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When I started my retirement travels - the first of which was my solo overseas trip to Italy in 2009 - I wanted a way to share it with family and friends as it happened. Hence, "My Travel Journal". However I realized I wouldn't always be on a trip and wondered what to do with the blog in between times. My daughter pointed out, wisely, that travels can also include trips to the kitchen to try a new recipe, trips to visit family, trips to my neighborhood Starbucks, or a fun day trip with a friend. You're welcome to join me on any of these journeys!

P.S. I've set up separate pages for each of my major trips (see tabs above).

I recently added an "Italian Word a Day" thingie which shows up at the bottom of every page. You see the word and can click to hear it pronounced. I've been enjoying it and I think my accent is improving as time goes by.

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October 02, 2009

Thursday - Nothing Incredible but Nice Nevertheless

I decided this morning to walk back to the bus station and find out about buses to some of the surrounding towns so I can decide if I would like to make a little side trip maybe Saturday.  When I got across the river and started my walk, I saw a beautiful church on the other side of the river which I thought was the one that I had tried to find the entrance to way back on one of my early walks.  It turned out not to be, but here is a picture anyway.

Coincidentally enough, it is directly across from the church I took a picture of when I was walking home from the bus station this past Monday.

I got to the SITA station with no problems.  The Canadian couple I had talked with at dinner had told me about the man there who was so helpful and nice and I think I found him cause he helped me understand (a little bit) the complete mystery of an Italian bus schedule.  I mean, even Antonio agreed that they were tricky when I asked him about a bus to Greve!  He (the nice SITA man also told me that one of the towns I was considering, I would need to go to the Lizza bus station on the other side of the train station, which sounded easy enough, but it took about three times of "Lizza statione?" before I got there.  And once there, I again ran into the very different receptions you get when asking for information/help here in  Florence.  The girl here came within a hair of sneering at me ... I had to pull what little information I got from her out bit by bit.  So that pretty much decided me that if I do take another trip out of town, it won't be on a Lizza bus.  I mean, you've got to take a stand, right? :)  But, I was happy to have accomplished my morning task and started on my way to the Basilica di Santa Maria Novella, which is across from the train station (a very, very busy place).

As I walked, I saw this enormous brick church with a very tall, very pointed steeple which is the first steeple I've seen here.  I figured that was it, and it was, but that's the BACK view.  I came around to the front and there was another one of those beautiful facades and a really lovely piazza - grass, paths, no trash, and very serene.  I just now realized I didn't take a picture of the piazza and I should have.  But here are the pictures I did take.

First off, a woman up on her roof watching all us crazy tourists
this is the back view - the back views always look more like our churches
this s the facade
and this "wall" goes all the down the side too

You enter the church through a side door which you get to through this cemetery

Their information flyer explains that the facade of Santa Maria Novella is the only ancient facade of all the Florentine basilicas because it was finished in 1470 and has never been "redone".

The interior of the church was a real breath-grabber.  Stunningly beautiful, wonderful pieces of art, an altar that looks like a small building,huge and beautiful stained glass windows, a beautiful pulpit designed by Brunelleschi (he also sculpted one of the many crucifixes that are in the church)...It's not as big as the duomo cathedral, but is much more opulent.  In fact, it's one of those that makes you think "how many hungry people would this have fed?" But thinking that, you also realize that if the hungry mouths HAD been fed, there would not be these beautiful buildings and works of art to stand in awe of.  I would guess that the church was probably the main "backer" of artists, until the Renaissance, actually, when wealthy families began to realize that they could have beautiful art in their homes...

I can't share pictures of all these wonderful things, because, of course, no photos were allowed and they were really patrolling to make sure no one did any sneaking.

Getting on soapbox... (you can just scroll past, I won't mind). I have to say, this "no photos" thing really bugs me.  At first I thought it was because of flash photography being harmful and even inquired the first couple of times if I could take pics without a flash.  But the thing is, the paintings, frescoes, statues, carvings, etc., are very well lit with very strong light and in one case today, there was the sun shining through an upper window full blast onto a fresco!  So, it's not the fear of damage from flash pictures I don't think.  What I do think, is that it's the best way to "encourage" people to purchase, hopefully, the books that are available, or at the very least, postcards.  And after my visit today to this truly memorable building, I came away not feeling calm and happy as I did when I came out of the Duomo cathedral, but frustrated and taken advantage of.  And as far as I can remember, aside from the duomo cathedral and the "lesser" churches I've visited, this is always the policy.  Why not just charge a larger entrance fee?  Although I'm sure that the places that do - the Uffizi, Pitti Palace, etc., probably don't allow photos either.  After I left the cathedral today, I happened upon the Medici Chapels which were closed the day I had planned to visit them, so I went up to see what the entrance fee was and if there was a "no photos" sign.  The fee was 9E (about $13.00) and, of course, there was the "no photos" sign and I was just frustrated enough to think "well phooey on you" and left.  For my son, Chris, I can only say, if you're planning a photography trip to Florence, prepare to be disappointed.  I asked at the cathedral today (as I was buying my postcards and book) if they have special "photography" tours like the National Cathedral in DC does, and the lady said no.  So I am now done venting and, aside from wishing I had pictures to share, I will move on.  Getting off soapbox.

It was getting towards lunch time and also in this area is the Mercato Centrale, a huge enclosed daily market that is mostly food vendors - butchers, fruit and vegetable vendors, wine, vinegar and oil stalls, fish (stinky!), fresh bread...just fantastic.  I had thought I'd get a sandwich at the one actual restaurant type place that is located inside but they were jammed with customers, so I wandered around for awhile.  There was one stall selling balsamic vinegars and olive oil and I stopped there.  The young man spoke English very well and explained some of the differences in balsamics to me.  And at this stall you got to taste.  I tasted three and oh my, they were good.  Thick and syrupy straight out of the bottle.  The prices were high, of course, and I thought that having a little education now, I wouldn't buy any until I shopped around a little.  But after later seeing a bottle similar to the most reasonably priced one I had tried  priced at about 2-1/2 times his price, I may go back!  Finally stopped at a place there that was mostly fresh bread, but I got a slice of pizza and a little miniature canola.  The canola was better than the pizza. :) 

I started on my way back home stopping here and there at piazzas to sit and give my poor, almost expiring feet a rest.  I managed to get myself not lost, but all turned around so that I had to do some backtracking now and then.  I've been walking around Florence long enough now that I begin to recognize areas and think "oh, yeah - I know how to get home from here" and next thing I know, I've gone the wrong direction and have to head back the other direction.

One of my stops was at this beautiful courtyard which was in the Palazzo Strozzi, another huge "house" built centuries ago by a rich man.  I went in to take a picture and there was a little cafe on the other side of the courtyard.  I thought that would be a good excuse for an even longer sit, so I went in and suddenly decided...wait for it...I WOULD GET A CAPUCCINO...AND I DID...AND I DRANK IT, ALL OF IT!!!  It was coffee, but I told the very nice girl who helped me decide what to order that if I ever HAD to drink coffee (as a torture method or something) I'd request that it be Italian.  So what do you think?  Are you impressed?  I was...

the courtyard where it happened...

I continued homeward, took a couple more pics (only 15 today!)...

Lots of Vespas!

 A neat corner light (I think) on a building which houses a cinema

and came to "my" Santo Spirito piazza and decided why not, might as well drink my way home, so stopped and sipped a nice cold glass of white wine.

this pigeon apparently felt like a little something also...

Got back to the hotel and worked on Wednesday's posts for a while and later decided that, once again, I'd just go to my piazza for dinner.  This time I tried a place I hadn't been to yet and I struck the mother lode for cheap.  It was kind of sprinkling and all the tables outside that were covered by the big umbrella were full so I went inside to see if there were tables - there were 3 or 4 all empty, and also on top of the bar area were four or five big platters of food.  I asked the man what that was all about and he said "you buy your drink for 5E and you help yourself to the food"  and I said "you've got a deal!"  So I had my full to the brim glass of red wine, some penne pasta with tomato sauce, a lovely mixed lettuces and fresh tomatoes salad, some kind of mixed vegetables in a creamy dressing salad, bread, roasted eggplant and a few roasted potatoes (all in nice modest amounts you understand) for 5E.  After what I've been spending on dinners, this was a very pleasant change.

Oh, and I was sitting afterwards in the piazza enjoying the cool evening when I heard "Mrs. Simpson?"  I turned and it was the woman, Katja, who also works at the hotel with Antonio.  Actually I think she lives here...Anyway she was with her brother who is visiting her from  Germany and so we had a nice visit.  I'm so happy with all the chances I've had to talk with people.

And I guess that's it for Thursday.  Overall, a good day even if I DID have to vent!


Christopher said...

Ah yes, America generally offers a more lenient photography policy, and I do think you're on the right track, with places that prohibit them, hoping to drive sales from the gift shop as a result. England had some similarly restrictive policies, but I found at Durham, if you arranged in advance, you could pay for a photographer's day pass.
Congrats on that cheap-eats find---sounds like a delicious happy hour option. And perhaps an even bigger congrats on that Italian coffee! But such a perfect thing to do at least once, in the birthplace of espresso...!
Every blog post, I get more and more envious of your trip!!

January said...

Yay coffee!! Way to go Mama! You're a real grown-up now :)
I agree with your soapbox ranting. Phooey on them.

Anonymous said...

You are amazing!!!
Looking forward to your return.
-Cindy B

vrmichie said...

Well, what a nice day. It must feel so good to know your way around as well as you now do and a treat to have someone recognize you and stop to chat. Sounds like a mighty good day to me, vent or no vent. It is nasty that they won't let you take pics when they have them all lit up and SUN on them! Geez. Meant to say yesterday that I like your irreverent guide book -- that's a scary looking discount!! And did you like your cappucino enough that you'll try one at home someday? Maybe you should try the 5E dinner again because maybe it's a different spread every evening. Larry just walked in a couple of minutes ago to say that reading your blog sure made him hungry. Me too. xoxo

kacki said...

EAT,DRINK, and BE MERRY! What a life!! Way to go! Sounds like you are enjoying every moment. I have truly enjoyed your trip.

Terry said...

I volunteer at a science museum and I'm always amazed when people (usually foreign visitors) ask if they may take photographs. You might be on to something. Our gift shop does not sell postcards or guidebooks of the museum.

-Va's Seattle friend

PS - I'm enjoying your blog.

Stephanie said...

I'm so proud of your coffee venture! I'm getting Josh's email so I can forward your message on to him. :)

Mary Lynne said...

Thanks for so many comments! It's so nice to come home all foot-weary and find lots of notes from everyone.

To answer one of the questions, I'm afraid I probably won't be having capuccinos when I get back home. It really wasn't all that bad, but I much prefer my nice hot "cuppa" and plus I always tell myself look at the calories I'm saving!

And, to my sister - what did you mean when you said "that's a mighty nasty looking discount"? I don't remember posting anything about discounts cause until today (Saturday) I sure never have received one.

Guess that's it for now. I had a good day today but relatively short, so I'm going to finish up Friday's post and get to work on Saturday's pictures.

Thanks again for staying in touch...

Mary Lynne
And on the cheap eats, I looked in last night and they did have a different batch of stuff but I was kind of shy to go in two nights in a row. I'll probably go back tonight though. The food situation here is not thrilling, at least to me and so "cheap" has become my monitoring device. Plus that food as as good as any other I've had and better than some, so...

Christopher said...

I think Virginia was referring to the "discount circumcision" explanation of that sculpture on the Orsanmichele... ;) It *IS* a scary looking discount...

Mary Lynne said...

That's right - I had forgotten all about that! My irreverent guidebook, by the way, is a Rick Steves one. The way it's laid out, I had kind of a hard time getting used to using it, but it is a good one.

Jamie said...

OMG! You actually drank coffee! Sorry you didn't love it. I didn't love it the first time either! What a great find on the "cheap" dinner! Can't wait to see more!

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