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July 29th, 2015
July 24th, 2013
24 July 2013
Wow, our last day; we fly home tomorrow. Today we got to sleep in a bit – breakfast was brought to us again, same as yesterday; Cappuccino and croissants. We checked out, and headed 2 blocks up to the USO to meet our guide for the Vatican tour at 1000. I really appreciate the USOs. We had free lunch and a place to hang out in Philly while waiting for our flight out, the Rome center found a hotel for us there and coordinated our 2 tours. USOs really do take good care of the troops.
The Vatican was much more crowded than I remember. Honestly, it was a pretty unpleasant experience. We were basically herded through like cattle. My favorite part was Raphael’s rooms – his “School of Athens (Philosophy)” was amazing! It was fun to look at it up close in person. I’m always amazed at how large they are. This fresco covered an entire wall! While I expected to enjoy the Sistine Chapel, it didn’t happen. We were herded in, told not to stop when we walked in the door (under Michelangelo’s Final Judgement). I wanted to see this up close, since it was undergoing renovation when I was here in the 90s. We were herded into the middle of the room packed like sardines before we were able to look up. The guards (herders?) were constantly saying “Shhhh” and “Keep Silent” in robot voices. It was really getting on my nerves! This should be a peaceful room, but it was the most stressful that we entered. I did get to see the Final Judgement, and had about 15 minutes to look up at the ceiling and also find Botticelli’s paintings on the wall. This 5-hour tour seemed to take forever, and my feet were killing me! The last thing we saw was inside the Cathedral, and Michelangelo’s (Rome) Pieta. I don’t remember it being behind glass last time. I wonder if someone attacked it, like his David in Florence. Bernini’s Baldacino was cool – I didn’t know it was made from metal taken from the Pantheon and melted down. We had a lunch break early in the day, and a Panini (Italian sandwich) was only some prosciutto and a hotdog bun. Nothing else – and it cost about 6 dollars. Sadly, the Vatican tour was the lowest point in our trip.
After we were finally released from our guide, we headed back up to the USO where we’d left our bags for the day. We stopped at a bar for real sandwiches (bars in Italy aren’t like the US bars, you can get wine but also coffee and a light lunch.) While overpriced, the sandwiches were much better than what we had in the Vatican. We hung out in the USO for a while and drank cokes while we used their Wi-Fi to Skype home. We had to leave at 5 when they closed and head to the train station on the “packed to the gills” metro. We had about 1.5 hours to wait before leaving on the train. Italian trains have Wi-Fi! That’s something that we didn’t have in the 90s. We also have assigned seats, so we didn’t have to worry about fighting for a place to sit down. It’s really nice to look out the window at the countryside as we go through, there are amazing sunflower farms – yellow fields as far as you can see! I tried getting a pic, but we’re on a “Fast train” and all I get is a yellow blur and reflection on the window.
Returning to Florence is almost like coming home. I love this hotel, and I could totally live in Florence as an overpriced tour guide. I could offer private tours to people who purchase the Firenze card, and help them get the most out of the 3-days that it lasts. There are a LOT of places you can use the card, but to avoid lines and crowds takes finesse. That card isn’t a money saver, but it’s sure a time saver and I think I mastered it. Anyhow, we checked back into our hotel, got cash from the ATM for the hotel and taxi tomorrow, and then hit a gelato stand again. We decided to go to Perche No? again, the same place we went to on the first night here. We got the same thing we did then – Cantaloupe (my favorite) and Watermelon (Tony’s favorite). This time, we got medium sized cups, instead of the small ones, since it’s our last night here. While we ate the gelato, we walked to our favorite evening spot – Piazza della Signora, by Palazzo Vecchio. This time, there was an orchestra up on the Loggia of the Uffizi amongst the statues of Perseus and Hercules! It’s really fun to go there at night and listen to music, and just watch people. I commented to Tony how much better Florence “feels” than Rome. No crowds, no traffic, or loud noise. People here aren’t in a hurry, pushing, shoving, etc. I’ll be sad to say Arrivaderci to Florence in the morning. Butt, it’ll be good to be home tomorrow night, however I’m sure dreading that loooong flight.
(sorry there's no picture tonight. They are still in the camera, I haven't had time to download them, much less process any)
July 23rd, 2013
23 July 2013
Today we got to sleep in a BIT. We didn’t have to be at the USO till 9 for our 5-hour tour of Ancient Rome. We’re in a B&B, and they brought breakfast to us at 0745 – brioche (croissant) with apricot and one with chocolate, cappuccino, juice and toast. Not as good of a spread as we had in Florence, but they brought it here. We’re both just worn out. Rome is crowded, busy and confusing – contrast with Florence with crowded easy to navigate and laid back. I prefer Florence! Maybe we should have done Rome first, and then went to Florence.
Today was the first tour we’ve taken since arriving in Italy. We didn’t need one in Florence; actually I was the tour guide. Today was supposed to be a small tour – no more than 10 people, arranged by the Rome USO. I’ve seen some really huge tours and I was hoping we didn’t get stuck on one of those. It turns out, we were the ONLY ones signed up! And our tour guide is an archeologist! He did his thesis and masters work on some of the locations of our tour – I feel like we hit the jackpot with this one. This guy knows his history and everything about this area of ancient Rome. This tour was called “Ancient City in Depth (and it was VERY in depth), and was 5 hours long. We saw the Coliseum, Roman Forums, Palatine Hill, Temple of Julius Cesar, the Senate, House of the Vestal Virgins, the Basilica of Maxementius (which Luca, our guide did his thesis on). He told us great historic stories of the senators, emperors, gladiators, and the gods. We also had special tours BELOW the Coliseum and up above near the top – places that only special tours get to go. He was very knowledgeable about the inner workings of the Coliseum, the Roman Senate and politics of the Emperors. I learned a LOT today and enjoyed the tour very much. We stopped at a restaurant near the Coliseum for lunch – Tony had Spaghetti Amatricinia, and I had Lasagna. It was a so-so touristy joint. We finished up the tour for another couple hours, then said goodbye to Luca.
After the tour, we took a taxi to Gallery Borghese and arrived in time for our 5:00 appointment to view the artwork there. I saw David #3, this one by Bernini! (We’ve seen Michelangelo, Donatello, and now Bernini’s Davids) I finally got my Caravaggio fix! His paintings were awesome! The stars of the Borghese are truly Bernini and Caravaggio with several works by both of them.
We made our way home via a packed metro (we’re getting good at figuring out the metro, much easier than the bus system!) We headed for dinner in a restaurant right next to the hotel, then headed for gelato (Tony had melon again, I had caramel – yum!) We went to one of the souvenir vender to buy postcards so I can mail them from the Vatican tomorrow. Now we’re both in the room, totally exhausted.
Tomorrow is another 5-hour tour at the Vatican, the Vatican Museum, and Sistine Chapel. After that, a 90-minute train ride back to Florence. Rome has worn us out!
July 23rd, 2013
We said goodbye for now to our hosts in Florence, and left our awesome hotel for Rome. The train ride was pretty uneventful, we had no problems finding the right track, and getting our reserved car and seats was a breeze. After getting off the train, we had to buy a pass for public transportation (metro, trams and busses) and then find a bus or tram to get us to the Pantheon. We ended up riding the metro, and it was pretty easy but doesn’t go anywhere near the Pantheon, so we had to walk with our carry on suitcase – luckily it’s on wheels!
The Pantheon was awesome – Tony had never been there before. We checked out the Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. In front is a Bernini statue of an elephant with an Egyptian obelisk on top. Inside, we saw Michelangelo’s Christ Bearing the Cross. This is the church where Galileo went when summoned to Rome for stating that the Earth revolved around the sun. The Church didn’t like that, and he was forced to kneel at the alter and recant his statement. Just days before he watched his friend burn for making statements similar; I can imagine he was shaking in his boots as he entered that church. Legend has it that as he walked out of the church, he whispered “but it DOES move.”
We decided to go to the other side of Rome and check in the hotel a little early to ditch our bags. We found a bus this time, to bring us within a stones throw, less than a block, to the Vatican and our B&B. A nice place, decent room, but not as “homey” as the one in Florence. We walked over to the USO, hopped on a bus to go back to Largo Argentina and the cat sanctuary. The cats roam amongst ruins in the area where Cesar was assassinated. Of all places in Rome, Tony really wanted to go here.
We also went to another church – the Gesu church, and saw the most awesome Baroque ceiling in the world! “The Triumph in the Name of Jesus” Paintings, stucco angels, and a riot of decoration make this 3D ceiling something awesome to see. Truly amazing.
We stopped at a pizzeria for Napolian Pizza cooked in a wood stove. Mmmmmmm After lunch, we headed to the Capotiline Hill area to see the “Mouth of Truth” and then walked across the Circus Maximus to the Metro station to bring us back across town to the hotel. We ended up walking a lot more than planned, mostly because we’d get lost and did a lot of backtracking. Our map isn’t exactly to scale ;-( Rome is really overwhelming and frustrating for me. Tomorrow we’re scheduled for an “Ancient Rome” tour (Coliseum!) and someone else can lead us, so I don’t have to worry about directions! Looking forward to a tour where someone else tells me where to go :-0
Believe it or not, neither of us is interested in going for gelato tonight. We picked up pre-made sandwiches and drinks on the way home, and we showered and put on jammies early. We’re both just too worn out to care. I had a lot on my list today, but didn’t make half of it – Rome is just too big, crowded and confusing. And I haven’t seen a stinking Caraviggo yet! But tonight, I’ll be going to sleep early, hopefully today’s soreness is gone before tomorrow.
July 21st, 2013
Has it already been seven days?? Today started out as usual, with a wonderful breakfast at the hotel. This place puts out a great spread – lots of fresh fruit, bread, cheese, pastries, cereal, yogurt, boiled eggs, toast, and of course cappuccino. I had watermelon, honey dew, cantaloupe, kiwi, grapes, a roll with some great spreadable cheese and cappuccino. There was a new tort with mixed berries and I had to try a slice – divine! Tony slept in and missed breakfast.
Our last day in Florence, we decided to stroll to a piazza to check out the local market, only to find it was closed on Sunday. We headed uphill to Palazzo Michelangelo, for great views of the city and photos. I’m glad we started while it was still cool! San Miniato was just above the Palazzo, so we went there. They were having services in Gregorian chants, I stuck my head in to see, but didn’t go inside. We bought some good cookies in the gift shop (Madelines) and headed back down the hill for lunch.
We stopped at a place we’ve eaten at before – we were looking for good pizza or oglio olio. This was a pizza place, and we got the St Nicholas – German sausage, mozzarella and a really good sauce. It was pretty good! After lunch, we headed back to the hotel to reorganize our luggage and pack for Rome. It took awhile to figure out what needed to be packed, what we’d take to Rome, what we’d leave here in Florence, and what we needed to get to for the plane ride home.
For the most part, things are organized – we’ll finish up in the morning before heading out. I’ve already cleared our check with the hotel, he told me to just leave our bags in the room and they’ll move them to the storage room for us (awesome!) All we have to do tomorrow is get up, drink cappuccino and head to the train station for our 90-minute ride to Rome.
Now that we’re packed, photos are downloaded and backed up; we headed out for one more meal. On the way, we find a little neighborhood grocery (what I wanted to do during the week!) with fresh bread and a deli with lots of meats and cheeses – prefect to pack an economic picnic lunch. Oh well, maybe in Roma! We did buy several bags of pasta, stuff we can’t buy at home. We went to a restaurant, e Gruli. I wanted spaghetti oglio olio on my last night there, but it wasn’t on the menu. I asked for it anyhow, and the Chef fixed it up for me! Tony had Spaghetti with spicy sauce. Both were heaping helpings and very good! Our bill – 14 Euros (about $18.00) Beat THAT Olive Garden!
We found a geleteria right up the street, I had melone (cantaloupe) again, and Tony had Mango/Peach. Both were awesome as usual, and these had little chunks of fruit in them. It’s obvious that they were made in the store from lots of fresh fruit. We’ll probably continue our nightly Geleto in Roma! Gotta get it while you can! I stopped in a little leather store next door to our hotel, and bought a cute sheepskin purse made right here in Florence and a change purse for 20 Euros!
Now we’re back in our room, zippers are fastened in the suitcases, and I opened my little bottle of wine I bought from the store across the street. Wine here is so good, it’s local and inexpensive. Tomorrow is a big day for us, and we have to move to a new hotel. I know there’s no WAY it will live up to the standard set by Hotel Casci. If you’re ever in Florence, look this place up and get a reservation here – you won’t regret it!
July 20th, 2013
20 July 2013
We got to sleep in a bit this morning. Our "Florence marathon" is over - whew! We plan to visit the big cathedral today, and that's all, no museums or galleries on the schedule. We'll probably just people watch, or maybe walk to the Arno River and walk alongside it, and look at the old buildings. Maybe I'll take the little camera and make some videos of the historic area.
This hotel is a family-owned/ran place in a really old former palace. The man and woman (mother, son) who own the place reminds me of my mother-in-law and brother-in-law, Billy.
At breakfast, he's running around making cappuccino, cleaning tables and taking care of people checking out, asking questions, etc. Like a chicken with his head cut off, while Mama stands around and makes pleasantries with people and watches everything. When he thinks nobody is looking, he tells her "help me out, can you make cappuccino?" After he walks off to do something else, she starts making cappuccino. LOL my MIL drives Billy crazy like that too!
Every morning, I've had cappuccino, a roll with some awesome spreadable cheese (I gotta find out what it is) and fresh fruits - cantaloupe, watermelon, honeydew, kiwi, and grapes. A very nice breakfast. I really do like this hotel.
The Cathedral was cool, very huge! This is the place that, on Easter Sunday in the 1400s (I think) Lorenzo de Medici and his brother were attacked by assassins in the middle of church services. His younger brother was killed, but Lorenzo managed to escape, although injured. This is also the place where Brunelleschi built his huge, wonderful dome. It sat with the huge gaping hole for 200 years, until someone smart enough figured out how to build the dome.
After the church, we came to the hotel so Tony could put on shorts – a dress code in churches requires that knees and shoulders be covered. I’m shocked at the number of tourists who are disrespectful of the traditions, and go in with skimpy shorts, skirts and shirts. This church makes you buy a poncho to wear if you’re not dressed appropriately. I’ve seen people acting like they were in Disney World inside the churches. We headed back out, to stroll down the Arno River take pictures and have lunch. We went to Dante’s on the other side of the river; I had Ravioli with ricotta and spinach inside, with a spicy arribiata sauce. Tony had gnocchi with sausage and truffles, and a rich, buttery sauce. It was very good! We decided early on to find a pasticceria after and splurge on some Italian pastries. We wandered back up the river, four our spot and got chocolate cream puffs and peach tea to eat as we continued our walk. They were yummy!! Then as usual, we took a break during the hottest part of the day away from the hordes of people in our air-conditioned hotel room.
We left the hotel about an hour before dinner, planning to stroll around before heading towards the restaurant. I don’t plan to get caught in the rain again, so I put our umbrellas in the bag and I’m sure glad I did! It was lightly raining before we got to the restaurant, Trottoria Anita, behind Piazza Vechio. This was probably one of the best (if not THE best) meals we’ve had. We both decided to get something different from pasta. I had chicken with asparagus and an awesome sauce, Tony had chicken with ham and cheese and a sauce. I had a salad, and Tony had white beans as sides, and we had bruschetta as an appetizer. The house wine was wonderful! A nice, relaxing meal.
After dinner, we walked along the river again, and took sunset photos, and just enjoyed strolling near Palazzo Vechio and the Uffizi. After dark, the touristy areas become something different. Instead of hoards of tour groups, there are many small groups of people and street performers. We sat on the steps of the Loggia at the Uffizi and listened to a musician play the acoustic guitar. It was very relaxing just sitting in the cool plaza listening. I even bought her CD – Justyna Maria Janiczak “Guitar sound of Florence…” I’m playing it now! Very soothing music – what a wonderful end to the evening.
As we strolled home, of course we stopped for gelato, in a new place we haven’t tried yet. Tony got Blackberry and I got Strawberry. Tomorrow we have no plans, other than pack our suitcases and get ready for the 3-day trip to Rome. Our time here in Florence is about over, tomorrow will be a low-key relaxing day. Maybe we’ll find a grocery store and buy some pasta to take home – or a 30 lb block of Parmesan cheese ;-)
Tomorrow, we'll pack up our suitcase to store here at the hotel, and get our Rome bag together; we go there on Monday.
July 19th, 2013
19 July 2013,
We had an early start today, so we could catch our early train to Pisa to meet our 0930 appointment to climb the tower. We were there in 1991, but the tower was closed for renovations, and I was really looking forward to climbing it. First I had to figure out how to navigate the train station, to the machines and purchase our tickets, then figure out which track to go to. Things went smooth for us, and in about 50 minutes we were in the Pisa Central train station! Following Rick Steves’ guidebook, we walked the “scenic route” to the tower – through the big shopping district that was empty because we were there around 0800. We arrived at the Field of Miracles bout 30 minutes before our appointment, plenty of time to walk around and take some photos.
The climb up was easier than Brunelleschi’s dome (climb down was harder though). The steps have been worn down over the years, into a smooth curve in the middle of the step. They were a little slick in the worn areas, so we had to be really careful. Up on top, it was funny to look down and watch all the idiots people who were doing the “Pisa wave” standing in front of cameras with their hands in the air, as if they were holding up the tower behind them. After climbing back down, we went inside the Cathedral and the Baptistery. They were very nice – I especially appreciated the Cimabue mosaic in the apse of the Cathedral. Amazing that these things are so old!
Almost all of the artwork is in the museum there, and we did go in. My main reason for buying these tickets, was the unobstructed view of the tower from the courtyard inside. I enjoyed getting up close to many pieces of architecture that was up on the tower and Cathedral at one time, statues and column pieces. Some of the faces are just creepy --- these aren’t exactly Donatellos or Michelangelos. It was a nice museum though.
By this time, it was noon and we were both hungry, we left early before the hotel’s breakfast started. We found a nice little restaurant up the street with tables under umbrellas (SHADE!!) and had paninis. It was very good, and the cold drinks were good too. It felt great to just sit in the shade, eat an easy meal and a cold drink. We decided to scratch the side trip to Lucca; we’re both just worn out, so we headed for the smaller train station in Pisa that was closer to the tower, and bought tickets back to Florence.
After arriving back at the hotel “dead dog tired” we took a break for a bit, then headed out for some dinner. We didn’t have any particular place to eat, and decided to wander up by Accademia and just find a place. We ended up going out of the touristy areas, which I thought would be good, only the restaurants don’t open till after 7 – Italians don’t even THINK about dinner till around 9. We got caught in a downpour, and of course we didn’t have an umbrella – this is the 2nd evening we got caught, and the first night, a street vender was walking around selling umbrellas for 5 Euros. We bought one then, but left it in the hotel tonight. We bought a 2nd 5 Euro umbrella tonight. We found a nice little trottoria finally, and ordered dinner. We got bruschetta to start – bread with sweet besteaka tomato’s and olive oil. Tony got carbanara again, and I’m not sure what I had – Penne with olive oil and pesto and it was very good.
We got gelato on the way home, again at a new gelateria. Tony got chocolate, and I had hazelnut. I think I have a new 2nd favorite flavor! Mine was awesome – chocolaty, yet nutty. We walked through Piazza Vecchio as we ate our gelato, took some photos of fake David, and the statues outside the Uffizi. We decided to look at the Savaronola plaque, and see how many people would come look at it, just to see what was so interesting LOL. Within less than a minute, 2 people were standing beside us looking down. The rain had cooled things off, and it was actually getting chilly. We headed back to the hotel to rest. Tomorrow is a ‘break day’; we’re both worn out. I’m not even setting an alarm tonight!
We do finally plan to go inside the Cathedral, but that’s it. The Florence marathon is over, now a few day to rest and then the Roma marathon starts.
July 18th, 2013
18 July 2013
David, the Trinity and new shoes. Our day started out early again, with Accademia and David first on the list. Probably the highlight of our trip! Our Firenze Card made something possible that otherwise would never have happened! Because we had the card, we didn’t have to make an appointment to get inside, nor did we have to buy a ticket. Everyone else has to 1. Make an appointment, and 2. Stand in line at the appointed time to pay for their tickets. The really LONG hours-long line is for those without appointments. While everyone else was purchasing their tickets, Tony and I walked right in, as soon as the gallery opened. We had at least 3 minutes ALONE WITH DAVID! If you’ve ever seen pictures, the hallway is usually packed with people trying to see him. It was surreal! We knew to make a beeline for the David soon as we got in, and look at “the Prisoners” by Michelangelo afterward. Too bad photography isn’t allowed inside the gallery.
After Accademia, we headed across the Arno River for the Brancacci Chapel. This ended up being Masaccio day for us. We saw his “Adam and Eve Banished from Eden” and “Tribute Money” frescos. That was about all I was interested in, to be honest, and what led me to walk all the way across to the other side of the river to see. We were finished with the first 2 sites well before lunch and getting hungry, but the restaurants here don’t open till noon, so we headed towards the Medici Chapel to have lunch in the neighborhood of our next destination. Upon getting there, we decided to go inside and have lunch afterward. The Medici Chapel is impressive! Totally wallpapered with ornate stone. The alter was covered with scaffolding, but WOW! Our main goal, was Michelangelo’s New Sacristy, The tombs of some of the most important Medici. His statues that represented Day, Night, Dawn and Dusk are here, along with the “Medici Madonna” on the unfinished Lorenzo the Magnificant’s tomb – the Medici who took Michelangelo in as a 13-year old boy and raised him as his own son.
We had lunch in the restaurant across the street from the chapel, a touristy place with a friendly waiter and “ok” food for high prices. Tony had Carbanara, something he’s been waiting to try, and I had gnocchi with pesto. I think Tony’s was best, but he really liked what I had, we spent the whole meal eating off each others plates.
After lunch, we headed for Santa Maria Novella church, for more Masaccio – The Trinity. This was on my “Must See” list for Florence. After inventing linear perspective, Brunelleschi taught it to his friend Masaccio to apply in his paintings. The architectural inspiration is very obvious by the arch behind God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, in this awe inspiring fresco. I’ve always been attracted to this one because of the colors – not bright, but very pretty. Lots of pink; I wonder if it started out as red. And also the architecture details in the arch are very realistic. I saw two of my “biggies” today! The Trinity and David.
We walked across the street to the train station so I can find the ticket machines and understand the line layout. We’re heading to Pisa tomorrow for the day, and I don’t want to be lost trying to figure the train station out early in the morning. I think I had it figured out, so we headed back to the hotel around 2:30, after spending all morning on our feet. A few hours break, then we’re off to the Medici Palace just a few doors down from our hotel – this is where Michelangelo lived with his adoptive family. I learned to day that the hotel is a former palace occupied by a Medici relative – the crest still hangs above the entryway to the hotel.
I’m glad we didn’t have to walk far or wait long for the Medici Palace – sort of a disappointment. The courtyard was interesting, but the rest was sort of zzzzz. It was fun to imagine teenage Michelangelo sitting on the windowsills or in the courtyard, talking to Botticelli. It started raining soon as we came out, we bought a purple umbrella from a street vender and headed down for dinner and our final destination for use with the Firenze Card – “The Springtime of the Renaissance”, a special temporary exhibition that has some really cool pieces from Ghiberti, Brunelleschi, Lots of Donatello, some Michelozzo, Masaccio (!), and Lippi.
We had dinner at a nice restaurant, La Grotta Guelfa, and sat outside under an old arcade, sheltered from the rain. The temperature had cooled off a lot, a breeze felt good, and it was nice to watch the rain, as I drank wine and ate Carbanara (my turn!) and Tony had Arrabiatta (spicy spaghetti). A very nice, relaxing dinner.
The Springtime of the Renaissance show was very worthwhile! Much of this stuff is on loan from the Louvre (thanks to Napoleon, who stole it from Florence and took it to France). The Submissions for the baptistery door completion from Brunelleschi and Ghiberti (won by Ghiberti) were there. They were supposed to be in another gallery here in Florence, but only a photo was there instead, we were surprised to see them there. Donatello’s bronzes were amazing! Many original pieces that were originally from the Orsenmichele (where we went on day 1) were here. I learned something cool! I knew that Filippo Lippi was a Monk (and not a very good one) who had some kids with a Nun (LOL) but I didn’t know he was a Monk at the Santa Maria del Carmine church where the Brancacci Chapel is. He met Masaccio there while still a monk and Masaccio was working on his frescos. Pretty cool! Photography wasn’t allowed in this exhibit, DARN!
As usual, we looked for Gelato on our way back to the hotel, and found Grom, one of the best-rated gelaterias in Florence. I had apricot (yum!) Tony got ½ apricot and ½ lemon – too lemony for me, but he liked it.
We’re back in our room now, getting ready for another day tomorrow. Our next destination: PISA to climb the tower. (Ug, another climb)
July 17th, 2013
17 July 2013
Our first night in the new hotel was very comfortable. The twin sized beds are comfy, marble floor feels good after being out in the heat all day, and the spotless shower and hot water was very welcomed. Breakfast here was good – Cappuccino, bread with spreadable cheese (I don’t know what kind it was, but it was good) fresh fruit, and some yogurt. A great start to the day.
As we headed out for our day, I made a mental note that the Cathedral area, normally packed with tourist, was pretty empty around 0800. I need to go back there early when I have time for photos. We didn’t have time this morning; we were heading for the Uffizi! We got to the door 10 minutes before opening, with only a few people in front of us – this is one of the “big” galleries in Florence, and many people wait HOURS to get inside. We were in as soon as they opened, thank goodness we bought the Firenze Card, which gets us in many of the museums free and allows us to skip the ticket purchasing lines. The “with tickets” line that we were in was much MUCH shorter than the ticket purchasers. We beat the crowds and annoying tour groups to many of the exhibits. The highlight for me – Botticelli and his “Birth of Venus” and “Primavera”. These are 2 paintings I’ve admired since being introduced to them in Art History class. My thoughts: They are HUGE, larger than I expected, and the colors aren’t as bright/vibrant as I thought they’d be. We also saw the only canvas painting that Michelangelo did (his other paintings were frescos), several Raphael paintings, and a few Caravaggios. Titian’s “Venus of Urbino” was out on loan to another museum, to my disappointment. Some of the rooms themselves were works of art; one had mother of pearl all around the tops of the walls and on the ceiling, along with an elaborately decorated tile floor. Tony was starting to whine before we were through “I’m tirrrred!” – GEEZ. I told him “you sure whine a lot”, and I think he realized that he was LOL. We finally made it to the exit, which of course leads visitors through a gift shop. I bought a print and coffee cup with Birth of Venus (Venus on the Half Shell) on them. I knew I’d come home with a print of this piece! We headed out, and turned toward Santa Croce Church.
Santa Croce Church was built in 1294-1442, and was Michelangelo’s childhood church and now contains his tomb, as well as that of Galileo. We didn’t spend a lot of time there, my goals were these 2 tombs, and I got a few other photographs inside. We headed to 67 Via Ghibellina, which was once the entrance to Michelangelo’s home. Originally we planned to tour Casa Bounarroti, a museum ran by his nephew’s (heir’s) descendants, but we were tired and getting hungry.
We found a wonderful “tratorria” a few doors down from Casa Bounarroti, and Oglio Olio e Peppericino was the lunch special (spaghetti with oil, garlic and peppers). This is one of our favorite meals at home, and Tony wanted to try it here – he knows he was in for a treat! It was wonderful and filling, and a bottle of cold water was just what we needed. After lunch, we headed back to the hotel for a little break (nap) before heading to Palazzo Vecchio, and back to the Cathedral for some evening photos.
We decided to have dinner first, and found the #1 rated restaurant on Trip Advisor, a little sandwich shop near the Palazzo. There are lots of meats – many I don’t know what they were, cheeses and veggies. I told him to just make us what he likes, and he made 2 different sandwiches for us – HUGE sandwiches. I still don’t know what we ate LOL. I think mine had Prosciutto, some cheese and some kind of lettuce with a peppery flavor. Very good.
Palazzo Vecchio is a fortified “old palace” that has served as the town hall, and palace of Cosimo I (de Medici). Groundbreaking was around 1300; enlarging an existing palace to the building it is today. After the Medici tyrants were ran out of Florence, Michelangelo’s David was placed in the piazza in front of the Palazzo, a symbol of Florence’s victory over tyranny (Goliath). The original was moved in 1873 to the Accademia to preserve it from the elements, and a copy now takes its place. There’s a lot of ceiling paintings, and frescoed walls by Vasari; the first Art Historian and not a bad artist himself. The best work of art IMO was a statue by Donatello – a bronze Judith and Holofernes. The surprise of the day was the tower in the palace. My guidebook by Rick Steve’s didn’t say anything about climbing that tower. We finished our tour and came to another flight of stairs. A guard there asked for our Firenze Cards, scanned them and gave us another ticket, then took down the rope and invited us up. Only about half as high as the Duomo that nearly killed me, this one was pretty easy. We came to a small prison room about halfway up, that held Lorenzo de Magnificent at one time, before he was expelled, and also the crazy monk Savonarola. He preached against the riches and “unholy” art that the Medicis loved. He organized huge bonfires in the square in front of the Palazzo where riches, jewelry, and artworks were burned – even Botticelli got caught up and burned most of his secular paintings ☹ Eventually, he was arrested, executed, and burned in the exact place that his bonfires were. We climbed up to the top and had some good views of the city, but the wall was too tall in many places for good photos. There’s a plaque in the square that marks the spot of the bonfires, but we haven’t been able to find it. I asked the guard up on top of the tower, and she didn’t know either, but radioed to her colleague and found it. We were able to look down from the tower into the square (now most of the tourists were gone) and saw it. She didn’t even know it was there! Imagine a Florentine being taught local history by an American! (Thank you Dr Ogus)
After climbing down from the tower, we found the plaque – just a round bronze marker that reads “Here, Girolamo Savonarola and his Dominican brothers were hanged and burned in the year 1498.
Tony said that this was his favorite tour so far – probably because some of the artwork in the palace rooms was dedicated to Greek stories, like the Odyssey instead of biblical scenes.
We stopped by the Cathedral again for more photos on our way back to the hotel. This thing is so tall, and Giotto’s bell tower beside it is so tall, that I can’t get a shot without serious distortion – and I’ve quit trying.
We did our usual gelato stop, and found a new place – Leonardo’s Gelato to try. Tony decided to go for something he’s never had – Fig and mint. I got peach and “kibanana” (kiwi/banana). Mine was very good; he threw his in the garbage without finishing it. It must have been really bad for him to throw away ice cream!
We’re back in our room. We really like our hotel, the price is right; the room is spotless and comfortable to come back to after a busy day being a tourist. Something else I’ve decided today – tour groups are a big pain in my butt! I haven’t been on a tour, but there are a LOT of them in the sites. They are rude, inconsiderate, and totally self-absorbed. I’m amazed at how many times I’ve seen the groups standing in the middle of the road (roads are usually covered with tourists, but cars and busses still drive on them) oblivious to cars coming by. Very irresponsible on the part of the guide. Also, in the sites, I’d think the guide would attempt to keep the group together and out of other’s ways, instead they block doors and works of art while listening to the guide.
That’s it for day 3. Tomorrow starts early with Accademia and “the” DAVID!
July 16th, 2013
16 July, 2013
I slept good after my headache went away, and woke up at 0600 this morning, to pack things back up and get ready to head out. We had breakfast (cappuccino and a brioche) and talked to the man running our temp hotel. We stopped by the original hotel, and he promised that they would go pick up our bags today so we can move back where we were supposed to stay.
So, we headed out – our first destination was Brunelleschi’s Dome! We got our tickets, and arrived at the door at 0820, 10 minutes before opening – we beat the crowd!! The climb up was hard, I can’t lie! 463 steps = One heck of a cardio workout and not much air. I can’t imagine attempting that climb in the hot afternoon with tons of people!! We stopped to rest a few times, but finally made it out at the top. As we got to the top of the climb, the steps got narrower and became a tight spiral – that was the hardest part of the climb! What a view!! We sat on a bench in the shade up on the dome (I forget what you call the top part of the dome) for a while to catch our breath and let my heart stop beating out of my chest. I took a lot of photos and walked around a few times, in NO hurry to begin the climb back down. I found a random guy from England and asked him to take our picture - he did a great job, too. The climb back down was a piece of cake, compared to going up. The narrow stairs forced us to keep both hands on the (grimy) handrail or walls. I wonder how many millions of hands touched them before this morning. I wished I’d taken hand sanitizer with me!
The dome conquered, we headed across the Arno River to the Pitti Palace, which contains the Palatine Gallery. Paintings by Raphael, Titan and Lippi were awesome. There were just SO many paintings (walls were practically wallpapered with paintings), I found myself scanning the metal plates for names I know instead of looking at the picture. Mostly portraits or biblical scenes.
By then we were ready for a break and lunch. We found a tiny alimentary not far from the Palace that was mentioned in Rick Steve’s Florence book and decided to give it a try. We had anti pasta, a plate with various cold cuts –salami, prosciutto, etc and cheese and bread. One thing that neither of us cared for was a slice of lard (fat) – ewwww! We had cold peach tea, which was awesome!
So, off to our next adventure – the Bargello. Built in 1255, originally Florence’s Town Hall that also served as a police station and a prison. This was on my definite “Must See” list; mainly because of Donatello’s bronze David. It was amazing! We also saw several of Michelangelo’s sculptures, like Baccus and David/Apollo (not THE David, yet)
Tony was whining by then “I’m tired!” so we started to the hotel, but decided to stop by the Baptistery and Duomo Museum first. The Baptistery is beautiful inside! The ceiling is a mosaic of gold -- I was allowed to take photos there, hopefully I got some good ones. The Duomo Museum was partially closed for renovations, but we saw the original Giberti’s doors that once hung in the Baptistery. They are amazing huge bronze doors with various scenes – I took lots of photos. We also saw Michelangelo’s last Pieta. I have lots of photos of it, too! I love when I can take pictures of these works, most museums do not allow photography, but the churches do.
We headed to the hotel, and found that they DID move our bags! This room is much nicer than the other hotel, even though it’s a 2-star and the other is a 3-star. I much prefer this hotel, and I really like the people who run it.
After resting for a couple of hours – Tony took a nap and I organized a few things, we headed out again. This time, we took our first bus ride up to San Miniato Church and Piazzale Michelangelo. According to legend, St. Minias was beheaded down on the banks of the Arno River in AD 250, and then he picked up his head and walked up the hill to this location. Honestly, if that had REALLY happened, I’m sure he would have bled to death after walking up the hill and getting his heartrate up before getting here ;-) He was buried in what became the first Christian cemetery in Florence. It overlooks the town of Florence, allowing some awesome landscape/cityscape photography. I guess I took too many photos, because just as we were about to enter the door, a Monk came out and said they had to close ☹. We walked down the hill to Pizzale Michelangelo, another plaza that overlooks the city. A tourist filled area with a HUGE statue of Michelangelo’s David (I think it’s bronze though, and it’s got a great green patina). By the time we got here, we were both starving and decided to get some food, and THEN shoot the sunset.
We walked back down the hill instead of waiting for a bus, and found a great pizzeria called I’Pizzacchiere. We had a large “White Tiger” pizza with tomatoes, mozzarella, and ham. Pizza here is nothing like Dominos – the crust is really good, not over sauced or filled with lots of crap.
After dinner, we walked across the Arno River at sunset, so I could get some photos of Ponte Vecchio with the sun reflecting in the water (and a fisherman in a boat as well!) On the way home, we stopped for gelato at a different gelateria. This time, I had Mango, and Tony had Banana and Strawberry. Just like ice cold fresh fruit! So good.
We’re back in our hotel, not going to bed at 5:30 this time. Actually, it’s 11:00 and we’re both still up. It’s off to bed soon, because we have a busy day planned tomorrow with an early start. Up first – Uffizi Museum, starring Botticelli (Birth of Venus, and Primavera).