Italy


Swiss Traffic jam (viewed from the gas station)

Swiss Traffic jam (viewed from the gas station)

We recently (7/27/13) left Italy to head over to Germany. The drive is about 7 hours, so we planned to leave early, go by way of Switzerland, enjoy the many photo opportunities the alps had to offer, and make it to our next destination by early evening. Alas, the best laid plans…

We made it into Switzerland with no problem, and enjoyed driving through Italy away from the city. Crossing the border was fairly easy, though you do have to purchase a 40 Euro sticker to drive in Switzerland. I think it’s good for a year since this one had a 13 on it (and we didn’t have to say how long we intended to stay like we did in Austria) So, we affixed our sticker and headed on our way. For a while, it was the beautiful scenery we expected (though as I was driving, and there were no pull outs, I got no pictures.) Then, we got to the San Gottardo tunnel (which I think sounds like retarded for a reason). It was a nightmare. It quite literally took almost three hours to get to go through. While it is long (16,942 meters), the line to drive through it was a major traffic jam, completely stopped with people peeing on the side of the road. Apparently, this is normal for summer. So, instead of enjoying a picnic lunch overlooking beautiful Swiss scenery, we ate our lunch in the car with the windows open.

View from the balcony of our German flat

View from the balcony of our German flat

Finally, we made it to Germany (this border we just drove right through) and found our lodgings. Since this is short, I decided to include some tips I’ve learned for driving in Germany and Austria (in no particular order.)

1. Stay in the right lane unless you’re passing–then, watch out.
2. Bus stops are marked by a green H in a yellow circle surrounded by a green circle.
3. Eingang/Einfahrt = Enter Ausgang/Ausfahrt = Exit
4. The white arrow in the blue circle tells you which area of the road to drive on.
This is especially helpful at medians, roundabouts, and other places you might be
confused.
5. Lights turn yellow both before and after they turn green.
6. Yellow lines are only used in construction or to indicate the fast pass lines.

Alas, no shoulders

Alas, no shoulders

7. White lines close together show some degree of separation (either an exit or traffic
going both ways. If the broken white line looks like the States’, it’s a one way.
8. A black forward slash or 3 lines of a forward slash indicate end of or leaving (This
one is sometimes red too.) For example, you’ll have a speed limit sign (black
numbers in a white circle with a red circle around it). Then, a bit down the road,
you’ll see the same number with 3 forward slash lines. This means that speed limit
no longer applies (watch out!)
9. Blue lined parking is paid parking (or the credit card line in a toll booth), while
white lined parking is business or residential. You usually have to use paid
parking unless you are going in the business.
10. Be aware that very few roads have a shoulder. Often times, houses will mark the
end of the lane. Additionally, cars may park halfway in the street, taking up part
of an already miniscule 2 lane road. Small towns aren’t fun for driving…

Tips in Italy: Be fully aware of everything–especially motorcycles, which do not drive in the lane like they do in America, but often between two cars going in opposite directions on a tiny road.

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Parking at Piazzale Michelangelo

Parking at Piazzale Michelangelo

Today (7/26/13) was our last time to park in Piazzale Michelangelo, and I can’t honestly say I’m going to miss the experience. Italian parking has tested my Driver’s Ed skills beyond what I thought possible. But, we have discovered that if you arrive around 9:00 A.M., you can usually find a parking space where you should be able to pull straight out. I wish a photo could capture the tight spaces we had to get in and out of (all the while with three different cars trying to go three different directions around you–Craziness!) So, we got settled and went to wait for a bus that would take us to another bus to get us near Casa Buonarroti. (Mom has declared Florence a “Tourist unfriendly” city.)

Yellow House = Michelangelo's

Grey house right of Yellow house = Michelangelo’s

So, two busses and a couple of blocks later, we arrived at a rather unimpressive facade to have housed one of the most famous artists of all time. But, while the outside is rather unimpressive, the inside is neat to see. A grand-nephew Michelangelo’s, known as Michelangelo the younger, did a great deal of work in restoring the house and gaining a collection of Michelangelo’s work–some of which he had to purchase at great expense from the Roman market. Here you may see lesser known works of Michelangelo’s like The Madonna of the Stairs (usually–we saw a bronze cast as the original was on loan to Japan for their Culture of Italy celebration.), the Battle of the Centaurs, a photo of the Crucifix that we missed seeing in Santo Spirito, and plans and models for the facade of the church of San Lorenzo. In point of fact, there are not many sketches of Michelangelo’s left, since the artist himself destroyed many of them to keep people from knowing how much work went into his image of perfection (He even had the nickname Michelangelo il divino–Michelangelo the Divine). This is, however, another “No Photo” Zone, but you can check out some of the collection here: http://www.museumsinflorence.com/musei/Michelangelo_house.html

Santa Maria Novella Front

Santa Maria Novella Front

After leaving Casa Buonarroti, we headed (via a circuitous route) to Santa Maria Novella. We’ve discovered that the Firenze Card App for the I-phone is an amazing treasure. It not only gives you information about the sites you can see with the Firenze card, but also gives you a map of the location with a little moving blue dot indicating where you are. This helped us know when we were close, or in the case of Santa Maria Novella, when we got off at the WAY wrong stop. (Note: Novella and Nuovo are not the same thing. And there are a lot of Santa Maria’s in Florence.)

Side view of Santa Maria Novella

Side view of Santa Maria Novella

We made it with a half an hour to spare before our Firenze card ran out (Alas, only 13 of the 84 sites viewed…). The church itself has an amazing collection of art and frescos (like most of the Cathedrals around Florence.) It is not as elaborate as some of the churches here, but has a number of cool frescos behind the elaborate altar. The museum holds many of the vestments of various priests including St. Thomas of Canterbury’s. Otherwise, it’s a fairly small museum.

Finally, our card had run out, and it was time to head home. We stopped by our favorite gelato shop, Porta Romana, and headed up to pack. We’re off to Germany via Switzerland early tomorrow. The other 61 sites will have to wait for another time. We had tried to find where Museo di casa Guidi was but could not locate anything on Google or the maps. This is supposed to be the Florence home of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and as an English major and admirer of her work, I would have loved to see it, but we weren’t able to. Nor did we have time for Dante’s house or the Galileo Museum. But, that saves some special things for another time.

Backside of the Pitti Palace

Backside of the Pitti Palace

Today (7/25/13), we headed up to the Palazzo Pitti or Pitti Palace. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but this massive structure blew away all my expectations. Once again, you are not allowed to take pictures inside, so I have can’t show you the amazing treasures housed there.

The Pitti Palace actually houses six different museums within its palace and property. They include The Palatine Gallery, which contains over 500 Renaissance paintings; The Royal apartments, fourteen rooms which housed the Medicis and their successors; The Gallery of Modern Art, thirty rooms of works from the 18 and 19 centuries; The Silver Museum, which contains jewelery and other silver pieces; The Costume Gallery which had costumes from the 18 through the 21 centuries; and the Porcelain Museum, which is out in the Bobili Gardens

Passageway in Pitti Palace

Passageway in Pitti Palace

(we didn’t visit there.)

It’s hard to know where to start to explain the vast beauty we saw today. It is actually a bit overwhelming to see that much at one time. I think my favorite was the section of the Palatine Gallery (I believe–they all run together). It housed a number of statues and works in Ivory. My favorite–how I wanted a picture!–was a sculpture of Abraham’s Sacrifice of Isaac. It follows the style Michelangelo modeled in his Victory of sculptures in a spiral. Isaac is the bottom of the spiral. Abraham is above him with his sword aloft. The spiral finishes with an angel who is holding on to Abraham’s upraised sword. The angel is flying downward, so the top of the spiral is the feet of the angel. It is an amazing work of artistry (and I can’t even find a picture on the internet!)

Another favorite of mine was a painting by Antonio Ciseri in the Gallery of Modern Art. It displays Pilate’s presentation of Jesus to the crowd. (You can view it online here: http://www.museumsinflorence.com/foto/galleria%20arte%20moderna/image/18.jpg ) The perspective of the painting is from behind Pilate who is leaning over the railing talking to the crowd while gesturing back at Jesus. What I find fascinating is the way the artist portrays the looks on each person’s face. Each has a different reaction from bored indifference to sadness and disapproval. It really places the viewer in the moment with a different perspective than we normally get.

Additionally, both mom and I marvelled in the silver museum at the size of the pearls in the jewelry. This is before synthetic pearls, so these were the real deal.

Bobili Gardens

Bobili Gardens

Leaving the last museum, we toured a bit of Bobili Gardens, but decided not to walk up to the Porcelain Museum. We stopped by Santo Spirito to double check their hours from Rick Steve’s Guidebook. According to the guidebook, they were supposed to be open today, but their next opening is Saturday, and we will be gone. I had wanted to tour this church because it contains a crucifix Michelangelo carved as a seventeen year old as a thank you present for the priest for letting him dissect. (The priest had allowed him to dissect dead bodies before burial. Apparently, he also did his dissection in the monastery there.) Alas, no such luck.

Well, tomorrow is our last day in Florence, and our last half of a day on the Firenze card. We have seen 11 of the 84 attractions offered to us on this card. Who knows what we’ll find to tour tomorrow!

David Replica at Palazzo Vecchio

David Replica at Palazzo Vecchio

Today (7/24/13), we set off for the Accademia to hang out with the David. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to take pictures anywhere in the Accademia, so I have included a picture of David (the replica) in the spot where the original David stood. The original David was designed to go on top of the Duomo. This explains why his head is larger than it should be for his body. Michelangelo was designing it to be viewed by people on the street from its perch atop the Duomo. But, instead it was placed in front of the Palazzo Vecchio. It remained there until 1873 when weather damage posed a threat, and it was moved to the Accademia. Words cannot express how amazing it is to be in the same room with this amazing 14 foot tall piece of sculpture. It truly is awe-inspiring. To see marble veins in the hands, the look of concentration on his face as he contemplates Goliath, and yet his easy confidence–it’s an incredible experience. What struck me most is that Michelangelo always worked freehand. Most sculptures of the time sketched out their works on the marble, indicating where they wanted to chisel. Michelangelo believed he was working for the glory of God and would wait until he felt the inspiration for a piece, then work feverishly for days. As he stated, “Many believe – and I believe – that I have been designated for this work by God. In spite of my old age, I do not want to give it up; I work out of love for God and I put all my hope in Him.” When carving, he started with the torso and worked proportionally from there, moving from front to back, which caused another artist to describe watching him work like “seeing a figure emerge from the surface of the water.”

Memorial to Lorenzo Bartolini at Santa Croce

Memorial to Lorenzo Bartolini at Santa Croce

Though the David is colossal and impressive, it is not the only impressive work in the Accademia. The Rape (Abduction) of the Sabine Women by Giambologna was in restoration, so we weren’t able to see this one. But, as you walk towards the area which houses the David, you walk alongside a number of other Michelangelo sculptures, affectionately named “The Prisoners.” These are unfinished works of Michelangelo, called prisoners because they have not yet been freed from the marble blocks. They are incredible in their own right, as they show the transition from marble to finished stature. At the end of the line of prisoners is another Pieta, attributed to Michelangelo, but not necessarily his.

Another area of the Accademia is devoted to the plaster work done as a model for sculpture. A number of artists made plaster versions of their work, measured the dimensions, then transferred it to marble. One big surprise I had is that a number of the plaster sculptures were attributed to the artist Lorenzo Bartolini, a name fans of Letters to Juliet will immediately recognize. This Lorenzo Bartolini became a famous portrait sculptor after painting Napoleon Bonaparte and his family. The busts of a number of important people are modeled here.

Cappelle Medicee

Cappelle Medicee

From the Accademia, we headed to Cappelle Medicee. This incredible chapel was designed by Michelangelo, and he has a number of statues there as well, most adorning the sarcophagi of the Duke of Nemours and his nephew. Each tomb has the interred (the Duke or his nephew) arrayed like a Roman captain, while underneath lounge a male and female figure representing day and night. The chapel also housed some amazing reliquaries.

Sepulchre of Michelangelo

Sepulchre of Michelangelo

After the Cappelle Medicee, we tried to go to the Pallazzo Medici Riccardi, but it was closed. (Each of the museums has different days it is closed, as well as hours it closes early.) So, we headed to Santa Croce. (This is another “cover up zone.”) This cathedral is rather plain on the interior, but contains memorials and the sepulchres of some amazing men: Galileo, Michelangelo, Dante, Machiavelli, and Lorenzo Bartolini to name a few. It is incredible to walk around the chapel and see these amazing designs. From the chapel, you can look into a number of side areas containing original frescos. Another room holds reliquaries, including part of the frock of St. Francis of Assisi. From the museum, you go into a central courtyard area where you can see another museum or choose to go to the hall of sepulchres. It is fascinating to see the way people were interred at this time.

Finally, we headed home to rest a bit before picking up the car at Piazzale Michelangelo. When we had left the car, I was in the first spot so I could just pull out to leave. When we returned, four other cars had created their own parking spaces around me. Sigh…So much for easy parking.

Uffizi Gallery

Uffizi Gallery

Today (7/23/13) started off a bit slowly; not because we weren’t ready, though we did sleep in. We are quickly learning that transportation in Florence is either, as my mom calls it, “walk your fool self to death” or wait forever for a bus to pick you up (A bus, mind you, that may come every 20 minutes (undoubtedly you just missed this one), every hour, or not at all (meaning it stopped running sometime right before you arrived.) At least that’s the case with us. To arrive where we wanted, we drove to Piazele Michelangelo, dropped off our car, took the bus back home to catch another bus to take us to the right part of the city to buy Firenze cards. This process took us 2 1/2 hours. (each leg of the journey should take between 10 and 15 minutes).

So, by the time we got our Firenze Cards, we were already tired. We did decide to go ahead and get the Firenze card, even though they just recently changed the price from 50 Euros to 73 Euros. If you look at bus ticket prices and entrance fees to the major places, it still saves you money if you’re going to be in town for a while.

Victory by Michelangelo

Victory by Michelangelo at Palazzo Vecchio

We started at the Uffizi Gallery. Unfortunately, you can’t take pictures in this area, so I only have a photo of the outside. It is a virtual feast of artwork, from incredible sculptures to famous paintings, including the Birth of Venus by Botticelli, to more modern pieces, virtually any great artist you learned about in Art history is represented here. I will say, I have seen enough nakedness to last a lifetime, so if you come, be prepared to see a lot of nudes. One of the things that most struck me was a throw back to reading The Agony and the Ecstasy (story of Michelangelo.) I remember them talking about how both Michelangelo and Leonardo Di Vinci dissected corpses in order to understand the way the muscle structure worked. Why I was reminded of this grotesque fact is that as I was looking at sculptures and art work, I could definitely tell which artists had dissected and which hadn’t. I know that sounds weird, but there is a way muscles work underneath the skin that you can’t really understand unless you’ve studied anatomy. Thankfully, we have the computer to see diagrams.

Museo Nazionale del Bargello

Museo Nazionale del Bargello

From the Uffizi Gallery, we headed towards the Duomo (Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Flore), but stopped at the Museo Nazionale del Bargello along the way. This area had a gorgeous central courtyard of statues and shields, but also boasted a collection of antique weapons. What most interested me was a statue on the first floor: Bacchus by Michelangelo. Having read about him in junior high, I was amazed to be close enough to his statues to touch them. They weren’t high over head or out of reach, but eye level and in vivid detail. (I do want to mention here that it is one of my pet peeves when people call him Michael Angelo instead of Michelangelo (short i). His first name is not two names, and he does have a last name: Buonarroti. Anyway, that’s my rant…)

Duomo Cattedrale di Santa Maria

Duomo Cattedrale di Santa Maria

Leaving the museum, we continued our trek to the Duomo. While the outside of this cathedral is awe inspiring, the inside is nothing to write home about. After all the incredible artistry we have seen, the inside of the Duomo was, well, drab. It was 90% stone with no embellishment or decoration other than the amazing dome. It does have free admission, but is also a “No Hoochie zone,” so cover up or you’ll have to by a cover there. The Baptistery, on the other hand, had all the artistry I’d expected the Duomo to have. Gorgeous gold inlaid mosaics decorated this smaller structure outside the Duomo. Definitely worth seeing!

Pieta by Michelangelo in Museo Dell'opera del Duomo

Pieta by Michelangelo in Museo Dell’opera del Duomo

Leaving the Baptistery, we made our way to the Museo Dell’opera del Duomo. Tucked away behind a wall of construction, this museum, I had read, contained Michelangelo’s Pieta and Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Doors of Paradise. We saw the doors right as we walked in–the ones on the Baptistery are replicas. When we reached the second floor, we saw the Pieta. It wasn’t the one I was expecting–the classic one with Jesus laying on Mary’s lap. This one had more people in it–and was rough and unfinished. Apparently, Michelangelo found something wrong with the grain of the marble (broke a chunk off of Mary’s arm) and declared it not good enough to finish. I think it’s beautiful.

We ended our journey with dinner by the Palazzo Vecchio, former Medici residence and current town hall. After dinner, we decided to tour the museum here, which is open until midnight, except on Thursdays. The central area in the Palazzo is incredible! Statues line the walls in front of gigantic masterpiece paintings, topped by a golden inlaid and painted ceiling. Unbelievable.

Palazzo Vecchio's central area

Palazzo Vecchio’s central area

Having finished as much sightseeing as we could for one day, we set out for home, only to discover the busses within the city stop running at either 6 or 8 (it was 8:30). So, after another long trek, three busses, and a car ride, we made it home. We still have two and a half days left on our Firenze card, so we’ll see what other mischief we can get into.

First looks at Siena

First looks at Siena

We headed out this morning (7/22/13) for Siena. We are loosely working off of Rick Steve’s guide book, and this is one of the areas he covers that we thought would be fun to check out. The drive out was good for me (though we passed two accidents) until we got into Siena. We had very loose directions from the guide book on how to get to parking, and it was challenging to reconcile the guide books, the map, and the GPS. Finally, we opted to scrap all three and just follow the signs and figure it out. This worked far better (though was much more stressful for mom.) But, we made it to the parking lot we were trying to find and started the long walk into the city, accompanied by the sounds of piano and opera from the University across the street.

We finally reached the Duomo, an incredibly beautiful structure dating back to 1215. We purchased the Opa Si Pass for 12 Euros which allowed us to view the Cathedral, Library, Baptistery, Crypt, Museum of Opera, Oratorio, and Panorama view. It was a bit more than normal due to the exhibition of John the Baptist (Youth with a Ram) painted by Caravaggio in 1602.

Siena from above

Siena from above

We started our tour with the Museum, as advised by the ticket agent, since there wasn’t much of a line. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the Museum–only on the top. The Museum is filled with amazing statues and other items preserved from the Original Duomo–You can even see the original Stained glass window. It was interesting to see the way the sculptors carved each apostle differently. Also, I got to see my first reliquaries–I’ve never seen the bones of a martyr before–definitely a unique experience. After climbing the many steps through the Museum, we ended up in the line to the “Panoramic view.” Silly us–we assumed from how high we were that we merely needed to go out on a deck of sorts to see the view from the top. Not the case. After climbing up a narrow spiral staircase (probably two feet wide with steps starting close to the center pole at about 3 inches and working out to about 10 inches) Pretty crazy! And that was just to get to the first deck. You could climb another 70 stairs to another tower point. We decided we’d had enough stairs for one day.

Duomo Siena

Duomo Siena

From there, we went to the Duomo, where you are allowed to take pictures. The Duomo is a gorgeous building both outside and in, and offers many treasures to see. Be aware, though, the Duomo is a strict “No Hoochie” zone. In other words, if you’re a female, you’d better have both your shoulders and knees covered. Go in shorts and a tank top, and you will receive something resembling a cotton poncho to cover up with. If you’re a man, you merely need to remove your hat. Thankfully, we knew this ahead of time and dressed appropriately. While some may find it offensive, I think it’s neat that some cathedrals still have standards of dress. It is also expected to be a place of reverence and quiet. I think the view itself will accomplish that–it is literally breath-taking.

St. Paul by Michelangelo

St. Paul by Michelangelo

Some of my favorite treasures in the Duomo were the inlaid floor tiles (be careful–these are roped off, and the iron poles are easy to trip over when the visitor is looking at the ceiling–i.e. me…), the intricately carved figures on a pulpit dating back to 1268, and small carvings made by Michelangelo himself. The one referenced in the guidebook is St. Paul who is said to look like a self-portrait of the sculptor himself–you can be the judge on that.

From there, we went to the crypt where we got to see the painting of John the Baptist–an amazing piece. The crypt also contained places where the old frescos were still visible. Beautiful. Alas, no pictures in there, either. We also walked through the Baptistery, which was a tiny area, but beautifully painted as well.

Finishing that, it was time to try to find our way to our car via the Il Campo–the heart of Siena. It was a neat square edged by the city hall–the largest secular tower in Italy. The chapel at the base of the tower was built in 1348 to thank God for ending the Black Death, which had killed 1/3 of the population. An amazing site to see!

Il Campo

Il Campo

We returned to our car, paid our parking ticket, ate lunch in the car, paid our parking ticket again (apparently, we had exceeded the amount of time you’re allowed to linger in the parking garage after paying), and headed to San Gimignano. We’d read in the guidebook that the medieval towers were incredible, but it wasn’t worth going inside the city, so we decided to take a drive by. It ended up being a lot longer drive than we planned–twisting and turning–but with gorgeous scenery. We had debated going to Volterra, which was also reported to be an incredible drive, but we wanted to get home to get our Florence tickets.
Views along the drive

Views along the drive

Apparently, Volterra has gotten a new boost of tourism due to the Twilight movies (Volterra was supposed to be the home of the the Volturi in New Moon), though most of filming was done in Montepulciano. But, alas, this was one side trip we had to skip. Since Rick Steve’s called this a windy road (and San Gimignano was windy enough), I was okay to skip it.

Sunset in Florence

Sunset in Florence

We returned to Florence in time to walk around the city and affirm that nothing is a short walk and the maps are deceiving (leaving mom a bit less of a Rick Steve’s fan…) But, we ended our day back at our amazing cafe by Piazzale Michelangelo watching the sunset.

Florence early evening

Florence early evening

Mom still wasn’t feeling well, so we took a true day of rest for our first whole day in Florence (7/21/13). We slept in, went grocery shopping sans car, and caught up on business. After resting, though, she felt better, so we decided to venture out into the city. Our plan was to head to Piazzele Michelangelo which offers free parking we plan to take advantage of some of the time this week.

Piazzele Michelangelo at Sunset

Piazzele Michelangelo at Sunset

The Piazzele is a beautiful vantage point from which to see the city. We explored the street vendors a bit, bought 5 Euro T-shirts, and took a few pictures before heading to a cafe under the overlook to have dinner. Definitely a good choice! We ordered a pizza and a Panini and shared both, which were incredible, and we got a view overlooking Florence to boot. We were not alone in our decision to come out and watch the sunset; the piazzele was packed with people doing exactly the same thing we were.

Gelateria

Gelateria

After a beautiful sunset and some fancy maneuvering to squeeze out of the parking lot (European parking spaces are way narrower than American ones), we drove back home and headed on foot down to our corner Gelateria. It looked amazing and tasted even better. Can’t wait to see more of the city this week.

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