Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Italy For Beginners: Part Due

 The Florence skyline is dominated by the "Duomo", a beautiful domed cathedral that solidly fills the square like the king of the city.

The outside walls have a green and white tiled pattern that is dizzily intricate and symmetrical.





Crowds gather early to tour the cathedral, and another line snakes around a side entrance to climb the millions (ok, hundreds) of steps up to the dome.  My husband Mark and I, along with our friend, Keith got in line fairly early and began to climb.  Carol, who is a wee bit clautrophobic, wisely stayed out of the narrow and airless stairwells.


I must admit, I got a bit panicked when the crowds coming down from the top met the crowd coming up.  I thought, "Haven't these Italians ever heard of walkie talkies?  Anyone who has ever been to Disneyland could manage this cloister clutter.

 I was smiling, but I was really worrying about how I was going to get down without screaming and strangling someone.
The rotunda is fresco-ed with incredible figures, including horribly grotesque scenes of judgment and condemnation.  Because you have to crane your head back on your shoulders to take them in, your neck-ache will remind you for days that you have been suitably warned that you are going straight to hell.
 These beautiful gates to the baptistry, symbolic of baptism being an entrance into heaven were a balm.  Every scene tells a biblical story. They are massive, sealed behind heavy glass in a climate controlled case to preserve their beauty.  It was a life's work for Lorenzo Ghiberti, taking 21 years.  Michelangelo called them "The Gates of Paradise"

There is also an unpolished Pieta by Michelangelo.  It features Nicodemus holding the crucified Christ.  The face of Nicodemus is a self portrait of Michelangelo.  I loved seeing the chisel marks on the unpolished parts, knowing whose hand made them.

Dinner that night was on a charming side street where we watched men in beautiful suits and women in dangerous high heels totter over the cobblestones on their way to a nightspot. 

A dreadlocked couple in contrived looking gypsy clothes took a table near us and then asked other diners for their leftovers.  I had none to give.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Italy for Beginners: Part Uno

If I told you that I packed for nearly three weeks in Italy in carry on luggage would you believe me?  Well I wouldn't believe me either but I did it.  Due to a slight obsession with the travel advice of PBS Europe-obsessed traveler,

Rick Steves  
I became convinced that I wasn't woman enough to wrestle my entire wardrobe from train to train.  It was good advice.  Mark and I had been anticipating this trip for a long time with our friends

Keith and Carol, who make their home south of London.  Keith is a great planner and after we decided on our itinerary, he made all of the arrangements for hotels, train tickets and where to start and end our adventure.

We flew overnight to London, met the Brooks and then flew on to Pisa where we took a bus to Florence.  Trundling our suitcases over the cobbled streets we found our
home away from home for the next 5 days,The Hotel Lombardia,
 managed by a friendly and accommodating brother/sister team that didn't freak out when crazy things happened like a certain someone spilling Diet Coke all over the bed.

Florence, "Firenze" to Italians, is a very walkable city, unless a bike race comes to town which closes off streets for blocks.  Luckily, this didn't happen until our last day.
We bought a "Firenze Card" which is so much prettier than my Costco Card I haven't been able to part with it.  It was expensive, but entitled us to admission to most of the museums we wanted to see, including the Uffizi Gallery.  The Uffizi is a massive U-shaped building around a courtyard bristling with statuary.  Actually, if you never entered one building in Florence, there is enough art in the niches of cathedrals, loggias and every nook and cranny to deeply satisfy an art lover. 

The collection in the Uffizi is mind boggling.  There are halls and rooms full of statues and busts, acres of paintings  just slightly older than Adam and Eve, and so much beauty your eyes eventually glaze over about the time your legs give out.
I called this the "Stayin' alive" room and dedicated it to John Travolta












This perfectly proportioned room was not just ornate, but beautiful, the ceiling decorated with hundreds of abalone shells, the mosaic tiled floor a masterpiece.
With so much perfection, of course I was drawn to the unusual portrait of this guy, whose front and backsides were hung back to back in the middle of a gallery.  Never has a hummingbird been used so effectively as a fluttering modesty protector.

In the evening we ate the first of the many l-e-i-s-u-r-e-l-y dinners that we would learn to enjoy.  We were outside, and this was the view behind my chair.  Dinner is rarely begun before 8pm and we often finished at 11pm, a time when I am usually sound asleep.  But there was just something about Italy.

Here is the first of what would be many, many many gelatos that I would voraciously consume during my stay in Italy.  My favorite?  Nocciola, which I can ask for like an Italian due to constant practice.  It is a magical concoction of hazelnuts made by magicians.  I'm crying tears of frustration remembering.  I ate Nocciola every day and am still not weaned.

As we walked back to our hotel that first night we passed the Basilica of San Lorenzo, where a music school was giving a recital.

There were small string ensembles, piano solos and woodwind numbers that filled the beautiful space.  We walked back to our hotel through narrow streets in the cool air under a full moon.