Viewing: Tuscany

Siena: Pattern love at the Duomo

While traveling in Italy, you can end up seeing so many churches that they all start to blend together after a while. The one church that jolted me out of my “church fatigue” after two weeks in Italy was the Duomo at Siena.

When I first walked in, it wasn’t the immense scale of the Duomo that got my attention—it was the feeling that, for a church built in the 1200s, there was something so strikingly modern about it. Then I realized what it was: black and white stripes!

Siena Duomo

The tones of midnight blue and copper in the ceiling also seem so current. I would love to use that combination somewhere in my home—to perk up our deep blue bedroom walls, maybe?

Siena Duomo ceiling

I have zero education in design, but I love patterns and I love spotting them on trips. My eyes were drawn to the marble floors of the Duomo, with their bold graphic patterns in black, ivory and rust. Don’t these look so maximalist chic?

Siena Duomo tiled floor pattern1 Siena Duomo tiled floor pattern2 Siena Duomo tiled floor pattern3

It makes sense for a church to remind people of heaven, doesn’t it? That must have been the motivation behind these celestial-inspired patterns on the dome…

Siena Duomo starry dome

… and on the floor of the aptly named Piccolomini Library, a small but stunning collection of illuminated manuscripts housed in the Duomo.

Piccolomini Library floor tiles

I know I can’t be the only secret pattern junkie around here. Now that I’ve outed myself, won’t you lovers of pattern reveal yourselves too?

By the way, this is my last post from our Italy trip. I can’t believe it took me so long to blog about everything! I dive right into Kleine Fabriek as soon as I get back from my trip, so I won’t get to post about Iceland immediately.

However, I’ve prepared something special for the weekend. It’s something I’ve never done on the blog before and combines two of my favorite things: travel and food. I’m excited and I really hope you’ll like it. Stay tuned!

Siena: people-watching at Piazza del Campo

One of the things I love to do when traveling is watching people… and, since I got my amazingly discreet 50mm lens, taking pictures of them. Does that make me creepy? I hope not!

A day trip to Siena gave me the chance to do just that. It was a hot sunny day, and like any open-air public space in Europe on a hot sunny day, Siena’s famous Piazza del Campo was filled with people basking in the sunshine.

Siena Piazza del Campo

It looked like it could be a scene at the beach. A beach with coins in its turquoise waters…

Siena Piazza del Campo fountain

… and a herringbone pattern imprinted on its shores.

Piazza del Campo herringbone bricks

Okay, you probably wouldn’t see a 13th century town hall like the Palazzo Pubblico at the beach… so I’ll give up the comparison. By the way, the picture is curved not because of distortion from my wide-angle lens, but because the piazza itself is curved like a shallow bowl.

Siena Palazzo del Publico

In a wide open space like this, I don’t mind so many people. Besides, there is something different about the atmosphere of a town square that makes it fun. I love the luxury of doing nothing—you get to observe little differences, details, that you would otherwise miss.

This kid in a wheelchair was having the best time being wheeled by his friends up and down the gentle incline of the piazza. That made me smile…

Wheeling around Piazza del Campo

as did the sight of a giant tour group leaping into the air in sync…

Jumping in Piazza del Campo

… and these two crazy American girls dancing for a video camera. Well I don’t know for sure that they’re American, but the crazy ones always turn out to be. Just like the loud ones turn out to be Filipino!

Dancing in Piazza del Campo

Check out this Italian gentleman, looking oh so cool in his full suit. The Sartorialist I am not, but I just had to take this man’s photo. I do believe this is what they call swagger.

Italian man in suit

Oops, huli!

Italian men in suits

But this is Italy, after all. Even the police are stylish!

Italian police in Siena

Do you photographing people when you travel? Are you the bold type who takes their photos right up front, or are you shy and have to do it from a safe distance like I do?

Volterra views

It’s the weekend! Why don’t we go for a drive? Our destination: the medieval Tuscan town of Volterra.

On this drive, getting there is as important—and stunning—as the destination itself. With the vineyard- and olive-topped hills of Tuscany rolling out for miles in every direction, perhaps the point of this journey is not to arrive.

Driving to Volterra1

The only reason you may want to rush: the impatient Italian speed demons honking at you from behind, giving you the evil eye as they overtake you on a winding, two-lane mountain road. Pay them no mind as they zoom past; their eyes might be immune to all this beauty (or they might need to pee very badly).

Driving to Volterra2

We’re seeing all of this for the first time, and have license to linger.

Driving to Volterra3

Are you Asian, like me? You might have a hard time inconveniencing other people and “looking bad.” This may prevent you from pulling over to take pictures of the spectacular countryside through this red circular frame that suddenly pops up out of nowhere. I did, and I regret it. What great pictures those would have made.

Red circle near Volterra

Do you get the heebie-jeebies at the thought of Twilight? I did, and almost skipped Volterra because it figures prominently in the series. But I’m glad I ignored my creepy crawlies and went anyway.

Volterra rooftops

Because the views from Volterra are simply breathtaking. I could have stayed at this hilltop lookout for hours.

Volterra view1

Tuscany lays at your feet, all dappled sun and green velvet.

Volterra view2

As sunset approaches, the sky grows luminous, fighting for your attention. It’s a competition where everyone wins and we’re all happy.

Volterra view3

I know I will keep the views from Volterra with me forever. I may not be heading somewhere very green, sunny or lush this weekend, but it will be amazing all the same. Onward to Iceland!

Scary statues in San Gimignano

As much as I liked my night visit to the medieval hilltop town of San Gimignano, there was another reason why braving the daytime hordes turned out to be worth it.

And it has to do with rust-covered naked dudes waiting just around the corner to surprise you.

San Gimignano sculptures by Antony Gormley

If there’s anything that could make me glad to be surrounded by a busload of tourists, it was the sight of a naked man slathered in red in the shadows of a deserted medieval town. Believe me, it was far more reassuring in the daylight than it was at midnight!

These rusty naked men are part of an exhibit called Vessel by sculptor Antony Gormley. Beginning with 39 interconnected box structures in the Galleria Continua, the exhibit spills out into the streets of San Gimignano with six identical figures by Gormley—all of which are casts of his own naked body. Iiiiinteresting.

I saw only two of the six figures placed around the town, although I didn’t see the sculpture that was atop one of San Gimignano’s famous 13th century skyscrapers. A similar shock factor was involved in Gormley’s first exhibit of public art in New York, called Event Horizon. He perched 31 figures on rooftops and on the edges of buildings in Manhattan, freaking out passersby who thought they were seeing suicides in the making!

As public art goes, I would put these into the categories of striking, eerie and haunting. What would freak you out more: seeing a potential jumper on your way to work, or seeing a naked man covered in red in an empty street at midnight?

San Gimignano: Night vs day

Confession: I wasn’t looking forward to our trip to San Gimignano. Although I’d heard that this medieval hilltop town was beautiful, I also knew it was tiny and bound to be overrun by busloads of tourists, being a wildly popular destination for day trips from Florence.

This problem was neatly solved by making our first visit to San Gimignano at night. After driving up from Florence, getting lost and checking into our B&B, we arrived in time for a late dinner at 9pm. All the day trippers had gone home, and the town was empty, silent and haunting.

We had San Gimignano practically all to ourselves. I loved it.

San Gimignano by night1 San Gimignano by night2 San Gimignano by night3

When we returned the next day, the place was mobbed with day trippers.

Tourists in San Gimignano

I was not loving it, but we stuck it out. Soon, my patience was rewarded. I discovered the one thing that makes San Gimignano in the daytime worthwhile: the fact that the Gelateria di Piazza is open for business.

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Florence eats: on & off the tourist trail

My most memorable meals in Florence were in two very different restaurants. One was a huge, wildly popular restaurant in tourist central; the other was a neighborhood hole-in-the-wall that we wouldn’t have discovered if it hadn’t been just a few doors down from our apartment. What they had in common was simply great food.

A short walk from the big tourist draws of the Uffizi Gallery and Ponte Vecchio, Il Latini is written up in all the major travel guides for its fun, family-friendly atmosphere and famous steaks. It has two seatings each evening: at 7:30pm and at 9:30pm. What I’ll remember most about Il Latini, though, was waiting amidst a throng of hungry diners outside its doors before the first seating began. I’ve never seen a crowd outside a restaurant like that. It was slightly insane.

Il Latini at the door

This is was the scene at the door: a crowd waiting to get in, the affable host keeping the chaos to a minimum with an authoritative but friendly manner, names being shouted out to gain entry, all while Signore Roberto Downey inside calmly carved up plate after plate of prosciutto and salami.

Il Latini starters

Everyone with a reservation got seated, but as walk-ins, Marlon and I waited for an hour. Still, we felt incredibly lucky just to get a table—especially when the specialty of the house was served.

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Essential Florence: 6 Sights You Shouldn’t Miss

Florence is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever visited. The entire city is a work of art, and completely brought the Renaissance to life for me. We stayed in a great Airbnb flat a short walk from the Centro Storico, where most of Florence’s cultural jewels are concentrated.

After just four days, I feel like I barely scratched the surface of this amazing city and wish I could’ve done more off the tourist trail. Having said that, the “tourist circuit” is deluged with visitors for a reason, and is truly worth every bit of time and money. Here’s my list of must-sees in Florence:

The Uffizi Gallery. Home to one of the largest and oldest private art collections in the Western word, the Uffizi Gallery contains masterpieces amassed by the powerful and wealthy (understatement of the century) Medici clan.

Uffizi Gallery1

Works by the who’s who of Italian art, such as Titian, Caravaggio, Giotto and yes, all the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles all reside here. The true revelation for me here was Botticelli; though I felt as if I’d seen The Birth of Venus a hundred times in pop culture, nothing prepared me for the impact of the real thing. (Plus: you can get a lot closer to Venus than you can to Mona Lisa.)

Uffizi Gallery2

Top tips: book tickets ahead at the Musei Firenze website to skip the queue, which can stretch for hours. The site is slow, but totally worth it. Allot at least three hours to soak up the full wealth and wonder of the Renaissance. Be prepared for Stendhal syndrome (as I experienced at the Vatican Museum); it’s best not to schedule anything visually heavy before or after. You’ll need your eyeballs rested for this one.

Also, the Uffizi Gallery has the best, biggest museum bookshop I’ve been in—not just for art and architecture, but also a great selection of kids’ literature, fiction and nonfiction.

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