Sunday, June 29, 2014

Festival Sunday

Today the town of Maiori celebrated the Festival of St. Peter. Spencer and I ran into the marching band around 9 a.m on the sea front. But the major festivities kicked off about 9 pm. First fireworks lit up the skies, then a procession lined the Corsa Regina. It's wonderful to experience small festivals like this throughout Italy. Spencer and I were having dinner when the church bells started ringing at 8:45 pm and went on for 45 minutes. I only wish the fireworks show would have lasted as long.  It was less than 10 minutes. But it was still a great show to end a wonderful evening.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Home away from home

I'm sure that everyone has a favorite vacation spot. Mine is Maiori,  Italy. I cannot say enough good things about this beachside community. I have never once felt like a tourist. I'm greeted with "buongiorno" and "buona sera" by total strangers every morning and evening. The people of Maiori are welcoming and kind. I have been treated like family from the hotel owners, baristas at my favorite coffee shop,  restaurant owners and waiters and the workers on the small slice of beach Spencer and I frequent almost daily. This really is my home away from home. What makes Maiori even more special is that it's off most tourists' radar. Almost everyone stays or visits Amalfi, Positano or Sorrento. However,  there are lots of Italian tourists here right now. They know this Maiori is THE place to vacation in Italy.
If you are looking for a more relaxing getaway in Italy look no further than Maiori.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Return to my slice of paradise

Spencer and I have returned to Maiori. I abandoned our plans to travel to several other cities,  including Siena,  Bagni di Lucca and Genoa when my husband's work schedule gave him a few days off.  It's been 9 years since Gregg has been back to Maiori. He really wanted to return and Spencer and I were thrilled to come back. We have enjoyed the last two days seeing friends and relaxing on the beach. Yesterday we traveled with a family friend up to Ravello. The town sits on top of the mountain overlooking Maiori.
There are breathtaking views in every direction. After a quick walk through the main square we entered Villa Gimbrone. If you want to see some spectacular views and gardens I highly recommend this tour. If you don't want to fight any crowds plan your arrival around 6:30 in the evening. There are buses you can take up to Ravello from the Amalfi Coast or you can take a taxi, or drive on your own. There are plenty of taxi drivers ready to drive you back down the mountain if you don't want to wait for a bus.
Ravello should be high on your priority list if you travel to the Amalfi Coast.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

David and Gates of Paradise

One of the most iconic symbols of the Italian renaissance stands in the Academia Gallery in Florence. Michelangelo's
David is an awe inspiring sight. I highly recommend either visiting the museum the moment it opens or taking part in a guided tour. Otherwise be prepared for very long lines. Spencer and I booked a walking tour of Florence that began with the Academia. As soon as you enter the museum you round the corner and see David standing at the end of a long corridor.
Michelangelo began sculpting his masterpiece in 1501. He completed it in 1503. The statue represents the biblical story of David and stands 17 feet tall. Originally placed outside in the Palazzo della Signoria, it was moved inside the Academia Gallery in 1873.
We spent almost an hour viewing David. Each angle offers a new perspective of Michelangelo's craftsmanship. This was one of my favorite tours so far in Italy.
In the corridor leading to David are several unfinished sculptures commissioned by Pope Julius the Second. But when the Pope died no one wanted to pay for the sculptures and they were left unfinished. Our guide showed us a mysterious face carved on the back of one of the sculptures.   No one is sure why Michelangelo carved it or who it represents.
After we left the Academia we moved to the Duomo and Baptistry. Our guide showed
Lorenzo Ghiberti crafted the doors to the Baptistry to depict the Old Testament in the Bible. It was Michelangelo who called the doors, "The Gates of Paradise".
It took Ghiberti 27 years to complete the bronze doors that include 10 panels.
Due to catastrophic flooding in Florence the real doors where moved to the Museo
dell'Opera. The ones housed now at the Baptistry are replicas, but still an incredible insight into the Italian renaissance.

Lucca and Pisa

Tuesday Spencer and I traveled to Lucca and Pisa. I have been wanting to visit Lucca for a long time. Lucca is famous for its medieval wall. While not a top tourist destination, Lucca should still be on your radar if you travel to Tuscany. You can rent a bike or walk the city wall or take in nightly concerts dedicated to Lucca's most famous resident, Giacomo Puccini. We only had about 2 hours to explore the city. Lucca is not a big city, but there are so many smaller streets you feel like you are in a small town. One thing I noticed was how quiet it was in Lucca. We had originally planned to spend 4 nights in Lucca, but had to change our travel plans due to my husband's schedule. More on that in a coming post. After a quick lunch we jumped on the train to Pisa. We met up with two family friends who live there and headed for Il Campo dei Miracoli. That is where everyone goes to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa. But just as beautiful are the Duomo and Baptistry. Standing in front of the Tower was a dream come true. It's tilt began during construction on inadequate soil. Groundbreaking took place in 1173. It was completed in 1372.
It's hard to not take a cheesy picture trying to push over the Tower. I loved watching some people get really creative in their poses.
You can buy a combo ticket that will let you in all three buildings on the Campo.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Uffizi Gallery and Boboli Gardens

Today Spencer and I put on our walking shoes and headed towards the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. This incredible museum houses some of the world's most famous art. I bought tickets weeks in advance to avoid the long lines of people who didn't plan ahead. This allowed us to go into a separate door and right into the museum. I knew Spencer would not appreciate everything in front of him and may burn out quickly,  so we headed to the top floor. This is where you will find rooms dedicated to Leonardo da Vinci,  Michaelangelo and Botticelli to name a few. Standing in front of such masterpieces as Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus" can leave one speechless. Luckily since we arrived early we didn't have to fight for position to see the priceless painting.
Next we moved into the room housing Leonardo da Vinci 's artwork. The highlight of this room is "The Annunciation". Thought to be da Vinci 's first major artwork, the painting represents the story of Mary being visited by the Archangel Gabriel, who explains that she is destined to be the mother of the Son of God.
If you are looking for greater detail about all of the artwork housed in the Uffizi Gallery I recommend either a group tour or renting an audio guide. There are masterpieces everywhere you look.
Spencer was fading fast by the time we finished the top floor so we stopped by the cafe and took a short break. If you're looking for some incredible views of Florence this is a great spot.
At this point Spencer was ready to move on and since he dictates our schedule we headed out towards Ponte Vecchio and across the Arno River. This is where you will find the Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens. The palace, once home to grand-dukes of Tuscany and later the King of Italy,  now houses more spectacular art collections. And it extends to the Boboli Gardens, one of the earliest Italian gardens. It's famous for its fountains and grottoes.
It cost 10 euro for adults to enter, but free for children. The Boboli Gardens are massive. Luckily on such a hot day like today there are many shaded paths to explore. Bring water if you plan a visit.
Spencer loved all of the twists and turns he found throughout the gardens. And he was intrigued by all of the statues. We enjoyed todays journey of art and nature. Tomorrow,  off to Lucca and Pisa.