Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Italy, day 8

On our last full day in Florence, tourguide Kim took me to the Duomo so that I too could take in just how huge the thing is. Her pictures from actually going up into the large dome tell the tale better than my little shots do, but here they are anyway.

The fact that there's an indoor sundial helps illustrate this place's size a bit. It was darker in here than these photos suggest; that's just the piece of reality a long exposure trades away I guess. That and, the people walking around weren't actually all that blurry. :^)

Il Porcellino! The custom here is that if you pet the pig's nose, you're destined to return to Florence.

Sounds good to us.

The remainder of the day was mainly spent at a couple of art museums, the Accademia and the Uffizi. Again, no pictures allowed inside. I would agree with a no-flash policy, but renaissance art belongs to the world. Anyway I'll skip the soapboxing and just say that no matter how many times one has seen photos or videos of the Birth of Venus, David, or any of the less-famous pieces housed there, it's quite incredible to walk up and let your eyes drink the stuff in in person. The sheer size of some of these works is impressive, let alone the detail and how well so many have held up over time.

Sunday would have been day 9, though we didn't take in much to share. We woke up prior to the crack of dawn, caught a taxi to the train station, took a train to Roma Termini, rode another train to the airport, stood in a bunch of lines, got picked out for bag inspection several times, flew for an inhumane amount of time, ran from one end of the airport in Boston to the other and back to just barely catch our connection, flew again in increased discomfort, waited for luggage that, as it turned out, had never left Boston, came home and collapsed.

To the credit of whatever airline or agency deserves credit for such things, our luggage did get delivered the next day.


The idea of running off to Europe to find oneself (or whatever the cliche is) has always had a curious appeal, but living and eating and working and walking in Florence for a week has given me some real interest in that kind of travel. We got to do both touristy-type stuff and explore things on our own, the latter of which was especially satisfying. I've long been aware of some of the cultural and practical differences one encounters when leaving this melting-pot of ours, but physically experiencing a slice of Italy has made those a lot more tangible. Some differences I very much enjoyed, others not so much...

Population and traffic and transportation are basically solved problems in Italy, at least compared to our situation here. I think the US is a young enough country that we tend to flail wildly between different approaches, be it in our politics, how we deal with social problems, or in our city and suburban development. Italy has had a long time to sort these things out. At least that was my impression.

Italians are thin. :^) Of course, they walk everywhere while smoking, which I'm sure helps. But the meals there are several courses, not skimping on the portions either. These meals do tend to be composed primarily of actual food (as in, not chemicals), which probably factors in somewhere.

Speaking of meal quantities, the drink-to-food ratio is much lower in Italy. If I were to venture a not-very-serious guess, I'd say this might be partially attributed to the scarcity and scariness of public restrooms. (Some public toilets feature paid time slices and automatic doors, which neither of us dared try, and others are apparently locked doors with no handles, which stumped us entirely.)

I'll take plazas and markets over strip malls and retail giants any day. Even when the merchants are selling mass-produced items, walking around shops with atmosphere and personality just feels much more human than the karts and registers and aisles of boxes we've got here. Kim told me about a shop she walked by that had someone inside making puppets. It's more cost-efficient to have colossal stores of stuff made by third world laborers, but there are more kinds of costs than hard numbers.

...Wow, this has gotten long. Anyway, we had a great time. We'd love to learn the language and return someday. (Wouldn't want to let down il Porcellino!) Anyway, back to my usual, infrequent, unfocused blogging about random nonsense. When we have a proper full album up, I'll be sure to toss a link here though.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Italy, day 7

With the conference finished and a few more days until we return to Utah, (by the way: what a downer! From ground zero of the renaissance and cultural hotspot of western civilization ... to Mormon country in the desert. Plus 8 time zones' worth of jetlag again) we got to finally do some serious looking around the city of Florence together.

Kim already had a pretty good sense of some places and where they were relative to each other, where I basically knew how to navigate a straight line between our hotel and the conference location.

My scribblings there aren't accurate at all, but you get the right idea. Anyway, we started out the day by heading south and crossing the Fiume river.

I didn't know (and still don't know) what this thing is, but it looked cool, which was reason enough to take its picture.

This old tower struck me as ... striking. The place on the right is the site of the next picture.

A fountain, with the edge of the tower over my head:

Some Florence flora provided free framing:

Woah! The southern part of Florence is very green!

Looking back at the bridges, from pretty high up:

Up in the garden area at Piazzale Michelangelo, another self-portrait:

Looking out from the Piazzale, this wall and the large variety of plant life prompted me to take some shots. We'd been in the main part of the city all week, and just hadn't seen this kind of Tuscan country... But more about that later!

Three shots in one, or at least, you'll be able to see more shots of several elements here when I post everything in a proper album. Kim's next to a fleur-de-thing made of flowers, you can see the big wall again, and then, sharp contrast at the edge of urban Florence off to the right.

We visited the Basilica of San Miniato al Monte, which Kim had seen from below on a previous day, but hadn't gone in.

Ok, this probably shouldn't have made the cut for this digest version of our pictorial, but I'm just so impressed that our camera was able to take shots of this detail inside the basilica. It was very dark, but 1-second exposures with the camera held steady against a wall or some such let us capture a little of the beauty we found inside. (I hate to use flash, if that isn't obvious already. It washes everything out, turning beautiful and dynamic places flat and boring.)

More very dark areas, this time with some very bright daylight pouring in:

A shot from the floor at the steps leading down into a smaller room at the back:

Hard to get a really good sense of the place, but this reasonably captured the columns and walls of the main area.

I set the camera down lens-up at what I could see was a detailed ceiling, though I couldn't make out what those details were. One second of light on 7 million pixels of CMOS revealed much more than my naked eyes...

Back outside, rural southern Florence on the left, urban northern on the right:

Before leaving we checked out the cemetery, which was again very beautiful and unlike any we've seen before.

On our way back I decided I had to grab a shot of one of the little cars that frequent the streets of Florence (and, I would assume, lots of other, similarly-tight old cities).

Back to our hotel just for a bit, and a shot of the giant mirror at the entrance:

Then it was off for an afternoon guided tour of Chianti, as in wine. :^) We were first brought to a castle known for its wine-making.

What we saw of Florence was beautiful, but it wasn't the image the mind conjures up when thinking about "Tuscany". Out in Chianti, though, we saw plenty of Tuscan countryside.

We got to go up and be near the castle's crest, but when we came back down and the sun poked through the clouds, it was pretty obvious that this was the correct view.

Inside, many many barrels of wine ferment in oak and await their destiny. Cool thermometer, too!

The mother of all barrels. Floor to ceiling. One doesn't get a great sense of just how huge this thing is from the photo, but it was worth a try.

Many, many bottles:

I had just promised myself I'd start conserving the camera's battery and memory, as neither were infinite and I'd been taking pictures all day. Then, we walked outside on our way to the some wine tasting, and this thing showed up. Honestly, what sort of chance did that give me?

My memory is fuzzy after this one:
...Kidding. But we did try three of the wines shown above. My mouth even experienced one of those cheese+wine moments that I believe is the point of consuming those things together. I'm still a cheese+beer guy, but have warmed up quite a bit to red wine now that I've had some good stuff.

Back outside, near a church in Chianti:

We have a handful of other pictures from our tour Friday, but this one was near the end, and has "blog post ending" written all over it.

Italy, day 6

Thursday, 10 April. Last day of my conference, which had a lot of interesting stuff crammed into it but just wasn't as compelling as the whole of Firenze itself...

Again, Kim was the chief photographer on Thursday. I can get shots of geeks talking about technology anywhere, but nowhere else could Kim have visited the church of Santa Maria Novella. For being not exactly huge fans of organized religion, we've sure found the churches here fascinating.

The church exterior:

The fleur de thing! ...Or, whatever it's called here.

The entrance:

...And the exit:

No photography allowed inside, unfortunately. That came up several times as we've been here, sometimes to my annoyance. Then again, mobs of tourists all flashing our little cameras doesn't exactly add to the dignity or atmosphere of these old treasures.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008