Monday, September 7, 2009

Venice, Florence and Tuscany pics

Venice, Florence, Tuscany


Wanted to post recommendations for some of what we enjoyed on the trip. I'm working on the photos now, and just need to remember how to pull them into picasa web!

Hotel Ca del Campo

Osteria Mocenigo da Guido e Luca- Sallizada San Stae, Santa Croce
We stumbled upon this place near the San Stae Vaporetti stop and it was excellent

Very good pizzeria between Rialto and San Marco: Corte dell orso Ristorante Pizzeria Bar, San Marco 5495

Trattoria da Gigio- fabulous family-run trattoria in Cannaregio, Venice. Everything was really incredible and the prices were very good (less than lunch!) Campo S. Leonardo, 1594.

Il Castagnolino is the saffron and olive farm: is the florence tour company

Hotel Perseo

Ristorante Ciro & Sons
Via del Giglio, 28r

INO- fabulous panini place near the Ponte Vecchio bridge

Il Latini ristorante

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Last day in Italia!

Our last day in Italy :o(
Today’s our last day in Italy, or mine at least, as Kim booked her flight a day after mine accidentally! What a pair we are—me with no sense of direction, and her with no sense of calendar! We slept in and it felt wonderful, then ate some breakfast in the hotel, packed and checked out. We headed to the train station to buy our train tickets back to Venice. Goodbye Firenze!!

The train was a few minutes late, but we hopped on it at a little after 10:30. It was packed but we did have assigned seats. The woman sitting next to me had an amazingly well behaved dog in a bag, and she licked me and let me scratch her head (the dog, that is!) The ride felt long but was a little over two hours. We feel surprisingly good for the amount of wine we consumed yesterday! The woman at the biodynamic vineyard did say that without the chemicals and additives you don’t get that dopey drunk feeling, so maybe she was right!!

We got off the train and headed to our hotel, which is on Lista de Spagna, a very busy street five minutes walk from the train in the cannaregio district of Venice. It’s very cute! Very small botique hotel that was recently renovated. The room was very nice though quite tiny and right near reception. The people working there are very nice! We left to walk around a find a place for lunch. We were looking off of the main road, but everytime we went off it we found very residential areas. We finally gave up and found a trattoria on the road. We enjoyed a pretty good lunch of roasted eggplant with tomatoes, polenta, pizza diavolo and caprese salad. We then walked around through the neighborhood which was really charming. We then hit the Jewish nuovo geto and geto which was really beautiful. The buildings were high and it was largely unmarked. I only knew what it was mostly from the map and the slight amount of hebrew I saw! There were two synagogues, one we never did see and the other was barely identifiable as one! Again, I just knew from the map. The entrance to the ghetto we went through on the way out of the neighborhood, and it was funny as we were told to look for the arch. Well, the arch was basically a wooden beam that ran horizontally above our heads! It wasn’t marked or identifiable in the least!

We then scoped out the way to the airport, and it looks like the vaporetti/alilaguna water boat will be quicker and a shorter walk in the morning than the bus. I think it’s very appropriate to arrive and leave by water! We then went to the Santa Croce neighborhood where we ordered spritz’s, a local drink of dry white wine, seltzer, and either campari or a sweet liquor which I cannot remember the name of! HE suggested we get a mix of the two, so it wouldn’t be too sweet or sour and we agreed. It was red, and came in a glass with an orange slide and an olive on a stick. It was pretty good, and we sat in this very narrow courtyard drinking and people-watching for a while.

We went back to the hotel to wash up for dinner, and to get a recommendation. He told us about Trattoria da Gigio only a 5 minute walk from the hotel where the locals go, and we were so thrilled for the recommendation! It was excellent and probably the best we’ve had. We got marinated mussels which were amazing, and I got a pasta dish with local clams, and Kim got a pasta dish with lobster and a really light cream sauce. Both were good but kim’s had fresh pasta and was a little better. Neither of us were disappointed. I got some red wine, Kim got beer, and of course we had to finish with a tiramisu, which we hadn’t had since coming here and was excellent. It was quite cool today, which was surprising given how very hot it was in Florence this morning (it’s a few degrees cooler in Venice being on the water, but was very similar). It was cool and breezy and perfect walking weather in Venice! When we got out of dinner it was quite cool so we went back.

The vaporetti is at 8:16, but the man at our hotel said I do have to be there by 9 or 9:30 for my 11:30 flight, and not to be late as you must check in 2 hours before. Unfortunately the vaporetti run every hour at 15 past, so I guess I need to take the 8:15. I really enjoyed this neighborhood and while the main road is quite crowded, the areas off of it were really gorgeous and interesting to walk around in. It’s like walking through time with the chipping plastered walls showing exposed brick, laundry hanging and the sounds of restaurants and the water in canals everywhere. I’ve really enjoyed this trip and I’d be hard-pressed to say which I liked more, Florence or Venice. Both are just stunning in their way!

I’m sad to leave tomorrow but ready to go home to see the critters. We’re planning our next adventures, and who knows? Next year could have me traveling to Lebanon and Israel with Nada, or back to the Amalfi Coast and Capri.. or??? Yes, I’m addicted by the lure of seeing new places, but wouldn’t have it any other way! Thanks for sharing with my wonderful adventure! I’ll post pictures in a few days once I’m home and settled. Arrevederci!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Day 7: Tuscany Wine Tour/San Gimignano

Day 7: Tuscany wine tour/San Gimignano
What a perfect day today was! We met with the tour at the National Library at 8:30, and it was a group of 8. Ilaria (Hillary) took us (she’s the business partner of the woman Rebecca, who runs the tours) and she was really exceptional. Someone on the tour had gone yesterday to the Montepulciano one that I was originally scheduled on and said that overall this was better. We drove through the countryside past Siena and arrived at 10 am for our chocolate tasting. Yes, 9:30 am. Oh, what the hell! We tried a white chocolate with hazelnuts, a light chocolate called ‘latte’, then dark chocolates in 50%, 70% and 99%. Last we had a candied orange peel in dark chocolate. All were great, and surprisingly I really enjoyed the orange peel (I’ve never liked orange and chocolate.) Unfortunately it wouldn’t hold up well in the heat, so I left with none. So sad.

We then headed for our first wine tour at around 10 am. A bit early, but hey, we were all troopers. The vineyard was gorgeous! They have been a family business since 1970, when it was started by the current owner’s grandfather. They went biodynamic in 1987. Organic is when no chemicals are used, but biodynamic goes a step further and does not use any extra intervention, including even water. They are very careful of the weather conditions and totally reliant on them. It was really interesting and Helena, the wife and owner with her husband, gave us quite an interesting lesson. The timing was pefect as well, as they were going to harvest their whites tomorrow, 20 days earlier than normal due to the hot and dry weather conditions this summer. The vineyard covered 7 hectares, so it is quite small.

The house was gorgeous as well, and we were ‘greeted’ by a sleeping Pico, the dog. He was in the path and dead out until he realized he could get belly rubs, and lots of belly rubs. He just laid there though and never followed our tour! The views from the hill that the vineyard is on was also beautiful. There are many shells in the soil, indicating that the area was once under the sea. The house is called by a beautiful italian name (which escapes me) but means House of Dove. They used doves previously for communication, and apparently, it was also served up for special occasions! They also have many fruit trees planted for variety, and it’s believed to be good for the soil. Helena is clearly passionate about her work and the vineyard, and has a very holistic view of nature and the contribution. Oh, the winery is called Columbaia.

She walked us through the fields, then past a lovely herb garden with basil, sage and rosemary scenting the area before taking us through the supply and processing area. They produce 2 barrels a year of the red, storing it for two years, which makes 7,000 bottles. They make 1,050 bottles of the white. During the fermentation process they add nothing, so all the fermentation is purely natural. Someone actually asked if they stomp grapes (like in the ‘I Love Lucy’ episode) and Helena looked a bit horrified. She explained that fermentation begins inside the grape, so it’s not necessary. We walked through the storage and filtration areas and then to a room just a little lower than ground level where the wine is stored, then had machines for bottling, corking and labeling. They do this twice a year. Only Helena and her husband work there, but during the harvest they do hire a few extra people. This room was incredibly cool, both as it was low in the ground but also because there were plants growing on the roof. She said it also keeps the air pure in the building. Pruning is done purely by hand with shears, and they carry bags of the grapes and stems for processing.

This small winery sells to Japan, England, France, Germany and some in NYC. A small amount in Italy as well, and they work with very small producers and distributers. She took email addresses for interested people to send a list of distributors. Then the wine tasting began, and I enjoyed some of the best wines I’ve ever had. And I do so enjoy wine! There were three reds, and she gave us really large pours. The first was a 2007 Vino Rosso Toscano from the first harvest (Vigna Nuova). The smell was nicely fruity and the wine was delicious. A semi-heavy red with legs, but very very smooth and delicious. The second wine was my favorite (and I had to buy a bottle!) It was a 2005 Chianto Colli Senesi, DOCG, which is 80+% sangiovese. It was very smooth, full bodied, fruity and flowery smelling. She said the flowery smell was because they had snow the winter before, so the summer was beautiful with lots of flowers. The wine was very complex and good. The last was a 2003 Chanti Colli Senesi Riserva, also sangiovese. It was very good, but had a tartness to it that I didn’t enjoy as much as the 2005. We enjoyed the wines in a shaded area under a tree and had a great conversation. Helena shared that she only does organized tours with the group we were with.

We left to go to a lunch place called Il Castagnolino, which was also gorgeous with lovely views overlooking olive trees and sloping hills. There were two dogs there, and one actually purred when she got belly rubs! The other, Sara, loved fetch, so several of us played with her a bit. This farm is known for their olive oil and saffron, and they showcased both beautifully with our lunch. We had a white vernaccia which was pretty good (for a white!) called La Marronaia. They served a plate of appetizers with a small eggplant, tomato and mozzerella, two toasts with pesto and tomato, and white beans, a crepe with onions, and saffron rolls. The main course was an absolutely amazing fresh raviolli filled with ricotta, covered in pecorino, saffron and some olive oil. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve tasted. The views were exceptional and the meal memorable. We then had saffron ice cream with small local berries, followed by espresso. Perfect! Sara’s interest in fetching a half-eaten bright orange ball would have put Sonnie, my retriever, to shame, but sadly we had to leave for our last tasting.

This place was the Manizzi Winery in San Gimignano, which really paled in comparison. We had a lot of tastings, and after a while it was too much! Four whites, a rose, and three reds. I liked one of the whites fairly well and the reds were all ok, but had pungency I didn’t really care for. The woman was very nice but not as warm and enthusiastic and really didn’t educate us much about the winery or the wines. We also didn’t tour the grounds (which by the end of the tasting, was quite ok!!) The winery covered 18 hectares, so was much larger in comparison.

We then went to San Gimignano, which was much more beautiful than I expected. We unfortunately only had 45 minutes, so we quickly toured. Kim bought a couple of pictures and a hard carved corkscrew/foil knife for her husband. We walked around with Rhonda from Calgary and Kim from Santa Monica, both of which were really fun. We did trade emails. Kim wants to move to Italy, and I expect we’ll keep in touch. The town was very quaint and nice.

We headed back and the car was very quiet! We said goodbye to Kim, and walked towards our hotel, then dropped Rhonda as well. We shopped a bit, and Kim bought a green amber bracelet and earrings that she saw a couple of days ago and wanted. We then went to a place for dinner recommended by our hotel and had a very good meal. We got grilled vegetables and salami, italian salad, the tomato and bean soup (fagioli) and a margharita pizza with ham and artichoke hearts. A couple from Toronto sat next to us, so we talked to them a bit. They were two more days in Florence then headed to the Turino mountains then Venice, so we gave them some suggestions. We then walked a little bit and headed back to our hotel to pack and relax a bit. We head to the train tomorrow to go back to Venice for another day. We’re staying in a different part of town called Cannaregio in the northern part of Venice, and I’m looking forward to exploring it. It will be nice to be a bit off the main tourist path!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Day 6: Florencia

Day 6: Florence
We met up with Nada and took a bus up to the lovely hill town of Siena this morning. It took a little over an hour winding through the hills of tuscany. We walked to Il Campo and enjoyed a café overlooking the central square. It was the perfect place for people-watching, and after quite a few days non-stop now, we needed a slow day. We saw many people enjoying a breakfast gelato (and before you ask, no, we weren’t one of them!) and then walked around and took pictures a bit. We walked through the town, taking in the seven different flag indicating the neighborhoods of Siena. We walked to the Duomo, which was very ornate and truly stunning and then found a place in our travel guide recommended for lunch as a true reprentation of Siena cuisine, and enjoyed by the locals called Trattoria Papei. Our waiter was quite flirty and when we said we were from the US and Canada, he chimed in that he LOVED Canada.

We got some tomatoes, a bruschetta dish with tomato, a mushroom, a meat of some kind (boar?) and pate tapenades, with tuscan meats (prochiutto and salame), and three pasta dishes to try with fresh-made pastas. One had tomatoes and onions and was very flavorful, one had pepper and butter which was so-so, and the third had wild boar and was very good. We walked around a bit more then took the bus back. A woman named Maria spoke with us a bit on the bus (Nada and me, while Kimmie slept.) She spoke a little bit of English (which she seemed embarrased about, but was STILL much better than my Italian!) Had been to the US once or twice, and she was very friendly. Nada left us to walk around a bit before leaving for Milan, and we were sorry to see her go. Kim left to shop and I had hit a wall and was really exhausted (I didn’t sleep again last night) and went back to the room for a much-needed and wonderful nap! I awoke to the sound of church bells and we headed out for dinner at a place my friend Colleen recommended from her trip a couple of years ago called Il Latini.

The restaurant was a 10 minute walk and was really wonderful! You’re ushered in by an effusive waiter into several large rooms with hanging proschiotto hanging above from the ceiling. We were seated in the middle of two other couples, one living in hong Kong (from Taiwan), and the other from holland (near Brussels.) Both were wonderful and of course kim and I had no problem getting the conversation started! The couple from Hong Kong are actually going to Japan over Christmas, so we traded information. In case we go to Japan, we’ll meet up with them. The other couple were quite charming and adorable, and were headed to the Tuscany countryside for a few days. We have their information too—it’s always wonderful to know people from around the world! Joyce spoke Dutch, English, and French, and Andre Dutch, English, Spanish and German. It was easy as all spoke English, and Kim and Hsing and her husband spoke some chinese too.

Dinner was very good. Chianti wine, with a bread salad, proschiotto and good crusty italian bread with cantaloupe (which I don’t really care for, but it was sweet and wonderful with the ham!) We had a toasted bread tapenade with a topping of maybe olive and some kind of meat (similar to what we had for lunch and it looked like pate but wasn’t). We then had the primi course and I had gnocchi with tomatoes and pesto which was incredible, and Kim’s bean and lentil soup was surprisingly delicious. The secondi was potatoes with a grilled meat dish. We got beef which was surprisingly rare, and lamb, which was a bit dry but flavorful. The hong kong couple got double beef and the pieces were so huge it was hilarous! They ate much of one only! Then for desert we both got chocolate cake which wasn’t like we expected but good. Looked more like a thin boston crème pie tart of sorts. Then they brought the tuscan cookies (like the almond biscotti type cookies we had in Siena) with a sweet wine, which wasn’t as light and sweet as in Siena and had quite a kick! You dipped the cookies in it.. too strong to drink but I enjoyed dunking the cookies. The meal was expensive, but for the ambiance, food and wonderful company, I thought it was worth it.

Tomorrow we head out to our wine tour in San Gimignano, which should be a nice fairly slow day for us. I’m looking forward to it, as this tour guide was also recommended by my friend colleen who raved about her. This city is such an interesting contrast of people: the ultra-hip and those who are not! There are women wearing spiked heels walking on cobblestones (we watched one get a heel stuck in the middle of the road today!) The men seem to wear rather brightly colored pants—yellow, kelly green, rust, and red. It’s funny to see women in heels and skirts riding bikes and motorbikes as well!

Goodnight! Early morning tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Day five (?) Florence and Pisa

Day 5 (?) Florence
I went to sleep pretty late last night but was wide awake at 7! We did get to move rooms yesterday and are so much happier! The room does have two beds and is a bit bigger than the last. And we do have an internet connection (the wireless is down, however, we have a cord so we can still get it.) We had breakfast then headed to the Duomo to climb the dome. All 469 steps! It wasn’t too bad though it was pretty hot and humid even early today, but was well worth it. We got 2/3 the way up to see the frescoes inside the dome. Then climbed the rest of the way to the top where you could walk around outside to enjoy really beautiful views of Florence. It was a little hazy but we could see everything. We enjoyed it for a bit, especially when there was a small breeze, then headed down. Barb, you would have been so proud! I only got a bit unnerved at one point (and took a picture so you could see how steep it was). Worse than that stairway in Peru, however, walls on either side so there wasn’t a thousand foot drop! Ok, I panicked a bit, but shielded my eyes from the view and made my way down. After the inside viewing, the walk was easy and very windy. Kim kept getting dizzy but we both made it down intact!

We headed over to the centro mercado (central market) and walked among the stalls of leather goods, pashminas, souveniers, etc. We then went into the mercado where the food merchants were. We got an excellent salami and cheese panini (we can’t seem to get enough of them!) and I got mine with sundried tomatoes. Yum! We then bought some pasta and sun dried tomatoes for gifts for people. Then ended up picking up three more for the trip to Pisa. Oh, and we ran into her at the Duomo on the way to her bike tour! We plan to take the 4:30 train to Pisa, and she’s supposed to text me.. hopefully it will go through! I got a bottle of brunello in the mercado for when I return home to the US. I found the bag that my friend Sandy asked me to get for her sister finally, then we made our way back to the room to cool off and enjoy a little air conditioning. It’s quite hot and humid today!

We then walked over to the Santa Croce church across town (which in actuality is less than a 15 minute walk from our perfectly placed hotel only two blocks from the Duomo!) Beautiful place and we toured it for a bit. We then walked through the Piazza Vecchio, enjoyed catalina crème gelatos (crème brule) before heading back to the mercado. I bought a beautiful shawl as well as a pashmina, and Kim is still searching for a leather bag. We then stopped in an Osteria for a break and some vino rosso then headed back to the room to cool off, pick up our paninis, and head to the train station.

We picked up our tickets in the train station, though, found a kiosk that only took cash and it ate 10 euros! We got out round trip tickets and got a text from Nada that she was on her way. We found the train and let her know where it was as the station has around 15 trains, and she made it with moments to spare! We were pretty packed in and in a car with no air conditioning, but once we started moving it was good enough. She had a great bike ride through some of the Chianti region and the pictures looked beautiful.

We arrived to Pisa a little over an hour later, bought bus tickets and went to the tower. What a gorgeous area! All of the typical souvenier stands nearby, but the duomo and cathedral were gorgeous and surrounded by an ancient looking wall. The tower was incredibly cool to see too! We had found out that they do allow tours now and we were able to get tickets. We walked around a bit, took the obligatory tourist photos, ate our panini, checked our bag and made our way up. The marble was very worn with deep wearing in the center of the steps. The walk up wasn’t too bad for the most part, and there is a landing 2/3 the way up for us to walk around. Then we walked up again to another area, and the views were beautiful of the city and cathedral. Unfortunately the gate was pretty low and we were walking on stairs that went around the area, so I was a bit unnerved by the heights! I hope someday I get over it. :o) This area had lots of bells and room to walk around. The last climb was short to the top (200ish steps in all.) We took lots of pictures then made our way down. It was slippery going on the way down due to the worn marble!!

We found the bus and made our way back to the train then to Florence. What a fun day! It was nice and cool after we did the climb and on the way home. We found the bus stop for tomorrow’s trip to Siena then headed back to the hotel for some sleep. Getting up early tomorrow to catch the bus as it’s around a one hour drive. Nada will be coming with us but she’s heading up to Milan tomorrow. She’ll do a half day in Siena, catch a few more sights in Florence then head out. Kim and I are winging it and will see if we want to stay in Siena a bit longer. We have dinner reservations at a place my friend Colleen recommended, which she said was excellent. It’s family style I believe, with big tables, so should be a really fun time meeting people.
Good night!!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Day four: Florence

What a beautiful city this is!! It was a nice cool morning and we enjoyed a nice breakfast in the hotel before heading out on our tour. I usually don’t do tours, but after my wonderful tour experience in the Vatican Museum, I was easily talked into a walking tour of Florence, The Uffizi and Accademia. I’m so glad we did as the guides were fabulous! We started off around 5 minutes from the hotel with Freya from Australia. She was rather perky and lots of fun. We started the tour in Republic Square, where Italy offically became a republic. It was torn down (orinally was the Jewish Ghetto, and a marketplace, but was demolished to accommodate a ‘grand area’ when Florence was the capital of italy. Florence was the birthplace of the renaissance, in part because of the wealth in the region. Florentines made their money on making clocks and banking and were among the wealthiest of areas in Europe in the early 1300s. They were not royalty, but very wealthy merchants and as a result, rose to power.

We were told about the Santa Maria Novella Church façade which was a really interesting example of “advertising” from back in the day. The painting on the side actually says that “I xxx paid for this in 1417” (I of course, forget the person’s name!) We saw an interesting building that had three levels, but the windows on each level were different sizes! It showed the lack of planning during the early Renaissance period.

In the 1400s for several hundred years the Medici family ruled Florence, and the representation of them is everywhere. Their coat of arms is on many buildings. We saw a church from the same period next to a building where Dante wrote ‘The Divine Comedy” and there’s a relief of him above the door. The church was quite interesting and we spent a lot of time there. It was built in the 1200s as a church on the bottom floor, and the upper floor was for grain storage. The building was deemed to not be attractive enough for the church, so the leadership of the time set a contest for the 20 trade guilds to each take 20 years to design a sculpture niche. Several were pointed out, and one in particular from Donatello which had an oversized head because it was going to be higher up on the building and the location would make it look smaller than actual. Apparently it was not approved of initially until it was placed in the location, and then it did look appropriate. Freya, the guide, explained that the Renaissance was the ‘rebirth of Man” and humanism, and they integrated math with art to make things look more realistic and in proportion. She pointed out various things throughout the city that actually showed the learning of the artists at the time.

Another amusing building was the Palazzo Strossi, the ‘archnemesis’ of the Medici. Their building had beautiful stone walls, but in actuality they were a veneer. The family owned the building next door, so only three walls have the veneer—the fourth, next to their other building, was hidden and therefore not covered with the better looking stone! It’s now exposed so you can see the difference. Freya also told us that there are wine bars that are so small in Florence that people need to buy their drink, and drink it on the street. The cultural significance is that the wealthy families would bring in food and wine from their country estates, and if there was extra that the family couldn’t eat, they would sell it on the street. It’s apparently a very Florentine thing to do!

We went to a beautiful church (the name escapes me, unfortunately) that had several types of architecture in it. Frescoes were done on many walls, which was done in Florence and not venice due to the climate. It’s a very difficult technique because the paint is imbedded in the freshly laid plaster. It lasts a long time, but took a long time to do. She told us an interesting story about Salonbeni Bartollini, who was the head of a fabric family. HE heard a big shipment was coming in, and decided to take advantage of the situation. He threw a big party, got all of his friends and competitors drunk, spiked their drinks with opium. As a result, the Bertollini family was the only one to greet the boats at the docks, and they amassed a fortune as a result. The funniest part was that they changed their family crest to include poppies!

We then walked over the Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge. It was at the narrowest part of the river, and was the only crossing until 1300. The bridges were always wood but in 1333 this bridge was built of stone due to the frequent floods. All of the bridges to Florence were bombed in WWII except for this bridge, however, instead the buildings on both sides of the bridge were bombed to hold the advance of the Allies. Only gold is sold on the bridge for the last 500 years. The Medici family bought the Pitti Palace in Oltrarno, or “across the arno” river. The butchers used to clean their meats, etc. by the river, and the Medici didn’t want to walk past that to cross the river. So they had a private corridor built above the bridge so they wouldn’t have to walk with the commons! It leads across the river to the Uffizi, which was their office space. They actually tore out the front of many of the homes along the river to build the corridor!!

We walked to the town square near the uffizi, and I gave away the ticket I had purchased for the Uffizi since the tour included a ticket. I made someone quite happy and he thanked me profusely! I had to laugh because I thought it only had my email address which is sam.. so I figured it would be fine. He looked at the ticket and said “my name is Samantha”? Oops. He didn’t think it would matter nor did I, as I’m sure if it’s a prepaid ticket they won’t check ID. We saw some amazing statues of Perseus holding Medusa’s head, Neptune, etc. and the original spot where the David was installed before it was moved to the Accademia Museum. David represents the overthrow of the Medici.. we learned about the family member who was a monk who came into power. He’s behind the story of the “bonfire of the vanities’ where in an attempt to go back to the more religious lifestyle, he pushed people to burn all artistic things in the square. Four years later, he became the fuel on the bonfire, and a plaque marks the spot where the ‘mad monk’ was killed. This was the political center of Florence a little over 500 years ago.

We saw a semi-circle building which is the only one in existence now. It was built on a roman structure, of a roman bath. It’s now a 4 star hotel! It’s called a straw tower, because a women’s prison was occupying it, where the women laid on straw. Then we continued on to the duomo, which was the largest cathedral in the 1300s and larger that St. Peters in Rome. It’s green and white marble and moorish in design, reminding me of Cordoba a bit. It was the largest dome in the modern world, modeled after the Pantheon. It was a beautiful inside as well, and we were awash with a sea of turquoise wraps (like the pink wraps in the San Marco Bascilica, which we swore were tablecloths very similar to a restaurant we ate in! Here they were light blue.) Women had to have their shoulders covered, but they were less stringent on showing knees and feet. How funny. There was a beautiful little building (little being in perspective!) across the way from the Duomo in the same granite, which is the bapstry. In ancient times, you couldn’t enter a church unless you were baptised. So it was right across the street so you could be baptised, and then enter the church. The dome is symbolic of heaven to continue the theme. The dome was built in the 1420s by Romaneski, who was a mathematician. The picture in the top is a fresco, and the dome was reinforced much like a wine barrel is with lateral and vertical reinforcements on the inside of the dome between two walls (essentially walls, anyways.) You can see some of the vertical support structures on the outside, but none inside.

Following that tour we went to get lunch at a place Freya recommended. We had the best paninis that we’ve had. The bread was toasted and crunchy and thick, and the insides fabulous. Both were cheese, ad one had parmiagano, tartufo and salsa (fresh tomatoes and truffles) and the other pecorino, pesto, tapenade and memodori secchio (cheese, olive tapenade and pesto.) Yum!! We then made our way to the Uffizi for that tour. We saw some major works of art including Boticelli’s ‘Birth of Venus’ and ‘La Primavera’, along with interesting stories about the model in both being Amerigo Vespucci’s sister. 3 DaVincis (of 20 total) including the ‘Adoration of the Magi’, ‘Baptism of Christ’ and another. The Uffizi has the only easel painting by Michelangelo, who saw himself as a sculptor and only painted the Sistine Chapel because the pope at the time demanded it. This painting that he did was largely for the commission, but apparently it was rather scandalous back in the day. He was asked to paint a religious painting, which he did. However, there were nudes in the back. Apparently it was ok to paint religious works, or nudes, but not both. Well, he claimed to have painted a portrait of John the Baptist in it, and that the nudes in the background were actually awaiting baptism, so it was deemed to be ok!

The Rafael room had several works, including one of the Popes whom he was friends with (Pope Leo, Giovanni de Medici, son of Lorenzo the Magnificent.) Rafael apparently had pretty strong connections! The ‘Venus of Urbino’ by Tiziano Vecellio was also there. I wasn’t familiar with the name, but the painting is certainly recognizable and is a nude of a young woman reclining on a rumpled bed. It was apparently quite scandalous in the day due to the pose, the red bed under the white sheet the red roses in her hand (all very symbolic) and the ‘look in her eye.’ It was believed to be a portrait of the young wife of the person who commissioned the painting (who were 12 and 40+ respectively.) The guide ended with a comment about ending a tour in a wonderful museum with historic porn. :o)

We then went to Accademia to see the David, and saw some wonderful partially completed marble sculptures done by Michelangelo that I thought were quite amazing. It was as if they were trying to escape from the marble! The guide told us Michelangelo had said that he carved directly into the stone to let the image out, which many of his contemporaries did wax and bronze or plaster molds. The David was commissions to be atop one of the smaller domes on the Duomo, but was moved to the ‘town hall’ piazza when it was completed. It was moved to the museum in the late 1900s due to deterioration.

There was an interesting music instrument display that we walked through quickly, but we were tired from walking all day and a bit ‘museumed out’ so decided to leave. During the day we were talking with a great gal named Nada who was traveling along, and we invited her for dinner. We had planned to do a pizzeria, but instead went to a place the guide recommended to her for drinks and snacky foods. She lives in Canada but is from Lebanon. We had such a great time talking with her that we’ll meet up with her tomorrow night (planned Pisa and will either do it in the late afternoon after she does a bike tour, or will meet her for dinner.) She will probably come with us on Thursday for our day trip to Siena. I do love foreign travel as you meet such wonderful people, and Kim is just as outgoing as I am!

Well, I’m pooped from the day and all this typing, so I’m signing off! We may do Pisa during the day, or else we’ll do some of the local touring in Florence..we’ll see how we feel when we get up. We’ve been pretty nonstop since arriving in Venice so we could use a slower day to really feel the city.