Day 11: Finale

Here we are folks. The very last leap of the trip. Journey’s End. It feels as though an entire month has passed since we arrived in our small B&B in Rome, with no idea of what to do first except walking from one souvenir store to the next. We were in high spirits, ready to conquer each sight. Now as we bought our last breakfast cappuccino in Italy, I felt well versed in my broken Italian. I could practice and I was garnered with appreciation by the local population for my efforts. And here I was. Boarding a plane to a country that wanted nothing more than perfect American English out of its visitors.

Yet, the idea of returning home felt refreshing. I love Italy. It will always be like a second home to me as I had stated before in my Florence posts. But Home is home. Lancaster Pa is my home. And I can return with more stories to tell, an enlightened mind, and ignited inspiration.

Thank you all for joining me on this adventure. This was a great experiment, and hopefully, I can make more blog entries like this for future adventures. Again, thank you all, and I hope you stick around for what the future holds.

Day 10: One Day More…

Chiesa Santa Maria degli Angeli

We awoke early in Lugano, hoping to find not only breakfast, but the activities that we missed last night. The morning was brisk, as most early mornings were. Cool enough for a stroll through town. We came across a set of steps and saw they lead down next to the lake. An easy short cut for the way down, but not so easy coming back up. On the way down we noticed a railway going down the mountainside. For a moment I thought our life could be easier until I saw the weeds cultivating around it. Abandoned. It left for a hauntingly breathtaking image of what could have been or what once was.

Abandoned railway going up
Abandoned railway going down

As per our usual, we caught a cappuccino in one of the Cafes as well as a croissant to accompany it. Eating outside, some small sparrows hopped by, hoping for some scraps to fall. We tossed them a few crumbs, perhaps a little too large for their beaks and then they fluttered off only to return for more. This went on until a pigeon flopped in to disturb the peace.

Our morning cappuccino

After some time of walking off our cappuccino and croissant, we concluded that the stores were not opening any time soon. So we agreed to march back up to our apartment and gather our things for our final destination. Milan.

The Duomo of Milan

I didn’t know what I would find in Milan. Four years back, my roommate suggested we go to Milan on one of our free days, but we ended up going to the beach because of the unbearable heat. All I knew was that Milan was a fashion capital (ugh. Fashion), and Pepperidge Farms Milanos we’re named after this place. Come to think of it, I was hoping to find a packet of Milano Cookies in Milan just so I could say I ate Milanos in Milan. But, I was not disappointed, because…

Hey look, a Milano shaped cookie on my gelato

I was a happy camper that day.

As I said, we had no idea what to do in Milan, but as we found out for most Italian towns, when in doubt, visit the cathedral. Entering the cathedral was easy enough, and I expected to see about the same Romanesque Gothic hybrid architecture I had seen in most other churches. But when I stepped through those door, I had felt something I had not felt for a long time on this trip.

Inside the Duomo

Just like the great mosaic in the front of Pisa’s Duomo, I felt the majesty of God surround me as I navigated between towering arches and high ceilings. Both believers, followers, and tourists alike gaped in awe of the work of human hands making way to a space dedicated to the King of kings. We paused for a moment to soak it in. We sat down and prayed.

Stained glass

After the calm of our Father’s house, we set out for another great point of interest, as per my sister’s request. Back in December of 2018, we had the privilege of witnessing the opening weekend of the Starbucks Reserve in New York. Now that we were in Milan, we just had to see that Starbucks Reserve. Needless to say, we couldn’t find it. We checked the maps over and over, and concluded that our phones must be broken because it was saying we were right on it, but it was nowhere to be seen… Keep in mind, most cities in Italy are ancient, and half the buildings are repurposed. We looked to our left…


… there is was.

With no further ado, we crossed the busy streets and entered a wonderland of coffee. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed to the point of tears. That cathedral we went to was nothing compared to this (not really, but you get the point). It was slightly smaller than the one in New York, but it had the same spirit. Tubes and piping full of coffee grounds and freshly brewed coffee coursed through to the bar dispenser. A giant wheel churned the coffee beans around. And a large vat sat front and center of the display. The best part, however, was the coffee. We ordered our usual cappuccino, and sat by the display, watching them work away at various brews.

Starbucks Reserve – New York City
Starbucks Reserve – Milan
Starbucks Cappuccino

We didn’t do much shopping… imagine that, going to Milan the fashion capital and not shopping. But we may have allowed ourselves to drool over the many Prada and Louis Vuitton purses hidden in the confines of spotless windows (my mom anyway. I hate purses). The most spectacular aspect of theses shops wasn’t the stores themselves, but the large barrel vault glass ceiling looming above. One would have mistaken it for a mall, but it was outdoors, and a walkway from one square to another.

My mom in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

The rest of the day, we went to see two exhibitions, both dedicated to Leonardo Da Vinci. Something I had not learn before was just how involved in Milan’s culture Leonardo was. I didn’t even know that The Last Supper was located here, and to see it we had to book two months in advance. He even helped in the design of the Navigli in Milan. So, the exhibitions we went to see were all based on his sketches. The first exhibition had more to do with the writings in his journal and thought process behind each sketch study. The second was much more interactive and involved live replicas of his machinery, as well as digital restorations of his greatest works. Upon leaving the exhibitions, we stopped in Piazza della Scala to see Leonardo Da Vinci’s memorial statue before returning to our hotel.

Leonardo Da Vinci statue in Piazza della Scala

Day 9: Team Switzerland

“Good Morning Emily”

I woke up with a bit of a hangover. A pounding headache and the feeling of exploding if I lay down the wrong way. Nothing a morning walk and cappuccino couldn’t fix. We sat by the lakeside and watched sailboats and speedboats float about. As we did, we were greeted to a steaming cup of cappuccino smiling back at us.

We had plenty of time to explore, even going to an open chapel for some quiet time with God. On our way back down the road, we found the ferry and came to the conclusion that we had time to sail across to Bellagio for a few minutes. The boat ride was refreshing as was our quick walk through the town. We would have spent more time, but we had a brunch to attend in the name of the newly weds.

The ride to Bellagio and back
Brunch at the Tremesso (such a pretty hotel)

We had many a conversation with family and friends as we partook in the great bounty before us. Before long we had to say our farewells and be on our way. Where were we going?

We were off to Lugano.

On the surface of Lake Lugano

The Hotel Grand Cadenabbia was gracious enough to summon a taxi and hold our luggage in the mean time. Our taxi driver drove us all the way from Lake Como to our apartment in Lugano, Switzerland, which had a great view of the lake and was in walking distance of most of the town’s activities. As soon as we arrived we passed out for three hours. By the time we woke up to explore the town, half of the activities were closed. But I did spot something fun for us to do.

Paddle Boating!!!

I have only ever gone paddle boating in Baltimore’s inner harbor or that one time I went to Germany. It had been a while since I had done it, but there was a lake. There were paddle boats. I said to my mother, “Let’s do it!” So there we were, paddling away into the lake. Somewhere nearby, there we kids paddle boating, but unlike inner harbor, these kids were able to swim in the waters. They dove and splashed around, laughing in merriment as they invaded each other’s boats. We kept our distance, not wanting to ruin their fun. After half an hour of paddling, our legs were exhausted and we docked. It was time for dinner.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

We stopped at a restaurant where the gentlemen were very nice. I ordered a spaghetti alla carbonara, something I had been craving for a long time. There was one time I made it for the family, but once I revealed that the recipe calls for raw egg, they stopped eating it. Since then, I haven’t made it. But you should try it if you ever come across it. It has pasta, typically spaghetti, egg, bacon, and some cheese. It is really good. And this plate in front of me was to die for. We had a great view of the lake as we dined, and soon we were off and away.

Mandolin Orchestra in the square

On our way back to the apartment, we spotted what seemed to be an orchestra in a small square. We stopped to listen, but as we listened to the soft tones, I realized that they weren’t held like violins but rather like guitars. I looked between the people and realized half the orchestra consisted of Mandolins. I had wanted to learn mandolin, but in Lancaster there aren’t that many mandolin instructors readily available. I stayed around for a while, soaking in the music. Then we were gone for the night.

Day 8: Weady for the Wedding

A morning swim before the big day

We had a big day scheduled for ourselves, so we spent a relaxing morning on the poolside. And get this. The pool was on a barge that was floating on the lake. How amazing is that! Everyone was too chicken to swim because “it was too cold”, but I jumped on in and it was the most refreshing thing ever.

After about an hour of swimming and relaxing, we headed back to our hotel and got prettied up for the wedding. I normally wear tuxedos, because wearing a dress just doesn’t feel right. However, the bride preferred if every woman wore a dress, and since it was her big day, who was I to go against her wishes.

Next, we made our way to the docks for something special. A boat ride to the island where the ceremony would take place.

A very special Island, Villa del Balbianello

The island was remote, surrounded by nothing but the blue waves of the lake and green forests behind. A perfect place for a matrimony. The only difficulty however was the hike up the winding paths, particularly in heels (which I luckily did not have, but many other fine ladies did). As we waited for the ceremony to begin, I admired the various statues of what appeared to be Roman gods over looking the lake and guarding this reclusive place. They were sacred watchers, standing ever so firmly watching over as the ceremony commenced.

A lone guardian
They watch

The coordinators ushering us into the space where the couple would be finally joined. It was on the same lake that the young man had proposed to the fair maiden. Now it was here he would claim his bride. The ceremony was quick but heartfelt. Eager young lovers were joined together at last for (hopefully) the rest of their lives.

The bride and groom: Monica and Massi

From that point on, it was a merry celebration and Bacchanal (for me anyway. I must have had four glasses of wine). We danced the night away and made many memories for years to come.

The wedding cake

Day 7: Cocktail!

Eating a giant merengue

No sooner we had arrived to Venice, we were just about to leave. We had time to kill before our next train, so why not enjoy it? We walked along the narrow streets and over winding canals. Here and there we would spot gondola drivers eagerly waiting for customers to start their day.

Waiting for customers

We followed the narrow streets and signs pointing towards Piazza San Marco. Slowly but surely we made our way there when finally, through the last archway we emerged into the light. And there we were. Piazza San Marco. No other places could replicate it. Not even extravagant Venetian Hotels catered to gambling. We arrived, long enough to soak in its enormity before we had to leave.

Piazza San Marco in the Venetian (Las Vegas)
Piazza San Marco in Venice

We quickly made a dash for our train, nearly getting lost along the way. We still had to gather our suitcases. Somehow we made it. And next we knew we were on our way to Lake Como.

Do you recall that wedding I was talking about in the last post? Well, that’s the destination of the wedding. Lake Como. And tonight was the cocktail party, where we would meet the bride, and their families as well as ours from far and wide.

Our view of Lake Como

Lake Como was almost out of a dream, and I could see why they bride and groom chose that destination. This was first time seeing the lush Alps and the expansive lake before us. We acquainted ourselves this the stretch of town alongside the shore before preparing for the cocktail and welcome dinner.

At the cocktail, we familiarized ourselves with other guests and caught up with relatives we hadn’t seen in a while, including my Aunt Arlene and her family whom we just saw the day before. We couldn’t have asked for a better day or evening.

Moonrise over Lake Como

Day 6: Venice!

A view of the Bargello before leaving

Leaving Florence is always bitter sweet. Once you leave, all other place just don’t feel like home. But we had places to be and sights to see. And our next place was a town known for its canals. That’s right. We were going to Venice.

The Grand Canal

Upon arriving in the train station in Venice, we were overwhelmed by large crowds of people swarming in and out. Before us was the sight of the Grand Canal, a sure sign that water was their road and boats were the only way to get around quickly. Our hotel wasn’t too far, but we found something else that was very surprising.

A familiar face in the crowd? Asking for directions I couldn’t help but wonder. She caught sight of me, to which I included, “Don’t I know you?”

Look who we found! (Photo by Arlene Arboleda)

With joyous exclamation we embraced one another. It was my dear Aunt Arlene, who traveled with my cousin, the other Emily, and her boyfriend. They were quick trying to catch the train to Verona, the city where the great tragedy of Romeo and Juliet was set. They gifted us water bus tickets and were off in a hurry with promises to see us at the wedding. (Wedding, you ask? Yes wedding, but that will be for another day.)

The Grand Canal before our tour

After settling into our hotel, we made a quick dash to Piazza San Marco to meet with our tour group. We awaited along the pier, taking in the sights of boats passing by on various errands. Looking into the water, it certainly wasn’t as clear as the water we had seen before. Not with all the activity transpiring on the surface. Soon we boarded a large boat and were ferried to our first island, Morano.

Outside of Morano glass factory works

I had seen glass sculpting before. As a matter of fact, when I was searching for art schools, Tyler School of Art won me over due to their glass work courses and studios. But in the end it wasn’t in the budget. Anyhow the glass works in Morano were a sight and art to behold. The careful maneuvering as well as attention to detail brought the glass sculpture to fruition before us in the hands of the glass sculptor. Before us we saw an old and traditional art come to life.

Morano glass work space
Morano glassworker giving sculpture form
Morano glassworker forming details
Finished glass sculpture

After our time in Morano, we sailed across to Burano, a town of lace. It was the perfect opportunity to to have lunch by the waterfront. And it was the perfect opportunity to partake of the wonderful local cuisine, particularly in the seafood department.

Breaded crab claws. Hit the spot

Our last stop on our tour was the town of Torcello. It is the oldest part of Venice, being the foundations for the famous city. It was founded around the 4th century AD, and the style of the buildings showed. There was a small chapel open to adoration and prayer. Seeing as no tickets or lines were involved, we went into our Father’s house and sat down for a while. It was a much needed break and breath of fresh air from the cacophony we were exposed to throughout this trip so far. It was great to have some time to sit down and reconvene.

Chapel in Torcello

After Torcello, we returned to Venice. The rest of the night was ours to do as we wished. We had wanted to venture back to Piazza San Marco, but it got dark and things were closing down before we could. So instead we sat down for dinner and had one of the best marisco dishes I’ve had in a long time.

Fettuccine with Mariscos (seafood)

Day 5: Al Mar

The Marble Mountains and Quarry

As I am writing this, it’s a bit late coming out. Mostly because I was exhausted after this trip and didn’t feel like staying up for two more hours to write. So with no further ado, here is my experience of yesterday.

We traversed Tuscany to Cinque Terre, the five cliff towns. I had been here before and couldn’t wait to see the clear blue waters and the immense cliff faces again. On our way to the destination, I couldn’t help but notice giant slabs of white stone below shining mountains. As it turns out, those mountains were the source of most marble. I’m not sure where I thought marble came from. I had never thought of it before. Now I was seeing it for the first time. It got me thinking, we don’t use marble that much in art any more. These days sculpture utilizes more renewable and reused materials. The materials in a contemporary sculpture often relate to the message it wants to portray. It’s almost as though marble sculpting is a dead art.

The streets of Manarolla

At long last we arrived to the first town, Manarolla. It was a small quiet town as I remembered. From what I remembered, many tourists went cliff diving here and went for a refreshing swim. This time there was no cliff diving, but still swimming, and I understood why. We had gone down to where the boats get launched and were planning to dip our toes in the water until we saw a young couple proceed down, and what happened next was terrifying.

The young man slipped on the mossy bank and hit his head on the stone floor. He wasn’t moving. His partner screamed for help, and the people around pulled him out of the water. Someone witnessing above must have called an ambulance, because they informed us one was on its way. By the time we left the town the ambulance had arrived. I could only pray that it wasn’t too late for him, because his head was bleeding terribly.

After that scare and the cautionary incident, we took the train from Manarola to Vernazza. The last time I had gone, my roommates had gone for a swim along the cliffs while I stayed behind on the rocks since I didn’t have a swimsuit on. We had gone swimming that time there because the place we had wanted to go wasn’t available. It was a place known as the hidden beach, and it had been closed off due to a landslide. Four years later it was finally open again. All sorts of people came to swim, both local and tourist. And a few more came to paint. (Maybe for next time I should bring painting supplies.)

Hidden beach in Vernazza
Artists painting away in the Hidden Beach

After our quick look at the hidden beach, we went to the sandy bank in front of the village and finally got to dip our feet in the cold Mediterranean water. It was clear as I remembered, and refreshing. I felt at peace. After some time, we had to rejoin our group to go to the next town.

Bell tower In Vernazza

Our next stop was Monterosso. A perfect place to go swimming, sunbathe, and… get drunk. I remembered when we came to this town, we parked our stuff on a rented bench and went swimming. Then my professor suggested that we get something a lot of people were walking around with… a Drunk-ass bucket. They had strawberry daiquiri and piña colada. So haven had piña coladas with alcohol at the beach in Ecuador before, I thought I could just relax with my piña colada by the beach, soaking in the sun… I was just wrong. The only good thing that came from it was a (drunk) philosophical conversation with said professor. Then I had the dumb idea to go swimming after. The ride back to the bus that day was not smooth.

So! Haven learned my lesson from last time, I did not order a Drunk-ass bucket. We ate lunch, walked along the boardwalk, and waited for our boat to the next town. Something I did not realize from before was the tunnel leading to another part of the town through the mountain. We took in the sights of people causally resting their blankets and towels on the pebbles, sand and rocks, letting their children play in the calm sea and what appeared to be the mouth of a river.

River mouth in Monterosso

We boarded a ferry that took us around the cliff sides to our last town, Porto Venere. The sight of the enclaves in the natural rock walls was breathtaking. Here and there I could spot shrines and grottoes dedicated to the Virgin Mary or Jesus on lonely rock islands. I could only wonder how they got there. It was when we reached a castle looking over the cliff when we knew we arrived to our last destination. At this town, we concluded that a nice drink would suffice to closing out our day.

Outdoor bar in Porto Venere

From there, we took another boat back to our bus, and from there, the bus back to Florence. I wish we could have done more with our last night in Florence, but we were far too exhausted. We checked into our new hotel for the night, bought a second suitcase for all our souvenirs and crashed.

Dog on Artemis statue in our new hotel

Day 4: What. A. Day

View of Ponte Vecchio

Our morning was very refreshing. After a relaxing breakfast, we went for a stroll before our first activity. We had plenty of time, after all. So we went to see all the best points Florence had to offer, including the Ponte Vecchio as seen above.

Outside of Palazzo Vecchio
Piazza della Signoria

I remembered exactly where Palazzo Vecchio and the Piazza della Signoria was. It brought back fond memories of those hot summer days where I stood before those statues, sketching the dramatic poses depicted by Giambologna. I was also brought back to my first day ever in Florence where we briefly toured the layout of the town, and not only wandered through here but alongside the Uffici Gallery.

Students busy sketching away

We still had time to kill, so I decided to visit the best Gelateria in Florence (in my opinion anyway). Right next to Piazza San Lorenzo is a little gelato store called Leonardo’s, and it was the first gelateria I ever ate at in Italy. We were the first customers of the morning, and like always, the people were very kind. After grabbing out gelato, we proceeded to the steps in front of San Lorenzo and enjoyed it while watching the world go by.

Straccitella in a chocolate cone

Up next was the complete tour of the Duomo, including the Baptistery. We waited for a little, and as we did I took the time to sketch some of the smaller features of the cathedral. I began with the smaller dome and started to work my way up. As I worked I thought I had seen some figures moving by the shadowed archways depicted below. But looking closely, it wouldn’t have been possible for people to occupy that space, since there’s no way up there. My mind must have fooled me since people are allowed to venture up to the top of the dome itself, and there were people there.

Northern side of the Duomo – gesture

Our tour began in the Baptistery, one of the older buildings of the complex. Much the the cathedral in Pisa, the inside of the Baptistery harbored the same amount of power and glory through medieval mosaics. The inside seemed darker this time around as they were restoring the inside. But all the same, God’s might was reflected through rings upon rings of story telling, angelic hierarchy, and the depiction of the last judgment.

Jesus in the Last Judgement
… nailed it

Something that did jump out to me upon observing this for the second time was the depiction of the last judgement. My memory had warped the size of the Devil as compared to Jesus. From what I remembered, the Devil was almost the same size. Seeing him stuck out and posed as a foreboding figure from what I had seen in the past. Probably because my professor at the time pulled so much attention to Jesus casting the sinners to be damned by that thing for all eternity. But seeing it a second time, I realized how my mind twisted the memory of the mosaic.

Capturing the size comparison of Jesus and Satan

It is hard to see because the tarp is partly covering the Devil. But notice how much smaller Satan is compared to Jesus. So much attention was brought to this terrifying figure the last time I had seen it that the idea of damnation seemed larger than Jesus. And while it may have been put there to scare pagans into getting baptized, it was never really the point of God’s story with us. In way, it is a visual message for Christ’s followers, by coincidence, that God is bigger than sin, or the guilt or shame brought on by it. God is bigger than our fears or the troubles we are facing. Through Christ, we will overcome.

Altar inside the Duomo

Next was the inside of the Duomo itself. The inside of this particular cathedral is nothing extraordinary to look at in terms of decoration, but what got me was the space itself. Everything was tall. The arches, the ceilings. But the characteristic that I could not take my eyes from was the dome itself.

Inside of Brunelleschi’s dome

The fresco in the Dome drew me in with its symbolism and depictions. I found much more that I had passed off before. Father Time with a broken hour glass. Death breaking his scythe. Various beasts from the Divine Comedy and other Christian texts brought to life. Righteous souls called to the heavens on empty fields while the wicked are chased into the inferno which is peeled open. But there was a detail I found disconcerting in the dome. Two actually. There were two large cracks running from the base up to the center. I asked our tour guide the story behind them, thinking it might have been brought on by an earthquake, or the time the golden ball on top of the dome was knocked down by lightning. It turns out that those crack have always been there since the beginning, and because the construction of the dome was so meticulous, it has to be monitored 24/7.

Aside from the dome, there was one more thing I wanted to capture inside the Duomo. Particularly in the stained glass window above the front door. As I promised, here it is:

Jesus coronating his mother, Mary

After our time in the Duomo, it was time for us to see the one thing every tourist must see in Florence…

Michelangelo’s David.

David, by Michelangelo

I had visually studied the David before, as seen in a previous post. That time I had only captured the face, spending well over 30 minutes toiling over what is considered one of the greatest sculptures of all time. Almost everyone captures the face, I thought for many years after. This time, I wanted the part that no one seems to focus on. The hands.

David holding the sling – study

The most jarring aspect I found of the David when I first saw him wasn’t only the side, but the inclusion of the sling. No one ever thinks or notes the sling he is holding. He just comes across as a nude figure made of marble. But he does have a sling, which has a stone. Which in turn, we are drawn to the hyper real ness of his hands, then arms, then slowly the rest of him, almost as though the figure is made up of flesh.

Carousel in Vicolo dell’Onesta

After our long day of touring, we were exhausted. We passed out for a few hours before getting ready to embark again, only we were going for a leisurely stroll this time. We walked those streets that were still familiar to me, taking in the evening ambiance before settling once again.

Touch the Boar’s nose to return to Florence

Day 3: Homecoming

On the train

Leaving Rome this morning was bitter sweet. I had gained a better appreciation for the city than I did four years ago. To be honest, we considered staying in Rome to see the Pope speak in St Peter’s Square, but we had places to be. That place being Florence.

The train ride over

As I mentioned in previous posts, I spent a month studying in Florence. By the time it was time for us to leave, Florence felt like a second home. My only issue when returning was how much of it I would remember?

I’m home

I immediately grasped my bearings of the train station, meeting our driver at the Pharmacy, the perfect meeting point for every traveler in Florence. On the drive over, I almost recognized where my old apartment was, but we were driven to an unfamiliar part of town. Where were we? Upon arriving to our B&B, which is on the Fifth floor, we could get a better view of Florence, and I knew where we were. Behind me, in the photo above, you can spot the tallest tower of Palazzo Vecchio and the shorter tower is the Bargello. What the photograph does not show is the spire of Santa Croce. I recognized the landmarks, and while we waited for our room to be available for us, we embarked to said landmarks.

Dante Alighieri statue by Santa Croce

Santa Croce was just as I remembered it from the outside, and I could only imagine the inside was about the same. Of course, we didn’t have the time to tour the great cathedral, as we had other appointments to attend to. But I had time to show my mother, who loves purses, something that would blow her mind.

“Look Mom! Purses!”

The School of Leather was something I certainly remembered from my time here. I just knew it was a special place that needed to be scene by someone who appreciates a top quality purse. The process of the leather making was something I took with great intrigue. I wasn’t one for purses of leather accessories, but I have a hard time turning down a leather bound journal, or a well crafted leather jacket (until the price is noted, which most thing were beyond my price range).

Student polishing leather

After the School of Leather, there was one more thing in the proximity of Santa Croce that I needed to see if it was still there. Something to satisfy my nostalgia. After cutting through a street or two we found it. The Lion’s Fountain. A place where my roommates and I would wind down with special drinks, and make merry conversations with classmates we happened to run into. Yes. It was still there. And maybe, before we leave Florence, we may grab a drink there.

Lion’s Fountain

Upon returning to our B&B, we were welcomed to our room, which not only has the appeal of a modern look, but a perfect balcony view of the city and Tuscan hills beyond. As I wound down, I took the time to study those hills beyond, and pondered what could be there.

Hill view from our room

Next, we were back at the train station. But why? Didn’t we just arrive to Florence? Yes. But we had something important that every tourist must do…

Go to Pisa and take pictures tilting or propping the tower!

I did it. I’m holding it up

Every time I see the leaning tower in person, it is a surreal experience. Not because it’s a big tower that is tilted due to the soil, but all photos including the one above don’t do these monuments justice. The Leaning Tower is actually a bell tower for the cathedral that is right next to it. As seen in the gesture sketches below, there is also a large baptistery included in the square, which is the largest in Europe.

Gesture of the top of the baptistery in Pisa

However, I didn’t just come to Pisa to take some silly photos of myself holding a tower. No. I came for this:

Did someone say Leaning Tower of Pizza?

Alright, alright. All puns aside, I came to learn something new. And I had the opportunity to do something I hadn’t done before. We entered the Cathedral.

The Altar in Pisa’s Cathedral

There is something truly fascinating about the work and effort put into this place of worship, both on the inside and outside. Just from the first look at the image of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and John the Baptist, I could feel the power and sovereignty of humanity’s savior, staring down at me. Yet I couldn’t help but feel peace and righteous emanating from Christ himself. I hadn’t the time to sketch much inside, but I did manage to capture for from the outside.

Sketches of Animals within the architecture

The ride back from Pisa was relaxing, but our biggest issue was getting a taxi from the train station. Apparently, we arrived during a fashion week here in Florence, and taxis were very limited. But then we saw the line for claiming a taxi and opted to walk. It was here that I realized this was my chance to revisit old places from four years ago.

18 Via Poggi on my last day – 2015
18 Via Poggi today – 2019

I could only assume by the open windows that a student similar to myself occupied the space now on the second level (1st floor). The walk back to that place brought back memories of that commute to and from class on the open field. Not much had changed. All my favorite restaurants were there. My host school was there. The best gelateria in Florence was there. And of course, the Duomo was there.

Duomo – North face
Duomo – Western face facade

The first time I had ever seen the Duomo was not only breathtaking, but out of a dream. The power of the church and God’s might reflected throughout hundreds of years of preserved architecture. The glory of religion and art combined bared down in a glorious triumph for the eyes and heart. This is the heart of Florence. At least to me it is. And now it was complete to my senses this time with one addition.

Duomo and tarp-covered Baptistery – 2015
Restored Baptistery- 2019

Just like the Trevi Fountain, I got to see the outside of the Baptistery as it was meant to be seen. And tomorrow, we will have the privilege of stepping foot into these great works of art and religious history.

John the Baptist baptizing Jesus

Day 2: Roman Around

Castel Sant’Angelo

This was the day where we would dedicate our time to Rome, and every landmark that establishes its identity. Of course we couldn’t start that until after a fresh cup of coffee.

My Cappuccino and a Nutella Croissant (yum)

A satisfying breakfast indeed. As well as a perfect opportunity to practice some Italian (broken as it was). The people were very friendly, and encouraged our efforts. Afterwards, it was time to hop on the bus that would take us to our next location, the Vatican.

The Entrance to the Vatican

I visited the Vatican as a student, only it was at night and less crowded. But all the same, I was excited to see this place again.

Replica of the Vatican City perimeters

Before we entered the vast halls and galleries, we were briefed on what we would see within the Sistine Chapel at the very end of the tour, as talking was highly discouraged in such a sacred place. Much of the history I was familiar with. But as our guide discussed these details, I noticed a familiar image.

Papal crest with Medici crest

In the above image is a quick gesture of the Papal crest, however it appears to have what looks like the Medici crest embedded in it surrounded by two angels. I soon came to find out, courtesy of our tour guide, that various Popes request what their crest should appear with.

Moving on to the rest of the galleries, we spotted many statues and tapestries, as well as many crowds. I nearly got separated from the group once or twice, but managed to keep up.

School of Athen from 2015
Image of Dante Alighieri in the Vatican from 2015
Gesture Sketches of both from today (6.11.2019)

Of course, we stopped in one of the most famous parts of the gallery to take a look at Raphael’s School of Athens. Something new I learned today was that the room this was in used to be a Library for the Pope, hence the high amount of scholars in each fresco. When I came a few years back, I had a bit of an obsession with Dante Alighieri, the author of the Divine Comedy, and was very inspired by his work. This time around, I took time to capture his image in a quick gesture.

Gesture of God creating the World

In the Sistine chapel, there must be silence and no photography. This was something I took for granted the last time I came here. As I stared up at the years worth of frescos the great Michelangelo toiled at, I couldn’t help but gain a new appreciation for his work. I took my sketchbook out and studied the first panel, where God spoke the World into being from nothing.

La Pieta by Michelangelo

After the Sistine Chapel, there was nowhere to go, but Saint Peter’s Basilica. Seeing more of Michelangelo’s work gave me a better appreciation for the artist. He truly was a master sculptor based on what I noted of his art style and technique when handling form and the human figure.

More Gestures inside St. Peter’s Basilica

The most intriguing part about St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican isn’t just the fact that it is the heart of Roman Catholicism today. Sometime, long ago, a Jewish man, who was close to Jesus himself, came to the heart of the Roman Empire and made more disciples in a place far from home. This place was probably once someone’s home where they would gather to worship even though later they would be persecuted. It was once a small gathering of friends, family and neighbors that grew into this large colossus that would be Christianity. Much of the church’s history started here, what is now one of the greatest centers of worship.

Inside St. Peter’s Basilica

After our time in the Vatican came to an end, it was time for us to travel back in time, when the Roman Empire was the greatest power in the world, reaching throughout Europe and a little into Persia and maybe India.

The Colosseum
Constantine’s Arch of Triumph

Our journey back in time took us to the Forum, where we navigated through ruins of a once powerful empire. Seeing ruins at first was nothing extraordinary, until the large ones occupied the space. There was something surreal about seeing colossal empty walls, arches and half domes standing empty as it was once a great fortress of meeting point of powerful minds and rulers. Fascinating enough was seeing how the church in the past repurposed these ancient monuments, adding layers to its history until present day.

The Forum
Within the walls of the Colosseum

To end our tour, we wandered the grounds of the Colosseum, a place once of gleeful entertainment and bloodshed. Once again, walking through these ruins was surreal, though I had been there before. We walked beneath what used to be marble seating. We looked into an empty space where a sand covered floor used to be. And we looked through empty arches where statues of important beings used to guard. At the end, our guide answered another explorer’s question by explaining what contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire. One reason was that they became too big. Another was that the men and women the slaughtered soon became part of their Empire. Another was the adoption of Christianity as their main religion (and as they were an empire of war, it didn’t suit up to what Christianity’s core beliefs were).

Colosseum Ruins
Colosseum Ruins part 2

After our long day of touring, we freshened up in our hotel room, enjoying some coffee and resting. There was one last thing I absolutely wanted to see in Rome that I didn’t get to see the last time.

Trevi Fountain under construction 2015

Nothing to kill your trip than visiting a landmark under construction, right? I remember we threw coins over the fence hoping our wishes would come true (being the naive students we were. We probably gave them more clean up). So as you can image, we were disappointed, and every photo I had seen of friends and classmates touring Rome posing with a flowing Trevi Fountain behind them, I was jealous of. How I wish I had seen it in its full glory.

But tonight, I had the chance…

Trevi Fountain 2019

… it was worth it.