Thursday, July 31, 2008

Security (Medieval Style)

Last weekend we took a trip to the town of Bellinzona. The town is known for three castles but mostly by the Sforza family who controlled most of this region about 500 years ago. (They built the massive Sforza castle in Milan, too--some of you may have visited there.)

The castles cover the entire Ticino river valley and are built in a tiered fashion, each one higher than the next. Of course, Daria and I decided to do the three on foot, so you'll see how the altitude changes with each castle visited. Here are some pictures of the trip:

Here's Castlegrande, the lowest and largest of the three from the piazza in town.

The center of the castle now houses a sculpture garden:

In this castle, the walls are so massive they literally make a causeway:

You probably noted from the first picture that the entire castle is built on a single rock. If you hadn't you can see it here:

If you look carefully past Castlegrande, you can see our next destination--Castle Montebello.

Montebello is a smaller castle (just as the number of visitors thinned out there, I suspect the number of soldiers who could have made it there would nave been smaller, too...). Here's a bit of the lowest part of the pathway:

Almost to Montebello--

Proof I made it:

Castlegrande from Montebello:

OK, off to the final castle, Castle Sasso Corbaro. This is the highest and smallest of the three, but the views a beautiful:

One the way back down, we briefly had a buddy--

By the time we arrived in town, we were ready for a beer and head for the train station.

For fun, check out this link and click the "webcam" for up to date images of Bellinzona!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Some Everyday Stuff

I thought I'd show a few sights of our regular days. The train station marks half-way between our apartment and downtown. Obviously, we pass here just about everyday.

It is also a newsstand, and there is a restaurant with a great view of the city. It serves as a major bus stop and the finiculare ends here (the finiculare is essential when we're loaded with groceries! The walk from the train station to home with groceries is a workout in itself.) We sometimes pass up the finiculare and hoof it when we're feeling particularly energetic.

This is the Piazza della Reforma and is the center of town. Around the corner to the left of the photo (out of sight)is city hall.

Here's a common activity on the Pizza:

Fountains are important here. They are certainly beautiful, but the have real functions as a kind of public air conditioner and as a source of drinking water. The "outcropping" parts are drinking fountains.

Here are a couple more we use every day:

This one is across the street from the train station--where I took the picture of the station.

While this one is not pretty, it means we're 2/3 of the way home!

Finally, tunnels help make the trips a bit easier and safer. This one goes under the train tracks and saves us having to go a more circuitous route through the station itself:

More soon.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Some Pay-off

I've been documenting the tough times (which actually continue) but we had a real break with a trip to Venice this weekend.

I wasn't optimistic--the reports of continual rail and service-worker labor strikes in Italy have been pretty constant, but we didn't have a single problem. Both the Swiss and Italian trains were right on time!

We met our son Ian and his partner, Crystal in Milan and continued together to Venice. Daria had found a well-placed B & B which was "climatised" and quiet since it was a fifth floor walk-up. We were close to the Grand Canal, not far from the Guggenheim Art Museum, and the Doge's Palace.

The weather was hot and humid, but sunny and being close to the water made it quite acceptable. The rain held off until we were actually in the train station on the way home when it let loose with a torrential downpour. Excellent timing for us, but I'm sure the many folks who were in gondolas at that time were drenched.

The city was amazing. Since we stayed in the heart of town, we had especially great mornings and evenings--before and after the crowds ebbed and flowed. It was a constant assault on the senses--sometimes vivid, sometimes muted, but always beautiful and interesting colors; the sounds of the church bells; the boats; the hawkers of goods and the constant hubbub of voices in the crowd make an auditory buffet. The smells of the sea, the canals and the people were constantly changing (sometimes good; sometimes bad but always interesting). The undulating stone of the plazas and walkways give a sense of movement not unlike being on the water.

Here are few pictures of the city:

The street where we stayed:

The plaza from our room:

From the Accademia Bridge:

The ubiquitous gondolas:

Peaceful canals off the beaten path:

The Peggy Guggenheim Museum (Modern Art--must see!)

Sunset on the Grand Canal:


And textures...

The Doge's Palace outside...

and in:

The outside of the Bridge of Sighs (for prisoners leaving the palace and going to the dungeon)

and their view from the inside:

Finally, the pinnicle of the trade the made Venice what it is--a Gucci bag ($2,340)

Monday, July 7, 2008


I mentioned earlier the constant steps we face here--everything seems uphill no matter the direction we take! Metaphorically, there are steps, inclines, forces against which to push each day to carry enough food home in sacks; getting clothes washed and dried; getting to work and getting work done; figuring out transport, directions, getting enough of the right change, it always seems to be "uphill." Problems to solve, mostly, big and small. The situation makes us aware of how automatic we can get our lives at home by knowing the culture, the language, the rules of all sorts and by having others in the community with which to share ideas or information. Those things all take "steps" to accomplish here.

On the weekend we took a trip to Monte Bre nearby. It has a finiculare (a cross between a SF cable car and incline railroad) up to the town. The round trip was $20 each and the water we bought at the top was $4 a bottle (for the little 12 oz. size) which is not atypical. We were headed to Monte Bre but the steps got to be too much. The ones in the photos took us only part way and we had to abandon the plan.

Here are four of five (I forgot to photograph one since I was trying to get my breath and needing a drink and I'm in pretty good shape) segments of the path: (while the perspective is lost a bit, imagine all at about a 15% grade. Double click each picture and look as far up the stairs as possible to see the end of each segment.)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Tough start in Lugano

I hate to complain, but we had a hard landing in Lugano. Problems abound with classroom tech issues, book orders and housing. I don't want to dwell on the problems so much as to give a sense of the environment.

Lugano is a throughly Italian city; not at all what you think of when you think of Swtizerland. It is very Mediterranean in look and atmosphere (as you see from the photos) while still having an Alpine quality, too.

Later, I'm going to do a series on "steps" in our daily life to give a sense of how steep the walks are here. It seems that in every direction, it is a steep uphill walk (both ways!).

The weather has been hot and humid with regular rippin' thunderstorms, usually at night. The views are great, though. Here are a few--this one is from our balcony:

This one is from my classroom:

Sunday, June 29, 2008

English experience

We are indebted to our most excellent hosts, Steve and Alan, for making our arrival in England much softer after our difficult trip. They provided great food and a gathering with colleagues from my sabbatical at the Univ of Newcastle in 2006. Steve organized for me a presentation ("PowerPoint: Readin', Writin' and Rhetoric")at the Univ of Durham which was well attended with engaged and thoughtful scholars.

Beyond that, Steve took us on a tour of Hadrian's Wall which we couldn't manage in 2006. The weather was pretty raw, but occasional stops in pubs and tea rooms made it all quite enjoyable.

This is part of a Roman encampment--remains of the grainery. Notice the little columns which held the floor. Warm air was blown underneath to keep the grain dry. (Officers got similar quarters, but the regular soldiers did without.)

Here's view from the back gate of one of the forts along the wall. Notice the wall continuing around the trees on the right and proceeding to the summit of the crag.(See if you can follow it by clicking on the picture to expand it.) All this to keep the Scots from attacking from that direction.

Life got a bit better in England during the Victorian age. We visiting Wallington Hall(appropriate name--most every town or estate has some reference to the wall here). Here are some "classic" images of a Victorian estate and gardens:

A second excursion was to the homestead of the (George) Washington estate. Interestingly, it is in a town called Washington. The family roots were here, but George's family had moved to the colonies two generations before. The first picture is the kitchen; the second the outside of the hall; the third is the gardens in front of the hall.

Twenty-four hours later we are in Lugano, Switzerland.