PALLADIAN VILLAS OF VICENZA

Hello! Today we return to Italy for a moment to talk about a little jewel I recently discovered: I’m talking about the city of Vicenza, located in Veneto region. Less famous than Verona and Venezia, undoubtly it worth a visit to discover an important side of Italian architecture.

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If you’re taking a one-day trip to Vicenza, I suggest to start early in the morning with the visit of two of the most famous Palladian Villas: Villa Valmarana ai Nani and Villa Capra (so called “La Rotonda”).
Valmarana ai Nani is a splendid architectural and artistic site, composed by three buildings connected thanks to a well-preserved vintage park. The buildings “Palazzina” (1669), Foresteria and Scuderia (1720), are surrounded by green areas based on symmetry, axial geometry and on the principle of imposing order over nature: the famous “Giardini all’Italiana”. The garden is open to all  those who visit the villa.
Palazzina and Foresteria are frescoed by Giambattista and Giandomenico Tiepolo, called in 1757 from the owner Giustino Valmarana. The Villa takes its name from the 17 stone dwarf-statues, previously scattered into the garden, and now placed on the surrounding wall of the property.

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Family Valmarana still live in the Villa, considered the maximum expression of the eighteenth century and the hightest proof of Tiepolos mastery. From the “Palazzina” building, dominated by statues of several divinities, you could enjoy a peaceful panorama on the Valletta del Silenzio,  with the Sanctuary of Monte Berico in the background.

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Villa Almerico Capra, named “La Rotonda” is achievable by walk from Villa Valmarana: designed and builded for commission from Andrea Palladio in 1570, the name “Capra” derives from the Capra brothers, who completed the building after it was given to them in 1592. From 1911 the building is owned by Family Valmarana, that opened the complex to visitors starting 1986. This building is conserved as part of the World Heritage Site “City of Vicenza and the Palladian Villas”.


The site selected was a hilltop just outside the city: rather than a villa, infact, you could call it a “palazzo”: the design is for a completely symmetrical building having a square plan with four facades, each of which has a projecting portico. The name La Rotonda refers to the central circular hall with its imposing dome, beautifully painted with frescoes by artists such as Anselmo Canera and Alessandro Maganza.

A full morning is enough when not crowded to visit both the villas, then in the afternoon you can head to the city center, with its beautiful and well-preserved historical buildings.

to be continued…

POSTCARDS FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD: BERLIN

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“Per visitare Berlino bisogna saper vedere anche quello che non c’è più e saper intuire una ingannevole realtà. Qui gli eventi sono cicatrici sul volto della storia, ma la loro capacità evocativa è intatta. A Berlino nulla resta più visibile di ciò che si cerca di cancellare.”

“To visit Berlin must be able to see what is not here anymore, and be able to grasp a deceptive reality. Here events are scars on the face of history, but their evoking ability is unaltered. In Berlin nothing remains more visible than what you are trying to delete.”

(Johann Bernhard Merian)

TEMPLES OF BANGKOK: WAT ARUN

Going on speaking about the temples we visited in Bangkok, I wish to tell you soemthing about, for example, the famous Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn. Unluckly some months ago, it was partially under maintainance, but sure it worth the visit.

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Wat Arun, locally known as Wat Chaeng, is located on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River (Thonburi). It’s easily one of the most stunning temples in Bangkok, not only for its riverside location, but also because the design is very different compared to the other temples you could visit in Bangkok. Wat Arun is partly made up of colourfully decorated spires and stands majestically over the water. It’s very easy to reach from Sapphan Taksin boat pier: you can take a river boat that stops at pier Ta Tian, and then from here a small shuttle boat takes you from one side of the river to the other.

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Although it is known as the Temple of the Dawn, it’s absolutely stunning at sunset, particularly when lit up at night. Given beauty of the architecture and the fine craftsmanship, it is not surprising that Wat Arun is considered by many as one of the most beautiful temples in Thailand. The spire (prang) on the bank of Chao Phraya River is one of Bangkok’s world-famous landmarks. It has an imposing khmer-style spire over 70 metres high, beautifully decorated with tiny pieces of coloured glass and Chinese porcelain, placed delicately into intricate patterns.
You can climb the central prang if you wish, the steps are very steep but there is a railing to balance yourself. When you reach the highest point you can see the Chao Phraya River and the Grand Palace and Wat Pho opposite. Along the base of this central tower there are sculptures of Chinese soldiers and animals. Afterwards, head into the ordination hall, where you can admire a golden Buddha image and the detailed murals that decorate the walls. Although Wat Arun is a very popular for tourists, it is also an important place of worship for Buddhists. Make sure you dress appropriately, or pick up one of the cover ups for rent near the entrance.

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We had also an exciting experience here: we received the “blessing” of a Buddhist monk, who recited prayers while we was asked to bow down several times in front of him. At the end of the ritual, he gave us a white rope bracelet – tied on the left arm for women, on the right one for men – supposed to bring us happiness and prosperity. Even if my religion is different, I was very touched by the solemnity of the moment, because I’ve clearly perceived to be treated with equality, no matter where I was coming from and my own faith. After that, I felt really peacefull inside.

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Wat Arun was envisioned by King Taksin in 1768. It is believed that after fighting his way out of Ayutthaya, which was taken over by a Burmese army at the time, he arrived at this temple just as dawn was breaking. He later had the temple renovated and renamed it Wat Chaeng, the Temple of the Dawn. It used to be the home of the Emerald Buddha, before the Palace was moved to the other side of the river. This can now be seen at the Grand Palace. The central prang was extended during the reign of Rama III (between 1824 and 1851), and is now one of the most visited sites in Thailand. It was also Rama III who added the decoration of the spires with porcelain, so that they glimmer in the sunshine.

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THE GRAND PALACE OF BANGKOK

I think a special mention should go to the Grand Palace of Bangkok, one of the main attraction of Thailand. This worth a guided visit, and if you have only one free day in Bangkok, I suggest to start from here, despite a number of temples you may find on the way. Undoubtedly the city’s most famous landmark, it was built in 1782 – and for 150 years it has been the home of the Thai King, the Royal court and the administrative seat of government. I’m not surprised at all about the endless crowd of people that visit daily the Grand Palace, enchanted by its beautiful architecture and intricate details, all of which is thanks to the creativity and craftsmanship of  Thai people. Today, the complex remains the spiritual heart of the Thai Kingdom.

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Rather than being a single structure, the Grand Palace is made up of numerous buildings, halls, pavilions set around open lawns, gardens and courtyards. Its asymmetry and eclectic styles are due to its organic development, with additions and rebuilding being made by successive reigning kings over 200 years of history. The Grand Palace is divided into three main zones: the Outer Court, home to royal offices, public buildings and the Temple of Emerald Buddha; the Middle Court, which is where the most important residential and state buildings are; and the Inner Court, which is exclusively reserved for the king, his queen and his consorts.

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In the main courtyard of the temples, you could admire two huge statues – 5 meters height – called Thotkhirithon, giant demons of Thailandese mythology, which hold in hands a sword, guarding the temples.
The major attraction of the Outer Court is the Temple of Emerald Buddha, the residence of Thailand’s most sacred Buddhist sculpture: Phra Kaeo Morakot (“emerald” here refers to its colour rather than the stone), which was carved from flawless green jade, is seated in a yogic posture on a gold-gilded high pedestal, with colourful fresco paintings on the walls all around.

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Unfortunately, in this royal chapel it’s forbidden to take photos and enter the temple. The Emerald Buddha is adorned with three different sets of gold seasonal costume: two were made by Rama I, one for the summer and one for the rainy season, and a third made by Rama III for the winter season. The clothes are changed personally by the King of Thailand, or the Crown Prince in his stead, in a ceremony at the changing of the seasons.

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In this area, you can admire the tallest buildings, that surpass in hight the walls of the complex. The buildings are just magnificent, all covered in coloured tiles and gold lacquered. The most outstanding building is the great Gold Tower, that reminds at the buildings of the city of Chiang Mai and also to some located in Birmania. It has the shape of a golden “stupa“: the stupas are constructions typical of buddism and they are used as tombs, to contain relics and statues.

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After going through the area of the big temples, we reach the courtyard of the Middle Court (Chakri Maha Prasat Hall). This buildings is a bit “atypical” compared to the other buildings of the complex, revealing an outstanding architectural-style combining European structure and traditional Thai roof tiles and spires.

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The reason is the following: King Rama V entrusted the construction of the building to an italian architect (1876-1882), who planned the Royal Hall with a clear Renaissance style, causing conflicts among the Royal Court, that disagreed with the project, judged too “outlandish”. That’s why the King accepted to give to the building a more “thailandese air”. During ancient times this was the main royal residence, nowadays only a portion of it is used as museum and as place for official receptions.

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The Inner Court is where the King’s royal consorts and daughters lived: it was like a small city entirely populated by women and boys under the age of puberty. Even if no royalty currently reside in the inner court, it’s still completely closed to the public.

to be continued…

TEMPLES OF BANGKOK/1

Let’s continue our exploration of Bangkok from some of the most famous temples in the city. Temples in Bangkok are an endless number, the real main attractions. They characterize the skyline of the city, appearing suddenly between skyscrapers. There is always, in every corner of this metropolis, a strong connection between modernity and tradition, and this gives charm to the streets of the chaotic city center. Im my opinion, visiting temples is hightly recommended noth only for the historical sides, but also ’cause it gives you such a peaceful and warm feeling inside. Here a short presentation of some of the temples we visited:

 MARBLE TEMPLE (Wat Benchamabophit)

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Located in the Dusit District, the construction of the temple began in 1899: literally the name means “Temple of the fifth King located nearby Dusit Palace”. Designed by Prince Naris, half-brother of the king, is built of Italian marble. It’s unusual for a temple to show elements made by Carrara marble, such as pillars, a marble courtyard and two big singhas (lions) guarding the entrance to the bòht (ordination hall), but it’s not all that surprising when you consider how enamoured Rama V was with Europe. The windows outwardly are framed by gold carvings, in striking contrast to the sparkling white marble walls, like also the red-terraced roofs, with golden details on the edges.

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The interiors are decorated with crossbeams of lacquer and gold, and the walls are painted in gold&white pattern all around the royal blue wall behind the central Buddha image, which guards the ashes of King Rama V, buried beneath the statue. The silent cloister around the temple houses 53 stunning images of Buddha. All around the main building there is a nice walkway with red bridges crossing the canals filled of blooming lotus, and Buddha statues guarding the Temple. Just an heavenly place where get lost, especially early in the morning, with just few tourists around.

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WAT PHO (Temple of the Reclining Buddha)

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Buddhist temple complex in the Phra Nakhon District – one of the ancient in Bangkok – is located in the Rattanakosin Island, near the famous Grand Palace. The temple is first on the list of six temples in Thailand classed as the highest grade of the first-class royal temples. It is associated with King Rama I who rebuilt the temple complex on an earlier temple site, and became his main temple where some of his ashes are enshrined. The temple was later expanded and extensively renovated by Rama III. The temple houses the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand, including a 46 meters long reclining Buddha. The temple was also the earliest centre for public education in Thailand, and houses a school of Thai medicine. It is known as the birthplace of traditional Thai massage which is still taught and practiced at the temple.

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The chapel and the reclining Buddha (Phra Buddhasaiyas) were built by Rama III in 1832. The image of the reclining Buddha represents the entry of Buddha into Nirvana and the end of all reincarnations. The figure is 15 mt high and 46 mt long, and it’s one of the largest Buddha statues in Thailand. The right arm of the Buddha supports the head with tight curls, which rests on two box-pillows richly encrusted with glass mosaics. I was curious to know what’s inside the imposing statue, and they tell us that the figure has a brick core, which was modelled and shaped with plaster, then gilded.

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The soles of the feet of the Buddha – just as imponent as the body -, are inlaid with mother-of-pearl. They are divided into 108 arranged panels, displaying the auspicious symbols by which Buddha can be identified, such as flowers, white elephants, tigers, etc. At the center of each foot, a circle represents a chakra or energy point. There are 108 bronze bowls in the corridor representing the 108 auspicious characters of Buddha: visitors may drop coins in these bowls as it’s believed to bring good fortune – and it also helps the monks to maintain the wat -. That’s why during the visit you’ll be accompanied by a constant, jingling, characteristic sound.

to be continued..

CITIES OF THE WORLD: BANGKOK

Bangkok, or Bangrak, capital of Thailand. My trip in South-East Asia starts here, in this bustling city that never sleeps. There are so many things to see and do in Bangkok, and it’s difficult to speak about all of it. For this reason, I decided not to make an itinerary, but instead to get carried away by the sensations, the colours, the smells of Bangkok, only describing what we sew and felt.
And the first impression we had, dazed by a long flight, was of an”organized” confusion. Sights of skyscrapers and traffic jam  filled our eyes, proceeding towards the city center.

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We stayed in Silom, the commercial quarter of Bangkok: Silom is the financial heart of the city, with banks, luxury hotels and residence: quite plain, isn’t it? Indeed, it’s a strategical point to start your exploration: even if greatly connected with skytrain and metro, we choosed to explore it walking. On both sides of Silom Road, the main street, you’ll have sights of the everyday life in Bangkok: people making and eating breakfast at the countless stalls; preparing food and beverage to sell, or jasmine and other flowers wreaths to bring as offer in the temples.

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You’ll learn fast that Thai people in Bangkok eat at every hours, both standing or sitting in the kiosks, and even while they’re riding bikes (yes, even in the traffic jam): eating don’t stop them to do other things in the meanwhile, they’re always rushing somewhere else. Soups, fried chicken, rice, shrimps or meat skewers are only few examples of what you could taste by the streets, together with smoothies and fresh fruit like mango and watermelon.

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By night, Silom quarter is pretty much animated: every day from 6.00 p.m. takes place Patpong Market: not really a typical market, they sell souvenir for tourists, however it’s well-known in Bangkok. (also for the red lights district just around the corner, probably). However, is recommended for dinner : the area is full of restaurants and bar: you could start the evening watching sunset by the terrace of one of the many hotels skybar – if you’re in Silom, from LeBua Palace – and then take dinner elsewhere after a stroll on the main road.

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Our journey in Thailand starts here: from an ants’ nest always feverish, and busy. Bangkok will surprise you in many ways: at first glance, me too I felt so far away from my usual life, from my datum points, that I had quite a shock. But slowly, I gained confidence with the surroundings, with the kindness of the people, with this metropolis.

to be continued..

SUMMER MELANCHOLIA

Hello! How are you? I never thought I would be absent from the blog for all August, but between work and finally the summer holidays, time just flew.
In these days I’m just trying to recollect emotions, images, faces, scents of the places we visit in the last two weeks in Thailand.
I’m trying to put into words all the sensations, the emotions that this trip has given to me, and I’m realizing that it’s a difficult task.
Because Asia has a special charm. It bewitches and enchants you, with its own strenghts and its flaws. Asia has so much to teach every time you meet it: always new knowledges, new flavours to absorb. Asia is the land for discoverers “par excellence”, the country where to get lost and then find yourself.

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Even now, with enchanted eyes, I’ll tell you about “my” amazing Thailand, so stay tuned and get ready to leave with me! Cris

LONDON: A STROLL IN KENSINGTON & NOTTING HILL

Hello! In recent days we heard a lot about UK and its particular situation, after deciding to abandon UE. For me it’s still hard to imagine Great Britain no more part of Europe, but i can only assume that we’ll “absorb” what happened. Today more than ever I feel close to Londoners and I feel nostalgic about the beautiful City of London.

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This post is about the trip of my last time in London, in January 2015, and today I’ll bring you in two well-known areas not to miss if it’s your first time in the City. Today we start our stroll from Brompton Road, to take a quick look at Harrods, Mecca of the shopping centers. I’m not that passionate about department store, so I didn’t head out on the long queue at the entrance, but if you love shopping sure this is your place.

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From here you can venture into the heart of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, immediately west of the City of Westminster, real nerve center of modern London. The Borough of Kensington and Chelsea host several museum (like the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum), universities, embassies,  and lot of exclusive residential areas of the City. Continuing towards South Kensington, you could stop by the Royal Albert Hall, one of the most famous concert hall. The busy Kensigton Gore separate the Albert Hall from the Albert Memorial, another building in honor of  Albert Prince Consort, husband of Queen Victoria.

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In 1851, the Great Exhibition (for which the Crystal Palace was built) was held in Hyde Park. The exhibition was a great success and led Prince Albert to propose the creation of a permanent series of facilities for the enlightenment of the public in the area, which came to be known as Albertopolis. The Hall was constructed mainly of red bricks, with terra cotta block decoration. The dome on top was made of wrought iron and finally glazed.

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Before proceeding, you should go back to the City of Westminster and pay a visit to Buckingham Palace, residence and administrative headquarters of the reigning monarch of UK. If you’re lucky enough you could be present for the daily ritual of the Changing of the Guard; take a look also at the waving flag on the rooftop: when the Union Jack is lifted, the Queen isn’t in the palace: if not, you’ll see the Royal Standard flag.
During XVI/XVII centuries, Buckingham Palace was only a rural area of the city of Westminster: purchased as hunting lodge, successively it was used for the silkworm farming with King James I’s patronage. In 1700, it becomes property of Duke of  Buckingham, from which it derives the name. He builded a first abode – Buckingham House – where nowadays lies the residence. The first king to come into possession of the House was George III in 1762. The arch of Triumph, (today Marble Arch) was the entrance of the Palace: at first it was where now there is the exterior facade, but it has been removed under Queen Victoria to make some room for the enlargement of the Palace. Queen Victoria was the first to live there together with her husband, Prince Albert, and the 9 sons starting from 1837. She added new rooms, among which the Ballroom, and a brand new wing. At the death of the husband, when the court entered  a perpetual mourning, the works stopped and haven’t been completed.

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Returning in Kensington Borough, you sure will notice many residential sections – with beautiful pastel coloured houses -, of which Notting Hill is maybe the most famous; it “starts” from Notting Hill Gate, (also name of its Tube station) until Portobello Road, where takes place the characteristic market. The street took slowly its shape during XIX century, settled between the two big areas of Notting Hill and Paddington. Thanks to the rich middle class of the City, its shops and marketplaces rapidly flourished.

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Portobello Road especially owes its fame to the daily market which encourages a lot of tourists, in particular on Saturday, when also many antique dealers are taking part in it. The scenery is really cozy and familiar, thanks to the abundance of tiny shops and the Victorian architecture of the buildings.

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to be continued..