27 January 2015

Chiaravalle Abbey (Milano, Italy) -- Part 1

Chiaravalle Abbey was founded between 1134 and 1135 in an uncultivated and marshy area to the southeast of Milano beyond Porta Romana, a region populated by numerous villages that were then encompassed into the property of the monastery. There was active support from the Milanese population, with regards to both the donation of land for constructing the complex and raising the necessary funds, bolstering the connection between the Cistercians and Lombardy's main city.

Nothing remains of the first settlement, probably consisting of provisional structures. The construction of the current church started around 1150-1160. The work began with the choir and the apse, in order to allow religious practices to begin as quickly as possible.  In 1196, the first alters were completed, and on 2 May 1221, the archbishop of Milano, Enrico Settala, consecrated the finished church.

The work then continued with the building of the first cloister, located to the south of the church. During the 13th century, there were significant transformations in Gothic style; the originally planned barrel vaults were replaced by cross vaults, the transept was raised, and the originally square pillars were replace by circular structures in brickwork.  The bell tower was added in 1347-1349, perhaps designed by Francesco Pecorari, who is credited with the building of the bell tower of the Milanese church San Gottardo in Corte which shows similar characteristics.

Signpost (Praiano, Italy)

14 January 2015

Chiesa di San Filippo Neri (Torino, Italy)

The building was designed and erected by Filippo Juvarra after the collapse, in 1714, of the domed structure in an advanced stage of construction, commenced in 1675 and designed by the Lugano-born architect Antonio Bettino.

After producing many designs, Juvarra eventually plumped for a large single aisle covered by a barrel vault with large windows. The continuous polychrome trabeation and the curviliniear link at the corners of the vault helped conjure up the perception of a unitary space.

Externally, the vault is buttressed by robust brick separators. The entrance is on the same axis as the atrium of the palazzo Asinari di San Marzano and is withdrawn from the street to allow access to the Oratory. Juvarra's designs for church and convent were completed by Giovanni Battista Sacchetti and Giovanni Pietro Baroni di Tavigliano, Pietro Bonvinci (presbytery and sacristy), Giuseppe Talucchi (from 1825) and Ernesto Camusso (facade with Corinthian pronaus, 1891).

Piazza Carlo Felice (Torino, Italy)

In 1822, on the city limits architects Lombardi and Frizzi planned an arcaded street marking the entrance to the Baroque city (via Roma) with roads leading out to Nice (via Nizza) and Stupinigi (via Sacchi) as well as the new royal avenue (Corso Vittorio). In 1851 Carlo Promis completed the square, with the station on one side, and on the others the continuous arcades that were a feature of other new city developments. In 1861 inauguration of the central garden with its cast iron railings.

Chiesa di Santa Cristina (Torino, Italy)

The chiesa of Santa Cristina is the twin to the chiesa of San Carlo on the corners of the southern blocks of the piazza San Carlo. Albeit built in different periods, the two churches create a spectacular backdrop to the piazza, counterpoised to Palazzo Reale at the other end, and are situated on the city's main thoroughfare (the present-day via Roma).

The church and adjacent convent (demolished in 1935 for the rebuilding of via Roma) were dedicated to the Carmelitane Scalze. The design (1639) is attributed to Carlo di Castellamonte, though the church remained without a facade until well into the eighteenth century.

It was eventually rebuilt in 1715 by Filippo Juvarra in his new architectural language. The facade, with its free-standing columns and overlaid orders with a concave-convex movement, is set off by the contrast between the grey granite of the Susa Valley and the white stone of Gassino.

16 July 2014

Review: Villa Arcobaleno, Praiano, Italy

Note: you may find two listings for Villa Arcobaleno on Airbnb, TripAdvisor or other accommodation sites. One listing -- for Villa Arcobaleno -- is directly with the villa’s owner, Annamaria; the other listing -- as Saint Luke, or San Luca -- is through a local real estate agency. The agency listing is more expensive, but may offer some assistance in other languages (German, French). However, we recommend booking directly with Annamaria -- it may offer you some additional benefits (described below), and a cheaper price.

Refer to our TripAdvisor review if you want the condensed version. What follows is our revised and expanded review. Apologies if some of the paragraphs don't flow so well - this post is still a work in progress, but we thought we'd get it on the blog now, and do a bit of re-work later.

For those willing to put in a small amount of extra effort, Praiano offers a wonderful way to experience authentic seaside living in Campagnia. Praiano is situated between the two most popular destinations on the coast, Positano and the city of Alamfi itself. Since Praiano isn't home to the more famous churches, relics and sites on the coast, it remains a quiet, but yet beautiful, town; and gives you the best of both worlds: easy access to the more historic and tourist-filled areas; and a way to escape to the calm and quiet of real Italian life.

The basics: Villa Arcobaleno is quite comfortable.  The beds are firm but comfortable; the water pressure is good; there is plenty of living space for four people. The gas range and electric oven work well; a full set of pots, pans, dishes, glasses and a large refrigerator. There is a washing machine, and an iron and ironing board if you need them. The knives could be a bit sharper, but that’s wasn’t a big inconvenience. We were enjoying ourselves too much to let a dull knife bother us.

The living room has a sofa (for two) and an armchair, and a large TV with a satellite connection – but hopefully you won’t be needing the living room very often, if the weather is good. We preferred to use the large terrace, which has a wonderful view of the bay, gets full sunshine for most of the day, has several sunbeds and chairs, and comes with a BBQ grill, and a large (covered) table for outdoor dining. We ate nearly every meal outside. If you're handy in the kitchen, renting a villa is the best way to enjoy the coast.

You won’t hear the sea, but the villa has a great view of the southern half of the Bay of Salerno.  We found the southeastern view from the villa, toward the mountains along the coast, just as beautiful as the views of Capri (which you don’t have from the villa).  Capri is one small island, and while from Villa Arcobaleno you won’t see the sunset on the Mediterranean, we enjoyed the morning sunshine, good direct sun all afternoon, and the evening silhouette of the mountains and the soft sparkle of the lights of the towns and villages on the far side of the bay.

There might be the odd tourist or two that wander through the Piazza San Luca below. You'll look down on them literally, but don't look down on them figuratively. The must have been smart enough to research their trip and find out that Praiano is a worthwhile place to stop and spend the afternoon.

The villa sits just above the Chiesa San Luca, and the bells in the bell tower ring every quarter hour.  We enjoyed the bells, as loud as they might seem at seven in the morning. They were never annoying, but this might not be the case for everyone.

You won't hear buzz of tourists that you'd probably hear in Positano or Amalfi. You won't hear any cars our tourist buses passing by.  The only sounds you will hear are the clucking of Hens, the sound of seagulls’ wings whooshing overhead and the voices of children playing games in the piazza in front of the church. Through the bedroom windows you may hear the sound of teenagers’ practicing football in the nearby pitch in the middle of the afternoon. They’re not loud, but if the regular thump of a soccer ball or the playful (and not very loud) shouts of kids having fun bother you, we suggest that you spend these couple of afternoon hours elsewhere – exploring the Amalfi coast, the beach. The terrace on the other side of the villa is a better place for a siesta, isn’t it?

There are a few interesting sites to see in Praiano -- more on that in an upcoming post. Praiano is worth a days' walk through it.  You will experience a real Italian town, few tourists, and the charm of everyday life. There are a couple of grocery stores where you can find everything you need for a cookout. The local butcher and baker are important destinations, too. While the two nearby beaches may not be as nice as those in Positano, they are secluded and relaxing. One the trail spurs to the Path of the Gods is near the villa -- for those willing and able to climb steps and steep trails, this trek is worth it -- stunning views.

A tip: brush up on your Italian before your holiday.  This seems obvious, but while you may not need it in the tourist zones, it may come in handy in the less-visited places, and will certainly put in good graces with the locals. An attempt to ask for something in Italian will be well-received, and you may often find that the local shopkeepers do speak enough English for you to handle most situations, or willing to go the extra step to help you.

Annamaria speaks a bit of English, but we were lucky enough to speak enough Italian that most of our communication was in Italian. If you don’t need or want a lot of handholding for a real estate agent, and you want to save thirty or forty euro a day, we recommend you book directly with Annamaria. In looking at the reviews on other sites, it seems that you don’t get the “special” touch if you book with the agent. We booked directly through Annamaria, and she was very helpful and friendly.  She and her family delivered fresh eggs each morning, and shared with us her family’s (incredibly good) homemade lemoncello in the evening. Another advantage of booking directly with Annamaria is that you get her personal assistance for getting settled, tips on where to go, how to catch the (very convenient) local bus, etc. She can even arrange a hired car to take you to/from Napoli, Sorrento, or for a day trip in the area. We can’t vouch for the support given by the real estate agents, but judging from some of the comments we read, it seems that the direct personal touch from Annamaria is better.

Getting to/from Positano and Amalfi is relatively easy.  You may have trouble interpreting the bus timetable, but ask Annamaria and she can help you out.There is a local bus that runs a circuit between Amalfi and Positano, and stops in Praiano.  This bus route is a cheap and easy way to get up and down the coast -- and enjoy all of the twists and turns on the coastal road.

Don’t be put off by the sixty-six steps it takes to climb from the church piazza to the Villa Arcobaleno.  There are steps everywhere along the Amalfi coast – they are the most efficient, and sometimes only, way of getting from one point to another.  If you loathe steps, you may want to reconsider coming to the Amalfi cost. But before long, you'll forget about the number of steps. You will be too busy soaking in the sun, the sea and the culture.

See also:
  • Here is Annamaria's listing and our short and to-the-point TripAdvisor review.
  • A link to someone else's 2013 review of the villa. (as Villa Bianca, its previous name)
  • A link to mostly positive reviews of the villa (booked through the local real estate agency as Villa Saint Luke / San Luca)

26 June 2014

Driveable Florence

[A note from several years ago, appropriate since we're headed to Firenze for a long weekend...]

RT @Slojuk @FrommersTravel World's Most Walkable Cities.

Florence is more than walkable. My father was able to (accidentally) drive straight through the Piazza della Repubblica -- to the (minimal) shock and (mostly) amusement of the locals. In my father's defense, I was the co-pilot, and neither of us knew how to escape the maze of one-way streets. The easiest thing to do was drive through the piazza to get to the Arno River.

A German Dive?

Unless they are blown out by the U.S., or The Black Stars beat a dejected Portugal side by several goals, Germany will advance to the knockout stage.  To some extent, they control their own destiny in Thursday's match versus the Americans.  And when you are as good as the Nationalmannschaft, you can afford to think about the clearest path to the final.  This may be a factor in the match outcome -- a case where a loss may ultimately be a win.

Would Germany prefer a path that offers a winnable quarterfinal match, but meets up with Brazil in the semifinals? Or would they prefer to join the apparently weaker side of the knockout round draw and a chance to face Brazil in the final, or even hope the Canarinho stumble before the final?  Maybe. Yet even on this "weaker" side of the draw the Germans would have several obstacles: a Belgian side that so far has underwhelmed, but could be due for at least one giant-killing effort, an Argentina side that looks unstoppable; and the feisty Clockwork Orange.

Would the Germans give their former football hero and World Cup winner -- now the manager of the opposing side -- a gift victory?  Plausible? Yes. But not likely.

While a draw is as good as a win, Team USA may have some extra motivation to win Thursday's match and have perhaps the easier path (Algeria, France/Nigeria) to the semi-finals -- and would mark this World Cup a huge success for the Americans.  Maybe the Germans want this path to the semis, too.

I'm counting on the Germans not wanting to be the first European team to lose to Team USA, their pride in playing the game to win and to maintain momentum for the knockout round -- even if it means facing Brazil before the final.

I predict that after a first half set piece goal by the U.S., Germany notches an equalizer just after the break, and both teams kick the ball around for the last thirty minutes to advance to the knockout stage: Germany to face Algeria; the U.S. to face Belgium.

16 June 2014

Predictions Archive

An archive of past predictions:

  • From its early June level of 1.36, the euro will depreciate 3-4% versus the U.S. over the next 4-6 months. (correct)
  • World Cup 2014 Final: Brazil beats Spain. (wrong, wrong, completely wrong)
  • 2014 NBA Finals: Miami will win 7 games. (wrong)