Tag Archives: Florence

Ups and Downs in the Mountains

Today there were ups and downs. I’m gonna get real here. This experience is incredible, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but there are moments when sadness fills me up and I wonder how long is too long without seeing friends, family, and being able to communicate with anyone. I am the type of person who enjoys being alone and tends to not feel lonely. But a bit of loneliness is creeping in at the seams which is hard. Writing notes about the experiences staves off the isolation quite well, and turning those notes into blog material has probably helped more that I anticipated (which might explain the increasing loquaciousness of the blog entries!)

It is always very difficult to sent our girls to camp for a month and the feelings I have now are similar to what I feel every summer. But being so far away is compounding the longing, which I was afraid might happen. I depart soon for the Artist Residency and am hoping some artists there speak English…I’ll keep you posted.

So, to perk up a bit, I’ll write about the “ups” of the day:
imageVilla Cimbrone. It only took two seconds for me to realize upon entry why exactly C East had so many stars by “Villa Cimbrone” in her Italy notes. Pictures can not capture the magic – this one to the right shows an old well and Ancient Roman columns that were carved in the imageMiddle Ages. After lunch in town, I returned to Villa Cimbrone to do some sketching.





It was just too pretty to stay away. Plus, I decided to postpone a longer hike I had planned due to the heat. After showering, I again splurged on the Revello Music Festival concert, then people watched, stumbled upon an inspiring organ concert in one of the churches, and went to bed. OH I ALMOST FORGOT! Between the poetic Argentinian themed concert and the lovely organ church concert, I happened upon a HUGE FIGHT!!! I mean these two people were sca-reaming at each other right outside the Villa Rufalo as I exited concert. I wish I understood what was going on. An police officer had to intercept them! And I’m not talking about two rough dudes. It was a woman, dressed up beautifully (of course!) with a large clock around her neck (you see how I am living in a state of confusion, yes?) and the man – a rotund chef (the people here are lithe due to hiking like mountain goats daily so it struck me as an even stranger sight seeing the portly chef guy). I thought maybe they were street performers at first, they were so vocal and dramatic – the fighting was lyrical and rhythmic which makes sense – as their talking is lyrical and rhythmic compared to English. I wish I could post videos and I would show you a snippet.

PS For friends who are afraid I am taking things too seriously, here is proof that I’ve really cut loose!!! A Coke! 🙂image

Smooth Train, Scary Bus, and Still Not Quite There


I am now on Italotreno headed from Florence to Salerno which is a 3.5 hour train ride. I have a fear of getting kicked off the train from not stamping my ticket or following some sort of protocol. Or worse, getting on the wrong train and ending up in another country. But the announcer has said Salerno many times so I think I’m on the right track (ha, aren’t I hilarious, the “right track”).

This morning, before departing Florence, I ate breakfast with a woman from Lowell, MA and a couple from Germany. The man’s company makes the adhesive for New Balance shoes which are made near Lowell, MA. He was surprised that we had heard of New Balance so I let him know that they are a flat footed person’s best friend. He encourage me to keep buying them so he can keep providing the glue! Then, the woman from Lowell asked if we could go together to Santa Croce Church so off we went. Well, thank goodness I did not miss this church. I could have spent several hours there but only had one before my train. We saw the tombs of Galileo, Michelangelo, Machiavelli…

News flash! The train conductor just came through asking for tickets. I showed her a number and she said Grazie and moved on. So I didn’t get kicked off and seem to be following procedure. PHEW!

Back to Santa Croce. This is the hot bed for art historians. I took many a slide quiz based on much of the work displayed in this very church, such as famous pieces by Giotto and by Cimabue. As I exited into the side courtyard, the voice of an angel signing a Les Miserable classic guided me to a vaulted room. There she was, a tourist (perhaps a broadway star?), testing out the acoustics in the room. A few tourists clapped as she finished, she grabbed her purse, and continued the tour. What a treat!

I said good-bye to my morning companion (who was amicable and talkative and clear about her need for English speaking company), hoofed it to the hotel for my luggage and then pulled my bags down the cobblestone streets to Santa Maria Novella train station.

Alright, the train ride was smooth and fast. The man who sat next to me was surly at first, watching me haul my luggage, which required a deep squat and major heave (again, thanks Drew!) to the overhead rack. During the last hour of the trip, I painted a postcard and for whatever reason, he turned into a gentleman! He helped me practice Italian (literally quizzed me with my flash cards), told me he lives and works in Paestum as a police officer and volleyball coach at the local school. And he was very helpful with my luggage as we departed, making sure I was aware of the Salerno stop and hauling my suitcase down the steps and to the platform. However, let me remind you (hi Mom, Dad and Stephen) my guard is up and I am not seeking conversation or companionship from strangers. He was perfectly polite though still distant, just helpful. Oh, and by the way, when people tell you that everyone speaks English, NOPE! Not on this route, at least. Which, so far, is fine with me, I just thought I’d mention it to set your expectations if you travel here. Maybe I’m just going a little more rugged than some which is casting me apart from the high-end service people who probably do speak English.

It was mayhem departing the train and finding the bus for Amalfi. Thankfully, last night I read in a Rick Steve’s book a tip about ducking into the Celeste Globo travel agency right there between the train station and the bus station where the workers speak some English and can answer questions about which bus tickets to buy and where to wait. Entrance on the bus was dicey and I am lucky I got a seat. There were many people standing for the long and winding ride up the Amalfi coast. I’ll change busses in Amalfi to get to Ravello.

OK, ANNOUNCEMENT: I’ll be taking a boat whenever possible from this point forward. We are winding around these cliffs with the driver blaring on the horn at every turn, which means constantly. A woman boarded at Vietre and promptly began yelling toward the bus load of people in anger about not giving up a seat for the women and children (at least I think that is what she as saying).

One hour later, shockingly, I am still alive and after a treacherous ride to Amalfi, I have boarded the bus to Ravello, up to the mountain top. I’m trying to enjoy the views but when one fears for her life, the panorama is a bit less pleasurable. But now I have feeling like I might survive, as opposed to earlier when I was saying prayers and telepathically telling my precious girls good-bye. NEVERMIND!!!! Quite the roller coaster of emotions. Once again feeling like death is near. There are pedestrians on the road and they flatten themselves against the cliffs as the buses careen by. There are cyclists for crying out loud! The kind woman from Bologna who is seated next to me said the cyclists are not Italian. That Italians would not do such a thing. Do you hear that Krissa and Michael? Stick with Tuscany but I beg, do not get any ideas about cycling along the Amalfi coast, capiece?

Ok, now I’ve been dispatched in Ravello. A nice cabbie told me how to walk to the hotel (he was waiting to take people down through the ravine and down the mountain to Amalfi – Ravello is pedestrian only so I could not get a ride with him to my hotel. But just a minute, did I mention the bus luggage arrangement? The driver yells at you as you enter the bus and tells you to store it underneath. (A note about the yelling, they do it as nicely as possible, many of the Italians I’ve encountered put a vigorous amount of volume and emotion in their voices so I’ve come to learn that they are just explaining things, not really yelling). Anyway, no one comes to open the compartments and this English man and I jacked around with the handles thinking the bus was about to take off. I then found a button and pushed it and pop – the door lifted open. I heard him on the bus later telling his partner thank goodness for some American girl who figured out how to open the compartment. I felt a tinge of pride, I admit.

So, I think, Thank you Lord Baby Jesus for not letting me get killed and making it to this remote mountaintop on roads that are perhaps not meant to be traversed. I erroneously thought I’d arrived. As it turns out, my villa is further up the mountain…but I thought, how far can it be? Well, if I’ve mentioned the stairs and hills and hikes in earlier posts, let me just say, thank the heavens for those hikes. I didn’t know it at the time but I was in training for Ravello. imageThe whole journey here, as it becomes more physically difficult and more dangerous, I am thinking, how and why to people go through such effort, such time, such risk, such discomfort to get here? AND THEN I FOUND OUT. Next up: Oh Ravello.image

San Lorenzo Church and Crypts…kinda creepy!

For any of you who are worried that I am wondering around getting lost (hi mom), let me clarify, I had a map and was following one of the tourist office’s walks around Fiesole. I just took the wrong tour and missed a closer look at the swanky Villa San Michele. Despite the climbs, heat and misstep, I highly recommend Fiesole.

Next up was San Lorenzo Basilica which was stunning on the inside despite the incomplete facade. The ticket also included entry to the tombs under the church which was full of surprises. First, there was the tomb of Cosimo Medici which was an enormous square shaped marble crypt build into the central column of the church, literally and metaphorically placing Cosimo in a position to hold up the church. Then, a few feet away was the tomb of Donatello. In a separate room, still underground, was a display of relics. Despite reading about relics in art history, I was still taken aback when I realized what I was seeing in the temp controlled glass cases. I thought the oval shaped, silver encrusted frames, with little circular windows were displaying some type of family tree. But upon closer inspection, I realized there were little objects in each window…little pieces of bone, hair, teeth…corporal souvenirs for people to worship for hundreds and hundreds of years! And that they do. The Forentines speak of the Medici, a family that died out many generations ago, with reverence and gratitude.

The whole experience makes me consider the intrinsic value of objects, whether it be art, literature, architecture, or relics. (Bear with me, spending is much time alone makes me rather introspective.) The line between animate and inanimate blurs as I come to better understand the power of objects for humanity throughout history. I am reminded of the Tom Robbins novel Still Life with a Woodpecker which will certainly change the reader’s view of the objects in our lives.

Studying the art commissioned by the Medici family, one will notice the frequent image of oranges which were a sign of power and life. As I ascended from the crypts, I arrived in a small beautiful courtyard and immediately noticed an enormous orange tree in the center heavy and fragrant with big bright oranges. Reminders of the Medici are very much alive!image

I then headed to the post office which has so many names, it was hard to find. A kind waiter laughed as he helped me with directions. I was standing right in front of it! Thankfully, I’d read about the Italian post office procedures, or I would have never made it out of there with my tasks completed. It is like a major appointment to go to the PO for business. I needed to mail letters to Paige and Phoebe and needed to exchange American money to Euros which required lots of patience and more Italian than I’ve previously attempted.

imageBy now it was after 7:00 and I was again famished. Thanks to Cathy and Jim Wilkins, I was able to get off the tourist dining circuit and walk to a residential area for dinner. On my way to dinner, I passed a few impressive street artists as well as a store that made me think of my sweet grandmother, Nana. imageimageI was the first to arrive at 7:30 and they even let me in a few minutes early. Still a bit anxious about dining alone, this place could not have been more accommodating and comfortable. The chef trained in NY for 8 years at some hot Italian restaurant and returned home to open Garga with his mother. I got to meet him and the restaurants encourages diners to draw on the table cloths. There were some statues around to serve as models so between the food and the drawing and the welcoming staff, it was pretty heavenly. I’ve never had a saladimage that I ate slowly to postpone the end. And the focaccia bread made me moan like those people who moan when they eat which I’ve found irritating. It was a struggle to be quiet and the perfect way to end a long, adventurous day.


Florence’s Surprises Part 1

Arriving in Florence

Ok, so once I figured out which train to get on, everything went smoothly. Departed the train at Santa Maria Novella in Florence and walked 15 minutes to Hotel Casci. Decent room, nice bathroom, overall, very good value and comfortable.

The Duomo, oh my Lord, the Duomo.image Much grander, ornate, miraculous than I could have ever imagined. Impossible to photograph due to immensity. Walked and walked an walked today. First meandered toward Ponte Vecchio with gelato in hand from Festival Gelato. Apparently the line is usually around the block and there was no line, so I basically HAD to take advantage of the situation. Right? I almost spilled my gelato as I entered Piazza Della Signoria which homes the Palazzo Vecchio as well as the Uffizi Gallery. Oh my heavens! The scene was remarkable. Blue blue sky against tremendous red brick and gargantuan sculptures (honoring the Florentine greats like Michelangelo, Dante, Galileo, Machiavelli, and Lorenzo Medici. It is like everyone has a similar response: Frenetic admiration hangs in the air like an electrical current. Many people literally are squealing! This is where many of Florence’s execution, riots, and celebrations took place through out history which is easy to imagine. Though I’d much rather enjoy a espresso or a gelato here than a public decapitation!

imageI then headed over the Ponte Vecchio (thankful that it is no longer filled with jeweleres instead of with butchers who used to dump their excess into the Arno) and soon arrived at the grand Pitti Palace. I’ve heard this before, but I was astounded at the sheer volume of master paintings packed gallery style – floor to ceiling – in every room (and those ceiling are TALL and those rooms are numerous (maybe I entered 30 huge rooms…I wasn’t counting). Anyway, it was elaborate.image Most intriguing were the ceilings and narratives they told that were tailored to those in power, coupling biblical stories with the home owners and Greek mythological characters had the faces of the family members, elevating them to anyone who entered the palace.

I then hiked, and I mean hoofed it, up to Piazzale Michelangelo way way up on a hill in Otrarno overlooking the city. Along the way, a seemingly nice Italian man asked me to meet him for dinner but, alas, I am a married woman and declined.  It was worth the climb but I started feeling weak and had to get a banana smoothie and a bus ticket for the trip back to central Florence. imageI met an ex-pat from California on the bus who write a book, The Piazzas of Florence. She and her six year old came to Florence to research for the book for four months which turned into 10 years and they are still here!

I departed the bus at Santa Maria Novella and was lucky enough to visit the famous Perfumary and then the outstanding Paizza. The light was dropping and made the black and white geometrically designed Church really glow. Then by the Palazzo Strozzi and through Piazza Della Republica which had a fancy feel – perhaps it was the upscale shops like Gucci, Hermes, etc. There was a carousel in the middle which was a striking contrast to the towering archway that marks the entry to the square. I later learned that this square was the original Roman Forum!

Next, I needed up in Piazza San Lorenzo looking at the facade of San Lorenzo church. This one is astonishing in that the entire interior is full of work by artist such as Donatello and designs by Brunelleschi but the front, which Michelangelo spent years designing, was never applied to the under brick and concrete surface. The pope pulled funds – I’ll try to find out more about the reasons. By now, famished beyond reason, I ended up at a small snack place near the Duomo and my hotel and had a simple ham and mozzarella sandwich and fruit which was perfect and cheap.