Thursday, December 20, 2012


Somehow I've been wondering a lot lately about something that perhaps shouldn't really matter to me right now.  How can we protect our children without being overbearing?  I don't have any kids yet, but one day I certainly hope to, and lately I've been worried about how I can encourage them to explore and be brave and strong and learn about the world without getting hurt.

I understand that a certain amount of hurt is necessary for the growth of every person, but how do you protect them from those things that will truly harm them?

I hope to have my children walk to school if possible.  How can you send your children off to school and know they'll return safely in the afternoon?  I want them to spend most of their playtime outside, exploring, learning, wandering, and whatever else children might do, but how do you know they will be protected?  What if they get too lost?  What if someone picks them up?

I want them to slip and fall into a patch of cactus.  I want them to feel fear as they slide through a slimy underground tunnel.  I want them to fall and skin their knees and scratch their hands.  I want them to climb too high into that ant-infested tree and feel the wind swaying them back and forth.

I want these things for them because they will grow so much stronger.  And I want them to come to me for the help they can't give themselves.

I want all these things for them, good and bad, because I will love them so very much.

But how do I trust them?  Where do I draw the line?  Do I just have a well-trained dog to protect them while they explore?

I am going to be such a paranoid mother.  Maybe I just shouldn't listen to songs like these when I'm already feeling thoughtful.

Old picture of my nephew that I took.  I've always loved this one.
By the way, I'm currently reading "The Last Child In the Woods."  I'm formulating opinions on it that I plan on blogging and asking your opinion about when I'm done.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

You've Come to the Right Place

Nov 30

Well, here we are at the end.  This morning we finished cleaning up a bit, took out the trash, and went on our way.  It was raining again, and incredibly cold.  Our train was delayed by 30 mins and we got there an hour early, so we had to wait in the cold (but fortunately covered from rain) for an hour and a half.  We passed the time by thinking of creepy things we could do or say to make the gypsies leave us alone.  We watched a couple of them have a brief turf war, it was kind of funny.

Anyway, finally we got on the train.  We were going about 150mph, so we made good time.  On the way, Sam worked on sorting some analysis for his groundstone project and I caught up some on my London journal (oh, don't judge, at least I'm still writing it, and I'm doing a whole lot better on this trip).  Eventually, we got in to Tiburtina.

We walked around until we got to our hotel.  We had to cross under a freeway and got a little turned around (streets here often change names in the middle of a road and things like that, so it can get pretty confusing).  Eventually, we got to the hotel.

After twiddling our thumbs a bit, we set out to bide our time until an appropriate dinner hour (it was only about a little before 3pm).  We walked up to a metro stop and hopped on until the Circo Massimo.

Sunset in Rome
The last dorky Italian self-portrait of the trip, don't worry
Then we walked past all the ruins until we came to a church where the Bocca della Verita is.  I mostly wanted to see it because of Roman Holiday and Only You, but I didn't feel an urge to really stick my hand in it (I know I'm a liar, and I want to keep my hand thank-you-very-much), which was a good thing, because there was an enormous line, PLUS you have to pay a euro to go up and put your hand in.  So we took pictures of other people doing it instead.

We then walked out to the Piazza Navona and ate at the Navona restaurant again.  I got lasagna again, because it just sounded so tasty and I was starving.  Also I'm boring.  Sam got canolini.  We then got gelato at the same place as the first gelato I had, and it paled in comparison to the other gelatos in Florence!  In fact, it was almost like soft serve when I thought about it.

The fabled lasagne
Neither of us could actually finish ours anyway, because it was about 38 degrees (or so).  The Piazza was filled with Christmas goods stands, brightly lit and welcoming.  We wanted to get an ornament for our tree, you know, this being our honeymoon and our first trip together and all that.  But the only ones that weren't bizarre or tacky were too fragile to take back with us.  I'm a little bit sad.  But I want to know: what on earth do witches and broomsticks have to do with Christmas???  They were everywhere!  I'll add that to the list of things I have to look up, along with who Vittorio Emmanuele II is, he's also everywhere.

Piazza Navona Christmas Market
teh Qt
Anyway, we've repacked and are off to bed.  There is a continental breakfast and then we head to the airport.  Our flight leaves around 11:30 but we will get there early.  We will arrive in Philadelphia around 4pm local time (EST), then we have a layover in Charlotte, NC, then it's back to Utah, where we get in around 11pm.  Because of the trouble with the car, we're scrambling to find a ride last minute.  I've asked Adrien, but she may be busy with her thesis.  Wish us luck with that.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

This Pear Is Not For Eating

Nov 29

What a day.

It appears as though my body has decided that, regardless of itineraries, this trip is over.  From the second I woke up I felt incredibly sick to my stomach.  It took a while, but I finally started to feel better around 11, so we decided to catch the train to Lucca (the rain had ceased and the outlook was 50/50, so we took our chances).  Our original plan was to make eggs for breakfast, but seeing as how that would've been a terrible idea considering the circumstances, we opted for pastries at the train station instead.

We got on the train, ate, and sat down for the long haul.  It took almost an hour and a half to get to Lucca, mostly because it lies on a major route and stopped way too often.  It was prettier than a bus would've been.  Well, it was according to Sam.  I spent the entirety of the ride trying not to unswallow my breakfast, curled as best I could into a tolerable position.

Lucky for you, Sam took pictures from the train!
Oh Italy...
Finally we arrived in Lucca around 1:30. We debated whether or not to get right back on the train and go home, but the fresh, crisp air (read: bitterly cold wind) was a little empowering.  Eventually we decided we'd at least walk around the town a bit and explore the old fortified walls.

On our way from the station into the town, we saw a poster advertising an "Instruments of Torture" museum.  We simultaneously "oohed" and decided to hunt it down.
Lucca's walls and a couple of its hooligans
First, though, we climbed up onto the old walls and walked for a bit.  I'm glad we decided not to rent bikes.  Aside from my intense periodic discomfort, it was very cold and windy up there.  After probably not long enough, we descended into the town to search for the museum and, hopefully, a bathroom.  

He has endless amounts of these faces
After a moany groany uncomfortable journey through the streets of Lucca, we came to the torture museum.  We were both very excited, but I knew I wouldn't be able to enjoy it unless we found a restroom first, which museum had none.  We checked at a bar across the street, and luckily they had one for customers, so Sam got himself something.

We then popped back over, bought student-priced tickets from the cheerful woman at the desk (the first time we've counted as students this whole trip without being members of the EU).  The museum was odd in that it consisted of two floors, with two small rooms on each floor.  We went into the "dungeons" first.

Sam read to me about the Bishop's Kite while I sat on the floor fighting another vicious wave of nausea.  Then I stood up and read about this triangular bondage-type thing that kept you in the fetal position on your back, causing discomfort very similar to what I was experiencing.  VOODOO???

Anyway, the instruments were very interesting, and even though I recognized a few (the rack, the Iron Maiden, guillotine, and the Pear from that episode of Bones), many were new.  But when I the room started swimming and I realized I was about to pass out and/or barf, and I didn't fancy falling onto the spikes of the Rack, Sam and I decided it was probably time to go.

We looked briefly at the two upstairs rooms and then, trying to appear cheerful and not at all sickened by the contents of the exhibit (I wasn't, but I am pretty sure the woman at the desk thought I was.  I can just see her glancing at the security screen, watching me sitting with my head between my legs, my elbow grazing the Spanish Donkey, shaking her head and rolling her eyes).

We walked as quickly as comfortably possible back to the train station and waited the endless 30 minutes for the train.  Sam presented that he thought I had a stomach bug.  I presented that it didn't feel quite like that and that it was more likely my body reacting to exhaustion.  I slept most of the way back, and didn't feel too poorly (or at least not as before).  We just finished dinner, and so far I feel okay.  Sam is very kind and has offered to clean the apartment by himself so I can sleep.  I knew I married him for a reason.

Well, that's about all.  Tomorrow we hope to sleep in and then make our way to the train station to catch our train back to Rome.  I've had a great time here, but I'm definitely ready to go home.  My stomach agrees.

Bummer though that I don't have a cool story to tell the grandkids about passing out in an Italian torture chamber.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Skullduggery Will Now Cease

Nov 28

It was still pouring rain with thunder when we woke up this morning.  We checked a satellite weather map online and saw a massive and very dark storm hovering over the entire west half of Italy.  By the hourly forecast, there was a 90% chance of rain all day.  We decided to skip Fiesole, since our plans included spending the day outside exploring ruins of Romans, Etruscans, and Longabards (I still wouldn't know a Longabard if it hit me in the face).  Instead, we opted for some unplanned Florence activities.

This river is swollen.  Danger dog.
After pulling on plastic shopping bags over my socks to protect my feet from the inevitable leaks of my boots, we headed out to the Mercato Centrale, which was actually just a few blocks from the Duomo in a direction we hadn't been before.  I felt silly knowing something so amazing was so close without us every knowing it was there.  The Mercato Centrale is the (thankfully) indoor food market.  And it is enormous.  We almost got lost wandering through the narrow paths lined with meat vendors selling sheets of tripe, fishmongers, produce stands, fresh pasta booths, bakers, and spice baskets.

Beaucoup de produce
We went through the maze a couple of times to properly orient ourselves, then went through again and looked for a couple of little somethings to take back to the states with us.  If my research from last night proves accurate, we will succeed.  If not, I will try not to be too sad about losing the goods.  Customs has been known to be greedy, after all.  I should expect it.

Outside of Mercato Centrale (almost up onto the steps of the market building) is the San Lorenzo leather market.  The carts here pretty much sell everything else you can find in touristy areas all over the city, but this one had a wider selection (if you can't find a particular fold wallet, look a few carts down), and some of it is a few euros cheaper (I bought something the other day that I am kicking myself over.  I could've saved three euros if I'd waited.  Oh well).

San Lorenzo leather market
After shopping, we walked back home (the rain had briefly let up at this point).  I had a snack and took a customs inventory of everything we've bought so far (mostly because I was bored) while Sam took a little nap.

We then decided to head out to find pastries on our way to the Palazzo Vecchio.  We ended up getting some at the adjacent gelateria/bar associated with the restaurant where we had dinner the other night, Caffe Perseo (as in Perseus, whose Medusa statue is just across the Piazza della Signoria from the Caffe…the Piazza della Signoria is the Piazza in front of the Palazzo Vecchio).  Sam thinks that might be one of his favorite all-around restaurants in Florence.

Anyway, we each got two pastries for our late afternoon "lunch."  Sam got an apricot mini pie thing and a cream-custard-filled sugary puff donut thing.  I got a chocolate croissant sprinkled with almond slivers and a little apple tart.  Both were very tasty.  We ate the pastries in front of the Palazzo.  An old, possibly Russian woman came up and asked us how to find the Piazza della Signoria (she showed us a piece of paper with that written on it and pointed in various directions, saying "Grazie, grazie."  Sam, not realizing, pointed her in a direction not at all true, because, well, we were standing right there in the middle of the Piazza.  She was so pleased for our assistance though, that by the time I was done staring quizzically at Sam and he'd realized what had happened, we felt bad chasing after her and trying to explain that we were fools.  So instead we scooted off and hid behind a large crowd of Japanese tourists and made fun of their overly large tripods.  Maybe they just really, really wanted good pictures.  I don't know.

Pastries and Palazzos
We also listened to a few passing tour guides speaking English.  I am of the opinion that most tour guides don't really know what they are talking about unless they have a degree in what they're talking about, and that everyone else gives you either word-of-mouth or Wikipedia information, or better yet, tells you things that are completely obvious.  One man passed by, saying to his customers, "This is Perseus with Medusa.  It is original.  It is a bronze statue."  Oh?  A bronze statue you say?  By gum, I would never have guessed!"

Guess what this is?!?
Of course, we realized that people here will often state the obvious just to fill silences they feel are awkward.  For example, in the market today we were looking for a new wallet for Sam.  We found a perfect one at a stand that, curiously, had no attendant (usually they hover over you the second you glance at their goods, but this time we were able to freely browse and peruse for several minutes with no appearance).  Figuring out that no one was going to pop out to sell us anything, we searched for it elsewhere.  We stopped at every stand with wallets, and at one of them, a fellow came out and stood the standard 4 inches away from us while we whispered about the wallets.

All of a sudden, the man piped up: "These are small.  These ones are medium-sized, and those other ones are large."

A little further down, we had paused to look at some pretty hand-embroidered aprons.  We were stopped in front of a very small apron we were considering for a young'un we know, when suddenly the attending old woman cooed in a matronly voice, "That one is for a child."  REALLY?  I wanted to wear it on my head as a bonnet.  Too bad.

Anyway, when we were done making fun of the universe, we walked into the Palazzo Vecchio to see about the fabled "Secret Passage Tour" we found while perusing the guidebook in depth during our rainy-day despair yesterday.

We went in and inquired, then purchased tickets for the 4 o'clock English tour.  A nice bonus was that it included access to the regular Palazzo/Museum and only cost two euros extra!  We had about an our to kill before we were to meet the tour guide, so we cruised through the Palazzo.

I am not a fan of fancy upper-class Renaissance (and thereabouts) decor.  I am ALL for supporting the French Revolution when you look at places like Versailles.  Needless to say, we moved fairly quickly through most of the rooms.

Some things were interesting, however, and it was nice that Sam had read so much of the dirty deets about the Medici family in the guidebook on previous evenings.  He provided an interesting commentary on such things as murders during mass, conspiracies, and conniving intellectual Medicis, as well as the supposed origins of the Medici family crest, and how not even the Medicis could decide what the crest actually looked like.

There were some interesting parts.  I liked picking out mythological figures in some of the ceiling paintings.  There was a very interesting bronze globe in the cartography room that we spent time investigating.  There was also a curiously-placed "Mask of the Senator Dante Alleghieri" that we could not, for the lives of us, figure out, 1)why it was placed where it was (on a side table in an otherwise empty hallway), or 2)whether or not it was his death mask.

Point to home!
An enigma
The "Secret Passageways" tour would be more appropriately named the "Places Only Recently Available to the Public" tour, but I guess that doesn't sound as cool.  We were first shown a side room that had a little stairway down to the street leading to the Uffizi (which at the time the passage was built, was still a little church that has since been knocked down and, obviously, replaced with the Uffizi).  After that we went up a very tall and tight little stone stairway behind a door that led to a room that was outside of Cosimo Medici's bedroom (his actual bedroom is currently a Mayoral office, and therefore off limits).  There was another "secret" stair that supposedly went up to Eleanora's apartments (his wife), but we didn't go up it.  Instead, we went into a little room used by Francesco Medici (their son) for doing his secret little alchemy experiments.  The room was shaped like the inside of a treasure chest and lined from floor to ceiling with large paintings.

Francesco's treasure room
Behind each painting on the floor level was a secret cupboard.  The paintings over and above each cupboard gave a clue as to what could be found inside (gold, diamonds, glass, crustaceans, whatever).  Side note here: the girl giving our tour (admittedly, she was on a study abroad and this was only her 3rd tour) began to irk me with silly statements about mythological inaccuracies, and calling a statue of a woman holding coral "Amphrodite," or alternately "Aphrodite" (you remember Poseidon/Neptune's wife Amphititre, right?), standing next to a statue of Venus/Aphrodite, of all goddesses.  Her pronunciations also started to rub me the wrong way… "RuhNAYsons" "Mikkulangelo" blah blah blah.  Maybe it's because she's from Virginia.  Maybe it's because she was probably younger than me and admitted to not reading the book they asked her to read before she started the internship.  Ah, well.

Anyway, behind a couple of the paintings are not cupboards, but a secret stair to Cosimo's study, which we went up and saw.  It was very small and, in contrast to Francesco's mythological/alchemy-oriented hangout, was also rather Christian-symbolism-heavy.

After those rooms we went into the Room of Five Hundred and talked about how heavy the ceiling was with all the paint and gold on it.  I'll be honest, at this point, I was a little too tired and headachy to take her any more seriously after the "A(m)phrodite" episode, especially since she was consistently covering up Sam's questions with unrelated and wordy spewings of information.  Ceilings, from my point of view, are incapable of being "heavy."

Room of 500
I suppose I was proved wrong a few moments later when we went up the million stairs to our final "Secret Passageway," which was inside the roof or attic or whatever of the Palazzo, above the Room of Five Hundred.  In there, you can see the original and added support trusses that not only support the roof above and the walls of the building, but also support, in essence, the weight of the ceiling of the RoFH.  If she was going to throw around "paintings and gold are so heavy" down below, it would've made more sense to explain that she meant that it required great support from above in order to maintain the stability of the building's structure.  But instead, it was just "I'm not telling you where we're going, but just look at how HEAVY it all is!"  I can't get over it.  I should.  The trusses were really cool.  But, Amphrodite, really??  Ok, ok, I won't ever speak of it again.  Did I mention my judgement is impaired by a headache?

Alright, so after the tour, we headed back home, then waited for 7pm when "Gusto Pizza," the pizza place recommended to us by several, was due to open.  It's actually only a couple of storefronts away from the Gusto Osteria, where we ate the other night.  I think "gusto" just means "tasty."  Very original.  Anyway, we had about an hour and a half, so we sat down on the bed and I took a little nap to ease my tired head while Sam fiddled around on the internet.  Eventually we walked over and ordered our food, then took a seat.

Fortunately the pizza was done very quickly, so we didn't have to endure long the events that followed.  Apparently Gusto Pizza is a very hippety-hoppety "totes authentic" pizza dive frequented by mid-twenties Americans who think that participating in a study abroad makes them oh so very wise.  Every person but one small old couple hiding in the corner was mid-twenties American.  I am a little embarrassed for my demographic.

Overheard at the adjacent table:
"…she is like so weird.  Like we were listening to this Italian song today and she was like, 'Can we listen to that other Italian song?' And I was like 'uhhhh' and she was like 'You know, duh duh duh…' and she sings it and I'm like 'uhhh that's Portuguese.' She is so dumb."

Anyway, the pizza was pretty good.  It wasn't anything unique though.  It tasted very similar to the pizza at Terra Mia in Orem, only the dough was yeastier and not as thoroughly cooked.  The cooked-ness might just've been a fluke in mine, though.  Sam got a tomato/parmesan/arugula one, and I got a spinach/ricotta/mozerella one.  Tasty, but perhaps forgettable.  A good price though.  Man, I am just all kinds of critical today.

After dinner we walked down to our favorite gelato place at the foot of the Ponte Vecchio.  I was boring and got chocolate again, but Sam got cream and hazelnut.  I liked the hazelnut.  Tonight was our last eat-out night in Florence.  I think it was well spent.  We are trying not to think about how much money we have spent on gelato this trip.  I say Oh well, it's an ice cream trip.  Forget the cold and the wind and the pouring rain.

Speaking of rain, the last two days of rain have effectively swelled the depth of the Arno by what appears to be at least eight feet.  It's a really good thing we're leaving Florence Friday morning or I'd be a little more freaked out.  There's no night watchman here to warn us of the rumblings.

Tomorrow we are going to try to go to Lucca.  It's raining just as much there as it is here, but there should be reprieve enough for us to rent bikes, if any of the bike renters are open.  If not, we'll just walk the old walls.  I have a few hundred more yards of walking left in me yet.

We're coming to the Close!  Get those Resurrection Stones a-ready!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Your Weather Widget Is Working

Nov 27

Let it be known that "Dash! con Actilift" detergent (not bleach, I checked), has a little too much "actilift" in it.  Sam's many-year-old jeans apparently felt it necessary to share their blue (and still remain the same shade, interestingly) after last night's little batch of laundry.  Everything else is now very blue.  Towels, underwear, a previously black-and-white-striped shirt.  I learned that there are actually stripes in my socks (of now differing shades of blue).

This morning we walked along the Arno to Le Cascine market in a park that used to be the manmade Medici hunting grounds back in the day.  Cascine is supposed to be the largest, best priced, and widest variety market in Florence.  I'd say that that is generally true.  We walked the whole length, and it took quite a while.  It was primarily made up of clothing vendors, surprisingly.  There was I believe one stand of antiques, five of cloth and thread, a few food vendors in the middle (actually, even though there weren't that many, the food vendors were my favorite), and everything else was cheapo weird Italian fashion-wear, some of it previously worn.  It was weird.  Not quite what I was expecting in that case, but they did have some good prices on stuff.  Like packing tape.

The need to purchase a giant leg of prosciutto or wheel of fresh cheese urged me again, but I resisted.  We did get a couple of little things that I will not discuss here due to the proximity to and relevance for Christmas.  Even though we didn't go crazy on the well-priced goods, it was fun to people watch.  There seemed to be an area for Grandparent Parking, where the elderly sat side-by-side in their wheel chairs, leaning comfortably into the cushions and staring vacantly off into the distance.  It was simultaneously sad and cute.

We walked home (passing the American Consulate on the way…good to know) in a light sprinkling rain, stopped for a minute, then decided to go on to our regularly scheduled programming.  We walked down to the duomo, considered the baptistery, and then went inside the cathedral.

That's no facade, folks
I suppose the guidebook was right about the interior not being as spectacular as the interior of the duomo in Siena.  It was like night and day difference (actually, almost literally, it was very dark inside the church today, mostly because of the dark storm clouds hanging over the city) not just between the two church interiors, but also the exterior of SMdF and the interior.  It wasn't exactly stark, but it did seem quite modest (aside from its enormous size).

Large but not showy
One cool feature was an ancient 24-hour clock, that, although it no loungers tells the correct time, is still ticking along happily as it has for the past several hundred years.  The entrance (the clock is right above it) to the church is also the entrance to the old church, Santa Reparata, that was the original mini cathedral that so embarrassed the Florentine rulers back in the day, inspiring the over-the-top production of Santa Maria del Fiore.  
There's your clock
It really was dinky in comparison.  SMdF today is one of the four largest churches in Europe (the other three being the cathedral in Milan, St Peter's Basilica in Rome, and St Paul's in London-- I can cross off three out of four!).  The Last Judgment painting by…some Renaissance fellow…is in the dome, and it is really quite outstanding.

Probably google the painting, it's easier to see.
Tra la la
We considered climbing the cupola, but it has somewhere around 500 steps, and we hadn't eaten lunch, so we decided climbing St Peter's was enough for the workout, and the view of Florence from the Piazzale Michelangelo the other day was enough for the view.  I feel no regret.

You recognize this, right?
Oooh artsy...
We then descended into the crypt, where there was a small gift shop hiding the humble tomb of Filippo Brunelleschi, who (as I'm sure you know by now) was the architect for the massive duomo.  He is one of the few lucky Florentines to be buried inside SMdF.  Fun fact: nobody knew he was even buried there until a little while ago when they decided to explore the crypt (which is also primarily the foundations of the old Santa Reparata church.  We were going to pay the 5 euros to explore the crypts, but it looked like just a tiny underground museum, and Brunelleschi's tomb was actually behind plexiglass in the bookshop, so we satisfied ourself with that.

Slimy, yet satisfying.
When we walked out of the church, it was raining a bit harder.  We considered climbing the Campanile (the bell tower) for a supposedly better view of Florence than even the dome, but decided it still wasn't worth it.  We actually skipped going in the baptistery too, because it was expensive and I think the baptistery is pretty/cool enough from the outside.

Here it is.
Lots of consideration
Sam didn't want to pose, so here are some cute Asian people.

Instead, we walked down to the Museo Archaeologico, grabbed little baguettes for lunch from a teeny little grocery store nearby, and then went inside.

The primary reason for coming to this Archaeology museum was to see the Etruscan bronze Chimera sculpture and the Francois Vase, which is a groundbreaking and really cool black-on-red Greek Attic vase found in an Etruscan tomb.

The museum itself was very sad.  I cried so hard, they had to put buckets periodically throughout the lower gallery to collect my tears.  Actually, that was to collect rainwater from the leaky roof.  There were no labels in English on the first floor, and there were several empty cases, and even empty galleries.  We read that the museum was hit pretty hard in the 1966 flood, and that they were still recovering due to a serious lack of funding, but it was pretty bad.  Kind of like at the archaeology museum in Tarquinia, we were most definitely the only patrons at the time.  

An interesting fact about some less popular Italian museums: security consists of a few (possibly volunteer, definitely not serious) people sitting in chairs in the doorways to each room or gallery that look and act as if they would rather be anywhere else than sitting in a hard plastic chair in a museum full of ancient objects that no one ever bothers to come see.  Many chairs were empty, so Sam and I took advantage of the absent Eye to take silly pictures with some objects (a necessity to retain interest since we couldn't read any of the labels and since I have seen enough Egyptian funerary inscriptions to last me a lifetime).  Once we were walking through a gallery and smelled cigarette smoke, and sniffed around, surprised, looking for the source.  Lo, there was one of the seat-sitters, half outside of an emergency door, puffing away, facing inward and spewing her ash like Mt Vesuvius all over the displays.  Good grief.

"Make a baboon face"
Most of the really interesting stuff was supposed to be on the second floor (which, in Italy, means climb about seven sets of stairs to come out on a floor that may be the only second walkable one, but is about four or five stories up), so we hiked up.  The first room had the Etruscan bronzes and…!  The Chimera was not on display, but on loan to some idiotic museum in London.  Oh how we were irked.  There was a replica, but really?  Boo.

Fake fake fake
So we walked on through more galleries (don't get me wrong, there were some really interesting things, and we took several pictures until my camera finally gave out, fortunately not until I'd filled the card half full with pictures of the Francois Vase).

Finally, finally we got to the Francois Vase.  It was a bit bigger than I imagined, but not by much.  I'd say it's about as big as a 15-gallon pot.  The reason it's cool is because the scenes in the registers are painted in continuous procession, with no seams.  Each register tells a different story from Greek myth.  One is the procession of gods on their way to Thetis and Peleus' wedding (Achilles' parents, the wedding where the whole Golden Apple thing was started, which led to, you know…).  That was my favorite.  We went around and picked out all the different deities, conveniently labeled.  One of the other registers was of Achilles defeating or punishing some group of other after the death of Patroclus.  I think.  There are a few other stories on there.  On the handles is shown Artemis as matron of animals or whatever, and also Achilles carrying his dead friend's body.

Oh, sweet mystery of life, at last I've found you!
Whose name could that be in the upper right corner...oh!  Amphititre!  She's everywhere!
Basically, it's just a really cool vase, especially if you like Greek art or mythology or ideology or anything.  It's just really cool.  You should look it up and read about it.

Cannot contain myself.
There wasn't much more to see after the Vase except for a cool torso bronze, so we headed back down.  We looked out the window to the gardens (closed except on Saturdays), which have rebuilt replicas of Etruscan tombs like the ones we saw in Tarquinia.  We also looked out on the torrential downpour which had picked up, heard the thunder, saw the lightning, and made sad faces.

I have discovered that my boots are not all that waterproof.  Further evidence that I do indeed need them replaced (these are the pleather ones, not the rain boots).  Sam learned that the umbrella he selected from the coat closet on his way out the door was a mistake.

Affectionately called the Clown Umbrella, this thing sported every color of the rainbow.  It also happened to have at least one loose arm and probably three bent/broken ones.  Every time a tiny gust came along, a latent bent arm would squiggle around and flick water on us.  It also had a very small circumference, so I gave up even walking near Sam because it would just dump water on my head.

After stopping for a pick-me-up of gelato, I unwrapped and flicked open the umbrella, which caused the head to separate from the post, sending the whole useless nylon rainbow half way across the street, handle still in my hand.  I nearly collapsed in laughter (nearly, only with the thought of saving my gelato), and Sam chased after the bits, the whole time Umbrella Sellers staring at us hopefully.

Giggling, we ran off to our apartment (fortunately only a couple blocks away) in the rain, gelato held tightly.

Now I am sitting, socks, pants, and jackets drying by the radiator.  We are trying to figure out what we will be able to do here for the next couple of days, as there is a 90% chance of rain until pretty much the hour we leave on Friday.  I'm a little sad that we probably won't be able to go to Lucca to ride bikes on the city walls, or explore around Fiesole's Longabard ruins (who even are those people?  I should look it up).  We've looked up cooking classes and haunted night walks and secret passageway tours, but all are either too expensive or need days' advance booking.

We'll find something to do, even if it means going to Lucca just to go to Lucca.

Wish us dry weather.  Sam is taking a hairdryer to my boots so we can go out for a walk before dinner.  He says walking outside makes his nose not so runny.  I say that's because he can't feel it with all the water dripping down his face.  Good news, though: the rain has let up a tad, and we found a much sturdier (and massive) umbrella in the closet.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Proud to Be a Caterpillar

Nov 26

Waking up at a decent hour is actually harder than you think it will be when you've walked several hundred miles in the last week, your feet are threatening to secede from your body, and for some reason you can't get to bed before midnight (local time, not home time).

But, we got up and ready and were out the door by I think 9:30.  Go us!  The bus for Siena left at 10:15ish (we had some time to kill at the bus station once we walked there).  The ride lasted almost an hour and a half, and with that plus walking/wandering in a somewhat sleepy stupor through the slanty streets of Siena (do you want more alliteration?), we got to the Piazza del Campo just around noon, just in time to hear the giant bell tower at the Palazzo Pubblico ringa-linga-ding-dong-ing.

Il Campo!
We got some pizza slices (mine was boring cheese, Sam's was prosciutto and eggplant-- trying to show me up on the "interesting pizza" thing from yesterday) for lunch that were actually a tad disappointing and tasted almost like Costco pizza.  To make up for it, we got gelato.  Sam ordered one he thought was blueberry, but the guy acted all confused, so Sam pointed, the man corrected him with the actual flavor, Sam didn't recognize it but got it anyway, and it turned out to be cherry.  Good story.

Siena actually turned out to be kind of a boring town.  Maybe it was the complete dearth of people.  Was it because it's Monday?  Was it because it's the end of November?  Was it because everywhere we go we leave a trail of emptiness and decimation?

Anyway, we walked around a bit (it is kind of a pretty Medieval town, after all) and then decided to go the Duomo, which is dedicated I believe to Santa Maria Anunnziata or something.  Everything we read about it hailed it as bigger, better, prettier, more astounding, more everything, than any church outside of Rome, especially the duomo Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence.

Il duomo.
The inside was indeed amazing, but since we haven't been to the duomo here in Florence yet, I can't really compare.  The floors, actually, were also quite impressive.  The pavements in the church are entirely composed of marble mosaics.  Many parts are just geometric patterns covered in carpet so people can walk on the floor, but many areas are of giant scenes of battles, biblical stories, crowds, etc.  It's pretty interesting.  The inside of the dome is also very pretty.  At this cathedral there is a tomb for some bishop or other done by Donatello, and some altar with four smallish statues of apostles and popes done by "a young Michelangelo," who was originally commissioned to do 15 statues for the altar, but ditched it in the middle of the project for better prospects doing the David for Florence.  That man.

Rikkin tikkin stripes
Marble mosaics
After the duomo, we walked around some more.  Something interesting about Siena is that it is divided into 17 neighborhood areas called "contradas," which I guess are kind of like houses in Harry Potter, because they have rivalries, particularly during the Palio races.  Other times of the year, no one cares as much, but during the races it can get almost deadly.  Anyway, each contrada has an animal (or in the case of Forest and Wave, an inanimate object) that represents the area.  There are ones like the eagle, unicorn, panther, etc, that seem pretty regal and awesome, but there are also ones like the caterpillar, giraffe, and porcupine that really just make me laugh.  We were hoping to find a Contrada Gift Shop or something so we could get awesome silly animal keychains for everyone, but apparently there is no such thing, a grave oversight.

Siena's streets
Noble indeed.

I think we're in Giraffe territory now...
Anyway, we walked down to the farthest reaches of the Giraffe/Caterpillar border to find the monastery type thing for the order of San Bernardino or somebody.  Unfortunately, it was closed to tourists for the winter, but we did pause to watch cute Italian kids shouting in joy as they played jump rope and kicked a ball around in the little piazza.

The Monastery: closed for the winter
We walked back to the bus stop and waited (not long) for the bus back to Florence.  I slept pretty much the whole way, so it was uneventful.  After returning, we walked into the historic center to view and photograph the facade of the Spedale degli Innocente, a hospital/orphange for which Brunelleschi was the architect.  I forget why it's supposed to be important, but it was still a cool building, with creepy medallions of wrapped-up babies between the arches.  Down the street was the duomo, and there were Christmas lights strung between the buildings.  It was very quaint.

Florentine Christmas evening
It was still too early for many places to be open for dinner, so we walked back home, blew our noses , and sat around for a little while.  It was nice to rest.

Around 7, we walked back across the Ponte Vecchio into town and found that most every restaurant was still closed!  Apparently Monday evenings are slow so people don't even bother to open.  We did finally find a place in front of the Palazzo Vecchio that was open, and the menu looked tasty, so we sat down.

For an appetizer (actually, it came with the other food) we got what was listed as "vegetable soup," which the waiter ordered as "minestrone," and what actually turned out to be butternut squash soup.  For the main course, Sam got gnocchi and I got lasagna al forno (do not judge, lasagna al forno is completely different from lasagna bolognese…ahem).  We decided that this would be our big meal in Florence, so we also ordered dessert.  Sam got tiramisu and I got a chocolate torts, which was actually kind of like those chocolate pudding-pies, only warm.  It was very tasty.  We sat and talked for a while, ignored about 6 or 7 rose-sellers, and then walked home.

It is most definitely time for bed.  Not only are we exhausted and going to wake up a little earlier tomorrow to head up to Florence's biggest and best-priced market, but we are both coming down with colds.  Sam's is ahead of mine, but I have been feeling mine coming on for the past 24 hours or so, which usually means it's going to be pretty bad.  Maybe I'll just get lucky.  We have a little decongestant Advil that I thought to bring, but hopefully neither of us will have to use it.  Wish us health!