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…

Starbucks???

… 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 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.

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.