Thursday, July 11, 2013

Florence - Science, Art, Food, and Culture!

After staying up late in a largely unsuccessful search to find CouchSurfing hosts, we SLEPT IN!  Woo hoo!  This was the first time since we left on holiday that we were able to sleep in.  I felt like a fox in a henhouse.  (Ha ha - did you catch my chicken joke?)

When we luxiouriously rolled out of bed and finished our complimentary hotel breakfast, we headed to the Galileo Museum.  We had stumbled past it a previous day and we knew we had to drop in when we both said, "Ooooooh!"

The museum focused more on the scientific discoveries that Galileo made than the man himself.  There were a few works and tools actually crafted by Galileo himself, but many more made by his rivals and contemporaries.  This clock was my absolute favorite - it not only kept track of time, but also the months and the earth's position.

Galileo is considered to be the father of modern science.  In a time when most science was outlawed and something done in secret, he took the first steps to separate it from philosophy and religion.  Below are some of the early navigation/surveying tools inspired by Galileo's work.

After the Galileo museum, we decided to head up to Piazzale Michelangelo as we were told it was a beautiful stop with a great view.  We were warned, though, that there were a number of stairs.  A good hike doesn't scare us, so off we went.  We passed right by the piazza, thinking it was instead a parking lot, and trekked up to the Basilica di San Miniato al Monte.  We thought the views were even nicer from there.  The area features many lovely, well-kept spots for picnics as well.  We took this picture of us with Florence in the background.

Below is a view with the edge of Florence on the right and an old wall running through the middle of the picture.  In the end, we returned to the piazza, looked at bronze David, and hiked down to find a picnic spot.  I tried to make friends with some birds because I miss my chickens, but it wasn't so effective.  We did have a good time watching two different species of ambitious ants try to haul off our bread crumbs and play tug-of-war to determine the faction that got some of the prized crumbs.

Returning to our hotel, we continued our catch-up blogging efforts and attempts to find a CouchSurfing host.  We gave up on finding one in Rome and booked a hotel.  We headed out to get dinner with another CS traveler named Soyoung.  We compared American and Korean culture.  At some point, we got on the subject of engagement/weddings and both ranted and raved a bit.  We all perceive some cultural traditions as a bit silly and excessive.

The next morning held another walking field trip near Piazzale Michelangelo.  We did learn the previous day that getting up late when you're in an air conditioned room leads to a bit of a temperature shock when it's almost 90 by the time you get outside.  We visited Palazzo Pitti which, in my estimation, was a concrete jungle.  The just poured concrete where they could have put lovely shrubs or flowers.  Disappointed, we continued on to the Boboli Garden.  We got to the gate, peered inside, and decided the price of admission probably wasn't worth the stroll.  Undaunted, we happily returned to our hotel to take care of some business.

In the afternoon, we talked to the Visitor's Information Center to meet up for The Taste of Tuscany Tour through Italy on a Budget.  These tours target the 18-35 crowd and we had a marvelous time.  Our guide was absolutely hilarious, giving a blunt and detailed look into the everyday culture of Italy.  We also learned about historic and current rivalries in Italy as well as a few hand gestures.  Italians quite literally talk with their hands!  Our first stop was the town of Monteriggioni.  Population 42, it has been carefully preserved since the Midde Ages to retain its original look.

Last year, Monteriggioni got its first ATM and it was quite a to-do.  The town's preservation efforts definitely paid off.  However, since Kelly was not in period costume and was therefore upsetting the preservation efforts, I did have to throw him in the stocks!

Personally, I was beside myself.  We paid a couple of Euros each to walk the walls of the town.  I had previously commented that I had a good feeling for how the fabulously wealthy lived in the Middle Ages, but I really wanted to see an example of what the common folk might experience.  We also got to watch a thunderstorm grumble and flash on the horizon, further delighting me as it was the second one of our trip!
The next stop was Siena, a town built across three hills.  It looks like a cluttered mess due to the hills, but it is your typical old Italian town - narrow cobblestone alleys with beautiful construction.  We didn't have long in Siena and we spent most of it selecting and consuming some delicious pastries.  (Yes, I had to question the buffet table.  Thoroughly.)  It was a charming little place I'd love to return to.
On the way to our next destination, we pulled off the road for a better look at the countryside and a few pictures.  We were in the Chianti region of Tuscany, world-renowned for its Chianti wine.  During our drive, our guide also taught us a little Italian toasting song.  (Be forewarned, roommates, we will be singing this together when Kelly and I are back!)
We arrived at Sant'Agnese Vineyard where we met one of the proprietors for a tour.  He asked where each of us were from.  When we mentioned we were from Oregon, his response was, "They have the best pinot noir!"  Oregon was the only locale to get a compliment and, of course, as a native and loyal Oregonian, my heart melted.  This farm is biologico, or bio, the European equivalent of organic.  Along with chianti wines, they also produce honey, essential oils, marinara sauce, truffle oil, and balsamic vinegar.

After we saw the farm and the cellars, we got to participate in a tasting.  I'd call it a wine tasting, but it was much more.  Naturally, since I don't drink, my photo is of the food.  Samples were offered of three wines, an olive oil, a honey, a tomato sauce, and two balsamic vinegars.  I really enjoyed participating in this tasting, even it I did get a hard time for not sampling the wines.  One of the balsamic vinegars starts in a typical barrel (about 60 gallons) and over an aging process of 30 years, winds up in about a one gallon barrel.  We tried this vinegar, practically syrup, on ice cream.  Wow!

After the tasting was complete and many of the participants emptied their pocket books, we continued to our final destination.  A farmhouse that happened to belong to our tour guide's grandfather, a retired farmer.  We sat on his porch as he prepared a traditional Italian meal (we had appetizers and first course) in his own kitchen.  The wine he made from his grapes was passed freely at the table.  The farmer, Gianni, didn't speak a word of English and was as welcoming and warm as a favorite grandparent.  Relaxing in the Tuscan countryside, I couldn't help but reflect on the fact that this would never occur in the US due to food safety standards, but I wouldn't trade the experience for the world.  Below, you'll find a photo of us well fed and cozy with Gianni!
We rode back to Florence and strolled back to our hotel room, happy as a pair of clams.  My only regret about the tour is that Italy on a Budget doesn't operate in Rome.  What a memorable day!
The next morning, and our last full day in Florence, we woke up with a "Happy Anniversary!"  Yep, that's right, three wonderful years of marriage already!  We took breakfast then walked to the Galleria delle Accademia, learning that we finally had the correct tickets!  No photos were permitted, but we had a wonderful time looking at all the art.  I'd never had much of an opportunity to compared the work of Michelangelo and Donatello, but based on the pieces in this museum, Michelangelo makes Donatello look like an amateur.  (Don't worry Donatello, you'll always be my favorite Ninja Turtle!)
After the museum, we did a tiny bit more shopping.  We stopped by the hotel room for a quick drop off and change as I'd made us reservations for a nice anniversary lunch.  We went to Cantinetti Antinori based on high ratings online.  We hadn't yet found food that was equal or better than the food at Trattoria Sbandati in Bend.  Unfortunately, this restaurant did not beat it.  It was a very fancy restaurant and the food was good, but the price to quality ratio was a bit off, in my opinion.  The waiter also never brought me my soda (to his credit, he did not charge me for it either) and never brought the check when I asked for it.  Kelly and I never quite figured out if there was a language barrier or he simply paid more attention to Kelly's words.

We once again returned to the hotel room, attempting to catch up on blogging.  During this time, we got mostly packed up as well since we were leaving for Rome in the morning.  At about 7:45, we headed out to attend Kasia's farewell appertivo.  She was the CouchSurfer from the gelato/rooftop tour who had studied in Florence but was returning to Poland the next day.  We considered skipping it to spent a little more time together on our anniversary, but ultimately decided that this was a great opportunity and representative of the reason we traveled these many miles.  We did not regret this decision!  We ate, drank, and laughed with people from Poland, Canada, Austria, Germany, Italy, and Korea.  At least half the group met through CouchSurfing.  This has been my favorite part of our trip - Europe is a beautiful place where a multitude of cultures come together to share, understand, and enjoy each other.  Here is an early picture - the number of people eventually doubled.

Good news!  We are actually caught up!  We traveled to Rome today and will report soon!  Much love to everyone!



1 comment:

  1. So glad your having a great time, I love reading your blog, I look each day to see if there is anything new. Love ya both, Mom