Sunday, September 30, 2012

Monopoli

During my recent trip to Italy, the last full day had no scheduled tours, thus being called a "free day".  A good number of us decided to explore the city of Monopoli.  Permitted an educated guess, I would say that the city's name is of Greek origin, probably meaning "one city" (like "Tripoli" means "three cities"), and shouldn't be confused with "monopoly".  Monopoli is so close to Polignano a Mare that a train ride between them lasts about 5 minutes.  It was my first train ride in Italy since 2004, when I travelled between Orvieto and Rome.

Within the city's main square, the Curso Umberto, is this statue.

I wandered into the old section of Monopoli, and found this church towering over the neighboring buildings.

I found my way through the old section down to the beach, where the locals were hanging out.  Much of the beach was rocks in front of the seaside city walls.

Here's a view from a different angle, with the dome of another church in the background.

Further down the road above the beach were these steps, formed in the shape of the letter J.

After going back through the old section, I found yet another church, next to a produce market.

My favorite part of Monopoli was a park not far from the Curso Umberto.  They certainly have some gorgeous trees over there.

The park included this fountain, made with octopus figures.

Thus ends my Italian pictorial travelogue.  Any odds and ends from the trip will be posted later.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Stream Bed Found On Mars, Says NASA

The Mars rover Curiosity has turned up something that is indeed curious.  Scientists studying images of "stones cemented into conglomerate rock" have opined that the formation is evidence of a stream flowing at about 3 feet per second.  The estimate of the stream's depth ranges "somewhere between ankle and hip deep", according to Curiosity science co-investigator William Dietrich, of UC Berkeley.  A rock outcrop near the stream bed has been named Hottah, after Hottah Lake in Canada's Northwest Territories.

For the full story, go here and here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Castel Del Monte

Castel del Monte is an octagonal castle built near Andria, Italy in the 13th century by the Holy Roman emperor Frederick II.  Thought to be originally built as a hunting lodge, it was later used as a theater and a prison.  It is located to the west of Bari and Polignano a Mare.

We had to get off our tour bus and ride a shuttle bus to get close to the castle, leaving us a short walk.  Here's our tour guide Daniela, with the castle behind her.

Here's a view of the castle, trying to get as much of the sunlit part as possible into the picture.

Further up the walkway, a shot centered on the front entrance.

Not only is the outer perimeter based on an octagon, but there is also an inner octagonal courtyard.  Here is part of its walls.

After visiting the castle, we went to a local winery for wine-tasting, lunch and a brief tour.  Here's part of the reception area.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Monday Links

A few stories recently in the news:

From the Daily Caller, members of the Occupy movement protest the president - of Iran.

World Net Daily has found a video of Obama from 1995, in which he talks about "common ground".

From the American Thinker, the Obama campaign has quietly discontinued their sales of the "Obama flag".

From the Washington Times, the Obama administration has released a list of 55 terrorists, er, uh, detainees who have been approved for release from Guantanamo.

From WXYZ Action News, the owners of three stores in Dearborn(istan), Michigan have been arrested for alleged fraud against the Bridge Card Program, which is part of the Food Stamps system.

From ABC News, Polish soldiers in Afghanistan found a newborn baby girl abandoned on the side of a road. Niech żyje Polska!

From Big Government, Mr. Bill implies that if there's a second Obama term, Hillary won't be part of it.

From Big Journalism, one of Hillary's aids, during an interview with a CNN reporter, slips into some foul language.

From the Telegraph (and the PC department), France is not only preparing to legalize gay marriage, but also to eliminate the words "mother" and "father" from official documents.

From The Hill, several prominent Democrats warn Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to stay out of the US presidential election.

From Yid With Lid, several other Democrats, on the other hand, warn "Don't trust Obama on Israel."

From Occupy Corporatism, FEMA has created a civilian group intended to assist the federal government in future disaster preparedness.

And finally, from the Norwalk Reflector, a potential Darwin Award nominee: a stop sign thief runs a stop sign, thus making his last mistake.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Alberobello

On the way back from Matera to the Adriatic coast is Alberobello, a town that features numerous inhabited trulli.  The trullo type of stone house was constructed without mortar or concrete, due to the taxes laid on these materials, and could be easily torn down if the powers that be didn't want anyone building any houses without their permission.  Trulli were often constructed in agricultural fields as temporary homes for workers, who would inhabit one for a period of time before moving on to another worksite, and thus to a different trullo.  A typical trullo was a single circular building with a conical roof.  From the inside, the roof would resemble a Greek beehive tomb.  In Alberobello, houses (and business establishments such as stores and restaurants) often include several trullo units.

Today, you can rent a modern trullo.  For more information, go here and here.

Here's a street in Alberobello, with trulli on both sides.

Here's a house made of at least two trullo units.

One trullo had an arched doorway.

These two trulli had several others behind them.

From an overlook, we saw a whole bunch of trulli.

And finally, there was a church behind some trulli.

To the uninformed, the name Alberobello appears to mean "beautiful tree", but it does not.  While albero is Italian for "tree", bello in this case does not mean "beautiful", but is instead derived from the Latin word bellum, meaning "war".  The name thus means "tree of war" or maybe "forest of war".  For more on Alberobello and its trulli, go here.

Matera

Matera is the only place we visited outside of Apulia/Puglia.  Located south of Bari and Polignano in the region of Basilicata, Matera sits on the side of a canyon and features centuries-old cave dwellings and stone houses called sassi (which means "stones").  In recent years, it became the location for much of the filming of Mel Gibson's movie The Passion Of The Christ.  Matera also includes other attractions such as a cathedral and Rupestrian churches.

Here's a view of Matera, sloping down from the city center.

This large rock can be seen from an overlook in the city center.

Tourists making their way down some stairs, going from the city center to the cave dwellings:

Here's one view of the canyon, and here's another, with the city center in the distance.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Trani

The city of Trani was the northwesternmost place visited during my recent vacation in Italy.  To reach Trani, we had to drive past Bari and then go on for about another 20 miles.  A longtime fishing port, Trani includes a harbor with a marina, and a large public garden known as the Villa Comunale.

The garden includes a memorial to military personnel who died in WWI:

Looming over the tops some trees were the top parts of a church.

The garden is located just above the sea.  Here's part of the seawall.

As we walked around the harbor and the marina, we could see the Cattedrale di San Nicola Pellegrino, or Cathedral of Saint Nicholas the Pilgrim, who is not the same person as the Saint Nicholas honored in Bari.

The cattedrale is built mainly in the Romanesque style, which is less ornate than the Baroque style that came later.  The lower chamber includes some wall frescos that may date to the sixth century.  Here is some detail on an outer wall.

A short walk from the cattedrale is the Jewish section of town.  During the Middle Ages, the Jews in Bari were not walled into a ghetto, as was done in many other places, but were allowed to move about freely.

After seeing the sights of Trani, we visited the nearby Galantino olive oil factory, where we were given a tour of the facility and then served lunch on their patio.

Young Buck Vandalizes Obama Sign

An Obama-supporting couple in Austin, Texas had their Obama campaign sign vandalized several times, and decided to stake out their front yard so they could catch the vandal.  As it turned out, the culprit was no ordinary Republican.  From KXAN:


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The "Tolerance" Double Standard

I've come to believe that Islam, at least in its most fundamentalist forms, is the monstrosity that the Christian right is accused of being.  The Christian right opposes the attempt by the gay "rights" crowd to refine marriage, and as a result is accused by the left of hate.  Much of the Muslim world, on the other hand, opposes letting gays have the right to stay alive, and the left seems to have little to say about it.  The Christian right, especially the Catholic right, doesn't want to subsidize contraception, but I don't see any of them forcing women to wear hijabs and burqas.

I would point out that the claims in the above pic are not totally accurate.  Where Muslims sentence gays to die, the method of execution isn't always beheading.  Instead, in some places it's hanging, stoning or even burning (a method used centuries ago in Europe by Christian authorities).  For unbelievers who are Christian or Jewish, there is a third option, submitting to theocratic Muslim rule as a dhimmi, with far fewer rights than Muslims, and with far more restrictions.  But the general point is correct.  Fundamentalist Muslims, if given the chance, would make the Christian right look like agnostic libertarians.

For a brief summary, see this picture.

Monday, September 17, 2012

This Date In History

On 17 September 1787, 42 of the 55 delegates to the Philadelphia convention held their final meeting, to sign the document which the convention had produced, the United States Constitution.

and

On 17 September 1862, Union forces under General George McClellan and Confederate troops under General Robert E. Lee fought the Battle of Antietam near Sharpsburg, Maryland.  (The south would call it the Battle of Sharpsburg.)  This date is still the bloodiest single day in American military history.  Although the Battle of Gettysburg took more lives, it was spread out over three days, none of which equalled the single-day total at Antietam.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Ostuni

On the way back from Lecce to Polignano a Mare, we swung by Ostuni, a town that sits on a hill about 5 miles from the Adriatic coast.  There weren't too many things to photograph in this town, but it did give us a chance to walk off some of that pasta we'd been eating.  We proceeded from our bus's parking place to the main square, and then to the cathedral, a walk that was mostly uphill.  The square includes the column of Saint Oronzo, said to be the first bishop of Lecce.

Here's part of the front of the cathedral.

From an overlook not far from the cathedral, we could see all the way to the Adriatic.

The Apulia/Puglia region has a lot of flat land, unlike the other parts of Italy I've stayed in.  Southeast of Ostuni toward Lecce, there were several ridges that seemed to parallel the coastline, but except for our visit to Ostuni, we stayed on the coastal plain.

Lecce, Part 2

After our visit to Lecce's Basilica di Santa Croce (see Part 1), our tour group proceeded to the city's main square.  Within the square was the city's emblem, which is based on its past and present names.  The Romans called this place Lupiae, which is derived from lupa ("she-wolf").  The modern name is derived from that of an oak tree.  Thus, the emblem depicts both the wolf and the oak.

Also within the main square is the excavated half of a Roman amphitheater.  It appears that some modern seating has been added.

Around the perimeter of the amphitheater are some stone structures.

During some free time, I wandered off on my own, and found this courtyard.

I also found the duomo (cathedral).

After a change in direction, I found a fountain that included some organ pipes.

After all this sightseeing, we had a pizza lunch at Il Ristoro dei Templari, and then headed off to our next destination.

Lecce, Part 1

The southeasternmost part of the Italian mainland is the Salento peninsula, which extends between the southernmost part of the Adriatic Sea and the Gulf of Taranto, thus forming the "heel" of Italy's "boot".  The main city on the Salento is Lecce, known for its baroque architecture, and often called the "Florence of the south".  Lecce was the southeasternmost place visited by our tour group.  Before entering the city, we made a brief stop near a traffic circle, which included an electrical box topped by a statue.

We entered the main part of the city by going through a triumphal arch.

As we proceeded down a narrow street, a few of us wandered into a small courtyard.

Back on the street, we saw two windows that formed a Moorish balcony.  Notice the difference in condition between the two sections of stonework below each respective window.

At a street corner, we saw this Italian terrace.

We proceeded to our first stop in Lecce, the Basilica di Santa Croce (Holy Cross).  The very ornate façade was undergoing some renovation, and thus partially blocked by scaffolding.  I got this shot of a section of the façade, which shows human and animal figures "supporting" the section above them.

Inside the basilica was this side altar, dedicated to the cross itself, and which includes a balcony.

On the ceiling of the basilica was this image.  I don't know if it's a painting or a tapestry, but the surrounding "frame" appears to be a woodcarving with gold inlay or gold paint.  In any event, there's more to come in Part 2.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Bari

Bari is a seaport in southeastern Italy, and also includes an airport named after Pope John Paul II under his secular name Karol Wojtyła.  Polignano a Mare, where my tour group stayed, is about 20 miles to the southeast.  We walked past Bari's old castle, of which this is one corner bastion.

One another side of the castle is the entrance, which is reached by walking over a bridge.

Looking further down the wall towards another bastion.

Some people in Bari make their own pasta to sell to local restaurants.  There were some women in a narrow alley making orecchiette ("little ears") pasta, while being observed by a few tourists:

We visited the Basilica of St. Nicholas, which includes his tomb in a lower level chamber, his relics having been brought from Myra in Asia Minor to Bari in 1087.  There was a ceremony taking place when we walked through, so I couldn't take any pictures due to the large crowd in the tomb chamber.  Back in the main part of the church, I took this shot of a statue of St. Nicholas, with some flash reflection from the glass casing.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Polignano A Mare

I have returned from my vacation in Italy, where I stayed in the Adriatic seaside town of Polignano a Mare.  Located in the southeastern region of Apulia (a.k.a. Puglia), Polignano is definitely "off the beaten path", so to speak.  But even while being relatively obscure, the town is connected to one of the world's best-known songs.  In 1958, a native of Polignano named Domenico Modugno wrote (with his friend Franco Migliacci) and recorded a tune called Nel Blu Dipinto di Blu, which became world-famous under its alternate title Volare.

As we tourists approached our hotel, we were greeted by a statue of Modugno.

The hotel was located on the top of a cliff overlooking a small cove.  The other side likewise was a cliff, with the old section of town built right on top of it.

After walking over to the old section, we got this view of the hotel.

Here's another view of our hotel, from a different direction.

Between the two facing cliffs is a beach.

Here's another section of the cliff on which our hotel sits.

The old section of Polignano includes this narrow pedestrian alley.

Also in the old section is the town hall.

A kilometer or so to the northwest of our hotel is this old abandoned trullo home, with the Adriatic in the background.  The plants at the base of the trullo are prickly pear cactus.  In the Apulia/Puglia region, both the prickly pear and the trulli are ubiquitous.  While most of the trulli around Polignano appear to be uninhabited, we also saw some that were incorporated into, or grouped to form, modern homes.  In fact, there is an entire town built around refurbished trulli, which will be the subject of a future post.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Labor Day Links

As summer winds down, I look forward to going on vacation starting tomorrow.  Meanwhile, the Democrats kick off their convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Continuing a theme started by Clint Eastwood at the Republican convention, a whole bunch of us vast rightwing conspirators, teabaggers, hobbits, astroturfers, or whatever the left is calling us these days has designated today as Empty Chair Day, posting pictures of an empty chair, symbolizing the president, at the social media of their choice.  With that, on to some stories about the Democrat convention and other news:

From WBTW News, two convention delegates from California were sent home after allegedly getting drunk and causing a "ruckus".

At Frontpagemag, Bruce Thornton gives us a preview of the Democratic National Convention.

Ricochet editor Mollie Hemingway, whose husband is in Charlotte, gives us a ''grim list of speakers".

From the Daily Caller, the convention begins.

From Fox News, the Democrats have made plans to bus in college students and black church members to fill Bank of American Stadium for the president's speech on the last night of the convention.

Also from Fox News, gas prices for Labor Day have hit record highs this year.

From BreitbartTV, an ad that shows President Obama recycling talking points from four years ago.

From SFGate, Nigerian authorities have arrested a man for attempting to smuggle cocaine - stuffed inside a roasted chicken.

From The Sun, the actor and former wrestler known as The Rock chases away hoodlums who were trying to break into a van.

And from Weird Asia News, a Chinese fisherman catches a giant yellow croaker, and sells it for the equivalent of about $472,000.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Flight 93 Memorial

During my recent roadtrip to some western parts of Maryland, I took a swing up into Pennsylvania and visited the memorial to Flight 93, which crashed near Shanksville on 9/11/2001, after some of the passengers and crew tried to wrest control of the airplane from the highjackers.  This was my third visit to the memorial, the others having been in 2006 and 2008. 

The memorial and its environs have changed since 2008.  During my previous visits, there was only a temporary memorial, reached by some back roads extending between Shanksville and Lambertville to the north.  Now, there is a new road extending southward from US 30, leading to a paved parking lot, some restrooms, and a walkway to the memorial itself.

I remember quite a bit of controversy about some plans for the memorial's design, which was alleged to contain quite a bit of Islamic symbolism, including a large circular wall with a gap, which from the center of the circle allegedly would point to Mecca.  The actual memorial, at least for now, does not include the circular design, but some straight wall sections.  However, according to the link above, the memorial is not yet complete, and thus could still in the future incorporate design features that some find objectionable.

Here is the wall and a pretty good crowd of visitors.

The wall is made of panels, bearing the names of passengers and crew.

Along the walkway between the parking lot and the memorial are some kiosks and a seating area.

Extending along the walkway is this wall, set at what appears to be a 45 degree angle, and including some niches.  Flags, flowers and other offerings have been placed in these niches, continuing a tradition that began with the temporary memorial.

As an added note, my 2008 visit was reported in a post on AndRightlySo, the blog that took me in, so to speak, a few months before.  While the blog is now longer on the web, two of my blogmates created a backup site at Wordpress, which is still around and contains some of our posts from that year.  At it turns out, this includes the post about my 2008 visit.