Thursday, May 26, 2011

Firenze Ancora

Back in Firenze! When planning this trip, we went back and forth on whether we should hop down to Italy and visit good old Florence. It was a bit out of the way (with how we planned our routes) and we actually encountered a few detours on the way down, but in the end, it was worth it!

There isn’t much to recap about our time in Italy. The weather was beautiful, we visited some new places and revisited some favorites, and best of all, ate exclusively at the best places in town.

I remembered this guy from when I lived there. It was nice to see him around again, playing some mood-setting tunes for the people enjoying their meal out in the piazza.

You might remember pictures I posted of the Arno from two years ago. The view will never disappoint, especially when the waters are calm and big, puffy clouds are above.

From here on out, it’s about the art. That is what drew me to this city and what still thrives. We were headed back to our B&B and noticed a big banner advertising this show. We hoped in to find amazing pieces like that and counted our lucky stars as it was the last day of the exhibition. It really makes me want to sit down and paint.

While having a drink in Piazza Santa Croce, I noticed these frescos on the building across the square. I don’t know why I never noticed it before, but this time it really caught, and held, my attention. The fading frescos are such a good metaphor for Firenze. It’s a piece of the distance past, showing the beauty and detail of the old society, faded but still holding strong. Somewhat ghostly, yet still striking and capturing. So cool.

Now for Giambologna. I wish I could give a background on this amazing sculptor, but I have yet to dig deep into his background. For now, he was one of the best sculptors of the high renaissance, working after Michelangelo while overlapping his career for a short while.

Here is a sculpture in the Loggia of the Piazza della Signoria. The Loggia is part of the famous Uffizi Gallery and houses some of the best sculptures of the renaissance (in my opinion).

The other best place to see amazing sculptures in Firenze is the Bargello. The museum is entirely dedicated to sculpture and ceramics and was actually the only museum we went to this time around. I might have posted this Giambologna before, but it’s so cool that I had to do it again.

Back story: Two years ago, while I was living and studying in Firenze, I tried to go to the Villa Demidoff in a small town outside of Firenze called Pratolino. The only reason I wanted to visit this villa was to see a very under-known Giambologna. I’ve lost count, but am sure that I tried to visit the villa at least three times. Every time, it was closed for one reason or another and I left Europe the last time disappointed that I missed it.

Well. This time I got to it, with Casey and my friend Eugenio, and THIS was worth the wait! It is a giant sculpture Giambologna did in two years and is officially my favorite work of art. It is something about the juxtaposition of well-polished and raw form that shows the genius of the man. He gently overlooks a pond, pensive and somber. His melting hair and dripping environment suggests he has been here, and will be, for eternity, gently watching history pass by. It is truly amazing.

If you look closely, you can see Eugenio standing next to the gargantuan sculpture on the right. This gives you a sense of how large it is and adds to the incredible feat of creating such a thing. I would love to see this again sometime in a distant future as I’m sure it will only look better.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Southern Coast

Our last day on the farm was a rainy one. We spent the morning tilling and planting our last batch of tomatoes, while getting a few areas ready for whoever would help work the land the next day. We spent our time after lunch cleaning our room, packing our packs and then in the garden, documenting with pencil and memory cards what we had accomplished. Out of nowhere, a downpour quickly crept in and we ran back in the house to watch.

Sparks of lightning filled the sky and each time we counted, trying to see which one was the closest. It was actually the perfect ending to our time on the Julio farm.

Leaving the farm meant traveling! Our destination was Firenze, Italy and we gave ourselves three days in the south of France to get there. First stop – Marseille.

I don’t’ have much to report for Marseille. Well, not much positive anyway. The one thing that was evident was that Marseille is full of trash. Everywhere we walked, in the city center, was full of trash. That, mixed with the heat and insatiable honking from traffic, the vibe wasn’t pleasant. Here is a picture of the old port, and besides a large Romanesque arch (which wreaked of urine) it was pretty much the only thing to see.

Luckily, Marseille was just a jumping off point for this:

Cassis. It is a small town just outside of Marseille that you can reach via an awesome bus ride. It takes you and on the side of some mountains as you get closer and closer to the pictures you’re about to see. Cassis is a beautiful coastal town, but the main attraction, at least for us, at the Calanques. They are these deep and narrow coves, kind of like reversed peninsulas, and are gorgeous.

Exhibit A. We hiked from the town to three of the Calanqies. This is view from the end of the second one. The Calanques are all these white rocks jutting out of the deep turquoise Mediterranean with bold green trees growing all around. The trail took us along the edges of them and for the last one, up on top.

From this point of view, you can kind of get a vibe for what the hike was like. I’m pretty sure I said every 8 minutes, “Oh my god! This is so frickin beautiful!”

This pictures of Casey gives you a better perspective of how high up we were. At the base of this Calanques was a beautiful beach. The only thing about it being at the base was that we had the climb down.

Now, I haven’t mentioned the weather yet. You can tell that it was bright and sunny, but what you can’t tell is that it was also extremely windy, especially at the top. We were expecting a gradual decent, but instead we got pretty much a straight shot down with the strongest winds I’ve felt in years, blasting us. At some points, it was so steep that I was lowering myself down to the next step with my arms.

But, we got down safely and this was our reward! Beautiful and beautiful. The thing about pictures is that it does a good job and capturing what something looks like, but not what it feels like. We were at this gorgeous beach with these massive walls on both sides and the intense ocean in front of us.

We ate some food and mustarded up the courage to go in. As nice of a day as it was, the water was actually freezing. We solely inched in and finally just went for it. Surprisingly though, my body acclimated and everything was golden. It was so nice to be back in the water. I swear I was a sea animal in my last life.

Anyhow, we soaked it up and headed back.

Our tans are back!

I thought I’d just throw this one it to give a little diversity.

The day after Cassis, we left Marseille and headed for Nice (Neec) Nice is beautiful. Just from leaving the train station, I liked it more than Marseille. We just had the day there and spent it exploring as much as we could.

How can you not love this? Sparkly ocean, a long stretch of beach dotted with sun bathers, and places to enjoy a drink and snack looking out at it all. Nice set up.

This is the harbor and its more just to show that they’ve got the beautiful hills too.

From walking around, I got the feeling that this was a typical south of France building. Taller windows, more detailed bottoms, and highly intricate balconies. The building itself doesn’t need much decoration because these balconies do it all.

One cool thing we saw, and that I’ll leave you on, was this memorial

It was a war memorial for the people who died in WWI. Its hard to get a feeling for the size, but this thing was enormous. I think I just like it because it is a legitimate and serious homage to the lost lives. Its not a little wall with names, it’s a large scale tribute.

Here are the steps, counting the years of the war. I like the simplicity.

The end of the south meant the beginning of Florence. I’m actually writing this on a train ride from Florence back to France. Needless to say, I haven’t found much time to write. Bit I’m catching up and hopefully Florence will be up soon.