A Travellerspoint blog

The Accademia Gallery, Boboli Gardens, and supper

There was also a deluge


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We tried a new cafe this morning, on a larger street at the end of our block. Our street is a passageway in the narrow space between 4-5 story 19th-century buildings, cheek to jowl, every so often a massive door, brass knockers, lists of names, a few stores. Looking through an open door, we might find a courtyard with trees or just a place to sit with pots of flowers. Our street is just wide enough for a small car. There isn’t much of a sidewalk, two feet wide or less. There is no parking except for a few motorcycles and bicycles.
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The larger street has room for buses and a slightly larger sidewalk. Still, it is a narrow street where cars and oncoming buses can pass, but two buses have to take turns. At the corner, one of the large buildings is a school. You would never know unless you looked in the window or the massive double doors were open or the street filled with students.

As we walked to the cafe, school, students arrived in groups and milling around, filling our street, talking, laughing. They parted for the odd scooter, bicycle, or car. More students were getting off the bus or jumping out of cars that paused at the intersection.

Compared to the cafe across from our apartment, the new cafe was modern, with more choices, better lighting, and better-dressed customers. We all agreed we would go back to our old place frequented by more blue-collar workers with less selections but more character and better pastries.

After breakfast, we walked to the Accademia Gallery. This would be another museum, another adventure through the Renaissance, and too much to catalog. Of course, I must mention Michelangelo’s David (the original, not the copy outside the Uffizi). David is great. I’ve seen it on coffee cups and t-shirts. I have trouble looking at it again, overworked, overhyped (even though it is brilliant), and boring. Michelangelo’s unfinished works were more interesting to me, raw, strong, suggesting more possibilities. I will need to go home and read more to understand all that we saw.
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Outside the Accademia, we noticed dark clouds growing. Still, we walked over the Ponte Vecchio to the Boboli Gardens, a good hike. After checking for our vaccination papers, we walked through Pitti Palace, up long stairs across a graveled area, up more stairs onto a graveled carriageway, to a set of stairs leading to a fountain and another set of stairs. The graveled walkways were lined with trimmed hedges. Have I mentioned I need a knee replacement? Stairs are awful. At the fountain, a bronze statue of Neptune stood on a massive rock with his trident ready to throw. A blue heron was at his feet, studying the surrounding pool. Once the heron moved, we realized he wasn’t part of the sculpture but hunting carp in the fountain.
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As we walked towards the Avenue of Cypress, dark clouds were growing. Clearly, there was raining in the distance, but we stopped to admire a modern sculpture, a massive face, maybe 15 feet tall, just a shell, cracked like clay dried too fast, but this was cast bronze. We walked around back to see the reverse.
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We picked up the pace, walked to the top of the Avenue of Cypress, which led down the hillside, and the rain began to fall. We hustled back toward the Pitti Palace but were soaked before we arrived. People gathered under a portico to wait. I talked to another border collie. We have seen at least one border collie (traditional black and white) every day, and some days we have seen more than half a dozen.

After the rain let up, we walked a few blocks and found a cafe on a narrow street a few blocks away from the river. I was beginning to dry off. Again we met two men walking two border collies. After drinks and sandwiches, we crossed the river looking for the car rental office. I wanted to be prepared when we picked up the car in a few days. Along the way, we met the same two guys with the two border collies we had seen at the cafe. The men were from the Netherlands. One of the dogs was 12 and moving a little slow. The dogs were dirty with rain and street grime.

After checking out the Europcar office, we headed to Osteria Giovanni for supper, where we had reservations. Most restaurants require reservations and are closed between 3 and 7. We were a little early, and the staff was still having their supper in the main dining room. We were lead to the smaller dining room.
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This was actual dining. We were given a complimentary salad of chickpeas, then bread, then a fried bread soaked in olive oil and fantastic. We ordered pici with a ragu, then greens, potatoes, veal, a sirloin with onions, a veal dish, and wine. Everything was flavorful, interesting, and well presented. For the dessert we didn’t need, a lemon cake with gelato and a brownie with gelato. After all that, we drank a bit of grappa, a digestif which was better than expected. Osteria Giovanni was probably the best place we have eaten, but we have had some equally good items in other places.

We were able to grab a bus back to our apartment just a block from the restaurant.

Posted by Deuxenvacances 19:43 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Pisa and Lucca


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0c3a7a10-1897-11ec-8447-952ccb6b641e.jpegAfter cappuccino, we walked down to the bus stop, but the bus would not arrive for 25 minutes. We could walk to the train station as fast. This was our day to visit Pisa and Lucca. Stimulated by the walk, we arrived at the station and another struggle to get the correct tickets. In a few minutes, we were on the way to Pisa.

We passed mountains, fields of melons, sunflowers past their prime, and fruit trees. We arrived at the central station but had planned to get off at the next station, which would be closer to the Cathedral. Unfortunately, there was some Italian message which we did not understand. Half the people on the train began to leave. Not sure what to do, we left too.

We decided to walk, but we sat down for a quick break and map check after a few minutes. After a coke, we resumed walking. At the river, we found a small white marble church perched on the sidewalk overlooking the river. A plaque described it as a 14th-century church built to hold one of the thorns from the crown placed on Jesus. Cindy and I simultaneously calculated the number of thorns held at various churches.

Soon we saw the Pisa Cathedral (Cattedrale Metropolitana Primaziale di Santa Maria Assunta) down the street. Since we were hungry, we stopped just off the piazza to have a quick lunch at a cafe. Most of the people on the street and in the cafe were tourists. Several vendors of replica leaning towers, flags, shirts, hats, tea towels and mugs were just down from us. Lunch was surprisingly good. We try to avoid food close to any tourist sites.
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As we approached the Cathedral, the Baptistry came into view, then the leaning bell tower. The bell tower looks like a leaning wedding cake with all its white Romanesque arches. As we entered the piazza, our comment was that all three were crooked. The bell tower was obviously leaning, but we all agreed the Baptistry leaned a bit. At one end of the Cathedral, nearest the baptistery, the line of windows was no longer horizontal but bent down and the ledge above the windows. Yet, the roofline was straight, probably some panic correction as one end of the building sank.

We walked around to get a good view. People were all trying to get selfies or shots of someone holding up their hands as if they were supporting the leaning tower. There were probably thirty couples staging the same picture.

It was worth the journey, but it has really become a caricature of Italy. We were ready to move on to Lucca.

We walked from the Cathedral in the direction of the second train station. Our phone indicated a direction that didn’t seem direct. We had some debate among ourselves then began to ask people. Some had no idea. Others pointed vaguely in the direction I thought was correct. We headed off down into an underpass below train tracks. I turned to go up a step, then we had a debate on the correct direction. There was no decision, just acquiescence to my thought that the steps were correct. We came up at a trans station, no parked cars, no people, weeds, etc. We walked towards the building then realized it was the back. As we walked around the side, there still were no cars and no people. A few people stood around in front, and a sign was lit, the minimal signs of a functioning train station. We bought tickets, and after some fretting and opinions about the location of track 1L, we found five or six people waiting for the train to Lucca.
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At Lucca, we got off at a small square in what looked like a medium-sized town of five-story buildings, trees, some traffic, and cafes. The brick wall around the old town was visible two blocks away. After we climbed up the ramp to the top of the wall, we found a grassy park maybe 100 feet wide surrounding the city. Every so often, stairs or a ramp went down into the city. On top of the wall, people were picnicking, riding bicycles, walking hand in hand, etc.
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Once we went down into the old city, we were again on small streets with cafes and people walking around. We walked towards a large cathedral. At a piazza, we found a carousel and a market of mostly leather goods. We sat down at a cafe, intending to have only drinks. Our intention was to order a small antipasto plate and skip supper. This could be a day of minimal food. Unfortunately, the massive board of ham, port, sausages, olives, cheese, jam, and bread ended our plans for moderation. I had a beer, Sally wine, and Cindy an Aperol spritz.
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We headed back to Florence on the train, a little overfed but happy.

Posted by Deuxenvacances 16:41 Archived in Italy Tagged italy pisa lucca Comments (0)

Renaissance and Sandwiches

Visiting the Uffizi


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Our local cafe served us a cappuccino and a pastry. Note the dog in the picture. Dogs show up in cafes and even restaurants.
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After breakfast, we headed off to the Uffizi Gallery. We purchased tickets in advance. Most museums require tickets to be purchased in advance for specific time slots. After picking up our tickets, there was a temperature scan and vaccination verification. We went through security scanning and then into the gallery.

The Uffizi is fantastic, room after room of Renaissance painting, Roman artifacts, and, every so often, something modern. We walked for hours, admiring, reading descriptions, and avoiding being in the way of someone’s photograph. I am not smart enough to catalog what we saw, Giotto, Michelangelo, or Botticelli. Our photographs hint at the amount of art both produced by artists and accumulated by wealthy patrons. I am sure the Medici and other wealthy families were full of despicable people. Still, even they could appreciate great art and helped preserve it for humanity.
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After the Uffizi, we headed outside into a world of cafes, souvenir sellers, crowds, and tour groups. We cut through narrow streets until we arrived at a sandwich we had heard was one of the best, All’antico Vinaio. On a good day, they serve 700 customers. A line snaked back down the street. Men in green reflective vests kept people in line, out of the street, and going to the back of the line. It was tough to find the end of the line after a few minutes when the line snaked around the corner. Forty-five minutes later, we stepped into the tiny opening. Behind a counter, a row of people made sandwiches in batches, using large sheets of focaccia then cutting them up. We studied the menu online, ready for the rapid-fire order: step to the side, ask for drinks and pay. The sandwich would be handed to you in a second. Once we saw the sandwiches, we only ordered two. We sat on stone blocks with our sandwiches and cokes. We couldn’t finish the two sandwiches so the almost half a sandwich was wrapped up to take back to the apartment.
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After lunch, we headed to the apartment where we met our landlord and paid the city tax. No one showed up, but later they texted to say we should leave it. They would get it when they can or even after we leave. Again, the attitude to money here is not nearly so grabby and tense as home.

After a nap, we struck out again, in a different direction. In a few minutes, we found the Cathedral San Croche. Men in suits were checking temps and papers at the door, but some people were being turned away. It seemed a service was about to begin. Cindy wanted to have a look. She passed security, but when Sally and I went up, we were turned away. In the end, Cindy came out. She had said to the men at the door, she was attending mass. It had not occurred to us to say we were attending mass. Instead of mass, we had wine at a cafe. After wine, we walked more and then found supper in a wonderful bistro beside a market. Around the corner was a small piazza packed with couples at cafe tables, children playing, and people wandering around. A group played jazz.
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At our bistro, an older woman with red hair and dramatic hands greeted us. She showed us our table, then emphasized in Italian that they bought their ingredients from the market and were always fresh. Our table, like the others, had mismatched table cloths, placemats, glasses, etc. All seemed to be from an antique flea market and matched the 19th interior of dark wood with brass fittings.

They immediately brought out a soup as our starter. We ordered duck, spinach, roast fennel and followed up with flan and profiterole. We had to order a second 1/2 liter of wine before we were ready to walk the last few blocks home.

Our legs were tired. A good day.

Posted by Deuxenvacances 06:45 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Travel ain't for Sissies

Arrival in Firenze (Florence)


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cbac7d40-177e-11ec-9004-87ea8b5abc5b.jpegAfter cafe and pastries, we pulled our luggage to the train station, not a bad walk, maybe a bit over half a mile. The train station was busy. There were people at the ticket office and going up to the automated ticket machines. Tickets can be bought from the machines, the office, or tobacconist, depending upon the type of train. Well, the smart ass that I am, I assumed a local train to Florence, walked to the tobacconist, and bought our tickets (28.2 euros). We couldn’t find the train on the board. I asked a woman who explained everything in Italian that I didn’t understand. I went back to the tobacconist, and she said we needed to go outside and take a bus to the train. Outside, we couldn’t find the bus. We searched. We went back to the train station. More Italian. Finally, an information office told us we had tickets for a two-hour bus ride then a short train ride. They suggested we get a refund and purchase a ticket for the 30-minute high-speed ride to Florence. I got in line for the refund. Wrong line. I got in the correct line, number 227, and they were serving 198. Forget it. We threw the tickets in the trash, bought the 77.7 euro tickets to Florence. Humility is one of the lessons of travel.

Once we arrived in Florence, I looked up the bus to our neighborhood. Well, that wasn’t simple. We pulled our baggage to the wrong stop, then to an information office that wasn’t helpful. Back at the bus station, I found the actual bus, and we were off to our apartment.

cbe20c30-177e-11ec-98a9-f10ff5b6d707.jpegAt the apartment, I didn’t remember the codes for the door. We went to a small cafe, think of 1950’s French movies, and sat down to cokes, a delicious sandwich, and a rest. The cafe had a long bar down one wall, shelves of bottles, an espresso machine, and at the end, a glass case of pastries and sandwiches. A row of small tables against a mirror on the opposite wall, making the room feels larger.

Finally, I found the What’s App messages with the codes for the front door. Four flights up a narrow staircase, we found a lockbox, extracted the keys, and cranked open our door the three turns it takes to move the deadbolts. Italians are worried about the door being broken down.

Our place is small, a living room with a staircase to a loft with a bed. Watch your head and watch your step. Sally will be happy with the sofa bed, and we will protect our heads in the loft. The price was right, the neighborhood not touristy, and a quick walk down narrow streets to Ponte Vecchio, maybe 3/4 mile.

We dropped our things, pulled out the map on my phone, and headed to the Ponte Vecchio. Cars and motorbikes competed with pedestrians as we threaded the narrow street. Buildings with green shutters and occasional balconies were four or five stories high. Every so often, as the road curved, we would find ourselves in a small piazza with a collection of cafes. We passed small churches then finally came upon the Duomo, the Florence Cathedral, green, rose, and white marble but sooty and dirty on the backside where we entered the piazza. The Cathedral was almost squeezed into the piazza. People bustled around, tourists, locals, vendors, children playing. In front, the Cathedral was clean and looked over a piazza with cafes and souvenir vendors. 2550a3d0-177f-11ec-98a9-f10ff5b6d707.jpeg
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From the Cathedral, we made our way to the Arno River and Ponte Vecchio. We didn’t cross but just looked down the line of shops. Beyond that was the Ufizzi Gallery. We kept walking, winding our way through the neighborhood until we were back at our own place. The trattoria in the block down from our apartment was open. I looked found it had excellent ratings.
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Our waiter seemed to be the owner since he suggested his grandmother’s recipe for tiramisu. We again selected several dishes and shared them. This may be our best food, just 50 feet from our apartment.

Speaking of our apartment, we seem to be on a trend of smaller and smaller. Rome was almost roomy, Bologna nice with efficient cabinets, clothes drying rack that came down from the bathroom ceiling, and other things that made up for the shower. If you dropped the soap, forget it, there wasn’t room to bend over to get it. Our current apartment could fit in our kitchen at home, and the shower didn’t allow for raising your arms because if you did, you would hit the cabinet over the sink. The washing machine, which I need, is up the next flight of steps on a landing, no room for it in the apartment.

Another full day of walking, sightseeing, and food washed down with wine.

Posted by Deuxenvacances 06:15 Archived in Italy Tagged travel italy florence firenze Comments (0)

Day trip to Revenna

East meets West


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The train to Ravenna looked a bit complicated. One app said we changed trains. In another, the return train was only once a day. I pulled up the app from Train Italy (Trenitalia) and found regular trains to and from Ravenna. We decided on the 8:00 train, so we were up and on the street, skipping our local cafe in hopes of better choices, but we arrived at the train station with only a few minutes to spare.
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We chose Ravenna as a day trip because our friend Dana described the wonderful mosaics. Ravenna was a Byzantine outpost until the leader was put to death in 751 by the Lombards.

Ravenna is across Italy on the Adriatic sea but only takes a little over an hour from Bologna. At Ravenna, we were greeted by a racing yacht set up as a memorial or something just across from the train station. We found a cafe and finally had coffee and a small sandwich.

Down boulevards and winding streets and alleys, we threaded into the old part of the city. Around a corner, I heard chanting, the droning chant of the Orthodox church. We found a courtyard then the entrance. We walked inside to a very dark and smoky interior. People were standing, children were running around. A priest in blue vestments swinging a censor processed through the church followed by four or five little boys with candles. To the right were four or five men chanting around a microphone. The procession ended at the front, where a screen separated the main body of the church from the altar. The priest entered a doorway and closed a curtain. Every so often, he emerged with a crucifix held up to bless the crowd. The service went on like that, chanting, blessings, everyone kneeling then standing, crossing themselves, touching the floor, children laughing, and more chanting. I think we were all struck with how much this was a family oriented event.

Further on, we arrived at our first destination, the Basilica di San Vitale, a 6th-century example of Byzantine art and architecture recognized by UNESCO. There we saw great examples of mosaics that looked almost as if they were painted. The colors were astonishing after the centuries and the details made it hard to believe only a collection of small fragments of stone were used.
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It was fascinating to see the restoration of the marble walls in progress. We walked through the streets filling with tourists to the Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo which was more straightforward but with more extensive mosaics. The greens and blues of the walls and ceiling were captivating. Rows of martyrs ringed the top of the room.
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Our final destination was the Museo e Cappella Arcivescovile with its beautiful small chapel and ivory papal throne.
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After the museum, we walked into a square. It was Sunday and late. At the time, restaurants were not open. At a bar, the waiter said they had some leftover sandwiches. We had a drink, a large bottle of water without gas, and four small sandwiches. In general, bottles of mineral water are inexpensive. The drinks were about 5 euros each, but these little sandwiches were 7 euros each when we paid 2.5 for similar sandwiches for breakfast.

We wandered around a flea market near the train station, then back to Bologna. We headed away from the train station, the big boulevards to narrow streets and a small restaurant. While the menu was minimal, we each picked a dish then shared. The food was very, very good, eggplant parmesan, something we just picked because we didn’t know what it was, and then a plate of mozzarella and tomatoes. We picket the dessert we didn’t know, and it was great, some rice cake with almond and orange flavor. We had local wine and a bottle of water.
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We made it home, having walked 7.68 miles during the day. In general, we walk 7-8 miles a day.

Posted by Deuxenvacances 20:43 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

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