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Day 4, 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.

Brancacci Chapel, Santa Maria del Carmine
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.

Photography Prints

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.
Medici Crest on Hotel Casci

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)

Florence, Day 3, 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.

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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.

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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 L 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)
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Fresco on the Ceiling in Palazzo Vecchio

 Piazza della Signoria and Palazzo Vecchio    Perseus By Cellini

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.

Palazzo Vecchio on Piazza della Signoria

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.

Basilica de Santa Maria del Flore

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.

I have a video that we made as we walked through the crowds at the Cathedral complex – pretty entertaining!

Florence, Day 2, 16 July 2013

I slept really 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.   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!

Photography Prints Sell Art Online Photography Prints

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!

Mystery Meat in Florence“>

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.

Photography Prints

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 L.  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.

Photography Prints

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!)
Art Prints
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).

Can’t wait!

Florence, Italy – Day 1

(I’m going to add some old blogs that I wrote last summer here first, to get things started. This is from a 10-day trip we took to Italy)

Day 1 in Florence, 15 July
So, I’m sitting here in my hotel room in Florence at 1000 PM after waking up with a major headache. The last 30 hours have been hectic! We left Lubbock on 13 July to head to DFW, where we spent the night before heading out on an 0830 flight to Florence on the 14th. The flight was fine, despite a 1-hour late takeoff from Philly which caused us to miss our connection in Frankfurt. The USO in Philly is awesome! We had hotdogs and chips – tasty and free, and sat in comfy chairs while we surfed the net and charged the laptop. The Frankfurt Airport – what a mess! We had to go through security again as we changed terminals. I had 2 unopened bottles of water in my bag that I got from the USO in Philly (not realizing we had to clear security again) that I had to throw away.  We walked forever to get to our gate and waited for three hours for the flight.

Glad to finally be here on the afternoon of the 15th and off of a plane, we caught a taxi to our hotel, only to find out that they had a pipe burst on Sunday and most of their room were unusable till it’s fixed (hopefully today or tomorrow). They had already made deals with neighboring hotels to put us up for tonight, and we will move back there tomorrow. A pain for me, but I really appreciate that they found us a place to stay instead of saying “sorry!” Very nice people, and I can’t be upset with them.

We got settled in our hotel, headed to the IT (tourism) office to purchase our Firenzie Cards, which will get us in all the major museums fro 3 days, and allow us to NOT have to stand in long lines to buy tickets. Expensive, but worth it! I headed across the street to the bankomat (ATM), only to find out that my debit card can’t do international transactions, despite the bank assuring me it would. I had to use my MasterCard credit card to get a cash advance. I think I’ll go inside a bank tomorrow and see if I can use the debit card there to get cash. I managed to get 270 Euros with my credit card, and off we went! I’ve found that my basic Italian is good enough, so far. I was able to verify the local time with my taxi driver, introduce myself to the people at the hotel, and order dinner!
Florence Cathedral and Brunelleschi's Dome
Luggage unloaded, cash in hand, camera on shoulder – off we went! First, we came the awesome Cathedral and Baptistery. WOW! I’ve seen photos but to see it in person is amazing – this thing is HUGE and marble. I expected Brunelleschi’s dome to dwarf it, but it didn’t. Another awesome thing, was the crowds around the Cathedral area (but not a good awesome). The line was LONG to get inside. That’s on our itinerary later in the week, I think I may need to readjust it a little. We walked past the Medici Palace, and I was able to peek in through an iron gate at the courtyard. WOW – I knew I was standing on the sidewalk that Michelangelo probably walked on, and was looking into a courtyard where he and Botticelli admired the artworks. This place is also on my list.

Onward to Palazzo Veccio, where David stood for 300 years, before being moved to the Academia, out of the elements. There’s a replica there now, and it’s awesome. I took photos of many of the statues in the plaza and alongside the Uffizi (I think) museum. It’s amazing! Another crowded place. We headed to the Arno River and Ponte Veccio. That was our destination today, just a little “Renaissance Walk”, and dinner and then a nap after our 30-hour trip. We stopped for pizza in a touristy place (it was just ok, nothing special), walked across the bridge lined with gold shops, and headed back. Before getting to the hotel, we stopped at “Perce no?” (Why not?), a Geleteria I’d read about, for awesome Italian gelato. We each got a cup with cantaloupe and watermelon. Melone (cantaloupe) was my favorite when we lived in Aviano 22 years ago. It was just like I remembered! Fresh, ice cold, sweet, juicy cantaloupe – NOTHING like American ice cream.

We walked back through the Cathedral area and crowds, through the horse and carriages waiting for passengers (maybe we’ll take a ride!) and back to the hotel. My foot was KILLING ME, and Tony was cranky – we were both worn out.

We turned the light off at 5:30 and went to bed LOL, and I awoke at 8:30 with a major headache. Took an aspirin, ate a granola bar, and typed this out. I’m feeling better now. I think I’ll take a Z-Quil and go back to bead so I’ll get a good night sleep and wake up fresh tomorrow morning.

First thing on Day 2 in Florence: Climb Brunelleschi’s Dome!!
Can’t wait!!

Ciao, ci vediamo piu tardi!

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