Sunday, September 30, 2007

So Much To Say

I'm home from a wonderful and fabulous trip to South Dakota. I can't wait to share it with you, but since I only have 2 days left of the Italy trip, I think I'll finish that first, then go on to South Dakota.

So, as soon as I get the pictures downloaded and write up a couple of more things, I'll post the final Italy recaps, then I'll start on South Dakota.

Siena and the Chianti region next!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Duomo in Florence

Programming Note: This is the only post until next week because we are going to South Dakota for a quick little holiday. Have a great week!

The date is 20 May, so it is my and Al’s anniversary—18 years. Al apologized for not having a gift for me and said we could go shopping for one, but I said, “Honey, we’re in Italy. I think you’re covered.”

We slept in and missed breakfast on purpose so that we had a good excuse to spend the morning at a café, eating warm pastries and drinking the best cappuccino we’ve had the whole trip. We people-watched and dog-watched, as a man walked in with what we thought was his dog, but it stayed long after the man left. The dog was more interested in the school kids, knowing they would be more likely to share their breakfast, I’m sure.

We headed to the Duomo and got in line about 20 minutes early, giving us plenty of time to people-watch some more. Street sellers walked up and down the line, offering women with bare shoulders shawls to cover up with inside. Note to people with bare shoulders—the dress code is strict at this cathedral. If you don’t have anything to cover up with, they will sell you a paper shirt like you would wear in the doctor’s office.

Another note about street sellers—don’t buy from them. If you see a guy with a bunch of Prada purses laying out on a sheet, just walk on by. If the police catch you, it’s a fine for you, too. Chances are you won’t be caught because those guys are quick to swoop everything up in that sheet and run away. Then, when the cops have passed, they just stroll back and unfurl the goods.

Back to the cathedral. The actual name is Santa Maria del Fiori. The neo-Gothic façade is overly ornate and made of pink, green, and white Tuscan marble. When it was completed, it was the largest cathedral in Europe and is still the 5th largest. It’s hard to take it all in because it is so overwhelming with all the sculptures above the doors and the detail on the walls of the huge building.

The inside, however, is. . . well . . . underwhelming. It’s beautiful, but it’s as if everything was spent on the outside and there wasn’t enough left for the inside to match.

Mosaic on the floor. Does anyone know what this is?

The inside of the dome is decorated by a painting, Last Judgment by Vasari and Zuccari and is one of the largest paintings of the Renaissance, but that’s really the only ornamental aspect to the inside of the cathedral. The area directly under the dome was roped off, so we didn’t get a good view of this painting.

The real claim to fame of this cathedral is the architecture of its dome. The cathedral was built with a hole awaiting its dome. Local architect Filippo Brunelleschi created the octagonal design “dome within a dome,” which weighs over 37,000 tons and contains over 4 million bricks.

The Bell Tower

The doors to the Baptistry are called Gates to Paradise. Created by Lorenzo Ghiberti, they are gilded bronze, depicting stories of the Bible.

The rest of the day was restful, to the verge of almost boring. Al and K went to the Leonardo di Vinci Museum, which they said was awful because most of the exhibits were either broken or locked up so you couldn’t see them. While they were gone, I tried to nap and rest up, but got antsy and wanted to explore some more. I had watched some TV, mostly MTV, but was happy to see the guys return. We didn’t go to any more museums or anything and most of the shops were closed because it was Sunday, so we just walked around. Later we had a leisurely dinner, another walk, then turned in early because we had to be at the bus by 8:00 the next morning for our tour of Siena, San Giamagnio, and Pisa.

Next, the beautiful Tuscany region.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Learning Stuff in Florence

Today was a day of museums and history. We had reservations for the Accademia to see David that afternoon, so we had the morning free to go to the Science Museum to see Galileo’s telescope and his finger.

We stopped by the courtyard of the Uffizi on the way to enjoy the statues of the greats of Italian invention, science and art. I didn’t request tickets for the museum early enough, so the statues outside were all we were going to see. So at risk of repeating myself yet again, reserve tickets for the Uffizi the minute you know where you’ll be there because it maybe a month before they have an opening.

The Science Museum (Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza) was a real find. It’s not usually crowded and is just around the corner from the Uffizi. It’s easy to get caught up in the art and opera of Italy, but there were amazing strides in science, too. This museum presents it’s case for those strides with it’s collections of clocks, telescopes, medical tools, maps, globes, and gadgets. It was fascinating. Unfortunately, we didn't get any pictures inside.

The main draw for us was Galileo’s telescope and his finger. As usual, I was expecting a real flesh and blood, well flesh anyway, finger kept in some kind of formaldehyde, but it was just the bones. And it was the middle finger at that, so imagine knowing that you get to spend eternity flipping off the world.

There were many telescopes and diaries and notes from different scientists. What an exciting time it must have been. We speculate now on what’s beyond our world, imagine what speculations must have been like during the Renaissance.

The other exhibits were just as interesting and just as amazing. There were beautiful clocks and tools for mapping and some of the most gorgeous and complex globes I’ve ever seen, especially the one with all the planets in orbit of the earth that is just as much an art piece as it is a study. It's called the Armillary sphere and was made by Antonio Santucci. I didn't get a picture in the museum, but I did find this photo online here.

And here's a close up from the museum's website

There were also rooms devoted to chemistry and medicine, and except for the casts of every stage of pregnancy with all the different positions of a full-term baby in the womb that lined the wall, it was pretty fascinating. Actually the casts were fascinating too because they were speculating on every problem that might occur during birth.

We only had a couple of hours to spend before we had to get lunch and get to the Accademia, so I had to shoo the guys along. They could have stayed there all day, reading every index card with every exhibit.

After a so-so lunch, we got in line with all the other people for our reserved tickets at the Accademia. We were a little early, so we got in line a little before our reservations time. They were more concerned with how many people were in the museum at one time than the actual time of our reservation.

If you think, “Oh, I’ve seen the David statue thousands of times in pictures and travel shows, so I can skip this one,” you are so very mistaken. You can’t experience the size, the importance, and the beauty of this sculpture until you see it in person. It’s stunning. The model of Renaissance man is over 13 feet tall, not including the base he stands on (making it over 17 feet tall), so he dominates the center of the museum. Michelangelo wasn’t yet 30 when he sculpted David, and it was this work of art that led the pope to ask him to paint the Sistine Chapel.

I could tell you the importance of David, but I would just be repeating what you can read on websites and in text books. I’m not an art historian, or any kind of historian for that matter, but I can tell you that it took my breath away when I saw it and I chided myself for even thinking of missing this. Again, we didn't get any pictures inside, but I found this on the web here. This gives you a good idea of what you would see.

There are other things to see. Just as amazing are Michelangelo’s unfinished Prisoners (which I have also seen called “Captives”). They are just as realistic with even more emotion as the human forms are trying to break out of the stone. Michelangelo said he was “freeing them," thus the name. You walk by them on your way to David. I got this photo from here.

However, I must admit that after seeing the sculptures, my interest waned. There’s a room of plaster casts used to teach sculpture, including the plaster of The Rape of the Sabine Women. There are also many paintings, most of which depicting the ascension in all it’s religious glory and symbolism, prompting me to lean over to Al and whisper, “I’m sensing a theme.”

It was still early enough in the day when we left the Accademia that we decided to go to the Ponte Vecchio.

This famous bridge is lined with jewelry shops, traditionally selling silver and gold. No bargains here—this is the real stuff and the prices reflect that.We looked through window after window of sparklies. It’s also a beautiful spot to see the city bordering the river.

On the way the way back towards the hotel to get cleaned up for dinner, we stopped at the open air market. Now this was where to find a bargain, and I found it in the form of a lovely leather purse. They expect you to barter, which I’m terrible at and didn’t really try. They loved me there.

This was also where the famous brass boar is, or at least one of the famous boars. You are supposed to rub it for good luck, so it has a very shiny nose, although the rest of it was gray from years of weathering. All of us followed the tradition except K, who for some reason refused. So I said, “You’re the only one who’s not going to have good luck. Now, go rub that pig!” He didn’t, and he had bad luck the rest of the day. OK, maybe not, but he was disappointed with his dinner while the rest of us loved ours, so you be the judge.

After getting cleaned up and having a light dinner at Gusto Leo, we spent the rest of the cool evening sitting in the square outside of the Palazzo Vecchio, once home to the Medici family.

The square is called Piazza della Signoria. The entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio is where David originally resided, and there is a copy standing in the very location now.

I love this shot that Al got:

The other side of the entrance is Hercules and Cacus.

Across from David are several statues making up Loggia dei Lanzi. The most famous original is Cellini’s bronze statue of Perseus Holding the head of Medusa.

Originals stand next to copies, and it’s amazing to be sitting at dusk, looking over the square at the people mingling among these works of myth and art. Some of the other statues are The Rape of the Sabine Women (a copy)

Hercules Beating the Centaur Nessus (the original) and Menelaus Supporting the body of Patroclus (could be original, just don’t know for sure). (Sorry, didn't get pictures of those for some reason.)

Neptune, riding out of the water on horses.

The lion is a popular sculpture.

So, it was another wonderful day of history and art. I’ve learned so much in such a short time, and we’re not done yet. Tomorrow will be a light day of seeing the cathedral and resting up for our Tuscany tour.

Street Chalk Artists

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Quick Weekend Wrap Up

We'll return to Italy in a couple of days. I've almost finished with the whole write up so I can post a little every day for a while to complete the trip.

It was a good weekend. The weather was G-O-R-G-E-O-U-S! It's amazing how much better I feel when it's sunny and 63 with a cool breeze blowing. It's perfect Miata weather, and I drove every where, always taking the long way around. The reality for most women with a convertible is that we all kind of look like Bridget Jones when the the car comes to a stop--dry, tangled hair is every where and the face is dry and chaffed--but it's not quite that bad for me, luckily, so I love it. The only downfall is that neither the CD nor the tape player work in the Miata so I have to listen to (gasp!) the radio. Not good.

The "Born to Be Wild" hubby went for a ride on his motorcycle, ending up at the motorcycle shop to hang out with the other Wild Ones. Before he left, he said that when he got back we could do something together. So our conversation went

Me: Great! Where do you wanna go?
Hubby: I don't know. No where you wanna go, so where do you wanna go?
Me: No where you wanna go, so what do we do?
Hubby: We need to find a motorcycle shop with a yarn store next door.

So we went to the bookstore--something for everyone!

Sunday, Al went to a dirt bike school and found a whole new favorite activity. I see another motorcycle in our future. I knew he was going to love riding off road. Hopefully, he'll wait until we find out how much it's going to cost to keep our basement water-free before he seriously thinks about buying something else to put in the garage.

I, on the other hand, did my good deeds by helping out at a membership class at the church, attended the second service, and helped prepare craft kits for an Advent event (we set up tables for kids to do craft projects) in December. The sermon today was one of those that makes me think and evaluate my life. God, I hate that.

But the best, the very best thing about the weekend is that we had pancakes for dinner Sunday night. We're adults, we can do that. And here's a little tip for ya. Hershey's has put out Cinnamon Chips--like chocolate chips but smaller and made of cinnnnnnnnnnomon.

And they are really good in pancakes. But sprinkle them on top of the batter in the pan instead of in the bowl of batter. They just hold up better, and you can control spacing them apart so you get a little cinnamon all over instead of a blob in one spot.

You can also get cinnamon chips from the King Arthur flour website, one my favorite websites ever to just browse and daydream. I think I'm going to make some oatmeal cookies with these chips. And maybe sugar cookies. And maybe in some apple muffins. The possibilities!

Oh, and I watched the latest Dr. Who, which I had recorded because Al isn't the Dr. Who fan I am, or the David Tennant fan, for that matter. And with him riding in the dirt, I could watch it in peace. This episode scared me to death! Lordy! Wheeping Angel statues that come to life when you blink. And they have pointy fangs and reach out for you and every time you look away and look back they are closer to you. It was great! It was the kind of scary like that little boy in the gas mask episode when Christopher Eccelston was the doctor--Are you my mommy? *shudder*

OK, so if you're not a Dr. Who fan either, you'll have no idea what I was just talking about, but if you get a chance to see the "Blink" episode, watch it because it was really cool.

Back to Italy next time. Rambling with pictures.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Florence, the First Day

Luckily, the train strike that was scheduled for this day, didn’t happen, so we were able to get train tickets to Florence. This time we didn’t ride first class, which isn’t so bad, but first class is just that much nicer. We never could figure out the seating plans so we never had all 4 seats together. But there are lots of nice people riding on the train, so they traded seats with us so that we could all sit together.

The train ride was uneventful, then after our usual getting lost on the way to the hotel, we arrived at Hotel Basilea. Another nice hotel with another small elevator and a winding trip down many hallways to get to our room. I thought about leaving bread crumbs, but I caught on. But any misgivings were forgotten when we looked out our window, and saw this view.

Then we stepped out onto our small balcony to see the view even better. The red tile rooftops staggered a path to the Duomo, which can be viewed from probably every where in Florence. One day, I saw cats walking along the roof tops, and I knew I was truly in Italy.

The breakfast at Hotel Basilea was a in a sunny room on the second floor. They offered a variety of rolls, fruit, juices, and coffees, making the coffee fresh and bringing it to us. It was a nice start to each day.

Also through our hotel, we made reservations for a bus tour of Tuscany. We really wanted to see Sienna, Pisa, and the countryside, but by this point I was so tired of thinking all the time that it was nice not to have to figure out trains and busses and just let someone else take me where I wanted to go. Our friend K was a little wary because he’s the type of person who thinks that any kind of schedule or planning takes away from the experience of travel and discovery, but he was just going to have to lump it if he wanted to see these other towns. Luckily, the tour offered a lot of free time to explore on your own, so he relented.

We headed out and started looking around. We walked single file on narrow sidewalks, and I whistled either the theme to Bridge on the River Kwai or “Whistle While You Work” to myself. Thank goodness for M because she had been here many times and remembered how to get to the major sights. Well, it’s not like much had changed in the last 20 years. And yet, we still got lost.

We were looking for Michelangelo’s home and museum. Along the way, we did find the cathedral where Dante is buried and a statue for him. That was pretty cool, even though as an English major you’d think I could keep it straight that Dante wrote The Inferno and Milton wrote Paradise Lost, but I don’t.

We did finally find the museum, a nondescript door in the middle of a row of doors with a brass plaque giving the hours, which is where we learned that they were closed. We had gotten there about 30 minutes too late. Oh well. It’s not like there’s nothing else to see.

We headed back to the Duomo, which seems to be the center of everything. No matter where you walk, you always seem to walk by it. The Duomo is actually the dome of the cathedral and you have over 700 stairs to climb if you want to see it up close and personal. And I would have if I was only with people who knew me and why I was taking my time, but that’s not the case. There would be over 100 people behind me, sweating in the 90-degree weather with people who forgot their deodorant, wondering what the hell is slowing them down, which would be me, and I can’t live with that pressure. So, I stayed on the ground level, looked up, and enjoyed it from a far. The line to get into the cathedral was even longer than the line to scale the path to the dome, so we decided to go in later. I'll talk about it a lot more later, but here's some pictures that Al took that day.

The Bell Tower

On the way back to the hotel we found this lovely little shop of hand-painted pottery. We spent quite awhile in there picking out pieces to be shipped home.

The artist was very nice, but she had a cranky Yorkshire Terrier

Before we knew it, it was time for dinner. The clerk at the hotel offered to make dinner reservations for us, but we decided to chance it. We’ve been eating earlier than most Europeans, meaning we head out to eat around 6:30, so we don’t usually have trouble getting a table.

This night we found one of our favorite restaurants, Il Messere. We liked it so much, we ate there twice, and we didn’t eat anywhere twice. M had the famous and delicious Florentine steak, this one bathed in a cream and tarragon sauce. The gorgonzola gnocchi was just as delicious, and I had to stop myself from licking the plate. Instead, I embarrassed everyone with the scraping sound of my fork over the empty plate to get the last of the sauce. Guess bread would have been less obvious.

Our first day in Florence was wonderful and full of so many things to see. And we hadn’t even scratched the service.