4 Sep 2011

Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore

The exterior of the duomo in the light of a winter sunrise.
The duomo, or main cathedral, in Florence, Italy was originally designed in a Gothic style in 1294 by Arnolfo di Cambio.  Over the next 170 years work began and stopped several times.  The first time the works slowed was after Arnolfo's death in 1302.  Giotto di Bondone began overseeing the construction in 1334.  When Giotto died in 1337, his assistant took over until 1348, when work was stopped due to the Black Death.  When work resumed, the cathedral saw many architects taking over until 1418, when the cathedral was finally finished, with the exception of the dome.

A view from Piazzale Michelangelo.
This beautiful building is a wonderful mixture of Gothic, Renaissance and Gothic Revival styles.  The first time I saw this building, I was stopped dead in my tracks by its magnificence.  Words could not begin to encapsulate its beauty and magic; it truly does need to be viewed in person.  The exterior of the duomo is decorated in pink, grey and white marble.

A view of the bell tower from the top of the dome.

I would definitely recommend climbing the stairs to the top of Brunellschi's dome.  There are 463 steps to the top.  I learned the hard way, that you really should take a bottle of water with you.  Not only will this provide you with the best vantage point of viewing the dome's interior frescoes of the Last Judgement, you will find the most stunning 360 degree views of Florence from the top of the dome.

The main building of the cathedral in 2011.

14 Jun 2011

Two Vancouver Images Featured on redbubble.com

Two of my photographs were featured on the redbubble website highlighting the Beautiful British Columbia group on the site!

The two images were "Water and Cordova" and "Stanley Park Harbour".

Water and Cordova
Water and Cordova was taken mid-spring in Vancouver's historic Gastown.  At one time all that stood in the area was a lumber yard.  "Gassy Jack" Deighton, known for his long winded stories, had a saloon built.  Around this saloon grew Gastown.  Today you will encounter several bars, pubs, restaurants and tourist shops, and of course the famed Gastown Steam Clock.

"Stanley Park Harbour" was photographed in November.  It is such an amazing time in Vancouver, when the city still enjoys the beautiful colors and mild temperatures of late autumn, but is surrounded by snow covered mountains, which are already in full swing winter.  The day this photo was taken, Vancouver had gotten a light dusting of snow, reminding residents that winter was on her way.

Stanley Park Harbour

17 Mar 2011

Charlottenburg Palace

The grand entrance and courtyard of the
baroque styled Charlottenburg palace in Berlin, Germany
Fortuna, Goddess of the personification of luck,
sits on top of the palace
During the 1690s, construction began on the central part of this baroque style palace in Berlin, Germany.  The palace began with the central structure and was intended to be a summer home for Sophie Charlotte, wife of Friedrich III.  Originally named Lietzenburg, upon Sophie's passing in 1705, Friedrich renamed it in her memory.  Over the next century, it remained the home of the royal Prussian family.

World War II brought great destruction to the palace, but luckily it was reconstructed to its former beauty.  The biggest change during the reconstruction was to the palace gardens.  Originally the garden was designed by Simeon Godeau in a baroque style, influenced by the gardens at Versailles.  Towards the end of the 18th century, the gardens were redesigned by Georg Steiner in an English style.  Upon the rebuilding after the war, the gardens were returned to their original baroque style.

At the top of the palace a statue of the goddess Fortuna was placed in 1711.  Fortuna was the Roman goddess of the personification of luck, both good and bad.  Today she still watches of the palace and surrounding grounds.

8 Mar 2011

Vancouver's Stanley Park

Boats docked by the Rowing Club
In 1888 Stanley Park was opened to the public by then Governor General, Lord Stanley of Preston.  As he said upon the opening (and is also commemorated with a plaque at the base of a statue of Lord Stanley), it was "to the use and enjoyment of people of all colours, creeds and customs for all time".  It still stands as a public park, taking up the large tip of the downtown peninsula in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The entire 9 kilometre circumference of the park is lined with a walking and bicycle path, known as the Sea Wall, which can get very busy during the summer or any winter day that sees a break in the Vancouver rain.  Along the wall, lay three of the cities more popular beaches: English Bay Beach, Second Beach and Third Beach, all with great views of the sunsetting on English Bay.

Within the park, you will find two bodies of water, Beaver Lake and Lost Lagoon.  Though it hasn't always been, Beaver Lake is now quite shallow.  Due to the build up of natural debris, the lake will one day be completely gone, given way to becoming part of the forest floor.  The Lake is almost completely covered with water lilies, which were introduced to the lake as a means of slowing its demise.

Overlooking Third Beach
Stanley Park is also home to a large number of wildlife, including, but not limited to: raccoons, skunks, squirrels, coyotes, turtles, fish, blue herons, eagles, swans, geese, ducks and many others.  Pacific Blue Herons nest in large numbers in the tall trees surrounding the park's tennis courts.  Each year there are between 150 to 200 nests within the trees.

Though mostly forested, the park does have several landscaped gardens, such as the Rose Garden, Rhododendron Walk, Shakespeare Garden and even a community garden.  There are many great family attractions in the park, as well, such as the miniature train (which also has a beautiful walking path that encircles the entire train route), the Vancouver Aquarium, a pitch and putt, a swimming pool, a few playgrounds, including a water park and horse-drawn tours of the park.  Recently the petting zoo that was located beside the miniature train has gone the way of the Stanley Park Zoo and closed for good.

Yellow rose in the Rose Garden of Stanley Park
After a morning of exploring the park, I would recommend finding a log to lean against on Third Beach with a copy of Pauline Johnson's Legends of Vancouver, a collection of short First Nations stories of Stanley Park and area as beautifully retold by Ms. Johnson.

If you are planning a trip to Vancouver and looking for a hotel close to Stanley Park, try The Sylvia Hotel.  It is located across the street from English Bay Beach.  Though not heavy on frills, its elegant charm and perfect location make it great place to stay.

25 Feb 2011

Pike Place Market

One of many entrances to the public market
What would a trip to Seattle be without visiting "the soul of Seattle"?  The Market turned 100 in 2007 and is today visited by 10 million people a year.  Though it began as a place that farmers could sell vegetables directly to the consumer, thereby eliminating the middle man and keeping prices affordable, now there are around 300 farmers, fishermen and craftspeople selling their wares in and around the market (not to mention over 200 musicians and street performers!).

When thinking about what I like best about this bustling marketplace, the first thing that comes to mind is coffee.  I mean, it is Seattle after all, right?  Seattle Coffee Works served me the best espresso that I have ever had; and I have had a lot of espresso.  Though it isn't located directly inside the Market, it is right across the street, which is better in a way, as it also gives a small reprieve from the large crowds inside the Market.  The staff are all very friendly and knowledgeable, both about the coffee they are serving and about Seattle in general.  Next time you are in Seattle, you can't miss out on this amazing treat!

Sign above the main entrance to Pike Place Market
A stroll down Post Alley, under the Market will bring you to the Market Theater.  This is where you will find the famed "Gum Wall".  I had heard that it was started by people, who, tired of waiting in line for the theater, would entertain themselves by sticking coins to the wall, using gum as the adhesive.  The coins eventually disappeared, leaving behind the chewed gum.  After several attempts at cleaning the wall, the theatre finally gave in and it became a tourist attraction.  Though one would be able to argue that a wall covered in gum cannot be considered an "attraction", it does look quite fun.

The Corner Market Building
If you are around the Market during lunch time, I would recommend the El Puerco Lloron, towards the waterfront from the Market on the Pike Street Hillclimb.  Every time I find myself in Seattle, I stop in for the Rellenos de Queso.  They have a wonderful selection of salsas and excellent guacamole.

Pike Place Market stretches itself over 9 acres of land and includes several buildings, along with street vendors.  You can find almost everything your heart desires, from fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, clothes, toys, books, flowers and chowders to great views and excellent people watching.

24 Feb 2011

The Pantheon

The Pantheon in the light of the setting sun
The Pantheon in Rome Italy is probably my favorite building in the world.  Every time I see it, I am overcome with inspiration; even if it is the fifth time in the same day!  Construction of this stunning example of classical architecture began around 25 AD.  However after a fire around 80 AD, it was rebuilt under Hadrian and completed somewhere around 125 AD.  Originally built as a Pagan temple to the gods (the word pantheon meaning "every god"), it has stood as a Catholic church since 608 AD

The main part of the building, the Rotonda, stands exactly as wide as it is high, 43.3 metres.  The domed roof is the largest dome ever created out of concrete.  The pronaos (or porch) is lined by sixteen columns made of Egyptian granite.  The only source of natural light is the large oculus at the top of the dome, which is 9 metres in diameter and completely open; which means when it rains outside, it also rains inside the Pantheon.  Originally, the interior of the Pantheon was designed so the light entering through the oculus would illuminate specific monuments to the gods at specific times of day.

Sunlight streaming in through the oculus.
The Pantheon sits at the head of the Piazza della Rotonda in Rome.  In the centre of the piazza stands a fountain, Fontana del Pantheon, whose basin was designed by Giacomo della Porta in 1575.  An obelisk was added to the fountain in 1711.

Today the Pantheon houses several tombs, including that of King Vittorio Emanuele II, King Umberto I, Margherita di Savoia and painter Raphael.  The inscription on Raphael's tomb is translated to read "Here lies Raphael: that Nature feared when alive, whilst he was dying, Nature fears herself may die".

If you are planning a trip to Rome and would like to stay close to this amazing structure, I would highly recommend the Hotel Abruzzi.  The hotel sits along the piazza and has rooms with beautiful views of the Pantheon.  It is a great central location to explore the many, many treasures this wonderful city has to offer.

23 Feb 2011

Tower of London

Staircase in the Tower of London, 2009
Tower of London
Some fun facts about the Tower
  • The Tower of London was started in the 1080's by William the conqueror, beginning with the White Tower
  • The Tower of London is actually comprised of several different towers
  • The first person known to be imprisoned in the Tower was Ranulf Flambard
  • Anne Boleyn was beheaded at Tower Green
  • Elizabeth I was imprisoned in the Tower
  • The nightly locking of the Tower begins at exactly 9:53pm every night and is marked by the Ceremony of the Keys.
  • Legend dictates that should the ravens who reside at the Tower ever leave, the White Tower will crumble and a terrible disaster shall befall England.
  • When Sir Henry Wyatt was imprisoned in the Tower, a cat used to visit him, bringing dead pigeons for him to eat.

Window on one of the towers of the Tower of London