Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Last hours with Ophelie in Pisa - November 13th

I loved waking up in Pietrasanta and going for a walk in the town, looking for fresh bread for breakfast. The town was pretty quiet, at 8am, but slowly people started taking the patio seats at the cafes.  After packing, we hung out at the main square, waiting for Ophelie.

She came right after and drove us to Pisa, which is about 30 minutes away. We took small roads along farms and mountains with castles and villages. A real Tuscany landscape.

The girls were super excited to see the leaning tower of Pisa, especially Sofia, who learned all about it on a TVO Kids show. It was my second time here, but it was still fun to see the tilting tower. We tried to climb up the tower, but kids under 8 years old are not allowed. So, we all gave up.

We all got to hold the leaning tower, of course. 
It's actually pretty funny to walk around seeing all the people doing the same trick.
Everybody looks so ridiculous, but what the heck? We are in Pisa!

The Leaning Tower of Pisa (ItalianTorre pendente di Pisa) or simply the Tower of Pisa (Torre di Pisa) is the campanile, or freestanding bell tower, of the cathedral of the Italian city of Pisa, known worldwide for its unintended tilt. The tower is situated behind the Pisa Cathedral and is the third oldest structure in the city's Cathedral Square (Piazza del Duomo), after the cathedral and the Pisa Baptistry.
The tower's tilt began during construction in the 12th century, caused by an inadequate foundation on ground too soft on one side to properly support the structure's weight. The tilt increased in the decades before the structure was completed in the 14th century. It gradually increased until the structure was stabilized (and the tilt partially corrected) by efforts in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
The height of the tower is 55.86 metres (183.27 feet) from the ground on the low side and 56.67 metres (185.93 feet) on the high side. The width of the walls at the base is 2.44 m (8 ft 0.06 in). Its weight is estimated at 14,500 metric tons (16,000 short tons). The tower has 296 or 294 steps; the seventh floor has two fewer steps on the north-facing staircase. Prior to restoration work performed between 1990 and 2001, the tower leaned at an angle of 5.5 degrees, but the tower now leans at about 3.99 degrees.

Pisa is also an university town. 

Friends after 20 years.

Angelo Caduto (Fallen Angel)
Igor Mitoraj/ Bronze  (2012)

Mitoraj was born on 26 March 1944 in OederanGermany. His Polish mother was a forced labourer, while his father was a French officer of Polish extraction. He returned with his mother to Poland after the end of World War II. He spent his childhood years in Grojec. He graduated from an art school in Bielsko-Biała and in 1963 he studied painting at the Kraków Academy of Art under Tadeusz Kantor. After graduating, he had several joint exhibitions, and held his first solo exhibition in 1967 at the Krzysztofory Gallery in Poland. In 1968, he moved to Paris to continue his studies at the National School of Art.
Shortly afterwards, he became fascinated by Latin American art and culture, spending a year painting and travelling around Mexico. The experience led him to take up sculpture.

La Lupa Capitolina, The Capitoline Wolf.

The Capitoline Wolf (ItalianLupa Capitolina) is a bronze sculpture depicting a scene from the legend of the founding of Rome. The sculpture shows a she-wolf suckling the mythical twin founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus. According to the legend, when Numitor, grandfather of the twins, was overthrown by his brother Amulius, the usurper ordered them to be cast into the Tiber River. They were rescued by a she-wolf who cared for them until a herdsman, Faustulus, found and raised them.


Another delicious Italian meal.

After lunch, we had to say goodbye and get the 45 minute train to Florence.

Good bye, my Little Lion, Ophelie!
It was wonderful to see you after 20 years!
Thanks for the hospitality and we hope to have you guys over to Canada soon.

In Florence we decided to stay at the fancy Grand Hotel Mediterraneo, with my parents' tour group. It's not our style - we prefer apartments - but it was logistically easier to stay at the same place.

We are looking forward to explore Florence tomorrow!
Buena notte!

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Arriverdeti, Rome! Benvenuto Pietrasanta! - November 12th

A charming Italian nona, out for a walk and a smoke in the morning.

It was sad to say goodbye to Rome. It was three days only but we fell in love with this city. We’ll definitely come back. 

The girls were super excited for their first train trip in Europe. 

We headed to Pietrasanta to meet my old friend Ophelie and her family. I met Ophelie, 21 years ago when we were roommates in London, England. We were both English students and even though we only lived together for three months, we got really close to each other, since we were both away from our families for the first time. 

More than 20 years went by and here we are again. We have gotten older, each one became a family of four (with husband and kids), but it feels like time has not passed. Ophelie is the same gentle and sweet girl I shared a room with in London two decades ago.

Ophelie explained to us that this used to be a laid back artists town, but has become really popular with tourists, therefore expensive for locals. A classic story of gentrification. She was sweet enough to linvite us to stay in one incredible beautiful and cozy two bedroom apartment in the centre, normally available for tourists in the summer. The place is gorgeous and spacious with its super high ceilings and a simple artsy European decoration. In the fridge we found  fresh food for our breakfast, as well as other groceries Ophelie previously left on the table for us. Wow! What a reception!

Pietrasanta is a town and comune on the coast of northern Tuscany in Italy, in the province of Lucca. Pietrasanta is part of Versilia, on the last foothills of the Apuan Alps, about 32 kilometres (20 mi) north of Pisa. The town is located 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) off the coast, where the frazione of Marina di Pietrasanta is located.


The town has Roman origins and part of the Roman wall still exists.
The medieval town was founded in 1255 upon the pre-existing "Rocca di Sala" fortress of the Lombards by Luca Guiscardo da Pietrasanta, from whom it got its name. Pietrasanta was at its height a part of the Republic of Genoa (1316–1328). The town is first mentioned in 1331 in records of Genoa, when it became a part of the Lucca along with the river port of Motrone, and was held until 1430. At that time it passed back to Genoa until 1484, when it was annexed to the Medici held seigniory of Florence.
In 1494, Charles VIII of France took control of the town. It remained a Luccan town again until Pope Leo X, a member of the Medici family, gave Pietrasanta back to his family.
The town suffered a long period of decline during the 17th and 18th centuries, partially due to malaria. In 1841, Grand Duke Leopold II of Tuscany promoted several reconstruction projects (including the building of schools specially created to teach carving skills, and the reopening of the once famous quarries).
The town then became the capital of the Capitanato di Pietrasanta, which included the towns of Forte dei Marmi, Seravezza and Stazzema (this region became the historical heart of Versilia). The town joined the newly unified Italian Kingdom in 1861.

The area, like most of Tuscany in general, has long enjoyed the patronage of artists. Pietrasanta grew to importance during the 15th century, mainly due to its connection with marbleMichelangelo was the first sculptor to recognize the beauty of the local stone.

Inside one of the main churches.

So far, the best gelatto on this trip, according to Mike.

The kids were running around everywhere. 

After hanging out in downtown for a bit we went see their beautiful place on the edge of a mountain, surrounded by olive trees, with a view of the town and the ocean. Ophelie cooked this amazing Italian local food, Tordelli, a pasta served with a ragu sauce. And her authentic Italian Tuscany husband was equally awesome host and filled our glasses up with sparkling wine and red wine. 

Our kids got along really well, even though they spoke different languages. It was a really pleasant evening, probably the best we will have this whole trip. To me, this is one of the best things in life… meeting people, saying goodbye, turning around the corner years later and meeting them again in another time, space and environment, still feeling the connection. Thank you Ophelie, Dominico and kids for making us feel at home and welcome.

We went to bed with a smile on our faces and the desire to come back to Pietrasanta… sometime very soon.

Sculptures of Pietrasanta

From Pope to Tribalistas - November 11th

Another beautiful day in Rome. We headed out in the morning for our city exploration and started walking towards the Vatican, the smallest country in the world. I was surprised how close to the hotel it was. It took us about 20 minutes to get there walking slowly, appreciating the old streets and buildings. 

I had the impression the Vatican would be removed from the city, accessible by big roads, with lots of empty parking lots. Silly me. The Vatican is right there and it shares narrow streets like any other central neighbourhood in Rome, an ancient city.

I expected a big crowd because it is the Vatican, after all, but what I didn’t know is that those people were excited to be there and receive the Pope’s blessings. 

After going through security - a big line up with bag search and metal detectors - we entered the Vatican and found out that we were 20 minutes away from the Pope’s Sunday appearance, at noon.  So, we decided to wait and see the catholic leader.

Pope Francis showed up in the “second top window on the right, ” as the guards had told us he would, exactly at noon and we felt the energy of the crowd when the Pope greeted everyone with a warm “boungiorno.” He continued to talk to the people in Italian for another 10 minutes. A big screen brought the pontiff closer to his followers.

Our kids didn’t even know who the Pope is until today, and I don’t think they understand what he represents to millions of people around the world, but I felt like it was a great opportunity for discussion about religion and world leaders. 

It felt like every other person here was Brazilian. This is a very enthusiastic group of pilgrims from Aracaju, Sergipe State.

Vatican City is an independent city-state enclaved within RomeItaly. Established with the Lateran Treaty (1929), it is distinct from yet under "full ownership, exclusive dominion, and sovereign authority and jurisdiction" of the Holy See (LatinSancta Sedes). With an area of 44 hectares (110 acres), and a population of about 1,000, it is the smallest state in the world by both area and population.
The Vatican City is an ecclesiastical or sacerdotal-monarchical state (a type of theocracy) ruled by the pope who is, religiously speaking, the bishop of Rome and head of the Catholic Church. The highest state functionaries are all Catholic clergy of various national origins. Since the return of the popes from Avignon in 1377, they have generally resided at the Apostolic Palace within what is now Vatican City, although at times residing instead in the Quirinal Palace in Rome or elsewhere.
The Holy See dates back to early Christianity, and is the primate episcopal see of the Catholic Church, with 1.3 billion Catholics around the world distributed in the Latin Church and 23 Eastern Catholic Churches. The independent Vatican City-state, on the other hand, came into existence in 11 February 1929 by the Lateran Treaty between the Holy See and Italy, which spoke of it as a new creation, not as a vestige of the much larger Papal States (756–1870), which had previously encompassed much of central Italy.
Within the Vatican City are religious and cultural sites such as St. Peter's Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums. They feature some of the world's most famous paintings and sculptures. The unique economy of Vatican City is supported financially by the sale of postage stamps and souvenirs, fees for admission to museums, and sales of publications.

After the encounter, we followed the crowd to move forward towards St. Peter’s Basilica. That’s where the white smoke comes out from its dome when a new Pope is chosen. As it was recommended to us, we paid 10 euros to have the “best view of Rome,’ from the top of the the Basilica’s Cupola.”

It was an adventure! First we got an elevator to the beginning of the dome. There we could walk around the dome and have a view of the church from inside. We were close to a breathtaking wall of mosaics, designed by Michelangelo, covering the whole dome, up to the very top! It’s just unimaginable having people working on these walls hundreds of years ago.

The Papal Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican is an Italian Renaissance church in Vatican City, the papal enclave within the city of Rome.
Designed principally by Donato BramanteMichelangeloCarlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini, St. Peter's is the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture[2] and the largest church in the world.[3] While it is neither the mother church of the Catholic Church nor the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome, St. Peter's is regarded as one of the holiest Catholic shrines. It has been described as "holding a unique position in the Christian world" and as "the greatest of all churches of Christendom".[2][5]
Catholic tradition holds that the Basilica is the burial site of Saint Peter, chief among Jesus's Apostles and also the first Bishop of RomeSaint Peter's tomb is supposedly directly below the high altar of the Basilica. For this reason, many Popes have been interred at St. Peter's since the Early Christian period, and there has been a church on this site since the time of the Roman emperor Constantine the Great. Construction of the present basilica, which would replace Old St. Peter's Basilica from the 4th century AD, began on 18 April 1506 and was completed on 18 November 1626.


The dome of St. Peter's rises to a total height of 136.57 metres (448.1 ft) from the floor of the basilica to the top of the external cross. It is the tallest dome in the world. Its internal diameter is 41.47 metres (136.1 ft), slightly smaller than two of the three other huge domes that preceded it, those of the Pantheon of Ancient Rome, 43.3 metres (142 ft), and Florence Cathedral of the Early Renaissance, 44 metres (144 ft). It has a greater diameter by approximately 30 feet (9.1 m) than Constantinople's Hagia Sophia church, completed in 537. It was to the domes of the Pantheon and Florence duomo that the architects of St. Peter's looked for solutions as to how to go about building what was conceived, from the outset, as the greatest dome of Christendom.


When we thought it was already super cool, it got better. We started climbing up the 551 steps to the very top of the cupola. Part of the narrow stairs was straight up, part in spirals, and this crazy part was completely tilted, making us all dizzy. 

Finally we got to the top of the dome and it was all worth. it! What a view of Rome!

The tour ended right inside the Basilica. It’s incredibly huge and beautiful inside. 

This is the tomb of the Pope John Paul II, who died in 2005.

I like how Rome seems to be environmentally friendly. There are good quality water fountains all over the centre area, so you can refill your water bottles and I haven’t seen any plastic bags. Al the shopping garbage bags are compostable.

Outside the Vatican is the this big fort, where the popes would hid in case of an attack.

The Mausoleum of Hadrian, usually known as Castel Sant'Angelo , is a towering cylindrical building in Parco AdrianoRome, Italy. It was initially commissioned by the Roman Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family. The building was later used by the popes as a fortress and castle, and is now a museum. The structure was once the tallest building in Rome.


A little break to ride the Carrousel.

Our lunch today was… pizza and pasta. Similar to yesterday: pasta and pizza!

This is a very touristic part of the city, the street Via dei Condotti, where all the big name designers are. It was packed!

Outside Dolce & Gabbana, a crowd waited for George Clooney, reportedly shopping inside. Sorry, Clooney, we missed you today. We had more interesting things to see in Rome.

Window shopping.

Via Condotti (officially Via dei Condotti) is a busy and fashionable street of RomeItaly. In Roman times it was one of the streets that crossed the ancient Via Flaminia and enabled people who transversed the Tiber to reach the Pincio hill. It begins at the foot of the Spanish steps and is named after conduits or channels which carried water to the Baths of Agrippa. Today, it is the street which contains the greatest number of Rome-based Italian fashion retailers, equivalent to Milan's Via MontenapoleoneParisRue du Faubourg-Saint-HonoréFlorence's Via de' Tornabuoni or London's Bond Street.
Caffé Greco (or Antico Caffé Greco), perhaps the most famous café in Rome was established at Via dei Condotti 86 in 1760, and attracted figures such as StendhalGoetheByronLiszt and Keats to have coffee there. Guglielmo Marconi, inventor of radio, lived at Via dei Condotti 11, until his death in 1937.
Being near the Spanish steps, the street is visited by large numbers of tourists. In May 1986, fashion designer Valentino filed suit to close a McDonald's shortly after it opened near the Spanish steps, complaining of "noise and disgusting odours" below his six-story palazzo in the vicinity of Via Condotti. But to the dismay of some Romans, McDonald's overcame the obstacles and is successful.
Via Condotti is a center of fashion shopping in Rome. DiorGucciValentinoHermèsArmaniJimmy ChooLa PerlaPradaSalvatore FerragamoFurlaBurberryCélineDolce & GabbanaMax MaraAlberta FerrettiTrussardiBuccellatiBulgariDamianiTod'sZegnaCartierBallyMontblancTiffany & Co.Louis Vuitton have stores on Via Condotti. Others, such as Laura Biagiotti, have their offices there.


This is the Spanish steps, where people - mainly tourists - hang out, people watching. 

 The Spanish Steps (Italian: Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti) are a set of steps in Rome, Italy, climbing a steep slope between the Piazza di Spagna at the base and Piazza Trinità dei Monti, dominated by the Trinità dei Monti church at the top.
The monumental stairway of 174 steps (the slightly elevated drainage system is often mistaken for the first step) was built with French diplomat Étienne Gueffier’s bequeathed funds of 20,000 scudi, in 1723–1725, linking the Bourbon Spanish Embassy, and the Trinità dei Monti church that was under the patronage of the Bourbon kings of France, both located above — to the Holy See in Palazzo Monaldeschi located below. The stairway was designed by architects Francesco de Sanctis and Alessandro Specchi.


From there we headed to another area of Rome to have dinner with my parents. They had just arrived in Italy, earlier that day and were resting at their hotel. It was great to see Vovô and Vovó.

My day ended with a great concert, the Brazilian band the Tribalistas. Although I got ripped off with a terrible seat, bought on line from Canada, the show was great. By the last third of the concert I was up dancing like most of the people, anyway. 

What a day, with people I don’t expect to see in my daily life: starting with the Pope, dinner with my parents who live in Brazil, and finishing with Arnaldo, Carlinhos e Zé.