Thursday, March 31, 2016

Day Four of Sabbatical: Lucca and Pisa

I will say out the gate, it was a beautiful day!

We started out by using our train tickets to board the train at the Santa Maria Novella station here in Florence. We were schooled on the fine art of putting our tickets in the machine at the platform by the guard at the train station. Easy!

We boarded our train and took the hour long ride to Lucca.

When we disembarked at Lucca we were greeted by a beautiful day and a view of the city wall. Passing through the wall, we couldn't believe what welcomed us -- the Cathedral, the Campanile, and the Cathedral Museum. We immediately got tickets for all three to visit.

Stepping inside the Cathedral I was taken aback by the beauty of it, but more by the prayerful atmosphere.  

I said prayers and lit a candle. 
Yes, it was electric. I didn't care, as there has been much on my heart. There was a very old priest praying nearby. He was hearing confessions when anyone would come near his booth -- he would go back in -- otherwise he was sitting outside the confessional, praying. Donna wanted to do confession. As the priest didn't speak English, he couldn't help her. I spoke to him in Spanish -- and we struggled through some translation, but I shared a bit of what was on my heart -- he joined me in my prayers for the day, and what my prayer concerns were. He was most kind.

We walked over to the museum -- it is a beautiful museum, well worth the time to go through. It was well organized and held many beautiful items, some of which I will post now with the description following each item:

We next headed over to the Campanile. While the Church (San Giovanni) has been deconsecrated, the Campanile is still a welcomed treat for visitors to Lucca. We climbed the stairs and were treated to a beautiful view. The stairs were metal and tight--about 5 minutes after we started to ascend about 50 Czech High School Students and their teachers came charging up behind us! We were waiting for them to get to the top so we could climb down, but there was no room at the top so we had to make our way down among them -- not an easy task.

We were hungry by then and decided to head out to find lunch. It didn't take long! We stopped at a lovely place where the people were friendly and the food was reasonably priced and good -- Bar Astra:

Powered by a good lunch and Scweps ginger ale, we all headed out again. The piazzas in Lucca feel very close together, and we were impressed (and happy) with the clean streets, the friendly people, and the easily traversed streets and alleys.

We decided to go on the Eyewitness Book-suggested walking tour, and were quite happy that we did. We passed by Puccini's birthplace, and in the adjacent Piazza his statue:
Puccini's birth place and museum -- we didn't feel the need to go in.

Puccini's statue

We loved walking through more streets -- beautiful!

We ended up looking up to Gigliano's Tower -- with the trees on the top of it from the street -- can you see it in the next picture?

Everyone except Donna was anxious to climb to the top (there is no elevator). We paid for the tickets and started the 220 step climb up. It was a hearty climb, but as we had already climbed up the Campanile a few hours earlier, I felt refreshed and ready to go. It was well worth it!

Here are the Jardine women at the top -- notice the ones who are smiling:

And here is that view:

It was beautiful!

Here's a happy Steve:

And a happy Debber and Mike:

We climbed back down and made our way back to the train station, admiring the streets again:

Here is the horse hitching post -- we saw these in Florence as well -- notice the bicycle isn't attached to it!: 

We headed on to Pisa, going back to the train Station. Bye Lucca! I hope to see you again!

Getting off the train in Pisa, we walked almost a mile to get to the leaning tower. I will say upfront that I was glad to have the experience of going to see the leaning tower, but it was truly something I could have missed.  

We didn't pay to walk up to the top of the tower (I think that would have put Donna right under the bus) -- plus it was 18 euro! Here are some pictures from the tower and the Duomo:

Again, I'm glad to have done it, but it was way too crowded and Pisa was the dirtiest city we've encountered so far. 

We walked about 1.5 miles back to the farther train station -- the one to take us back to Florence. 

We arrived back tired but grateful for the day. 

Dinner was at Il Grotta di Leo: Pizza after Pisa!

I am still reflecting on the day -- beautiful, long, prayerful and prayer-filled. Lucca was by far our favorite outside-of-Florence spot. If I ever have the chance to come back, I may just stay there -- there aren't large crowds, and it is just beautiful.

Steps walked yesterday -- 20,463 -- 7.87 miles.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Day Three of Sabbatical: All Day in Florence

Woke to another beautiful day. Steve and I headed to the train station to scope out buying tickets for the trains to Lucca and Pisa for tomorrow, and Venice for Friday.

We discovered the "private" train company, where we bought tickets for Venice. The people there were very nice, and the line was very short.

Next we went over to the national, regional train company. The woman pointed me to a LONG line waiting to get to one of the few Windows that were open. I took one look at that line, looked down at my cane, walked back over to her, pointed to my cane and then to the handicapped window where there was only one person in line -- and she said I could go there. (Why didn't she tell me that to begin with?). We spent time with the woman trying to understand what she was telling us about the trains, and finally bought our tickets. Yeah!

Back at the Townhouse, we all grouped together and headed out for our day.

It was a FULL day walking around Florence, seeing some of the sights we really wanted to see. I was debating this morning how I wanted to talk about today and display pictures, so I thought I'd take a chance and let you know upfront what you would be seeing, then add details as I display the photos I took. So, here we go:

Santa Croce church (where Michaelangelo, Rossini, Machiavelli, Galileo, and others are buried, and where the Franciscans who oversee the church have a leather school -- and a store.) It is said that St. Francis started this church. Debber bought a beautiful purse, Steve bought a wallet, and I bought leather key rings. You are able to watch the seasoned artisans and the apprentices do their work -- all the items sold there are made on the premises, and the sales support the aristans and the church. I love it!

The Piazzelle de Michelangelo, with the best views of Florence, along with the Benedictine Monastery and Church above it (the ceiling of that church was the inspiration for the ceiling at our own St. John's Pro-Cathedral). When we finally climbed ALL the stairs and made it to the top to the church -- it was closed and not set to reopen for almost two hours. While we took photos of the view and of the outside of the church, we decided to go back another late afternoon to hear the Gregorian Chant at 5 and see the inside of the church.

The Church of Santa Maria de Novella. I had quite the encounter with the ticket booth person -- yes, at this church and at Santa Croce we had to buy tickets to get in. What a beautiful church with wonderful artwork! The cross was done by Giotto, whose work we saw yesterday in the Uffizi. Also, the museum there housed reliquaries for St. Mary Magdalene and the vestments of St. Thomas of Canterbury, to name a few items (you can see pictures below). 

And last but not least, the Central Market. Wow. A foodie's dream come true!

Here are some of the highlights of the day:

First of all, on the way I stopped and said a prayer in the Church of the Holy Trinity:
I always stop and say a prayer when I see a church that is open. There is lots to pray and think about on this trip, and that will be part of the book I'm writing during my sabbatical (this blog actually helps with that process, for those of you wondering why I'm writing during my sabbatical!)

I loved the following "purse" for sale in a window along our walk to Santa Croce along the fashion lanes of Florence:
Yes, this was a window display. Notice the "tassels" on the bag, and the display. Given the love of tobacco products in this country, I kinda understand the bag, but not really. I haven't seen anywhere in the street with it, though!

Finally we arrived at Santa Croce:
As with many churches here, the marble facades are beautiful! I love the designs more than any other churches I've seen.

Inside Santa Croce (once we bought the tickets) it was equally as beautiful.

Highlights with captions from Santa Croce:
Steve in front of the High Altar.

One of the side chapels with frescos.

Rossini's coffin.

Mike in front of Dante's shrine.

Debber in front of Michelangelo's shrine (huge and beautiful -- the shrine, that is, although Deb is beautiful!).

Galileo's shrine and coffin.

A tribute to Enrico Fermi -- anyone know what he was famous for? Steve knew right away.

This is me in front of the pulpit at Santa Croce -- anyone remember what happened here? Galileo was called a heretic! Yep, buried in the same church (with honor). A prophet is without honor . . . 

Beautiful artwork in the side chapels at Santa Croce. Here is but one example.

Here are the leather artisans working -- LOTS of them. That was so good to see, and to buy items there that support the people who make them and the church at the same time.

We headed to lunch next -- always an adventure with this group! We discovered a wonderful little restaurant, and were able to get (and sample each other's) delicious meals:

Above is a pizza ball, procuitto and buffalo mozzarella "pizza", in the middle taglatelle with bolognese, and at the bottom, chicken breast Milanese. Delicious! Donna had lamb chops that were to die for as well.

Powered by a good lunch, we were back on our way up the hills to Piazelle de Michelanglo. We walked across the Arno River, and Steve, Donna and I grabbed a cab up the hill while Debber and Michael hiked it up that hill. 

When we reached the top (and Deb and Mike met us) at the Piazza Michelangelo we were treated to a beautiful view, which can be seen in the following pictures:

We went then up to the Church of San Miniato al Monte -- whose ceiling the ceiling of St. John's Pro Cathedral was based upon, however it was CLOSED from 12:30 to 3:30, and as we were there at 1:30 we decided NOT to waste the next two hours waiting up there but catch the bus down the hill. 

Here are the three Jardine women -- heading down the hill in the bus. Steve and I remembered the story of our friends who recently visited, how they didn't have a bus ticket, but got on the bus, and the "bus police" came on and busted them. We just finished tell that story when we got on the bus. Well, we got our tickets, got them validated, sat there for 2 minutes and then -- Ta da -- the bus police got on the bus, but we were ready for them! 

We got down the hill and headed down to the Church of Santa Maria Novella, which is close to where we are staying at the townhouse. 

Outside the church on the sidewalk was a beautiful saying which fit my heart and the tone of the trip:

Here are a few pictures from the Cathedral and the museum in the Cathedral:

I'll post more pictures from the museum at the end of this blog.

Next we ended up at the Central Market, a place that was highly recommended by Christian and Shannon Kassoff, and we were not disappointed!

It was AWESOME! Debber bought a kilo of biscotti, which we thought was crazy until we finished half of it that night after dinner. Well, they were small pieces, that's all I'm saying.

Here is my favorite picture, which captures the mood of the Central Market and of food in Italy in general:

And of course a few scenes from the market:
Here's where Deb bought the biscotti!

We returned to the townhouse, put our things down, changed our shoes and went out to dinner. It was a beautiful day!

Here are the promised pictures from the museum at Santa Maria Novella:

Notice the high, Florentine forehead of St. Mary Magdalene?

Steps walked on Tuesday: 16.091
Steps walked yesterday (Wednesday) -- it says 38,405 but I think that's wrong. More like 20,000 -- I played with the time setting then switched it back. Bad move.
Today so far: 19,269.  7.41 miles. Lots of prayers said, lots of love shared. A great day.