Be Italian - Day Ten

We made a relatively early start to our last day in Italy, in order to fit in the key sights of Venice before we head home tomorrow. Since the transportation system here is so complex, Dad wanted to go down to the pier to try to figure out how to get to the airport tomorrow. Unsurprisingly, the only vaporetto that services the airport is run by a separate company than the one that serves the town (and for which we bought a 48 hour pass), so it will take another 15€ per person, plus 3€ for each piece of baggage in the morning. I think Dad was put off by the hour plus trip via this form of public transit, so I think he'll opt for airport transfer via private water taxi, which will cost about 120€, but will only take 20 minutes and will give him better peace of mind. Meanwhile, I'm starting to see the case for coming here as a day excursion from a cruise -- trying to manage your own transportation here is an expensive nightmare!

Somehow I managed to leave Venice without taking a decent photo of the Basilica. This will have to suffice.
With a better understanding of the situation for tomorrow, we headed back into the Piazza San Marco to get in line to see the eponymous basilica. It's always been a rather sore point for me that I only got to see the outside the last time I was here, but unlike my similar beef with the Duomo in Florence, this long-simmering resentment was totally warranted -- the inside was incredible. Though I couldn't get a decent photo of it, as I was once again acting on the sly in defiance of the no photography policy (what is with this country?!?), almost the entire interior was covered with glittering gold mosaics. The churches in Ravenna may have the basilica beat in terms of age and the renown of their pieces, but the Basilica of San Marco could have fit all those mosaics on top of their own and still had plenty left over.

Next trip, I'm going somewhere where I can shamelessly take as many photos as I want without having to sneak around.
In fact, given that many of its decorations were stolen from elsewhere, it's somewhat surprising that no wily Venetians pried some of those Byzantine pieces off the walls in Ravenna to bring them home. They had no qualms stealing the horses from the top of the Hippodrome in Constantinople and putting them over the main portal to the church, and absconding with the remains of St. Mark himself from his previous resting place in Alexandria and bringing him to the church they were building in his name. Legend has it, the Venetians smuggled the remains out of the Egyptian city under sides of pork, so that the tomb's Muslim guards wouldn't be tempted to look under the "unclean" meat and discover their illicit cargo.

Mosaics and decorations over one of the portals to the church.

As it turns out, the city government actually promoted this practice: starting in 1075, all ships traveling abroad had to return with a treasure for San Marco, by law. Considering that until 1807, the entire enormous basilica was the doge's private house of worship and otherwise used only for ceremonies of state, this was a particularly interesting demand.

Here, you can see the proximity of the Palazzo to the Basilica, for the Doge's personal worshiping comfort.
Having seen the church and all the vast treasures it contained, we walked next door to see the palace of the doges, or Palazzo Ducale. As we strolled through the elaborately decorated rooms, designed to showcase the wealth and power of the Venetians, as well as strike fear into any who dared to run afoul of the local government, we tried our best to glean what we could about its complicated structure, which consisted of numerous layers of councils. Given that they had no formal constitution, it's amazing that their convoluted system was able to function well enough for them to become the imperial power that they were.

Dad was particularly interested in the palazzo's armory collection, one of the largest in Europe. The palace apparently kept a massive stockpile of weapons on hand in case anyone tried to usurp the doge's authority. I was mostly just amazed that anyone could heft some of those weapons, much less put them to effective use.

With our respects duly paid to the golden age of Venetian prosperity, we decided to make a contribution to their current prosperity by doing some shopping. After all, it seems like the principle pastime here, and at the end of our trip, we were finally in a position to be acquiring souvenirs when we wouldn't have long to schlep them around. We made a brief pause for a miserably inauthentic pizza lunch that tasted like something an American chain pizzeria might serve, but after so many good meals on this trip, perhaps we were past due for a bad one..

The whole canal situation makes it impossible to stand far enough away to get a decent shot of the church.
In the afternoon, we took the vaporetto across the Grand Canal once more to visit Santa Maria della Salute (or Saint Mary of Health), an enormous church that had caught both our attention when we passed it on the vaporetto. Built in 1630 in thanks for the city being spared from the plague of the same year, the church is a baroque masterpiece. I found it rather more impressive on the outside than the inside, save for an allegorical sculpture over the altar of the Madonna and Child granting a blessing to Venice, as symbolized by a woman, while on her other side, a less-fortunate figure writhes in terror and agony.

Even when giving thanks, the Venetians manage to express their overblown egos.
In desperate need of a break from the medieval, renaissance, and baroque masters after ten days, my final itinerary item for the trip was a visit to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, a museum of works assembled by the plucky heiress herself, who was famous for "discovering" some of the greatest artists of the 20th century and furthering their careers. (In the case of Max Ernst, she went so far as to marry him.)

The proportions of the building are a little odd as it was intended to be a three-story structure before the original builder ran out of funds mid-way through the project. Guggenheim liked it and never had it finished either.

The collection is housed in a unusual villa where Guggenheim lived with her daughter, an artist in her own right. All the greats of modern art were there: Pollock (who had a room all to himself), Dali, Picasso, and, naturally, Ernst. I was particularly delighted to see some paintings by Italian artist, diChirico, one of my personal favorites, and I was surprised to  actually enjoy a work by Brancusi: "Maiastra," which portrays a singing bird. Normally, his minimalist aesthetic isn't my style. The only piece Dad and I agreed upon was Boccioni's Futurist masterwork, "Unique Forms of Continuity in Space," which we both loved. In fact, that Dad was able to enjoy the Guggenheim Collection at all without being bored to tears is a testament to the artistic burnout we've both suffered on this trip -- normally, he has some difficulty stomaching abstract and non-objective art.

Fall, in my opinion, is always the best time of year to travel, and this is partially why.
After completing our tour, we lingered on the less crowded side of the canal, doing some more shopping and enjoying a breather away from the masses, before cramming onto a vaporetto and heading back. Tired and weary at the end of our journey, we took the path of least resistance and had a quick bite of dinner at the restaurant closest to the hotel, which was, hands down, the worst meal of the trip.

Although our trip ended on a bit of a culinary down note, and in spite of my father being trying at times, there is no denying that we had a very full ten days. We saw truly amazing things, and each of us managed to scratch items from our respective bucket lists: the David for Dad, and the mosaics of Ravenna for me. I've been very fortunate to have this opportunity, and I'm sure I'll look back and be grateful for having so much quality time with my father. I do love to travel, and I can't wait to see where life will take me next!


Be Italian - Day Nine

After two train rides, during the latter of which we sat next to an adorable gay couple from Australia, one of whom could have been John Slattery's (from Mad Men) gay Aussie doppelganger, we found ourselves at last in Venice, the end of the road for our Italian sojourn. This stop was entirely for Dad's benefit, given the traumatic memories of bed bugs I have from my last trip here.

Outside the train station, we were compelled to buy 48 hour passes for the vaporetto, or water bus system, at the outrageous sum of 52€ for the both of us. It is, by far, the most expensive mass transit I've ever encountered, and a harbinger of what would quickly prove to be the priciest leg of the journey. Seemingly, the whole city operates a theme park: there's nowhere else to go, so they feel like they have the right to fleece you at every turn, plus, it's crowded and there's a line for everything.

I'll admit it: it's hard to take a bad picture of the place.
The vaporetto ride was pleasant (though it would have been more so if I hadn't had to manage my belongs on the boat) if maddeningly slow, and it took nearly an hour to get to the Piazza San Marco, home to the iconic basilica, a small nation of pigeons, and our hotel.

However, this was just the beginning of a new ordeal. When I was booking the hotels, my initial choices were uniformly dismissed as too costly, including the ones in Venice, where it seems like a room below 500-600€ a night is hard to find. As a result, I had to book us into a hotel more on the interior of one of the islands, not on the Grand Canal, where they are easy to spot, can be reached directly by water taxi (which ours can't, because the canals are too narrow), and often offer shuttle service on hotel boats to their private docks.

Hence, we found ourselves hauling all our luggage across the Piazza, which, coincidentally, was experiencing some of Venice's inexplicable high water, and was partially flooded, requiring all the hordes of tourists to travel along the same narrow, elevated sidewalk. We had to jockey ourselves and our bags onto and across it, hoping that we were in fact going the right way, because the hotel's directions were painfully vague, and Venice is notoriously difficult to navigate. We finally made it across, in the direction I vaguely remembered from Google maps, and an obliging store owner gave us directions for the rest of the way.

Our room wasn't ready when we arrived, so while we waited for them to make up the room, we headed out for an afternoon of sightseeing, starting with a delicious, Michelin-mentioned-but-not- starred seafood lunch at an outrageously expensive restaurant, costing some 150€, that set a new record for slowness on a trip where we've rarely finished a meal in under an hour and a half.

The amazing, amazing seafood risotto from lunch.
Despite being fairly full, we were tempted by some gelati before heading over to the Rialto Bridge. Like the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, I thought the Rialto was somewhat overrated. Better views can be had by taking a vaporetto down at water level, and the crossing was mostly packed with overpriced jewelry and junky souvenir shops. It did, at least, convey us across the canal, where there seemed to be a few less tourists.

The Rialto Bridge -- like the rest of Venice, I found it photogenic but overrated.
Making our way through the winding, enigmatic streets was an exercise in master map reading, on par with navigating through a corn maze. They say the whole point of Venice is to get lost and enjoy the hidden beauties you stumble upon, but when you are only here for a day and a half, there is stuff that must be seen!

Dad and I on one of the smaller canals.
Eventually, we were able to make our way to Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Fragli (named for the friars who initially built the church, but to me, it called to mind Fraggle Rock), a 15th century church with several paintings by Titian, one of the city's most famous sons. I was more impressed, however, with the choir stalls, elaborately carved with scenes from the city and images of the saints, and the incredible Gothic marble screen surrounding it.

I snuck this one only a couple yards from the ticket window. Suck it, "no photography" policy!

Having seen the church after walking a considerable distance to locate it, Dad was bushed, so we located a vaporetto stop to head back to the Piazza San Marco. The sun was starting to set, casting a beautiful light upon the city (which, despite the inconvenience, expense, and horrendous crowds is undeniably photogenic), and I was tempted to take the water bus the long way, circumnavigating the city, but Dad wanted to get back to the hotel, so we opted for the direct route, about three stops.

A rowing team practicing in the late-afternoon sunshine.
Back in the square, we found some particularly stunning lighting conditions, along with an overall decline in both the volume of tourists (the cruise-ship day-trippers having gone back to their floating hotels for the evening) and water levels, so I seized the chance to get my photos of the basilica, its campanile, or bell tower, and their environs before taking Dad back to the hotel for a rest.

The Piazza San Marco with about as few tourists as we ever saw in it.
Dinner was perhaps the most upscale of the trip, and again, insanely pricey, though the seafood-based options were once again delicious. Notably, the restaurant was so difficult to locate (despite being fairly close to the hotel) that they sent a waiter to our hotel to fetch us and guide us there. We were, however, on our own getting back, though my formidable map reading skills carried the day.

Thankfully, we only have one day left in this tourist mad house. Perhaps it would have been wiser to put Venice at the start of our itinerary, when we had more energy...


Be Italian - Day Eight

Although we had decided to spend a whole day and a half in Ravenna in hopes of pursuing a more relaxed pace here, we ended up being quite busy once more, though I did let Dad sleep in some today.

This statue of Augustus in front of Sant' Apollinare in Classe made the trek out there worth it in Dad's eyes.
We started our daily sightseeing at Sant' Apollinare in Classe, a church somewhat far afield, located in a small neighboring hamlet where some very important Roman-era archaeological excavations are underway. This was the original church dedicated to Sant' Apollinare, who was the first bishop of Ravenna. He was originally buried there as well, but barbarians were apparently in the habit of raiding the church to steal his remains, so Sant' Apollinare Nuovo (which we would see later in the day) was built in Ravenna proper so they could move him there and keep him safe. A debate would later come about regarding who actually had them, and things got so hostile that the Vatican had to send a team of investigators to settle the matter once and for all. (They determined that the new church never had the remains and they had been in Classe all along.)

I'm sure there's some symbolism behind the fact that some of the sheep have been sheared and some haven't, but it's beyond me.
The apse of the church has some spectacular mosaics, more in the Byzantine style than Roman, as they were finished later than some of the other buildings around town. The iconography here seemed to focus on sheep, as there was a depiction of both Christ surrounded by 12 sheep signifying the apostles, and one of Sant' Apollinare surrounded by a flock of his own followers. I was impressed, and glad we schlepped out to see it (it was included in a comprehensive ticket we had to buy, so why not?) 

Another tripod photo at the Battistero Neoniano.
Back in Ravenna, we had a taxi drop us off at the Battistero Neoniano, a 5th century baptistery on the southwest side of town, with the plan to make a counterclockwise loop around the city. The Battistero is the oldest monument in Ravenna, having been built in the early 5th century on the site of a Roman bathhouse (a source of water for the font.) We found the ceiling and much of the wall space there covered in mosaics, the centerpiece depicting the baptism of a nude Christ by St. John the Baptist in the river Jordan, (which is notable, because as time went by and the Church got obsessed with modesty, nobody depicted Jesus naked anymore, even when he probably should have been.The Battistero degli Ariani, which we saw later, had a similar,even more explicit depiction of his nudity.) An outer ring of mosaics shows the apostles, and beneath them are several ornamental motifs and depictions of some of the prophets.

Jesus and St. John the Baptist, getting their baptism on.
Exiting the baptistery, we took a brief stroll through the adjacent cathedral of Ravenna, where the only thing that stuck out to me was the abundant use of terra cotta, which makes sense, given Ravenna's proximity to neighboring Faenza, where the popular faience ceramics come from. The region, being close to the sea, is rich in clay deposits.

Under other circumstances, if I hadn't seen so many other amazing churches on this trip, I'm sure this would be impressive.
Also in the same complex was the museum of the archbishop's palace, which is made up of a number of buildings of different eras, one of which contains a chapel dedicated to St. Andrew, for the private use of the bishops of Ravenna. It wasn't clear when it was built, but it too has an incredible assortment of mosaics, and may have been my favorite of the day, especially a decorative portion consisting of numerous different types of birds.

Made before it was cool to "put a bird on it."

A rather lengthy walk delivered us to the Baroque church of Santa Maria in Porto, which Dad insisted on seeing after he spotted it in a book I had purchased yesterday on the art of Ravenna. Our long hike, however, turned out to be for naught, however, as the church was taking the customary three hour Italian lunch break.

Santa Maria in Porto.
We ourselves were in search of a meal at this point, but seemed to be in an area bereft of eating establishments, when we came across the Palazzo di Theodorico, an archaeological site consisting of ruins with a small exhibit of Roman floor mosaics located at the top of a tower I had scaled on a whim.

I love this portrayal of Lazarus rising from the dead... a lot.
It was next to the next mosaic site on our list, the aforementioned Sant' Apollinare Nuovo, which actually had the most diverse set of depictions we've seen so far. The mosaics cover each side of the nave, one with a procession of virgins bearing offerings to the Virgin and infant Jesus, the other with a line of martyrs bringing gifts to the adult Christ. Above each, more interestingly, are small mosaics depicting the miracles of Jesus and various parables of his life. My favorites included a mummy-like Lazarus rising from the dead, and a cripple that Christ had cured now carrying his own bed.

Check out the animal print leggings on the magi -- very fashion forward!
At this point, we were desperate for food and quick approaching the time when kitchens close after lunch. (Most restaurants in Italy close from 2:30-7:30 at night), so we set aside the tourist agenda and focused on finding a decent-looking restaurant. We wandered around looking until we came across the place we were planning on having dinner, and were so desperate that we decided to eat lunch there instead. It turned out to be fairly decent (I'm rather fond of the capelleti that are a regional specialty in these parts. They are similar to tortellini, but their filling is meat-based rather than cheese and vegetable), though I wasn't crazy about the tomato sauce on my gnocchi, even if they were light as a feather, texturally speaking.

Finally sated, we back-tracked a bit to locate the Battistero degli Ariani, the last site on our UNESCO hit list for the day. I think the Battistero Neoniano was more impressive, but I liked the depiction of Christ's baptism better at this one. Evidently, however, this baptistery, which was completed by a rival sect to the one who built the earlier building, was originally more decorated than we see today. An excavation at the site discovered nearly 100 pounds of glass tiles that had fallen from the walls over time.

At the Battistero degli Ariani.
Since we had a large chunk of afternoon left and little to do, we decided to check out the Domus dei Tappeti di Pietra (or home of stone carpets), an underground archaeological excavation located under a church that was turned into a museum to showcase the floor mosaics of a Roman palace that was located there. After all the lavish colors, opulent gilding, and general splendor of the churches we've seen in Ravenna, the Domus was anticlimactic, but still moderately interesting and they had a couple nice figurative pieces.

This mosaic at the Domus portrays a dance of the four seasons.

After a brief pit stop at the hotel, which was nearby, Dad was determined to enjoy the day's fine weather with an ice cream in the Piazza Popolo, a particularly picturesque medieval square, so we did just that. I had a scoop of hazelnut and one of chocolate, and it was the best gelato of the trip
so far. After lingering a while and people-watching, it was back to the hotel for the nightly writing ritual and a largely unremarkable dinner in which we took advantage of our proximity to the Adriatic coast and had seafood. Tomorrow we move on to Venice, and I fear we'll soon find ourselves craving the quiet and calm of Ravenna...


Be Italian - Day Seven

We made it to Ravenna in one piece, after a cramped ride on the local train (imagine riding the Metra with 2 suitcases and a range of carry on baggage.) The hotel, the Albergo Capello, is quaint, probably my favorite of the trip so far, and has a nice, spacious bathroom. We had a very tasty lunch in the hotel restaurant (usually I avoid them for being crappy and overpriced, but this one was neither, in fact, it has an honorable mention in the Michelin guide, supposedly). I had a rabbit ragu on handmade bowtie pasta that was excellent.

San Vitale, in Ravenna, on another dreary day.
After eating, we went to see San Vitale and the Mausoleo of Galla Placida (intended to be the burial site of a Roman emperor's wife, though it was never ultimately used that way.) San Vitale is sort of the star destination of the trip for me; it is the church that launched a thousand copycats. The mosaics, as predicted, were incredible. It's hard to fathom how something 1550 years old can still exist in such good condition. I can only conclude it must have been restored in recent years, as the colors are fantastically bright. 

SO beautiful!
Also notable is that San Vitale has two very famous mosaics of Justinian and Theodora, emperor and empress of the Eastern Roman Empire during the 6th century,  with their entourages. I've been learning about them since World History to 1500 my freshman year of high school, and it was amazing to see those pieces with my own eyes. They were so much brighter in person!

Justinian himself. This mosaic is actually the image Wikipedia uses to represent him.
The mausoleum was surprisingly impressive as well, with nearly the entire ceiling covered in flowers on a deep blue background, reminiscent of the night sky. I think when Dad saw it, he was suitably impressed, perhaps even enough to stop questioning my decision to come here.

The mausoleum contains this image of St. Lawrence, who was grilled to death.
Since it was nearby and we have plenty of time in Ravenna, we stopped at the Museo Nazionale to see a number of Bronze age, Roman, and later artifacts dug up in digs around the city, which came to prominence under Augustus Caesar, who built a port and naval base here. Dad was interested in statues and armor; I cared more about pottery fragments and household objects, which is hardly surprising.

Mosaic tesserae for sale.

It was nearing 4:30, when the major sites in town close, so we headed back to the hotel, stopping briefly at an open mosaic workshop/store where you can watch artists at work, buy their wares, and take classes yourself. The city is also currently hosting an international mosaic expo (they bill themselves as "the city of mosaics," so we ducked out of the endless drizzle of the past couple days  and into a church that was housing an exhibit of contemporary mosaic works. There were some interesting pieces, and I would say the predominant trend was toward playing with surface texture and moving into a three dimensional space.

Back at the hotel, we rested and worked on our respective writing duties before having a somewhat lackluster dinner selected on the basis of proximity to our hotel. I find it's usually worth the extra walk to find a good place, but Ravenna is a much smaller city than the ones we've been in the past few days, and the options were more limited. Still, the small-town atmosphere, predominantly pedestrianized streets, and smaller amounts of tourists are making for a very pleasant stay here...


Be Italian - Day Six

Before we left Florence, we made one last stop at the Piazzele Michelangelo, a large square on a hill across the Arno from the city center. Dad was keen to see it because it combines two things he can't resist: a scenic panorama and the work of Michelangelo (it is decorated with copies of his famous works.) Since it was fairly remote, and seemed populated by a great number of tour buses and no taxis, he had ours wait for us while we looked around. It was indeed an epic overview of Florence, marred only by the fact that it was overcast, misty, and threatening to rain.

We had to ask three different people to take our picture to get one decent one.
Our second of four train journeys passed very briefly (35 minutes) and without incident, though again, the scenery left something to be desired -- we were in tunnels virtually the entire time.

By the time we got to Bologna, it was starting to rain, and as we were trying to enter the hotel, Dad was accosted by a garishly-dressed woman with a baby strapped to her chest, demanding money (no doubt a gypsy). She kept bumping into him (a distraction attempt) and he couldn't push her out of the way due to the baby. Soon, her hand was in his pocket, but he grabbed it before she could extract anything. Not exactly an auspicious start to our stay!

After checking in to our hotel, we commenced our walking tour of the town, starting with a nice lunch at a spot recommended by the concierge as a sentimental favorite of hers because her fiance took her there on their first date. I was sold; even if it made me miss Justin all the more. Bologna is something of a gastronomic hub in Italy, as it is home to both bolognese sauce, always served on tagliatelli here, and mortadella di Bologna, from which we derive bologna. The meal was pretty
tasty, but I decided to save my bolognese sauce experience for dinner.

Our afternoon walk took us through nearly all the sites of the historic city center, and though I was initially reluctant to try cramming the city into our itinerary, if we had to be anywhere on such a rainy, chilly, miserable day, I'm glad it was here. As it turns out, just about every building downtown has a portico, so you never really have to be exposed to the elements unless you're in a piazza or crossing the street.

Gotta love a portico on a rainy day!

The guidebook was short on details about the city, so we identified about five key sites for the afternoon, and popped into a couple random churches along the way.

From the fountain of Neptune in the Piazza Maggiore.
First was the Piazza Maggiore, home to a medieval palace, a notable fountain of Neptune festooned with women shooting water out of their breasts, and the town's cathedral, San Petronio, which is built of brick. The outside is fairly spartan (all the scaffolding for the restoration probably didn't help that impression), but the red brick on the inside was quite visually striking, especially against the off-white plaster. Interestingly, it was originally supposed to be bigger than St. Peter's, but they wasted so much money that the Church but the kibosh on their building funds, and as a result, the building isn't quite symmetrical. Supposedly, tales of all the money that they wasted were instrumental in turning Martin Luther against Catholicism.

More covert photo action in Bologna.
From there, we walked through the porticoed streets, past some very fancy shopping (the Bolognese must do pretty well for themselves to support a Gucci, Hermes, and Louis Vuitton on a single block), to, ironically enough, the world's first Dominican church, San Domenico. (The Dominican order adheres to a vow of poverty). Built after the founder of the order's death in the mid-1200's, they buried him there in a spectacularly ornate sarcophagus, complete with, you guessed it, some statues by Michelangelo. Dad was ecstatic once more.

The tomb of San Domenico. Two of the medium-sized sculptures in the middle are by Michelangelo.
Having done something for Dad, we went over to the Abbazia di Santo Stephano to appease me. This unusual structure is made up of several ancient and medieval churches built so close to one another that eventually they were all roofed over as one and combined. There was some very lovely decorative brickwork there, and some great grotesques of nude women in a cloister garden. They had also had three saints entombed there as well, in surprisingly modest digs compared to San Domenico. So much for that vow of theirs, I suppose.

I guess my love of gargoyles bleeds over into other building decorations as well.

Dad was fading fast, but I coaxed a few more blocks out of him to see the Torri degli Asinelli e Garisenda, two remnants of the hundreds of medieval towers attached to the homes of the wealthy that once comprised the Bologna skyline. They were tall indeed, and one had a considerable lean going on, while the other is considered the 4th tallest tower in Italy. Needless to say, we didn't climb it.

Having scratched the final item from our day's list, we headed back to the hotel for the customary evening rest period, followed by a real bowl of tagliatelli alla bolognese. Dad was not a fan -- he prefers to eat pasta with his sauce, and the texture of the real deal wasn't sufficiently wet for him, but I enjoyed the complex flavors and the textbook-perfect texture of the pasta. I have to give it to Dad; I think he was wise to include Bologna in our itinerary, despite my objections.


Be Italian - Day Five

Our last full day in Florence wasn't quite as hectic, since we fit in so much yesterday. This was partly intentional on my part -- Dad wanted to leave for Bologna today, but I didn't want our only afternoon/evening there to be a Monday because many cultural institutions and points of tourist interest in Italy are closed on Mondays. I felt it was better to pass such a day in a place where we had less left to see.

We started slightly less early than yesterday, with tickets to see the Capelle Medici, or Medici chapels, at the church of San Lorenzo. The main portion was under restoration (par for the course given our track record of European travel, but it wasn't a huge loss, since San Lorenzo is the only part of Florence that I actually remember seeing when I was here 14 years ago.) I had to sneak pictures there, and a few other places today, as a "No Photos" sign was in place virtually everywhere we went today. I was starting to get pretty pissed with the Italian government by the end of the day -- I want my photos, damn it!

The main point of seeing the Capelle Medici, besides paying one's respects to their remains, is the quartet of Michelangelo sculptures that adorn a couple of them. They represent the four phases of a day: Dawn, Day, Dusk, and Night, which is supposed to be symbolic of the human lifespan. I liked the symbolism in them, but I think the quality of carving is better in either the David, or the Vatican Pieta. The latter is still my favorite work of his, though I can't decide if that's because I was younger and less jaded when I first saw it.

The figures of Night and Dusk from the tomb of Giuliano de' Medici.
As it turns out, the main part of San Lorenzo isn't open till 10, and Dad didn't want to wait a half hour for it, so we progressed through an open air market where I found a couple cheap scarves to bring home as souvenirs, towards the Mercato Centrale, the biggest food market in Florence. They did indeed have a formidable array of food products, beautifully displayed, and somewhat embarrassingly, I think I took more pictures there than anywhere else so far. (In my defense, there was no photography ban there!) 

Items for sale at the Mercato Centrale. Note the multiple packages of penis-shaped pasta they're trying to sell to tourists. People must buy it, if there's so much for sale, right?

Once I concluded Dad couldn't handle any more food voyeurism, we walked over to Santa Maria Novella, a large church with a beautiful facade, near the central train station. This church was also behind a pay wall, and had a no photography policy that I only partially heeded. It makes me apoplectic to have to pay to get in, and not be allowed to take photos!

Tripod photo!
Santa Maria Novella had some truly spectacular 14th and 15th century frescoes behind the altar and in the front chapels, though the nave of the church was surprisingly bare.

Take that, Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage!
I kind of wanted to take our morning purchases back to the hotel so we wouldn't have to haul them around all day, but since we were close to the Duomo, Dad wanted to press on. Once we were in the city center, we checked out the bronze and gilt doors of the baptistery by Lorenzo Ghiberti before queuing up to enter the main cathedral.

Jesus casting the moneychangers out of the temple, on the north side of the baptistery.
For 14 years, it has haunted me that the student tour of Florence I went on as a preteen only included the outside of the church, but after seeing it today, I think they may have been on to something when they cut it from the itinerary -- almost all of the ornament is on the outside of the building! It was seriously one of the plainest church interiors I've seen in Europe. Aside from a Vasari painting of the Last Judgment on the inside of the Brunelleschi-designed dome, there was little to see there. We opted to skip climbing to the top of the dome or bell tower, despite the promise of iconic panoramas, especially due to the presence of a fleet of ambulances parked next to the bell tower; not exactly a reassuring slight when you're contemplating a multi-story climb...

The Duomo is so huge, it's impossible to stand anywhere near it and get the whole thing in one picture.
By then, Dad was starving, so it was time to track down one of Stephanie's picks for lunch, Ristorante al Teatro. We only had to walk about two blocks out of our way to find it, and it was worth the modestly inconvenient walk: I had a pizza with spicy salami, while Dad had roast pork, after I imposed a moratorium on him eating pasta with meat sauce after he had it three times in the past two days.

After filling up, we did a bit more shopping before locating the Orsanmichele, one of Stephanie's favorite buildings in the city. It is an interesting structure; built in the 1330s as a grain market and storage center, the bottom was later turned into a church, which still exists, though, again, no photos allowed (though I snuck one of the beautiful altar.) Since it was Monday, I gleaned from Steph's ever-helpful notes, the upper floors of the building are open to the public (for whatever reason, it's only open on Mondays, in a reversal of the usual Italian policy), so we went up to see the original statues from Donatello and others that once graced the building's facade (copies are now in their place.)

Statues of the saints inside the Orsanmichele. My favorite was the one in the center of this grouping, which depicts the Incredulity of Thomas.
Our last stop for the day was the Museo dell' Opera del Duomo, (opera, we've deduced, means something like workshop in Italian), where most of the great works of art from the Duomo have been inexplicably moved. I can understand removing things from the facade and replacing them with  less valuable replicas, but not really the stuff from inside, unless their conservation needs were difficult, which most of these didn't seem to be.

Michelangelo on the left, Donatello on the right.

There, Dad was regaled by one last Michelangelo for the trip, the Bandini Pieta, which was intended for his own tomb (clearly, they didn't respect his wishes on that one), though I was much more captivated by Donatello's wooden statue of Mary Magdalene. It was a little Gothic, terrifically expressive, and almost foreshadows the later Impressionist sculpture style developed by Rodin. Dad was also interested in a number of architectural displays that explained the construction of the church, and how Brunelleschi had to deduce lost Roman building techniques to bring his design to fruition.

To see the entire Duomo, you have to get above the roof line. Here is the view from the Orsanmichele.
By the end of the visit, I knew I would be hard-pressed to convince Dad to go anywhere else, so it was back to the hotel for another pre-dinner rest before enjoying a lovely dinner with very friendly service at Quattro Leone, yet another restaurant gleaned from Stephanie's reservations. Thanks to her, we've eaten very well in Florence. It pays to have friends in the know!