Sunday, July 28, 2013

Hiding in the forest

Portia and I have been reading Bambi for our bedtime reading. Portia gets really into whatever book we're reading, and her room is now covered in little chalk drawings of Bambi, Faline and Gobo. She prances around the house on all fours (no, this little phase of hers still isn't over) and really becomes a deer. She's an all-or-nothing sort of girl. A couple chapters ago, we read a really descriptive part about hunters shooting off their "lightning crashes." The animals were so frightened and out of their minds and dropping down everywhere in the frantic run away from the hunters in the meadow ("Get to the forest where it's safe!"). I'd forgotten how sad this book was since I'd read it to Bianca some years back. Last week, I was a complete mess and couldn't read anymore. I suppose Portia isn't the only one who immerses herself into things!

Because Portia is young and spirited (see previous post on spirited children!), I have to liken things to Portia in her cello practice so she really gets it. One of Richard Hoyt's latest corrections for Portia was that her thumb needs to be tucked behind the neck of the cello, not peeking around, so that her hand is curved like a C. So Portia's thumb became Bambi and if Bambi is in the forest (behind the neck), he is safe. If he's in the meadow, he's vulnerable and the hunter could show up anytime. Now all I have to say is, "I see Bambi" and she quickly tucks her thumb behind the cello's neck. Ah, the things we parents do to keep our kids moving in the right direction!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Last but not least: Portovenere

In La Spezia, before we boarded a boat for Portovenere
We ended our vacation with a bang: Our last day in Italy ended up being my very favorite! We started off the day at the beach in Lerici. It was warm, so the beach was crowded. The ocean was cool so the kids were happy. I just sat with my feet tucked into the warm sand and relaxed. It had been a long and busy (but wonderful) two weeks. Italian sales guys would come by us and try to sell us things off their portable racks or boards of goods while we sat on the beach. I didn't mind. The shopping was coming to us! One piece of advice I would give to anyone wanting to travel to Italy is learn your numbers (and a couple other little gems to get around and order food--Acqua Non frizzante, per favore) because in order to buy things, you must know your numbers. Especially to negotiate the prices of things. I got myself and Bianca both a pretty Italian dress (light, more like a swimsuit cover-up) and an awesome handkerchief hat (yes, Eric, this is how I get you back for wearing that fedora everywhere!) Eric said I look like a bike "rider chic". I say, not bike, but definitely a "writer chic." Anyway, it's not fussy, it kept my head cool in the sun, and I didn't have to worry about my bangs that have been giving me problems for the last three weeks!

After we finished swimming in the morning (and unfortunately missed out on the Mary Shelley museum because it kept such odd hours), we headed to La Spezia. We had a quick lunch at a stand near the port (our sandwiches were quite good, considering). I also got some pretty awesome pictures in La Spezia.

Bianca (being the musician she is) like the name of this Piazza in La Spezia
Bianca and Portia by the port in La Spezia
Large anchor, anyone? (La Spezia)
After lunch, we got on a boat headed for Portovenere. It was quite inexpensive (25 euros for all of us) and headed to Portovenere. Here we are right off the boat.

Arriving in Portovenere
This little gulf is called the Gulf of Poets because this is where Shelley and Lord Byron would go to get inspiration for their writing--I think there were others as well, but these are the two I remember. And it was gorgeous! I understand completely why they would be inspired here. When we walked up some steps, it opened up to this cliff intermixed with ruins. It's everything I hoped the coast of Italy would be.

Lord Byron's Grotto
There were little alcoves built into these ruins. I wanted to climb in with a notebook and
start writing poetry myself! 
Playing in Byron's Grotto
The Church of St. Peter and the square Spallanzani
Ah, sitting next to Mother Nature (Madre-Natura)
We stopped at the Church of San Lorenzo, built around 1130, where it is believed a miracle occurred with a Bianca (white) Madonna back in 1399. We even sat for mass here.

We had to take quite a few stairs to make it up to the castle. There was so much to see, it took us forever to get up there.

Lots of stairs to climb in Portovenere
Taking the stairs up
The view from Portovenere is just beautiful!
Still on our way up to Doria Castle (that's it in the background)
Bianca exploring the ruins
More ruins
We went up to the Doria Castle next and wandered around its ruins. The view out to the sea was awesome here and there were so many little windows and niches. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

 I love the reflection in the window

On our way down, we had some gelato, bought some pesto (Portovenere is famous for their pesto), and had to get on our boat back to La Spezia.

Bianca and Portia found some friendly Italian gatti (Portovenere is called Kitty City!)

The view was amazing!


In town of Portovenere

Isn't the knocker cool?
The doors to San Lorenzo Church (see statue above the door)
I love the foliage everywhere!
It's kind of a door-like opening
Sadly, this was our last day in Italy. We packed up that night and headed out bright and early the next morning (about 4:30am) to drive to Milan to board the plane. As we were saying goodbye to Carro for the last time, I saw a firefly. I didn't know fireflies were in Italy! We were exhausted by now but still realized what we were leaving. Italy was as beautiful as I'd hoped. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Lovely Doors of Florence

Door from the reading room at the Laurentian Library reading room

Bianca liked the name of this little shop

Florence Cathedral door
I'm sad that I wasn't able to get to see the original Baptistry door that was deemed by Michaelangelo as being the most perfect door ever created (it actually doesn't hang outside any longer), but here is the reproduction door that still swings where the original one did:

Florence in a day

It seems crazy that we were able to go to Florence to see all we could in one day; a lot of people will spend at least three days there. We did get up early, but had to drive 2 1/2 hours to get there. We drove to a nearby city, parked our car in a Coop (the big grocery store) parking lot, and took the tram into the city so we didn't have to deal with parking there. I was reading a book Eric lent to me (Dan Brown's Inferno, which takes place for the first half in Florence) so I felt like I understood the city before we arrived.

It was a little overwhelming to walk through the old city with all the tall beautiful buildings (not to mention all the tourists!). We started off in this little city corner.

Then we ambled in the direction of the rest of the sheep.

As I was reading in my Inferno book the night before, our narrator mentioned the Laurentian Library (Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana) that contained a set of steps designed by Michaelangelo and the adjoining reading room that he also designed back in the mid-1500s. I thought, yeah, I'd like to see that, so it was our first real stop. And I have to say, it was my very favorite! The library is in this large building that contains also a large basilica, which we did NOT see.

The courtyard at the Medicea Basilica
The stairs really were remarkable.
The staircase that leads to the Reading Room
The staircase designed by Michaelangelo
The reading room above was also designed by Michaelangelo. There were these cool benches with book tables designed for people who were there to borrow the library's books. I guess the books were assigned to specific benches, so if you were done reading one book and ready to move to another, you had to change seats as well. 

The Reading Room in the Laurentian Library
I LOVE cool ceilings and wow! this one was just amazing with all the carved, intricate woodwork! So perfect for a library ceiling.

Ceiling in the reading room  at the Laurentian Library in Florence

It was about my favorite thing we saw in Florence and all because of that silly book I was reading. I also liked that not many other people seemed to know about it so it wasn't crowded with tourists like most of the places in Florence.

We wandered around for a while after, had some gelato (probably the best we had while in Italy!), and did I mention yet that I was in door heaven? It was hard to get anywhere with the many pictures I was taking in front of cool doors! (See separate blog for the amazing doors of Florence.)

Honestly, we just sort of went through the city stopping here and there. The outdoor stuff is just so amazing, do you really need to go in?

I worked really hard to get the other tourists out of my pics, but look at all the heads lining the bottom of the photo
We stopped for lunch at a sandwich shop that served their Italian meats and cheeses on these super hard breads (I guess we're softies in the US because my mouth was totally beat up after just one sandwich). We were sitting inside this little sandwich shop and Bianca mentioned how she didn't like tourists (of course, the irony is there). The couple sitting in the same room giggled and I realized we were in the company of other English speakers. They were from Canada and really nice and they told us what was worth seeing, what wasn't, etc.

We wanted to go see some other stuff, but the lines were snaking through the streets and who has the time to wait in those lines when you've only got one day in Florence? Eric wanted to go see the "David" but the line for that museum was way too long. We actually waited in it a while before we gave up. Is it uncivilized for me to say that I saw plenty of male nudity in these fountains, in which we did not have to wait in lines? 

Fountains in Florence
Bianca was not impressed with all the nakedness of the statues
And of course, we saw the nice little replica of the David as well.  I don't need David. Give me Michaelangelo's staircase instead any day. We wandered through this wonderful open building I wish I knew what it was, but maybe it's okay to just enjoy its beauty for what it is.

Eric finally got his souvenir for the trip. He wanted a pair of Italian shoes. We saw a nice pair in a window while we were walking around and spent the next little while trying some on. 

We next made our way to Dante's little church. It really was just a small little door, with beautiful music luring you in. It wasn't flashy or crowded. I sat in one of the pews and let the music roll over me. This church is where Beatrice Portinari's body is laid. The story goes: Dante met her when he was young (8 or 9 years old) and loved her his entire life. She married someone else (as did he) but it was always Beatrice for him. She was the inspiration in a lot of his writing. There's a basket in this church where you can scribble your story and dreams in a sort of prayer to Beatrice in hopes that your unrequited love will love you back or to reach out to loved ones that aren't with you anymore. What a beautiful little church! No line for this one, but I'd take this sweet church over the huge cathedrals, thankyouverymuch.

Funny thing, though, as we made our way back through Florence, the huge line that had wrapped two hours long through the square to the Florence Cathedral was almost gone! We got into see the cathedral in a couple minutes. You had to be dressed modestly to enter the Duomo di Firenze (Florence Cathedral), which is why we had worn dresses that day. Speaking of which, in Italy, it's not called Florence--it's actually Firenze. The girls sat down and wrote in their journals (their feet were hurting already) while Eric and Mom looked around. The girls were sitting over a grate that was open below, which we later found out was the crypt because Eric and Mom went down there. 

In the interior dome part of the cathedral is the Vasari painting and it is quite beautiful. It's just amazing all the detail work put into these beautiful cathedrals. I sat down next to the girls while they wrote and just looked around. There is so much beauty here.

Florence Cathedral's dome ceiling
Once while we were standing around, not sure where to go next, a group of Asian tourists was passing by. A woman put her arm on Bianca's shoulder and said something (we weren't sure what, but this wasn't new to us in the last couple weeks) so Bianca assumed she was asking her to move out of the picture she was going to take. But I don't think that was it, because then they started walking by and taking pictures of Portia. Maybe it was her blue eyes and light hair? It was funny, though, because after they passed, Portia asked, Why were they taking my picture? I told her maybe somewhere she'll be immortalized in someone's vacation pictures from Florence.

After the cathedral, we made our way back to the tram. 

Eric thinking, like Macchiavelli