Monday, June 13, 2011

Third Day of Sighseeing

In the last free day before the program started and I finally moved into the room I would live in for the duration my time with CSU Summer Arts, my roommate and I decided to go to the Mercato Centrale, pick up some of the awesome food we saw the day before and eat it for lunch.

My roommate wisely suggested that we stop to eat breakfast before going shopping at the market. The breakfast we had was one of the best so far. It was in a little cafe, about half way between our hostel and the mercato.

Store Front

Pastries and Espresso

Mine is the pastry with the bite missing in the middle. It was some type of soft short bread with "albicoca" (see if you can remember what that means :) and Laura's pastry was some sort of flaky deliciousness filled with marmalade. Marmalade in Italy is a darker color, rather than the very orange color that we are used to in the States. It has a milder and quite pleasant flavor. 

Along with the pastries we had espresso. This, is the drink of choice for Italians. Italy's mother's milk, if you will and this coffee stays with you for a while. Surprisingly I really liked mine, but I had espresso with my milk rather than milk with my espresso!

As a quick aside for those of us that do blogs (ahem, Diana), this business of taking pictures of food before you eat it is hard to do, as the first impulse of a hungry person is to eat rather than appreciate a meal's aesthetic qualities. But... I am trying my best to do a good job of it for all of you readers :) 

Following our breakfast we headed to the Mercato and bought some yummy stuff for lunch. It was fun to communicate via hand gestures and broken English. I am wishing more and more that I spoke at least a bit of Italian, although surprisingly English and my minimal French come in handy with working out the gist of what people are saying. 

After buying our tasty market samples we headed to find a picnic spot by the river to eat lunch. Easier said than done. Finding a place to eat by the river is harder than it looks. Unlike Paris, people in Italy do not picnic near the river or have much of a park culture in general. So instead of finding a spot to eat closer to home, we walked across the Arno and headed for another area of Florence I have been dying to see: the Boboli Gardens.

Being the navigator, I have developed some sense of which direction we need to walk and when unsure, know to say "scusi" and ask somebody for help. Knowing the direction but not the precise streets to take, I decided to ask an older Italian woman heading in our direction on the sidewalk.
She was incredibly gracious. "..Giardini di Boboli?" she asked. Chattering quickly (too quickly for me to have any help from my English or French) she worked out that we were a bit lost and rather than hand gesturing us along, walked with us to the gates of the gardens. Like most Italian women I've seen, she was dressed casually but to the tee. Impressions. An outfit that was more or less forgettable. Some sort of serviceable skirt and blouse that matched. But with these rather plain garments, bright red shoes and a matching purse. Earrings. She walked quickly. Was jovial about me not understanding a word she was saying. And kindly walked us to our destination. In case I forgot to mention, when she met us she was walking in the opposite direction and in helping us along, essentially made a three or four block circle away from her original direction. This is just one example of the warmth of the people of Florence. 

Walking into the formal Boboli Gardens behind the Pitti Palace was spectacular. The palazzo and giardini were the seat of power for the Grand Dukes of Tuscany, (aka the self appointed kings of the Renaissance- the Medici). Having been in the urbanity of the city center for the last two days, being among the trees and fountains of this little corner of Florence felt incredibly relaxing. And, we finally got to eat all of our yummy food:

Top Row: Marinated Artichoke hearts, Black olives in oil (salty and aged), Stuffed Green olives, Salami
Bottom Row: Dates, Albicoca!, Cheesy flat, a hard cheese that is like Parmasan but called something else.

Having planned to only be gone for a few hours, the Boboli Gardens drew us into their captivating beauty.  We spent quite some time walking among the plotted paths of the giardini and taking endless photos of all the wonders we saw:

The central fountain in the Giardini di Boboli with a view of the Palazzo Pitti in the background. This fountain is called L'isolotto, "the little fountain." 'A replica of the Renaissance statue of the god Oceanus in the center of the little island has water surrounding it like a moat. 

Detail of one of the statues that are interspersed along the perimeter of the fountain (the fountain and water surrounding it form a circle). The perimeter statues all seem to be half man/half beast represenations, and are all functioning fountains that unfortunately were turned off.

One of the fabulous statues in the hedges that border the fountain and face its center. As they were not clearly labeled, the best that I can do for now in terms of explication (we will be visiting these grounds next week I think), is that this is a representation of a Greek/Roman deity. Youthful nudes were a typical way for the Ancient Greeks and Romans to represent deity in their sculpture, which Renaissance artists copied. 

The God Oceanus. Like the cloister of San Lorenzo, there are orange trees at the focus of architecture (Garden Architecture in this case).

  I will try to remember to ask today, why oranges?

 ..yes it does look fake, but this was in fact an actual bird! I stared transfixed at its beauty for quite some time.

Another view of the fountain with the palazzo (palace) in the background. I love the reflections of the clouds in the fountain. It reminds me of the magical day this was.  

Detail of the entry gates to the l'isolotto and Oceanus, which was unfortunately barred to tourists. Another bird finds an ideal perch in the sun!  

Another statue along the perimeter of the fountain. This one is a classical figure on a pedestal of beast heads

A statue of lovers, real or mythical, along one of the paths leading away from the fountain.

The trees. I wanted to take some pictures to remember what I saw gazing up and through the wooded paths. These green swaying branches, were a large part of the reason that this place is such an island of peace.

At the far end of the Boboli Gardens is a semicircular courtyard.

Like the fountain it has statues among the hedges that border it.

Here is what one of the busts looks like.

And another of them.

Statue of the muses? I think. Outside the Orangerie which in the 1800s housed various precious plants 

Tiny roses. Some of the only flowers I found in this part of the gardens.

Meandering Home:

From the Boboli Gardens we walked through the less touristy and much more Italian part of Florence across from the city center where the Duomo stands and we live. From what I understand, Florence on this opposite bank is where real Florentines live and it is a lot more like I imagined Firenze should look. 

We stopped at a cafe and then headed past the Palazzo Pitti to make our way home, walking over the Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge in Florence that we saw the day before at sunset.

The Ponte Vecchio is significant for several reasons. It is the oldest surviving bridge in Florence: over 700 years old. It was the bridge that connected the Palazzo Pitti of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany to the city center.

View of the Arno as we approach the Ponte Vecchio

And today, the Ponte Vecchio is a huge tourist mecca that is referred to as the "Jewelry Bridge." It is literally lined with shop after shop of gold, diamonds, emeralds, pearls, platinum, etc., etc, in every design you can imagine. My roommate Laura, accurately compared it to something out of Pirates of the Caribbean :) Here is a picture of Florentine booty:


And some pictures of the walkway itself.

With all the gold and silver treasures behind us we headed home to move into our new room and meet our other roommates. Here are some pictures of the local color along the streets of Florence along the way.

A shop that specializes in gloves

 Extravagant children's apparel

Another Gelateria!

I love all the colors and the way that they display the sorbets :)

Statues in the Piazza next to the Uffizzi Museum

I absolutely love this display. One of my favorite things about Florence are all the fantastic window displays.

Full view of the display. Strike a pose!

An art supply shop

Home decor shop

A cafe we passed with customers. Warm and cozy.

Another cafe front. I love the leisurely way Italians sit to chat. 

A clothing shop

An artist studio!

Ciao for now!

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