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Back from Chicago

April 24th, 2014

Seeing family who we do not get to see often enough, having kids spend quality play time with their cousins, and fitting in some sightseeing – that’s my recipe for a good time in Chicago.

We took a portion of Easter week to visit my brother and his family. They reside in Windy City’s northern suburban area, from where we took daily trips to the Loop for various entertainment purposes. More social-networky among us even provided live commentary of our exploits.

We also chilled in the backyard, made a couple of local excursions, imbibed uncommon quantities of wine, and generally had a blast.

Pictures to follow. For starters, here is panoramic view of the city from the Shedd Aquarium.
 

Chicago as seen from Shedd Aquarium

 

Family & Friends, Photography, Travel

Re-counting World Heritage sites: #43 (Belfries)

March 27th, 2014

I have on multiple occasions professed my inclination for climbing elevated viewpoints in any given location. That tendency puts this particular World Heritage site especially close to my heart. In addition to admiring architectural qualities and civic history significance for which these towers are inscribed on the UNESCO List, I very much enjoy the views that they offer from up high.

Of the 56 locations in this serial property, I have only been in the vicinity of four and actually climbed just two. If I ever retire to a travel-centric lifestyle, a circle around Belgium and northern France smaller cities, where the majority of these towers reside, could be a fun targeted trip.

Brugge’s Belfort already featured in my favorite sites series, and the picture from that entry remains the best one I have taken of the magnificent tower.
 

Belfort, Brugge, Belgium

 
Becky and I climbed to the top of it one day and somewhat accidentally walked into a rare experience – listening to the bells play while standing practically underneath them. I suspect the fact that they allow tourists onto the viewing terrace during such performances suggests that it is not really dangerous to one’s health and sanity. I also suspect that since curator on duty was warning people to wait until the bell-play was over, most people find the experience reasonably objectionable. Me, I can’t say that it was unbearable to any degree. Loud, yes. Made me appreciate earplugs as an emergency necessity, yes. Took me a couple of minutes afterwards to get rid of ringing in my head, yes. But it was not exactly deafening, and reasonably fun.

Antwerp is one of the rare cities where the climb to the high tower did not make the cut in our itinerary. It also happens to be the only town on this property list with more than one location, although both of them somewhat deviate from the main theme of the UNESCO inscription.

The tower of the Cathedral of Our Lady is both delicate and imposing.
 

Tower of the Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp, Belgium

 
The way it does not fit with other belfries is that this is, essentially, a church belltower, while the historic significance of this collection of buildings is in representing the ever-growing power of city civic councils against that of local noblemen and clergy. As much as I admire sacred architecture, I do not see a cathedral belltower represents anything but religious glory.

The second inscribed location in Antwerp is the tower of its Town Hall.
 

Stadhuis, Antwerp, Belgium

 
This picture also already appeared on this blog, but I like it too much to use a different view.

Because this is not actually a tower – not a belfry in the sense that I want to interpret the term – I also tend to think that it should not belong in this collection. But it looks magnificent nonetheless.

A quick research of the other properties on the list shows that Antwerp’s are not the only examples of the loose interpretation of what constitutes a belfry.

Finally, in Gent, I inexplicably failed to take a good picture of its own Belfort, although I did post a view from its top in my favorite sites entry. What that leaves me is a picture of my own self with the tower in the background on the left.
 

In Gent, Belgium

 
Gorgeous!! The view, I mean. But the guy in the picture looks pretty good, too.

Photography, Travel

Re-counting World Heritage sites: #11 (Chartres)

March 22nd, 2014

Reims Cathedral is not the only great church that prompted us to plan a stopover in town specifically so that we could visit it. Off the top of my head I can think of at least three others.

Chartres Cathedral was the very first of such churches, chronologically speaking. On our first voyage around France, an intraday stop in Chartres linked the first two legs of the itinerary. Although we did walk around town a little, neither the weather nor the schedule allowed for exploration of much beyond the cathedral.

Inscribed on the UNESCO list as the pinnacle of 12th-13th-century French Gothic art, the cathedral is exactly that, a grand edifice worth effusive accolades. Its stained-glass windows are among the most splendid in the world, especially considering their age and excellent state of preservation.

Unfortunately, in those film-photography times, the limited amout of pictures we took with a point-and-shoot camera tended to emphasize “we’ve been here” concept, with either Natasha or me featuring in front of various points of interest. The best I can offer from my archives is this view from town streets below the cathedral. At least you can enjoy the visage of me, 12 years younger.
 

Chartres Cathedral

 
Aside from the façon of eyeglasses, I actually did not change that much, I don’t think. I even wear this same blazer on occasion.

Photography, Travel

Re-counting World Heritage sites: #47 (Reims)

March 14th, 2014

If you ever drive through Reims on A344, you might be able to glimpse the sight of its storied cathedral from the car windows. My deep admiration for sacred architecture prompted us to plan an overnight stay in Reims on one such drive, in order to explore the cathedral site (and the rest of the city a bit as well).

Notre-Dame de Reims, along with nearby archbishop’s palace (called Tau Palace), is inscribed on UNESCO list both for its architectural merit and for historical significance. The great church is among the most magnificent cathedrals in Christendom, well worth a dedicated visit for architecture lovers such as ourselves.

Here is the façade of the cathedral.
 

Reims Cathedral

 
If from here it looks just any other Notre-Dame, it is primarily because all of those other Notre-Dames were frequently modelled on it.

A side perspective.
 

Reims Cathedral

 
The present structure dates from the 13th century and have been extensively restored after the damage sustained during World War I. The original seat of Archdiocese of Reims existed on this site since the 5th century, when the most famous of Archbishops, Saint Rémi, first anointed a king of Franks, which gave rise to the ceremony that lasted through almost the entire history of the French monarchy.

I rarely take pictures inside churches, but the interior of the cathedral was light and airy, and the stained glass sparkling (and, most importantly, photography was not forbidden), so I ended up with a few passable shots. Here is one along the nave towards rose windows.
 

Reims Cathedral

 
And here are some of the other stained-glass windows.
 

Reims Cathedral

 
The pulpits, for me, are among the most interesting components of a church. This one was no exception.
 

Reims Cathedral

 
For whatever reason, Tau Palace did not leave a lasting impression with us and I cannot locate any pictures of it either. Another time, maybe.

Photography, Travel

Re-counting World Heritage sites: #8 (Tower of London)

March 5th, 2014

The Tower of London, dating from William’s Conquest in 1066, is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list for a number of reasons, among them as an outstanding example of medieval military architecture as well as for its role in the European history.

It is certainly one of the must-see sights in London. There are several self-guided tours inside the grounds that are enabled by excellent audio-guides. You can see dungeons, royal apartments, an armoury, among many things; and don’t forget the Crown Jewels. Joining a group tour led by a Beefeater is also an option – they are entertaining, as long as you don’t mind jousting for place closer to the guide with a few dozen people during busy times.

If I recall correctly, I’ve been inside the Tower on three occasions. During my very first trip to London, on an off day during a business trip, I covered everything the landmark had to offer. The return visit occurred on the reconnaissance trip to London in 2006. Natasha and I finished house-hunting and seemingly had a free day for sightseeing, but a short time into our visit to the Tower we got a call from the broker that our rental offer had been quickly accepted, and instead of continuing our tour we decided to go sign the papers in person (as opposed to postponing until we were back in the States and doing everything over faxes).

Natasha came back for a full visit next year with visiting relatives. Me, I found myself outside the Tower walls on several occasions, but stepped inside only once more, for a corporate Christmas party organized on the Tower grounds (in the last year such extravagances took place). Otherwise, during our years in London, the Tower for me has become one of those comparatively expensive local attractions that I never managed to re-visit while never failing to recommend to each and every first-timer.

Massive Tower walls and fortifications are an imposing sight from the upper deck of the city tour bus.
 

Tower of London

 
The street-lamp that features in the above shot exemplifies my lax point-and-shoot approach to photography those days. Either that, or I could claim some artistic design here, probably.

Next is a pretty good shot of the White Tower, the main keep.
 

White Tower, Tower of London

 
Royal Armouries are located inside the White Tower, but even if you are not interested in weapons, it is a fascinating architectural edifice.

You will always see a Royal Guard next to the entrance to the Jewel House, where the Crown Jewels are exhibited.
 

Scots Guard at the Tower of London

 
The regiment to which the guard belongs can be distinguished by the buttons on his uniform. This is a Scots Guard – marked by buttons in threes.

There is a bunch of quite sinister-looking ravens at the Tower. Mythology holds it that they protect the Crown.
 

Raven at the Tower of London

 
With my recently rediscovered enthusiasm for photography, I will probably make it a priority to see the Tower again on my next trip to London.

Photography, Travel

Impressions of Dubai

February 19th, 2014

Five-and-a-half hours layover in Dubai gets you about two and a half hours of sightseeing at a canter on a low-traffic day (think Saturday). I probably could have squeezed another hour out of it, but one of my guiding principles in life (passed to me by my late grandfather) happens to be “better be an hour early than a minute late” and I ended up leaving too much of a buffer for my return to the airport. As a result, I spent more time inside taxis than outside, and the quality of resulting photography shows.

The upside was that I got a comparatively wide, if certainly expensive, tour of practically the entire city.

Here are a few passable shots of Dubai architecture.
 

Dubai architecture seen through the taxi windshield

 
 

Dubai architecture seen through the taxi windshield

 
 

Dubai architecture seen through the taxi windshield

 
 

Dubai architecture seen through the taxi windshield

 
Of the places that I planned to stop by for a close up, elegant Burj Al Arab served a dose of disappointment, as it turned out you are not allowed through its security check-point unless you are a guest. I had to be content with snapping a few shots from outside the gates.
 

Burj Al Arab, Dubai

 
The humongous Dubai Mall ended up as the longest stop on the tour, as it opens up colorful scenery around a lake.
 

Dubai Mall

 
Most importantly, the promenade around the lake provides an opportunity for excellent perspectives on the magnificent Burj Khalifa needle.
 

Burj Khalifa, Dubai

 
A couple of dozen of least bad pictures from my quick tour of Dubai are found in my Flickr photostream.

Photography, Travel

Impressions of Bangalore

February 15th, 2014

Since photography is only a hobby for yours truly, on my recent week-long stay in Bangalore I mostly conducted business other than photography. Nonetheless, I had a bit of time for morning walks in the edge-of-the-city technology cluster area, snapped some reasonable shots through the windshield of our chauffeured car, and on the last day took full advantage of the several hours of sightseeing organized by our hosts.

Here are a few highlights.

This palace next to the hotel I was staying at is actually a large medical center. You wouldn’t say by looking.
 

Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences, Whitefield, Bangalore

 
The full name is Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences, for those interested.

Distinctive auto-rickshaws – known colloquially as tuk-tuks – rather captured my attention. I was not adventurous enough to actually ride on one, but I took many shots of them. They made an especially colorful palette when idly gathered at their little parking stands.
 

Tuk-tuk depot, Bangalore

 
The first stop on our final-day sightseeing trip was Shiv Mandir temple, where we were greeted by this statue of the god Ganesha.
 

At Shiv Mandir temple, Bangalore

 
The temple offers several “activities” that allow a curious Westerner to observe and participate in Hindu little rituals. We lucked into a time when there weren’t that many visitors, although I heard that it can become quite crowded on holy days.

Long rides in the car accounted for nearly half of the sightseeing program. Taking pictures through the windows is hardly ideal (and rolling down the windows was hardly an option, on account of air pollution you could literally taste), but I managed a few passable shots. Here is one with the Karnataka (the state that Bangalore is part of) High Court in the background.
 

Karnataka High Court, Bangalore

 
Shots of the vehicles on the roads prevailed in such conditions. Here is one that I sort of like.
 

On the streets of Bangalore

 
Since I was riding shotgun – nobody from our group contested my right to the forward seat given my superior photographic equipment – this shot appears to me as if we are moving against traffic. I believe we are simply crossing the main road while these tuk-tuks are waiting at the red light.

One other sightseeing stop was the Bangalore Palace.
 

Bangalore Palace

 
It was actually originally built in mid-19th century by a British Reverend, and bought by local maharajahs only twenty years later. As castles go, it is sufficiently interesting and worth a visit, with an understated but spacious gardens and many appealing decorative features on the interior. Here is a detail of the arches in one of the inner courtyards.
 

Inside Bangalore Palace

 
Our sightseeing culminated in an hour of strolling through precisely named Commercial Street, lined with boutiques and discount shops.
 

A shop on Commercial Street, Bangalore

 
I obviously did not have enough time to explore Bangalore to my heart’s desire, but I did get a serviceable impression.

These and quite a few more pictures from Bangalore can be found in my Flickr photostream.

Photography, Travel

Highlights of Kiev

February 11th, 2014

Here are a few more pictures to complement previous World Heritage entry.

Saint Vladimir (Volodymyr) Cathedral is as striking on the outside as any you would ever see. The guide on my Kiev-Pechersk Lavra tour named it without hesitation in answer to my question of which of the Kiev cathedrals to see if I only had time for one (I was disingenious in asking, since I suspected even then that I had time for more than one). As it is a working place of worship, rather than a museum, it did provide a different vibe than I found in the Lavra and in St-Sophia complex.
 

St-Volodymyr Cathedral, Kiev

 
The following shot is of the “Candle of Memory”, an edifice that is part of the national museum devoted to the terrible Holodomor that occurred in the early 30′s of the last century.
 

Holodomor Candle of Memory, Kiev

 
I did not go to the museum itself.

From the vast Sophia Square, the graceful St-Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery provides a fine background to the monument to Bohdan Khmel’nitskij, probably the most significant person in Ukrainian history.
 

View from Sophia Square, Kiev

 
Central Kiev is full of elegant buildings. I took a few shots of those, among them this one by the Opera House.
 

Fragment of Kiev near Opera House

 
It was a very cold day on my visit, and I had to warm myself up wherever I could find a likely place. One such stop was Varenichnaya (dumpling-ery, to coin a translation) “Katyusha”. Evocative interior, nostalgic musical sounds, menu from my childhood – I never expected to get so close to heaven in a chain eatery establishment.
 

Varenichnaya Katyusha, Kiev

 
The sign pays homage to the pathos of the communist times – Give Dumplings to the Working People!

And another shot of St-Michael’s from Sophia Square. I did run out of time on my only free day in Kiev, and it now occupies the top place on my places to visit when I return.
 

St-Michael Golden-Domed Monastery, Kiev

 
I suspect I should return in short time, as my current job demands.

Larger selection of Kiev photos has been added to my Flickr photostream.

Photography, Travel

Counting World Heritage sites: #61 (Kiev)

February 8th, 2014

Kiev is famous for its domed cathedrals, and on my only free day of the recent business trip I put aside considerations of unrest in the city center and spent time exploring some of the city sights, including its multi-location World Heritage site. There is no doubt that on my childhood visits to the city I strolled by the monastery and cathedral walls, but this time around I actually did the site justice.

Inscribed for the spiritual and intellectual influence these buildings had on the “Russian world” in 17th-19th centuries, Saint-Sophia Cathedral and the complex of Kiev-Pechersk Lavra attract me first and foremost for their fascinating architecture and history going back nearly a thousand years.

Here are several perspective of Saint-Sophia Cathedral.
 

Saint Sophia Cathedral, Kiev

 
 

Saint Sophia Cathedral, Kiev

 
Dating back to 11th century, the great church assumed its current form by 1767, along with a number of interesting buildings surrounding it.
 

Saint Sophia Cathedral, Kiev

 
The Lavra is roughly the same age – it started as a cave monastery in mid-11th century. “Caves” remain in the monastery name – that’s why it is Kiev-Pechersk.

Here is the main church of the complex – Dormition Cathedral (Успенский Собор).
 

Kiev Pechersk Lavra

 
 

Kiev Pechersk Lavra

 
The monastery occupies several levels on the slopes of river Dnieper. The lower part is where the caves are and remains an active monastery today. The view from the lower part towards the Upper Lavra’s Refectory Church (Трапезная Церковь) and the Grand Belltower is the next shot.
 

Kiev Pechersk Lavra

 
There are limited opportunities to take pictures of the interiors in most of these religious buildings. I did have such opportunity in the Church of All Saints, on the edge of the Lavra.
 

Kiev Pechersk Lavra

 
A wider selection of pictures is available in my Flickr photostream.

Photography, Travel

After a business trip

February 5th, 2014

A recent business trip took me to two countries farther east that I’ve ever been and to one country that I have not visited since I was a kid (not counting the well-familiar fourth country where I had only an hour and a half between flights this time around). Here are a few quick observations.

  • 14+ hours in coach of far-from-best international airline is a bad investment. I know that very few companies nowadays send people on business trips in business class. I understand the bottom line mathematics. But there is a clear productivity loss when I have to effectively convalesce for a day or so after such flight. I am still being paid during that time. Even though it is not a readily visible expense, the company wastes money by cramping me into a small seat in the back of the plane. And that’s just money – I will leave aside such things as employee well-being and appreciation.
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  • India, as one of my colleagues put quite pithily, is not for squeamish. I do not want this to sound derogative to any degree. It is simply that a lifetime of Western sensibilities does not prepare you for most common things you see on the subcontinent.
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  • 30 minutes of outside walking in a large Indian city – and you literally feel your lungs getting coated by pollutants.
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  • There are few better ways to impress your relatively new colleagues than to order a huge mixed-grill plate at a fancy restaurant and polish it off on your own. Yeah, I can eat.
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  • 5-hour layover in Dubai, under right conditions, is more than enough to get first-hand look at the city’s main architectural wonders via a series of taxi rides. (The right conditions include relatively quick passage through passport controls and a low-traffic day, such as on a Saturday.) You can even pay in dollars if you don’t want to bother exchanging money – but the driver will not help you with the exchange rate, so make sure your brain does the math correctly. (Yes, I grossly overpaid on the first ride.)
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  • A day in central Kiev during the putative height of unrest turned out to be almost serene. I skirted Maidan in a reasonably wide circle and only came upon one demonstration; the people might have been chanting football battle cries, for all I could – not! – understand what they were shouting. Actually, I gained a significant measure of respect for the way residents of Kiev go about their lives in the face of all the troubles.
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  • I have not been to Kiev for close to 30 years and to the former Soviet Union for almost 15, and this visit was such a trip down memory lane! For all the modernization and Westernization of the last couple of decades, around every corner I came across things mummified from my youth.
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  • Amsterdam Schiphol airport is one of the best I’ve seen, but I had to walk for seemingly a mile between the gates. The practice of doing security checks right at the gate probably defuses some of the tension that builds up in long security-check lines found elsewhere, but then you have to know to go ahead of time to a special counter to plastic-seal your water bottle, or you will have to give it up even if you had just bought it on the airport premises.
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  • Emirates Airlines business class is infinitely better to travel in than Air India coach. (Ok, this one is probably self-evident even if you never travelled in either. And it does not contradict the first bullet – my trip consisted of six legs, one of which inexplicably put me in the business class of one of the best airlines in the world; sadly, it was one of the shorter legs.)

Pictures yet to come.

Travel

My World Heritage roster

November 16th, 2013
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More for my own records than for public consumption – but, hey, feel free to peruse below the cut – here is my World Heritage sites roster, with links to my posts that contain relevant pictures. Links to UNESCO list inscriptions are provided as well, along with the year each site was added (in parenthesis).

Read more…

Travel

Milan

November 2nd, 2013
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Our summer trip to Italy finished in Milan, where we spent a single afternoon and night ahead of the flight back to the US.

The Gothic cathedral of Milan is a must-see sight.
 

Duomo di Milano

 
Impressive on the outside, the cathedral’s interior is just okay, lacking in comparison with many other grand churches in Italy. However, where it towers above the rest is in allowing access to its roof, utterly splendid in its ensemble of pinnacles, spires, ornamentation and sculpture. Here are several of the spires on the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele side of the roof.
 

On the roof of Milan Cathedral

 
And here is a perspective in the opposite direction, with an unusual modern building juxtaposing itself onto the row of pinnacles.
 

On the roof of Milan Cathedral

 
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is a high-end mall connecting Piazza del Duomo with Piazza della Scala (on which the eponymous famous opera house is located). If you are in Milan, you will certainly walk though its cross-shaped passage.
 

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milano

 
Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie is another top attraction in town. In fact, I could almost count it as my World Heritage site #61. It is primarily recognized for Leonardo’s The Last Supper which can only be viewed with a prior reservation via timed entry. Since I did not make such arrangements and did not see the painting, I will have to put it into the “have been near” bucket of World Heritage sites. I did photograph the church extensively – it is a beautiful masterpiece all on its own.
 

Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milano

 
Our first visit to Milan 10 years ago – which was almost as short as this past one – left us underwhelmed with the city. But we did manage to walk around the center a bit more on this visit and warmed up to Milan a little. Street views such as this one quite helped.
 

In Milan

 
These and a few other pictures of Milan can be found in this Flickr photoset.

Photography, Travel

A few more from Tuscany

October 30th, 2013

Our last full day in Tuscany was spent on driving through the Chianti Country and degustazione di vino. Here a few random shots.
 

On a Tuscan winery

 
 

On a Tuscan winery

 
 

Sunflower field, Tuscany

 

Photography, Travel

More of my favorite sights of Siena

October 27th, 2013
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On our last visit to Siena, my new-found focus on photography paid off in that I finally ended up with superior material to do justice to the city, something that was beyond my reach when I made this entry about a year ago in my “favorite sights” series.

For instance, I made a point of taking several dozen photographs of the incredible Piazza del Campo from all different angles. This is my favorite result.
 

Piazza del Campo, Siena, Italy

 
Siena’s topography puts the city core high atop a hill, but because it is considerably bigger than an average hilltop village, it extends well into surrounding valleys. Approaching the central parts from Basilica di San Domenico affords you views such as the next one.
 

Siena view from near San Domenico

 
I took a variety of perspectives of the splendid Siena Cathedral complex up close. It is a certain must-see attraction.
 

Siena Cathedral

 
There a couple of available vantage points to observe the city from up high. In high tourist season they require some patience to get to, but the payoff is quite worthwhile. The view below is one of the shots taken while on Panorama del Facciatone, accessed through Museo dell’Opera, towards Basilica di Santa Maria dei Servi and the Tuscan countryside beyond.
 

View from Panorama del Facciatone, Siena, Italy

 
And of course, the street lamps in contrade colors are among my favorite subjects. One of these days, I will set aside time to visit all 17 districts, but this time I had to limit myself to just a few central ones. Here is a lamp in the Panther district.
 

Contrada-colored street lamp, Siena, Italy

 
And this one belongs to the She-Wolf contrada.
 

Contrada-colored street lamp, Siena, Italy

 
These and other pictures of Siena can be found in this Flickr photoset.

Photography, Travel

Volterra, Tuscany

October 15th, 2013
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Volterra resides on the second tier of Tuscan sights hierarchy. It boasts an Etruscan archeological site and museum that the other locales do not have, but lacks the knockout punch of an attraction such as the leaning tower of Pisa or the many towers of San Gimignano.

Nonetheless, it is an atmospheric and beautiful Tuscan hill-top town, well worth a day visit.

The main piazza of the town center is dominated by Palazzo Priori, the town hall built in the 13th century.
 

Palazzo Priori, Volterra, Italy

 
This instant favorite was shot around the corner from the palace, on a street/path leading to Parco Archeologico.
 

A cute corner of Volterra

 
From the top of the same path, a view towards the palace.
 

A view to Palazzo Priori, Volterra, Italy

 
Next up is the medieval Medici fortress.
 

Fortezza Medicea, Volterra, Italy

 
The imposing structure was completed in the 15th century. After our first visit to Volterra, I was somewhat baffled why this magnificent piece of architecture did not feature on the list of attractions in town. Turns out that it actually houses a working prison and therefore is not exactly open to tourists for visits. I have to assume that the security is top-notch at that place, seeing as the fortress stands right on the edge of the Archeologic Park within a stone’s throw from sightseeing crowds.

The views from high windows (and the tower) of Palazzo Priori rival any Tuscan scenery perspectives.
 

Volterra roofs and a Tuscan view

 

These and other pictures of Volterra can be found in my Flickr photoset.

Photography, Travel

More of my favorite sights of San Gimignano

October 13th, 2013
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Continuing with the theme of revisiting some of the best entries in “my favorite sights” series that I ran on the blog in the past, here are a few additional shots of San Gimignano – one of the all-time favorite stops on our travels that we certainly cannot bypass on our recent stay in Tuscany.

Approaching the historic town center on Via San Giovanni, the tallest tower in town, Torre Grossa, is seen above rooftops.
 

Torre Grossa, San Gimignano, Italy

 
Any composition of a few towers reaching to the sky together comes out splendidly.
 

Towers of San Gimignano, Italy

 

Towers of San Gimignano, Italy

 
Houses beneath the towers offer compositional delights on their own merits.
 

In San Gimignano, Italy

 
And, of course, the rooftops and the Tuscan hills are simply mesmerizing when viewed from the elevated viewpoints in the city.
 

Tuscan landscapes

 
San Gimignano is always a treat!

These and other pictures of San Gimignano can be found in my Flickr photoset.

Photography, Travel

More of my favorite sights of Florence

October 11th, 2013
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Florence entry in the erstwhile series was one of the best ones. I always managed to come away from visits to Florence with good photographic material. As a result, on our recent day in the birthplace of Renaissance, quite a few of my shots were of sights I already photographed before.

But, hey, that’s why they are called “favorite” sights, right?

One of the most iconic and impressive vistas in Florence – the cathedral complex – consisting of the Baptistery, the sumptuous Duomo itself (whose famous dome is prominent in the background), and the elegant Giotto bell-tower.
 

Cathedral complex, Firenze, Italy

 
An attempt to catch the various statuary on Piazza della Signoria in one shot.
 

Piazza della Signoria, Firenze, Italy

 
Giambologna’s equestrian statue of Duke Cosimo I is in the foreground, followed by the Neptune fountain, then a copy of Michelangelo’s David, and then Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus. Background on the right is provided by exquisite Loggia dei Lanzi, an open-air gallery holding works of Giambologna and Cellini, among others.

One of my favorite places in Florence that did not make it into the earlier essay – Piazza di Santa Croce, dominated by the eponymous grand church.
 

Basilica di Santa Croce, Firenze, Italy

 
The slender tower of Badia Fiorentina is one of my most-photographed subjects in the city. Either starring or providing background, it features in over a dozen different shots. Here is one looking northward from Via del Proconsolo, with the hint of Brunelleschi’s marvel of a cathedral dome (another oft-photographed sight) peeking out as well.
 

Badia Fiorentina, Firenze, Italy

 
And something less dramatic – the bust of Benvenuto Cellini, backed by a typical Florentine roofline.
 

The bust of Cellini, Firenze, Italy

 
I remain in awe of this city!

These and other pictures can be found in my Florence Flickr set.

Photography, Travel

Around Lake Como (fin.)

October 3rd, 2013
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Renting a motorboat for a few hours of jetting around the lake is the absolute must for any stay on Como. You simply do not get to see many of the most striking sights when you stay on shore. And even for villas that are open for public visits, you get an entirely new majestic perspective on them from water.

This is Villa Carlotta, whose gardens we visited earlier.
 

Villa Carlotta, Lake Como

 
And this is Villa Balbionella which also sort of featured in this series.
 

Villa Balbionella, Lake Como

 
The next picture is of Villa Oleandra, aka “George Clooney villa”. We shouted from the boat for George to come out and greet us but were unfortunately ignored.
 

Villa Oleandra, Lake Como

 
And this is Villa La Cassinella, aka “Richard Branson villa”. Richard treated us no better than George.
 

Villa La Cassinella, Lake Como

 
Three hours is a pretty short time to enjoy all of the various sites around the lake. We covered maybe a quarter of what we could see. Nonetheless, we took time to just relax, and have a prosecco, with cold cuts and berries, in the middle of our ride. Swam in the lake too.
 

A picnic on a boat, Lake Como

 
Gorgeous!

Additional pictures have been added to my Lake Como Flickr set.

Photography, Travel

Around Lake Como (cont.)

September 27th, 2013
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There are plenty of grand villas and gardens to be visited around Lake Como.

Villa Carlotta is among the must-visit destinations. The mansion itself is fairly impressive and holds a reasonable collection of art, but it is the botanic garden that is the main attraction. Built into the steep mountain – expect plenty of up-and-down walking – it combines formal garden areas with quasi-wild growth of many flora species.
 

Villa Carlotta, Lake Como

 
 

In Villa Carlotta gardens, Lake Como

 
 

In Villa Carlotta gardens, Lake Como

 
Villa Melzi, on the edge of Bellagio, boasts flatter and more expansive gardens, regal and romantic in one splendid package.
 

In Villa Melzi, Lake Como

 
 

In Villa Melzi, Lake Como

 
These and other pictures of Villa Carlotta and Villa Melzi have been added to my Lake Como Flickr set. Yet more to come.

Photography, Travel

Around Lake Como

September 16th, 2013
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When you visit Lake Como, you would be well advised not to stay in just one place. You have to move around, to visit different lakeside villages, to take in as many breathtaking views as possible. The lake is one endless sequence of picturesque spots. Here is a small sampling.

We spent some time on the Lenno waterfront bracketed around a visit to one of the top sights on the lake, Villa del Balbionella. This is a view of Lido di Lenno.
 

In Lenno, Lake Como

 
Balbionella’s most frequently cited claim to fame is having been one of the locations for Casino Royale. It sits at the edge of a bluff that juts out to the lake which results in surrounding lake views from every window of the villa and from every terrace in the garden. Here is one of such views.
 

View from Villa Balbionella, Lake Como

 
A close-up of the village that makes the background of the previous shot.
 

Lake Como view

 
On a few occasions, we crossed the lake on a car ferry. Perspectives from the middle of the lake are even more mesmerising than anything taken from the shore.
 

Lake Como view

 
Approaching Bellagio from the water is a much grander experience than driving into the town via a lakeside road.
 

Approaching Bellagio via ferry, Lake Como

 
These and other pictures of Lenno, Villa Balbionella, Bellagio and assorted lake views have been added to my Lake Como Flickr set. Even more to come.

Photography, Travel