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: The Deep Blue Darkness – Fourth Technology Casualty Averted

Last night the general theme was blue. No matter where I turned, blue was the color that kept sticking out to me. At 10:30 I walked out of the apartment and was committed to procrastinating some more. My last paper I have to write in my Undergraduate career was due this morning and I’d already made great progress (700/1500 words) when I left.

Stepping out of the apartment I knew something was different. There was a blue light cast on all of the cars on the street. Normally it wouldn’t have been shocking since the blue light of the bike store I live over is always on. Still, it never had this intense of a blue cast before. Then I noticed it: the street lights were all out. Power was on in the apartments along the street, but the city’s street lights were out. Even though I recognize their importance (safety), I wish it happened more often. The street was gorgeous with the golden light pollution in the clouds above meshing with the intense neon blue of the bike shop’s light below. Also, without the street lights, the street seemed quieter; it may simply have been my subconscience filling in less details — in any case: I loved it.

I slowly made my way to the internet cafe, just enjoying the calmness. At the cafe I talked to my mom on instant messenger and did a system update on my laptop. Before I go any further, you should know that it’s always a good idea to get the complete and latest system updates from your software vendor. It’s also a great idea to at least know where your operating system recovery disk is located, and if traveling overseas, to make sure to take it with you. You never know when a computer geek will be able to help you abroad …

After the system updates finished downloading, waited until it said it was in the last moments of finishing the installation. Then I did it: I closed my Powerbook and returned to my apartment. I opened it back up and within five seconds popped up a screen telling me that I needed to do a manual restart because the computer had frozen. MY computer crashed? No way; I knew it was definitely the case, though. Perhaps it’s karma, but earlier that day I’d been telling my classmates that my computer had only crashed twice in the 2.5 years I’ve had it. I’d only seen this screen once before and I knew it wasn’t good.

When I restarted, it did the normal screen telling me it was starting the operating system software. Then, it went to a blue screen and started doing it again; and again; and again. In messing with my computer during the system update, I created an infinite loop in the startup cycle. It was NOT a pretty sight! What was even worse was that my paper, which I’d worked so hard on, was inaccessible and there was no chance I would be able to repair my computer AND type up the paper before it was due today.

Brett, my roommate, let me use his computer to type up my paper once again from scratch. Before starting on my second version, I let my computer keep going through its cycle in the event that it fixed itself. The only thing visible throughout the process was the blue screen. This blue light was completely opposite of the blue haze I’d seen earlier in the night; the blue was stressful instead of calming.

I started the paper at 11:50. An hour into it (12:50), I’d written 700 words. 25 minutes later (1:15) I’d written 1000. At 2:00am, the paper was done and was SO much better than the first version. The laptop crashing may have been a blessing in disguise: my last paper I wrote in college wasn’t a piece of crap!

This morning I woke up and went to the Accent Center and attempted to back things up before I repaired the operating system. I was able to boot the computer off of the DVD and back-up a couple of things to my external flash drive. Then came the moment of truth: I told the restore software to create an archive of the system before restoring off of the disk image. Almost an hour and a half later and the system was fully restored without my losing ANY files! :)

Florence, Italy: Family Visit

My family just left. My parents and brother arrived around 12:30 in the afternoon on Sunday. Proving once again why I should check e-mails at least once a day (including the two days before), they arrived three hours later than I was originally expecting them. Their plane left Des Moines late, causing them to be rerouted on all of the flights. To miss a flight but still make it three hours after originally planning was pretty good. That morning I did the early mass at St. James and then waited.

When they got here, they were jet-lagged. Remembering how much my body hated me when I first arrived in Florence, I had sympathy aches for them. Luke was especially in bad shape since he’d done the midnight showing of Harry Potter the night before they left. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

We had originally wanted to see the soccer game that afternoon. Fiorentina played AC Milan in Florence. We weren’t able to get tickets; they sold out, but some of the Milan fans didn’t come — so there was a little room. Still, the stadium had 44,000 people in it. Maybe it was a good thing we didn’t make it there. We did find a way to see the game, nevertheless, since the Casa del Popolo in the nearby town of Fiesole was projecting it onto one of their walls. :) Below is the family with the nice sunset-lit Fiesole hills behind them:

The game was fun (Fiorentina won 3-1), but they were WAY too tired for watching. When we left we took the bus back to Florence and went to their hotel.

One of the struggles I have as a tour guide is fitting to the others’ schedules. I am now thinking like a Florentine. Dinner before 8pm is extremely rare. At 5:45, though, the family was hungry and nothing was open (it was a Sunday)! They all ended up taking naps and we had two pizzas later in the night. Luke thought it was some of the best pizza he’d ever had in his life; I thought it was barely mediocre.

Monday morning started with a sunless sky with VERY cold weather. My dad had been starting to feel sick when he first arrived and he had a fever on Monday morning; for most of the week he was feeling sick. He stayed in bed that morning and my brother and mom came with me to my Art History site visit. We went to the Casa Buonarotti and saw some of Michelangelo’s first works. The tour would have been boring at any other time for them; with Dr. Reynolds, though, I’m pretty sure they enjoyed the “detailed” explanations she gave. After class I introduced them to one of my favorite parts of Florence: Lucca. Gianlucca is my baker at the end of my street who makes some of the best pizza and breads. After choosing a couple of kinds, we went back to their hotel room and ate with my dad.

One of the challenges for the week was balancing my class schedule with their schedule. On Mondays I have 5.5 hours of class; needless to say, it got in the way of spending time with my family. My Italian class also decided that afternoon that we were splitting this week’s exam into two separate days. The trip I’d planned with the family to Siena on Wednesday was quickly scrapped. In the end, it was fine since we came up with more to do in Florence. Monday night we ate dinner at a restaurant I like: La Maddia. This restaurant was recommended by a friend from TCU who studied in Florence last Fall; they have some of the best lasagna. The came dessert: Italian gelato. That trip to the gelateria brought on a ritual joke through the week; my dad, still not feeling great, asked me what gelato was when I recommended it for dessert. My brother and mom each did the reaction so I didn’t have to.

Tuesday was another busy day. I had a presentation I gave in my International Politics class, so my mind was always working double-time; it was always planning the next thing to do with the family and also always concentrating on organizing the presentation points. We started out the morning going to “the rock museum.” This workshop/museum is actually of semi-precious stones that are fashioned into incredibly ornate fixtures. Some are tables. Some are jewelry chests. Some are vases. Some are painting replicas for walls. I think the family enjoyed it, but they weren’t as excited about it as I originally was. This trip I wasn’t as excited either since I had my camera and my new lens but the staff told me I couldn’t take any pictures. :(

That afternoon we chilled since I only had a short time before my Italian class. Tuesday night was the treat: cooking at Mike’s. My family had heard about Mike before they arrived, but letting them meet him AND make a great dinner with him was one of the best things their trip could include. I’m not going to talk about how great Mike was at describing the dishes or great the food was — a simple menu will say enough: Penne with zuchini, tomatoes and garlic cooked in a white wine; a pork fillet rolled with spinach, mushrooms and wrapped and baked in prosciutto; pears poached in wine with a marsala cream sauce (think egg nog but better). OK, enough said.

Wednesday morning my dad was feeling sick again. My mom and brother and I went and saw the Churches of San Lorenzo and Santa Croce. These two are nice, but not my favorites in town. San Lorenzo has an unfinished facade at the front and during the week we called it “the ugly church.” Besides the rough stone on the front, nothing about it is ugly. Santa Croce, on the other hand, is being restored in several places inside and it doesn’t look nearly as good as San Lorenzo. The facade at the front is nice (and finished), but the interior is darker, cluttered and generally older than San Lorenzo. After seeing those two churches, we grabbed sandwiches at a place near my school called the Oil Shoppe. Then came my Italian conversation test. I think it went well, but then again, I’ve thought most of my tests have gone well; we’ll see on Tuesday how the teacher thought it went. Dinner on Wednesday night was at a restaurant near San Lorenzo: Za-za’s. I’d never eaten there, but several friends had recommended it.

Thursday was the last full day my family was in town. We started by going to the Piazzale Michelangelo and doing a family picture for the Christmas cards. :) Then we went up to my favorite church in Florence: San Miniato. I’ve described it before, but this Benedictine church on a hill has so much simplicity compared to some churches. The inside has frescoes and a complicated architecture; still, it’s crypt is so plain yet wonderful. The lighting is dark and the atmosphere of the area is one of reflective marble. My favorite spot in the church is the steps at the back of the crypt before the entrance to the chapel.

Going back into town we grabbed pizza slices for lunch and made it to the Uffizi gallery. I never knew I could go through an art gallery so fast. For the amount of stuff that’s in the Uffizi, we spent an embarrassingly short time in there. They wanted to see the highlights, which we definitely did! When doing the tour I thought we were going WAY too fast; but, there’s something to be said for going through a gallery fast for the first time. If it’s arranged chronologically, the short walk through shows the progression of the methods and the development of art in general. Things from the previous room are still forefront in the mind. Sometimes fast really is better; sometimes slow is better too. If you have a chance to go through a gallery, do it fast the first time, come back in a week, and spend four times the amount in there you did before. :)

After another Italian test came another phenomenal dinner. Acqua al 2, a restaurant highly recommended by friends (and started by one of the founders of the Culinary Institute in Florence), was SO good. My dad, brother and I all had the same thing for our first course: assaggio. They have five first dishes that they bring out and let us share and sample. I loved them all
; Luke’s reactions, though, were the highlight of the night. It turns out that Luke isn’t a fan of gnocchi or risotto. The gnocchi was the fourth plate they brought out; Luke gave me his and said “I’m trading this for a fifth-round draft pick” (meaning he wanted first pick and a bigger quantity of whatever came out next). Sure enough, the risotto came out as dish number five. Luke doesn’t do rice, so this was priceless. He looked at us, my mom and I couldn’t hold in the laughter, and he said, “ok, the draft pick still counts for whatever’s coming next”. He didn’t use it since we all had great dishes for the meat course. My mom and Luke had steaks with blueberry sauce; I had a steak with a great Balsamic sauce. My dad had chicken (and some of Luke’s blueberry sauce). After my mom had dessert, we still went out for gelato and ended the night.

They left in a taxi for the airport a couple of hours ago and I’m going to miss them. Luckily, I go home in two and a half weeks. The next three months will all be incredibly crazy and busy with me all over the country. Still, it will be nice to return to that side of the ocean and too see even more family members than the three who came over. :)

Florence, Italy: Intense Relaxation

After one of the best dinners of my life (more to come in the next version of Eating in Italy), I think I’m ready for the week. This week will be one of the most draining I’ve had in college. Having four 10-page papers due in a three-day period during the semester I took 20 hours wasn’t as bad as this week will be. I have a Classical Rhetoric assignment due (only 2.5 pages, though). I have a presentation to give in my International Politics class on the recent Synod of Bishops in Rome. I have an Italian test; never-mind, I have two Italian tests — a grammar and a conversation. On top of all of that: my family arrives tomorrow morning! That’s right. After almost three months of only having a technological link, I get to see them again!

They arrive tomorrow morning from a series of long flights. I’m going to the early mass at St. James and then meeting them at their hotel. They’ll need an hour or two to crash and get situated and then I’ll show them around town. The best part: THE soccer game of the season is in Florence tomorrow afternoon. Third-ranked Fiorentina plays second-ranked AC Milan. It’s huge! In fact, tickets were sold out a long time ago. So, my Poli Sci professor pointed me to an old Communist hangout in a nearby town that acts as the community center which is showing the game on their big screen. It’s GREAT! The views are some of the best I’ve ever seen in Italy (you literally are on a small mountain looking into the valleys). It might be hard concentrating on the game.

After that, it’s back to get some gelato and then a nice relaxing evening. Every day of the week is packed full of places to visit and things to do. I’m taking them only to the best things that I’ve seen. Mike, my cooking mentor, is teaching us how to make an extra-special dinner on Tuesday night (again — more to come in the next version of Eating in Italy) and then we have reservations at one of the best restaurants in town on Thanksgiving night. It’ll be the perfect way to finish off my night after my Italian test. Can you believe that?!? I have a test on Thanksgiving! Sometimes American holidays are wonderful — most of the time only in America, though. :)

This week I expect the best of myself. I have to be “in my groove.” I have to be “in the zone.” I must “stop the tyranny of evil” that occurs in my schooling (sorry, I just had to — that was the most powerful rhetorical escalation that’s still used today). In all seriousness: I am going to have one of the most demanding, least stressful and most rewarding weeks of my life. At least: I hope so! Surprisingly, my best writing comes from these times when I really shouldn’t be taking the time sit down and do it (read: Greece). Hopefully this week will continue the trend and I’ll have plenty of pictures/stories to write on. This past week was pretty sparse in my update section. Let the fingers start flying on the keys!

Florence, Italy: Athens (Paint)

I’ve never claimed to be cultured. I’ve never tried to pretend that I knew anything significant about art. In fact, until last year, I’d only been in one art gallery in my entire life. Florence is definitely changing that for me. Florence is making me appreciate art, but it doesn’t make want to spend my leisure time looking at it. Athens is saving me from that fate.

Last spring, I went with a group from TCU to the Fort Worth Modern Art Museum. One of the permanent exhibits at the modern contains an oil painting by Gerhard Richter of a German car advertisement. The painting was odd to me since it was SO close of an imitation of the ad. He painted the motion blur around the car like the photograph must have had. Shortly after seeing that, I looked at some of his other works online when I was bored.

Yesterday afternoon, walking down a random street trying to get back to my hotel without pulling out the map, I saw a random building that’s a four story art gallery. The Frissiras Museum: Museum of Contemporary European Painting. On any other trip I would have walked by it and gone to the top tourist places. I stopped (even though they were closed) and looked at their current exhibits. They had two Germans: A. R. Penck and Gerhard Richter. Gerhard Richter!?!?!

So, this afternoon I returned and spent an hour looking at 30 of his paintings. Some are like photos. Others are abstract. I spent five minutes looking at an abstract one, looked to the side at a photo-like piece, looked back at the abstract one and the entire focus changed. It was crazy! When I was looking solely at the abstract, the purples dominated my mind. When I looked back at it, the grays and blacks stuck out the most.

Perhaps the coolest part of the exhibit was the commentary from Richter they displayed. Each floor had different quotations from him on how the artist works to either imitate or skew reality. On the bottom floor, they showed a video of him painting on a huge canvas and talking in German (with Greek subtitles). I only wish I was good enough to understand it! :(

When the gallery closed I took a right turn and thought I was going through the Plaka back to my hotel. After fifteen minutes, I finally got to a square; I was on the wrong side of the Acropolis! I’m still not sure exactly how I messed up my directions that bad. In any case, I decided that my legs weren’t ready for their fifth ascent and descent of the Acropolis hill in only my second full day in Athens. Luckily, the Metro saved me the time and energy of walking around. Mass Transit, when it works, is a wonderful thing.


Florence, Italy: Appli-

Applications. Graduate school applications all have essays that are tedious to write. I understand their utility, but how effective are they for the committees needing to select which applicants are selected. Does seeing how well one person writes a four page essay show a posteriori how well that person will do in graduate school? Are students expected to spend as much time for grad. school papers as they do the applications to get in? I know that’s the utopian ideal; but come on — who does that?!?

Appliances. Appliances are meant to do at least one thing; literally, appliances do tasks that help a person. Appliances that do many things are good. Appliances that do many things well are better. Italian appliances … let’s just say they’re good if they can do one thing. More than anything else, I’m looking forward to getting back to the States just for having an oven that works.

Tonight I was working on my graduate school essays and I needed a distraction. I’m pretty sure that my habitual pacing around the apartment just to think was driving Brett crazy. I had to do something that would let my brain concentrate on something else; that way my subconscious could work on how to construct one of my essays. That something: cooking.

I’m now 0-2 on successfully making cookies abroad. They shouldn’t be that hard. In fact, the dough is great; the oven just can’t do it. Our oven is in the off position when the dial says “250” (remember, Celsius). I turned it to “200”. My cookies burned after 6 minutes. It’s supposed to take 9 to 12 minutes to cook. I turned it to the right to “150”. After 30 minutes I found out the oven wasn’t producing any additional heat. I turned it back to “200”. Within 2 minutes they were starting to burn on the top. There’s no winning with this infernal contraption. I say infernal as a prayer of hope. It’s probably not a good idea to use prayer and a word the relates to Hell in the same sentence. I don’t care: at this point if it made the oven work and produce the right amount of heat, I’d take it!

Appli-, the Latin prefix that means “to join, to fix, or to attach to”. It is my curse. Neither the applications or the appliances are fixing anything!

Florence, Italy: Aborted Rome

I’m back from Rome. The crisis is averted. I left for Rome this morning with huge plans. I had a list of places I wanted to visit and things to do. Besides doing some homework, I was planning on visiting five churches (including St. Peter’s again). Jen, a girl from TCU, and I left this morning at 8am on a non-stop train.

When we got there we met up with Amanda, another of the TCU girls, who was in Rome visiting her boyfriend. The meeting place: St. Peter in Chains. This church is named after a relic it houses; the chains that reportedly bound St. Peter were brought to it at two different times and miraculously fused together. Also in the church is a bizarre (but really good) sculpture. Michelangelo’s “Moses” portrays the founder of the Jewish religion (in the context of the one who led the people united by a faith, not just as members of a family who believed the same thing) with horns on his head! I was forewarned about the horns, though, since Dr. Plate (one of my TCU Religion profs) is writing on it and another piece I saw in Italy.

When we finished, we went to the apartment of some of the guys from the University of Colorado who also study at the Accent Center (they’re in Rome this half of the semester though). They live a block away from the Coliseum and can see it out their windows. It’s so cool.

When we tried to go to the next church, Santa Maria della Vittoria, it was closed. The Italian custom of the afternoon break is still used in some places … like this church. Jen and I took the time we had to wait to go to our hotel to check in early. That’s when the chaos started.

I booked the hostel two nights ago online and (luckily) had the confirmation number and everything else on my laptop, which was with me. The owner of the hostel didn’t have the booking, and he was full for the two nights that we needed, so he said he knew a friend down the street who had rooms. The place he took us to wasn’t that great. The hotel was in the remodeling process and the room had to have been one of the worst they had. We figured it was better than nothing, though, and said OK. Then he asked for our passports and money. I had my passport, but Jen unfortunately forgot hers at her apartment this morning. He said that we couldn’t have the room and that he had to call the police. I told him to wait, and when Jen called one of the girls back in Florence, she said her passport was in her room. He said he still had to call the police since it’s a terrorism violation, but I said we would go to the train station and go back to Florence right away. He then went into business-mode and made sure that I had his card for the next time I returned to Rome and wanted to find a place to stay. When we started walking outside, he made me talk to him in Italian (which surprisingly I didn’t do too bad), and saw us off to the train station.

Sure, I missed out on some of the sites in Rome. Although, in reality, every time I will ever go to Rome I’ll miss out on some of the sites. The upsides about averting this crisis: I have a full day tomorrow to do my Classical Rhetoric assignment the way it should be done; I can visit a church in Florence tomorrow afternoon; we can now do a cooking lesson with Mike tomorrow night (I already have it booked for 6:30!); I can make it to the mass in English on Sunday morning; I’m not living out of a small backpack for the rest of the weekend — which also means hot showers by the way.

Rome will come and go; or, I guess I should say: I will come and go through Rome. I probably won’t do another trip there this semester. In the next five years: I’m guessing at least one!

Florence, Italy: The Heat is On

Heat is a wonderful and terrible thing. It has the ability to cook but also to burn. The appliances that give it have capacity to warm a room but also split open the back of the head. Today’s theme: the heat is on.

For about two weeks in October, I was on a countdown to today. In those weeks, Florence was overcast, rainy, and our apartment was freezing. Often the air outside was warmer than the air in our stone-walled apartment. All we could do was bundle up in extra layers of clothes and blankets and wait for today. Since Italy imports most of its energy, it only allows heat into apartments after a certain date. Today they switched it on. As haywire as most weather is this decade, now is the time when Florence doesn’t need it. We’re in the upper-60s (fahrenheit) and most of the time don’t need jackets.

A great thing about getting the heat: we get to talk to our landlady and her husband more. They live in the apartment right across the hall and the husband came over this morning asking us what hours of the day we wanted heat. It turns out that he was able to install an automatic timer that would turn on and shut off the radiators in certain hours of the day. I told him when we had classes and he set it so that the heat should turn on right once we return. :) It’s nice having a handy neighbor.

I’ve also had a dilemma ever since I arrived. Our oven has never really worked. The stove-top range has worked great (I heat pasta at least every other day), but the oven never cooks anything. I tried to make a lasagna almost three weeks ago and it took an hour and 45 minutes to cook (and it still wasn’t fully cooked). Two weeks ago I tried to make sugar cookies. They never turned into a solid form.

Tonight I tried lasagna again. If the oven wouldn’t cooperate, I knew I could talk to my landlady since I’d already talked to her twice. Sure enough, after I had the lasagna prepared and ready for the oven, I checked and it wasn’t preheating. I went and knocked and explained it in my broken Italian. She came, saw the problem, turned the dials a lot and then said it was broken. She pulled out a little convection oven and showed me how it might work. Then she checked the big oven again and it was heating. I don’t know how she did it, but her style for fixing things is like mine for computers: try messing with a bunch of things until something changes. In the end, it still took a long time to cook, but the lasagna turned out great.

Besides all of the literal heat – I’m feeling the pressure of finishing out my last semester. It would be so easy to coast the rest of the time I’m here. Then I wouldn’t enjoy it as much. :(

Florence, Italy: Athens (Top Ten)

I’ve absolutely loved my six days in Athens, but there were also moments when I knew I needed to return to Florence. Here are the Top Ten:

10 – I felt like a rebel with my shaved head; the Greek Orthodox priests definitely couldn’t pull it off.

9 – I tried three of the four restaurants in a 20 meter area.

8 – A guy in his mid-50s (who I’m assuming was a pimp) asked me four different nights (in three different locations around the city) if I spoke English and wanted to meet some nice ladies.

7 – After the second time, I yelled at him; the fourth time he asked before looking me in the eyes and then, when he did, told me to have a nice night!

6 – Walking up the Acropolis Hill didn’t leave me breathless anymore.

5 – I was positive that if I put honey on anything it would taste great.

4 – I started planning around the 3 P.M. hour so I could leave it free and enjoy the amber and bronze rays of the sun.

3 – I convinced myself that if I had a month and nothing to do I could go into every museum in Athens (even the private ones).

2 – With almost 1.5 gigabytes [1310.8 MB] of pictures from Athens alone, I knew I could break 10 GB if I kept at it.

1 – I started thinking of my favorite Souvlaki shop not by its name, but by “that sweet place of Monastiraki goodness.”

Florence, Italy: Athens (Whirlwind)

Today was an absolute whirlwind. I spent five hours seeing three museums and a photography gallery. I began the day by sleeping in: until 9:30. I love vacation. Then started the museum circuit. I returned to the National Archaeological Museum, found out some more information and then went next door to the Epigraphical Museum.

Just a few of the many shelves full of inscriptions.

This funeral stone sits in a courtyard used for storing the larger stone objects — and empty HP printer boxes.

I’ve never seen such an amazing museum with so little resources. It has thousands of ancient stone inscriptions and minimal staff. Part of this is from today being Saturday, but even in the rest of the week the staff there is minimal. There were three members watching it today, turning on the lights for me for each room that I entered. There isn’t a price to visit; it’s so unknown that they wouldn’t be able to subsidize any of it with admissions profit anyway. The museum rooms contain one inscription that is over 2800 years old. It would have been an ancient item even for Socrates. The museum is literally full of etchings that have numbers but don’t have displays describing them. The side rooms are full of shelves of tables with all of the items. In the middle of the rooms are empty tables with signs on them asking researchers to please inform the museum when they’re finished examining a piece.

The inscription from the Acropolis dating to the 8th century BCE.

On the way back from the museum, I found a photography store. Unlike the tourist-oriented stores in Florence, this store was definitely for professional photographers. It had more equipment than I’d seen in any of the Ft. Worth stores and it only had half of the space! I went in knowing that I’d replaced the only camera thing I’d destroyed since coming to Europe; my replacement lens is already at home and waiting for when my parents and brother come over around Thanksgiving. I did lose something before the summer which they had in stock: the eyepiece for my camera. The rubberized cover for the backside of the camera’s glass that shoots off of the mirror through the lens isn’t an essential part (I’ve still been able to use the camera), but was annoying not to have. It’s all better now.

After a quick souvlaki for lunch, I visited the Athens Cathedral. I’d never been in a Greek Orthodox church before. It was darker than I was expecting. I’m guessing it was because they’re restoring the inside and the scaffolding was covering the windows. Either way, the inside was pretty and the darkness made the icons and the wooden interior designs stand out even more.

Next in the whirlwind tour was the Benaki Museum. With four floors of Greek history dating from the Ancients to the modern Greeks who received Nobel prizes in the late 20th Century, this museum was thorough. Unlike the National Archaeological Museum, this one arranged everything chronologically. It didn’t put sculptures in one wing, pottery in another and medallions in another (with inscriptions being in a completely separate museum). While the museum was interesting, I was particularly fascinated with the baby Christs in the post-Byzantine mosaics. They had receding hairlines! With two of them, the perspective was so off that the hair started at the crown of the head. I know that many of the movements in art tried to make Jesus seem more realistic and relatable to humans, but to have Christ also relate to so many men (and women) by sharing their predicaments — it’s remarkable (especially since it wasn’t intentional).

After the Benaki I returned to my hotel and saw a photography gallery next door. Next door?!? Yes; apparently I didn’t notice it until the day before I left Athens. There were about 40 photographs, but they were pretty good. It’s a private showing of a photography professor from Yale. The gallery correctly promoted his style as one similar to David Lynch, a film director who presents non-existant stereotypical places full of nostalgia that is filled with hidden clashing conflict. The photos were good, but the gallery staff was a little clueless. I asked if the shots were done with a digital camera or a film one. They said it wasn’t a video. I changed it and asked if he’d used a computer to do some of them. They had no idea. Oh well — it wasn’t that important.

The whirlwind ended where it began: relaxing in my room.

Florence, Italy: Athens (Aegina)

Today’s adventure was to Aegina, the closest island to Athens. This island is notable for two things: its pistachios and how it has become a suburb to Athens with people commuting to work from there. Sure, there’s a lot of archaeological material there too, but those two are definitely its two current popular points. To get to the island I caught the Metro to the nearby port of Piraeus. From there, I took a type of ship called a Flying Dolphin. With a name like that one would expect these things to look like submarines. Instead, they looked like boats with wings. To give it stability, the boat has two short stubs off of the front that prevent it from tipping over (I guess). They ships are called Flying Dolphins because they go much faster than the other ferries at a whopping 35mph.

I got to Aegina in one piece and then had no idea what to do. I’d read a little in the books and on the internet; but, besides the ancient temple on the other side of the island, the archaeological site near the harbor was the other main attraction. Since I had all day in Aegina, I decided to just walk around and get a feel for the island first. After 30 minutes of intense walking around the city with the harbor, I gave in and went to the archaeological site. It was interesting. Like most of Greece, it had a lot of history before the classical period and then another rebirth with Roman sponsorship. Having seen the National Archaeological Museum yesterday, the Aegina Museum wasn’t great. They did have excavations we could walk through, though; better yet, they were on a hill, which made for great harbor pictures.

Walking to the site I came on a street that made me laugh: it was called Nikos Kazantzakis St. (odos, actually: Greek for ‘road’ or ‘way’ or ‘journey’) I’m not sure if N. K. actually spent time on the island. In any case, they had a statue bust of him on a pedestal in park. For those not familiar with Kazantzakis, he’s the author of The Last Temptation of Christ (which I read for my Christianity and Literature course) as well as Zorba the Greek and a modern version of Homer’s Odyssey in the same rhyme pattern Homer used.

When I finished all of that, it was only 1pm and my ticket to return to Athens wasn’t until 6pm. Five hours to fill and nothing to do. (For a while I was tempted to try and get an earlier ticket. When I realized that daylight savings time put the sunset right before I left I refrained from missing it.)

It turns out I like hot tea. I sat down at a cafe on the water and read a book for an hour while enjoying two cups. I forgot my stocking cap for the trip (which means my head was cold from the wind coming off the water — but also was getting plenty of good sun on it), so the tea was perfect. After the tea I went and had lunch at a restaurant and then sat in the sun and enjoyed my book and the harbor for another two hours.

Then came the pictures. I went to all of the different sides and locations around the harbor just looking for good shots. Ships, especially yachts, are rarely boring to shoot. Their reflections on the water with the mountains on the islands behind them makes it a fun process. When I get back to Florence I’ll post the gallery of the day.

I also figured out in shooting those that I’m a sucker for sunsets. That takes a completely different entry to describe. Enjoy!

Before taking off, I grabbed pistachios to see if they really are some of the best. I now have a kilo of them (2.2 lbs) to test. Wish me luck. My journey to Aegina ended with a disconcerting omen: right once the ferry left the pier, someone’s cell phone rang. This would have been normal, except for their ring was “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion. A song made famous by a movie about a ship sinking was not what I wanted to hear. Before they could get a call back after they hung up, I stuck on my headphones and pressed play on my iPod. That definitely took the stress away.