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.

Day 1: Rest and Recreation

A Crest of the Vatican from memory

At long last we arrived into Rome. Claiming luggage and proceeding through customs was fairly quick and easy as was finding our driver. He seemed like a pleasant fellow, but it was a shame that there was a language barrier, otherwise we could have made great conversation. The drive from the airport was nothing out of the ordinary until we spotted the first set of ruins. Ruins from the great Roman Empire? Maybe. We saw more and more until we navigated into the city itself.

As we made our way through this great city, I couldn’t help but spot something I recognized when I journeyed here four years back. In the image at the very top, you will see a certain crest that contains what looks like a Papal Tiara and two keys crossed beneath it. This is a crest of the Vatican, and from what I learned as a student, it appears on buildings commissioned by the Vatican.

Go for a HUGE wine. Because Wine Not? (Featuring my Mom)

After finding our Hotel, we caught up on some much needed rest and recuperated. And after that, we explored our surroundings a bit, soaking in the gentle life around what is considered one of the largest cities in the world. We got a little lost, but we took time to indulge on authentic leather purses (much to my mother’s content), tasted gelato along our stroll, and finally settled for dinner. The owner was very kind and helpful. Even though he didn’t know much English, we were able to somehow converse using Spanish since the languages are very similar.

Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore

To finish the night, we continued our stroll around the area. We were both content that evening, with no one to rush us, and no places to be.

Day 0 – Overture

So, folks, today is the day we hop on a plane and sail across the skies to Italy, where our first stop will be Rome. Ah, yes. The shining capital that once used to be the seat of history’s greatest empire… But today is a mere day of anticipation. The long journey between gates, checking bags in, and awaiting to board a ship that will sail into the night, leading us to our destination the next morning.

In the mean time, I would like to share something special for you the audience. Something that will set the course for this journey.

Observation Sketch of the David

As I stated in my previous post, I studied for a month in Florence. What was I studying, you ask? One course was photography. The second? Drawing. Throughout the drawing course we carried around a sketchbook and drawing tools. Our task was to fill the sketchbook by the end of the course. It was this course that helped me mature in technique as an artist/drawer. The first example, you will note in the image above, is one of my earlier sketches of Michelangelo’s David, Florence’s most iconic statue. In earlier drawings in this book, I stuck to my graphite pencils and basic shedding, as it was the most familiar to me. As a novice, I steered clear of inks, pastels, chalks, and absolutely hated charcoal (and to this day still do). Thus most of my graphite drawings tended to smear and lack contrast. Looking at my sketch of the David, I can see the naivety I possessed at this stage. Moving forward, my professor suggested that I give ink a try.

Observation sketch of Dante Alighieri’s Statue in front of Santa Croce

I struggle a bit with pen at first, because once a line is down, it can’t be reversed, but it made things much cleaner, and when I got to experimenting with shading, I could get a variety of tones that I struggled with in graphite.

Magpie Taxidermy in La Specola
Wax replica of muscular anatomy in La Specola

After plenty of practice, ink became one of my favorite mediums for observation sketching and drawing. In a way, I have to thank that professor and my classmates for encouraging me to take a step away from something I was familiar with, as it helped bring a new energy to the latter parts of my sketch journal.

Rape of the Sabine Women in Piazza Vecchio
The Leaning Tower of Pisa

So, now that I’ve shown the work I had done four years ago, will I be filling another sketchbook upon my return? You bet!

However, I mostly want to focus on a particular theme.

Motifs.

Specifically, religious motifs.

Italy is as much a grounds for the early foundations of the Church as it was a grounds for Art. Thus, there is plenty of religious icons and symbolism scattered throughout the country. In the picture below was the beginning of a sketch that I started while waiting to climb up a tower in Sienna. It is of course from the earlier part of my sketchbook when I still embrace graphite as my “go to”.

Sketch of The Virgin Mary Crowned by Jesus

I hope to find and record more motifs like this one. Perhaps I can even make a complete version of this one as well. So with that being said, I’m going to leave this post off on this last image/note. I typically do something that I like to call “church doodles”, where when I have spare time while serving, I make a small drawing of whatever comes to mind. So this weekend, I made one that reflects a common image of Christ Jesus that we commonly see here in the good old USA. A simple image of Jesus looking upward and peaceful. At what in particular? Most likely the Father. Who knows. But it is a simple image no less.