Tuesday, December 09, 2014

My favorite cathedral -- this trip

I know last year I talked about my favorite cathedral, which is Notre Dame. My new favorite cathedral is Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence.  But I really can't say that Notre Dame has been usurped, because it is still my favorite.  And so is the other.  They are so radically different that they can both be my favorite.
This is my first view of the cathedral.  Duomo, in Italian.  I stopped in my tracks and just said "Whoa!"  Even my 5 year old grandson, who is into spiders, snakes, poisonous animals, and going on lion hunts in the backyard (t-rex hunt, last Sunday), when he saw the pictures, said "WOW!"
And it was raining.  White looks good in the rain, and so does this red and green.  (But then, I like these colors.)

Close ups of the outside.  The detail is amazing.  Just start looking.  Someone carved that.  Someone spent a lot of time carving that.  And inlaying this.  And putting Gold leaf on something else.
The backside was completely covered by a huge cloth, I imagine for cleaning.  White doesn't stay white for long.  Judging from some of the parts that weren't cleaned, I imagine this could be an eternal process.
My friends took me inside...and I was surprised at how undecorated it was.

Mind you, that is still more detail in one wall than in most protestant churches in the US!  I had thought that the Italian ideal was to cover every surface with something -- paint, mosaic, carving, statues -- until there was nothing left.  (Apparently this is supposed to represent the austerity of religious life according to Girolamo Savonarola.)  Then I looked up:
My faith in Italians is partially restored.
This is more impressive than in sunlight.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Florence....Just Add Water

One of the problems with traveling during the off season is the weather.  Well, in this part of the world, anyway.  The day we went to the Vatican museums it rained.  Fortunately most of that was inside.  It turns out there are very helpful, enterprising young men with no other way of making money than to sell you (among other things) overpriced umbrellas and ponchos.  These are not the best of quality -- the ponchos are so thin it is very easy to poke a hole in them -- plus you need to watch your back.  One of our group bought several wooden bowls for the agreed upon price of some 30 euros, but they never took her payment, running off instead.  They did come back shortly because the amount of money they stole from her pocket (5 euros) was too small.
The harder it rains, the more money they ask for the wares.  They were trying to sell me a poncho for 5 euro when it was raining, but another offered 3 when it wasn't raining.
(One of the other items they would sell was an extender so you can take decent selfies without your forearms looking like Popeye's.  They fit iphones.  One came up to me, when my camera (see below) was prominently displayed around my neck and tried to sell me one.  Most, however, weren't that stupid.)

Anyway, the rain held off at lunch in the Piazza Navonna, so we could eat our gelato outside, and walk to the Pantheon.  As we were leaving the Pantheon, however, a really good thunderstorm came up and we all retreated inside.  Which wasn't as good as it sounded, because there is a design (feature or flaw, depending on the weather) in the roof of the Pantheon:  a hole.

There was no rain when we were in Pompeii, which is a shame because we wanted to sit on our front porch at the bed and breakfast and listen to it.  (Casa Country Villa Pompeii, another recommended place to stay!)

Capri had a few showers, and our hosts at the Antico Monastero (I have recommended them before) loaned us some umbrellas.  I need to get an umbrella, whether it rains or not, because I felt pretty elegant using it as a walking stick.  Florence, however, was another story.
Everyone told me that Florence is a beautiful city.  The whole time I was there it was either cloudy or it rained.  The only color that is pretty under those circumstances is white.  The colors of the buildings just looked awful.  Mustard yellow, light tan, dark brown, burnt orange, beige...it doesn't help that I don't actually like any of these colors.
Then the sun came out for a couple hours, and the city just shone.
Then it started raining again.  It occurred to me that those one-use ponchos might not be a bad idea for my suitcase.  The helpful friendly street seller wanted 3 euro (it wasn't raining then...) but I pulled a 2 euro coin out of my pocket and he took it.  (Should have grabbed the 1 euro coin, but my fingers just aren't European enough.  And my ancestry is English and Scottish, which aren't on the euro anyway.  The 1/64 French doesn't have a chance.)
I passed up buying this book.  But I can get it cheaper, with free shipping, from Amazon.
When I left the B and B (Le Stanze del Duomo, another good place to stay), it was pouring.  It was a 15 minute walk to the train station.  I was soaked to the skin.  My shoes were wet and my socks were squishy.  I was miserable, but my suitcase was dry.  (I should have bought a poncho for myself, too...sometimes the brain isn't fully engaged.)  (Although the socks would still have been squishy.)  I paid 1 euro to enter the bathroom and try to dry off my jacket, but the dryer was really weak.  Maybe it had seen the jacket and decided to quit right then and there.  Never mind the socks.  I hung the jacket on the suitcase handle and pulled a sweater (dry!) out of the suitcase and waited for the train.
Fortunately, the gypsies weren't at work in the train station in the rain.
The train was over an hour late getting into Rome.  (extra drying time for the jacket!)  This really wasn't an issue, since I had a hotel booked that night and a flight at 10:30 the next morning.  I started looking forward to a nice hot shower, a glass of wine (this is Italy, after all, and wine is cheap and good here!), and surfing the internet for a while.
I had booked the Hilton Garden Inn that was within walking distance to the Fiumicino Airport.  I paid extra for the convenience, a total of $185.  To access the internet from the comfort of my room, I would have paid $42.  Sending a glass of wine to the room would have been $36.  (It was half that to get it from the bar and bring it up to my room.) This is 42% of the room cost. (I am not accounting for the 3% fee charged by my credit card for using foreign currency, not something they can control.  And it all cancels out in the percentage calculation anyway.) 
Instead, I accessed the internet from the lobby (with squishy socks and rain plastered hair), where it was free and limited to a half hour.  (It took two tries, because the first helpful clerk I asked about it neglected to tell me password.)  They need an asterisk next to their advertised "free wifi."  And I didn't pay for their ridiculously overpriced wine, even in the bar.  Fortunately I did not have to pay extra for the shower.
When I wrote to them complaining about the exorbitant cost, they basically said that is their policy and they are sticking to it.  Except they took 3 paragraphs to say it.  And I am pretty sure they were looking forward to having me stay with them again.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Floors and Walkways

Floors and sidewalks are meant to be walked on.  They should be durable, flat, not slippery, easy to clean (with just rain, for the latter), and a few other qualities that will surely come to mind later.  Decorative is not necessary.  Here in the U.S., most of our floors, roads and sidewalks could best be described as "utilitarian."  My kitchen has ceramic tile that "blends in."  The rugs and floors are also monotone.  Although I know a family with an inlaid wood starburst pattern on their floor, I do tend not to walk on it.  We tend to decorate above waist level (of an adult, that is).  There are exceptions:  fancy brickwork in Seattle's Westlake Plaza, the occasional chalk art in public places, which disappears at the next rain if it isn't tracked away.
This is not so in Italy, like other places I have been in Europe.  My motto has become "Look Down."  One should always look down when you are in a foreign country.  You get little surprises.

We just pour the concrete and go.  In Italy, they put a little thought into sidewalks.

This is a walkway in Pompeii.  They have been doing this a long time.

Then there are villas centuries old.  The floor is going to be impressive.  It had better be impressive or someone with lots of power has wasted his money.  These are from the Villa D'Este in Tivoli.  This first one is inside, pretty much the way all the inside floors were.  Perhaps they got the most wear, so all the good stuff was in the private gardens.  Or the Cardinal had a fondness for terra cotta. Or something else.

These are outside.  In the rain.
File these under "Quilt Inspiration!" 
(These means, however, that I will have to buy fabric that looks like marble.)
Then there are the days when looking down gives you a case of vertigo.  Maybe Hitchcock was here.