Sunday, 11 April 2010

Walking Into A Watercolour

The Grand Canal near the Accademia Bridge

Stepping into a painting is exactly how it felt visiting Venice during the Easter break this past week. Certainly this city is all about beauty, expressed time and again, around every corner, down every canal, and over every one of its' 400 bridges.
The Rialto Bridge

C2, J, and I spent 5 days together with my mum and Auntie Harriet in a gloriously charming flat around the corner from the Piazzo San Marco, near the Campo San Moise, facing a canal and where from our windows we watched gondolas drift by and listened to the gondoliers singing old Italian love songs. If one was cynical enough, one might teeter toward thinking it a tad schmaltzy, I, on the other hand thought it perfectly lovely.

A gondola along the Grand Canal

The best advice we discerned from our travel guides was to 'get lost' walking in this car-free city. So we did....again and again. Kinda hard not to. Every narrow road led to another bridge over another canal. It was the best lost I've ever been. As long as we followed the sign posts to either 'San Marco' or 'Rialto', we always had a fair idea of where we were.

A narrow canal and one of 400 bridges spanning them

J chased pigeons in the Piazzo San Marco in the shadow of the San Marco Basilica while my mum and Aunt had a glass of wine and sang along to the orchestral bands at Florians. We all toured the art-filled wonder that is the Doge's Palace. Ever intrepid J decided we must take a gondola ride (expensive but when in Rome...) down the Grand Canal and so we did admiring the fading but still noble beauty of the hundreds of 15th century palazzos including the Gritti Palace, the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, and the Ca' d'Oro.

The pigeon chaser of Piazza San Marco

Another highlight was travelling by vaporetto (water bus) to the island of Murano where beautiful cut glass continues to be made by hand and fashioned into jewellery and objects d'art. We did so much 'mooching' (to use my mother's term) in and out of murano glass shops in Venice that we all felt blinded at the end of 5 days.

Our gondola ride

To best see authentic Venice, we ventured off of the principal touristy areas and wandered into the lesser known but more 'real' campos and neighbourhoods. In one small campo, though I have no idea where, we stopped at a little art shop and bought a lovely watercolour of a canal at dusk. Real art sold to us by a real artist with a real vision of Venice; it is perfectly lovely.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Tracing the Steps of Giants

My mum arrived a couple of weeks ago for her annual 3-month visit with us. My Auntie Harriet followed her last week to spend 2 weeks, including a planned 5-days in Venice with us next week. We've spent the first part of the week trying to occupy rainy-filled days with memorable outings. Last weekend, and still on an Olympic high, we had a great visit to the official Olympics Museum in Olympic capital Lausanne, about a 45 minute journey up the lake from Geneva.

The Olympics Museum in Lausanne, home of the International Olympic Committee

This week, we "profitez'ed" and devoted our efforts towards three things for which Geneva is most suitably proud. We took a guided tour of the United Nations and we spent a day at the Red Cross/Red Crescent Museum. It was interesting to realize that my new home continues to keep as a high priority the offering of succour to others less fortunate, and support to those most in need.

First World War Prisoners of War documentation archived in the Red Cross/Red Crescent Museum (Auntie Harriet)

Perhaps the ideals of modern Switzerland can cause one to raise a doubtful eyebrow but I was undeniably moved at the story of the founding of the Red Cross/Red Crescent and its' mission. The efforts of one man, Henry Dunant, have evolved into the modern images of an organization assisting in national disasters, and inserting itself into conflict zones; the red cross on white background emblem (the reverse of the Swiss flag) its' only defence.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Eleanor Roosevelt under whose chair(wo)manship, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights drafted the 'Universal Declaration of Human Rights'

I was equally moved to realize that the United Nations in Geneva focuses its' efforts on the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR). It was from the hard work of dedicated individuals working together for the promotion of others that such landmark conventions as the 'Universal Declaration of Human Rights' and 'The Convention on the Rights of the Child' were drafted and adopted here.

We followed up these serious endeavours with a trip to the Caillier-Nestle chocolate factory in Broc at the south end of Lac de la Gruyère in the green Alpen valleys of Switzerland's Fribourg region. If you can quantify a good time based upon amount of free all-you-can-eat chocolate at the end of a historical tour plus making your own chocolate Easter bunny in the Atelier de chocolat, then a good time was had by all of us!