Days 4 and 5: The Borghese and Florence
Day 4: The Borghese Museum then to Tuscany
We woke up for our final day in Rome, and continued our tradition of fresh pastries at Noemi's for breakfast. For our last day, I had scheduled a trip to the Galleria Borghese. Everything I read put this gallery in the top 2 galleries to see in Italy, right after the Vatican Museum. I decided we ought not miss it. First, it's a VERY long walk from the metro station to the gallery. You do get to see the beautiful Villa Borghese, because you must walk through the whole thing to reach the gallery. Don't worry, you can pay someone to ride in a bike taxi. But, of course, we walked.
The Borghese was gorgeous. I think it's so impressive because it isn't too big to digest like the Vatican Museum is. You can actually go in every room and see every painting without your head exploding. I felt like I had a much better handle on Renaissance art after seeing this place. They had everying from Bernini to Raphael to Titian to Carvaggio. I was impressed by the paintings, but amazed by the sculpture. I can't really figure out how they make a slab of rock look so life-like. It looks like it should be soft even. One of the most amazing things? They had Ancient Roman sculptures dating back to 200 AD. One of my favorite paintings there was "The Last Supper," but it's not the one by Da Vinci, this one was by Jacopo Bassano. It was interesting to see someone else's point of view of that moment.
So, this house and collection was owned by Cardinal Scipione Borghese, nephew to Pope Paul V. What was disturbing about the collection, was that this powerful rich man would basically go into artists or collector's homes and threaten to put them in jail if they didn't let him have the artwork he wanted. Even if the artist had been commissioned by someone else to make that piece of art. Talk about abuse of power.
After our relatively relaxing morning at the Borghese, we headed for the train station to try our luck with this Europass thing again. We were headed into the countryside of Tuscany, so our train was not exactly a main line. It was waaay down on the end, away from all the other confused tourists. When we walked up, we weren't sure if we needed to stamp it, which trains were first class, which were second class, or WHAT to do. A nice young man took a look at our pass and showed us where to get on the train. He followed behind as we got on the train, and told me to keep going through each train car til we reached the very front, then he hopped off. Lucas had all our big luggage, so he was a few steps behind us. We sat down and I immediately said...where's my cell phone???
Let's rewind a second, and I'll retell that story through the 20/20 vision of hindsight. When we walked up, we weren't sure if we needed to stamp it, which trains were first class, which were second class, or WHAT to do. When we walked up, 2 pickpockets immediately identified us a gullible stupid Americans. The first lead us to the train after showing him our pass and showed us where to get on. He stood in front of the yellow line too close to the train and started arguing with the conductor about it in order to distract him. As I got on the train, a second kid hopped on while Lucas picked up our heavy luggage. As I tried to figure out how to open doors, he'd reach around and open them for me (while presumably trying to get my cell phone out of the elastic side pocket of my backpack). He rushed me on saying "Avanti! Avanti! (Keep going! Keep going!)," til we reached the end of the train then hopped off and ran. When we noticed it was gone, Lucas ran off the train to look around but of course they were long gone. As we took off, we could hear the conductor making all his announcements in Italian, then at the very end he said "Beware pickpocket." Really? Thanks. A little late. So, as stupid as I felt for not realizing what they were doing, I decided it's just a cell phone and I can pay my stupid tax and order another one.
After stewing about my stupidity for the first 20 minutes or so, I was distracted by the beauty that is Tuscany. We soon left the busy city of Rome, and started coming upon rolling hills filled with checkerboards of farmland filled with vineyards and groves of olive trees. Beautiful old buildings with clay roofs and castles on the hilltops. Tall skinny cypress trees mixed with the umbrella pines. This place is gorgeous.
We were soon overtaken with narcolepsy that attacks everyone on the trains. I wanted to stay awake and watch this beautiful scenery, but just couldn't do it. In fact, i don't think there was a single train ride that I did stay awake the entire time. But, everyone sleeps on the train! I'd look around, and no one could help it. We all dozed. The rhythm of the tracks? Who knows. It was inevitable.
We awoke in time to hop off the train in Siena and hop on a taxi to our agriturismo called Hotel Loggia right outside town in Quercegrossa. What's an agriturismo? It's a working farm that also happens to rent out rooms. Yes, we were staying at a bonafide Italian vineyard. Grape vines and olive trees. This place was gorgeous. We settled into our room, and I immediately opened our window.
Wow. Just wow. I already love Tuscany.
The hotel has its own restaurant, so we headed that way for dinner. We order a bottle of wine, an assorted cheese and meat plate for antipasti, pasta for first course, and I didn't even know what for the main course. Had to just take a chance, because the waiter couldn't translate it for us! Let's just say we didn't have a bad wine the whole time we were in Italy, so that was amazing. Then they brought out the cheese and meat plate. This is when I fell in love with the food in Tuscany, specifically salami and pecorino cheese. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. Then they brought out the pici pasta with cheese and pepper. Oh. My. God. And that thing I didn't know what it was? Turned out to be thinly sliced steak with arugula and shaved parmesan. Holy cow, I did good on this one.
As an aside, everywhere we went translated arugula as "rocket." I've never ever seen this before. I have a theory that it's a British thing. Anyone know????
Anyhow, after stuffing ourselves silly, we jumped on the wifi with Lucas's phone, changed all my zillions of passwords connected with my stolen phone, and headed to bed. This was another discovery we made...when a hotel in Italy tells you you are getting a "double" room, you are quite literally getting two single mattresses put together. So, we had a crevice between us for most the trip. Almost every hotel did this. Weird.
Day 5: Florence
After a not-at-all refreshing night's sleep, listening to a dog barking outside our window all night, we awoke for breakfast at the hotel. It was complete with eggs, salami, cereal, croissants, and all sorts of spreads including hazelnut. Much bigger than the normal Italian breakfast. They must be used to us Americans. Today is the day to explore Florence. So, we hopped a taxi to the train station and 1.5hrs later we were there.
It actually took us longer than normal to orient ourselves to this city. It was dang hard to figure out where we were and which direction we were facing. There were too many pretty churches to figure out which one we were in front of, lol. We passed by several pretty churches including
and Santa Maria Novella on our way to see the duomo.
Florence is known for their leather products, and thre are street vendors selling leather all over the square outside San Lorenzo.
The dome in Florence is called St Maria del Fiore (St Mary of the Flowers)
The duomo in Florence is so extremely ornate and beautiful on the outside.
We went in and were amazed that it's actually fairly plain inside. Of course, that's a very relative statement. It's still stunning.
It does have some very cool artwork on the inside of the dome itself. I was surprised at how dark some of the imagery can be. If you look in the very lower right corner of the images, you'll see a skeleton.
A couple images of the buildings and strees on the way
After the duomo, we went to Il Galleria Dell'Accademia to see the statue of David by Michelangelo. It's actually a museum full of gorgeous artwork, but alas, we were already tired of artwork so we breezed through mostly of it fairly quickly. This statue of David was absolutely stunning. It's much much bigger than I thought it would be. It's just so extremely detailed. You can even see the veins in his arms. What I thought was equally cool was that they had several of Michelangelo's unfinished sculptures, so you could kinda get an idea of the process. They were big hunks of marble, where one side of the body was all that was completed. Definitely 100% worth it to go. I didn't realize it, but this museum has an instrument room. And in this room they had a Stradivarius violin! I've played violin for a long time, so this was very cool for me.
We ate lunch at Circus in the courtyard of the Palazzo Vecchio. This place is gorgeous, and outside it are many many replicas of famous statues, including David. The meal was so good. I had my first experience with prosciutto, and I'm a very big fan. We also had some very good pizza. Can't complain.
From there we headed to the Ponte Vecchio, which is a bridge with lots of little shops attached to the outside like barnacles. Of course, all the shops were way crazy expensive jewelry, but it looked cool anyway:)
We made our way across the Arno river, wandered around the area and bought a few watercolors of the tuscan countryside outside the Pitti Palace. Then we headed for one of the highlights of the Florence trip, the Piazzale Michelangelo. You have to go up a TON of steps to get to this piazza. We were actually serenaded by a 20-something-year-old boy singing and playing a ukelele while he and his friends were walking up the steps. I was impressed he could sing while going up that many steps!
The view from the piazza was gorgeous. You could see everything from there.
We stopped by the Basilica of Santa Croce on our way back toward the train.
Talk about a lot of big names all in one place! There are several important people buried here.
The ground was covered in graves. I tried to step around all the tombs at first, but it was impossible. The big names include Machiavelli, Michelangelo, and Galileo, as well as and a memorial to Dante. Also included was a work by Donatello.
This is Michelangelo's grave. The 3 angels represent painting, sculpture, and architecture.
This wall detail was exceptionally gory. Amazing what they sneak in there!
We hopped a train back to Siena and a taxi back to our paradise in Tuscany, where we enjoyed another dinner at our little restaurant. Tonight, we decided to try a bottle of Brunello which is a highly acclaimed local Tuscan wine. This one had to be put in a decanter first. It was awfully good, for sure. We tried variations of the previous night's dinner, with a pici pasta with tomato sauce and more cheese and salami.
Tomorrow? A wine tour in the vineyards of Tuscany.
Select images from our trip are available for purchase. They can be found here!
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