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Rome, Florence, Venice and the Veneto: tedgale Trip Report

Rome, Florence, Venice and the Veneto: tedgale Trip Report

Apr 3rd, 2009, 04:25 AM
  #21  
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I want to spend some time later today exploring the Italian character, as I observed it and as it has been explained to me.

Before I allow myself to pontificate -- or make a fool of myself with vapid generalizations -- I will supply some more hard facts about our visit in Rome.

Rome has, if anything, too many churches. It is hard to know what to exclude and which to visit. Degas has a very good Fodor's thread on a walking tour of southern Rome churches. I cannot hope to equal its erudition or completeness. However, I thought it would be useful to give first-time visitors a short list of my Top 10.

Omitted from the list are the "must sees": St Peter's, of course, plus: the Pantheon, San Giovanni in Laterano, Santa Maria Maggiore and, one rung below these on the ladder, San Pietro in Vincoli. A visit to Rome is incomplete without visiting all 5.

My Top 10, in no particular order:

1. Santa Maria del Popolo, in P.zza del Popolo: Go for the 2 Caravaggios in the Cerasi chapel, plus a Pinturicchio fresco, Raphael's design for the mosaics and more. A glorious mix of northern (Lombard) and southern taste.

2. San Luigi dei Francesi, v. S.ta Giovanna d'Arco, just E of P.zza Navona: The Contarelli chapel has Caravaggio's paintings of the life of St. Mark -- reason enough for a visit.

3. Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Piazza Bocca della Verita: A "paleo-Christian" church best known for housing the Bocca della Verita, which probably started life as a sewer grate. Hundreds of tourists, mainly Japanese, pose in the loggia with their hand in the Mouth of Truth. How many ever go inside to view this 6th century church? -- small, simple, redolent of "the tone of time", to use Henry James' favourite expression.

4. Chapel of Palazzo Massimo alle Colonne, Corso V. Emmanuele: I include this because most people have never heard of it, let alone seen it. I myself have not seen it -- because I could not get in, on the one day a year (March 16, 7 am - 12 noon) when this family chapel is open to the public. The crowd, mostly Romans, spilled out in the Corso. People were admitted in ones and twos, as others exited. We gave up this time but will come at 7 am if we ever get another chance.

5. San Carlo alle 4 Fontane, via delle 4 Fontane: A tiny church on a small, oddly-shaped plot. Developing the site took all Borromini's ingenuity. His solution is so neat, so "cute" and lovable that the church is known by the diminutive "San Carlino". High, white, with a magnificent dome, it is all verticality, since width and depth were limited. Explore too the high, white cloister beside it and the low, white crypt beneath it. You'll probably have the space all to yourself, BTW.

6. Sant' Andrea al Quirinale, via del Quirinale: 3 minutes' walk from San Carlino, this Bernini church was built under constraints equal to those of Borromini -- an impossibly shallow, wide site. Bernini was equally ingenious in his design for the Jesuits but where Borromini was austere, Bernini was lavish. The gilded dome, complete with putti and fully rendered gilded figures, is eye-popping in its splendour. Through a door and up some stairs are the rooms of a 16th C. Polish saint, whose deathbed figure is eerily rendered in marble. Many Poles visit this creepy, desolate shrine.

7. Sant' Antonio dei Portoghesi, via dei Portoghesi, near P.zza Navona: An eccentric personal choice, because I dropped into it so often that I think of it as "mine". It is the Portuguese church in Rome, a smallish structure of the 1630s, largely unchanged since its construction. Every square inch is decorated -- much with precious marble and gilding. It has been called "a masterpiece of the monochromatic middle Baroque". You will likely be alone in this church, too.

8. and 9. Santa Cecilia and Santa Maria in Trastevere: I lump these two together because if you are going to Trastevere you will likely want to see both.

Santa Cecilia stands at one end of a large, walled courtyard -- really a garden -- that is an oasis in the hubbub of gritty Trastevere. The church has 3rd C. foundations hidden behind an 18th C. facade. Deep below all that is, reputedly, the even-earlier home of the saint herself. For a couple of Euros you can descend to the crypt and see the now-excavated remains of a Roman house, later converted to commercial premises, including ancient brick-lined storage bins for grain. Upstairs: Bits of Roman carving in the loggia, medieval fresco and glorious Renaissance trompe l'oeil along the side walls. The central portions of the church have the decor of a gilded Viennese ballroom, right down to the spindly gold chairs.

Santa Maria, by contrast, stands squarely in one corner of Trastevere's most popular square, which bears its name. It is dark, where Santa Cecilia is bright, and huge, where Santa Cecilia is intimate. It is WAY more solemn. The mismatched columns of the nave were recycled from a Roman temple. The extensive medieval mosaics are in a remarkable state of preservation. Later additions of further mosaics, gilded stucco and a richly embossed wooden ceiling have only increased its magnificence.

10. San Clemente, via Labicana: Yeah, hardly a surprise -- but how could I omit this little ancient gem, with its mismatched, patched-together quality; its heaving floors and crooked walls; and its layer upon layer of history?

I turned to Wikipedia for a concise and authoritative description:

"Archaeologically speaking it is a three-tiered complex of buildings on the site, the lowermost notable as being an archaeological record of a first century insula belonging to T. Flavius Clemens; superposed on it is a second century Roman pagan temple dedicated to Mithras. On the foundations of the fourth-century Christian church is the current one built just before the year 1100 during the height of the Middle Ages."
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Apr 3rd, 2009, 04:51 AM
  #22  
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Many of the CHURCHES are illustrated in this collection of photos of ROME:

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?ai...5&l=6e400a855b

I have also created an album of the PLACES WE STAYED, which illustrates better than my words the charms of the apartments and B&Bs identified above:

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?ai...5&l=840faa5003
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Apr 3rd, 2009, 09:14 AM
  #23  
LJ
 
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Tedgale: many thanks for useful detail re: Venice food sources. I think this will assist DH and me in next trip arrangements.
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Apr 3rd, 2009, 12:51 PM
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Now my promised personal observations and reflections. Apologies in advance to anyone offended by generalizations. Not hoping to start a debate, just to complete the record of my own thoughts about Italy:

On this trip, R said “Here is the difference between bad behaviour in France and bad behaviour in Italy.

“In France they say That’s not MY problem. In Italy they say But that doesn’t mean ME.

“The difference is: The first lacks empathy for fellow citizens as individuals; the second lacks respect for the civic collective and its needs."

The latter I can corroborate, from personal observation on this trip.

No smoking? That doesn’t mean me.
One-way street? That doesn’t mean me.
Taxable income? That doesn’t mean me (according to newspapers and an interesting show I saw on RAI TV, where builders were secretly videotaped explaining to buyers how much of the house's selling price they'd need in unmarked bills).

I started thinking about this attitude. It's the very antithesis of Canada, where obedience is the norm, collectivism is central to our culture and law....and renegades of all sorts are unwelcome.

This attitude could lead to chaos, if it were not held in check by an alternative set of allegiances, supported by a profound sense of duty.

It seems to me that those allegiances begin with family and spread outward – to community, region, political party and, more faintly nowadays, to the Church.

(The other evening, I heard Berlusconi refer to Italy as “a Christian country”. Here in Canada, you’d be tarred and feathered for that phrase. Even in the God-fearin’ USA, you could not say that!)

My Milanese friend Roberto tells me that every Italian has, in fact, two personalities.

One is the “egoista” – the person who thinks only of himself and his own needs. Roberto complains a lot of the “menefreghismo” (Don’t-give-a-damn-ism) of Italian society. I always assumed this term meant political alienation or apathy. He explained it was something more like a selfish indifference to the collective welfare, as long as one was OK oneself. Perhaps the closest equivalent in English is the British expression “I’m alright, Jack”.

The other personality is the “conformista”, who relishes structure, hierarchy and stability. Roberto maintains that the “conformist” trend in Italian life has held back economic transformation (and kept Berlusconi in power).

He has just spent 6 months in Silicon Valley, interviewing Italian expatriates from the IT sector for a book. Some are recent arrivals, some have worked in the US for 40 years. Uniformly, they spoke of their former bosses’ suspicion of the unfamiliar; the deadening effect on innovation of Italian corporate hierarchy and nepotism; the risk-aversion of Italian investors (and the un-collaborative culture of the Italian workplace, particularly where the ideas to be shared might have commercial value).

It may be that the release-valve from all this corporate, political and bureaucratic weight is selfish behaviour in public – and the petty larcenies that are such a marked feature of Italian life (an estimated 30-40 percent of personal income unreported to the tax collectors, as I read the other day).

Let me turn to what I've observed of the positive, countervailing side of the Italian character: Loyalty, constancy, intense engagement with friends and family – of a kind unfamiliar to us Canadian males.

In other words: Reliance on – and faith in – the private, the concrete and the personal, rather than the public, the abstract and the collective.

When we got together last weekend with Roberto and his wife, at their country place near Bergamo and later at their Milan apartment, he treated me like a brother. Immediately, we began sharing new ideas and filling in the gaps, as though no time had passed since our last meeting.

“Since our last meeting”. That would be…. August, 1978. Until I found him a few months ago via the Internet, Roberto and I had not met or spoken for almost 31 years.

But once you are admitted to the circle of friendship in Italy, you always have a place there, however long the absence. It was perfectly natural to him – as it could never be to a North American – that we should just take up where we had left off. I think it never occurred to him to be emotionally cautious, to protect his feelings against disappointment or the risk of incompatibility.

We didn’t even reminisce about the past. We just got on with our friendship.

There, I just wanted to tell you that, as part of my account of this recent trip.

Hope I do not start a big debate on the Italian character. I'm not Luigi Barzini -- I know that. If anyone wants to discuss, we can go to the Lounge.

I'll get back to facts and trip details in my next post(s).

Now my promised personal observations and reflections. Apologies in advance to anyone offended by generalizations. Not hoping to start a debate, just to complete the record of my own thoughts about Italy:
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Apr 3rd, 2009, 12:57 PM
  #25  
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Not quite sure how my opening para. re-appeared at the end of my post!!

Some technical glitch always deflates my high-flown rhetoric!!
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Apr 3rd, 2009, 01:25 PM
  #26  
 
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Ted...

So glad I found your report. I haven't finished reading through it yet, but it will make for an enjoyable read tonight...maybe I'll even bust out my bottle of prosecco to have while reading!
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Apr 3rd, 2009, 03:11 PM
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Fascinating, grazie.
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Apr 3rd, 2009, 06:30 PM
  #28  
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Have we had enough about Rome? Guess I can move on to Florence and Venice now....though after my "Top 20", I am not sure how much more new stuff there is to relate.
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Apr 3rd, 2009, 06:39 PM
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Just loving this report. I've just had dinner, but reading about your meals makes me hungry again. Please, sir, could we have some more?
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Apr 4th, 2009, 05:22 AM
  #30  
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A few final notes before I finish with Rome:

(Increasingly I am thinking of this as a Rome report, because I really do not have many insights about Florence or Venice, cities that others have covered my better than I could)

1. Porta Portese market: Sunday mornings. I was told you can find anything there, from used clothing to antiques. Well, no. It is a market for the poor and the range of items offered is narrow: clothing + food.

I was in a mood, recession-induced, to see how real people live, so the market interested me. If you want to shop, rather than gawk, there is not much here for us middle-class shoppers.

2. Hidden neighbourhoods: Rome's undulating topography + the large roads that cut off certain streets = lots of hidden neighbourhoods. My favourites were:

Via dei Foraggi, via dei Fienili -- cut off by the Capitoline, the Palatine, Circo Massimo and the via Petroselli. Cobblestoned streets, many low 2-3 storey houses. I noted one smart new cafe-restaurant. I think it's getting gentrified. You can still feel you are 100 miles from anywhere, though.

All the streets NE of the via dei Fori Imperiali, both left and right of the via Cavour: Salita del Grillo, via Baccina, via Frangipani and that dodgy area just above the Colosseo metro station. A "real" and often gritty neighbourhood, just a stone's throw away from the most touristed stretch of Rome.

Via Giulia to the Tiber: I Like every street and alley running between the via Giulia and the noisy Lungotevere. Even the Lungotevere has charm: It has cars, which one ignores, but no ambling tourists.

3. Rome's small museums: On our last visit, we discovered the Villa Torlonia and its Casa delle Civette. This time, we tried the Museo Napoleonico in the centro storico. It stands at the end of the Ponte Umberto I, in a grand palazzo, home of a Count Primoli, descendent of a Napoleonic sibling.

Probably the world's largest private collection of Buonaparte family memorabilia. You realize -- from the accompanying explanations of dynastic marriages and the catalogue of titles distributed among his siblings -- that Napoleon really was a megalomaniac. You realize too how, through conquest and upheaval, he kept the whole of Europe, Egypt and, briefly, North America convulsed over a period of 20 years.

Anyway: There's a trove of exquisite trinkets that various Bonapartes ordered for themselves or for one another: Miniatures, inlaid writing desks, dessert services, gigantic portraits, jewellery. And a primitive bicycle. Weird, grandiose, well-mounted. I wouldn't waste a fine spring day on this place but it was fun for a late-day, "getting-dark-and-chilly" time-slot.
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Apr 4th, 2009, 06:08 AM
  #31  
 
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I am really enjoying your report. I look forward to more.
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Apr 4th, 2009, 06:40 AM
  #32  
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Another addition to hidden neighbourhoods:

Via Margutta is scarcely "hidden", since it is one of the most famous streets in Rome, but it IS "cut off" -- by the steep rise of the Pincio and by Via del Babuino.

That street just keeps getting posher and posher, with many antique shops, galleries and specialty stores, (plus some delicious short-term rental apartments). We were amused to see the sign for a 4-star hotel, recalling we had stayed there in 1977 and paid $20/night -- it was a nice but simple pensione then.

Adjacent and parallel to via Margutta but about 5 storeys above it is the road that connects the top of the Spanish Steps and the church of S.ta Trinita dei Monti with the Borghese Gardens.

We usually nip inside the Metro station at Piazza di Spagna and take the little 4 person elevator (free) to the level of Trinita dei Monti. From there we wander toward the gardens, passing of course the Villa Medici on our right and a series of wild vertiginous gardens on our left.

The entry area to the gardens is pretty badly torn up right now -- I think they are restoring the area to its historic garden layout. The view, over Piazza del Popolo toward St Peter's, remains undiminished. From that lookout, it's a long way down, using pathways, stairs and/or the roadway. You emerge into Piazza del Popolo with the sense of having seen the best view in Rome.
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Apr 4th, 2009, 01:49 PM
  #33  
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I'm not sure I'm going to post anything about Florence and Venice -- I may have nothing new to say. Apart from one meal at Ristoro di Cambi in Florence, we tended to eat at home in those cities. And our museum-visiting and church-visiting was pretty standard. Moreover, neither of those cities demands the insider-knowledge that a much larger and more spread-out city such as Rome does.

Well, maybe I'll change my mind. But for now, I'll jump to the final part of the trip, when we stayed 3 nights in the Veneto before our weekend with Roberto. Our final night was at Casa Valiversi B&B in the hills near Florence Airport -- I will provide details at the end of this post.

On another thread I recently posted the following, about the "Palladian villa" country along the Brenta River:

"The Veneto and the villas....Well.....No, I would not do that area again.

"The farmland of the Venetian plane has been devastated -- there really is no other word -- by light industry, commercial development and random residential settlement.

"Driving is generally difficult as you are really never out of a built up area. There are some bypasses and some new roads are being built. But the villas require driving through small, ugly towns (e.g. Piombino Dese, for the V. Cornaro and the V. Marcello) and their ribbons of creeping growth.

"We started with Treviso, where we could not park because we could not find any place that sold parking coupons (what a weird approach -- why not use pay and display machines?)

"Castelfranco Veneto and Cittadella have pretty walls but not much more.... We travelled to Asolo, wh was kinda cute....but no more so than 100 Tuscan or Umbrian towns.

"The Villa Emo was a delight; it was one of the few villas open in this season and on the weekdays available to us. But -- like virtually all the villas, it seems -- it is surrounded by crappy village development. So we decided to go further abroad.

"We drove one sunny day up the east side of Lago di Garda, then cut across the mountains, via Rovereto to Schio (then picked up a motorway to get home). Absolute heaven in the off season. The lake is stunning and the mountain roads were clear, well maintained and fast.

"En route to Garda, we passed Vicenza and Verona and I realized nothing -- not even the V. Rotonda -- would induce me to visit either city by car. Or Bassano del Grappa -- huge, sprawling, terribly ugly on its edges.

"We did however climb the Cima del Grappa to the 1500 m altitude, beyond wh the road to Feltre was still blocked by snow (as we knew before we ascended). And Feltre is a charming, lively small city, whose public bldgs we explored -- we were allowed just to wander into and around the renaissance Sala degli Stimmi on our own, while municipal workers went about their business all around us."

Our base for the 3 nights in the Veneto was an agricultural enterprise (with its own wine label) called Le Risare, near Cittadella. Le Risare is an immaculate, quiet, very well restored historic property whose proprietor was very pleasant and helpful, as was the Ukrainian housekeeper Alina (sp.?)

For 80 E/ night, we got a good-sized room in a beautifully converted outbuilding with beamed ceilings and fireplace (laid with wood and with "firestarters" supplied) + a glorious bathroom with huge glass-walled shower.

Add to that a great breakfast of fresh baking, coffee/ tea, juices, cereal, fruit, sliced meats, cheeses, yogourt, etc.

Nearby are good reasonable restaurants -- 5 minutes to hip, youthful "Era Ora" in Campo San Martino, 15 minutes to the quaint, homey "Taverna degli Artisti" in the historic centre of Cittadella.

As I have mentioned more than once, our final weekend was spent near Bergamo, at Roberto and Pola's country place. Bergamo is another huge-seeming city but if you can make your way to the citta alta (upper town) you have a great and delightful surprise awaiting you. It is small but glorious and the churches, incl the Cappela del Colleoni, superb.

From the shops and cafes in the centre, it is plain that Bergamo is a wealthy and sophisticated town. It was very quiet on the rain-swept afternoon when we visited but Roberto assured us that by evening the bars and restaurants would all be humming.

Footnote: In a delightful contrast to our Treviso experience, we found v central parking in a space that had an ATTENDANT who actually took CASH. Incredible!

For our last night, I wanted to stay as close as possible to the Florence airport. I found our B&B in Alistair Sawday's remarkable and generally reliable guide. Sawday's reviews are sometimes rather "breathless" but in this case the praise was justified.

At 95 E/ nt., Casa Valiversi, on the edge of Sesto Fiorentino just outside Florence, was more expensive than some of our accommodation but it is also a designer's dream house of great style and one might even say luxury:

- there are monogrammed towels + pillow cases;
- the breakfast china is a handpainted custom order, ie. "Casa Valiversi" printed on the reverse of each piece
- the furniture is a mix of antiques and modern pieces and it all looks like the decorators just left that morning.....

The owner, Mirella, is an antiques dealer. That evening, she offered to lead us by car to a great but hard to locate restaurant in Sesto Fiorentino -- it is called "Aqaba" and serves pizzas (and also full meals) in a super-hip pavilion of huge arched windows, sky-high ceilings and very cool modern decor.

Mirella prepared an abundant breakfast for us next morning, before our early flight. Since the Florence airport ("A. Vespucci" AKA Peretola) is THE WORST signposted and hardest to locate airport I have ever seen, I was greateful that Mirella also offered to guide us by car to the airport! There are not many B&B operators who would make that gesture -- especially as she had another guest who would be wanting breakfast shortly after her return to Casa Valiversi.

We emailed her on our return to thank her again and to reassure her that we had made our flight. She responded "Non le nascondero che ero molto preoccupata..." (IE "I won't conceal from you that I was very concerned...") A very kind and thoughtful hostess.
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Apr 4th, 2009, 02:13 PM
  #34  
 
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I'll say it again. Just loving this report.
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Apr 4th, 2009, 02:39 PM
  #35  
 
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I'll say it again, too. Please write more about Florence and Venice. Your style is so easy and full of info., and your insights are very thought provoking.
Having been to all three cities, Florence several times, I look forward to more of your insights.
Many thanks for taking the time..
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Apr 4th, 2009, 03:28 PM
  #36  
 
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Wonderful report - great for first timers and repeat visitors. The format is so easy to read and I have enjoyed all the details.

BTW I was so sorry to have missed the Ottawa GTG and although I clicked on your facebook link it had expired so I wasn't able to see the photos. Hopefully there will be another opportunity to meet all of you.
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Apr 5th, 2009, 04:57 AM
  #37  
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Here are my Florence photos, which I have just set up as a Facebook album:
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?ai...5&l=c0753126de

Royal: I am re-posting the link for our OTTAWA GTG and hope you can open it this time. Check it out! We had a great time with friends old and new. (And met again with "Ms. Lizzy", one of the "new" friends, just before our departure for Italy):

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?ai...5&l=8e20d3ac09
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Apr 5th, 2009, 05:41 AM
  #38  
 
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Thanks Ted. No problem this time seeing the photos. Looks like I missed a very good lunch and meeting with new friends.

So nice to put a face to all those names.
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Apr 5th, 2009, 06:15 AM
  #39  
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I have just put together an album of Venice photos:

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?ai...5&l=a7ec3c5342

Too bad that in Venice, as in Florence, there are so many places where you cannot photograph (Doge s Palace, Frari Church, etc)
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Apr 5th, 2009, 08:39 AM
  #40  
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Just for fun, I created this album, called Italy: Faces-People-Crowds.

NOTE: Some slight overlaps with my other albums.

A few witty images among the more conventional shots, I think:

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?ai...5&l=2046681726
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