I arrived in Firenze (Florence) from Napoli on an express train a little before 10 AM today.  By 11 AM I was settled in my home away from home till this Saturday when I depart for Athens, Greece.  I stumbled upon this gem searching the internet last Sunday and reserved at a price much below what was listed.  While I do not intend to be in the apartment too long any one day, it is great to have a full kitchen with gas stove, washer (no dryer), two bedrooms (you can never have enough), and a full shower.  It is easy walking distance to nearly everything being as it is located in downtown Firenze.

Not too long after settling in I got myself and my camera back outside to do a bit of walking and sightseeing.  I immediately headed to Duomo (incidentally I can see Duomo’s dome from my bedroom window) and paid 6-euro for the honor of climbing the four-hundred-fourteen steps to get a terrestrial view of city from the top of the tower next to Duomo.   Once back on terra firma, even this Seattle-ite decided to listen to the suggestions of the rather insistent rain  and find myself something to do indoors: visit Gallery of Uffizi.  I normally do not like to take photographs at museums since so much of what can be seen is better seen in-person or in an art-book; however, today I wished to take exception.  It is not so much the artwork which I wish I could share with you through photography but the gallery; it is a piece of art unto itself.  Unfortunately, they had strict policies against any photography so I refrained.  But as a point of matter, the gallery truly really needs to be experienced first-hand to be understood and appreciated.  And now you have an excuse to come to Firenze; you can thank me later.

Upon leaving the gallery I headed toward the River Arno and then across the Ponte Vecchio toward the Boboli Gardens.  Instead of going to the gardens and Belvedere Fort, I headed toward Michelangelo Piazza to get a view of the city proper.  While there I enjoyed watching an incoming thunderstorm lay itself over the city and surrounding hills.  Its fast approach sent me faster to the church of San Miniato al Monte where I weathered out the storm.  Upon returning to the outside I believe I experienced one of those “under the Tuscan sun” moments when I just stood there and smiled from ear to ear.  My photographs of those moments are poor substitute to the moment I tried to capture.

I now sit comfortably in my home writing this all the while preparing to go back out into the Firenze night to capture some more photographs and possible enjoy a bistecca alla fiorentina (also known under the more pedestrian name of t-bone steak in English), a speciality of the region.

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Napoli is a city, as many before me have iterated and I will re-iterate, that either you love or your hate.  My first impressions of Napoli are not wholly positive albeit not wholly negative.  My biggest issue is the amount of garbage that piles up on some streets; this is an issue that I recall on the news three years ago when I was in Roma.  And here we are three years later and the situation seems to have become the status quo.  Compounding this is the amount of road construction currently underway; I cannot tell if this is some momentary blip that when complete will elevate Napoli into the beautiful metropolis that I believe it rightly deservers per its grand heritage, or whether this public works will, too, become the status quo of Napoli streets.  We do need to keep some things in perspective.  Most everyone, including Italians, like to caution you against Napoli as a city of extremes so I was already a bit tense to visit it.  In addition, the days I have been here it has been overcast and raining.  And more so, given it is November the sun is rises around 6:30 AM and sets up 4:30 PM.  Add all of these things together and it can make for seemingly very short, very oppressive days.

However, at the end of my second day in Napoli and after a long day of walking around Pompeii I decided I might try to walk some of the streets to get a feel for the city.  What I saw and experienced makes me think that it is indeed possible, even easy, to fall in love with this city.  It is gritty both with modernity and antiquity, an obvious menagerie of ideas and styles that have infused themselves into each other to such an extent it is hard to know what bit comes from what century or millennia.  The city pulses with an easy intensity that southern Italians exude out of every pour.   There is not a single person who will not meet you eye to eye; but there is not a person who will try to intimidate you.  I even got the wink of a few women and possibly one transexual so one cannot say Italian women are timid. And you might say I am naive thinking they were not prostitutes.  But you have your version and I have my version.  The city is, like any great city, alive.  I do not think it is possible to see beneath the skin of Napoli on any length of visit; I sincerely suspect it is a city that defies outsiders effortlessly, subconsciously.  The only way to experience Napoli, or so I suspect, is to crawl deep into the heart of Napoli and live inside of it.

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Today I went to Pompeii on what is my second and last day in Naples.  (For the curious, the ruins of the ancient city are spelled “Pompeii” and the living city surrounding it is spelled “Pompei”.)  While I started the morning early, the Italian train system decided to thwart my endeavors, making me wait for 80 minutes for the train to Salerno to finally depart.  Granted, it has been overcast and raining most of the day today so waiting always means there is a small chance that it will clear up so waiting seemed more like an opportunity than other.  On the ride to Pompeii I had a pleasant talk with a resident of Salerno who explained to me a bit of the history of Napoli, which means “New City”, in reference to the Romans destroying the Greek city originally there and then building over top of it.  He also mentioned that it takes at least five days to see all of Napoli; next time!

I took a quick five-minute walk from Pompei’s train station to the southern most entry of Pompeii itself.  I found out that this is not the gate most people recommend starting from; however, the positive of this is that most of the early-morning tourists like myself were on the other end of the forty-five hectares of renovated ancient ruins.  To which I was glad since less people allows me to focus on getting shots without the odd balding head in the shot.  The ruins are quite extensive, providing an opportunity to immerse myself in what life might have been around 79 BC in what was then a colony of Rome.  You can visit numerous pubic areas, some seating up to five-thousand people to smaller, more acoustically-tuned centers for sharing music and poetry.  There are a number of bakeries and stores and even a bath-house available for direct viewing.  What is more, there is even a large house of prostitution replete with visual guidance for patrons needing a clue on how to get the most out of their money; a lot like Ikea assembly instructions if you think about it.  Pompeii is, like so much of a good thing, a lot of information and visual stimulation to process in a single day.   My only regret is the rain obscured my view of Mount Vesuvius which I would have dearly like to have seen.

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Reggia di Caserta

On my way from Trani to Naples I had a change-over in trains at Caserta.  It was only happenstance that I even know about Reggia di Caserta let alone stopped to visit it today.  This morning my friend Dave and I took the train up from Trani to Foggia on Dave’s commute to work.  Along with us was his Italian colleague who inquired where I was headed.  I said Naples.  He mentioned I would be going through Caserta.  It was then that Dave and the gentleman both encouraged me to see the palace (reggia) situated right outside the train station.  At first I was hesitant to delay getting to Naples where I wanted to get a start on visiting Pompeii; but, the weather proved to be cooperative today as it is the first time since I have been in Italy that is rained. Which is to say I felt a bit of a stroll indoors was warranted.

I was also hesitant due to the fact that Dave compared Reggia di Caserta to Châteu de Versailles of France.  Dave did not know, but I was not overly impressed with Versailles when I visited it three years ago in late December.  It was very crowded.  The quality of the renovation seemed haphazard.  And overall, while one can certainly appreciate the opulence it once held, it seemed very much its glory days were well behind it.  A fact that is a bit saddening when one considers it to be a national treasure.  I am sure a second visit will remedy this; but for now, whereas Versailles disappoints, Caserta enthralls.  The quality of the architecture is breath-taking and the care to which the portion of the palace open to the public is mind-numbingly beautiful.  Room and room after room produces one intake of breath after the next.  And once you are done with the interior, the exterior garden that extends some two kilometers back to a natural spring is a marvel of engineering and craftsmanship.  I walked the entire thing with my pack from VeloTransit, which is to say I got my exercise for today.

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Torre Sansanello and Agriturismo Oh My!

After visiting Castel del Monte we met up with some other ex-pat(riots) at Torre Sansanello, a farm that is a part of the booming agriturismo (agriculture tourism) industry in Italy.  As an industry it looks to provide sustainable, localvore meals for its patrons.  While I had hoped to experience this before leaving Italy, I had feared it might not happen.  However, Dave and Yuki surprised me this evening by letting me partake in what ended up being everything that would have without doubt pleased Angelo M. Pellegrini, author of the seminal work on good living, The Unprejudiced Palate.  Like so much better experienced than ever described, I cannot truly capture for you the evening.  Whereas The Herb Farm nestled in Kirkland, WA is grande bastion for all things decadent, over-priced, under-performing and patently boorish with the localvore scene, Torre Sansanello is its exquisite and frankly sublime antidote.  Is it about food?  Partially.  Is it about the ambiance?  There is that.  Is it about people?  Certainly.  But is none of these things as much as it is all of things in deep combination.  It is the intersection of the things that are vital for all aspects of a healthful soul.

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