Thursday, June 26, 2014

Florence by Foot

Next stop on our trip was Florence. The Hubby and I had collected our car following the train ride from Cinque Terre into LaSpezia and the best thing we did was to get the GPS NeverLost upgrade.
NeverLost does lose its connection to the satellite once in a while, but we were still able to find our way around Northern Italy without too many problems, and wondered how we could have managed before GPS.
We dropped the car off at the Florence airport and then got a cab into our next hotel. We would walk everywhere from there.
Little disclaimer here. Be ready for a picture explosion. Not that my travel posts are ever short on pictures, but I'm just sayin'.
We headed out immediately on a walk along the east side of the Arno River to get oriented to the cities layout, and check out the bridges. My easy travel/walking gear always included reading glasses, camera, and side shoulder clutch sized purse. When I go shopping, or need other items, I put these original things all into a larger shoulder purse. I would find out in about 2 hours that I should've brought the larger bag with a couple of umbrellas in it, for it rained in a complete bursting of clouds for about 45 minutes in the late afternoon.
Calm before the storm. Still very bright sunny colors abound in the buildings and homes, just like the rest of Tuscany that we have just experienced.
This unique bridge is called Ponte Vecchio and has shops all along the sides of the medieval arched bridge. Apparently it was once a common thing to have butcher shops, and markets occupying this space. Now it is full of jewelry and touristy souvenirs instead.
The Hubby noticing the door type coverings for the shops. Half come down to connect with the half that lift up. They are ornately carved wood and we noticed the beautiful old hinges and locks that held them together. He bought me some cool jewelry of Rose Gold. (Thanks Hun)
This guy just looks perturbed. I wouldn't want to have met him in a dark alley, (or at the dinner table either, I suppose.)
Then we went in search of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. The marble exterior in greens, peaches, and whites is pretty amazing. The detail that went into this facade is incredible and we enjoyed seeing it both from the ground...

Pretty fancy Gothic Revival finished in the 1800's. The "Duomo" as it is called, was started in 1296 and we were able to go up to the dome (a few pictures down here.)
The David by Michelangelo was the most breathtaking piece of art I have ever seen. Its detail and the beauty of the human body, its capturing of the power, strength and innocence, the magnificence of the  Carrara marble, and the dome that was built to house it all add to its beauty. I was truly amazed that I was so moved by it as I was.
You see him holding onto a rock and sling which goes up his back and across his left shoulder where he is holding the end of it in his left hand. Apparently Michelangelo wanted him to look strong, yet have the strength manifest in his intellect. It worked. Completely.

End of story.

But there was more to see in this old art capital.
Lots of plaster pieces that were studied by various artists and marked in specific areas to measure distance when the sculpture was being carved. I guess they take calipers and angles to make sure they are as close as possible to perfection.
How about these streets?  Crazy European streets. I guess a horse and carriage never has to pass another horse and carriage.
This is after climbing up to the base of the Duomo. Heaven and hell are represented from the top to the bottom. Quite imaginative. 
 We made it to the top of the Duomo!!!!! Yeah!
Looking out toward the clock tower which is 6 meters shorter. Look at those sucka's over there.
 The builders carefully stored the measuring implements they made for all the stairs, domes, arches, etc. If anyone every needs to fix something, here's the place to begin.
 Should I touch him? He winked at me.
A model of David out in the elements. Still impressive, but not as spiritual for me.
 The Uffizi museum was FULL of cool stuff.  Here's Venus coming ashore.
 The Three Graces in Botticelli's Primavera. I didn't know about them. They are also referred to as the Charites and represent charm, beauty, and creativity in Greek Mythology. There are many famous artists and paintings that depicted them. Here they are with Mercury and Venus.
The whole museum is an art piece. It is formerly a castle where the Florentine Royals lived.
And if they needed to flee quickly from their enemies, they'd run across the Vecchio bridges top floor that is unoccupied to this day.
 Sculptures and paintings everywhere.
This wall looked like it had cameo's decorating the columns. Very cool paint job, I'd say.

One thing we didn't get a picture of was of us eating a Gelato.  Seriously almost daily we would go get a yummy cone or cup of various different flavors of the cold wonderful stuff.  Should really have a picture of that. It was how we spent 15% of our time. (Insert smile here)

We ate huge Florentine style steak which we shared, and pasta, fresh vegetables, and fish. We continued to walk our feet off, which made us sleep well so we could be ready for the next leg of our trip.

Here we come Prague.


Our DD has a great eye for photography and just sent me this beautiful picture of her two girls. I had to document it here.
How beautiful and precious!
Then I could not leave this one in my inbox either.
Love them!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

North Tuscany

After Cinque Terre we traveled into the mountain region above Lucca and enjoyed a beautiful Villa near Barga, IT for a couple of days.
 When we were driving up the Autostrade towards our destination, we had to exit in Lucca. As we drove through the place we couldn't resist turning our steering wheel into this OLD walled city.
 New shops presented in an old way, this was a very well preserved old Roman town. Churches, town assembly squares, and of course hundreds of alley like streets took us all around the busy city.
The picture above is from the top of the wall, which is 30 meters wide and has bike paths, walking paths and spectacular trees all around. Linden (Tilia) trees and sycamore trees grown to park size were beautiful.
We continued onward after a couple hours of discovering Lucca toward Barga. We had a beautiful Villa booked for the next couple of days near the town and this was the view from our window.
 That evening we drove into the town and walked around and through this hilled area. We are now getting used to walking on old cobblestone streets that are on steep hillsides. We found a great pizza in town and then headed home.
Next day we headed up to Carrara going the short way (longer time, shorter distance) over the mountains. Here is a pix of Castelnuvo di Garfignana town which we drove through.
 And through the mountains more Linden trees guarding our way. One other thing that we found interesting was the number and length of tunnels found in Italy. On big roads, mountain roads, railway tracks, pedestrian walkways, you name it there was a tunnel involved. When having dinner this very night we ate with a newlywed couple from NYC and he was a Civil Engineer (more on that later) who said that the Italians are known and hired around the world for their tunnel engineering skills.
 Coming out on the other side of one of these tunnels, we stopped and took pictures of the beautiful mountains and the drop below us. You could see them cut away for the carrara mining. For thousands of years these mountains have mined this beautiful marble. We drove down and met our guide Gabriele who then took us in his old Range Rover Defender back up another canyon to the extensive mining operations.
 Everything below, on the sides and above us is pure Carrara. The dust is used for various products in the form of calcium carbonate. Some of those products could include Ca vitamins, cleanser, and food additives. The broken rock is used for pathways, roofs, and various other things. Blocks are used for marble slabs, sculptures, tiles and all sorts of home and industrial building finishes.
The Italians in this region (Linguria) have been mining this marble for over 2000 years and it is ramping up even more in this century. They also manufacture many other rock slabs from all over the world because they have all the machinery, saws, and labor located here. The cost is fairly low for Carrara because of the ease of extraction and the endless supply.
 Check out how tiny this large backhoe tractor looks against the mountain of marble. Each step in this staircase is about 6 feet high. Crazy huh?
 Gabriele was full of information and he spilled out as much as he could knowing we needed to get back to Barga for a cooking class.
 Here he drove us literally 6 feet away from the side of this tractor whose wheel was as big as our entire SUV, and so we could see how the block is placed on the truck for carting down into town.
 The driver of the truck got right under the fork of the tractor and directed which way to go in placing the tonnage onto the bed. No hardhat, our truck next to them, no problem.  Apparently no OSHA.
We were also allowed to go underground to see another way they are mining from the inside of the mountains. This is a little harder and time consuming for each block, but seems to be making progress.
On the way back to the Villa, we spotted a few really cool bridges, and a purple Maserati with the license "33LA." Do you suppose Kareem has a place in Tuscany?

We then attended a cooking class given by the chef at one of the restaurants in the Villa. We had 4 people in out class and we made bread salad, homemade pasta, biscotti and pudding dessert, and zucchini/sundried tomato sauce for the pasta. The other couple in our class was fun and we ate dinner with them that evening, eating our prepared food as well as some other fun things the chef threw in for pleasure. Since I mentioned earlier in the post about the guys job, I should throw in that he is working on the huge Manhattan project digging another railway tunnel between Queens and Grand Central Station. She works as the online store manager for the Metropolitan Museum ofArt. Really enjoyable dinner companions. All in all a great time.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

5 Terre

The awesome Hubby and I have now been married 35 years. How did that happen anyway?

To celebrate, we started our vacation in Cinque Terre, Italy.
After a quick visit to the leaning tower of Pisa .....
 (I made John try to straighten it up a bit.)
(Here it is, peaking out from behind the big basilica next to it.)
we hopped a train to La Spezia and then got on the "Milk Train" to the Cinque Terre. Don't ask me why they call it a milk train, but it is basically the local train and we got tickets for on/off  to use while we were there, and then didn't have to worry anymore about how to get around.
Staying at the second most southern of the "Five Terraced" villages, an adorable hilled assembly of colorful houses and various buildings called Manarola, was a really good choice on our part. This picture was our window view from out rented room. About as perfect of a location as we could have possibly dreamed. At least 2 of the other villages would have been great choices too, but it seemed that we couldn't have lucked into a better view/building to stay.
 From the same window in our little "hotel" room, we could take this shot to the right. These terraces have been maintained and farmed for 500 years, and are located all over these hillsides on the coast. They grow grapes, beans, grapes, squash, grapes, figs, citrus, and most anything that we grow in Northern California.
Walking along the village paths we find all sorts of alcoves and treasures for photo opps.

There are also paths connecting the five villages and although one trail was closed due to land slides into the Mediterranean, we were able to successfully hike the "easy" treks.

 Staring off from Monterossa this was one of the most built up areas of the trail.
John is in his photographer mode and we are always lucky when that happens.
Honestly, the guide books say they are easy, but we did not agree. If I can walk a mile in 15 minutes, that is what I consider easy. If it takes me 1 hour and 30 minutes to walk 2 miles, I think it must be a little more difficult. It is not that we had to crawl up any sheer cliffs, but there were thousands of rocky stairs of varying levels and widths, as well as narrow ledges and creeks to ford.

 The mountains go right to the sea. This reminds me a little bit of Big Sur.  We should really take more advantage of living as close to Big Sur as we do. I'll put that into the mind catalog for future use.

 Looking back at Monterosso, which is the most be beachy of the villages with crowded pebbled beaches and wall to wall bodies lying on them.

The next village was only 4 km away and yet it took us 1.5 hours.
This is Vernazza and is also just so quaint and cute. All villages have a church with ringing bell tower in the middle of the town. I'm sure it used to be the most important building for the people so they made each church accessible to everyone.
One thing we always like to do is check out the inside of the churches. Some were fairly simple, but most had some pretty fancy ornate decorations reserved for the best building in town.

 After a nice breakfast of eggs and vegetables, we headed out to the next town of Corniglia. I'm kind of a shiny sweaty girl here.

Another building that each town seemed to have in common was an old walled castle at a high point. Romanesque in nature, they were the lookouts for passers by.
The wild flowers along the way were mentionable. Poppies, scotch broom, all sorts of pretty things.

Here we are approaching the tiny town. This one is up higher on the hill than the other 4, so you have to climb down stairs to get to the beach or the train station. We did notice there was a small shuttle bus between the station and the main area of town, but we of course didn't take that.
 In Corniglia we had lemon granite. Like a slushy but better. What we call granita's I think.
 Finally to the last town of Riomaggiore, where we ate again. I'm seeing a theme here.
 The train between towns is in tunnels most of the way, so the scenery is not part of the ride.
To walk to the train stations you also have to walk through tunnels. This particular pedestrian tunnel is in Riomaggiore.
John, sitting down for a wonderful meal where we just ordered antipasti. We had 12 different types of antipasti - including about 10 different fish dishes. Really unique sea food. And of course lemon gelato to finish it off.

One of the days we took a boat from the 5th town back to the 1st town stopping at each (except Corniglia) as we went.
View from the sea.
Our town of Manarola had some huge rocks that people jumped into the sea from. The girl in the black suit up there could never quite get the courage to take the plunge. She had quite a crowd cheering her on.
 Looking back onto Manarola from the path which is closed up ahead.
Another fun thing about Italy in general is their lack of clothes dryers, or rather their proliferation of clothes lines. This man here is adjusting the laundry from his balcony. We had a line from our window, and it made me want to have one even more in California. The clothes become so fresh and white when hung out in the sun to dry. I've been considering a line since before we redid the back yard at our house. Just can't quite come up with a cool solution in this small brain of mine.
My camera has some really cool settings and this is John experimenting with it.
Such a cool sketch of our little vacation town.

Overall one of the best vacation spots we have ever been too.