Friday, April 24, 2009

The Second Installment


We got up early to catch a train over to Florence! I showed Mom and Dad how the Italians drink their cappuccino (really quickly, that is) because we had about 8 minutes to have one before the train arrived. Ah, Florence. An incredible city all in walking distance. We started with The Church of Santa Maria Novella, the namesake of the train station, in fact. It has similar coloring to our duomo, but is much more ornate inside. It's set in an oval shaped piazza where they used to have chariot races! From there we did the obligatory walk through the tight streets over to the famous duomo of Florence. First we walked around the baptistry and gaped at the famous doors (now copies of the originals that are safely in museums). The original East doors of the baptistry were made by Lorenzo Ghiberti, who was chosen over both his mentor, Brunelleschi, and the one and only Donatello. Our book told us that these bright gold doors and their North & South counterparts (created by Brunelleschi) are "often regarded as the first products of the Renaissance" and Michaelangelo famously called them the "Gate of Paradise." I mean, heck, Dante was baptized there...they better be pretty nice! 

Next we went inside the duomo itself. My favorite part was the floor. It's very geometric and eye-boggling. Daddy liked the lock on one of the doors the best, go figure. We went down into the lower floor, too, but didn't get up into the cupola because of an insanely long line. I'm actually glad we didn't now because one of the new professors here said it's a claustrophobic's nightmare...though the view is to die for apparently. 

Next we did another thing I'd never done before: go to the Galleria dell' Accademia to see The David. The museum itself houses some pretty fantastic paintings and sculpture. And, someone very brilliant designed the corridor down which you walk to arrive at Michaelangelo's famous sculpture. One either side of you are several of Michaelangelo's unfinished sculptures, each in various stages of creation. It was marvelous to see how he started and how he saw these forms in blocks of marble.  At any rate, it really prepares you to see his finished product/masterpiece/slice of heaven. I was not disappointed at all. In fact, I was proudly a tourist who sat/stood/gawked for a very long time at every little detail of The David. It was unreal to me. After that have-to-do-it-before-you-die moment, we wandered back over to the main drag and did what Florence does best: surprise ourselves by what we came across in the most normal of streets. There are clothing stores in the bottom floors of ancient palaces and centuries old churches littering the main shopping drag. Again, Daddy was in heaven. We walked through the Piazza della Republica containing a triumphal arch that is a remnant of the short period when Florence was the capital of Italy. We also did the PIazza della Signoria, which is the original home of The David and many other important, inspirational sculptures of Florentine history. Some oft he originals are still there, but many are in museums. We decided to find somewhere to eat over by the river and Ponte Vecchio. Of course, we were enthralled by that bridge and all the history of it as well. There is so much to learn at each of these pit stops. In our search for a restaurant, by some perfect twist of fate, Daddy found a "Legatori di Libri". You guessed it. A book bindery. We watched the men do their work with great precision and skill; applying the gold leaf and wrapping the cover with the red cloth, hammering it into place. With broken communication we told them that my dad was a student of this practice in the United States and that he was interested in buying some authentic Florentine marbled paper. They recommended this old shop just up the street for some handmade papers. We thanked them profusely, grabbed lunch and had some nice time in a nice family-owned stationery shop. 

Now nourished and hands full of excellent Florentine souvenirs, we wandered up the river and climbed up to Piazzale Michaelangelo that shows all of Florence sitting prettily beside the Arno River. It is definitely one of my favorite places in Florence, minus the vendors and the PDA that inevitably inhabit the steps. We rested there for a while and decided to hurry back to the train station to catch an earlier train back to Orvieto. We ran a bit and found out that I was wrong about the departure point for the train and had to wait for the later train anyway. Oh well, live and learn. Note: there are no benches in the Florence train station. Don't plan on loitering there anytime soon.

Thursday morning back in Orvieto was a wonderful one. I took Mom and Dad to the Cappella Nuova, better known as the San Brizio Chapel. It is certainly one of Orvieto's finest gems. It is primarily painted by Luca Signorelli (with 2 panels done by Fra Angelico) and absolutely envelopes you when you walk in. There is so much to see, I swear 15 people came and went in the time that we gaped. Please look it up and read about it. We are very proud of our famous chapel. We also did the Papal Palace Museum, which is full of centuries of art and sculpture and artifacts all from Orvieto or done for Orvieto's duomo. Then it was shopping sprinting time. We got a lot done that morning before we had to pack up, grab lunch and (BARELY) make our train to Rome. Literally Daddy was sprinting up the stairs when the train was pulling in. Holy cow. Not much of a goodbye to Orvieto, unfortunately. Sorry M&D! It was very good in the end because we had a perfect evening in Rome to finish out the day.

I will finish with the intense Rome portion quite soon, I promise! We are staying in Orvieto for the weekend, so I should have some down time to work with over the next couple of days. Love and miss everyone! Can't wait for the next round of visitors to come see us!!!!


  1. I was glad to spend some final moments in the old print shop (stampe antichiqua-how's my Itailan, Gracie?), where I deftly talked the proprietor down from 80 euros to 40, for an 18th century copper-plate engraving of God over the Earth. And then he even more deftly threw in 2 other early 17th century wood cuts of two ancient Gods, and we were back up to 80 euros! Um, anybody want to buy a wood cut of some old God with three heads (pig, lion, and fish)?

  2. No photos were allowed in the San Brizio chapel, so we bought a small book. I read it on the plane, and keep returning to it. I did not want to leave that chapel--so much to take in!

  3. I would love to have seen Don at the bookbinders... I'm picturing Homer Simpson at the Qwikie Mart, a box full of donuts, a mouth full of drool.

  4. Doh!!!

    Absolutely no drool dripped onto any book. Ask Grace; she would have killed me.