Friday, June 16, 2006

Siena - Florence

We went to Siena, and it rained, which made the morning kind of downer, after the excellence of the previous day. The cathedral in Siena is quite a spectacle, but since the outside was mainly covered with scaffolding, the best pictures were taken inside. In particular, there was one room which we were told had been closed off for hundreds of years, and so the walls and the ceilings looked as though they were newly painted. And, it was true. We saw lots of fancy walls and ceilings, but none fancier than that library or whatever it was in the cathedral there in Siena.

Also, in Siena, we were told about the Palio, which is sort of like if the Hatfields and the McCoys had a horse race in the middle of town every year, only there are a bunch of different clans, called the contrade. When we were there, since it was rainy, the Piazza di Campo where the big horse race is held was mostly empty, except for pedestrians passing across, and it was difficult to imagine it hosting 50,000 Siennese for a horse race.

Here is a McDonalds in Siena. I had to go inside and see what was the price of an Big Mac extra value meal, and it appeared that the price was about six Euros, but I'm not sure whether that included the drink. Cokes were expensive, the .75 liter bottles cost between 2 and 3.50 Euros. We also drank a lot of bottled water, bottled water at every meal, usually frizzante (with bubbles). I don't know what it cost. A big gelato with three flavors cost 3.50 Euros, most places. The best gelato was probably in Florence, which is where we went next after Siena.

Florence was full of tourists, and full of interesting things to see. The first thing we did was go up to this overlook place, and everyone took too many pictures. You can see behind me on the left the Ponte Vecchio crossing the Arno River, and on the other side the dome of the Duomo. Florence is small enough to walk everywhere and it is hard to get lost because you can see the Duomo from almost everywhere. We didn't get very far from the middle of town, we went to one restaurant across the Arno overlooking the river, we went to the Uffizi which was just around the corner from our hotel, we went to the Academy to see the David (although there were Davids everywhere, it seemed), we went to market at San Lorenzo, we looked in the street markets everywhere, and twice we ate at this place called Leo's, a great place.

One day at breakfast in Florence, I said, "Look, we've got salt and pepper." They don't give away salt and pepper in restaurants in Italy as in the U.S. Regarding salt, we were told more than once that various towns had a tradition of unsalted bread, as sort of a tax protest going back to medieval times, when the Church imposed a tax on salt. The hotel where we stayed was sort of an odd place. The elevator had a button marked 3/4, which was where you got off for both the third and fourth floors. Most of the hotels had some kind of electricity conversation measure in place. In the more modern places, you had to insert your card key into a slot in the room to get the lights to come. In the Hotel Bernini, the lights came on and went off as you walked down the hall.

The hotel was a block from the Piazza Signorina. Florence was sort of like Gatlinburg, with all the shopping, but with fancy buildings and lots of really big nude sculptures in the squares. One exception was the statue of Cosimo of the Medicis, who was dressed and sitting on a horse. Also in the Piazza Signorina there was a wreath on the spot where Savonarola himself was burned. The Ponte Vecchio was full of jewelry shops. In this picture I am standing in the middle of the bridge, looking back toward the Duomo, and there was shopping and people everywhere. The only thing I bought of interest in Florence was four neckties for the total sum of 18 Euros.

One thing we did to get away from it all just a bit was to go to the Boboli Gardens, across the Arno and behind the Pitti Palace. I think the admission to the Boboli Gardens was about 8 Euros. The gardens were interesting and presented more great views of the city. The only bad part about it was that a lot of the walking we did was uphill. You can see the in-laws are still a ways down the hill in this picture, looking back down at the back of the palace.

At the top was a rooftop garden full of roses and peonies. In the middle of the rooftop garden was the fountain with monkeys. I have no idea what that's about, but I took pictures of it all from every angle, probably 50 pictures. The only other bad thing about the Boboli Gardens is that we never found a decent map, so we only saw whatever we stumbled onto, which wasn't all bad. There were many unexpected sights besides the fountain of monkeys. We didn't figure out until we were leaving that we had only seen maybe a third of the place.

But on the way out, we did see the Grotto, which I can't begin to explain, and enjoyed the views back across the river of the city.

We didn't go in any of the churches in Florence, but the churches and the towers and the piazzas pretty defined the map of the place, as in "You don't want to go back there, it's all the way on the other side of the Duomo," or "Look, we're almost there, that's Santa Croce up ahead." So, of course I took pictures of them. I could never got more than a bit of the Duomo in the pictures taken from the streets.

Finally, here is a sunset picture of Santa Croce.

No comments: