BigWeather's Blog

June 25, 2016

David and Goliaths

Filed under: Travel — Tags: — BigWeather @ 11:59 pm

Awoke at 6a and blogged a bit before breakfast at 8:30a, eventually setting out around 10a.  Our first errand of the day was looking for some boxers for Addison.  We were pointed in the direction of a department store called “COIN” which took up an entire block and was four stories of stuff.  Amusingly there was a section called “Intimo Donna — lingerie and seduction”; they don’t mince words in Italy!  Found some boxers but they were 30+ euros each.  Yeah, no.

We walked past the Duomo and Baptistry (with its impressive — if facsimile, as the originals are safely stored away from the elements — doors) and on to the Accademia Gallery.  We were admitted in pretty short order.  First we saw the ubiquitous religious pre-Renaissance art then an exhibition of instruments that the Medici owned including a violin cello and harpsichords.  They also had a serpent, a long, snake-like ancestor of the tuba.

Little flourishes abound in Florence, like this symbol of the town

Little flourishes abound in Florence, like this symbol of the town

Entrance to Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, or the Duomo

Entrance to Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, or the Duomo

A serpent, an instrument that is an ancestor to the tuba

A serpent, an instrument that is an ancestor to the tuba

Back in the museum proper we saw a sculpture (well, actually the sculptor’s model or gesso) meant to be viewed at any angle consisting of three twisting figures called “Rape of the Sabines”.  Saw more creepy skulls at the bases of the cross and the creepiness was upped even more by baby heads with red wings flitting about.

Sculptor's model of "Rape of the Sabines" by Giambologna, ca. 1580

Sculptor’s model of “Rape of the Sabines” by Giambologna, ca. 1580

Creepy smiling skull with even creepier flying baby heads!

Creepy smiling skull with even creepier flying baby heads!

Next up was “David”.  It was on display in a brightly lit room and commanded the space.  It was far taller than I thought it’d be as well.  Despite seeing it all of my life (and certainly all over Florence not only as a copy in front of the Palazzo Vecchio but also as a tiny statue, on t-shirts, etc. at every single tourist trap) it was still amazing to see it in person.  I was particularly struck by the lifelike pose and the vein marbled hands holding the stone (which Michelangelo sculpted proportionally larger than is natural to make it more impressive).

"David" by Michelangelo, 1501-1504

“David” by Michelangelo, 1501-1504

Closeup of the head of "David"

Closeup of the head of “David”

My what big hands you have!

My what big hands you have!

Leading up to “David” was a series of unfinished sculptures called (appropriately enough) the “Prisoners” as they are trapped in stone.  They were originally intended for the tomb of Pope Julius II but the plans were scrapped due to funds running short and remained in his workshop unfinished.  There was also “Pieta di Palestrina” in the hall.

The Hall of the Prisoners with "David" beyond

The Hall of the Prisoners with “David” beyond

One of the Prisoners, an unfinished sculpture by Michelangelo

One of the Prisoners, an unfinished sculpture by Michelangelo

Michelangelo's "Pieta di Palestrina"

Michelangelo’s “Pieta di Palestrina”

The next room contained many objects (statues, casts, etc.) found in sculptors’ workshops.  Heading upstairs there were some amazing tapestries and 1300s embroidery and other Christian art.

Sculpture in the "workshop"

Sculpture in the “workshop”

"Workshop" hall in Florence's Accademia Gallery

“Workshop” hall in Florence’s Accademia Gallery

Amazing embroidery from the 1300s, made in Florence

Amazing embroidery from the 1300s, made in Florence

Beautiful religious art from the Middle Ages

Beautiful religious art from the Middle Ages

Headed back outside and got some take-out Subway for Addison and booked a tour of parts of Tuscany we couldn’t reach via train at an office nearby.  We then headed to Brio Pizzeria where Addison had some roasted potatoes, Michelle a mushroom and sausage pizza, and myself a ham, sausage, and salami pizza.  At an adjacent table people in a cooking class were eating what they cooked and seemed to be having a great time.  Next trip, perhaps!

Entrance to the Duomo

Entrance to the Duomo

Campanile di Giotto with the entrance to the cathedral to the left and dome to the right

Campanile di Giotto with the entrance to the cathedral to the left and dome to the right

Closeup of Duomo's dome

Closeup of Duomo’s dome

Arrived at the hotel room for siesta (a custom I love very much!) from 2:30p until 4p.  At 4p we got some (very pricey, even for Florence) gelato then went on to Basilica di Santa Croce di Firenze.  In front of the church a construction crew was tearing down bleachers and what looked to be a jousting ground — sadly we may have missed a really cool event from the prior day’s holiday.  Oh well.

Front of Basilica di Santa Croce di Firenze

Front of Basilica di Santa Croce di Firenze

Jousting grounds being torn down in front of Santa Croce

Jousting grounds being torn down in front of Santa Croce

It is a testament to the embarrassment of riches that Florence has sight-wise that Santa Croce isn’t on must-see lists.  Not only does it have amazing chapels, reliquaries, and stained glass but it is also home to the tombs of three giants: Machiavelli, Galileo, and Michelangelo.  One would be hard pressed to think of many heavier hitters in their particular fields.  The tomb of Michelangelo in particular was incredibly beautiful.  Three ladies — representing sculpture, painting, and architecture — sit about his sarcophagus looking lost and sad.

Michelangelo's tomb at Santa Croce

Michelangelo’s tomb at Santa Croce

The three ladies, representing sculpture, painting, and architecture, surrounding Michelangelo's sarcophagus

The three ladies, representing sculpture, painting, and architecture, surrounding Michelangelo’s sarcophagus

Well-worn graves from dating all the way back to the Middle Ages were scattered around the floor of the church.  After admiring a statue that was similar to our Lady Liberty as well as the numerous chapels, all lavishly painted, and a reliquary of a golden head containing a skull dedicated to the cult of a nun we headed out to the cloisters.  We checked out a room used as a meeting hall as well as a stick showing the height of historic floodwaters, topped by 1966’s catastrophic flood.  A small museum contained more artifacts.  As the church was closing we headed back outside and were treated to the basilica’s bells ringing above.  Sorry about the following deluge of pictures, but Santa Croce was really breathtaking!

"Liberty of Poetry", inspiration for the Statue of Liberty

“Liberty of Poetry”, inspiration for the Statue of Liberty

Detail of the ceiling of Santa Croce

Detail of the ceiling of Santa Croce

Beautiful fresco in a side chapel

Beautiful fresco in a side chapel

Altar at Santa Croce

Altar at Santa Croce

Stained glass at Santa Croce

Stained glass at Santa Croce

Even the underside of arches are lavishly painted

Even the underside of arches are lavishly painted

One of Santa Croce's chapels

One of Santa Croce’s chapels

Main altar and cross of Santa Croce

Main altar and cross of Santa Croce

Closeup of the cross at Santa Croce

Closeup of the cross at Santa Croce

Stained glass window

Stained glass window

Elevated walkway with cool black and white marble decoration

Elevated walkway with cool black and white marble decoration

Flood marker showing historic flood levels, topped by the epic 1966 flood

Flood marker showing historic flood levels, topped by the epic 1966 flood

Cloisters at Santa Croce

Cloisters at Santa Croce

Bell tower of Santa Croce

Bell tower of Santa Croce

Headed back towards the room, stopping to see some of the sculptures in Loggia dei Lanzi.  The Loggia is an open air covered sculpture garden adjacent to the Piazza della Signoria, the piazza where Palazzo Vecchio is situated.

Arrived back at the room at 6p and rested until 8p (second siesta?  nice!).  Afterwards headed out for dinner, crossing the Ponte Vecchio to the south bank of the Arno.  The bridge was originally the home to many butchers, the offal and other remains being dropped directly below and carried downstream to the sea.  When the Medici came to power they cleaned up the area and installed a walkway from their offices on the south bank to the center of government at the Palazzo Vecchio.  As butcher shops would certainly not do they were replaced with gold and silver shops — and those establishments remain to this day.  There were many flags along the route and as many shops were closed they were locked behind very sturdy steel enclosures.  The bridge, even at the late hour, was crowded.

Florence street scene

Florence street scene

I used to call milk "mookie" as a kid, and turns out I wasn't wrong!

I used to call milk “mookie” as a kid, and turns out I wasn’t wrong!

Love all the colorful signs!

Love all the colorful signs!

Italian pharmacy, all the ones we saw had similar decor

Italian pharmacy, all the ones we saw had similar decor

Cellini's "Perseus with the Head of Medusa", 1545

Cellini’s “Perseus with the Head of Medusa”, 1545

Giambologna's "Rape of the Sabines"

Giambologna’s “Rape of the Sabines”

View of the Arno from Ponte Vecchio

View of the Arno from Ponte Vecchio

Flags lining the gold and jewelry stores of Ponte Vecchio

Flags lining the gold and jewelry stores of Ponte Vecchio

We dined to Lungarno23, a burger joint.  There was a lot of construction along the way, Genetta would later tell us it was to repair a sinkhole that occurred as part of the significant rain she encountered earlier in June.  Michelle had a bacon and cheese burger with green apple salad and some chocolate cake.  Addison had a bacon and cheese burger and fries, as did I.  Heading back across the bridge we passed a group playing Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” and head to our room and bed.

Ponte Vecchio at night from the Arno's south bank

Ponte Vecchio at night from the Arno’s south bank

Ponte Vecchio at night, note the closed store coverings

Ponte Vecchio at night, note the closed store coverings

June 24, 2016

Art and Science

Filed under: Travel — Tags: — BigWeather @ 11:59 pm

We awoke early, about 6a.  As I’d been curious about how the Brexit vote would turn out I immediately checked out the news on my phone and was mildly shocked by the result.  After a bit of reading and realizing that my family wouldn’t appreciate waking so early I went back to bed for a bit.  We awoke a bit later and eventually headed to breakfast about 9:30a.  While we were eating we heard drumming start out in the Piazza della Signoria.  From the windows overlooking the plaza in the sitting room adjacent to the breakfast room we saw a large group of men in early Renaissance costume waving flags and playing the drums.  It was a part of the celebration of the Feast Day of St. John (or San Giovanni) — a holiday in Florence (and likely why the taxis were on strike the day before as the only thing better than a three-day weekend is a four-day weekend!).

Finally headed out about 11:30a (entirely too late, we’re bad about that) and headed to the nearby famous art museum, the Uffizi.  Michelle and Addison stood in line while I hunted down a FirenzeCard, first (unsuccessfully) at the Museo Galileo then to the Palazzo Vecchio where I bought two.  Addison didn’t need one, being a minor.  The tickets secured, we went for lunch at a local bar.  We all had paninis — Addison a ham and mozzarella, Michelle a mozzarella, tomato, and lettuce, and myself a salami and cheese.  Addison, predictably, didn’t care for his at all.

Ponte Vecchio spanning the Arno River in Florence

Ponte Vecchio spanning the Arno River in Florence

Courtyard of the Palazzo Vecchio

Courtyard of the Palazzo Vecchio

Returned to the Uffizi and after a short wait (due to the FirenzeCard) were admitted.  Addison got in free even (technically they can charge four euros for accompanying minors but they didn’t).  The place was massive!  The first rooms were mainly Middle Ages’ church art, predominantly the Virgin Mary with baby Jesus.  It was interesting seeing the crude (and sometimes unsettling creepy) art become increasingly life-like.  The subject matter also became less and less religious and begin to incorporate portraiture of government officials, nobles, and the like and eventually culminate with truly amazing paintings and sculptures of humans, often centered around not only Christian but also Greek and Roman mythological themes.

Amazing ceiling in the Uffizi

Amazing ceiling in the Uffizi

Detail of an altar piece, note the raised words

Detail of an altar piece, note the raised words

A depiction of the Virgin Mary and a (somewhat creepy) baby Jesus

A depiction of the Virgin Mary and a (somewhat creepy) baby Jesus

A common element of art at the time -- a skull at the base of the cross

A common element of art at the time — a skull at the base of the cross

There was also a room, the Tribuna, built in 1584 and sumptuously decorated and packed with many paintings and the gorgeous classical sculpture the Venus de’ Medici.  For hundreds of years it was one of the major stops on the Grand Tour that many aristocrats took throughout Europe.

The opulent Tribuna, built in 1584 to house the Medici treasures

The opulent Tribuna, built in 1584 to house the Medici treasures

Venus de' Medici in the Tribuna

Venus de’ Medici in the Tribuna

The following rooms had increasingly secular art such as the famous portrait of the duke and duchess of Urbino.  The windows of the central hallways afforded many beautiful views of the Arno as well as the Duomo.

"Duke of Urbino" -- what a hook nose on that fellow!

“Duke of Urbino” — what a hook nose on that fellow!

Amazing small details on these paintings

Amazing small details on these paintings

Yet more elaborate ceiling details

Yet more elaborate ceiling details

A really neat painting of Perseus freeing Andromeda

A really neat painting of Perseus freeing Andromeda

View of the Duomo from the Uffizi's windows

View of the Duomo from the Uffizi’s windows

View of the Palazzo Vecchio

View of the Palazzo Vecchio

Beyond the early Christian art Michelangelo’s “Doni Tondo”, Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus”, and da Vinci’s “Annunciation” were of course stand-outs.  The colors of “Doni Tondo” really popped, whereas I thought “Birth of Venus” was a bit more muted (though bigger) than I expected.  Also check out the really odd sculpted heads that come out of the ornate frame of “Doni Tondo”.

Michelangelo's "Doni Tondo" ("Holy Family") from around 1505 -- those colors!

Michelangelo’s “Doni Tondo” (“Holy Family”) from around 1505 — those colors!

Botticelli's "Birth of Venus" -- makes me want to fire up Deluxe Paint for my old Amiga 1000

Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” — makes me want to fire up Deluxe Paint for my old Amiga 1000

da Vinci's "Annunciation"

da Vinci’s “Annunciation”

Detail from the background of "Annunciation"

Detail from the background of “Annunciation”

The latter rooms were filled with later art, including much Dutch art from the 1600s — darker, a bit more depressing, a lot of still life of dead birds and animals and such.  There was also a special exhibition on painted wooden religious art — crucifixes, statues, etc.  On the way out we bought a magnet and then headed back outside where it was quite hot.

One of the more "metal" paintings, Caravaggio's "Testa di Medusa" (1597)

One of the more “metal” paintings, Caravaggio’s “Testa di Medusa” (1597)

We walked around the corner to the Museo Galileo, a museum backed with loads of cool instruments, globes, telescopes, you name it.  Of particular note were Galileo’s instruments, telescopes, and his middle, index, and thumb bones (ick).  It was extraordinary that in 1609 his telescope let him see so many details of the celestial bodies.  His telescopes, and indeed most of the instruments throughout the museum, were not only functional but also works of art.  Some came in remarkable cases like one that looked like a book.

Polyhedral dial, from the Medici collection

Polyhedral dial, from the Medici collection

Armillary sphere constructed in 1593 depicting the Earth as the center of the universe (oops)

Armillary sphere constructed in 1593 depicting the Earth as the center of the universe (oops)

Copy of the world map drawn by Fra' Mauro in the late 1450s, original is in Venice

Copy of the world map drawn by Fra’ Mauro in the late 1450s, original is in Venice

Book-like case for instruments

Book-like case for instruments

Case with mathematical instruments

Case with mathematical instruments

The museum contained not only instruments from Galileo’s time (the late 1500s to early 1600s) but also on into the 19th century — a time when science became en vogue and traveling exhibitions offering in-house demonstrations were common.  Finally in the basement was an exhibit about the severe flood that struck Florence in 1966, a flood that destroyed most everything on exhibit down there.

View of the Arno and Piazzale Michelangelo beyond

View of the Arno and Piazzale Michelangelo beyond

Impressive collection of microscopes

Impressive collection of microscopes

Map depicting the areas inundated by the 1966 flood

Map depicting the areas inundated by the 1966 flood

As it was approaching evening we wrapped up our visit to the museum and headed back outside where there was once again drumming.  It would be our luck to stumble upon a parade of hundreds of men in Renaissance dress — flag bearers, pikes, a small cannon team, horsemen, and government officials with black robes and books heading east from Piazza della Signoria.  It stopped traffic completely, with the exception of a tour bus loaded with a local football (soccer) team.  While I watched the parade and snapped photos Michelle and Addison brought me a yummy strawberry gelato.

Cool flags being carried through Florence to celebrate the Feast Day of St. John

Cool flags being carried through Florence to celebrate the Feast Day of St. John

More celebrants parading through Florence

More celebrants parading through Florence

A small team with a cannon

A small team with a cannon

Pikemen wearing some plate armor

Pikemen wearing some plate armor

Government officials atop horses

Government officials atop horses

We headed back to the room for a hour-and-a-half siesta then headed out later looking for some clothes.  We made a reservation at Antico Fattore, a Trattoria first opened in 1865 for 9p.  In the meantime I worked on the blog in the room for an hour or so.  The restaurant was a bit cozy, with the three of us sharing a table with three young ladies from a German-speaking country.  We didn’t bother them and likewise they didn’t bother us.  The staff was really friendly.  We had water, Cokes, and some red wine.  While the bread wasn’t great the rest was.  Michelle had tomato bread soup and grilled chicken with cheese on top.  Addison and I shared a 1.5kg bone-in steak, fries, and onion rings.  While very good (though not seasoned enough for Addison’s taste) the steak was quite expensive.  Still worth the experience as Tuscany is known for it.  Wasn’t a huge fan of the wine — I think it is time to just throw in the towel on notions that I’ll ever appreciate it.

I really liked this view of a Florence street near dusk

I really liked this view of a Florence street near dusk

Closed vendor carts in a covered market

Closed vendor carts in a covered market

Wide shot of the Palazzo Vecchio

Wide shot of the Palazzo Vecchio

Fountain of Neptune in front of the Palazzo Vecchio

Fountain of Neptune in front of the Palazzo Vecchio

Ingredients in Antico Fattore's window, yum!

Ingredients in Antico Fattore’s window, yum!

Antico Fattore, where we enjoyed a wonderful dinner

Antico Fattore, where we enjoyed a wonderful dinner

We headed back to the room at about 10:30p, after which I blogged until bed a bit after midnight.

June 23, 2016

Reunion

Filed under: Travel — Tags: — BigWeather @ 11:59 pm

Our second (and final) morning in Venice.  The hotel breakfast croissants weren’t as good so maybe he was right about them being frozen and reheated, haha.  During checkout we talked about Brexit and the hotelier had a more sympathetic view of the Leave folks, basically that EU regulations were hurting small food companies in Italy and he imagined the regulations were hurting in Britain as well.  He also gave us a recommendation on where best to hire a gondola ride as well as stated that St. Mark’s Basilica is a must-see.  Leaving our luggage with the hotel until we were ready to leave Venice we headed out for the morning’s activities.

We took a vaporetto, or water taxi, to the Ca’Rezzonico stop near the church we had visited on our first day, Chiesa di San Barnaba.  At the canal next to the adjacent square (or campo) we hired a gondola.  At 80 euros for thirty minutes it was a bit pricey but a trip to Venice wouldn’t be complete without it.  The area that was recommended to us was ideal as it was in an area of many smaller canals and our trip would only traverse a small section of the Grand Canal where the boat traffic (and waves) were a bit worse.

Venetian flag

Venetian flag

After being helped into the ride (Michelle and I facing forward with the gondolier behind us and Addison sitting in a side seat in front of us) we set off.  It was very peaceful, the canal water lapping gently against the boat.  We went under many low bridges, the sparkling water reflecting on the underside.

Canal and Campanile seen from our gondola ride

Canal and Campanile seen from our gondola ride

Passing under a bridge with the water reflecting from below

Passing under a bridge with the water reflecting from below

Our gondolier was born and bred in Venice and while he mostly just let us enjoy the ride in silence (though he did bust into a quiet rendition of “Return to Sender” by Elvis from time-to-time) he did carry on a conversation when prompted.  He enjoyed the fall the most — less tourists and a bit less hot.  He said that the tourism picks up a bit more in the dead of winter when the wind pushes the Adriatic waters towards the city, often flooding it — called acqua alta.

Michelle and I and our gondolier

Michelle and I and our gondolier

We passed two gondola factories and saw people going about their business.  I asked how people got to the boats that were parked in locations clearly not reachable by the walkways.  Apparently they climb down from a bridge or other structure or hitch a ride from neighbors.  We also saw a banner saying “NO Grandi Navi” — “NO Big Boats” — a Venice movement protesting the large cruise ships that come in and dominate the skyline and flood the city with day tourists.

The first of the gondola factories we saw

The first of the gondola factories we saw

A series of foot bridges in a quieter part of Venice

A series of foot bridges in a quieter part of Venice

The gondola had some fancy decoration

The gondola had some fancy decoration

Another shot of a canal

Another shot of a canal

Cool looking poles and flowers

Cool looking poles and flowers

The second gondola factory we saw

The second gondola factory we saw

I love the prows of the gondolas

I love the prows of the gondolas

Another view of the factory

Another view of the factory

Sign calling for no cruise ships visiting Venice

Sign calling for no cruise ships visiting Venice

After a good stretch in the smaller side canals and a final quick bit on the Grand Canal we returned to the docks, settled with the gondolier, and went on our way.  In a tiny nearby store at Campo San Barnaba we bought some pastries — chocolate muffins and a cinnamon raison roll — and some water.  Addison bought a Homer Simpson t-shirt depicting him as Vitruvian Man from the church (as the church was hosting an exhibition of modern day constructions of da Vinci machines, which we passed on as we had a full morning planned).

A cool building we saw during our ride

A cool building we saw during our ride

Another cool building

Another cool building

A campanile from one of Venice's many churches

A campanile from one of Venice’s many churches

Our gondolier on the left

Our gondolier on the left

Another Venetian banner

Another Venetian banner

Building along the Grand Canal

Building along the Grand Canal

Hopping back on the vaporetto we motored down to Piazza San Marco and stood in line for the Basilica di San Marco.  Luckily the line moved quickly as it was early.  Not so quickly that we couldn’t enjoy some of the sculpture adorning the church, though.  What an amazing interior!  Practically shimmering with gold everywhere and amazing Byzantine style art.  I definitely enjoyed it more than the St. Peter’s at the Vatican.  On the way out we bought a book and a magnet.  Back in the plaza we saw a guy with pigeons on his arm and shoulder, lured there by bread crumbs.

Doge's Palace, Venice

Doge’s Palace, Venice

Campanile di San Marco, Venice

Campanile di San Marco, Venice

Golden winged lion atop a tall red flag pole Piazza San Marco

Golden winged lion atop a tall red flag pole Piazza San Marco

Closeup of sculpture of Porta della Carta between Doge's Palace and the basilica

Closeup of sculpture of Porta della Carta between Doge’s Palace and the basilica

Basilica statuary of a griffon and a calf

Basilica statuary of a griffon and a calf

Piazza San Marco, Venice

Piazza San Marco, Venice

Torre dell'Orologio, Piazza San Marco, Venice

Torre dell’Orologio, Piazza San Marco, Venice

Basilica di San Marco mosaic

Basilica di San Marco mosaic

Sparkling gold interior of Basilica di San Marco

Sparkling gold interior of Basilica di San Marco

Interior of Basilica di San Marco

Interior of Basilica di San Marco

We took the water taxi back to our hotel’s stop, Rialto Mercato.  We decided that we enjoyed the Chinese restaurant so much that we had to go back for one last meal.  We had spring rolls and dumplings again.  Michelle had sweet and sour chicken, Addison beef and onions, and myself beef and celery.  Excellent again!

Laundry hanging across a canal in Venice

Laundry hanging across a canal in Venice

Last picture of a canal, I promise!

Last picture of a canal, I promise!

Did a little bit of shopping (a few magnets and a glass Christmas tree) and headed back to the hotel to retrieve our luggage.  Took one last ride on the water taxi to Santa Lucia station and got the 3:25 Frecciarossa to Firenze SMN (Florence’s main train station, standing for Santa Maria Novella).  The train hit 299km/h (about 200mph)!  The trip was largely uneventful and I took the time to choose some photos for the blog.

Upon arrival in Florence I was delighted to see no line for a taxi.  Turns out they were on strike for better working conditions.  We’d learn from our hotel shortly after that it was pure coincidence that the next day (Friday) was a holiday and striking on Thursday made it a four day weekend.  Pure coincidence.  As it was very hot and we had our luggage Michelle wasn’t very happy about the situation (well, none of us really were!).  The walk to the hotel was less than a mile but due to the heat and traffic it wasn’t the greatest fun.  We got to the Piazza della Signoria next to the 13th century Palazzo Vecchio (still the mayoral office of Florence) so I knew we were close.  I left Michelle and Addison and set off down an alley where a group of hotel workers pointed me to the next alley for our hotel, the Relais Uffizi.

A statue in Florence

A statue in Florence

Palazzo Vecchio, the mayoral offices of Florence since the 1200s

Palazzo Vecchio, the mayoral offices of Florence since the 1200s

The hotel was very old, the building dating from the 1400s.  The halls were very narrow and took unexpected turns and even had occasional step ups and downs.   Our room consisted of a large bed downstairs and steep stairs to a loft with another bed and the only bathroom.  The roof consisted of large wooden beams.  Most importantly (particularly to Addison), the WiFi was actually decent-ish!

Roof of our room at the Relais Uffizi

Roof of our room at the Relais Uffizi

We texted Genetta and she was nearby at a restaurant and came on over to our room after I went out to the plaza to meet her.  We visited awhile then walked a short distance to El Chico, a Mexican grill.  It was not the most authentic Mexican ever but was quite tasty.  We then walked to Gelateria Dei Neri and had gelato.  Yummy!

Heading back to the plaza we listened to a concert band play.  In honor of Orlando an American flag and a Gay Pride flag hung beneath the EU, Italian, and Florence flags.  The Palazzo Vecchio was really neat — tons of heraldry shields, a copy of Michelangelo’s David in front where the original stood for centuries (the original having been moved to a nearby museum), and a large group of 1500s sculpture in a covered area.

Faux David and flags honoring Orlando

Faux David and flags honoring Orlando

Mouth-watering raw steaks on display at a Florence eatery

Mouth-watering raw steaks on display at a Florence eatery

Palazzo Vecchio at dusk

Palazzo Vecchio at dusk

Detail of the Palazzo Vecchio

Detail of the Palazzo Vecchio

Note the cool heraldry beneath Palazzo Vecchio's tower

Note the cool heraldry beneath Palazzo Vecchio’s tower

Addison and Michelle headed back to the hotel and we gave Genetta a new pair of shoes we had brought from home for her as she’d worn the ones she brought with her out.  I walked Genetta back to her room, passing by the very impressive Duomo, as the main cathedral of Florence is known.  The bright white marble practically shone despite the late hour.  After dropping her off I filled up a water bottle at the public water fountain next to the Palazzo Vecchio, headed back to the room, and slept.

Florence's red-tiled Duomo at night

Florence’s red-tiled Duomo at night

Painting on the Duomo's exterior

Painting on the Duomo’s exterior

June 22, 2016

Heart of Glass

Filed under: Travel — Tags: — BigWeather @ 11:59 pm

We woke up early, about 7a, and headed downstairs to breakfast.  Standard breakfast, however the croissants were amazing.  I asked at the front desk where they got them from, expecting something along the lines of “oh, from the bakery down the street” or “we make them in our kitchen” but instead got “delivered frozen and heated up.”  Well, whatever works!

Finally headed out about 10a (yeah, we’re not the greatest at getting out early), crossing the Grand Canal at the Rialto bridge and heading northeast to the coast of the island.  Along the way we passed many cool old squares, each seemingly with its own church.

Clock in Venice, note that it has twenty four hours!

Clock in Venice, note that it has twenty four hours!

Sorry about all these canal pictures, but like snowflakes no two are the same!

Sorry about all these canal pictures, but like snowflakes no two are the same!

Facade of Chiesa dei Gesuiti, Venice

Facade of Chiesa dei Gesuiti, Venice

A quiet canal with pretty pastel buildings

A quiet canal with pretty pastel buildings

Narrow street in Venice and tower beyond

Narrow street in Venice and tower beyond

We waited a few minutes for the water taxi to take us to the island of Murano, famed for its glassblowing industry.  Along the way we motored past an island given entirely over to a Greek Orthodox cemetery with a nifty church.

Chiesa di San Michele in Isola on the Greek Orthodox cemetery island

Chiesa di San Michele in Isola on the Greek Orthodox cemetery island

Graves in the Greek Orthodox cemetery

Graves in the Greek Orthodox cemetery

After landing we walked up the canal a bit and did some browsing along the way.  As the canal was a bit wider than the narrow streets of Venice we were directly exposed to the sun.  It was unrelenting!  We went into the shop of the famous glassmaker Venini.  We saw a really neat lamp — for twenty seven thousand euros (about thirty thousand dollars)!  Yikes!  We beat a hasty retreat as I was terrified of accidentally knocking over anything in that place.

Neat tile work

Neat tile work

Yet another building, I love the windows and sagging roof

Yet another building, I love the windows and sagging roof

Buildings on a canal in Murano

Buildings on a canal in Murano

One of Murano's canals

One of Murano’s canals

Walked up the canal a bit more and came upon a clock tower with a cool spiky deep blue glass sculpture in front.  Crossed a east-west canal and past the brilliant Chiesa dei Santi Maria e Donato, a church dating from the 600s (not a typo!) and supposedly containing the bones of a slain dragon.

Cool tower with blue glass sculpture in Murano

Cool tower with blue glass sculpture in Murano

Campanile of Chiesa di San Pietro Martire, Murano

Campanile of Chiesa di San Pietro Martire, Murano

Look back at the tower, Murano

Look back at the tower, Murano

Chiesa dei Santi Maria e Donato and its campanile

Chiesa dei Santi Maria e Donato and its campanile

Another view of the stunning Chiesa dei Santi Maria e Donato, Murano

Another view of the stunning Chiesa dei Santi Maria e Donato, Murano

Looking down one of Murano's canal at its lighthouse, or Faro di Murano

Looking down one of Murano’s canal at its lighthouse, or Faro di Murano

We ate lunch at Osteria al Duomo Pizzeria.  We sat in the cool (relatively) courtyard behind the restaurant where they grow their own herbs.  We had Cokes and water.  Michelle had a mushroom pizza, Addison a pepperoni pizza, and I a ham and mushroom calzone that was good.  Once again we were charged a cover charge — what’s up with that?

A short distance from the amazing church was the Museo del Vetro, a museum dedicated to the art of Venetian glassmaking.  After a short introduction video (showing different aspects of glassmaking like blown glass, rods, mosaics, and beads) we were treated to a short but very informative and interesting series of rooms.  It told the story of glassmaking from the ancient times in Syria through to the rise of glassmaking on Murano (after burning down parts of Venice one too many times) during the Middle Ages through to the era when Murano was competing with copy-cat manufacturers in Austria and Germany and on through the slump in the early 1800s and the resurgence of the craft in the late 1800s through present day.  What was particularly amazing were the advancements to the art discovered by Murano’s masters like how to make transparent glass (mid-1400s).  Even more interesting is that the techniques would sometimes be lost for centuries before being rediscovered.  There were many neat items on display, most notably a dining room table sized sales display from the 1700s representing a small garden.  Behind the museum was a gorgeous courtyard filled with stonework (crosses, sarcophagi, etc.) from the Middle Ages.

Glass in the shape of fruits at the Murano museum of glassmaking

Glass in the shape of fruits at the Murano museum of glassmaking

Rooster made of glass

Rooster made of glass

Beautiful glass chandelier

Beautiful glass chandelier

Crystal bottles in the shape of guns

Crystal bottles in the shape of guns

Beautiful glassware from the 1700s

Beautiful glassware from the 1700s

Glass sales diorama the size of a dining room table

Glass sales diorama the size of a dining room table

Closeup of the diorama

Closeup of the diorama

Display showing potential customers the different glass rods available

Display showing potential customers the different glass rods available

Beautiful glass lamp

Beautiful glass lamp

Courtyard behind the Murano museum of glassmaking

Courtyard behind the Murano museum of glassmaking

We walked back to our water taxi stop and did some window (and actual) shopping along the way.  Along the way we spotted a boat with a small crane for unloading as well as a UPS boat.  Once back on the main island of Venice we walked back through to our hotel, arriving by 4p and taking a brief siesta until around 6p.

A UPS boat!

A UPS boat!

Glassmaking factory on Murano at the mouth of one of the canals

Glassmaking factory on Murano at the mouth of one of the canals

Small canal in Venice

Small canal in Venice

Canal with a couple of Gondoliers, Venice

Canal with a couple of Gondoliers, Venice

Hopping back on the water taxi (turns out that was a great deal) we went down the Grand Canal and under an old wooden bridge called Ponte dell’Accademia to St. Mary Salvation basilica, or Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute.  I was really struck by the design of the church, it looked like it would be home in Instanbul.

A gondolier on the Grand Canal, Venice

A gondolier on the Grand Canal, Venice

Neat looking building on Venice's Grand Canal

Neat looking building on Venice’s Grand Canal

A floating stop for the water taxi, or vaporetto

A floating stop for the water taxi, or vaporetto

A garden along the Grand Canal

A garden along the Grand Canal

The Ponte dell'Accademia, one of only four bridges across the Grand Canal

The Ponte dell’Accademia, one of only four bridges across the Grand Canal

Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute seen from under the bridge

Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute seen from under the bridge

Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, Venice

Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, Venice

A short ride on the water taxi took us to the end of the Grand Canal and a wooded stretch of shore with shops and the like leading to Venice’s main tourist attraction, Piazza San Marco.  Passing under the watch of two statues atop tall columns, one of a winged lion the other of San Teodoro and a slain dragon, we came upon the box-shaped yet very ornate Doge’s Palace.  Nearby loomed the very tall brick Campanile di San Marco.

Campanile di San Marco looming over the ubiquitous mask vendors

Campanile di San Marco looming over the ubiquitous mask vendors

The Doge's Palace, Venice

The Doge’s Palace, Venice

Column with winged lion atop near the Doge's Palace

Column with winged lion atop near the Doge’s Palace

San Teodoro and a slain dragon

San Teodoro and a slain dragon

Campanile di San Marco, Venice

Campanile di San Marco, Venice

Columns with San Giorgio Maggiore isle beyond

Columns with San Giorgio Maggiore isle beyond

Next to the Doge’s Palace was the Basilica di San Marco, separated from the Doge’s Palace by the magnificent Porta della Carta.  The basilica practically glowed gold with its mosaics in the evening light.  Red poles with lions atop were in the plaza and directly in front of the basilica.

Ornate gate, Porta della Carta, between the Doge's Palace and the basilica

Ornate gate, Porta della Carta, between the Doge’s Palace and the basilica

A mosaic of Basilica di San Marco

A mosaic of Basilica di San Marco

Another amazing mosaic (fresco?) of the basilica

Another amazing mosaic (fresco?) of the basilica

The symbol of Venice, the golden winged lion, was striking against the blue background

The symbol of Venice, the golden winged lion, was striking against the blue background

Another mosaic in the front of the basilica

Another mosaic in the front of the basilica

Facade of the basilica, taking care to avoid the part that was (predictably) covered in scaffolding

Facade of the basilica, taking care to avoid the part that was (predictably) covered in scaffolding

At the northern end of the square sat the Torre dell’Orologio, an ornate clock tower build in 1499.  Another twenty four hour clock, it was also remarkable as it showed the roman numeral hour and Arabic numeral minute.

Torre dell'Orologio, or clock tower, in Piazza San Marco, Venice

Torre dell’Orologio, or clock tower, in Piazza San Marco, Venice

Detail of the Torre dell'Orologio, note the roman hour and Arabic minute

Detail of the Torre dell’Orologio, note the roman hour and Arabic minute

As it was later in the evening, about 7p, there was no line to take the elevator to the top of the campanile.  Absolutely amazing views from on top, though sadly I was not up there when the bells rang.  Talked with an older British couple on the way up, they were in favor of Brexit.  Amusingly, the brand of the elevator was “SCAM.”  Not very confidence inducing!

Looking to the northeast and the island of Murano

Looking to the northeast and the island of Murano

Looking down onto the basilica's roof

Looking down onto the basilica’s roof

Island of San Giorgio Maggiore, south of Venice

Island of San Giorgio Maggiore, south of Venice

View of Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute

View of Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute

A view of Torre dell'Orologio and the red poles topped by golden lions

A view of Torre dell’Orologio and the red poles topped by golden lions

View of the Doge's Palace

View of the Doge’s Palace

The golden winged lion atop the basilica

The golden winged lion atop the basilica

After returning to ground level I found Michelle and Addison and we headed back toward the hotel.  Along the way we found a Chinese restaurant, Tian Jin, and enjoyed some very good food — appetizers of spring rolls and dumplings, sweet and sour pork for Michelle, beef and onions for Addison, and beef curry for me.

A Venetian canal at dusk

A Venetian canal at dusk

Tian Jin Chinese restaurant, Venice

Tian Jin Chinese restaurant, Venice

Once back at the hotel we debated riding a gondola but decided it was too late.  While Addison stayed in the room Michelle and I went to get some gelato.  Once back at the room we talked with Genetta via Facetime then I blogged and headed to bed.

June 21, 2016

X Marks the Spot

Filed under: Travel — Tags: — BigWeather @ 11:59 pm

We awoke bright and early at 6a, packed our luggage, and hauled it downstairs in time to get breakfast right at the 8a opening.  After a filling breakfast we checked out.  Enrico also helped us with our train schedule for the day, what promised to be the busiest train travel day of the vacation for us.  Travel by rail in Italy is pretty easy and fast if you are going up and down the peninsula (say from Venice to Bologna to Florence to Rome to Naples) but going across the peninsula (in today’s case from Riomaggiore to Venice) requires a bit more train-hopping on slower regional routes.  Ah, well.

We walked down the steep hill to the train station and were able to get an earlier train than anticipated to La Spezia at 8:56a.  After a short ride (about seven minutes) we arrived in La Spezia but as I wasn’t sure we had enough time to make the train to Pisa Central Station we waited for the next one that left about an hour later — giving up all of the gains from getting the early train from Riomaggiore.

Sign at the train station warning of pickpockets

Sign at the train station warning of pickpockets

The train from La Spezia to Pisa had those booths like you’d see in the Harry Potter movies on the Hogwarts Express.  We shared the booth with a guy lugging a skateboard and this other guy that seemed to always be staring at us.  I’d fall asleep and jolt awake and catch him staring.  Don’t know what’s up with that.  I also was afraid we were in the wrong booth as the booth beyond us (or so I thought) had the seat numbers I thought we were supposed to be in.  Addison then pointed out that that was a mirror, haha.

Mountains between La Spezia and Pisa

Mountains between La Spezia and Pisa

Once in Pisa we got a regional train to Florence.  For regional trains we had to be careful to validate our tickets lest we face a 60 euro fine (each!).  Validation is required as the tickets are valid for 2 months from date of purchase rather than a specific time — handy when wanting a more flexible schedule.  The train was pretty packed and the three of us had to sit in separate booths.  Particularly impressive were mountains on the left (north) side of the train.

Arrived in Florence at 12:40p and got tickets on one of Italy’s fastest trains, the Frecciarossa, for 1:15.  Addison and Michelle went and got us all McDonald’s at the station while I stood with the luggage.  I grew worried as the time approached 1:05p but they made it back, food in hand, with time to spare.  Whew!  We settled aboard the train (getting in our assigned seats correctly!) and ate our lunch.  I had the McChicken sandwich and was so hungry that it tasted great.

The Frecciarossa (red arrow) is a very cool, fast, and comfy ride and had nice clean windows and padded seats.  We went for 2nd class premium (only 5 euros more each).  Screens on the train showed how fast the train was going (up to 300kmh, or 200mph).  The only issue was going into tunnels, particularly numerous between Florence and Bologna, would cause our ears to pop.  The train also made this nifty Star Wars-like laser firing sound when transferring to the high speed track.

Side view of the Frecciarossa, Italy's high speed train

Side view of the Frecciarossa, Italy’s high speed train

Front view of the Frecciarossa

Front view of the Frecciarossa

Rail yard in Bologna

Rail yard in Bologna

Countryside in the Po River valley

Countryside in the Po River valley

As we approached Venice (after less than two hours after leaving Florence) a family from New Jersey was being told by a Italian that they weren’t to get off at the first Venice stop (as it is on the mainland) but rather wait for the second one (Venice St. Lucia).  They didn’t seem to understand or care, so I helped drive home what they needed to do.  Who gets on a train with no idea where they are going?!

Arrived at Venice St. Lucia at 3:20p and bought two day passes (30 euros each, ouch) on the water taxi.  We had read that we’d get our money’s worth and we certainly preferred the water taxi to wheeling luggage through Venice.  Took the taxi to the Rialto Mercato stop, the closest stop to our hotel, the Hotel Pensione Guerrato.  Walking through the market (which was just wrapping up for the day) I saw a neat Venice Vice City-styled shirt.  We’d later see an even neater one in Florence and Genetta got one for me, awesome!  Found our hotel not far past the market tucked in an alley.  In America that’d perhaps be cause for concern but we were quickly discovering that in Italy most every hotel seemed to be tucked away down a side street.

Church across the Grand Canal near St. Lucia train station, Venice

Church across the Grand Canal near St. Lucia train station, Venice

Striped poles in Venice's Grand Canal

Striped poles in Venice’s Grand Canal

Michelle sighed that the room was on the third floor (well, European second floor) but it was truly beautiful — wooden rafters, a gorgeous glass chandelier, and red-painted walls.  It felt very Venetian, at least!  They gave us a funky key that we were to leave with the desk and a cute fold-up map of Venice to use on our travels.  The building itself was built in the 1400s.

Chandelier in our hotel room

Chandelier in our hotel room

After a short rest we headed out to explore some.  Venice is pretty amazing to walk around.  Narrow streets (basically alleys) that open up to intimate squares (campo) with people going about their business and socializing.  Of course canals also run throughout the city, most are actually quite narrow and not at all like the wide Grand Canal.  Little stepped foot bridges span those canals.

Gondolas in the Grand Canal, Venice

Gondolas in the Grand Canal, Venice

Small quiet canal in Venice

Small quiet canal in Venice

An intimate (small) Venetian campo

An intimate (small) Venetian campo

One of Venice's narrow streets

One of Venice’s narrow streets

Cool tower in one of Venice's plazas, or campo

Cool tower in one of Venice’s plazas, or campo

Store selling masks in Venice

Store selling masks in Venice

It seems every campo is anchored by a church

It seems every campo is anchored by a church

Another shot of a canal

Another shot of a canal

Typical foot bridge that crosses a small canal

Typical foot bridge that crosses a small canal

We ate at a restaurant that wasn’t that great.  We had bruschetta for an appetizer.  Michelle had spaghetti and prawns, I had spaghetti alla carbonara, and Addison baked beef steak and fries.  That plus two Cokes and two waters and a cover charge (what?) and that the drinks were super expensive (at 4 euros each) made for a pricey affair.

Full if a little lighter in the wallet we headed to San Barnaba church.  I had this only list since the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade used it as the exterior for a library (the famous “X marks the spot” quip).  Took some pictures and such.  Walked back through the streets as the sun was setting.  It was really easy to imagine the past when the streets were the scene of intrigue and such as the shadows settled in.

Small canal and a cool looking tower

Small canal and a cool looking tower

Venice banners flying from a window

Venice banners flying from a window

San Barnaba church, used as the library exterior -- "X marks the spot!"

San Barnaba church, used as the library exterior — “X marks the spot!”

Took the water taxi back to Rialto Mercato, passing under the Ponte di Rialto — the Rialto Bridge.  It is the oldest of the four bridges that span the Grand Canal and I am sure it is normally quite stunning.  However it was under tarp (painted to represent what lay beneath) at the time.  That’s not so bad, after all it is important to maintain the landmarks and Trevi Fountain in Rome was absolutely gorgeous as a result of the dedication to maintenance.  What was most offensive was that they plastered this gigantic ad of a stupid looking lady taking a selfie.  Trust me, I saw waaaaay too many stupid people taking selfies with selfie sticks on this trip already and it was still early!

Venice gondolier on the Grand Canal

Venice gondolier on the Grand Canal

More stripey poles, in ever-stylish Wolfpack colors

More stripey poles, in ever-stylish Wolfpack colors

Ponte di Rialto, covered in tarp and plastered with a hideous ad

Ponte di Rialto, covered in tarp and plastered with a hideous ad

Sunset over the Grand Canal

Sunset over the Grand Canal

Evening leads to some beautiful lighting -- and fewer tourists

Evening leads to some beautiful lighting — and fewer tourists

I just really liked the tiny foot bridge and the poles

I just really liked the tiny foot bridge and the poles

One last sunset picture of the Grand Canal

One last sunset picture of the Grand Canal

Got some gelato near our hotel.  Michelle had dark chocolate and strawberry, Addison had coffee in a cone, I had coffee in a cup.  Ate our gelato on the fish market steps then headed to the hotel and collapsed in sleep.

 

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