Saturday, March 28, 2015

The waiting is the hardest part

I went to the airport this morning to catch my flight to Seattle. Unfortunately, I learned that today's flight was full and so was Sunday's. Monday's flight is also nearly full. I learned that the weeks around Easter are big vacation times in Europe and everyone is flying out. There is nothing I can do but wait for an open seat. I am trying again on Monday but I am not hopeful. I have scheduled child-care and Ryan is gearing up for a few more days as a single dad.

I am really disappointed. I am done sight-seeing and ready to go home. I miss the kids and Ryan and my life in Seattle. I'll make the best of it though. I am at Kate's and can stay here until I can get on a flight. Sigh.

Last night, I went to the Tate Modern. Loved it.

St Paul's cathedral at sunset

poem on the wall of the Tate. Working to keep my vision in the moment.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Our last day in Flo

We woke up early! We had lots to do. Our apartment was next door to the Medici Chapel which opened at 815. The most important people from the Medici family are buried there. The chapel was designed and created by Michelangelo. He was like a second son to the patriarch Cosimo so they entrusted him to create their eternal resting place. It's over the top. The chapel is dark marble (and many other precious stones). The themes are more classical Greek than biblical. The chapel is definitely an homage to power not an homage to God. From there, we went across the river to the Pitti Palace and Boboli gardens. Like many places, I can't remember visiting.. but I might have. It's an enormous palace a la Versailles again owned by the Medici. The Boboli gardens were not so much gardens as a landscaped park. There was a great view of the city although you can't really see it because it started to rain while we there.

As we wandered around, I realized I could not take in much more Renaissance art. The garden had very little so it was a good break. We returned to our neighborhood to our favorite Italian place. It was from a movie really. We ate there three days out of six. It's family-owned, great food, and everyone knew us. The woman who bussed the tables spoke Spanish so it was fun to feel proficient in a foreign language again.

We were tired but we pressed on. We headed to Dante's house (meh but Dante's work basically narrates all of the art in the city) and then the Bargello. I remember the Bargello well. I must have gone many times. In the 13th and 14th centuries, it was the Town Hall. It has a della Robbia room which I loved and also Donatello's David which I was always underwhelmed by because Michelangelo's is so much more striking. However, reading the description, Donatello's was the first nude to be sculpted since the Greeks were doing it. At the time, the statue blew everyone's mind and started the Renaissance.

And that was it for museums. Phew. I couldn't take in anymore. We rested at home then went out to the very hip (and close) Central Market.  It's an old open market space where they turned the 3rd floor into a hipster food court. 

We woke up early because we needed to get on a 745am bus in order to get to Pisa by 930am. We get to the station and buy our bus tickets only to be told the 745 bus wouldn't be running because there weren't enough people and the next bus was 810. We were really irritated. It's an airport bus. People need to be somewhere. Italy has changed A LOT in 20 years but they still don't pay attention to schedules. Annoying! I reminded Sarah that Rick Steves tells us to be flexible. Luckily, we'd purchased flight insurance just for this very problem so we didn't have to worry too much about missing our flight.  Italy! 

We made our flight though. The great thing about the Italians is that they are casual so the ticketing/gate folks didn't mind that we were late. We were the last ones on the plane but still made time to take a photo.

Welcome to London!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Day 7 & 8 Firenze

I am writing this one day late! Yesterday was lovely like all of our days. We started at the Uffizi -- the largest collection of medieval and renaissance work in the world. Luckily, we purchased a Firenze pass so we could bypass the INCREDIBLY LONG LINES. We listened to the audio tour. I was reminded that all art during this period reflected either biblical stories or greek mythology and most work included some homage to the patron who funded the work or some other secret message.

Some of my favorites:

Birth of Venus

A ceiling. We don't have ceilings like this in the US. It's painted!

These two photos were hung next to each other.. I like the woman-centered nature. 

Since my brain has a 60 minute limit for Madonna and child art, I took a sunny break outside. I drank lovely hot chocolate while gazing at the Palazzo Vecchio. All fun.

On to lunch and then the Accademia, home of the most famous Renaissance statue, The David. I didn't take any photos because it was 1. VERY CROWDED and 2. You have seen The David.

The David never disappoints though. We loved it. There was also an exhibit of Renaissance instruments. Then we walked over to the Baptistry. I am convinced that the Baptistry was under construction when we were here last. I walked by the gates all the time. They tell more biblical stories. I have no memory of the stunning inside of the Baptistry. Before it was an octagonal house of Catholic worship, it was a pagan house of worship. It is simple with Islamic tile floors and glorious gold mosaics on the wall.

Only the center of a large gold ceiling

We weren't done yet. I have a book called Secret Florence. We journeyed on to the Piazza Annunziata. It's the home of an old orphanage and current children's rights organization (that still houses the orphanage). I wanted to see the FoundlingWheel. It was the way that many people of the 15th - 20th centuries abandoned their children.  Parents took their children to the orphanage (which was originally run by a convent). The slipped newborns through the window onto a cushion and rang a bell. The nuns then took the child and the parents are never seen.

We also visited the Orphanage museum which was mostly sadness. 
We were so tired last night, we didn't even go out to dinner. We ate here and went to bed. We woke up early this morning to climb the Duomo, something neither of us did when we were here years ago. We climbed 493 narrow steps through the dome. The top of the dome provides one of the best views in Florence.
Behind us is Giotto's tower, Piazza della Republica and a glimpse of the palace where we went to school years ago.
At the bottom of the church - dome above

We then visited our school's new facilities and chatted with the Dean of students who used to be a Philosophy prof at Seattle U and he also taught in the Florence program when we were there.
We now have a regular Italian restaurant. It is so wonderful that we have been there three times. We have tried many restaurants, many pastas, many gelatos and this place is so great that we've decided just to go there for the rest of our meals. We love that the restaurant is family-owned. The waiters are the son and nephew of the owner. The woman who buses the tables speaks Spanish so I can easily converse with her. I can survive with my Italian but everyone speaks great English so all of my study wasn't really necessary. It is fun to speak Italian though.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Day 6 Florence

Another lovely day! We've decided that Florence is adult Disneyland. When we were here 22 years ago, we weren't able to experience the amazing food in the way that we can now. Sarah cannot eat gluten so she researched all of the restaurants that had gluten-free pastas and pizza dough and could understand what it means to have celiac disease.

We started the day with coffee at the cafe near our old school. The exact same people work in the shop since, like many places here, it's family owned.

We wandered toward a Van Gogh exhibit I wanted to see after visited the Van Gogh museum. This exhibit was a multi-media show inside an old church. There was no original art but rather projections of Van Gogh's work in mostly chronological order with excerpts from his letters to his brother to explain where Van Gogh was psychologically at the time of each set of paintings. The show was set to music. It was a good compliment to the Van Gogh museum but definitely not a substitute for it.

We saw this art on our way:

We then ended up at a leather bag shop staffed by a British woman and Sarah bought lots of stuff. I found a purse and something for Sonia. It was fun. So then we were hungry again and headed to another place with gluten free options:

We made it to the Van Gogh exhibit then went home for a late afternoon break. We left again at 7pm and listened to Rick Steves' Renaissance Florence walking tour.  The tour ended at the Ponte Vecchio so we wandered over to the Oltrarno neighborhood on the other side for more delicious food. We are now on the Italian schedule and ate dinner at 9pm. The streets were mostly empty except for a lot of police. We asked one police officer what was going on. Apparently the head of the Italian right-wing party was at a meeting. He is a controversial fellow and therefore, the police had to make sure he was safe and that there were no big protests. It was pretty quiet. I saw the sign for the political party but apparently mis-read it because I asked the officer if he was against tourism. No, the guy laughed and said he is against immigration -- seems like that movement has swept south. Although the officer did say the party didn't have much support in Tuscany.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Day 5 Firenze

While Florence looks the same as I remember, the people have changed. We noticed far fewer smokers and far more people from different countries (many more Asians and Eastern Europeans). We realized the world economy has dramatically changed since we were last here. Technology, the rise of China, and the end of Communism has spread money throughout the world. Another very big change is that I am now a Signora. I love it. I can look people in the eye and not worry about them following me.

This morning, I went out solo to find coffee. I realize now I've been ordering the wrong thing here. I now order a macchiato. The cappuccinos here are like weak lattes at home. I also need to order double shots. It is comforting to know that Seattle's coffee rivals Italy's. It's like the child has become more successful than the parent.

We decided to re-acquaint ourselves with the city and we walked all over the city. As before, there is art everywhere. The same art of course. About 20% of the art is behind scaffolding as it's so old it always needs to be repaired.

The Greek god Neptune 

David about to fight Goliath

We headed over the Ponte Vecchio - a 1000 year old bridge. 

We had mid-day gelato

We visited the location of our school Palazzo Antinori on Via Tornabuoni (very near the duomo). We strolled around the Duomo and the small streets that were never meant to have cars on them.

We ate a delicious late lunch. We felt like grown-ups since it was the kind of restaurant we never would have entered 20 years ago.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Day 4 London

We woke up early and got Kate's kids to school. They are so cute and say they wish my kids were visiting too:

We then visited the Tower of London... a huge castle finished around 1250. All of England's kings and queens lived there until the 1700's. Soldiers even used the tower during World War II. The tower is filled with armor from the years that the English were a great empire. It also has many, many prisons with engravings from the enemies of the monarchs over the years.

After lunch at an amazing Indian food restaurant (very authentic said Kate who just visited India) I went to my hotel (The Hoxton at Holbourne - great place) to meet Sarah.  We walked all over the city through Trafalgar square and over to Piccadilly through St James Garden near Buckingham Palace.

Dinosaur in Trafalgar square

On our walk we found Goodwin's Court. Some locals told us it was the location of Nocturne Alley in the Harry Potter movies. We were so excited.

Then Sarah went back to the hotel to sleep and I stayed in Piccadilly to see a play: 39 Steps. It was very clever. There were only 4 actors playing many roles. There were almost no stage props or decorations. It was a funny and light thriller.. great fun.

This morning Sarah and I woke up early to head out to Florence. We took a train to Gatwick airport, then an airplane to Pisa, then a bus to Florence. Long day but always fun to travel. Easy jet was easy!

We just arrived at our apartment. This is the view in the front:

And we are off! We'll be going to a restaurant that serves gluten-free pasta and pizza because Sarah has a horrible intolerance. She spent 50% of her life in Florence in pain because of it 20 years ago. When I tried out my Italian on the host at the restaurant, he told me many Italians don't eat gluten. Things have changed here. In some ways, they are similar but there are many new things and the people look different than they used to.. or rather, everyone looks the same now. Globalization has removed so many of the different looks that used to exist before everyone bought their clothing at the same stores. More to come! 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Day 3 Amsterdam

We got up early this morning for our last day in Amsterdam.  We were up during the morning commute. I have heard Amsterdam is a bike-friendly town. The majority of the morning traffic seems to be bicycles. In fact, there is a several story parking garage near the train station that is for bicycles only.

Our first stop was a Catholic church hidden in the attic of a home.

Catholicism was illegal in Amsterdam for a few hundred years and so a devout Catholic built a church (with friends) in three connected homes. Amsterdam's government has always been more progressive than most so even though practicing Catholicism was illegal, the government did not enforce the rule as long as worship was done privately.

The man who built the church had 6 children and they lived in the house as well.
We then hustled over to the Museum of the Resistance that catalogued all the efforts the Dutch people made to resist the Nazi occupation during World War II -- a very sad chapter in their history.

At this point in our trip, Kate and I had walked 25 miles over three days! We were hungry and headed for lunch at a cafe by a canal. Sun! Dutch beer! Canal!

Notice the bike. There is a always a bike nearby

We had to hurry to the train station for our mid-afternoon train back to London. We rolled into the station around 7 and I had to visit King's Cross to get a picture of platform 9 3/4:

There was a long line of people who wanted to push the cart so I took someone else's picture. Have fun at Hogwarts!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Amsterdam Day 2

Another day filled with adventure! We went to the Stedelijk (modern art musem), then the Van Gogh museum, then the Amsterdam museum (local history -- very interactive reminded my of the London Museum). We eat great food and drink great drinks (lots of beer for me) in between. Paradise! But I miss the family.
My favorite piece at the modern art museum here

close-up - dripping oil paint tubes

Good to enlarge. The museum held a contest for kids to create art inspired by Van Gogh

Crooked houses

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Day 1 Amsterdam

We have only had a half of a day in Amsterdam but we have seen a lot. We went on a long walking tour of the city. What a beautiful place! We wound through lots of pedestrian only zones surrounded by old gabled buildings.  We had beer and snacks by a canal at sunset then wandered around a less touristy area and ended up at a wine bar.

The time changed here by an hour and my brain still can't figure out when I am supposed to sleep.

wine bar!

These are little toothbrushes on a ferris wheel