Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Florence Day 2: Central Market Food Porn and Surprise Finds

We all met downstairs this morning to grab a quick bite to eat and some coffee. Its been in the 90s here so we wanted to get an early start before the heat wore us down.

We started with the Mercato Centrale which is a ginormous warehouse with individual store stalls selling any food items you can think of. Fish markets, butchers, fresh produce, wine, cheese and bread. Like truffles? Tuscany is home to the best truffles, so you can get olive oils and honeys among other things which are infused with them. Olives you can buy freshly scooped out of water or olive oil, nuts, dried fruit. Its fantastic.

Right outside the Mercato Centrale there is the gauntlet of shopping stalls for leather goods that Florence is known for. These stalls are made for bargaining so don't shop unless you're prepared for it. Remmy wanted a leather backpack that the guy started at €125, I countered with €60 cash, boom. Done.

Next stop was the church of San Lorenzo. This is one of the Medici churches and while it isnt super flashy on the inside, it has many great features such as a carved bronze pulpit made by Donatello. It is attached to a cloister which includes an upstairs library designed by Michelangelo with gorgeous stained glass windows and very odd almost pagan patterned floors. Donatello and the Cosimo the Magnificent are actually buried under San Lorenzo.

Right around the corner is the Duomo, the main cathedral of Florence. Soaring high above the other buildings, its facade decorated with white, green and red marble patterns. The campanile (bell tower) stands beside it, chiming out the Angelus for the entire city to hear. The line to get in was ridiculous so we decided to get a snack and see something else, to come back later after the tour groups were gone.

A short walk away we found the house of Dante Allegheri, author of the major literary work the Divine Comedy. People still use it as apartments! E happened to see a small sign for his church, St Margaret's, where he found inspiration for his writing and he met his wife. That was a nice little find!

Since Sister and her Fiance had eaten dinner the night before and took amazing pictures of a church called Santa Croce, so we decided to check it out. There is a very large square in front of it with only a few shopping stalls scattered ar its edges. It almost looks like a smaller version of the Duomo, with a red brick cloister attached to one side. We hadn't looked up anything on it, just decided to go in to kill time before going back to the Duomo. I'm glad we did because what we found inside totally blew my mind.

Across the floor of the church lay hundred of memorial tablets of the people buried under the floor. Nobles of the Florence, some so old the paint on their crests and engravings have rubbed off. Some have effigies carved in bas relief so you have to be careful where you walk. More important people are buried in highly decorative crypts along the walls. E, Remmy and I walked along reading the plaques. We found plaques for Marconi and Enfermi who were very important to science in the last 100 years. But this didn't compare to the first crypt that blew my mind. The marble gleamed out at us bearing the name Galileus Galileus. In Latin it described his life's studies and I stood there mouth agape not believing what I was seeing. Galileo! Holy crap! Passing a couple important people to the Risorgiamento, we come to the second amazing find. Michelangelo Buonarotti! Red marble plaque with 3 statues of the Muses sitting upon his crypt. It just kept getting better and better. Right next to it was Dante Allegheri and then Niccolo Machiavelli. After sufficiently having a "white girl moment" ("I JUST CAN'T EVEN!") we checked out the small chapels including the Medici chapel.

By then it was quite hot so we had a taxi take us to the Duomo. Since it was quarter to 4 there was no line. Girl Wonder and Remmy went up to see the cupola while E and I waited inside the church. The Duomo is very large, fairly plain on the inside compared to other cathedrals. The attraction is certainly the outside marble decor and the dome. Brunelleschi was definitely a prolific architect and many chapels we've seen were designed by him.

After resting for a couple hours out we went again in search of dinner. Remmy tried the bistecca fiorentino, and we had bufala with prosciutto aling with pork chops. Amazing!

Tomorrow we hit Tuscany for wine tasting.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Masters of Firenze

After a 2 hr train ride from Venice to Florence we hopped a cab to our hotel. Since we arrived right at about check out time, there were about 50 people in line. We were told we couldn't check in until 2:30 but we were welcome to leave our bags in an unsecured baggage check with no one monitoring. Um, no. After an hour I once again asked and successfully negotiated to get at least one of the rooms so we could lock up our suitcases. After that we were off!
Our first stop was the Palazzo Vecchio since its right next to the Ufizzi Gallery where iur first appointment was. We decided to have lunch first, which consisted of pizza, swordfish, gnocchi and penne with salmon. Sister's fiance ordered a beer which was nothing less than German sized because I swear this glass (which was really a small urn) held like 2 liters of beer. The house wines were also excellent and our waiter was fantastic. He kept calling E "Miss Los Angeles".
Of course we had to have the requisite gelato after our meal before seeing all the amazing art in the Ufizzi. The Caravaggios, Botticelli's, Fra Lippi, etc. Its wondrous to see such talent and attention to details! We were getting short on time, so we high tailed it over to the L'Accademia to see the famous Michelangelo's David. He is amazing to behold no matter how many times youve seen him. Remmy and I wondered if Michelangelo drew his subject first then sculpted or if the model actually sat for the entire sculpture. Walking up to the dome where David is you will see many large blocks of marble in various states of completion. Michelangelo was carving people into the rock, and the series is called " The Prsioners". It looks like the people are trying to crawl out of the rock. Did he have in mind what to carve before he started or did he "see" what to carve when he saw the marble? Maybe we'll never really know. The L'Accademia also had an exhibition of art from the Franciscan monasteries they have created when St Francis first started his order. Taking vows of poverty, the art is very simple and rough. Just paint on wood and not the fancy gold leafed tryptichs we have seen elsewhere. The most amazing thing I saw in there was an original copy of Dante's inferno. The writing was SO small. This text is amazing in that it set the standard for a unified Italian language, which is Florentine Italian.
After going back to our room to escape the midday heat (it was 95 oof!), 3 of us went to dinner at the L'Bottegha di Donatello. When traveling, I have a policy of trying food and drinks that a location is known for. In Florence, those items are bistecca fiorentino and gelato. E got the bistecca which is not just a steak. Its a t-bone steak specifically made from chianina beef which is raised locally in Tuscany. Its very sparingly seasoned and seared so the meat is very tender and melts in your mouth. If you order this anything more cooked than medium rare then you're just wrong and you should haze yourself right now. We definitely needed the walk back to digest all that deliciousness!
Tomorrow is wandering Florence, seeing the cathedrals, the market and Dante's house.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Churches and artists: AKA weird sh** you see in Venice and Leonardo da Vinci

After drinks and coffees we all headed out onto the vaporetto for the cruise down the Grand Canal. It was around 88 and humid today, making it pretty hot. The boats were packed with people all out seeing the sites.
Once we got to Piazza di San Marco we waited in line to get in. This basilica goes further than the others in that your knees must barely be showing, and shoulders cannot be seen. Sister's fiance had to buy a tshirt, Sister and Girl Wonder had to cover their knees with a plastic cover. The insides of the basilica were amazing!!! The insides of the cupolas featured saints, angels and the apostles. The gold tiles sparkled in the midday sun that crept in from overhead. Its very shady inside but gives the impression of a space larger than it is.
Once we left St Marks we headed back to the boat to hit the glass makers island of Murano. The glass makers sometimes have their workshops open so you can watch them, although today we just ate lunch because we were lacking time. After a great meal at Acqua Stanca we headed back and barely got to Santa Maria della Salute before it close. Its a large church in a circular shape with a byzantine style icon at the alter. Very beautiful.
Being adventurous and not having any plans we decided to walk thru Dosoduro instead of taking the boat. We were treated to a very eye opening experience in hand made art of all kinds. From hanging lamps, to a multitude of shops that make carnivale masks, to odd paintings and sculptures that made us scratch our head. It wasnt so much we didnt get modern art (Remmy wondered aloud if it was the paint we were supposed to admire, so Girl Wonder said "but its not a good job, its just not!"), some of it was just down right weird. Like the statues of males that were sort of looked like a Benetton ad, they were nude but hands in their pockets? Or the super weirdo Lladro figurines that were almost a foot tall and looked like demented kids in bunnysuits. Thankfully we were saved by coming upon the old St Barnabas church which just happened to be an exhibition where they built a bunch of Leonardo da Vinci's inventions. How cool is that??!!! I didn't even see it on our map or in a guide book. Totally great find!
We topped our night off by having a delicious dinner while Sister and her fiance went and had a romantic evening by themselves. The last night of the fullmokn was lovely to behold!
Tomorrow we head to Florence!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Aaahhh la laguna di Venezia!

So we arrived in Venice after 2 legs of uneventful flight on Air Canada, which had no wifi. I mean cmon Canadians, get with the program! Thankfully I had books and movies already loaded on my tablet to keep me occupied.
After taking the express bus, we arrived in the beautiful former maritime republic  of Venice. Remmy and Girl Wonder joined us shortly after they arrived at the train station. Nice airy room, minor trouble with the a/c but we had that rectified later, and a nice strong wifi. Woot woot!!
After a tasty lunch at Da Nino of roasted chicken, tortellini, and spaghetti carbonara, we set out about the city to see what there is to see.
We took a long ride down the Grand Canal staring in wonder at 16th century palazzos that still stand regally above the water, their doors waiting for visitors to pull up. Some have a beauty in their decrepit outer layers with painted peeling off faded wooden shutters, moss growing up from the lagoon steps and wrought iron gates. As if at any time they might sink into the water in front of you.
We pass by the famous Rialto Bridge,  full of shops and tourists, and head toward our first stop of the Basilica di Santa Maria di Salute. Its cupola looms above the skyline from its prominent place at the end of the canal. White marble stairs gleam in the fading light of day while we stared unabashedly at the many carved saints and angels on its facade. The sculpture of Our Lady sits atop the door while the statue of the Queen of Heaven perches on the dome itself. Since it was closed we checked the hours to come back tomorrow.
One more stop down has us at the Doge's Palace and the Piazza San Marco. A full moon helps illuminate the piazza's buildings as tourists take pictures of this remarkable church. Sleek black gondolas moored at the waterfront create a vision of Venice that many people only see in books or movies. Its easy to see why this city is so loved.
We decide to get off the vaporetto and navigate the mazelike walkways thru the city back to our hotel. Even though we stopped a couple times to orient ourselves, we did well following map in the dark!
Tomorrow we take on the 2 basilicas and maybe the Arsenale.