Monday, July 27, 2009

Florence, Day 1

Our last morning in Rome, Scott and I got up early to catch our train to Florence, which means we were also up early enough to catch the "American Breakfast" at our hotel. It was quite a spread, including everything from bagels to a full salad bar. We considered telling the them that we never, ever eat from a salad bar for breakfast in America, but we decided to leave well enough alone.

After breakfast, we rode a very crowded bus to Termini, Rome's train station. We were there extremely early so after waiting for an hour, we boarded our train and headed to Florence. The train ride was fantastic. The farther we traveled out of Rome and the closer we got to the Tuscany region, the more ideal the scenery became. We passed typical Italian villas perched above grape vinyards, drives lived with tall green trees. We saw rolling hills, olive trees, and a small village clinging to the side of a cliff. I wish that there was a way to stop the train or make it slow down--there's no good way to take a photo on a train, so unfortunately I have no photos of what we saw on the train.

When we arrived in Florence, it was windy and rainy, a welcome change from the sweltering heat of Rome. Our hotel directions stated that it was "steps away" from the Santa Maria Novella train station, and we literally crossed the street and found our hotel within 5 minutes. We couldn't have been happier after our terrible experience trying to find our hotel in Rome. Our hotel was small, family-run, and didn't have air conditioning. Fortunately, they had a fan and huge windows that opened out over the street--and it was rainy and cool outside. Otherwise, I'm not sure Scott would have survived.

After checking in, we headed toward the Duomo and found the cutest little restaurant for lunch. The family that ran the restaurant was friendly and happy, and I must say that my chicken pesto pasta was fabulous.

After lunch, we headed to the Duomo, one of the main (free!) sights in Florence. The Duomo was once home to some of the greatest Renaissance art. The art has been moved across the street to the museum, but the Duomo itself is still quite impressive. The facade was covered with gaudy green, pink, and white Tuscan marble, done to celebrate the unification in Italy "back in the day." (I can't remember the year). Construction on the Duomo cathedral was begun in 1300 and wasn't finished until 1435. It was bulit with a hole in the roof awaiting a dome. No one had discovered the technology to build a dome, but in true Renaissance spirit, they were confident that someone would figure it out soon. And they did--Florentine arcitect Filippo Brunelleschi bulit the first Renassiance dome and the model for all domes to follow. When designing St. Peter's cathedral in Rome, Michelangelo referred to the dome saying, "I can bulit it's sister--bigger but not more beautiful."

(please excuse the black in the corner--it's been edited out of the original but decided to show back up)

You can climb the Duomo's dome and get some fantastic views of the city, but Scott and I opted not to wait in the line since it had started to rain. We darted across the street to the Duomo Museum where we saw some fascinating art--wood carving of Mary Magdelene with matted hair by Donatello, choir loft sculpted by Luca della Robbia, and my favorite, a late pieta by Michaelangelo. A pieta is an artistic representation of Mary holding the crucified body of Jesus after He had been taken from the cross. (The most famous is Raphael's in St. Peter's) Nicodemus at the top of the sculpture is a self-portrait of the artist. It's rough and unfinished in places but it's a beautiful piece and one of my favorites.

After the museum, it was still raining, so Scott and I took that as a sign that it was nap-time. After our nap, we headed out with Scott in the lead--we were in the hunt for some live music. Scott wanted more than anything to hear some live music in Europe, so after a visit to the very helpful Tourist Information center, we headed out to the local box office, only to find that they didn't open for another hour.

My favorite thing about Florence was is peacefulness. It was calm, the people were kind, and the city is totally walkable--no need for public transportation! So after our trip to the box office, we headed back to the center of town, following the river. Florence lines the Arno River and it is such a picturesque place. It feels like classic Italy. Rome is modern and spawling, but in Florence you are in true, Tuscan Italy.
After wandering along the river, we headed back to the box office and purchased tickets for that evenings performance--an orchestra! We then set out for dinner and found a gorgeous little restaurant on a side street with some of the best pizza I have ever put in my mouth. We then headed to the hotel to change into our "nice clothes," which was really wasn't that nice, considering that we were living out of carry on bags.

Scott was completely entralled by the orchestra. They were fantastic and it was truly one of the highlights of our time in Italy. I've never seen a happier man that Scott after the concert--that was the one "souvenir" that he wanted from whole trip.

After the performance, we wandered along the Arno, looking for some gelato. We didn't find any (it was too late) but the views were gorgeous.

I thought this little couple was precious. They were out for an evening stroll and greeted us very kindly when we passed them. For some reason, this photo struck a chord with me--it's one of my favorites from the trip.

We wandered for awhile, then walked back to the hotel. We'd had a fantastic first day in Florence and were going to see some of the most famous art in the world the following day.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Seaside and Senior Pictures

Back in January, I was asked to donate an item for the Senior Auction. I donated a photography session for the silent auction, not expecting anyone actually want to bid on my item. I was so excited to find out that someone actually did bid on my item, and I was even more excited to find out it was my BFF Debs!

Debbie and I got to know each other this school year through our many, many emails regarding Junior/Senior Prom. Debbie is the mom of Susan, one of my (now) Seniors and truth be told, Prom would not have happened without her help and organization. I was honored that she wanted me to take Susan's Senior pictures, and I'm sure I'm not worth near the amount she paid at the auction! 

Susan wanted beach pictures, so we picked a free day that we could drive down to Seaside. If you haven't seen Seaside in the summer, you need to. It's beautiful, pristine, and the perfect backdrop for photos. On this particular day, there was one particular problem: it was HOT. I stepped out of car and immediately had a heat stroke. Okay, maybe that isn't the complete truth, but I seriously considered jumping in the ocean fully clothed. Despite the heat and a whiny, sweaty, crazed photographer, Sue was such a great sport. She even changed clothes and took more photos after passing out in the gelato shop! (true story) 

After all the pictures and medical drama, Debbie, Susan, and myself stumbled into the Donut Hole, a little diner in Destin before heading home. I wasn't completely lucid because of my earlier heat stroke, so I accidently bought a danish, two apple cinnamon muffins, and a cake donut. Some of it made it home.

Here are some of my favorite shot. Sue, you are so photogenic! Next time, please don't pass out on me. 

Friday, July 10, 2009

Rome at Night

Rome is a beautiful place to be at night. All the main sights are lit up and there is a  gelateria  everywhere you look. Here are some of my favorite photos from my favorite time of day in Rome. 

Trevi Fountain

At the Four Rivers Fountain in Piazza Navonna.
Four Rivers Fountain
I don't know whose these girls are but I thought it would be a good photo. Hope they don't mind. 
Four Rivers Fountain
Campo di Fiori. 

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Rome, Day 3

This morning, we managed to take the bus on the right side of the street, which means it only took us 30 minutes to get to the city center instead of 2 hours. Nice! Since we didn't leave our hotel until 11, the first thing that we did was eat lunch at good 'ol McDonalds, like any good American tourists.  

After lunch, we headed out to St. Paul's Outside the Walls (that's the official name, seriously), the church built over the body of St. Paul. It was a beautiful church, with nothing exceptional to note besides the actual tomb, directly under the high altar. 

After our visit to St. Paul's, we headed over to the Protestant Cemetery. For a long time, protestants were not allowed to be buried inside the city walls of Rome, so they established their own exclusive cemetery. Now it's run by private owners and family members of the deceased. They were SO excited to have visitors and they were very kind. 
We really enjoyed our time in the cemetery. It was peaceful, beautiful, shady, and far away from the hoards of tourists at the more famous sights. My kind husband saw the groundskeeper picking up pinecones so he picked up a few himself and took them would have thought it was Christmas morning! 
We also saw the grave of Keats and Shelley. This is Keats, who wanted an unmarked grave inscribed with the words, "Here lies one whose name was writ in water." I took this picture in honor of my British Lit class and my brilliant professor, Mrs. Sikes. (Oh, for a draught of vintage...)
Moving on to our next tourist attraction, we headed over to San Giovanni Church, home of the Holy Stairs. The stairs are supposedly the same that were climbed by Jesus and were brought from Jerusalem to Rome by Constantine's mother, Helena. You are only allowed to climb the Holy Stairs on your knees and there were many signs with strict instructions in several languages. Neither Scott nor I climbed the stairs (I personally thought it was one of the stranger things that we'd seen) but it was interesting to watch. For some people, it was obviously a very significant moment in their spiritual life and the overall mood in the building was very solemn. 
After this we were quite tired, so decided to slowly make our way back to my favorite dinner spot, Campo di Fiori. We had a lovely dinner on the square and once it was dark, we headed back to the Colosseum so that I could take night pictures. 

The Colosseum after dark is spectacular and we spent awhile there people watching and eating some gelato. We were sad to leave such a beautiful city, but we were truly exhausted and looking forward to the more peaceful city of Florence. 

In saying goodbye to Rome, we thought it would be good to document the bathroom at our hotel. Here we have Toilet #1......

...and Toilet #2? Apparently we need two. And it's not a normal toilet. It's a toilet....with a faucet. I remember the confusion when I first got to Spain because it's a Europe-wide trend. We were all at the school the next morning asking each other, "I have two toilets. Do you? Which one is which? Which one do you use? etc." It was rather confusing to us Americans who have had to muddle through life with just one toilet in our bathrooms. One of our professors explained the function of the Mysterious 2nd Toilet, but I really can't remember what she said. I think it's intended to wash your feet. If it is, I came pretty close. I used it to rinse off my shoes every night. 
And finally, the bathtub-type thing. This was our shower/water-park adventure. You get in, sit down, shut the door, and pull the lever to lock yourself in. It's a little like the Log Ride at Six Flags. You know you're going to get wet, you just don't know what is going to get wet. It was a bizarre experience, but good for a laugh at the end of the day. 

The next morning we were headed to Florence....and hoping for a normal shower! 

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Rome, Day 2

A brand new day has so much potential, right? That's what Scott and I were thinking as we left our hotel that morning. We'd slept in and were headed out to do touristy things around 10:45 am, armed with the specific instructions from our hotel as to how to get to the metro station. 

We read: "Take a left out of hotel drive. Take bus 508." Got it. 

We met a very kind couple from Spain as we were walking down the drive headed to the stop. They asked if we knew how to get to the metro station and we very confidently assured them that we needed to take bus 508. Before we even reached the bus stop, we spotted a 508 coming over the hill. We all very excitedly waved the bus down, climbed on board, and.....headed in the opposite direction from the city. I looked at Scott nervously, still paranoid from our experiences from the day before, but he assures me with, "It's okay. I'm sure we'll turn around up here somewhere."

Well, we did turn around. Only, we turned around after TWO HOURS OF RIDING THE BUS THROUGH THE ROMAN SUBURBS. You see, upon closer examination of the directions from the hotel, we discover that our instructions actually read, "Cross the street at the end of the drive. Take a left to the 508 bus stop." 

Ooops. We kind of overlooked that whole "cross the street" part. Apparently, there was a 508 bus stop on both sides of the street. We were supposed to take the one on the opposite side of the street, actually headed in the direction of the city. And the bad thing is, we brought the poor Spanish couple down with us....we were so sure that we knew what to do! They kind of stopped talking to us toward the end of our 2 1/2 hour ride through the suburbs. In fact, they moved seats, to the back of the far away from us as they could get. 

After that spectacular joyride and diplomatic nightmare, we were finally at the metro station and on our way to the Colosseum. As soon as you exit the metro station, you are practically at the entrance to the sight, but after our little detour, we were famished. So, we pulled out our handy Rick Steves guidebook to find a recommended restaurant in the area. About a block away we found Della Casa Estudiante, a nice little family-run restaurant with outdoor seating. Scott was dying of thirst, so he ordered the "large Coca-Cola."

This is what he got. Look at that face. Have you ever seen a happier man? Forget that we paid 8 euro for was a lot of Coke and that meant he could drink as much as he wanted. In fact, I had to help him finish it. Because, according to the Law Of Scott, we CANNOT waste Coke. 

Scott also learned a valuable Italian vocabulary lesson at this restaurant. In Italian, sausage and cheese antipasti does NOT mean "pasta with sausage and cheese." It apparently translates to "plate of sliced hot dog, bologna, and cheese." I've got to admit, Scott's face was pretty priceless when she brought him this plate. 

I had a good laugh over it. He struggled to eat it, poor guy. The kind waitress brought him a bottle of ketchup and a bottle of mayonaise to help him out, but it was to no avail. Let's just say that Scott won't be ordering "antipasti" anytime soon. 

This is the arch of Titus, as seen from the second level of the Colosseum. This arch was built by Constantine, marking his victory to become the Roman Emperor. It also marked the beginning of the legalization of Christianity.

The Colosseum is a sobering and fascinating place. Many, many people lost their lives in this arena. Walking through the stadium was a reminder of how incredibly blessed I am. 

Below the floor of the arena, where the stone columns are today, used to be mechanical elevators and lifts used to hoist animals and people into the arena. 

A pope in the 1500's took pity on the crumbling auditorium and began it's restoration. Since the decline of Rome, the stadium had been abandoned, used as apartments, and even as a church. This pope also erected this cross in honor of the Christians that lost their lives here. 

After the Colosseum, we headed across the street to Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum. Palatine Hill was the area where the emperors, senators, and other important people built their palaces. The Forum was the political, religious, and economic center of Rome. It as the place for parades, important speeches, religious ceremonies, elections, etc. Scott and I listened to our handy Rick Steve's Forum Tour on our iPods. It was informative...and free!

After some time in the Forum, we were climbed the stairs on the far end of the Forum, and ended up on street level. We were trying to find the St. Peter in Chains Church, but couldn't find the entrance. I was quite sure I had found the right door and began walking up the stairs to....the Rome Mayors Office. Thank you to Scott who saw what I was trying to do and saved me from much embarrassment and possible arrest. 

Instead of the church, we headed to the Maritime Prison where Peter and Paul were imprisoned. It was tiny, damp, and smelled of mildew. It was remarkable and humbling to see where these two men were in chains for Christ and it was a humbling experience to see the horrible conditions in which they were kept. 

After visiting the prison and the tiny chapel above it, we headed to the Pantheon. The Pantheon is fantastic...mostly because it was a nice shady place to sit for a while. 

From here, after sitting in the Pantheon for awhile and deciding what to do for dinner, we headed over to my favorite place in all of Rome, Campo di Fiori. It's a piazza lined with restaurants and shops and around twilight it starts to fill with people. After dark it's completely magic--musicians, flower vendors, children, food, gelato--perfect. We decided to do dinner here, then begin the "Night Walk Across Rome," as outlined in our guidebook by Rick. 

We ate dinner in Campo di Fiori at Ristorante Carbonara. It was lovely, with great views of the square and the all the action. The pasta was good too! 

From dinner, we wandered around the square for a few minutes, then headed over to our next stop on our night walk, Piazza Navonna, home of the Four Rivers Fountain by Bernini and the world famous Death-by-Chocolate. 

The Four Rivers Fountain represents the four main rivers known at that time: the Nile, the Ganges, the Danube, and the Rio de Plata. The fountain is beautiful with tons of minute detail....even a sculpture of an armadillo. 

It was here that I got my Death by Chocolate tartufo ice cream. I wish I had a picture of it, but I don't. I ate it rather quickly, and let me just say, Sweet Mary that stuff was good. I got a double chin just from eating one serving. 

After our ice cream/gelato break, we headed over to the Trevi Fountain. Truly a masterpiece and powered by an aqueduct, it's the place to go if you want to be haggled by rose vendors and see lots of teenagers make out. 

It really is quite beautiful and you can hear the water rushing from a block away, but unfortunately, it's almost too crowded to enjoy. We found a quiet spot on the right side, took a few pictures, and headed to the Spanish Steps, our last stop on our night walk. 

The Spanish Steps get their name because they lead up to the Spanish Ambassador to the Vatican and have been around for over 300 years. Apparently any good Romantic came here for some inspiration: Keats, Wagner, Byron, etc. 

It was pretty, but it there's not much to see except....stairs. We took our pictures and headed for the metro for our long journey to the hotel, completely exhausted. 

And that's Day 2. It's worn me out just re-living this through my journal and pictures. It's no wonder that I slept 24 of the first 48 hours that I was home!