Sunday, June 24, 2007

La Spezia

Hello, Jeff here again. It’s Sunday morning (6/24) and we’re getting ready for our first day in France – specifically, Marseille. However, I have a little time to first catch you up on what we did yesterday at the port of La Spezia, our last port stop in the beautiful country of Italy. La Spezia has a population of about 95,000 people. It has been settled by man since prehistoric times; the Romans established nearby city of Florence (our first stop) in 59 BC; the city of Pisa (our second stop) was built as a Roman colony in 180 BC. The city of Florence (known as Firenze here) is considered by many to be an artistic hub in Italy. Many famous artists were once residents of Florence, or have their work displayed there including: Leonardo DaVinci, Michelangelo, Boticelli, Raphael and Donatello. In the city of Pisa, during World War II, the Nazis used the Leaning Tower as a watchtower; Galileo Galilei is said to have used the Tower to conduct physics experiments, dropping cannon balls of different sizes from the top to show that the rate they drop is independent of their mass.

The port of La Spezia is a tender port for us, meaning that our ship cannot dock but instead must anchor out in the bay and we must be shuttled from our ship to the dock via smaller boats called “tenders”. We (and others not on Disney excursions) reported to the Buena Vista Theatre to receive tender tickets at 7:30 am. It appears others arrived earlier as there were already about 100 there before us. Here’s a tip for those of you reading this that might be doing this cruise later. Those on the far right and top of the theater (as you face the stage) are the first to be called to go. So if you want to make the first tender, get there between 7:15 and 7:30 and make sure you’re either seated on the top row all the way to the right or are standing by the door on the top right. We were seated on the left and had to wait for the third tender and were about 20 minutes late meeting our driver at the port. Other than that, the tender process was smooth. It took about 10 minutes to get from the Magic to the dock. As you can see from the photo, this gave us a great opportunity to get photos of the ship. Once again, our driver was there waiting for us and we were off to Florence. Joining us today was Vicki. Marie and her son Jeff decided they weren’t up to the 2 hour drive each way and backed out.

Again, we had a “chamber of commerce” day - beautiful, clear blue skies with temps in the upper 70’s to low 80’s. The drive to Florence was interesting as there was plenty of scenery for us to admire – there were tall mountains on the left side and smaller mountains and hills on the right. Within the tall mountains on the left, the driver pointed out marble quarries and we were able to see quite a few small towns perched on the hills. It took about an hour and 45 minutes to get to Florence. There we met our licensed tour guide Virginia. She looked to be about our age (40s) and she was very enthusiastic about everything she told us. Our first stop was the Accademia, the museum that houses one of Michelangelo’s most famous masterpieces – the statue of David.

Susan here, picking up where Jeff left off. Rising some 16 feet tall, the David is truly a work of art. Virginia, being an art historian, gave us a detailed explanation of how Michelangelo’s sculpting procedure was radically different than that of his contemporaries, then explained why his David was unique when compared to other depictions. First, David is depicted as a man, not the teenage boy that we read about in the Bible. Second, David is normally shown with his foot on Goliath’s head, but this feature is notable absent, with David’s expression as thinking about what he is about to do. And lastly, David is naked, representing the Roman god, Apollo, who is always depicted with a tree trunk behind his leg. She took us all around the statue noting the sling in his enormous hands, indicating strength, and the larger than normal size of his head representing wisdom. We saw many students seated around the walls doing sketches of the statue, learning from this magnificent work of art. A copy of the statue (seen in the photo here) is now found in the original location, outside the Palazzo Vecchio, which is now the city’s administration building. Next Virginia took us quickly though an exhibit of exquisite musical instruments. The exhibit included a marble piano and a violin by Stradivarius. Oboes, recorders, bassoons, and stringed instruments we incredibly detailed and understandably priceless.

Our next stop was the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Flower, known for the beautiful green, white, and red marble exterior and the enormous dome (Duomo), designed by the masterful architect Brunelleschi. The construction technique, using no scaffolding, that Brunelleschi employed for the huge dome are still a mystery to contemporary architectural studies. We viewed the massive bronze doors of the little octagonal Baptistry (see photo at bottom), which is to the west of the cathedral. The beginning of the construction of the Baptistry is unknown, but the bronze doors, begun after a competition in 1401 to chose the artist, signals the beginning of the Renaissance in Italy. The doors, designed by Ghiberti, were completed in 1424, depicting people in structures in perspective. The Paradise doors depict themes from the Old Testament. These doors were replicas however, as the original doors, damaged in a massive flood, were removed and moved to a museum for their protection.

From the cathedral, we went to the church of Orsanmichele, where there are niches on the exterior that are filled with Renaissance statues sponsored by the guilds that depict the patron saints of the various guilds.

We then proceeded to the Piazza della Signoria (photo at the end), where there are spectacular sculptures; all but two are priceless originals. It is here, outside the Palazzo Vecchio, where we saw the copy of Michelangelo’s David. Another noteworthy item is some graffiti by Michelangelo. He was challenged to carve a face in the wall of the building, behind his back. After a stroll past the Uffizi, we were greeted with a view of the beautiful Ponte Veccchio (photo), built in 1345. We walked back up along the Arno River, grabbed a gelato, and walked to our next destination, the gothic Church of Santa Croce (Church of the Holy Cross). The exterior is similar in color to the Duomo, but it is done in the Gothic style. There are more than 200 dignitaries buried inside, including Galileo, Michelangelo and Rossini. This was the end of our tour with Virginia – we said our farewells and found a walk up pizza place for a quick lunch. Susan, Katy and Vicki went off to do some shopping (Myra, Susan and Katy each both an Italian leather purse). Our driver soon showed up and we were off to Pisa.

We arrived about 1 hour and 15 minutes later (during which we all slept most of the way) to do a quick tour of La Piazza del Duomo, the complex that includes the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa. The Tower is on the far right of the photo. It was built as the bell tower of the Cathedral.

Katy here. Pisa was a quick visit. It only took 30 minutes to get in there and see what we wanted to see. Mom refused to take the “obligatory ‘holding up the Tower of Pisa’ picture.” We saw several of the Disney photographers, and so we had them take our pictures. One of the photographers, who refers to me as “the princess” had me take a couple pictures by myself while striking a random pose. I had a couple poses in mind; however, I was in the middle of a crowd of tourists and I didn’t want to embarrass myself, even if I WAS never going to see any of those people ever again. So I stuck my hands on my hips (the photographer’s suggested pose) and had my picture taken while staring straight into the sun thus giving me the squinty, awkward look.

Anyways, after taking all the lovely outside pictures, we decided to make a quick run through the church. Inside was the body of someone named Ranieri (or something like that) in an illuminated box thing, much like the decaying body of that one pope in St. Peter’s. Across the way was another illuminated box containing the skull and a couple other bones (I think) of some unknown person. By that time, we had to leave.

We met back up with the cab driver, Giambattista, who, by the way, drove the most incredibly cramped van I’ve ever been in. As Dad put it, a super micro mini van. I had the choice of sitting crammed together with my Mom and Vicki (I don’t like it when people rub up against me. It violates my personal bubble.) or being crammed in the “back seat.” So naturally, personal space ruled over my decision, also I didn’t know that the back was THAT cramped. I couldn’t even sit normally. If I did, my knees were pressed up really hard against the seat, so I had to sit with one leg to either side (not very ladylike) or diagonally. I alternated the two because either way, it was hardly an enjoyable experience.

Now, the tight squeeze aside, let me shed some light on our driver’s driving “technique.” He had this quirk where he would speed up, then let off the gas and coast, then speed up again, etc. He never would keep his foot on the accelerator and go a constant speed! Anyway, the driving and smallness of the van aside, we had another amazing excursion in Florence and Pisa.

1 comment:

Myra Horn said...

Good commentary on the tours from all. I believe these tours may have been the best one. Keep up the good work!

Love you, Myra