Florence, Italy


During the fall of 2005 I lived and studied in Florence, Italy. These were a series of blog posts and mass emails I sent to family and friends to keep them updated during my time abroad.

Florence, Italy: Flight Selections – No Choice

One of the many themes I’ve finally accepted this semester is that choice isn’t always the best thing. An great instance on my flight to Chicago is the choice of TV shows. On my flight over, each seat had its own TV set. I was able to choose any of the 12 channels that I wanted. It was great, but I ended up not watching many of the shows; I had my laptop and it was easier to choose a DVD than to surf the channels.

The plane for this flight isn’t nearly as fancy as the one I came over on. There are four TVs in the center of the cabin – and they only show one channel. When I first realized this I was a little disappointed. Then they started the TV and it was showing CBS. Great – CBS – a network that I’m OK with, but don’t love. Oh well. Then came the shows: they only showed clips from certain shows. The 60 Minutes was stale; like normal. The Early Show was on rubber stamps; not my thing. The CBS Sports was on Vinny Testaverde; I’ve missed a whole NFL season and it was boring. The rest were phenomenal. They showed the pilot episode of “How I Met Your Mother.” I’m not sure if I would have enjoyed it as much if I was watching it in the States, but on the plane (without commercial interruptions) it was HILARIOUS! After that: “The Late Show with David Letterman” where Dave did a cooking segment with Rachel Ray! Both of them are funny anyway, but putting them together was too much.

Two weeks ago iTunes started selling TV shows from USA and NBC, including segments from Jay Leno. I’m just waiting for them to get an agreement with CBS (in particular for this issue of the cooking segment), Food Network and Comedy Central. Imagine: a 30 minute cooking show costing $2 to download and watch on your computer or iPod when you’re in the kitchen making it. BRING IT ON!!! I’m not sure when/if they will, but I can still hope. 😉

Florence, Italy: Personalities Make the Difference

I LOVE airport people who have good personalities. When I got to the airport this morning and checked in for my flight to Chicago, the American Airlines flights require passengers to go through a question-answer screening process before even being allowed to get the boarding pass. The lady asking me questions was hilarious. Here’s my attempt to remember all that we said:

Her: Hello Mr. Frieberg, are you in a good mood today?
Me: Yes, definitely.
Her: Wrong answer. I’m getting sick and I’m in a terrible mood.
Me: [GULP with a smirk]
Her: It’s not good to make me jealous. OK, first, you checked luggage already?
Me: Yes, I checked two bags back in Florence.
Her: Don’t run away, I need to go get your ticket and other information — and I’m NOT in a chasing mood.
Me: OK.
Her: Well, we have a problem. You were originally on yesterday’s flight. Do you have a reasonable excuse for missing that one?
Me: My flight here got cancelled from Rome, so I had to catch a later one.
Her: I thought I told you not to make me jealous; WHAT were you doing in Rome?
Me: I was flying through there because I was studying in Italy for the past 3 and a half months.
Her: OK, you might as well not talk anymore.
Her: Now, who owns all of the bags your carrying and all of the contents?
Me: I do.
Her: Good answer. Now, do any of the bags have electronic devices in them that are powered by a battery?
Me: Yep: a laptop, cell phone, digital camera, iPod … and there’s probably more I’m not remembering.
Her: Typical.

She then went through the rest of the questions and instructions about not accepting any packages from anyone.

Her: How long have you had your head shaved?
Me: Almost four months now.
Her: Let me tell you, you look SO much better without hair. Great choice!
Me: Thanks! My substitute Italian teacher thought so too last week.
Her: Well, with two comments from European women, just wait until you get home.

Let me just say: I’m going to really miss Europe. So many people are hilarious and have incredible personalities. Also, everyone flirts to a small degree — even the men — it’s just a happy world-view.

Florence, Italy: An Ocean Still to Cross

Allora, my flight to Frankfurt was relaxing, but the airport was definitely not. After getting off the plane I made my way to the American Airlines ticket counter two concourses from my gate and talked to the wonderful clerk. Transatlantic flights are dependent upon three key components: 1) a plane, 2) passengers arriving on time, and 3) time zone differences (it doesn’t make sense to arrive at an airport at 3am). My flight into Frankfurt arrived almost an hour after my flight to Chicago left. I guess I didn’t follow the second one.

American Airlines only has two flights going across each day: one to Dallas and the other to Chicago. The lady could see the spark in my eye when she mentioned that and quickly extinguished it with reality by saying that the Dallas flight was completely full. She was incredibly helpful and booked me on the flight for tomorrow at the same time. When I asked her what I should do for the night (I’m pretty flexible and could even have just stayed in the airport all night), she said that Alitalia, since they were the ones who cancelled the flight, were the ones liable. She kindly pointed me to their desk on the other side of the hall.

I showed up to the Alitalia desk and was standing in line and hearing the lady at the counter utterly berating a lady who’d missed a flight from Milan to Toronto (the lady was saying she shouldn’t have even been in Frankfurt). Already fearing the worst, I stood in line and surprisingly had a smile on my face. It wasn’t one of those fake smiles that I sometimes do; I was authentically content.

A man then walked up behind the counter and asked how he could help. When I explained the situation, he immediately got angry and said “was your Lufthansa flight late?” (Lufthansa was the airline I took from Rome to Frankfurt). I looked at him, thought a minute, and said, “well, actually, yeah it was 10 minutes late — but I would have missed my connection in any case since the Alitalia flight was cancelled.” His attitude immediately changed and he asked to see all of my forms. I pulled them all out of my folder (when I normally travel I’m NEVER this organized — coming over to Europe I didn’t even have an e-ticket receipt or anything with me!) and gave them to him.

He went into a back office and came out five minutes later and started typing and telling me that he was going to transfer my American ticket to tomorrow. I think I made his day when I said I’d already had it done. He looked at me, smiled, and said that he was going to find me a hotel for the night. My smile had to have been so big! He booked the room, filled out the voucher and gave me all of the instructions with the final one: even though your bags were checked to Chicago, they’ll be waiting for you downstairs since you missed your flight.

I made my way into the baggage claim and I knew they wouldn’t be there on the carousel. The Lufthansa people were incredible in handling it: when I asked them to trace them they first asked why I was over an hour late (a short: “I missed my flight and the next one’s not until tomorrow” solved that one) and then searched on the computer and said that they were already in the queue for my flight tomorrow. PERFECT!!! After I assured them that I didn’t need them for tonight (who wants to haul around 40kg of luggage around just for a night in a hotel?), I made my way to the shuttle and took it to the hotel.

I’ve stayed in some nice hotels, and this is definitely one of the better ones. Since I have a single room, there’s a leather recliner that I can use to start on my newest book: Graham Greene’s novel The Man Within. Also, the bathroom came with amenities that I just laughed at: an individually wrapped comb and a bottle of shampoo. I’ll probably use the shampoo (even though I’m used to body wash now) — but the comb is definitely going to stay there.

I’m now going to read a little before grabbing dinner (which the airlines also paid for, along with the breakfast). :) Going with the flow and having a smile really does pay off sometimes.

Florence, Italy: Evidence of Change

Yesterday I wrote that change is bittersweet; it’s so true. Today I had four different flights to catch. Knowing today’s transportation systems, I should have known better than to think it would happen problem-free. I made my Florence flight to Rome without a problem. The sleep I got on it was great; I’d only slept 5 hours last night. I arrived at Rome ten minutes early and made my way to my gate. Then the chaos started. First the flight was only delayed 15 minutes; then an hour and 15 minutes; then it was cancelled altogether.

Normally this would have driven me crazy. I remember a flight two summers ago being cancelled and causing me to get to a conference late. I stressed all day about all of the details and in the end it worked out OK. Because of experiences like that, however, I despise airports.

Italy taught me to “go with the flow” this semester. Using the walking power I built up over the semester in Florence, I calmly beat almost everyone on my flight to the ticket counter at the other end of the terminal. There’s a Lufthansa flight that leaves at 12:55pm (almost four hours after mine was supposed to leave). Alitalia wrote out the transfer slip and I, along with two new traveling companions for this leg of the trip (one from Germany and one from India) got our new boarding passes and made our way to our new gate.

I don’t know what awaits me in Frankfurt. My bags will have been on three different airline carriers when I get home, so I’m not betting on them making it with me. If they do: great; if not: that’s OK as well. When I get there I’ll arrive 40 minutes after my flight to Chicago is scheduled to leave. American may still put me on a flight to Chicago – or they may do one to DFW – or they may do something completely different: who knows! In any case, I’m anxious to get home, but I’m also remarkably stress-free at the moment. It may just be the lack of sleep, or it may be that I changed this semester.

Florence, Italy: Advent Anticipation

One of the many themes that rules my life is the anticipation I suffer when approaching a transition. For every summer activity I start focusing on the next thing approaching when I’m only 90% (and sometimes 70%) of the way through the summer. My energy always starts to fizzle out right before the end so that, when it comes time to finish, I’m “running on fumes.” This was a big part of why I’m graduating early: why languish in my final semester when I can finish strong a semester early?

As much as I like to pretend I can always finish strong, this semester the gauntlet was thrown. With so many distractions from living in a foreign country, my greatest struggle to was concentrate and finish well. My new method of procrastination: countdowns. In under 43 hours I’ll be on a plane on my way home. In five days I’ll have my degree. In 12 days I’ll start three full days of Christmas celebrations with my families.

Between now and then I have three finals to take. My Italian grammar final is this afternoon and hopefully won’t be bad. I’m not guaranteeing that since my professor was gone all of last week and we took a test on the last day and get those back today. Then again, for the entire semester we’ve only had a few minutes to review our tests after we get them back, so today won’t be any different. I’ll go to class, stay after and take that final, and then get ready for tomorrow. What happens tomorrow? The last two: International Topics in Political Science (should be a fun final to take — I’ve done all of the readings and was engaged in the class discussions) and my Italian Conversation. The conversation final is the one which I’m not confident in. The Italian finals count for 40% of my semester grade, so it all comes down to the next 28 hours. Once those are finished, my undergraduate time is finished.

There aren’t many things that can bring on so much anticipation for me that I get homesick. I listen to Christmas music and enjoy it, but it doesn’t make me homesick (unlike some others in the TCU group). Modern technology lets me communicate with my family and others from around the world. Even though I don’t get homesick easily, something happened in mass yesterday that made me chuckle.

In his homily, Roger was talking about the prophecy of Isaiah. He was giving it context and describing how it was supposed to move people. “Isaiah wrote to an exiled people; he wrote to the cast out in the world with the simple message ‘Come Home!'” Kristina was sitting beside me and was confused at first on why I started laughing. Roger’s message struck me where I least thought it could; advent isn’t a time of comfort or a time of nostalgia – it’s a time of uncertainty and a time where we’re expected to move and change. Hmmm … 42 hours or so!

Florence, Italy: Assisi

Day trips are now too easy for me. Why pay for a night in a hotel when you can do all of the sightseeing in a day? Today’s trip was to Assisi.

I began the morning with a brutal start. Brett and Erin went with me, so we decided to meet at the train station at 8am. That meant that Brett and I both had to be ready and out the door at 7:45. I woke up at 7:37 and was dressed and outside on time! Then came the train ride: a 2.5 hour InterCity train; it obviously wasn’t the high-speed nice Eurostar type. The long train rides did let me catch up on sleep, though!

When we finally got to Assisi, we weren’t even close to the town. Assisi is built on a tall hill and the train station is almost 4km away in the valley below. Conveniently, the city is always well-prepared for tourists and pilgrims, so the bus taking us to the city pulled out five minutes after we arrived.

Our first stop was the Cathedral of San Francesco. Gorgeous doesn’t begin to describe it. At the top of the hill in the city, this cathedral is actually two different churches in one. It’s built onto the edge of the hill, so the view going up to it is breathtaking. At the top of these incredibly long columns (I’m guessing at least 100 meters in some parts) are arches that give uniformity to every side of the building. If you’ve seen “The Return of the King” (another must), this cathedral has a similar look to the hilltop castle with the great coronation scene at the end. Walking up to the cathedral the wind caused the running joke of the day: Brett’s and Erin’s umbrellas immediately turned inside-out. Erin’s was a nicer quality, so it was at least reparable. Brett’s, however, snapped in several of the linking metal bands. He made a valiant effort the entire day of trying to salvage it, but it never truly worked.

We started with the upper cathedral. The frescos were pretty (like normal), but the environment definitely wasn’t one of devotion. Most churches in Italy will charge admission for tourists while leaving it free for any locals or anyone wanting to pray in a specific chapel. The Cathedral of San Francesco kept it free for everyone, but paradoxically lost most of the atmosphere. There were two uniformed officers (not Italian police or military) who were walking around and using the loud speaker system to ask everyone to be quiet. Brett pointed out that hilarity of the situation.

The lower cathedral was different; the mood and ambiance of the place was great. My favorite part was the Cappeli Immaculata which had modern relief carvings of the Annunciation, Crucifixion and other scenes. These reliefs were obviously modern (one of the characters is wearing glasses while looking into the light), but they recreated SO MUCH of the intensity I can see in paintings of the same scenes by Fra Angelico in the Monastery of San Marco. These reliefs were both still incredibly relevant and reverent.

In the lower cathedral was the entrance to the crypt underneath the structure that holds the tomb of St. Francis and those of many of his followers. When we first walked down into the crypt Erin and I could tell there was a low buzz. We’re not sure if it was the acoustics, the breathing of the people in it, the ventilation system or simply that it was a holy place; it may have been a combination of the four). In any case, this buzz filled the void since absolutely no one was talking. There was a long line of people always passing the grave and after I’d gone around and looked, I sat in the back row and enjoyed the moment.

Finishing in the cathedral, we’d only been in Assisi for 1.5 hours, so we grabbed lunch. Then we went for our next target: a hill fort that was supposed to have some of the best views in town. With all of the views we’d seen we knew that they’d have to be incredible in the fort. After at least five wrong turns and detours, we gave up on the hill fort (yes, we had a full map and everything — it’s a medieval town!) and went to the next church: Sant Rufino. Erin and I are still arguing about whether it had a renaissance or baroque interior. I think it’s baroque; Erin thinks its architecture is renaissance with baroque altarpieces.

The next stop was Santa Chiara. We had a lot of hope for this basilica. It’s outside has a gorgeous front facade. The entire exterior is designed using pink and white marble. Inside was disappointing: most of the frescoes (I’m guessing somewhere around 90%) were painted over and white-washed off of the walls. It’s a tragedy. The interior looks so plain and bare that one looking at it in a book would never say it was in Italy.

After that, we decided to head back to Florence on the 3:23 train. 2.5 hours later and we made it back to our (semi-)warm apartments and the familiarity of Florence.

Florence, Italy: Oh the Irony

The ironies of life never stop occurring. That’s probably both a blessing and a curse (hence ironies). My aunt Becky told me mid-semester that a friend of hers had a daughter studying in Spain who I needed to get in touch with. Kelsie and I both e-mailed each other throughout the semester and she decided to come over to Florence before her finals week. Studying in Seville, Spain, she and her friends decided they wanted to see Italy.

This past week was crazy for both of us, so out e-mails were scattered. Luckily, Florence has some great monuments that made it easier for us to coordinate. She sent me an e-mail last night before getting on her flight this morning and we decided to meet at the Duomo steps at 8. I was nervous and not sure what to expect. In her e-mail she said to look for “a confused blonde” — at least I knew she’d have a personality.

We met and she introduced me to herself and her friends and when I asked what they wanted to do they looked at me and said, “what’s there do in Florence at night.” The expression on my face had to have been hilarious; not only am I not the one to ask that question to, but I was stumped. One of them mentioned that they hadn’t had dinner, so I took them for a short walking tour of some of the area south of the Duomo before taking them to one of my favorite restaurants: La Maddia.

Unfortunately the meal didn’t match up to the other times I’ve been there. The waitress forgot the water until the end of the meal and the food was lukewarm at best. It was relatively inexpensive for a Florence dinner, however, and I think the girls still enjoyed it.

After dinner I took them to the see the copy of Michelangelo’s “David” by the Palazzo Vecchio. It’s such a non-event for me since I’ve done it in Art History and walked by it many times. I made sure to walk in front so I couldn’t see their faces. Once we rounded the corner into the Piazza I heard the squeals and moans. :) I turned around and they were astounded. I then got to imitate Dr. Reynolds and explain some of the history of the statues and the area. I’m such a con, but it worked and they enjoyed it. Every additional step we took, though, put something else into view and they loved it even more. When we finally had the Uffizi fully in view they just stopped walking.

Eventually we made it to the gelateria by the girls’ place and spent some time there before going back to their hostel by Santa Croce. I’m heading to Assisi tomorrow, so they’re on their own for tomorrow (I drafted an itinerary for them with six different things to see) and we’re meeting on Saturday morning for even more sites before they have to leave in the afternoon.

None of this was the irony. The irony came when talking to Kelsie on the way back to the hostel. She had been asking me where I live in Iowa and I described it in relation to my aunt Becky’s house since she knows where it is. After I got done describing it, she said, “I think I’ve been to your grandparents house and swam in their pool; do they live near you?” I started laughing and just shook my head. Incredible. For those who don’t know, my parents bought my grandparent’s house when I was in 5th grade (1995) and my grandparents built a new one next-door. When I told her it was actually our house and our pool everyone in the group started laughing as much as I did. Kelsie then asked, “So you live on the horse farm too?” It was TOO ironic. She lives in Colfax, 35 minutes away from Norwalk, and it turns out she’s been in our pool. You never know who you’ll meet in the middle of Italy!

Florence, Italy: Il Latini

Tonight the TCU group decided to go to Il Latini, a GREAT restaurant in Florence. Erin got us reservations and had heard of this place on the Food Network. It didn’t disappoint. As you’ve already gathered from other writings, Italy is a country very nonchalantly meticulous with food; they want it to have the best quality and served with the perfect combinations, but they also want the people eating to enjoy it as much as possible. It’s a nice attitude.

The night we arrived in Florence, Jeremy (who’s now no longer with Accent — long story) took us out to dinner at a restaurant without a menu. It was simple: you have a choice of three things for each course and you choose one. Il Latini was the same way! Because we had a reservation they ushered us right in to our table and once our backs touched our chairs they had the antipasti of prosciutto in front of us. We all looked at each other and realized what kind of restaurant we had just walked into; it was a look of terror and admiration combined in one; it was sublime.

Besides the prosciutto for the first course, they brought out several crostini with different oils and spreads. Then came the choice: pasta or soup. We all (with the exception of Brett) chose soup – Pappa al Pomodoro. I’ve had this soup almost half-a-dozen times while in Florence and this version didn’t compare to any of the previous ones. Before we could even get a quarter of the way through, the owner came over and said we weren’t liking it well enough, so he told the waiter something in Italian (too quiet-slurred-fast for us to understand) and said he was taking care of it. ?!? We didn’t even know how to react. Italians are about slow-food movement; without even giving us a chance to see how good it was (even though he was right in the end), he made the decision and got us a better dish. The meal became even more sublime. At this point someone asked how much it cost since we weren’t choosing any of this: he gave us a price and it was more than any of us had paid for a single meal in the semester (although I’ve been close a couple of times — all of them memorable), but we all realized it was going to be worth it.

The pasta dish they brought out was full of ribbon noodles drenched in a red non-tomato-based meat sauce. It was unbelievably better than the soup. Then they brought out three different vegetable plates: spinach, beans in a red sauce, and peas with hap. These peas were some of the sweetest peas I’ve ever had; and I don’t even like peas. Before we realized it, they brought out the meat plate. To say it was a plate doesn’t do it justice. It was a ceramic dish, but the meat amounted to the size of two (maybe three) footballs. There was SO much.

What kinds of meat take up so much? For sure there was roasted beef, lamb, chicken, veal, and rabbit. We each had a full plate and there was still 2/3 of the meat on the tray left. Luckily someone, I think Marisa, asked if we could take it home — which they didn’t mind at all! Brett made an admirable attempt to make up for the rest of us. After his third plate he said enough, and then the waiter came over, put his hands on each of Brett’s and then helped Brett use the fork and knife to cut more off and put it on his plate. Marisa had the comment of the night: “wow Brett, you got served!” (Those under 25 should get the pop-humor of that)

After all of this came the desserts: six different types with spoons for each of us to try. There was a chocolate gelato dish that resembled a mousse. There was a baked cake of three flavors of dough with a creamy filling. There was a carmel sauce on a flaum. There was another cake with a liqueur center. There was a raspberry cake. Then came an experiment for all of us: lemon and almond biscotti. These dippable cookies came out with a brown liquor that we think was a type of dessert brandy. We assumed we were supposed to dip: big mistake! The flavor combination was atrocious. So, after I’d had three cookies and that flavor was out of my mouth, I gave it some time and then decided it was a waste to not drink the brandy. That was my best decision of the night. I’d had three glasses of the table red wine earlier at dinner and I ended up having three of those glasses of the dessert drink (some of the others didn’t believe me that it actually tasted good).

After that, they brought out a bottle of another dessert drink. We’re not sure what it was (Erin made sure to get a picture of the label). It wasn’t bubbly like a champagne, but it was INCREDIBLY sweet. Two glasses of that and I decided to end the night on a good note. We finished the meal and went back to the girls’ apartment and hung out for a while. We all had a little buzz, but none of us were obnoxious. Simply sitting and talking with everyone brought back great memories of the beginning of the semester. We started the semester this way and we finished it too. Semesters are symmetrical: we work hardest at the beginning and the end, we do more things together when we first get to know each other and when the end is in view. Il Latini was a great thing for the last week of the semester and the friendships we created here.

Florence, Italy: The Marathon of Rome

Today I did a marathon trek through Rome. You may be thinking — that’s a lot of miles — and you’d be right (if talking in KMs). It wasn’t an actual marathon, but it was such an endurance challenge that it felt like one.

I’m starting the habit of leaving early whenever I go somewhere and don’t have to drive it myself. Today’s travel was by train in a short, less-than-two hour trip. The best part about these train rides: I got to sleep! I arrived in Rome at 9:30 and immediately set off on my whirlwind tour of the city. My first debacle was to decide which Metro pass to purchase. I solved it by getting a 24 hour pass with unlimited passages. (I think, in all, I saved 4 euros just by doing that).

I started the day with a list of things I wanted to see. They were all recommended to me by Father Jack of some of his favorite places from when he served in Rome. My first stop was St. Paul’s Outside the Walls. This basilica is the second largest in Rome (20 points if you know what the largest is!). If it’s the second biggest in the center of the Catholic church, you know it’s big! At the front of center nave were two statues: one on the left of St. Peter holding the keys to heaven, and one on the right of a balding (I know -comforting) St. Paul caught in a moment of looking stern while holding a sword. Overall the church was less intricate than many others I’ve seen. There wasn’t much in sides that distracts the attention from the center-front. Another great thing was the quality of its cloisters. It’s probably due to the rain, but the colors of the grass and flowers were SO bright. I can’t imagine taking breaks from classes (or worships) in those places — I wouldn’t want to go back.

The second stop was four Metro-stops down and a nice walk: Tre Fontani. This place of three fountains is set up as the site where Paul was beheaded. At first I couldn’t find it, but did find what Jack correctly called a “low-key” Marian shrine. This place was where Mary appeared to a communist; low-key is somewhat of an understatement. I walked up and all I could see was a tent around this grotto. It was only when I went inside of the tent, I saw that in it was a building around the shrine; still, definitely low-key. From there, I got directions to the Tre Fontani.

The highlights of the Tre Fontani were the signs. Call me irreverent, but knowing that it was the place where an event happened almost two millenia ago wasn’t as interesting for me as how it is treated today. The signs told it all! The site is set up for pilgrims and includes the trigger for the mind of a long and winding driveway into it to symbolize a greater amount travelled (think the first entrance to the Christian Conference Center and you understand). Before even starting on the driveway I read a sign in five different languages: “This is a sacred place where one venerates the memory of the martyrdom of the Apostle St. Paul. Visitors are welcome and kindly requested to behave conformly to the obvious rules of a holy place.” Walking about 20 meters on the driveway I came upon a statue of (who I think was) St. Benedict holding his right index finger up to his lips. I LOVED IT — for those who can’t read, the statue tells you enough. “The obvious rules of a holy place” are made obvious by the statue demonstrating it. Making my way past a building that looked like a monastery, I followed a path through a grove of trees to a little chapel at the end. Keep in mind that it was raining (A LOT) and the trees didn’t offer much of a canopy from the storm. I made it to the chapel and was hit by something I hadn’t heard (pun intended) in a while: silence. Most churches I enter have acoustics that echo a lot of the sounds: this one had them where it ripped them from the air: the two other people in the chapel walking around didn’t make a sound, even though the way they were walking probably should have. The chapel was beautiful. Behind the altar was a painting (which, I need to check – but I’m pretty sure was a Caravaggio — in either case: a baroque) that I think was actually the martyrdom of St. Peter (surprising since it wasn’t his site). The figure was being crucified upside down and was bending up and looking above at his feet. Like I said, I’ll need to check. The sign on the way out of the site was hilarious: Trappist Liquors for sale. That explained the quietness — not much else though! 😉

When I finished it was 1pm and I knew there was a chance some of the other places I wanted to go would be closed for siesta — so I went somewhere that I knew would be open: St. Peter’s. (For those wanting the 20 points, you should have guessed this one!) St. Peter’s was better the second time; I stood in line, and in the cathedral, for two hours. Like the last time, the building is still as huge and as impressive when you first walk in. Different from the last time, however, the sun wasn’t shining in the windows. I like it SO much better darker. It’s much more difficult to get good pictures, but the shadows behind all of the statues give them more emotion. The mosaic giant duplications of the great works (i.e. Raphael’s “Transfiguration” – my favorite) don’t look as good with the artificial lighting, but the rest seems even grander.

After St. Peters, I went to the Gesu. The Gesu is the mother church of the Jesuits (the Society of Jesus – a Catholic male monastic order founded on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola). Many consider the Jesuits one of the more progressive orders of the Catholic church; the thing I saw in the Gesu definitely shows that. After entering I saw there was a large group of people at the front in the side chapel. I know that “tourist” visits aren’t allowed in churches during religious celebrations, so I looked, but didn’t see a priest or anyone officiating. It was a large group of people doing private devotions!

I sat in the back of the church and let it all soak in. Looking at the ceiling I heard something familiar and recognized the melody of the film “The Mission,” which is about South American Jesuits in the late 1700’s. I looked over to my right to see where it was coming from and WHOA — there was a giant widescreen flat-panel television in one of the small chapels along with a display on St. Ignatius and the Society. When I went over and looked, I also saw the display for St. Francis Xavier, giving information on his life. Apparently it’s the 400th Anniversary of something Xavier did (I’m not sure if it was his departure for India, his birth or what — I should probably check on that). After looking at those, I went back to sit down and just admired the ceiling. The ceilings and sides and fronts of all Baroque churches are amazing, this one included.

After going to the Gesu, I went to another Jesuit church: St. Ignatsio. I’d visited this church the first time I went to Rome, but I had to go back (it’s like St. Peter’s). Actually, it’s like it in so many ways: both are baroque, both are huge, and both look SO different with altered lighting. I didn’t like St. Ignatsio nearly as much as I did the first time. The lack of sun shining through the windows caused them to artificially light some of the areas: unconvincingly. I’m not sure if it was the type of bulbs they used or what, but compared to St. Peter’s and the Gesu, St. Ignatsio’s lighting didn’t have the warm glow of the others: it was a cold and artificial light. In any case, I still LOVE the ceiling frescos and made sure to get a better shot than I did the last time: this time — I did a 30″ exposure! For those familiar with cameras, it was at f22 with a 100 ISO. The result is incredibly clear and is really pretty to zoom up close in on the computer.

What I liked best about this visit was the time factor. I wasn’t being rushed around by others; I could visit at my own pace. With St. Ignatsio, I spent 20 minutes just sitting, praying and studying the frescos at the front of the sanctuary that I hadn’t even noticed the first time I came. Unfortunately the rain did make the entire trip cold and wet
. I also wasn’t able to make it to the Scavi or the Catacombs — but those are on the list for the next time I come to Rome. The return trip to Florence this evening was fun: especially since I got to catch up on sleep some more. The act of not transporting yourself is incredibly liberating; we’ll see if I say the same thing when I drive down to Ft. Worth in 13 days.

Florence, Italy: Return to Siena

Do you ever return somewhere and see it in such simpler terms? Whenever I return to a place I’ve lived, the streets that wound around so complicatedly seem simple; the pace of the place seems so less rushed. The return trips lose the magical “newness” of the first visit, but make up for that loss with a sense of familiarity. Siena is now one of those places.

I don’t want to imply that I know the city; by no means! The major sites aren’t intimidating for me anymore, however. When I first went to Siena, it was raining and cold. Earlier today, it was just cold.

I went via autobus. Surprisingly, the bus system isn’t as easy as I expected. You buy the tickets and board the bus whenever you want to (providing it’s going to the place you have a ticket for). Well, there’s a difference in the two busses to Siena: “diretta” and “rapida.” I’m still going to need to check to make sure I understand the difference, but I rode one on the way there and a different one on the return trip.

Departing for Siena I took the “diretta” bus, since I assumed it was the fastest. We went through about six towns on the way making several stops in each town. Imagine a city’s bus transport system and extend it across the province and that’s what this was. I’m not going to complain, since I normally like bus rides. It took a little longer, but it also allowed me more sleep time (something I do incredibly well on buses). At the end of the day I took the “rapida” back and there were only two stops — much better!

When I arrived in Siena I was a man on a mission. Dr. Plate, one of my Religion professors, is writing a work on different artist’s connotations of “horns.” (I’m pretty sure it has nothing to do with him teaching at the “horn”-ed frog university — seriously, no sarcasm there.) In the Civic Museum in the City Hall is a room full of a fresco cycle by Ambrogio Lorenzetti. The cycle is called “Good and Bad Government” and is the author’s (and town’s) implications of the cause-effect nature of the different governing styles. In it, the “tyrannus” of the bad government is a devil character with insane horns and teeth. My mission: to get a good picture that he might be able to use in publication. When I arrived at the museum, there were signs all over the place saying no photography allowed. Steathily, I got a couple of good ones, but they’re from the vantage point of the viewer (in my view, the correct one — since that’s where EVERYONE sees it from), which is lower and looking up. Just to be safe (and to make sure there was a backup plan), I got a print in the gift shop. :)

After that museum, I headed up to the Duomo. The Siena Duomo is one of the most complex and intricate buildings I’ve ever seen. Anyone who walked inside with ADD would be a disaster by the time they walked out. When I got to the Duomo, I was about to go up the steps and looked over and saw one of the nearby buildings is having a special exhibit on Raphael and Caravaggio. What was I going to say to that? “OKAY!!!”

The exhibit was great, which surprised me. Both of those artists’ best works are in the painting exhibit in the Vatican, and aren’t going anywhere. Luckily, they each had enough great ones that this exhibit showcased them nicely. They could have set the museum up better; I ended up doing the gallery backwards (luckily my audio headset was programmable) because when I tried from the front all of the paths were blocked off. Making it through the labyrinth of the 3-story museum was the biggest accomplishment of the day.

After finishing that exhibit, I went to the Duomo. Most cathedrals are busy year-round. Florence’s recently got to the point where the line doesn’t exist. Siena, apparently, has been there for a while. When I went, there were less than 20 people in the entire cathedral! The last time I went it had somewhere around 400 people. The low-tourism season is THE time to visit these places! It’s also better to visit at the end because I could see the specific works we’d talked about in my Art History class. Jeremy, the Accent excursions coordinator, had given us a great tour before, but this time I could move around in the cathedral and take my time.

Mid-afternoon I decided I’d seen enough and headed back to Florence. When I got to Siena it was overcast and foggy at times. When I left, it was a deep blue sky without a chance of rain — just the kind of weather to return to Florence with. :)