Dienstag, 17. Juli 2018

May-Here comes the rain again

Like the previous month, the third month of my stay started again with a tradition. The trofeo Marzocco –a competition of traditional flag throwers in front of Palazzo Vecchio. And of course it started to rain midway trough the event. I got there around an hour before it should start, managed to get a front row place and waited. Then there was the announcement that it would start half an hour or even an hour later. I defended my place with all I got and heard some people speaking German, wondering what it was. I had a nice conversation with two elderly women about the event and my time in Florence and their stay. I recommended they eat a gelato at Gelateria Dondoli when they would visit San Gimignano some days later.

Like every similar event, first thing was a parade of all participants, Florentine ladies, soldiers and many other characters to the Piazza della Signoria, followed by a renaissance dance by said ladies. Now I was squeezed in between French, Florentine and American people. And unfortunately I have to say the American were the rudest. About an hour into the show, just when the last group presented their “piccolo squadra” choreography, one woman really asked if she could stand between me and an Italian woman. Before I could say something, the Italian said what I was thinking “We have been here for several hours. Of course you can not”. I have to say that after that there was also a French couple that did not behave properly. But her reaction was what made me even more angry. First she asked me to stop photographing because she wanted to make a video for Instagram with her selfiestick. Then her question and her reaction. She stomped off bragging to her friend how rude we were. But in words that were not really nice. But fortunately, she tried it somewhere else and left us alone.

The presentation of the small group was followed by the big group. Honestly, I couldn’t decide which group was the best. One group did amazing acrobatic elements, another had an overall awesome show making it a bit more military and not having just a choreography for the flag throwers, but also for the drums and trumpets. The official Bandierai of Florence did not participate. Just with their smallest (up to 14 years if I remember right) and the seniors (over 40/50 years) out of competition. I have to say they were really cute with their small flags and costumes. I am sure they will one day be as good as their fathers and the other “big” ones!

The beginning of this month was also the end of my university course. Just when I started to really feel comfortable. Well at least I improved my knowledge and language, got some nice words from my professor and the others about the time I committed to catch up with typologies we never used in Germany and was encouraged to do the oral exam. I don’t want to do it, but hey, at least I can use it as replacement for my exam in Germany!
To fight against me missing university, I not only went to the aperitivo of my language school, but decided to take my camera and do a small night tour through the city. Although it was already well after 10 pm, the river was still a bit crowded. I started from Piazza Santa Trinita, took nice pictures of the Ponte Vecchio and its reflection, before following the river up to the Galleria degli Uffizi.

I continued with the Palazzo Vecchio and was amazed by how dark the sky seemed to be, the building standing against a black background and dark grey clouds. It almost seemed like it was 1480 and not 2018 –except for the guys selling stupid toys. Seriously, I never see someone buying these things and if you dare to stop in front of one of the main sights they approach you no matter if you have a child with you or not. It always takes several attempts to get rid of them and even if they leave you be it seems like they are staring at you planning how to get your wallet. And they start their blinking-lights-propeller-things the exact second before you take a picture so that you have a picture with a blue or pink light in the middle of it.
From there I took the main “shopping mile” to the Duomo after avoiding it for weeks. Honestly, I have to admit that I forgot how amazing it is to wander through the streets and finally see the Duomo rise in front of you. One step after the other, revealing more and more of its beauty as you approach the Piazza Duomo. And it is even more beautiful at night, when the white marble appears to glow in front the dark sky.

The last stops were San Lorenzo and the Ospedale degli innocenti, which were almost abandoned when I reached them. The second thing I did next day was to walk beyond Piazza della Libertá and visit the Stibbert Museum. Two villas in a park where Frederick Stibbert had collected all kinds of armoury, weapons, paintings and art from all over the world to make typologies of them. The museum actually houses one of the biggest collections of Asian Armoury. The rooms themselves were also impressive and a perfect scenery for the objects. Really impressive was the room of the cavalcade– a church-like room with models of rider’s armoury of Italian, German and eastern origin. The only sad part about the museum is that you cannot see all rooms. The visit is only possible by an hourly tour in Italian. You get a brief introduction to the rooms visited and then have some minutes to look at everything yourself. There was just a bit more information about one display with Etruscan and roman metal objects and to Egyptian mummies. For me, this was a pity because it was not enough information. Maybe I got the wrong co-visitors –two families with children that touched everything even after the woman doing the tour asked not to touch anything for the tenth time. I would recommend the museum but there could be done more!

After the first week of may, the rain came again. There was a huge storm with floods of rain during practice; flooding smaller cities in the Chianti and forcing me to leave my gear in the rink and walking to the locker without my skates. Of course we did not have the lockers directly at our rink but on the other side of the complex that day.
Fortunately, the weather got better for some days. I was visited by the parents of a boy I used to teach extra lessons after school and we climbed the 414 steps of the Bell Tower (Campanile di Giotto), before we visited the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo and the Baptistery. After a small city tour to the Palazzo Vecchio, Palazzo Pitti and Ponte Vecchio, we ended the day with dinner at the Fiesolano at Fiesole. The GPS took us on a crazy route through small and curvy streets, but that way we had an awesome panoramic view over the city. Well fed, I returned after 11 pm, editing my pictures and just resting in my bed after that. I would get the theme of my oral exam the next day.

Following the climb of the tower, I went to the Giardino delle Rose and the Giardino dell’Iris the next day with language school. We did not take the “easier” way crossing the Rose garden. We took the classic, steep stairs up to the lower entrance to the Rose Garden, enjoying nice views and beautiful smelling roses. From there we continued to the Piazzale Michelangelo, crossing it and entering the Iris garden. Because of the strange weather, there were again just some flowers in bloom. I enjoyed it anyway, but one of the other students not so much. She was nice and friendly, but she was complaining a bit too much. Sure, it was a really hot day and the sun had no mercy, but the trip was not mandatory. The teacher joined us on the way back to Ponte delle Grazie, and from there I continued with the other student to a bus stop. We figured out she lived close to me, just two stops with the bus, and the next day, we even met when I was on my way home from the supermarket!

Except watching the IIHF worlds via Youtube, I spent most of the time reading articles about Neolithic tool exchange. I just managed to do a trip to San Gimignano on a Saturday and hoped the weather would be better as it rained almost everyday. Turned out I was really lucky. I had the perfect weather for my trip. Around 23 degrees, a mild sunshine, almost no clouds, really low humidity and a little bit of wind. First thing I did was of course buying Prosciutto and oil at Bazar dei Sapori, where I got recognized and had private service although the shop was packed with tourists. After that I got to enjoy the view from the Torre Grossa almost on my own. It was magical and I spent half an hour up there. I could see the rolling green hills, fields and olive groves for kilometres –up to the point where it seemed like the hills touch the blue sky. From there I wandered through the city. I discovered a free museum (San Gimignano 1300) just behind the Torre Grossa. It is basically one room with a big terra cotta model of the town in der 13 hundreds. Nice to see, a lot of effort in there, but there is a lack of information. I think I saw some information cards in English and Italian at the souvenir table, but they were about Etruscans. In my opinion there should be clear information about medieval San Gimignano and just a mentioning about previous civilisation there.

I wandered the city in search for San Lorenzo in Ponte, a small church that was new among the included sights of the civic museum ticket. It was still closed when I reached it so I walked around the quarter and then entered. It is beautifully painted and there are plates with information about each fresco.
The last stop that day was of course the Gelateria Dondoli, where I had to wait between two Japanese tourist groups that wanted me to give up my place in line for them to take pictures. In the end, I got my gelato (lime, passion fruit and strawberry), walked to a shady passage nearby and sat down to eat it before heading back to the bus. Unfortunatly I had to wait almost 2 hours for on Saturdays busses just drive every 2 hours. One of the main tourist attractions in that part of Tuscany and on one of the main lines. In the middle of high season. Do I have to say more?

For the remaining month, there was not much to do. It was either raining or incredibly hot and humid outside. My third wheel broke during practice; and of course I have none left to change it, so I continued with 7 instead of 8. My next trip was a short one which went not far. I took the bus to the church of San Miniato al Monte, which celebrates a millennial this year. The church fits in the classic florentine/Tuscan style of simple design and a richly decorated apsis. Sadly, I was the only one paying the “entrance fee” of one euro for the sacristy which had to be put in a wooden offering box. From there I walked back home, enjoying the city during late afternoon and the nice and less crowded view you have from the stairs leading to the church.
I had to do a 9 hour security course in which I basically learned how to store paper and how to behave in a biology laboratory. That was followed by packing things for the next month and studying.

Dienstag, 1. Mai 2018

April–Summer is coming

The Capodanno was the start to 7 days of traditions, feasts and trips to parcs. As easter approached, I just had an aperitivo with a woman from New Zeeland and finally visited the cloister of San Marco. There you can not just see a cloister, but also the cells of Girolamo Savonarola and Cosimo il Vecchio. The monastery itself is covered in multiple frescoes, as are the cells. They even found some under the floor! You start outside and after that enter a small floor where you can decide if you want to visit the second floor with the cells. After that you walk to the book shop and from there to the more “museum” part with objects from roman to medieval Florence and stunning wooden ceilings (unfortunately under restauration when I visited).

Just 7 days after the Capodanno, there was the magnificent Scoppio del Carro on easter Sunday. This is an event not to miss when visiting over easter! I got up really early and arrived nearly 3 hours early at the Piazza Duomo. I managed to get a front row place with a really nice view of the space between the Duomo and the Baptistery. First, there was again a big parade (with some guys I saw during the capodanno) with even more groups, guards on horses, flag throwers and anything you can imagine.
What this is all about? Well, this tradition dates back to the crusades and is linked to the Pazzi-Family. Four oxen pull a cart full of fireworks, firecrackers, etc. through the city to its final place between the church’s main door and the baptistery. During easter mass, the bishop uses flintstones (which are in some way linked to Jesus, I don’t remember everything) which were brought as a relict from the holy land by the Pazzi to start the journey of a dove on a thread that starts the explosion(s) of the cart and then returns to the altar. If this happens, it means the next year will be a good year (yes, it did not return).

So back to my experience. I was quiet happy with my spot and even helped an American couple by translating their question to one of the security guards and we talked even after that. The parade was awesome and I had a good view on it. Unfortunately –and even not understandable for the Florentines around me– the car of the fire brigade parked between the cart and my position although there were better places to park it within the same distance to the cart and not blocking the view. After that, I used most of the day to cook my own feast as there was nothing else to do.

On Pasquetta (or little easter) I made it to the Parco Pratolino. It was a Medici Parc and was bought by the Demidoff Family sometime in the 18th or 19th century. The most famous thing for sure is the Giant of the Appenines by Giambologna. The entrance is free and I arrived there early so I could enjoy it without the big crowds. These were expected for the early afternoon as traditionally the families or groups of friends go to parcs like that to have a picknick. I was happy to skip that crowd and edited my photos instead.

The following week was a short one with just one or two days of university and some sunshine. Typically for April, the days with sunshine and the days with rain changed in weird ways and there was no way to properly choose your clothing without being incredibly warm or too cold. I used the weekend (first one with over 25 degrees) to wander around the city and visited the magnificent Casa Martelli, a residence that actually was formed using multiple apartments by the Martelli Family.

And after that the Palazzo Davanzati, a medieval/renaissance palazzo perfectly showing the life during that time on 3 floors. I also visited the Boboli Gardens again as the weather was much better than the last time I visited. Now I understand why most “more local” people prefer the Bardini or rose gardens. But the lemons and oranges were finally visible and it smelled so damn nice!

There was again a small parade the next day. This time some kind of change of guards (Cambio della guardia) to remember the siege and the battles with/under Karl V. It was again awesome and interesting to witness the precision these men have while recreating these things. I mean, I know similar things from Germany, but this is a whole new category! It’s not just “I’m doing that some weekends a year and stay in one place for others to experience it”. It’s “I am celebrating the heritage of my city and I am PROUD of it. I participate not only in official state events, I am also an important part of the religious history and tradition of my city.”
When I see the plans for these events, I think it must be their lives. Meeting around 6 (or earlier) in the morning just to get ready and walk through the city for hours or standing in front of one of the main sights for an hour trying to stay in your role while tourist want to make pictures with you is serious, not just a normal hobby. I really appreciate this passion and have a lot of respect for these guys!

April also brought my first real trip out of the city. I needed a break from my roommates and decided to finally take the train (just 2 hours) to Venice and wander through the canals again after 13 years. I booked a “cheaper” accommodation a 15 minute walk from the Piazza San Marco and managed to not get really lost on my way there.

I enjoyed the city and it’s museums (especially the church of San Marco, as it reminded me of the sequence of Assassin’s Creed inside said building), but it is far too touristy for me, Everywhere I went I did not hear Italian, but German, French and English. I loved riding the boats that were the busses and enjoyed every minute of time on the water while most of the others did not like it (you could clearly see who is a tourist and who a local). I loved actually hearing the waves and seagulls at night, but I still prefer Florence (which is not that touristy).

Happy to be home again, I managed to get through the week without a)getting a sunburn and b)falling asleep everywhere I went because I still had to get over the lack of sleep from the weekend. It got hotter and hotter outside, so I tried to get the right mix of activities inside and outside for the coming weekend. On Friday, I went to Piazzale Michelangelo to participate in the Gelato Festival. You got the chance to taste 16 different flavours of artisanal Ice Cream and a nice look over the city without the crowds. I tasted crazy things like banana-ginger-lime an also really awesome things like ricotta-chocolate-pear and almond-pistachio-nocciola without cream or milk. It was a unique experience and I really enjoyed it! So if it comes to your city, make sure to give it a go!

Ein Beitrag geteilt von Diana Jansen (@hockeytwin2) am

Saturday should be the hottest day of the year so far and I thought a long time about staying in my cool room or going outside. I decided to at least visit the Giardino Bardini and see the wisteria everyone is crazy about myself. After walking the 2.7 km (last part a really steep hill), I wanted to get the free entrance I always get as an archeology student, but the woman at the ticket office did not accept my student card (which is always accepted at every entrance the Boboli gardens have and they belong together), so I had to pay. A bit angry about that I made my way through the garden and park and enjoyed the magnificent view over the city.

Other as the Boboli Gardens or Piazzale Michelangelo, the Bardini Gardens are not really crowded. At least I experienced them not crowded. You could see the Pergola full of wisteria from nearly every point in the garden, but sometimes the plan you got at the ticket office was a bit confusing. It is sometimes not clear if you already saw a thing or not and the names could confuse you if you do not look carefully at the pictures which were obviously taken in summer, so everything looks really different.

Sunday was not a day to relax but a really hard day. I got up at 6.15 in order to be at a meeting point close to the station to participate in a trip to Pitigliano and Saturnia. The bus company was late so the meeting time was changed from 7.10 to 7.40. Ok, I can live with that, but then the organizers decided to wait for people who were 30 minutes late. Everything was later and the “tour” through Pitigliano was so badly organised that we just had 25 minutes of free time to explore by ourselves. Not nice if you wanted to visit the museum inside the Palazzo Orsini. Don’t get me wrong, the city was awesome and picturesque and you had a really awesome view over the landscape but…yeah.
The next stop was the thermal Baths of Saturnia, which were of course totally crowded. I have to say I was not that impressed. Sure it was beautiful, but nothing I could relax at. Because of the crowd I just took detail pictures of the cascades and basins and spend the rest of my day sitting on gravel in the sun as there was nearly no shadow and tried to write something while ignoring the screaming of an Indian family which used it as a fun-swimming pool for their children.
But that was not the worst part of the day. We were told to be at the bus stop at 17.40, but of course many of the people arrived late and the buses arrived around 18.05. We were stuck in a traffic jam in a bus smelling of foul eggs (because why should you shower or even change to clean clothes after spending two hours in sulfuric water) and arrived just in time at a gas station with a bar to be able to use the bathrooms before they closed. Even after that the organizers wanted to play games and sing or listen to really awful Italian radio. Of course I had a headache by that time and just wanted to go home. After 4 hours in that bus, we finally reached Florence, but the buses stopped somewhere in the middle of the street and of course, we did not find the bus stop to take us home so we walked. And for the first time since I am here, my other room mates used the boiler the right way so that there was no warm water. Great day.

The last days of April were more like a holiday than everyday life. On wendsday (25th) was a national holiday for the liberation of Italy from fashism. For me, this did not just mean that I was able to sleep in after returnin late from hockey practice, but also that I would be able to visit the Giardino dell'Iris from that day on until 20th May. The entrance is on the right side of the Piazzale Michelangelo (overlooking the city).

This garden is a real gem. It is not that big (at least it seems not that big), there are really just Irises in all colors and form imaginable and some olive trees overlooking the city. It is free to visit and run by volunteers, but you can buy books, products or just make a donation at the emtrance where the volunteers also answer questions. But you are not forced to buy or donate something! 
It is the home of more than 200 species of the symbol flower of Florence and was founded in the 50s. From 1954 on, a competition is run every year for new creations and you can still see the flowers from that time.
The garden offers some benches and it is allowed to sit on the gras at the last of the terraces where there is also a small pond for water versions of the Iris. It is also allowed to walk on the grass between the flowerbeds, but strictly forbidden to touch the plants.

As not many flowers were blooming yet, it took me about an hour to walk through the garden and take some nice pictures. It was really crowded and sometimes not possible to walk and look properly as some tourist groups (the kind with 30 people and more) decided to visit. As I could not find the bus stop to go back I decided to walk as it would just be downhill and not uphill. 
Worst decision of the day. 
The way led me to the Ponte delle Grazie, and when I almost reached the end, I managed to twist my ancle again as I was watching for a tourist group to be able to chose another way early instead of walking directly through them. I do not even know how it happend. Just that I used my hands just in time to not get bleeding knews from the ground as I was falling. So after crossing the street and sitting in front of an old Palazzo for some minutes, I slowly went back home. Luckily, one of my roommates helped me out with some lotion to control the swelling at least a bit.

So I spent the last few days at home while waiting for my ancle to get better. At least I managed to see the new Avengers movie at the Odeon Cinema in Florence. It is a nice cinema located inside of an old theater and the prices are ok (8.50). They screen in english with italian subtitles (I still don't like subtitles!) and you can choose whichever seat pleases you. I went for the 18.45 screening on a saturday and it was not crowded. The crowds came for the next screening at 21.15.

With the next national holiday (1st of May) just around the corner, the next month will start again with an historical event in Piazza della Signoria and a weather forecast that reminds me of a stormy autumn in Germany. 

These days mark two months in Florence (Time flies o.O and I start to feel more like not just being a tourist. I can understand far more italian than when I arrived back in February (thanks to a good language school and watching my favourite TV-Series in Italian) and are finally able to integrate myself in the everyday life of the Renaissance city. I don't care anymore if lessons start late or do not end in time and am happy to stay longer at university. I am still early to my appointments (I guess I am not able to get rid of that) and want to see as much as possible, but also appreciate a lazy sunday sleeping in (ok, I slept way longer than I expected when I woke up this morning), making some fresh lemonade and just writing some postcards or working on my laptop.
The only bad thing is that I start missing certain foods (why don't italians have "Spätzle" as pasta?) and can't wait to eat simple, cooked in salted water potatoes every now and then.