Thursday, August 23, 2007

Northern Italy, Salzburg, and Bavaria

For one week, Laura and I visited my family in Italy. They live in a small town called San Zenone degli Ezzelini. It is one hour west of Venice in the Italian region of Veneto. My mother's entire direct family lives there, and we typically spend most of our time with her brother and sister and their families. For this visit, we had decided to take a family trip up north to Salzburg, Austria and Bavaria, Germany.

Our first day, we traveled south to Padova (Padua, in English). Since we had been to Venice numerous times, Padova would be a perfect 1-day new experience for us. As with many Italian cities, Padova has a storied history. One of the most known sites is the University of Padova, established in 1222. It's a well regarded university that was one of the earliest in all of Europe and the second-oldest in Italy. Galileo Galilei taught there from 1592 to 1610, and his desk can still be visited. Here's the center court of the university.

The most prominent city landmark is the Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padova. The basilica comemorates the life of Saint Anthony who performed his work in Padova.

Weaving through the streets of Padova, we passed a guest home where Dante had lived for a short period of time. Dante was the italian poet who wrote La Commedia, a masterpiece of world literature. We also stumbled upon the Saint Sofia Church (ridiculous that you just stumble upon medieval historical buildings). This church is the oldest in Padova, built in the middle ages. The entire church slopes in one direction and appears like it's ready to crumble. Here is a picture of the interior of the church. Note the braces on the columns of the interior of the church to prevent further collapse of the church.

Padova had a busting downtown filled with government buildings, the market, and Italian designer stores (Versace, Armani, Converse?, etc.). Just outside of the city center war our final stop, the Scrovegni Chapel, which houses the frescoes of Giotto. Prior to entering the area where the frescoes are stored, one must "detoxify" in a climate-controlled room for 15 minutes. This helps in the preservation of the frescoes. One of the most amazing features of the frescoes was how the painting gives the sensation of 3-dimensional objects, most notably the columns throughout the fresco. Unfortunately, no pictures allowed and they wouldn't do it justice anyway.

The day following the Padova visit, we began our drive north to Salzburg. Salzburg, Austria has been a rich region for hundreds of years. The ruler of Salzburg has always controlled the salt mines of Durrnberg which have provided more than ample riches. The first afternoon led us to old town Salzburg and the Getreidegasse, a high-end shopping street.

There was only one place we could afford.

Along Getreidegasse, there is the birthhouse of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the famous musical composer. Much of Salzburg's draw is centered around Mozart's life in the city. Both his birthhouse and his residence are located in the city. We visited both museums and found the residence museum to be an impressive account of his life.

The following day, we visited the salt mines of Durrnberg. These mines held the "white gold" that made Salzburg what it is today. The mines were in operation as long ago as the Celtic times and were the center of advancement for salt mining. These Salzwelten (salt mines) is where they developed a method to fill the mine with water, let the water set and dilute salt, pump the water out, and then dissolve the water to obtain salt. Large quantities of salt could then be mined. The mines are well-preserved from their original operating days. We had to suit up in protective white uniforms to take our tour.

A highlight of the tour was 2 long wooden slides that miners had installed to move around quickly in the mines. There were 2 of them on the tour, 30 meters and 40 meters long. They were fun to ride on and also heated up your butt in the cool mines.

High above Salzburg lied the great Festung Hohensalzburg, a fortress to defend the city. This picture shows old town Salzburg with the fortress overlooking the city.

Food and drink was unique and plentiful throughout both Austria and Bavaria. Beers were cheaper than soda and man, were they good. Many of the beers I had been previously introduced to by my friends Derek Kelm (of German decent) and Tim Leisy (who served in Germany). We also tried Weiner Schnitzel (breaded fried pork), Bratwurst (with sauerkraut), and all kinds of pretzels (my favorite!).

From the riches of Salzburg, we moved on to the Nazi concentration camp of Dachau, the first concentration camp built by the Nazis. Now, it stands as a memorial to all those who died and suffered during the second world war. The camp is well-preserved. The administration building serves as a huge museum with endless information. For me, the most amazing thing about being there is how amazingly perfect the entire grounds are. Each building, each yard, everything is measured to perfection. When Germans do something, they do it to perfection. Here’s a picture of the roll call yard where hundreds died or were dragged from their bunks dead so they could be counted.

The main gate contained the words, arbeit macht frei, work brings freedom.

After passing by all of the barrack foundations, we arrived to the crematorium. This building gave everyone who passed through it a shiver down the spine. It contained a gas chamber that most historians believe was never used. The furnaces put thousands to ashes until the end of the war.

As coal ran low, the Nazis began just piling up the bodies into large rooms. American soldiers eventually found these rooms of death when the camp was liberated. As education for the citizens of Dachau (who claimed they didn’t know this was going on in the middle of their town), the Americans forced the citizens to pass by the death rooms.

Finally, one of the memorials at the site says “Never Again.”

This memorial struck Laura and I as earlier in our trip in Rwanda, we heard the saying “I guess Never Again didn’t include Africa.” There’s much more to describe regarding Dachau but the most important thing I can say is everyone should visit one of these sites once in their life, as difficult as it may be.

The following day we visited Schloss Neuschwanstein and Schloss Hohenschwangau. Schloss Hohenschwangau was the home of King Maximillian II of Bavaria, the father of King Ludwig II of Bavaria.

Schloss Neuschwanstein was built by King Ludwig II during his reign. The interior was never completed. The castle was the inspiration for Walt Disney’s disneyworld castle.

Bavaria was laden with castles atop of nearly all the hills. An absolutely beautiful landscape with fairy tale buildings throughout.

Our last night in Bavaria, we traveled to Hofen, Germany where we would check into our reserved hotel. We arrived to the small, beautiful, lakeside town and were unable to find our hotel along the main street. We luckily found an english-speaking local who told us there isn't a hotel by the name we were looking for. He finally helped us realize we had reserved a hotel in Hopfen, Austria, not Hofen, Germany. We scrambled to find a map to search for Hopfen, praying it would be within driving distance. Luckily, Hopfen was only 30 km away and the hotel was great.

The next day we returned to Northern Italy to visit DeSella, a natural art park. Artists are invited to the park to produce artwork using only items found within the forest. After the artwork is finished, it must be left alone so that nature can add its own influence. The most impressive piece of work for me was the Cathedral.

Note that trees have been planted within the poles of the cathedral so that as the man-made portion of the cathedral falls, the natural portion will take the same form. It will be interesting to see this place in 10 years. Many pieces of artwork are worthy of posting but this arch is the one I chose.

It isn’t hard to convince my uncle to take a trip up to the Dolomites so that’s how I spent one of my last days. The Dolomites are a unique portion of the Alps. The special dolomite rock gives the mountains a distinct shape and color.

During the first world war, there was quite a bit of action in the Dolomites. We stumbled upon an old WW1 cave on our hike.

We also found a church memorial commemorating the lives of those that had died in the war.

From Italy, it was back to Barcelona, Spain for a week and then Orleans, VT, my hometown.


William Coburn said...

Thank you for the photos. I reaaly liked the church!

Jeff Coburn said...

Anyone interested in reading Dante can point their browsers here:

And yes, I think a day spent with German pretzels and beer is pretty close to "guy Heaven."

J.Pallotta said...

Thanks Jeff, I've added the link to the blog so people can connect from there.