Travel Theme: Routine

This week at Where’s My Backpack?, Ailsa offers us a glimpse into routine for her photo challenge. As I need to re-routinize myself to blogging with the new year, this seems auspicious. 🙂

Ever forward.

Welcome to a goalie practice at the Herb Brooks Arena (home of the 1980 Miracle on Ice US Olympic hockey team upset-slash-victory, and I was so excited to walk in there I felt like a five-year-old on Christmas Eve). There were CAN/AM teams in the arena practicing, and we got to watch goalies get some top-notch coaching. Over. And over. And get shelled by their teammates. Over. And over. And then they’d stop and talk about what happened. It was fantastic.

OK, so, we're going to do this for the hundredth time. You ready?

OK, Bob, we’re going to do this for the hundredth time today. You ready?

Closer to home, check out these kids performing one of their dance routines at the Lewisburg Arts Festival. Come for the dancing, stay for the hand-crafted jewelry (not pictured, but trust me…you want some). 

We ain't never had an arts festival like this!

We ain’t never had an arts festival like this!

Boat maintenance is never done, and if you want to keep that boat up and running you have to tend to it as part of your daily grind. Just ask this fellow, sanding away at his boat in a Venetian canal.

All work and no pretty much what happens when you have a boat.

All work and no play…is pretty much what happens when you have a boat.

Next, it’s Hilby the Skinny German Juggling Boy! Who is doing a juggling routine with his own hat that seems to surprise even him.

HEY! Where did that thing come from?

HEY! Where did that thing come from?

And finally. Ducks and swans in Reykjavik‘s Lake Tjörnin are so accustomed to people feeding them, it seems they’ve incorporated patiently waiting for bread into their daily routines.

Hey, kid. You gonna finish that?

Hey, kid. You gonna finish that?

Side note: No, you’re not imagining things. Icelandic whooper swans really are the size of a small child.

And I will leave you with an Icelandic folk song written in honor of the raven. Because I am a giver.

Enjoy the photo challenge!

Travel Theme: Intense

This week at Where’s My Backpack?, Ailsa has issued a really challenging challenge. One might even call it…intensely challenging. *nyuk nyuk nyuk* The theme is “intense”. Hmmmmmmm….

Here goes!

Recently, George and I drove to Point Pleasant Beach during a visit with family, and hooooooo-weeeeee! The wind was crazy that day. My mother came with us; we were worried that the winds would pick her up and carry her away.

Down where the trade winds play...

Down where the trade winds play…

Next up: the intense physicality of an NHL game. Last year, George and I went to a New York Rangers game in Madison Square Garden. (Welcome to Rangerstown. Now get outta here.) A thousand years ago I was always going to hockey games as the ex- and I had season tickets, but when the marriage ended, so did the subscription. C’est la vie. Now, when I get a chance to go, it’s a real treat. Though you know, I’ve always thought that if I went to work and a colleague knocked me to the ground with a big stick while another colleague made off with my work implements? Screw you guys, I’m going home. I’m glad hockey players think differently.


Get the puck get the puck GET THAAAA PUUUUUUCCCCCCKKKKKKK!!!!!!

I’ve spoken of Knoebels, our local gem of an amusement park, before. It’s always a thrill to go there and get flung about upside down and sideways.



Meanwhile in Venice, glassblowers use intense heat to make beautiful glassware. Bear in mind: this flaming red glass sculpture? Will cool and turn colorless, completely clear.

How'd you like a nice piece of molten glass?

How’s about a nice piece of molten glass?

For the last several years, the garden club in my little town has organized a summer garden tour, where select local homeowners with tour-worthy gardens graciously open their yards to the public for a day. I have world’s blackest thumb and can kill any plant you put in front of me; thankfully, I know lots of people who can make things grow at will. This was taken in my friend Steva’s amazing raised garden beds. Behold! The intense beauty of a perfect rose on a gorgeous summer day.

Welcome to Pleasantville.

Welcome to Pleasantville.

That’s it for now. I hope you enjoy the other participants in Ailsa’s photo challenge, or even decide to play along, yourself!

Here’s a little Bugs Bunny, singing about the trade winds, to enjoy on your way out.

Travel Theme: Details

Ailsa has issued this week’s photo challenge at Where’s My Backpack?, and this week, the devil is in the details. 

Like this one, close to my home. This weekend we get to feast our eyes on a ton of ice sculpture for the annual Lewisburg Ice Festival. (Bonus! It’s neither unseasonably warm nor raining, so the sculptures will make it through the festival, so long as the weather lasts.) I love this little walrus guy, and his detailed whisker holes and scary walrus tusks. 

I am he as you are he as you are me. Or something like that.

I am he as you are he as you are me. Or something like that.

Next stop: Venice! We were at a glassblower’s shop on Murano Island. The artist was showing off his mad glassblowing skills (which were prodigious), but every so often, you have to look elsewhere. I liked this schematic for an upcoming art glass project. 

There's a lot of fire in that hole.

There’s a lot of fire in that hole.

Heading home…and I mean, really, heading home from Italy, we were starting to descend and I realized we were flying right over Long Island. Which, might I say, is really long. And is made up of a lot of barrier channels and quirky little islands, like this one. I had no idea, until I saw it from above.

Greetings from New York. Now go home.

Greetings from New York. Now go home.

While we’re in New York…

…New York State, that is…

…let’s make a stop at Dr. Frank’s winery, on Keuka Lake. The wine? Delicious. The view? Gorgeous? But the little grape cluster cut crystals that comprise the body of the chandeliers in their tasting room? Swoon-worthy.



And finally, we end with a visit to my beloved Boston. Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts has some extraordinary exhibits, but their musical instruments room is exceptional. Here’s a close-up of a hand-worked guitar inlaid with a salacious amount of mother-of-pearl. And check out the carving in the sound hole. Crazy!

What? Like making this was hard?

What? Like making this was hard?

That’s it for now. Enjoy the photo challenges, everyone! See you around Ailsa’s page. 

Travel Theme: Architecture

Ailsa’s travel theme this week at Where’s My Backpack? is architecture, and…frankly…I’m not sure how I can rein myself in.  There are so many fantastic structures I’ve had the good fortune to see…let’s get started.

Staying close at home…as in, in my small-yet-groovy corner of central PA…dig this crazy squiggly fence!  Rumor has it a math teacher lives here and wanted a fence that would represent…some mathematical concept, don’t ask me, it’s not my thing.  But the fence design and execution?  Very cool.

I understand teh maths are at work here.

0.o I understand teh maths are at work here.

Next, we travel on to Cleveland.  This is taken from the walking pier that goes behind the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (sort of cool but didn’t live up to my expectations), looking back at the cityscape created by the HoF and the Great Lakes Science Center, to the right.  Further to the right, just out of the line of sight on the camera is Browns Stadium, which I would have loved to get into the shot because it’s a fantastic confluence of cultural relevance: music, the sciences, and a little sport for good measure.  But.  My lens wouldn’t do me that way.  I love the clean, modern lines of the buildings; it’s got that “City of the Future!” sort of look going for it, no?  All it needs are, like, hovercars flitting around in the air.  Or people in jetpacks.  Dare to dream.

Behold the Land of Cleve!

Behold the Land of Cleve!

Next, we go to Boston and feast our eyes on the John Hancock Tower.  I never really stopped to think about whether or not I was a fan of modern architecture, but you know…this building was designed by I,M. Pei’s firm  and it’s hard to argue with the gorgeous buildings he and his firm are responsible for.  The Hancock Tower, it’s so sleek!  It’s so reflective!  It almost disappears into the sky.

It's the tallest--and I am sure, the shiniest--building in Boston.

It’s the tallest–and I am sure, the shiniest–building in Boston.

Next, we globetrot across the pond to France and the stone beauty of the Chartres Cathedral.  Completed (-ish; it’s hard to determine when cathedrals are deemed finished because they’re ALWAYS work to be done) in the mid 12th century (so, somewhere around 1150, for those playing at home), the towers of the west façade were, at that time, similarly topped with gorgeous but not terribly ornate pyramid-shaped spires.  All things being relative.  Then a lightning strike started a fire on the north spire in 1506, causing the spire to have to be rebuilt.  In the intervening three hundred years architectural tastes had changed somewhat.  The north spire was fashioned in the much frillier flamboyant style of Gothic architecture that was de rigueur until about the 1530s.  And so?  One church, two similarly aged towers, two spires that reflect the changing artistic sensibilities that 300 years could bring.  Good times!

Flamboyant is the new black.

Flamboyant is the new black.

And finally…Venice.

Which I love.

You need to admire their architectural ingenuity, though I often imagine what the conversations about building this city must have sounded like.

Venetian 1:  Hey, we’ve got to get the hell away from these invading Huns! What do you think about those marshy pads of mud out in the middle of the lagoon?

Venetian 2:  I think they’re little more than really sucky mud.  They’ll barely support our weight.

Venetian 1:  I know, but that means it won’t support the weight of invading armies, either.  See?  And besides I’ve been thinking about that…I wonder if we could let the lagoon be a natural defense for us and while we’re out there, build some kind of a platform…

Venetian 2:  Like what, a raft?

Venetian 1:  Well, yeah, but you know.  Permanent.

Venetian 2:  Oh, right.  So you’re just going to “create” some land, or something?  And what do you propose to do?

Venetian 1:  Now, now.  Hear me out.  Here’s what I’m thinking, and I’m just going to throw this out there and see what sticks: how about we go to Slovenia and deforest all of the Kras region, plus some of Croatia and the southern bit of Montenegro, and then take all those trees and strip them into massive logs, right?  And then we sink them straight down, right into the muck and goo?  The water is so full of minerals that the wood won’t rot. In fact, it will anti-not-rot.  It will petrify.  And once all these channel islands have been reinforced with the pilfered forests of nearby countries, then we can build homes and palaces and cathedrals and a trade-and-spice empire the likes of which the world has never seen!  *mwah ha*  *mwah ha ha ha*

Venetian 2:  Papa Doge, you so crazy.  It’ll never work.

Venetian 1:  Oh, no..?  Is that a dare?

Venetian 2:  Worse.  It’s a triple-dog dare.

Venetian 1:  You’re on!

Sounds crazy, but it just might work.

Sounds crazy, but it just might work.

OK, just because I love it too much, here’s another picture.

No cars allowed.

No cars allowed.

~~~end scene~~~

Have fun checking out the rest of the architecture challenges on Ailsa’s page!

Travel Theme: Secret Places

Ailsa over at Where’s My Backpack? runs a weekly travel theme on her blog.  I’m new to her stuff but really enjoy not only what she writes, but what her readers contribute.  It’s an incredibly fun and often breathtakingly beautiful page.

This week’s travel theme is “secret places”.  As I still have Venice    on the brain–which I’m thinking I should research as a legitimate medical condition, because doctor, I get no relief–I immediately thought of the Venetian streets.  See, here’s the thing about Venice…the Grand Canal and the several twisty-turny and poorly-defined “blocks” that flank the Grand Canal, are jam-packed with people and shops and cafes and music and you’d be hard pressed to find a secret place if your life depended on it.  But perseverance pays off.  Walk a little bit further in, wander away from the noise and the crowds, and you’ll find a deserted Venice, one with empty streets and dark alleys and mysterious shadows.  Wander that way at night and the boats get ghostly in the moonlight.  Pay a little attention and you’ll find the abandoned gates of former gondola garages that are sinking with the city.  Feast your eyes, and let your imagination tell you story about what goes on in these quiet streets.

On the hidden business end of the street.

Ghostly boats at night.

A deserted alley.

A dilapidated former garage.

What places spark your imagination?

Travel: There’s No Place Like Venice

Venice was by far my favorite leg of this trip; I think that’s part of why I’m having such a hard time coming around to writing about it.  I’m not quite sure how to put Venice into words.

It is extraordinary.

Typical street scene, Venice. Complete with gondolier.

My boyfriend had been there once before, and he’d tried to explain.  The streets don’t follow a grid, they just follow the water.  Streets don’t necessarily go straight through to where you want them to go, they may just end.  No cars, just boats.  These are all words I understand and I could follow the concepts syntactically and theoretically, but I didn’t get it.

I followed the sidewalk to its watery end, and...

Here are a few facts about Venice:

It is comprised of both the series of islands for which it is famous, and real estate on the European mainland. We stayed on the mainland, in Mestre, which is one of the boroughs of the larger Comune of Venice.  Where we stayed isn’t cool, it’s kind of like saying you’re going to New York City thinking you’ll be in Manhattan but instead, you end up in Staten Island.  Technically it’s part of New York but really..?  No.  However, I will say this in retrospect: with not realizing what Venice was really like, not understanding that getting to a hotel in the historic and romantic idea of “Venice” would mean dragging luggage down twisting and not-readily-marked streets, lugging it over bridges and humping a ten-days-of-vacation-size-suitcase on and off vaporetti, which sit on water, which can be choppy…and, that getting to our hotel in Mestre was an easy cab ride from the train station, that our hotel would be beautifully appointed and was a short, easy walk to the incredibly reliable, clean, efficient bus that was a mere ten minute ride to the first vaporetto stop (note: make sure, when the bus you want nears the stop, you stick your arm out to signal the driver you’d like to get on board; if nobody on the bus wants your stop and nobody at the stop signals the driver, the bus will not stop, and yes, that is experience talking)…I realized about an hour after first setting foot in the relentless tangletown that is the Venetian islands that I was so very, very relieved to be staying in Mestre for this first trip.  When I go back (and I will), I would like to stay in the historic, romantic section.  But if you end up in Mestre, it’s so not a problem.

The Venice most people think of–the cool part–is made up of 118 (or 117, I guess it depends on what website you read) marshy, low islands, nestled into a lagoon at the top of the Adriatic Sea, and has been formally “settled” in one way or another since the 400s A.D. (I say “formally” because there is a historical record of the founding of a church at Rialto island in 421, but people have been living on the Venetian islands FOR. EVER. And I digress.)  When Venice as an engineering marvel was being planned and executed, their clever architects created foundations for their buildings by sinking trees into the islands’ marshy soil, leveling them off and capping them with stone from nearby quarries.  They found that larch and oak worked best for their needs, and deforested much of Slovenia to create the Venetian ground.  Doesn’t that wood rot in all that water?  Nooooo, it’s not exposed to oxygen and is in water that’s so mineral-rich, it petrifies.  Also, Venice only has a handful of “canals”, even though we like to say they have canals everywhere.  Venetians, generally, reserve the word “canal” for larger water thoroughfares; the Grand Canal winds its way through the center of the islands, and there are canals at the north and south end of the main body of Venice, but the smaller waterways?  They’re called “rio”, river.  Yeah, it was a surprise to me too.  This map (click to enlarge so you can see the river names clearly) shows what constitutes river vs. canal by Venetian standards, though I tend to defer to popular (and ingrained) knowledge in what I call them here.

Note the sign on the bridge: it's not Canale Chiuso, it's Rio Chiuso. And it's pretty.

These feats of engineering were able to be pulled off because the Adriatic has virtually no tidal shift.  Of course there are some tidal dynamics, but the tides generally don’t fluctuate more than a meter.  Venice is sinking, this is true, but it’s doing so at the rate of one or two millimeters per year.  Its larger and more immediate threat, however, is from the rise in water levels due to global warming.  The incidences of “acqua alta“, or high water, have steadily increased since the 1950s and have skyrocketed in the last decade.  Interestingly, the first sign of acqua alta isn’t the Grand Canal jumping its banks but rather, water that will start bubbling up from the system of underground cisterns that had been sunk hundreds of years ago to harvest rain water.  On the one hand I’m sort of sorry I didn’t see the acqua alta and on the other…far be it from me to wish flooding on the good people of Venice for my weirdo bemusement.

Oh, yeah, one more thing.  Venice?  Not smelly.  If someone tells you the canals reek, then politely nod with the understanding that they are, sadly, misinformed.  And then move on.

I was going to say the first thing we did in Venice was get on the #1 vaporetto line and tour the Grand Canal, but NO! That is not what we did.  The first thing we did was buy transportation passes that covered our time there, and believe me, this is something you want to do.  It’s not that it’s a tremendous time-saver, though having a prepaid card always helps in that regard.  Rather, it’s a huge (as in, enormous) financial savings.  A three-day unlimited-use-vaporetto-and-bus pass, which also entitled us to discounts at several museums, cost something like 33 Euro each.  A single-use, one way vaporetto ticket costs €6.50.  Each.  So each and every hop on-hop off, see what’s over here/hey! I want to do this thing! type of touristy bustle, every time you set foot on a vaporetto, would cost €6.50.  It’s your money.  You can certainly decide how you want to spend it, but I’m just trying to help.  And no, I didn’t go on a gondola ride.  They are, indeed, expensive, and while I certainly wasn’t afraid of spending my money there, it’s not in infinite supply and I decided I wanted to focus on other things.

Anyway.  The first thing we did was get on the #1 vaporetto line and take a tour of the Grand Canal.  Vaporetti are, essentially, water buses, and the #1 line is the Grand Canal local.  It stops at nearly every stop along the Grand Canal, so it’s effective at helping you get your bearings in this twisty city and is also, quite relentlessly, a feast for the eyes.

Looking out the back of the vaporetto.

I couldn't make up my mind where I should look, because this sort of thing was everywhere.

The #1 line would eventually take you to the Lido, the beachfront that borders the lagoon and looks out onto the wider expanse of the Adriatic, but we pretty much always stopped at the Piazza San Marco, a hub of activity that attracts about a bazillion tourists (rightly so, as there are amazing sights to see) with things like the Doge’s Palace and the Basilica di San Marco.  We couldn’t take pictures in the Doge’s Palace, but here’s the courtyard:

I chose this shot instead of the one with the hipsters in it wearing large striped raver Cat-in-the-Hat hats. You're welcome.

And this is what’s right across from it.

Adriatic Sea, thisaway.

We saw a college graduation in Piazza San Marco, so that was kind of fun.

Nice, impressive backdrop for your college grad photos, with the Basilica to the left and the Doge's Palace to the right.

And the red building right in the middle is a giant clock tower, completed in 1499.

Clock tower, Piazza San Marco, and the Venetian flag unfurling in the wind.

Venetians seemed, to me, to be a little bit awesomely cracked.  They’re not as aloof and sleek as Romans and they’re not as competitive as Florentines.  They’re funnier and a little more brusque.  Venice is packed with tourists, I mean…jammed…but once you go three or four blocks away from the Grand Canal you enter a quiet city that non-locals don’t seem to care that much about.  That sort of inherent quirkiness in the city is reflected in the people.  We left one bar where we sat at a table for ten minutes and didn’t even get looked at by the staff and went across the street to the bar we’d been at the day before, the one frequented by gondoliers and waiters getting off their shifts, where the bartender recognized us and greeted us like old friends.

Meet Mina, who ran that bar like a champ.

Attention music nerds, we also went to this bar:

And it pretty much looks the same, minus the presence of Steve Winwood.

Which was appropriately rustic but not nearly as musically interesting as this bar:

We were lured here by the sweet, sweet sounds of a nighttime tuba.

Which is apparently the swingin’est place to have a birthday party in all of Venice, and gives me yet another reason to want to go back.

I’ll say one more thing about our Venetian bar tour: we did, indeed, go to Harry’s.

Of all the gin joints in all the world...

For those who don’t know, Harry’s is among the upper echelon of famous literary-type hangouts, in all the world.  Gertrude Stein used to go there, Somerset Maugham used to go there, apparently Hemingway nearly lived there for a year.  It is cozy and incredibly welcoming; I walked in with crazy, giant, windblown hair, in my grotty denim jacket that I realized doesn’t do a single positive thing for me, and the gracious host was unquestionably ready to seat me right away and ensure I would have a top-notch dining experience.  I was just coming for one drink, but I appreciated their nonjudgmental effort.

So I had the Bellini.  I had to!  Harry’s invented the Bellini, so going there for a beer would be like going to see Willie Wonka and choosing to get a turkey club instead of chocolate.  Anyway.  Said Bellini was delicious but travelers be warned: it is expensive as ass.  I mean, it was my vacation so why not get splurgey, right?  But…

You may now kiss 33 Euro goodbye. At least you get some chicken croquettes.

I’m kind of at the point where I think I need to let Venice speak for itself.  It’s not that I don’t have a lot to say about the place; I do, I do indeed.  I could make this five times as long and not talk about all that Venice has to offer.  But the thing is, I spent most of my time walking around in a total cocoon of amazement.  Yes, we did things, like went to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum (well worth it, though no pictures allowed), we saw an exhibit on Armenia at the Correr Museum (no pictures) and went to Murano Island and saw glass-blowing.  Mostly, though, we walked, and looked, and looked, and walked.  I’ll post a few more pictures, but if you want to see more, please feel free to go here.  Enjoy!

It is the greenest boat in all of Greenboatville.

At the lighthouse on Murano Island.

Glass blowing!

From Murano, looking towards Venice.

Along a random canal, this is what it's like, oh...everywhere.

Nighttime at the Rialto Bridge.

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