November 12th, 2010

oooh pretty!


One thing that mesmerized me in Italy was the feat of engineering that is the autostrada (motorway) through the northern Apennines down to Liguria along the west coast of the country. Italy was the first country in the world to begin building motorways. The ones that we used to get from Milan to Genoa to Rapallo and the ones to Florence and Pisa have lovely names: The Motorway of the Flowers and the Blue Motorway.

To distract myself from the rather narrow lane widths and the high-speed (130km/h limit for cars) race-car driving style of our fellow motorists I concentrated on the intricacies of the roadway. The vast majority of the road is never on level land. The motorway literally goes from tunnel to bridge to tunnel to bridge for miles and miles of road. And each one, each tunnel and bridge, had a sign in front of it announcing its personal name. Every now and then I'd see a sign announcing "A fine tunnel" and think, "How nice that they point out when one of the tunnels is particularly pleasant!" only to discover later that it translates to "the end of the tunnel".

The views from the bridges between tunnels was spectacular, all cliffs and mountains and terraced farms and candy-colored towns nestled in the drapery of the rocks. On Tuesday it was raining, a thorough sort of soaking rain that looked as if it had settled in for the day, so we went to the Aquarium in Genoa, which had been recommended to Anders. I've been to a lot of aquariums in my life and I can pretty much take them or leave them at this point. Genoa's was big and comprehensive but it didn't really do anything special for me. I enjoyed the dolphins (2 of them) who had the run of several huge tanks that were open to the rain pelting down on the surface above them. At one point a small boy with a stuffed dolphin toy attracted their attention and the 2 dolphins spent quite some time investigating it: swimming up to and along the glass right in front of us, obviously curious and wondering what the heck that baby dolphin was doing on the wrong side of the glass!

After the Aquarium and trip to the Biosphere located right outside the building, we split up: Anders & Karin went to check out a playplace for kids and Martin & I set off into Genoa's labyrinthine old town and got completely lost. Luckily just as dusk began to fall and I started to panic because we were obviously going UPHILL again when we should have been going DOWN toward the harbor we ran into a couple of policemen who were able to point us in the right direction.

The next day started sunny so we decided to drive to Florence. By the time we were out of the mountains, however, the sky had clouded back up and it was raining. We passed Carrara on the way, where the pure white marble Michelangelo preferred is quarried. You could see the marble quarries covering the sides of the mountains from the road; it looked like snow. When my mom and I were in Italy on my choir tour during high school we also went to both Florence and Pisa and I had some struggles with my memory, wondering if we had stopped in Carrara then...turns out I was probably just having very vivid recollections of several rereadings of The Agony & The Ecstasy at an impressionable age. Heh!

We got to Florence around noon, without the help of the GPS on Anders' phone which, along with my iPhone, was totally dead, thanks to a non-functioning travel charger. We parked pretty far out from the center and walked in, stopping for a delicious lunch of pizza and lasagna on the way. As we approached the Ponte Vecchio the sky cleared up and the city and the Arno river sparkled at us. We walked over the bridge and (I) ogled the jewelry displays in the shops lining both sides of the street and ate the most expensive ice cream ON THE PLANET (How to Part a Tourist & Their Money, Part 1). Then we meandered up to the Mercato Nuovo (New Market) and rubbed Il Porcellino's nose. I did that when I was a teenager in Florence: it ensures your return to the city, so hopefully I'll get back there a third time someday, and maybe then I'll actually get my butt into one of the museums!

We walked a few blocks further and came out in the Piazza del Duomo directly in front of the Cathedral (Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore): staggering! It's truly magnificent. We went inside and walked around and then Anders and the kids decided to climb the bell tower (Giotto’s Campanile); since it was 414 steps I took a pass and went hunting for the traditional Florentine micro-mosaic jewelry I wanted. I have a couple of brooches but wanted a bracelet if I could find one. When I was in Florence 20 years ago, the stuff was everywhere. Now? Good luck! After several false starts, we finally found a store that had a dusty display of about 30 pieces. The proprietor, a half-English, half-Italian woman, told me it's really hard to find these days: old-fashioned and completely out of favor. I found the bracelet I was looking for and picked up a brooch with a beautiful sage green background, to boot.

We went back to the New Market and the kids each picked out a Venetian carnival mask and as the sun was setting, we walked back down the side of the Arno River, passed the Ponte Vecchio in the twilight and headed back to Rapallo, happy with our day.

I could stare at this building forever; so much detail and beauty!

View of Florence from Giotto's Campanile

The kids at the top of the Bell Tower, enjoying the view

The only thing sparklier than the jewelry shop window displays on the Ponte Vecchio in the daytime are the twinkling lights along its lengh at night.

(All photos copyright Anders Ek)

Buon compleanno auguri al mio amico Megsie bella!