Friday, August 26, 2011

On to Firenze

From Venezia, we took a rapid train southwest to Firenze - where we hoped to see the city that has long been regarded as the artistic capital of Italy. We approached our time spent there in the same way as the other major cities we had previously visited, largely with the intention of getting lost and hoping to stumble upon glimpses of the true character of the place. In between, we thought we might manage to visit a few of Firenze's world famous museums, but due to arriving late Sunday afternoon, with the museums closed on Monday and our departure set for Tuesday afternoon, there was little time to visit them. Instead, the highlights of Firenze presented themselves in finding simple pleasures on streets that most tourists might miss. Discussing childhood memories of sharing candies with a long-passed relative with an inviting shopkeeper at La Bottega del Caffè on Via Aretina, was something that left an impression on us just as profound as seeing Il Duomo. Walking across the street and chancing upon some of the most delicious baked goods we've ever had at Forno Moderno (rosemary raisin sweet bread!) made the experience even more authentically Florentine in our minds. Besides, the streets and architecture of Firenze have an artistry all themselves.

In our meandering, we came across several beautiful artisan shops, where paper-makers, cobblers, jewelers, and artists honed their techniques and offered their work for sale. And although less common than in Venezia, there was some street art to be found in Firenze as well.

Monday evening, we sat in the Piazza della Signoria sketching the statues of the Loggia dei Lanzi and Palazzo Vecchio until it became too dark and we convinced our selves to visit the latter as it seemed to be the only museum that was open. Walking through the decadent museum, we found it strange that as talented and prolific as the Renaissance artists were, it was as if they had not yet learned or valued discretion - everything was meant to be spectacular, every ceiling and wall painted with multiple colliding images which ultimately detracted from their individual strengths and purposes.

After visiting the museum, we walked to Angie's Pub upon recommendation of our friend, Maggie, who had lived in Firenze for a time. There, we enjoyed some of the best beer of our trip while listening to some funky tunes, surrounded by a lot of painted monsters and a few joyful Italians. Roy was still recovering from the decadent Renaissance eye feast:

Thursday, August 25, 2011

La Serenissima

Instead of staying in Verona, we boarded a train eastbound for Venezia, hoping to glimpse the island city's fabled beauty before the tides of tourism affecting it had washed away its former self completely. After the bus dropped us off, we waded through the swarms of people and vendors at the main port and made our way into the labyrinth with the intention of getting lost. Almost as soon as we diverged from the main streets, we found that we could wander aimlessly down the narrow streets without seeing another soul. The sound of a city without cars, instead veined by canals of turquoise water, was something we had anticipated but couldn't comprehend until we were embraced by it. Soft sounds of water, footsteps on cobblestone streets, distant accordion tunes, and chatting voices were often punctuated by outbursts of Italian a'cappella echoing across the water and walls. Even the decay of Venezia's buildings occurs in a uniquely elegant way, the presence of so much saltwater conjuring a salinity in the air that washes over everything, eating away at the walls and shutters and creating delicate grades of color and wash.

As we wandered, we spotted a couple of wheat-pasted prints by the artist Swoon, decaying in their own way, above the canals.

We actually saw quite a bit of street art in Venezia - ranging from scribbled declarations of love, stencils of abstract faces and medusas, pencil-drawn portraits directly on the walls, and some wheat-pasted prints and sketches.

We often took breaks from wandering to poke our heads into interesting little shops, get delicious gelato to fight the sweltering heat, or sit by the canals and sketch - watching little fishes and eels swim by our feet and the reflection of the light on the water play across the buildings.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Back on the Road

As ArtMill was nearing its conclusion, we were beginning to feel both exhaustion and necessity to find our next destination. Luckily enough, Barbara, ArtMill's founding director and resident mama bear, invited us to stay on after the camp for as long as we needed to recuperate and coordinate the next leg of our trip. It was a huge relief, and we ended up spending a few great days with ArtMill's only remaining human resident, Maggie. In our last days at Červený Mlýn, the three of us managed to work on some art, make leather-bound notebooks, swim in the lake, take a mud bath, cook improvised feasts, witness the most mystical (misty) sunset of our lives, and visit the nearest town to stock up on staple foods (you know, nutella, chocolate, and cookies and stuff) for the trek ahead.
Feeling rejuvenated and ready to make our way down to Italy, we woke up Tuesday morning and began walking to the nearest village of Hradešice where we hoped to send off our (completely oversized) box of forest skulls. One can imagine we were elated to find that the post office was closed and we were stuck carrying the box with us as we tried to hitch a ride to Horažďovice. Needless to say, the first gentleman to pick us up warily asked us about the contents of our parcel before allowing us to pile in (we didn't say "a bunch of skulls"). He was so nice as to drop us off just outside the post office so we could send them off, and after doing so, we walked to a nearby junction to try and hitch a ride to Plzeň. After only ten or so minutes, we were picked up and on the road, and in under an hour we found ourselves at a bus stop on the outskirts of the city.
After arriving in Plzeň, we decided to try our thumbs for a ride to Nürnberg, but after three hours of no luck we made our way to the city center. There were a few beautiful antique shops, unfortunately closed, and the usual Art Nouveau facades characteristic of cities in the Czech Republic.

We had heard that there was one place in the city that served unfiltered and unpasteurized Pilsner Urquell from the tap, and after two buses and a tram ride we ended up in the right neighborhood. The beer was all the better after the long day of travel, and we stayed at the pub for a while - Roy answering e-mails and researching, while Catherine made some postcards and sketched. At half past nine we realized we should probably start looking for a place to sleep, and left the pub for a long walk to the city outskirts where we hoped to pitch our tent and get a few hours of sleep. Unfortunately, we didn't account for the distance and unwittingly ended up trudging through miles of Plzeň's dodgier neighborhoods. It was midnight before we had reached the city's edge and found a forest deemed safe enough to shelter us. We made camp in the pitch dark, and laid down for the intended five hours of sleep. Roy didn't sleep a wink, too overcome by protective urges and the unanticipated. Sunrise couldn't come soon enough.
When it did, we packed up our staff and made our way to the interstate's on-ramp in hopes of better luck for a ride to Nürnberg. After a couple hours, we decided to get a jump start and hop on a train bound for München. Once there we set down our bags in the hostel and decided to the explore the neighborhood. Both of us were somewhat freaked out by the city, which seemed imagined by Walt Disney - full of happy, healthy families riding their bicycles on immaculately kept streets. Also this:

Needless to say, with our grunginess and travel-worn faces, we didn't fit in. The following morning we immediately set out for the nearest junction (moving even faster than when we were fleeing Plzeň's forests) and enthusiastically held up a sign for Rosenheim. After not long at all, and a number of passing Ferraris, Bentleys, and Porsches, a gentleman from Rosenheim pulled over and offered us a lift in his luxurious (most importantly, air-conditioned) SUV. We were there in under an hour, all the time spent chatting with our ride-host who encouraged us with his opinions about the pursuit of happiness. He mentioned that even though he could make much more money elsewhere, he wouldn't leave Rosenheim, because it offered all of the things in life that made him happy - family, hiking, heritage, and natural beauty. It was refreshing to see that even in such a capitalistic environment, money was not his top priority.

Ecstatic at the beauty of Rosenheim's proximity to the Alps, and enlivened at our good fortune, we decided to make a try for a ride to Innsbruck - across the border in Austria. The wait time was even less than in München, and a generous man with a warm voice and kind eyes pulled over to offer us a lift. Another hour and a half of driving through magnificent views of the Alps and we found ourselves in Innsbruck's city center. It was there, after a quick conference, that we decided to catch the next train to Verona, Italy. Where we only managed a few hours of day-lit exploration before our next destination.

Friday, August 19, 2011

ArtMill Part II

ArtMill only lasted ten days, but those represented a marathon of cooking, teaching, biking, drawing, campfire rambling, sharing stories and running around with campers and counselors in the enchanted setting of rural South Bohemia.

The Architecture part of our class became time for Roy to help the campers dig a huge pit in the yard for mud baths, and Design collaborated with the Drama class to knit trash into a green slime prop for the play at the closing of the camp. Outside of teaching, we spent many fun hours in the kitchen helping Maruška and Daniel prepare delicious and sometimes extravagant meals and treats for the campers, and when we weren't there, we were usually rafting on the lake or collecting wildflowers.

It's difficult to find a starting point to encompass the magic of ArtMill. There was just so much that occurred, subtly and blatantly, that left an impact on us. Everyone involved with the project brought something unique to the table, and everyone was happy to share talents, aspirations, and efforts with the others. We'll truly miss everyone we met and hope to see them again - perhaps, next year at ArtMill 2012.