Firenze. It's a cool lookin' word and it's just fun to say, isn't it? In fact, as of today, as of this very moment, I'm declaring it my new favorite word until a cooler word comes along to supersede it (which may very well happen when I get to the Venice photos). Firenze (Florence) was yet another amazing place in Italy (is there any other kind?). So many little cobblestone side streets, bustling markets, statues galore... oh yeah, and the best frickin' gelato you will ever have. E-verrrrr. And the presentation of said amazing gelato in all the gelaterias was fantastic. How I missed a photo of this when we had gelato every day and sometimes twice is a mystery to me. I took a little over 3600 photos in Italy, you'd think one would have been of this dessert spectacle. Pffft... amateur.
Firenze was our next to last stop on the honeymoon, and it was a wet one. Wait... that didn't come out right. I mean it pretty much rained the whole time; no down pours per se, but just enough where we had to carry around the IKEA umbrellas kindly provided by our awesome bed & breakfast. Speaking of our B&B, this first photo is of the room we stayed in.
This was probably my favorite B&B that we stayed in because the location was fantastic in the heart of the city only a stones throw away from the Uffizi Gallery, the Piazza della Signoria, and many street markets. It was very clean & cozy and had a nice big bathroom (not very common in Italy). Maybe the best part, though... no, scratch that... the best part was that they had a free help-yourself stash of these Little Debbie-ish snack cakes. I could've stayed for a couple more days just for those.
I loved all the natural light that flooded through the window in our room.
The image below is pretty much a microcosm of our time in Firenze (are you getting tired of this word yet?). Drizzle, drizzle and more drizzle mixed in with an occasional side of sprinkling.
Florence, oops, I mean Firenze, is known for it's shopping, particularly the Italian leather you can pick up there. Kylie and I contributed to the local merchant economy by picking up a few things... she got a hat, scarf, wallet, something else that escapes me at the moment, and I picked up a GQ leather jacket. I couldn't wait to wear it when I got home, even with the warm Texas weather we were having. I put it on when Kylie and I headed out the night after we got back, and she just rolled her eyes at me. "Why are you wearing that? It's 72 degrees outside?" Yeah, but ya never know... it might get colder while we're out.
A little hat shopping for the missus... Doesn't she look cute?... and a little European I might add.
This is pretty much how I walked around all day... catching the sights from beneath my trusty, borrowed IKEA umbrella.
I believe the photo below was the last one I took before my D3 with an attached 24-70mm lens unwillingly took part in a 48" drop onto cobblestone. It was one of those slow motion, I-can't-believe-I'm-watching-this-happen-and-there's-nothing-I-can-do-about-it kinda things. I thought I had the camera strap on my shoulder when I was trying to juggle my camera bag and umbrella, and that's when the camera and lens did a nose dive, lens first, to the ground. Overall I gave the dive a score of 7.8... woulda been higher except it bounced twice on the landing. The 24-70 zoom lens is now a little less zoomy; it worked okay for a little bit, but now it's a little [read: completely] jammed and no longer turns to go lower than a 50mm focal length. Uh... Houston...
The view from our hotel room with the Palazzo Vecchio in the background. There was an open air market right below us.
Typical street market.
C'mon, how can you not laugh at this window display? Those crazy Italians...
This was a little detail shot of a wall surrounding the grounds of the Santa Maria Novella (church). There musta been 30 different cross variations carved out of stone like this one. Incredible. Unfortunately many of the churches are now enforcing 'no photography' restrictions when you go inside... talk about a tease. C'mon inside and enjoy the visual splendor that will surely amaze you. Oh, btw, we hope you can sketch well or have a photographic memory because you'll have to put that camera away before you go in.
The Duomo peeking above building tops. I would've zoomed out to get more of it, but, well, we've already covered the reason I couldn't up above.
Here are the famous Baptistry Doors at the Duomo. The good thing about going to Italy in the off-season is that you can get this photo without a gaggle of people in front of the doors. Actually I did have to remove one person from this image in Photochop because she was just standing there talking on her cell phone forever oblivious to my non-verbal hey-lady-this-is-probably-the-only-moment-in-my-life-I-will-ever-see-these-doors-so-would-you-mind-moving-over-a-few-steps-for-a-second-so-I-can-get-this-once-in-a-lifetime-image looks I was giving her. Apparently I didn't speak Italian body language so well.
The amount of detail in each one of these door panels is insane.
This was pretty much the lone cityscape image I got of Florence. The weather was just kinda blah the whole time and so most of other images where too hazy/foggy. I was fortunate enough to get this one which I think came out pretty well. For any photographer-types out there, this is an HDR image where I took one RAW image and exported 5 different images from it using varying amount of exposure compensation and then combined those using Photomatix Pro. You can see more detail about how I do this quick and dirty HDR method here.
Corny, I know... but we had to... it was a freebie.
This was a door knocker, people. A door knocker. Are you kiddin' me? I can only imagine the cost and detail of everything else inside. I checked Home Depot when I got back. They don't carry this brand.
Random shot in the Piazza della Signoria. The statues you see in the lower right in the Loggia of Lanzi (the covered building with the 3 arches) were some of my favorites in all of Italy.
A statue of Perseus slaying Medussa. Pretty graphic, but strangely magnificent. BTW, notice the camera angle with the strategically placed sword. [grin] This is a PG-13 blog, people.
Many of the statues in the Loggia of Lanzi were depictions of violence and tragic events, but they were incredibly raw and beautiful. The emotion in these pieces is haunting. I walked by hundreds of statues in Italy and kinda became indifferent about most of them after a while, but for some reason these really connected with me. They're very powerful pieces.
This statue is called "The Rape of the Sabine Women".
Hercules killing the Centaur
No detail was missed. Notice the tears in this woman's face. And seriously, how did they carve out the inside of the mouth in this statue... and all the other mind-boggling details in all the statues for that matter? C'mon, folks, they were using primitive tools by today's standards. I can't fathom the time and talent it took to visualize and then actually carve out one of these things... with a the equivalent of a hammer and chisels! Are you kidding me? And what happens if you mess something up?... not like they had the luxury of control-z'ing their mistake. These guys were truly artists and masters of their craft.
What would a post of Italy be without the obligatory smiling Kylie shot.
On the fly capture of a replica statue of The David through a bus window.
Ah... and finally the posing wild boar at the front of the Mercato Nuovo (Straw Market), Firenze's equivalent to the bull on Wall Street. Tradition is to rub his nose for good luck. The Loggia del Mercato Nuovo was originally built back in the day to house things like straw, silk, etc., but today it's home to a daily street market. Our room overlooked this market and the boar statue. In fact, if you click on this link for a panoramic view of the market, look down the street to the left (when facing the boar), and then tilt up, you'll see a window open on the 4th floor. This was our room in the B&B we stayed in.
Here's a video Kylie and I saw in our pre-martial class we took back in November. I saw it again the other night when we went to watch the movie Fireproof at church on Friday night. We've been going to Watermark Community Church, and these two guys (Johnny and Chachi) started their ministry here. Enjoy a couple minutes of some funny but sound relationship advice.
I'm gonna be honest with you... I've not been as diligent about taking a photo a day since we got back from Italy, and at this point I'm making up day numbers to go with photos just so a post can be loosely related to the project. I'm still trying to catch up, it's been challenging trying to find enough time to do some shooting and editing right now, and when I do, every time I sit down in front of this monitor, I'm buried under a mountain of honeymoon images. In my defense, I've been posting more than an image at a time with the Italy stuff, so that has to count for something, right? Right. Thanks for being agreeable.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel, though... I finished up the images from Vernazza, the third of five cities we graced with our presence in Italy, so I'm over the proverbial hump with only 2 more destinations left to sort through and edit. With that in mind, I'll leave you with some of my favorites from Vernazza in the Cinque Terra region. To see the ridiculous views from our balcony during this stay, check this previous post.
Here's the bedroom chandelier in the "Honeymooner's Paradise" room we stayed at in a B&B waaaay up near the top of the city.
Since it was the off season, many restaurants in small Cinque Terra towns were closed for the winter. Not so cool. What was cool, though, is that because the dining choices were limited, we ran into and got to know some American couples while we were in Vernazza at dinner. John & Megan (on the left) were from Philly, and Kristen & Eric (middle) were from somewhere I don't remember, but they were on their way to do a two year mission trip in South Africa after their stop in Italy. We told 'em about the crazy number of steps and the awesome view from our room, and they wanted to check it out, so we all hiked back up to our room after dinner.
Funny that Kylie was reading this book about a woman's crazy experience & subsequent near melt-down regarding the stress and chaos of planning a wedding after we were already hitched. BTW, notice she's in bed with a long sleeve shirt on... we had no heat in our room the first night, and the overnight temps outside were in the 30's. There was some serious cuddlin' going on that night.
So, we'd heard about these trails that you could hike between the 5 coastal cities of the Cinque Terra region. Most of them were closed during the off season, but Kylie and I went for a little walk and found what we thought might be one of the few open trails between Vernazza and Monterosso. Over 2 hours and about a bagillion uphill steps later, we were sadly misinformed by some locals who live up in the boonies (they had to be descendants of the Sherpas that guide climbers up Mt. Everest) who we're pretty sure told us through their broken English that Monterosso was a 2-3 hour hike in another direction. Guess I shouldn't have dropped out of the Boy Scouts in 4th grade before they covered basic map reading skills. Basically, we walked way up in the hills only to turn around and walk right back down. Don't let Kylie's stance in the image below fool you... she was just as winded as I was on the way up... she just wasn't nearly as dramatic.
See the top of the hill way up behind this church tower? That's where we'd hiked to before realizing we were headed to the land of nowhere and came back down.
Later in the day we resorted to more certain travel methods and took the train to Monterosso, which is where the remainder of the images in this post were photographed.
I love this image of Kylie looking out over the water. Sunset light is gorgeous and my favorite light if the day.
While in Lucca, we took a half day cooking class with Chef Paolo Monti, and seeing as I'm Italian and eating is my favorite hobby, I was in culinary heaven that day.
BTW, before go any further, I can't take credit for any of the cool stuff we did on this trip. Kylie pretty much planned the whole thing, and she brought me along as extra baggage. Thanks, sweetie!
Chef Paolo was actually interviewed a couple years ago by both PBS and the Discovery Channel since he was one of the first people to use the web in its relative infancy as a marketing tool to advertise international cooking classes back in 1996. This guy is one smart canoli. As good as he is at his cooking craft, he's just as talented when it comes to business acumen. He doesn't wait for business to come to him; he goes and finds the business. We (and by we I mean Kylie), just found him by doing a simple Google search for Italian cooking classes, and voila, there he was. We felt very fortunate because often his classes have 20+ students, but it was off season and he was nice enough to do the class with just Kylie and I, so we got some extra special personal love.
In this class, there were 12 things on our menu... and we ate all. of. them. The theme of the class was every day Italian with an emphasis on making sauces that can be used in a variety of favorite Italian dishes. We started off making a little stock and a base red sauce that could be - with the addition of any number of ingredients - turned into several different types of sauces. Then we started off with two kinds of bruschetta, and from there moved on two a couple different types of pastas with different red and white sauces. After that we served up a pork dish with an amazing lemon and cream sauce. Next up was a little chicken cacciatore, and we brought it home with the best tiramasu I'd ever had. I'm not really a tiramasu fan, but I'd make an exception any day of the week for this stuff... it was so light and fluffy. [did I really just say light and fluffy?] ANyway, it was the perfect way to round out the class. Actually, I literally rounded out a bit by the time we were done. I coulda rolled back to our room.
I'm thinking the odds of me reproducing something that looks remotely close to the chicken cacciatore below ore laughable.
Being a carnivore, naturally my favorite sauce we made was the one with meat in it.
Finally, the tiramasu. Maybe I've been looking in all the wrong places for this before because it always seems like tiramasu I've had at other places is a lot like soggy bread with cold coffee... obviously whoever made that stuff was misinformed. The version we whipped with Chef Paolo was Iron Chef-worthy.