Italy Day 10: Florence

In CategoryTravels

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Florence / Firenze (As the Italians say)

As I alluded to last post, we didn’t sleep a wink due to the fact that our air conditioning was broken and our room was about 100 degrees (barely exaggerating!).  Today was one of our biggest, most impressionable and cultural days on our trip, and I was definitely sleep deprived!  Bah!

Early today we had a guided tour with a local woman to the Academia Gallery where we saw Michelangelo’s “The David“… perfect!  The 6 ton marble statue is situated at the end of a longish hallway on a pedestal all by himself.

Michelangelo's David

Light streamed in through the dome up above him.  Upon first glimpse of this amazing piece of art, it literally took my breath away.  I was in awe!  Its beauty, size – 17 feet tall, protruding veins in his lowered hand, ribs, muscles, tendons, peaceful face … just the most beautiful piece of art I’ve ever seen.

His feet and hands were larger and out of proportion to the rest of his body.  It is believed by some that it was intentional since he was originally intended to be viewed from afar and from down below in a church.  Still others believe they are bigger to help the statue stay balanced.  Who knows?  I could have stayed there admiring Michelangelo’s finest work forever.

The David is from the biblical story of David and Goliath.  There is disagreement whether David was sculpted to depict him before, or after his battle with the much larger Goliath.  His veins are protruding on the downward hand, and are flat on the hand that is held upward, holding the slingshot.  The anatomy is so intricately depicted.  All of Michelangelo’s dissections of corpses certainly paid off!  David is magnificent!

The marble used for the statue was from a quarry in Northern Tuscany.  Michelangelo was only 26 years old when he was commissioned to complete the work that was barely started by another artist 25 years prior.  It only took him 3 years to complete David, and his reveal was in 1504.

According to Michelangelo,      ” … free forms are already inside the stone … the work of sculpting was simply a matter of chipping away all that was not part of the statue.”  Quite humble I might say!

David was originally placed in the Piazza della Signoria in Florence, but was eventually moved to the Academia Gallery, where no photos are allowed.  A copy of David is in front of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence today.

Copy of David in front of Palazzo Vecchio

We toured the  Basilica di Santa Croce di Firenze, or the Church of the Holy Cross of Florence.  The following photo is not mine, since we both forgot to photograph its facade.

Basilica di Santa Croce (wiki photo)

Inside this basilica are 16 different chapels.  The inside has plain wooden pews, but has marvelous frescoes by Giotto.

There are  tombs of  Galileo, the famous Italian astronomer and of Michelangelo, the famous artist.

Galileo's Tomb

Michelangelo's tomb

After a Florentine leather work demonstration, we ate lunch at a local pizzeria on Neri St.(quite tasteless, really). We picked up a gift and then we headed on over to Piazza della Signoria, to get in line for the Uffizi Museum.

Of course there were no photos allowed, but we did see some of the world’s most gorgeous and famous paintings here. Thanks to Wiki for their photos of famous paintings.

The Birth of Venus - Botticelli

Adoration of the Magi - Leonardo da Vinci

Doni Tondo (Holy Family) - Michelangelo

We could of spent days in this museum of world class paintings, but after a few hours, we needed to go back to the hotel to prepare for the evening festivities.

Our evening was spent in La Certosa at a 14th century monastery, followed by dinner and lively entertainment at a restaurant just across the way.

La Certosa - 14th Century Monastery

Apparently there are only 7 monks living in this massive monastery.  We were given strict instructions to not speak with them should our paths cross (which they didn’t of course)!

There was beautiful artwork, as well as a gorgeous church with amazing 3 dimensional paintings of angels in the corners.

Now take a look at those little angels just leaning straight out of the corners. They look like 3-D statues, but they’re just painted to look that way. That stuff really intrigues me!

3-D looking statues that are really just a flat painting

The gardens and grounds are kept by “lay men”, who deliver food and do everything else.  There is even a small graveyard in the center garden with monks on one side and lay men on the other.  Check out the skull and cross-bones on the stone supports.

We even got to tour a monk’s room. It was larger than I thought with an eating/ desk area, bedroom, longish corridor to walk in and get exercise, and a small outer garden area.

The lay men would deliver food through a small opening in double doors. If the food isn’t picked up within 3 days, then they could peek through a 3 inch peep hole to see if the monk is dead. Only twice a year, could the monks actually invite 2 family members to visit for the day, then it was back to silence.  Weird life!

Dinner was down the road at the restaurant, La Certosa del Galuzzo (monks), that has a relationship with the monastery. They provide the monks with all their meals, and in turn, the monks allow select tour groups to visit their monastery. I guess that’s a win, win, win, situation for everybody!

The photo on the right shows the violinist, accordion player, and Valentina … the ear shattering opera singer. Who’d ever guess that such a small woman could produce such an enormous sound!  The servers were dressed as monks and also provided the entertainment.  The old, heavy set monk, was smitten with Maria in our group, and kept dancing and singing to her.  The night was very entertaining, and the food was superb!

The menu consisted of:

I sat next to the younger Australian, Troy, and we laughed the whole evening. One course on our menu was stuffed duck, and I thought I actually saw a little webbed duckling foot sticking up off of a plate across the room from us. We laughed so hard at this, that we could barely eat. This little “duck” joke would come back to haunt us the next day, so stay tuned for that funny episode.

We were offered “rocket fuel” liqueurs made by the Certosa Monks after dinner. Although we refused, some of our fellow travelers took the shots of alcohol which nearly knocked them on their a#*es.

Then it back to the hotel to rest up for tomorrow’s adventure in Southern Tuscany!

Molto Bella! Very Beautiful!

Aiuto! Help me!  Today was the best, but I was so exhausted!

Italy Day 9: Bologna and Florence

In CategoryTravels

Monday June 7, 2010


Grazie Tante – (Thank you a lot) for reading about my amazing trip!

Today we had a very long (approx. 6 hour) bus travel day.  We had a few stops along the way to help break up the trip.  Our first stop was at an “Auto Grill”.  As I said before, this is for the fast and furious who are on a mission to load up on caffeine.

We traveled another two hours and then stopped in Bologna, which is famous for it Bolognese meat sauce and its university.  It wasn’t my favorite place but had a few interesting sites to visit.

We went inside the  Basilica di San Petronio, which is the 5th largest church in the world.  It  houses some very beautiful frescos and Cassini’s (astronomer) Sundial which is a meridian line inlaid in the flooring back in 1665.

ornate ceiling

We were not allowed to take photos inside the Basilica, but there were a few frescoes done by Giovanni da Modena, that stood out to me.  These were based on the work called the “Divine Comedy”, by a 15th century Italian poet named Dante.  There was beautiful heaven, and then Giovanni depicted Dante’s inferno in the most detailed and disturbing fresco painting.  Apparently Satan is eating Judas and excreting him out the other end (if you know what I mean).  Also, there are two popes in hell, along with Muhammed being devoured by demons.  This painting has been quite controversial for the obvious reasons.  Click on link to see the fresco.

We toured the old University of Bologna and got to sit in the 16th century “Anatomical Theater”.  Back in those times, due to religious reasons, it was prohibited to dissect corpses. So dissections of corpses were done secretively in this room, on this very table (ignore electric stuff on the table – previous demonstration). It was quite eerie in there! I may be wrong, but I thought I heard that Michelangelo studied anatomy there.

This statue of Neptune is in the Piazza Maggiore, very near to where we had lunch. I had a lovely shell pasta salad with sweet cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, black olives and a light basil and olive oil dressing. Yum!

We walked through a deli before lunch and snapped some nice pictures of food!

sweet treats

After lunch we found our way to el poste, a post office, where we took a number and were “lost” trying to simply mail our postcards. Luckily we asked an nice American college student how it all worked, and she directed us to a drop box outside the building. You never really know how difficult simple things can be with a language barrier!

We then were back on the bus to our next destination: Florence!


It took about 2 hours on the bus to get to Florence and upon arrival we made a short stop at a tour attraction of a “fake green David.”  This statue paled in comparison to the Michelangelo’s real David!  The overlook of Florence was stunning nevertheless.

Benito, our tour bus driver had to have special permission to navigate the narrow roads of Florence in the coach, in order to drop us off near the town square at the Grand Hotel Cavour. Apparently it cost the tour company 500 Euro to have such a privilege… so those are the perks we paid for, ha!

Upon arrival, we did a short walking tour to the Neptune Fountain Piazza. Our guide pointed out the Academy Gallery – the home of Michelangelo’s original statue of  “David,” and the Uffizi Art Museum which is famous for its gorgeous paintings.

Neptune Fountain in the piazza

There also was another fake “David” in this piazza.

Fake David in Neptune Fountain Piazza

Dinner tonight was with the group at a cozy, charming, local Italian restaurant.  I actually ate some goose liver pate (first and last time … so sorry Mother Goose!) as an appetizer.  We sat with 3 other Aussie couples and had a really fun time.  Tim and Denise were just great to talk to.

After dinner we strolled around for awhile to admire Florence and her beauty in the evening.

Ponte Vecchio over the River Arno

Ponte Vecchio is well known for its high end shops, and has been in business as such for hundreds of years (Dave’s fact … not mine).

This is a statue of Giotto, who was a famous painter and architect during the late Middle Ages.  He broke away from the Byzantine crude style of painting and drew accurate paintings from life.  We saw his extraordinary fresco work in Assisi as well as his paintings in four chapels in Santa Croce in Florence.

Giotto - famous painter

We enjoyed the company of our “younger” new friends on the tour.

Italianas? No?

The church photos are of the Basilica di Santa Maria.

"Porcellino" - Little Pig

I tossed in a coin, and rubbed the nose of “Porcellino”, or “little pig.” It is believed that if you do this, you will return to Florence one day.  That would be nice!

Well it was off to bed for what turned out to the worst sleep of the entire vacation.   More about that tomorrow.

Maiale – pork
I guess I was thinking about Porcellino!
Buonanotte goodnight

Italy Day 8: Murano & Venice

In CategoryTravels

Sunday, June 6, 2010


docked sailboats on the way to Murano

Early this morning after breakfast, we took a boat ride over to the island of Murano.  This island is very famous for the beautiful glass that is blown there.  We saw a demonstration of  this very old art form.   There are only about four glass blowing businesses left there nowadays.

Don’t ask me how exactly, but this guy took a little sand, silica, and coloring,  then heated it way up in a furnace. Next, he spun it around and stretched it (creating a shape) with some tools, and then blew strong puffs of air into the tube to create a very pretty vase. Hence the glass blowing … duh! Simply amazing!

These little gems can cost upwards of thousands of dollars! There were showrooms where you could purchase glass blown items. It was like a shark feeding frenzy, only the sharks were women and the chum was glass jewelry. I had to leave, it was so overwhelming.

On our trip, our tour guide was sporting a marvelous lime green, three stranded, authentic Murano necklace that cost about $360 Euro or about $500 U.S. dollars. That instantly blew my desire to find and purchase one similar to it. People on our tour were saying she must get quite a hefty kick back for taking us there, especially since she was grabbing some earrings and such to go with it. Hmmmmm, quite some nice perks!


After Murano, we were once more boating back to Venice for a day to do what we pleased.  Along the walk to St. Mark’s Square, we saw  Lord Byron’s Bridge of Sighs, which connects the Doges’ Palace to the Prisons.

Bridge of Sighs

This bridge got its name because of the prisoners who were condemned to death.  When they walked over it on the way to be executed, they stopped and looked out over the waters of Venice one last time, and sighed. Although we didn’t see the Leaning Tower of Piza this trip, we did see the “Leaning tower of Venice,” as you can see in the photo.

leaning tower of Venice

I absolutely loved this Dolce & Gabbana wall mural on the side of this ancient building.  It was such irony, but I thought it looked very cool indeed!

huge, absolutely huge!

The first thing we did in Venice was to go to the top of the Basilica of St. Mark.  The actual Basilica didn’t open to the public until 1:00, but we were able to peek into it from the top walkways of the museum.  This was a Byzantine Basilica and all the art work was done with millions of  little mosaic tiles.

Everything here in Italy is so old and majestic! After the Basilica of St. Mark, we ate a picnic lunch in the shade beside it. Then we were off and about with the millions of other tourists exploring and enjoying the maze of Venice in the blistering heat.

There was an old gypsy beggar outside this church. In Italy you can go into any church you please, although some famous ones restrict your photography and dictate your dress code.

The Rialto bridge is just as lovely on land, as it is when you’re in a boat going under it.
Apparently eel is quite the delicacy in Italy. This shop owner tried to make a nice display with fruit and a lemon in it’s mouth, but as you can see, it is still horrid-looking! Gross!

There were many cart venders on the walkways. By 3:00 we were hot and tired, so we got on a boat to return to Lido for a quiet evening.

little sidewalk cafe on Lido

Dinner tonight was at a little cafe on the main street in Lido. We shared a spicy sausage pizza that was very good, along with a bottle of water that cost $3.60 Euro – ridiculous!  They almost never brought out tap water.
The sunset that night was outstanding, so we walked over to the pier and took lots, and lots, of photos of the sunset over Venice.
Molto bella!

Another amazing day in Italy! We fell into a deep slumber in order to be ready for Bologna and Florence tomorrow.

Buonasera – good evening!