Sculptures Galore!

(Note: The following post describes details from a previous trip, NOT a current trip.)

Tuesday, October 1.

We’re on the bus by around 8 a.m. to get to Florence, and our first stop of our city tour for the day: the Galleria dell’Accademia, home to Michelangelo‘s David – perhaps the most recognizable sculpture in the world, if not one of them.

I distinctly remember first seeing David in a picture as a kid of seven or eight. Not in an art book. In a sexual education booklet.

(Now, while it’s absolutely not my intention to debase such a renowned work of art, let’s be real: once you’ve seen the most famous junk in the world, it’s almost impossible to unsee.)

Anyhow. I’m an adult now, and I will absolutely appreciate the experience in a completely different way.

We wait in line on the sidewalk beside the gallery – along with one complete stranger who somehow thinks he can sneak his way in with us. Too bad he doesn’t consider the fact we have reservations – and tickets, which Franco announces loud enough for him to get the hint. (Idiot.)

Today’s local guide, Giovanna, starts our tour in the first large room containing various gold-leaf medieval paintings, and the sculpture called The Rape of the Sabine Women (depicting abduction, not sexual violation) by Giambologna (not Michelangelo, as I would have automatically guessed).

We’re then taken into the next hall next door, which is lined on either side by a series of Michelangelo’s sculptures, called the “Unfinished Slaves“.

It’s fascinating seeing these works, and then hearing from our guide how Michelangelo was able to start chipping and carving from whole blocks of marble, working from NOTHING except an idea in his mind (no test runs in plaster, nothing), and even more baffling that – for whatever reason – he would just abandon them. Just … surreal.

The result makes each work appear as if they’re trapped – like ancient Han Solos lodged in marble, instead of carbonite.

Photo (not mine), from Wikimedia Commons.
Photo (not mine), from Wikimedia Commons.

This corridor leads Giovanna and our group towards the main event – David.

Full disclosure: long before setting foot in Italy, I had heard that it would almost impossible to get to see David without reservations way in advance (I took that to mean one would have to make reservations weeks ahead of time).

And, even if you made said reservations, you’d be lucky if you got to spend even five minutes getting a really good look at the sculpture.

So, two things I didn’t expect?

First: Perhaps due to both being part of Giovanna’s tour, and the other people crowded around, our group, all told, gets to spend 10 minutes gazing upwards and walking around the statue. There are even school kids seating on nearby benches, sketching with the utmost concentration.

Second: I’ve come to see something that is perhaps a little larger than life-sized (because the memory of the photo from the sex ed book has led me to assume that, well, why would it be any bigger?).

Holy CRAP. It is MASSIVE. Over FIVE. METRES. TALL. (Or 16 feet.) It’s ASTOUNDING.

It’s fantastic, seeing the sculpture – the proportions and sheer detail –  and hearing Giovanna tell us the stories behind David. The story of its creation, in secrecy under a scaffolding, while people questioned Michelangelo’s sanity. The reaction after its completion. The fact an entire wall of the Accademia had to be knocked out when they moved David indoors. The nutbar who – in 1991 – broke part of a toe on David’s left foot (and the efforts to restore it).

By the time we leave for another corridor in the building, I’m convinced that David has either set my personal standard, or utterly ruined me, for classic sculpture. But really, I’m done.

We’re led into a room where plaster busts and other sculptures by other artists are on display – to not only illustrate the sculpting process, but to show the craftsmanship and attention to detail.

2013-10-01 04.14.15Once we’re finished with the Accademia, Giovanna takes us on a little walk to Florence’s main church and baptistry.

The doors of the latter depicts some of the most well-known stories of the Old Testament, displayed in 10 bronze panels.

Past the church and down a handful of streets, we’re in Piazza della Signoria, the main square, situated in front of the Palazzo Vecchio (Florence’s town hall).

The area is well-populated with statues, including a replica of David (not as large, but – except for the pigeon sitting atop his head – just as good).

2013-10-01 04.33.29There’s another statue nearby, Perseus with the Head of Medusa.

It stands out from a lot of others –  not only because it’s cast in bronze (which I think helps it withstand the elements a bit better? Please set me straight, if I’m wrong), but because we’re told it’s been outfitted with an electric device meant to deter pigeons from perching – or pooping – on it … by shocking them.

Giovanna navigates us through crowds of tourists and school groups until we eventually reach the Piazza Santa Croce, where our tour ends, and we’re deposited back into Franco’s care.

So our cultural education has ended for the day. But our shopping adventures are just about to begin.

A “Pisa” Tuscan Hospitality

(Note: The following post describes details from a previous trip, NOT a current trip.)

Monday, September 30.

Our morning and part of the afternoon is spent on the bus, watching the landscape of fog and rice fields morph into green fields and houses of every shape and size, nestled among hills and trees.

Also, we pass through many, many tunnels – particularly as we’re driven through the city of Genoa.

2013-09-30 07.04.47The wheels finally stop spinning when we reach Pisa. We’re given free time almost as soon as we’re off the bus, so we can grab lunch and take our obligatory pictures of the tower.

We then meet our guide, Roberto, who’s a long-time friend of Franco’s. He’s tall, tanned, bald, and the campiest guide we’ve had so far, which he uses as his secret weapon to keep us both entertained and engaged while spouting off historical facts.

Apparently Franco and Roberto have this cheesy comedy act going when it comes to tour groups.  Before releasing us into Roberto’s care, Franco “informs” us that Pisans – and Roberto in particular – have a hate-on for Florence, and should Roberto ask where we’re headed after Pisa, to say “Rome”.

So, we play along and when we get the prompt and give our rehearsed answer, Roberto turns his head to one side and bellows, “FRANCO!”

Our walking tour begins with an overview of the Leaning Tower itself, whose restoration efforts to clean the tower’s marble and fix the interior staircase, were only completed a couple of summers ago.

(Click here to listen to a July 2011 PRI radio feature about the restoration – Roberto’s the tour guide interviewed, and there’s a slideshow.)

2013-09-30 08.14.35Then, it’s a quick stop in front of the nearby bapistry, which we’re told is still used today for full-immersion baptisms.

Finally, we head into the cathedral, where Roberto speaks of the architecture, and some of the features of the design, including the light fixtures near the front of the sanctuary (which, if I recall correctly, Roberto says is actually a tribute to Galileo).

The tour concludes, we leave Roberto and Pisa, and it’s back on the road for another couple of hours of scenery before reaching our hotel on Florence’s outskirts.

We’re dropped off, assigned our rooms and left to rest and freshen up for about 90 minutes before we leave for dinner. Mom and I are absolutely pooped. Compounding this exhaustion is the fact Mom’s now fighting a variation of the cold that’s been making the rounds on our tour bus. One of the younger travellers close my age – Jacomo, from Australia – has been knocked flat on his back with this thing for the past couple of days, and so his mum/travel companion, Theresa, has been looking after him.

In fact, we’re so lethargic that we end up being the last ones to board the bus for our dinner destination. (Oops.)

2013-09-30 12.23.49We head to a restaurant located in the Tuscan hillside, where we’ll be treated to a multi-course meal.

We lag behind the others, as Mom waits for me to snap a picture of the countryside, across the road from the restaurant.

So, when we do finally get inside the dining room and look for a place to sit, everyone’s taken their seats, except for one table.

Tonight, our dining companions are: Frances and Howard, a couple from Nova Scotia (I’m sure they’re in their late 70s or early 80s); Tim and Michelle, a really fun couple from Saint John; and an Indian couple, whom we later find out are from Windsor.

The last pair, we’ve been trying to avoid for the majority of the trip, because they come across as insufferable. He’s stone-faced about 90 per cent of the time, and she has this tendency to say things or give unsolicited advice that’s completely unwarranted and rude. And now, we are stuck with them at our table. Thank God for Tim and Michelle.

We (with the exception of Mom) start our evening with this blue-tinted wine (dubbed “smurf wine” by our group), then sample the other wines on our table – white, red, and a lovely strawberry-flavoured wine – which would eventually turn out to be a hit with the group. Even my mom (normally a teetotaler) has a few sips.

2013-09-30 13.17.39Our meal starts with a nice anti-pasto, followed by two types of pasta, and then the main course.

Mom and I have the filet mignon, and ask for it well-done (rather than the medium rare) – which renders it a tad chewy, but still okay.

Between these courses, I chat with Frances and Howard – who, as it turns out, are native Newfoundlanders, but currently live in Sackville, Nova Scotia, between their two kids and their families.

As the wine continues to flow, people loosen up and become livelier (or, in the case of our table-mates from Windsor, less miserable).

There’s also some entertainment, courtesy of a couple of instrumental musicians and a male singer – an older man with a balding head, but a voice that simply soars.

2013-09-30 13.10.42He moves from table to table, selecting random female tour mates to serenade and dance with (see left – except for our table, which, in this case, is completely fine by me).

At one point, he singles out fellow traveller Jenna – one of a pair of young Americans – to dance with.

It’s quite the sight. At six feet tall, she towers over our resident crooner. This doesn’t faze him in the least – he just nestles his bald little head in her bosom like he’s ready to take a nap. It’s hilarious. (Later, we hear him mention that he had a wife who was tall, so he’s used to it.)

2013-09-30 15.02.57The musicians eventually change gears and crank out a few tunes the crowd’s more familiar with. Well, doesn’t THIS just get some of the Aussies out of their seats. They’re dancing like no one else’s watching.* Finally – some folks on this tour are letting loose.

This is actually a fun night, and no one can dispute it if they tried.

On the ride back to the hotel, the bus full of tipsy revellers turns into the “party bus” when Franco cranks some disco and ’80s tunes, while Pierluigi flashes the interior bus lights on and off for effect.

HOLLA. Now THIS is what the trip is supposed to be about!

Too bad we have another painfully early ahead of us, for our trip to Florence.

*Apologies for the blurry picture above, but I felt it best described what was happening.