Thursday, September 24, 2009

Fierenze and Pizza

Our last two days in Paris were so great. Traveling by myself is something I have always wanted to do, so Matt and I decided to spend a day on our own and then meet up for dinner. I went to the internet cafe and had an espresso and wrote. Very leisurely. Then I went over to Jardin de Luxembourg. One of my best experiences in Paris! It is a huge park in the heart of Paris filled with gardens, sculptures, fountains and people. There are hundreds of chairs around the park so that people are chatting with groups of friends, reading by themselves, spending time with family, people-watching - basically just being there and enjoying a Sunday afternoon. The park is huge, and I only saw a small part, but I also saw another area where they were selling giant balloons and cotton candy and had a merry-go-round for kids. Apparently they also have a mini-replica of the Statute of Liberty. It was like something out of a movie. I walked around for a while and then pulled up a chair and people-watched and read.

One thing that I noticed about the French is that it's ok to look at other people. When we first arrived in Paris, I thought everyone was staring at us because...we were foreign? Looked like tourists? Who knows. But after being there for a week, I realized that everyone is constantly looking at each other. The only thing about it is that once someone realizes you are looking, the thing to do seems to be to look away. In other words, you don't really make eye contact with strangers. But it's ok, even normal, to look at other people. In fact, cafes and bars are often set up for people watching. So different from the US.

I had a list of three things that I definitely wanted to do in each city. In Paris, eating oysters was on my list if they were in season. They were! So Matt and I met at 7pm in our favorite neighborhood at a fab restaurant for oysters. They had a menu of 4 different kinds and then each kind of oyster was available in 3 sizes. So we ordered the oysters, had a bottle of wine, and chatted. Really enjoyed our last night in Paris to the fullest.

The next evening, we took an overnight train from Paris to Florence. We chose to take the train because Matt loves trains and we thought it would be a good way to see some of the French/Italian countryside. We had also taken an overnight train in Thailand and it was super-fun. Well...this train wasn't as great. We left late - after dark - so we didn't get to see much and it was a little claustrophobic. We also went to eat in the dining car and there was terrible energy. Lots of seemingly frustrated people packed into a little space. So, we ended up eating a cold ham and cheese croissant in our little room and went to bed.

When we got to Florence, we went straight to our hotel. So exciting! We are staying in the Grand Hotel, which used to be the palace of a wealthy Florentine family. It was converted into a hotel about 200 years ago and was just remodeled using traditional Florentine decoration and architecture. Needless to say, it is one of the most beautiful hotels I have ever stayed in. Even better, I had told them that we were on this trip for my 30th birthday celebration so they upgraded our room to a top floor suite. It includes a balcony with a view of the Duomo and red rooftops of Florence as well as the Arno River. Just amazing!! To top it off, after we got into the room, they delivered a bottle of complementary champagne. Heaven!

After we spent some time relaxing, we set off to explore Florence. We went to a bookstore and bought a city guide and then walked over to the Duomo. The Duomo is the crown jewel of Florence. It took over 100 years to fully build and is a giant church with a dome at the top. In the 1400's, they couldn't figure out how to build the dome, so they had a competition with a prize to the person who could figure it out. Brunelleschi made it his life's work to find a solution to this architectural puzzle, which was to be the most extraordinary and daring achievement of the times. In the end and after 16 years of construction, they built the massive dome that appears to rise towards the sky without any means of support. We also climbed to the top of the dome where we saw the most amazing views of Florence. The climb was a little scary (especially because I was wearing flip flops) and reminded me of climbing up the Statue of Liberty. But well worth it. So beautiful and peaceful from the top, where you go outside to a giant balcony.

The next day, yesterday, we went to two museums (including the Uffizi) and the Boboli Gardens. I have never been really excited about art in the past, but after all of our study for this trip, I have been so looking forward to all of the art in Florence. The thing that fascinates me the most is the history of the Renaissance. It was a time period in which the most wealthy families showed their riches by commissioning the best artists to paint, sculpt, design new buildings, etc. It was also a time when the artists first felt free enough to move away from religious art (which was all that was accepted up to this time) and into all types of creative expression. They believed that their abilities to make beautiful art were gifts from God that should be used for the betterment of society. In this way, they were making art for God. So lovely.

So all of the museum touring was amazing but exhausting. The best part was seeing all of the paintings and sculptures that we've spent so much time learning about.

We went home and napped and then went out to what we heard was the best pizza in Florence. I will admit that I am addicted to pizza. (We briefly considered traveling to Naples just to try what I had heard was the best pizza in Italy.) Needless to say, I was pumped. We went to a restaurant that was across town out of the tourist areas, and had the BEST pizza I have ever eaten.

So amazing I can't put it into words. Definitely a highlight.

Today we are off to Siena. We are taking a bus there and plan to spend the evening walking around the small town. I'm excited to see a smaller city in Italy as well as the countryside on the way.

Jessica O.

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