Buono journo, friends and vicarious travelers. And, we hope your sleep last night was better than ours!
We didn’t rest so well last night for three reasons:
- our legs ached (ibuprofen and a hot soak in the tub helped,
- the hotel air conditioner is not on (it was cold last week and being in a controlled architectural zone, they must obtain permission to change from the heat to the AC), and
- opening the window let in the cool air, but also all the street noise.
Fortunately, this morning, after an excellent breakfast at the Albergotto Hotel, they upgraded us to a larger, cooler, and much nicer room (not that the last one was a bad room at all). In fact, this one is huge. Twelve foot ceilings and the room itself is 20 x 30 feet – and that does not include the foyer or bath. Nice!
Note not only the palace within, but the palace across the street
Then we were off to an area of town not frequented by many tourists, but one that is right up our alley – the Oltrarno area to the south of the Arno River.
We’ve found that staying in the tourist-only zones of any European city leaves us with an incomplete impression of the city. This is particularly true of Florence.
We’ve been told this area is the best place to get “a sense of rustic, old Florence,” and we received that in spades just wandering the neighborhoods, visiting the shops. We passed many shops of working artists – a man refinishing an ancient wood chair with ornate carving, a shop cleaning and refinishing what looked like ancient painted panels from a church, shops making jewelry, furniture, leather goods … it was a view into the lives of working artisans who each made us feel welcome.
There were several fun markets …
The flowers were gorgeous – especially the Canna Lillies
… and we stopped in at several gorgeous parish churches, as well as a nice coffee and gelato shop. We discovered a hidden view of the Ponte Vecchio …
Ornate watering spots for horses or pets …
Icons, statues of saints, or cherubs overlooking many intersections …
An even a modern icon just above a trash receptacle …
Note – It’s a statue of a woman holding her nose! Cute.
We found the only remaining 14th century gate to the city (through which the road to Pisa ran) …
Near that gate was an interesting piece on a corner of the city wall near the Arno River. Paul McCusker, I’m thinking we need to put this symbol in our next TSI novel … the eye that sees all, looking up river at the city … and the symbol has similarity to the one on our one dollar bill …
By the way, and as an aside, the second novel in the TSI series, Time Scene Investigators: The Influenza Bomb, should be out in the next couple of weeks. If you read it, let me know what you think.
And we saw many more fun knockers … both those warning away door-to-door salesmen …
And those with an even more devilish theme …
For lunch we found a spacious and cheery trattoria hidden near the ancient gate to Pisa. The family-run, we-speak-Italian-only staff, had a simple and ridiculously inexpensive menu with stunningly tasty food.
The house wine was delicious and matched perfectly to spaghetti with tomato sauce, garlic, and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. (Barb smelled of garlic the rest of the day! And, I loved it!!) Barb had a mixed salad, while I enjoyed stewed beef and potatoes, which had a marvelous peppery flavor and a simple rustic feel.
The deserts looked exquisite, but we had gelato on our minds, so after paying our small bill, we were off.
Our late afternoon was spent back on the north shore of the Arno, after crossing over the Arno on the Ponte Vecchio (do you feel like you’re learning your way around by now?), where we visited the Santa Croce Basilica, …
Santa Croce Cathedral
… which is Michelangelo’s home parish (he grew up quite near to this square and church) and his final resting place is inside the church …
Along with the tombs of Galileo …
… Dante …
… and Machiavelli.
After a brief gelato stop (dark chocolate and cream for me, milk chocolate and strawberry for Barb) at Gelateria Grom (unfortunately, Vivoli’s Gelateria was closed today), we were back at the Duomo for a late afternoon tour of its massive baptistery (remember Ghiberti’s doors from yesterday?).
This is believed to be the oldest building in Florence, dating from the 11th century. The dome is as amazing as those in St. Mark’s in Venice – and, with good reason.
In the 1200’s, workers from St. Mark’s came to Florence to do the massive mosaics of the dome in Venetian glass. The pre-Renaissance, Byzantine style is marvelous. And they were stuck on gold!
Here’s how part of the ceiling is described by Rick Steves:
“The Last Judgment on the ceiling gives us a glimpse of the medieval worldview. Life was a preparation for the afterlife, when you would be judged and saved or damned, with no in-between. Christ, peaceful and reassuring, would bless you with heaven (on his right hand, thumb’s up) …
“… or would send you to hell (below Christ’s ultimate thumbs down).
Hell’s the bottom half – not a pretty sight, eh?
“… to be tortured by demons and gnashed. The hellish scene looks like something right out of the Inferno by Dante … who was dipped into the baptismal waters right here.”
We popped back to the hotel to give our legs a well-earned rest … and now are off for an evening in the city.
Tomorrow will include a much anticipated visit to the Uffizi Museum, one of the top four or five art museums in the world – and much more of one of our favorite cities in the world. Hope you’ll come back for more.
Here’s the entire series:
Dr. Walt and Barb’s Italian Adventure — May 8-25, 2010
If you’ve ever wanted to go to Italy (or even if you have in the past), you’ll want to come along with us and enjoy the sites, sounds, food, and art.
Hopefully, this blog will stimulate you to put visiting these amazing cities on your to-do list. Just click on any of the days or cities you want to visit with us.
- Days #1 and 2 – Flight Nightmares
- Okay, so you think you don’t know anyone whose plane to Europe was canceled due to the volcanic ash … or who were on another plane that blew two tires on take off and had to make an emergency landing … well now you do!
- Day #3 – Rome
- Rome and the Vatican Museum. Come visit the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, and Michelangelo’s Pieta.
- Day #4 – Venice
- The tourists call it ‘Venice,’ the Italians call it ‘Venezia,’ while the Venetians call it ‘Venexia.’ Barb and I call it romantic and captivating. Come on an afternoon and evening stroll and be quickly drawn into her whimsical wonderment … right to the Rialto Bridge.
- Day #5 – Venice
- We were awakened by the sound of an accordion and an operatic voice, singing to a couple taking a romantic ride in a gondola in the canal just outside our hotel window. Then off to Piazza San Marco, St. Mark’s Basilica, the Bridge of Sighs, and an amazing discovery.
- Day #6 – Venice to Cinque Terre
- We spent the day traveling to the Cinque Terre. If you’ve never heard of it, you’ll want to visit the next two days with us.
- Day #7 – Cinque Terre Day #1
- We awoke this morning to throw open our shutters and let in the fresh sea air and the sound of the waves crashing on the shore. The music of small children laughing in the square, and the smell of fresh-baked bread from the bar below us wafted up and in our window. Today we explored Riomaggiore, the ‘Via dell’Amore,’ Manarola, and Corniglia. Come along with us.
- Day #8 – Cinque Terre Day #2
- Cinque Terre is a remote mountainous chunk of the Italian riveria that is called “the traffic-free, lowbrow, underappreciated alternative to the French Riveria … just sun, sea, sand (pebbles), wine, and pure, unadulterated Italy … exploring, hiking, shopping, and evening romance in one of God’s great gifts to tourism.” Join us as we visit Monterossa.
- Day #9 – Florence Day #1
- A trip by Carrara (home of the world famous marble), Pisa (home of the world famous tower), and then to Florence for quick visits to the Duomo and the Baptistery to see Ghiberti’s bronze doors. And, it was a hot night in Florence.
- Day #10 – Florence Day #2
- Come visit the Oltrarno area, to the south of the Arno River, to get a sense of rustic, old Florence. Then, off to the Santa Croce Basilica and the amazing tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo, Dante, and Machiavelli.
- Day #11 – Florence Day #3
- The Uffizi Museum, the greatest collection of Italian art anywhere, was our morning adventure. Then join us at Piazzale Michelangelo, where we saw a second copy of Michelangelo’s David, and relived our memories of romance 30 years ago … followed by an evening at the Palazzo Vecchio and a wonderful meal at the Fescobaldi Wine Bar.
- Day #12 – Florence Day #4
- Join us at the underappreciated Duomo Museum and then the Academy, to meet the real David. Our afternoon was Fra Angelica and the Santa Maria Novalle Church. For our Florentine finale, the Lord was pleased to provide us a riverside, bridge-view table near the Ponte Vecchio for sunset.
- Days #13-14 – Rome Days #1-2 – The Wedding
- We’ve been to a lot of weddings in our lives, but a wedding at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican comes right at the top. We had a magnificent time with dear friends, accompanied by fantastic fellowship and food.
- Day #15 – Rome Day #3
- Join us for a journey through the Trastevere area of Rome, and then to devotions at the Church of St. Cecilia, followed by our amazing trip to the Villa Borghese Gallery. Our evening was capped off at the magnificent Trevi Fountain and the the world-famous Spanish Steps.
- Day #16 – Our Last Day – Rome Day #4
- We’ll start at the Roman coliseum, an tour by the Arch of Constantine, the ostentatious Victor Emmanuel Monument, and Bernini’s Four Rivers fountain in the Piazza Novona. As well as a visit with an amazing young man.
We’ve hoped you’ve had fun accompanying us on this trip to Italy, and that one day you’ll be blessed to experience and enjoy her yourself.