For the first time in six weeks, we stayed in Florence for the weekend! I can't tell you how excited this makes me. Yesterday's weather was pretty uninviting, cool and rainy, so Husbear simmered a big pot of soup for dinner. Today, through the Oltrarno and into the middle of a block party in San Niccolo!
How about a Rome post until we get the block party pics edited?
The Colosseum was impressive and beautiful, of course, so we thought - why not jump forward 14 or 15 centuries and take a gander at St. Peter's Basilica? Over to the Metro again, by way of Termini station, and we popped back out into the daylight several blocks from the center of Christendom.
As you follow the hordes towards the walls of Vatican City, be sure to take a look at some of the tackiest souvenir stands you may ever see.
The stands right now seem to be mostly filled with changeover stuff - lots of Benedict 16 smiling with the late John Paul 2, that sort of thing. He still seems to be reaching for the love the late Pope enjoyed.
We made our way through the opening in the walls.
That crowd you can see in front of the columns in the background is made up of tourists elbowing each other to get into the Basilica. Yipes.
To get in, you have to be "appropriately attired", as represented by these stick figures.
And they do check, believe me. I saw several women with hastily-purchased scarves thrown around their shoulders - the gift shop must do a booming business in these!
I've mentioned on here several times that I'm Jewish; even so, I can't help but be impressed by the scale and pomp of this building. The level of art reached in decorating the Basilica is baroquely amazing.
Interestingly, the front is so huge that when you're standing in front of the church itself, you can't see Michelangelo's dome!
The scale of this building is just not to be believed. And every nook and cranny is jammed with altars, sculpture, mosaics... by some of the greatest artists of the time. I've read that this may have had something to do with the fact that construction began around the time of the Reformation; the Counter-Reformation sought to smack people over the head with impressive works.
Bernini's baldacchino is on the left side of this photograph - the canopy was supposedly fashioned from metal stripped from the dome of the Pantheon.
This 13th-C statue of St. Peter precedes the Basilica. There was a line to touch and/or kiss his feet, which were quite worn.
On the far side of the church sits St. Peter's Throne and a beautiful sunburst window. When we visited, they were keeping tourists out of this area so it could be used by worshippers.
The sunburst window is another Bernini - this prodigy's creations can be found throughout the city.
Another Bernini can be found to the left of the back of the church - it's probably my favorite piece among the many packing the Basilica.
It's the tomb of Pope Alexander VII; the most arresting detail is the skeleton fighting his way out from underneath heavy robes of marble, symbolizing the inescapable nature of Death's hourglass. Very different, very cool.
These giant artworks were everywhere...
And then we read in Rick Steves that they're actually mosaics! There's no way I would have caught that on my own without reading it - the work is much too minute and well-done. Husbear took a close-up to prove it.
Actually, the scale of the entire place is shocking. I really wanted to have a complete history of Catholicism somewhere about my person, but I was carrying too many books as it was.
I suppose if one really had to choose a "don't miss" amongst all the artwork to be found in St. Peter's, it would have to be Michelangelo's Pieta, carved when he was in his mid-twenties. Though Italy is really full of Pietas (Piete?) this one, so much more liefelike than most, is really worth seeing. Unfortunately, you can't get all that close. Some nutty guy tried to beat the crap out of the statue back in the 1970s, so it's behind glass now.
After a couple of hours fighting the crowds at St. Peter's, the idea of a coffee sounded really nice - so we walked back towards the metro, stopping on the way for a shot of caffeine at a really cute little candy/sundries shop cum coffee bar. I wandered the streets around the bar long enough to become insanely jealous of the number of Asian food markets in Rome.
The four of us made the decision not to go back by the hotel - we had shopping and Pantheon-viewing to do!
Have I mentioned, it's been getting dark a lot earlier around here already? This week, in Florence, it's pitch-black by 7! Yipes!
Anyway, the Pantheon is even more striking by night.
Lots of people strolled in the piazza, gelati in hand. We were planning on something a little different for dinner, though.
The restaurant was a Frommer's rec called Il Miraggio, and it's within close walking distance of the Pantheon.
Worryingly, there were only a couple of other tables at the restaurant when we arrived for our 9:00 reservation. Ah, well - the worst that could happen would be Frommer's guiding us to another... yipes... Camille Stephani! (aaaaaaaaaa!)
We sat down and ordered a few dishes, and around comes the ubiquitous rose guy. These are men who will come into a restaurant where you are eating and jam a bouquet of roses in your face, hoping you will buy them. They are everywhere.
Since this was Mama Bear and Pegs' last night in town, we went ahead and bought a rose. (sorry, just one - they really jack up the price when you buy them on the street!)
The first food brought out was Fiore Sardo, a slightly tangy Sardinain sheep's milk cheese. I read an article extolling the virtues of this cheese in perhaps my Food and Wine a year ago, and had to try it. It was wonderful, with all that sheepy tanginess as well as an interesting herbaceous quality. Really good - have to try more.
I also agitated for saltimbocca alla romana, a veal dish with a piece of prosciutto and a sage leaf spiked to the top - the whole thing is then coated in flour and panfried before being topped with a lemon sauce. A very Roman thing I really wanted to try, and it was worth it. A very flavorful preparation of a meat that can be really bland.
And a lasanga, because who doesn't like lasagna? This one was wonderfully creamy - as good as it was, I was glad we were splitting it four ways, since I'm thinking a good bit of heavy cream was involved in the preparation.
Husbear's request was for Spaghetti alla Bottarga, spaghetti with bottarga (cured, dried fish roe) shaved over it. I really wanted to like this, but it just tasted so much like cured dried fish roe... even our tasty Sardinian white wine couldn't cut through the fishiness.
To round out our meat pasta pasta, we chose another meat - a simple roast lamb with roast potatoes. We'd been trying to order potatoes for the poor ladies the entire time they'd been in Italy, only to be told each time that they were out. This time - success! I liked the lamb a lot, though husbear found it a bit fatty. Eh, it's lamb, it's always kinda fatty! Silly vegetarians-on-hiatus...
Mostly sated, we decided on two desserts. First, a creme caramel. Husbear first tried this on our first anniversary in Austin, and thought this one was better. Consistently creamy all the way through, with no dry spots.
We also tried a seada, a flaky fried pastry shell stuffed with pecorino and drizzled with YUM honey YUM YUM where is one of these right now when I need it? Huh?
I thought this meal was really good, overall. However, it was one of the most expensive meals the four of us had while the ladies were in town, and for the price - we were happy, but not entirely overwhelmed. For Rome, though, it was eminently reasonable.
Our happy bellies stuffed, we walked the few short blocks to the Trevi Fountain, which is on my personal "must-see-by-night" list of Rome. It's just so beautiful, to see it all lit up - the fact that every square inch is covered in either tourists or people selling things to tourists almost doesn't detract.
I mean, look at that! It just screams "Rome" to me.
As their goodbye to Rome, we made the ladies throw coins over their shoulder into the fountain. Legend has it that if you throw a coin over your shoulder into the Trevi Fountain, you are destined to return to Rome. We've done it each time we've been there and so far it's worked out!
It's the best way to say goodbye to Rome.
Unfortunately, we had to say goodbye as well to our intrepid ladies. Their flight out was midday the next day, which gave us enough time to get them one last cappuccino. We bid them a sad arrivederci as they waved from the back of their private car which luckily did not rip them off.
It was so lonely and sad coming back to Florence! Fortunately, Pegs left a pair of shoes here for us to remember her by, and we now are all stocked up on saran wrap and baggies and washcloths, all things it's difficult to come by here in Florence.
I just hate being reminded of how far away from family we really are, all the way over here!