18 settembre 2009

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17 agosto 2009


Buy a train ticket without reserving seats; standing room only is no fun.

Stazione Rifredi, Firenze - It's December 23rd, the hustle and bustle of Italians flocking and swarming to be with family is a frenzy at any train station, including Rifredi. After realizing that the date on our connecting train in Milan to Barcelona was the 22nd (this is for another don't - forget to confirm travel dates) and figuring out what to do once we arrive in Milan, we waited on the familiar platform of Rifredi station for the train to Milano.

Just because a train says it will arrive at a certain time, does not mean it actually will. Italian trains run on Italian time and this was no different. By the time the sun had started to set our train rolled in an hour and 45 minutes late absolutely PACKED with passengers.

Remember there is no limit as to how many tickets to sell for a train. If there are no seats and you have purchased a ticket with no seat reservation you have to be happy standing in the corridor. This normally is not a problem, but during the holiday rush it turns into the worse 9 hour train ride of your life.

No seats. Barely any standing room and then don't forget to add at least one (sometimes two) large suitcases for each passenger. The corridor was a mess of luggage and passengers thrown together as though some teenager's messy room had just blown up on the train. Somehow, among the mangled luggage straps, stray children, and scruffy backpackers, Melisa and I found a small spot along the corridor. One pull out seat and two suitcases later, we nestled down just in time to see Rifredi become smaller and smaller as we pulled away from the platform.

Then the nightmare began. Rolli Polli Polly, an eight year old hyper active child, bumped through the corridor every two minutes to go between the cabin to our left to the cabin to our right. We had situated ourselves in the worse possible location - but as it turned out the seats we had picked were front and center to some very entertaining slapstick family comedy.

Polly bumped my knees and squealed her way over to her the cabin were Rolli Polli Papa was staying only to be greeted with a unceremonious slap across the face from Papa-bear. The loud smack resounded throughout the corridor and we sat flabbergasted at the event. But Polly seemed unfazed and just went on about her hyperactive childlike activity.

Two minutes later, Polly bumped her way through to Cabin #1, where Rolli Polli Mamma, Nonnna, and sister were seated. Again she arrived to be greeted by a smack across the face from mamma's large swollen hand and a yelling to sit down.

This continued for the next hour and half - and included Nonna-bear picking up Polly, smacking her twice across the face, Polly smacking nonna back three or four times, little sister Rolli Polli Anna joining in the smacking, and Mamma-bear jumping in too. Smack smack smackity smack smack.

After a good five minutes of familial smackage - in what I can only assume was a natural loving gesture in this family, Papa-bear excused himself from Cabin #2, bumped his way to Cabin #1, walked straight up to Mamma-bear, smacked her with the heel of his palm on Mamma's face, yanked her forward by the bangs, and smacked her twice across the face.

Again the smacking resumed and suddenly stopped when the train jarred to a halt, bringing Papa's face smacking against the back of Mamma's seat.

"Attenzione. C'é un terramoto - dobbiamo controllare......" the rest was muffled out by the crackle of avhorrible speaker system and 100 groans from the sardine packaged passengers.

Do not be the traveler that encounters travel issues on the part of the trains, who must endure being bumped for six hours while waiting for the train to resume course.

Every time someone needs to use the restroom, you must get up - move your luggage accordingly and sit back down. When the cart being pushed by the snack lady comes through, it's a matter of lifting said luggage of your head doing the hokey pokey and something similar to the limbo and then resettling down in your seat.

Instead! Buy your ticket and request to have a seat reserved just for you! And do not, by any means be shy about asking someone who is sitting in your seat to move. People sit down, and have no problem moving for someone who was smarter than they were.

For the record, we arrived just fine in Milan 9 hours later - earthquakes and all we made it. But it was the most exhausting train ride I have ever taken, I don't recommend this method the day before Christmas or any other holiday.

Until my next train ride, travel on.

07 agosto 2009

North Shore - Tahoe

Tahoe City, California - We are just about to head back down to Sacramento. Our time here in Tahoe has been absolutely fantastic. It was a relaxing four days of outdoor activities and communing with nature - kayaking, BBQing, hiking, biking, and just relaxing.

Today we made sure to get as much in as we could before this afternoon. After yesterday's late movie night we allowed ourselves a little sleep in, with the intent of grabbing breakfast in Tahoe City. We arrived at Rosie's Cafe just in time to miss the morning breakfast rush - I suggest getting there no later than 1015am when people start pouring in on Friday morning. Rosie's Cafe is a fun environment with an interesting history one can read on their laminated menus. Its history includes, owner changes, general stores, fires, bars, and cutting down of historic trees (parts of which can been seen in the rafters of the current cafe). The food is hearty and delicious. Mike enjoyed the steak and eggs, while I enjoyed the 2x2x2 (pancakes, eggs, and bacon).

Afterward we made our way across the street to the local park and vista point. After exploring we headed back to the 'G' to get ready for some bike exploration. We took a trip south on the Lake Blvd. bike path towards and past Sunnyside and almost getting to Tahoe Pines. We made a pit stop to enjoy a pebbled beach and to skip some stones across the glassy water (just remember, aim AWAY from the anchored boats).

People walking on water at Common Beach

Then we headed back north to meet up with Ishti at William Kent for lunch. We arrived and then decided instead to head all the way to Common Beach in Tahoe City located behind the Firehouse to enjoy our meal. It was a fun decision, we were able to enjoy the view of the lake during our ride and the beach was lovely with lots of activity (both human and animal alike). I'll just post the pictures and let you decide.

The water in Tahoe is so clear!

It was a rejuvenating visit and I plan to return. Until my next adventure, travel on.

06 agosto 2009

Lake Tahoe - North Shore

Tahoe City, California - We are now on the North Shore, staying at the Ski Resort Granlibakken, which is absolutely fantastic. It is conveniently located within walking or biking distance of Tahoe City, William Kent Park, and the Truckee River, which is a must considering that traffic going through Tahoe City makes LA traffic look tame. With a lovely heated pool, large (and I mean LARGE) hot tub, various tennis courts, and it's own hill to enjoy during the snowing months - it's the perfect getaway. You can enjoy a room, a town house, a cabin, or even a small lodge. I will definitely be revisiting come snowboarding time.

Yesterday, after arriving at Granlibakken and making a quick supermarket stop, we headed to William Kent Park - a campground just off of 89 and next to Sunnyside. At the private beach just next to the public access, we settled in for some fine BBQing. Pork, steak, corn, potatoes, shrimp, beverages, and plenty of tasty fresh salad made for an exquisite yet affordable meal. The view of the shore as the moon hit the glassy water was the perfect ending to an exciting day.

Today was full of excitement as well. After having an excellent breakfast at Granlibakken, known to the locals as the 'G,' we took a nice stroll around the property as we followed one of many private trails at the resort. It was a nice way to start the morning. For some highlights of what you can do while you are staying at the G, check out the Granlibakken Blog.

Our plans to go rafting were thwarted by the weather and instead we hopped in the car and took a short drive south on 89 and just before getting to Tahoe Pines parked at a opening in the shoulder. We took the trail up to Eagle Rock for some amazing views of the lake. It was breathtaking to be up there. A short, but fairly difficult hike up, but completely worth it.

Afterwards we headed back down for lunch, exploring the various restaurants in Tahoe City. After a delicious Chinese meal and with the weather looking cloudier, we decided to go north this time on 89 towards Squaw Valley. We decided on a whim to visit Squaw Village for some shopping and some coffee, instead I found a gem. The Gallery Keoki.

The Gallery Keoki is a small, but fun gallery that I would recommend to anyone - art lover or not. Inside you will find a plethora of various contemporary art. And not what you would think to find in the Tahoe area. No there is much Native American art or craft, but instead a few original Dali's, amazing work by Mark Campbell, and exciting photography by Keoki Flagg, the owner of the gallery.

We just returned from Chambers Landing, just south of Homewood, and home of the infamous Chambers Punch. Head down to the beach at Chambers Landing to the small bar at the end of the pier for a delicious (yet somewhat pricey) cup of Lake Tahoe goodness. Enjoy responsibly and is usually best enjoyed out in the sun looking at from the pier onto the water.

We're about to head to the hot tub and heated pool before dinner for our movie night in.

While I watch the boys cook food, travel on.

05 agosto 2009

South Lake Tahoe

South Lake Tahoe, Nevada California - When I think about South Lake Tahoe, I think bright lights, expensive casino entertainment, and those annoying electronic gaming sounds. But there's another side to South Lake Tahoe that some people might miss, a side closely related to the easy going North Shore.

Yesterday, my friend and I arrived at the Embassy Suites in South Lake Tahoe, situated right on the stateline next to Harrah's Casino. We enjoyed some cocktails (compliments of the hotel) and after a short bike ride to the shore, enjoyed the views of the Lake.

We decided that it was necessary to enjoy the lake during the day - and forget any cheesy flashing lights, free cocktails at the slots, and overpriced food! How can one even think of casinos and fast city life when there's this to enjoy.

So today, we took our bikes down to the shore, away from Nevada and to Timber Cove Marina at the public beach behind the Best Western. Despite the windy environment we braved the wrath of lake by renting a Kayak from Kayak Tahoe, a small rental place on the boardwalk where life-vests hang to dry just outside the door - a sure sign that many use their services. The place was friendly and helpful and one of the few places that on the South Shore that offers paddle surfing, a new fun water sport. Because of the wind, we could only venture on the kayak, but that was fun enough. If you are experienced with kayaking, Kayak Tahoe is the place to rent from and receive a free car rack in order to take your kayak to your destination of choice - South Shore or even Emerald Bay (a great spot to enjoy the water).

After a quick overview of how to hold the paddle properly, make effective paddle strokes, and keep the kayak from flipping, we were on our way - paddling furiously against the wind (what a work out!). But the wind died down and it was so pleasant to paddle out on the lake, along side the many geese, and enjoy the clear water. It was definitely hard work and after an hour, we were ready for lunch.

Fortunately, right next to Kayak Tahoe is Blue Water Bistro - a lovely restaurant on the boardwalk that offers excellent cuisine at reasonable prices and a lovely view of the lake. With a full bar, cocktail hour, and cuisine featuring regional ingredients its the perfect way to end a day at the lake. They offer seafood, steak, vegetarian, and vegan options. I recommend the Catfish Sandwich for lunch.

Now it's time to pack up the bikes and head on 89 towards North Lake Tahoe and Granlibakken Ski & Raquet Resort.

Until BBQ-time, travel on.

02 agosto 2009

DO #1

Slow down and enjoy life; take a passeggiata.

In the fast paced world we live in today, where beepers (if you're old school), SmartPhones, dumbPhones, and portable mini-computers are constantly buzzing, digitally singing, or 'you've got mail-ing' us to be somewhere, we really need to take the time to slow down and enjoy life.

The Italians really understand this necessary yellow-light moment that we need to take each day. In fact, the Italians, as a country, slow down at the same time every day with a simple evening passeggiata - a time to walk through downtown with that special someone, catch up with your neighbors, and enjoy a delicious coppetta of gelato.

In all fairness, the Italians aren't exactly what we would say living in the same 'fast paced world' as the rest of us. Let's just say technology hasn't quite gripped the Italians with its addictive hands quite yet - and this may be in part because of various cultural habits, such as the passeggiata, but that discussion is for another day and another place.

As a tourist, the days are packed with visiting, bombarded with visits to basilicas, cathedrals, museums, shops, and so many other things that it's difficult to take a step back and say: "Yes, I am only here for a short time, and while I want to see everything, I also don't want to be someone who just looks in and visits - I want to experience."

If you have ever had this thought, you my friend are not a tourist - you are a traveler. Give yourself a pat on the back. Now as a traveler, you are obliged to not just be an audience to culture, but to partake in the grand stage of it.

So when you are in Italy, after your long day of absorbing grand pieces of art, dealing with the ever-changing bus routes, and running around trying to get a better deal on those David boxers, remember to go for a stroll after dinner down the main streets of the downtown area. Grab a gelato, take a seat and just savor the moment - look around and watch as couples walk hand in hand and others sit and chat about the latest gossip. This is a time to see new romances on display and quite possibly the latest shoe fashions. Just remember that this social ritual is a stroll - a very slow leisurely walk that is quite difficult to master due to our fast paced lifestyles.

The thing to remember when visiting Italy is that you should partake in this social ritual during your stay in order to learn and experience a little of what it means to be Italian. Food, passeggiata, gelato; it really doesn't get much better than that.

The passeggiata, a definite DO on any Italian trip.

Buona sera and travel on.

22 luglio 2009

Roma, Italia

Roma, Italia - After a packed morning of visiting San Clemente and San Pietro in Vincoli, my mom and I left to explore Rome! We headed down Via Cavour towards the Forum and Colosseo then up to the Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II, where we visited a Naval Museum and then walked up the monument to catch a glimpse of the Rome around us.

Then it was time to go up Via del Corso to find some food. We stopped at the Galleria near Palazzo Colonna. It was awesome to have such a nice lunch in a rather modern shopping gallery, but still be able to look outside and see classical architecture all around.

After lunch we grabbed a pullman and headed west towards the Tevere, getting off at Ponte Sant'Angelo. We walked along the Tevere. Unfortunately we didn't have time to climb Castel Sant'Angelo to see the spectacular view and enjoy an espresso at the lovely cafe at the top, but we did get to stroll along the river, before cutting back across at Ponte Cavour and visiting the Ara Pacis where I dutifully art historian geeked all over the place.

A pullman later dropped us off at Via Barberini, where we started our way up to Via Veneto towards the Borghese Palace, where we had a 3pm entrance appointment. As we walked we admired one of Bernini's many fountains, the Fontana dei Tritone, and passed Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini where we had hoped to see the eerie installation of all Cappuccini monk bones, but unfortunately it was closed. However, that is a visit I plan to make next time I am in Rome.
Fontana dei Tritone

We continued up Via Veneto; and, flashing my all-access pass, we made a quick shopping stop at the Hard Rock, and finally found ourselves in the extensive and beautiful Borghese Gardens. We thought about renting a bicycle-cart to explore the gardens, but realized it wouldn't be feasible due to time constraints. Instead we enjoyed a nice espresso at the cafe in The Cinema dei Piccoli, a charming theatre in the gardens that features films outdoors during the summer months. After exploring, we settled down in the shade near one of the many fountains to refill our canteens and people watch until our reserved entrance time.

All I can say is that the sculpture and works of art in the Borghese Palace are absolutely breathtaking. I never imagined Bernini's sculptures in such splendor and beauty. Seeing first hand the masterful skill and dynamic beauty of his works, such as the Rape of Proserpine, Apollo and Daphne, or the David, was, there are no other words for it, extremely cool to the power of awesome. I could have stayed in those rooms for days admiring those statues. And when I had thought I had seen all the gallery had to offer, I entered the room with the works of Caravaggio. Let's just say, I was in heaven.

But we are now back at the hotel resting before last dinner in Italy and our farewell ceremony which Richard has so graciously prepared for the girls. It has been a long and full day and I am happy for the chance to watch the World Diving Championships (that are taking place here in Rome) and dozing off before dinner time.

We return to the States tomorrow morning, but I'll still travel on.

-- post made from iPaolo

Basilica of San Clemente

Roma, Italia - By far the absolute coolest thing I have ever seen or visited in all my travels has to be Basilica of San Clemente in Rome. This unique site holds centuries of christian faith, art, and history within its walls and underneath its foundations.

This is an early Christian basilica dedicated to Pope St. Clement and is known for its three historical layers. The 12th-century basilica is built on top of a extremely well-preserved 4th century church, which in turn was built on top of a 3rd-century Mithraic Temple and 1st-century insula, much of which still remains to be excavated.

It was absolutely a-mazing and exciting journey into Ancient Rome. Once we started to moved down to the first tier of excavation, the 4th century church - it was humbling to see frescoes first hand from the 4th century and to see everything in raw form.

Below this stunning church, is even more archeological squealing goodness. The 3rd-century temple underneath is absolutely breathtaking. What is even more extraordinary is that while you explore the excavated caves underneath you find yourself walking on a Roman road, passing through a Roman school room and even through a 1st-century apartment complex. And then to top it off you get the chance to hear the sound of rushing water that comes from a lost spring or perhaps a 1st-century aqueduct runnin through the main sewer of ancient Rome, coming straight from the old Roman aqueducts.

I am absolutely blown away and estatic with this visit. What a way to start our last and full free day in Rome. Now we're off as a group to visit San Pietro in Vincoli (or St. Peter in Chains Basilica) where the chains that bound St. Peter when he was imprisoned in Jerusalem are held as a relic and the chance to see Michelangelo's Moses from the early 16th century.

Until after the Palazzo Borghese, travel on.

-- post made from iPaolo

21 luglio 2009

Roma, Italia

Roma, Italia - Today has been a packed day. Yesterday, upon our arrival to Rome, we stopped at the Colosseo to experience the awesomeness of Roman arenas. It's absolutely amazing to stand in the same place as countless historical figures have and to imagine what it must have been like to be there when the Colosseo was at its peak.

After our first dinner in Rome we headed back to the hotel to rest, knowing that today's day would be filled to the brimm with walking, exploring, and shopping. Some of us did relax at the movie theatre next door to the hotel to watch Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which was quite amusing in its dubbed Italian form (and I'm sure even more amusing in its original English).

But today we visited not Rome, but the Vatican - enjoying the beautiful frescoes of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel, the impressive mosiacs within the walls of St. Peter's, and the stunning baroque work of the great Bernini.

A bus trip across town took us to the peak of the Spanish Steps were we began our walking tour of the city. Richard is an absolute plethora of information and knowledge. On our way to the Trevi Fountain he was able to treat us to what is probably the best ice cream in all of Italy - Gelato di San Crispo. I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed that melon flavored goodness. But we continued on, visiting the Pantheon, crossing the river and various piazza's on our way to traditional pizza dinner, ending our adventure back on the other side of the Tevere in Piazza Navona where we were able to enjoy the night life of Italy among beautifully lit artistic masterpiece. I blend of Italian history, culture, and fun all in one place.

It has been an extremely long day - starting early in the morning at 8am and ending just a little before 11pm. Tomorrow our exploring continues as a group in the morning followed by a completely free day to enjoy Rome on our own. I'm extremely excited.

Until the view from Sant'Angelo, travel on.

-- post made from iPaolo

20 luglio 2009

Assisi, Italia

Assisi, Italia - I am sad to have left Firenze, but our adventure forces us to continue south towards Lazio and Roma. Today our travels take us off our path for a moment and east for an excursion in the city of Assisi, home of St. Francis.

I trully love this town and its regional food. After our pilgrimage to the Basilica (a World Heritage Site), our small contingent moved up the hill in search of food. We stopped on the way at a small religious store and found an exquisite Chalice set as a replacement for the one that broke at school. We lingered for awhile, examining the Assisi stitch. The thing I love about this town and about Italy in general as that there is beauty to be found around every corner. Even as I waited for the others across the narrow street, I enjoyed the beauty around me.

Once we arrived at one of the main squares in front of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, I parted ways - settling myself here at the nearby fountain to wait for Rebecca. Santa Maria sopra Minerva is a unique and beautiful baroque church that incorporates the original classical façade of a Roman temple dedicated to Minerva. It is gems like this that makes this town so beautiful. The various basilicas and churches in this medieval hill town are beautiful and the towers and castles that rise above the hill tops add to its magic.

For now I will sit here and enjoy the Umbrian air and my Panino as I wait for Rebecca. Oh how I love italy.

Pax et bonum, and travel on.

Rebecca and I

-- post made from iPaolo

19 luglio 2009

Firenze, Italia

Siena & San Gimignano Firenze, Italia - Today the group headed to Siena and then had a lovely Tuscan lunch before enjoying the towered hill town of San Gimignano. Because of extenuating circumstances and an unforseen need to go to Santa Maria Nuova with one of the girls, we remained in Firenze and enjoyed a lovely lunch, a relaxing day in the hotel, and a bus trip up to Piazzale San Michelangelo to enjoy an evening mass and a breathtaking view of the city.

I did get a chance to walk around Santa Maria Novella, but not to go inside. I had hoped to visit inside and see the Gondi chapel unveiled - it would have been really nice to see all of that restoration work completed. I also wanted to go into the Cappelle Medici, but alas time was not on my side. My next visit (hopefully in the Spring), I will get a chance to re explore Firenze and enjoy it the way I did earlier this year.

This evening I enjoyed dinner with a couple of the girls at Salamanca (oh the memories!) and on the way back to the hotel we stopped for some gelato as we strolled the streets on our last evening in my beloved Firenze. Tomorrow morning we pack up the bus and head south to Rome with an afternoon stop in Assisi, where I plan to visit with an old high school friend. I am extremely excited.

Until Assisi, travel on.

-- post made from iPaolo

18 luglio 2009

Pisa & Lucca, Italia

Pisa Lucca, Italia - I have to admit that the Lucchese in me has very little desire to write anything about Pisa. The Pisani built a tower - poorly, it leans now, and they don't want to correct it for fear of losing tourists. Now, I will admit that the Campo dei Miracoli is pretty spectacular in terms of architecture, but in the end it's just a tower.

Like I said, I am not the one who should be describing the city of Pisa. So instead I will go straight to the meat of today's travels - Lucca. What an amazing town, but then again, I may be biased. Our morning began with the token quick trip to Pisa where all the girls were able to take their token leaning tower photos before we were on our way again, this time to Lucca, were we had a reception with the Assoc. Lucchese del Mondo, where the girls prepared a lovely song, and then it was off for a lovely lunch at a mensa.

Lucca as a city still lies within its intact Renaissance-era walls. Birthplace of opera legend Puccini, this quite gem of a town still shows its historical charm with its partial amphitheater dating back to the Etruscans, its many towers boasting the stories of rival families, and over 100 churches which are prime examples of architecture from the Roman period onwards. But it's true beauty lies on its walls. Locals still use the walls as their private running track and the perfect shaded passage to walk dogs or go cycling. Renting a bike and cycling the walls of Lucca gives any viewer a beautiful tour of Lucca - its Basilica, the towers battling each other in height across the skyline, and a glimpse at the various open-air markets of antiques and clothing.

Nella Fantasia - Canzone Assoc. Lucchesi del Mondo

After lunch, the rest of the afternoon was free time to explore the world within the walls of Lucca. After a pleasant stroll from lunch to the center of town, I took the opportunity to slip away from the group for the evening and visit my friend, Cristiana, in Viareggio, a small hip beach town just 20 minutes away.

My little excursion was filled with nostalgic moments: buying my tickets to get to Viareggio and back to Firenze, sitting comfortably in the TrenItalia blue 2nd class seats, and listening to the musical melody of the trains as they fly by the each other and pull away from each station after the token whistle.

Likewise, being in Viareggio was filled with memories - as I waited to be picked up from the station I looked around at the bikes, chuckling at the adventures we had the summer of 2007. And across the street I could see Binariozero where we enjoyed a sweet espresso many times. I enjoyed being in Viareggio again - the beach air was sweet and enticing, the passeggiata still full of life and excitement. We sat at the beach reminiscing about the past, catching up, and planning for later trips this month when we can meet up again. It was nice to see a good friend and hang out with her pretty awesome family. And it was extremely amusing to hear the struggles of purchasing a new telefonino with Wind and the current dilemma with the semi-professional soccer player's infatuation.

Dinner was lovely and now we're about ready to go stroll the passeggiata with the rest of Cristiana's family and enjoy some gelato and other treats. Oh how I love the Italian lifestyle. So until tomorrow and Siena, travel on.

Viareggio, Hotel Giulia beach

-- post made from iPaolo

17 luglio 2009

Firenze, Italia

Firenze, Italia - I have returned home. After living for close to half a year in this amazing city, I don't know why I was caught off guard as my eyes started watering as our bus drove past my ex-apartment building, the TIM store where I bought my phone and bought ricariche after ricariche, the CEDIT office building, and the various bus stops that only months earlier I frequented daily.

It was nice to get the chance to settle into our rooms last night knowing that we'd be staying for the next four nights. The Hotel Corona d'Italia is ideally situated near San Lorenzo and all the happenings in this city. After dinner we wasted no time and took the group to Vivoli, the best gelato in town. Richard Canning, our tour guide, is truly amazing. He has managed to pack into our limited time so much and still figured out ways to give us ample free time to explore on our own. It was nice to walk the streets that I still consider my own - passing Plazza della Reppublica, il Mercato Porcellino, the Ponte Vecchio, continuing along the river passed the Uffizi buildings and moving towards Santa Croce and that amazing Vivoli.

After last night it is a good thing we all rested well because today's tour of the city was intense. It began bright at early at 8am. We made our way to the Accademia to view Michelangelo's masterpiece, the David. As many times as I have entered the Accademia, it was the first time I was able to see Michelangelo's later works, i Prigioni. I absolutely loved them - I stared at them for the entire visit as our very knowledgeable city guide, Bernardo, explained in such detail the artistic mastefulness of the David.

Afterwards we continued our way towards Santa Maria del Fiore to admire Brunelleschi's Duomo and Ghiberti's baptistery doors. We strolled down Via dei Calzaiuoli where all the girls had the chance to glimpse at the window displays of al the latest designer boutiques until we arrived at Piazza dela Signoria where we admired Alberti's Palazzo Vecchio and the various sculptures guarding its doors, including the fountain of Neptune (our meeting place for later in the afternoon).

By 11am, we had moved onwards, passing the Bargello museum and entering Piazza Santa Croce. Inside Santa Croce we admired tombs of Fiorentine legends. Unfortunately (and yet fortunately) some of the tombs were covered due to restoration. But it was amazing to walk among such great men as Michelangelo, Galileo Galilei, Macchiavelli, and Lorenzo Ghiberti. Now we are just finishing up some leather shopping after a rather entertaining leather demonstration, including our very own fashion show.

We are off to enjoy some free time and lunch, but later this afternoon the group will be entering the Uffizi to admire some of the most treasured pieces of art. I will be passing on this excursion to assist Zia to the bus station and then I will be taking my own nostalgic bus trip to the Coop near my apartment to buy some provisions before returning to the center for free time this evening.

Until our meeting at the Neptune in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, travel on.

view from Pzzl. San Michelangelo

-- post made from iPaolo

16 luglio 2009

Mantova, Italia

Mantova, Italia - After our quick stop in Verona we have rapidly made our way out of the Veneto and back into Lombardia to visit Mantova, a city surrounded by artificial lakes. Entering the city was quite impressive as we drove along a long Romanesque causeway across Lago Superiore, with a view of the city in the distance.

Our first stop was Palazzo Ducale (unfortunately a visit to the Palazzo Te was not a possibility, but I will save that for next time). But I was thrilled to enter to the Palace of the noble Gonzaga family.

The art historian in me practically squealed in delight as we passed room after room of exquisite artwork. And then my morning was completed when I was able to finally see Mantegna's frescoes in the Camera degli Sposi. It was nice to be able to share some of my knowledge with the three inquisitive minds that accompanied me through the Palazzo. Justina, Lauren, and Maribel were an absolute delight and, watching as they took in every piece of artwork, every architectural element, every trompe d'oeil, I was reminded how much I enjoy teaching.

After our visit we had free time to explore the rest of the city and enjoy a Mantuan lunch. I had wanted to visit the Rotonda di San Lorenzo before grabbing a bite to eat, but unfortunately it was closed. And other plans to visit the Basilica di Sant'Andrea to see Alberti's design and to enter the Duomo were thwarted by the grumbling sound in my stomach and four very persuasive and entertaining teenagers who invited me to join them at lunch this afternoon.

Lunch was fantastic. We managed to find, after quite a bit of walking and hunting, a very nice bar with outdoor seating. It was nice to get to know some of the kids better, enjoy a nice meal, and push the girls to actually practice their Italian in a practical setting.

Although we didn't get much sightseeing done after lunch, it was nice to know that I could admire the Rotonda while we ordered a gelato. It was then I really appreciated Mantova. A place of romance and genius. I had seen Mantegna. I had passed the façade of the Basilica whose original design was created by Alberti, and I had walked the same streets as Dante's idol and guide in the Commedia, the famous ancient poet Virgil. Unfortunately, because of time constraints, I was unable to enjoy more of this enchanting town. I suppose it will have to wait until my next visit.

For now we continue south to Firenze, where we'll get a chance to accommodate ourselves in our Hotel before heading to dinne, some late night explorations, and possibly some exquisite Florentine gelato.

Mantegna's frescoes - Camera degli Sposi

Until Vivoli and Santa Croce, travel on.

-- post made from iPaolo

Verona, Italia

Verona, Italia - It was sad to pack up our bags and leave Desenzano this morning, but everyone is anxiously awaiting our evening arrival in Firenze. I said my goodbye by taking an early morning jog along the lake, through the streets and to the park where I enjoyed a Profile photo moment (see: below). But we had to bid farewell to that lovely town and make our way south to Firenze.

Our first stop today is in Verona, where I sit on one of the marbled seats in the third largest Roman amphitheatre in Italy. It's absolutely impressive what one can see from this vantage point. I can only imagine what it must have been like, the arena full of people chanting, cheering, and jeering as gladiators, animals, and prisoners battled below. The theatrical events must have been extraordinary.

The arena still remains in use today for various public events - from where I sit I can see various workers preparing the stage for this evening's open-aired opera performance of Aida. If only we could stay for that. But we will soon be moving along to our next stop on our way to Firenze, Mantova. But first we'll take a quick visit to the fruit market in town and the tombs of Cangrande.


Time to leave the Veneto and continue to Mantova. Until lunch, travel on.

-- post made from iPaolo