Thursday, May 15, 2008

Che Bella Firenze!

Ciao! I can't believe this is only my second day in Italy. After having I finished my cappuccino, I visited the Santa Croce, a beautiful church tucked away in the southeastern corner of Florence right by the River Arno. The church is thought to be founded by St. Francis, but what is so fascinating about it Santa Croce is that it contains hundreds of tombstones that are paved into the floor as well as huge monuments commemorating famous people such as Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Galileo, and Ghiberti. There is a monument dedicated to Dante, even though he is not actually buried there. Inside, there are small remnants of frescoes on the walls, and you can imagine what it must have looked like back when the church was covered with them. Also, Giotto’s frescoes cover the walls of the chapels, illustrating the lives of St. Francis, St. John the Evangelist, and St. John the Baptist.

I met up with Alexandra and her friends from school for paninis after their final, which were delicious – we ate them on the steps of San Spirito, one of Brunelleschi’s most famous Renaissance-style churches. My favorite church I went to however was the Brancacci chapel in the Santa Maria del Carmine. I think that it is often overlooked by tourists because there was hardly anyone there. It’s small, and the majority of it was closed off to visitors, but its main attraction is the series of frescoes by Masaccio and Masolini. The frescoes illustrate the life of Saint Peter. An interesting historical fact about this church – its patron, Felice Brancacci, was declared a rebel, so all portrayals of Brancacci and his family within the frescoes had to be destroyed. I love the frescoes surrounding the chapel and I think they are beautiful; I remember having studied Tribute Money in high school and college, and it is so cool to see the actual painting first hand.
Afterwards, Al and I walked through the Piazza della Signori, where a man had attracted a small crown with his beautiful guitar music - he was actually the same guy that Katie, Caitlin and I saw/bought CDs from last semester when we were in Florence in the same piazza! Next, we walked through Uffizi piazza and along the Ponte Vecchio and stopped inside a tiny jewelry shop to buy bracelets :) Still kind of jet-lagged, I had to take a nap before going out for a dinner and wine. I had the most delicious Italian pizza – I don’t understand how Italians stay so skinny with all the bread, olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette they eat!

Florence is incredible, I don’t want to leave! I’m still scared of the pigeons that crowd every piazza looking for food, but other than that the city is picturesque and pretty much what I would imagine it to have looked like centuries ago. I envy my friends who have been able to study here for a semester, and I definitely understand why it is so hard to leave. Even though I’m sad to leave, I can’t wait to continue my adventure! I leave for Ferrara in the morning…ciao!

Buon Giorno!

Buon Giorno! Yesterday was my first day in Italy – I arrived in Milan at 6:30am hardly having slept at all on the plane, but I was ready to go. Of course, the train from the airport to the city’s central station was not working, so I had to take a bus. But I met a guy who had just finished a semester studying architecture in Florence and had a lot of suggestions of what to see and do, and some helpful tips on dealing with Italian life, food, travel, and people.

At Milan Stazione Centrale, I had an immediate flashback to fall break last semester, when Katie, Caitlin and I were delayed there one night for a few hours and we had decided to pass time with a bottle of wine and Italian cookies. Although tempting this time, I decided to lock up my suitcase and walk around Milan for the day.

I went to the Duomo, which was absolutely breathtaking. Coming out of the subway and turning around to see the largest Gothic cathedral in the world is almost inexpressible. The interior was very dark and overwhelming. I had a conversation *in Italian* (how this worked, I don’t know) with a nice Italian lady who told me about the sundial inside the church and pointed out each zodiac sign. I found mine, which was very exciting! The cathedral had a beautiful crypt dedicated to San Carlo.

I got really lucky and was able to buy the only ticket left that day to see da Vinci’s Last Supper at Santa Maria della Grazie. This is by far the most famous painting of the moment where Christ reveals to his disciples that one of them will betray him. Dan Brown’s 2001 novel The Da Vinci Code stirred up a lot of debate on who is actually represented within the painting, but that is for the viewer to decide for himself. You have to go through a series of air-filtering rooms before you get inside the room. I never realized how big the painting is – it stretches across the entire wall! Apparently, the Allied bombings during the war destroyed the entire building except for this wall. It is currently undergoing a twenty-year restoration process. Unfortunately, the very large Italian guard woman made sure no one took out their cameras inside the room so I didn’t get to take a picture.

Later that afternoon to Firenze. Once again, I realized what a scam the Eurorail pass is – I still had to purchase a “discounted” ticket. I sat across from a really cool Italian man – he was a young professor at the University of Bologna, and he told me about his hometown of Assisi, convincing me that I have to make a day trip there while I’m in Perugia next week. We talked a little in French – I’m glad I still remember it!

I arrived at the Santa Maria Novella train stop in Florence, where Alexandra met me! Al lives with four other American kids, and their apartment is the epitome of a cute Italian pad with wooden roof beams and beautiful balconies with a view of the Duomo. Her roommate cooked us all a delicious Italian dinner of chicken and grilled vegetables, and I pretty much crashed after traveling for 36 hours without sleep.

I opened my eyes this morning to a charming view of the hills of Tuscany and the red Italian rooftops through green shutters. I still cannot believe that I am in Italy! Everything about it is so beautiful – the people, the lifestyle, the art, and the food. Right now, I am sitting across from a cute old man and his tiny dog, reading a newspaper (probably one on Berlusconi’s monopolies) at an Italian cafĂ© sipping a cappuccino – Al and her roommates had a final this morning, so I’m waiting for Santa Croce to open – I’ll be back to write about it later! Arrivederci!