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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Photo Blog: Central Florence, Il Duomo & The David

We headed into downtown Florence today to tour around the central part of the city and see some of the main sights. The hot weather continues in Florence with today's temperature reaching into the mid-to-high 90's with a great deal of humidity. In fact, this afternoon we were greeted with a small thunderstorm that briefly cooled things off -- but left the air a little steamy in the aftermath. Used to the drier heat of Los Angeles, California -- we have adjusted a little to the more humid climate here. In addition, remarkably I have gone to wearing jeans, socks, and shoes in the evenings to keep off the mosquitoes given our battles with them so far.

Here are the pictures from the day:

We caught bus #26 from Casellina into downtown Florence to the Firenze Santa Maria Novella train station.  The bus ride -- recently air conditioned -- takes about 20 minutes to arrive downtown.We caught bus #26 from Casellina into downtown Florence to the Firenze Santa Maria Novella train station. The bus ride -- recently air conditioned -- takes about 20 minutes to arrive downtown.


The morning sunlight was good for a picture at the front of the church of Santa Maria Novella.  Spectacular inside (although no photos permitted), this is the site where Galileo proclaimed that the Earth orbited around the Sun from the pulpit.  The Piazza Santa Maria Novella was under heavy construction and closed off for the most part.The morning sunlight was good for a picture at the front of the church of Santa Maria Novella. Spectacular inside (although no photos permitted), this is the site where Galileo proclaimed that the Earth orbited around the Sun from the pulpit. The Piazza Santa Maria Novella was under heavy construction and closed off for the most part.


The morning sun provides for a nice picture from the side of Il Duomo from the Piazza del Duomo.The morning sun provides for a nice picture from the side of Il Duomo from the Piazza del Duomo.


Ashley and I pose for a quick traditional self-view photo in front of Il Duomo Firenze.Ashley and I pose for a quick traditional self-view photo in front of Il Duomo Firenze.


The entrance to the Duomo or Dome in Florence remains free, which is nice and the line to enter takes only about 5 minutes for us to enter.  Once inside, the main new learning for me was the size of the cracks in the actual dome itself.  You can see one of the major cracks in the picture above.  While inside, I briefly heard a guide mention that when it is hot in the summer (as it is today) that the cracks are greatly expanded, enabling the dome to breathe allowing the hot air to escape.  In the cooler months, these cracks close up and in some cases are barely visible to the eye.The entrance to the Duomo or Dome in Florence remains free, which is nice and the line to enter takes only about 5 minutes for us to enter. Once inside, the main new learning for me was the size of the cracks in the actual dome itself. You can see one of the major cracks in the picture above. While inside, I briefly heard a guide mention that when it is hot in the summer (as it is today) that the cracks are greatly expanded, enabling the dome to breathe allowing the hot air to escape. In the cooler months, these cracks close up and in some cases are barely visible to the eye.


While wandering the streets we come across Mercato Centrale -- a place where you can get meats, cheeses, pastas, wines, fruits, and more.  In this very popular location -- although considered for tourists by Florentines -- many vendors will pack and vacuum seal just about anything for you to take home.While wandering the streets we come across Mercato Centrale -- a place where you can get meats, cheeses, pastas, wines, fruits, and more. In this very popular location -- although considered "for tourists" by Florentines -- many vendors will pack and vacuum seal just about anything for you to take home.


And of course there is the famous Florence open air market where you can buy leather goods, souvenirs, scarfs, ties, and more -- all while negotiating with the street vendors and their shops behind.And of course there is the famous Florence open air market where you can buy leather goods, souvenirs, scarfs, ties, and more -- all while negotiating with the street vendors and their shops behind.


Lunch time and we break down and have our first pizza.  Here is Ashley with the classic margherita, ready to enjoy!Lunch time and we break down and have our first pizza. Here is Ashley with the classic margherita, ready to enjoy!


My first visit to Galleria Dell'Academia to see Michelangelo's David.  The real story?  Absolutely no line in front of the gallery to get inside.  On my previous visit, this line stretched around the corner with a one-to-two hour wait to get inside.  Whether it was the hot weather or the timing here at the end of August -- we do not know.  However, we quickly paid our 10 euro entrance fee and enjoyed a very uncrowded visit.My first visit to Galleria Dell'Academia to see Michelangelo's David. The real story? Absolutely no line in front of the gallery to get inside. On my previous visit, this line stretched around the corner with a one-to-two hour wait to get inside. Whether it was the hot weather or the timing here at the end of August -- we do not know. However, we quickly paid our 10 euro entrance fee and enjoyed a very uncrowded visit.


Il Duomo catches a little afternoon sun with some light clouds in the sky.Il Duomo catches a little afternoon sun with some light clouds in the sky.


One of my most vivid memories from my trip to Florence back in 1996 was eating gelato ice cream on the steps of Il Duomo with a group of friends.  Now back in Florence -- it is necessary for me to relive that moment again as I enjoy a Caffe Gelato.One of my most vivid memories from my trip to Florence back in 1996 was eating gelato ice cream on the steps of Il Duomo with a group of friends. Now back in Florence -- it is necessary for me to relive that moment again as I enjoy a Caffe Gelato.


Ending the day back at our bus stop in Casellina, a few Italian women chat just after the rain has stopped.Ending the day back at our bus stop in Casellina, a few Italian women engage in conversation just after the late afternoon rain has stopped.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Photo Blog: Murano & More Time in Venice, Italy

Since we were able to visit many of the major sites yesterday in Venice -- today we get to visit the island of Murano, take it easy, and relax a little bit. Murano, historically important for the beautiful glass blowing and has been featured recently in the 1,000 Places to See book and television show on the travel channel. Then, in the evening we'll head back to Florence to spend the next couple of days.

Here are a few (many) pictures from the day.

The free water taxi service that the Hilton Molino Stucky in Venice offers. It runs hourly, which in the evening seems not frequently enough. In fact, a few guests were turned away on last night's 10:20pm shuttle we took back. However, it is a free service -- especially compared with the expensive Vaporetto -- Water Taxi service.


We walked outside of the hotel, turned to the right and headed to the Palanca Vaporetto water taxi stop to catch the first available 41/42 line that will take us to the island of Murano.


A slightly different look at the Molina Stucky Hilton Hotel in Venice from the 42 Vaporetto line. As you can see, the Molina Stucky is a massive property with a conference center an more.


By taking the 42 line, we were able to take our first trip down the Canale Di Cannaregio on our way to Murano. Just a photo of the early morning street life in this part of Venice.


Here we approach the island of Murano after a 35 minute or so water taxi ride.


Known for the awesome creations of glass from the island, many of the glass makers (blowers) offer free demonstrations where you can see objects made right in front of you. We watched this glass maker create two simple pieces (a vase and this horse) from scratch before being directed into this maker's storefront.


Tons of shopping line the central canal on Murano. Ranging from basic creations to high-end custom and artistic pieces of Murano glass. As with most things here -- never pay the asking price and negotiate as much as possible.


The Cometo Di Vetro or Comet Glass Star by famous glass sculptor Simone Cenedese at the central point of Murano.


I liked the glass comet so much, I had Ashley take my picture in front of it.


We had a nice lunch at Ristorante Dalla More right next to the water. With the hot and humid weather, it was nice to sit down in the shade to get out of the heat for awhile.


Ashley posing with her new glass piece created from Murano glass. Actually, hers is being packed up -- and this similar piece made for a nice picture. It was a small discussion we had about whether we should purchase an Italian glass piece of a Dutch painter who lived in France -- but at the end of the day, she liked it and it fit well in our home. The most important two things.


One of the largest stores on Murano was Furnace Gino Mazzuccato which had a number of great pieces. Had we not purchased the Vincent van Gogh Sunflowers mosaic from Murano Glass -- we would have made a purchase here.


Ashley and I sitting on the steps of the Venezia San Lucia train station waiting for our train to arrive. Even in the shade, the steps were still hot from the heat of the day.


Ashley and I were amazed at the amount of people coming and going from the Vaporetto water taxi stops at the train station. It was heavy and constant -- every 5-10 minutes a large group of people came to the station from Venice -- and left the train station for Venice.


A couple of the Vaporetto water taxis on the Venice Canal. For public transportation, they were quite expensive. For a 60 minute ticket, it is euro 6.50 ($10.10) per person. With four separate rides -- that euro 52 ($80) for our transportation there. We could have saved a little by getting a 24 or 36 hour pass -- however, it would have been less than 20%. However, the Vaporetto are still much more cost effective than the private water taxis or gondoliers.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Photo Blog: First Day in Venice, Italy

Today was the start of the sight-seeing portion of our vacation here to Italy. This morning we woke up relatively early for European standard in order to make our 8:38am Eurostar train from Florence up to Venice. We have actually adjusted quite well to the later eating schedule here in Italy. It just took a couple of days.

For me, this will be my first time in Venice, Italy – kind of. Technically, I made it to Venice back in 1996 when I was studying abroad in Heidelberg, Germany. In fact, the group I was traveling with accidentally got off the train at the Venezia Mestre stop rather than the Venezia San Lucia stop. Nothing against Mestre, but not the true “Venice” with the canals that tourists generally think of – this time, Ashley will not allow me to make the same mistake. :-)

As with any vacation, this particular day has a couple of stories – some of the pictures may be slightly out of chronological order. However, the story is more important – and was not documented until later.


We made it to Venice San Lucia train station with no problems this time and head out from the train station towards the Venice Canals Vaporetto -- Water Taxi.


After choosing the long way around on Vaporetto #2, we approach San Marcos Square so we can catch the free Hilton water taxi over to the Hilton Stuckey Molina Hotel.


We finally found the water taxi for the Hilton. Luckily it was not this late at night. However, it did take us an hour to find it -- after searching around the San Marcos stops, a couple of calls to the hotel and then finally going farther west down the Grand Canal to the San Zaccaria FMV stop. We were nearly dropping from the heat, our luggage, and tired of walking up and down the bank. In hindsight, simply taking the #2, #41, or #42 Vaporetto Water Taxi to the Sacca Fisola stop would have been the quickest and saved us about an hour. The good news is that we went down the main canal route, so we did get some good views.


Finally arriving at the hotel -- the Hilton Stuckey Molina hotel is a very new property -- massive by European standards -- with a lot of character left from it's beginnings as a flour factory.


Back on the Hilton Stuckey Molina Water Shuttle to Piazza San Marcos after checking into the hotel and grabbing a quick bite to eat.


A quick photo in front of Saint Mark's Basilica. The line to enter the basilica was shorter that we expected -- just a five minute wait.


Another familiar sight, Saint Mark's Campanile.


Ashley poses in a simple street of Venice, marked by the narrow walkway.


We stopped for a couple of minutes to relax and take in the view from Pointe Dell Academia one of the major crossings.


We "got" lost wandering around Venice for fun and ended up in a very un-tourist like area. I liked this photo of Venice life and the laundry hanging across the street.


Another sight several blocks from where the majority of the visitors are. An older Italian gentleman painting a scene of a bridge, boat, and a smaller canal.


After a relaxing dinner near Piazza San Marcos and a long day of seeing the major sites in Venice -- the view from our hotel room facing Piazza San Marcos

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Photo Blog: Relaxing in Florence, Italy

Today was a day of relaxation for us around the home for us, recovering from our long journey yesterday from Los Angeles. Some friends of the family dropped by for lunch and between our afternoon naps, we took a walk to the small village of San Martino and the church there.

Here are a couple of snap-shots from the day. The weather was a little overcast, in the 90's and humid -- so the pictures were not the clearest, but here they go:
Ashley, Filippo, Luigi, Sara-Jane Morris, and Armando at lunch. (From left-to-right)

This is the church at San Martino and where we will be hiking to. Ashley remembers this being a very long hike and her cousins giving her and her grandma tough time about making the hike!


We're coming to the last long hill before we reach the top and the church comes into full view.


Now at the top, a look back down at the house and where we just hiked from.


"La Casa De Chianti" or where they make wine here in San Martino as Villa Torrigiani.


A front view of Villa Torrigiani which was closed today.


Just a quick snapshot down a side street in San Martino.


A photo of the cross and stained glass window at the church. It was under construction and not open for viewing.


The clock tower, was able to get a decent photo despite the weather conditions and the construction.

Ashley relaxing back at the house in the evening.

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Photo Blog: Arrival in Florence, Italy

We have made it to Florence, Italy. From door-to-door it took about 24 hours total to make it to our family's residence just outside of Florence -- in the hills around San Martino. A little tired from our journey, it was great for me to meet the our Italian family and for Ashley to see everyone again.

After a little rest, we had a great afternoon and evening of catching up with everyone. Able to stay up until late in the evening, hopefully this means we will avoid much of the jet lag. Tomorrow we will either relax around the house and enjoy the countryside or possibly head into the city.

Here are a few photos from the long day.

The Boeing 777 jet that will take us from the Washington / Dulles Airport to Rome.The Boeing 777 jet that will take us from the Washington / Dulles Airport to Rome.

A groggy arrival in Rome, 40 minutes ahead of schedule.  Mark that down as unusual.A groggy arrival in Rome, 40 minutes ahead of schedule. Mark that down as unusual.

The Leonardo Express Train that takes you the main Rome train station (Roma Termini) from the Rome in just 25 minutes for 11 euros each.The Leonardo Express Train that takes you the main Rome train station (Roma Termini) from the Rome in just 25 minutes for 11 euros each.

Cruising on the Eurostar train through the country side.  As I remembered -- many vineyards of grapes and orchards of olive trees.  But, what was unexpected was miles of fields of sunflower plants.  I had not realized how extensive the fields are -- beautiful.Cruising on the Eurostar train through the country side. As I remembered -- many vineyards of grapes and orchards of olive trees. But, what was unexpected was miles of fields of sunflower plants. I had not realized how extensive the fields are -- beautiful.


The Florence (Firenze) train station just after our arrival to our final destination.The Florence (Firenze) train station just after our arrival to our final destination.


We'll be staying in the lower house where Luigi's brother Filipo lives.  Ashely remembers this as a garage from he last visit that has been beautifully converted.We'll be staying in the lower house where Luigi's brother Filippo lives. Ashely remembers this as a garage from her last visit that has been beautifully converted.


The scenic view from the front of the house of the rolling hills outside of Florence.The scenic view from the front of the house of the rolling hills outside of Florence.


Ashley and I relaxing with Giulio as he takes a break from a backgammon game.Ashley and I relaxing with Gulio as he takes a break from a backgammon game.


Gulio and his cousin Clemente give the dog Guilio and his cousin Clemente give the dog "Turbo" a bath in the yard.


Julio & Clemente continue their Backgammon duel.Guilio & Clemente continue their Backgammon duel.


A beautiful sunset over the hills makes a wonderful end to the day of travel.A beautiful sunset over the hills makes a wonderful end to the day of travel.

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