Saturday, October 29, 2011

More of Venice

In an earlier post, we have taken a glimpse of the gondola rides in Venice, and the art of glass-making in this city. This post explores a few of the well-known structures in Venice.

St Mark's Basilica
The word "Basilica" was originally used to describe a Roman public building. St Mark's Basilica is built on a Greek's church cross plan. It is crowned with five huge domes. It became the city cathedral of Venice in 1807.

Visitors to the St Mark's Basilica will find it mesmerizing to admire the mosaics of the atrium. These mosaics were created in the Byzantine tradition (related to churches using a traditional Greek rite). When light shines on the mosaics, the precious gold leaf over glass tiles shimmer and dazzle delightfully.

The marble tiles on the floor were also great works of art. Assembling the marble tiles in precise patterned arrangements that seem to create optical illusions must have been a task requiring dedication and perseverance.

The Ascension Dome, which is the central dome of the building, has mosaics laid out to depict the New Testament. There is a mosaic of Christ in Glory decorating this central dome. I know these because I have done some reading up. The influence of Byzantine art can be clearly seen in this building. This influence can be traced historically as Venice had became an independent Byzantine province in the tenth century.

Influenced by Eastern architecture, the delicate geometrical designs and lattice-work stone screens can be seen being featured on the facades of the St Mark's Basilica.

The Treasury of the Basilica contains a repository of precious artifacts, reminding visitors of Venice's position as a world power from the 12th to 14th centuries. Admittedly, there was not much time to visit the Treasury, and a token entrance fee was required to enter the Treasury.

Here is the official website of St Mark's Basilica:

St Mark's Square
Once a monastery garden, St Mark's Square has long been the political and religious heart of Venice.

Clock Tower (Torre dell'Orologio)
This clock tower is richly decorated. It was build in late 15th century. The design consists a display of phases of the moon and the signs of the zodiac. The gilt-and-blue enamel clock face was designed with seafarers in mind. However, please pardon me, I was busy enjoying St Mark's Basilica that I have totally missed out on making time to admire the design of the clock tower.

Bridge of Sighs
This bridge was built as a passageway between the Palazzo Ducale and the prison. It was said to have taken its name from the sighs of prisoners being led to trial as they walked along this bridge. Somehow, due to the way it was presented to visitors on the day of our visit, the Bridge of Sighs appear a little less enticing than expected.

Did you notice the Bridge of Sighs?

Doges Palace
This building combines the architectural styles of Byzantine, Gothic and Renaissance. It was the official residence of the 120 doges who ruled Venice from 697 to 1797. The "doge" was the senior-most elected official of Venice and Genoa. These two cities were republics and elected doges. The last doge was Ludovico Manin, who abdicated in 1797 when Venice passed under the power of Napoleon's France following his conquest of Venice.

The feature of Doges Palace that I was attracted was strangely the arched vaults that extends from the columns of the corridors at the ground level.

Venice is a beautiful city. As Venice is accessible largely by vessels that float on water, anyone planning to visit Venice may wish to travel light. I cannot imagine carrying bulky luggage up and down a gondola to check into a local hotel.

One of my key learning points from Venice is to maintain respect for traditional art and take steps to ensure the regeneration and continuation of traditional craft and art. The art of Murano glass making and gondola making are part of everything else that forms the essence of Venice.

DK Eyewitness Travel: Top 10 Venice. (2011)
DK Eyewitness Travel: Italy (2011)'s_Basilica

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Venice, the waterborne city

The second city that the tour-group visited was Venice. Venice is a city in Northern Italy. It is described by Times Online as being one of Europe's most romantic cities.

I looked forward to visiting Venice because it was the birthplace of Antonio Vivaldi, a well-known composer who composed music of the Baroque style. I wonder what was the environment that had inspired Vivaldi to compose many interesting and inspiring works of music such as his popular "The Four Seasons". When I was in Venice, I did not get to hear much music composed by Vivaldi while I was walking along the streets of Venice. The comforting news was that I did managed to hear a string ensemble play some music at a cafe.

One of my friends was my travel companion and room-mate for the tour about Italy. I am thankful that she was patient with my fascination with architecture and Western classical music. Strangely, we must have been one of those few ladies in the group who seemed to have lesser preferences to shop!

Venetian Glass Factory visit
The tour-group was led to a Venetian Glass Factory that produces Murano glass. A skilled glass artist gave us a quick five minutes demonstration of his art and craft of product fine Murano glass art. I learnt that the colours of the Murano glass is achieved by adding oxides and other colouring agent into the glass mixture.

I was told that ruby red coloured Murano glass is possibly the most expensive to produce as gold solution will have to be added into the glass mixture to produce the ruby red colour. If I were to visit Venice again, I will take a closer look at the Murano glass artifacts. They are fine works of art that can serve practical functions.

Gondola Ride
For 30 euros per person, visitors to Venice could enjoy a ride on the gondola. The gondola is most commonly seen to be transporting tourists. Originally painted in bright colours, the gondolas were decreed by the Senate in 1562 to be painted black to prevent excessive shows of wealth.

Riding on a gondola was an experience to remember. It is worthwhile to experience the ride at least once, and indirectly, encourage the people of Venice to continue the art of gondola rowing. For the locals of Venice, there is a cheaper and equally convenient way to cross the Grand Canal, this is done by taking the traghetti (gondola ferries).

There are still more interesting sights in Venice. Stay tuned for more.

DK Eyewitness Travel: Top 10 Venice. (2011)
DK Eyewitness Travel: Italy (2011)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Disney The Lion King musical in Singapore

This afternoon, I have had the pleasure to watch the musical, The Lion King, thanks to the invitation of one of my friends, JY.

The costumes were very interesting and engaging. I learnt that natural materials were used to create the costumes. Masks and puppets were used to enhance the visual presentations of various characters on the stage. Lighting was sensitively used to create the appropriate ambience for each of the various scenes.

The music forms the backbone of the entire musical, stringing the entire story together. I was particularly attracted to the African-styled music that was played in the musical. The percussive music seemed to be full of energy that I was temporarily led into thinking I was in the African deserts.

Overall, this is a engaging theatrical performance that will appeal to the the masses, and is a good show for the family to be entertained. Watching this show helps put one's imaginations into nice work.

For more information, please view the following sites:

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Milan: Cosmopolitan and stylish

This October, I visited Italy on a group-tour package provided by one of the tour agencies in Singapore. My intention was to be in Italy to experience and to appreciate the architecture in parts of Italy as well as the natural landscape.

The first city that the tour group visited was Milan.

Milan is known to be the centre of fashion, business and finance. It's name is thought to come from the composite of the Latin words medio and planum, meaning "middle of the plain".

Duomo di Milan (Milan Cathedral)

Duomo di Milan
This is one of the largest Gothic churches in the world. In the Italian language, "Duomo" is a generic term for a cathedral church. The building of this giant cathedral begun in the 14th century under Prince Gian Galeazzo Visconti but was not completed until more than 500 years later. I personally think that it takes a lot of faith and vision to have the inspiration to build a work of great architecture for generations of the future, when one may not even live to see the final product.

I took a particular notice at the Central nave and the side nave of the Duomo. Generally Gothic in its architectural style, I marvelled at its pointed arch and the fine lace-work found on the building.

Duomo di Milan

While I do find the interior too dark during my visit, it has helped a lot to have the imagination to visualize rays of light beams entering the Duomo through the stained coloured-glass windows. Try this method of visualization and soon the Duomo became extremely fascinating.

Galleria Vittorio Emmanuel II
This is an ornate shopping arcade. It was designed by Giuseppe Mengoni in 1865.

I do not have a strong interest in shopping, yet the beauty of the architecture of this shopping arcade has made my visit to this arcade a very pleasing one. The overall facade and logo of the MacDonalds outlet in Galleria Vittorio Emmanuel II had to be changed to a different colour scheme (gold on black) so as to match with the overall design of the entire arcade.

Facade of Galleria Vittorio Emmanuel II, Milan/

The galleria has a floor plan in the shape of a Latin cross. Visitors to this galleria will find it of interest to notice the metal and glass roof. The roof is crowned finely with a magnificent central dome. I read that the roof was the first structure in Italy to use metal and glass in a structural way.

Galleria Vittorio Emmanuel II, Milan. Glass and metal roof.

While walking on the floors of the galleria, take a good look at the mosaics which decorate the floors. These mosaics depict the signs of the zodiac. The most popular signs of the zodiac appear to be that of the Taurus. There was a saying that if one were to place his or her heel on the genital area of the mosaic tiles depicting the Taurus sign, pivot at the heel to rotate the body thrice in the clockwise direction, one shall earn good luck. I did not try the rotation for good luck since I could not bear with the thought of putting the mosaic tiles to further damage.

The Taurus sign at Galleria Victoria Emmanuel II, Milan. 

La Scala Opera House (Teatro alla Scala)
I read that opera is one of the popular art forms in Milan. The La Scala Opera House is one of the world's most prestigious opera houses. The theatre is Neo-Classical in its design. It is said to have one of the largest stages in Europe. Due to time constraints, I could just manage a visit to the retail shop of the La Scala Opera House and many glances of its exterior facade.

La Scala Opera House.

Sforza Castle
This is a palace that is built in Renaissance style. The castle is based on a series of courtyards. Admission to the museums in the castle was not included in the tour package. That somehow made the castle less appealing to me. I tried to get myself entertained by walking about the bazaar that was taking place within the compounds of the palace.

Sforza Castle

Milan is a good place to start a tour of Italy with. Its cosmopolitan nature makes it similar to Singapore. Yet, Milan is clearly different from Singapore in terms of its general cultural preferences and outlook.

I did not get to visit the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan to take a look at the painting The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. Missing a look at The Last Supper seems to be a good reason that would urge me to consider visiting Milan again. I learnt that reservations to see The Last Supper has to be made in advance. According to tripadvisor, it is essential to make reservations to see this painting. This can be done through a tour operator or via specified online site. I keep my fingers crossed that I will visit Milan again to see The Last Supper.

DK Eyewitness Travel: Italy. (2011)

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Read: Stephanie Dowrick's Intimacy and Solitude

Title: Intimacy and Solitude
Author: Stephanie Dowrick
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company Ltd

A few years ago, I was reading one of Stephanie Dowrick's books for the first time and I was attracted to her sensitively written and compassionate style of writing. She does not seek to give an answers and yet through her insightful exploration of various issues, her books often urge her readers to discover more about those issues on their own.

I was searching for other books by Stephanie Dowrick in Singapore, and was pleased to find a copy of her book "Intimacy and Solitude" at Kinokuniya Bookstore. It was the only copy of the book available in the store. I have checked many other bookstores in Singapore but it seemed quite a challenge to find her books in Singapore. Perhaps the next time when I visit Sydney, I shall check the bookstores there to find out if it would be easier to find copies of her books.

Intimacy and Solitude, as its title suggests, seek to explore the two themes, intimacy and solitude. There are, in my interpretation, two sides of the coin, in balance they work in perfect harmony. I find her examinations of the issues of solitude and intimacy to be pretty accessible and sensitively written. Her theoretical framework appears to be influenced fairly much by psychodynamic theories.

Perhaps one of the most fundamental concepts of this book centered around the concept of inner reality. Stephanie Dowrick draws upon Carl Jung's colleague, Marie-Louise von Franz's quote that goes "The experience of Self brings a feeling of standing on solid ground inside oneself, on a patch of eternity, which even physical death cannot touch".

The proposition is that when one has that solid ground inside oneself, it is "possible to trust" oneself, probably to "love yourself" and "to be ready to reach out and trust others in relationships of greater and lesser intimacy".

This is quite a thoughtful read, and I figured that I may have to read it another time in the future to better appreciate the depth of thinking that has went into writing this book. I took about three weeks to read this book while commuting on the public transport.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Appreciating Bukit Brown: Remember Our Ancestors Day 9 Oct and 16 Oct 2011

Event: Remember your ancestors' day cum DIY Tour
Dates: 9 Oct 2011 (Sun) and 16 Oct (Sun) 2011, 

Time: From 8.30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Meeting point: In front of Bukit Brown Cemetery Gates at Lorong Halwa, off Kheam Hock Road

Bus services available: 52, 74, 93, 157, 165, 852, 855. 
Directions to the cemetery Gate: Alight at bus-stop, #41149, opposite Singapore Island Country Club (SICC), Adam Road. Walk towards Sime Road, walk along Kheam Hock Road until you see Lor Halwa.
(For very detailed directions to get there: please check out Leone Fabre's post.)

Do you have an interest in Bukit Brown Cemetery because you have an ancestor who is buried there? Do you know of someone who has an ancestors who could be buried there?

On 9 and 16 Oct 2011, find your way to Bukit Brown Cemetery to search for your ancestors' grave. The search is ever more pressing with the Land Transport Authority's plans build a new dual four-lane road that will cut through through parts of Bukit Brown from early 2013 and with the Urban Redevelopment Authority gazetting Bukit Brown Cemetery as a site for development Straits Times, 30 May 2011).

What does a descendant who have an ancestor buried in Bukit Brown need to do to start the search?

To find out more, please visit