Thursday, February 4, 2010

Shadows of the Renaissance

I understand now.  Florence is so much more than a city.  The past of this small community on the banks of the Arno is forever intertwined with the invention and advancement of all mankind.  The Medici were essentially the world's first modern traders and bankers.  The Renaissance began here, which advanced all forms of intellectual inquiry and creation.  It is the birthplace of so much, and yet it now just simply exists as this quiet town in the Tuscan hills.  It forges on ahead with shops full of artisans, with architecture that yanks at your interest with each chisel, and with art that will never be eclipsed, ever.  It has gracefully come down from its apogee unapologetic and ready to just be.  Placing itself firmly and deeply into my heart as one of the most beautiful places that I have ever fallen in love with was no task at all for this stunner.  It simply is what Florence does.

 Early in the AM, we headed out for the Galleria delgi Uffizi, which houses 
the largest collection of Renaissance art.  This is in the plaza outside.
 Also outside the Uffizi
 Pavement still damp from evening showers.
 The Arno
 Taking the stairs up to the Uffizi
 You are not allowed to take pics in the Uffizi, and as much as I wanted to man up and snap a shot
of The Birth of Venus, I had yet to grow a pair in this environment.  This was my first forbidden 
picture of the day, included only because it was a big step in the right direction of my new photography mantra of "shoot now, deal with the screaming Italian later"

 Another Shot of inside the Uffizi, All of the ceilings are full with ornate paintings.  Kristin looks

 I wish I could have produced a better picture, but this lady flipped out on me right as I raised my camera.

 Tower on Piazza della Signoria
 A fountain on the roof of the Uffizi

 A quiet Florence street

 A meat shop that we stopped by on our way to Brunelleschi's Duomo


 A lot FULL of mopeds

 For a sense of scale, check out that guy.  The duomo is immense.  It took 150 years to 
complete, and was started in the 13th(!) century 

 The Campanile, which is the cathedral's bell tower

 Inside the Duomo

 We had to climb 463 steps to the top and 463 back down.  This was a wide stretch.  The 
spiraling stretches were to cramped to photo.

 Inside the Duomo at the top, took balls to paint this high

 The final stretch of stairs 

 View from the top, definitely worth the struggle


 A nice picture of the Campanile 

 Hills of Tuscany in the distance

 No making fun of my camera bag

 hey boo

 Just a few more, I swear.  We stayed up at the top of the dome for about 30 minutes.  It was seriously 
just absolutely breathtaking.

 A road grows smaller

 Moments before the descent

 Social statues

 The duomo ground floor.  It was surprisingly quite empty, except for the occasional Japanese tour group.

 The original entrance

 Top of dome


 Bye duomo

 So, how crazy are we?  After climbing to the top of the duomo, we decided 
to punish ourselves further and climbed to the top of the Campanile, all 420
odd steps.

 It gave up a great view

 Florence is so small that you can see where all you have been.  We were standing up here tracking our path.

 I never get tired of these Florentine panoramas, but you might so..

 I realized around this point that I lost my walking stick.  Trying to ask the duomo
guards for help was like begging for a hundred from a homeless man, just not happening.
The Baptistry
The duomo's facade, we almost missed it, but luckily just turned a corner and wham

 Fresh Mozz, lettuce, tomato (MLT)
This pizza blew us away 

 A beast of some kind

 A mustachioed knocker
 Next on our agenda was to travel by foot to the Galleria dell'Accademia, which houses...

 The most perfect piece of art ever created

Photographs were prohibited in this area, and I definitely snuck off these shots very carefully.  It is incredible how large this statue is.  And perfect.  We stared at it for 15 minutes, and it looked like at any given second it would break free of the pedestal and take off down the hall
 After David, we headed off to see my favorite work of art in the world
 But first, drinks at a Ben and Jerry's...

 I loved this carousel, it was very Renaissance-ish 
 The headband kept my ears warm

 Kristin at a market 

 Now this was awesome, we found a little glove shop full of gloves of every color and design.  They looked at our hands and eyeballed our sizes perfectly, and than taught us how to properly put gloves on.  It was a lot cooler than it sounds.  We both bought cashmere lined gloves that are softer than the slightest whisper.

 New gloves

 Ponte Vecchio

 The other side of the Arno

 We were taking the long way to Santa Maria 

 Just some random door

 We gad to check a map for this one, middle road it is

 Basilica di Santa Maria Novella

 There it is. My favorite painting in the world.  I once wrote a 10 page paper about this exact painting, painted on this exact wall, almost 600 years ago.  If this thing was portable and could be bought and sold at auction, then it would be one of those top 5 art pieces in the world. Since monetary value really 
determines how ubiquitous a painting seems in the art world, and this particular masterpiece cannot be sold, it just lives out a quiet life here in Florence.  Masaccio painted it, and it basically was the first incidence of Renaissance art.
 Pictures in here, also not allowed, and my shutter seemed really loud.

 One more, crazy seeing this thing in person.  The only other painting that made my heart speed up like this was Picasso's Guernica in Madrid.

 Basilica di Santa Maria Novella

 I look ridiculous
 We stopped for Gelato 

 She will be pissed when she finds out I took this sneak shot 

 Small car

 Cool bar.  We are generally only eating at bars because it is good, quick, and cheap.
Bars are different here.

 Another gorgeous building


 Bike Commuter

 Ferragamo Flagship

 Ponte Santa Trinita

 A fountain

 A corner store



 A tasty shop


 Love locks

 Getting late



Totally running out of internet in a few minutes.  I had to make haste.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

And so it begins

To tell the complete tale of how we got to this point would be an ambitious attempt at crude storytelling.  To picture myself eating breakfast in Connecticut when I awoke this morning takes within my act of imaging a great deal of mental strain.  I feel as though I ate this "breakfast" meal somewhere between my high school graduation and the Australian Olympics, though in reality it has probably been just a scant day or so ago in real time.  Needless to say, when we arrived at the bustling Rome airport this morning, the night was very old yet the day quite young.

Our flight was a calm, simple jaunt overseas, but my eating habits had taken a turn towards the peculiar.  I had eaten 4 sandwiches by noon of my Italian day:  the focaccia cheese sandwich on rosemary at 5:30am on our transatlantic, a genoa salami on baguette around 8am, a prosciutto and cheese on poppy croissant at 11am, and lastly, a mozzarella and fresh tomato on a challah type roll before taking a nap at noon.  It is no wonder that with this intense regimen, a nap was in order.  No man should ever have to subject himself to that much chewing without appropriate sleep.  After arriving in Florence, Kristin began making stereotypical Italian food requests.  Spaghetti she demanded.  She was met with failure, and worse, a cold pizza settlement that smelled more like cigarettes than tomato sauce.  Around this point in the day, I consumed sandwiches 3 and 4.

We slept until about 3:30.  Kristin was slow to rise, so I got up to roam the streets until dusk.  I did so very poorly.  Strangely, I saw another person get hit by a car.  This makes it two in three days.  I returned to our hotel, San Gallo Palace Hotel, which is located just outside of the historic center of Florence.  We are located in a very local area, so prices are good and tourists are nonexistent.  Kristin and I prefer this arrangement for a number of reasons.  First, when you stay outside of the bustling tourist center, you are not subjected to the tourist price.  Also, you are able to see people living their customary lives.  It is more enlightening than staying in the tourist section, where offerings are taken down to a bland compromise between the authentic and the convenient.  Of course, the downside, in this case especially, is that I went out with my camera expecting to photograph sweeping renaissance skylines and crumbling history, all I got was apartment buildings and commuters.

When I returned to Kristin, she was dressed and ready to go.  Where you ask?  The Duomo?  A Basilica of some kind?  Maybe the Boboli gardens that the Medici built?  Nope.  She demanded we find the local gym.  We had our concierge arrange a free week pass to a gym.  We walked about 15 minutes and finally found this very swank and crowded gym.  The equipment was all brand new, and some of the machines, like the treadmill were even designed by Pininfarina, which was totally awesome looking compared to the garbage aesthete that I am accustomed to at LA fitness.   The gym was full of Italians obviously, but we were taken aback by the complete lack of meatheads.  Not a single one.  No balding monsters grunting and groaning like Mordor Orcs.  It was a very pleasant workout except for a very odd interruption.  I was using an inclined bench and a young Italian man intervened to give me a stern talking to in Italian.  At first, I had no idea what I had done, but then I slowly started to piece together his message.  He was criticizing my poor weight lifting form, something about my back not being straight enough.  Kristin's gym experience was very enjoyable, though she said the women's locker rooms was among the nuder that she had ever experienced.

So we worked out where the locals work out, and then we decided to eat where the locals eat.  On our way back from the gym, we noticed a very crowded restaurant with huge slabs of meat hanging from the ceiling.  Kristin suggested that we eat there, since it looked very busy and was probably therefore good. We returned to our hotel, changed, and set back for this very special restaurant, Perseus.  I had died and gone to bread heaven.  Loafs, slices, circular pieces, unbelievably fresh olive oil, and balsamic.  You have probably never heard of legendary Bistecca.  I am about to hammer this name into your brains.  It is a type of steak, made from a very special breed of cow.  It is a very Florentine food, and is essentially a T-bone steak, about 3 or 4 inches thick, bloody rare, and crusty on the outside with seasonings and olive oil.  Kristin and I split one of these, all three lbs of it.  It was by far, like really really far, the best steak of my life.  And while I am at it, I also consumed the best salad of my life at this meal.  It was so fresh, that it was if if the damn thing had grown directly out of my plate.  The tomatoes were so fresh and delicious, Kristin was eating whole tomatoes, and she hate tomatoes.  This was the best meal of my life, and Kristin felt the same way.  I am prone to exaggeration, and I have no shortage of "bests" for no shortage of categories, but this one was for real.  The service was also ridiculously perfect, and they even slipped us all sorts of free stuff.  I felt perfectly at home, and we were the only native english speakers in the building.
Kristin finishing packing in CT

Bo, a very lively character

Walking around the square immediately surrounding our hotel

A random street

Rush Hour?  We are staying outside the historic center of Florence 

Tell me those Bistecca cuts do not look delicious 

Looking for interesting things to photograph and trying to acclimate to 
the time change

Hope she is okay, saw this lady get hit

Some Graffiti 

Cemetery at dusk

An open door on a quiet side street

Night traffic

Piazza della Liberta, across from our hotel

Entrance to our hotel

The restaurant that we ate at, Perseus, had fresh offering everywhere

Preparing a dessert

Vegetable garden that comes gratis at beginning of meal with breads

some bruschetta

Peppers and onion

Kristin eating a grapefruit

After putting back a few lbs of meat

Some really hot fresh crusty bread

our unbelievably fresh salad

Cutting our Bistecca

This guy was the best

2 servers enjoying serving

The size of the steak was about 3 or 4 inches thick and 4 cuts.  The outside was burnt to a crisp,
inside was red and perfect


Noods in restroom

Bistecca and Peppers


Sweet wine

Biscotti and sweet wine - unbelievable 

Reting my large nog on my hands, that red thing is my wallet

One last shot of Perseus