Tuesday, April 22, 2014


Buona Pasqua!   (Happy Easter / Passover). 

Every holiday in Italy has it's own traditions, here you won't find Easter baskets, bunnies and egg hunts, but you will find beautifully wrapped chocolate eggs with a surprise inside!

Since daughter decided to join us for a few months - we couldn't pass up on the chocolate egg!

Easter Breakfast - Colomba di Pasqua (dove shaped bread/cake)  and Italian coffee - great yummy combination.  This is worth looking up a recipe on.

We spent Easter with the masses (ha-ha) in front of the Duomo celebrating a tradition going back to the first crusade called "The Scoppio del Carro" or Explosion of the Cart.  When we arrived at the Basilica de Santa Maria del Fiore we were beat to the prime viewing spots. (should have skipped that Colomba and coffee) We had to squeeze our way through until we at least had sight of the cart.  We missed the procession where the 30 foot cart is pulled through Florence by white oxen.  At 10 am the cart (loaded with fireworks) and followed by a parade of people dressed in medieval costumes arrives in front of the church.  Following the Mass, the Archbishop sends a dove-shaped rocket fired from inside the church into the cart igniting the fireworks with a 20 minute display of pyrotechnics.  This ritual is supposed to bring a bountiful harvest and  good luck to all - we feel lucky being on this trip and our pasta eating has made us bountiful!

Thousands of people surrounding the cart - I hate being short.

The start of the fireworks coming from the cart

We wandered 800 meters (about an hour) to the Basilica of Santa Croce after the multitude of tourists and locals dispersed from the excitement of the "Scoppio del Carro".   This church was built in 1294 designed by Cambio, of Italian Gothic architecture and was completed with Renaissance architecture created by Michelozzo and Brunelleschi and later the neo-gothic facade was done by the architect Niccolo Matas in the 19th century.  I love the Star of David at the top that Matas put in his design of this Franciscan church.

The inside of Santa Croce has frescoes, tombs, and sculptures by some of the greatest Florentine artists.  The basilica is also called the "Temple of the Italian Glories" because it is the burial place of many renowned Italians, for example Machiavelli, Galileo, ........

.....and the most famous tomb in Santa Croce is that of Michelangelo.  
The 3 figures sitting on the tomb represent painting, sculpture and architecture.

This is not the tomb of Dante Alighieri, but what is a cenotaph (an empty tomb) - lots of drama on the story with his beloved Florence who exiled him and if he returned could be burned at the stake.   It took the council of Florence to finally pass a motion to rescind his sentence in 2008.  I guess better late than never.  Now they are trying to move his remains from Ravenna - who knows - maybe in another  600 years....  In any case, just walking through Florence there are many reminders that the poet Dante was loved by the city.

A sweet treat on a side street away from the hordes

Easter Happy Hour at the "Volume" - a cool bar in Piazza Santo Spirito.   

The Pasqua starter for us was the Crostini di Fegato alla toscana (chicken liver pate on toast).  Followed by first course - Gnocchi for the vegetarian, Ragu Gnocchi for me and  Rich had a Salmon pasta.  Traditional 2nd course would normally be a lamb in the oven, but shock -  the pasta filled us, so we passed on the lamb (Renata was happy about that).

Another perfect day in Florence!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Florence, a "ROOM WITH A VIEW"

A view of Florence from our living room.  
Enlarge and you can see the Duomo!
One of the special aspects of Europe is their desire to keep its beauty intact. They don't tear down and build new, they restore and renovate. H&M store?  Fine,  but keep the exteriors the same. Real beauty never gets old, classic style and architecture can exist forever.
Florence has kept so much of its character you see it in the buildings, the Arno river and it's bridges, Pitti Palace and Boboli gardens, the Uffizzi Gallery, Palace Vecchio and so many churches and landmarks that you can imagine (just block out the thousands of school tours) what if felt like to be young Michelangelo playing futbol in San Marcos Piazza...ok that's a stretch...but it is very cool.  Grazie Lorenzo Medici and the good people of Florence for keeping the timeless view of a beautiful city.

We have been in Florence for a week now -  it's true, "...when one visits Florence - you should have a room with a view"  (From the 1985 Academy Award movie A Room with a View).  
This post is just to let you know we arrived to this beautiful city and the views from every corner are spectacular:

The view entering Florence from Porto Romana.  
This gateway built in the 14th century with the original iron doors (you can't see in my picture) is what we walk through on our daily journey into Florence. The marble sculpture is of 2 women by Pistoletto - the vertical woman is pointing towards Rome, and the other woman placed on the head of the first,  looks towards the city walls entering Florence.  

View of Ponte Vecchio from the Galleria degli Uffizi.  I took the picture from a window in the museum.  For those that are Dan Brown fans - his latest book Inferno takes place in Florence -the Vasari Corridor is a covered passageway built in 1564 by Giorgio Vasari for the Medici family that connects the Pitti Palace across the Arno to the Uffizi Palace  - the corridor is about a kilometer in length that starts out near where I am - heads toward the Arno and goes across the top of the Ponte Vecchio through a church and snakes its way over the tops of houses to the Boboli gardens and exits in a couple of places in the Pitti Palace.

The Duomo or the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral - The Dome in all the famous views of Florence

View from the Palazzo Vecchio - The second Vasari corridor connects the Uffizi Palace with Palazzo Vecchio

Palazzo Vecchio or the Palazzo of Penises.  (I'll get close-ups in a later post)
  This is the best view of a buttocks!  (until I see David)

View of Florence from the Galleria del Costume connected to the Palazzo Pitti

View of Florence sitting on the steps of  Piazzale Michelangelo with a chocolate gelato. 
The sky makes this a perfect view!

View from the basilica San Miniato al Monte.  
Saint Miniato or Minias, the first  Christian martyr in Florence was beheaded outside the gates of Florence - Tales of the Crypt say that he picked up his head, put it back on his shoulders crossed the Arno and walked up the hill  (where this church was founded) to die.  
 I think he still haunts this place, I don't blame him with a view like this!

From Florence on Bus 7 to the scenic hills of  Fiesole.
This is where Leonardo daVinci hung out experimenting with his flying machines.

Most entertaining view of modern Florence is watching the crowds/vendors in Mercato Centrale with a glass of Chianti - Salute!  

We can feel the Renaissance taking hold....... 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Friends, Romans, Countrymen


It is history coming to life, at least in your imagination. Chariot races in Circus Maximus, gladiator fights and Naval battles in the Colosseum, images of Caesars and Senators walking in togas on marble mosaics amid columns and statues of Palatine Hill fill your head and you are seduced into this bacchanal life.

"Cameriere, piĆ¹ vino, pizza e  Dean Martin",  this is so much fun.

We are now experiencing a bit of "Spring Break", more people/tours at the monuments, so glad we visited those early now we have some small galleries, villas and such to avoid the masses. I can't imagine what June-July-August is like, Vatican museum lines must be hours of waiting and packed. When you do come to Rome, March and April (not during Easter) is a good time to come. You can still find out of the way places with the locals and only Italian being spoken. The people of Rome, even with constant tourism, were wonderful. A completely captivating city. Molte Grazie!

Our cliche photo - "Tourists with a famous monument in the background"


Our month in Rome is over.  "We Came, We Saw, We Conquered", a phrase Julius Caesar coined - I think I'll change it a bit to suit us - We Came, We Saw, We Ate, We Drank, We Ate, We Drank... and now it's time to go.

I love Rome - Amo Roma.  A very busy vibrant city mixed with locals and just as many tourists, I can see why it is one of the most visited cities in the world.  We were able to see most of the beautiful museums without big crowds, walk all the neighborhoods, revisit history we long forgot, and learn new things past and present about a city and it's people that have been around since 753 BC.  

A few ancient Roman Emperors - Marcus Aurelius on horse, Hadrian in white, Caesar Augustus in bronze, The big head is Richard, oops, I mean Constantine

Modern Romans -  Gelato for all ages, futball in the streets, the tail end of the 2014 Roman Marathon, Pinsere Pizza - best take away in Rome (in our hungry opinion), and of course bottom right - discussion of the state of the Italian economy with our 2 favorite waiters at the best Trattoria in Rome, Vecchia Roma.

We learned how to make Amatriciana and pasta with David Sgueglia della Marra - owner of "A Cooking Day in Rome" - Simple for us simpletons - Guanciale (cow cheek), onions, tomato sauce, wine, and lots and lots of Pecorino cheese.

Ancient Rome Sites - Colosseum, Imperial Forum, Arch of Constantine and Palatine Hill

A nice day trip when Rome gets crowded,  Ostia was a harbor city of ancient Rome at the mouth of the Tiber.  Earliest Ostia was 1400-400 BC.  During its hey-day Ostia was densely populated .  Walking through this city of ruins we found fascinating how much is still standing.  Pictured are baths, a theater, Richard is looking at the communal latrines and standing behind a bar ordering 5 beers.