In Photos: Views from the Santa Maria del Fiore

Two of my favourite shots – both from the top of the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral in Florence – are almost as good as gone.

At the beginning of my first trip with a proper DSLR in hand, I was so intent on keeping on top of my photos – going through them, organizing them, deleting the clearly unusable ones – that I got a bit ‘delete’ happy. I’d not only delete the photos that didn’t have the composition or subject I cared for at the moment, but I also deleted the originals (so much facepalm) after I edited and saved the photos I wanted to post.

Hence the filter coated lower quality version of the feature image above and the Campagnile (bell tower) below. Here’s a look back at them along with some other images from above.

The Most Interesting Person I’ve Met While Traveling: An Ode to Giacomo

It was at the weekly school dinner at the Trattoria di Benvenuto in Florence that I first met James.

He was 22, from the UK, and beyond British. I was delighted – he spoke of “glorious serendipity” and “travelling Hesperia,” and already seemed to know everything there was about the city.

Duomo - Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence, Italy - YourLocalKatAs luck would have it, James was a Roman Historian by education, and a teacher, tour guide, and travel writer by trade. I was intrigued, but also wary – he spewed knowledge while I hated museums – how was I to hang out with someone that insisted I go to the Palazzo Pitti ‘if it’s the one thing I do’?  I smiled politely when he asserted I would have a “renaissance of the mind,” but told him: it just wasn’t me.

I was wrong.

I stepped into the Palazzo Pitti and hung onto his every word. For the first time in my life, history, culture, politics, architecturethey were things that I actually cared about, things that made sense. It was all right there in front of me, and for the remainder of the week, from museums to galleries, I inhaled it all.

James taught me about Greek mythology, Florentine history, Christian theology, and Italian art. He turned me into a museum geek, an art snob, and a history buff on the microuniverse of the renaissance.

And the inherent teacher that he was, he was always supportive, patient, and willing to correct me when I needed it:

Me: Was that the same Austrian dude on the ceiling?

Him: Austrian duke.

Me: …That’s what I meant…

Piazza della Repubblica, Florence, Italy - YourLocalKatI hold James in my highest regard. Not only because he articulates with eloquence and potency that rivals French romanticism, or because my unexpected transformation in Florence is attributed directly to him. No.

James, because of who he is and who he strives to be, is simply a great person, in the grandest meaning of the word – moral, just, and seemingly unafflicted by the daily woes of mortals, like weather, exhaustion, or uncomfortable shoes.

I’m not sure what he actually meant by “renaissance of the mind” but in the end, that’s what I know happened. By teaching me in context, about Italy in Florence, James woke something in me that reveled in learning and in understanding, and by doing so, he effectively changed the way I travel forever.

This post is an entry in the “Win a Trip to TBEX Contest” sponsored by WeHostelsWebjet, and TBEX.

Settimana della Cultura

The Settimana della Cultura – Culture Week – running April 14th to the 22nd, is a span of 9 days where all throughout Italy, state-run museums and other cultural attractions waive their entrance fees to attract tourists who wouldn’t otherwise be prone to visiting.

Being exactly this kind of tourist, I wanted to give a quick thumbs up/thumbs down review of all the places I visited, but it just so happened that my experiences within them proved to be much too personal to be put into words. They accumulated into a knowledge, an understanding, of things I had never cared about before but was now not only interested in but wanting more of:

Being exactly this kind of tourist, I wanted to give a quick thumbs up/thumbs down review of all the places I visited, but it just so happened that my experiences within them proved to be much too personal to be put into words. They accumulated into a knowledge, an understanding, of things I had never cared about before but was now not only interested in but wanting more of:

The Rubens in the Palatine Gallery that got me interested, the Juno in Accademia that blew my mind, the painting of the Sabines in the Palazzo Vecchio that got me hooked. The stories in the Capelle Medicee that painted mythology, theology, and history together as one surreal reality. And of course, “that beautiful Vasari” of Lorenzo the Magnificent in the Uffizi, the epitome of what I learned that week, the peak of my experience.

These are untranslatable, untranscribable experiences that only those around me saw transpire within me and even they couldn’t feel the overwhelming amazement and gratefulness and shocked disbelief at the things I was saying, recognizing, feeling. A week’s worth of moments and a city’s worth of history and art had just changed my life.

And while newspapers will tell you that Culture Week was not as successful as was hoped, and that attendance in Florence was actually much lower than expected, I can tell you from my personal experience that Settimana della Cultura works, if only because I’ll never need to attend it again.

Go it alone: Cimitero Monumentale delle Porte Sante

It was suggested, insisted upon us, to “go it alone.” We don’t and go as a foursome instead, but the insistence was so great I make sure to break away just to have the experience.

It is creepy. The Cimitero Monumentale delle Porte Sante seems smaller than it is and only unveils the next field of tombstones when I brave leaving the last. I take the few steps up towards the plateau of the main area, an expanse of graves to the front and right of me, with the left lined with burial chambers the size and look of tall sheds. As if on cue, the plateau grows silent. The air isn’t dead but it is different. Somewhere in the distance, an owl begins to sound – whoo whoo, whoo whoo. And then, just up ahead, a creak. Slow and certain. A slam. I turn slightly panicked, caught up in my own imagination, scanning my surroundings.

statue of sad female leaning on a crossA door of one of the chambers opens slowly, and I catch my breath. It lingers open for just a moment before it slams back shut. I watch it cautiously a few more times before I’m tenuously certain it is simply the wind.

I move onwards, moving between the plots. Some monuments have the deceased’s busts crowning them, others have their photographs embedded in them, and these now look vintage, antique, and bring on the surreal realization that these were ‘real’ people. This definitely isn’t the typical cemetery I’m used to – flat marble stones lined row upon row, spaced two feet apart, bland, immemorable. The tombstones laid here make me question how many graves actually lie below – they crowd one another, clamor for attention: tall, thin and poignant ones, simple but imposing ones, ones with cross-shaped monuments and others with angels sitting on them.

But the grandest of all are the familial mausoleums. I have never seen one before. Each is different: some are no more compelling than a humble house, but many take their aesthetic cues from Rome, Turkey – miniatures of Colosseums, mosques, cathedrals – all erected for the purpose of reverence. Inside, marble slabs line the walls on both sides, a painting on the center wall depicts a Bible story, an altar stands beneath it along with a kneeling pouf on which to pray. It all seems elaborate by modern standards but these must have been grand families that expected nothing less.

Avoiding a shadier walk around the perimeter of the cemetery, I instead head down a central path and happen upon a circular area closed in by the taller of the mausoleums. A statue of a young girl leaning on a cross and seeping with sadness stumps me: What was all this for? All this trouble, all this effort of a burial people go through? One generation will pay its respects to the one before it, maybe the one before that, but eventually someone will forget, someone will move away, memories will fade… Who will these tombstones be for then? It makes me sad.

The tower bell signals six o-clock. We all find ourselves together on the main trail again, and I am glad we separated for this eerie experience. But it was not the creaking of a broken door or the hoot of an owl that truly unnerved me; instead, the sad and futile consideration of our selves and our remembrance after we’ve passed stayed with me long after we had left.

We can’t guarantee anything in life it seems, and as certain as it comes, we can’t guarantee anything in death either: even if we lie in the house of our families, in the end, we must always “go it alone.”


Beside Chiesa San Miniato al Monte, above Piazzale Michelangelo, Oltrarno. Free. Opening times may vary.

A long way up. and down. [fiesole]

Really, it’s only 8 kilometers. It seems fairly straightforward but of course you’ll have to find your own directions because there aren’t any signs en route, except the one at the bottom of the hill with the word Firenze, crossed out in red. So at least you’ll know you’re not in Florence anymore – that’s a good sign. Continue reading A long way up. and down. [fiesole]