Monday, September 28, 2015

Florence Day 3

We woke up very early this morning and made a quick breakfast so that we could bring our bags to our new hotel for the night, and still be at the Academia before the huge crowds arrive. Our new hotel, the Florence Dome Hotel, is up many, many steps. The room would turn out to be small and the bathroom smelled of moldy cucumber. It was not the best. However, the breakfast was great and the people working at the hotel were extremely nice and accommodating. It is also located just about a block away from the Accademia gallery. We arrived at the gallery just in time, cause the lines kept growing longer and longer as we waited. We did not have to wait long and were quickly let into the gallery. The show-stopper in this gallery is Michelangelo's David statue. It was certainly more impressive that I expected. The details were exquisite. You could even see the veins in his arms.

We then went to the other not-to-be-missed art gallery, the Uffizi. This museum is loaded with Renaissance paints and statues. The museum contains art by some of the most famous renassance artist, da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rapheal, Botacceli, etc.

We had lunch near the Uffizi and just outside of the Galileo museum. Lunch was just some sandwiches, but it was pretty good and the sitting was AWESOME! It was so needed as our feet and backs were again in throbbing pain from standing and walking so much.       

Since we were right next to the Galileo museum, we decided to check it out next. This turned out to be one of my favorite museums of the trip. It was filled with the Medici collection of scientific tools such as old thermometers, telescopes, scales, astrolabes, sextants, globes, different types and the evolution of gears (Dylan says I should be calling these escapements-the set of gears that keep time), etc. It was really interesting and impressive to see the creativity of the people who developed these devices. The engineers also seemed to be artists, making their tools not only useful, but also beautiful. They were often made of bronze or beautifully stained wood. 

After the Galileo museum, we went across the Vecchino bridge and wandered over to the Pitti Palazzo. This was the home of the di Medici family once it was decided that Palazzo Vecchino did not have enough nice green space. To avoid walking among the common people in the streets, the Medici's had a raised walkway build between Palazzo Vecchino and Pitti Palace. It ran over the top of the shops on the Vecchino bridge. This is not a particularly short distance between these two palaces, but I guess if you have the money, why not build it. 

Anyways, Pitti palace was grand and beutifully decorated. The palace is made up of a number of museums and was a bit confusing on what was the best route to take through the palace. So we first wandered out into the Boboli gardens to the Porcelain museum. Then we went back to the palace and walk through the costume museum, which was filled with early 20th century clothing. There were some spectacular dresses. Then we moved on to the Palantine gallery and a few of the other museums before we were completely broken from tiredness. 

We just stayed on the other side of the river and did some people watching in the plazas. We found a really good looking bakery and had some deserts while sitting on a wall overlooking a piazza and listened to music. When 6pm rolled around, we went to Archea brewery, a local microbrew company and bar. I had a great milk stout and Dylan had a double bock. We met a couple from New Zealand and another couple on their honeymoon from Long Island. Had a lot of fun chatting with them and the bar owner/brewer.

Once we were feeling good again, we went to dinner at a trattoria recommended by the brewery owner down a narrow alley. It probably would have been impossible to just stumble upon. We had some really good food here.

So after a wine at lunch, 1.5 beers with 7.8% alcohol, and another wine at dinner, I stumbled home. On the plus side, all that alcohol made my italian suddenly become good! Funny that.

Florence Day 2

Since breakfast in Italy is little more than a crossant and cappuccino, we made a small breakfast of an egg, bread, yogurt, and coffee. We were resourceful and took the butter packs and jam from our Venice hotel and used them for breakfast. 

The first stop on our self-made tour today was to stop at the Medici chapels. This is the building that the Medici family used as a church and crypt. The Medici family started as wealthy merchants and eventually built up so much power from their wealth that they became the defacto ruling family of Venice. They also had two family members that were elected (or maybe bought) Pope. You may also have heard of Catherine di Medici who married King Henry II of France and was the mother to a number of French Kings (mostly because all but one of her children were sickly and weak and did not live long lives). She has a reputation that may not be fully deserved as being a conniving and manipulating person who would poison people to get her way. The chapel had the crowns of the Medici family and other relics and paintings of them. The bottom floor was the final resting place for a number of the Medici and the chapel above was spectacularly decorated. Part of the chapel was designed by Michelangelo. The Medici family was a big patron of the arts and one could say that they helped to bring about the Rennassance era by commissioning many of the most famous buildings, statues, and paintings of that time period.

The main chapel is covered in marble slabs all the way up the walls, which reach 59 meters tall. The pictures are done with inlayed semi-precious stones and could be summed up as just awe-striking and opulent.

After this, we went to the Galleria Accademia, but since it was already late morning, the lines were way too long. So we decided to walk to the Duomo and check that out. Our first stop was the baptistry, which had really short lines because it opened only a few minates after we arrived in the line. This was good timing for us since the lines at all the major sites in Florence can be exceedingly long. The baptestry was a circular shaped building set just in front of the Duomo. The inside was beautiful, with mosaics all over the ceiling. The mosaics looked like paintings as the tiles were so small. The roof sparkled with all the gold tiles and looked again very opulent. This seems to be a theme for Florence.

Then to the Duomo dome, but I must remark first on the outside of the Duomo. Wow, just wow. The details are not so fine as other cathedrals that often have a gothic style with heads and gargoles all over. Instead it was covered in mostly flat rectangular lines with the detail coming in the form of patterns made by they marble covering the walls. The effect is unique and inspiring. The lines into the Duomo were long, so we went directly to the dome entrance. We were able to cut the line with our Firenze card that we bought (a very worth wild investment if you will be in Florence for at least 3 days). The climb up was about 450 steps and had us climbing up some old, very tight, and spiraled staircases. Once we got to the base of the dome, we were let out on a ledge that circled around the base of the dome. It is not recommended if you are afraid of heights! However, the view of the inside of the dome was much better than it would be from the floor of the Duomo. Here we could really see the detail in the mosaics that covered the dome ceiling. Again, like the baptistry the dome shimmered and sparked with gold tiles. Then it was back to the small, steep staircase to go up even further. Finally, we emerged on the roof. It was raining and slippery, but the view out over Florence and Tuscany was still; beautiful. The hills in the distance all seemed to have a castle or manor house perched on top and made me long for a trip to the countryside of Italy. On this trip, we are just seeing the major cities. I suppose that means we will have to come back to see the more rural areas of the country!

After the descent, we had some coffee near the duomo (though not really very good coffee) and a cupcake. We people watched for a bit and then walked down to the river to see the Vecchio bridge covered in silver and gold jewelry shops and make our way to Palazzo Vecchio for a secret passages tour we booked. The tour took us through some areas not accessable to the general public and we got to go through some of those hidden doors that are often found in old palaces and castles. It was a fun and interesting tour, but seemed a little short. It was cool to see how the roof and ceilings were held up. The ceilings are basically just hanging from the roof rafters. This is why they can have huge rooms without the large steel I-beams that we need today to hold up large ceilings. 

When we finished exploring all of Palazzo Vecchino, we went to centrale mercado and bought some fruits and veggies to make our dinner tonight. We thought we would get the fresh pasta made just next to our apartment, but the store was not open when we arrived. This ment that we had to walk all to back to the duomo to get some good pasta from the shop Eatily. When we finally got back tot he apartment we made dinner which consisted of salad, tortelinni, and bread. Dylan made a delicous sauce for the pasta with some tomatoes, garlic, wine, and olive oil. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Venice to Florence

Today we ventured out to a cool costume museum in Venice. The building itself was quite pretty with painted ceilings and other beautiful detailing. The first room had a temporary exhibit with small art pieces made from natural materials, many of which could be used to make clothing. Some of these were pretty spectacular.

The clothing was awesome. The museum contained both men`s and women`s clothing. The dresses had the typical corset and large hips shape. The details on the clothing was immaculate. Think of the hours and skill that would go into these one-of-a-kind pieces and the sewing or details was likely all done by hand. There was an entire room filled with men`s vests and they all again had very fine embroided details. Just beautiful!

The museum also contained a section on perfume manufacture during the same time period as the clothing. I really enjoyed this part as I am starting to play around with making perfumes in my own home lab. If only my lab could look as pretty at this one! Mine is still a pretty great lab, but I just LOVE the wood. 

They must have had thousands of dollars worth of essential oils, musks, and other fragrances in the museum that you could smell. It will probably be the only time I ever get to smell real musk, Sandalwood, and rose essential oils as they are either endangered or prohibitively expensive.

After the museum, we stopped for a cappuccino and a quick break to rest our tired feet and backs. Then walked around the Rialto bridge and did some browsing and shopping. We bought a cool mask from La Bottega dei Mascareri, which is a tiny shop run by a pair of brothers located at the bottom of the Rialto bridge. They make top quality Venician masks by hand. Their masks have been in many movies and in famous Shakesphere festivials.

For lunch, we found a really good stand up pizza and calzone type sandwich shop and then it was back to the hotel to get our bags and make our way back to the train station for our trip to Florence.

It felt almost like a culture shock to go from quiet, car-free Venice to the bustling city of Florence. We were greeted with a traffic jam and lots of horns. We made our way to the Airbnb apartment we rented for our first two nights in Florence. It was a cute little two floored apartment in the historic center.

We then went out to the Farmacia di Santa Maria Novella perfume shop. It is a convent that is famous for its production of perfumes, herbal medicines, and body care products. It was a beautiful shop, but very crowded and pretty pricey, so we did not buy anything.

For dinner we went to a Trattoria across the street from our apartment. It was an establishment that caters to locals with cheap, excellent food. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Venice Day 2

Woke up with a sore throat and swollen glands...this is no good. I almost never get sick. I am placing bets that it was from the lack of air on my face when on the plane.  Stupid cheap airline...but saving $800 on flights and getting sick still might be worth it! I guess I just better not die from it!

Our hotel provided a nice little breakfast brought right to our room. It consisted of a powdered crossant, a roll, yogurt, capuccino, cookies, and toast. Along with an assortment of butter, jams, cheese, honey, and nutella. The hotel Ca' Bonvicini was decorated to reflect a regal design seen in many of the palaces. The furniture had a French feel, being white with gold painted trim and the walls were fabric covered Damask. It was located directly on one of the canals, but we had a room overlooking the road. 

One thing that I really appreciate about Venice is the lack of all cars. Even with people walking around slighty drunk all night, it is still quite quiet and peaceful at night. Clearly cars would not fit down the roads and alleys in Venice, but I am sure in other places people would have modified the bridges so they could use mopeds. Instead, everyone walks and even delivery of goods is done using true man power and carts that are specially designed to go over the bridges, which are full of steps. It must be a really exhausting job!

Today we started our day on the other side of the island at the Accademia art museum. This museum is filled with Venice renaissance art. We found it interesting that in some of the paintings you could see the people using the ancient Roman ruin, such as one where there were Renaissance people bathing in an ancient Roman bath house that was partially collapsed. 

I thought this painting was funny. There is just something about the guy on the left with his hand positioning and his face that makes me come up with funny stories in my mind about what he is saying.

We then walked back to San Marco Square and went to the Correr Museum. This museum was filled with armour and weapons, paintings, lots of statues, old coins, coin presses, Egyptian mummys, and Doge memorabilia, plus the building was itself a work of art.

At this point, we had a low point in the day when Dylan started complaining about his feet hurting from his sandals. We started back towards the hotel to get different shoes for him. Since this was a very long walk, grumpiness ensued and food indecisiveness took over as we were both tired and very hungry. We finally found a quick cheap pizza place and got two large slices to go. We decided to eat in the empty fish market on the canal and watch the Gondolas float past. This restored our senses and we were again happy.

We spent some time in the hotel to relax and get ready to go out for dinner and an opera at Musica a Palazzo.

For dinner we decided on a restaurant close to our hotel.  It turns out that this restaurant had a crazy (perhaps drunk) Turkish waiter. He put on quite an entertaining performance with his skill at getting customers to eat there. Dylan and I split a huge plate of pasta e fruitta del mare and another 0.5L of red house wine. This food was not as good as yesterday's dinner, but it was still pretty decent. 

From there it was on to the opera. Even though Dylan went pee before we left the restaurant, he had to go again within a few minutes of leaving the restaurant due to a bladder full of wine and we had a 20 minute walk to the opera. We nearly ran there for him, but when we arrived the opera was not letting people in yet. So at this point he just runs off like a crazy  person to pee in a dark alley.* It is known that Dylan must defile every place we go. I suppose it could be worse, it might have been poop and the colleseum.  Though, I suppose we still have plenty of time for that to occur! *Dylan would like me to point out that out of repect for Venice, he did not empty his entire bladder. (This, he later found out was a mistake as we still could not get into the opera right away and he had to hold it again for a bit!)

The opera was a unique experience, the show is limited to 75 guests and it has three acts. Each act is held in a different room, with wine or presecco being served between the first two acts. We saw the opera La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi. By the clothing, it appeared to be set in the early 1920's. I didn't really know what was going on as it was in Italian, but it was beautiful singing and music. 

Venice explored

We woke up this morning nice and early so we could make our way to Venice. We took the metro to Milan Centrale Station and found a little cafe where we got some yogurt with granola and fruit and a cappuccino. I am pretty sure that every food establishment in this country has a really nice espresso machine. 

We would be on the train for lunch, so we also picked up a salad, baguette, fruit, and some brie to have for lunch. The train we were on was pretty nice, it was the second fastest type of train in the country. While I don't feel that they can compare to Japan's trains, they sure beat out the US train system. They are fast, comfortable, and on time! 

Once we arrived in Venice, we had to take the ACTV boat 1 to San Stae stop. This boat/bus service is a huge rip off. I mean we spent 7.50 Euro each to go 4 stops which took only about 5 minutes. Also, it was really confusing to figure out how and where to get tickets for the boat. So we wasted a lot of time running back and forth between the different boat docks. This ment that we were now in a rush to get to the Basilica by our reservation time. So we rushed to our hotel and checked in. 

With a map in hand we then had to find our way through the maze that is Venice while trying to run through swarms of humans browsing shops to get to the basilica in time. We did not make it on time and instead arrived 10 min late, but thankfully they people at the cathedral did not seem to care. Saint Mark's Basilica is nice from the outside, but I don't feel that the outside was even close to being as impressive as the Basilica in Milan. The inside was covered in tiny mosaic tiles, the majority of which were gold. This made the ceiling an impressive golden dome. The floors were also covered in mosaic designs. We noticed a few animal mosaics that were really cute. We decided to pay the 5 Euro each to get into the museum and terrace level. This was well worth it even just for the view out over Saint Mark's Plaza. The museum had a number of old mosaics that had fallen off the walls over the years and some information on how they restored some of the mosaics from the outside-in. It seemed like a highly complicated restoration process.

After some coffee and gelato, we made our way to the Doges Palace, just next to the Basilica. This was the home and seat of the government for hundreds of years when Venice was it's own city-state and self-governed. The Palace was sparse in furniture, but was loaded with Renaissance era art. The detail put into the ceiliings in the rooms of the palace were spectacular. I can only imagine the man hours that went into producing buildings like this. One of the rooms in the palace holds the title of the largest room or 2nd largest in Europe. You have to wonder how the ceiling does not collapse. For a room even a quarter of the size, we would now need a large steel beam to hold up the ceiling. Just amazing. Seriously.

For dinner, we went to a little restaurant that was recommended by our hotel (Ca'Bonvicini-which was amazing by the way). Dylan got a squid ink pasta and I got a grilled Turbot fish with grilled veggies. They had some amazing snack food-sweet coated macadamia nuts and caramel popcorn. We shared a half liter of the house red wine, which turned out to be a very good tasting wine. And as if we were not full enough, Dylan ordered a Tiramisu for desert which was so fresh and delicious. It must have been made in house or at least locally from scratch. It had a pale yellow color instead of the typical american white Tiramisu. 

Typsy and stuffed, we wandered back to the hotel for the night. A good day overall.

An Italian Adventure

We started off our vacation with a long day of travel. Our flight left JFK airport at 3pm and arrived in Milan Italy at 9:25am. This basically resulted in us pulling an all nighter as not much sleep was had on the flight. We found some very cheap flights to Italy on Meridiana, but they can with the caveat of not having many common amenities one would expect of a flight. For instance there was no air over the seats, just the reading light, and the seats were very narrow and very thin. Also, most international flights have personal entertainment systems/TVs at each seat, this flight however only had a couple old school TVs. 

We took a quick train ride from the airport into Milan and then the metro to our Airbnb apartment that we rented. The apartment was located on one of the few remaining canals in Milan. This road turned into party central at night and in the morning was covered with garbage and empty glasses. 

The apartment was incredibly adorable and was decked out in a Parisian style. It was a little two floored, two roomed apartment with a little iron spiral staircase connecting the two floors. 

We went out for some lunch while we waited for the apartment to be ready. The shop we ended up it had one of those pretty old wooden bars that are reminiscent of what I would expect an old school pharmacy/soda fountain bar would look like. We had some veggie sandwiches which turned out to be pretty decent. 

Finally, we were able to get into the apartment and wash that travel stink off of us! (Did I mention the plane had not air and it felt like 100F in there!) Yeah, we were really gross! Then we were off to explore the Leonardo di Vinci Museum of Science and technology. This museum was huge and has a lot of interesting exhibits. There was a section with models of the machines that Leonardo had sketched out and lots of other more modern machines and equipment. We saw sections on communication over the years, telegraph to phone, food production and cooking machines, a submarine, old boat, planes, energy machines, and much more. Then we walked a long way to the Duomo. It is a really impressive cathedral, it looked like it was made from pink marble. Unfortunately, we stopped to take a few pictures, and by the time we made it to the entrance they were closing it up and wouldn't let us in. 

By this time we were both feel really exhausted and decided to make our way back to the apartment, stopping for dinner on the long walk back. We found a nice place and sat outside. Dylan had a meh, as he would say, fish dish and I had a delicious linguini with lobster. 

After walking some more and we finally arrive back at the apartment. At this point I am feeling so sick from being tired, I basically collapsed in the bed and passed out for the night.