Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Lakeside Lucerne

Lucerne is lucky enough to have it all: a beautiful lake ringed with mountains, a river crossed by medieval bridges, and a chocolate-box cute old town filled with historic decorated houses. We got to enjoy all of this, albeit the mountains only at a distance and only a tiny portion of the lake front - got to leave a reason to return to the area.

The Bakers' Guildhouse, now a restaurant - but you can still join the guild if you are a baker and buy a 1000 CHF share

The Jesuit church
Hotels on the river - the building on the hill on the left is our hotel

The Old Suidtersche pharmacy, the oldest pharmacy in Lucerne. It still operates as a modern pharmacy, but you can peep in at this wonderful window display reminiscent of ye olde days. I don't know why, but I read online that you can only see this display at night, so I'm very glad we stumbled upon it at the right time!

We tore ourselves away from the beautiful scenery outside to spend a morning at the Rosengart Collection, which has a large amount of works by Picasso and Klee, amongst other modern artists.

A minimalist Kandinsky sketch

Although we were there during the week, it must have been school holidays or some sort of special occasion, as the area around the lake closest to the city was taken up by a fair and packed with families. We walked a little further around the lake to find some peace and quiet and pretty views of the city and mountains. One old guy was brave enough to take a dip, but despite the beautiful blue skies we were in mid-October by this time, so I'm sure it was chilly!



Wonderfully clear lake water

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Château Gütsch, Lucerne

Finally, we approach the very last leg of our epic honeymoon month. Ravenna was our last stop in Italy, and we headed home via Lucerne/Luzern, Switzerland. Of course, I've heard and seen good things about Switzerland over the years, but my only prior experience was a pretty gloomy and miserable day in Geneva which did not impress me much. Between that and the rumoured high prices (although oddly, I see in my blog from that day that I considered my Swiss shopping a "bargain" - maybe I was calculating the exchange rate wrong), I had never had a burning desire to return in the intervening years.

Well, enter Lucerne to prove me wrong. It's crazy beautiful. Let's start with the view from our hotel. We splashed out on the Château Gütsch, a Belle Epoque "castle" perched up on a hill overlooking the city. Any inconvenience of being up on a hill is balanced out by the funicular that stops right outside the hotel and takes you down to the city, which you can ride for free as a hotel guest.

A suitably honeymoonish bed

View from inside the funicular

Gütsch station
View from the hotel
Morning mist over the city

Sitting on the balcony at night, we could see the stars - something that doesn't really happen in Brussels, sadly
Night view of Lucerne from our hotel

Everything in Lucerne is so picturesque, I took a million photos as you can imagine. So I'll break my posts into mini-episodes to share them with you, stay tuned!

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Cryptic Ravenna

Ravenna may not be associated with Dante the way Florence is, but it is the proud owner of his bones. The "tomb" in the church of Santa Croce in Florence is really just a memorial. Dante died in Ravenna, where he was living in exile, and was buried there. The Florentines have wanted him back for a long time - in 1519, Pope Leo X even ordered his removal to Florence, but the monks of Ravenna refused and hid his bones for centuries. They were found in 1865, and his current tomb is small a modern (19th century) structure in an unassuming part of Ravenna.

Dante on his bike

Like a kid in a sweet shop
Just next to Dante's tomb is the Basilica di San Francisco, one of my favourite of the many fantastic spots in Ravenna. The Basilica is pretty unremarkable except for its flooded crypt, which dates to the 10th century but over the years has sunk into its soft marshy foundations and flooded. They gave up the fight to keep the water out, and today it is an attraction in its own right. You have to peep through a small window - pay the small fee to turn the lights on. It is home to goldfish and lucky coins, and when we visited also featured an underwater table with stone tablecloth and goldfish bowl. This latter doesn't appear in photos I see online, so is presumably a temporary installation highlighting the gentle absurdity of the place.

Grave of the charmingly-named ruler Ostasio da Polenta (d. 1346)
All this and we still didn't see absolutely everything Ravenna has to offer! Very much recommended.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

House of the Stone Carpets, Ravenna

The core set of elaborately glittering golden mosaics in Ravenna are indubitably the most famous, but they are not the only show in town. We also visited the so-called "Stone Carpets", a set of Roman/Byzantine mosaics with a backstory almost as fabulous as the mosaics themselves.

You reach the House of the Stone Carpets via the next-door church of Saint Eufemia. There, you pass underground, three metres below current ground level, to an excavated Byzantine palace which was only discovered in 1993 during the (attempted) construction of an underground garage. Covering around 1200 sq metres, the 14 rooms and three courtyards of the small palace are covered with intricately patterned "carpets" in stone, as well as a couple of stand-out figurative mosaics. The mosaics were restored and the returned to their original location, albeit now in a modern excavation space that allows visitors to walk "through" the house on raised platforms. It only opened to the public in 2002.

It was peaceful and not crowded when we visited (luckily, otherwise it might be unpleasant to have to queue along the platforms), probably because it is less known, less flashy than the main sites, and not included in the combination ticket to the religious buildings. It's a nice chance to see a secular building with a more intimate and low-key mosaic decoration.

The dance of the seasons

Lighting didn't quite work out for a photo with the dancing mosaic

Christ as the Good Shepherd. This is apparently quite different from the standard representation, although none of the sites I've consulted say how exactly. I would guess his very youthful, countrified appearance

Monday, June 11, 2018

Archbishop's Palace, Ravenna

Our last stop on the mosaic trail was at the Archbishop's Palace, now a museum, which contains a tiny oratory dedicated to St Andrew from around 495 AD. Photos were not allowed in here, so I took a couple anyway (sorry).

A militant Christ trampling the beasts
The rest of the museum contains a bit of a hodgepodge of various paintings, mosaic fragments, ivories, statues etc. To be honest, I didn't find it all that memorable, but I enjoyed looking back through my photos and remembering what there was to see there. 

One highlight is the reconstructed chapel frescoes by da Rimini, from the church of Santa Chiara (early 14th century)

The lighting and damage made them hard to photograph, but they had a delicate beauty

As usual, I also enjoyed taking photos of various quirky objects:

Sexy boar
Sexy mermaid (hello Starbucks)

'Tis but a scratch
Pharmacy reconstruction

Wolf infestation

I didn't take any pictures of one of the glories of the museum, the ivory throne of Archbishop Maximianus (who showed up in the San Vitale mosaics), and the internet doesn't seem to have many pictures of it either, but it's pretty special: