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After visiting David, we had a bit of time before the train.

Lunch, San Lorenzo market, pick up our luggage and walk to the train station.

Lunchtime: We just wandered around town until we found something. I guess we chose this place based on it’s look entirely. It looked cute.

The food was not so great. Not terrible, but probably the worst meal we had all week. Just not good.

Forst. Write it down. Don’t go there when you’re in Florence.

While we were eating, one of the restaurants nearby was serenaded with street performers (who then walked by each table asking for money) …… It was, also, right next to Rossopomodoro where Andrew and Devo got their soup.

After lunch, we mozied on back to the bed and breakfast, through the San Lorenzo Market.

Context: San Lorenzo Market is in a square and neighboring streets about 1/2 block from our b&b. The Church of San Lorenzo on one side of the square is where Andrew and Devo sat and drank beer on the wedding night.

We wanted to bring back a few pashminas, and so stopped by the San Lorenzo Market on our way out of town.

Next time I’m there, I want to go earlier in the day, right after the merchants set up. And get lots of pictures of the colors and textures and products and all that are spilling out of the carts …

At one of the carts on the end, I found the 5euro, solid colored pashminas I really wanted. I picked out 7 or 8 pashminas, I think.  3 for myself and the rest for Christmas gifts. And a pink tie for Andrew. And the sweet couple running the cart threw in the tie for free. Sweet man handed me back change just for the pashminas, and told me the extra 3euros was “for coffee” … sweet.

Andrew’s going to wear (what we call) his “Italy tie” to Kaitlin’s wedding …. you’ll see it soon!

I wear my pashminas (a scarf) pretty much every day I leave the house. At least until it gets warmer.

That is the kind of travel souvenir that I just love!


You turn the corner, and walk into the hallway where you know he is.

Your expectations are high, but you try to temper your excitement so you’re not too let down. Just in case.

You try to avoid looking up to save the moment as long as possible but it’s too hard.

You know that the place is packed all because of him. You’re elbow to elbow with other camera-toting-but-not-allowed-to-take-pictures tourists all facing and moving toward one end of the room.

Finally, unable to postpone the moment you look up. Past all the heads. Your eyes adjust to the light focused on him.

David is absolutely as overwhelming as you have heard.

The first part of the long room leading to David houses Michelangelo’s Prisoners (another one of the reasons I so wanted to visit the Accademia where they are housed) …..

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From Rick Steves:

These unfinished figures seem to be fighting to free themselves from the stone. Michelangelo believed the sculptor was a tool of God, not creating but simply revealing the powerful and beautiful figures he put in the marble. Michelangelo’s job was to chip away the excess, to reveal. He needed to be in tune with God’s will, and whenever the spirit came upon him, Michelangelo worked in a frenzy, often for days on end without sleep.

The Prisoners gives us a glimpse of this fitful process, showing the restless energy of someone possessed, struggling against the rock that binds him. Michelangelo himself fought to create the image he saw in his mind’s eye. You can still see the grooves from the chisel, and you can picture Michelangelo hacking away in a cloud of dust. Unlike most sculptors, who built a model and then marked up their block of marble to know where to chip, Michelangelo always worked free hand, starting from the front and working back. These figures emerged from the stone (as his colleague Vasari put it) “as though surfacing from a pool of water.”

The Prisoners was designed for the never-completed tomb of Pope Julius II (who also commissioned the Sistine Chapel ceiling). Michelangelo may have abandoned them simply because the project itself petered out, but he may have deliberately left them unfinished. Having satisfied himself that he’d accomplished what he set out to do, and seeing no point in polishing them into their shiny, finished state, he went on to a new project.

As you study the Prisoners, notice Michelangelo’s love and understanding of the human body. His greatest days were spent sketching the muscular, tanned, and sweating bodies of the workers in the Carrara marble quarries. Here, the prisoners’ heads and faces are the least-developed part – they “speak” with their poses. Comparing the restless, claustrophobic Prisoners with the serene and confident David gives an idea of the sheer emotional range in Michelangelo’s work.

Note: the photos of David are totally against the rules. At the foot of the sculpture is a gallery employee shouting “No PHOTOS!” if she even catches a *glimpse* of a camera.

But I’m stealthy …

From Rick Steves:

When you look into the eyes of Michelangelo’s David, you’re looking into the eyes of Renaissance Man. This 14-foot-tall symbol of divine victory over evil represents a new century and a whole new Renaissance outlook. This is the age of Columbus and classicism, Galileo and Gutenberg, Luther and Leonardo – of Florence and the Renaissance.

In 1501, Michelangelo Buonarotti, a 26-year-old Florentine, was commissioned to carve a large-scale work for the Duomo. He was given a block of marble that other sculptors had rejected as too tall, shallow, and flawed to be of any value. But Michelangelo picked up his hammer and chisel, knocked a knot off what became David‘s heart, and started to work.

The figure comes from a Bible story. The Israelites, God’s chosen people, are surrounded by barbarian warriors led by a brutish giant named Goliath. The giant challenges the Israelites to send out someone to fight him. Everyone is afraid except one young shepherd boy – David.

The statue captures David as he’s sizing up his enemy. He stands relaxed but alert, leaning on one leg in a classical pose. In his powerful is steady – searching with intense concentration, but also with extreme confidence. Michelangelo has caught the precise moment when David is saying to himself, “I can take this guy.”

Note that while the label on David indicates that he’s already slain the giant, the current director of the Accademia believes, as I do, that Michelangelo has portrayed David facing the giant.

David is a symbol of Renaissance optimism. He’s no brute but a civilized, thinking individual who can grapple with and overcome problems. He needs no armor, only his God-given body and wits. Look at his right hand, with the raised veins and strong, relaxed fingers. Many complained that it was too big and overdeveloped. But this is the hand of a man with the strength of God. No mere boy could slay the giant. But David, powered by God could. … and did.

Originally, the statue was commissioned to go on top of the Duomo, but the people loved it so much they put it next to the Palazzo Vecchio on the main square, where a copy stands today. If the relationship between the head and body seems a bit out of proportion, it’s because Michelangelo designed it to be seen “correctly” from far below the rooftop of the church.)

This was one of my favorite moments of our trip …..

There’s not much more I can say about David …. except that you MUST see him. If you’re in Italy, of course.

Add it to your Bucket list.


On our last morning in Florence, the one thing that we DEFINITELY planned on doing was visiting the Accademia. So much planned ahead that we bought time-scheduled entrance tickets a couple months ahead of time to make sure we were able to get in ….

So, noonish, we headed over to that side of town (remember, walking across the length of Florence is fairly easy to do in less than an hour) … and found several lines out in front of the museum.

One for reservations (score!) and a longer one for without (I wonder how long they all were waiting). … and still another line for tour groups …

Waiting in line, tons of people have doodled and graffiti’d on the wall …. look what I found (found. not drew myself). ..

While we really were visiting the Accademia for one reason, since we were already there, we took a look around some of the other wings of the gallery ….

They have a musical instrument museum … so interesting!

From Wikipedia:

The exhibition path moves through plucked string instruments, bowed, winds, harps, lyres and also includes keyboards. Amongst the most important instruments in the collection is the violin known as the ‘Tuscan Strad’ built by Antonio Stradivari in 1690 together with othe four instruments forming the so-called ‘Maedicean quintet’, built for the Grand Prince Ferdinando de’ Medici. Another outstanding piece is the viola by David Tecchler, the German born luthier who worked in Rome in the first half of 1700 and maker of some of the best instruments of the time. His is also one of the fine mandolins from the private collection of queen Margherita di Savoia who left as legacy to the museum.

Just so amazing!

look at the years …. and these were some of the newer instruments …

Also at the Accademia, we found this hall of …. well, plaster. All of these busts and statues were basically plaster casts. Rough drafts before the sculpture itself was carved out of more permanent stone ….

But – the MAIN reason we visited this gallery was to see Michelangelo’s Prisoners and David …. stay tuned.


So Thursday morning in Florence, we visited Santa Croce. That gorgeous basilica I’ve blogged about the last couple days. With the memorials and the tombs and the Catholic art and the little nuns. The photos do NOT do this place justice. I just loved the space and the light.

But that wasn’t even all of it. RIGHT next door is a leather school (Miranda visited the leather school when she was in Florence and bought herself a wallet).

It really is right next door …. In the same building complex, sharing a courtyard, I think.

Andrew was pretty excited about la Scuola del Cuoio ….

From their website:

Scuola del Cuoio was created after World War II through the collaborative efforts of the Franciscan friars of the Monastery of Santa Croce and the Gori and Casini families, Florentine leather artisans since the 1930’s. Their mission was to give orphans of the war a means to learn a practical trade with which to earn a living.
Santa Croce, with its strategic position along the banks of the Arno river, since the 13th century had been historically the district where the industries that required great quantities of water were concentrated. The tanners of via delle Conce and via dei Conciatori, just a few steps  from  the garden entrance of the Monastery and Scuola del Cuoio, were an important part of the Santa Croce neighborhood with the dyers of Corso dei Tintori and even the soap makers of via dei Saponai. The tanned hides were used for centuries for the leather manufacturing of the city and at the Monastery itself to cover the great manuscripts. Post-war Scuola del Cuoio brought those traditions back to the Monastery.

Look at all the fun tools they have ….

The workers/students were set up in kind of a wide hallway. Or really long and narrow room. The tables/workbenches are set up along one wall so tourists (read: me with my camera) can walk past all of them to watch their work and see what they do.  They also all had mirrors above/behind them, so observers could see the intricate work from that different angle as well …. It was a pretty interesting set up.

(shot in the mirror:)

They have a lot of the work (wallets, belts, planners of all kinds, keychains, etc) for sale on the premises and you can also get them personalized (with initials, fleur de lis, etc).

Andrew really wanted to get a wallet, but it was extremely expensive (if I remember correctly around $50 or more), so we decided a Target wallet would be good enough. Too bad though. I understand why it is so expensive, we just can’t afford that.

Feel free to shop online, though, if you don’t think you’ll get a chance to go to Florence before you need a new wallet or purse.

And before we leave … a couple shots of the courtyard of the church. Green with huge trees. SO so pretty at 11am.

Coming up next : the Accademia (and David!!!!)

P.S. Remind me next time to study up on my Catholic history before visiting Europe


Continuing on our Thursday morning, in Florence, at Santa Croce …..

(Every once in awhile I remember to take a self portrait, or Andrew kindly asks if I want him to take a picture of me. ….. proves I was there, right?)

also: I was wearing Andrew’s glasses for a little bit because my eyes aren’t so good at seeing far away. Which is why I’m going to go to the eye doctor sometime this year.

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Andrew loved the skulls. Lots of skulls on the grave/tomb markers. Pretty morbid, to us. But I’m sure it was stylish at the time … .

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I love this pic below. Just look at the size of this place! And the scaffolding ….. but the high ceilings and the big open area in the middle, with that high window…. love.

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I don’t know what this (below) is, but it definitely looks like the sculpture or painting was removed, huh? So interesting…. look at that texture of the wall. Imagine that the whole place looks like that under the decor ….

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One of the biggie’s I was pretty excited about : Michelangelo’s tomb:

From Rick Steves:

Santa Croce was Michelangelo’s childhood church, as he grew up a block east of here at Via dei Bentaccordi 15 (where nothing but a plaque marks the spot). The tomb, with the allegorical figures of painting, architecture and sculpture, was designed by Michelangelo’s great admirer, the artist/biographer Vasari.

I don’t know if you can tell from the images how big the thing is, but I couldn’t fit it all in one shot ….

We really learned a lot about Michelangelo while we were in Italy (all still to come on the blog, but we saw David, St. Peter’s basilica, the Sistine Chapel, La Pieta and more) …. I feel like it wouldn’t have been a complete trip if we missed this memorial to him. …

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{sidenote: we saw Angela’s last name ‘Lingrosso’ a lot of places}

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Scaffolding covered almost half of the art in the church….. kind of disappointing, but they were nice enough to show us what we were missing …

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little bitty nun! I love it!

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and even more skulls

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This piece of tunic was revered to be St. Francis of Assisi’s …. for real.

But then I found this article stating it couldn’t possibly be.

However, I also listened to an interview (can’t find the link at the moment) talking about how the actual authenticity of relics is less important than the meaning behind and the respect it receives.


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I feel a little like we didn’t spend enough time at this church, but it was pretty huge. And overwhelming. And amazingly interesting ….

and yet, still not done here. We next visited the adjacent leather school ….


For those of you just joining us, I have been chronicling Andrew’s and my week in Italy …. Rome, Florence for a wedding, and then Rome again. ….   It was magic.

Our last morning in Florence (Thursday) we made time to visit the Basilica of Santa Croce (note: this is post 1 of 2 about the church).

This church was huge and ornate and so interesting. Granted, there are churches/basilicas EVERYWHERE in Italy. Everywhere. On every corner, in every nook.

But this was one of the bigger ones ….

The front – faces a a big empty square :

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(the tickets were pretty neat:)

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You pay for your tickets and enter the building from a side entrance …I’m sad for Miranda that she didn’t get a chance to go in … because it was …. overwhelming. Before we even left for Italy, I decided I really wanted to come to this church (if we had time) because of how many amazing people from history who are buried or memorialized here (like at Westmister Abbey in London). Soo so interesting.

From Rick Steves:

This 14th-century Franciscan church, decorated with centuries of precious art, holds the tombs of great Florentines. The loud, 19th-century Victorian Gothic facade faces a huge square ringed with tempting shops and littered with tired tourists. Escape into the church and admire its sheer height and spaciousness.

Seriously, so many tombs. So very many. And a bunch were even under scaffolding

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This is going to sound terrible – but I’ve already forgotten what many of these tombs/memorials are for. I knew when I was there – and I tried to take the photos that would help me remember. … but – in the image below for example – I can’t read what the tomb says, can you?

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Image below, there was a private service going on in one of the smaller chapels. I love that. I love that these huge, historic, touristy churches are still actually used as places of worship.

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(image below looks back towards the main entrance)

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(see? scaffolding)

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(look at the intricacy of those stained glass windows)

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(the tomb below was roped off : the carving made the floor uneven.)

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Below is (I’m pretty sure) the tomb of Galileo Galilei: Being condemned as a heretic in life, his remains were only allowed to return to the church long after his death.

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This image below, we weren’t entirely sure what had happened …. look at the image on the wall. Either that top part had been removed, and they had drawn in where it used to be …. or the top part was covered up, and it’s in the process of being restored. Unclear.

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Come back Thursday for the 2nd half of Santa Croce. Friday will be the leather school adjacent to the church.

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Florence, Italy – Dante – Thursday

Thursday morning – we had about 1/2 day in Florence to do touristy things before catching our train back to Rome.

Leisurely breakfast at the B&B. We *technically* checked out, but were able to keep our bags there AND keep the keys ….. so, yea. They’re pretty lenient on that sort of thing :)

As we were heading out for the day, the bride and groom had just woken up and were eating, while getting directions to their day excursion.

I found out later they didn’t end up going, but instead the B&B hosts made Angela and Devo dinner. As in homemade Italian food – more than they could possibly eat. It sounded amazing …. . But that’s a post for Angela to do.

Planned our 1/2 day in Florence – luckily you can walk everywhere, so we kind of just walked in the general direction of the church I wanted to visit.

When Miranda was globe-trotting last summer, she visited Florence and “stumbled upon” Dante’s house. …. when Andrew found out he was super excited, so we wedged into our plans a meander to that side of town.

Check out the teeny tiny streets of Florence … so cute! And a little bitty car parked on a sidewalk (2nd photo down).

I tell ya – visiting Europe REALLY makes me want a SMART car

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This is how we found Dante’s house …. I knew from the map we were *roughly* in the neighborhood. But it’s so hard to tell which of these little alleyways are actual streets on the map, and which are just alleys. They kind of all look the same to me.

But then we stopped at an ATM to get euros, and saw this little street/guidepost, pointing us through the archway.

Lucky that sign was there.

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This is the street that was through the archway … narrow. With a church on the left, and Dante’s house on the end on the right …

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A look inside the door (below)

We did NOT go inside. It was really interesting to see the location (and the church nearby) but

From Rick Steves:

Dante’s house – actually a copy built near his house – reopened after a lengthy restoration, but is painfully lacking in artifacts, many of which were destroyed by a fire while in storage. The reopening releases Dante fans from the Purgatorio of waiting, but falls short of Paradiso. The house’s only valuable offering – not worth the entrance fee – is the exhibit of information panels that introduce visitors to the history of Florence within the context of Dante’s life.

I think the entrance fee was something around $10 for EACH of us. … not worth it.

But cool to be there. On those streets. Where centuries ago that writer walked. …. so interesting.

Learn more about Dante Aligheri from Wikipedia.

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Check out the graffiti’d PacMan ghost above  …. or a cartoon octopus. Who knows.

The streets of Florence are sooo interesting … we made our way to Santa Croce next …


Florence, Italy – Wedding Night

I know, the title sounds kind of ooh-la-la, but it’s mostly a story about Devo and myself.  Oh, this is Andrew by the way, doing a mid-week post since this is my story and not Amy’s.

After the wedding and reception, Devo had rounded up cabs to take all the guests to their lodgings.  Amy, Angela, Devo and myself were the last ones at the hotel waiting for our cab to arrive and Devo asked if anyone would rather walk back to the B&B.  Maybe make a stop at Piazza di Michelangelo.  I figured both of the ladies were too worn out to walk back to town, but it was still pretty early and I was in Florence and it was only a handful of miles back to the hotel so what the heck.  Part of me just wanted to walk back to the hotel with the groom because it seemed like such an unlikely thing for a man just married to be up to on his wedding night.  So we made sure that the girls had enough cash for the taxi and we headed up the windy road to the Piazza in our suits and wedding attire.

It was a beautiful clear night, kind of chilly, but just gorgeous to be out and walking around Italy in dress clothes.  We bought some beer from an outdoor vendor and just drank and talked and chatted.  I didn’t really know Devo that well really, but it felt awesome to just hang out and share stories and have a married friend.  We took our time walking back, just roaming the streets drinking more beer, stopping to get gelato.  We finally made it back to the B&B and Amy and Angela were pretty hungry.  Devo and I still wanted to hang out some more so we offered to get the girls some food from the restaurant across the street.

We got down to the restaurant and placed the order for the food and had some wine at the bar while we waited.  After about 20 college age locals got in line to pay their bill right before us, we paid and took the food back to Amy & Angela.  Virginia was upstairs hanging out with the bride and wedding photographer and showed some interest in getting into some trouble.  I think it was at this point that Amy and Angela both said they were going to bed.  Angela and Devo went to their room and Amy & I went to ours.  I told Amy I didn’t really feel like going to bed, that I wanted to just walk the streets and hang out with Devo.  Amy responded that she didn’t mind, but I had to ask Angela’s permission if Devo could still hang out.  It was their wedding night after all.  So feeling a bit like I was in the ‘Burbs, I knocked on their bedroom door and sheepishly asked if Devo could come out and play. hahahahahahahahahahahaha

So Devo, Virginia and I basically just walked around Florence for an hour or so, bought some drinks and sat on the steps of some ancient and wonderful, beautiful building and talked the way tipsy people usually talk.  Once we got too cold we made our way back to the B&B and sat in kitchen.  It was then I found out that Devo has seen Nirvana in concert.  yes, it blew my mind.

That’s about it.  I wish I had some pictures or more details.  It’s hard to say what we talked about even.  I think we talked about their plans, moving to Italy, the beauty of Italy, how much we loved Italy, how cool it was to be able to drink on the streets of Italy, we talked about music…….seriously couldn’t have been a better night.

Currently Listening to:  Sonic Youth – SYR7 J’Accuse Ted Hughes (2008) LP



The morning of the wedding I woke up and before I showered or got ready for the wedding I decided I wanted to climb Giotto’s Tower.  This 270-foot bell tower for Il Duomo has 50 fewer steps than Il Duomo (so that means 413 steps right? I’m too lazy this morning to check my facts) and offers a great veiw of Brunelleschi’s Dome.  It was a beautiful morning to spend some time alone and just try to blend in with the crowd, do some people watching and get some great exercise.  The stairs were about as treacherous as climbing the Dome, but this climb was less crowded since it was about 10am or so.

(view of Il Duomo as I’m climbing up the steps.  There were all these tall narrow cut-outs/windows with one vertical crossbar in them, allowing just enough light in to see where you’re going.)

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Back on the ground in front of the Dome

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The detail of the artistry and the colors of the marble are amazing.  So beautiful up close

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The green Pharmacia cross is on the corner of the street where our B&B was located.  Right across from Il Duomo.

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All these pictures were taken by me, that’s why quality control seems to have slipped so far down on Those crazy Schuberts this weekend.  oops.


Firenza, Italy | Tuesday Night Zuppa Disaster

After our wonderful sunny day in the Tuscan Countryside tasting wine, olive oil and a traditional Italian home-cooked meal everyone was kind of beat.  The next day Angela and Devo had a full day of getting married and I think most of us just wanted to relax and be available to help prepare for the wedding in any way we could.  For myself and Devo this meant getting soup for Angela and Amy.

Andrew, pre soup

Angela, Amy, Devo and I are lounging around at our bed & breakfast and we’re getting kind of hungry (I’m not sure how, since we’d eaten a huge meal earlier) and Angela mentions that she’d like some soup.  Not just any soup, but Matzah Ball Soup.  Sure, that should be easy to find in Florence.  If we can’t find that she’ll take a soup that is not tomato based.  At first this task didn’t seem so difficult, just go find a restaurant and tell them in our broken Italian that we’d like 4 soups to go.  Devo and I first hit up the restaurant directly across the alley from the B&B and check the menu.  No matzah ball soup.  Luckily for us there are restaurants everywhere and most of them have a menu posted outside their doors.

We’re passing restaurant after restaurant and most of them offer one soup, but not all of them.  And it’s usually Minestrone.   Then Devo remembers that he and Angela and a few friends had gone to a restaurant and become friends (kinda) with one of the waiters.  It’s right across the street, so we walk over there and we’re looking like tourists at the menu.  We don’t see soup.  But then a waitress walks out and recognized Devo from the other night and asks if we need help (in broken English of course).  Devo explains that we want ‘zuppa’ to go.  She replies that they don’t really carry soup, but will make some for us.  Awesome!  Score, now what do we want in it?  “Pollo” and “Noodle” Devo says.  “Noodle?” responds the waitress.  Yes, we feel like idiots.  “Ummmm, pasta!” Devo says quickly trying to correct the obvious out-of-towner blunder we’ve just made.  She asks us to come inside where Devo recognizes the waiter from the last time they were there and they start joking around and then he tells us that Yes they can make us soup to go, but they don’t have a to-go container so we’d need to bring them one.

oh, ok.  There’s not really a KMart on the corner to buy tupperware, and the host of the B&B has gone to bed and there’s a note in her kitchen that says to stay out of the drawers.  Devo and I rush back to the B&B after like 20-30 minutes of searching for soup and excitedly tell the girls that we found a restaurant to custom make us some soup, but that we don’t know what the heck we’ll bring it back in.  Some of our ideas were, a plastic trash bag, empty water bottles, just steal/borrow a few bowls from the B&B.  We leave the B&B empty-handed and I have an idea.   We can’t buy a bowl or tupperware anywhere because it’s too late, but maybe if we buy 4 large gelato bowls we can get those filled up.  We head to a Gelato shop and buy 4 empty bowls.  yes, the people think we’re crazy.  But the largest of the sizes is still tiny, remember, this isn’t America where a large ice cream is 72 oz.  We’re heading to the restaurant and I start realizing that this is a stupid idea.  I hand the gelato cups to Devo and I say something like “I’m going with you but you’re handing them these cups”  We walk into the restaurant and the waiter looks at us expectantly with a grin.  It turns into an even bigger grin and a huge laugh when Devo pulls the four gelato cups out from behind his back.  Now everyone in the restaurant is cracking up at the two Americans.  The waiter is pointing to Devo and miming blowing his brains out just laughing at how moronic these cups are.  It was awkward and also hilarious.  The guys finally bring some rinsed out (barely) old tupperware from the back and proceed to make our soup, but we have now assured them we will bring their tupperware back the next day (the wedding day).

gelato containers

Devo and I head back to the B&B, champions of zuppa, feeling a little touristy and embarrassed, but champions none the less.  We walked into the girls room, just cracking up and told them our tale.  We all joked about how when we went back the next day to return the tupperware that the staff would have brought their friends and families to point and laugh at us, or how Angela and Devo would go in their wedding attire and take pictures in front of the staff. We then proceeded to pour the soup into the gelato cups that had so embarrassed us.

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The next day, I returned the tupperware in the late morning, they were barely open and no one was there ridiculing me. Afterwards I made my way to Giotto’s Tower for a solo climb up 400+ steps.  A beautiful way to start a wedding day.

I’m not gonna lie, this is one of my favorite memories ever.  Some kind of strange adventure, a simple adventure.  If Angela, or Amy or Devo thinks I left anything out, please comment.

Currently Listening to:  Fennesz – Black Sea (2008) LP

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It’s worth searching out any of the varied releases on Touch Music UK


Florence, Italy – Duomo – Tuesday

When you’re in Florence, if you can make it happen, try to climb the Duomo tower at sunset.

No question.

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Tuesday afternoon, our guides from Accidental Tourist drove us back to the city of Florence from our host’s home in Tuscany after a very filling and delicious lunch.

sidenote: Andrew and I were in Aly’s van with Virginia and Angela’s parents.

The Duomo dominates the skyline of Florence, and the city square where the Duomo is located is one of the primary areas of the city.

*Technically* the word ‘duomo’ is just an Italian word for cathedral church. Florence’s cathedral/Duomo (pictured here) is officially called : Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore.


From Rick Steves:

Florence’s Gothic cathedral has the third-longest nave in Christendom. The church’s noisy neo-Gothic facade from the 1870′s is covered with pink, green and white Tuscan marble (see 1st image of this post). Since nearly all of its great art is stored in the Duomo Museum (behind the church), the best thing about the interior is the shade. The inside of the dome is decorated by one of the largest paintings of the Renaissance, a huge Last Judgment by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari.

The cathedral’s claim to artistic fame is Brunelleschi‘s magnificent dome – the first Renaissance dome and the model for domes to follow.

Because we didn’t get into town until around 430p or so … and were pretty exhausted and still full of food, we didn’t get to the Duomo until around 6p. Because of the time, and our interests, we elected to climb the dome of the cathedral rather than go inside.

I think they only allow people to climb the dome up until 630p or so. We knew we were cutting it close, but it turned out perfectly!

From Rick Steves:

For a grand view into the cathedral from the base of the dome, a peek at some of the tools used in the dome’s construction, a chance to see Brunelleschi’s “dome-within-a-dome” construction, a glorious Florence view from the top, and the equivalent of 463 plunges on a Stairmaster, climb the dome.

Yea, that’s right. 463 steps.

Holy geez.

At least we worked off all those calories.

I took off my sweater pretty much right away. Another 50 steps up I put my hair in a ponytail. Another 50 steps up I got Andrew to carry my bag (including memory cards, guidebook, etc).


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A tiny window, over-looking the city, just partway up the stairs:

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A lot of people thought they were EXTREMELY clever to graffiti RIGHT next to the sign that says ‘Do not write on the walls:

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On the way up and on the way down there are 2 different room/landing areas that act as mini-museums. These are (I think) statues/sculptures that used to reside in the square outside the cathedral, but were moved inside to be preserved. Check out the defacing that has been done over the years. So sad ….

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Dome artwork:

pretty intense.

From Wikipedia:

It was suggested that the interior of the 45 metre (147 ft) wide dome should be covered with a mosaic decoration to make the most of the available light coming through the circular windows of the drum and through the lantern. Brunelleschi had proposed the vault to glimmer with resplendent gold, but his death in 1446 put an end to this project, and the walls of the dome were whitewashed. Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici decided to have the dome painted with a representation of The Last Judgment. This enormous work, 3,600 metres² (38 750 ft²) of painted surface, was started in 1568 by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari and would last till 1579. The upper portion, near the lantern, representing The 24 Elders of Apoc. 4 was finished by Vasari before his death in 1574. Federico Zuccari and a number of collaborators, such as Domenico Cresti, finished the other portions: (from top to bottom) Choirs of Angels; Christ, Mary and Saints; Virtues, Gifts of the Holy Spirit and Beatitudes; and at the bottom of the cuppola: Capital Sins and Hell. These frescoes are considered Zuccari’s greatest work. But the quality of the work is uneven because of the input of different artists and the different techniques. Vasari had used true fresco, while Zuccari had painted in secco.

It was huge. And so more vivid and colorful in real life.

Andrew’s favorite was the guy pulling himself apart (2 photos down) . …

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More of those steps …. We thought they felt very Alfred Hitchcock or Edgar Allen Poe. Low ceilings. Awkward angles. Non-conformity of step depth. Dark. Stone.

Pretty creepy if you were by yourself, for sure!

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And then – finally – we found the light. It almost felt like coming up from underground ….

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aaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh  {and all of heaven opened up and the angels sang!}

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yea. It was 463 steps. And we were EXHAUSTED (we slept well that night, for sure) … . but it was sooooo worth it.

When else are we going to be in Florence and get to see this view?

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(thanks to the friendly stranger who offered to take the shot below)

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Now whenever you look at a photo of Florence, you can imagine Andrew and I at the very very very top of that big dome!

I think about it.

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(and then we had to walk back DOWN the steep scary steps. Easier going down, though, that’s for sure)

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Just a glimpse of the inside of the church on our way out. It was already closed to visitors for the day …

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And as a bonus:

In the same square as the Duomo is the Florence Baptistery – with those famous doors!

From Rick Steves:

Florence’s Baptistery is dear to the soul of the city. In medieval and Renaissance times, the locals – eager to link themselves to a classical past – believed (wrongly) that this was a Roman building. It is, however, Florence’s oldest building (11th century). Most festivals and parades either started or ended here. Go inside for a fine example of pre-Renaissance mosaic art (1200s-1300s) in the Byzantine style.

editor’s note: Andrew and I did NOT go inside

continuing with Rick Steves:

The Baptistery’s bronze doors bring us out of the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance. Florence had great civic spirit, with different guilds and merchant groups embellishing their city with great art. The city staged a competition in 1401 for the commission of the Baptistery’s north doors. All the greats entered and 25-year-old Lorenzo Ghiberti won easily, beating out heavy-weights such as Brunelleschi (who, having lost the Baptistery gig, was free to go to Rome, study the Pantheon, and later design the Duomo’s dome).

Later in 1425, Ghiberti was given another commission, for the east doors, and this time there was literally no contest. The bronze panels of these doors (image below) added a whole new dimension to art – depth. Michelangelo said these doors were fit to be the gates of paradise.

(behind gates and tourists … and these are copies! The originals are in the museum)

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One last look back at the Duomo facade …. pink and green? Like pajamas? Or beautiful? what do you think?

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The second stop of our Accidental Tourist Tuscany day excursion was to a second property (I believe owned by the same family) where we were treated to olive oil tasting and wine tasting.

{Check out the other stop we had this day here: Villa Gondi, how to make olive oil, how to make wine }

Below pictured La villa della Pievecchia : the website is in Italian, but I seem to remember that this property acted as a lookout against neighboring armies/etc in the centuries before Italy was all one country.

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Inside it feels like an old farmhouse. … with stone walls, stone floor, HUGE kitchen, narrow hallway. Pretty neat.

In the corner, under one window was a long table set up with wooden benches and chairs, with place settings for all of us.

Time to actually get to taste what we had been learning about! Such a fun way to bring it full circle for us.. ..

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Aly, Steve’s son, cut us fresh bread pieces, sprinkled a little salt (Italian bread is traditionally made without salt), and drizzled on some olive oil ….

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Oh yum.

yum yum yum

The olive oil – because of the way it is made – is fairly strong and FULL of flavor. Very different from the olive oil you might get here at the grocery store or Olive Garden.

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Then comes the wine.

Now, I don’t drink. I just don’t like alcohol.

But I tried the wine here in Tuscany… because, you know, when else am I going to go to a private Tuscan winery and then get to taste the wine.

I didn’t drink all that much though. And I didn’t have any other wine to compare it to, so Angela or Andrew make sure you comment below and talk about the wine.

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The dessert wine was pretty good.

Andrew and I bought/brought home a bottle. We’re gonna look for a recipe that involves soaking cantelope in dessert wine or something equally luxurious. Leave links in the comments if you have ideas!

And this (of course) was a LEGIT dessert wine. Not the sped-up kind when they add extra sugar or extra alcohol. The legitimate, correctly made Italian dessert wine where the grapes are hung to age and evaporate the moisture before even starting the rest of the wine process.

I’m fairly certain this is considered Vin Santo (which of course has its own specific regulations and processes. So interesting all these details!)….

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As we were enjoying the last of the wine and bread, Steve treated us to another surprise.

The man is a trained classical singer. A tenor. Holy Geez!

(because of the acoustics of the room, and to keep from blasting our ears, he walked partway down the hallway. In the pic below he’s standing in the doorway to the hallway).

Steve sang to us. A classical song in his pure tenor.

soo lovely. And such an amazing touch to the day.

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Then we were given the chance to buy.

Of course.

But, you know, it NEVER felt like a sales pitch because we were already in love with the product and gloating over the fact that we got to experience this that none of our friends in America had.

And then we were told we could take some home.


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Andrew and I bought a bottle of the dessert wine, a (big) bottle of olive oil, and little bottles of olive oil for our parents.

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This was the only wine tasting I’ve ever done …. does it sound different from wine tasting you’ve done here in the States or elsewhere?


(I know it seems like a long time ago, but when we left off on our Italy trip, it was the middle of Tuesday, we were at Villa Gondi learning how they make olive oil and now wine) ….

Yes, in addition to learning about how they make olive oil, we toured the facilities of how/where they make wine. In Tuscany. Italy.


After learning about the olive oil equipment and steps … we ended up on the ground floor, and Steve opened this (big) door to lead us back to where the grapes start ….

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The wine made in this region of Italy/Tuscany is Chianti wine … but wine made here also has to adhere to specific standards to be considered Chianti (and get it on a label). If you want to learn more about the standards Chianti wine must adhere to, visit the Wikipeda article.

But first:

Do you know how they make white wine?

Nope, not with green grapes (although, sometimes). It’s with peeled grapes (green and red). The red in red wine comes from processing the grapes with the skin still on.

The image below is one of the contraptions used to process the peeled grapes for white wine. Red wine grapes have to sit for awhile first (to help break down the skin) so they’re not processed like this …

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Those vats behind Steve are holding grapes-turning-into-red-wine …

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We got to see all the big oak barrels where the red wine is aged …. these big big ones (pictured below) are for (I think) the reserva grade wine (middle of the 3 levels). Smaller barrels are used for gran reserva.

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Learn about Chianti Rufina

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And finally, for a fuller idea of the space, check out the video below that I happened to find on …

Even for someone who doesn’t drink wine … this was FASCINATING!


Continuing on our Tuscany excursion with Accidental Tourist ….

When you drive up to the estate, the main house/building/chapel is on the left, and straight ahead (on the left and right) are various barns and other buildings for the oil/wine making.

We started with the olive oil.

The taste/quality of olive oil totally depends on where it is made (where the olives are grown). Factors in the earth and the amount of sun can change the taste ever so slightly.

This estate has olives growing all the way up to the driveway….

On the estate is this big open work area. The open windows on the right face olive groves and hills of Tuscany. The red crates are for moving the olives. And 2 photos down is the scale for weighing the olives.

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Because this estate has been making olive oil for generations and generations, many of the local people have been involved in the process for just as long.

The image below are parachute-type pieces of fabric that are laid down under the olive trees to help catch the olives that are picked.

Each of the olive pickers (again, usually locals/neighbors/etc) comes to help gather (and this is usually done as quickly as possible), mark their name on their full crates and get credit for the weight that they picked.

The pickers are helping bring in the olives for a share of the oil that is made. Steve says that many of these families rely on their share of this oil for their supply for the year, which is why local families have been working here year after year after year.

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From the top, ground-level, olives are poured into some kind of chute down to more rooms below. As we walked down to see, we passed this catalog of wine. According to Steve, this is not really wine for drinking, but more of a collection of the wine that they have made over the years.

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All of us listening to Steve explain the next step – separating dirt/leaves/sticks from the olives:

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Another level down … I don’t remember what this machine is called, but I think it has to do with working the olive paste so the oil to coalesce.

In this same room was the press, to press all the oil out of the paste. (also in the same room were some of the older machines/technology that are no longer used)

According to Steve, it is possible to put the olive paste through several pressings (up to 7 I think), though of course the first pressing is always the highest quality.

This company (Grignani) ONLY ever does one pressing of the olive oil paste. Then, I think, they sell the remaining paste to other companies who make the low quality stuff. You know, the stuff that’s probably on the shelves here in America.

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Last room for the olive oil – After everything, the oil is stored in these big (clay, I think) jugs, until it is ready to be bottled. Each one is branded with the family crest, and some are even signed and dated (literally 200+ years old in some cases). Each jug has a little stopper and draining hole at the bottom (kind of like ice chests).

You can see how big they are in the image below of Angela.

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Again, I wish I had a video/audio recorder so I could have remembered all the details. But, I did find this link about making olive oil, if you want to try it yourself.

Another thing we learned is you really shouldn’t try to eat olives off the tree. They are just way too bitter. But Steve did teach us that you can squeeze out a bit of olive oil/paste and use it like hand lotion. See the gallery below. I think almost everyone tried it … and smelled so good afterwards.

One final note, because the amount of olive oil made is limited by the size of the grove, and the olive-pickers get a share of the oil made, and the company only does one pressing of the olive oil paste – this olive oil is pretty much not available outside of this neighborhood in Tuscany. Any oil that is not claimed by the workers is sold to local restaurants/businesses.

Lucky for us, Accidental Tourist is a local business.

More on that later.

Have you all ever squeezed olive paste onto your hands?

p.s. I didn’t get a photo of it, but we saw a cat lazing around in the sun up on the first/ground level. Devo told me that when he and Angela were here 2 years ago, they saw a kitten playing in the parachutes in the same part of the estate. How fun if it was the same cat!