Monday, July 30, 2012

The Italy Series: Il Duomo

The famous dome of the Cathedral of Florence was a big deal for us.  The first dome constructed since the Romans, it's also sort of a big deal for a lot of other people.  

But, the dome isn't the only historically awesome thing about Florence's Cathedral.

We also saw the baptistery doors--the relief sculptures done by Ghiberti (he won in a competition with Brunelleschi, which is good because Brunelleschi then had his free time to construct the dome).  Anyway, these beautiful bronze panels (1421) and the dome (1436) are pretty much the symbols of the birth of the Renaissance and we were pretty darn excited to be there seeing them in person.

Then, of course, there's the campanile (bell tower) by Giotto, who was one of the proto-Renaissance painters of Florence who got some things going in art like individualized faces, emotion, and perspective.  (Here's a link to his most famous painting--Madonna Enthroned--which we saw in the Uffizi Gallery.  It was huge.)

A final shot of the Cathedral with its three famous components--the octagonal baptistery at left, the dome in the middle, and the campanile to the right.

Gorgeous Duomo.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Italy Series: Palio and Panforte

Il Palio ~ a horse race held twice each year, on July 2 and August 16, in Siena, Italy.  Ten horses and riders, bareback and dressed in the appropriate colors, represent ten of the seventeen contrade, or city wards.  The ten contrade to compete are chosen each year by lot.

Since Siena is a rather old city, the contrade aren't especially large.  In our old-city wanderings, we ended up in at least 12 of the 17, noting where we were from the small, ceramic mascot plaques at the corners of streets.

Our room was in the Pantera, or Panther, contrade.  Which, when we figured that out, made this statue right outside our door finally make sense.  Not to sound biased or anything, but no other neighborhood had a mascot statue, so I'm pretty sure the Panteras are well, you know, the best.**

I...don't...know what to do with my arms....

** Never mind that Pantera has the second-to-worst victory record...They're number one in classiness.  Besides, the top winners are the geese, the snails, and the turtles so...I think those folks were probably given a lot of those wins just to make up for their mascots.  Mercy wins.


Panforte ~  traditional Sienese or Tuscan dessert made of fruit and nuts, similar to a mix between fruitcake and gingerbread.  Its name means "strong bread," and it was originally called peppered bread for its spicy flavor.

If you've kept up at all with our travels, you'll know that we are sure to try any local specialties we can find.  Which led us to a tiny, bustling deli one lunchtime in search of Panforte.  I asked the brusque butcher/baker for a small piece, expecting something about the size of a piece of pie.  And I guessed that, paying by weight, this would be rather affordable (aka cheap).

Well, I got something slightly larger than a piece of pie and slightly more than cheap ($9!).  But, this chunk of stuff, heavier than gold I swear, lasted us a good five days packed away in our bags.  One bite and you were good on food for five hours (Paul called it our Lembas Bread).

All in all, we really loved Siena.  It was the perfect place for our psycho-kamikaze-tourist-selves to finally relax, walk, and just enjoy being in Italy.

Monday, July 16, 2012


Once again, I've realized that we've been committing that all-too-easy crime of forgetting to document things that are now relatively normal to us, but downright, well, foreign to everyone else.

So, today, I'd like to highlight the notable German institution of pfand.

Now, you know how, in the US, there are those recycling machines in front of Walmart (or wherever) that, I assume, give you some sort of tiny bit of money in exchange for a pickup truck-load of beer cans (or whatever)?  I'm not exactly sure about this since I was always afraid to go check them out (again--the pickup trucks full of beer cans were always there, you know?).  But, right, well, you know those things?

And you know how sometimes you'd think something like, "Well, that's cool that you can get 2 cents for a garbage bag full of plastic water bottles"?  This being, of course, immediately followed with the thought, "But I will never have a garbage bag full of plastic water bottles!"

All I'm really saying here, is that Germany does something a little similar...yet, totally different.  Different because everyone does it and it's actually worth it.  

So, this is what happens...

You go to the grocery store because you want to get some raspberry juice. (Oh yeah, this is a thing and it's an amazing thing too).

But, there's no raspberry juice in stock (or as a stock photo online), so instead you get a raspberry yogurt drink, like this one...
On the little price tag, it says that it costs 1.25 but 1.50 with pfand.  

This just means that you're going to pay 1.50 for this yogurt drink today, but if you want to get 25 cents back, you can bring your empty bottle for a "refund" the next time you come by!

So, you drink your yogurt drink and you put the bottle on your dishwasher because you think, "Hey, next time I go to the store, I'll get my 25 cents back!  Also, I'm going to totally remember to do that!"

And then, six months later, the top of your dishwasher looks like this...

But, it's all good!  Why?  Because eventually you can't fit any more bottles on top of your dishwasher and, one week, you actually remember to throw them all into a canvas bag and take them with you to the grocery store.

At the grocery store, you get to play with this incredibly fun toy that looks something like this...

The game goes like this:
Step 1: Put bottle into hole.
Step 2: Watch bottle spin around 100x's a second as the hole lights up with little laser-scanners looking for the pfand-code-thing-whatever-it-finds.  Then watch as the bottle gets sucked into a black hole of mystery in the back.*
Step 3: Repeat
Step 4: Press green button when there's nothing else fun to put in there. (I've always wanted to try to put my arm in...but I'm too scared.)
Step 5: Take the receipt that then works as a kind of grocery store gift card.

People (namely, foreign people like me) are so enamored with the pfand toy that they take videos of it in action and post them to youtube.  Like this Brazilian guy.

So, yes, that's the story of pfand.  And, judging by the lines at the pfand machine, it's a pretty successful recycling program.  

And we get to be a part of it...approximately twice a year...

* So...sometimes...if you didn't check for the little pfand symbol beforehand (see top), or you didn't look to see if you were returning it to the right store (sometimes they're specific like that), the pfand machine will spin the bottle around and then shoot it back at you instead of into the black hole.  This was...disconcerting...the first time it happened.  However, now I can say that I'm very particular about checking these things before approaching the pfand-gods--you do not want to make them angry.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Italy Series: Siena Cathedral

  We stayed in Siena for two nights, mostly treating it as a rest period after our whirlwind Rome.  This meant that we averaged about four scoops of gelatto each, per day.  We also simply found ourselves wandering around, poking into tiny shops and parks and wandering down medieval streets lined with green-shuttered windows and flower boxes.

One thing I noticed was that every semi-touristy store sold these black and white striped pasta bow-ties and I couldn't really figure why.  Siena was, as noted previously, a rather sienna-colored city after all...  Maybe it was some sort of local specialty?  Or something?

And then, we went to Siena's cathedral...

Stripes!  Stripes everywhere!  I'd never seen anything like it.

We liked these 400-some-odd busts of Popes lining the arcade
But, I mean, beyond the stripes, the cathedral had other really gorgeous things going for it.  I think I'd have to say that, overall, it ended up being my favorite cathedral of the entire trip--which is saying a lot since we, you know, saw the mother of them all.

For example, it had these really beautiful and intricate floors made of a rainbow of marbles:

We saw the beautiful Piccolomini Library, just off the nave, that had a gorgeous ceiling and some of the first Renaissance paintings that really used perspective.

File:Biblioteca Duomo Siena-2 Apr 2008.jpg

And, perhaps the giveaway, the cathedral had a Bernini chapel with more (Bernini!) sculpture and the loveliest dome I've ever seen (and we've seen a lot of domes).

Just a really gorgeous place, Siena...

Siena Cathedral

Facial Hair is Different Hair

Paul walked out of the bathroom this morning looking like General Burnside...

He says that it was just to get a reaction out of me.

I say that he's just showing weird hair solidarity.

Either way, I've dared him to go to work like this.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Short Hair is Different Hair

So....I tried to do pin-curls again last night not really thinking about how, the last time I did them, my hair was about twice as long. out that having short hair can be really different...

In other news, I now know that I have the ability to pull off a pretty good lion for any Halloween in the future.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Italy Series: Sienna Siena

We took a train from Rome, through three hours of hill-town scenery, to the Tuscan town of Siena.  

It was immediately clear why that one (oft-neglected) crayon was named so weird.

As to why the crayon name added an extra "n"? 

Not a clue.

But, tell you what, if I had another crayon box today, sienna would be getting a lot more play.
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