Thursday, 1 September 2011

Umbria and Venice

It's been a long summer break but this is the last few days of it as I start a 3 week portrait workshop at my new school on Monday before the term begins on 26th September. I survived the Florentine heatwave (38-40 degree days) by laying naked on the tiles for 2 weeks without moving. Worked a treat.

I also escaped the city for a week in Umbria with some friends who came to Italy for a holiday; Nic, Karen, Sarah, Mike (and baby Alexander). We all met at church when I lived in Drummoyne while I was studying at Wesley Institute. We rented a villa in the mountains about 20 minutes east of Assisi (as in Francis of..) where it was cooler and the countryside incredibly beautiful. We spent our days exploring the near-by cities, such as Orvieto, Todi and Gubbia (although I opted for a couple of days at home to soak up the serenity and recover from eating the wrong thing for lunch one day). We had a taste of Italian culture with the Festa at Costa del Trex (the nearest village) which we were invited to by our hosts Mary and Brian (who live next door to the villa for the summer months every year). The local nonna's cook mountains of food and everyone eats a great meal for a bargain price, accompanied by live music and later, apparently, dancing (which we didn't manage to stay long enough for after a long day out exploring - it was after 10pm by the time we left though!).

What luxury to be in the fresh mountain air with ripe figs to pick, a cat to pat and friends from home! Also to be able to pray and share God's word with other people which I haven't had much of since I've been here. It was a much needed break from the furnace in Florence and the feeling of abandonment (!!) as the last of my Florentine friends had just left town for their summer holiday. As Nic and everyone were staying in a villa in Tuscany for a week afterwards, we were able to meet up for the day in San Gimignano, which was HOT (and hotter out of the shade) so perhaps we didn't give it the fullest energy it deserved, but for me it was just great to see everyone again before they headed back to oz.

Last weekend I spent 3 nights in Venice for my birthday present from mum (it's a rather big birthday so it was a particularly special present). Venice is just as romantic as it sounds aside from the tourists. Everyone knows that you shouldn't go in August, but off I went as here I am with all the time in the world and soon I'll be back at school without a minute to scratch myself. Never-the-less! There are plenty of quiet back streets in which to lose oneself, and the city seems to have been designed for that very purpose. It's truly a wonder how it can function without land vehicles of any sort, bicycles included, when you think about things such as garbage collection, furniture delivery or even the simple act of doing one's shopping! It's certainly no place for the eldery or disabled with its endless narrow streets and interconnecting bridges with many steps up and as many back down again. But could there be anything more romantic than a stripey shirted gondolier paddling his reclining customers along quiet canals lined with magnificent edifices adorning flower boxes spilling with bright red geraniums for all to enjoy? It's truly one of the wonders of man's creation, set smack bang in the middle of God's creation... the sea! Well, maybe you would call it a lagoon, but whatever, the ocean breeze was heavenly and the smell of the salty air constantly reminded me of Manly where I grew up.

The highlight of my visit was seeing the opera at La Fenice (ironically meaning The Phoenix) which had featured in a book I read before I came to Italy so I was very keen to see it. The theatre, built in 1790, was burned to the ground and rebuilt a number of times, the last in 1996. It was rebuilt again by the end of 2003 as closely as possible to the previous design which was/is quite stunning (see pics, which sorry don't do it much justice). I saw La Traviata which had a huge cast and accompanying orchestra and went for 3 hours with 2 intervals. I read up on the story before-hand so followed along despite the old Italian being sung where no average voice would go. I was in a box on the 3rd floor not far from the stage which meant leaning forward on the lovely velvet barrier from where I had a fine view of everything. The nice Italian man next to me (wife in next box) lent me his binoculars and reassured me that I looked only 20 (it was dark), so we quickly became firm friends. The 2 Americans behind couldn't see a thing but when I found out they paid only 10 euros for 'listening only' seats I stopped feeling bad for them and enjoyed the show.

I'll let the pics do the rest of the commentary: click here.
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