Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings make a U.S. stop for the first time ever

There’s an art exhibit opening at the Birmingham Museum of Art in Alabama on September 28th that is a reminder that art museums other than the big name ones in the big name cities like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Louvre in Paris or The Uffizi in Florence, Italy have wonderful exhibits that are trip worthy.

The Birmingham Museum of Art, a museum that was founded in 1951 and has enough of an endowment that admission is free, has snagged the first showing of Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings from his notebook “Codex on the Flight of Birds.” These drawings have never been shown together outside of Italy. The drawings created between 1480 to 1510 offer a look into the workings of da Vinci’s thought process.

Through an agreement between Biblioteca Reale and the Foundation for Italian Art & Culture and the Birmingham Museum of Art, the exhibit ” Leonardo da Vinci: Drawings from the Biblioteca Reale in Turin” is possible. You can see it through November 9.

I’ve always associated Birmingham with the Civil Rights Movement. When I was there a couple years ago, I went to the Civil Rights District, something I recommend. The Birmingham Museum of Art is another draw I know about. Spend a weekend in Birmingham, and I’d say you won’t be disappointed.

Amazing Race 12 Recap 7, finally

With Survivor: China taking the place of Amazing Race December 16, it threw off our coverage. It’s a who’s on first type of story, partly complicated by my Kentucky trip to a funeral and Christmas. Here’s my recap of what happened in episode 7. My apologies for not getting this out there sooner, but I’m following the adage, better late than never.

It also seems like the Amazing Race folks are having a time getting their Web site in order. I looked and looked, but only found one photo from this episode posted. Instead, I’m going to point you towards web clips of the various incidents, and a smattering of other visuals. The web clips are on the Amazing Race Web site under “Videos.” To get to this page, click on Videos, then web clips, then Episode 7.

If I were on the Amazing Race, this leg of this dash around the world would have given me the feeling of hitting pay dirt. Considering how much the teams ooohed and ahhed over the beauty of Croatia in episode 6, anything else could have been a real let down–not so Italy.

Florence, Rome and Bologna were part of the itinerary depending on the route the teams took to Empoli, the site of the Road Block. Oh, how I love Italy, and Florence is my favorite. Sure, it’s a tourist hot spot, but there’s a reason. I’ve been there three times, and each time was superb. Do not miss the statue of David. I repeat. Do not miss the statue of David

Getting to Empoli was filled with some interesting–and surprising turns of events. Teams that haven’t had much trouble in the past experienced a truth about travel. If you’re on the road long enough, one day can be downright lousy–and you might find yourself doing things you never thought possible. The beginning of the episode was fairly smooth sailing, literally, for most teams–although, I have to say, these early morning departures would do me in. Ron and Christiana departed Dubrovnik, Croatia by bus at 2 a.m. for Split to catch the ferry for Ancona, Italy to in route to Florence.

Since Don and Nick managed to catch up with the other teams for this journey across the Adriatic Sea, and they didn’t leave the Pit Stop until 7:06, I’m wondering about the advantage of leaving so darned early like Ron and Christiana did. I realize that the idea is to get a head start before everyone else, but doesn’ t it seem that when teams leave so early it doesn’t do much good most of the time?

Not taking a chance, though, is probably the best strategy since teams don’t know what to expect at each juncture. This holds true for most travel. Whenever I leave late, I tend to get lost or can’t find a place to stay. When I leave earlier, the traffic is lighter and there’s the notion that I can stop somewhere for a sit down lunch. However, check out the video “A Perfect Day in Split”. There’s something to be said for a more leisurely pace. While TK and Rachel and Nate and Jen waited for their ferry departure, they spent time swimming in the Adriatic. This footage of Nate and Jen frolicking about shows just how those awful road fights can end up behind you.

For an extra look at the ferry ride and some authentic travel experience, check out “Ron’s Makeshift Bed”. You have to hand it to Christina. She has a knack for not letting her dad get so totally on her nerves. Ron’s talk about wanting to sleep on the hard floor deck as opposed to being with the other passengers inside on comfy cushions (Christina’s desire) makes total sense. It may seem like he’s a nut, but he knows what he’s talking about in a way. I loved when he mentioned the soothing vibration. He’s one determined guy when it comes to wanting to be right. From the map, you can see ferries from Croatia to Italy take many routes. Click map for options.

This section brought back my own memories of leaving Skopelos, Greece on a 9 p.m. ferry (or thereabouts) in order to catch a 2. a.m. train (or thereabouts) for Athens in order catch another train for the coast where the ferry to Brindisi, Italy was docked. When we took the ferry to Greece, we hung out with other folks inside, but on the way back, we stayed on the deck, tucked out of the traffic. I was too tired to interact and be in a crowd.

The ferry ride was the lull before the real push once they arrive in Italy. Then it was a race through the parking lot to locate their cars for the drive through this region of Tuscany to Empoli. Now, the real fun for the viewers began. Considering the drive was in the dark, that must have been hell for anyone with a night vision problem. Rachel’s description of what it’s like to be in a car at 4:30 in the morning after the choice to swim instead of sleep in “A Long Night of Driving” was another I’ve been there experience. It’s the dilemma of wanting to see as much as possible and hoping your body will cooperate. Not so much in her case. She’s struggling to stay awake and presents some staying awake tips. Slap your face is one of them. There should be a prize for this couple at being the best at getting along no matter what. I’d like to see where they are in 25 years.

This was also the point in Amazing Race 12 for the teams’ families to be brought in via Blackberries. Nick and Don’s family member’s messages in “Nick and Don’s Family” give a terrific look at why Grandpa is the way he is and why these two don’t get ruffled all that much. Here’s one quote.”that sweet, shy, senile grandpa of yours.” Hah!

Here’s the scoop about driving to Empoli. If you go straight to Florence you’ll get there first (Nate & Jen) because going through Bologna is a longer route and you might end up in a traffic jam (Ron & Christina, Kynt & Vyxsin and Nick & Don), and if you go through Rome, you might have such a great time eating lunch in Ancona that you forget the clue and have to go back to get it. (TK & Rachel)

In Empoli, one team member had to search for the word Vinci while soaring above Tuscany in an ultralight. Now, that would be sweet indeed. Some enjoyed the view, while others became frustrated at not seeing what they needed. Ron was back to putting Christina down. Because TK couldn’t find Vinci until having to refuel the ultralight and trying again, they fell behind to last place.

Don and Nick skipped the ultralight and took the Fast Forward that led to a task that certainly tests ones desire to win a million dollars. I’m not sure what I would have done. The duo ended up in a tattoo parlor getting FF tattooed on their arm. FF=Fast Forward. I may have asked if the tattoo artist could have prettied it up with a butterfly or something. I also wonder if Amazing Race would foot the bill to have it taken off at the end of the game.

Just think about what this would be like for the rest of your life explaining that the FF does not stand for french fries, or whatever else people might imagine. Here’s some tips in case you decide to get your own tattoo in Italy. The Fast Forward meant they could skip the town of Vinci and head to the Pit Stop at Boboli Gardens in Florence. I would be bummed out in a way to not have the chance to go to Vinci, the birthplace of Leonardo da Vinci. Here teams chose between two tasks. One was to learn a flag routine at the Piazza Guido Masi.

The other was to build a crane based on Leonardo da Vinci’s design in order to lift a boulder to read the clue on the bottom. With crane building not being their forte, Vyxsin and Kynt decided to drive to the flag routine option which lead to getting lost and an emotional meltdown. As Vyxsin sped them along, Kynt threatened to jump out of the car and drive instead. Oh, yes, I know that scene. I have lived it in some form or another. Particularly when Kynt had trouble getting the car to shift after he took over and Vyxsin sniped at him. Who hasn’t said, “Just shut up for once today,” like Kynt did. The moral of this story is, stay where you are and do what’s in front of you. When driving through towns you don’t know, getting lost is always an option.

TK and Rachel also had their share of car troubles when a flat tire put them behind once more. They are too nice for such turmoil. But, their flat tire didn’t stop them from ending up in Florence in 4th place with Vyxsin and Kynt close behind. Grandpa Don and Nate’s tattoos earned them a five-night trip for two to Cancun where I expect they will recount their tattoo story.

Since this was a non-elimination episode, stay tuned for this Sunday when we find out what Vyxsin and Kynt have to do for their Speed Bump to stay in the race. Even though Vyxsin and Kynt did have a squabble, in the clip “Vyxsin’s Bad Day” they demonstrate that people can recover from a meltdown and all can be well again.

This photo of a tattoo taken in Florence, Italy says it all. In essense: “Everything happens for a reason.”

YOU Can be Indiana Jones!

Have some extra time and a wad of cash to spend? Become a treasure hunter. There’s a fun article in WSJ’s Weekend Journal about “Seven Missing Wonders of the World,” plus a treasure map to get you started.

  • The Holy Grail: Apparently, this wasn’t mentioned anywhere until around 1190 in a poem about something (undescribed) seen by the knight Perceval. But, obviously undergoing a recent surge of interest, and you’ve probably already started your search. Quite possibly being hidden along with the Holy Hand Grenade.
  • Genghis Khan’s Tomb: Maury Kravitz, retired trader and attorney, has spent over $3m and 15 yrs searching Mongolia for the resting place of this conqueror. Don’t let him beat you to it. Follow him around, and interview locals to see where he’s dug already and don’t dig there.
  • Amelia Earhart’s Plane: She was lost July 2, 1937, heading from Papua New Guinea to Howland Island. Some think she assumed the identity of NJ banker and pilot Irene Bolam, but I think traipsing around the South Pacific looking is a little sexier.
  • Nefertiti’s Tomb: Seeing as how Egyptian royalty were usually hidden when buried (because of the nasty habits of grave-robbers), she could be anywhere from the Valley of Kings, to somewhere in New Jersey.
  • The Shipwreck The San Jose: This Spanish galleon was sunk by the English in 1708, taking gold and silver, estimated to be worth between $150m and $10B, to the bottom of the ocean off Columbia. A 20-yr legal battle with the government of Columbia ended this year, promising the finder would split the loot with the government.
  • Peter the Great’s The Amber Room: This masterpiece of Baroque art was actually a room given by the king of Prussia to Peter the Great in 1716. It disappeared some time after the Nazi armies carted it off. I’m guessing it is with the Arc of the Covenant.
  • Leonardo da Vinci’s Mural The Battle of Anghiari: Thought to be his greatest work of art, this mural decorated a hall in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, was copied by other artists, was lost, and now some think it was covered by another mural by Giorgio Vasari in the 16th century. If you can’t find it, at least have a replica of the mural tattooed on your back.

In case you don’t have the time or cash to do any of this yourself, you can at least buy shares of the most prominent treasure hunter company, Odyssey Marine. Boo-ya!

I see another Hollywood blockbuster or bestseller in the making…

The Last Supper at 16 billion pixels

The problem with the true classics of art these days is that it’s very difficult to get up close to them. The Mona Lisa, for example, is protected by bulletproof glass, a red velvet rope, and at least one guard stationed within arm’s length. Good luck getting close enough to inspect the brush strokes on that little lady!

The Last Supper, perhaps the second most famous painting on our planet is equally difficult to inspect closely.

Until now that is. Last weekend the da Vinci masterpiece was unveiled digitally at an astounding resolution of 16 billion pixels. Wow. Internet users can zoom in to the most minute detail, inspecting every fleck of paint, aged crack, and bits of weathering and damage.

Frankly, it’s a little disturbing just how much the painting has deteriorated over the last 500 years. It still, however, maintains its magic even when one zooms in so far that you no longer know what you’re looking at. And for many, this will be the best viewing they will ever have of the painting. According to a recent AP article, only 25 visitors are allowed to view the painting at a time. This equates to roughly 320,000 people per year. That’s a pretty low number. As for me, I’m content right now just zooming in online. Click here to do so yourself.

Milan’s Canals Rival Venice’s Famous Waterways

My experience in Milan was speedy and dirty; I had a several-hour layover in the city that I spent wandering around outside the train station. I literally had pesto between my toes, a pigeon that ate some bad Chinese pooped all over me, I witnessed one of the drunk men lounging on the overgrown grass outside the station break a bottle over another drunk guy’s head, and I paid 3 Euro ($6) for a can of juice. Needless to say, I felt I had little incentive to return, when there are so many other wonderful places in Italy, until I read this article about Milan’s magnificent canals.

I might have extended my layover if I’d known that Milan has a series of canals that stretches three times longer than Venice’s famous waterways. Emanuele Errico, chairman of Lombardy canals, maintains that “this density of canals joining a great city to the surrounding countryside is an example that is almost unique in the world.”

Regional leaders are hoping to refurbish the centuries-old system that made landlocked Milan a top Mediterranean port. Around 70 percent of the canals, which were once overseen by Leonardo Da Vinci, need to be rebuilt. Whether or not they are, I’ve now got a reason to visit Milan.

Thanks to Astilly on Flickr for the photo of a canal in Milan’s Navigli District.