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Archive for January, 2008

San Gimignano, Italy — November 2007

Sunday, January 27th, 2008

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High up on a hill overlooking the beautiful Tuscan [wikipedia.org] countryside, San Gimignano [wikipedia.org] is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Really San Gimignano is not much more than a village despite the fact that some seven thousand people call it home year round. With one main street within the medieval walls it’s not a big city.

However, San Gimignano was the most ‘authentic’ medieval Tuscan city we visited. Maybe it was the lack of large crowds of tourists (there were tourists, in fact quite a number compared to the locals we saw, but the city most definitely did not feel crowed.) Maybe it was sitting on the main square having coffee and people watching. Maybe it was the food… ok maybe it was not the food..

After navigating our way to the bus station early in the morning we were dropped off by the first bus at a small stain stop in the town of Poggibonsi [wikipedia.org]. After about 45 minutes the bus that would take us up into the hills to San Gimignano arrived at Poggibonsi to save us from the freezing train station. 30 minutes of climbing into the hills later we arrives just outside the gate to the medieval city. Just before 11 AM (this despite getting up at 5 AM!)

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We did not really do much hardcore sightseeing in San Gimignano. More wondering around the streets punctuated by lunch and coffee. Lunch was an interesting ordeal. At about 11:50 we selected a nice looking restaurant along along the main street. When Candice stuck her head in to ask if they were open (it was not obvious to us) it took a few tries for us to understand that they opened at noon. Wait 10 minutes? No problem. Too bad that no one had told us that it was 10 minutes by Italian country time…

30 minutes later after much wondering around the few shops near the restaurant we finally had lunch. It was OK but not worth the buildup.

It did not really matter that the food was only mediocre. The city was so beautiful and peaceful that it was a pleasure just be walk around and sit in the piazza and enjoy a cup of coffee… and a cup of ‘cioccolata calda’ which means hot chocolate but is so much more. Good cioccolata calda is literally melted chocolate bars, served steaming hot! It warms you up all the way down, you can feel it sliding down your throat. So good. Can’t possibly be good for you. I drank a lot of it while in Italy.

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San Gimignano was a wonderful place and I would like to see it in the summer when the rolling Tuscan hills are in full bloom. But I understand that the city is overrun with tourists all summer. I think that would destroy the magic.

Confusion Icon

Saturday, January 26th, 2008

I don’t know if I like it, don’t know if I’ll keep it but I made a site icon. All the important and well read bloggers have one so I guess I should too. Even if no one in the world actually reads this blog on a regular basis. Since I started closing comments after 14 days I rarely ever get comments — seems it really was just the Nigerians and knock-off V1agr@ guys who gave love to my site. So sad. Anyway, if anyone does happen to read this while they can still comment let me know what you think of the icon!

P.S. I made the logo with a little help from the Web 2.0 style buttons [iris-design.info] tutorial over at IRIS Design.

Dragons of Thian Hock Keng

Friday, January 25th, 2008

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Same temple seen here [confusion.cc]

Florence, Italy — November 2007

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008

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Florence [wikipedia.org] was Candice and my base of operation for more then a week. A full third of our honeymoon was spent in a small converted bishops apartment just off the Piazza del Duomo. Just far enough off that if you stuck your head out of our third story windows and stretched your neck enough you could see the dome and maybe part of the bapistry [wikipedia.org]. Actually the location was brilliant, the only problem was the constant lack of water pressure in the hotel shower!

I thought that using Florence as a base of operations from which to visit some of the other must-see cities of Tuscany [wikipedia.org] easy. Unfortunately the reality is that the best way to get to places like Siena [wikipedia.org] and San Gimignano is to take a variety of buses — but the trips there are really worth it, in fact we should have stayed overnight (remember the sun was setting at 4:30ish so everything closed by 3:30… And taking buses means we did not get there till almost lunch time if we got out of bed at 5:00am!). At least Pisa [wikipedia.org] is on the train line.

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But enough about the other cities in Tuscany, Florence is the city in Tuscany. You could spend months here and not exhaust the city if you wanted. The Florence Cathedral [wikipedia.org] aka Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore with Brunelleshi‘s [wikipedia.org] iconic dome dominates the city visually and the Uffizi Gallery [wikipedia.org] and the Accademia di Belle Arti [wikipedia.org] dominate it culturally. Between the two you can see some very nice works by all the Ninja Turtles — Leonardo, Donatello, Michaelangelo and Raphael. And more renaissance art than anyone without a PhD in art history can appreciate!

Then you have Palazzo Vecchio [wikipedia.org], Ponte Vecchio [wikipedia.org], the Palazzo Pitti [wikipedia.org] and Santa Croce [wikipedia.org] home to more famous only-one-name-needed dead people than you can shake a coffin at; Galileo [wikipedia.org], Michelangelo [wikipedia.org], Machiavelli [wikipedia.org] and (for the physics geeks,) Fermi [wikipedia.org]… oh yea, it’s got a lot of art too. And all this is just scratching the surface of Florence’s museums, churches, palaces and various other old things.

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And let’s not forget that Florence is a living city! Within the small town center where most of the above super-attractions are located in easy walking distance from each other you can also find some very fine dinning. Candice and I like two places especially; the I Buongustai di Casini Laura e Lucia and the Birreria Centrale (which is where Jonathan and Kim had dinner with me a few hours after they got engaged in 2002 — still there, still great!) And while I love the food at both places I have a hard time deciding if the food was better than the ‘oh my god! I can’t get enough of it,’ gelato at Festival de Gelato! A hundred flavors! Heaven! Eat your heart out Ben and Jerry!

Florence is definitely my favorite Italian city. But once again Candice and my enjoyment of the city was tempered by the early sunsets and cold weather. And in Florence we had to contend with the Thanksgiving holiday tourists from the US. I can’t tell you how many times I heard college types talk about where they were going to drink or how good the pizza was (or wasn’t as the case may be.) But even with all that Florence was still great! Maybe I’ll get back one day. Maybe I can move there!

Venice, Italy — November 2007

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

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Ah, Venice [wikipedia.org]. Possibly the most romantic city in the world. But… like most well knows romantic cities Venice knows how romantic it is which means it’s really easy to spend a lot of money and get jaded by too many tourists, expensive hotels and overprices food.

Luckily this did not happen to Candice and I. I think, despite my being a bit depressed over the loss of my camera, that we have a good time in Venice. We only stayed three days and did not get to see everything but we had a good time. We even did a few overly touristy things; a gondola [wikipedia.org] ride with accordion and live singing accompaniment, and a trip around the lagoon to three of the other islands, Murano [wikipedia.org], Burano [wikipedia.org] and Torcello [wikipedia.org].

The food in Venice was very good. We ate at a couple of local taverns suggested by one of the staff at our hotel and while it was not the best food we ate in Italy it was quite good and not too expensive. The atmosphere was fun too; cramped into tiny tables back to back with other customers with waiters squeezing past to bring the bowls of soup and plates of pasta. Perfect.

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I think that the reason Venice is such a wonderful place to visit comes down to only a few things; the lack of cars and roads, the canals and water and the age of the buildings. These combine in Venice is to create a wonderful ‘living ruins’ feeling. The water is slowly eating away at everything making sure the old building always look old, the small twisting streets make the place feel more ancient, you can’t even see a car and the fact that people really do live in Venice — and the shops and services for the people who call the islands home are mixed with the shops and services for the tourist hordes.

I think I would really like to take Candice back to Venice in the summer so we can sit outside at cafes along the canals and drink a good bottle of wine. Take long walks in the warm evening air and explore more of the back streets away for the Grand Canal [wikipedia.org] and see the many sites we did not have time to take in in the few days we were in Venice.