Friday, August 31, 2012

Florence - Day 4

Hard to believe, but we still had not visited all the major attractions in Florence.  We started this morning at the Accademia.  There were huge crowds of tour groups from cruise ships wandering down the streets headed to this museum.  Once again, our Florence pass let us skip the line, although we had to wait about 10 minutes to be let inside.

No pictures inside here either, but my brother didn't realize this and took a few "illegal" pictures.  The main thing to see here is the main gallery lined with the Dying Slave statues of Michelangelo.  At the end of the hall stands the famous statue of David, surrounded by masses of tour groups.  It is quite a zoo, but if you wait and time it right, you might get a few minutes in the gallery without a huge crowd before they let the next group in.  There is other artwork to view as well as old instruments on display, but David is the main attraction!

A bit of a rest, a snack, and a cool off in the hotel and then we headed out for the afternoon.  This time we crossed over the Ponte Vecchio and headed to the Pitti Palace.  We spent several hours wandering through the sumptuous rooms.  I really wish I could have taken pictures here.  This was more of a palace than an art gallery, although there were many works by famous artists. But the decor was unbelievable - the ceilings, the walls, the furniture, the decorations, all lush and rich.  

When we finished seeing the palace we walked out towards the gardens, but decided it just was too hot to walk any more.  It would have been fun to wander around this side of the Arno, but I think we were exhausted and totally cultured out by this point!

But the day wasn't quite done yet.  My next post will share a fabulous meal that ended our visit to Florence!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Florence - Day 3

Day 3 in Florence started out at the Uffizi Gallery.  We used our Florence pass to bypass the line, but unfortunately didn't realize until we had climbed up four flights of stairs that we needed to show our pass downstairs and get a receipt.  Huff, huff, down and back up the marble staircases, and then finally we were in the Uffizi Gallery!

The Uffizi is considered to be Italy's greatest art gallery. The building itself is lovely - I especially liked the ceilings in the long hallways.  The two paintings that I enjoyed seeing the most were Botticelli's "Birth of Venus" and "Spring." There were many other masterpieces by Giotto, Raphael, and Titian.  I must confess that after seeing many many many Madonna and Child paintings framed in gold that much of the art was starting to look alike.

No pictures allowed again, but I did take a photo of the Ponte Vecchio out of one of the windows.

Our next stop was the Bargello - a fascinating palace with lots of statues and interesting decorative artwork.

There were old locks and keys, majolica plates, and beautiful blue and yellow glazed Della Robbia ceramics.

After a gelato break, we went to the Museo deli Opera del Duomo.  We were so disappointed the the original golden doors from the Baptistry were not on display because they were redoing part of the museum.  I still enjoyed seeing some of the beautiful sculptures inside, including the expressive Michelangelo's Florence Pieta (above).

Our final stop of the day was at the church of Santa Croce (above).  

If you have enjoyed the movie "A Room with a View" you may recall when the characters visit this church.  Not only does it have stunning windows and artwork, but also holds the tombs of Italian notables such as Michelangelo, Donatello, Galileo, Rossini, and Machiavelli.

I was not merely exhausted at the end of this day, I was ART-exhausted, if there is such a thing.  I wasn't sure my eyes could take in another day of looking at beautiful works of art.  Fortunately, I was able to slightly restore myself by eating this ravioli with sage and butter sauce for dinner.  Yes, it is swimming in a bath of butter and was sinfully yummy and rich!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Florence - Day 2

To help us with our Florence touring, we purchased a 72 hour Florence card which gives admittance to many (not all) of the major museums and attractions in Florence.  An advantage to having the card is that you can skip the lines at the museums and enter busy locations like the Uffizi and Accademia without advance reservations.  A bit pricey, but worth it if you plan to visit a lot of museums.

We started our whirlwind touring in the morning at the Church of Santa Maria Novella.  It is noted for its artwork by Alberti, Giotto, and Brunelleschi.

Next to Santa Maria is a museum which includes the Green Cloister,  the Spanish Chapel, and other religious treasures.  We purchased our Florence card here because it is not very busy and saved us from standing in a long line.

Our next stop was the San Lorenzo church which was the parish church of the Medici family.  Quite a ugly brown facade, but a spectacular altar inside (no photos allowed). Next to the church is the Medici tombs.  Nothing unique about this exterior either, but the main interior tombs are lined with shiny green, pink, black, and white inlaid semiprecious stone.  Down a corridor is a second group of tombs that are decorated with statues by Michaelangelo.  No pictures allowed inside :-( which was the case with many places in Florence.

In the afternoon we went through the Galileo Museum - old compasses, telescopes, globes, and even two of Galileo's fingers!

Then onto the Palazzo Vecchio which for many centuries was the center of Florence's government.

 The walls and ceilings in the huge main hall are quite amazing!

Some amazing views out the windows looking out at the roofs of Florence.

In the evening we walked out to the Ponte Vecchio. There was a perfect reflection looking out at the bridge which absolutely glowed in the amber light as the sun went down.

We walked along the Arno River and enjoyed an amazing Florentine sunset.  What a perfect ending to the day!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Hotel Davanzati - Florence

This is the almost hidden entrance to the Davanzati Hotel where we stayed for four nights while we were in Florence. It is located on a street near all the designer shops and within short walking distance to the main sights in Florence.  You do have to climb 26 steps up to a small elevator that then takes you up to the lobby.  I looked on climbing those steps as my justification for that extra scoop of gelato each day.

The main lobby is lovely and everyone at the desk was friendly and helpful.  They even had iPads available for people to use if they wanted to check out places to visit or see the latest news.  Each evening they lit candles and had a happy hour for the guests.

Our room was somewhat long and narrow.  It had a twin bed and second bed that was a bit larger than a twin but not quite full size. There was nothing particularly unique about the decor of the room, but it was comfortable, cool, and quiet. (I believe the deluxe rooms have more updated decor.) The first night we had a difficult time connecting to the wifi while in the room. I mentioned it at the desk in the morning and they immediately checked it out and had it fixed when we returned later in the day.

The bathroom was modern and roomy.  Pretty tile.

They had a ample breakfast in the morning with fruit, pastries, cereal, meats, cheeses, juice, and coffee/tea.  

We found the Hotel Davanzati through the great reviews at Trip Advisor.  It definitely met our expectations for comfort, location, and it is tops with service!  A great choice for Florence if you are looking for a smaller hotel with a central location.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Florence - Day 1

In the morning we said "Arrivederci" to Rome and took a 2 hour train journey to Florence, arriving in early afternoon. After checking into our hotel, we took off for a walking tour of some of the main sights of the city.  We were staying only a few blocks away from the Uffizi Gallery, so we headed in that direction to the Plazza della Signoria which is one of the main squares of the city, filled with tourists and vendors.  Above is the Palazzo Vecchio with its distinctive tower.

A replica statue of David stands in the square - the original one was moved to the Accademia in the 19th century to protect it from the elements.  

Other notable statues stand in the covered Loggia.  A nice shady spot where people like to take a break.

Walking through the open courtyard of the Uffizi Gallery.  The artwork is on the second floor - we toured here on another day.

Then we walked up the street to the Duomo.  The square is cramped, so it is difficult to get a full picture of the sparkling pastel colored marble facade.  The Duomo is topped by Brunelleschi"s dome which is difficult to view from close up.  Better photos later from a distance!

The outside and the doors are richly decorated.  Surprisingly, the inside seemed plain, especially in comparison to lush churches interiors that we viewed in Rome.


Directly across from the Duomo is the Baptistry.  I remember learning about Ghiberti's golden doors in art history.  Like the David statue, these are replicas of the original door panels which are now kept protected in the Duomo Museum.

We mostly wandered the exteriors of the buildings on the first day and got a feel for the layout of Florence. Stay tuned for the next 3 days of intense museum and culture overload!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Church Hopping - Roman Style

Along with visiting the Vatican and the ancient ruins, we managed to stop in quite a few beautiful churches.  After seeing St. Peter's, you'd think there would't be anything else that that would be impressive, but each place had unique artwork and decoration.  Unfortunately, they all started to blur together, so I am writing this post to help me try to sort out which church was which!

Santa Maria sopra Minerva is located close to the Pantheon.   I was surprised how plain most of the church exteriors were, very different to typical cathedrals in France and England.   A unique statue of an elephant supporting an Egyptian obelisk by Bernini stands in the plaza in front of the church.  

This is one of the rare Gothic churches in Rome and is filled with artwork (aren't they all?) and gorgeous deep blue vaulted ceilings.

The Church of the Gesu (above) is a Baroque Jesuit church with a plain exterior but an interior filled with luminous golden painted ceilings.

The golden color of the dome and altar was enriched by the late afternoon sun light pouring through the upper windows.  

Sant Ignazio de Loyola (above) is an other extravagant church covered with marble and gilt.  The painted ceilings have an amazing sense of depth.  

Church Saint Louis of the French (San Luigi die Francesi) is noted especially for three beautiful Caravaggio paintings depicting the life of Matthew.  

And finally, Santa Maria In Trastevere is noted for its beautiful mosaics. I loved the line of sheep that decorate this part of the ceiling.

Note for "church hopping" in Rome:  many churches close for several hours in the afternoon and reopen later in the evening, so check the hours in guidebooks or online in advance.  Also, modest dress is expected and in many cases you will be turned away if you don't have the correct clothing.  No bare shoulders - many women carried a long scarf that can be used to cover their shoulders and some churches had scarfs that you could borrow for a "donation."  No shorts allowed either, although we discovered that in most cases people were able to enter with longer shorts that hit right at the knee.  

Friday, August 17, 2012

Dar Poeta Pizza - Rome

On our last evening in Rome, we crossed over the river into the area called Trastevere, a more residential area with narrow twisty streets.  Armed with reviews and a map from Trip Advisor, we found Dar Poeta tucked into a small street.  Once again we were just ahead of the rush, and were given a wobbly table near the door outside.

A plastic covered menu with every possible combination of pizza you could imagine.

Bruschetta with an olive tapenade.  Good, but only one piece?

The pizza definitely was pure poetry!  Sausage and mushroom above.

Salmon and arugula.  Perfect crunchy crust, yummy toppings.  I thought the arugula added a nice healthy touch!
Wish I had saved room for their nutella and ricotta calzone for dessert.  Supposed to be amazing.

When we left, there was a huge crowd of people waiting for a table.  It seemed to be split pretty evenly between Italians and American foodie types.  A great place to go for a taste of real Italian pizza!

We enjoyed wandering through the maze of streets in Trastevere.  I love this shot of a fountain with a pigeon on top silhouetted against a crusty apartment building in the evening light.

Balconies, shutters, paintings - all a part of the charm of the old buildings that you see everywhere as you stroll though Rome.

You never know what you might see as you look down the alleyways.

Just before dusk we crossed back over the river to head back to our hotel.

I sat up on the hotel terrace one last time.  I actually was able to use the wifi to FaceTime with a friend and share the amazing view with her.  And to end our last night in Rome, a lovely sunset over St. Peter's at the Vatican.


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