Saturday, November 20, 2010

Europe: Part 2, Italia!

I meant to post this last weekend but staying true to form, my life remains ridiculously hectic.
It's actually been really nice to blog about Europe because it doesn't even feel like I went on vacation--real life quickly clouded my memories of the trip.

So, enough with the whining....

Firenze!

After spending four relaxing days in Amsterdam, I jetted off to Florence, Italy--first stop on the 2010 Italia Tour.

View from the top of Duomo Santa Maria Del Fiore

Now, I have a lot of Italian friends and just about every Italian I know told me that Florence is their favourite city in all of Italy.
And I can finally see why.

This city has the perfect mix of elegance, style and history yet it's so modern.  It is also home to the most incredible works of art on the face of the earth. 
The Neptune Fountain in the Palazzo Vecchio

If you thought you loved art before, you will be totally enamored with it once you visit Florence; art is everywhere...you can feel it, taste it, smell it buzzing around as you walk through the streets. 




I spent my second day in Florence in the two main museums; The Uffizzi and The Galleria dell'Academia, home to the David.
Now, this is one negative about Italy:  you can't take ANY pictures in the museums!!!  Ugh. 
The Galleria where David is located is guarded closely---security everywhere.  I witnessed a grown man being scolded by a security officer because he attempted to take a picture of David with his camera phone.  At that moment, I decided not to risk it and put my phone back in my purse.
Italian art security officers are badass.

The memories of what I saw (and I saw a lot of amazing art from Michelangelo to Botticelli to Carravagio) will just have to live in my memory.

The Galleria dell'Academia: I thought it was interesting that most of Florence's buildings and monuments are so eleborate but the most iconic piece of art in the world is housed in a simple building (an art school) on a crowded city street.

Images from the museum's photo gallery. 
David is a hottie.


Santa Croce: resting place of Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli...just to name a few.

On my last day in Florence, I decided it would be fun to walk up the steps of the Duomo. 

It didn't turn out to be that fun (500 steps!) but I did get some lovely pictures of Florence and Tuscany.  Plus, I burned so many calories that day, I allowed myself 2 gelato's instead of the typical one-a-day.




I love the sound of church bells.  I took a video as I was walking to the entrance of the Duomo, church bells ringing.
(It was a windy day and I'm no Spielberg so please forgive me)


video


The Palazzo Vecchio & the Ponte Vecchio (Florence's oldest bridge):

I just loved this area of the city, despite the crowds.  It really is extremely beautiful and well-preserved.

During WWII, some of the buildings around this bridge, on the right, were demolished.  However, the bridge remained untouched because Hitler loved it so much and ordered his troops to do as little damage as possible.  The fucker had taste.


The shops along the bridge were originally butcher shops but Cosimo I forced them to stop throwing the scraps of meat into the river because it was stinking up the city.  He then made a rule that only gold was allowed to be sold on the bridge because with gold, there is never any waste to worry about.  To this day, jewelry stores are the only kinds of shops permitted to sell on this bridge.


The Palazzo Vecchio (now city hall) & Piazza Della Signoria (an open-air scuplture gallery--some originals, some copies) house some of the most beautiful sculptures I've ever seen as well as Mr. Neptune (2nd pic from the top)

Check out the buns on this guy


A copy of David.  He's all over the city but the original is at the Academia.

My absolute favourite statue: a bronze Perseus.  A waiter in a resaurant nearby told me that the artist, Cellini, almost burned down his house making this statue.  Made me love it even more.


Of course, the first thing I did when I got to Italy was EAT. 
My first meal: a cheesy carb overload!


This pizzeria (Pizzeria Funiculi, via Il Prato) was a few blocks from my hotel--the Italian Gods were smiling down on me the night I arrived (very late) because I was starving and they were open late. 

I loved my time in Florence and I can't wait to go back.  I took so many photos so it was really difficult to narrow down for the blog.

So, I'm kind of obsessed with Michelangelo lately (Florence does this to you) and I'm currently on the hunt for the best biography.  If you've read any, please send me your recommendations! 



Venezia!

From Florence, I took a train to Venice which took about 2 hours--no time at all.  In fact, I'm glad I didn't fly in because the airport is off the island. (However, I did have to fly out of Venice to get to Rome)
The main train station in Venice (Santa Lucia Station) let's you off directly onto the island so it's a lot more convenient.

Now, some of you may want to stop reading this if you've always dreamed of going to Venice; I'm about to write some not-so-nice things about this city.

When I was a little girl, I used to admire this picture that my favourite, jett-setting Aunt had hanging in her bedroom.  It was of her, sitting at a cafe in Piazza San Marco in Venice, looking all 70's fabulous.  I used to dream of the day I could go to that same cafe, sit and drink coffee, look fabulous and feed the pigeons.
Then one day, Madonna decided to make a music video in Venice which only deepened my obsession with this city, blue spandex and lions.

So, imagine my surprise when I got to Venice and all I kept thinking about was how great Florence was and when I could get to Rome.
It was a bitter disappointment and I was so happy that I only booked 1.5 days.

First off, only go to this city if you like throwing your money away--it's stupid expensive.  And trust me; I'm not cheap, I'll spend my money but 80 euros for 40 minutes on a Gondola was even too steep for my lavish spending habits.  Oh, and then there was the water taxi to the airport; 100 euros for a 30 minute ride. Price gouging at it's absolute best.  Of course, it didn't help that the exchange rate was $1.40 CAD at the time.
I think my favourite rip-off was the 45 euro breakfast buffet in our hotel. 
Would rather go hungry, thank you.

Some other issues:
Piazza San Marco was not white.  Well, I guess it used to be sparkling white (how it appears in the movies) but when I was there, the walls were covered in this black stuff--probably pollution...?
(You can't really see it in this picture but you'll see it in the video coming up)


I think my biggest turn-off was the tackiness.  I felt like I was in Vegas---way too touristy and way too many restaurants displaying pictures of food.  I know what pasta looks like, you don't have to show me.  In fact, this is a clear indication to me that I should not be eating in your establishment.

And they had these guys selling fake designer handbags along the beautiful waterfront. 

Look how pretty it is?  Why would the city allow this?  So tacky.

However, it wasn't all bad.  This city does have it's charms....you just have to leave the touristy areas to find them.






And I did get to go to that same cafe that my Aunt went to...but I'm pretty sure she didn't have to pay $8 for a cup of coffee.


video

And I did happen to find a great pizzeria that served the best pizza I ever had in my entire life so I guess my time in Venice wasn't a total bust.



However, would I go back to Venice?  No. 
If I had to do it over again, I would have extended my stay in Florence and just do a Venice day trip---you can see most of this city in one day.


Next blog post: ROMA!




Saturday, November 6, 2010

Europe: Part 1

Since my Simon passed away, things haven't been easy and of course, my writing has suffered tremendously. 
I can't remember the last time I wrote a word towards my novel.  Sigh.
But, I'm slowly making my way back to the joy I used to feel for writing.  It didn't hurt that I took 2 weeks off in October to do a mini tour of Europe. 

I started my trip in Amsterdam and then on to Italy---> Florence, Venice & Rome ---> ending my tour in Paris. 
Five cities in two weeks = never again.  I'm too old for this shit but it was wonderful, nonetheless.

Amsterdam
I was a bit skeptical about going to Amsterdam only because I heard so many varying things about it over the years. 
I pictured a floating city with a bunch of weed-induced zombies having orgies. 
However, all skepticism went out the window the moment I laid eyes on it.

It's stunning.


I never thought a big city could be this relaxing....and no, I wasn't smoking!  I was sober.  And relaxed.  Imagine that?
I'm already thinking about my next trip there--that's how much I loved it.

What was my most favourite thing to do in Amsterdam?
Ask men for directions to The Red Light District.  They all blushed and claimed not to know where it was.  Ha! 

One of the best ways to relax in Amsterdam (other than smoking) is by taking a boat ride along the many canals.  It's also the best way to see the city.
I took two canal tours while I was there (4 days) and took some of the best photos of my life with my crappy little camera.







Can you see the world's narrowest house?

------

If you're a fan of The Diary of Anne Frank, a trip to Amsterdam isn't complete without seeing her home, now a museum.



It was very special to see and hear the surroundings that Anne described in her book.  I'll never forget this.
However, I was torn on taking photos as it made me feel insensitive, for lack of a better word.  It's difficult to describe the feeling.



This is my favourite picture because it was taken on my last day. I sat on that bench for a couple of hours and ate my lunch while enjoying the sun:

Check out my video--even the pigeons are relaxed in Amsterdam!

video


Next blog post: ITALIA!