19 July 2010

Europe in 2 Weeks: Florence (part 2)

I came to Florence to see art, and art I did see. Truckfuls of it.

Because the city is so small, one can actually see most--or at least the highlights--of Florence in a day. As much as I would have wanted to stay for at least 3 days, I couldn't, so I had to make the most of my full day in this city. Armed with my Rick Steves travel guide and quite infected by the la dolce vita attitude of my opera-singing hotel host earlier at breakfast, I stepped out into the cobblestoned streets and was psyched to have some sensory overload on Renaissance art.

While some people may scoff at the idea of touting a travel guide and looking like a real tourist, I find it even more stupid to wander about aimlessly without a plan especially when you don't have the luxury of, say, a whole month's stay. With Rick Steves and Google Maps plus online booking of my tickets to the museums, I was able to carefully plan my route around Florence and still have extra time to go wandering about for the rest of the day. Cheers to obsessive-compulsive planning!

Here, in chronological order, are the highlights of my 'Renaissance' Walk:

1. The Uffizi Gallery. Of course it had to be the first thing on the agenda. I'm no art historian or curator, but I love art enough to know what the Uffizi holds and how badly I wanted to see them all. Because the lines at the Uffizi are reputed to be ridiculously long (people wait in line for 4-5 hours in high season), I wasted no time and booked myself a ticket to the Gallery while I was still in Manila. The funny thing about museums in Italy is that when you book online, you have to choose a certain time slot. The Italians are fussy about not letting in too many people at the same time, so they prefer to have only 20 people per time slot entering the museum.

So I got myself the 8:30 am slot (the Uffizi opens at 8 am), and this was a good strategy, I believe, because I was there early enough to avoid the hordes of students on field trip and those tourist groups that are annoyingly ubiquitous and ruin basically the peace and quiet of a museum.

Taking photos isn't allowed inside the museum, so I took some pictures while I was outside.
I'm finally here!!

a part of the Uffizi was being restored

street performer decked out like one of the many statues flanking the Gallery

Spent a good two hours inside the Uffizi, which had the finest collection of Botticellis ever. There was also a sprinkling of da Vincis and Michaelangelos and Raphaels, which made me rather dizzy. The museum was overwhelming--not in size, but in the wealth of paintings that it boasted. Giotto's Madonna was there, and so was da Vinci's Annunciation, and Titian's Venus of Urbino. When I got to the room full of Botticellis, all I could do was sit and stare at his Birth of Venus and La Primavera.

The whole experience was unsettling. Everything was just reeking of beauty and culture, and this was the kind of art I've only seen before in art books. And Botticelli's Venus was staring back at me, looking like she was amused by my gawking but was trying to hide it behind her serene smile.

2. The Duomo and the Baptistery. Stumbled out of the Gallery, dazed and experiencing an Uffizi hangover of sorts. Next on the agenda was the ever-famous cathedral, the cultural symbol of Florence. The Duomo, after all, is the main reason why I wanted to go to Florence. All roads in the city seemed to lead to it, so it was very easy to find.

The area surrounding the Duomo is always packed with tourists. Tourists, tourists everywhere. It was such an infamously popular spot. I stood in one area for a full 20 minutes perhaps, just taking loads of pictures before deciding to circle the perimeter of the pink-green-and-white marbled church. I saw artists selling their works on the street, people having their coffee leisurely al fresco in the surrounding cafes, and individuals strolling about like they weren't in a hurry to reach their destination. It was a sweet life indeed for the people of Florence--and it was all almost ridiculously unreal and far from the madding crowd that was Manila.

The church itself is pure eye candy; you can honestly stare at it for a long time. Well, at least I did. Didn't get tired looking at it. I was afraid that if I didn't gaze at it long enough, I'd forget some of the small details, or at least the memory of having this wave of happiness wash over me, because I was really and truly in Florence with the Duomo just several meters away from me. It was the same feeling I had when I was looking up at the Colosseum and at the Sistine Chapel. Maybe it was some form of I'm-surrounded-by-so-much-history-and-it's-all-so-beautiful orgasm (for lack of a better word). There must be an exact scientific name for this state of euphoria in the presence of art and history that I was in, but I just didn't know it.

the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (or the Duomo, for short)

the Duomo's interior artwork

crowds and crowds of tourists around the Duomo all day

Right next to the Duomo is the Baptistery, the oldest and very much revered building in the city. It wasn't difficult looking for the 'Gates of Paradise' by Ghiberti. Just look for the bronze panels with the biggest crowd of tourists hanging about, and you know you're in the right place.

Ghiberti's Gates of Paradise. The original panels are safely stored inside the Duomo museum though.

3. Michaelangelo's 'David'. Grabbed a pizza in a nearby pizzeria-slash-cafe and decided to eat it while heading towards the Galleria dell'Accademia. The air was cold, and the pizza warm in my hands, so it was a good albeit hurried meal on the way to the museum.

Aside from the 'David', which is the real reason why people flock to the Accademia in the first place, there's really not much else to see there except Michaelangelo's unfinished 'Slaves'.

I entered the museum, walked down a short corridor, and rounded a corner, anticipating that I was going to go through more halls to get to David. I didn't expect that that one corner would be it, that I would see him immediately. And so there he stood, high on his pedestal at the very far end of the hallway, literally--and without reference to his nether region--larger than life.

I was to have many heart-hammering-in-my-chest moments while I was in Europe, checking out all the sites and art I've dreamt of seeing my whole life. This was one of those heart-pounding moments. Just when you think you're ready to see 'David', the masterpiece, you realize you're as flabbergasted and slack-jawed as the tourist standing next to you.

The beauty of his position inside the museum was that people could circle him; we weren't limited to one view. I stood for a long time, just circling his slowly. I loved the expertly chiseled back, the veins on his arms, the tension of the muscles. When I couldn't stand anymore, I sat down in a corner, right next to a young man sketching David on his drawing pad. I watched the guy draw for a bit, and envied him for the luxury of time he had. Then I complimented his drawing, and so did a few others who came up to him. He thanked me and the others effusively.

The nice thing about being in an art-soaked city like Florence is that everyone is so appreciative about everything related to art. There could be a chalk artist sketching on the sidewalk an exact copy of a Madonna and Child painting, and people would be standing round, just watching and waiting for him to finish.

Strictly no photo-taking allowed while in the presence of David, but of course I just HAD to take a stolen shot. David is perfect, perfect, perfect.

4. Dante Alighieri.
Who isn't fascinated by Dante? The Inferno? And most of all, the elusive Beatrice whom he loved?

Florence is so small you'll wind up in Via Dante Alighieri at some point whether you're looking for it or not. I was as pleased as punch to be in the very street the great poet used to live in. God, these Florentines are just so damn lucky to be walking past it everyday.

On the street where he lived. And now it's called Dante Alighieri Street.

Dante's Church, where Beatrice's tomb is located. Too bad Dante is buried in Ravenna; it would have been nice to see both their tombs side by side.

5. Gelato
is an art form too! Even if it was the tail end of winter, I had to have some of that world-famous gelato. Besides, everyone else was strolling about, each licking a gelato cone, so I wasn't going to pass that up. There were so many gelato shops to choose from, I was pretty much dizzy with desire.

So...I prudently chose a small gelateria which had a bunch of people lining up, and I thought, okay, they must be serving extra yummy gelato. I went and stood in line and had the most awful, hand-wringing dilemma to face: which flavors to get?

The lady behind the counter was getting slightly impatient; I was practically cross-eyed from all that frantic canvassing of flavors, and because I didn't want to risk facing a crowd of angry gelato fans all lined up behind me, I stammered out in basic Italian that I would like a medium-sized cone with two flavors--coffee and chocolate. Ordinary flavors, yeah, but when I started on my gelato, I realized there was nothing ordinary about the coffee and chocolate I was licking. It was so good I almost forgot where I was heading.

Oh my God, that was the best gelato ever. I still dream about it sometimes. The gelatos I've had in Gelatissimo in Greenbelt 5 don't even come close to that simple treat I had in that rather nondescript gelateria in Florence.

my gelato leading the way

6. Here are more of the city's beautiful sights. I would have wanted to talk more about them, but I keep telling myself to be a little less long-winding.

Piazza della Republica, the old city center

This always reminds me of the movie 'A Room With a View.' :)

the Arno River

inside the very cold, very drafty Palazzo Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio

Piazza della Signoria

my favorite part of the Orsanmichele Church

Was pretty much able to wander about the city without feeling so hurried. It really does help sometimes to explore things on your own. Had enough time to go back to the hotel in the late afternoon, grab my luggage and head for Santa Maria Novella station. Apparently, to go back to Rome, I had to take the 5-minute train from SMN to Firenze Rifredi Station. And when I got there 30 minutes before the train's scheduled departure, it was announced that the train that was arriving to take me back to Rome would be 45 minutes late.

Rifredi's waiting area was outdoors, by the tracks. A real provincial train station. Inspite of my wool coat, thermals, and a scarf covering my neck and half of my face, I felt pretty chilled. Spent the next hour or so alternately reading about the Persian-Greek Wars and stomping about my bench to ward off the cold. Definitely not one of my favorite memories of Florence.

I made a mental note to myself that if (and I know I will) I was to go back to Florence, it would have to be some time in spring. And yes, it would have to be a week's stay. The city is just too beautiful.

Florence, March 22-23, 2010

18 July 2010

Le bag 1984

What would I give to have one of these.

Olympia Le-Tan has created a super super limited edition collection of clutch bags that are fashioned after the first editions of these famous books. Only 16 of each style, I heard.

I love this Nineteen Eighty-Four bag so much, it makes we want to cry. The price is a tear-jerker too. USD 1,500...!

Lovely homepage though.

04 July 2010

Europe in 2 Weeks: Florence (part 1)

When I was much, much younger, I came up with a list of places I wanted to see in my lifetime.

Being exacting, I had categories within that list. Under "Places With Lots of Ruins", I wrote down the following: Greece, Egypt, Rome, Peru's Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the Great Wall of China, and Borobudur in Indonesia.

Of course, another category I had on my travel list was "Places With Lots of Art." Paris was there, and so was New York, and a bunch of other places. But the number one on that sublist was Florence, my own art Mecca. All the history and art lessons I had on the Renaissance kept mentioning Florence, Florence, Florence.

So of course I had to go.

Took my first European train ride from Rome to Florence. It was evening so I didn't get to see much of the countryside at that time. But riding the train was a novelty to me, so I was pretty damn excited to look for my platform, make sure I was in the right carriage car, and search for my seat. I opted to book for a 2nd class ticket, and then ride back to Rome on 1st class just to see the difference.

Well, you do really get what you pay for. The 2nd class compartments were pretty cramped, even for someone with a small frame like me. There were six to a compartment, and I silently thanked myself for booking a window seat online. It was a good thing that my compartment mates were the nice sort--an elderly Austrian couple (the man even helped me place my suitcase overhead), this carefree-looking Austrian girl, and two American (?) college boys who arrived last, out of breath. They almost missed the train, I guess.

When we were fairly settled in our seats, Austrian girl (who sat right across) surprised me by conversing at times with me in really fluent English while talking in her native Austrian German tongue to the elderly couple on her right. I assumed all three of them were Austrian, because the final destination of the train I was taking was Wien, Austria.

Took a picture of the train's destination list just to make sure I was on the right track to Florence:

Yup, Firenze SMN, that was my stop, alright.

The two boys were also headed for Florence, so at least I wasn't the only one going down at Florence's Santa Maria Novella Station at 10 o' clock in the evening. Tried to talk to them a bit, but it was hard, because one was too absorbed with writing something on his Moleskine and the other was reading Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I knew how engrossing the book was, because I had read it myself within the span of a day or two only, so I refrained from asking how he was finding it.

Throughout the 3-hour ride, I amused myself by alternately reading my own book, trying to discreetly take shots of my cramped environment (I'm still a tourist after all), and walking down the narrow corridor of the train car and peeking into other people's compartments.

By the time the train rolled into Santa Maria Novella station, my legs were raring to walk. I literally jumped out of the train when it halted and was greeted by the unexpected chilly night air of Florence.

A Room With No View

It was around 5 to 6 degrees that night. Way too cold for me. Because my hotel was just a 10-minute walk from the station, I opted not to take the bus or the ever-impractical cab ride, which would have been the equivalent of a good meal or two in Europe already. What was supposed to be a 10-minute walk became a 20-minute one, because I got lost in the city's narrow, winding streets, and it was also hard dragging my suitcase along the cobblestones.

I managed to find my hotel finally, and staggered up the stairs into the second floor, where the reception desk was. I checked in and found myself in a good-sized room that was charming enough. And then I hurriedly drew back the curtains to see what kind of view I had.



All that greeted me were windows from the neighboring building. I totally forgot to reserve a room with a view of the Duomo.

Too tired to berate myself, I took a quick shower and slept early. I knew I was going to have a full day ahead of me.

Breakfast with a Song

Stepped into the breakfast room the next day, craving for a good old Filipino tapsilog breakfast that I was sure I was never going to have at that place. So I had to manage expectations and hope for a filling Continental breakfast at least.

The Hotel Giada where I was staying is family-run, so the breakfast area looked like a kitchen with a modest buffet area, a smattering of small breakfast tables and a--GASP--view of the Duomo. I almost dropped my cereal bowl when I turned around and saw a section of the big old church from the window.

And while I sat on my own table just looking up at the Duomo and munching on a hard roll, I suddenly heard the owner of the hotel. He entered the kitchen, singing something in Italian at the top of his voice and started preparing a fresh batch of brewed coffee. Never mind that there were a bunch of us having breakfast, still looking sleepy at 6:30 am. Either he was singing like nobody was there or he knew he was conducting an operatic performance in front of flabbergasted tourists. It was such an Italian thing for him to do, to sing without a care in the world, and I felt that I was really in Florence indeed.

(to be continued, because this blogger has just realized she has been too long-winding and nonsensical in this post, and would like to be more succinct in her next entry)