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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Florence

Everything I read led me to believe that Florence would be my favorite city in Italy.  "The cradle of Italian Renaissance."  "One of the most beautiful cities in Europe."  "...dazzling historical past."  Well, it didn't do it for me.  Yes, the historic city center is charming and filled with culture.  But the greater city feels worn out 60's.  It didn't hold the appeal to me that other cities in Italy do.
The Duomo of Santa Maria del Fiore is the amazing church in the city center.  The marble work on the exterior took 120 years to complete.  It may be the only Gothic building in Florence.  I don't know.  In contrast the interior is surprisingly spartan.  The main attraction is the dome.


Everyone goes to Florence to see David.  It was hot and we were at a point in the trip where we had seen lots of things.  We walked to the museum only to find a line snaking around the block.  I asked someone how long they had waited and 3 hrs. was the reply.  Not worth it to me.  But it was worth it to stand in the sun for 3 hrs. to Damon and Elena.  So we left them to get some gelato and met again later in the day.  According to them it was totally worth it.  They were in awe of seeing a statue they have heard and read about.  I'm glad they were old enough for me to leave on their own!
The bridge over the river is very pretty and the shopping is nice.  
Goodbye Florence, I don't think I'll be seeing you again.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Rome

Trains are a lovely way to travel through Italy.  We disembarked from our last boat ride in Venice and simply stepped onto our train.  To save money I had booked tickets on the very slow train.  The phrase "it's not the destination but the journey" comes to mind.  Amazing countryside rolled past my window.  I couldn't bear to pull my eyes away from the view long enough to read my book.  Vineyards melted into mountains.  I spotted a castle perched above a town.  It was almost too much to absorb.
We arrived in Rome and were immediately enchanted.  The city is old in a romantic way.  There does not seem to be a new area built out of context.  Everything is just old, older and oldest.  
Pantheon


Following the Crucifixion
by Michelangelo

Spanish Steps




Rather than stay in hotels during this vacation we used AirB&B for the first time.   This is a website where you rent apartments from individuals.  We found this to be much more economical than hotel rooms with the added benefit of more space.  We loved that we had a kitchen and sometimes a washing machine.  We never felt board of sitting on a bed in a cramped hotel room, rather we were happy to take our time fixing a cup of coffee or enjoying the view from a balcony.  The location of this apartment was amazing.  Right in the middle of the oldest area we could step out the door and walk to anything we wanted.  So we walked and walked and walked in Rome.
The colosseum was the first major site we visited.  To avoid vast crowds, we made it there early in the morning.  It paid off as we were able to hop into a tour group with ease.  Soon we were standing at the rail looking onto the floor where the games used to happen.  Our tour guide was of the mind that rarely did anything horrible, such as death, happen to the contenders in the games.  He claimed that the accounts in history are incorrect.  Any reasonable human being would know it is horrible to watch the slow and agonizing death of another for sport therefore modern belief of Roman atrocities is wrong.  I disagree.  So I didn't get much out of this particular guide's theory of the colosseum.  





We exited the colosseum and entered the Roman Forum.  Ruins of important governmental buildings are here.  Triumphal entries and processions used to snake their way past temples to Roman gods up to Palatine Hill.  This area is one of the oldest with generation after generation adding to the buildings.  Ancient ruins of palaces are continually being excavated giving the area an ancient deserted feel.  Our tour guide for this portion of the trip was excellent.  As we walked the paths he made the steps of the Romans feel alive.  Just as we were breaking up to wander on our own, lightning flashed its wicked spears and thunder shook the ground.  The sky continued to shock with light as it grew dark and rain poured down.  Somehow it seemed somewhat appropriate to stand in such an ancient pagan area and feel as though the sky was being ripped open and crying out.  The umbrellas were of no use.  We were soaked as we sat down to enjoy a hot pasta lunch.
Our Roman Form tour guide had informed us that on Friday evenings during the summer the Vatican museum is open.  Apparently this is a nice time to visit because most people don't know about it.  Of course he had a friend who would be leading a tour...  The Vatican is one area I had not really planned on doing a tour.  I really thought the tour book would give enough explanation to keep me happy.  I am so thankful that Chad jumped at the opportunity because our guide was absolutely amazing.  He spent the first hour talking about Michael Angelo and the Sistine Chapel.  When we got to the Chapel I couldn't do my traditional gazing and appreciating.  I was truly in awe.  I now have so many questions about who Michael Angelo was as a person and artist that I have decided to find some sort of biography and learn more.  Only a good teacher can instill the craving to learn more into his students.



We leisurely toured many other things in Rome, oohing and ahhing over the ancientness of it all.  We loved the Pantheon with its amazing dome.  The Spanish steps were filled with people leisurely basking in the sun and Trevi fountain was disappointingly under construction.   
My favorite day was the day we met Damon's girlfriend.  Our kids haven’t had girlfriends or boyfriends before so this is a whole new thing for us.  The problem is, Damon met her at college — in Michigan.  We don’t live there or visit there often so meeting her seemed like a far off dream.  But I think God saw that little dream and worked things out for me.  She was doing an overseas study program in Europe so we planned our dates around when she could travel to Rome.  It was important and special for me.  We picked her up bright and early then headed to the Catacomb of Priscilla further from the city center.  The tour was short, but such an important part of my history as a Christian.  This old quarry was used for Christian burial in the 2nd - 4th century.  The catacombs had been ransacked over the years, so the tombs were opened and all the fresco paintings long gone.  But there were glimpses that remained for us to imagine what it was once like.  I was surprised, because at the time of use it was not oppressive.  Yes, they are tunnels deep under the ground, but they used to be plastered in white and frescoed.  The paintings showed who was in a burial spot — a father, a child…  The catacombs are run by nuns and the Catholic church seems to hold this as an important part of their heritage, yet in the few remaining frescos of Bible stories they were very different than Catholic art I am used to.  The people did not have golden halos.  There were no saints depicted.  Rather just regular people, Jesus with the disciples or an Old Testament scene.  There was something raw and pure about the painted interpretations of these Bible stories.  They were important and applicable to these early Christians.  The people didn’t worship these saints of old, but rather learned from the stories of their lives.  The oldest known painting of Mary is here.  It was small and again unglorified.  It was simply a depiction of a woman nursing a child.  No halo, no cherubs.  


After breaking up to go in different directions for the afternoon we came back together for a food tour.  I booked through TripAdvisor a company called Gourmetaly.  No one else signed up for our time so we got Francesca all to ourselves.  We had so much fun!  After trying fresh buffalo mozzarella I don’t think I will ever be able to eat a salad with little rubbery white balls on it again.  We tried fresh pasta, salami, pizza and many more things all with explanations as to the history and customs of the food and eating style of Italians.  Ending the day with true gellato was perfect.  We managed to eat gellato about every day of our vacation, but none every quiet measured up to the smooth taste of this little gellato shop.



Friday, July 25, 2014

Venice

I had this wonderful plan to journal each day of our trip to Italy.  That lasted two days.  Now I am looking back on the trip wishing I had written more of my thoughts down.  Nevertheless, I am going to try to remember a few details before the memories are too faded.




Lazy days of wandering the streets filled our time in Venice.  There were a few touristy things that I insisted on, but we were still able sleep in and enjoy the food.  It didn't take us long to find our favorite pizza restaurant and begin trying every flavor of gelato available.


When we stepped into the gondola we were transported back in time.  The gondolier skillfully guided us through the tangle of other gondolas and onto a quiet canal.  We turned corners and wove our way through the water maze.  Eventually we came out at the Grand Canal and joined the mass of tourists on the water.


I was honestly disappointed in San Marco's Square.  I remember from the trip I took here in college, wandering around in the evening.  Musicians played at various outdoor restaurants.  Artists painted portraits of visitors posing in a chair.  It was a lovely atmosphere.  While we were visiting it was just a large plaza.   There seemed nothing distinctive or special about it.  Maybe that's how it is when you revisit a place you have created a special memory for.  It will just never be the same.  


The Doge's Palace is amazing.  The exterior is done in Venetian Gothic.  I love that this city has its style of architecture!  The original palace was built in 810.  Of course none of that palace remains so the palace we see today was built between 1340 - 1442.  Room after room of ceilings painted by Tintoretto and heavily gilded frame work began to become dizzying.  An interior bridge across a narrow canal led us from the splendor of the palace to the insignificance of the prison.  



We visited Saint Mark's Cathedral as well as a handful of other churches.  Each was ornamented with paintings that belong in a museum.
We took the public boat taxi to the island of Murano one day.  Again, there were no glass blowers in the shops showing off their skills as I remembered.  We still enjoyed wandering the stores and examining the intricate figures made of glass.
Venice is a city one falls in love with over and over as the years pass but the city remains frozen in time.



Venice, Day 2

Sun. June 22
It's early and I am the only one awake.  A morning bird by nature, added to the two hour time difference has me up before the city is alive.  I sit on the balcony breathing in the heavy scent of honeysuckle.  Occasionally I hear a boat go down the canal, breaking the stillness.  Seagulls cry overhead and a friendly pigeon flies from window ledge to window ledge.  



The church just around the corner has an early morning service going on.  I listen to them sing the simple melodies.  Raw and pure in nature their voices fill every nook-and-cranny, deep into my soul.  No instruments are needed to accompany their worship to God.  Liturgical readings go back and forth as the priest's strong voice rings loud and clear responded by confident responses from the congregation.  My heart is settled, I look forward to a relaxing day with my family.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Venice, Day 1

Sat.  June 21
We are just about finished with our first year in Moscow.  It's been good.  I've been able to observe and wander and really soak in a lot about this city.  Beautiful domes sparkle in the sun, overwhelming buildings dominate the view, memories of communism live strong.  Yet it is not home, so the largeness of the city, the foreign language, the intense school standards and the business of the job have found us a bit on the weary side of things.  It's time for a break.
This morning I woke up in Moscow and tonight I am going to bed in Venice.  The sound of waves crashing against buildings will lull me to sleep.  We are staying in the most charming apartment away from the bustle of the tourist crowds.  Our cozy little place has the sounds of the soccer game coming from t.v.s, women hanging out clothes to dry, children playing in the streets and church bells ringing from the tower around the corner.  We left the chilly air behind and are enjoying the freedom of no jackets or sweaters.  




The water taxi wound its way from the airport down the Grand Canal.  I gazed out the small, water splashed window excited for my first glimpse of houses lining the canals with cathedrals rising in the distance.  After settling in we wandered through the streets, over bridges and along the waterways to find a recommended pizza shop.  We all savored the flavors, reveling in the homemade sauce and fresh mozzarella balls.  A gelato stand beaconed us near.  The perfect way to end the evening.  I know the night is still young, but we are weary.  This vacation is not meant to wear us out as we explore every treasure of Italy.  Rather we are here to rest and rejuvenate with a bit of culture and a lot of food.