any other people there). It's an amazing place--the building mostly dates back to the 14th century, and it housed the political institutions for the Republic of Venice, including the senate chambers, courts and prisons. Tintoretto's Paradiso is in the largest of the chambers--it's just breathtaking. Every wall in the chamber is covered with a huge oil painting, but this is the biggest one. The tour continues down into the prisons on the opposite side of the canal--they're dark and dank and smell slightly of seaweed. Not pleasant, and it's such a contrast from the grandeur of the chambers!

After the Palazzo Ducale, we had an espresso and then went up the Campanile (bell tower). I was expecting a long climb up the 99m/300ft tower, like in Florence's Duomo--but no, they have an elevator! Fantastico! When we first got up to the top, the bells were ringing, so I took the little video above. The view from the top of the tower was amazing, especially looking over the Basilica and the Palazzo Ducale.

We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering towards the Rialto (the bridge and the markets around it). On the way over, we found a Co-op supermarket so we picked up lunch at the deli there--pizza, calzone, focaccia and fruit. The Rialto was really crowded with tourists & vendors. It's hard to get good pictures of the bridge when it's completely covered by people (who are also trying to take pictures). The market stalls all sold the same crap at different prices--t-shirts, snowglobes, little plastic gondole, Carneval masks, etc. It was a bit overwhelming (but so is Leeds City Market/Pike Place Market). We followed signs towards the Mercato Antiche, the antique market, and it was much less crowded. The antiques in an old country like Italy are so much older and more interesting than antiques in America. There were lots of housewares, furniture, and jewelry, and even some lovely vintage clothes (coats & dresses that looked like they were from the 30's or 40's). Nothing from the 70's/80's like you see at antique shops in America sometimes ;)

After the market, we went to check out the Arsenale. It wasn't in the guidebook, it's just something Richard found on-line--a very cool historical site, the heart of Venetian shipbuilding since the 12th century. Galileo even worked as a consultant to shipbuilders there! Unfortunately, we found out why it's not in the guidebook--it's still being used as a naval base, so it's not open to visitors. On the plus side, there were no tourists around and we got to see some signs of true local life (clotheslines! We were starting to think that nobody actually lived in Venice...)

We had a siesta back at the hotel (we really enjoyed Italian TV--news was fairly easy to understand, and the infomercials were hilarious! We watched a hair restoration product ad for ages, haha!) For dinner, we decided to try the recommendation that our hotel concierge had given us. It was fairly close to the hotel, and the prices were decent. Even though it was touristy (multi-lingual menus are always a bad sign), the food was good and the staff were very nice. We had a very nice white wine (Soave), I had spaghetti with clams, and Richard had lasagna and for dessert I had tiramisu and Richard had a really interesting & tasty ricotta cheesecake. Besides, since they didn't rush us out of there, or make us stand at a bar, they were already better than the other places we'd tried.

After dinner we went to Aciugheta, a restaurant and wine bar near our hotel for more wine. It was so subtle about being touristy...I spoke Italian with the bar staff, but I did overhear them speaking English with other customers later. We had dinner there the next night, and the menu was printed in Italian, English, French, German and Japanese, but again, it was very subtle. A lot of the "menu turistico"s that you see in touristy restaurants just have big brash flags in color printed on separate menus for each language, and the waiter hands you the menu of the language they think you might speak (so presumptuous! What if you're multi-lingual?). This menu was more like a binder, with 2 pages in Italian, 2 pages in English, etc. Very classy-- nice touch! The wine was a 3 euro/glass red Zinfandel, and it was seriously the loveliest, softest, fruitiest wine I've ever had. I can't believe how cheap & good the wine is in Italy...It was a lovely finish to a much better day in Venice :)