Thursday, July 2, 2009

Wrapping Up Italy - Birthday Weekend

The days got away from me for a bit there. Sorry I haven't written in so long. Things got busy and exhausting. Since my last post was almost a full week ago, I'll just give a quick rundown of the things we've been doing. For picture references, refer to my Facebook page (for people pictures) and Flickr for landscapes, etc.

Friday, June 26
My birthday unofficially started on Friday. The French girls made us dinner - quiche and pizza - and then we went to Meccano, one of the many clubs in the 'disco region' (my name for it) for the night. We walked there, which took almost an hour. There is an exponential decrease in rate of travel as the number of group members increases. Maybe one of the pour souls fighting through calculus this summer can write up a formula for that?

The club was lots of fun. The French are a great group. We also had Israelis and and Australian with us, if I remember correctly. The walk home took about 30 minutes as well. There's not much else to report for Friday.

Saturday, June 27
Birthday! We woke up, don't remember what time, and went to the Pitti Palace to do some museum browsing. Pitti is impressive. There are hundreds of rooms, one after the other, all full of paintings and sculptures. The ceiling frescoes are so detailed and ornate, it's amazing to think how annoyed we, Americans, get when we have to paint roll the ceiling white. "It's too hard!" Cameras were not allowed to be used inside the museums, but I managed to steal one picture (on Flickr) of a particularly interesting room. In my rush to snap the shot, I didn't get a great photo, though. The alarms in there are extremely sensitive, on another note. I walked over to a closed window in a niche to check out the view of the Boboli Gardens and set an alarm off trying to look through. Johnny was walking up close to a painting to see how it looked from up close as opposed to far away (Van Gogh style painting) and set another alarm off. That time a woman came into the room quickly to check things out. I looked at her and shrugged. She said "Too close," and we were on our way.

We had plans to meet a ton of people out for dinner at an apperitivo (if you're not keeping track, those are the all you can eat buffets with drinks), so we couldn't take too much time at Pitti. But I definitely recommend going to see it if you are ever in Florence. There are two tickets that you can buy for the palace, one takes you inside, and the other lets you into the Boboli Gardens, among other places. We didn't do the Gardens today (12 Euro for inside, 10 Euro for gardens).

To back things up a little, Memento-style, as I remember more, we made a fantastic discovery on our way out to Pitti. We had recently discovered a bakery directly across the street from our apartment that has amazing bagels (we've been getting them with lox regularly now). We wanted to get food there before heading out, but as we walked up they were closing the gate. The owner turned out to be American, and he informed us of Notte Bianco, or "White Night." It was going on tonight, and it is an all night street festival, where the lights of all the shops light up the night white. There would be bands and live music everywhere, street vendors with food and drinks, bars and shops would be open really late. He said an estimated 60,000 people would be wandering the streets.

So, we came home, got showered up and left to meet the group at Piazza del Signoria. We walked to Piazza della Repubblica by accident, which is about five minutes further, and had to double back. This made us late for the first time all trip. The French are habitually late. They say that is the custom in France, but I'm not buying it. If you tell them 8, they see it as rude to show up before 8:30, apparently. But, it is my birthday, so they can't get mad. We start the long walk around the city looking for a good place to eat. The one they were hoping to go to had just been shut down for drug deals, so that was out. We ended up going to a place called La Dolce Vita (The Sweet Life), which happens to be about two blocks from our apartment. After 45 minutes of walking, that is where we ended up. As we ate--and the food was good, but a little lacking in selection--we saw the streets begin to fill up with tents and booths and people. Notte Bianco was getting in to full swing.

We wandered around the Piazza del Carmine for a bit, browsing a big street market that had been erected, then headed to Piazza di Santi Spirito for a live band. On the way, we came across a spontaneous salsa dance lesson in the middle of the road. Onward, we discovered (and ate) crepes. All the food at all the stands looked amazing. I wish we could have eaten some of everything. Throughout the course of the night, we (meaning at least someone in the group, and I tried it) got some French fries, crepes, a pork panino, a panino with some delicious cheese and spicy sausage-like meat, and...that might be it. But it was all fantastic. The band was playing a very good set (according to Johnny, who is much more in to music than the average bear).

The rest of the group began to trickle off. Some of the French and one of the Israelis were going to Cinque Terre in the morning so they didn't want to stay out late. When it was down to just Johnny and myself, we started to wander. We ended up finding a DJ in the middle of the street blasting dance music with a huge group of people dancing around him. His turntables were hooked up to a generator for power. Across the Ponte Vecchio, we found the lucky boar that everyone touches (pictures on Facebook). Here, Johnny got hit on by an Italian guy and was not happy about it when the guy pinched his cheek.

Back south to the Arno - we ran into Jean and his girlfriend, Claire, who was visiting for the weekend. We sat on the river with them for awhile before heading back to Santo Spirito to eat (some of the food mentioned above had not happened at this point). I have no concept of time while I'm out here because there are no clocks anywhere, so I don't know how late we were there. I haven't carried a cell phone since I got to Florence, and it is extremely liberating. I may start leaving it at home in Annapolis sometimes. This trip was a great exercise in learning to detach from technology (though I've been sadly attached to the computer more than I should be - I blame my efforts at keeping all of you informed and entertained).

Futbol! Johnny and I met Jean at Salamanca, the Mexican bar, to watch USA v. Brazil in the Confederations Cup Championship. We got there around 7 for an 8:30 start so that we could eat. And eat we did. We started with nachos, then moved on to split chicken flautas and a steak dish. All of it was magical. Jean arrived just before the game started. The US jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first half, only to have it erased by three unanswered in the second half by the Brazilians. The US goals were not flukes, but to win the game might have been. Brazil dominated almost every aspect of the game throughout (60% possession), taking something like 4-5 times the number of shots we took. Tim Howard had a great game in the goal, but there is only so much you can do against a team like Brazil when they are knocking hard at your door all night long. The final score, 3-2, was very respectable, and this looks like good things to come for next year's World Cup. Our server was, coincidentally, Brazilian, and we had a good time joking around with him (his English was pretty decent).

After this, we walked around a bit, then met up with two French girls for a couple minutes to say bye to one of them, who was just in Florence visiting and not studying. She left early the following morning. On our way home, we ran into two Israeli friends of ours and walked with them to Lion's Fountain (remember - American Irish bar). Class at 9:30 kept us honest, and we retired relatively early to our apartment.