Thursday, September 27, 2012

Ravenna & Venice

Barely having recovered from the exhausting journey back from NZ, I was off to Italy less than a week after getting home.  It was a little odd going back to work after NZ & having all sorts of people telling me I was going to visit one of our sister plants for a week to see how they operate their similar plant better.  It was a very productive, informative & interesting week spent with my boss & workmate as the Italian process engineers showed us around and gave us plenty of ideas to try out back at Hythe.  For the most part, the language difference wasn't a problem as most, except some operators, spoke reasonable English; Steve (my boss) knows quite a bit of Italian & Henry (workmate) knows a little - I of course only know the tiny amount I remember from previous Italian trips.

Ravenna is a very nice little city (~160000) & fortunately we were staying close to the centre - so it was very easy to walk around town on the warm evenings.  We didn't have a lot of time to see some of the renowned early-church mosaics (eight UNESCO World Heritage sights to be seen), but Henry & I managed to see a couple once Steve had gone back to England early.  Of course, being Italy, the food was fantastic & as the capital of Romagna region we were able to sample quite a bit of the local food & wine. 

The SBR (styrene-butadiene rubber) plant was on a huge industrial site, a similar size to the Port Kembla Steelworks - but with more space dedicated to plant, rather than stockpiles. There were an incredible number of bicycles and small Fiats all around to save much walking.  There was an appropriately sized canteen, where the lunches were bountiful & cheap.  Perhaps I ate too much pasta last week.

It wasn't too difficult to get my return flight pushed out by two days so that I could have a free day exploring somewhere else in Italy.  Conveniently, Venice is on my list and only a short, cheap train ride away from Ravenna.  I rolled in Friday evening & then had a twenty minute walk rolling my cases along a lot of cobbles and carrying them over many bridges.  The end of September is a good time to visit: it's warm, but not hot; the famous stink wasn't there; and the crowds are tolerable.

But what an absolute nuts city - built on (& sinking into) the water, it's just mad.  Being so flat, it's a very easy city to walk around & get to the main sights & even outlying neighbourhoods - pre-cached maps on one's phone really help in not getting lost in the labyrinth (the GPS signal was surprisingly strong in such skinny streets surrounded by tall stone buildings).  While I expected no cars, the lack of bikes took a little more to get used to - especially after the proliferation of bikes in Ravenna.

Grand Canal
Rialto Bridge
St Mark's Campanile

As usual, I walked an awful lot around the city popping in to a few of the famous buildings & museums - Scuola Grande di San Rocco (filled with huge Tintorettos - said to be his Sistine Chapel) was my favourite.  The Jewish Quarter was nice & quiet, but then so were a lot of the neighbourhoods away from the Grand Canal & associated crowds.

Somewhere along the way I stumbled across some sort of musical museum, so I took a peek and learnt all sorts about Vivaldi - I didn't know he was from Venice.  But that's not surprising as I am musically ignorant.  Which makes it even stranger that I somehow ended up at a concerto that night in a packed hall listening to (what seemed to me, at least) an incredible string recital.  It can't have been just me that thought so as the applause was prolonged - they came back three times just to bow and another two times for encores.  Most of the evening was Vivaldi's Four Seasons, which as well as being brilliant kept on fooling me into thinking that another summer of NZ cricket was here - thanks National Bank.

So that two hours of the four violins, a viola, a cello (the cellist was particularly exuberant and highly entertaining), a double bass & a harpsichord turned out to be the highlight of Venice for me.  A great place to visit, but with so much stone, so many people, no grass & few trees I don't think it's a city I could spend much more than a few days at a time in.

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