Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Italy...Day SIX!!!

Day SIX started with another FABULOUS breakfast on the roof of the Hotel Kraft.  After breakfast, we were picked up in the lobby, and driven to the nearby train station.  Sad to leave Florence, but excited to see what Venice was like.

We were in the first-class car again with all of our tour companions, and again enjoyed the views and the beverage and snack service!  Fields of sunflowers (which we learned PAID WELL if you planted an acre of the tune of about 10,000 euros), villages, small cities, farms and villas...beautiful.

We arrived in Venice a few hours later, and were met at the station by our guide, who directed us to several water taxis in a nearby canal.  It was COMPLETELY cool to go to our hotel by boat and not by van.

We were dropped off at the dock next to the Hotel Violin D'Oro, checked in, and were pleased to find that Sandy, Bill, Tiffany, Barb, and Megan were our next door neighbors!  We had been at the same hotel in Rome, and had gotten to know them throughout the following days as we ran into them sporadically, but really hadn't had a chance to DO anything together, so this boded well for being able to do so!

Our only "official" tour that day was a gondola ride in the early afternoon, so we had a chance to explore.  We met Sandy's group in the lobby soon after checking in, because we THOUGHT we'd be on the same gondolas.  Turned out we weren't, so we found the gondola station, where they were instructed to meet their group, and Duane and I headed to the entrance to the Royal Gardens, which, luckily, was only a short walk further down the canal.

While we were waiting for the tour group to arrive, I found a lovely watercolor of one of the canals in Venice, and we had a chance to look around the garden...not very impressive, and really crowded, which is how we found MOST of Venice.

Our group arrived, and we were sad to find that the other four in our group (6 total for a gondola) were not any of the people we'd been touring with.  Even WORSE was that they were from New Jersey, and really PUSHY (I ended up sitting backwards in the front of the gondola because one of the couples was in front of us in line, and pulled the other couple in front of us as we boarded the gondola, so Duane and I were the last to get on...SERIOUSLY IRRITATED for the entire hot, crowded ride...meh...).

As our gondola was coming back to the dock, we saw Mikey and her family going out.  They had been a few minutes late to the meeting point, and had to call the company to figure out how to get out on a gondola.  Avventure Bellissime got it all worked out, and they were able to go.

We ran into Sandy, Bill, Tiffany, Barb, and Megan on the dock, and decided to have lunch together at a "self serve" place called Le Chat Qui Rit.  Not the greatest food, but it was fine (and we'd heard not to expect much from the food in Venice, in general), and it was really nice to FINALLY get to spend time with them!!!


After lunch, Duane and I explored the area a bit, walked across the Realto Bridge, explored St. Mark's Square, and shopped.  We ran into a woman and her family who were from Stillwater (a town near where we live in Minnesota).  It turns out they were soon leaving for Florence, and staying at the Hotel Kraft.  I think Avventure Bellissime made their travel arrangements as well!


After walking around for awhile, we decided to go back to the hotel to get out of the heat, and get away from the crowds.  Venice (as well as Florence, and Rome) are all "cruise ship dumping grounds" (or should I say "destinations"), so there were cruise people EVERYWHERE!

We spent a couple of hours in the air conditioning, then went back out to continue exploring.  The cruise people had left to get back on their ships, the sun had gone down a bit, and it was DELIGHTFULLY different walking around.

We had pizza at Al Calice.  Again, not fabulous, but a cute little trattoria...

We went back to St. Mark's Square, and sat and listened to a small orchestra performing at a cafe (the Florian, built in 1720, and which Rick Steves describes as the place where "Casanova, Lord Byron, Charles Dickens, and Woody Allen have all paid too much for a drink").

We got gelato at Gelato Fantasy (I had another lemon granita, and could TOTALLY tell we were no longer in the Amalfi region...NOT good...sigh...), shopped for souvenirs, then went back to the hotel, and to bed.

One more day in!!!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Italy...Day FIVE!!!

Day FIVE started with breakfast on the roof of the hotel (and a battle with the pigeons who REALLY REALLY REALLY wanted our pastries).  We ran into Cynthia and Kim, and were glad that we did!  We'd plotted the destination for the start of our "Renaissance Walk of Florence", but TOTALLY had the wrong piazza marked as the "starting point".

We found the piazza on which we were to meet our group, and, because we were early, had time to explore another nearby piazza.  It was a lovely, sunny morning, there were not a lot of people out and about (yet!), and we enjoyed looking around!!!  We also got our first glimpse of "il duomo"...more on that later!!!!

We met our group for the tour, and were HAPPY to find that it was ALL people from previous tours...Mikey, Lee, Chase, and Loren, Jim and Marilyn, and Tammy, Dennis, Derek, and Ann, and Cynthia and Kim.  We were SAD that, yet again, Sandy, Bill, Tiffany, Barb, and Megan were with a different group, but AT LEAST we got to see them, briefly, as they arrived!!!!

Our guide was Antonella, and, as was the case with all of our other tour guides, she was amazing!!!!!

We walked around the Galleria Uffizi, the piazza of city hall, toured a church that started out as a grain market (Orsanmichele, and which still contained hooks and chutes, and other remnants of it's agricultural past), rubbed the nose of the "good luck" warthog fountain, looked at the outdoor markets, walked around the duomo, walked to the middle of Ponte Vecchio, and ended the tour at the Accademia, where we saw David, by Michelangelo (UNBELIEVABLE!).


Antonella told us that the builder of the dome burned his plans for it before he died.  No one had been able to recreate it since...and computer models deem it "impossible" to remain intact.  Very interesting!  Jim, who is a professor of mathematical psychology, spent the next couple of hours trying to figure it out!!!

A brief note about David...he is MAGNIFICENT!  This was another example of "seeing pictures for years", but being FLABBERGASTED by the "real thing".  Michelangelo was commissioned to create David for the top of the duomo, but, upon seeing the completed work, the "powers that be" decided that he needed to be displayed on the piazza in front of city hall (a replica of the statue now stands in the spot).

Michelangelo was FURIOUS that the statue was to remain on the ground, as he had sculpted it disproportionately, which would look "normal" from far above (if you look closely, David's hands and feet are HUGE...rather "hobbit-like"!!).

Michelangelo relented, and David ended up on a platform on the ground.  The statue was later moved to the Accademia (which is not a very impressive museum) after several incidents of vandalism and abuse.

After the tour, Mikey, Lee, Derek, Loren, Jim, Marilyn, Duane and I had lunch at Demode'.  It was GREAT to sit for awhile, and the food was pretty good!  I had a really good lasagna (but didn't particularly enjoy the bruschetta...mainly tomatoes piled on toast...).

After lunch, Marilyn and Jim dashed off to the Uffizi for a tour, and Mikey, Lee, Loren, and Derek went to the crypts to see the tombs of famous artists and scientists of the city.  Duane and I intended to go to the crypts and the science museum, to see Galileo's telescope, but had tickets to the Duomo Museum, so headed there (with hopes of catching the crypts and museum later).

Off all that we did and saw on the trip, the Duomo Museum was probably the most disappointing.  Most of it was closed for renovations (although we DID get to see the actual Baptistry door (see gold door in photos above).  The tickets also allowed us to climb to the top of the dome, and see the inside of the baptistry.  We stood in line for the dome for awhile, but the lines were long, and not moving at all (AND there were about 500 stairs to climb to GET to the dome), so we decided to leave.

Instead, we decided to explore the central market.  On Robin and Davey's trip, they brought back a cool glass container with two one, balsamic vinegar is the other olive oil.  Theirs broke soon after they brought it home.  I told them I'd get a replacement (and I wanted one too!).  I'd looked in a couple of stores in Rome and Florence, but hadn't found them.  The market had them!  Being the cynic that I tend to be sometimes, I'm FULLY expecting THIS to be the place where my credit card number (which I had to use because they were PRICEY!) will be jacked (so far, so good...)...

After the market, and a brief rain shower, we went back to the hotel to drop stuff off, then headed back to the Pilazzo Strozzi (from which our tour departed earlier that day) to see the "Springtime of the Renaissance" exhibit of sculpture and paintings.  It goes to the Louvre in Paris in August, and we wanted to see it before it left Florence.

The exhibit was very interesting, and we saw books, sculpture, and paintings from the 13th and 14th centuries.  It AMAZES me that books can survive for CENTURIES under the right conditions!  My "inner librarian" (as opposed to the usual "outer" one) was in AWE!!!!

After the exhibit, we FINALLY crossed the Ponte Vecchio (TWO times on the bridge, and we only made it half way!), and found a nice little "out of the way" place for dinner.  Ristorante La
Galleria was actually about FOUR restaurants on an enclosed courtyard, and we got a nice table "outside" one of the main buildings.

After dinner (and another dessert of cantucci vin santo!), we walked around that side of the bridge for awhile.  We looked around a few "tourist shops"...

 This made me giggle...(yes, I AM a big child sometimes!!!)...

...found a grocery store (we LOVE touring grocery stores when we go on vacation...!)...

 ...had gelato at La Strega Nocciola (I wasn't going to have any, but the woman behind the counter was VERY persuasive...!!!)...

...walked back across the Ponte Vecchio, and saw one of the most AMAZING sunsets I've ever seen!!!!

After the sun went behind the hills, we went back to the hotel, sat in the garden on the roof for a few minutes, then went to our room to shower, pack, and go to bed!

Florence was AMAZING!!!  Day to Venice!!!