A Bridge in Ghent – Weekly Travel Photo

Exploring Belgium

There is a magical charm to walking historic European cities in the crisp cool air of a fall evening.  While wandering the historic center of the Belgian city of Ghent, I found myself pausing beside the intricate patterns of carefully laid cobblestones, wrought iron railings, and gorgeous historic buildings atop one of the city’s many bridges.  As I paused enjoying the sight of the moon slowly crawling its way through the sky above the beautifully lit silhouette of the Saint Nicholas’ Church and Belfry of Ghent, I heard the clip-clop of women’s heels colliding with cobblestones. A moment later I felt the light stirring of air as a passerby made her way around me and into the photograph of the bridge I’d previously been about to take.  A moment later I snapped this shot. Have you been to Ghent?  The city is world famous for the way it is lit at night and with good reason.  Beautiful by day, the city is absolutely splendid in the evening.

Make sure to head over to flickr to see the rest of the album.

Would you like to see previous Weekly Photos? View past travel pictures here. This photo was taken on a Canon T3i (600D) Camera.

Charles Bridge at Night – Weekly Travel Photo

Charles Bridge at Night - Prague

With the crisp crunch of fresh snow under boot I made my way down to one of Prague’s signature landmarks. It was 1:30AM and the temperature had dropped to about -10 degrees Celsius.  It was cold.  Brutally cold. Luckily, the light wind had died down and all that was left were brief waves of light snowfall.  Snowfall so sporadic and with flakes so light that they slowly drifted to earth, seemingly defying gravity all the way until the last moment when they threaded their crystalline structure in with the myriad of beautiful shapes already decorating the bridge’s cold stones.  There were only a few of us willing to brave the late hour, cold and snow – a rare opportunity and occurrence for one of Prague’s most popular landmarks.

So it was that I stood huddled behind my camera and tripod snapping photos and waiting for half-drunk, star struck lovers to wander their way along the bridge, pausing periodically for a deep kiss.  If not couples, it was small groups of party goers slowly wandering their way back to their hostels.  Perhaps the most colorful was a young man in his late 20s who was completely sloshed, had a red rose with long stem in one hand along with a cigar.  In the other, he delicately held a nearly full wine glass.  As he passed he smiled and nodded, almost skipping as he walked – caught completely in the moment.  He looked the part of a dandy, fashionable dress shoes, long light colored scarf, and jacket hanging open in apparently defiance of the weather.  Shortly after passing me he slipped on the ice, and went down in a roll, somehow managing to not only keep his wine glass in hand but to keep it from sloshing too much of the wine onto the snow.  An impressive accomplishment

Charles Bridge is a beautiful structure.  Lined by imposing statues, and with two large guard towers standing vigil at either end it embodies everything a historic bridge should be.  It stretches across Prague’s Vltava River and is was built over a 60 year period in the late 1300s and early 1400s.  If you find yourself in Prague, don’t just settle for a mid-day viewing when the bridge is covered in vendors, buskers and tourists.  Bundle up and head down to catch it in its empty glory.  It is a beautiful and memorable site!

Would you like to see previous Friday Photos? View past travel pictures here. This photo was taken on a  Canon T3i (600D) Camera.

The Fortress City – Orvieto, Umbria, Italy

Life In Umbria, Italy

My shoulders drifted forward slightly then slammed back into the padded bus seat as our forward momentum temporarily slowed and the driver slipped the bus into gear.  We were crawling up a steep, winding road towards the fortress city of Orvieto.  The road snaked away behind us winding down toward the open valley and the green fields below.

Life In Umbria, Italy

The road was relatively new. For hundreds of years the city had remained largely impregnable and isolated. Aloof on a mostly flat butte, it was encircled entirely by  sheer cliffs. The city was a castle but in place of large stone walls that crawled towards the heavens, Orvieto’s were sheer stone and crumbling boulders which plunged down and into the region’s strong bedrock.  Craning my neck and pressing my face against the glass, I fought to look up at the city as we traced our way up and through the city’s gates.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

As a testament to the power, defensible nature, and storied history of Orvieto, the town’s residents hadn’t been content to simply let nature’s fortress stand as-it-was.  Instead a series of impressive walls were added to the tops of the cliffs further securing the city’s perimeter. This provides a stable series of walkways and viewing platforms for defenders, residents, and visitors alike to traverse in search of one of the many amazing views the city offers.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

Orvieto with its battlements and wonderful winding streets has a vibrant history which dates back at least to Etruscan times. While the specifics of history are somewhat murky, it is likely that the city dates back to the 8th century BC and stood as a long-lasting thorn in the side of early Roman dreams of expansion and control. With its proximity to Rome and its position  on the road between Rome and Florence, it likely served as a cornerstone of Etruscan defense during the early Roman/Etruscan wars. Most modern evidence suggests that the city was the Etruscan town of Velzna which played a fundamental role in shaping, trading with, and threatening early Rome.  However, as with most things Roman, persistence and resilience eventually won out and what we know as Orvieto was incorporated into the growing Roman Empire around 250 BC when the city was conquered and razed to the ground.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

Once incorporated into Rome the history books go relatively silent about Orvieto’s role, though the location was considered as an alternative to Rome during some of the early Republic’s more flavorful disasters.  Nearly 1,000 years later Orvieto would crash back into history when it was occupied by the Goths. By 600 AD however things started to look up once again for the city as it grew and began to attract wealth.  By the early 1100s the city-state had been heavily reinforced by the now wealthy nobles who quickly sought to curry favor with the Pope.   In the imperial/papal wars the city fell decidedly on the side of the Guelphs or papal faction and was involved in heavy fighting.   This close relationship eventually resulted in the construction of the main cathedral and papal palace. It eventually served as the papal seat in the late 1200s.   This continued in various forms until 1860 when the then Italian Kingdom annexed the city state into what would later become the Italian Republic.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

While this turbulent and violent history was no doubt horrible to live through, it did a lot to shape the city we get to enjoy today. One of Orvieto’s most fascinating and unusual features dates back to the papal rule of Popes Clement VII and Paul III between 1527 and 1537. While taking refuge in the city during the sack of Rome in 1527 Clement decided to build a massive well to ensure the security of the town’s water supply while under siege. The result? The Pozzi di San Patrizio, a 10-year project that dug a 175 foot deep well through the butte’s solid rock. At its bottom, the well’s diameter is 43 feet and it has 248 steps in addition to intertwined stairwells (one to go up, one to go down).

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

As I slowly made my way down the 248 steps which were worn by the passage of tens of thousands of feet over the years I found myself acutely aware that I’d have to re-trace each and every one of those steps on my ascent. Keep in mind that while 175 feet doesn’t sound like THAT large a distance, it’s actually the equivalent of a 17-story building. For perspective, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is only 186 feet tall. The well, with its two wrapped staircases and series of windows in many ways feels like an inverted tower except the walls are symmetrical and straight.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

 The entire experience, especially as I neared the bottom and looked back up towards the tiny pinhole of light at the surface, was fantastic and humbling.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

In addition to Pozzo di S. Patrizio, one of my favorite parts of Orvieto was, well, Oriveto.  The city is a warren of winding narrow streets and beautiful alleyways.  While the city walls and the sheer cliff faces that supported them were ample defense in most cases, the city’s rulers decided not to take any risks.  The result is a series of winding streets which while somewhat confusing also do a brilliant job of adding charm and character to the town.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

Character which the city’s residents seem to accidenttly complement brilliantly. While I did observe some young people, the majority of the Orvietians I saw around the city were older folks. In typical Italian form they were dressed sharply despite the rain. Some were just out for a casual stroll, others running errands. The result, though, was a city full of people who seemed to reflect and embody the beauty, history, depth and charisma of their city.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

It’s hard to express why specifically but with each of these individuals I felt a slight sense of sadness at the lack of opportunity to pause and explore a piece of their story. To the slight vexation of our guide I found myself continually falling behind to pause and snap a furtive photo before lowering my camera to my side as I  paused and soaked in the personality of the city and its wonderful people.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

However, of all the streets and people I saw in my time in Orvieto, and perhaps Umbria as a whole, the one that truly stole my heart and made me smile most was this wonderful couple. As they slowly made their way up the street, the older gentleman with a cane in hand and his partner’s arm in the other, took slow but careful steps.  Showing the wear of age, it was obvious that each step took him some effort. As they walked slowly both would sway side to side mirroring his steps.  What caught me in particular was the rhythm they seemed to naturally fall into. With each step they would seamlessly and effortlessly sway one way and then the other.  I couldn’t help but muse that this must be a regular ritual, one that they had repeated for years.  They were in sync with each other.  Aligned. It was a wonderful moment to share, even as an outsider looking in, and one I wouldn’t mind finding myself living some 60 or so years from now.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

For me a special part of Italy’s charm is its age. I just adore the well-maintained, oft-repaired but still crumbling, nature of the cities. Perhaps it’s just because I’m from the American West and I have a novel draw to tangible representations of human history. Perhaps, and I should think far more likely, it is adoration based in the fundamental nature of who we are and how we relate to identity, humanity and society. Of the many doorways I passed as I made my way towards Orvieto’s central cathedral, this one caught my attention: reinforced by metal beams, doors ajar and poorly aligned, bricks showing signs of wear and abuse. This is the type of thing I travel for. A small, easily-overlooked piece of a far grander city but one that entices the passerby who pauses to dream; to embrace fanciful musings and to ponder the history of the door. Who were the men and women who built it, who used it, who abandoned it, and who will some day reclaim it. Doors like this one, perhaps more than others, show the vivid fingerprints of history.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

Before long I found myself looking up from my camera viewfinder roused from delightful daydreams only to note that the rest of the group was vanishing down a far alley. It was time to leave Orvieto’s winding vibrant streets behind in favor of an intimate look at the city’s crown jewel: Oriveto Cathedral.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

Those familiar with Italy may note that the Cathedral mirrors the feel of Siena’s famed Cathedral which was completed in 1263. In many ways the two are siblings. The Duomo di Orvieto was begun in 1290 but it wasn’t officially completed until 1591. Now, how’s that for extended construction delays?

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

As we slowly explored the fantastic detail of the front facade, I was taken by a wonderful series of carvings depicting the embrace of temptation in the garden of Eden. I am always amazed by the masterful control of fine detail and expansive complexity that marks these types of works. While this picture captures a roughly 1 foot by 1 foot section of the wall, the entire piece towered over our heads at least some 15-20 feet.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

The Cathedral features the banded travertine and basalt stripes that make the region’s cathedrals so unique. It always impresses me just how effective the alternating brickwork is in bringing simple, clean, and powerful decoration to what might otherwise be massive but somewhat sterile stone walls.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

The colors of the alternating horizontal stones combine with the Cathedral’s plentiful stained glass windows to cast a veritable rainbow of different colors and shapes on the walls of the building.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

…and then there is the size.  The Orvieto Cathedral is built in a cruciform shape and focuses on a wide open and spacious feel with high, graceful arches and long, narrow windows. The builders knew exactly what they were doing and the end result is you feel small.  Very small.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

An assortment of additions, add-ons, and refurbishments have been done over the years. Perhaps the most noteworthy of which was the Papal Palace which was built immediately next to, and attached to, the Cathedral. Today the Papal Palace has an equally important, if far less powerful role as home to a small museum.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

The highlight of the Cathedral’s interior is the beautifully preserved Chapel of the Madonna di San Brizio. Added in the mid-1400s it features vividly colored depictions of doomsday scenes on the walls while Jesus and wise men look down in judgement from the room’s vaulted ceiling. The scenes are by the famous painter Luca Signorelli.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

This wall depicts “The Elect in Paradise” and shows Signorelli’s depiction of paradise with friendly angels relaxing and playing music for the assembled souls.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

Another depicts the “Preaching of the Antichrist”. Apparently this was designed to highlight the execution of Savonarola, who was executed in Florence in 1498 for heresy. Of the figures depicted it is believed that Boccaccio, Dante, Petrarch, Raphael and even Christopher Columbus are all present.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

Signorelli’s mastery of the human figure (though at times somewhat awkward…some of the women look like they have breast implants) is fantastic. Particularly in the diverse nature of each individual’s features. I find that far too often art from this period and in this type of setting tends to take on a sameness. Not so with these. Each could easily be broken down into small sub-scenes and be hailed as a masterpiece in and of itself.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

Then there are, of course, the brutal depictions of violence being meted out upon the damned. While I’ve always found these depictions fairly distasteful and morbid, they definitely do succeed in making their point. The vomited laser beams are definitely a nice touch.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

Nothing says disaster like people trampling each other in fear, right? The depth of focus, varied body positions and musculature in this scene are fantastic and the seemingly 3D codpieces definitely elicited a slight chuckle from my inner five-year-old.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

My final stop in the Cathedral was the Chapel of the Corporal which serves as home to the blood-stained corporal from the miracle of Bolsena. In addition to the corporal it also boasts a number of beautiful frescoes from the mid-1300s.

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

The partial afternoon I had to explore Orvieto was not nearly sufficient.  Of the many streets I saw and wandered there were many more I missed.  I also missed the opportunity to explore Orvieto’s expansive underground city.  The fortress city is the stuff of legends and a wonderful destination for a visit. The view from the fortress walls is engaging and I think you’ll find the city giving flight to your imagination, especially if you catch it on a day when it isn’t clogged with visiting tourists.

Friday’s Weekly Travel Photo – Love That Lasts

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

I recently had the opportunity to spend an afternoon in the stunning hilltop city of Orvieto in the heart of Italy’s Umbria region. Located in the province of Terni, Orvieto rests atop a natural rock mesa with imposing cliffs on all sides.  It is, for lack of a better word, a fortress city.  Over the years this natural advantage allowed the city to thrive and serve as a regional powerhouse that has played a significant role in Italy’s history.  The city is home to wonderful picturesque streets that seem created explicitly for movies and postcards showcasing stereotypical Italy.

As we walked the city shortly before dusk, I managed to catch this couple as they walked down a side street.  Though not easy to see in the photo, they were swaying in sync as they walked. While I can only guess as to their relationship and back-story, I like to think that after a lifetime of walking together, they’ve become so connected that the sway in their steps now lines up perfectly.

Would you like to see previous Friday Photos? View past travel pictures here.

The Second Oldest Amusement Park in the World – Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen

Tivoli Gardens - Copenhagen

One of Copenhagen’s central tourist attractions, Tivoli Gardens, doubles as a regular destination for locals as well. The amusement park, which is semi-seasonal, is open between mid-April and the end of December each year.  It boasts a variety of wonderful (and comprehensively decorated) themes that change with the seasons while offering a more historical amusement park experience than many visitors may have experienced in the past.

Despite having arrived in Copenhagen back in July, I’m embarrassed to say this was my first trip to Tivoli.  I can’t say I have any good reason for the delay other than that due to my housing and visa woes I missed the initial trip most of my friends and classmates took when we first arrived. Now that I’ve finally made it, I’m definitely sorry it took me as long as it did to make it to the park, and that I’ll have to wait until April to return.  Though, to balance out the long delay, the magical ambiance that went with the holiday decorations and firework show definitely left me with an extremely memorable first time to the park – but I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let’s talk a bit more about the park and its fascinating history.

Tivoli Gardens - Copenhagen

While it may be old news to amusement park aficionados, most readers will probably be surprised to learn the Denmark is home to more than just the original Lego Land.  In fact it not only boasts Tivoli, which was founded in 1843 and is the second oldest amusement park in the world.  It also serves as home to Dyrehavsbakken located a few miles to the north which is the world’s oldest park with a history dating back to the 1580s, and which I hope to visit (and share with you all) this spring.

The Peacock - Tivoli Gardens - Copenhagen

As the story goes Tivoli was initially launched under the rule of King Christian the VIII as an initiative to nurture citizen’s goodwill.   Initially located just outside of the city’s western gate in Vesterport, as the city has grown the park has slowly been incorporated into Copenhagen’s historic downtown.   Throughout its history the park’s owners have consistently focused on maintaining the park’s ambiance and historical allure while working creatively within the park’s limited space to add modern rides and attractions.  It currently boasts twenty five rides, four of which are roller-coasters.  No small accomplishment for a park that takes up just over 20 acres of land.

Little Russia - Tivoli Gardens - Copenhagen

Throughout its rich history, Tivoli has left its mark on the entertainment world.  The park served as a heavy inspiration for Walt Disney when he set out to create Disneyland, inspired Hans Christian Anderson as he wrote The Nightingale, and is said to have played a central role in composer Hans Christian Lumbye’s musical career. With its fantastic charm, romantic ambiance, and rich vegetation it’s guaranteed to leave its mark on all who visit.

The Daemon - Tivoli Gardens - Copenhagen

My introduction to the park began just after dark (which comes far too early in Copenhagen in December).  The weather was crisp, but tolerable, and the sky largely cloudless with a beautiful crescent moon.  It was the 29th of December, one day before the park was scheduled to close down until April. I’d arrived after dark to see the park at night, and to make sure I had the chance to see Tivoli’s famous firework show which is put on the last week of December.  The plan was to connect with a classmate and her boyfriend who were both Danish and had offered to introduce me properly to Tivoli.  However, eager to spend some time wandering the park on my own I arrived a few minutes early to snap a few photos and some video.

Tivoli Gardens - Copenhagen

As I waited for Jonas and Margrethe to arrive my attention was immediately stolen by the rich, deep, sparkling blues of the Pantomime Theater.  The theater is designed in an oriental style, and features a brilliantly colored peacock with sparkling tail.  Built as an outdoor theater, it was designed by Vilhelm Dahlerup who also designed the Royal Danish Theater.  While the theater is known for the peacock’s mechanical tail, which serves as the front curtain, I was immediately distracted by a large stable set up immediately in front where I presume the chairs would normally sit.  In their place a rustic stable had been built served as a temporary home for Santa’s reindeer during daylight hours.  Long since put to bed, a rumbling recording of roaring snores reindeer snores echoed out from the hut, serving as an amusing contrast to the pristine plumage and diamondesque elegance of the Peacock Curtain that served as its backdrop.

Little China - Tivoli Gardens - Copenhagen

From the theater, I quickly wound down through small free standing shops and past Tivoli’s Moorish Palace, which serves as home to the Nimb Hotel and Restaurant.  Then past little Russia with its vibrantly colored  buildings, and out into one of the park’s open areas.  The open space serves as home to two of the park’s large carousels: the Music Carousel and the Swing Carousel, both of which are vibrantly lit at night.  It is also home to the world famous Star Flyer, and the heart tree/kissing tree.

The Lover's Tree - Tivoli Gardens - Copenhagen

To my delight the crescent moon fell squarely amidst the naked branches of the heart tree.  Naked of leaves the large tree cut an impressive silhouette while supporting a number of large, glowing red hearts.  All of which surrounded a beautiful, brilliantly bright crescent moon in the background.  It was delightful, if a bit lonely – definitely one of those places and moments made for a stolen kiss, music to remember and a beautiful travel companion.

Light Show - Tivoli Gardens - Copenhagen

Leaving the tree behind, I quickly met up with Jonas where we mad our way immediately to one of the small concession stands for steaming cups of Gløgg/Glögg. Gløgg is a staple of winter life in Denmark.  It consists of mulled red or white wine, often with almonds and raisins in it, is served steaming hot out of large cauldrons.  In many cases it is further fortified with a few shots of hard alcohol.  Jonas opted for the spiced rum, and I followed his lead.  With blood slowly returning to my fingers, we wound into little China Town, beneath the Daemonen – Tivoli’s largest roller coaster – before pausing along Tivoli’s fairly large lake.

Little China - Tivoli Gardens - Copenhagen

As Jonas explained some of the park’s history to me we were greeted by a stunning view. The lake’s water was almost perfectly still and the lit buildings, trees, and roller coasters that sit along it cast vibrantly colored reflections. Just as Margrethe arrived music began to play, the lights changed, and fog rolled out over the lake. Then, to my absolute (and perhaps slightly childish) delight a laser and fountain show began. It combined a fun mixture of fog, light, laser webs, music, and even a bit of flame for an enchanting performance that had water, and light dancing across the surface of the lake. We stood mesmerized for the length of the show, despite the cold.

The Lake Lights - Tivoli Gardens - Copenhagen

I mentioned it briefly already when talking about the heart tree, but it bears reiterating. The old trees that decorate Tivoli are fantastic. Especially in winter, devoid of their leaves, and decorated in brilliant arrays of Christmas lights. The trees along the lake cast stunning reflections while simultaneously seeming to be lit by thousands of small, glowing lake fairies.

The Pirate Ship - Tivoli Gardens - Copenhagen

Eager to find something for Margrethe to drink, and nearing the bottom of our cups of Gløgg we made our way down and around the far end of the lake, which took us past the park’s impressive pirate ship and then across towards the aptly named Smuggler’s Row.

Tivoli Gardens - Smugglers Row - Copenhagen

Smuggler’s Row has a fun, eclectic feel and serves as home to a number of  permanent food stands and small shops.    As the photo suggests, it has a delightful mixture of oddities and fantastical decorations.

Tivoli Gardens - Smugglers Row - Copenhagen

The crowds had begun to build, and eager to warm up we ducked into a small beer garden that had liter steins of Paulaner beer and just as importantly large heat lamps.  There we sat, chatted, and exchanged stories while warming up and preparing for the evening’s main event.  The firework show.

Tivoli Gardens - Copenhagen

As we finished our beers and made our way back towards the open space with the heart trees we were shocked to see how much the park had filled up. In the seemingly brief time we had been away, wandering the park, the entire area had filled – shoulder to shoulder – with eager onlookers. We quickly found a small spot with a great view and settled in. Now, I’m not sure what you might be familiar with for firework shows back home, but after spending the holidays and new years here in Denmark, I can promise you that regular residents take their fireworks very, very seriously. As a result the bar is set pretty high for a professional show like Tivoli’s and I’m happy to say they more than delivered. You’ll have to watch the video which is embedded earlier in this post to see them. I’m afraid I was so busy enthralled by the fireworks and recording video I failed to pause and snap a few traditional photos. The backdrop was gorgeous with little Russia to our left, old street lamps in front of us, and the colorfully lit dome at the top of the Star Flyer as the backdrop. The show rivaled anything I’ve seen the city’s put on for the 4th of July back home. The fireworks were colorful, plentiful and of course loud!

My trip to Tivoli was an evening spent in a magical fairy tale land. The park is an absolute delight and has its own unique charm which I thoroughly enjoyed. If you find yourself in Denmark, make sure you set aside an afternoon – or evening – to explore the park and all it has to offer. As an interesting side note, you have different options when purchasing tickets. There is a cheaper, non-ride based ticket which gives you admission to the park – perfect for evenings like mine. Or you can opt for a ride pass which is good throughout the park, and ideal in warmer months when fast rides and daring drops call!  For more information you can view their site at Tivoli.dk.

Have your own experiences, or fun facts from Tivoli? Feel free to share them in a comment. As always, thanks for reading, and please make sure to subscribe for future updates!