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Friday, August 9, 2013

August 8, 2013: Marathon in Florence

Today was my last day to get everything (well, not EVERYthing) done in town. Pam and I started out early, at around 8:30, at met up for cappuccino outside of the Bargello museum. The word "bargello" means "castle" or "fortified tower". During the Italian Middle Ages it was the name given to a military captain in charge of keeping peace and justice (hence "Captain of justice") during riots and uproars. The bargello was usually hired from another country to prevent any suggestion of favoritism. It could be compared with today's version of Chief of police. The museum is full of Michelangelo, Donatello, and Della Robbia. I loved this museum, and the fact that we had it basically to ourselves was awesome.

After that, we ended up crossing the river and going over to La Specola, which is the museum of Zoology and Natural History. This place was crazy, but really cool! The Medici family collected a huge number of animals and had them on display. You can even see the hippo that was a family pet and used to live in the Boboli Gardens. There were also many wax anatomical models from the 18th century. If you aren't a fan of taxidermy, this place is probably not for you. I thought it was amazing to see the thorough collection of exotic animals that were preserved so well for so many years! Very cool place, and again, we had it all to ourselves.

The Medici's pet hippo. The taxidermist had never seen one alive before, so look at how he arranged his feet!

After La Specola, we went to the AMAZING Brancacci Chapel. Information taken from internet: The Brancacci Chapel (in Italian, "Cappella dei Brancacci") is a chapel in the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence, central Italy. It is sometimes called the "Sistine Chapel of the early Renaissance"for its painting cycle, among the most famous and influential of the period. Construction of the chapel was commissioned by Pietro Brancacci and begun in 1386.
I was amazed at how beautiful the chapel was. It is very small, but overwhelming. More wiki info: The patron of the pictorial decoration was Felice Brancacci, descendant of Pietro, who had served as the Florentine ambassador to Cairo until 1423. Upon his return to Florence, he hired Masolino da Panicale to paint his chapel. Masolino's associate, 21-year-old Masaccio, 18 years younger than Masolino, assisted, but during painting Masolino left to Hungary, where he was painter to the king, and the commission was given to Masaccio. By the time Masolino returned he was learning from his talented former student. However, Masaccio was called to Rome before he could finish the chapel, and died in Rome at the age of 27. Portions of the chapel were completed later by Filippino Lippi. Unfortunately during the Baroque period some of the paintings were seen as unfashionable and a tomb was placed in front of them.

My two favorite frescoes were the Temptation of Adam and Eve, and the Expulsion of Adam and Eve. Very powerful works, and amazing to see in person.
The simple facade of Church of Santa Maria del Carmine 
Inside the church. Overwhelmingly beautiful!

Brancacci Chapel
After the Brancacci, we started to walk towards the north side of the river. We realized that the door to Santo Spirito was open, so of course we had to go inside. This is my favorite church, I think! It is so simple on the outside, but massive and beautiful on the inside. It was designed by Brunelleschi, the same person who designed the dome on the Duomo. We were very lucky to catch only a couple of minutes of Michelangelo's crucifix, a very important and powerful work. We couldn't believe we had seen it, after seeing its model as a tribute in the Bargello this morning. We didn't even know it was in Santo Spirito! Lucky.

An earlier picture of Santo Spirito from this trip.
After Santo Spirito, we were starving. We ended up going to a little panini shop right near Orsanmichele, which was actually a place that we had been looking for quite extensively the other day during one of our "walkabouts." This was the place that Dawn had taken me right before we went to SMN to get to Umbria. I had a salami and goat cheese sandwich, and I really could have eaten three or four of them- delish! And for 2.50 Euro each, it's a deal! The place is called I Fratellini.

We then were able to walk into Orsanmichele, an amazingly beautiful church in the center of Florence. We explored a bit and just sat down to take it all in. It's crazy how many times I walked by this place and didn't even think to go in. You don't know how beautiful these churches are until you walk in, and suddenly you can feel hundreds of years of people and history within the walls. It's a special place, and if you travel to Florence, you really need to just walk in the open doors and see what the museums, gardens, and churches have to offer. You won't regret it.

After Orsanmichele, we were hot, exhausted, and needed a nap. We decided to back to our own apartments and rest for a bit. I had a bunch of organizing and packing to do, so this was a good break for me. 

We met up at a new jewelry shop for me, but an old one for Pam. I bought an embarrassing amount of jewelry from this place. It was my style completely- handmade silver/copper jewelry in funky designs, with colorful glass and stone. I couldn't stop shopping, so luckily we only had 30 minutes before the place closed. If you see me in Boston with great jewelry, you'll know it's from this place! It's on Via Ghibellina, across from the Bargello. The name of the place is Stilelibero- go there, with a lot of cash!

For my last night in Florence, Pam and I decided to get a cocktail over by the Pitti Palace. I of course had my Italian "usual," Campari and soda, while we looked around the piazza and talked about how much we both love Florence, the life you live in Florence, and how lucky we were to be spending so much time there. We had dinner at Baldovino, and each had a very tasty pizza and ate a LOT. I am so grateful to Lydia for connecting her mother and I, and this week truly would not have been the same without her. We enjoyed our conversations, laughs, art, and made the week memorable. 

Pam and I at Pitti Palace

This is my last blog post, as my long travel day is tomorrow. I am grateful to the city for being such a warm, rich, and historical beautiful place. I cherished every day, and I can easily say that I did not have one bad day in Firenze. The friends I met, family I saw, and culture I took in will be in my memories forever, and I am looking forward to re-reading this blog in the future and thinking back to my 34 nights in bella Italia. Thanks to all of you for reading- I hope that it inspires you to consider visiting the Renaissance City. It's a life-changing place!

Until we meet again, arrivederci, Firenze! 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

August 7, 2013: Finally kissed by an Italian...

Today was my last "outing" in Tuscany. I had booked a tour with a company called "Fun in Tuscany," and it really was a perfect title for the business! Christian, our tour guide, picked a group of us up at Santa Maria Novella at 9:30am. There were only five of us on the tour, and it was two very nice young couples and myself. I sat up front with Christian in the van, and we all had a nice ride out to wine country.

The tour started at a villa overlooking the medieval town of San Gimignano. The winery was beautiful, and we had a tour of the vineyards and the lab where they make the wine. The people there were very nice and set us up at a table outside, overlooking the country and skyline of SG. We tried three different wines: Vernaccia, Chianti Classico, and their Merlot. Vernaccia is a white wine made by the green grapes (without skins) grown in the San Gimignano region. It was delicious! Their Chianti Classico was the best that I had ever tasted, and I picked up a bottle (for 5.50 Euro!) to take home. We learned that for a wine to be considered real chianti, it must be made up of at least 80% Sangiovese grapes. The merlot was quite good as well!

San Gimignano in the distance

It kind of does look like Manhattan...if you really blur your eyes. Or drink more wine.


Is it sad that I was thinking of marching band while taking this?

Bistecca Fiorentina (I know...I'm mean)

Lots of (future) bottles of vino!

This is where the aged wine is stored, with each barrel full to the top and corked so no air can get in.

The green glass is an invention of Da Vinci, so you can actually see that the barrel is full without letting air in.
What a guy.

Our wonderful guide, Christian!

Pointing at the Sangiovese

Modeling for their catalog. JK.

We then headed back towards the medieval town. Christian described it as the "Manhattan of Tuscany," because SG is known for its 14 towers still standing today. Taken from the web: San Gimignano developed on the site of a small Etruscan settlement and grew considerably during the Middle Ages thanks to the Via Francigena, which runs through the town. In the thirteenth century San Gimignano became an important halt for pilgrims and merchants travelling throughout Europe. In this period the town knew its highest splendour, and there was a remarkable flowering of works of art adorning churches, palaces, and monasteries. Its robust economy, based on the commerce of local fine-quality products such as saffron and wine, benefit the development of aristocratic families who boasted their political power by building the famous towers: of the original 72 towers in the fourteenth century, only 14 remain today.

Medieval gate

Model of the old city


Famous twin towers. Families who had a lot of money and power built towers to boast their wealth.

View in the movie "Under the Tuscan Sun"

It was absolutely gorgeous. We had a nice walk through the southern gate of the town, and Christian led us around and explained many of its important landmarks. We then tried some of Sergio's "World Famous Gelato" from his well-known gelateria, "Gelateria Dondoli." Cousin Dawn is a friend of Sergio, and she gave me a picture of the two of them to show him. Christian yelled to him to come out of the kitchen, and when he introduced me as her cousin, Sergio started yelling, kissed me on either cheek, and proceeded to tell me (while yelling the whole time) how much he loves to make people happy, and "when people come into my gelateria, I make them happy, so I'm happy!" We took some really funny pictures of the two of us, laughing the whole time, and I tried some of his vernaccia gelato. Perfetto!

Love Sergio! Favorite Italian thus far.

Photo of Dawn and Sergio

We left the town and headed over to our last wine stop of the day, and this was the place we were eating lunch. We got to a beautiful vineyard and met the owner, who was quite passionate about his wine. He said that we should not consider him to be crazy, but when we drink his wine, it means so much more than just a drink. "It is about engaging all the senses, poetry, and love." He showed us to the dining room and turned us over to his son (or nephew- I don't even remember!) and he took care of explaining the wine and food that we were about to partake in. Of course, with me being the only single girl at the table, he latches on to me, flirting his you-know-what off. I'm tellin' ya, he and I were breathing the same oxygen at one point, nose-to-nose, and he gave me a huge kiss on the cheek (after "threatening" that after trying his truffle oil, it would compel me to really kiss him). It was a riot, and after nine (yes, NINE) tastes of different wine, our table would not stop laughing at his antics.

We finished our amazing lunch (antipasti of meats and cheese, balsamic vinegar aged for 30 years, Ribollita soup that was cooked for seven hours, and amazing meat lasagna with truffle oil). Biscotti and dessert wine to top the day off.

We got back in the van and headed back to Florence. Christian brought us up to Piazzale Michelangelo to have some champagne. He had Eric (one of the guys) literally pop the cork with a sword. Ridiculous, but totally awesome!

I have been so lucky with tours on this trip! I highly recommend Fun in Tuscany because you really WILL have fun in Tuscany. Thanks to Christian for a great day!

The night ended with a "walkabout" around Florence with Pam, where we had some of our favorite gelato at Santa Trinita. I need to make every gelato count at this point!

All of us with the "friendly" waiter :) 
Yup..that's a sword. In the piazza.