Sunday, November 19, 2017

Florence - what treasure will we find today - Piazzale Michelangelo

It's cappuccino time, where should we have it today.   Pull out our little map and we see a landmark just down the road from us so off we head.  Wonderful, having a coffee looking up at the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi.  Built for Cosimo the Eldest (have to keep our Cosimo's straight) around 1450.  In 1540 Cosimo de Medici moved to the Palazzo de Vecchio when he became Grand Duke of Florence.  The other family members stayed in this palace.  The picture above is a view from one of the many windows in the palace.  Now it is a museum.  An interesting section of the palace was turned into a costume museum, showing designs and material from different eras.

LOL next to the David, this might be one of my favourite statues.

There were magnificent tiered gardens rising up the hill.  They must have been in great shape back then, especially the workers carrying all the pieces of marble and rocks up for the artists as they built their statues and fountains.
 After a busy few days we thought we would take it easy today.   How perfect that right at the bottom of the Palace is a new favourite pizza restaurant.  After some good carbs it is time to start wandering again.
If you like seafood, Italy is definitely the place to be.  There were fresh fish in every restaurant.  Love taking pictures of them, but not in a hurry to eat one.  I was more than happy to settle for pasta and pizza.

This is definitely going to be worth a visit on the way back

The river Arno might be one of the quietest rivers I have ever seen, it could be called Glass or Mirror River, the reflections all along it were magnificent.

A wandering type of day sometimes means following the people.  River on the left, beautiful villas and houses on the right.  We come to this little road and people start to turn up it, so we do too.  We have no idea where we are going but what the heck.  What a find, other than the fact that I felt like we had just climbed up the equivalent of Mt Everest, we happened upon the Piazzale Michelangelo with just an amazing view of the city of Florence, along with another beautiful statue of the David and an open air market. 

After catching our breath as we wander around the square we realize we aren't at the top yet.  Just a we bit further up is the Church of San Salvatore, referred to by Michelangelo as "La bella Villanella".  As we walked around it there were the cries of babies and laughter of their parents reverberating around the church as today was a celebration of baptism.

So much for our relaxing day, looks like a new step record is going to be hit, as we start wandering back down the hill.  Looking forward to that glass of wine looking over the Arno.  Tomorrow the newlyweds and Al and Chris Graham arrive.  Lots to talk about, lots to do.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Pisa - home of the Leaning Tower

One of the reasons for picking Florence as our base for a week, was how easy it was to get to so many places.  Train travel in Italy is wonderful so today we hopped on a local train for a trip out to Pisa to see the Leaning Tower.  The train ride was about an hour, with what felt like a majority of it going through tunnels under the hills.  Before we knew it we landed in Pisa and had no idea where to go, but out popped the phone and google search had us heading in the right direction.  The first thing we came to was the Arno river, yes the same river that goes through Florence, right out to the Tyrrhenian Sea with a view of Santa Maria della Spina erected in the 1200s.  It was an amazing day, shorts, walking shoes, bottle water and my camera were all that was needed.  Jim would take care of feeding me :)

Everywhere we looked people were taking selfies or taking pictures of each other trying to hold the tower up.  How could we resist.  LOL it is harder than you think especially with so many people around.  My left hand actually looks like it is grabbing that poor man's bottom.


9 centuries after the tower was built it is still a big tourist attraction, even in October.  To help with crowd control, the city did timed entries to the church, the baptistery and the bell tower.  In the summer you better book these as soon as you book your flight.  The first time we could get was for 4 pm.  The sunset times were fully booked.  

We had no idea of the importance of the baptistery, we presumed it was for baptizing babies which it was.  What we didn't know was that you couldn't go into the church until you had been baptized and that back in the early days of Christianity, baptism required a full immersion of the body, not just a sprinkling on the head.  

The Piazza del Duomo (Cathedral Square) included the Baptistery (above) and the actual Cathedral and the Bell Tower.  The clergy would climb 296 steps on the south side to ring the bell to bring the townspeople to services, while the north side has only 294 steps.  Restoration work done in the 90's corrected the lean from 5.5 degrees to 3.99.   

I guess there is something to be said for getting a wee bit older.  In the last few years I have had lunch in the shadow of the Pantheon in Rome, the Eiffel Tower in Paris and now the Leaning Tower in Pisa.  Tick Tick Tick off my bucket list.  Tick Tick Tick as I add more places on to it.

The actual Town of Pisa is charming, full of cafes, little squares and lots of history.  Below is the Church built for the Order of Knights of St Stephan.  The Medici family was everywhere in Tuscany, this church was built by the Grand Duke Cosimo de Medici to help fight piracy on the seas.  

Italy is still full of amazing artists.  Imagine spending all day drawing this beautiful picture only to have it washed away by the street cleaners every night.  I couldn't even do a stick figure that would resemble a person never mind the detail this young man put into his work.

One final selfie as we head back to Florence.  Another reason why we picked Florence to stay in, you can have a glass or 2 of wine for lunch, relax in the apartment and then walk out for dinner without having to worry about driving, or cabs.  Priceless.

Florence - Love at first Sight

Our next adventure began with a train trip from Venice to Florence - home of the Renaissance , one of the wealthiest cities of Medieval Europe and home to the Medici Family.  If you haven't watched the Netflix series about the Medici I highly recommend it.  Florence came to life for us as we wandered over bridges and through squares with little bits of the Medici Family everywhere.

Our Windows on Italy - Raffaello apartment exceeded all our expectations.  It is located in the Oltarno district which is famous for it's craftsmen, restaurants and a buzz of activity filled with tourists but also lots of locals.  Another great advantage to our apartment it was easy to find :) which is important with all the alleys and lanes.  50 yards from our door was a gelato store and another 50 yards was the Ponte alla Carraia (first built in the 1200s).  Finding our way home became very easy as you walked to the River Arno, 2 bridges west of Pont Vecchio (the covered bridge) was our bridge and home for the next week.

 Time to start wandering.  Florence famous for its merchant trade hasn't changed much, shops everywhere, very expensive shops everywhere.  Shoes, boots, one of a kind designer stores.  I went into one store, of course it was a baby store, the 1st outfit I asked about was 100 euros, oops maybe not, I love our Peanut, but I don't think he will be visiting the Queen anytime soon.  :)

 There were famous squares everywhere, turn a corner and there was another beautiful square, full of history, statues, wonderful architecture and small cafes serving exquisite wine while you watched the tourists with their phones and cameras capturing pictures everywhere of everything.  Above is the famous Palazzo Vecchio, the town hall of Florence and once the official seat of Cosimo de Medici.  It is situated in the Piazza della Signoria, the original David sat at the entrance to the Palazzo until it was moved in 1873.  This replica was made in 1910.

 Above is the Loggia dei Lanzi, built in 1376 and home to some amazing statues dating back to the 1500s.  It is such a surreal feeling sitting amongst so much history.  Below is the Uffizi Gallery the most visited art gallery in Italy.  Many of its treasures were - yes you guessed it - gifted to Florence by the Medici Family.

As we wander back to our apartment the sun is setting over Ponte Vecchio.  One of the most famous bridges in Florence it was first built in 996.  Famous now for its many jewelry shops that fill both sides of the bridge.    

A lovely apartment to relax in, a glass of Italian wine and we are ready to head out to dinner.  One of the things we didn't realize when we picked our location was the abundance of amazing restaurants literally down the street from us.  Luckily there were so many as the first 4 we went to were sold out.  The 5th one was a lovely family style Italian restaurant full of people but we managed to get a seat in the courtyard.  2 lovely ladies sat beside us and we started up a conversation with them, love the little touches of fate that you run into as your travel. They were a mother and daughter from Sweden and their grandfather's name was Karlsson.  In the 1930s there were so many Karlsson's in Sweden that her grandfather changed his name to something like Myrenberg, it turns out she has 2 nephews she is expecting to see play in the NHL.  Food was wonderful, night was magical, only 1 short day in Florence and I have fallen in love.  

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Venice Day 3 - Gondolas

The true magic of Venice to me was definitely the beautiful gondolas.  They entertained me everyday as I enjoyed my cappuccino, pizza or wine.  Between 9 am to 10 pm there were 100's of gondolas plying their trade up and down the Grand Canal and through the smaller canals.  Jim and I opted for the 10 pm ride, it was amazing, we were basically the only gondola on the water, it was so calm and the lights of the grand canal were magical.  Our Gondolier was able to tell us all about his job and the spots that we passed.  It must have helped that he wasn't trying to skirt in and out among water taxis, buses, delivery boats and other Gondolieris.  There are 450 gondola's in Venice now and they work 2 days on and 2 days off.  In their heyday during the 15th century there were 10,000 gondolas.

Every gondola has the same iron prow-head.  In the picture above we were lucky enough to be enjoying a glass of wine as the sun started to set and it made the prow-head look like it was on fire as it danced on the waves. 
"The iron prow-head of the gondola, called "fero da prorà" or "dol fin", is needed to balance the weight of the gondolier at the stern and has an "S" shape symbolic of the twists in the Canal Grande. Under the main blade there is a kind of comb with six teeth or prongs ("rebbi") pointing forward standing for the six districts or "sestieri" of Venice. A kind of tooth juts out backwards toward the centre of the gondola symbolises the island of Giudecca. The curved top signifies the Doge's cap. The semi-circular break between the curved top and the six teeth is said to represent the Rialto Bridge. Sometimes three friezes can be seen in-between the six prongs, indicating the three main islands of the city: Murano, Burano and Torcello." Gondola - Wiki
 St. Mark's square was definitely the main gondola depot.  As nice as it is among the smaller canals the views on the Grand Canal were amazing.

 This is October in Venice, relatively low season or at least a wee bit quieter than May to September and the canals were like the DVP.  Wall to wall gondolas just drifting along, it was hardly worth poling. btw the canals are very deep so the poles don't ever touch the bottom, all their maneuvering is the way the Gondolier walks up and down the back and the way he pushes the oar on the oarlock ( fórcola)

 All 3 nights Jim and I sat here at the main part of the canal and watched boats filled with tourists and romantic couples.  Watching the gondolas try to park reminded me of the mall at Christmas.  Gondolas would go in and out of parking spots to let the tourists out and then fill right back up again and start all over.  During the day it was 80 euro for the boat, you could then put in up to 6 people.  If you wanted a musician that was extra :).  Jim and I paid 100 euro for the romantic night time trip, it was well worth it.  There was more time spent on the water than trying to park.

 Can't you just picture heading off to the opera, the gondola would pick you up at your door and take you to the opera door.  Your outfit might be as wide as the gondola.  I can't picture how they managed to get in and out with their hair piled high, their fancy shoes and their crazy fancy outfits and sometimes wearing a mask.  :)  I would definitely have landed in the water.

 With all my watching and my camera at the ready I never saw anyone land in the canal :)  

Thank you Venice for sharing your magic with us.