#85: Conca Dei Marini & the Amalfi Coast

Mama Bear and I were on the last leg of our Italy trip, exhausted, and ready for an extended period of rest. We booked a villa on www.airbnb.com that was located on the side of a cliff next to a small private beach looking out into the Mediterranean Sea.

We bought a ticket with the Sitabus and left Sorrento mid-morning. The buses fill up quick. Even my obnoxiously irritating habit of being much too early for everything didn’t pay off in this instance. So much so that even on our second bus we weren’t able to procure seats. We managed to time our ride so that we were standing near the front of the bus, so that I could see out of the front window. This strategic placement was important because I am a sufferer of extreme motion sickness, even on the smoothest of rides.

The trip from Sorrento to Conca dei Marini was anything but smooth. The winding, narrow mountainous roads were nearly too much for me. By the time we reached Positano, some of the bus patrons had cleared out and I was able to find a seat near the front, thankfully. When our bus rounded the final bend and we saw our stop, I practically ran off the bus. We hauled our luggage out from the belly of the bus, and breathed the fresh coastal air.

Of course, the benefit of having a cliff-side villa, located only 30 steps up from a private beach, all to yourself is self-evident. But only 30 steps up from the beach meant that our villa was over 250 steps down from the main road. Mama Bear and I dragged our suitcases down each step as carefully and cautiously as we could. Our descent was hard. But we made it, as I knew we would. Our friendly hosts greeted us and within a few moments, peace and tranquility were ours. After some recovery time, my nausea dissipated and we were both feeling rested. The Sitabus ticket that we purchased was good for 24 hours, so we decided to head into the Amalfi Coast to meander around and purchase some food to cook breakfast and dinner.

Amalfi Coast

Amalfi is simply breathtaking. There’s no other way to say it. It is simply the most beautiful place I had ever seen. The sun was glistening on the cerulean ocean, the buildings were nestled into the side of beautiful cliffs, the streets were lined with festive lights and filled with the sounds of holiday songs.

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We walked along the road to the end of the town, taking in the stunning view of the ocean and Amalfi. We were walking behind a young couple when we noticed the name of our city and our local yacht club on the mans shirt. We don’t live in a big city, and the yacht club is relatively small and unknown, so we were a bit perplexed by this. The couple asked us to take their picture, and so we struck up conversation with them by mentioning his shirt. I asked him if he was from our city.

“No,” he replied, “I bought this shirt in Brasil.”

We all had a laugh at the strange serendipity of the moment, and went our separate ways. Mama Bear and I stared out at the ocean for a time. We were lost in our thoughts. I smiled privately to myself. That mans t-shirt gave me pause to think about just how much I missed my life in Canada. It was December 30th, and I always grow nostalgic at the end of a calendar year thinking back on the experiences I’ve had and the places I’ve been. Nothing seemed so far away in that moment as home, and yet his shirt was a reminder that home stays with you wherever you are in the world.

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New Years Eve

On New Years Eve, we decided to go back to Amalfi and continue to explore. We found random staircases and pursued them to dead ends, we rounded corners and found churches, homes, museums, and shops. When we were hungry, we found menus posted on the sides of buildings, and followed arrows up staircases, down hallways, and up hills. We finally found a restaurant with decently priced fare and sat down to eat. When our food arrived, it seemed like the entire restaurant burst into song. Two men stood beside our table, one playing some sort of woodwind and the other a guitar, while the entire restaurant burst into spontaneous clapping. Quite frankly: it ruled.

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We saw the city setting up for tonight’s festivities, but decided to head back to our little villa and ring in the new year ourselves. We counted down at midnight, and we watched the fireworks display over the water. We were both asleep by 12:10.

My final thoughts on Italy

I sat on the beach the next morning, knowing that I would be leaving Italy the following day for the Kuwait desert once again. My first time ever in Europe had been a success. It wasn’t too busy and the weather was favorable – though not necessarily warm. I ate the most delicious foods, I drank copious amounts of wine, I saw and experienced some of histories greatest works of art and pieces of architecture, I met beautiful people along the way, and I was able to spend the holidays with my mom. Italy was a perfect way to escape my responsibilities for a couple of weeks and relax.

Upon leaving Conca dei Marini, our most gracious host strapped both mine and my moms suitcases to his back, hiked up 250 stairs, and drove us to the airport at 2:30am. He was most kind, and we couldn’t thank him enough for his hospitality.

I said goodbye to my mom in the airport, and departed for my home in the desert. But, my mind was already racing ahead to February. I was going to my number one Bucket List destination – and P, my love, was coming to meet me!

Until next time, keep wandering,

-W

#85: Sorrento, Italy

It was in Sorrento that I had the most divine food of the entire trip. That’s a pretty bold claim to make in Italy where all food and drink seems to have been steeped in the ambrosial nectar of the gods, but I’m pretty confident I found the single greatest haven for food in the world.

Primavera Gelato

Primavera came highly recommended to us. According to our travel guide, it was not to be missed. So far, I had indulged my inner oenophile and lover of carbs, but had not yet really sated my sweet tooth (save one or two trips to Churi Churi in Rome…but those cannolis couldn’t be helped). We bypassed the Gelato store on our first night in Sorrento, because the lineup was literally around the block, but we indulged ourselves the very next day. After spending 20 Euro on two cones of gelato, Mama Bear and I sat back and relaxed in the completely empty Primavera café, taking in the photographs of local celebrity visitors that littered the walls.

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It was 100% worth it.

Pizzeria Da Franco

We asked around for the best local pizza in Sorrento. Locals & guides unanimously agreed: Pizzeria Da Franco was it. It is a quiet and unassuming building front located on Corso Italia street in Sorrento, but situated outside of the hustle and bustle of the city centre.

We waited outside in a drizzle for about 30 minutes with large groups of Italian families. When we were finally invited in, we were seated at a long picnic-bench table, and we felt immediately part of some extended pizza-loving Italian family. With slabs of meat hanging from the ceiling, close intimate seating with strangers, shelves filled with olive oil, and a direct view into the kitchen – I had never felt more relaxed and ravenous.

Your pizza is delivered straight from the hand of God to you on a huge metal slab. You are given plastic cutlery – admittedly, not the most classy of dining utensils – but this is quickly forgotten upon your first bite. I must admit, that I like to embellish my writing for dramatic effect, but know this: Da Franco’s has absolutely, without doubt ruined pizza forever. There simply hasn’t been anything, before or after, that has rivalled the taste, texture, consistency, temperature, flavours, and smell as a slab of Da Franco’s pizza. Please, for the sake of your taste buds, you must go to Pizzeria Da Francos.

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Sorrento: Seaside Paradise

We were able to wash down our large amounts of gelato and pizza with extended walks. If you are at all interested in the serenity of nature, the beautiful azure seaside, gorgeous cliffs, trees and waterfalls – then Sorrento is the place for you. As we strolled through Sorrento, we could not get enough of the stunning views on offer. The weather was noticeably warmer than our previous destinations, and we felt a renewed sense of spirit as we were finished with our guided tour of Italy, and we were now off on our own to explore for another couple of days. Despite the fact that it was nearly New Years Eve, I felt a sense of rejuvenation that I typically associate with springtime.

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After only two nights in Sorrento – an amount of time I felt was more than sufficient – we were off to our final destination, and one of the most spectacular: Conca dei Marini & the Amalfi Coast.

Keep Wandering,

W

#85: Pompeii

#85: Pompeii

On our way to Sorrento, we stopped at Pompeii to discover the highlights of this once thriving Italian city. If you don’t already know, Pompeii is famous for its sudden and complete destruction from neighboring volcano, Mount Vesuvius. The city was buried under 6m of volcanic ash, but not before its residents were suffocated to death due to toxic volcanic fumes. The eruption occurred on the 24th of August, in 79AD.

The ruins have been almost perfectly preserved, and there are many mummified remains of Pompeii citizens on display – their figures are encased in glass.

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One of the most popular features of Pompei is the brothel. There are “Crown Jewels” (tiny phallic carvings in the roads) that lead you directly to these rooms. Within the brothel, there are many frescoes that serve as a kind of menu indicating specialty of each woman. Interestingly, one can still see remnants of Russo Pompeii or the red of Pompeii – a colour that Pompeians loved and used frequently in their frescoes.

The "Crown Jewels"

The “Crown Jewels”

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Our guide at Pompeii emphasized features of the city that elucidate ancient Pompeian life and its sophistication and organization. Along most streets are aqueducts that conveyed water to the cities inhabitants. These lead-lined pipes remain largely intact and are still visible today. Moreover, our guide stressed the organization of the city in a modern grid pattern to help city life and commerce flow. The town was divided into quarters and streets that were marked by signs. There were even marble reflectors in the road to indicate the important areas of town. (We knew we were in an important part of town when we happened upon an ancient abode of nearly 30,000 square feet.)

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Ultimately, the central point of the city was the Pompeian Forum. The forum contained many famed Roman gods: the bust of Jupiter, a sculpture of Apollo and a bust of Diana. The Temple of Venus (Aphrodite) once stood prominently, but is no longer in tact.

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If you’ve any desire to visit such a wonderfully preserved historical city, I recommend that you do so presently. Mount Vesuvius is “a ticking time bomb” according to BBC, and its next eruption is predicted to be devastating.

Keep Wandering,

W

#85 Roma: The Eternal City Part II

Old Rome: Colosseum & Roman Forum

As an historian, I really appreciated our day at the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. So much can be said about both places, and yet I’m choosing to say very little. I think these places can and should speak for themselves. I’ve opted to share some of my photos, instead of going on and on about all of the incredible history therein. Should you ever find yourself in Rome, you mustn’t pass up the opportunity to immerse yourself in the Ancient Roman world.

The Colosseum: Are you not entertained?

I probably asked our guide about 1,000 questions in the hour and a half tour that we had of the colosseum. I gleaned a lot from our guide, and I learned a lot about one of the most famous structures in Italy.

It was built in 72 A.D. and was completed in 80 A.D., taking approximately 8 years to complete. Nobody knows who the architect was because they were simply unimportant. Those who really mattered were the individuals who financed it. Vespasian ordered the construction, and it was later continued under his son, Titus. During the first 100 days after it opened, between 9,000 and 11,000 animals were killed in the colosseum. I was assured that this brutality was enacted in the spirit of celebration. Alas, my modern sensibilities don’t blend well with those of the Ancient Romans.

Originally, the structure could be covered with the same fabric used to make sails. Thus, sailors sat in the uppermost of 5 levels to reel in and let out the retractable ceiling. As part of the lowest class of spectators, those in the 5th level (the nosebleeds, if you will) sat on wooden seats. Moving down into the other levels you would find brick and finally, marble on the lowest level. To this day, one can see graffiti carved into some of the marble seats.

The exterior of the structure is under heavy construction. Most photos that you see show a black and grey façade, which of course, is quite different from its original pristine white. Marble absorbs the pollution and takes on its colour. Moreover, the exterior marble was heavily mined (most of the remnants of said mining can be found in the Vatican) and thus, it is holey and incomplete. Scaffolding covered much of the colosseum upon my visit, and so much of it was obscured from view.

Having said that, it is a remarkably beautiful place to visit and well worth the time and the cost.

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The recently restored exterior of the Colosseum

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Eye level with the battle grounds.

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Colosseum Panoramia Photo

Roman Forum

The Roman Forum, a leisurely walk from the colosseum, was the epicenter for socio-political happenings in Ancient Rome. The forum takes its name from the Latin “foras” which means outside, because the Roman Forum was located outside of inhabited areas.

We were given basic information about the Forum, and we were left to navigate it on our own, at our own pace. As expected, there is a rich cultural, political and religious history in this area of Rome. Bring good walking shoes and give yourself at least 3 hours when visiting the Forum. It is quite vast, and has very hilly and uneven terrain.

Of what we saw, I enjoyed the panoramic views of Rome, the Arch of Titus, the Temple of the Vestal Virgins, and the Circus Maximus.

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The “So-Called” Temple of Romulus

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The Circus Maximus

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Another panorama from atop one of the many hills within the Forum.

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Temple of Caesar – dedicated in 29AD by Augustus

Arch of Titus

Arch of Titus

Temple of the Vestal Virgins

Temple of the Vestal Virgins

Until next time, keep wandering,

W

#85 Roma: The Eternal City

I wouldn’t say I hated Rome – I think hate is much too strong of a word. Heck, here I am in one of the most historically rich and important centers in the world. I have trouble feeling secure in large cities. It’s not so much about personal safety, but I think it has more to do with feeling lost and claustrophobic. So no, I wouldn’t say I hate it, but I certainly don’t find myself waxing poetic about it either. I did, however, experience some fantastic highlights while in Rome

Nighttime Stroll: Fontana di Trevi, Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti, & Piaza di Spagna

My mom and I decided to wander around and see what major attractions we could find – and after successfully navigating through Venice, and again in Florence, I felt as though I could navigate anywhere. Off we went.

One of the first things we happened upon was the Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II – or the Altar of the Nation. If you’ve ever been to Rome, you can attest to the gigantic size of this monument. After all, it does commemorate the first King of Italy and the Unification of the country. Featured in this monument is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the accompanying eternal flame. Even though many Romans scoff at this monolith, Mama Bear and I couldn’t help but love it. We continued our nighttime trek down the Via del Corso – one of the most colourful, busy streets in Rome – and headed for the next sight to behold.

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The first time I learned about The Trevi Fountain  was in Mario is Missing! (a staple in any home of a child of the 90’s). Nintendo has taught me a lot of life lessons, but it in no way prepared me for the sheer size of Rome, and the Trevi. It’s simply massive. It measures in at 85 feet high and 65 feet wide. I thought it was absolutely breathtaking and beautiful from all angles, but – as with the rest of Rome – the hoards of vendors and tourists surrounding it detracted from the moment of quiet appreciation I tried to have with Oceanus, the fountains central figure. After walking away, I had a “Sorry Mario, your princess is in another castle” moment.

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Next we hit the Piaza di Spagna where we climbed the Spanish Steps (complete with a giant Christmas tree in the centre!). After catching our breath (somehow all of the delicious carbs & wine I was indulging in was not helping my fitness?!) we admired the view of the Trinita dei Monti church and the Piazza di Spagna from the top. Of course, at the base of the steps we were also taken with the Bernini fountain Fontana della Barcaccia (Fountain of the Unfortunate Boat).

Some of my favourite places that we visited while in Rome are the Jesuit churches. We paid particular attention to IlGesu and Sant’Ignazio. In the latter church, there is an optical illusion cupola. It is painted to appear as though it is a real cupola, but due to dried up funds, the church was never able to complete the architectural piece. It is an extremely believable illusion, and a must-see for fellow architecture fans or anybody wandering around of Rome!

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Can you spot the optical illusion?

Tom Hanks: Okay Not Really…

If you don’t already know, I’ve had a life-long obsession with Tom Hanks. Since 2002 I’ve seen every film that he has released in theatres (with the exception of Captain Philips and Saving Mr. Banks) and I own about 97% of all of his work. I even got the chance to see him perform on Broadway last year in New York (more on that later…) But, I digress.
As a Hanks devotee, I had to visit as many of the places featured in the movie adaptations of the Dan Brown novels in which Hanks stars. Aside from the Hanks-factor, the Castel Sant’Angelo, the Piazza del Popolo, and the Santa Maria del Popolo were some of my favourite places to visit in Rome.

Before reaching the Castel Sant’Angelo, we walked across a stunning pedestrian bridge called the Ponte Sant’Angelo which spans the Tiber River. It features Bernini statues of angels – and they are all remarkable to see. The Castel Sant’Angelo itself was built as a tomb for Hadrian in 135AD, but was transformed into a fortress in the 6th century.
The Piazza del Popolo felt very hip and alive. Street performers and costumed buskers surround you in one of the largest piazzas in Rome. Groups of young people blared music, sat with each other on benches, and in circles on the ground, smoked their cigarettes and laughed. At the centre, they looked up at a 3,200-year-old obelisk. I loved the juxtaposition of the old with the young. It all felt very surreal.

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Castel Sant’Angelo – notice the angels guiding your path to the castle.

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Such life in the Piazza del Popolo!

We opted for a better vantage point, climbing up to a park that overlooks the piazza and much of Rome. It was noticeably quieter, and apparently more romantic in this area. A number of couples opted to stare out at the city here.

Before leaving the Piazza, I had to sneak a peek at the Santa Maria del Popolo – which is home to the Cappella Chigi or an Altar of Science in Angles and Demons. To my chagrin, the church was holding service and was off limits to tourists. Cue my Hanksian-heartbreak.

Vatican

I won’t say much about the Vatican. I simply adored learning about the Sistine Chapel, I loved walking down the halls in the Musei Vaticani, and I was quite astounded at the size and opulence of the Basilica di San Pietro. Nothing I read could have prepared me for the experience of the Vatican. Nothing I write could ever prepare you.

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I did have an emotional experience viewing the Sistine Chapel. As we know from the time that I saw the Davide – I feel moved when I am in the presence of such famed art. (I was a wreck the first time I saw Van Gogh’s Starry Night, and don’t get me started on that time I got to visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s homestead in Chicago). So of course, knowing that I was in the Vatican, underneath one of the most famous and beautiful pieces of art in the history of mankind was a little too much for me.

I took a long time scanning the centre panels first, paying particular attention to the scenes from the Book of Genesis where God separates light from dark, where God creates the sun and the moon, and of course, where God gives life to Adam. Regardless of what your personal beliefs are – this ceiling embodies the literal definition of awesome.

My favourite part of the Sistine Chapel was the fresco The Last Judgement on the altar wall. I was personally taken with the scenes of the passion, St. Peter holding the keys, and the terrifying depiction of hell. I also loved seeing Michelangelo’s self-portrait hidden in the flayed skin of St. Bartholomew.

In my next post, I’ll discuss my experience in Old Rome, my tour of the Colosseum & the Roman Forum. Rome, after all, can’t be discussed in a day.

Until next time, keep wandering,

W

#85. Italy: Spotlight on Florence – or Una Buona Forchetta

Buongiorno!

I wanted to take a moment to welcome those of you who are new to my blog. Since my last post, Italy: Venice In Photographs I have managed to attract several new followers. I am humbled and grateful that you have taken the time to follow my journey to complete my ever-expanding, ever-ambitious Bucket List.

Okay, andiamo! 

By the time we were on our bus heading for Florence, I was ready for new scenery. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy Venice, but rather, I was most excited for the Tuscan portion of our trip. From my first walk along the Arno River, to seeing The David, walking across the Ponte Vecchio and peeking into the Boboli gardens…I was absolutely in love. Florence has some intangible quality to it that, I feel, is totally inexplicable. Florence has so much to offer in terms of art, architecture and history – it felt less commercial than Rome and it was easier to navigate than Venice. We arrived on Christmas Eve and maybe that it was the holiday season contributed to my perception of the magic that encapsulates city. Maybe it was the perfectly ideal weather conditions. Maybe it was that it is perfectly picturesque. I’m not really sure. But I loved it from the second we drove in.

David

After a quick & delicious lunch we headed to the Galleria Dell’ Accademia where Michelangelo’s David is housed. Our Florentine tour guide, Roberto, quickly became – and absolutely remains – one of the highlights of my entire Italy trip. As we stood in front of a bust of Michelangelo, Roberto made sure to spend time contextualizing who we believe Michelangelo to have been as a person and as an artist. We then discussed Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures known as “The Prisoners” which lined either side of the hallway leading to the famed statue we were all there to see. Honestly, it took me a solid ten minutes to realize that David was at the end of the very hall I was standing in, because I was so taken with Roberto’s careful detail and explanation of the artwork in front of us.

“As much as you’ll want to rush ahead and see David,” Roberto cautioned, “please be patient. What I am telling you will help you to appreciate how much of a masterpiece the statue truly is.”

And he was absolutely correct. Our discussion about Michelangelo’s process was a revelation for me. I had heard them before, the famed quotes attributed to Michelangelo – you know the ones: “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” Or even, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” But until I saw his unfinished work, I couldn’t appreciate the real meaning behind this philosophy.

When we finally made our way to David I was teary-eyed and awestruck by just about everything. The statue was, of course, absolutely breathtaking and profound. Roberto remained impartial about the meaning behind certain statues and refrained from providing any type of personal interpretations of The Prisoners – but when it came to David, he no longer held his opinions to himself. According to Roberto, a debate rages about whether the statue depicts David in pre- or post- battle with Goliath.

“This is, without doubt to me, the statue of a man who is preparing for the fight with Goliath.”

As we viewed the statue from specific angles, Roberto called our attention to the detail in the muscles and tendons, the tension in the leg and neck, the right arm – “the most spectacular portion of the statue, in my opinion,” and of course the look of resolve on the face. After some quiet contemplation about the statue, I felt more and more inclined to side with Roberto on this one.

It is a spectacular feeling to be in the company of such an important and timeless piece of artwork. And, I’m not ashamed to admit that it took me a while to stop crying.

The Duomo

Oh, what is a trip to Florence without setting eyes on the monumental Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore? My goodness – I was already riding an emotional wave after leaving an art heaven steeped in Michelangelo and not 10 minutes away we happen upon this architectural masterpiece. I am really trying not to overstate things here, but there is a reason that the Florentine expression for homesickness is “nostalgia del cupolone.”

They were in the process of cleaning the Cathedral and so we were able to see both the dirty portions and the clean portions of the structure. They sandblast the exterior to remove the dirt and pollution that has accumulated on the façade. Once inside two things immediately struck me: the marble flooring and the vastness and emptiness of the cathedral.

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The marble flooring inside Il Duomo

The marble flooring inside Il Duomo

Construction on the Duomo began in 1296 on the remains of older churches, and doesn’t official end until 1887 when the external façade was completed. Filippo Brunelleschi is the architectural genius that won a competition to design the famed cupola. In all, it took 18 years to complete and weighs in at a whopping 37,000 tons. It also contains 4 million bricks. There are zero supports in place to secure the dome, but instead, there is a dome within a dome design, and the bricks are laid in a herringbone pattern that ensures its safety. We opted not to climb the 463 steps through narrow staircases to reach the top, though it is an option if ever I return with more time and more courage.

Il Duomo

Il Duomo

On the inside of the dome Giorgio Vasari’s fresco The Last Judgement (well, designed by Vasari but painted by his student Frederico Zuccari) depicts Christ with heaven above and hell below. Interestingly, there is also a skeleton that, according to Roberto, serves as a reminder to all of us that our fleshly life on earth is only temporary and we all end up the same way in the end.

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The Last Judgement

Outside we stopped to admire the campanile or the bell tower.

Aside: Having church bells at all was an idea adapted from the Islamic faith. Muslims listen for the call to prayer from the minarets of their mosques as the cue to go and pray. To this day, the call to prayer is spoken by a human voice. In Kuwait, the person who speaks the call to prayer is payed by the Emir and it is their sole profession. It’s actually very beautiful to hear each day.

Designed by Giotto, the campanile was an important part of Italian life in the past because, as Roberto said, “The bells were the CNN of the Middle Ages.”

The Campanile

The Campanile

The Baptistery was also a fantastic sight, but getting a good look at the fake Gates of Paradise was sort of an unpleasant experience. By the time we had finished inside the Duomo it was early afternoon and the crowd had increased dramatically. Our guide took the time to explain, in brief, the bible story on each panel of the doors. I would have loved to see the original doors. Alas, next time.

One of my favourite parts of the day though was our stroll from the Duomo to Piazza Santa Croce. Roberto recounted the history of the famed Medici family and their impact on Italian political, economic, and social life. I walked next to Roberto the entire time so I could hear him clearer (we did have our “Whispers – a radio – but I don’t like listening to a disembodied voice) and also because I was simply very interested in the topic. Listening to Roberto talk about history was probably the highlight of my Florence trip.

I know, I know. Nerd.

We stopped in the Piazza Santa Croce where Roberto pointed out a placard atop a doorway in a building. He told us the story of when the Arno river flooded on 4 November 1966 and people from around the world came to help Florence deal with the disaster. On the 40th anniversary of the flood, Florence had a reunion for all of those who came to offer their support – and it was a large celebration. After a short leather and jewelry demonstration, the rest of our day in Florence was spent in bliss as we meandered around to look more closely at the architecture as well as the sculptures in the Piazza della Signoria.

The placard was placed at the exact water level from the flood.

The placard was placed at the exact water level from the flood.

Christmas Eve: Dinner at a Winery in the Tuscan Hills

I am a massive fan of Christmas, so living in Kuwait had been really difficult on me. I missed watching Christmas commercials, decorations, baked goods (eating, not baking), movies, and the general feel of the Christmas spirit. Thankfully, I felt that spirit in full force during my stay in Italy. We were well taken care of in terms of a Christmas Eve feast. After a beautiful drive up a small mountain, we stopped at an amazing lookout that provided stunning views of Florence at night. The entire look out was lit-up by the most magnificent Christmas tree (which I had been commenting on since we arrived in Florence). One of the most memorable parts of this evening came when two members of our travel family got engaged underneath the Christmas tree. I may or may not have cried tears of joy for them.

The Christmas Tree :)

The Christmas Tree 🙂

View from the look out.

View from the look out. You can see the stunning Duomo that takes your breath away even at nighttime.

This rest of the evening was simply magical. We went to Restaurante i tre pini – or The Three Pines. We were surprised with a most delicious welcome beverage that resembled in aesthetic as well as in taste a “porn star” shot. Though I vaguely remember it having a much more beautiful name. It was a delightful shade of blue and it went down with no trouble at all. That is at least part of the reason I cannot recall the name of the liquor. All night we drank wine and dined on some of the most spectacular food I’ve had in my life. We ate antipasto, pasta with truffle sauce, penne, fish, vegetables, cakes and pastries for dessert. I was una buona forchetta – a good fork – that evening.

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There was also live music. We joined up with another tour group and the restaurant provided a cake for two couples. One married couple in our group was celebrating 40 years of wedded bliss, the other couple was celebrating 25. We encouraged our newly engaged couple to stand up with them and the band sang the three couples a very romantic love song to which they danced. It was really spectacular.

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Shortly thereafter an opera singer came around to the tables to serenade us with an aria. It was delightful. He even took my mom’s hand and kissed it (and also kissed his way up and down her arm…). But, as I was blissfully sedated after having many glasses of wine, I felt only slightly uncomfortable with this. The company at our table was second to none. We swapped stories of our lives and we found out we all shared so many commonalities with each other. It felt like I was sharing my Christmas Eve with family. Despite all of the wine, this is where I derived the most warmth of my night. I remember this most fondly. I went to sleep feeling nourished nutritionally, but certainly emotionally.

Christmas Day was almost here and a sound wine-induced sleep ensued after one of the greatest days of my trip.

Until next time where I discuss the Ponte Vecchio & Pisa,

W