Vatican

The Vatican Museums are the public art and sculpture museums in the Vatican City. They display works from the immense collection amassed by popes throughout the centuries including several of the most renowned Roman sculptures and most important masterpieces of Renaissance art in the world. The museums contain roughly 70,000 works, of which 20,000 are on display, and currently employ 640 people who work in 40 different administrative, scholarly, and restoration departments.  [Wikipedia]

 

Rome

The Colosseum or Coliseum also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre or Colosseo is an oval amphitheatre in the centre of the city of Rome, Italy. Built of travertine limestone, tuff (volcanic rock), and brick-faced concrete, it was the largest amphitheatre ever built at the time and held 50,000 spectators. The Colosseum is situated just east of the Roman Forum. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in AD 72 and was completed in AD 80 under his successor and heir, Titus. Further modifications were made during the reign of Domitian (81–96). These three emperors are known as the Flavian dynasty, and the amphitheatre was named in Latin for its association with their family name (Flavius).

The Colosseum could hold an estimated 50,000 to 80,000 spectators during phases of its various renovations over the centuries, having an average audience of some 65,000; it was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles (for only a short time as the hypogeum was soon filled in with mechanisms to support the other activities), animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology.

Severe damage was inflicted on the Colosseum by the great earthquake in 1349, causing the outer south side, lying on a less stable alluvial terrain, to collapse. Much of the tumbled stone was reused to build palaces, churches, hospitals and other buildings elsewhere in Rome. A religious order moved into the northern third of the Colosseum in the mid-14th century and continued to inhabit it until as late as the early 19th century. The interior of the amphitheater was extensively stripped of stone, which was reused elsewhere, or (in the case of the marble façade) was burned to make quicklime. The bronze clamps which held the stonework together were pried or hacked out of the walls, leaving numerous pockmarks which still scar the building today.

In 2018, it was the most popular tourist attraction in the world, with 7.4 million visitors.

The Pantheon is a former Roman temple, now a church, in Rome, Italy, on the site of an earlier temple commissioned by Marcus Agrippa during the reign of Augustus. It was completed by the emperor Hadrian and probably dedicated about 126 AD.

Almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon’s dome is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. The height to the oculus and the diameter of the interior circle are the same, 43 metres (142 ft).
It is one of the best-preserved of all Ancient Roman buildings, in large part because it has been in continuous use throughout its history and, since the 7th century, the Pantheon has been in use as a church dedicated to “St. Mary and the Martyrs” but informally known as “Santa Maria Rotonda”.

The building’s consecration as a church saved it from the abandonment, destruction, and the worst of the spoliation that befell the majority of ancient Rome’s buildings during the early medieval period. However, Paul the Deacon records the spoliation of the building by the Emperor Constans II, who visited Rome in July 663. [Wikipedia]

The guide who took us through the Colosseum also took us through the Roman Forum.

From Wikipedia:

The Roman Forum, also known by its Latin name Forum Romanum is a rectangular forum (plaza) surrounded by the ruins of several important ancient government buildings at the center of the city of Rome. Citizens of the ancient city referred to this space, originally a marketplace, as the Forum Magnum, or simply the Forum.

For centuries the Forum was the center of day-to-day life in Rome: the site of triumphal processions and elections; the venue for public speeches, criminal trials, and gladiatorial matches; and the nucleus of commercial affairs. Here statues and monuments commemorated the city’s great men. The teeming heart of ancient Rome, it has been called the most celebrated meeting place in the world, and in all history. Located in the small valley between the Palatine and Capitoline Hills, the Forum today is a sprawling ruin of architectural fragments and intermittent archaeological excavations attracting 4.5 million or more sightseers yearly.

The Spanish Steps are a set of steps 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 135 steps (the slightly elevated drainage system is often mistaken for the first step) was built … in 1723–1725.

In the Piazza di Spagna at the base is the Early Baroque fountain called Fontana della Barcaccia (“Fountain of the longboat”), built in 1627–29. 

In the piazza, at the corner on the right as one begins to climb the steps, is the house where English poet John Keats lived and died in 1821; it is now a museum dedicated to his memory, full of memorabilia of the English Romantic generation.

The Trevi Fountain is Rome’s largest and most famous fountain. It is 85 feet high and 65 feet wide. Trevi Fountain is Italy’s most famous Baroque  fountain.

Iconography abounds in the fountain.  The backdrop for the fountain is the Palazzo Poli, given a new façade with a giant order of Corinthian pilasters that link the two main stories. Taming of the waters is the theme of the gigantic scheme that tumbles forward, mixing water and rockwork, and filling the small square. Tritons guide Oceanus’ shell chariot, taming hippocamps.

In the centre, a robustly-modelled triumphal arch is superimposed on the palazzo façade. The centre niche framing Oceanus has free-standing columns for maximal light and shade. In the niches flanking Oceanus, Abundance spills water from her urn and Salubrity holds a cup from which a snake drinks. Above, bas reliefs illustrate the Roman origin of the aqueducts.

The Tritons and horses provide symmetrical balance, with the maximum contrast in their mood and poses.

The original legend says that if you throw a coin into the Trevi – with your back to the fountain, throwing coin with your right hand over your left shoulder – that will ensure a return to Rome.  Actually, two coins are for those seeking love; three coins symbolize wedding bells.  An estimated 3,000 euros are thrown into the fountain each day. In 2016, an estimated €1.4 million (US$1.5 million) was thrown into the fountain. The money has been used to subsidize a supermarket for Rome’s needy; however, there are regular attempts to steal coins from the fountain, even though it is illegal to do so.  [Wikipedia]

Bari, Italy — October 27-28, 2019

On Oct. 27 we departed Matera with the intention of taking two leisurely days to get to Rome. Our first stop was at the port city of Bari, where in addition to walking along the waterfront, we visited two sites of interest. From Wikipedia:

The Basilica di San Nicola (Saint Nicholas) was founded in 1087 to receive the relics of this saint, which were brought from Myra in Lycia, and now lie beneath the altar in the crypt.

The Norman-Hohenstaufen Castle, widely known as the Castello Svevo (Swabian Castle), was built by Roger II of Sicily around 1131. Destroyed in 1156, it was rebuilt by Frederick II of Hohenstaufen. The castle now serves as a gallery for a variety of temporary exhibitions in the city.

We spent the night further up the road at a rural AirBnB. The next morning I got up early to catch the sunrise colors.

Matera, Italy — October 25-27, 2019

After Pompeii we went to Matera, where we spent three nights and two days.

Matera is a city in the region of Basilicata, in Southern Italy. The town lies in a small canyon carved out by the Gravina River.

Known as la città sotterranea (“the underground city”), its historical centre “Sassi” contains ancient cave dwellings. The exact date when these were first occupied, and the continuity of subsequent occupation, are questions that scholars still debate. Sassi, along with the park of the Rupestrian Churches, was awarded World Heritage Site status by UNESCO in 1993.

Matera has gained international fame for its ancient town, the “Sassi di Matera”. The Sassi originated in a prehistoric troglodyte settlement, and these dwellings are thought to be among the first ever human settlements in what is now Italy. The Sassi are habitations dug into the calcareous rock itself. Many of them are really little more than small caverns, and in some parts of the Sassi a street lies on top of another group of dwellings. The ancient town grew up on one slope of the rocky ravine created by a river that is now a small stream, and this ravine is known locally as “la Gravina”. In the 1950s, as part of a policy to clear the extreme poverty of the Sassi, the government of Italy used force to relocate most of the population of the Sassi to new public housing in the developing modern city.

Until the late 1980s the Sassi was still considered an area of poverty, since its dwellings were, and in most cases still are, uninhabitable and dangerous. The present local administration, however, has become more tourism-orientated, and it has promoted the regeneration of the Sassi as a picturesque touristic attraction with the aid of the Italian government, UNESCO, and Hollywood. Today there are many thriving businesses, pubs and hotels there, and the city is amongst the fastest growing in southern Italy.

Matera was built above a deep ravine called Gravina of Matera that divides the territory into two areas. Matera was built such that it is hidden, but made it difficult to provide a water supply to its inhabitants. Early dwellers invested tremendous energy in building cisterns and systems of water channels.

Because of the ancient primeval-looking scenery in and around the Sassi, it has been used by filmmakers as the setting for ancient Jerusalem. Numerous famous biblical period motion pictures were filmed in Matera, as well as an impressive number of other films..

[Wikipedia]

 

Pompeii — October 24, 2019

On October 24, we visited Pompeii.

Pompeii was an ancient Roman city located in the modern comune of Pompei near Naples in the Campania region of Italy. Pompeii, along with Herculaneum and many villas in the surrounding area, was buried under 4 to 6 m (13 to 20 ft) of volcanic ash and pumice in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79.

Largely preserved under the ash, the excavated city offers a unique snapshot of Roman life, frozen at the moment it was buried and providing an extraordinarily detailed insight into the everyday life of its inhabitants. It was a wealthy town, enjoying many fine public buildings and luxurious private houses with lavish decorations, furnishings and works of art which were the main attractions for the early excavators. Organic remains, including wooden objects and human bodies, were entombed in the ash and decayed leaving voids which archaeologists found could be used as moulds to make plaster casts of unique and often gruesome figures in their final moments of life. The numerous graffiti carved on the walls and inside rooms provide a wealth of examples of the largely lost Vulgar Latin spoken colloquially at the time, contrasting with the formal language of the classical writers.

Pompeii is a UNESCO World Heritage Site status and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Italy, with approximately 2.5 million visitors annually.

After many excavations prior to 1960 that had uncovered most of the city but left it in decay, further major excavations were banned and instead they were limited to targeted, prioritised areas. In 2018, these led to new discoveries in some previously unexplored areas of the city.

[Wikipedia]

Siena, Tarquinia and Herculaneum — October 22 – 23, 2019

On October 22 we departed Florence and headed southward. We stopped at a cemetery along the way that is dedicated to fallen USA soldiers from WW2. Later we stopped for a time in Siena.

The historic centre of Siena has been declared by UNESCO a World Heritage Site. It is one of the nation’s most visited tourist attractions, with over 163,000 international arrivals in 2008. Siena is famous for its cuisine, art, museums, medieval cityscape and the Palio, a horse race held twice a year in the Piazza del Campo, the shell-shaped town square which unfurls before the Palazzo Pubblico. [Wikipedia]

From Siena we continued on to the village of Tarquinia, where we spent the night at an AirBnB. On the morning of October 23, before leaving Tarquinia, we spent some time walking through the village.

Late in the morning of October 23, after walking through Tarquinia, we proceeded to the ruins of Herculaneum.

In the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, Herculaneum was an ancient Roman town destroyed by volcanic pyroclastic flows in 79 AD. Its ruins are located in the comune of Ercolano, Campania, Italy. Herculaneum is one of the few ancient cities to be preserved more or less intact, with no later accretions or modifications. Like its sister city, Pompeii, Herculaneum is famous for having been buried in ash, along with Stabiae, Oplontis and Boscoreale, during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79.  Unlike Pompeii, the pyroclastic material that covered Herculaneum carbonized and thereby preserved wood in objects such as roofs, beds and doors as well as other organic-based materials such as food. Although most of the residents had evacuated the city in advance of the eruption, the first well-preserved skeletons of some 400 people who perished near the seawall were discovered in 1980. Although it was smaller than Pompeii, Herculaneum was a wealthier town, possessing an extraordinary density of fine houses with, for example, far more lavish use of coloured marble cladding. After the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, the town of Herculaneum was buried under approximately 20 metres (50–60 feet) of ash. It lay hidden and largely intact until discoveries from wells and tunnels became gradually more widely known, and notably following the Prince d’Elbeuf’s explorations in the early 18th century. Excavations continued sporadically up to the present and today many streets and buildings are visible, although over 75% of the town remains buried.
[Wikipedia]

Alberobello — October 26, 2019

On October 26 we maintained our AirBnB residence in Matera, but took a side trip to see Alberobello. As we drove through the area on the way to Alberobello, we were struck by the number of stone walls that surrounded the farm fields. The reason for their existence was obvious; the rich fields were studded with rocks. And then as we got closer to the village another use of the abundant stones became apparent: roofing material.

From Wikipedia:
A trullo (plural, trulli) is a traditional Apulian dry stone hut with a conical roof. Trulli generally were constructed as temporary field shelters and storehouses or, as permanent dwellings by small proprietors or agricultural labourers. In the town of Alberobello, in the province of Bari, whole districts contain dense concentrations of trulli. The golden age of trulli was the nineteenth century, especially its final decades, which were marked by the development of wine growing.

The history of the trulli is linked to an edict of the 15th-century Kingdom of Naples that subjected every new settlement to a tribute. In 1481 the Counts of Conversano D’Acquaviva D’Aragona imposed on the residents that they build their dwellings dry, without using mortars, so that they could be configured as precarious buildings and easily demolished. Having to use only stones, the peasants found in the round form with self-supporting domed roof the simplest configuration. The roofs were embellished with decorative pinnacles representing the signature of the architect.
[Wikipedia]

When we left Alberobello we briefly stopped at one of the nearby “White Villages”, a visit that afforded a dramatic overview of the surrounding countryside, with its rich fields and many stone walls.

Florence — October 15-22, 2019

We spent Tuesday, Oct. 15,  getting to Florence, Italy. First drove to Madrid from Itrabo Monday, and then Tuesday caught a flight to Rome. From there, another flight to Florence. Arrived in a driving rainstorm. We stayed in an Airbnb very near Ponte Vecchio, a medieval stone closed-spandrel segmental arch bridge over the Arno River, noted for still having shops built along it, as was once common.

One of our first activities on Wednesday was for Barb and I to go see Michelangelo’s David in the Galleria dell’Accademia.

We spent most of Thursday, Oct. 17, in the Palazzo Pitti, a vast, mainly Renaissance, palace in Florence, Italy. It is situated on the south side of the River Arno, a short distance from the Ponte Vecchio.

The palace was bought by the Medici family in 1549 and became the chief residence of the ruling families of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. It grew as a great treasure house as later generations amassed paintings, plates, jewelry and luxurious possessions.

In the late 18th century, the palazzo was used as a power base by Napoleon and later served for a brief period as the principal royal palace of the newly united Italy. The palace and its contents were donated to the Italian people by King Victor Emmanuel III in 1919.

The palazzo is now the largest museum complex in Florence. The principal palazzo block is 32,000 square metres. It is divided into several principal galleries or museums.

In a separate “Gallery of Modern Art”, spread over 30 rooms, is a large collection that includes works by artists of the Macchiaioli movement and other modern Italian schools of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The pictures by the Macchiaioli artists are of particular note, as this school of 19th-century Tuscan painters led by Giovanni Fattori were early pioneers and the founders of the impressionist movement. The title “gallery of modern art” to some may sound incorrect, as the art in the gallery covers the period from the 18th to the early 20th century. No examples of later art are included in the collection since In Italy, “modern art” refers to the period before World War II. [Wikipedia]

The Uffizi Gallery is a prominent art museum located adjacent to the Piazza della Signoria in the Historic Centre of Florence in the region of Tuscany, Italy. One of the most important Italian museums and the most visited, it is also one of the largest and best known in the world and holds a collection of priceless works, particularly from the period of the Italian Renaissance.

After the ruling house of Medici died out, their art collections were gifted to the city of Florence under the famous Patto di famiglia negotiated by Anna Maria Luisa, the last Medici heiress. The Uffizi is one of the first modern museums. The gallery had been open to visitors by request since the sixteenth century, and in 1765 it was officially opened to the public, formally becoming a museum in 1865.

Today, the Uffizi is one of the most popular tourist attractions of Florence and one of the most visited art museums in the world. [Wikipedia]

Saturday, Oct. 19, we visited two impressive museums. First, the Leonardo da Vinci Museum. (Careful, there is also a lesser, private one in the same neighborhood.) And then a massive overwhelming Galileo Museum. Bold signs in each forbidding photography. But a member of our party, a very close relative of mine, snuck a few pics. (As did many other tourists around me.)

We climbed 414 steps up to the top of the Bell Tower for the Duomo one day. I was disappointed to find that the protective safely screen on the balcony was a severe impediment to photography. (Barb did much better with her iPhone.) On the next day we climbed 463 steps to the top of the Duomo itself on the Cathedral of Santa Maria. What a view! Afterwards we went for a walk-about that took us SE to high ground in the vicinity of Plazzale Michelangelo.

Alhambra — October 10, 2019

On October 10 we Americans (Barb & I and Bill & Colleen) took a day off from almond harvesting and drove up to Granada to see Alhambra.  Barb and I had been there twice before — the first time in 2006 on a side trip from Brunborg’s First Annual International Almond Harvest, and the second in 2011 ,  when a large number of friends of the Brunborgs were helping with the harvest and celebrating the birthdays of Tove and Barb — but both times we had only seen the outer grounds, since we had not been able to get tickets for the inner palaces.

From Wikipedia:

The Alhambra  is a palace and fortress complex located in Granada, Andalusia, Spain. It was originally constructed as a small fortress in AD 889 on the remains of Roman fortifications, and then largely ignored until its ruins were renovated and rebuilt in the mid-13th century by the Nasrid emir Mohammed ben Al-Ahmar of the Emirate of Granada, who built its current palace and walls. It was converted into a royal palace in 1333 by Yusuf I, Sultan of Granada. After the conclusion of the Christian Reconquista in 1492, the site became the Royal Court of Ferdinand and Isabella (where Christopher Columbus received royal endorsement for his expedition), and the palaces were partially altered in the Renaissance style. In 1526 Charles I & V commissioned a new Renaissance palace better befitting the Holy Roman Emperor in the revolutionary Mannerist style influenced by humanist philosophy in direct juxtaposition with the Nasrid Andalusian architecture, but it was ultimately never completed due to Morisco rebellions in Granada.

Alhambra’s last flowering of Islamic palaces was built for the last Muslim emirs in Spain during the decline of the Nasrid dynasty, who were increasingly subject to the Christian Kings of Castile. After being allowed to fall into disrepair for centuries, the buildings occupied by squatters, Alhambra was rediscovered following the defeat of Napoleon, who had conducted retaliatory destruction of the site. The rediscoverers were first British intellectuals and then other north European Romantic travelers. It is now one of Spain’s major tourist attractions, exhibiting the country’s most significant and well-known Islamic architecture, together with 16th-century and later Christian building and garden interventions. The Alhambra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the inspiration for many songs and stories.

Adventures in Spain — Time with Brunborgs; October 7-13, 2019

On October 6, we (Shipleys and Bill & Colleen) drove our rented auto down from Madrid to southern Spain.   We were in the neighborhood to visit Norwegian friends Lars Helge & Tove Brunborg and to help them with their almond harvest. Also joining in the harvest, and the attendant merry making, were Rasmus and Kari. They bunked at Casa Emilie, villa of Lars Helge & Tove.  We stayed in the villa of generous Norwegian friends Bjørgulf & Berit Haukelid in the nearby little Spanish village of Itrabo.

We began the picking on the morning of the day 7th.  For a few of the smaller trees, the almonds could just be plucked from the branches, but for most, the almonds were persuaded to release by beating the branches with long sticks. A large net lain underneath the tree collected the proceeds which could then be coaxed into large plastic tubs.  The byproducts of the process include leaves and bits of twigs as well as outer husks, so the tubs are taken up for sorting on a table outside of the villa.

We spent the morning of the 8th picking more almonds, and then all went for a short walk in the neighborhood.  That evening, the Americans made dinner.

On the 9th we all went to Almuñécar.

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Almuñécar is a municipality in the Spanish Autonomous Region of Andalusia on the Costa Tropical between Nerja (Málaga) and Motril. It has a subtropical climate. Since 1975, the town has become one of the most important tourist towns in Granada province and on the Costa Tropical.

The Phoenicians first established a colony in Almuñécar in about 800 BC and this developed for six hundred years into an important port and town with a large fish salting and curing industry that was a major supplier of Greece and Rome.

The Romans came to southern Spain at the time of the Second Punic War between Rome and Carthage in 218 BC as part of their campaign to subdue the Phoenician settlements along the coast. During 700 years of Roman colonial rule the town and its industry prospered, and in 49 BC the municipality (one of 20 cities in Spain honoured at that time) was given the title Firmium Julium Sexi in recognition of the town’s loyalty to Rome.

With the decline of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century, Germanic peoples, including the Visigoths, crossed the Pyrenees mountain range into the Iberian peninsula. By 456 the Visigoths emerged as the dominant power, and expanded their territory onto the southwestern Mediterranean coast. However, Hispania remained relatively Romanized under their rule. The Visigoths adopted Roman culture and language, and maintained many of the old Roman institutions, although much of the economic structure collapsed, and at Almuñécar the fish curing industry declined rapidly. The Catholic bishops were the rivals of Visigothic power and culture until the end of the 6th and beginning of the 7th century—the period of transition from Arianism to Catholicism in the Visigothic kingdom.

The first Muslim invasion of southern Spain came in 711 AD at or near Gibraltar. At Almuñécar, the town remembers 15 August 755 when Umayyad Abd ar-Rahman I of Damascus, the founder of the Emirate of Cordoba, arrived from North Africa to establish his Moorish kingdom. The Moors introduced the growing of sugar cane and sustained the fishing industry; many of the streets and buildings of the old town were developed by the Moors. The castle remained the stronghold of the city and the seat of government and its walls were strengthened. Extensive dungeons were built for those out of favour with local rulers, but also baths for the use of the social elite.

The cross on Peñon del Santo, the rock at the old harbour entrance, marks the defeat of the Arabs, their surrender at Almuñécar, and the beginning of Christian rule in 1489.

Following the restoration of Christian rule, new architectural statements were made – for example the construction of a new church was started in 1557 and completed to the latest design in 1600, the first Baroque-style church in the province of Granada. The old town was also Christianised (or perhaps paganised – by the Goddess of fertility herself), as in the building of the water fountain on the Calle Real (Royal Street), dated to 1559 and with the royal cypher above, but at that time using the existing Roman water supply from Las Angosturas first installed 1500 years earlier.  [Source: Wikipedia]

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We explored the crowded old-town shopping area, stopped at the busy indoor market, and then retired to the beach for lunch at one of the seaside restaurants.  As I walked the beach after lunch, a merchant, recognizing me as a tourist but unaware of my Caribbean experiences, benevolently insisted that I take pictures of his several banana trees.

On October 10th the Americans broke away and drove up to Granada to visit Alhambra. (Blog coming)

On the 11th, having returned to Itrabo, we all drove up into the spectacular Sierra Nevada Mountains and visited two picturesque villages. In the first, Pampaniera, we paused for some shopping and coffee. In the second, Capileira, more shopping and a delicious lunch.

On Oct. 12 we all walked up the hill that Lars Helge & Tove live on. Their villa is on the west side of a ridge, and the road runs up the east side, climbing much much higher. At the top, we found paragliders!

On the morning of October 13 we showed Bill & Colleen the marvelous almond sheller that Lars Helge had commissioned by a group of design students.  After that demo we jumped into our respective autos and took a narrow twisting road high up to see “the ghost village” in the Sierras of Tejeda, Almijara and Alhama Natural Park: the lost village of El Achebuchal.

In 1948 some two hundred villagers were ordered to leave El Achebuchal.  Authorities suspected the villagers of supporting rebels hiding in the mountains, by providing them with food and shelter.  Effectively the villagers were victims, caught between a rock and a hard place; hassled by both the authorites and the rebels during the remenants of the civil war.   Once vacated, the village became empty, derelict and was lost in time.

Fifty years later one man returned to re-build the village where his parents once lived.  His family restaurant, the tavern in the village,  is an authentic Spanish tavern, serving seasonally available specialities of delicious plates of game in rustic sauces.  Inside the restaurant there is an interesting collection of black and white photos providing a fascinating insight into campo life, and a life when El Achebuchal was a bustling hamlet.

On the morning of the 14th we took our leave of our Norwegian friends, and drove back up to Madrid.  The visit with Lars Helge & Tove and with Rasmus & Kari had been, as usual when we spend time with them, thoroughly enjoyable.  Tuesday the 15th we caught a flight to Rome, and from there, another flight to Florence.  See a later post for coverage of our Florence stay.