Daily Archives: May 16, 2010

Trip to Italy – Day #9 – Florence Day #1

We were awakened today, Sunday, May 16th, for our third bell cantata by the church bells in Vernazza. Packing and saying goodbye to our hosts, Andrea and Franca Maria, we walked up the street to our last breakfast with Jeff at the Blue Martin Bar.

There are two things I need to say here. The ‘bars’ in Italy, like ‘pubs’ or ‘taverns’ in the UK, are family oriented establishments. Yes, alcohol is served, but in most, so is a simple menu and we enjoyed all our meals here.

Secondly, in his travel guide about Italy, Rick Steves says he has never met an American male who married an Italian female. Well, Rick, you need to meet Jeff the next time you’re in Vernazza.

Jeff was born in California, met his wife-to-be, and has been living here the last few years with not plans to return home. We can understand why.

After breakfast and goodbyes, we were up to the train station to catch our train to Pisa. A surprise on the way was seeing mountains in the distance that looked like they were covered with snow.

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Is it snow???

As the train drew closer, we came to see it was a massive quarry. A fellow traveler told us it was the world famous white marble quarry of Carrara.

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Carrara marble quarry

Carrara marble has been used since the time of Ancient Rome; the Pantheon and Trajan’s Column in Rome which we will see later this week are constructed of it.

Many sculptures of the Renaissance, such as Michelangelo’s David, were carved from Carrara marble. For Michelangelo at least, Carrara marble was valued above all other stone, except perhaps that of his own quarry in Pietrasanta.

Our trained rushed by stations with mountains of monstrous slabs of the marble being prepared for cutting or shipping. All in all, it was an unexpected surprise.

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Multi-ton chunks of Carrara marble

Within an hour we were in Pisa. We’ve not visited here since our trip to Europe as students in 1978. Other than one of the the most famous bell towers in the world …

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Tell me you don’t need a caption for this one? Correct??

By the way, if you’re worried about the lean, don’t be. The final solution to prevent the collapse of the tower was to slightly straighten the tower to a safer angle, by removing only  50 cubic yards of soil from underneath the raised end.

This straightened the tower by 18 inches, returning to the exact position that it occupied in 1838 and was declared stable for at least another 300 years.

In 2008, after the removal of another 70 tons of earth, engineers announced that the Tower had been stabilized such that it had stopped moving for the first time in its history. They stated it would be stable for at least 200 years.

Beside the tower and the accompanying basilica and baptistery, there’s not much to see in Pisa. But, the baptistery is worth a trip.

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Baptistery, Basilica, and Bell Tower in Pisa

What a baptistery it is – the largest in Italy. In gothic and renaissance times, one had to be baptized before entering the church. And, what a baptismal it is …

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One major baptismal font, eh?

No sprinkling here. This is a major immersion tub. You could almost swim laps in it! And, the pulpit is one of the prettiest we’ve seen. Bet our pastor, Bill Story, would love one of these at Little Log Church. Elders, you need to get to work on this …

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Pulpit in the Baptistry in Pisa

Back in the train station at Pisa, we stopped in to a McDonald’s and it’s not like being in the US. There’s a full coffee bar (our usual cappuccino and latte) and a full pastry bar (one chocolate croissant, par favor).

The fast-food restaurant also has Italian-only sandwiches and well as many of the U.S. items. We just went Italian.

After another hour on the train, we were in Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance by 1 pm, found our hotel with little difficulty, and hit the streets for Rick Steves’ “Renaissance Walk.”

We visited the Cathedral of Florence, the Duomo, which stands as the proud symbol of the Renaissance – the rebirth of Greek and Roman culture that swept across Europe in 15th century …

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I’m in front of the Bell Tower, and the Duomo is in the background

In an amazing step of faith, the Duomo was built in the 1300’s with a giant hole in the roof for the dome. There was no technology to build a dome that big at the time.

In the 1400’s an architect finished the job in only 14 years, and it became the largest dome in the world other than the Pantheon in Rome. It also became the model for the dome of our U.S. Capitol in Washington and Michelangelo’s dome at St. Peter’s in Rome.

When he saw the dome, Michelangelo is reported to have said, “Not even the ancients could have done it.” Of his dome over St. Peter’s, he said, “I’ll make its sister … bigger, but not more beautiful.”

… and the Duomo’s Baptistry have two sets of world-famous doors that are said to have “opened the Renaissance” – the most famous of which were designed by a 25-year old artist, Ghiberti, who spent 27 years molding the 10 bronze panels on these two doors.

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Ghiberti’s Bronze Doors in Florence

Of these doors, Michelangelo is said to have commented that they were “fit to be the gates of paradise.” Barb’s favorite panel was the one on the upper left – of creation.

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Ghiberti’s Creation of Adam and Eve

From these beautiful buildings, which we will explore later this week, we wanted the streets with thousands of Florentines (our for Sunday afternoon family walks) and tourists from around the world.

The streets were pretty packed – and, it’s not even high season. Of course, we had to stop at several gelato stores. I had a mint chocolate chip gelato in honor of my daughter, Kate, who was conceived here in Florence in 1978. (More on that story later)

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Note how they put hints to help you know the flavor each gelato

Barb’s favorite so far? Dark chocolate. Mine? Mint chocolate chip!

One interesting building we did visit was the Orsanmichel Church, built as a granary in the 1350 and then converted to a church in 1400. Various guilds would commission artists to do sculptures for the church.

One, on the outside, is of four early Christians that were martyred for refusing to sculpt pagan images.

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Four men who were will likely have a special place in heaven

Below each statue is a bas-relief depicting the guild that paid for the chapter. There is some debate about which guild this represents. Some say the carpenter’s and mason’s guild …

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Ouch!!!

… others say the guys who did discount circumcisions.

The inside tabernacle, which soars to the ceiling, is over 650 years old. Amazing.

From here we were off to the Palace Vecchio, Florence’s political center. It is surrounded by amazing sculpture, including a copy of Michelangelo’s David (one of three we’ll see here).

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Barb in front of the Medici Family Palace. Notice David? I know, hard to miss him with a beautiful woman commanding all the attention!

Then down to the Arno River and one of the most famous bridges in the worlds, the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge). And, indeed, old it is as a bridge has spanned the river here since Roman times.

The bridge is a cacophony of people and a bevy of jewelry shops. Barb had a ball shopping, but fortunately, did not buy anything. The prices they were asking were a King’s ransom.

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The Ponte Vecchio

Then, we completed our afternoon just wandering around the old city, her amazing building, her brisk and bustling bazaars, her charming ambience.

We even stopped at a bronze statue from 1612, where we had stopped over 30 years ago, to rub the nose of an ancient boar for continued traveling safety.

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Remember all the knockers we talked about in Venice. Well, Florence has them also. Here’s one that reminded us of our dear friends John and Nancy Lion in Kissimmee.

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But, as you can see, they make them much, much bigger in Florence …

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Well, Barb’s about walked my feet off. I can’t believe how sore my legs are, so it’s back to the hotel of a good hot soak before bedtime.

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.