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