My Favorite Italian Cities #DolceVitaBloggers

Ok, so technically the #DolceVitaBloggers theme for January is your favorite Italian city. Singular. But how do you choose? Even if you’ve only been to a handful? Before living here, I would have probably said Florence. As someone who studied art history and fell in love with the Italian Renaissance, it’s kind of hard not to love Florence. It was such an important city during the period. Plus, it’s home to my beloved Palazzo Strozzi. It’s also the first city I visited in Italy.

But on later visits, I found more places to love. Ravenna, Mantova, Venice, and of course, Bologna. I’ve been to Milan, but for various reasons, it’s not a favorite. I have mixed emotions based on mixed memories. And for the purposes of this post, which is going to be photo heavy, I can only find two photos from Milan: the Galleria and La Scala. Not even the Duomo! So just as well that Milan doesn’t make my list. Although I will always fondly remember one of the guards in the Pinacoteca there pointing out to me the best place to stand to view one of the Caravaggio paintings on display. Mega points for that!

But that’s part of my reason for loving different cities. It’s the art and particularly the architecture that I go to see specifically. So it’s not necessarily choosing my favorite cities; it’s choosing my favorite architectural gems. And that’s nearly impossible. But inevitably, when you visit a city, for whatever reason, it’s hard not to come away with special memories. And while they may be private jokes or just an overall sense of gezelligheid that you’re left with after the trip, each city becomes special in its own way. So in trying to limit it all, here are my top three. Technically, I blogged a bit about Venice yesterday, so I won’t repeat myself, even though Venice is definitely way up there!

Bologna (My new favorite Italian city)

At this point, Bologna probably is my favorite city, in part because it’s where I call home and it’s starting to feel more like home, but also because it’s just a really beautiful city. I took a two-hour walk this morning with Charlie, going in a few new directions and discovering new wonders. Even on a dreary day, the colors may be a bit muted, and the portici may be more necessary, but it’s hard to walk far and not find yourself whispering “ma che bello” as you see some stunning colonnade, architectural gem, fantastic street art, or a color that defies the grey of the sky. I really do recommend looking through more of my blog or Instagram to see more photos of just how beautiful this city really is. These following three barely scratch the surface.

Bologna #DolceVitaBloggers portici street art architecture favorite italian city
Bologna #DolceVitaBloggers portici street art architecture favorite italian city
Bologna #DolceVitaBloggers portici street art architecture favorite italian city

Firenze

As I said, Florence was my first stop in Italy (a long time ago so all of my photos are from film so they’re mostly photos of photos at this point, so excuse the quality). I loved Florence from the start and it was particularly exciting to see all of these buildings that I’d studied in detail. And here they were! Everywhere! Because I hate looking like a tourist, but I also had a somewhat decent concept of the city layout from my studies, I’d often set off in a general direction and usually found what I was looking for. My friend Cathy who bravely accompanied me on this journey might disagree or at least suggest that there was a lot of extra, unnecessary wandering. Sometimes I just stumbled across stuff unexpectedly, like the Palazzo Medici. Some stuff we never did find, like the Boboli Gardens, but that turned into a joke about there being dragons on that side of the river.

But my main goal was to see the Palazzo Strozzi and the Palazzo Vecchio and of course the Duomo, Baptistry, and Campanile. Il Cronaca! Brunelleschi! Giotto! Oh my!

Palazzo Strozzi Florence Firenze renaissance architecture
Palazzo Strozzi (too big to fit into one photo). Look at that rustication!
Florence Firenze #DolceVitaBloggers favorite italian city architecture
A happy girl with her Palazzo Strozzi rustication.
Florence Firenze #DolceVitaBloggers favorite italian city architecture
The courtyard of the Palazzo Strozzi
Florence Firenze #DolceVitaBloggers favorite italian city architecture
Palazzo Vecchio
Florence Firenze #DolceVitaBloggers favorite italian city architecture
Brunelleschi’s Dome

 Mantova

I could really keep adding cities, but I’m going to limit myself to just one more, Mantova (Mantua). I went specifically to see the Palazzo Te, but while there, I stumbled across Alberti’s Basilica di Sant’Andrea (and my reaction to seeing it unexpectedly has become a running joke with G and me). We saw the outside of the Palazzo Ducale and the St. George Castle, but mainly just wandered around and enjoyed how pretty the city is. As I said, I went specifically for Palazzo Te because it’s stunning, but also because one of my favorite professors had studied it fairly extensively and written about it, so we benefited from his extra knowledge.

So I’ll leave you for now with some photos taken at the Palazzo Te. If you want to see the favorite Italian city of other Italy-loving bloggers, check out the #DolceVitaBloggers via Kelly at Italian at Heart, Jasmine at Questa Dolce Vita, and Kristie at Mammaprada. Every month, they invite bloggers to post on the seventh of each month on a particular topic. Follow their blogs and/or social media to keep up to date with reading and participating.

Mantova #dolcevitabloggers palazzo te favorite italian city
Mantova #dolcevitabloggers palazzo te favorite italian city
Mantova #dolcevitabloggers palazzo te favorite italian city
Mantova #dolcevitabloggers palazzo te favorite italian city

Dreams of Venice

Venice Venezia gondolas gondole things to see in Venice

In looking for photos for the next #DolceVitaBloggers linkup tomorrow, I ended up looking at some of my photos of Venice. That’s when I realized that that visit was 16 years ago today. We had gone to Venice for the day, not really thinking that the day was a holiday (Epiphany/Befana). As a result, many shops and restaurants were closed. One restaurant, in particular, that G had hoped to visit was sadly closed.

It may not have been the most convenient day to visit, but in the end, it may have still been one of the best. A cold day in the first week of January meant fewer tourists. As a result, we were able to wander around, getting lost but not getting lost, and simply enjoying the beautiful scenery without jostling with hordes of tourists.

Venice truly is beautiful, especially on a relatively quiet day like the one we experienced. The canals, the architecture, the dreamy nature of the city were all there. And a few shops were still open, so I was able to buy a Murano black cat glass sculpture from a gift shop, even if we didn’t get to head over to the actual glass-making island that day. Something for another trip!

Even though I was using a film camera at the time (I told you it was 16 years ago), I still ended up with some of my favorite photos that day. The gondolas, of course, were ridiculously picturesque, but the real treasure was getting some photos of the Ca’ D’Oro around this time of late afternoon with the setting sun causing parts of the building to glow as if literally covered in gold. I had seen the palazzo earlier in the day and it was already stunning. Seeing it again lit by the sun was a dream come true.

A picture is worth a thousand words and I’m short on words today, so I hope you enjoy some of these photos I took in Venice 16 years ago today.

Venice Venezia gondolas gondole things to see in Venice
Venice Venezia gondolas gondole things to see in Venice
Venice Venezia gondolas gondole things to see in Venice
Venice Venezia gondolas gondole things to see in Venice
Venice Venezia gondolas gondole things to see in Venice
venice gondolas venezia rainbow reflection
Venice Venezia gondolas gondole things to see in Venice
Venice Venezia gondolas gondole things to see in Venice

Venice Venezia gondolas gondole things to see in VeniceCa D’Oro during the day.

 

Venice Venezia gondolas gondole things to see in Venice
Ca’ D’Oro in the setting sun.

The Feast of St. Martin

November 11 is the Feast of St. Martin of Tours. He was a Roman soldier who was baptized as an adult and went on to become a monk after having a dream. There are churches all over the place dedicated to him and it’s usually easy to tell by some of the imagery in or on the church. He’s best known for coming across a beggar in a snowstorm and cutting his military cloak in half to share with the poor man. That night, he dreamt that Jesus was wearing the cloak and singing Martin’s praises to the angels for clothing him. It’s the depiction of Martin sitting upon his horse, cutting his cloak, that is the most common depiction.

I’m not religious, but when you get an art history degree, especially if you focus on the Renaissance, you learn a LOT about various saints and their depictions. See a woman with a wheel (like a spinning wheel or even a ship’s captain’s steering wheel) and you’re most likely looking at St. Catherine. A woman with a pair of eyes on a tray? St. Lucy. A man tied up with a bunch of arrows in him? St. Stephen.

St. Martin in Utrecht

However, it wasn’t from my degree that I learned about St. Martin. It was from living in Utrecht, Netherlands. St. Martin (Sint Maarten) is the patron saint of Utrecht. He’s generally pretty popular in the Netherlands, and tonight, children are likely to go around door to door with little lanterns, singing songs about the saint, and hoping for some candy. Sort of the Dutch version of Halloween. Utrecht has also been hosting a special evening parade in recent years, usually the week before.

The cathedral in Utrecht is dedicated to St. Martin and even though most of the interior decoration was destroyed during the Reformation, there is a depiction of St. Martin above one of the doors leading into the cloistered courtyard next to the church.
Sint Maarten
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St. Martin in Italy

From a quick Google search, it looks like Sicily might be more likely to celebrate today, rather than in other parts of Italy. But I could be wrong. However, you’ll still find the saint popping up in other cities in Italy. Bologna, in fact, has a church dedicated to the saint. It’s one that I find myself passing on a regular basis, even when I don’t mean to. I like to think that the cathedral in Utrecht became a bit of a homing location for me, because I could never resist stopping by the square where it’s located, so maybe my internal compass is currently tuned to St. Martin churches.

We passed the church in Bologna today, and as it’s St. Martin’s Day, I couldn’t resist taking a photo of the sculpture above one of the side doors of the church.

St. Martin San Martino Sint Maarten church bologna sculpture bas relief horse cloak carving religious art
St. Martin San Martino Sint Maarten church bologna sculpture bas relief horse cloak carving religious art

While I was in Florence at the Palazzo Strozzi, I was lucky enough to see a Bernini sculpture of St. Martin and the beggar. Carved around 1598, it really is stunning and I was thrilled to finally see a Bernini in person. *fans self* I long to see more of his sculptures, many of which are in Rome. Must plan that trip! Kudos to the museum, which lit the piece — and much of the other work in the Cinquecento exhibit — so beautifully.

St. Martin Bernini sculpture palazzo strozzi cinquecento firenze

St. Martin Bernini sculpture palazzo strozzi cinquecento firenze

St. Martin Bernini sculpture palazzo strozzi cinquecento firenze

I find it fascinating to see the different-yet-similar depictions of the story, even from country to country. Bernini’s is stunning, but Utrecht gets points for the inclusion of a little dog.

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A Peek at Some Florentine Icons

During my last day-trip to Florence, I was short on time and focused on visiting the Palazzo Strozzi and their Cinquecento art exhibit. Despite my desire to revisit old favorites, I knew they’d have to wait for another visit. Fortunately, when we got to Piazza della Repubblica, where we stopped for an overpriced and not so great prosecco, I did at least get a quick peek of Giotto’s bell tower and Brunelleschi’s dome.

Back in my uni days, while studying about the incredible construction of the dome of the cathedral in Florence, I remember having some odd dreams about Brunelleschi and blueberry muffins. But that’s a peek into my subconscious that’s probably best left unexplored.

Instead, inspired by this week’s Weekly Photo Challenge, here are a couple of photos of the bell tower (campanile) and the cupola of the dome peeking up over the rooftops of Piazza della Repubblica, with a bit of bonus carousel.

florence bell tower cathedral giotto brunelleschi renaissance architecture firenze piazza della repubblica carousel

florence bell tower cathedral giotto brunelleschi renaissance architecture firenze piazza della repubblica carousel

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The Monumental Scale of Palazzo Strozzi

I’ve lived in New York City, surrounded by skyscrapers. The scale of the buildings is truly impressive as you see them towering overhead, forming narrow canyons as you walk among them. But in many other parts of the US, it’s the outward scale of the size of cities, rather than the upward scale of tall structures, that really stands out. In Europe, the historic city centers may not take that long to traverse on foot, and many of the buildings aren’t skyscrapers, but the scale of the historic structures is often even more impressive, particularly when you consider how long ago they were built.

In Florence, the number of monumental (in every sense) buildings is impressive. When you add in the narrow streets, the buildings that seem large already then seem to double in height. On my first visit to Italy, which started off in Florence, I remember being blown away by the sheer scale and height of the front door of the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi. I had studied the building in many of my art history courses, but nothing truly prepared me for the reality of the size of it all.

My beloved Palazzo Strozzi is even larger, measuring around 105 feet/32 meters high*, and still remains impressive to me. (Although after all those years in Utrecht, it suddenly seems a bit shorter, since the Domtoren measures in at 368 feet/112.5 meters. Seriously, it’s a GIANT bell tower.) When I visited Florence recently, I still felt a thrill when I saw the Palazzo Strozzi peeking through the gap at the end of a narrow street. As I got closer, it grew taller and taller and soon my head was tilted all the way back as I gazed up at the beautiful rustication and spectacular cornice.

Palazzo Strozzi corner angolo scale photography travel florence

palazzo strozzi rustication iron ring cornice

My father, who was a professional photographer for years, often suggests getting people into a shot to add some interest or give a sense of scale. There’s no shortage of people in Florence, and there were even more people milling around the palazzo this time than during my first visit. All of the tiny ant-like figures really do give a sense of the scale of the building, whether it’s the doorways, the height of the building, or the width of it. And it’s really hard to fit all of it into one photo! It’s a grand, monumental, beautiful building and the scale of my love for it, even after all of these years, is truly hard to measure.

*I had a surprisingly hard time finding the height of the Palazzo Strozzi listed online. I knew I had included it in the paper I’d written on the building, and sure enough, I found the height in the rough draft I have among my notes and photocopies from my research, all bundled up in a big binder. I feel vindicated in keeping all of that through all the moves now.
Palazzo Strozzi rustication museum florence

Palazzo Strozzi rustication museum florence travel scale

Daniel Craig’s Bond in Italy

Daniel Craig’s Bond In Italy

In 2019 Daniel Craig will sign off with the 25th James Bond film. Since taking on the role in 2005, Craig has gone on to become a global icon and arguably the most popular Bond since Sean Connery. To celebrate his tenure we look at the times his version of the character visited Italy.

Casino Royale

The canal city of Venice played an important role in the film’s finale. In typical Bond fashion he enters Venice sailing a 54ft yacht with Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd. The building that “sank” in the film’s climatic action set piece is the 17th Century Palazzo Pisani Moretta. While the interior of the building is usually closed off to the public, the exterior (which is seen in the film) can be visited by boat.

Lake Como featured at the end of Casio Royale and has earned its place in cinematic history as the location of Daniel Craig’s first “Bond, James Bond”. The luxury villa where this line is uttered is the Villa La Gaeta and rooms can be rented out.

Quantum of Solace

As Craig’s second Bond film takes place immediately after the events of Casino Royale, Italy featured again. The first instance is in the pre-credits car chase sequence next to Lake Garda. The tunnel at the beginning of the chase is at the northeast part of the lake for those who want to recreate the opening shot in an Aston Martin (or any other car).

After the car chase Bond engages on a foot chase that take place Tuscany city of Siena during the famous Palio di Siena. The race is held twice a year and is considered a historically important event in the city.

Spectre

The capital of Italy, Rome was central to the plot of Craig’s last film. Many famous locations around the city were used. For the funeral scene where Bond first gets a glimpse of Christopher Waltz’s villain, the Museum of Roman Civilization was used as the backdrop. This location has been featured in hundreds of films and is a popular tourist destination.

The highlight of the Rome sequence is the car chase between Bond and Dave Bautista’s character Mr. Hinx. The chase goes over, around, and through many of the city’s most iconic locations. Atlas of Wonders notes that the chase features the banks of the Tiber River, the bridge of Ponte Sant’Angelo, the Vatican, and a passage known as the Passetto di Borgo.

The Bond Legacy

The Bond franchise continues to be one of cinema’s most enduring franchises. Since the first film Dr. No was released in 1962, the series has gone on to earn over $7 billion at the box office. The character of Bond has influenced many alternative versions across numerous mediums. The most recent example is Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman films (the latest is was released this year). Vaughn has explained in interviews how the less serious Roger Moore films influenced him. Many of the parodies have embraced the Moore tongue-in-cheek era to create new twists on the character. Entertainment outlet Slingo in their slot game Jane Blonde reversed the gender of the famous spy in a game that both pays homage to and parodies James Bond. After Daniel Craig retires it is likely that the franchise will return to a less serious Bond, and inspire many more parodies.

One thing is for sure. Italy will always be a favorite location of the superspy, and we can expect to see Bond return to the country in the near future.

 


This is a guest post. As a long-time Bond fan (books and films) I thought this was a nice look at the way Bond and Italy have become intertwined.

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Pedestrian but Civilized

While visiting Florence the other week, the weather was warm, the sun was shining down, and we were miserable. Well, not miserable, but seriously, y’all, it was hot! I know plenty of people who love warm weather, but that’s not G and me. We arrived at the consulate early, and while it was next to the Arno, the sun was beating down on us, with no immediate shade on that side of the river. Plus, as a result of security, I had to wait to go into the building until it was my appointment time, so there was at least a half hour spent in the sun.

After the appointment, I ended up doing a few laps along the river looking for G who had to wait outside. I was going to call him when I was done, but having had to turn off my phone before entering the consulate, I realized that I didn’t have the SIM number memorized to unlock it. Doh! Fortunately, after just a bit of panicking and walking back and forth, I spotted him in a shady area behind the consulate. The shade — and the sight of a couple of cats — had lured him back there. While I cooled off, we made plans to find a small bar to have a quick lunch before going to the Palazzo Strozzi.

After walking in the sun for a few minutes, we decided to take our chances and head to more shadowed streets heading in the general direction we needed to go. The Arno side, though direct enough, was too hot. Fortunately, we ended up finding a cooler street that had a number of restaurants. While most were maybe a bit more touristic and heavier than we wanted, we ended up finding an attractive little bar with some tasty panini and a nice cross breeze.

Sated, we were once again on our way to the Palazzo Strozzi. Most of the streets at that point were narrow and shadowed. One of the joys of ancient city centers! firenze florence historic center centro architectureStill, the roads and walkways are often a bit uneven, with many narrow sidewalks cobbled. By the end of the day, after also wandering around the Palazzo Strozzi and then heading to the Piazza Repubblica, our feet were feeling the effect of those uneven paths.

Does it sound like I’m complaining a lot? I know! I sound like one of those expats/tourists. I hate those people! I promise, I didn’t complain about any of it the first time I went to Florence (although it was much cooler then). This time, I was there mainly for a bit of bureaucratic paperwork that was making me feel a bit stressed and the heat wasn’t helping my anxiety. Plus, by the end, my feet were really hurting, and just about everyone knows that foot pain will turn the sunniest personality into a grump. Blah blah blah excuses …

Mainly, all this over-the-top complaining is to explain why G and I were joking about how much more civilized Bologna is compared to other cities, thanks to the wonderful portici that offer shade from the sun, protection from the rain, and have smooth, even paths beneath them that don’t try to turn your ankle every two steps. The Bologna portici, which cover a huge part of the city, may be pedestrian walkways, but they are anything but pedestrian in their form and function. Many have beautiful marble walkways and some stunning arches and vaulting. And since this week’s Weekly Photo Challenge is “pedestrian”, I thought I’d share some of these civilized Bologna portici that came in handy on a recent rainy Sunday morning.

bologna portici covered walkways portico bologna portici covered walkways portico

bologna portici covered walkways portico
Many portici serve as covered terrace areas for restaurants, bars, and cafés. They may look pedestrian when the shutters are closed, but they come alive during the day and evening, many with their own special lights and lamps.

bologna portici covered walkways portico

In Utrecht, we’d joke about people wearing bicycle helmets being tourists, as locals almost never wear them. In this case, part of me wants to joke that these are tourists who don’t automatically appreciate the benefits of the portici. And is that someone walking in a bike lane?! Tourists!*

*All tourist teasing and Florence complaining is purely tongue-in-cheek.

Windows of Palazzo Strozzi

When I saw the topic of this week’s Weekly Photo Challenge was windows, I knew immediately what I would post, even if it varies slightly from their take on the theme. After my trip to Florence last week, I had an abundance of photos of Palazzo Strozzi windows, inside and out. Really, I could have done any number of photos of windows taken throughout Florence. There were some real beauties. But today, I’m going to keep it simple and focus on the windows in the courtyard of the Palazzo Strozzi and a few views looking out some of the exterior windows … at more windows!

First up is the courtyard. Having spent a semester studying this palazzo at university, I felt like I was in a familiar and happy spot, despite having never been inside the palazzo. The soft light that filters down is almost magical, well, at least for me. I could have stood or sat there forever. G would say that it felt like I was there forever as I kept taking photos and just drinking in the atmosphere and all the little familiar details that I was so happy to finally see in person.

palazzo strozzi windows florence firenze courtyard palazzo strozzi windows florence firenze courtyard palazzo strozzi windows florence firenze courtyard

I love how there are two sets of window styles, each facing each other, with one almost all glass, while the other retains the same shape, but uses less glass.

Upstairs, in the current art exhibit, most windows are covered, but a few of the beautiful bifore windows were exposed and offered some fascinating views of the surrounding buildings. It gets particularly meta when you start looking at windows through a window. It was lovely to see the progression of the windows on one of the opposite buildings, as they move from a flat lintel over the windows on the top, followed by the triangular pediment and then the curved pediment. It just goes to show that windows can be just as interesting as the views they offer.

palazzo strozzi windows bifore florence firenze palazzo strozzi windows pediments lintel florence firenze

Foto Friday: Michelangelo Edition

I’ve spent a good portion of the day just looking through the photos I took yesterday in Florence. Most are of the inner courtyard and the exterior of the Palazzo Strozzi, which are as magnificent as I remembered, if not more so. I was a very happy art historian.

While we were there, we took in the new exhibit, The Cinquecento in Florence: “Modern Manner” and Counter-Reformation. I enjoyed getting to see a number of works in person and relatively up close that I’d only seen in my art books. Other pieces were new to me, but still quite familiar, due to the subject matter. As I joked with G yesterday, I can tell an Annunciation just from a quick passing glace out the corner of my eye. I’m not bragging; it’s simply if you focus on Italian Renaissance art as I did for my degree, you tend to recognize the symbolism and general themes.

I’m short on time and still need to do a bit of tweaking to my photos, not to mention the need to go through all 200+ and figure out which ones to use in various posts. The last time I was in Florence I was using a film camera rather than a digital one. In retrospect, it didn’t really stop me from taking a million photos then, either. I just kept buying more film rolls!

To give you a hint of what I saw at the exhibit, here’s the first thing you see upon entering: River God, by Michelangelo and Lamentation over the Dead Christ by Andrea del Sarto. The Michelangelo work isn’t marble, it’s clay, sand, fibers and other ingredients built up over a wire-frame interior. You still see the beautiful form of his figures, down to the folds of the flesh at the stomach as the river god rises and twists. Absolutely stunning. The whole exhibit is worth a visit if you have even a remote interest in art. The colors, the forms, and even some of the sense of humor (intentional or not) in certain works are a joy to see.

michelangelo cinquecento del sarto renaissance art palazzo strozzi

Revisiting an Old Friend in Florence 

A trip to the US Consulate tomorrow is the perfect excuse to go see an old friend: the Palazzo Strozzi. I haven’t seen her since the late ’90s, and back then she wasn’t big on visitors going inside. But now she’s quite open and even hosting an exhibit of some of the art of the Cinquecento, which is an added bonus.

On my last visit I made do with a great deal of gawking at her glorious exterior and caressing her beautiful rustication. We’d had a long-distance relationship for years before that, you see. I spent a semester at uni studying her history and personal style and those who helped make her the stunning palazzo she was destined to become.
It has been years, but my heart still thrills at the mere thought of seeing her.

Palazzo Strozzi Florence Firenze renaissance architecture

Many more photos likely to come!

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