Thursday, December 24, 2009

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Snow in Florence

The cold spell that hit cities across Europe last weekend also made it to Florence, where it snows only very rarely. So we were quite excited when the first snowflakes started falling Friday night. Looking out the window, the snow started getting thicker and thicker and kept coming. At around 10:00, we decided to go out to Cascine park, where we took some pictures and built a snowman.
The next day, the snow was still there, since it was still bitter cold for Florentine standards, and we were able to take some rare pictures of the sights covered in a dusting of snow. Of course, the weather also caused transportation chaos, but that's another story...

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Fur

I've seen more fur coats in 1.5 years in Florence than in the whole rest of my life.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Barcelona

Last Tuesday was a holiday in Italy, so like all good Italians, we made a long weekend out of it and went to Barcelona for a few days. We really liked the city, with its Gothic old town and modernisme architecture by Antoni Gaudi, among others. Kristen got tickets to a concert in the Palau de la Musica Catalana for her birthday, and we enjoyed listening to Mozart's Requiem in this over-the-top concert hall. Add to that the excellent food (tapas and paella), and you can tell we had a good time.

It was also enjoyable to be in a city (even a southern European one) in which there is ample and functioning public transportation, mostly friendly and helpful people, and you don't feel like you're being ripped off at any given time. Hey Italy... *nudge, nudge* Interestingly, there were very few jaywalkers... what's up with that?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Turkey Day

We celebrated Thanksgiving a few days late again, since making a big dinner on a weekday is too much of a hassle. So Sunday was spent preparing turkey (or rather turkey parts, since a whole bird was too much for just the one meat-eater in the household), gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, salad, cranberry sauce (out of the can), fruit salad, and pumpkin pie. And we've been eating turkey ever since... If you still have some sitting in the fridge, this turkey spinach curry was pretty good.

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The day before, I went to a concert at the Auditorium Flog, where Yo la tengo were playing. Indie rock bands playing in Florence are few and far between, so even though I wasn't too familiar with their music (there goes my indie cred...), I went and was not disappointed. It was loud, energetic, and incredibly varied -- everything you could ask for from a rock concert. The opening act, Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby, was pretty good as well.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Funny

In case you missed it last year, here it is again.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Green Gold

Italy is deservedly famous for its food, and one of the best-known ingredients is olive oil. What I didn't know was that here, olive oil is a seasonal specialty. In the late fall, the olives are harvested and then pressed into fresh oil. It's bright green, often translucent due to the olive particles still floating in it, and has a fresh, sharp, intensely olive-y, almost pungent flavor. Saturday, we went to the Piazza Santa Croce, where various oil producers from the region around Reggello were offering their products, and where we could try the oil. Some of it brought tears to my eyes, it was that peppery! We ended up getting a modest (by Italian standards) two liters, of a kind which for my taste had a good balance between bite and smoothness.
The best and simplest way to showcase the oil: Toast or bake some white French or Italian bread, perhaps rub with some garlic and generously drizzle with new olive oil.

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After a year and a half in Florence, we finally made it to the Uffizi gallery yesterday (not for lack of trying...). What can I say, it's a quite impressive collection. You know you've been in Italy for a while when you start recognizing the secondary artists -- "Luca Signorelli, didn't we see something of his in ...".

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Channeling Stephen Colbert, a Wag Of My Finger to Amazon for its change of policy on MP3 downloads. For the past year and a half, I've been able to download their free promotional MP3s, and I've purchased several albums, using my credit card with US billing address. Since a few days however, they state that their service is only available to users physically within the United States. Why do companies make it so hard for people to legally get music? Now I'm forced to resort to illegal downloads, or use some proxy software to hide my location. Blerg.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Renewing the Permesso di Soggiorno, Parts 4-6

(Continued from here.)

I went to the questura on my designated appointment day. I waited about 3 hours, and then I was told I had to come in the afternoon. Apparently the appointment times have some meaning: you're either in the morning or in the afternoon.

So I returned that day in the afternoon, waited maybe 2 hours, and was told the permesso wasn't ready yet, and I should come back in 7-15 days (depending who I asked). The procedure in the afternoon, by the way, is slightly different than the morning. You have to stand in line outside the questura, then they take your letter with your appointment time on it and you move in to the entrance area (holding pen), where you stand and wait for them to call your name. When they call your name, you receive your number. So, instead of getting a number that only gets you another number, you just wait in line longer for the real number.

On the questura's website, you can check to see if your permesso is ready or not, and the website confirmed that mine wasn't ready on my appointment day, but I didn't know what would happen if I missed my appointment day (probably nothing, but you never know). Notice they didn't mention the website to those of us whose permessi weren't ready.

Anyway, according to that website, my permesso was ready about a week later, so I went back a day or so after that. I got there after the main rush, so there wasn't much of a line anymore. I only had to wait 20-30 minutes to find out that I had to show up between 12 and 2.

So today I went back around noon, waited in line outside, waited in the holding pen, then waited in the main area for a total of about 4 hours. Luckily I was in line between two other American women, so talking to them passed to time more pleasantly. Then I finally received my permesso di soggiorno. I NEVER HAVE TO GO BACK TO THE QUESTURA!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Pontassieve

This was to have been a post about our trip to the olive oil and new wine festival in Pontassieve. But alas, Italy did not disappoint, and a train strike canceled all local trains in that direction. So instead of reading about the incredible new harvest olive oil and the cases of wine we would have bought, you're left with a black square.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Story with No Point

Whenever I ride a certain bus, I try to sit in a double seat on the window side. My stop is near the end of the line, so that way I don't get shoved around by everyone else getting off, and it's not a seat for differently-abled people. By the time the bus reaches my stop, it's usually almost empty. However, it seems that whoever sits next to me almost always gets off after me, so that, when most seats are empty, one of the few people left on the bus is sitting next to me. Today I sat next to someone in a double seat, but on the aisle side. She was still on the bus at my stop, so this time I was in the other position.

(That was the story.) Speaking of buses, they seem to have decided to better enforce* the rule that you need a validated ticket to ride the bus. So they're checking tickets more frequently. I'm not sure we've posted anything about this before, so the way tickets work for city buses is: you buy a ticket somewhere, you get on the bus, you validate your ticket, occasionally people show up on the bus to make sure you have a validated ticket (and fine you around 40 euros if you don't. The fining process, by the way, 90% of the time includes a 10 minute argument). It's similar to the train ticket system.

* hand out more fines

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween

Kristen's pumpkin this year

Pedestrian Area

The piazza around the Duomo and some attached streets are now pedestrian only.

duomo       pedestrian street

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Pistoia

Today was a beautiful fall day, and in the afternoon we decided to go to Pistoia, a city in the greater Florence area. I don't think many tourists make it there, especially not in October, even though the city has some sights that make for a nice half-day trip. When we got off the bus, we walked into the center, where there was some sort of market going on -- mostly clothes and shoes, and throughout the entire city. However, we were not there to go shopping, and so we continued on to the main sights. As usual, these consisted mainly of churches, with the largest being the cathedral with its massive bell tower, though the interior was nothing to write home about. A pair of lesser churches had some beautiful carved pulpits, though -- a fairly simple one by Guido da Como in the church of San Bartolomeo in Pantano, and a more elaborate one by Giovanni Pisano in the Pieve di Sant'Andrea. The other main attraction was the polychrome frieze by the Della Robbias on the facade of the Ospedale del Ceppo.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Rigoletto

Last week, we took in another opera at the Teatro Comunale here in Florence; this time it was "Rigoletto" by Giuseppe Verdi. Surely one of his masterpieces (and known mostly for "La donna e' mobile"), we had never seen this piece on the stage before. Actually, I was surprised by how much it is a story about Rigoletto (and not the Duke, who nevertheless has the famous arias). The whole first act is basically a tour de force for the baritone, who in this case was Ivan Inverardi. Deservedly, he got the most applause of the night for a very good performance. The rest of the cast was competent enough -- Shalva Mukeria as the Duke was a bit shaky on the high notes in the first act, but later improved, and Annamaria Dell’Oste performed well as Gilda. On the other hand, Nicole Piccolomini in the rather minor role of Maddalena was one of the few instances in which I wanted the singing to end. A grating voice and no hint of interpretation -- forte all the way -- I hope she was simply having an off night.
The staging was a bit curious: the costumes were traditional, but the scenery (a 50's style car, a boat, and a large black wall) were more modern. It didn't add up to a coherent statement, and I was left wondering if there was a lack of communication between the different departments of the theater. Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable evening, and probably not the last time we see "Rigoletto".

Sunday, October 11, 2009

New Music Recommendations, part 5

  • Lightning Dust: "I Knew"
    This song sounds a bit like glam rock meets folk -- sort of like what Marianne Faithfull would sound like if she were singing Rocky Horror Picture Show. Amber Webber, also of the band Black Mountain, has a voice that is both powerful and incredibly fragile at the same time. While "I Knew" is my favorite song by them, the entire album "Infinite Light" is worth listening to, from the jangly opener "Antonia June" to the apocalyptic "Take It Home" that closes it out.
  • Katzenjammer: "A Bar in Amsterdam"
    Katzenjammer is four Norwegian women who make unclassifiable music, and "A Bar in Amsterdam" is catchy, fun folk-punk-pop.
  • Leonard Cohen: "Live In London"
    He's an icon, and still making fantastic music at age 75 (!). "Live In London" shows him in great form and with arrangements and a backing band that make his songs sound even better than the album version, in some cases.
  • Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros: "Home"
    All Songs Considered loved this band at this year's SXSW, and though they were somewhat disappointed in the album that followed, their songs are still catchy, and uniquely arranged, with a somewhat 70's aesthetic to them. Check out the duet "Home".
  • Dead Man's Bones: "My Body's A Zombie For You"
    Just in time for Halloween, here's a track featuring Ryan Gosling collaborating with the Silverlake Conservatory Childrens Choir. If it sounds strange, that's because it is.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Schiacciata all'uva

It seems like fall has finally made it to Florence: the days are shorter, it's no longer above 30 degrees every day, and the nights are pleasantly cool. And of course, there's the food. Porcini have reappeared, the first cavolo nero has been sighted, and the summer stone fruit has largely given way to pears and grapes. With the last of these, particularly the small wine grapes, you can make an excellent Italian/Tuscan treat -- Schiacciata all'uva.

  • 25g equivalent dried yeast (one packet)
  • 350g (~2 3/4 cup) flour
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 100g (~1/2 cup) sugar (can be more if desired)
  • salt
To garnish:
  • 1kg (~2 1/4 lbs) black (wine) grapes -- the ones they have here are small, sweet, and have a large seed-to-flesh ratio
  • sugar
  • olive oil
  • rosemary
Dissolve the yeast in a little lukewarm water and add to the flour, oil, two tbsp. sugar and a pinch of salt in a large bowl. Knead together with additional water as needed, form into a round ball, cover the bowl and leave to rise in a warm place for about two hours. Carefully remove grapes from their stalks, wash and leave to dry.
Divide the dough in two and roll out into rectangles the same size as the baking tray you are using. Put one piece in the greased tray and top with half of the grapes. Sprinkle with a little sugar and put the second rectangle of dough on top. Cover with the remaining grapes and the remaining sugar. Drizzle with oil and rosemary. Bake at 180° C (350°) for about 40 minutes.

(from Sandra Rosi: Florence, The Art of Cookery)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Tallis Scholars

Last night, we went to the Duomo for a free concert by the Tallis Scholars, one of the pre-eminent Renaissance choral groups active today, along with singers that took part in a master class they gave. This being Italy, there was a definite lack of organization: the concert took place in one of the largest churches of Christendom, and yet it was located in one of the transepts, so that half the people waiting in the line outside were turned away, and a considerable number of others did not find seating. We were among the latter, so at least we got to hear the concert. It did not disappoint: the setting of darkened cathedral with a slight smell of frankincense was ideal for the complex simplicity of the works. Works by Palestrina, Gabrieli, and Josquin among others were on the program, but the highlights for me were a setting of the mass by Ingegneri, sung by the Tallis Scholars, and a motet 'Inviolata Integra et Casta es, Maria' by Festa, sung by their students.

Renewing the Permesso di Soggiorno, Part 3

(This is a continuation of Part 2.)

I tried again at the questura today, and I was right. It turns out that all they wanted to see was the stamped letter I got when I received my visa last year...the letter they saw last year when I applied for my first permesso di soggiorno. I've found that there is no rational explanation for a lot of things in Italy, so it's better to just not think about it (I split that infinitive good). They definitely did not say anything indicating last year's letter, or the original enrollment letter, when I was at the questura a week ago.

My next "appointment" is in about a month, so it seems they did greatly reduce the length of this process (from a year to two months, barring unforeseen complications), though it's no more enjoyable.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Orvieto

After the summer holidays and the visitors we had recently, we finally got around to exploring more of the area via a day trip yesterday. Actually, "area" is pretty generous, since Orvieto is a two and a half hour regional train ride away from Florence. Nevertheless, we got to this city on top of a slab of tufa and took a cable car up the mountain. Once up, we immediately descended again, though this time in St. Patrick's well, which was dug in the 16th century to provide the city with water while under siege. A nice work of engineering, it has two spiral pathways (one for going down and one for going up), down to the water. After making it back up, we were ready for lunch, for which we walked into the city center. It seems like the main tourist season is over, since the main drag was not too crowded. (Then again, we're used to Florentine crowds...) After some pasta, we went towards the highlight of this town, the cathedral. Since there was a wedding going on at the moment, we first went to see the Etruscan collection in the Museo Claudio Faina e Museo Civico. The Etruscans had some interesting vases!
After a brief break for gelato (I had nectarine and fig, Kristen had pink grapefruit and grape/strawberry), we looked at the cathedral in detail. The facade is amazing -- a symphony of colored marble, glittering mosaics, sculpture, and masterful carved panels. And the interior isn't too shabby, either. The highlight is surely the Capella di San Brizio, which was frescoed largely by Luca Signorelli with scenes of the Last Judgement. That's always my favorite topic of religious paintings, and this version had fantastic studies of the human body. Apparently Michelangelo studied these frescoes before painting the Sistine Chapel. Since my ticket for the chapel included the Museum of the Duomo, I went to visit that afterward and was pleasantly surprised. While these museums are typically one depiction of Madonna with child after the other, here the old religious art was interspersed with a temporary exhibition of modern art and sculpture. Along with the jazz soundtrack playing on the stereo, it gave it more of a gallery vibe, and made the experience all the more pleasant.
After this highlight, we walked around the town a little more, seeing the interesting ten-sided bell tower of Sant'Andrea and the Palazzo del Popolo, before heading back. Unfortunately, the next train was not for another hour, and furthermore delayed, but we did manage to make it back to Florence.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Renewing the Permesso di Soggiorno, Part 2

I went to the questura today, and after waiting only 3 hours, was informed that the letter of enrollment from my school needed to be stamped by the Italian embassy/consulate in the US. I think it would be nice if that information were written down somewhere, like in the list of documents you need in order to renew your permesso di soggiorno. Either that, or someone (consulate, questura, the Italian government that wrote the list) doesn't know what they're talking about.

(This is a continuation of these three posts.)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Visitors

We had several visitors the past few weeks. First was Ben's friend Marc and his newly-wedded wife Kristine. After driving down to Florence from Germany, they toured Florence one day, then we all went together to San Gimignano and Pisa the next day. This way, they were able to cover four out of five goals of their trip: Seeing Michelangelo's David, eating real Italian pizza, seeing the leaning tower of Pisa and taking the standard tourist shots, and eating a bistecca alla fiorentina. The Colosseum in Rome will have to wait for another trip.
Next was another of Ben's friends, Martin, and his girlfriend Eva. The evening they arrived, we went to Piazzale Michelangelo to wait for the sunset. It was bridal rush hour -- we saw three brides take pictures in the hour we were there. Martin and Eva then toured Florence the next day before leaving for San Gimignano and Volterra.
The following weekend Kristen's parents visited. Since they had already seen Florence, Sienna, Pisa, and San Gimignano, we took them on a day trip to Bologna. Then Kristen went with them to Venice for a day. They stayed another day there, then went to Rome.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Pasta e Ceci

This is from the book Savoring Tuscany by Lori de Mori. My comments are in italics.

1 cup (7 oz/220 g) dried chickpeas (garbanzo beans) - or 1 can (NOT drained)
3 cloves garlic, 1 crushed, 2 minced or all minced
leaves from 1 fresh rosemary sprig
2 fresh sage leaves
1 small dried chile (optional)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus oil for drizzling - drizzling oil is optional
2 cups (12 oz/375 g) crushed or diced canned plum (Roma) tomatoes with juice - can be regular tomatoes
4 cups (32 fl oz/1 l) meat or vegetable broth - broth made with bouillon cubes/powder is fine
1 1/2 cups (4 1/2 oz/140 g or more) ditali or other short tube pasta
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
grated Parmesan cheese

If using canned chickpeas, skip first step.

- Pick over the checkpeas, discarding any grit or misshapen beans. Rinse well, place in a bowl, and add water to cover generously. Let soak overnight. Drain the beans and place in a large saucepan with the crushed garlic and water to cover generously. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until the beans are tender, 1 1/2 - 2 1/2 hours.

- On a work surface, combine the minced garlic, rosemary, sage, and chile and finely mince. In a large saucepan over medium heat, warm together the olive oil and garlic-herb mixture and saute, stirring often, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and broth, reduce the heat to low, cover, cook until thickened, about 15 minutes. Raise the heat to medium, add the pasta, stir well, and cook until al dente, about 9 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer half of the beans to a food mill fitted with the medium disk and puree directly into the pot, adding cooking liquid as needed to facilitate the pureeing (this step is optional. You can just add them all whole.). Add 1 cup (8 fl oz/250 ml) of the cooking liquid (you can use the liquid from the can and maybe some extra water) and the remaining whole beans. Stir well and season with salt and pepper.

- Ladle into warmed individual bowls and drizzle with olive oil. Pass the Parmesan cheese at the table.

Serves 6-8 (about 4, if you don't have another course)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

An interesting combination

I tried this recipe for pasta with beans and mussels the other day, and it was really good. What sounds like a strange combination works quite well together. While I used shelled, frozen mussels, I'm sure it's even better if you use fresh mussels, as in the recipe.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Renewing the Permesso di Soggiorno

The following is a continuation of these two posts.

Last week I went to the Patronato, an Italian government organization that is supposed to be able to answer people's questions about permessi di soggiorno. When I got there, I told the man at the entrance that I had some questions, and he told me to go to the 5th floor and talk to "Flo" (not her real name). When I got to Flo's office, she asked if I had an appointment. I said no, and she told me to wait. I waited for about 40 mins -- I had learned by this time to bring a book in anticipation of things like this -- until some other people, presumably with an appointment, came in. Then Flo said that maybe I should make an appointment, to which I agreed. She said to come back at 11 on Monday. So I went back at 11 on Monday, and the same man at the entrance said Flo wasn't there, and that she was supposed to be in around 1. So I went back at 1, and several people who were leaving for lunch said the office closed at 1. The entrance man said I should go wait on the 5th floor for Flo. When I got there, the man with whom Flo shares an office thought it would be better if I made a new appointment, so I left my name and number, and he said she would call me that afternoon. Then I decided to try the post office. The woman there was able to answer all my questions. Not surprisingly, Flo did not call me that afternoon.

Today I applied to renew my permesso di soggiorno. Under a new system, the post office gives you your first questura appointment date when you give them your application package, instead of having to wait for the questura to mail you a letter. So far it appears they have shaved eight months off the process. If the second questura appointment date isn't significantly longer than three months after the first, this will be a pretty big improvement.

I should also note that the woman at the post office, and definitely not the man who was doing her job in the morning shift, was one of the nicest people I've encountered at an Italian government organization or store (assuming she wasn't giving me bad information). The only other person I can think of who deserves credit is the guy at the Intesa Sanpaolo bank on via della villa Demidoff, who spent a long time trying to help me, and then I didn't end up getting an account there because accounts for foreigners were way too expensive.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Tuscan Bread Salad (a.k.a. Panzanella)

It's summer, and mighty hot, so there's not much motivation to turn on the stove. On the other hand, the produce these days is quite good, so here's a nice no-cook meal for these hot days.
  • 150g (stale) Italian bread
  • 400g tomatoes
  • 1 small red, 1 small green bell pepper
  • 1 bunch green onions
  • 1 bunch each Italian parsley and basil
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2-3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • salt, pepper
  • 5 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. capers
Cut the dry bread into cubes, combine with diced tomatoes and bell peppers, as well as thinly sliced green onions. Wash and chop the herbs and add to the bread along with the garlic, minced. Add salt and pepper to vinegar, then stir in the olive oil. Add to bread along with the capers. Let stand for about an hour, it doesn't hurt for it to stand longer. A light red wine goes well with this dish.

Scotland

To escape the constant, unrelenting heat in Florence in August, we went to Scotland for nearly two weeks around Assumption Day, which is when half Italy packs up and leaves for the beach or for colder climates. In all our travels, we had never met that many Italians, so I thought that they just didn't travel much. However, it seems that they do travel, just all during August: in Scotland, we saw almost as many Italians as Germans, and that's saying something!
In any case, we started out in Glasgow, where we visited Alecia and her husband, and then rented a car to drive around the countryside, camping in our tent as we went. Via Stirling Castle and Doune Castle, which was thankfully free of taunting Frenchmen, we headed for Loch Lomond, Inveraray Castle and Oban, before reaching Glencoe. Nearby, we went to the Glenfinnan Highland Games, before heading up to the Isle of Skye, where we spent a very stormy night. At this point of the trip, the weather was quite rainy and stormy, so some of the attractions, such as the Old Man of Storr, were shrouded in fog. Coming back from Skye, we crossed Scotland's highest road to get to Applecross, and drove along the coast some from there before crossing over to the east. Here, we were in castle country, so we took in Dunrobin, Urquhart, Cawdor, Fyvie, Craigievar, Fraser, Dunnottar, and Glamis. In this area, Kristen had found the locations of several Pictish stones online, so we also hunted those out. Going back south, we stopped by St. Andrews, where we had a classy lunch in the clubhouse with Andreas, a friend of mine from college, and then drove to Dunfermline, where we stayed the night with Maureen and Martin. Finally, we spent a day in Edinburgh, where we naturally visited the castle and the excellent Museum of Scotland.
While we cooked most of the time when camping, we did try the local food, such as haggis, fish and chips, or chicken tikka masala, most of which we liked, but some of which (the deep-fried pizza) was a bit too much. We also made it to two whisky distilleries, of which we have conflicting opinions (Ben: mmmmhhhh, Kristen: ugh). Some pictures of our trip can be seen below, or by clicking on the slideshow for the larger versions.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Screens

Almost no one in Italy has screens on their windows. There are plenty of mosquitoes, and air conditioning is not nearly as common as in the US, so you have to open your windows. I can't explain it.

Friday, August 28, 2009

You won't believe it

... but my permesso di soggiorno, the one I received today, expires today. That's right, it's not a mistake. I asked. They said I have to apply for a new one now.

I was assured that the new system, which apparently was put in place since I applied for mine last year, is much faster. (haha)

(This is a continuation of the post about my first visit to the questura.)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Not much

There haven't been many posts recently, because there hasn't been that much going on. It is the hot, sunny season here (the summer, like winter, has very stable weather).

I said before that Italians like to talk. I have also noticed that this seems to be the cause of and solution to some of their problems. Things are generally inefficient, but people often don't seem bothered by it, because they're distracted by talking to each other. I don't think there's any way to make anything happen more quickly, so talking seems to be the key to not getting angry at having to wait forever for something that shouldn't take very long.

Two more foods to add to my list:
- percoca, a type of peach
- scarola. I think it's called escarole in English, but it has a disc shape.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Visa, Round 2

After mailing my visa application and a bunch of other required documents to the Italian Consulate in Philadelphia, waiting for 23 days (last year they had it to me in a week), and leaving messages and emailing the consulate and receiving no response, I drove to Philadelphia the night before my flight to try to get the visa from them in person. When I signed in, the employee behind the window said she recognized me and that my application was still being processed. I explained that my flight was scheduled for later that day, and I was hoping to get my visa now. After waiting about 1.5 hours, the woman called me over and said that I didn't need a visa, because I'll be getting a permesso di soggiorno. You'd think it would have been pretty easy to tell me that three weeks earlier. I also think it would be helpful if something to that effect appeared in a logical place, like on their website, or in their directions for applying for a visa, or in the directions for applying for a permesso di soggiorno, or in the book we have about living and studying in Italy, or on the Italian embassy website (perhaps on the "do I need a visa?" page), or on the Italian immigration website.

We'll see what the questura says.

On an unrelated note, I swear the sun is hotter here.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Parma and Modena

Yesterday, Kristen returned after spending some time in the U.S. and trying without success to get her visa renewed. Since she flew into Bologna, I decided to meet her there in the evening, and spend the day in the nearby city of Parma.
After walking downtown from the train station, I first had to get something for lunch -- my choice was a sandwich with Parma ham, of course. Parma isn't a huge city, so it was easy to see everything in a few hours. There aren't too many tourists there either -- I guess they're all trampling themselves in Florence. The highlights were the Romanesque Duomo and Baptistry. The latter was impressive due to its height and the frescoes covering the entire interior. The interior of the Duomo was largely Baroque (very much overdone, in my opinion), with famous cupola by Correggio though also with a nice relief by the sculptor Benedetto Antelami. I also briefly visited the Museo Diocesano, which had a few nice sculptures and a 5th century floor mosaic.
Detail of the Parma baptistry ceiling. Note the depiction of the evangelists as half-animal, half-human figures.

Since there was still enough time before Kristen arrived, I took the train to Modena, which is located halfway in between Parma and Bologna, and which is probably most famous for its Balsamic vinegar. It also boasts one of the most important and impressive Romanesque cathedrals of Europe, though, which has made it onto the UNESCO World Heritage list. Unfortunately, parts of the facade and the bell tower were being renovated, and were therefore covered up. Nevertheless, many of the stone carvings by Wiligelmus could be seen, and the (rather dark) interior was impressive.
Then it was time to take the train to Bologna, where I met Kristen and helped her lug all of her luggage back to Florence.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

San Marco

There haven't been too many updates recently since Kristen is visiting her family. In the meantime, apart from working, reading and watching DVDs, I've only been downtown to go shopping. Today though, I decided to go visit the former convent of San Marco for my fix of religious art. The convent was home to the Dominican Fra Angelico, who painted frescoes throughout the building, particularly a cycle depicting the life of Jesus in each of the cells of the monks (the crucifixion seemed to be the most popular motif). His frescoes are (again) some of the earliest examples of perspective in art, and they show a good mastery of human expression. In addition, the church was the residence of the religious fanatic Girolamo Savonarola, who was the religious and worldly leader of Florence for a few years in the late 15th century. He is particularly known for his Bonfire of the Vanities, in which "beauty items" were burned along with countless books and priceless paintings. Strangely enough, he still seems to be quite revered in the convent.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Patti Smith in Arezzo

It's open air season in Italy in June and July. No one in his right mind would go to an indoor concert venue anyway in this heat, and in August everyone's at the beach. So everything is crowded into roughly a month and a half. Wednesday, I went with some friends from work to Arezzo, where the 'Godmother of Punk', Patti Smith was performing. All concerts in Italy, be they classical or pop, seem to start after 9, so there was enough time to get a nice dinner in a fiaschetteria before making our way to the piazza below the Duomo where the concert was held. It ended up being an acoustic show, with Lenny Kaye and someone else on acoustic guitar, and Patti's daughter Jesse on piano. Nevertheless, she brought a good deal of energy with her, and the crowd (partially seated) was enthusiastic. I guess she was quite impressed by the frescoes about the Legend of the True Cross, since she kept mentioning them and even performed a song she had written about them that afternoon.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Strange and Weird, part 2

Continued from Part 1.

These are pictures of art that I found funny or interesting or unusual. If anyone can explain any of them, please enlighten me.



You need to click on the slideshow to see what's going on in the pictures.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Shish Kebab


1 1/2 pounds of lamb (or beef or pork)
1 large onion, 2 garlic cloves
1/2 bunch parsley, 2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
salt, pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 bell peppers (red and green)
4 firm tomatoes
4 chilis, if desired

Cut the meat into 3/4 - 1 inch cubes. Peel the onion and the garlic, finely grate the onion, crush the garlic. Wash the parsley and shake dry, then finely chop the leaves. Combine the onion, garlic, parsley, lemon juice, paprika, cumin, salt, pepper and oil. Add the meat cubes, stir to coat all over, then place in fridge to marinate for at least 4 hours or even better overnight.
Wash and trim the bell peppers, then cut them into 3/4 inch pieces. Wash and quarter the tomatoes, removing their seeds. Halve the quarters again crosswise. If using, wash the chilis and cut into 3/4 inch pieces. Thread the meat, bell peppers, tomatoes, and chilis onto them, alternating the items. Heat a broiler or charcoal grill, or heat a ridged skillet on top of the stove. Place the skewers on a rack, then cook for about 15 minutes under the broiler, over the embers, or in the skillet. Turn the skewers from time to time.

Tastes especially good with pita bread, tsatziki sauce, and tabbouleh salad.
(from Oriental Basics by Cornelia Schinharl and Sebastian Dickhaut)

Report on Tolfa

My class did its "stage," which is like an internship, at Tolfa, a small city kind of near Rome. It was about 1.5 weeks. We worked on Roman ceramics at the archaeological museum there. I was able to almost finish my jug. We stayed in a former convent that is now a hostel. They fed us at the hostel, so I got cheese instead of meat twice a day most days. They also added more oil to the pasta in place of meat. There's a rocca (castle in ruins) in Tolfa, so I went up to that twice. There is little else to do there. There were some donkeys and geckos along the road. Also there were lightning bugs (the first place I've seen them in Italy). One day we went to a nearby archaeological site, which is in a field and mostly consists of tombs.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Vicenza

Sunday, we got a bit of a late start since we only got to bed around 2am the day before on account of the opera in the Verona Arena. We then drove to Vicenza, which is much less known than its neighboring cities of Verona and Venice. Still, this is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and famous for its architecture by native son Andrea Palladio. Even if you've never heard of him, you'll recognize his style mirrored in almost every public building in the U.S., Britain, and to a lesser degree Germany. Especially UVa alumni should know the name, as Thomas Jefferson was an admirer and imitator of his work. One of the highlights was the Teatro Olimpico, the oldest surviving indoor theater, with the oldest surviving stage set in the world, built for the production of Oedipus Rex. Since the admission ticket to that included some of the other museums in town, we got to see more religous art, some hideous still life, a modest collection of archeological artifacts, and an interesting collection of Russian icons. For lunch, I had Baccalà alla Vicentina, stockfish with polenta, a local specialty, which was very good. After seeing some of the other Palladio palazzi in town, we drove a few kilometers out of town to the Villa Capra 'La Rotonda', probably Palladio's most famous work. We didn't go visit up close, since the admission just to the gardens was quite high, but you could get a good impression from the gate, as well as from the road.

Verona

This weekend we took a brief trip to visit two cities in northern Italy. We started off in Verona, the city of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, as well as an important Roman city. The weather was quite agreeable -- it had rained on the drive, but was sunny and warm when we got to the sightseeing part, and we enjoyed walking around the historical city center. One of our first stops was the Basilica di San Zeno, dedicated to Verona's patron saint (and the location of his embalmed body). This was a nicely frescoed Romanesque church with some great stonework on the facade, and an elaborate set of bronze doors with biblical scenes (they especially seemed to like the parts with beheadings). After that we walked towards the Roman Arena, an imposing sight even today, and picked up our tickets for that night's performance. Further sights included Juliet's house (with balcony), the Piazza delle Erbe, and the Duomo.
After killing a bit of time, we headed back towards the arena in order to line up for seats. Since we had gotten the cheapest seats on the stone steps, we got there a little before 7:30, when the gates opened, but there was already quite a long line. Luckily, we were prepared for the arena experience and had brought our own cushions, and some picnic food for dinner. The opera, "Aida" began at around 9:15 and lasted until after 1am. By this time it was quite cool, and there was a bit of wind the whole time, so the jackets we had brought with us were necessary. But to get to the main event... the opera was fantastic. We were sitting quite high up straight across from the stage, and you could still hear the singing as clear as in an indoor theater (sure, it wasn't as loud, and every now and then the wind would blow in the wrong direction), which was amazing, as nothing was amplified. It surely helped that the singers were excellent. Fabio Armiliato as Radames and Daniela Dessì as Aida were world-class and both had powerful voices. The triumphal march was as grand as could be expected from this traditional 1913 production. I was impressed by this evening and would certainly recommend seeing an opera there.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Quote of the day

Italians spend about 190 hours each year waiting in line at public offices. Attending to bureaucratic business, according to the Patronato Inac-Istituto, is especially time-consuming for foreign born residents, who, it is estimated, spend twice that time in line. Yet, the agency notes, most people could save time by using comune and other websites for information and basic transactions. Sixty-five percent of residents, the majority of them older, still rely on ‘word of mouth’ for information.

-- from The Florentine

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sagra del Seitan

Italians love their food, and one of the popular activities on weekends is going to sagre, which are basically food festivals dedicated to some specialty, be it tortellini, doughnuts, or wild boar. Unfortunately for us, they're usually in some small town unreachable by public transportation, and unfortunately for Kristen, they usually feature meat products. So when we read about the Sagra del Seitan, happening close enough to take an ex-urban bus, we knew we had to go. It was a hot and sunny day, and we enjoyed the seitan tofuné, vegan lasagna with ragù, and caponata. I think Kristen was quite happy to see some co-vegetarians in Italy (though they're a definite minority).

Tolfa at sunrise

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Astrolabes and frescoes

Since Kristen is away with her school for two weeks, I've been doing some things that she's already seen or was not so interested in. In this sense, last Tuesday (a federal holiday), I visited the Galileo exhibition at the Palazzo Strozzi. It's the 400th anniversary of his first astronomical discoveries, and so they've put together quite a nice exhibition, less about Galileo himself as about the views that people have had about the skies above going back to the ancient Babylonians. There were some nice pieces, such as copies of some of Ptolemy's manuscripts, various star charts and astrolabes, and of course Galileo's telescope, observations of the moon and Jupiter, as well as one of his fingers (this is Italy, after all!).
Then today I visited the Brancacci chapel, part of the church of Santa Maria del Carmine. The chapel has some excellent frescoes, and features some of the few works by Renaissance master Masaccio. The rest of the work was done by Masolino and Lippi, no lightweights themselves. The frescoes, dating back to the 15th century, are in pretty good shape, having been restored (somewhat controversially) in the 1980's. You can really see that painters of that era were mastering perspective, as well as adding expression to faces (see the Expulsion from the Paradise).

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Voting, German style

I finally got my absentee ballots today for the European and local elections being held this weekend (they were postmarked May 22nd, so I'm guessing the Italian mail held them for a while). It was quite the package -- a total of 5 ballots, for a combined total of 87 votes! (thanks to the concepts of "Kumulieren und Panaschieren," i.e. cumulate and split one's vote) And no voting machines, but just good, old fashioned crosses. Always amusing are the over 30 parties on the European ballot, among them such parties as the "Europa-Demokratie-Esperanto" party, the "Newropeans," or the "Piratenpartei Deutschland" (yes, that's the German Pirate Party). I also counted 4 parties dedicated to old and retired people. I guess that's a sign of the times.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Dread Permesso di Soggiorno

I'll add my permesso di soggiorno story (as it is so far) to the stockpile.

You need this to stay in Italy longer than eight days. That's a joke, though, because it takes about a year to actually get. First you obtain a packet from the post office -- one of the post offices that knows what you're talking about -- and then you send the application and various other materials to Rome and pay about 90 euros to do so. Then you receive a letter telling you when, 6 months from now, you are to report to the questura (police station) for fingerprinting. You go to the questura as early in the morning as possible, because the appointment time listed on your letter is meaningless. When I went, I was about the 230th person to arrive that day...at 7:50am (the employees start working around 8:15). I waited for about 2 hours, and, when my number was called, I received another number (the real number). Then I waited another 6 hours, during which time they closed for lunch for an hour. Then, when my number was called again, for a reason no one can explain, I was given another number. About an hour later, I was told that I would have to return the following morning, but that I could go directly to a certain window without a number (like they were doing me a favor by making me wait all day and then interfering with my life further by making me come back the next day). So I returned, waited for about an hour, and the guy who appeared at the window asked me why they hadn't dealt with me the previous day. The Italians I've dealt with always assume it's your fault. It took less than 10 minutes once he started helping me, and then he gave me a letter that he didn't sign containing a date to return, three months later, to receive the actual permesso di soggiorno. I'm not optimistic about the upcoming experience. I should also mention that they processed about 2 people an hour in the morning, and about 6 in the afternoon, with fewer employees.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Florence Baptistry


(note the depiction of hell bottom right)

Big rat in the Arno




(Actually a nutria.)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Activities recap

It's been a while since I've reported on our activities. There's a bunch of stuff to catch up on. A few weekends ago, we took advantage of the good weather as well as the Settimana della cultura (Week of Culture), during which admission to the state museums was free, to visit the Palazzo Pitti and Boboli gardens. We weren't the only ones to have this thought, but the whole complex is quite large, so we weren't shoved through or trampled on. First up were the Boboli gardens, which were an ideal destination on this warm, sunny spring day. Not too many flowers, though -- most of the gardens are landscaped with trees, bushes, grass, and some fountains. Afterward, we went to see some of the museums in the palace, the highlight being the Palatine gallery, with works by Raphael, Titian, Rubens, and many others. Like at many other museums, the paintings all started to look similar after a while though. We also went to see the Modern art gallery ("modern" seemingly referring to post-renaissance) and the Silver museum, which houses the treasures of the Medici.
Today, we took the bus to Poggio a Caiano, where there's another Medici Villa. (A bit of trivia on the side: Poggio a Caiano is the sister city of no other place than Charlottesville, Virginia) We arrived just as they let people inside for a brief visit of the interior, which had some 19th century rooms for entertaining (pool room, private theater) as well as a grand hall with 16th century frescoes by del Sarto and Allori. The gardens were pleasant enough, and had an abundance of lemon trees, as well as a somewhat run down forest behind the villa.

As well as going on some sightseeing jaunts, we also visited two fantastic concerts, thanks to the Maggio Musicale festival which takes place in Florence in May and June. Last weekend, we went to see a piano recital by Lang Lang, the Chinese shooting star. It was quite spectacular, and showcased his musical ability (Schubert Sonata D959) along with his technical skills (Debussy Images and Chopin Polonaise héroïque). Unfortunately, the last piece will be forever associated in my head with Oliver Cromwell, thanks to Monty Python.

Then yesterday, we saw Götterdämmerung, the last part of Wagner's Ring cycle at the Teatro Comunale. Again conducted by Zubin Mehta with artistic direction by La Fura del Baus, the production suffered from the same overload of distracting video projections and people scurrying around for no reason as the previous opera, Siegfried, that we saw there last year. After all those effects, the final scene (where Brünnhilde rides into Siegfried's funeral pyre, the Rhine overflows its banks, Hagen jumps in after the Ring and drowns, and Walhalla is seen burning) was disappointingly static and low tech (though there was some guy riding around on a Segway, which didn't make much sense). Our enjoyment in general was somewhat dampened by the fact that our seats (on the side of the second gallery, 101 and 103 if you're inclined to look at the seat map) had a limited view of the stage, so that we had to lean forward or sit on the armrests if we wanted to see everything, and had some bad acoustics in that we heard parts of the orchestra twice due to the sound bouncing off the walls and/or ceiling. Nevertheless, the highlight of the evening was the music, with an incredibly strong cast, and a consistently good performance by the orchestra. As Siegfried, Lance Ryan was a big improvement over Leonid Zakhozhaev from last time, and Jennifer Wilson as Brünnhilde returned with an excellent command of the part. For me, the stand out this time was Hans Peter König as Hagen. If anyone is lucky enough to be at Bayreuth this year, I think he's singing Hagen there as well. I, on the other hand, will have to look into where else he's singing.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Saturday, May 2, 2009

There's fluff about



It blows around. This is the source (it's a photo from my cell phone, so the quality's not that good):

Giant lemons!



Actually citrons.

Things You Don't See in the U.S. #7

Electric cars (that people use). They have charging stations around the city for them, too.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Weekend in Venice

This weekend, we went to Venice to meet my parents, who were there after my mom's big birthday. On Friday, we took the train from Florence, met my parents at the train station and immediately started the sightseeing by taking the vaporetto (water bus) along the Grand Canal to our hotel. We were lucky to get seats outside in front, and the weather on our arrival was fantastic, so the parade of palazzi along the canal was spectacular. After arriving at the hotel, we quickly dropped off our luggage and then walked back to the Piazza San Marco, where the evening light made everything look even more picturesque than it already is. We took the elevator up to the campanile on the piazza, from which we had a great view over the city. At 7, one of the bells started ringing, which was unexpected and quite loud! Finally, we walked further west, looking for a restaurant. Unfortunately, the one we had chosen from our guide was closed, and most other places were already full, so we ended up in a touristy restaurant, which was however better than expected.

The next day, we took a vaporetto back to Piazza San Marco again, and went to the Palazzo Ducale (Doge's palace). This was quite impressive in the abundance of monumental paintings by Tintoretto, Veronese, and others, as well as for the insights into Venetian buerocracy. I guess now we understand that Italian buerocracy has a long tradition... Afterwards, we went into the Basilica San Marco next door, which was overwhelming with all its gold mosaics. Maybe less is more in this respect. Then we made our way over the Rialto bridge to the Ca' Pesaro for a rest from all the old and religious art we've been seeing the last few months to go to the Museum of Modern Art and the Oriental Art Museum. From there, we slowly made our way back south and crossed over to the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, from which we had a good panoramic view to Piazza San Marco and the buildings on the main island. Finally, we went to dinner at La Zucca, a good restaurant in a quiet area near the Rialto bridge, which I can recommend (but make reservations!).
On Sunday, the weather was more overcast, cooler, and it rained lightly at times. Nevertheless, we started out in the former Jewish ghetto, then took the usual combination of vaporetto and walking to the church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, where the attractions include some giant stone funerary monuments, as well as two famous Titian paintings, and the tomb of Claudio Monteverdi. Finally in the late afternoon, it was time to pick up our luggage and return to the train station, from which we took the Eurostar back to Florence.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Easter trip - Day 4 - Massa Marittima, San Galgano, and back to Florence

After packing up the tent, we drove back to Florence today. However, we didn't take the fast, direct route, but stopped at a couple of places on the way. The first stop was Massa Marittima, a hilltop city (nothing maritime about it...) with a gorgeous Romanesque cathedral. We briefly walked around the city, then drove onward through the countryside along some quite windy roads to the former abbey of San Galgano. This abbey was abandoned in the 18th century, and nowadays only the walls remain, making it an interesting place to explore. Nearby is the Montesiepi chapel on the place where San Galgano built a hermit hut and rammed his sword into the stone in his rejection of war (you can still see the sword in the stone).
By this time we were quite hungry, so we stopped nearby for lunch in a restaurant located in a hilltop castle. It was a bit expensive after our economic camping trip, but the scenery, view and good food justified the expense. Finally we bypassed Siena and took another curvy road through the Chianti, stopping in Greve in Chianti to visit the Antica Macelleria Falorni, a fabulous butcher's shop where you can get all kinds of salami, prosciutto, cheese, etc. as well as the largest wine shop in the Chianti. From there it was only a short trip back to Florence, with some mad traffic as we crossed town back to our apartment.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter trip - Day 3 - Pitigliano, Sovana and Saturnia

Another day, another day trip from our camping location on the coast. Today we drove into the interior to visit a series of hilltop towns and Etruscan sites. First stop was Pitigliano, sitting atop of tufa rock, and quite a good photo op. After finding a parking space (good thing our rental car was a tiny Citroen C1!), we walked across a small bridge into the historical center. There's not too much of interest in the actual town, except to wander around and take in the alleys and dead ends. There's a small Ghetto quarter (the town used to have a significant Jewish community), though we didn't tour that since there was an admission fee, but we did pick up a stick of sfratto, a large honey, nut and wine bar surrounded by some hard dough.
Our next stop was Sovana, just a few kilometers down the road. This town basically consists of one street, but it's a pretty one. Our first stop was actually a sandwich and wine shop for lunch, where I got a panino with wild boar mortadella, and Kristen one with cheese (a huge serving of cheese... pecorino, of course). We then wandered through this small town, with the highlights being a 9th century ciborium in the Chiesa di Santa Maria, and the Romanesque cathedral on the edge of town.
A little further, we stopped for the Necropoli di Sovana, a series of Etruscan tombs and vie cave, walkways carved into the soft rock. It was quite impressive to see the ruins of this ancient civilization (older even than most things in Germany). Even though erosion and decay has taken its toll on the structures, you can still some of the detail and decorations of the stone carving.
Finally, our last stop was the Roman town of Saturnia, or rather, the hot sulphurous stream outside of town. We decided to skip the fancy spa and hot springs and go for the free Cascate del Gorello. We passed it the first time, but were then able to see the pools and waterfall from an overlook on the road, and then realized why there had been so many cars in that field. Apparently, this is quite a popular destination for Italians to come to. Of course, while we arrived in our T shirts and bathing gear, the Italians were decked out in their bath robes. We both enjoyed the hot water and massage from the water flowing between the pools (a coveted spot), and Kristen also enjoyed (???) the bathing fashion of the Italian men.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter trip - Day 2 - Maremma and Monte Argentario

Today was our hiking day in the Parco Naturale della Maremma. We got to the parking lot of the visitor center where we were to catch a shuttle bus into the park and saw row after row of campmobiles. Luckily, many of the people seemed to be more interested in biking to the beach or packing out their tables and having a relaxed lunch than in actually hiking in the park. After thorough consultation with Kristen, we decided on an itinerary to the remains of two old watchtowers and down to the beach. It was quite warm in the sun, but also quite hazy, so the views weren't the best, but the landscape was nevertheless quite beautiful. Very mediterranean, with some olive groves, shrubbery, and rosemary bushes growing on the trailside. We had lunch on the beach, then hiked back to the bus stop.
After getting back to the visitor center, it was still quite early, so we drove down the coast to Monte Argentario, a former island that's now connected to the mainland by some land bridges. This is apparently a popular vacation spot for rich Romans, and it did appear to be that way, at least judging from the houses and villas on display. We simply did a turn around the island on the Via panoramica before heading back to the campground.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Easter trip - Day 1 - Volterra and beyond

Springtime in Tuscany is a perfect time for exploring the area -- it's green and in bloom, usually warm and sunny, but not yet unbearably hot as in summer. So we decided to take advantage of the Easter weekend and rent a car to go to the southern part of Tuscany, which isn't easily reachable in day trips. We also decided to give camping a try, since it's the most economical way of spending the night.
We started out Saturday by driving to Volterra, not quite in southern Tuscany, but on the way. We wanted to see the old town center here, as well as the Etruscan artifacts. After finding a parking spot (not so easy, and we paid some Red Cross people for it, though I don't know if we actually needed to), we started by walking by the Medici fortress (nowadays a jail) and through a pleasant park into the town center. After a quick visit to the Roman amphitheater on the edge of town, we went to the Guarnacci Etruscan Museum, which has an overabundance of Etruscan art -- for example, some 600 funerary urns. Some of the rooms were filled floor to ceiling with pottery, which I would call the exhaustive, or 'variations on a theme' style of curating museums. Kristen was quite pleased to be able to see some of the works she had been studying.
After a quick look inside the cathedral and adjacent baptistry, we then headed off towards the coast, stopping twice to buy some supplies which we had forgotten we needed. At around 6 pm, we were still at least an hour's drive away from our destination, so we thought we'd look for a campground a bit further north for this night and then drive the rest of the way the next day. However, the campgrounds we found were not yet open for the season, though we did see some scenic hilltop towns on the way. In the end, we just drove the rest of the way and got to the Voltoncino Camping Village just when it was starting to get dark. We'll talk about camping in Italy some other time... Since Kristen had put so much effort into finding camping fuel back in Florence, we cooked our dinner of pasta with pesto and then engaged in the popular camping activity of sleeping.