June 2011


Two major things contributed to this post: First, being friends with someone who knows a lot about dragonflies has made me notice them more, and second, my dad is ridiculously hard to find gifts for. So part of his Fathers’ Day present this year was an afternoon of walking in the woods. (Not hiking, really, but two pleasant walks.)  (Okay, okay, that isn’t gift-y, ’cause I don’t take much persuasion to go out in the woods, but the more-than-cursory gardening help was.)

So! First, the giant dragonfly I saw in the iris garden in Florence:

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And a frog in Colchester Bog:

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And a variety of insects in East Woods:

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I spent Thursday afternoon through Sunday evening in Florence, and my first Florence post covered Thursday and Friday. I’d heard that it was supposed to rain on Sunday, so I decided to do the Climbing Tall Buildings And Looking At Scenery on Saturday. That meant both the main cathedral (the dome, anyway) and the belltower (campanile) of Il Duomo.

I started with the dome, because the line was closer to my hotel.

Il Duomo

Il Duomo

(A couple of pictures of the building from the ground, on the way to the line for the dome.)

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The stairway (467 steps to the top) is fairly narrow, but there are windows every so often, and places where slow climbers, like me, can stop to let faster people go by. Of course, closer to the top, there’s only one set of stairs, so there are extra stops for letting people go past in the other direction.

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The dome itself is painted with what I believe are Biblical scenes, but I know very little about the sorts of stories that tend to show up in churches and how to interpret such paintings. So it was impressive, but not especially meaningful.

There wasn’t enough light inside to get one picture with both the cupola and the main dome appropriately lit, so I used different settings for the lighter bits:

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And then I reached the top!

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And let my spindle out for a nice view:

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(Forrester spindle, Enchanted Knoll Farm silk)

And found my hotel, more or less:

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(I’m pretty sure my hotel is the roof on the left with the triangular skylight thingy.)

On the way down, we were directed to the higher balcony around the inside of the dome, so I took more photos.

Il Duomo

Il Duomo

Most of the stairways were wider and rectangular, but some of them were narrow spirals:

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There was also some sort of exhibit on the machinery and engineering used to build the cathedral, but it seemed to be an extra special-tour kind of thing, so I took this one photo, looked through the bars a bit, and kept walking.

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Until, finally, I reached the floor of the cathedral:

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And then looked back up:

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After I left the cathedral, I went over to the campanile, expecting an elevator like the one at San Marco in Venice. When I discovered that there was no elevator, just another 414 steps, I decided to take a break. I didn’t have a huge amount of time before my pre-booking at the Galleria Accademia, but there was enough time to investigate the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. SO WORTH IT. They allowed photography there, so I took a LOT of pictures. Here are a few:

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One of several examples of the tiling/inlay work

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A Pieta by Michelangelo

There are a lot of hexes like these on the sides of the Campanile:

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There are ones of mathematicians and philosophers (among others) as well as weavers and this sculptor, but these are pleasantly identifiable (without recourse to the descriptions).

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Maddelena, by Donatello

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A reliquary–ordinarily, I find reliquaries creepy, but this one’s beautiful.

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Such embroidery!

After that museum, I went to the Accademia, partly because I’d basically been ordered to see Michelangelo’s David. I’ll grant that it’s an impressive work (the expression! the veins in the hands! the sheer size!), but it was another example of how many people only look at the Important Works in museums, and zip past all the other amazing pieces. One of the main things I found myself thinking was that Michelangelo’s studio must’ve been huge, given all the large marble statues. The Accademia is a pretty small museum, though, and most of the second floor is the kind of earlyish Christian art that makes my eyes glaze over, so I didn’t spend long there.

The next stop, after a takeout lunch (since I was just around the corner from my hotel), was the Campanile. One of the best things about it was getting to see the outside of Il Duomo from higher than ground level, but the views of the city were good, too.

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I saw a LOT of swallows in Europe (England as well as Italy), and watching them never got old. I know there were swallows where we lived in West Virginia, but it’d been quite a while since I’d seen any.

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I had intended to put all of Saturday and Sunday into this post, but I think this is a good stopping point. The next post should finish the Florence portion of my trip.

So, I spent a pleasant Thursday morning on the trains from Venezia Santa Lucia to Firenze Santa Maria Novella and then walked to my hotel. Very different set of views from this hotel room! It was also a much more interesting room, since it had an extra alcove/hallway that led to a terrace.

This is the view from the window by the bed, looking away from the center of town (which also means away from the wall a couple of feet away):
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And this is a shot from the terrace, looking toward central Florence (and with a bit of zoom):
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That’s the dome of Il Duomo, the famous cathedral that was one of the major reasons I’d wanted to go to Florence. I’d heard good things about Florence from lots of different people, but it was the ink-and-wash drawings that have been in our (my parents’) hallway for as long as I can remember–of Il Duomo, the Ponte Vecchio, and a view of/from a hill town nearby–that were really the deciding factor.  I wanted to see them in person.  Anyway, I took more pictures of Il Duomo than I want to count right now, at various times. But that’s mostly because it’s an amazing work of art/architecture, with bonus points for being on the way to almost everywhere.

So. The room was nice, and available as soon as I got to town.  The next priority was finding a phone, since the hand-me-down iPhone I’d taken with me had stopped working the previous morning.  I got recommendations from the woman working at the hotel, found a phone, and brought it back to set up, along with Indian takeout for lunch. It was a wonderful break from European-style food, even without venturing beyond discrete (fried) things that had prices on them and that I could point to.

Once I had a line to the rest of the world again, I went out wandering. I figured I’d look a bit at the town in general and maybe at the outsides of Important Landmarks. One of the more interesting individual bits of Town In General was this street:

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Alas, there was only leatherwork, and some clothes shops, on the Street of the Art of Wool. I looked.

But there were lovely Important Landmarks:
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(Il Duomo, with its associated baptistery in the foreground, and the campanile/belltower on the right.)

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(the Ponte Vecchio, which is full of fancy-jewelry shops, shot with zoom from the next bridge over)

And architecture that was a bit different from that in Venice, and crowds of people. And, because much of central Florence is marked “area pedonale”, crowds of people walking in the streets (and not just on the narrow sidewalks) until one of the (infrequent) cars had to get past.

Dinner on Thursday was one of the best salads ever, with a “country” dressing that was a lot like the salad dressing I got in Paris (which was like the dressing a friend had served the day before I left, saying it was genuinely like the salad dressing she’d remembered from living in France). And the restaurant overlooked a market square, so there was plenty of people-watching.

On Friday, I had a lovely breakfast at the hotel.  It was much less fancy than the breakfast where I’d stayed in Venice, but oh! the coffee was fantastic.  Italian coffee (not espresso–made on the stove), with just enough milk: I got a small pitcher of coffee and a larger pitcher of milk, so I could add it myself.  And the flavored yogurt options reminded me of the ones I’d liked in the UK in 2000: sweetened enough that they were definitely not plain, but not dessertlike the way American flavored yogurts are.  (And I’ve never seen that kind of orange or plum yogurt here.)

And then I set out for the Uffizi, since I’d prebooked a ticket for 10am.  I got there rather earlier than I’d anticipated, since it was closer and easier to find than I’d been prepared for, so I exchanged my online booking verification for an actual ticket.  Then, I took pictures of most of the statues in the courtyard, since even they were quite impressive.  Here’s an example:
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Understandably, if unfortunately, they don’t allow photography inside the museum, but it’s full of amazing artwork. Including the ceilings in the hallways. There were at least a few tour groups there, which contributed to the ease with which I could tell where the especially famous paintings were. (“Oh, of course, that crowd is blocking this room because they’re all looking at The Birth of Venus.”) I have new appreciation for the skills of Titian and Botticelli. I also want to go back after I’ve had a chance to study appropriate bits of art history. Still, as much as I was impressed by some of the paintings, I think I was most impressed by the small exhibit of drawings, particularly a few by Leonardo da Vinci. One of the primary take-home messages of my time in Florence was that those artists I’ve heard of all my life really were impressively skilled. (Not that I’d doubted that…)

Impressive as the collection is (all those paintings I recognized, in one place!), the Uffizi is not a large museum, at least by the standards of someone who grew up going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (me). So I’d budgeted the whole day for the Uffizi and then found myself with no plans at around 1:30pm. I wandered a bit, had a blood-orange granita (I loved that blood orange (arancia rossa) was a standard flavor!), looked at the river…

And then I remembered that my cousin’s recommendation for a sight that wasn’t super-touristy was a cemetery. I found the one thing on my map that said it was a cemetery and decided to wander toward it. On the way, I stopped for gelato, and that was the best gelato I had in Italy. As I meandered up the hill, I found myself at the Piazzele Michelangiolo, which has a bronze reproduction of Michelangelo’s David. It’s not an especially exciting plaza, though, except that the views of the city (downtown, anyway, since it’s still within Florence) are nice. So I made the circuit of the edge, taking lots of pictures.

Which is when I saw some irises off below the piazzele level. I went to investigate further, at which point I discovered that there’s a whole Iris Garden. Something like 4-6 plants of each of several hundred varieties of iris, with a few other flowers and trees around the edges and between iris beds, to make the whole place prettier. But such variety in color and pattern!

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(As with everything else, I’m only posting a small fraction of the number of pictures I took. I like irises, and my dad collects them, so there were lots and lots and lots from this garden.)

After the iris garden (and buying more batteries for my camera), I continued up the hill toward the monastery and cemetery. More gorgeous architecture and mosaics, and some amazing (yes, I’m overusing “amazing”) views:

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At this point, I wandered back to my hotel, passing through the New Market:

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After a nap, I set out for dinner. Thanks to the nap, I had some energy afterward, so I wandered back to the New Market to mail some postcards. On the way there, I passed three different live bands, playing different kinds of music. And a lot of people playing with toy helicopter-spinny things (discs that shoot up in the air and spin) with lights along the edges. The crowds were thinner where there weren’t bands, though, so Il Porcellino wasn’t mobbed, and I could get close.

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Per a then-recent thread on Ravelry, I decided a nose-boop would be perfect. (Folklore says that rubbing Il Porcellino’s nose will guarantee your return to Florence.)

And, then, on the way back to the hotel, I decided to try a Belgian waffle with gelato, since the toasted waffles smelled so good whenever I passed them. What I hadn’t anticipated was just how much gelato I’d get. This is after I’d eaten a bit, when I realized that too much would melt for me to take a picture in my hotel room:

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That’s a hand-sized waffle with close to a pint of gelato. Tasty, but oh so much more than I’d thought I was going to get.

And, with that, I’ll stop for now.  I had planned to put all of Florence in one post, but I think this is long enough.

I left Vermont on a Saturday evening, arrived in London on Sunday morning, then caught a mid-afternoon train to Paris. Explaining my plans to the Heathrow immigration officer was interesting. “Yes, I’m only going to be here for a few hours, then I go to Paris. No, I’m not staying there very long, either. Yes, there really was logic behind flying to London and then immediately travelling to Venice.”

But I was in London long enough to have a very nice fast-food salad and to use the wifi in St Pancras (international train station) to call my parents. And then I was in Paris for long enough to get to the other train station, and then have a nice dinner down the street, before my train to Milan.

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I was in a couchette for that overnight trip. The top bunk had quite a design on the bottom. (The middle bunk on each side of the compartment, which sleeps six, was made from the top half of the seats. I was lucky that there were only five of us in the compartment, because that meant no one complained about my sleeping sitting up, leaning against the window. I had a cold, and that also let me stretch my arm over to the air conditioning vent.) It was…interesting. The other three people who got there earlyish spoke French with the equivalent of a US Southern accent–it was more drawling than I could easily understand. But they all spoke English, so basic communication was not a problem. (This theme continues.)

After an early-morning train change in Milan, I arrived in Venice and then at my hotel around mid-morning on Monday. This was, of course, too early to check into my room, so I changed clothes in the bathroom, left most of my stuff in the storage area, and went out to find food, fix my train tickets for Thursday, and wander around a bit.

Brunch was cappucino, a grilled wrap, and a marmalade croissant (note: croissants in Italy have a more brioche-y texture), just down the street from my hotel.  While I was there, a crowd of schoolkids got gelato from the other window of the cafe.  Then, I walked back to the train station (having taken the vaporetto (water-bus) to the hotel, since my Stuff For Two Weeks was kind of a lot), bought my two supplemental train tickets (for a total of ~€2.50), and hopped on the #1 vaporetto to ride along the Grand Canal (and out to Lido) while waiting for check-in time.  There are a whole lot of photos from that vaporetto ride over on Flickr, but I particularly like this one:

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That’s a barge with a bit of a garden on the back, demonstrating how much they use boats for *everything*.  There were also lots of smaller barge-like boats with various cargoes, from construction materials to sodas and snack foods–anything that’d be transported in trucks in other cities.  One of the other fun things about that afternoon was that it was the first time I wore my brand-new prescription sunglasses (any prescription sunglasses, really).  I’d gotten them the day before I left, because I wanted a backup pair of glasses and thought sunglasses would be useful, and they really, really were.  And, because I got amber lenses, all the sparkles in the water looked coppery.

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And, since smallish motorboats are the Venetian substitutes for cars, I liked the way this boat reminded me of a vintage car.

By the time the vaporetto got back to the stop (Accademia) near my hotel, it was late enough that I could check in.  So I did.  This is the view directly out my window:

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Definitely vacationy.

Having gained access to my room, I took a shower (this being the first opportunity since Saturday afternoon) in what turned out to be a fantastic shower setup.  Then I wandered around Dorsoduro for a little while.

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This is a side street sort of near my hotel.  I found dinner at that same cafe, since it was the only place open earlyish on a Monday evening (lots of places are closed on Mondays, and it was at least an hour before “normal” dinner time)–mushroom risotto.

On Tuesday, I set out bright (it was bright the entire time I was in Venice) and early for Murano, to see the Museo Vetrario (glass museum) and a lot of other glass.  The museum was smaller than I’d anticipated, but it was full of beautiful things, and there was good historical information.  They also had much of the information on leaflets that came in English, French, or German, so I could understand most of what they were presenting.  And the first room was archaeological finds–I’d never really thought about how early millefiore-style glass was made, but they had some examples from the first century CE, much earlier than I might’ve guessed.  As I said, the museum contained many, many beautiful objects, in a variety of different styles of glasswork, but there were a few particular types that struck me.  There was one vase-like object in chalcedony glass (beautiful by itself) that also had silver filigree on it.  And the filigree glass…  So beautiful and delicate and intricate-looking!  Alas, they did not allow photography, and they were pretty strict about enforcing that policy.  Though….if they had, I might’ve filled up all three of my camera memory cards before I got home.

Anyway, no photos in the museum, but I took a few others on Murano, including this one of a residential “street”.  This is pretty close to the neighborhood bread shop where I bought a slice of pizza for part of lunch.

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I wandered in and out of most of the glass shops on the main streets near the vaporetto stop, looking for a couple of souvenirs for myself and for a gift for my mom.  Beautiful stuff in most of them, ranging from glass insects (rhinoceros beetles!) to millefiore platters to the kind of gradient-y glass that seems to be a Murano specialty.  I caught the last third of a glass-working demonstration in one of the factories, during which I was particularly impressed by the seeming ease with which the glassworker made a pulled-glass horse from a blob of molten glass.  I did find the things I’d wanted to buy, though not all of them were in the forms I’d anticipated, and then I had a spinach-and-ricotta-stuffed focaccia for a lunch supplement before taking the vaporetto back to Dorsoduro.

This next photo is from that vaporetto ride–it’s a nice example of Venetian architecture (the fancy kind along the Grand Canal, anyway) and the painted poles in front of many of the buildings.

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Tuesday night, I took myself out for a fancy dinner, which turned out to be excellent.  Soave, white fish (gilthead) and asparagus with pesto, and then pears and light custard and caramel sauce in puff pastry.  The only thing wrong with that meal was the people at the (very close) next table, who were Americans who seemed to like complaining.  (Hey, I’d rather listen to people complain in foreign languages, if I’m going to listen to complaints.  At least that way I’ll miss a lot of the complaininess and enjoy understanding what words I catch.)

On Wednesday, I walked to Piazza San Marco:

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And very impressive it is.  Especially from closer up.

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The carvings are stunning enough, but all the mosaics!

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This closer-up shot is from the terrace.  I wasn’t comfortable taking pictures in the museum, since there were “no photography” signs in every room, but it had lots of beautiful and/or impressive stuff.  (And the same admission price grants access to both the museum and this terrace.)  Oh, and the kinda more impressive bit was the inside of the main cathedral space, which was just stunningly beautiful and ornate.  The floors!  Sure, there are mosaics all over the ceiling, but my favorite bits were the tile/inlay work on the floors.  Several different colors of marble, mostly in geometric patterns (lots of different ones), but also including a set of three eagles in different colors, and griffins, and I think there were peacocks, and and and and…  I wish I could’ve taken pictures of just the floors.

The outside’s pretty impressive, too, though.

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I especially like this quilt-like use of different patterns of marble on the side of the building.  (The statues in this photo are on the corner of the Palazzo Ducale, not San Marco.)

Again, I took lots more photos than I felt it appropriate to cram into this blog post, but they’re all on Flickr.  Anyway, after touring the cathedral, I took the elevator up to the top of the campanile (belltower) and took lots more photos of the views.  And then I wandered back toward the hotel, stopping in several shops (leatherwork, Random Interesting Stuff, and paper goods) and then in a science-and-stuff museum that had what turned out to be a retrospective on a glass artist whose name I can’t recall right now.  Fantastically beautiful work, though, with really interesting combinations of color and texture (including swirling color one way and then carving scale-like bits or divot-y shapes swirling in the opposite direction).

Wednesday’s dinner was decidedly less fancy, though still quite pleasant–pizza at a restaurant overlooking the other canal, with gelato from a side-street gelateria for dessert.

Then, on Thursday, I got up extra-early to catch my train(s) to Florence.

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Funny how much less touristy the vaporettos were at 8am…  (This last photo shows a couple other vaporettos, and you can see the platform at the next stop, over on the right.)

Europe trip: Part 2 will be Florence.  Soonish.

I’ve been home for nearly two weeks now, but it’s gone by amazingly quickly. Oh, especially because I went to Massachusetts over the weekend, mostly for the Sheep and Wool festival.

I’m still working on labelling my photos from Europe, but here are a few from since I got back.

columbine

cosmos

Japanese maple

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If things go more or less as planned, I’ll have a post on Venice up tomorrow.