A Travellerspoint blog

Flavors of Florence

We made it just in time to catch the crowded bus to Sienna. We hopped off the bus one stop early but got to see the Basilica Cateriniana built in the 1200's. One of the side altars included her head that was preserved since 1383. Very creepy! Then we walked to the Duomo museum and one of the first rooms we visited had ornately gilded cases and one actually had the whole skull and bones of San Clemente Martire. More creepiness. No more bones, please!
The outside of the Duomo is that beautiful white, pink and green Tuscan marble and inside a circus of artwork. Black and white striped marble columns, art covering every nook and cranny including the marble inlaid pictures covering the floor put you into an art sensory overload. Michelangelo reluctantly did two of the smaller sculptures there.
Anne and Tom wanted to climb the over three hundred stairs of the Torre del Mangia, the 88 meter tower. Bob and I thought that sitting on the Il Campo, Sienna's square, sipping a cup of coffee and having a gelato sounded much better. Looking forward to seeing their pictures of the wonderful view! Unfortunately after one bite of my gelato I knew it wasn't on Anne's best gelato list. I was very angry at having ingested inferior calories. We made up for it by stopping at a very upscale panini and wine shop with melt in your mouth rosemary-scented porchetta and outstanding paninis.
We made it to the bus station just in time for the very, very crowded bus to Florence. We had a few more churches left on our itinerary. There was no line at the Duomo, so we walked right in. Very disappointing after Sienna's jewel. Walked into Orsanmichele for a minute, then on to Santo Spirito where Michelangelo's crucifix is displayed. He carved the crucifix to thank the priest there for letting him dissect bodies to learn about anatomy, which was a crime at that time.
Anne, Tom and I then hiked up the steep hill to the Piazzale Michelangelo where on a clear day you can see forever - but unfortunately not in the pouring rain. Bob was very happy staying at the bottom watching the snails climbing up and down the wall.
On our last night in Florence I had to eat at Pino's one last time. It's cheap and delicious - their vegetables dripping in garlic and olive oil. Anne was disappointed that we hadn't tried all the best gelaterias in Florence, so it was imperative that we make it to at least one more on her list. Chocolate, hazelnuts, pistacchio and more chocolate. Ahhh, the wonderful flavors of Florence!


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Florence with Michelangelo

Arrived early at the Accademia and only had about a five minute wait when people often have to wait hours! Anne was reading to us from the guidebook about Michelangelo's sculptures lining the hall, but I only had eyes for him! When I walked to see him, the group parted and we were almost alone together. I was with David in all of his glory, so emotionally overwhelmed that I had to hold back my tears. Every muscle, every protruding vein in his hands and feet made it impossible to believe that he was made of stone. But, alas, we had more than a day's worth of sights to see.
We decided to visit the Duomo later as the lines were way too long. At the Bargello, which was originally a police station turned prison turned art gallery, we first sat in the courtyard of sculptures before going upstairs to see Michelangelo's tipsy, paunchy god of wine, Bacchus. Michelangelo's great-nephew's house the Casa Buonarroti was next on the itinerary. I asked the girl there where there was a good place to eat lunch in the area. She said she didn't understand because she didn't speak English. Later in the bookstore when she asked me where we were from, I said in my rudimentary Italian, the United States near Chicago, her face lit up and she said, "You speak Italian!" I then had to interrupt her with "No, not at all!" But I guess I've picked up a few words!
We walked past tailor shops and artists' studios and finally lost the hoards of tourists. We found a great place to eat where we had a wonderfully delicious "pranzo" for less than supermarket prices.
With tired feet we walked to Santa Croce, the church that has the tomb of Michelangelo, Galileo, Dante and others. In fact the floor was actually inlaid with "gravestones". Then with tired and aching feet we walked to the Piazza where a replica of David stands, the place where the original stood for several hundred years.
Next the Uffizi Gallery, one if the oldest and most famous art museums in the world. We saw "The Birth of Venus" by Botticelli, "The Adoration of the Magi" by Leonardo da Vinci and so many more that we felt like we were trapped in a maze of art. With tired, aching, throbbing feet we walked over the Ponte Vecchio lined with jewelry shops to Santo Spirito which had been on yesterday's list - and for a reason since it's closed on Wednesdays!
Five o'clock and now the Duomo was closed and the only thing that could ease our disappointment and painful feet was gelato - delicious creamy heaven!
Back in our neighborhood we splurged on a wonderful dinner at Za Za's and sat on the patio with a bottle of wine and great company. We even had enough energy to walk back to San Lorenzo's Church for an evening concert and one last look at that grey and white marble serenity.


Posted by victorybw 15:21 Comments (2)

Renaissance Exercise

We had a very nice train ride to Florence. The airplane should be so comfortable! We had purchased the Firenze Museum Pass on the internet, so we immediately walked to pick up our tickets at the nearest tourist information center. The American couple in front of us wanted the information guy to find a hotel for them. When he finally found one they said, "Only a two star hotel! We want at least a three star!" The line was getting longer and longer and we were all rolling our eyes in disbelief that anyone would do that! When it was our turn, we were informed that they had run out of passes. And we had already payed for them!
We walked, pulling our suitcases, down the two-foot wide sidewalks trying to dodge other pedestrians. We checked into our B&B run by Marcella who speaks very limited English. She loves talking to us and I think it's amazing that we can actually understand her about eighty per cent of the time.
Now to deal with the museum pass problem. We went to two more tourist information offices and finally found one that had four tickets left. It was already 1:30 and we were hot, hungry and annoyed. After roast chicken and eggplant parmesan from the Mercato Centrale, we were feeling much better. We were, however, very much behind on our itinerary. Luckily we have Tom, who with map in hand, is like the Pied Piper with the rest of us following behind.
So first we headed to the Duomo Museum where the original door to the Baptistery is housed. Its many panels were restored to their original shiny goldness. The pietà that Michelangelo carved when he was in his eighties and that was meant for his grave was the next major attraction. I could have just stared at it for hours. The Nicademus standing behind Mary and Jesus was actually a self-portrait of himself.
From the outside, the Duomo (the Cathedral of Santa Maria de Fiore) looks like an immense confection made of white marble decorated with green and pink and topped with Brunelleschi's dome. The square in front of it has portrait artists trying to lure tourists from the milling crowd.
The outside of the Church of San Lorenzo is made up of old red bricks, since money ran out and the Medicis never finished it. But the inside was stunning with its grey marble columns and white plaster. The floor tiles were squares of grey and white and the church was just beautiful in its simplicity.
Next on our list was the Medici Chapel which isn't really a chapel but a huge all marble burial site for the Medicis. The inlaid marble tiled floor wasn't actually completed until the 1960's. So it took a really long time to finish-from the 1400's to the 1960's! In the other chapel is Michelangelo's sculptures for Lorenzo the Magnificent's tomb.
We debated spending three and a half euros for the entrance fee for Santa Maria Novella, but as long as we were here we decided it was worth it. When we got in though we pretty much thought it wasn't. I was glad to see Ghirlandaio's frescoes behind the altar though, as he was Michelangelo's first teacher.
Anne wanted to get one more experience checked off of our bucket list, so we decided to climb to the top of the Campanile - all 414 slippery, ancient, no railinged stairs. Luckily there were some resting spots so my heart could get a break from its pounding. Amazingly we all made it to the top to experience the wonderful view of Florence. We definitely earned a gelato after that stair-stepper experience. And what a fabulous gelato it was- the best so far!
Walking back, the streets are crowded with one motorcycle after another - businessmen in suits, businesswomen with high heels and dresses, grey-haired grandmothers - everyone tearing through the streets on their cycles. Florence is a city jam-packed with locals and tourists alike.


Posted by victorybw 14:31 Comments (0)

Rainbow over Venice

Started out early to wait in line at the Doge's Palace, the seat of Venetian government and home of the Doge. The ceilings were dripping in gold and paintings by the best artists of 500 years ago. Obviously, Venice was home of the rich and famous. The prisoners were housed in the same building and we walked over the Bridge of Sighs to see the beautiful city from the vantage point of the condemned.
Next we entered San Marco Basilica. The ceilings are covered in Byzantine mosaics and many looked like solid gold but it's all mosaic tiles. The floors are beautiful patterns of mosaic marble.
We ate our supermarket lunch on the piazza with the fat little pigeons bumping into my feet. Then we did some shopping on the way to the Frari Church. The stores are seducing me and I'm trying very hard to resist, but I'm afraid I did succumb and made several purchases. That's very worrisome as space is non-existent in my carry-on.
We decided to peek into the Chiesa dei Frari instead of paying the entrance fee. We could actually see quite a lot of the beautiful artwork. We walked around an area with more artistic shops and fewer tourists. It was wonderful and relaxing escaping the jostling crowds, children on scooters, smoke in our faces and barking dogs. We were alone with only the pigeons and the beauty of the city. But not for long as we made our way to the Rialto Bridge and its mass of humanity.
We hopped on a vaporetto to take a poor man's tour of the Grand Canal. Tom and Anne sat behind us and Anne read aloud from Rick Steves' guidebook. Got off to find Antico Forno, known to have the best pizza in the city. Delizioso! Re-boarded the vaporetto to continue the tour when thunder and lightening and pouring rain struck. We endured the ride packed in like sardines. When the rain stopped, the most beautiful rainbow appeared in the east over the canal with the sun setting sky of pinks, oranges, and blue in the west. We ended our day with a beautiful evening stroll down the magically lit Strada Nova - and, of course, gelato.


Posted by victorybw 13:21 Comments (1)

Happy Venezia to me!

Across the waterway from San Marco is
the church, San Giorgio Maggiore where Gregorian chants are sung at mass. We took the vaporetto to the island and first took the elevator to the top of the bell tower for a wonderful view of Venice from across the Grand Canal. At mass the Gregorian chants sung by four men with no-so-great vocal ability was a little disappointing, but at least we got to see the beautiful altar and entertain the little two-year-old sitting in front of us.
Navigating Venice is not an easy task, especially with throngs of tourists propelling you in whichever direction. The streets are frustratingly maze-like, but Tom always seems to get us where we're going.
Picked up a supermarket lunch and ate it at picnic tables on the Campo S Maria Formosa.
We then had to literally run to our bell tower tour. We learned so much about Venetian history from our wonderful guide Alena. The clock keeps perfect time and it was built in 1499. The first digital clock was added to it in 1849. The clock maker and then his descendants had lived in the tower from the time it was built until 1999.
We then toured the Correr Museum which is a beautiful palace with artwork and an interesting library with original books from Danté and Boccaccio. Somehow we always seem to find the museum shop more interesting than the museum itself.
Took a last minute vaporetto ride to Murano, the island known for its beautiful glass. We only had about a half an hour there and we jumped on another vaporetto for Burano. The sun was already setting as we reached the island of bright candy colored houses. Not much time to look at the lace shops as the shutters were closing right before our eyes.
Back in Venezia, we walked up the steps, over the bridge, down the steps and through garlic-scented alleyways. An accordion player was serenading diners at an outdoor café with "The Beer Barrel Polka".
Made a supermarket dinner stop and we're ready for bed.


Posted by victorybw 13:36 Comments (3)

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