Siena And San Gimigniano

 

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San Gimigniano

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All this and pastries too! An excellent Saturday!

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Assisi

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Saturday of this past weekend my roommate Kristina and I caught the train to Assisi. We left the train station and walked to the Santa Maria degli Angeli to see the Porziuncula. I was really not expecting the church that they built over the Porziuncula to be so large. Walking into the church up the nave I was momentarily confuses about why there was a tiny little house in the middle of the church. The side chapels and ceiling of Santa Maria degli Angeli soared above it to a degree that was just absurd. Kristina and I both agreed that poor St. Francis was probably rolling in his grave. We went up into the Porziuncula, trying to not disturb the people praying-how did Francis fit his brothers in there once they reached any size at all? That church is barely larger than my pensione room! Sadly we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the church otherwise I’d show you what it looked like but here is a little mosaic of it in the piazza outside of the big church.

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We walked down through a low catacomb like hallway that eventually led to the gift shop. Along the way though we saw a crèche scene with Francis with Mary, Joseph and Jesus, which led me to exclaim, “Francis was not there at the birth of Jesus!” We also saw where Francis apparently died though I was a bit confused, as it appeared to be in some kind of hole underneath a small chapel room in which they had set up an altar and some decorations. Did the ground sink or what?

After we left the Porziuncula we caught the bus up to the Basilica di San Francesco where we managed to get into the lower level but not into the upper level because Mass was being said. We went down to see the crypt where Francis was buried and circled it with the whole horde of tourists. Every place was packed with them and there was an announcer in the basilica that would boom “niente foto!” and hush people who were talking. It was interesting to see all of the frescoes of the life of Francis and the life of Jesus on all of the walls. It was extremely obvious that the artists are trying to make parallels between the two lives. I was here in Assisi two years ago and there was a huge statue of a pigeon with only one leg outside of the Basilica that I remember our guide telling us was meant to symbolize the difficulty in achieving and maintaining peace. I was surprised to see that it was gone. However this was made up for by the fact that there were little portable confession stands all over the area in front of the church where priests were giving confession through the screens. Very, very amusing. The people in Assisi definitely are big on religion and pushing their tie to Francis. There were nuns and monks everywhere and I saw that a lot of them were wearing Birkenstocks which made me smile.

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At F & M café, we found incredible hot cocoa. It was like having a hot chocolate pudding. Absolutely fabulous!

We tried to catch the bus down from Assisi to the station but the bus was so crowded that they couldn’t even close the doors until people got off! Standing and waiting at the stop where a group of nuns with candles. I wonder if there was some kind of celebration going on?

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We ended up walking down the hill to the station rather than wait for the bus and possibly not be able to get on. We walked through the darkened olive groves along a terracotta brick path, the Italian countryside around us. I turned around to look behind us and there was the Basilica, glowing on the hillside.

Ravenna

Sorry about the long delay in updating, things have gotten pretty busy around here what with midterms and all.

Halloween, we went to Ravenna, the ancient Byzantine port city of Italy-a place I have wanted to go since taking an AP Art History my junior year of highschool. Ravenna is remarkable as a city because it still retains much of its Byzantine flavor thanks to the surrounding swamps which prevented multiple invasions and thus multiple redecorations of the buildings. An interesting fact about Ravenna that I wasn’t aware of is that Ravenna is sinking into those swamps and has been ever since it was built. In almost every chuch or mausolem that we went into we had to descend downward to get to the original medieval floor from a floor built built hundreds of years later. An interesting example is the original floor of the Basilica di Franscisco-the entire lower floor covered in mosaics and completely covered in water at all times. The Franciscans put goldfish in there! It was one of the most surreal things I’ve seen in my life, but also highly entertaining.

I have always wanted to visit San Vitale and see the mosaics of Justinian and Theodora. San Vitale is stunning with sparkling mosaics covering the majority of the surface.

We also got to see where 19th century hubris resulted in some major restoring errors. In the Basilica of Sant’Andrea Jesus is depicted what looks like a bizarre lava lamp, where in the original he held a book. This particular restorer used political clout to get the position to restore almost all the mosaics in Ravenna and was very big on just making things up when he didn’t know what was there. Too bad.

On a Halloweeny note, We were at the Mausolem di Theoderic (the Barbarian king who ruled Ravenna for a long stretch of time) and we looked down to the ground around it and saw that they were escavating houses-probably becaues they were trying to build a walkway to the Mausolem and here in Italy just as soon as you insert a shovel into the ground, you hit something ancient so you never get anywhere. We were standing there puzzling over what they had uncovered when all the sudden somewhat went, “hey is that a skeleton?” We all squinted. Yes it was. In fact there were several skeletons laying there in the puddles that were formerly rooms in a houses. There was even a pile of skulls. We stared. and stared some more. I wonder why they didn’t have the sight under protection? Maybe finding dead people has just become so common they don’t care anymore… huh. Anyway, appropriate timing to the max!

Happy Halloween everyone.

The Beautiful 5 Lands

5 lands, a MILLION stairs. While visiting the Cinque Terre we hiked the famous Blue Trail that links all five villages…it is also a 5 hour hike…(lots of 5’s, have you noticed that?). At one point we went up a staircase to a village that had 382 steps! And this is only the formal *stair* steps, not counting the rock steps and inclines that we went up all throughout the day. The Five Lands are rolling lands and my calves most definitely know it!

The views though definitely made it worthwhile. There is no camera on earth that capture the blues of the Mediterraenean sea!

The last night we went to the Festa della Madonna del Santo Rosario at Bonassola where the villagers set out thousands and thousands of little boats with candles into the dark ocean. It looked like each wave was lined with aquatic fireflies…Over this scene the Italians launched a massive fireworks show. We watched the fireworks stream gold through the sky or explode in spirals or hearts. Somehow they had fireworks that exploded upon impact with the ocean water sending up sprays of color and light. The boom of the gunpowder richocheted off of the bay walls like canonshot and as the show ended we looked around to see everyone, young and old, Italian and America alike still staring upward at the sky.

A Relaxing Weekend

This past weekend was our first traveling trip since arriving in Florence. We went to Elba, a beautiful Mediterranean isle that was once host to Napoleon before he escaped in an attempt to reconqueor France.  The main question we had after this *very* scholarly trip (full of beaches and swimming and hiking) was why in the WORLD would Napoleon (and really, anyone) want to leave Elba?

To get to Elba we took a 2.5 hour bus ride and then caught a ferry, charmingly named Moby Baby to land in the town of Porto Ferraraio where we caught another bus down winding roads that can make your heart leap like none other-in part because of the stunning oceanic views out the window and in part because everytime you make a turn (and this happens a lot) you nearly hit a car. We ended up in Porto Azzuro, a charming little beach town where we happy swam in the water and schemed to kidnap one of the many extremely gorgeous sailbaots out in the bay.

We went to the Napoleon museum where we got to see furnture that used to belong to him and his winter house but really, Elba stole the limelight away from Napoleon. I spent more time staring at the view off the cliff behind his house than in any of the rooms…let me show you why…

Prague!

Prague was a beautiful city, far more touristy than Berlin or Krakow, it was none-the-less utterly charming. What was stunning about the city was the HUGE diversity of art styles and architecture to be discovered everywhere you looked! Baroque, Romanesque, Gothic, Neoclassical and my absolutely favorite Art Nouveau! While in Prague we visited the castle where, yes Dad, the defenstration of Prague occurred (the second defenstration-the one that started the 30 years war. Apparently here in Prague they have a thing for tossing people out of windows!). The exact window was not pointed out to me, but I was in the general vicinity. We got to Marie Terese’s palace (attached the old the palace-she wanted a whole new one to accommodate her and her 16 children-one of which was the famous Marie Antoinette!). It was very pink….They do the changing of the guard in Prague, just as they do in England-except they don’t have the huge furry hats!

My highlight of my trip to Prague though was St. Vitus’s Cathedral-right near the Palace. My friend Kristina and I went there and stayed for over an hour inside. My favorite stainglass window was the one by Alphonse Mucha..the first picture.

Here’s picture of me on the Charles Bridge to prove I was there!

Krakow in Pictures

Enjoy!