Vanzella BLOG

Tuesday, June 8th

Transit of Venus from Catania

Under clear skies we had a hot sunny day to view the Transit.

The alarm went off at 5am and Salvatore and Carmelo picked us up and drove to Lido Aurora. We met the gang and set up the equipment with all the usual hub bub (only in Italian).

Luca and Salvatore setting up (photo)
(Note the caffe - only in Italia can one do astronomy in style with an espresso to start the observing session.)

First contact was very exciting with all the yelling and exclamations. The next 20 minutes flew by to 2nd contact. Here is a 2nd contact photo showing a bit of the 'black drop effect'.

2nd Contact (photo)

So lots of talking, wading in the ocean and nearly 6 hours later, we were excited again on 3rd contact. Some people saw the ring of light around Venus as it was partially off the disk of the sun. 20 fast minutes later, we were sad to see Venus leave on 4th contact.

A few people came by to see what all the equipment was about and we showed them Venus on the Sun. Here's an example of what you could see using the completely safe method of projection.

Viewing by Projection (photo)

Overall a great day, especially with the great hospitalilty of the Catania Astronomy Club and the owner of the Lido Aurora.

Thanks to Giuseppe, Emilio, Salvatore, Saverio, Sciuto, Davide, Carmelo, Mimmo and many others for including us in their activities and for a wonderful day.

Group Shot (photo)

Next a brief stop in Rome and then home. Too bad about the Flames.

lkvanz on 06.08.04 @ 10:44 AM MST [link]

Monday, June 7th

Sorrento and Pompeii and Catania

Up early and after another great cappucino and cornetto we were on the train to Napoli. Then a hot, slow, crowded 1-hour, 32-stop LRT ride we reached the resort town of Sorrento. It is your typical resort town with junk for sale everywhere. Lots of lemon and orange trees, beautiful views. In this town we ate well at La Favorite O Paruchianno (twice). Luca had the pasta con tonno twice.

Sorrento (photo)

Went to Pompeii and toured the ruins (another 2 rides on that LRT). It is much larger than we expected. Jackie, you can tell Scott the roads are on a grid system (the only one so far and the place is deserted).

Pompeii (photo)

Another early morning and an all day train ride to Catania, Sicily. The train is loaded in a ship to cross to Sicily. More ruins, old churches and old castles. The Bellini park has a street lined with these purple trees (we cannot tell if they are the flowers or actually the leaves)

Catania (photo)

Tomorrow is Transit of Venus day, we are hoping for clear skies. Our new astronomy buddies are picking us up at 5:45 am and we are heading to the beach to view the transit.

lkvanz on 06.07.04 @ 12:43 PM MST [link]

Thursday, June 3rd


Arrived Tuesday around noon and checked in. Since we had the afternoon and had been advised to do the Colosseum in the morning, we headed off to St.Peter's Basillica and the Vatican. St.Peters is HUGE.

St.Peter's (photo)

Now we know where all the marble stripped from the colosseum etc is located. Toured the vatican museum where all itineraries end at the Sistine chapel. The Raphael rooms are very interesting, especially the 'School of Athens' in which Raphael depicted Greek philosophers with portraits of Rennaissance artists. The Sistine chapel has been restored and looks good. There is suppose to be silence in there but all you hear are the guards kibitzing among themselves, then shooshing the crowd, then on loud speakers, announcements in several languages telling everyone to be silent. We walked back to the hotel from the Vatican, stopping at the Spanish steps.

Wednesday June 2 was a National Holiday. We headed to the Colosseum but could not get there due to blocked roads for a parade. So we went to the Domus Aurea to look at the restored palatial home of Nero (mostly underground). Then we went to the Pantheon (during which we saw 2 fly overs by Italian jets with the red-white-green contrails). We stopped for a great porchetta sandwich before seeing the Pantheon. We then meandered around Rome and saw the Piazza Navona and Trevi Fountain, stopping for excellent espressos and Rome's best gelatos.

Piazza Navona (photo)

Gelatos (photo)

After we toured the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill (home of the Emperor).

Forum (photo)

That evening we had a great roman supper at Hostaria Nerone - tagliatelle funghi, cannelloni, pollo romagna con peperoni, saltimbocca alla romana, limoncello on the house, and espressos. Then we strolled to look at the colosseum lit by flood lights and we saw the nearly full moon rising through the arches along the north wall.

Today we toured the inside of the colosseum and then revisited some of the forum.

Colosseum (photo)

Then we headed to see the Circus Maximus and the Terme di Caracalla (where the 3 tenors performed their original concert). As we left the Terme we could see a big storm approaching. We took the CROWDED metro back to St. Peter's to climb the cuppola (if there is something to climb in Italy, we climb it). Enroute we missed most of the only daytime rain we've had on the trip. We climbed the cuppola and viewed the panorama of Rome and the Vatican grounds.

Above St. Peter's Square (photo)

Next up, Sorrento and the Amalfi coast.
lkvanz on 06.03.04 @ 02:51 PM MST [link]

Monday, May 31st


On reaching Siena we had to find our hotel which in the historical core of the walled city. Vehicles must be authorized to enter. Not knowing all this, we simply drove in following the signs to 'centro'. As the streets got narrower and less vehicles were visible, we saw a sign for our hotel so we plunged in. It seemed like we were the only car on pedestrian only streets. Tour groups were leaving the centro on foot and we were going in. We stopped for directions at an artist's studio and he said that traffic in centro is a 'casino' - the Italians will know what this means. We kept going in deeper and eventually found the hotel - the road in front is barely wider than our car (and the restaurant had a table on display to increase the challenge). The woman at the hotel directed us out but construction detour made us improvise on our own. So your basic driving nightmare - not the speed but the labyrinthic maze that is Siena.

Later that day we saw 5000 people gather in the Piazza del Campo for the drawing of the last 4 flags for the 10 flags to compete in the July 2 palio - medieval horse race. The event was very much like the flag throwing scenes in the movie Under the Tuscan Sun.

Piazza del Campo

Today we climbed the Torre della Mangia (over 500 steps).

Torre della Mangia

Siena from Torre

Later, we lunched along the steep road of an Osteria where they use wooden shims (big wedges) to level the table and chairs. Later we went on a very nice guided tour of Siena and learned much of the history of the town and churches and the palio from Stella our guide.

Next we head for the eternal city - Roma.
lkvanz on 05.31.04 @ 11:17 AM MST [link]


We rented a car (Nissan Micra) in Florence and began driving Italian style through Tuscany. Good thing it was a Saturday because traffic was not too bad (although still many motorcycles and bicycles). Drove towards Greve-in-Chianti along the Chiantigiana (SS222) thought the heart of Tuscany.

Greve in Chianti

In Greve, to find our agriturismo B&B, we had to navigate a windy unpaved road up and up the hill side. The B&B, Podere Torre, is nice and has great views and very good breakfast which we ate al fresco.

View of Tuscany from B&B

The next day we drove toward Siena stopping at a couple of cantine aperte. We sampled wines and salamis and toured the gardens of Vingamaggio featured in the movie Much ado about Nothing (also where Mona Lisa lived). We were lucky they were open on a Sunday, another special event day. We stopped in Castelina in Chianti where we had porchetta sandwich for lunch and the best gelato of the trip. We then continued on to Siena.

lkvanz on 05.31.04 @ 11:05 AM MST [link]

Friday, May 28th

Florence, Pisa and Lucca

We're just about done with the Florence area. They day after we hit the Accademia, we took our side trip to Pisa. The square is amazing but the rest of the town, as another Luca Vanzella once said, is forgettable. Of course we had to climb the leaning tower (15 euros each) - the steps themselves lean! Unlike many other towers, you actually get to go to the very top (above the campanili even). Easy to get vertigo up there.

Pisa (photo)

After Pisa, since we still had a half day, we went to Lucca - a walled city with the best preserved walls in Italy. Capital of the olive oil industry. Actually a very nice town - we liked it better than either Parma or Modena. The outer wall is over 100 ft wide at the bottom and the top is a walking/running/cycling route with many trees providing shade.

The Florence culture week thing we talked about turned out to be a really good deal - all the state palazzi are open to the public for free. Yesterday we went to the Piazzale Michaelangelo to get a great view of Florence. The buses to and from there were a bit confusing but we managed. Also, they are serious about having tickets - we saw a teenage girl get a 50 euro fine for not having timestamped her 1 euro bus ticket (good for 1 hour).

Florence from Piazzale Michaelangelo (photo)

Then we went to the Uffizi Gallery (the municipal offices in the time of the Medici's). We had a reservation for 11:15 and when we got there, amid all the confusion, we found that they had had a short 2-hour strike (sciopero) in the morning and so they were behind. We expected a 2-hour wait but we only had to wait about a half hour. The Uffizi Gallery has TONS of important works - Botticelli, Raphael - but after a while, it's all a blur.

Today we hit the Palazzo Pitti (home and main place to collect the Medici's art collection). We toured the Palatine Gallery which has amazingly large rooms each of which is frescoed, gilded, stuccoed, draped and FULL of artwork stacked above and below each other. Many Botticelli's here also. We also looked at the Gallery of Modern Art, which in Florence means after 1600 and before 1900. Then we went out to the Boboli Gardens - huge and hilly. The Medici's sure had a nice garden area. The whole thing was free - due to the culture week - and we hadn't bothered with a prenotazione.

We also went to the Duomo in Florence. This cathedral is very nice on the outside but not so grand inside. It's campanile is the best looking one in Italy (although we quite like the famous on in Venice). It seems there's an inverse correlation between how ugly or unfinished a church is on the outside and how spectacular it is on the inside. We climbed up the 463 steps to the top of the cuppola - designed by Brunneschelli. When Michaelangelo started on St. Peters Basilica in Rome, he said he would make it larger than Brunneschelli's in Firenze but not lovelier. The views of Florence from the top of the cuppola are nice.

Florence from Duomo(photo)

One food note: We went to a restaurant last night called Il Latini (named after the founder). This is a loud, boisterous place that theoretcally has 2 seatings (7:30 and 9:30pm). We got there at 9:30 and there were about 25 people waiting outside the door. The inside appeared to be full. The guy at the door would occassionally let some people in, appearing to giveg preference to young women and locals. We went to the front of the crowd and about the same time a couple from Southern California was telling the guy that they had a 9:30 reservation, we told him the same thing. Presto, the 4 of us get in to sit side-by-each - there's no 2 people sitting at a table for 4 here. This place theoretically has a menu but the main thing is a prezzo fisso meal in which the waiter verbally tells you your options for each course. We had prosciutto, pane, crostini, primo (ravioli/gnocci/soup), secondo (mixed roasted meats - beef, pork, lamb, rabbit) with 4 contorni, dolce (tiramisu/ice cream with strawberries/torta di nonno/pancotta), caffe, 2 dessert wines (vin santo and sparkling asti moscato), biscotti to dip in the vin santo). They serve a house wine that comes in 2 litre flasks and you drink as much as you want. Not too bad for 37.50 euro each. Of course we were stuffed and the meal concluded at 5 minutes after midnight.

lkvanz on 05.28.04 @ 09:52 AM MST [link]

Tuesday, May 25th

Canale in Venezia

Canale in Venezia (photo)

Forgot to post this one from Venice. Not a bad shot if we do say so ourselves.
lkvanz on 05.25.04 @ 02:54 PM MST [link]


After arriving in Florence, we set out to make all of our dinner reservations since this was some what of a problem in Bologna. We didn't expect as much competition for restaurant seats in Bologna since we were surrounded by locals. In Florence, we are surrounded by tourists so we knew it would be a problem. This allowed us to tour around the center of Florence while waiting for our reserved timed to enter the Academmia gallery. Turns out this is culture week in Florence and so the gallery admission was free, just had to pay the 3 euro reservation fee. It could be that we will get to see the Palazzo Pitti and the Uffizi Gallery also for free.

Florence is full of tiny streets between the huge fortresses built by the Medici's (they call them palaces) but it is quite a different feel than Bologna or Venice.

The David (photo)

Here is the man himself. Newly cleaned just in time for the 500th anniversary of its completion by Michelangelo. Photos are forbidden inside the Academmia but we manage to sneak one anyway (along with all the other touristas).

lkvanz on 05.25.04 @ 02:51 PM MST [link]

Monday, May 24th


We took a Eurostar train from Venice, in second class (since first class was full) but still very nice. We got to Bologna train station around noon on Saturday. Compared to Venice, Bologna is noisy, with zillions of mopeds and very tiny cars including many that seem to be electric 2-seaters.

We are staying at the Cosy House B&B (which is actually in an apartment) with our lovely hostess Gabriella.

The church in Piazza Maggiore is huge, almost the size of a hockey rink and only a block and half away is another one just as big. We toured Santo Stefano churches, a series of 5 inter connected churches that evolved over 100's of years.

We climbed one of the two leaning towers, 500 steps, the climbing was easier than the vertigo. There are numerous other towers - all leaning.

On Saturday, we got the best meal-deal of the trip so far. The city was just ending its 2nd annual food festival and for 10 euros each, we got to go eat supper at the Palazzo di Re Enzo. It was a big Italian buffet with open bar for aperitives, parmesan and mortadella. Then about 10-15 different stations serving many dishes. Also open bar for many different kinds of wines. Plus gelatos and other dolci. Also, 2 bands played - dixieland jazz before and italian fusion after. There were about 500 people. The Germans, British and Canadians (us) all lined up for things but the Italians just jammed their way directly to the food. Italians are usually very polite but, when it comes to food, they are very aggresive. So, we went with the flow and jammed our way to the food also. We were completely stuffed by the end of the evening. Total time to drink and eat: 4 hours.

On Sunday, we trained to Parma and Modena hoping to see some cheese or vinegar production, but saw an old church instead. They were celebrating a first communion there, so we got to go inside and take pictures when usually no photos are allowed. These towns are not set up to showcase the famous foods. In fact, the whole area does not promote food tours very well. It happened that this weekend was ending a week of "Open Farms" all over the Emiglia-Romagna area. We though we could maybe get to one or 2 farms near these towns, but we needed a car or bikes to get to them, but there were no rentals.

We found some free internet at the city offices, but no USB access here, so no photos. We will post photos when we get to Florence (we leave Tuesday).

Thanks for the comments. Ciao.
lkvanz on 05.24.04 @ 04:07 AM MST [link]

Friday, May 21st

venice photo

St. Mark's Square (photo)

Here's a shot of us in the famous square.

Go Flames Go!
lkvanz on 05.21.04 @ 02:59 PM MST [link]


Arrived tired and booked train reservations for the rest of the trip (a nice guy from Portogruaro helped us) and enjoyed a gelato at the train station.

Nice room and breakfast at Locanda Montin, and everyday Kathie walks out the front door - and waiting outside is Venice - just beautiful.

Toured St. Mark's Square. Basilica has beautiful floors, Museum Civico is huge, Doge's Palace has many huge rooms with painted ceilings and many rooms with benches along the walls for waiting to see the Doge, the terrible 10, the senate, the group of 40, etc.

Took the long boat to Burano (lace) and Murano (glass). We saw a demonstration of glass blowing and 100's of shops selling glassware.

Loved walking the narrow streets (actually all sidewalks since there are no cars in Venice). Our feet are sore. We just wander and find lots of interesting places.

So far the weather has been excellent, with lots of lovely sunsets.

Excellent dinners at Anice Stellato (thanks to the other Luca Vanzella) and Taverna La Fenice (should be $$$$ instead of $$). We passed on the 13 Bellini's at Harry's Bar.

Next stop Bologna...

lkvanz on 05.21.04 @ 02:36 PM MST [link]