Monday, 24 August 2015

It's a Struggle!

Language learning that is. I've always found it difficult. Didn't start learning another language until I was 11 when I went to grammar school & then we were taught Spanish & Latin. Didn't find either very easy but I think it was down to the way they taught you. I still think we should start teaching children foreign languages in primary school but of course we don't have the teachers to do that. I also think it was a big mistake when they stopped making a foreign language a compulsory subject for GCSE.

I went to Spain when I was 18 to spend a couple of weeks with my pen friend & her family & I had to listen carefully as the family all spoke Spanish continuously with the odd English translation now & again as only my pen friend spoke any English. I did find that listening to it constantly started to make me think in Spanish which felt weird.

It did encourage me to keep going trying to learn Spanish which I've done on & off for the last 50 years but I still haven't mastered it. Main reason is I find other things to do so it's been more off than on. My accent isn't too bad but I think you have to live in a country to become reasonably fluent. I have no chance of that now!



In March I discovered I had to do two Italian tours this summer, I never get Spanish ones where I could have some practice! So I thought I'd have a go at learning a little bit of Italian. I bought some CDs, a dictionary & found a couple of websites. The CDs are by Michel Thomas & they are quite good, I keep them in the car & play them repeatedly. I still haven't got past lesson 10 as it's quite difficult when it's just spoken & you can't see the words.

This is where the websites come in useful. They are very good as they make you type answers in Italian as well as English and they have the phrases spoken in Italian for you. They seem to recognise where you make mistakes & keep repeating those bits for you. I did borrow an Italian grammar book from the library as I like to check things out. Another resource I used was Coffee Break Italian which has 15 minute weekly podcasts available on the radiolingua.com website. You can download them free or find them on iTunes.

Have to say I've found it quite difficult. I'm sure it's because of being older. I find I just can't memorise the words easily. I have to keep going over them again & again. However I'm not giving up!


I did try using a few expressions when I was in Desenzano, always said buongiorno, buonasera, grazie etc & asked for my room number in Italian. It was wasted really as they spoke such good English but I like to try. I've been trying to do a couple of sessions every day picking up some new words & going back doing some revisions. Have to say I'm really enjoying it which is a surprise. I just hope I can keep up with the sessions, I'm no linguist I know but at least I try.

Hopefully I'll be a bit more confident at speaking a little more when I get to the Italian Riviera at the end of September.

If anyone is interested the two websites I've been using are:

Www.duolingo.com

Www.memrise.com

They have a range of languages to choose from and they're free! There are premium versions of the sites but you don't have to buy into them.

Buona Fortuna!

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Venezia!


We got the train from Desenzano & arrived in Venice to be greeted with this view of the Grand Canal as we stepped out of the station. Unfortunately there was no time for more photos as we had to make our way quickly to the boat pick up point. The hired boats can't hang around for long on the Grand Canal. 

We made our way via the Giudecca Canal around the working industrial part of Venice. It's a very busy route with lots of boats passing by. Here's the Azamara Journey which was docked in this area.





As we headed out of the industrial part of the port towards the city we passed some quite attractive buildings.




I'm not sure why my photos look so dull. I thought the camera was set to take scenery photographs but the button is quite loose now so maybe it had moved. I was quite disappointed with the pictures as the light doesn't seem very good & were not very well focused.

 
I didn't realise it but I snapped the Bridge of Sighs by accident in the photo above. It's the bridge between the two buildings on the left, not the lower one, the little one above it. 

The island of San Giorgio taken from our boat which was whizzing along! Surprised it came out at all.
 

View from the Cornelli Pier where we picked up our tour guide.


The guide took us along some back streets & piazzas we would never have chosen but the history was interesting. She told us about the fresh water wells & how you can fill your water bottles from the fountains in Venice. The water is very pure & it's free! So if you're visiting don't waste your dosh on buying bottled water, use the street water fountains!


As I said we wouldn't have chosen the streets she took us along but they were interesting & you can see people filling their water bottles here.


As you wander around you pass lots of little canals & over numerous bridges.



The guide took us to this church which she said was the only Greek Orthodox one in Venice. Inside there was a bit of a telling off from someone who wasn't happy about us visiting without booking!

Not sure why it was a problem as there was nobody else there & no service going on. My photo isn't cock eyed apparently the tower isn't straight!



Off we go again now on our way to St Mark's Basilica via more little streets & canals. I love places where you just don't know what's around the corner.




The Bridge of Sighs, really more like a little corridor than a bridge. 
Not the best of photos but the bridge we were standing on to take the photo was really crowded so I was lucky to get a photo at all.
It was built in 1600 and connects the New Prison to the interrogation rooms in the Doge's Palace. 
The guide told us the "story" of how it got its name. Apparently the view from the Bridge of Sighs was the last view of Venice that convicts saw before their imprisonment. The name comes from the suggestion that prisoners would sigh at their final view of beautiful Venice through the window before being taken down to their cells. In reality, the days of inquisitions and summary executions were over by the time the bridge was built and the cells under the palace roof were occupied mostly by small-time criminals. Also they couldn't see much from inside the Bridge due to the stone grills covering the windows. Still it's a romantic story.

   


Here we are back out facing the Grand Canal. I know it wasn't brilliant sunshine but I'm sure it wasn't this dull! Apologies!

 
I love taking photos of people taking photos!

I was amazed at how many people were taking selfies. The street sellers were obviously making a bomb from selling the selfie sticks.



Some shots of the Doges Palace
 
 
 
I loved the two columns in St Mark's Square. This one had the Lion of Venice on top.
 
 
 
St Mark's Campanile
 
Apparently the Bell Tower fell down in 1902 but it was rebuilt as it had been complete with the Angel Gabriel on top which I never saw!



 
St Mark's Square Clocktower
 
I had never noticed this on my previous visit, neither had quite a few others on our tour, until the guide pointed it out.


St Mark's Square wasn't very crowded compared to the last time I was there. Napoleon called it the most beautiful reception room in all Europe. Well he obviously saw it without all the tourist groups & the tourist tat for sale! He also didn't pay the extortionate price for a cup of coffee & neither did I!





St Mark's Basilica Fa├žade


There is the usual scaffolding which seems to accompany these beautiful buildings but I suppose it's necessary to keep them safe for future generations to enjoy.




St Mark's in all its gory with the scaffolding. Last time I was there the scaffolding was over the main entrance.

We did get inside without having to wait in the horrendous queues as we were with a guide. However it was a very quick walk through as due to the large number of visitors you only get to see a small part of it. It took barely 5 minutes which was disappointing. The style is Byzantine but it seemed quite dingy, there are few windows & it wasn't not well lit the day we were there. Considering this is one of the most visited churches in the world I can't say I was particularly impressed. However I found a website for the Basilica which has a 3D version here & also views of areas which are excluded from tours. If you click on the various views at the top of the page the outline shows & then if you click on the box with the arrow you can see the various sections of the Basilica. Quite clever and it looks much nicer than when we were there.You are not supposed to take photographs inside & I always follow the rules so I have no pictures. A lot didn't despite the very obvious warning signs but nobody stopped them. 

The tour ended at the Basilica & we went our various ways to sightsee & get some refreshments before we met up at the railway station for the return journey. I decided I would just wander through the side streets towards the Rialto Bridge & look for somewhere to eat.





 
 
Another lovely bridge. I hope that family haggled & got a decent price for their gondola trip!
 






 
Enjoying a refreshing break!
 

Venice is famous for its masks & carnivals & there was certainly no shortage of shops selling them.

I was sorely tempted to buy one for my granddaughters but the thought of having to carry it back safely by train via Milan, Basle, Strasbourg, Paris & London put me off.


The ubiquitous M.
 



Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Sirmione

Sirmione 
We left Desenzano by boat to go to the peninsula of Sirmione on another scorcher of a day. The air was lovely on the lake but once at Sirmione the heat hit us. So we made for the beach!



Unfortunately there was a triathlon taking place so the beach was taken up with swimmers & the noise of the woman commentating was unbelievable so I fairly quickly left.


Luckily it's a small peninsular so you can cross to the other side in a few minutes & get some peace.

I had a walk up one of the side streets to the church where I caught a Mass.

                          


Afterwards I wandered further up the peninsula and you can see the Dolomites in the distance.


Then down toward the beach again.

As I walked down towards the town I saw this. When I read the plaque on the wall I saw it had been where Maria Callas had lived. 
Maria Callas' Villa 
Maria Callas spent her summers here from 1952 to 1959, until she met Aristotle Onassis!

Mind you I'd rather stay here given the chance. Problem is the gates are locked so I couldn't get in to take photos of the actual hotel but it looked gorgeous.



 Villa Cortine Palace

On the road down into the town there were lovely trees in blossom



Lovely traditional shops & cobbled streets


Colourful gardens


 All too soon we were heading back to Desenzano!


However it was a great speedboat ride back which most of us enjoyed, but not all!

Next stop Venezia!