Showing posts with label italy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label italy. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Art Teacher Travels: Florence

 Hey there, friends! Thank you so much for the response to my last Art Teacher Travels post. When it comes to sharing photos and memories of a travel adventure, I know it can bore folks real quick. Thank you for hangin' in there with me. I learned so much from this trip to Italy with my mom from the planning, preparing to the actual setting foot in such a beautiful country that I thought I'd share my tips. There is a learning curve when traveling to a foreign country! Here is what I explored, learned and discovered during our three day stay (not long enough) in Firenze.
Florence, Day #4: I'm picking up where I left off in my previous post. On our fourth morning in Rome, mom and I took a taxi from our hotel to the train station, giving ourselves an hour to make the short trek. And I'm really glad we did! If it is one thing I learned while in Italy, it is that Italians love to strike and protest. Good for them! Not so good when you are trying to get from point A to B. The day before, taxi drivers were on strike. Knowing that, I asked at the front desk if we'd be able to get one today. "Oh, yes," said the concierge, "The strike is now over." What he didn't know was that there was a protest about a half mile in front of the train station. This was discovered when our cab driver hit an epic traffic jam complete with honking horns and shaking fists. "This is as far as I can go!" the cab driver said while simultaneously opening our doors and putting our suitcases on the curb. "The station is that way!" he said with a wave of his arm before hoping back into his car and making the most insane u-turn known to man. We joined the herd of suitcase toting folks who suddenly found themselves in same predicament. 
When we navigated through the protest (which we didn't find out the details, unfortunately) and made it to the train station it was just as crazy. The Rome train station is a little bonkers. Thankfully we already had our tickets purchased and in hand (thanks to Costco Travel. More about that in this post)...but no clue where to go or what to do. Again, giving ourselves plenty of time was a gift in a confusing situation such as this. With our tickets in hand and our confused expression, we became the obvious target of a porter. Porters are folks who walk around train stations offering to "help" tourists for a tip. I had read not to talk to porters but I have to tell you, I gladly listened to and tipped the kind gentleman who read our ticket and showed us exactly where to go. Without his help, we might have still been at the train station!

When we arrived in Florence, we exited the train station and went across the street to a tourist office. There I purchased Florence Cards for my mom and myself. Florence cards are expensive (72 euro each) but not only get you into almost all of the museums in Florence but also to the front of the line. I knew we'd get good use out of them. From there, we flagged a cab which took us to Hotel Pierre. Again, we had a hotel that was right in the middle of town, just a few steps away from the Palazzo Vecchio. And check out the chalk art right outside our window!
After dropping off our backs, I filmed a Facebook LIVE from our hotel room. You can still view it here. It was nearly noon so mom and I set off exploring...which is code for gelato hunting. I was thrilled to find this site just a block from our hotel. 

Here is what I love about's a city that never seems to sleep. The palazzo is a large open courtyard where several restaurants are located...and all the action is. We witnessed a wedding, a Renaissance style parade and even a big band playing well past midnight! They leave the Vecchio doors open so you can just roam in and out of the entrance. But if you want to go to the top of the tower or explore the museum, you will have to get a ticket, even if you have a Florence card. If you have a card, you don't have to pay for the ticket...but you do have to have one to enter. More on that in a moment. 
Here is something to be aware of before traveling to Florence: all the museums are closed on Monday. ALL of them. We arrived in Florence on a Saturday and we were intent on just exploring, seeing sites and taking in the lay of the land. I did not want to be inside a museum. That meant we only had Sunday for museums and, I'm gonna just say it: I'm not a museumophile. I don't enjoy spending my day in museums...especially when outside is this gorgeous. So I was pretty picky with what museums we explored. But back to our stroll...
Unlike Rome, Florence is super small and carless. Which I loved! I never felt like I was about to be run down by a Roman on a Vespa. Being small, it's super easy to navigate. The roads are well marked but you really don't need to know them. Just look up: the Vecchio and the Duomo are always there to offer you guidance. 
Having done a little of homework, I knew that the San Lorenzo Market and the Mercato Centrale were something I wanted to hit. Anything with the word "market" in it is gonna get my attention. I had read that the market is closed on Sunday so I wanted to be sure to get there on our first day. I will say this: you can skip San Lorenzo Market. It is just filled with small outdoor stalls of vendors selling the same Made in China leather bags, t-shirts and other cheap souvenirs. Items there are not worth your money. 
Mercato Centrale, however, was a completely different story. This is where the locals go. On the first floor, you'll find a farmer's style market with fruits, veggies, spices, pasta, fish, meat, you name it. It was so fun to explore and gobble up free samples. But the second floor is where it's at! Mom and I rubbed shoulders with the locals while sampling many delights. Here's a video I made of the market:
Hungry yet? 
From there, mom and I walked back through Florence to the Ponte Vecchio. We loved catching a sunset at this spot. 
Florence, Day 5: In my last post, I mentioned the many tours mom and I took with groups in Rome. I had not planned a tour in Florence except for our bike adventure (more in a moment). However, just walking through Florence and seeing so much history, I wanted to learn more...and I didn't want to read about it in a book. So that evening, I booked mom and I another tour. This one was a two hour walking tour with a company called Florence Town. They have a kiosk right at the Republic Square which was around the corner from our hotel. 
I was so glad we took the tour with a Florentine. She was a wonderful story teller and we learned so much about the history while walking all over Florence. Our tour even included a stop for gelato. You can't beat that! 
One fun thing we noticed around town were how clever the street signs are. I need to do a bit of research to find out the story behind these signs. 
But allow me to back track to our walking tour. We explored the Vecchio with new ideas and information. The city of Florence came to be during the Renaissance thanks to the Medici family. With their banking wealth, the Medici commissioned such artists as Botticelli and Michelangelo. In fact, Michelangelo was discovered when he was just an apprentice at the age of 14 and asked to live and work for the Medici family. His statute of David stood for many years outside the Vecchio until it was damaged and finally moved to Academia. You can spot fake Davids all over Rome. 
Get yourself inside the Vecchio, you won't be disappointed. Seeing the glamorously painted rooms...and the exaggerated stories that the paintings tell of the Medici family is quite a site. In a time of kings and queens being the ruling class, it's interesting to think that a family of bankers rose to such power. 
Turns out things did not end well for Michelangelo and the Medici fam. He was slated to design the front of Santa Croce but the pope, a Medici, pulled the financial plug. Extremely upset, Michelangelo wrote the pope a letter which basically said, "What the heck, bruh?!" and immediately left Florence, never to return. That is, until he passed when he was buried in the very church he was not allowed to finish. Crazy huh? These are all the things I learned during my tour. Worth the euro!
We were also introduced to these small vino doors from the Renaissance. Wealthy folks had them outside of their homes. People could tap on the door and ask for wine. If the owners had wine to share, they would pass it to those asking through this small door. 
Our tour ended at the Uffizi Gallery so we whipped out our Florence card and popped in. I mentioned tickets our tour guide stated and we found out: Florentines LOVE their tickets! And finding where to get your ticket is not always easy. Usually ticket "offices" are a hole in the wall near the attraction. They are not always easy to spot. However, if you don't go there and get yourself a ticket, you won't be getting into a museum. For example, the Duomo ticket booth is behind the Baptista. Just think of it as an adventure and you'll be fine. 
The Uffizi is the only museum we visited aside from the Vecchio, the Duomo and countless churches. I have been to Florence before and on that trip, I did go to Academia to visit David, among others. I felt bad not getting to it this time...but not bad enough to spend two hours in the Ufizzi then spend more hours in Academia. 
The Uffizi is like walking into an art history book. Here is a video I made of that trip:
From there, mom and I had to make our daily decision...where to catch the sunset? Since we didn't make it to Academia and see David, we decided to make the hike to Piazzale Michelanglo, catch another fake David and take in the incredible view.
So here's a fun fact: Italy did not become a united country until 1861...long after the US...and we are a "young" country! For that reason, the regions in Italy all have their own "thing": drinks, food, art, icons, you name it. It was fun to find out what each part we traveled to was known for. Florence, it turns out, is known for their Aperol Spritz. Mom and I decided to try one while taking in this view:
I know, right?! We enjoyed the view way more than the drink. Too sweet for me, I'll stick with my red. 
Florence, Day 6: Knowing that everything would be closed on Monday, I decided to book mom and myself a bike tour thru Tuscany! Y'all, I think this was my favorite day of our trip. I found the tour on TripAdvisor and while I am not a biker, my mom loves to ride. This was another trip booked with Florencetown and I really enjoyed it. 
Our ride started with a 30 minute drive out into the Tuscan countryside. Once there, we were given water, a bike and a helmet. Our ride was about 8 miles and, for the most part, downhill. The entire ride I was in a panic thinking that we'd end up having to ride uphill on the way home. Thankfully, we did not! 
Here's a quick glimpse at our ride:
When we reached our destination, we took a tour of the winery and learned so much about the history and process of wine making. 
Our traditional Tuscan lunch was one of the best meals we had in Italy: everything was home cooked and made from veggies grown locally. 
And of course we had wine. Lots of wine. Just not from these ancient bottles of priceless red!
Since it was our last day in Florence, mom and I knew it was the only time we'd have to accomplish our main mission: to climb to the top of the Duomo. All 400 plus steps...after our bike ride. 
To climb the Duomo, you will need a ticket (of course) and you'll need to book ahead of time. They only sell so many spots during the day to prevent overcrowding. Knowing that, we picked up our Monday tickets on the Saturday we arrived to insure we'd get a chance to climb. Again, the ticket booth is behind the Baptista. 
I will admit, I was nervous going in. I'm claustrophobic and it was hot outside. Surprisingly though, the inside of the stairwell was not nearly as warm as I had assumed...probably due to the thick, insulated concrete walls. What ended up being the biggest struggle: all of these stairs!
But then, the view. The view made me forget about my spaghetti legs. 
Again, I had to film a short clip:
We stayed on top for a very long time...mostly because it was such work to get there. Like I said in my previous post, one thing we learned to always do in each city: find a good spot everyday for the sunset and make sure to see the city from above. 
Perspective is everything. 
I really enjoyed Florence, more so than Rome. We only had three days there and I could have easily had another day. 
But what goes up most come down. And so we did. 
I did alright. I just didn't dig the spiral staircase. 
With the endless stairs, I felt like I was trapped in an M.C. Escher painting! 
On our final night, we shopped, dined and collapsed from our adventurous day. Next stop: Venice! Stay tuned! 
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Sunday, July 2, 2017

Art Teacher Travels: Rome

If y'all follow me on Insta, then you know I recently returned from a 9 day adventure to Italy with my mama. Before leaving, I shared my Top Five Tips for the Traveling Art Teacher. And since I've been back, I posted my needle felted postcards inspired by my trip (more to come!). Now I thought I'd share my trip with y'all! 
While in Italy, mom and I hit Rome, Florence and Venice. Many folks have asked me how I went about planning such a trip: what online travel services we used, hotels we stayed in and city tours we took. I tell you, planning a trip like this can be super stressful and expensive. There were times I honestly wanted to throw in the towel. But once I found the online travel service that worked best for us, everything else fell into place. So I thought I'd not only share my adventures in these three amazing cities with you but also my recommendations. Please feel free to share yours as well, we can all learn about traveling to this beautiful country together!
After doing some serious online shopping for flights, hotels and more, I felt overwhelmed. It was then I started investigating online travel agencies. Having read the reviews of many (and calling them to make sure I could actually talk to a human...which didn't happen often), I settled on Costco Travel. YES, that Costco. You do have to become a member to book your trip. With Costco Travel, I booked our roundtrip tickets from Nashville, our hotels (there are a dozen to choose from depending on what is important to you: location, cost and/or fanciness. I always booked the ones with the best location), our train tickets from city to city and a car service to and from the airport. When I did the side-by-side financial comparison between what I could book versus Costco, it was no contest. Not to mention that Costco was continuously getting me the best rate. At one point, when they were able to get my train tickets cheaper, they refunded my credit card nearly $200. Needless to say, I was thrilled with this travel service and cannot recommend them enough.
Rome, Day 1: When we arrived in Rome, it was 8am. We did our very best to sleep on the plane so we could hit the ground running. It is super important to get yourself acclimated to the timezone you are in to avoid jet lag. Our driver was waiting for us at baggage claim and took us on a wild ride into the old city of Rome. Word to the wise: do NOT rent a car in Rome. Romans drive crazy! Our funny driver told us that stop signs and red lights are just a suggestion and pedestrians stand a very good chance of being run over by a car, motorcycle, Vespa or bike if they are not careful. An hour later, we were in the center of Rome at Hotel delle Nazioni which is just a half a block from Trevi Fountain and a short walk from the Spanish Steps. We couldn't have asked for a better location. 
Our room was not glamorous by any means but it was nice. I was impressed that we were allowed to check in right away. This gave us a hot minute to unload our stuff, glance at the map and take in our living quarters for the next three nights. We had comfy-ish beds, free breakfast and air conditioning...which came in super handy as the temps soared. We were surprised to find a bidet in every hotel (I just assumed that was a French thing). After freshening up, we were read to explore Rome!
It was so incredible to have Trevi Fountain just down the block from our hotel. What an incredible sight to see right away! I had previously been to Italy when I traveled abroad in college (I did my student teaching in Ireland and traveled a bit afterward) but I had never been in Rome. And my mom had never been out of the country! So you can imagine just how thrilled we were to be there. Doesn't the fountain look amazing? Here's what they don't show you on the postcards of Rome:
The herds of people! When mom and I arrived in mid-June, we were at the front end of tourist season. Apparently July and August are the real tourist if you can go at a different time, not only will you be able to travel cheaper but you also won't have to deal with such crowds. 
Before leaving on our trip, I poured over my Rick Steves travel book. Laugh if you wanna but I have been a fan of Rick Steves for a long time. I remember watching his travels on PBS and being fascinated. From him, I learned that the best way to see the history of Rome is to learn from a local. There are a ton of tour groups and guides (almost all are Italian) to choose from. So, how did I pick? I hopped on over to TripAdvisor. I decided what I wanted to see with the time that I had and knew that a tour of the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and Roman Forum were in order. Before booking, read the reviews! This will help you decide if a tour is the right one for you.
I booked a tour for mom and myself at 1:30pm. This gave us plenty of time to hop off the plane, get to our hotel, unload and walk our way down to the Colosseum. Another reason to love the location of our hotel: we were able to walk to everything! This also made for guilt-free gelato consumption...which we gobbled up daily. 
Mama soakin' up the sun and history of Rome. A benefit to booking a tour: you are able to get to jump the lines. We were able to scoot right into the Colosseum and learn all about the rich history during out hour and a half tour. Here's a one minute video I created of the Colosseum...
From that tour, we explored Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum. I knew so little about this rich history...I was thrilled to learn about it from a local guide. 
Now at this point, the moms and I were getting mighty hot and starting to fade. One thing that really helped us was to stay hydrated. Rome made this easy for us: there are fountains and water spigots everywhere! The water is cold and delicious. What a gift. 
I have neck issues that only start to drive me bonkers when I carry a purse on my shoulder. Knowing that, I always carried a lightweight cross body purse. In that, I had my phone, our passports and my cash. I wore my camera around my neck in true tourist fashion. Thankfully, mom does not have these issues so she carried a bigger bag with our water bottles. 
We wrapped up our day with an amazing dinner and a million of our friends on the Spanish Steps. Speaking of dinner, let's talk food, shall we? You absolutely CAN go wrong with food in Italy, despite what everyone says. Some tips we learned from a local: don't eat at places that have photos of the food posted outside the restaurant as they are catering to tourists who are easily fooled; skip the joints that have menus out front in every language on the planet or ones that have a fast-talkin' dude standing outside. Don't let his cute looks, accent and slicked-back hair fool you, keep walking. Instead, get off the beaten path and hit up those quiet places. That is where the locals go...and the food will be amazing. 
Rome, Day 2: Before leaving the states, I found out about Kelly Medford's Sketching Rome. I was so excited about the idea to actually sit and draw (something I rarely do) in ROME of all places that I immediately signed up. You can follow Kelly and her tours here for more inspiration. I cannot even tell you how much fun it was to spend time with folks of all walks of artistic life and draw this beautiful city. 
I must admit: whenever I go to workshops, classes or professional development, I suffer from performance anxiety. I know I'm not alone in this. But I feel that one way to work through something like that is to keep on pushing yourself which is another reason I signed on for the class. 

With Kelly's guidance, we explored blind contour, contour, shading, crosshatching, watercolor and just two hours. 
 Not only that, but she provided us with hand bound sketchbooks (that she created!) and all the supplies we would need. 
These are the sweet folks I got to sketch with. I was thrilled to then have the supplies to sketch for the rest of my trip!
My sketching class was in the Borghese Gardens. When it was over, mom and I grabbed some gelato and made our way to the Vatican for our tour of the Vatican Museums, St. Peter's and the Sistine Chapel. 
 Lemme just restate: booking a tour not only gives you inside info but also gets you to the front of the line. Folks in line were looking at a two hour wait in the hot Roman sun while we skipped right ahead. Our tour began with a walk through the Vatican Museums which is equal parts insanely crowded and beautiful. You aren't allowed to stop for more than a moment to grab a quick photo. You honestly feel like a herd of cattle moving in front of priceless masterpieces. 
 And it was in the Vatican Museums that we promptly lost my mom. She paused for just a moment too long to snap a photo while our group moved ahead...and she vanished. Of course, I had no cell service. Thankfully, a sweet Irish couple lent me their phone to text her. It wasn't until hours later, when our tour was near it's end, that a woman in our group spotted her in St. Peter's Square. 

But let me back track to the Sistine Chapel. There are no photos of that amazingness as you are not allowed to take any. The Chapel itself, despite it's soaring ceiling, is actually very small. It's strange to think that Michelangelo spent 9 years of his life in that chapel: 4 painting the ceiling and 5 painting the second coming on the wall. It is absolutely INCREDIBLE to stand in the Sistine Chapel. I cried. The history, the beauty, the skill of such an artist. Despite popular belief, Michelangelo did not lay down on his back to paint the ceiling, he stood on scaffolding with his neck bent backward. Can you imagine? He must has suffered so much pain throughout the course of his life from that experience. What an incredible gift that chapel is. 
And then there's St. Peter's Bascilica. There is absolutely nothing like it that I have ever seen. Compared to the Sistine Chapel, it is a mammoth. Mom and I toured the Bascilica twice. Little known fact: you can get into the Bascilica for free, just like all churches in Rome. Just approach the Vatican from St. Peter's Square and you are in. It's worth it just to see the Pieta. 
This has always been one of my favorite sculptures by Michelangelo. Sadly, it is incased behind a sheet of thick glass. Several years ago, a man claiming to be Jesus attacked the sculpture with a hammer and did some damage before being stopped by guards. Since then, the Pieta has been protected by glass. 
 I believe I took one million trillion photos of the Vatican Museum and St. Peter's Bascilica...I'll spare you all of those. Trust me when I tell you, it was a breathtaking sight. 
 Rome, Day 3: On our final day in Rome, I made a point not to have any tours planned. I wanted us to have time to go back and revisit any places we had seen and to explore those we'd missed. I also just wanted us to ditch the map and get lost. I will say, out of the three cities we visited, Rome was the easiest to navigate. The roads were (kinda) well marked and the map I purchased from a street vendor for a couple of euro did me alright. 
We are also two ladies who love to shop! So it was fun to pop in and out of any stores that caught our eye and not have to worry about keeping a schedule. The Pinocchio store was my absolute fave. 
 In addition to my lightweight purse and camera as must-haves when traveling, I also packed one pair of sandals (Chacos were my shoes of choice ) and sneakers for our bike adventure (more to come about that!). I only took 5 dresses on my trip, a hat and a pair of sunglasses. I packed surprisingly light...knowing that I might have to fit a Pinocchio in my suitcase!
We also took in the Pantheon (one of the oldest pieces of architecture from ancient times), the Fonte Acqua Paola as well as the fun surrounding area of Trastevere. 
 And, of course, gelato. Had to squeeze in that daily gelato. 
 One important thing we had to figure out everyday while in Italy: where are we going to see the sunset? The sun sets around 9pm. On our final day in Rome, we decided to see it from the top of the Altar of the Fatherland. For a handful of euro, you can go to the top and catch this view of the city:
Another thing we always did was make sure we caught a view of the cities from above. It really put Rome in perspective. 
Mom absolutely loved Rome. I think it would have been her favorite city if Venice hadn't won her over by being on the water. Me, I liked Rome a lot...but it was not my favorite spot out of the three we visited. It had just a little too much of a big city vibe for me. Don't get me wrong, I LOVED Rome...but Florence and Venice truly have my heart. You'll have to tell me what you think. I'll be sharing them in up coming blog posts, so stay tuned. 
Until then, I'll leave you with our final view of Trevi Fountain on our last night's stay. This time, I'll leave out the crowd of tourists! 
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