Thursday, June 7, 2012

Italian Essentials: Pisa and Florence

Let's go back in time a bit (3.5 weeks ago now, wow!) to the beginning of our Italian adventure. We flew into Pisa mostly because it's close to the Cinque Terre, but in part because we wanted to see the Tower. I was struggling to remember even the most basic Italian phrases at this point (from the year's worth of Italian classes I took in college), but I did manage to come up with "Dov'รจ la torre?" ("Where's the tower?") I said it to myself as we powerwalked through the old town, but didn't actually have occasion to try it out on anyone else, as there were plenty of signs for the duomo and torre. This was our first glimpse of them.

I find it very endearing that whenever the tower is framed by other buildings it looks like it's either leaning shyly out of the picture or poking its head in.
In person, it's rather disconcerting how much the tower leans. I was surprised by my visceral response. It just looks so wrong!

We refrained from taking any cheesy tower-propping pictures. Mostly because it was raining.
The other thing I was surprised by was how beautiful the tower is. Its stones are not only clean and bright, they're also variegated and far more intricately carved than I expected.


Even the base leans!

Everyone forgets about the cathedral (the Leaning Tower is just its bell tower, after all), but it's very beautiful, too. It was my first Italian cathedral, and unlike anything I'd ever seen before. We didn't have time to go inside, unfortunately, but we walked all the way around. It's big.


The baptistry
The front (facing the baptistry)
On Wednesday we went through Florence on our way to Perugia, and Tyler gave me a quick tour to get me oriented. (He spent a week there in the summer of 2010.) The next day I went back by myself and packed as much as I possibly could into eight hours.

My first, middle, and last stop of the day were all in the Piazza del Duomo. I'd seen pictures of the cathedral before, of course, but I still didn't know it would look like that. It's like Pisa's cathedral but much, much more so. I probably spent a good hour over the course of the day just gawking at the exterior.

The dome was the largest in the world for centuries, and is still the largest dome ever built from bricks.
I have no idea how I captured those rays of sun, but I'm pleased with them.

In the middle of the day I went back to see the inside. Compared to that facade, it's not much to look at. Presumably the architects spent all their money on that fancy pink and green marble for the outside. The inside of the dome, however, is very cool--beautiful frescoes that took two different artists and over ten years to complete.


Just one piazza over is another monumental building, the Palazzo Vecchio. It's really hard to take a good picture of because it's SO TALL. The top of the tower is 308 feet high. In point of fact that's only 13 feet taller than the top of the cathedral's dome,  but the effect is totally different. The cathedral is massive, of course, but the Palazzo Vecchio is all in-your-face with its great height.


At the bottom right corner of my oddly-framed picture above is a reproduction of Michelangelo's David. The original (which used to stand there) is now in the Accademia, where I went later in the day. The towering Palazzo Vecchio dimishes David's effect, but inside the gallery he towers in his own right. In the hallway leading up to his plinth are several other Michelangelo statues in various stages of completion, which gave me a much more specific appreciation for just how much work it is to carve marble. From museum signage I learned that David's contemplative, even troubled look was a radical departure from traditional depictions of the young giant-slayer. The statue, completed in 1504, soon became a favorite of the Florentine people and a symbol of civic pride. [I'm too tired to integrate those two sentences any better with the rest of this post. /sounding like a textbook]

Earlier in the day I went to the Galleria degli Uffizi, where I saw works by Botticelli (The Birth of Venus!), Lippi, Correggio, and so many more. Perhaps my favorite thing about it, though, was the ceiling decoration. Sadly, there was no information about them in the museum and I'm struggling to find anything substantive online, either. The frecoes are whimsical, grotesque, never-repeating, endlessly inventive. Lots and lots of breasts. I wish I had pictures for you, but photography is verboten inside the gallery. Here is the outside, however.


And here's Dante, looking devious.


The following picture shows much more than a lovely building, something much more significant. It shows the home of Grom in Florence. Tyler led us straight there on our first brief jaunt into the city. Two years were not enough to confuse his internal Grom compass. Grom is a gelateria of surpassing excellence that luckily has a home in Perugia as well. We ate at the Perugia store more times than I care to count, but this is the place I had it first. My first Grom flavors were dark chocolate (the most perfect dark chocolate ice cream I have ever tasted) and Crema di Grom, an eggy gelato with corn cookie crumbles and chocolate chunks. It tasted like Argentina, though I couldn't say why.


Late in the afternoon I finally made it to the banks of the Arno. Although the water itself does not bear close examination (scary!), the view of the hills rising on the opposite side, crowned by more churches and palaces, is incredible.


My last touristy stop of the day was the Ponte Vecchio. (Although this sounds like a very fancy name, it simply means "old bridge.") The fronts of these buildings--the sides that face toward the inside of the bridge, that is--all boast windows full of the most elaborate jewelry I've ever seen.


On my way back to the train station I made my third visit in two days to I Due Fratellini, a tiny sandwich shop frequented by real Florentines for its amazing food and incredibly low prices. I shall close this post by listing the sandwiches I ate there. I've got a serious hankering for one right now.

1. Fennel-infused salami with soft goat cheese
2. Pancetta and marinated bell peppers
3. Fresh sausage and eggplant 

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