Friday, April 10, 2009

Fine Settimana Fiorentina

9:00PM April 6

As Antonio had advised us, I did not make any plans for traveling in April, leaving room for any performances. It was great to stay in Florence though. I felt ashamed to say that I hadn't visited some major sites in Florence, such as Santa Croce and the Boboli Gardens, so this gave me some time to catch up on some of that stuff, in addition to doing some work.

Adam, John, and I slept in a bit on Friday, and we headed off to the Boboli Gardens around 11:00. The gardens are where the Medici family used to go to escape the city. They lived generally at the Palazzo Vecchio, but they often crossed the river to Palazzo Pitti and the Boboli Gardens through the "secret" passageway above the buildings on the Ponte Vecchio. As they have a noble heritage, the gardens are quite fabulous. They work their way up a hill on the south side of the Arno overlooking the city. A bit like Versailles, the gardens did not rely on flowers. It was more a combination of sculptures, pergolas, fountains, grass, and trim bushes. There were some pansies in full bloom, but that was not really the focus of the gardens. More than anything, it was a relaxing way to spend the beginning of the afternoon. Many times over, we found ourselves plopping down wherever, gazing at our surroundings for ten or twenty minutes.

Entering Boboli Gardens

Looking north towards the city. It looks to me like the tree on the left recently died.

Looking southwards, beyond the city.

"I know kung fu"

I love these water fountains they had

Adam and John left before me, heading off to practice at campus. I stayed to see the rest of the gardens, and then exited at the top, getting to see the grand gates at the south end of the city. Most of the wall around the old city has been torn down to make room for modern-day boulevards, but at the south side, the wall was preserved, evoking memories of Siena, the ancient Florentine rival. I then got to walk back through the a part of town which I hadn't yet visited, and I stopped by a few churches that my Italian teacher recommended going to see. I can't say they were anything spectacular though. They looked like any other church here.

The southern gates to Firenze vecchio

Santa Maria del Carmine, one of the churches my Italian teacher recommended I go see.

San Frediano, as seen from Ponte alla Carraia.

I was lacking in pictures of our Duomo Fiorentina, so here's one.

That night was Jen's birthday, so I went to go meet up with her and a group of friends at a club, but they weren't there. I tried getting into contact with them for nearly an hour, but nobody was answering their phones except Kate, who happened to be in Rome with her aunt and thus could not help. It wasn't completely for naught though, as I got to take some pictures of Florence at night. I had so few pictures of Florence before this weekend because I rarely walk around the city as a tourist, so I took this opportunity to capture a lot of the things I see on a regular basis and will miss when I return home.

Via Roma, one of the main shopping corridors, set in between the Duomo and Piazza della Republica.

Palazzo Vecchio at night

Some of the Uffizi's outdoor statues, including one of Perseus holding up Medussa's head.

The Duomo at night

Piazza della Santissima Annunziata

Saturday morning John and I got up bright and early to meet our Italian class by school for makeup sessions from when our teacher missed class twice earlier in the semester. Instead of having a class though, we were taking a trip to a high school nearby in Pontasieve, a town fourteen kilometers to the east along the Arno. We had to learn some history of the town before going, which was interesting. It is significant as the town that connects Florence to the rest of Italy. Historically, there was a bridge there that connected it to the states of Arezzo and Romagna. During more recent times, the bridges there--the name literally means bridge over the Sieve, a tributary which flows into the Arno at the foot of the town--made the rail connection to Rome, and they still do today. During World War II, the city was bombed a ton because of this key connection. It was the weak link in the chain from the north to the south of Italy.

We got a tour of the high school from a few students, some of whom we'd met before when they came to NYU to talk with us in our class. We've had about three of these classes where we get together with the Italian high school students, talking in Italian for the first half of the class and English for the second. It would be a great experience if the situation weren't so forced. This time they tried to remedy that by then taking us all to a vineyard. The two halves quickly segregated though, and it seemed that the Italians couldn't care less about the tour and were simply happy to be out of the classroom--they have school six days a week here.

I found the tour really fascinating, and it was mostly in Italian, which was great, as we had to be attentive to catch what was being said. The vineyard was apparently one of the top in the world, owned by the Frescobaldi family, and the wine was stored in the old family castle. It was not the season to be making new wine though, so we didn't get to see any of the process, just where they store different barrels and picked the seeds out of the grapes. Even though we are of age here, NYU would not let us taste any of the wine, only the olive oil, which was very good, but it was a little disappointing to go to vineyard and not get to try any of the product.

The vineyards outside Pontasieve

The olive orchards on the Frescobaldi property as we approach the castle, seen on the right side.

The Frescobaldi vineyard

Inside the wine cellars. Each barrel holds about twenty-five bottles worth.

The bell tower on the Frescobaldi castle

After the vineyard they took us to walk around the town of Pontasieve. Here's a picture from one of the Ponti.

The middle of Pontasieve. It became evident quickly that the students were leading us around slowly and haphazardly so that they wouldn't have to return to class so soon.

That afternoon, John's roommate from New York, Ben, came in from London, where he's been studying this semester. He was on his two week spring break--which they apparently get at other abroad locations--so he spent about five days in Italy. We all sat around and talked for a while, eating crackers and cheese, and sipping wine. Eventually we were joined by Molly, one of the composition majors here, who came down from her residence on campus. The three of us went out to 'all Acqua Due that night, one of our favorite restaurants in Florence, which cooks really impeccable meat.

I wasn't so hungry that night, so I skipped the pasta course, and I was intrigued by the curry chicken dish (right). It was really fabulous. The chicken was extremely tender and juicy, and the curry sauce was a nice treat, as I had not had any Indian flavors since I came to Italy. We went out for gelato after the meal and then spent the rest of the evening with Rishma at her place, chatting, munching on cookies, and sipping wine late into the evening.

Adam and Sean were down in Rome for the weekend, as Sean had gotten tickets back in February from the Office of Student Life to go see the Palm Sunday mass at the Vatican--not a big surprise, but they said it was quite an experience, full of song and prayer in lots of different languages. I spent most of Sunday working, while John and Ben went to many of the main tourist attractions in Florence, like the David, at the Academia Galleria. I did convince them to join me on a trip up the hill to Fiesole, the small town to the north that supposedly has the best view of the city.

Well, it did. We went up there around 7:00 or so, just as sunset was beginning. It wasn't a great day for the sunset, but the view was spectacular. You could see the whole city from up there. I could pick out our campus on the hill below, the large yellow buildings sticking out. I know the city isn't very big, but I normally think of it in terms of its north-south dimensions. The city has expanded immensely in the east-west directions though, out through the valley between the hills which squeeze the development.

It was a nice weekend in Florence, and I look forward to a few more where I'll get to see some of the little things I've missed in my time here. In the meantime, I'm getting excited about our performance schedule for the upcoming week and month ahead.

The view from Fiesole

The Duomo below

NYU's campus is at the center-left, surrounded by the trees that populate the gardens at La Pietra. The largest of the yellow buildings is La Pietra, the main estate donated to the school, which is under historical preservation.

A storm was definitely raging to the west

Reentering the town of Fiesole

Abstract scupture in the main square

Piazza Mino, at the center of Fiesole.

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