Monday, October 19, 2009

Florence, Italy (September 17, 2009)

On Thursday morning we had to say goodbye to Giuliano, Michelle & Sophia. We jumped on the train & made our way back to Florence to meet up with Christi and her mom, Cathey. We met them at the train station and checked in our hotel room.

This is a shot of the Badia Fiorentina bell tower from our room window. It is famous for being the parish church of Beatrice Portinari, the love of Dante's life. Dante grew up across the street in what is now called the Casa di Dante. In 1373 Boccaccio delivered his famous lectures on Dante's The Divine Comedy in the church.

It was founded as a Benedictine institution in A.D. 987 and was one of the chief buildings of medieval Florence. Between 1284 & 1310 the Romanesque church was rebuilt in Gothic style. Unfortunately it had to be rebuilt in 1307 because part of the church was demolished to punish the monks for non-payment of taxes. It underwent a Baroque transformation between 1627 & 1631. Sadly, the bells Dante wrote of in his Paradiso no longer toll the hours. The tower has been silenced due to serious structural problems.

We took off to explore the city. I just love the bicycles all around the city.

We made our way over to the Piazza della Signoria to see a copy of David as well as other famous sculptures. The piazza was born from struggles between the nobles, the Ghibelline, and the middle class, the Guelph, in the 13th Century. The nobles lost control of the city and the Guelph partly destroyed their palaces.

After the struggle, the city leaders called on Arnolfo da Cambio to design a suitable building to house the new government. His answer was the Pallazzo della Signoria, the Palace of the Lord. The palace gives it's name to the piazza. When the Medicis returned to power the name was changed to Palazzo Vecchio.

The piazza is accented by Plazzo Vecchio's Torre d'Arnolfo.

A copy of Michelangelo's David sits in front of Palazzo Vecchio.

This is a shot of Menelaus supporting the body of Patroclus from the Iliad.

Christi taking pictures in the piazza.

Cathey & Rachel in the piazza.

We made our way over to the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (commonly called the Duomo). It's a Gothic style cathedral that was started in 1296. This is a shot of Brunelleschi's dome which was engineered in 1436.

The building was covered with so much art it was overwhelming.

The cathedral is currently being cleaned so half of it is white marble & the other half is dark grey from exhaust soot.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Vernazza, Italy (September 16th, 2009)

Wednesday turned out to be a rainy day. As we were getting ready to explore the town Giuliano, Michele & Sophia came up for a visit and to get one of the rooms ready for a new guest. Sophia got a new makeup kit & happily showed us her cosmetology skills.

Giuliano & Sophia.

Considering the day turned out to be so rainy I thought I would share a Giuliano story since I was only able to get a few more pictures of the town before I had to tuck my camera away to keep it from getting wet.

The day before, Giuliano was telling us how much work and love he had put into building the place. His wife had showed him how to read online reviews & it upset him to read a few of the negative ones. In Giuliano's words (and me trying to write with his Italian accent), "Somea people makea the poo poo. Somea people keepa the poo poo in the heada." We got to see that first hand later in the evening, which I will go into detail at the end of this post.

After another fun visit we took off to eat lunch and to hike the trail from Vernazza to Corniglia. We found a great restaurant tucked away down one of the side alleys and I had an amazing pesto dish with spinach ravioli. Vernazza is known for their pesto.

These were the last two shots that I was able to get before it started to rain. This is a view from the East side of town on the hiking trail to Corniglia.

On the trail we ran into one of the guests that was staying next to us. We had a great hike to Corniglia & then took the train to Manarola. It pretty much rained all afternoon on us.

Seeing that it was our last night there we wanted to eat at the restaurant that Giuliano worked at. We had another perfect meal and near the end we got to experience the "poo poo in the heada" tourist. A few tables over there was a group from South America (thankfully they didn't give North America a bad name even though many Americans have in the past). One of the ladies with the group asked for a to-go box. Giuliano explained that they don't have to-go boxes & don't even do that for the locals. She got irate and asked for a complaint form. He asked her what she wanted to complain about. Besides the lack of to-go boxes she wasn't happy about how the woman at the bar didn't say anything to her when she walked in. Giuliano explained to her that she didn't speak any English so that's why she didn't talk to her. She told Giuliano that she needed to learn English. He reminded her that she was in Italy & that she needed to learn Italian. The lady then went on to tell Giuliano that he was tired and grumpy. Giuliano responded by telling her "you have had too mucha to drinka. You come backa tomorrow & you will be mucha nicer." The funny thing is they were closed the next day. I couldn't help but to think about that happening in the U.S. & how the waiter would kiss the customer's butt even if they did have "poo poo in the heada." It was nice to see Giuliano not putting up with it.

As Giuliano said the previous day. "People thinka too mucha. You sleepa, you worka, you eata, you makea the sexa." How can anyone argue with that logic?

Excited to see the DuomoOoooOooOO! - I ♥ Faces Entry

I went to Italy a few weeks ago. This shot was taken at the Piazzale Michelangiolo overlooking Florence. That's me with my mom pointing to the Duomo.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Vernazza, Italy (September 15th, 2009)

On Tuesday we packed up our things and jumped on the train for the five minute ride to Vernazza. At the train station we met the owners of our hotel, Giuliano & Michele. Gulliano was born in Vernazza. He met Michelle, who was from San Francisco, as she was backpacking through Italy around four years ago. They married and have a beautiful daughter, Sophia. We knew instantly when we met them we were going to have an amazing time there. They took us up too many flights of stairs to count to our bungalow on the north side of the city. It was a stunning place that was nestled up on the hill surrounded by private gardens. It also had a perfect view of the city. Giuliano did all of the renovation and stone work himself. He mentioned that he had back problems and after hauling my suitcase up to the room I could see why. I can't imagine how many loads of rock he had to carry up there. His hard work paid off because the place was perfect & we enjoyed it immensely.

This is the easy part of the trail up to our room.

Our room for the next two nights.

The view of Vernazza from our room.

After a fun conversation with Giuliano we took off to explore the city. We headed to the main street that runs through town & immediately started to explore the carugi (alleys). Vernazza is on a much steeper incline than Monterosso which made for some fun places to wander through.

I love the laundry hanging up all around town.

After exploring some of the alleys we decided we would hike up a trail on the western side of town. This is a view up towards the cemetery.

The gates at the front of the cemetery.

The view of Vernazza from the cemetery.

We decided to head back to town to look for a place to eat lunch. The trail runs along the remains of an old fortification wall with a tower that dates back to the Middle Ages.

The alleys were amazing.

The locals enjoyed watching the tourists from their windows. This guy was great. He motioned for me to take his picture.

We saw colorful umbrellas down one of the dark alleys & that's where we stopped to have lunch.

After lunch we decided to visit the Church of Santa Margherita D'Antiochia. It was built in 1318 by the Maestri Antelami over a pre-existing 11th century building & was widened in the 16th & 17th century. According to tradition, the church was built because a wooden box with the bones of Saint Margaret was found on the beach. The residents decided to build the church in the Isolotto quarter and a strong sea storm destroyed it causing the relic to wash away. After time, it appeared again in the original location so the residents rebuilt the church there, where it stands today.

Unfortunately the church had a service so we weren't able to go inside. This is a shot of a mozaic sun in the courtyard of the church.

We went back down to the harbor and spent the afternoon enjoying vita pigra di Vernazza (the lazy life of Vernazza).

Then we set off to explore more of the city.

We bought a cooked chicken, pecorino and a bottle of wine and had a nice dinner on our terrace. The evening view was the perfect end to the day.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Monterosso Al Mare, Italy (September 13-14, 2009)

To celebrate our 40th & 50th birthdays my sister & I went to Italy for two weeks. Our first two days were spent in Monterosso Al Mare. It's part of five coastal towns that make up the Cinque Terre. They are all connected together by one of the most amazing hiking trails that hug the cliffs along the Lingurian Sea.

After a mammoth airplane ride to Florence we clumsily navigated through the Florence train station & made our way to Monterosso. The ride lasted about three hours which put us in town around 5:30 pm. After checking into our hotel, which wasn't the easiest place to find, we hit the town and started exploring the city. We found a great restaurant, had a fun yet limited conversation with some of the local residents & went to sleep to get rested for the next day. The weather was perfect so we kept the windows open the entire trip. There was something nice about going to sleep with the sound of forks hitting plates & the muffled sounds of the city. During the night a huge storm rolled in which lasted off and on for the next four days.

We woke up to cool weather & occasional rain bursts that lasted most of the morning. From our room window we could see a cemetery at the top of the hill that overlooked the entire town. We decided we would start our adventure there. After a nice breakfast on the roof of our hotel we hit the streets.

Our first stop on the way to the cemetery was at the Church of San Giovanni Battista (The Church of St. John the Baptist) which was built between 1244 & 1307. The facade is made up of alternating vestments of black and white marble.

To the right of the Church of San Giovanni Battista is the Oratory of the Dead. This is a 16th century confraternity (a religious Rotary club) which is the oratory of the Black Group whose mission was to arrange for funerals, to take care of widows, orphans & the shipwrecked. On the ceiling is the symbol of the confraternity: a skull, crossbones, and an hourglass symbolizing how death awaits us all.

The narrow walkways throughout the city were tons of fun to explore. You never knew what you would find around the corner.

The trail up the hill of San Cristoforo to the cemetery passed through olive trees, lemon trees, grapevines & private gardens. The cemetery was great. The majority of the graves were above ground tombs with black and white photos of the deceased as well as wealthy family crypts.

Near the top of the cemetery, overlooking the town, is the town's holy sanctuary dedicated to Mary.

After going back down to the city we decided to hike up a trail called Salita dei Cappuccini which is nicknamed Zii di Frati (switchbacks of the monks). At the base we had a fun conversation with a group of watercolor artists traveling through Italy.

Near the base of the switchbacks is a German bunker left over from World War II & the Torre Aurora (Dawn Tower).

About half way up is a statue of St. Francis with a wolf.

Around the corner is the Capuchin Monastery & the Church of Saint Francis which was built in 1619.

At the top of the switchbacks is the same cemetery we visited earlier in the day & the remains of a ruined castle. In the Dark Ages the village huddled within this castle. It is 13th-century & is tucked behind the hill out of view from the sea so they would be safe from pirates.

We hiked over to the newer section of town to get some lunch and stopped in to explore another church.

It had these amazing statues on each side of the door.

We stopped off at a little sandwich shop, had a bite to eat and a few Moretti's.

After a late lunch we went over to explore the western side of town where there is the Il Gigante (The Giant) statue. It was built in 1910 & depicts Neptune. The statue lost it's arm during World War II.

That evening we had a rissoto called Fruitti di Mare (fruit of the sea). It had clams, squid & skampi. Nothing like having your food stare back at you. We met an interesting couple from California & ended up visiting late in the evening.

I'll post up pictures from Vernazza next. Stay tuned.