A Little Wine Tasting…

Today was an ordinary day. I really am a local now. I go to the market and buy a few potatoes and one gorgeous porcini mushroom. Then off to the bakery for one roll – venti cinque (25 cents). I had already picked up some burro and latte (butter and milk) so I was able to make…. heaven help me… mashed potatoes!

If you had asked me anytime in the past 30 years what my favorite food is I would have replied, “pizza” or “pasta” or “lasagne” for sure. But now that I’ve been away from home for more than a month, all I want is a POTATO! Believe it or not, I miss potatoes! Must be an Ohio thing…

So I made mashed potatoes and cooked up some leftover roast beef. I had gotten the beef in a restaurant. Not once, but twice. Florentine beef is a specialty here so I figured it would be good. And because I’m anemic, I CRAVE beef.

Hrrmpphh. It did no good for the waiter to ask me how I liked my beef. I said “medium” but that is not what I got – either time. What I got was RARE, RARE, RARE. I’m talking just go out in a field and stick a fork in the cow because this stuff was still on the hoof. Not rare… it was BLUE, which I know (thanks to watching Food Network) means RAW!!!

So both times I ate around the edges and took the rest home. And I stuck it in the oven for a while to actually cook and it came out wonderful – especially with mashed potatoes. I am a happy camper!

So after my lunch of beef and potatoes, I did a bit of drawing and time on the internet (yes, I’m totally hooked) and then had to go out for a walk. I thought of the wine bar MB and I had stopped at last Sunday and decided to head there with my sketchbook.

The bar is Enoteca Calasto, just across from San Giovanni Church, and only serves local wines. They are so passionate about it that they also offer for sale the book “Lucca Wine Treasures” – which is the winner of the Gourmand Book Award 2010 for Best Wine Book in Italy. They even offer a copy of the book to look at while you taste the wines, so I asked for one to peruse.

I ordered the 3-wine tasting and asked if it was white or red. “Neither,” replied the waiter, “we usually serve a white, a rose and a red.” “Well, that’s perfect,” I replied. “That’s just what I would like to try.”

ImageAnd so the white came out. Along with a small tray of chips, green olives and red pepper stuffed with a tuna pate. Yum.

The waiter showed me the bottle and directed me to the chapter in the book that dealt with this wine. How wonderful to read about the history of the vineyard and the winemaker and the varietal itself!

This is “Malie” from Valle del Sole. It is a white composed of 40% grechetto, 40% vermentino and 20% malvasia and chardonnay. At least that’s what the waiter told me and I took a photo of it in the book for reference. Supposedly it has “vegetal sensations of holly, sage and chamomile followed by green apple and exotic fruit.”

I don’t know about all that, but it was light and refreshing – and very apple-y – so I liked it.

ImageNext was the rose. This varietal was from the local vineyard Buonamico. It consists of the local sangiovese grapes blended with caniaolo and syrah. It is a “rose pink with ruby hightlights and an intense bouquet of cherry notes.”

Hmmm. That’s not what I got. I thought it was completely tasteless. There was no aroma when you lifted the glass to your nose and although it had the taste of alcohol, it was bland and lifeless to me. After I read the description I slurped some more and tried to imagine cherries. I almost got them – but only to the degree that if you took cherry koolaid and watered it down about times ten. That’s all the cherry I could taste. And I was imagining pretty hard…

ImageFinally, the red. A Bernicchi from vineyard Maria Theresa. This one had fragrance and taste to spare. The aroma when you held it to your nose was deeply fruity – like the most purple delights available. I tried to narrow it down in my mind, but I’m not all that good at this. All I could think was black currents, but that didn’t seem right.

But the bouquet was wonderful and that tannin taste (which I am always aware of in a red) was sitting well. So I turned to the page in the book that described this wine.

It is a combo of cabernet savignon and cabernet franc (whatever that means). It has an intense ruby red color and a bouquet of blueberries, prunes and spice. I immediately could sense the prunes and spice. But blueberries? Hmmm…. need a few more tastes. I swizzled and held it in my mouth to explore it, but it took several more sips to imagine blueberries. Possibly they add a bit of sweetness to the mix? Not sure – and I am heavily influenced by the description. But it was a lovely red and one of the best I’ve tasted while here. MB might want to try it!

ImageSo that was part of my late lunch. I came back to the apartment and had some leftovers and got back on the computer for a while. Then I did a few sketches and tried to get something accomplished art-wise. Here is a sketch of my favorite leather store which is right below my apartment. Anna Maria, the proprietor, is one of the first people I met in Lucca. She is as sweet as they come and her family has been in the leather business for many years. After a look around, I have decided it is the best leather shop in Lucca. It is isn’t cheap – but it isn’t expensive either.

So they are making me a custom sketchbook and pencil case with my monogram on it. It will be ready on Saturday morning and I can’t wait! My current sketchbook is now full and I wanted to get one from Anna Maria. But all the ones the right size did not have the right paper in them. So they are making me the size I want with the paper I want. Fabulous!

Anna Maria loved the sketch and has already uploaded it to her facebook account for the business. How fun to be part of the life a business in Italy!

Ciao, everyone! More later!

Flying Solo Again

It’s hard to believe I have been in italy for over a month now. For me, time is suspended and I am living a different life. But I think it is happening in stages…

First there was the overwhelming rush of just being in an unfamiliar culture. Everything from the environment to the language is jarring and unsettling. There’s nothing to grab on to as customary and routine.You have the feeling of being on vacation.

Then, after a while in one place, you start to recognize landmarks and little driveways where you turn to go “home” and you get into the pattern of things. It doesn’t feel normal, of course, but every few days you become more accustomed.

Now, after a month, I don’t really understand much more italian but it isn’t so strange to my ear. The lilt and cadence seem warm and welcoming and not so “foreign.” And I am much more willing to try out my few words on waiters and shopkeepers – many of whom actually speak english. No matter – I want to absorb la bella lingua as much as I can.

Yesterday was Sunday (Domenica) – Mary Beth’s last full day here. It was a bittersweet day as we decided what to do.

ImageThe first decision was easy. We had putzed the whole morning and were starving, so we went back down the street to our friend, the pizza maker Michele. MB ordered the same mushroom pizza again and I got the lasagne. Both were delicious. And MB would have eaten her whole pizza but she saw me staring at it and saved me a piece! Michele spent a lot of time chatting with us – and wants MB to find him some real estate in the US where he can open an authentic Italian restaurant. He seemed to know a lot about market conditions and locations, so I think he is really interested!

Since we were only a block from the apartment, we ducked back in to drop off leftovers and re-group. We had heard there was an “antique fair” near Napoleon square, so that was our next destination.

ImageWe found it right away and it turned out to be quite massive. It went on for blocks and blocks and the dealers did have a lot of antiques. If you were wanting to furnish an old residence with authentic pieces, (and had the funds!), it would be a treasure trove.

But really, I would call it more of a flea market – and the prices were pretty high. I had thought it would be fun to pick up some small piece that you could take home and later say, “oh that? I got that at a flea market in Italy…”

ImageWell, I actually did find one bargain just when I thought I wouldn’t. We were at a textile booth and I had been drawn in by the sweetest baby dress that would be gorgeous on my youngest granddaughter – but it turned out to be 65 euro. Drats. So when I saw a pretty old table linen I didn’t think it would be in my price range. MB saw me admiring it and took it over to the dealer.

“Quanto costa?” she asked. “Cinque” was the reply. I looked at MB in amazement. “50?” I asked. “No – 5!” replied MB. “That can’t be right,” I retorted. “Ask him again.”

“Cinque” he said. Well I ’bout broke my arm getting my change purse out. Holy smokes! 5 euros for this little beauty? It’s mine! Now when I come back to Ohio and I have it casually draped on the table and someone says, “oh, that’s nice” I can say… “Oh that? I got that at a flea market in Italy…” (like that’s something I do all the time!) And I know that of everyone I know, Nicole will appreciate it…

At any rate, I was having a time getting around. Usually it is my feet giving me grief, but today it was my middle back as well. I stopped, I stretched, I stood in place and rotated my shoulders until everything cracked repeatedly. I stood it as long as I could and finally told MB we had to do a wine and advil stop – but this time for my back. She obliged.

ImageThis time, however, we had wandered to an area of Lucca we hadn’t seen before and landed in a wine bar. On the menu they had several tastings available: wine, olive oil, cheese and/or honey. I’ve never seen a honey tasting before! We decided to taste the pecorino cheese varieties and have a glass of wine each. (With advil for me.)

The cheeses were surprisingly fresh and good. The walnuts and grapes were a nice palate freshener. And then the honey… MB tasted it first and almost gagged. I was shocked at her reaction and thought she surely must be exaggerating. Honestly, how bad can honey be?

Well, it’s a good thing I took a very small taste based on her feedback. It was smooth and thick, like the texture of honey you are used to. Then the taste settled in. I almost gagged, too. How can honey taste like gasoline? And coat your taste buds like a cloak?

Geez o’ pete it is one of the worst things I ever tasted in my life! What the heck was it? I told MB we had to find out just so we could be sure never to taste it again by mistake!

When the waiter came back I asked. He had to go check. It turned out we were randomly given one of three honey choices they carry: Orange Blossom, Chestnut, or Lime Blossom. This was Lime Blossom, also known as Miele di Tiglio.

Now I can’t imagine Orange or Chestnut being objectionable, but I’m almost glad we got the Lime. Now we know to stay far away from it. Far, far away…

After that break we wandered through a lot more of the antique fair and made our way back to our own neighborhood. Things were very lively. The locals all seem to come out on Sunday evening to stroll and the crowds were shoulder to shoulder in the streets.

But the thing is, this is the beginning of the low season, so I am very surprised at the crowds on the streets on the weekends. What must this be like in mid-summer when the tourists are at a peak? I really don’t think I could tolerate it!

ImageWe see tourist groups many times a day whenever we’re out. And I am always so glad I am not in one!

I’m sure it is a great way to travel, but for some reason it just turns me off. You see the leader of the group walking along with a headset and microphone on and carrying some sort of stick like a drum major. There is a flower or a flag or some chach-kee on top, which looks ridiculous, and a huge group follows behind like a herd of cattle. They crowd around each attraction, listen to a canned spiel, and shuffle on to the next thing.

ImageI don’t know if it’s me or them, but just the sight of those groups makes me want to run screaming in the other direction. I know I am probably missing a lot and I do get turned around when I’m exploring, but I think I prefer that to being so regimented. I’m afraid that all I would think in a group like the one above – who are viewing the Puccini statue – is how I could escape and find a cafe and order a mezzo litro of vino bianco all for myself. And get out my sketchbook and draw the Puccini statue – which I did the other night when MB and I had dinner at the cafe right beside it. Moreover, it is a small cafe – that whole group couldn’t even crowd in there for dinner! What a waste!

This isn’t the best photo of the sketch as it is dark right now and I can’t scan it flat, but you get the idea.

At any rate, MB’s visit to Lucca has come to an end. We had a lovely dinner on her last night and talked about all the things we have done while she was here. We started out asking each other what our favorite thing of the trip so far was, but neither one of us could narrow it down. There’s just been too many different and varied experiences that could only happen in Italy and you can’t pick just one. It’s like trying to say one of your children is your favorite – you simply can’t do it because each one is so individual.

But what a gift it has been to spend the time together. And not just any time any where – time in Italy, which we both feel a particular passion for. Neither of us knows why – we just do. And being here has confirmed it immensely and not dimmed the expectations in any way.

Traveling (for pleasure) in general is always wonderful because it is living intensified. You are so aware of everything around you because it is a new perspective. There’s always a potential adventure – maybe even a disaster – around the corner. You can get a meal that you enjoy and find memorable – or you can taste the worst honey in the world. You just never know – but either option is fine when it is part of the journey.

So MB is on a plane on her way back to Ohio. Now she’ll have jet lag in reverse. And I’m here rattling around in the apartment by myself, flying solo again.

Either way, I’m having the time of my life…

Aside

Another Saturday in Lucca

This is MB’s 2nd Saturday in Lucca and my 3rd, so we’re feeling pretty at home these days. MB will be leaving soon but I have another week or so here and have to make other plans. This morning we got up and putzed around just like we were at home. MB did laundry and I made coffee and cursed at the computer.

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My favorite butcher shop

But I had been up early and made a plan. I figured it was a good day to get painting so we should take a picnic up on the ramparts and I could paint and MB could do whatever she liked. I was out at the markets just after 8 and picked up some parma ham, fresh bread, cheese and fruit. I really wanted some sort of quiche or frittata but didn’t find it. All the Italians like to eat for breakfast is sweets!

The parma ham came from my favorite butcher shop down the street. This older couple work there day and night – speak only Italian – and take very good care of me. What a delight to shop where you know the owners…

MB was all for the plan and helped pack up the painting gear.  By the time we got ready to go we wanted something hot to eat, so we stopped at a shop nearby that advertises the “best pizza in Lucca.” The owner, Michele, was very taken with us and offered to make us anything we wanted to “take away”. MB ordered a mushroom pizza.

Michele wanted to know all about us so I got out the sketchbook and we had a lively discussion about staying in Italy to paint. He told us to stop in the store for anything we need – restroom, directions, help of any kind. And I do think I’ll go back to try his lasagne. I saw it in a pan there and it looked awfully good!

ImageSo up on the ramparts we went and got all set up. I found a spot where I could sit and paint – which may not be the most productive position, but certainly the most comfortable. MB brought her journal and ended up staying with me the whole time. I thought she would take off to roam or walk or shop but she didn’t. I think this reflective Italian lifestyle is agreeing with us both!

ImageIt didn’t take me long to get something down on the canvas. Here’s a quick peek at an early stage…

All was well for a couple hours. We worked on our projects and countless people slowed down to take a look. The farther I got along on the painting, the more people tended to stop. But then, just as I was going to wrap up because the light had changed so much, a man pushing a toddler boy in a stroller pulled up. I greeted him with a smile and thought he would make a comment or two and move on.

Wrong!

Geez o’ Pete, this was a new experience. He wanted to give me advice about the painting but he didn’t speak any English. At first I tried to communicate with him and I quickly knew what he was saying. He wanted me to put the background buildings farther in the background (lantano! he was shouting) and put more strength in the foreground (forte! forte!) And I fully intended to do that, but I wasn’t quite that far along.

So I thanked him and tried to turn away – and he wouldn’t leave. More italian. More gesturing. He completely ignored the baby in the buggy. MB started groaning under her breath.

Still I was patient, but then he picked up one of my brushes and started to make marks on the canvas. I totally understood what he was saying, but he completely ignored my pleas of “non finito!” Both MB and I were beginning to come unglued.

Grazie! A presto! I implored. (Thank you! See you soon!) No good. He’s still gesturing and shouting. The toddler isn’t making a peep and I’m wishing he’ll start throwing some sort of fit. No such luck.

Finally, after a good half hour or more, the guy went back to his grandson and began walking away. MB and I could not pack up fast enough!

Lord sakes, I’ve never had that happen before and it was almost enough to keep me off the Lucca wall for some time. I sure hope we don’t run into him again soon. I much prefer the pizza guy who was sweet on us and gave us extra mushrooms on our pizza.

After a bit of a break back at the apartment we were quite anxious to get out and going again. It is VERY lively around here on Saturday night and it just seemed like excitement was in the air. We didn’t have any special plans, but we took off to see what was going on around town.

ImageWe came upon a beautiful music store with a row of guitars hung on the wall and a couple gorgeous violins in the window. Eye candy for sure. Seeing the guitars made both of us think of our boys back home so we enjoyed looking at them for a bit.

ImageThen we heard shouting in the street and the store owner rushed outside. But only because the shouting was a rowdy group across the street watching soccer on a big screen in a storefront and they were cheering on the game. The store owner wanted to know the score…

We walked over and joined the crowd for a few minutes just because it was so lively. Yes, they were cheering their game, but some of the guys would just break out in song occasionally – which seems to happen a lot here – and it is just downright fun to watch.

ImageThen it was off to find some supper and walk back home for the night. However, being Saturday night, it is party time at our location. The cafe across from the church steps is a hopping place on weekend nights. So we took our time approaching the apartment to see what was going on. Some local was singing terribly off-key, but thankfully that stopped right away and the hired duo took over. There was quite a crowd and I made eye contact with this guy who was cuddling on his dog. The dog is pretty cute, too, huh!

Italians LOVE their pets and take them everywhere. You see them in shops and restaurants and all over the streets. As long as the animals are well-behaved, no one seems to mind a bit.

ImageFinally, MB looked up at the apartment from the street and noticed the open kitchen window. “I think I’d like to have my picture from up there,” she commented. “Well go on up and I’ll take it,” I replied.

So here is MB looking out on the Saturday night festivities from our Lucca apartment in October 2012.

Things won’t quiet down around here for a while, but we have gotten used to that. It’s such a joy to be in Italy and right in the midst of the life of the city. We are treasuring every moment – which I think you can see right here on MB’s face.

But it is getting late and MB only has one day left here to play. Time for bed and sweet dreams.

Buona notte!

Aside

Firenze Recap

Three days and two nights in Florence went by pretty fast and I couldn’t begin to tell you everything that transpired, but here’s a synopsis of our time there…

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On the train to Florence

Maria Betta and I took the train from Lucca to Firenze and I was sure glad to have her help figuring that out. Sounds easy enough, but for someone who can get lost inside a walled city – on foot – with a map – in the daytime – I have the potential of going a LONG way out of my way on the wrong train! So after going to Florence and back with a companion, I have a much better idea of how to navigate the trains.

From the train station we took a taxi to our hotel and I really felt like I had landed in the Big City. By comparison, Lucca is quite a small town. So the hustle and bustle and even more manic traffic through the narrow streets is quite a rush.

The sheer number of historic buildings covered with figures and cherubs and carvings and gilt is actually overwhelming. The feeling of culture in the air is palpable.

ImageSince MB had been to Firenze before, she planned our walk to the Piazza Signoria so that I would not just stumble right onto Michelangelos’s David first thing. Instead we came upon the Neptune fountain and then “discovered” the beautiful David (“Dah-veed”) in his setting among the other statues and the adjacent Loggia dei Lanzi. And I’m sure you read my earlier post about how it felt to finally see him. Absolute bliss.

ImageMB did the same thing with the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, otherwise known as the Duomo. It was stunning to come around the corner and see the massive building of pink and green and white marble – it literally stops you in your tracks. And then you look up and see that amazing dome that is an ingenious achievement in any century.

ImageOn the inside, the fresco under the dome is an incredible depiction of figures symbolically on earth and in heaven and hell. It took years of painting by many Florentine masters to complete.

And once you’ve toured that much of Firenze’s treasures, it is time to visit another “dome” – which is how they mound the gelato in the cases in this city…

ImageWe LOVED the gelato here – it was so fine and creamy that we stood on the street and hummed in delight as we ate it.

ImageThen it was on to the bridge known as Ponte Vecchio. It took us a while to get there as we got just a bit turned around and I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. But we did and it was something to see. There’s no car traffic on the bridge. It is packed with people and both sides are completely lined with upscale jewelry shops. It is literally dripping with precious stones and metal. (As always, please click on any photo on the blog to enlarge.)

ImageBy the time we got to the other side of the bridge I was in pain from the walking so we looked for a cafe. We had to go on for another block, which I was resisting doing because all I could think was that would be another block to walk back. But we were soon in a cafe and got a glass of wine and MB doled me out some advil. I sat and rubbed my feet and thought about just lying flat out on the ground. But after a while I mellowed out and we started back. It was getting dark and the view from the bridge was fantastic.

MB promised we would get a taxi to go to dinner and we did. The ride TO the restaurant was the usual crazy. The drivers are so used to the small space and the people walking so near that they go full speed ahead and brake as needed. We just bounced around the back seat and tried not to look.

But then, after dinner and a bottle of wine, we took another taxi back to the hotel. This time we got an out and out race car driver. Immediately we could not stay upright in the back seat and we kept falling back and forth onto each other. I was wide-eyed but MB had the giggles and started shouting “go Mario!” Well, that tickled Mr. Driver and he obliged. Next thing I knew I was laying in MB’s lap and she was laughing hysterically and speaking more Italian than usual. At least I think it was Italian. The driver seemed to be answering her in Italian as well.

By the time we got to the hotel and I propped myself back up, MB was saying “let’s go again!” “No!” I intervened. “But it’s Mario!” she exclaimed. Driver flashed her a big grin. I looked at the meter and our fare was a full 2 euros less than the same trip earlier. I paid the guy and gestured that I was going to kiss the ground. He laughed and sped away.

I swear, the streets here should be littered with bodies and I can’t imagine why they’re not!

Anyway, we spent another two days roaming Florence with periodic wine and advil breaks for me. We saw a lifetime’s worth of designer shops, art and architecture. We enjoyed good food and wine. And MB did make it to the very top of Boboli Gardens. Check out this view. I’m so glad Mary Beth was here for the big city visit. I’d like to go to Rome at some point but I’m almost afraid to without her!

And of course when your companion is an Italian Barbie doll, the service we get is amazing. All she has to do is say “boungiorno” and turn on her smile and people rush to take care of us. On the last morning when we were checking out of the hotel, a very handsome Italian man came up to the counter. When he saw MB, he said “if all American women looked like this I would have to move to your country!” She smiled and said “grazie” but he continued to say she looked like a female version of David by Michelangelo. Now how’s that for a compliment!

Ahhh, Firenze. A beautiful time in a beautiful city.

Aside

Giardino di Boboli

One of the largest and most elegant gardens in all of Italy is the Boboli Garden that extends behind the Pitti Palace in Firenze, home to some of the Medici family from the 16th to the 19th century. It has been a constant expansion work for hundreds of years and remains a project of maintenance and restoration even today.

It houses numerous sculptures throughout the grounds – most of which I didn’t see.

Because what I saw was steps… and slopes… and terraces going uphill. And when you got to the top, there were more steps and slopes and terraces going to higher hills. It was beautiful. It was also green – and hot – and steep. If it had been mid-summer, it woulda killed me.

As it was, Mary Beth and I made it to the Pitti Palace fairly easily. But as soon as you cross the Palace courtyard, the hills start. The first slope wasn’t bad – and the view of the city and the Duomo was magnificent. Absolutely worth the climb. From there it was more of a challenge…

I know MB saw the consternation on my face, so she ordered me to take off my scarf and give her my bag. And with an encouraging “you can do it!” she took off up the hill in her high-heeled boots with all our gear.

Well, we had just gotten our tickets, after all, so what could I do but follow her… at a great distance! And there were no railings! Evidently, these garden designers don’t want any obstructions in the view. And somehow I don’t think I look quite as jaunty as MB…

So guess what the view is from the top of that slope! Honestly, take a gander at this…

This is a “garden”?

Not in my world. And you can call it “giardino” all you want – it ain’t a garden I’m gonna stroll around in my flip flops after supper. (I doubt if those rich Medicis did either.) By the way – click on this photo to enlarge it. That’s MB at the top waving down at me as I lie prone on a concrete bench begging passers-by for a sip of water and a cool cloth for my brow…

And here is some of the beautiful statuary that grace the grounds. However I wouldn’t know ’cause I didn’t see any of it…

Soon it was time to make our way back down. Gawd. The only thing I can say about that is you don’t get out of breath going downhill. No, you simply fear that one slip will send you reeling along the steepest slope you shoulda never went up in the first place. And if your thighs and hips are burning in places you didn’t know you had – well, you better remember that as a lesson to not do such a foolish thing again.

MB, of course, discovered another trail she didn’t see on the way up and made a detour in search of “the best view yet.” I do think she found it, but I’m not quite clear on that as I was befuddled from near heat-stroke when she re-joined me at the base of the hill from Hades.

All I know is that we somehow made our way back out of the Pitti Palace and down the slopes to a cafe. I was so tuckered I didn’t even have a glass of wine. No Siree. I got me a warm bowl of soup – cappeletti in brodo (tortellini in hot chicken broth) and I slurped that down right fast. That and a couple advil was just what I needed to find my way back to the hotel.

Boboli Garden – gorgeous.

DONE seeing Boboli Garden – gorgeous relief.

Of course I’m glad I saw it. But I’m even more glad I can say I saw it and it is now a treasured memory.

I do think that view of the Duomo from the back of the Pitti Palace will make more than one fabulous little painting. I guess that was worth the price of admission…

Note: Today, it seems, I have finally achieved enough traffic on my blog that WordPress has decided to run ads on my blog. They highlight certain typed words that become links to advertisements – and there is an annoying blinking box at the top that even keeps me from accessing my own buttons to add new posts! Supposedly this is to keep the service “free.” And guess what – if you DON’T want these intrusions all over your blog, all you have to do is pay them $30/year to remove them! Well, I’m not normally a fan of extortion, but I have forked over the 30 bucks to get rid of the blasted ads. Only as far as I can see, they aren’t gone yet. So if you’re reading before my account updates, I apologize for the online junk. Hopefully it is gone soon or they will hear me hollering from Italy!

Taking In Firenze

Growing up, I never realized that Italian cities have Italian names – and they aren’t the names we learn in English. Florence is Firenze. But its people are Florentines. Go figure.

At any rate, MB and I are getting used to hearing the word “Firenze” and today we split up to take in two of its major attractions. I went to the Uffizi Gallery and she went to the Academia. Afterwards we met at a cafe to compare notes. MB was less than thrilled with her visit but she did get to see the “real” David. The one we ogled in the piazza yesterday is actually a reproduction.

I expected to be a bit more impressed with the Uffizi collection – it is an amazing representation of paintings from as far back as the 1300s and 1400s. But I found them to be overly dark and religious. Of course the Church and the State at the time funded and commissioned a lot of these pieces, so there are more biblical scenes than you ever imagined.

But the drawing and technique is so masterful. I wondered what those artists would have painted if they had had a choice. And then there is the gallery itself. It is MASSIVE. With more stairs to climb than should be legal. I was so exhausted when I finished walking through that I wasn’t sure I could make it to meet up with MB. But two advil and a prosecco gave me a boost.

ImageWe were both knackered from walking so sat in the cafe even after they closed for the afternoon siesta. MB wanted me to draw in my sketchbook so I worked on a small pencil study of a nearby statue. It was a nice way to rest our feet for a while.

Then we did take off for some more window shopping and ended up back on the Ponte Vecchio Bridge. It spans the Arno river and is completely lined with high end jewelry shops. Gold, silver, diamonds and stones everywhere. And the bridge is packed with people. But I can’t say I actually saw anyone buying anything in the shops. Makes me wonder how they stay in business – and carry so much inventory!

ImageComing back it was getting dark and the view from the bridge was stunning. Here’s a photo of us looking in the direction of our hotel, which is on the street on the left. Great location and not too bad for walking everywhere we want to go.

So tomorrow we plan to take in Boboli gardens before catching the train back to Lucca. (more walking!)

I’m still struggling with my feet but am managing to keep going. Mary Beth only brought one pair of shoes to Firenze – high heeled boots! She glides over the cobblestones at a brisk pace, even when she’s on the phone trying to call home, and never misses a beat. And I, in my ortho shoes with special inserts, always fall behind. Unless I buy MB a gelato. That’s the only thing that slows her down to my pace.

Mrs. P does have her tricks…

David – You Were Worth Waiting For…

ImageTuesday, October 16, 2012 is a fabulous day in my life. It is the day one of my major dreams came true – to see some of the world’s greatest art in Florence Italy.

Flash back more than 40 years…

World history class as a senior in high school.

Bored me to tears. I could never remember enough to ace a test as I simply didn’t care much about it. Until we studied the Renaissance.

I was mesmerized. Couldn’t get enough. Got a 100% on that test.

But the whole concept was so unreal. Everything so old and far away. Just pictures in a book of another time and place. Italy was a foreign world. A world I never entertained the thought of seeing. It was not even within my realm of imagination.

Years later I actually made it to Europe – but only because a friend took over and made the arrangements. And we got last-minute deals that were affordable. Still, we didn’t go to Italy. And I decided I didn’t want to go there on a whirlwind trip because it would be like eating one bite of dessert – never enough.

But today…

Today the dream has come true. I’ve never seen anything like Florence. Piazzas filled with marble statues that take your breath away. And so many of them that it is like finding diamonds on the ground. Such a wealth of history and culture and art. There’s no way to describe it. You must see it and feel it for yourself.

And as I circled Michelangelo’s David to take photos and looked around at the other sculptures… and the crowds in the square… and heard the music wafting in the air… I felt my throat begin to tighten. Then the tears welled up and I had to step off to the side to let the emotion just come through. MB walked up behind and handed me a tissue and walked away again. It was all I could do not to sob.

I really don’t have the words to say what this all means to me. And I just want to thank my friends and family who made sure I got here (you know who you are). These people were not even in my life all those years ago when the dream began but they have made it happen. Mille grazie, mi amici. Mille grazie.

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