Thursday, April 23, 2009


Our last stop on our Italian vacation was Venice. We traveled via train from Florence and joked that as soon as we arrived in Venice, we all emptied our pockets and let the canals have ALL of our money for our stay in this city. Venice is beautiful in a physical sense, but it is EXPENSIVE and we found the food to be disappointing on this leg of our trip. 
We were in Italy for goodness sake, so how could it have been bad? We were not sure how such terrible food could be possible either, but it was not good and it was severely overpriced to boot! In the end, we were glad we did not have more time allocated to Venice and now that we have been, we probably will not need to go back. 
Jonathan & Sarah traveling on the train to Venice. 
Upon arrival at the Venice train station, we went outside to hail a water taxi, only to find great commotion in the area. A man was attempting to get into a water taxi boat, and he fell into the canal instead! Jonathan is spotted here in the navy blue shirt as he went out onto a boat to help pull this man out of the water (the man who fell in couldn't swim as well!). 
We finally caught a water taxi and negotiated a small (large) sum of Euros for a transfer to the stop nearest our hotel by San Marco Square.  Scott enjoyed the ride.
I survived the boat ride too! 
The sights along the way of all of the buildings up on the canals were amazing.
Jonathan & Scott standing at the back of our water taxi en route to our hotel. 
More sights of Venice.
Once we checked into our hotel, we toured the city of canals on foot. We had no museums on our agenda for this part of the trip. We spent our days taking in the sights and thought we were going to enjoy good food at a few least we enjoying taking in the sights! 
This man was sitting near a marketplace in Venice, peeling artichoke hearts, and then selling them. 
A view of Venice as the afternoon sun light perfectly reflected the buildings. 
Scott & Jonathan make friends with a Carnivale mask mannequin in front of a mask shop. The Venetian Carnivale is a long standing tradition for the city, which was first recorded as an event in 1268. Masks are a central tradition to the carnivale and so many shops in the area sell elaborate ones. 
A typical sight on a side canal - a gondola. 
A pretty side canal along our walk. 
Venice at sunset. It was quite a view to see the sun gently reflecting off of the water and onto the buildings.
After dinner, we of course tried the local gelato! 
In San Marco square, we sat at a bistro table and enjoyed a performance by local classical musical artists. The square is so huge in size, there were at least three different performances going on and the sounds did not even overlap. 
Scott & Cassie at night in San Marco (St. Mark's) Square - with the basilica in the background all lit up. 
The next day, we took a 45 minute ferry ride to the island of Murano. Murano is the most famous of the Venetian Islands because of its glass works that produce the popular "Murano glass." The people of Venice have been making glass since the 10th century when the Venetian merchants brought back the secrets of production from the East. The industry moved to the island of Murano in the 13th century because of the fear that the furnaces might cause a fire in the tight and confined spaces of Venice itself. 
The island of Murano. It was quite similar to Venice in its building appeal, but the streets were much less crowded and the island seemed overall a bit cleaner than Venice. (The food was actually better too!)
While walking around the island, we wandered by this house with its door wide open. As I peered inside, I saw this sight of a kitchen just lined with homemade bottles of tomato sauce and lots of bottles of olive oil. What a terrific Italian sight!
We walked all the way to the end of this pier and it was foggy enough that it was hard to tell where the water met the sky...
One of the beautiful estate homes on the island of Murano. Many wealthy Venetians purchased second homes on this island to escape the smog and fumes of Venice. 
One of the striking and large glass sculptures on display in a public spot on the island. 
Another public glass sculpture - those are all glass birds! 
And of course we made another stop for an afternoon snack of gelato! 
Sarah & Jonathan taking a break on the island.
Just a few of the beautiful Murano Glass items for sale. This store had so many glass light fixtures and I though the entrance with all of them hanging together was quite pretty! 
A few other things about Venice....
The algea was everywhere on the sides of steps, buildings, and all around the canals. It was a bit gross at times.
We noticed these wooded planks with metal legs all around the city, just sitting in stacks like they are seen here. After a few inquiries, we learned these are the temporary "sidewalks" the city puts up for when the canals overflow. Apparently the canals overflow every winter when the canals swell up and so the locals and tourist then use these temporary planks to get around the city. I am surely glad we did not face these planks in use!

We had a great Italian vacation and couldn't have been more thrilled to spend such a wonderful week with our dear friends Sarah & Jonathan...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Second Stop: Florence

Our second stop on our Italy vacation was Florence. We traveled via train from Rome and arrived in Florence in time to spend a beautiful afternoon wandering around the city on foot to see the sights we would see in more depth the following day. 
While walking around the city, we stumbled upon a glimpse into a sculpture/stone carver's studio. 
Scott in Florence. 
The Duomo is a very widely known site in Florence. The Basilica de Santa Maria del Fiore is the cathedral church (duomo) of Florence, which was begun in 1296 and structurally completed in 1436. As this image shows, the detail of the cathedral is extensive and beautiful.  

While wandering around the city, we found one of the famous leather markets where I practiced my negotiating skills, but ultimately did not spend any Euros!
One entrance to the market area. 
A market stall with many leather items for sale. The smell was beautiful!
Jonathan trying on the leather goods.
Scott asks "Does it look like me?" 
All of the browsing made us hungry, so it was time to try the Florence gelato
Four cheers to the Florence Gelato
Scott maps out our next stop while he, Sarah and Jonathan all enjoy their gelato.
Scott stops on the Pontevecchio bridge.
That evening we immersed ourselves in the local cuisine and attended a hands-on cooking class where we prepared a few Tuscan dishes. On the menu was: stuffed tomatoes, cannelloni, rosemary chicken with zucchini and mushrooms, and a molten chocolate cake. 
Sarah, Jonathan & Scott outside the cooking school ready for our evening ahead. 
Jonathan & Sarah stuffing the tomatoes with rice filling. 
Scott is cooking?!?!? I had to capture a photo of him in the kitchen.
Our version of the stuffed tomatoes ready to go into the oven. 
All four of us in our stylish plastic aprons at the cooking class. 
I stuffed a few of the noodles with their cannelloni filling before they were baked in a white sauce.
The trays of cannelloni with their white sauce before they were baked.
The rosemary chicken, mushroom and zucchini dish in the works...
The plated version of the stuffed tomatoes ready to be served!
We ate dinner in the cellar of this cooking school. It was very cool, as you would expect with a cellar, and a few of the areas were lined with many wine bottles. We enjoyed the fruits of our labor that night for dinner!

Our second day in Florence was filled with more sightseeing and museum hopping. 
The Dumuo is seen from all points around town. It is a neat view to look down a street and see it peek through the buildings on one end. 
We did go see Michelangelo's David but photos as the Accademia Gallery are not allowed. This version of David is located in front of the Palazzo Vecchio in Piazza della Signoria
The Basilica of San Croce in Florence. It is the burial place of some of the most famous Italians, including Michelangelo. 
Scott and Jonathan spent many minutes watching the people via street benches, as they are seen here in front of San Croce. Meanwhile, Sarah & I shopped the many leather stores surrounding this plaza. 
The piazza de san croce had many artists displaying their artwork for sale. So many pretty unique choices. 
Sarah & Cassie on a bridge by the Arno River. 
A view of the Ponte Vecchio bridge from a distance. 
One of many window filled with jewels for sale along the Ponte Vecchio. BEAUTIFUL!
After more wandering, we visited the Uffizi Gallery for an afternoon viewing. This gallery is located in the Piazza del Signoria which is close to the Arno River. The museum is a showcase for the Renaissance movement and houses works by famous artists such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Botticelli. 

After a packed day of sightseeing, we started to walk back towards our hotel. As we wandered through a piazza, there was a crowd of people gathered watching a mime. Out of nowhere, this mime started walking towards us, and suddenly captured Scott and brought him into the middle of this crowd. The mime proceeded to start kissing Scott's cheeks, dancing with him, and causing a scene. I tried to fish my camera out of my pocket to capture this scene, but Sarah, Jonathan & I were crying so hard from laughter that I could not even produce my camera to record it....the only proof we have of it, is the after photo of Scott. Poor Scott, he was not as amused by this situation as we were...
Scott's face post -"attack of the mime" in Florence. A nice Italian man started to wave a handkerchief in front of Scott's face after he walked away from the crowd of people, in an attempt to tell him he was covered in white face paint! 
The Ponte Vecchio Bridge at night in Florence