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Cultural Attractions, History, Hotels, Museums

Evora: The Alentejo’s Capital City

October 27, 2017

The Vasco da Gama bridge led us away from lively Lisbon to the rural beauty of the Alentejo.

An easy 90- minute drive southeast of Lisbon takes you to the expansive Alentejo region. Home to medieval villages, castles, palaces, pousadas, megaliths, wine producers, and vast agricultural lands, this beautiful area has something to please nearly all visitors. We made Evora, the capital of the region, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, our headquarters. This delightful small city is a great base from which to launch day trips to the many attractions in the area.

The Alentejo’s capital city is best explored on foot– wearing comfortable shoes, of course.

Remember to look up as you wander!

The historic city of Evora has interesting sites and several museums to explore. Just walking the winding streets is a fine way to spend a day, especially in the area around the Largo Conde de Vila Flor. After a pleasant stroll through the Praca do Giraldo, Evora’s bustling main square, we considered our options.

The busy Praca do Giraldo is at the heart of the city. Numerous shopping streets fan off from the Praca.

Cork is king in the Alentejo and is featured in souvenirs from sandals to handbags.

Portuguese pottery is also a popular souvenir.

Time was short so we had to make choices.  We decided to save the Contemporary Art Museum for our next visit and headed over to the Museum of Evora, which was hosting a Chinese porcelain exhibition along with its permanent collections.

The Museum of Evora is housed in a former Episcopal palace built in the 17th century.

Beautiful Azulejos tiles line the stone staircase inside the museum.

Teapots, serving pieces, jewelry and other treasures from China are featured in the current exhibition at the museum.

Placards describe the fine Chinese porcelain plates on display in Portuguese and English.

The museum features paintings from the 15th through 19th centuries, drawings, engravings, 17th and 18th century furniture, and Roman sculpture from the 1st and 2nd centuries.

The museum is known for it’s 17th and 18th century painting and sculpture. This piece is by Antonio Teixeira Lopes.

Religious articles, like St. Blaise’s arm reliquary from the 17th century, are part of the permanent collection.

Visitors can see this striking bronze sculpture, statuary, mosaics and other artifacts from the Roman era.

Interesting archeological finds from the Neolithic Age and a collection of silver and gold religious pieces, and jewelry are also on display. There were few visitors on the day we were there.

Antiquities from numerous ancient civilizations are on view.

Artifacts from the Roman era line a courtyard hallway.

Just outside the museum is the Roman Temple from the 1st century AD. Today, the ruins are undergoing restoration and are under wraps, but it is possible to see several of the Corinthian columns.

The Roman Temple which dates from the 1st century is mentioned in all the guide books, but until the restoration is complete, there isn’t much to see.

There is a small park behind the temple that offers nice views over the area beyond Evora and across the way you’ll find a lovely pousada, once a monastery that is now an upmarket hotel called Pousada dos Loios. Feel free to wander inside and take a step back into Portugal’s past. The restaurant here is open to the public.

Here’s a peek at the courtyard and restaurant at Pousada dos Loios.

This small park behind the Roman Temple provided a nice place to relax and enjoy the views over the city and surrounding countryside.

Many people line up at Evora’s Church of St. Francis to visit the Chapel of the Bones or Capela dos Ossis. The 16th century chapel displays the bones and skulls of monks. We’ve seen the creepy Capuchin Crypt in Rome so felt no need to stop in after our visit to the church. The public gardens beside the church were much more appealing.

Inside the Church of St. Francis.

The Chapel of the Bones is a popular tourist attraction inside the Church of St. Francis.

If you have time, stop into Evora’s Cathedral or Se.  It’s one of the largest medieval cathedrals in Southern Portugal and is said to be built on the site of a former mosque.

Here are the marvelously mismatched spires of Evora’s cathedral.

Close to the Church of St. Francis, you’ll find Evora’s morning market.  The market is indoors and was smaller than some we’ve visited, but we also arrived fairly late in the morning after many of the vendors had closed up shop.  Happily, there were several purveyors of tasty cheeses, cured meats, and fruits and vegetables still open.

Many vendors had already packed up and gone home by the time we arrived at the market but there was still plenty to choose from.

Everything you need for a nice picnic is right here–local pork products, sheep and goat’s milk cheeses and other tasty treats.

Evora has lodging options to fit many budgets and preferences. We chose to stay at two very different, but both delightful properties in and near the city. We began our stay at the lovely Albergaria do Calvario, just inside the walls of the city www.hotel@albergariadocalvario.com.

 

We enjoyed our stay at the small, well-located Albergaria do Calvario.

Located just inside the ancient Roman walls, it was easy to walk all around the city and access the freeway quickly for daytrips from our hotel.

The location made it easy to walk to Evora’s important sites as well as to dinner each evening. It was also convenient to reach the freeway for our day trips further afield. We’ll discuss dining and day trips in additional posts.

The comfortable bar area welcomes guests for drinks and light bites.

Ours was a large, comfortable room with a big balcony overlooking the hotel’s courtyard where many guests enjoyed breakfast, aperitifs, and conversation. Rooms vary substantially in size so be sure to explore your options when booking.

Our room was large and bright with a huge balcony overlooking the courtyard.

The marble used here is mined nearby. There is a Museum of Marble in Vila VIcosa we”ll visit next time.

There is no restaurant per se in the hotel, but they do provide a substantial breakfast buffet and have small meals, snacks, and drinks on offer in the bar. Anything ordered can be enjoyed in the courtyard, the bar area or one of the comfortable sitting areas.

This is just a small part of the bountiful buffet breakfast greeting guests each morning.

The courtyard provides a pleasant place to enjoy breakfast, drinks, or just relax.

Friendly staff are happy to help with restaurant bookings, excursion ideas or whatever you need to make your stay memorable.

The staff is extremely helpful and will even park and retrieve your car for you. Parking is available onsite at no additional charge. Laundry service is also available at a very reasonable price. The only thing we missed at this charming, small hotel was a pool, but we got that at our next hotel–Convento Espinhero.

Welcome to the Convento do Espinheiro.

We also spent several nights about 15 kilometers outside of Evora at the stunning Convento do Espinheiro. The converted convent was built in 1458 and is managed by www.starwood.com. The property has traditional rooms in the original buildings as well as two modern wings.

We had a large room in the modern wing of the hotel, complete with a nice balcony.

We enjoyed our stay in the modern wing where we had a very large room with a balcony and views over the property towards to the inviting swimming pool. After nearly 10 days of non-stop touring it was the perfect place to take break.

The pool provided the perfect place for relaxation, lunch, drinks and a refreshing dip.

There is also an indoor pool and a nice spa on site where I enjoyed a relaxing massage. There are tours given daily of the expansive Convento which covers the property’s fascinating history.

Ancient olive trees dot the property which dates back to 1458.

These stone benches have been here since the property was a functioning convent.

The complimentary tour includes a visit to the beautiful church (which is still in use), monk’s cistern where a complimentary wine tasting is held each evening, the former dining area and kitchen, as well as the vaulted storage cellar which now houses the hotel’s terrific restaurant.

Convento Espinheiro was one of the three wealthiest convents in Portugal. The church is still in use today.

The bells, one original, ring out to announce a wedding has taken place.

The wine cellar is housed in the monk’s former cistern, which was once filled with water.

A complimentary wine tasting take place each evening at 6 p.m. in the wine cellar.

We ate dinner there each night of our stay. The food is artfully prepared and beautifully presented by top-notch staff. Be sure to reserve for dinner or prepare to be disappointed—the dining room fills up. Should you choose to go offsite for your dinner and prefer not to drive, the helpful staff can arrange for a taxi into Evora.

Fresh local fish elegantly prepared is served with flair.

Luscious lamb chops with squash puree are featured on the menu.

Save room for dessert.

Where monks once stored their wine, olive oil and honey, hotel guests now enjoy a bountiful breakfast buffet. It is possible to enjoy your morning repast out on one of the terraces or in the courtyard area, as we did.

The former storage for olive oil, wine and honey, now serves as the hotel’s elegant dining room.

We also arranged to see some of the traditional rooms including the “royal suite” used by many honeymoon couples. It is truly spectacular in a beautiful old-world way and features a  contemporary bathroom and private rooftop terrace.

The “royal suite” often used by honeymooners offers old world charm and opulence.

The suite’s bathroom features modern fixtures like this free standing tub.

A private rooftop terrace, one flight up from the suite provides glorious views of the area around the Convento.

Next up, we’ll explore the Alentejo.  Join us for a few day trips and a wine tasting.

 

 

 

 

Art, Churches, Cultural Attractions, Dining, History

Puppets in Palermo—A Stopover in Sicily’s Biggest City

July 2, 2017

 

Welcome to Palermo.

We took a drive right up the center of Sicily on SS624 to reach Palermo. The ride is scenic, beautiful and pretty straightforward. As you approach, you’ll be greeted with breathtaking views of the city sprawl and the bay—bellissimo!

Palermo is Sicily’s capital city and it’s most populous. Its Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque architecture, cultural attractions, and incredible cuisine draw visitors from around the world.

Palermo is the largest and busiest city in Sicily and has plenty to offer the visitor looking for a bustling urban experience. We had less than two full days in Palermo and there is far more to see and do than we had time for.

The simple facade of Monreale Cathedral gives no indication of the superb golden mosaics inside this “must see” church.

Let your first stop in Palermo be a visit to Monreale Cathedral. This stunning cathedral has golden mosaics that rival, and some say surpass, those at Venice’s Basilica San Marco (St. Mark’s). This is truly a spectacular church, considered to be the finest example of Norman architecture in Sicily, and should not be missed. The somewhat plain façade belies the beauty that awaits inside.

The breathtaking golden mosaics inside Monreale Cathedral rival those at St. Mark’s (San Marco) Basilica in Venice.

Narrow, busy streets and overcrowding make parking a challenge in Palermo and the area surrounding the cathedral is no exception. There is a well-marked, supervised pay parking garage just down the road from the cathedral. Walk carefully along the alley- like street back up to the church.

The clear message here is: Do not park in front of this garage. Parking is always tricky in Palermo. When in doubt, find a pay lot.

After enjoying the splendor of the cathedral, we had a terrific lunch at Bricco e Bacco Brasserie, just kitty corner from the cathedral. It was a lovely place with good, local specialties and friendly service. Since we arrived after the lunch crowd, it was also quiet. You’ll find the restaurant at Via B. D’Aquisto, 13, Monreale, Phone for a reservation +39 091 641 7773. It’s a popular spot.

Driving in Palermo can be a harrowing experience and is not for the faint hearted.

Wind your way down into the city proper, navigating traffic carefully. All bets are off in Palermo and traffic can be heavy. Stop signs seem to be a mere suggestion and traffic signals are also sometimes ignored.

Farm fresh fruits and vegetables are sold at stands throughout the city. Be aware that in Sicily, what we call broccoli is cauliflower here.

Street markets like this one, selling clothing, dry goods, kitchen wares and other necessities can be found throughout Palermo. Ask for a “piccolo sconto”– a discount. Bargaining is part of the fun.

We really enjoyed walking all around the city to get the flavor of it and to get our bearings on our first visit.  We covered a lot of ground, including the Corso Vittorio Emmanuel, which is Palermo’s “high street.” Here you’ll find upscale shops and stylish boutiques, cafes and bars. Palermo also has numerous street markets with household necessities, clothing and dry goods, fruit stands, and food stalls, including the well known Vucciria and Ballaro markets.

Hands down, our favorite cultural institution in Palermo was the Museo Internazionale delle Marrionette. Yes, it is a puppet museum and far more compelling than you might expect. Sicily has a strong tradition of puppetry used for both entertainment and political commentary dating back centuries.

In addition to providing entertainment, puppet shows were often used to express political and social view points, particularly when the literacy rate was low.

Plan to spend at least a few hours enjoying the expansive collection and exhibits at the International Museum of Puppetry.

The museum’s collection includes more than 3,000 puppets of all kinds from around the world.

Marionette soldiers in full armament along with their battle- ready horses are on display in this large gallery.

The attention to detail and historical accuracy of the costumes is impressive.

They have puppets and marionettes from around the world, from the simplest paper puppets to the most elaborate marionettes. You’ll see everything from fairy princesses and dragons to entire armies dressed in armament from throughout the ages, all with remarkable attention to detail.

Even Laurel and Hardy make an appearance here.

You’ll find examples of puppets from the primitive to the extraordinarily elaborate.

Puppets from around the world including Africa, Indonesia and Japan are represented.

There are also a variety of settings and backdrops on view. We found our visit to the marionette museum to be an absolutely enchanting experience. The museum hosts puppet shows, too, of course.

Enjoy these fine examples of Japanese Bunraku puppets.

The museum often hosts puppet shows and has videos of productions on view.

For more information and show times, please visit www.museomarionettepalermo.it The museum is at the end of Via Butera on the Piazzetta Antonio Pasqualina, 5.

Known for its medieval art collection, the Galleria Regionale della Sicilia at Palazza Abatellis is a former palatial residence dating back to the 1490s, which went on to become a convent and then a monastery. It is now a regional gallery and museum.

Built for the Kingdom of Sicily’s Port Master, this fine former residence now houses an impressive collection of Medieval art and other treasures.

Here you will find sculptures, frescoes and paintings by Italian artists, as well as Flemish and other European masters, sacred art, weaponry and more.

Sculpture, paintings, religious art and more await visitors at the Palazzo Abatellis.

Though the building suffered terrible damage during Allied bombing raids in WWII, frescoes such as these from the 1400s survived.

Unfortunately the website has not been updated for some time so it is best to call the museum at +39 091 623 0011. It is located at Via Allora, 4.

To see how the upper class lived centuries ago, visit the Palazzo Mirto www.casemuseoitalia.it/en.   The Palazzo Mirto is part of a network of “house museums” found throughout Italy. It was originally built for the Filangeri family in the mid 17th century and falls into the ancestry category of homes.

The Palazzo Mirto provides a glimpse at the opulence the upper classes enjoyed during the time of the Kingdom of Sicily.

The palazzo is filled with beautifully appointed rooms featuring elaborate furnishings, ceramics, antique musical instruments, and art. One of the most spectacular is the Chinese Room, likely decorated in 1876 when the house was renovated.

The Chinese Room was the height of fashion when it was designed in the mid 1800s.

There are also classic carriages on display along with other historic treasures that paint a picture of Sicilian life for the upper class in the days before the Risorgimento when Sicily was still a kingdom.

Splendid furnishings and elegant porcelain are among the items on display at Palazzo Mirto.

The museum is located at Via Merlo, 2 and telephone is +39 091 616 4751 for updated information.

Enjoy a performance or take a guided tour– these are the only ways to get inside the magnificent Teatro Massimo.

If there is a performance at the Teatro Massimo, get a ticket and go. Regularly scheduled dance, opera, and classical music are all performed here. If you’re feeling flush, you, too, can rent the royal box —you just have to purchase all 27 seats in it.

The Teatro Massimo is known for its excellent acoustics and grand stage.

If time does not permit you to attend a performance, take a guided tour, which is the only other way to see the inside of this magnificent and historic building.

This beautiful and historic theater is among the largest in Europe.

A model of the theater is displayed in the lobby.

The theater boasts one of the largest stages in Europe and is worth seeing. Built in 1897, it is known for its outstanding acoustics and is still the largest theater in Italy with 1,300 seats. It is appropriately located on the Piazza Verdi. +39 091 6053580 www.teatromassimo.it.

The Politeama Garabaldi Theater hosts regular performances in Palermo’s historic city center.

We wanted to visit the highly regarded National Archeological Museum but it was closed for renovations during our visit. Please go to www.regione.sicilia.it/beniculturali/salinas for current information.

A stroll through Sicily’s capital city yields surprises.

We did not visit the Catacombe dei Cappuccine, the home of about 8,000 dead bodies, amassed over the course of several hundred years, all dressed up and on display. We find the entire enterprise rather ghoulish and having seen the Capuccine Chapel in Rome, which features skeletons of dead monks, felt no obligation to see this seemingly far more ambitious enterprise. Apparently it is a popular place on many tourist itineraries and so we mention it here.

Flags fly outside the Porta Felice Hotel on the small but busy Via Butera.

There are lodgings at all price points and with all levels of service, as you would expect in a large city like Palermo. We stayed at Hotel Porta Felice www.hotelportafelice.it/en at Via Butera, 45. Tele. 091 6175678. This is in the old section of town near the port.

Pleasure craft and fishing boats crowd the marina at the end of Via Butera.

Even though the hotel is on what appears to be a small side street, it is pretty busy. We were upgraded to a nice suite, even though we’d booked through www.venere.com. The location was very convenient and we walked everywhere we wanted to go, after turning in our rental car.

Friendly service and excellent Sicilian specialties await diners at L’Ottava Nota.

We only had two nights in Palermo and wound up having dinner both evenings just down the street from our hotel at L’Ottava Nota Ristorante, via Butera 55 091 6168601 www.ristoranteottavanota.it.   The restaurant was small and lovely with fantastic food and great service. The fish dishes were all spectacular. Everything was fresh, artfully prepared and delicious.

Perfectly prepared pasta makes a delicious first course.

White fish in a light curry broth was a favorite.

 

Seafood dishes were the star attraction for us, but L’Ottova Nota has superb meat and vegetable dishes, too.

A fish in a light curry broth with vegetables was so good I still think about it, though it is no longer on the menu. We mentioned we were staying at the Porta Felice and were happily surprised to learn we’d get a 20 percent discount on our meal because we were guests there. We cannot confirm that the special pricing is still available but it never hurts to ask, should you dine here. The restaurant is just a few doors down from Porte Felice on Via Butera, 55. The telephone is +39 091 616 8601.

We had an excellent lunch at Trattoria Piccolo Napoli, www.trattoriapiccolonapoli.it. Piccolo Napoli had been recommended by an Italian friend in the wine business but apparently Anthony Bourdain had once dined here and the owner told us that lots of Americans had been showing up ever since. Our welcome was much more cordial when we told him (in Italian) that his friend Sasha had sent us! Try the panisse (chick pea fritters) to start and have any seafood you like—it is all super fresh and simply, but deliciously, prepared.

Snack on some panisse as you peruse the menu.

Simply but perfectly prepared pastas and seafood dishes shine at Piccolo Napoli.

Through a small window into the kitchen, we watched the chef toss a whole octopus into a pot, plate it and serve it to a young girl who devoured every bit. We had pasta with shellfish and then I had a beautiful swordfish dish. For dessert, they brought us the ubiquitous “winter melon.” The melon is sweet and refreshing and so called winter melon because it can be picked in the summer and stored throughout the winter.  We saw it on menus throughout Sicily. The restaurant is on the Piazzetta Mulino a Vento, 4. Telephone is +39 091 320431.

Palermo is a fascinating and vibrant city and certainly worth a visit. We’ll be back.

Our final meal in Palermo was an extremely casual, but excellent pizza lunch at the airport, which we enjoyed out on the observation deck with a view of planes coming and going, and of course, the beautiful sea!

 

 

California, Carmel, Family Fun, History, Monterey Bay, Motorcycles, Museums

Motorcycle Mania—Moto Talbott Collection

April 6, 2017

I’m not much of a motorcycle aficionado myself, but I have been married to one for enough years to recognize the distinctive sound of a Ducati from a distance. On our recent trip to California’s Monterey Peninsula, we drove up to Carmel Valley to indulge in some wine tasting and discovered the Moto Talbott Collection www.mototalbott.com. My husband’s delight quickly faded when he saw the motorcycle museum was closed, but fate smiled once again when founder Robb Talbott appeared in the courtyard.

Moto Talbott is a “must see” for motorcycle aficionados.

We had a nice chat, but Mr. Talbott was off to an appointment so no chance for a sneak peek behind the gates that day. We left with the promise to return later that week; my husband clutching the newly printed brochure Robb had kindly given him.

Rare, vintage, award- winning and beautifully restored motorcycles, all with stories to tell, await visitors to Moto Talbott.

Bright and early that Friday morning, we returned to Moto Talbott. In the courtyard were the museum’s newest acquisitions—two BMW Isetta 300s. Originally produced in Italy in the 1950s, Issetas are known as micro cars or “cabin scooters.” These two had been languishing in a hayloft in a Northern California barn for more than 40 years. Robb had picked them up just the night before.

These Isseta micro cars had just arrived after languishing in a hayloft for 40 years.

The Moto Talbott Collection has only been open since November 2016 but is already attracting motorcycle fans from all over. The collection is mostly motorcycles (more than 160 of them) but also features scooters, vintage transportation- themed toys, motorcycle memorabilia and more. The bikes are artfully displayed in a 6,000 square foot building with walls of snow barrier board trucked in from Wyoming and constructed by hand. Every detail has been carefully thought through.

This BMW is handsomely displayed against a handcrafted wall of Wyoming snow barrier board.

There are some real gems in the collection, including the Ducati Marianna that won the very last Motogira D’Italia in 1956 and is credited with saving the Ducati Company from possible closure. There’s a terrific photo of the wining rider, Guiliano Maoggi, with a cigarette clenched in his teeth on the wall above the bike, along with the fascinating story of his victory.

Visitors can learn about the last Motogiro d’Italia and the winning Ducati’s intriguing victory tale.

Steve McQueen’s 1931 VL Harley is there, as is a demonstration bike from WWII with the gas tank and engine covering cut away so soldiers training on it could learn what went where. This particular bike, which is quite a rare find, came to the collection complete with troop movement maps, gloves and a fully- functioning Thompson sub-machine gun, which has since been rendered inoperable.

Every bike has a fascinating story and a great deal of history behind it, including this rare WWII demo bike.

There’s a Vespa specially designed to promote Coach’s leather goods, a motorcycle that was buried in the backyard to protect it from certain destruction in a fire, race and award winners, beautiful restorations, trial bikes, rare and vintage motorcycles—they’re all here.

Each Coach logo was carefully hand painted on this promotional Vespa.

What really makes a trip to Moto Talbott special is the opportunity to learn the history and stories behind these bikes from the engaging and knowledgeable docents. We were fortunate to spend the morning with Rich Watson, former Economics professor at UC Santa Barbara and a lifelong lover of motorcycles. Rich could not have been more informative and entertaining. We were captivated by the intriguing tales he told, from his description of riders being impaled by enormous splinters during the American board racing days of the early 1900s to stories of unbeatable BSAs.

Engaging docents like Rich Watson enrich the visitor’s experience by sharing the stories and history behind the bikes.

These Indians from the early 1900s were used for American board racing– an extremely dangerous form of motorcycle racing not permitted for decades.

The impressive collection currently features road bikes and dirt bikes from 16 countries, from the Czech Republic to Mexico. MV Agusta, BSA, Bultaco, BMW, Indian, Harley Davidson, Kawaski, Maico, Gilera, Triumph, Honda—nearly every notable motorcycle company is represented here.

Road bikes and dirt bikes from around the globe are part of the collection at Moto Talbott.

The “Riders for Health” motorcycle under the orange vest traveled more than 80,000 kms bringing health care and aid to those in need in Zimbabwe.

The former proprietor of the highly regarded Talbott Vineyards and chairman of the board of the eponymous clothing company his family founded, Robb Talbott’s commitment to excellence and quality is as apparent in the Moto Talbott Collection as it was in his previous endeavors. The museum was at least three years in the making and was created so that he could “…share his passion for bikes and beauty… And mostly to share the stories of these bikes and their history.” The museum’s mission statement rings especially true after talking with Robb—”preservation, restoration and education…all driven by passion.”

Some of founder Robb Talbott’s vintage toys are displayed here.

We also had the chance to meet Bobby Weindorf, the museum’s curator and chief restorer.   Motorcycles have been part of Bobby’s life since he was 12 years old. His career was built on his passion: five years with American Honda’s factory road race and Supercross/Motocross teams; a dealership in Santa Barbara for 10 years, and several years in Italy working with motorcycle race teams. When asked about his three favorite bikes in the collection, he chose the 1977 MV Agusta 850SS because, “It’s big, powerful and makes a bold Italian statement,” a 1977 Hodaka Super Combat Wombat, “…cute dirt bike with an awesome name,” and a 1965 BMW R 69S in Granada Red, for it’s “pure elegance in a rare color…”

Moto Talbott is dedicated to preservation, restoration and education–and doing a spectacular job in all three area.

Bobby noted that Moto Talbott will continue to evolve: expanding and changing the collection, offering events, and continuing to educate visitors, preserving the “survivors,” and restoring the classic motorcycles that he and the others involved in this marvelous museum have worked so tirelessly to make accessible to motorcycle lovers from around the world.

Please visit www.mototalbott.com for the most current information on opening hours, events, and ticket prices.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Architecture, Art, Churches, Family Fun, Firenze, Florence, History, Italy, Museums, Tuscany

Il Grande Museo del’Opera del Duomo: All About Florence’s Famous Duomo

October 3, 2016

Florence’s Il Grande Museo del’Opera del Duomo has nothing at all to do with opera. Instead, it is all about the work, or opera, involved in building, preserving and maintaining one of the most recognizable Renaissance buildings in the world—Florence’s Duomo, also known as the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.

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A spectacular view of Brunelleschi’s dome from Caffe La Terrazza.

If you’ve ever wanted to see how Brunelleschi’s magnificent dome was constructed, learn what the other options were for the Duomo’s facade, or see the remarkable art treasures once housed in the cathedral, this is the place to come.

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Welcome to the recently reopened and reimagined Museo del’Opera del Duomo.

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Soaring galleries give visitors a new perspective on the superb sculpture on display at the museum.

Re-opened in October 2015 after years of restoration and reconstruction, the Museo dell’ Opera del Duomo has an exquisite collection of sculpture, paintings and other masterworks displayed on three floors in 6,000 square meters of exhibit space, all designed to showcase the art to its best visual and historical advantage.

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A visitor gets an up close look at a statue in the museum.

Most of the works were at one time in, or outside the Duomo.

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These sculptures once graced niches in Giotto’s bell tower.

Some of the treasures to be found include the original North Doors created by Lorenzo Ghiberti for the Baptistry of San Giovanni along with the Doors of Paradise by Lorenzo and Vittorio Ghiberti. Replicas now hang on the Baptistry.

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Ghiberti’s stunning Doors of Paradise and North Door once graced the Baptistry of San Giovanni but can now be found inside the museum.

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Detail of door.

In all, the museum boasts 750 works of art covering 720 years of history.

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Arnolfo di Cambio’s stunning Christ with the Soul of Mary

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This exquisite silver alter features scenes from the life of John the Baptist and was created by Lorenzo Ghiberti, Betto di Geri, Bernardo Cennini, Antonio di Salvi, Francesco and Leonardo di Giovanni, Antonio del Pollaiolo and Andrea del Verrocchio.

Michelangelo’s poignant pieta, sculpture by Donatello including his magnificent Mary Magdalene as Penitent, and works by Andrea Pisano, Antonio Pollaiolo, Arnolfo di Cambio and other highly regarded Medieval and Renaissance artists are on display.

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Michelangelo sculpted this pieta for his own tomb. He later destroyed it. It was reconstructed and acquired by Cosimo de Medici In 1671 and placed in the Duomo in 1722. It was the next to last sculpture Michelangelo ever created.

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Donatello’s Mary Magdalene as Penitent draws many visitors.

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Sacred items and iconography are part of the museum’s extensive collection.

img_2108In the Cappella Musicale, or music gallery, you will hear enchanting sacred music, and find works by Luca della Robbia and others, as well as rare illuminated music books.

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Beautiful music fills this gallery where rare illustrated books, sacred objects and art treasures are displayed.

img_2164Brunelleschi’s dome, still considered a marvel of engineering, remains one of Florence’s most iconic monuments.

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Models of Brunelleschi’s dome show how it was built and why it remains an engineering marvel.

In addition to the art treasures, the museum contains original building materials, equipment and tools, dating back to the Duomo’s 15th century construction.

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Wooden pulleys, ropes and other original construction equipment used to build the Duomo can be seen at the museum.

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Original 15th century tools and equipment used to build the Duomo are displayed near a continuously running film that explores the design and construction.

Also featured are drawings and models of the dome and Giotto’s bell tower, which was begun in 1334, after Giotto’s death. An outdoor terrace offers splendid views of the dome.

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Brunelleschi’s wooden model of the dome fascinates visitors.

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A detailed model of the bell tower designed by Giotto is on display near beautiful stained glass windows created by notables including Ghiberti, Donatello, Paolo Uccelli and Andrea del Castagno.

Visitors to the museum will learn about the history of this spectacular cathedral, designed by Arnolfo di Cambio and dedicated in 1412. The name Santa Maria del Fiore means St. Mary of the Flowers or Virgin of the Flowers. Once the largest church in all of Europe, today it is third in size, after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral.

img_2134A film called Courage to Dare about Florence during the Renaissance and the creation and construction of the Duomo runs continuously in the museum.

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A number of possibilities considered for the Duomo’s facade are on display, including this one.

Combination tickets can be purchased for the Duomo Museum, the Baptistery, the bell tower and the Crypt of Santa Reparta, named for the 7th century church that once stood on the site of the Duomo. There is no charge to enter the Duomo, but paid tickets are required for visitors who wish to climb the more than 400 steps to the top of the bell tower.

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The Baptistry of San Giovanni always draws crowds. Tickets are required to enter.

Appropriate clothing is essential for entry. In other words, no shorts, short skirts or skimpy, shoulder baring tops on women or men. Bulky bags and backpacks must be checked. Visit www.ilgrandemuseodelduomo.it for information on ticket prices, hours and tours.

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Admission to the Duomo is free but take care to dress appropriately or you will be denied entry.

On our visit, we also had free access to a photographic exhibition called Opera di Viva by Michele Pecchioli, which paid tribute to the hundreds of men and women who have worked to preserve the artistic integrity and cultural heritage of the building and the art works within for more than 700 years.

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Michele Pecchioli’s photographs pay tribute to the men and women who restore and preserve the art and cultural heritage of Florence’s iconic Duomo.

img_2560The photos feature the restorers, artists, employees and security guards who play a role in safeguarding these treasurers and ensuring public access to the works for years to come. Note: This was a temporary exhibition and may now longer be available for viewing.

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A close up of a security guard charged with safeguarding the priceless treasures at the Duomo and its museum.

When the sun begins to set in Florence, head over to Piazzale Michelangelo for another perspective on the Duomo —and enjoy the gorgeous vista across the Arno over the city.

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Some of the most spectacular views of Florence can be had from the Piazzale Michelangelo. Don’t miss a visit to the beautiful San Miniato al Monte across the street. It’s the oldest church in Florence, after the Baptistry.

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Florence’s Duomo viewed from Piazzale Michelangelo.

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The department store La Rinescente has a terrace restaurant with fine views of the Duomo, as well as drinks and light fare.

If you crave an aperitivo with your sunset and Duomo views, go to La Rinascente, the department store on Piazza Repubblica. Go directly up to La Terrazza on the top floor and you’ll find a little rooftop café/bar with great views of the city and the iconic dome. It gets crowded so get there early or be prepared to wait.

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Sensational sunset view over the Piazza della Repubblica from Caffe La Terrazza.

Cin Cin!

 

 

Art, Family Fun, Florence, History, Italy, Museums

Scarpe Diem: Florence’s Salvatore Ferragamo Museum

June 24, 2016

IMG_2791Descend the staircase in the stunning Palazzo Spini Feroni, which houses the flagship Ferragamo store and serves as company headquarters, and you’ll be greeted by walls of Salvatore Ferragamo’s strikingly beautiful shoes, artfully displayed, of course. Though they play a major role in the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo, a marvelous small museum on Florence’s posh Via Tornabuono, there’s much more to see than fabulous footwear.

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Ferragamo’s shoes may themselves be considered works of art.

The Museum tells the story of the man, who grew up outside of Naples, the eleventh of 14 children and became “shoemaker to the stars”; the company, which became synonymous with beautiful and comfortable shoes that were widely imitated; and the city of Florence itself.

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Visitors can learn about Florence’s fascinating history at the museum.

Stunning masterworks of 17th and 18th century Florentine art, a look at the palazzo’s chapel with frescoes by Bernardino Poccetti, artful fashion, and company’s history are all part of the museum experience www.ferragamo.com/museo.

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There is much more to see than shoes at the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo.

IMG_2800In addition to the innovatively designed shoes for which the company is known, the signed lasts created for Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth, Sophia Loren and so many other movie stars and well-known names, past and present, are on view along with Ferragamo’s leather working tools.

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Wooden lasts created for movie stars, royalty and other recognizable names hang on the museum’s walls.

The company’s history is cleverly presented in photographs displayed on racks like tourist post cards.

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These “picture postcards” give visitors a glimpse of the company’s past.

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Video and still photos tell the story of Salvatore Ferragamo and the company he created.

Beautiful sculpture, noteworthy paintings, historic books, documents, and more from the family’s extensive collection compete for visitors’ attention. Classical music such as Corelli’s Le Sonata per Violino, Violone e Cimbalo plays in various gallery spaces, adding to the ambiance.IMG_2824

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IMG_2807Along with the permanent collection, the museum hosts rotating exhibitions. The current show, Across Art and Fashion poses the question, “Is fashion art?” and examines the relationship between the two.

IMG_7570The famous building, constructed in 1289, is itself part of the museum. Among other things, the Palazzo Spini Feroni was once home to the City Council when Florence was the capital of Italy. Salvatore Ferragamo purchased the Palazzo in 1938, after returning from America, and it has served as Ferragamo’s headquarters since that time.

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During it’s long and colorful history, the Palazzo Spini Feroni was home to Florence’s City Council, a hotel and art galleries before becoming Ferragamo’s headquarters.

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Salvatore Ferragamo’s widow, Wanda, was instrumental in creating the museum.

Through the efforts of Ferragamo’s widow and family members, Museo Salvatore Ferragamo was founded in 1995 after an exhibition at Florence’s Palazzo Strozzi went on tour, hosted by New York’s Guggenheim Museum, the County Museum of Los Angeles, London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, and Sogetsu Kai Foundation in Tokyo among others. The traveling exhibition became the basis of the permanent collection at the museum.

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Phone or email for private guided tours.

Private guided tours can be arranged on the first Saturday of each moth at 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. by emailing museoferragamo@ferragamo.com or by calling +39 055 3562466. The museum also hosts special events. Check the website www.ferragamo.com/museo for details.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Art, Churches, Dining, Family Fun, History, Italy, Tuscany

Day Tripping– Lovely Lucca

June 22, 2016

The lively and lovely small city of Lucca is the birthplace of Giacomo Puccini and a wonderful place to spend one day or several. We’ve had a few day trips from our home base in Panzano in Chianti (www.stayitalia.com more on that in another post) and keep promising ourselves to spend more time here.

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Lucca is a popular destination for visitors to Tuscany and easy to reach by car or train from Florence.

You cannot drive inside the walled city. You must park in one of the lots outside. Be sure to look for the pay station if you park in any area with blue lines. White lines mean free parking, but blue lines require payment. We were so excited to get a spot near the Porta Santa Maria that we didn’t even notice we were in a pay zone and came back to find a parking ticket on our windshield. Note—if you get a parking ticket, pay it while you are still in Italy at any Post Office. You can do so with cash or credit card and you’ll avoid paying your car rental company the fee they charge to provide the Italian government with your information plus you’ll avoid the hassle of paying via wire transfer/foreign currency once you return home.

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Bicycling is a popular means of getting around in Lucca– inside the city walls and on top of them.

Once you get inside the walls, Porte San Pietro is the main gate–find an Info Point—Porta Santa Maria or Porta San Donato both have them. Pick up a tourism map which has several itineraries for exploring the town. Itineraries are in Italian, English and German and include opening times, closing days, and other important information for the major sites such as museums and churches.

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Visitors and locals alike stroll or bicycle around Lucca’s famous medieval walls. Bicycle rentals are readily available.

Lots of people go to Lucca to “walk the wall” or ride bicycles around the city on the top of its ancient fortifications—Passaggiata delle Mura. The medieval walls built in 1544 replaced earlier Roman ones and extend 4,195 meters around the perimeter of Lucca. There are plenty of bicycle rental places just inside the walls, particularly near the Porta Santa Maria. It was a blustery, rainy day when we were there a few weeks ago, so we put this on our list for next time.

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Now a place for picnics and soccer practice, the grassy area around the walls was once a moat.

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If you have time for a delicious and leisurely lunch (or dinner), go to la Buca di Sant’Antonio, Via della Cervia 3, 55100 Lucca +39058355881 www.bucadisantantonio.com. The restaurant specializes in traditional cuisine of the area and the food is delicious.We’ve had several memorable meals here.You must reserve a table because the restaurant is quite popular.

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Put Buca di Sant’ Antonio on your list of delightful restaurants in Lucca.

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Maccheroni lucchesi al sugo di coniglio– housemade pasta with rabbit sauce– as delicious as it looks.

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Puntarella alla Romana– a crisp, bitter salad topped with anchovies widely regarded as a Roman specialty.

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Petto di faraona all’ uva moscato– guinea fowl in a wonderful moscato wine sauce with crispy pancetta. Yum!

The Church of St. Michele in Foro is one of Lucca’s “must visit” sites. It was built on the site of the Roman forum in the 11th and 12th centuries and is still the center of city life. The church has works by Luca della Robbia and Fillipino Lippi, among others.

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This beautiful church is worth seeing both for its architecture and the wonderful art inside.

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San Michele in Forno.

Piazza San Martino is home to Lucca’s duomo of the same name. Built in the Gothic Romanesque style, this beautiful church contains some important artworks by Ghirlandaio, Tintoretto and Fra Bartolomeo as well as the Holy Face of Lucca, a wooden Christ on a crucifix attributed to Nicodemus, as legend has it.

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The anfiteatro is another of Lucca’s attractions. Built in the second century AD, the amphitheater’s former arena is now home to many shops and restaurants built into the ancient Roman walls, which are interesting to see from both inside and outside.

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This Roman amphitheater once hosted games and gladiators. Now it’s a popular dining and shopping destination.

The Torre delle Ore, or clock tower, dates back to 1390. It is the tallest tower in town and has 207 wooden steps that ambitious visitors are welcome to climb.  In its early days, the time was announced by bells alone but a clock face was added in 1752.

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Hardy souls who climb the tower can see the hand-wound clock mechanism from the 18th century. It’s still working!

Lucca has a Puccini Museum, of course, which is at Corte San Lorenzo 9 (near the Piazza Citadella)– the composer’s birthplace. The museum features furnishings, artworks, pianos, musical scores and other personal belongings including letters and notes from and to Puccini.

Shopping seems to be a popular past time in Lucca and there is no shortage of brand names from which to choose.

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Lucca has plenty of stores to keep shoppers happy.

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This giant sewing machine is a clever advertisement for the Milanese menswear maker.

Lucca is perfectly suited to those who like to wander, and we do, but after awhile we needed a break and stopped in for a gelato at De’Coltelli, 10 Via San Paolina, www.decoltelli.it . Definitely seek this one out for their terrific artisanal gelato offered with complimentary panna (thick, sweetened whipped cream), which just adds to the deliciousness!

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Panna is offered free as a thank you to gelato lovers here.

If it’s a drink or coffee you crave, pop in to The Dark Side—a cool little bar at 24 Via San Frediano at the corner of Via Angillara near the Church of San Frediano.

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Come over to the Dark Side. You’ll be glad you did.

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Step inside San Frediano for the beautiful baptismal font and works by Sienese sculptor Jacapo della Quercia, Matteo Civitali, and Amico Aspertini. The stunning facade features a golden mosiac depicting the Ascension.

Although we had come in for a quick coffee, we stayed for more than a half hour. The bartender was really friendly and he gave us tastes of some popular aperitivos along with descriptions of everything we sampled.

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Our knowledgable and friendly bartender at the Dark Side.

The Dark Side’s complementary snacks, served with drinks, looked abundant and delicious, but we were off to Pisa.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Art, Berlin, Dining, Family Fun, Germany, History, Museums

Treasures of Berlin’s Museum Island

February 26, 2016

Take a stroll through the Brandenburg Gate, down Unter den Linden, to the banks of the River Spree. There you’ll find some of the world’s most intriguing and important cultural treasures—the Ishtar Gate, the bust of Nefertiti and so many extraordinary antiquities, classical sculpture and masterworks, it is impossible to imagine they could all be in one place—but they are—Berlin’s Museum Island.

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Museumsinsel http://www.smb.museum is home to five separate historical museum buildings, each designed by a well-regarded architect of the time and now part of a UNESCO world heritage site. Here you will find the Pergamonmuseum, Altes (Old) Museum, Alte Nationalgalerie, the Bode-Museum, and the Neues (New) Museum.

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The museums on Berlin’s Museumsinsel are a treasure trove of important paintings, sculpture, and antiquities from around the globe.

According to Visit Berlin, more than 3 million people come each year to view the collections that range from prehistory to 20th century art. Savvy travelers will want to purchase a Museum Pass, which provides entry to 50 major and lesser-known museums, including the five on Museum Island, over three consecutive days for one low fee. The price was 24 Euro when we visited in November. Passes are available at Berlin Tourist Info points, in the museums, and online at Shop.visitberlin.com.

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The magnificent Ishtar Gate, believed to date from 170 AD, was dedicated to Zeus and Athena. It was brought to Berlin from Western Turkey in 1903.

The long lines and crowded galleries attest to the fact that the Pergamon Museum is on nearly every visitor’s short list of places to visit in Germany’s capitol city.   It should be. The magnificent Pergamon Altar, Ishtar Gate, and marvelous sculpture and other works from ancient Sumeria, Babylon, Assyria, and modern day Iraq, Turkey and Syria are all on display here.  Restoration is underway on the Ishtar Gate, but it remains open for viewing. The Pergamon Altar was closed for restoration during our recent visit and will reopen in 2019. We were fortunate to see it several years ago.

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Detail from the Processional Way, which leads to the Ishtar Gate, at the Pergamon.

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Stunning Roman mosaics cover the floor in the gallery that contains the Market Gate of Miletus, built in the 2nd century AD in Turkey and excavated and brought to Berlin in the early 1900s.

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The stunning Aleppo Room at the Pergamon, seen through protective glass walls.

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Facade of the Caliph Palace Mshatta from Amman/Jordan from the 8th century. The 33 meter long, 5 meter high facade was brought to Berlin in 1903 to the Bode Museum. In 1932 it was reconstructed in the Pergamon.

We practically had the galleries to ourselves when we visited the Bode-Museum in November. This beautiful museum boasts art from the Byzantine and Roman Empires, a spectacular sculpture collection spanning from the early Middle Ages to the late 18th century, and one of the most extensive numismatic collections in the world. We could not understand why the Bode wasn’t full of people enjoying these art treasures.

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Pedro Roldan’s Our Lady of Sorrows (Mater Delorosa) at the Bode-Museum.

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The Bode-Museum is known for it’s sculpture collection. Friezes, sacred art and other cultural treasures are also on display.

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Don’t miss the extensive numismatic collection at the Bode. It’s one of the most comprehensive in the world.

The Bode also has a lovely café where we enjoyed a delicious and very reasonably priced lunch along with views over the Spree. The cafe balcony overlooks the museum’s grand entrance below.

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The comfortable cafe at the Bode was perfect for a light lunch.

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Save room for dessert!

If Impressionist works are more to your liking, visit the Alte Nationalgalerie, home to 19th century works by Renoir, Manet, Monet, and Cezanne, Adolph von Menzel and other well regarded artists of that time period. The Alte Nationalgalerie was the third museum to open on Museum Island.

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The Alte Nationalgalerie is home to a fine collection of 19th century paintings– part of Berlin’s State Art Collection.

Housed in one of Berlin’s most impressive neoclassical buildings, the Altes Museum was dedicated in 1828 by Friedrich Wilhelm III for “the study all antiquities and the free arts”. The museum’s permanent collection centers on classic antiquities covering Etruscan, Roman and Greek art and includes urns, vases, sarcophagi, friezes, pottery and sculpture.

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The Altes Museum is a popular destination for student and tour groups.

The 3300 year-old bust of Nefertiti is among the highlights at the Neues Museum, or New Museum. After sustaining significant damage during World War II, the building, which was designed by Friedrich August Stuler and constructed between 1843 and 1855, was abandoned. In 2003, extensive restoration began and the museum opened in 2009 with three main collections—Egyptian art from the Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection, prehistoric objects from the Museum for Prehistory and Early History, and classical antiquities. Visitors will find works from around the globe including the Middle East, North Africa, and Northern Europe at the Neues Museum.

For updated information on each of the museums on Berlin’s Museum Island and details on permanent collections, temporary exhibitions, admission, hours and directions, please visit http://www.smb.museum.

Note: The banner image is the Cathedral of Berlin known also as Berlin Dom, located on Museum Island.  In addition to church services, the Berlin Dom is open for tours. Numerous concerts and other events are also held there throughout the year. To the right is the Berlin TV Tower, constructed by the Soviets during the Cold War and now a popular tourist destination.

 

Berlin, Dining, Germany, History, Restaurants, Wine bars

Cordobar and Pauly Saal: Two of Berlin’s Creative Kitchens

February 24, 2016

Berlin’s dining scene is eclectic and exciting. It’s certainly far beyond schnitzel and the ubiquitous currywurst—though there are plenty of opportunities to indulge in these traditional dishes. From Katz Orange http://www.katzorange.com to the food hall at KaDeWe http://www.kadewe.de, Berlin has something for everyone’s palate. Two of our most memorable dining experiences were at Cordobar and Pauly Saal.

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Try Cordobar for a fun night out.

We arrived at Cordobar just as the dining room was beginning to fill and the bar wasn’t yet three deep. Cordobar  www.cordobar.net is a wine bar for the cool kids, for sure, though there were plenty of folks in their prime enjoying the wine and food, too.

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The small dining room fills up fast, as does the bar area.

The small and lively space has an extensive wine list, a short list of small dishes for sharing and features one large plate each evening, also for sharing. The menu changes constantly but the website gives an indication of the sorts of dishes the kitchen prepares. While some things may sound strange—take a chance and order them anyway—you’ll be glad you did.

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A peek at Cordobar’s extensive wine list.

When I see a glass of Salmon Billecart for less than 10 Euro a glass, I order it— a little bubbly is the perfect start to any evening. While I sipped my champagne, our knowledgeable and friendly waitress guided us through the extensive wine list, which focused on German and Austrian offerings, though it is not limited to producers from these countries.  The list also included many natural/biodynamic wines that are so much in vogue in Europe right now. We chose to order by the glass so we could sample more wines and we were delighted with all of our selections—from Hirsch Gruner Veltliner to Zantho Muskat to Shelter Spatburgunder (pinot noir) to the Joschuari 2012 (gamay)—all new to us and perfect with the food we picked. Guests may also select from the bottles that line the walls.

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We started with the fresh baked bread and butter—we spend a lot of time in Portland,  so paying for bread and butter was not a new concept for us. Served in a paper bag, the warm bread was perfect.

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The eggplant exceeded expectations.

Some of the dishes we chose sounded like odd combinations but were all absolutely wonderful and unexpected. We shared the eggplant with pineapple, pepper and saffron, and the grilled zucchini prepared with almond milk and miso to start.

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The grilled zucchini had an Asian flair.

Next up was the main event—the featured large plate of the evening—lamb neck tacos. The lamb was perfectly prepared with Middle Eastern seasonings and presented as a large chunk of meat on a separate plate.

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The Middle Eastern spices were a perfect foil for the rich and succulent lamb.

The “tacos” were cabbage leaves topped with a creamy sauce to which we added the tasty lamb. Different and delicious!

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Cabbage leaves stood in for the more traditional tortillas.

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The assembled lamb tacos– delightfully different.

Cordobar is extremely popular so if you’d like to be assured of a table in the small dining room, make a reservation. The bar area was packed all night and tables in the dining room were empty only long enough for staff to clean them. http://www.cordobar.net

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The inviting dining room at Berlin’s Pauly Saal, abuzz with happy guests.

We were really excited to try the Michelin starred Pauly Saal http://www.paulysaal.com, another highly recommended Berlin restaurant on our list. Pauly Saal features a beautiful dining room, a terrace (closed during our November visit), a lovely bar area and an open kitchen with the very talented Chef Arne Anker at the helm. We had a chance to ask chef about the significance of the rocket above the open kitchen (in banner photo) but it turns out no political statement was intended, just a touch of whimsy that adds a fun focal point to the room.

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The restaurant is open for lunch, cocktails and dinner daily. Three menus are offered at lunch—two, three or four courses. Dinner guests choose from two multi -course prix fix menus, either a four- course “little menu” or a six-course meal. An additional cheese course is also available for a surcharge with both options.

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Pauly Saal’s extremely talented chef, Arne Anker.

We chose the four-course meal, which sounded deceptively modest: pike prepared with elderflower, oyster and radish; kale salad with mustard, squash and wheat; lamb loin with parsley root, eggplant and zucchini, and for dessert—blueberries with yogurt, white chocolate and rose. While each of these dishes may sound simple, they most assuredly were not. Each dish was truly a culinary creation designed to delight every one of the senses.

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Perfect perch.

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We’d eat our kale every day if it was prepared like this.

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Gorgeous lamb with innovative accompaniments including the faux marrow bone.

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Desert was almost too pretty to eat… almost.

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Chocolate “stones” artfully mixed with the real thing.

The finale came after dessert — a small dish of chocolate “stone” truffles—presented with real stones.

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There are more than 600 bottles on Pauly Saal’s wine list.

Pauly Saal’s wine list is quite extensive with more than 600 bottles on offer. We toured Europe in our by- the- glass selections, choosing two different wines for each course. A German Sauvignon Blanc from Weedenborn, Spanish Albarino by Picarana, a Klingenberg 2012 Spatburgunder and Chateau des Tours Cotes- du- Rhone were among the perfect pairings our extremely knowledgeable sommelier suggested.

Reservations are a must at Pauly Saal but if you aren’t able to secure a table, do stop in to the bar for a drink and a snack—the bar food looked pretty incredible, too. http://www.paulysaal.com

A walk to the restrooms was a reminder that Pauly Saal is located in a historic building constructed as a school for Jewish girls in 1930.

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Placards in the hallway tell the story of 11 Auguststrasse.

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Originally built as a Jewish girls’ school, these historic photos depict the students at play and at work in the 1930s.

The building was designed by prominent Jewish architect Alexander Beer. He later perished in the Theresienstadt Concentration Camp. On the walls one finds numerous photos depicting laughing children at play and studiously attending to their lessons. Placards detail the story of the building and students who once walked these halls.

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The building was officially returned to the Jewish community in 2009 and is meant to honor the past and be a part of Berlin’s “creative future,” as the sign above indicates. In addition to Pauly Saal, Camera Work Contemporary Gallery, The Kennedys Museum, Michael Fuchs Gallery, and Mogg & Melzer Delicatessen have found a home at 11-13 Auguststrasse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Berlin, Germany, History, Museums

Berlin: A Peek Behind the Iron Curtain

December 28, 2015

A Look at Life in the DDR (German Democratic Republic)

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The world, or most of it anyway, rejoiced when the Berlin Wall came down on Nov 9, 1989. Berlin’s DDR Museum ddr-museum.de gives visitors a chance to catch a glimpse of what life was like for those caught behind the Wall when it was erected in 1961.

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Interactive displays show career paths available to East German residents.

The museum has an actual Trabant which was the only car manufactured in East Germany. Though costly, constructed partially from cardboard, and with a waiting list that could take 6 years or more– these small sedans were in high demand. It’s not surprising that Communist Party officials preferred Volvos. Visitors line up to sit in the driver’s seat and take a video- simulated drive through the countryside and city streets of the former East Berlin.

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Visitors can take a simulated spin in a Trabant at the DDR Museum.

A typical East Berlin apartment has been recreated inside the museum giving visitors a very clear idea what home life was like, right down to to what usual furnishings would have looked like.

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Books, magazines, television and decor give visitors a glimpse into home life in East Berlin during the Cold War.

 

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Garden gnomes were a popular addition to patios and lawns.

Even an outdoor patio area has been included– complete with a lawn chair and the ever-popular garden gnome that apparently graced a good many gardens.

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See what’s cooking in a typical East German kitchen.

Food supplies were limited for most East German residents, as a glimpse inside a typical kitchen cupboard shows. Selections were extremely restricted and canned goods played a major role in menu planning.

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Kitchen cupboard contents show a heavy reliance on canned and packaged foods.

Party higher ups had access to all the best the West had to offer and more, of course.

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There was no shortage of Western goods for those at the top echelons of the Communist Party.

The DDR Museum has wardrobes full of clothing and advertisements of the “fashions” at the time– 10 to 15 years behind the styles those in the West were sporting.  The fabrics used were ugly and uncomfortable and because fasteners were expensive, most garments had neither zippers nor metal closures of any kind. Levi’s and designer wear were reserved for those at the top, as the exhibits show.

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Fashionista frauleins in frumpy evening fashions.

Leisure activities are also featured, particularly the East German penchant for nude bathing and sun bathing which was in direct opposition to Communist Party policies. The Museum portrays these activities as subversive acts undertaken by far more than half the population. Photos show happy naked families enjoying outings in the great outdoors.

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Life in the former GDR is captured in photos, films and video displays at the DDR Museum.

The museum also has news clips, videos and more that tell stories of daring escapes made to the West, including one failed attempt made inside the belly of a stuffed cow.  Sadly, many failed attempts are heartbreakingly documented, as are some spectacular success stories.

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A bleak, solitary cell is on display at the museum. Would be escapees could well have landed in a cell like this one.

Propaganda videos of East Berlin residents discussing their life experience are included and some of those filmed even complain that their housing is inadequate, though they are optimistic that their next family lodging will be more expansive.

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Military recruitment posters, Communist Party propaganda, social protocols– State sanctioned of course, are all part of the displays at the DDR Museum. It’s definitely worth a few hours to tour and explore this fascinating look at how people in the Eastern Sector really lived.

The DDR Museum is on the Berlin Welcome Card.

 

I Spy– the Stasi Museum

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The Stasi Museum is located in the secret police service’s former headquarters.

As we saw at the DDR Museum, life was not easy for most people trapped by the Berlin Wall in the East. Operating under the auspices of the Ministry of State Security, the Stasi, East Germany’s secret police, made sure that any dissent, real, or imagined, was immediately quashed. Known for their horrific methods of dealing with dissidents or provocateurs, they were indeed a force to be reckoned with and the Stasi Museum stasimuseum.de shows in great detail exactly how this secret organization carried out their reign of terror against ordinary citizens and perceived “enemies of the State.”

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Residents watch construction of the “Wall” that divided Berlin from 1961-1989.

The Stasi’s responsibilities included recruiting spies to inform not only on those behind the Iron Curtain but also on Western residents and businesses. It was not unheard of for the Stasi to grab people off the streets on both sides of the Wall, using vans disguised as delivery vehicles.  The museum has an example of one of these and visitors can see how the inside of the van has been completely retrofitted into small individual prison cells.  Many who were picked up in these vehicles were never seen again.

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These ordinary looking vans were fitted out inside with individual cells for those unfortunate enough to be picked up by Stasi.

Neighbors were encouraged to report on one another as were family members, and as the records show, when the Berlin Wall crumbled, many relationships did too. It was not unusual for husband and wife to report on the other’s activities and when this came to light after Stasi records became public, divorces, already high in the East, increased dramatically.

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Informants were everywhere as the museum displays depict.

People were not paranoid to think that their activities were being monitored.  The Stasi photographed people at such mundane tasks as grocery shopping with cameras built into shopping bags.  The museum has examples of ties with cameras, belt cameras, cigarette packages that are actually cameras and more. Those old spy movies were not far from the truth.

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Cameras were built into everything from cigarette packets to watering cans during the Stasi’s reign.

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The tape on this radio indicates the only “approved” stations Stasi office workers were permitted to listen to.

A training film on view shows how agents would enter a home, photograph anything they found of interest, steal items and in some cases, deliberately move items around to make the person “under investigation” feel like they were losing their mind.  One case documented at the museum involved a psychologist who suffered from depression.  The Stasi regularly entered her apartment, moved things around, even substituted her tea bags with another brand, and did other strange things that eventually led to her suicide.

Another former DDR resident learned that the Stasi let the air out of her tires daily making her late to work—something that had puzzled her for a very long time. This was another kind of psychological sabotage in their large arsenal of such trickery—all documented at the Stasi Museum. The videos of the subjects of such subterfuge were fascinating.

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A “subversive” in custody measured, photographed and his “aroma” captured in the jar to the right.

The museum has plenty of exhibits that document those who were responsible for the devastation this corrupt government organization wreaked upon those on both sides of the Iron Curtain. In fact, visitors can see the office of Erich Mielke, the last Minister of State Security, which is presented almost exactly as he left it.

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This diagram shows exactly how Minister of Security Erich Mielke liked his breakfast presented.

Interestingly, many of the faces on displayed documents are blacked out likely because these individuals, who have never been prosecuted, are alive and well today.

For a chilling look at the Stasi’s operations, add this museum to your Berlin itinerary.