Strahov Monastery, Prague

Day 37, Tuesday, October 1, 2019

On the way to the Strahov Monastery we pass this memorial to the victims fo Communism.  It is dedicated to those who were executed and those whose lives were ruined by totalitarian despotism.  This sculpture makes us smile.  It appears to have a dog drinking dish at its bottom. Peering into a church courtyard we see this crucifix right beside a gift shop.  It seems strange to have an upscale gift shop in a church courtyard. Bob leads us down several little side streets to the John Lennon Wall.  Since the 1980s it has been filled with John Lennon-inspired graffiti, pieces of lyrics from Beatles’ songs, and other designs relating to local and global causes.We stop for a picnic lunch in this little park beside St. Charles Bridge… and sit on a dragon bench.
The streets in Prague are busy no matter where we go.  We wonder what they must be like during the summer months? It showers on and off as we arrive at the monastery.  Note the cobbled road.  All these uneven cobbled surfaces are quite hard on our feet and ankles. The Strahov Monastery was founded in 1143 and has many buildings and extensive gardens. First stop is the Strahov Library and I am delighted to find that there is an exhibit of Cabinets of Curiosities!  I love these cabinets and have several drawers at home with my own curiosities.  Perhaps I need to make my own Cabinet of Curiosities? Some of the contents are rather strange. We are told that this ‘might’ be a young dodo bird! These books are very unusual. This is a 68 volume Dendrological Library.  Dendrology is the science and study of wooded plants.  The covers of each volume are made of the wood of a particular tree, the spine has its name in Latin and German, and inside each volume are pieces of the roots, branches and twigs, as well as leaves, blossoms, fruit, and sometimes even insect pests.  As a paper artist and bookmaker, I find these unusual volumes fascinating and inspiring. Along the hallway between two magnificent libraries are display cases with very old volumes.  This 1632 woodcut first appeared in a compilation of English Alchemical texts.  This piece was printed by hand on Japanese hand made paper and the pass-partout, or mat, is covered in handmade marbled paper.   The John of Šellmberk’s Bible preserves the oldest translation of the Bible into the Czech language and dates from the 1400’s.  Notice how thick the volume is! This exquisite miniature book from the 15th century is only about 3″ x 4″ and would have belonged to a private citizen. A page from the Missale of Louka, 1483, illuminations from the Strahov Evangeliary, 860-865 AD and on the bottom right, a book for private use from the 15th century. The Theological Hall was built in the 1600’s and holds over 20,000 volumes. One whole wall is filled with various editions of the Bible, or its parts, in various languages. The ceiling depicts the life of the librarian.The Gothic wooden statue of St. John the Evangelist is holding a girdle book. Because the girdle book was a travel volume very few have survived.
There are several globes, both terrestrial and astronomical, in the centre of the room and the interesting device on the left is a book wheel from 1678 for the study and compilation of books.  The gear inside enabled the shelves to remain at the same angle when they are turned so that the books would not slide off the shelves. As magnificent as the Theological Hall is I think that the Philosophical Hall is even more impressive. This library, finished in 1794, is 32 metres long, 10 metres wide and 14 metres in height.  The ceiling painting, ‘The Spiritual Development of Mankind’, was created by a Viennese artist, and one assistant in just six months! The shelves of books in the gallery are only accessible from hidden spiral staircases in both corners, masked by false book spines.
The books are shelved two deep. At one time tourists were allowed to walk through the library but this caused too much humidity and put the paintings and volumes at risk.  Now we have to contend ourselves with peering in from the doorway.  Too bad but it is still wonderful to see these incredible libraries.The Philosophical Hall contains more than 50,000 volumes on Philosophy, all the sciences, history, law, and natural sciences. Next we visit the Convent Building which has galleries on two floors around this cloister with its unusual trapezoid pool.There is an exhibit of large restored paintings depicting the life of St. Norbert but they were difficult to see.  My neck got sore from looking up all the time. The ‘procession’ at the end of the room holds a reliquary with what appears to be part of St. Norbert’s skull. Another room has exhibits of beautifully embroidered church vestments and other liturgical objects including heavily jewelled monstrances. It does make me wonder just how much money the Catholic Church has? The second floor has a gallery around three sides of the cloister.   There were a few paintings I liked but most of them didn’t really impress either of us all that much. Bob notices another ornate old lock. As we leave the monastery grounds on our way to the Prague Funicular, we pass the 63.5 metre high Petrin Tower, which is reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower.  This tower was built in 1891, and is used as an observation tower as well as a transmission tower. The 383 metre long funicular takes us back down to Prague city streets. I didn’t get much of a view because some young people kindly jumped up to give me a seat, so instead of standing where I could see I sat all the way down!  The hazards of having grey hair! It has been a full day and we are happy to be home.  I had planned on going to life drawing again tonight, but we need to clean and pack for our trip to Vienna tomorrow so I decide not to go.

Last Day in Milano

Day 55, Sunday October 29, 2017

After packing the car we take the metro into town to see about lining up at 2:00 this afternoon for last minute tickets to The Last Supper. We have been unable to get tickets anywhere. We find out that these tickets, if we were lucky enough to get them, would be for after 7:00 pm tonight which doesn’t work for us. We have a three hour drive to La Spezia, which is our next destination. Too bad but “oh well.” We should have booked three months ago! I guess we will just have to try to get back to Milano some time.

This is the church where the Last Supper is located. I somehow thought it would be a bigger Church. I couldn’t seem to find a spot where there were no power lines to take the photo.Walking towards the Bibliotheca Ambrosiana I spot this little balcony with an orange tree full of fruit. I’ve never seen that before.We pass a little church and I decide to peek in. We are really glad, because it is absolutely amazing. The Chiesa di San Maurizio was built in 1503. This room is used as a public church and we when we went through a little odd shaped door in the back left corner of this church…we find another church that was used as a cloistered church. I think it was called the Nun’s Hall. There are over 4,000 square metres of pictorial decoration in this church. If you look carefully you will see a painting of the Last Supper on the back wall. We had a little laugh about that. At least we get to see a painting of The Last Supper even if it is not Leonardo Da Vinci’s!Here is a close up of the beautiful painting in the arched area of the above photo. It was stunning!The shops are closed today but we can still window shop a bit. I have enjoyed experimenting with a few different fountain pens this trip, but I certainly can’t afford any of these.We arrive at the Bibliotheca Ambrosia only to see a sign saying we need to go to a different address to buy our tickets. I peek into the door and find someone who explains that the tickets are available at the front of this building, and that this is the exit. Of course there are no signs explaining this to us, or anyone else. This is actually a very nice art  gallery, and not really a library at all. There are 26 rooms of beautiful paintings, sculptures and other objects including an exhibit of Ambrosian Liturgical Codices which is very interesting. The oldest one in the top left corner below is from the 9th century and is usually not on public display.I quite liked this little group of sculptures from the 17th century. They’re about a foot tall.We get to see yet another Last Supper, and …finally we find a room that looks like a library. It contains the exhibit of Leonardo da Vinci’s sketchbook pages that we had come to see.There are 16 pages on exhibit. I am surprised at how small they are. I have a book of Leonardo’s drawings at home and I always thought that the pages of his sketchbook were much larger.  His writing is a special kind of shorthand that he invented himself. Da Vinci also mirrored his writing, starting at the right side of the page and moving to the left, so if you want to read it you must hold the page up to a mirror to reverse it.All too soon it is time to leave. We walk past the Duomo one more time, just as all the pigeons decide to take flight. What a commotion! There were kids laughing and kids crying and adults ducking to get out of the pigeon’s way. It reminded me of the movie ‘The Birds.’I wanted to see the gargoyles on the Duomo. There is so much to look at on this building that I didn’t even notice them yesterday. There are lots of them high on the side of the church.On our drive to La Spezia we pass some interesting buildings, including several of these oddly angled high rises with very strange windows.It was getting dark as we pulled into La Spezia and the very dark clouds were backlit with the setting sun. I have never seen a sky like this before, it was quite eerie. The colours in this photo are true to life, not enhanced at all.Our new Airbnb is very nice and I think we will be quite comfortable here for the next week.

Venice Museums

Day 47, Saturday October 21, 2017

Today was a museum day. We visited the Correr Museum, the National Archaeological Museum and the Monumental Rooms Biblioteca Marciana.   These museums are in the building that is on three sides of San Marco Square. On the way there I stop for another picture of the Bridge of Sighs.The Correr Museum is in a sumptuous building that once was the residence of the sovereign when Venice was under Austrian rule. Its many rooms are ornately decorated.I love the cabinets of this time. Just imagine all the treasures that were tucked into these many drawers and compartments.This library room has floor to ceiling shelves of old and rare books. This one with vellum pages is open for display..One of the many rooms filled with sculptures.

Have you ever seen toes this big?This room was once a library, with an amazing ceiling, but today it holds an exhibition of very expensive jewelry and jewelled objects. I only discover tonight that there is in fact a library we could have visited that sounds wonderful only it wasn’t open today, and isn’t open tomorrow. Some of tourist information here is a bit difficult to find. I am quite disappointed that we won’t be able to visit this library of ancient books and manuscripts.I walked in support of an exhibit about a young woman named Ashra who walked   11,146,312 meters to reach Italy from Sub-Saharan Africa, like many before her and many after her. Visitors to the gallery walk and their steps are recorded to reach the same number of meters.

There are many rooms of medieval paintings. I particularly liked this one.This exhibit had the stories of each of the people photographed written in Farsi over their hands and faces.  Bob was trying to figure out how to get to the second story of books in this library room.I took this photo from the second floor window at the opposite end of San Marco Square. There are more people today than we have seen on the other days we were here…and lots of people were feeding the pigeons even though there are signs saying not to.These big cruise ships are part of the reason that Venice is so polluted. One ship creates as much pollution in a day as one million cars!The sun tried to peek out but couldn’t quite manage it.  Oh well, at least it wasn’t raining.We sat beside the Doge’s Palace to eat our lunch and watch the people walking by. It is one of the few places where there is a place to sit. I think that Venice has so many visitors that the city doesn’t want people to sit for a while unless you are in a restaurant.

There were so many more tourists in Venice today…and we had to laugh at this group of women who had tied their scarves together and were all holding on, just like little kids in daycare.We wanted to see Venice by night so we stayed out late. We took a vaporetto ride down the main canal to San Marco Square that took much longer than we expected. The boat went very slowly, perhaps because none of the boats on the canals have navigational lights!  They only have very small lights, usually a white one on the front and a red one on the side. It is almost impossible to see the boats and I have no idea how they manage to navigate in the dark!The gondolas often didn’t have any lights at all! It seemed rather dangerous to me.The Rialto Bridge at night is quite beautiful. Notice no lights on the boats.We finally arrived at San Marco Square, expecting all sorts of activity and there is almost no one there!  We were pretty disappointed. I took a picture of the Basilica and we took another very slow boat ride back to the bus and then home. It was a long day today, we were out and about for twelve hours!.

The Doge’s Palace, Venice

Day 45, Thursday October 19, 2017

We take the bus into Venice this morning instead of the train, which is a better choice. It is only a short walk to the bus from our apartment in Mestre instead of a 20 minute walk to the train station. Our walk to the Doge’s Palace was interesting. Some of the narrow canals have mirrors to avoid collisions. Check out our reflections.

It is a ‘misty’ morning again.We stumbled across this art show and we were delighted to discover that several  St. Albert artists I know have their work in this exhibit. There is also some interesting modern art on display in gallery windows.One of the churches on our path to the palace had a show of musical instruments. Some were very old and there was also this ancient music book, hand written on vellum.It wouldn’t be Venice without gondoliers on the canals.I saw some marbled paper for sale, but it wasn’t anything exceptional.  My marbled papered and the paper my friends make is at least as nice and take a look at these prices!
While we were having our lunch we saw this bride and groom hurrying by.  It doesn’t look very romantic to me, and the bride had to hold her skirt up so it wouldn’t get dirty.The Doge’s Palace was the official residence of Venice’s rulers and was founded in the 9th Century. This is the interior courtyard. It is a very impressive building but we were not prepared for the over the top magnificence of the interior.  


We start our tour by climbing the Golden Staircase, which is named for all the gold on its ceiling.We walked from room to room, each more ornate than the one before.The painting on the end wall is Paradise by Tintoretto and there are more than 500 figures represented. It is in the Sal del Maggior Consiglio, which is the largest room in Europe with a ceiling that is not supported by pillars.Can you see me?  This is a very big room!There is a museum here with over 2,000 weapons. I have a bit of a hard time with these displays. I wonder how many innocent people were killed with these swords and other weapons?
This is a weird view of the courtyard through the very old hand blown glass in the windows.We cross the bridge which connects the palace to the prison in the building beside it. There are two windows here where the prisoner’s would have their last views of the outside world. They were said to have sighed in despair and so the bridge was named the Bridge of Sighs.  This was their view, and mine today.

The prison cells are dark, cold and cramped with small heavy barred doors. Most of the cells have no outside light at all. Some of the cells still have the prisoner’s graffiti on the walls. I can only imagine the despair they felt being locked up in such a place.Back to the palace and our tour is almost over.  Just a few more photos.I like the whimsical lion over the doorway at the head of these stairs.On our way back to the bus I can’t resist taking a more pictures the canals.  I so hope the sun comes out at least for a day so I can get pictures with more light. The buildings are so old, with their patina of age, rust and peeling paint but somehow it just makes them even more appealing.



 

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Day 38, Thursday October 12, 2017

After a leisurely morning we return to Old Town Dubrovnik for some more exploring. First we visit Marin Držiç House which is a memorial museum for one of Croatia’s greatest playwrights. I decide to have a little one on one conversation with this interesting fellow.The Ethnographic Museum is next, and it is located in a very interesting building that was the town granary in the 16th Century. Reserves of grain were kept in 15 very large wells carved in stone. The dark grates in the floor of the main floor open into these wells.These little stone trap doors on the second floor were used to drop the grain down into the wells below.There are many exhibits of traditional handmade textiles, clothing, household items and traditional handicrafts. I would love to have a stove like this!
There are some interesting drawings on some of the pillars.
The streets here are so old.We stop for ice cream and some people watching. Men and women are rappelling down the city walls…and getting their photos taken with these exotic birds.The Friars Franciscan Monastery Museum has the oldest operating pharmacy in Europe and a beautiful garden cloister.

They also have an amazing library but unfortunately it is not open to the public because it is upstairs where the priests live. At least there are a few books on display. 

There are also some vestments with incredible embroidery.

The Franciscan church beside the museum is beautiful but it has a couple unusual features.

The paintings here are certainly different, and…

notice the hand holding the crucifix.  

We walk to the Art Gallery Dubrovnik which is located in a former palace of a Dubrovnik ship owner. There are several portraits I really like. 

We make our way back through the old town, stopping for tea and some more people watching before catching our bus home. There were street performers and…happy children chasing pigeons.

Granada Cathedral and Alcaiceria Market

We are back home and although we had a good flight home it was still 24 hours from the time we got up until we arrived home. It is going to take a while to get back on Alberta time. I have fallen behind on my blogging but I am going to continue posting until I have it completed. Thank you for following along with us so far and I hope you will enjoy the rest of our trip.

Saturday, November 21

We spend another day in Granada, as we want to visit the Cathedral and the Alcaiceria, which is a reconstruction of the Moorish Market that burned down in 1843. This market is a maze of narrow streets and colourful shops that are absolutely crammed full of merchandise. We purchase a few souvenirs and Bob has a few laughs at my rather pathetic attempts at bargaining.

IMG_2488The Cathedral is right beside the market so that is our next stop.  Upon entering the front door this is the what we see.FullSizeRender  Here is a closer view of the magnificent dome over the altar.  FullSizeRender_3This cathedral has a very ornate very large organ. FullSizeRender_4I spotted this stand with several huge medieval books but it was in a roped off area so I couldn’t get any closer to get a good look.FullSizeRenderA bit further on down one of the side aisles I was thrilled to find a display of these ancient books. They were behind glass but I was able to get a much better look at them.FullSizeRender_4The lighting wasn’t the best, but there were several cabinets with books inside. While I was absorbed in studying the calligraphy and painted images, the lights in the cabinets shut off and it was too dark to see them anymore.  I had no idea why the lights shut off and although we returned a couple of times to check if the lights had been turned back on I was out of luck. I am glad that I at least had the opportunity to see what I had.
IMG_2490

We have seen similar skull and crossbones in almost every cathedral we have visited. They are on tombstones embedded in the cathedral floors.FullSizeRender_2The pillars and ceiling are quite ornate and the space they enclose is immense.  Notice how small the people are.
FullSizeRender_3This is a view of the back side of the Cathedral, seems I didn’t take one of the front. If you want to know a bit more about the Cathedral check out this link.  http://www.thousandwonders.net/Granada+Cathedral  It also has some nice pictures.DSC01159There is a suggested walk through the Albaicin, on the hillside opposite the Alhambra so we head out to explore it.  The beginning of the walk was quite nice.FullSizeRender_3I quite liked this ‘Granada’, or pomegranate, on the front of one of the buildings we passed on our walk.FullSizeRender_2We do find this lovely little garden and one other garden attached to a little museum along the way.  In the museum garden there are several orange trees loaded with ripe oranges, and we ‘borrow’ one to eat later.FullSizeRender

We spent a fair amount of time checking our map and trying to figure out which way to go. The route was not well-marked and we had to backtrack more than once. It was a long walk up lots of steep roads and really for what we saw we weren’t sure it was worth the effort and time, but at least we got some exercise.FullSizeRender_2

This is a view of the Alhambra from a viewpoint on a terrace by some restaurants near the end of our walk.FullSizeRender_4

On the way back to the bus we pass this building with its ‘street art’ and bricked up windows.  We saw so many apartments and buildings like this, empty and/or abandoned, right beside occupied buildings and shops. I sure wouldn’t want to be living in an apartment next to an abandoned empty building.  FullSizeRender

Toledo to Merida

Saturday, October 17

We are on our way to Toledo this morning, and then on to Merida where we have our next apartment.  Yesterday we stayed home for a bit of rest and to pack and get ready for today.  This view is from the cafeteria on the top floor of the public library in Toledo.imageWe literally travelled in circles looking for a library of ancient manuscripts and books. The Information center sent us to the library, but it was the public library and they told us that what we wanted was likely closed but that we could go see, so we went there, but where they sent us wasn’t the right place.  A second information lady gave us different information. We found out it was in the Alcázar museum, so we went there, only they told us we needed to go back to the library and that the collection was a special room there.  The same library that sent us elsewhere!  Only problem was that it closed at 2:00 and it is now ten to two!  We give up, deciding that we just weren’t meant to see these manuscripts.  Too bad, I would really have enjoyed the chance to at least have a look at them. One of the stops on our way to find the elusive manuscripts overlooks a winding road and the hills on the edge of town.imageWe did find this statue of Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote’s La Mancha.imageThe streets are very narrow and Toledo is a very hilly town.  We seem to be either climbing up or down steps and streets. Once again, we are out and about when a lot of the shops and businesses are closed. This 2:00 to 5:00 lunch hour just doesn’t work for us.  We are usually home by 8:00, and it seems everyone else is just starting to think about their evening’s meal and entertainment.imageWe take a tea break and have this great view of the Toledo Cathedral, but neither of us really feel like going inside, instead we sit in the sun and watch the people in the square.  Great people watching!image

There are lots of knives and swords for sale here, apparently they are made locally. I have a friend who makes beautiful knives and thought he might like seeing these.image imageThere is lots more to see in Toledo but we are tired and need to get on the road to Merida to meet our next host at 8:00.  We drive in pouring rain for the last couple of hours and it continues to come down in buckets when we arrive in Merida, but we meet Ana, our host, and we love our new apartment.image

We have been very pleased with all of our Airbnb apartments so far.  Let’s hope our luck lasts.  I love seeing all the apartments and it is so nice having a kitchen.  We are making most of our meals as that works so much better with my dietary restrictions.imageimage

Madrid, Bibliotec National, and Museo Arqueológico Nacional

Thursday October 8

We have a quiet day at home, but we end up spending quite a bit of the day looking for accommodations in Madrid, but we aren’t having much luck.  Madrid seems to be quite expensive, not many places have parking and we aren’t getting answers back from some of the places we contacted.  We decide that we will stay where we are and take the bus into Madrid.  It is a 40 minute ride and Bob is looking forward to not driving for a while.

Friday , October 9

We take the bus into Madrid which works very well.  It is every comfortable, kind of like a Greyhound Bus, and it is very relaxing for both of us.  First stop in Madrid is the Canadian Embassy as we were told we could vote there for the upcoming Canadian election.  Turns out we can’t, as the ballot has to be mailed in and the package was sent to our home address.  The very tall first building is where the Canadian Embassy is located on the very secure 21 floor.  Lots of security in this tower.
imageBack on the Metro to find the Archeological Museum.  I love the metro!  It is fast, easy and offers great people watching.  On our way to the museum we see the Bibliotheca National and I can’t bypass a library so we go check it out, but not before stopping to say hello to this cute fellow.image

The building is very big and beautiful, but we discover it isn’t a public library, entrance is only available if you take a tour, which are all sold out for today. We are allowed to go in and check out a Rudyard Kipling exhibit in a room near the entrance after showing our passports, getting our pictures taken, putting our bags through an X ray machine, and getting a visitors pass!      imageThere was only a collection of Kipling’s books in the exhibit, not too interesting, but the room attached to it had some great old books and manuscripts…imageimage

……including what I think must be a facsimile of a Leonardo Da Vinci sketchbook.  Hard to make out as all the labels are in Spanish.  The staff also tell us about an exhibit downstairs that we can visit.  Turns out it is “Caligrafía Española” el arte describir.  Of course we have to see this.  The first thing we see on entering is this wonderful collection of calligraphy equipment from the 1700’s and 1800’s. Most of these are the same tools used by calligraphers today.image  There are many books and font samplers and these two beautiful examples of flourishes.image image

Finally we arrive at the MAN, the Museo Arqueológico National.  Turns out it is a great museum, and we get to see a facsimile of Lucy.  I remember talking about australopithicus and Lucy when I taught Social Studies many years ago.  Isn’t she beautiful?image

There is a display with examples of archeological sites in Spain, and it turns out they are everywhere.  This Screen grab says it best “Spain, A Huge Archeological Site.”  I think you could look almost anywhere in Spain and find an archaeological site!imageIn the museum there are some very intricate mosaics.image They are even more incredible when you see the size of the individual mosaic pieces.imageThe next exhibit has several room sized floor mosaics that are equally as stunning.image

I love old doors and this one is a beauty.  It just looks as though I am touching it….image

We are amazed at the technology that was in use so long ago, but the one item that probably surprised me the most was the Speculum magnum matrios, a vaginal dilator used  in gynaelogical exams, surgeries and childbirth.  The Romans developed this medical technology in the First Century AD! It is hard to imagine, and this looks very similar to the ones in use today!image

We stop for tea after two hours, and then do our best to see everything else but we ran out of energy and time and I am afraid we rather quickly strolled through the Egyptian and Greek rooms without trying to see and read about everything. There are about fourty rooms here, and they are all pcked with so much to see. We are pooped, but we enjoyed this museum a lot.  It was extremely well laid out, had lots of great videos, English signage and beautiful exhibits.  It always amazes me that so many items have survived so many centuries intact. I also did a few drawings at the museum.imageimage