Please also visit my Miami blog, ¿Qué Pasa, Miami?. Gracias.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Confessions of a Europhile in Thirteen Volumes: VOLUME VI, Part B

Fanciful Florence

Renaissance art, picturesque bridges, Italian wine, and mouthwatering ravioli. What's not to love? Florence is a truly enchanting city worth visiting more than once. My first trip there (in 2003) barely lasted two days – totally inadequate. This time around, I made sure to give myself ample time (six nights) to wander the cobble-stoned streets.

Our first objective upon arrival was lunch. Famished, Becca and I entered a nondescript little restaurant near our hotel, where I had a simple chicken dish with a delectable sauce.

Reinvigorated by our meal, we decided to pop into a couple of the shops lining the unembellished street while waiting for our crappy accommodations to be readied. "Hello, 30-euro shiny red pumps!"

I don't impulse-buy often, so I welcomed the serotonin high as I bounded into the city center, where Brunelleschi's grand Duomo (cathedral) was waiting to greet me.

"Hello, Duomo!" (I was still under a slight shoe-induced delirium at this stage, and all that green and pink marble wasn't helping). The Duomo's accompanying, equally colorful baptistry boasts the Ghiberti Doors (also known as the Gates of Paradise), a 15th-century work in bronze by Lorenzo Ghiberti. It is widely considered to be the first artistic production of the Renaissance (omigod!). Ghiberti built the bronze doors for a competition, which he of course won. The doors on display today are an exact replica of the originals, which are now housed in the Duomo Museum. The photograph below is of the replica.

Closely scrutinizing every detail of those door panels is an exhausting enterprise, so we later rewarded ourselves with fresh air and enchanting vistas of Florence at the Boboli Gardens, which are located behind the Pitti Palace, former home of the Medeci Grand Dukes.

The Boboli Gardens seemed to me notably different from typical French gardens in that they weren't as meticulously manicured. Although nowhere near wild, they did seem more natural. This held a particular charm for me, as I'm accustomed to the "pelouse interdite" (forbidden grass) signs of Parisian gardens. Speaking of which, there's no better infraction to commit in France than frolicking on "forbidden" grass. Ahh ... to have been a wayward child in Paris!

*Espranglais does not hold itself responsible for any reprimands incurred as a result of illegal lawn activities.

As the afternoon began to fade, it seemed the perfect time to stroll around aimlessly. We stumbled across a street market as we headed to the Piazza della Signoria. The famed statues on public display were especially captivating in the waning daylight.

Once night falls, I like to head to the Ponte Vecchio, Florence's beautiful medieval bridge. Pedestrians hop in and out of little jewlery shops full of glittery gold and ornate cameos; scooters swoosh by haphazardly; the Arno River reflects the old bridge's arches. This landmark is so remarkably charming that it wins Espranglais' first ever "Bestest Bridge In Ze World Award." This is ultra prestegious, as Espranglais is a bit of a "bridge whore." Congratulations, Florence! Espranglais' photographs celebrate thee.

Also, there was food. LOTS of cheesy, sinful food. And wine! Grazie, Ristorante Il Latini, for offering us a free bucket of wine on Becca's birthday. We could never have taken silly pictures sitting atop other people's parked scooters without it.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Confessions of a Europhile in Thirteen Volumes: VOLUME VI, Part A

It was March before we knew it, and the fragrance of spring flowers was in the air. What we smelled most keenly, though, was the alluring aroma of Easter Break. It smelled of slowly melting mozzarella cheese, or freshly made gnocchi, or stracciatella gelato (wait, that doesn't actually smell like anything). The point is, we were off to tour Italy and gain weight! The beautiful view of the Alps from my airplane window struck me as a good omen for what was to be an exhausting but memorable (and yummy) trip.

Roman Holiday

News flash: the Vatican is not quite as holy as it purports to be. Well, at least its architecture is still celestial. This trip marked my second visit to Rome, and Saint Peter's Basilica was as awe inducing as I remembered. For me, the impact of the cathedral lies in its shear size. When Jesus said to Peter, "upon this rock I will build my church," I wonder if he intended to make followers feel like liliputians. At 136 meters (over 400 feet) tall from the floor to the tip of its dome, Saint Peter's Basilica is imposing.

The Vatican Museums are equally impressive, not only for all that Raphael on display, but also for the frescos adorning the walls and ceilings of every room.

Already suffereing from a sore neck, you finally proceed into Michaelangelo's Sistine Chapel, which is easy to appreciate despite the massive crowd of people exclaiming things like, "Dude! The 'curtains' are, like, totally painted! They look so real, man! Awesome." Photography is prohibited inside the chapel, but I can assure you that the curtains do indeed look, like, totally real and that the effect of this truly is, like, so cool.

Gazing upon iconic art by the Ninja Turtles? Check. On to "gladiating" at the Colosseum. Films and popular culture in general have largely influenced our perception of what exactly took place in this ancient Roman amphitheater, but, for a westerner, being physically there evokes a sense of history ... and of cultural continuity. It's not too difficult to picture a college football game taking place at the Colosseum. After all, what could be more Roman than watching broad-shouldered men in skintight pants violently tackle each other to the ground? Actually, scratch that comparison; the ancient Romans didn't wear pants.

From ancient architecture to baroque. Stroll along Rome's Via dei Condotti, past Gucci, Valentino, Armani, and other boutiques at which you (that is to say I) can't afford to shop, and you'll be rewarded with a climb up the beautiful Spanish Steps (Piazza di Spagna). From atop the broad steps, couture shoppers look like busy ants haphazardly making away with pricy shoes and handbags.

Turn in the other direction, however, and harmony is thankfully restored.

More quiet charm can be found at the Piazza Navona, where artists set up shop, flanked by two gorgeous fountains: Neptune Fountain (Fontana del Nettuno) and Moor Fountain (Fontana del Moro). In the center of the city square lies the third, most famous fountain, Bernini's Fountain of the Four Rivers (Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi), which was unfortunately covered with scaffolding on the day I was there.

While on the subject of fountains, no trip to Rome is complete without tossing a coin into the majestic Trevi Fountain (Fontana di Trevi), which, according to legend, ensures you will one day return to The Eternal City. Here's hoping.

Rome was striking, as always, but Becca and I had only just begun to live "la dolce vita." More of our Italian adventures to come in Parts B, C, and D of the endless Confessions of a Europhile in Thirteen Volumes: VOLUME VI.