Wednesday, October 26, 2011


What a beautiful city Florence is! Florence is a true Tuscan city, a stunning blend of Tuscany and urban life. Florence is considered the birthplace of the Renaissance and we noticed it right away with the amazing artwork and architecture. The facades of the buildings (namely the Duomo and the tower) were so ornate and elaborate with green marble for trim, gold moldings, and statues staring down on the passerbys below. The paintings that we saw used brighter colors and caught the eye in ways that other pieces didn't. The reds, yellows... even the black color that was used seemed richer. We spent a lot of time gazing at these artistic pieces and welcomed the different era that they came from.

For dinner we stopped in a small restaurant that makes their own wine. After about three courses, the waiter came by and asked us where we were from. We answered, "Abitiamo a Napoli, ma siamo Americani". We live in Naples, but we are American. He was so excited that he started talking very fast in Italian (Jon and I looked at each other and had no clue), gave us the dessert menus, and came back with two big glasses of dessert wine on the house. Not too shabby!

We awoke very early the next day and went to the Accademia Museum to beat the crowds in order to see the Statue of David. With no one to contend with, we almost had the place to ourselves. When we turned the corner and entered the room David was in, he took our breath away. Standing about 17 feet tall, his massive size cannot be missed and completely dominates the other sculptures in the room. Aside from his towering stature, we were in awe from the attention to detail this sculpture was given and how lifelike it is. His head is facing to his left so the appropriate muscles were sculpted into his neck, along with others throughout the rest of his body. Tendons, veins, and bones were all meticulously crafted to mirror a human. It took Michelangelo three years to sculpt David and we were impressed at the painstaking hours it must have taken him using marble.
Our forbidden shot of the David.
The Accademia halls are filled with immense paintings and sculptures from Michelangelo and his contemporaries so we continued to walk through this maze of artistic talent. Currently at the Accademia there is an exhibit devoted to Lorenzo Bartolini. He is known as "The Sculptor of Natural Beauty" and played a role in the development of sculpture in the 19th century. We wandered through a room full of plaster casts and then saw the actual sculptures later on. Again, the detail in the sculptures was impressive. The ruffles in a dress, curly hair, and emotions on faces were all realistic and natural.

Next we climbed the tower next to the Duomo. 441 steps to the top! A cool breeze welcomed us at the top as well as nice views of the city.

We made it!
Almost to the top!

We then went to the Basilica of Santa Croce which houses the tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Rossini, Foscolo, and Gentile. When looking at the outside of the building there is a prominent Jewish star. We were a little perplexed by this, but as it turns out a Jewish architect named Niccholo Matas designed the church's facade. He and his architect cohorts wanted him to be buried with them, but because he was Jewish he is buried under the porch and not within the walls.

Although there are many tourists passing through the church, it is still a very sacred place with people praying and lighting candles. We were surprised that pictures were allowed to be taken of the tombs.

Afterwards, we walked to the Ponte Vecchio, which literally means "Old Bridge". After being destroyed a few times because of flooding, it was rebuilt in 1345 and was the only bridge in Florence to not be destroyed by the Germans in World War II. Centuries ago small shops would display their goods on tables to be sold. The tradition still stands with most of the shops selling jewelry or artwork. We crossed the bridge and then walked about a mile to Piazzale Michelangelo, which is a famous square and has magnificent panoramic views of Florence.

Ponte Vecchio.

View from the Piazzale Michelangelo.

After lunch, we explored the leather market at San Lorenzo. Wow, do they try to make a sale! We bargained as much as we could, but they were tough! In the end though we were pretty successful buying two leather coats, two pairs of boots/shoes, two bags, three scarves, a wallet, and a whole bunch of souvenirs.

Jon checking out some belts.
The leather market.

Our time there was short, but we saw and did as much as we could. We are excited to return to Florence in the future - it is truly classic Italy!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Paris! Part II

The next day after our usual breakfast we headed to Versailles. The royal palace in Versailles was the official residence of the Kings of France from 1682-1790. This palace is massive! I'm sure that we missed some rooms when walking through, but it's just so big! It has over 700 rooms, 2,000 windows, 1,250 fireplaces, 67 staircases, and more than 1,800 acres of garden area. We would imagine it would take forever to find anyone or anything! Each room served a different purpose and was decorated with paintings, sculptures, furniture, and more. The ceilings and walls were adorned with elaborate moldings and wallpaper or paintings. One room, the Hall of Mirrors, is especially famous as it was the sight of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles at the end of World War I.

Inside the gates.
Just outside the palace.

A room in the palace.

The Gardens.

Hall of Mirrors.

Room with paintings.
After Versailles, we took the train back into Paris. As we walked towards Sacre Coeur we stumbled by Moulin Rouge. It was nothing spectacular on the outside, but cool to see something that once was and is a place for extravagant shows and attractions.

Moulin Rouge.
After lunch we headed towards Sacre Couer. Sacre Couer is a Roman Catholic Church and minor basilica. It is located on the highest point in Paris and gives you great views of the city.

Our last stop of the day was Arc di Triomphe. We bypassed the line (thank you museum passes!) and were able to climb all the way to the top. Here is where we had spectacular views of the Eiffel Tower and the rest of Paris.

Arc de Triomphe
Arc De Triomphe at night.

The next day we went to the Eiffel Tower. A picturesque day, the Eiffel Tower had the perfect background for viewing. It was simply gorgeous. Located on the Champs de Mars (an incredibly large public green area) the Eiffel Tower is one of the most recognizable structures in the world. It was built in 1889 as an entrance arch into the 1889 World's Fair and was the tallest building in the world until 1930 when the Chrysler Building was built.

We were in awe of its beauty and captivated by its size. Who would have thought that interlaced iron shooting up into the sky would look so magnificent?

Luckily, we had bought our tickets in advance so we skipped the ultra long lines and went right into an elevator. We got off on the second platform (there are three) in order to switch elevators to go to the top. Once we got to the summit we were welcomed with impressive views of the city. Because of the clear day we were able to see for miles. It was fun picking out the places we had already been to. As if we didn't need another reason to love Paris, the Eiffel Tower provided the best views of the city, as well as providing its own beauty to the skyline. Simply amazing!
    View from the top
View from the 2nd platform.

Taking the stairs down.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Paris! Part I

I think I'm in love with a city other than New York... Paris! Paris was nothing as I expected it to be and everything I could have dreamt it to be! This city reminded us so much of New York, but had a more chic and sophisticated feel to it. The people, despite what everyone says, are very friendly (even to us Americans) and greeted us with open arms into their city. The streets and sidewalks are wide and lined with "old school" lamp posts and chateau like apartments, with many restaurants, bars, and boutiques to hop in and out of. Trendy men and women walked about their day, their heels clicking on the pavement while chatting on their phones. We loved not seeing anyone who could be on the website "People of Walmart". The food was delicious and we tried foods that we hadn't ever tried before like escargot and sea urchin. We also had a ton of fois gras. We really tried to speak the language as much as we could, but it kept coming out as a mix of English and Italian with one or two words in French. I think the effort was appreciated though! We were impressed by the cleanliness of the streets, the easy accessibility to everything by metro, and the overall beauty of the city. Paris has an aura of romance emanating from all directions; we were sad to leave it!

On the Pont Neuf.

 Our small boutique hotel was in a great location. Tucked away down a quiet side street, we were a two minute walk from the Arc de Triomphe, a metro stop, and many restaurants, pastry shops, and bars. Each morning we started our day off with a croissant, pain au chocolat, a cafe latte, and a hot chocolate. On the first day we walked along the Champs Elysees, a very high-end street with many people toting their recent, very expensive purchases.

We made it down to the Louvre, which was about a 2.5 mile walk. Luckily, we had purchased museum passes so we were able to skip the long line that we saw from afar. As we went down inside we made sure to see the most famous of art work first and then walk around as much as we could at a leisurely pace.
Outside the Louvre
Mona Lisa - much smaller than expected!

Venus Di Milo

Other favorites:
Winged Victory - Jon's favorite.

David and Goliath.

David and Goliath depiction.

After the Louvre, we strolled along the Seine River. Spanning the river in Paris there are 37 different bridges. Pont Neuf is probably the most well known, being the oldest standing bridge across the Seine in Paris, but one that caught our eye was the Pont des Arts. Here, locks are affixed to the bridge by couples in order to symbolize their everlasting love.

Seine River.
Locks of love
We then came to Notre Dame, a Gothic Catholic cathedral. Inside it was decorated with colorful stained glass and large natural sculptures. The hunchback was on vacation. 

After stopping in a little restaurant for some lunch we made our way up the Seine again towards the Musee d'Orsay, which holds pieces of work by Van Gogh and Gauguin, among others.

When we made it back to the hotel we mapped out our day and realized that we had walked over 8 miles... time to rest and eat! We had reservations at a small restaurant where personal attention and amazing food is guaranteed. They gave us two glasses of champagne to start the evening and brought out a few knives for Jon to choose to cut his steak. Here is where we tried escargot (which were great) and stuffed ourselves silly. The day was a fantastic start to our vacation!

Jon and his knife.

The knife that made the cut.