Firenze

Our final stop on our new adventure in Europe was the grand city of Florence, or “Firenze” in Italian. We spent several days in this incredibly historic and important city. It was an interesting transition from a nearly untouched medieval city to one of the most important cities of the Renaissance.

Firenze

Firenze

Firenze

Firenze

Firenze

While in Firenze, we stayed in a nice little apartment on the south side of the Arno river in a wonderful little area. We ate in several different restaurants (and gelaterias) across the city in our time here, but our little neighborhood managed to outscore all of the other areas. We found the best gelato here along with the best restaurant, the best pizza and the best little local “cozy” bar where Deb and I often got to unwind at the end of the day while the young adults relaxed in the apartment.

We started our tour of Firenze with the Medici Chapel in the Basilica of San Lorenzo. It was fitting as the Medici’s were arguably the most powerful and important family at the height of the Renaissance in Florence. The Medici Chapel not only holds their vast family crypt and hundreds of reliquaries of various saints’ relics, but also two very stunning Michelangelo sculptures.

By this point, Nev and Aidan understood the importance of saintly relics to the church. As we wandered through the chapel, it was both eerie and shocking to see how many the Medici’s had collected over several hundred years. We talked about the wealth of the family as we neared the main chapel area and then we all saw the beauty and opulence of their family crypts.

Medici Chapel, FIrenze

Medici Chapel, FIrenze

Medici Chapel, FIrenze

Medici Chapel, FIrenze

The Medici Crypts

It was a little overwhelming to all of us to see the fortune invested here. It’s really hard to imagine the modern day equivalent – perhaps Bill Gates. And as Bill Gates is the benefactor of the Gates Foundation, so the Medici’s were of many of the most important Renaissance artists and writers.

Michelangelo sculpted two incredible works for the important tombs of Lorenzo and Giuliano Medici. What makes this area particularly interesting for Michelangelo aficionados like Deb and I is that he also was involved with the architectural design of the crypt. His two sculptures depict their entombed namesakes but they also add some allegorical relevance through the additional depiction of dusk and dawn on Lorenzo’s tomb and night and day on Giuliano’s.

Michelangelo Sculpture, Medici Chapel, Firenze

Michelangelo Sculpture, Medici Chapel, Firenze

Michelangelo Sculpture, Medici Chapel, Firenze

Michelangelo Sculpture, Medici Chapel, Firenze

Michelangelo Sculptures in the Medici Chapel

In the middle of all of this, Aidan said, “This is cool.” This is what Deb and I were yearning to hear. Being here in the middle of all of this was finally hitting the young adults. You just can’t get this view of history from a book or even pictures.

This would hold true throughout our visit in Firenze. Descriptions don’t do the sculptures, the paintings, or the history justice. It is so easy to skip through a written description, or even nice pictures, quickly and not really reflect on what you are seeing. It is difficult to face a great cathedral or an exquisitely detailed sculpture and not give it more than a cursory glance. Bringing this home to Nev and Aidan while they are young was a key unschooling goal of ours in this little “field trip.”

After our first historical deep dive in Firenze, we took a little time to do some shopping in the famous Firenze market.

Firenze Maket

Firenze Maket

The Firenze Market

We found some wonderful leather items, of course, including an incredible leather jacket for Deb with a hood. I wouldn’t have expected to find a “hoodie” here, but the Italians make it work in an elegant way. While we had a fun afternoon browsing the stalls, we couldn’t help compare it to when we were last there fifteen years ago. The market has gotten a little more kitschy, a little more commercial, and, sadly, a little less special.

The next day, Deb and I went out and took a grand walking tour of Firenze together. We enjoyed several our many cappuccino’s and walked from our apartment south of the Arno river across the Ponte Vecchio and around the main area north of the river, scouting “locations” for the next several days.

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Fountain, Firenze

Fountain, Firenze

Ponte Vecchio, Firenze

Ponte Vecchio, Firenze

Scenes Along Our Walking Tour

Our next big visit was to the Uffizi Gallery. We wanted the young adults to see some of the many important pieces of artwork and sculpture of the Renaissance up close and personal. We kept our visit short though to maximize impact and minimize that sort of daze you can get into in museums after seeing so many things. As with theater, “leave them wanting more.”

Botticelli's Venus, Uffizi, Firenze

Botticelli’s Venus, Uffizi, Firenze

Uffizi, Firenze

Uffizi, Firenze

Uffizi, Firenze

Uffizi, Firenze

Caravaggio's Medusa, Uffizi, Firenze

Caravaggio’s Medusa, Uffizi, Firenze

 

The Uffizi Gallery Treasures

Leaving the Uffizi Gallery, we saw stunning “living statue” of Leonardo da Vinci sitting near the statue of Machiavelli.

Living Statue Near the Uffizi, Firenze

Living Statue Near the Uffizi, Firenze

Piazza della Signoria, Firenze

Piazza della Signoria, Firenze

“Statuary” Outside the Uffizi Gallery

We then emerged into one of our favorite places for art, the Piazza della Signoria. This plaza holds the replica of Michelangelo’s David. It also holds the Loggia dei Lanzi which holds some truly incredible sculptures by Cellini, Donatello, Giambologna, and more. We spent an enchanted hour or more just sitting and appreciating the stunning artwork. Aidan also appreciated one of many cups of gelato.

Rape of the Sabine Women, Piazza della Signoria, Firenze

Rape of the Sabine Women, Piazza della Signoria, Firenze

Piazza della Signoria, Firenze

Piazza della Signoria, Firenze

Sculptures in the Loggia dei Lanzi

Our next day we made a “pilgrimage” of sorts to Dante’s house (and museum). Aidan and Nev had both become interested in Dante and the Divine Comedy (especially Inferno) in our travels and learning more about Dante was in both their lists of things they wanted to do in Firenze (an unschooling assignment).

Dante's House, Firenze

Dante’s House, Firenze

Dante's House, Firenze

Dante’s House, Firenze

Dante’s House

While here, I spotted what I’m sure is a secret passage, though we couldn’t access it to explore more. There is a small section of wall between Dante’s house and the tower of his family clan next door. I measured the offsite of the wall to the floor plan and there looks to be a three foot difference, which would allow about a 2-2.5 foot passage after taking into account the brickwork present.

Secret Passage

Secret Passage

A Secret Passage Spotted

Next up was a visit to the very famous Duomo, or the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, and its surround. It was as picturesque as I remembered it from my two previous visits.

Duomo, Firenze

Duomo, Firenze

 

Giotto's Tower, Firenze

Giotto’s Tower, Firenze

Aidan and a Living Statue, Firenze

Aidan and a Living Statue, Firenze

The Duomo of Firenze

On this trip I got to do something that I hadn’t had a chance to do before. We visited the cupola of the Duomo. It was a fun adventure covering 467 steps up to the very top and back down, through passages between the walls.

Duomo, Firenze

Duomo, Firenze

At the Top of the Duomo Cupola, Firenze

At the Top of the Duomo Cupola, Firenze

The Cupola Excursion

A highlight of this little trip, in addition to the stunning views, was the chance to see the frescoes of the dome up close. What’s hard to appreciate from the photos is just how large they are and the way in which the artists used perspective on a very large curved dome to make the murals appear correctly from several hundred feet below. I also had never realized that, like the Duomo in Orvieto, there were scenes of the last judgment and apocalypse, though we still favor Signorelli’s.

Duomo Cupola Detail

Duomo Cupola Detail

Duomo Cupola Detail

Duomo Cupola Detail

The Frescoes of the Dome

As we visited the various structures around the Duomo and stood in line to get into the cupola, I noticed that this church is far less coherent in its outside architecture than many. I love noticing details in the architecture, sculptures, gargoyles, etc. For example, the four main columns in the Sagrada Familia depict the four evangelists (Mark, Matthew, Luke and John) and their symbols. In Orvieto, we saw the same four symbols across the front of the church in the form of statues. In both of those cases, the sculptures reflect the nature and architectural message of the church.

The Duomo of Firenze was a little different in its details. For example, there are four key entrances on the sides (north and south). Over two of them are sculptures of lions (symbol of Mark). On the same side but in a corner, there is a bull (symbol of Luke).

Duomo Statue South Side

Duomo Statue South Side

Duomo Statue South Side

Duomo Statue South Side

Sculptures on the North Side of the Duomo

On the south side, there is no corresponding corner statue and above the two main portals are some frightening sculptures of men that look more like zombies.

Duomo Statue North Side

Duomo Statue North Side

Duomo Statue North Side

Duomo Statue North Side

Sculptures on the South Side of the Duomo

I’m curious to look into this a bit more. It could be that over time, sculptures were moved or damaged, but this seems more intriguing than that.

We took a taxi back that night. It was one of those classic Italian cab rides that feels a lot more like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Our driver was the definition of fast and aggressive as he jinked and jerked through the heavy traffic, cutting off drivers and pedestrian alike. Another classic memory of Italy J

Our final day in Firenze was much more lightweight. After all, we had to get up at 3am the next day to leave. I had wanted to do a secret passage tour at the Palazzo Vecchio, but the company through which I booked it managed to mess that up, leaving us without the ability to go on the tour.

Instead, we all walked from our apartment towards Palazzo Vecchio. Along the way, we discovered a Games Workshop store that showcased a strategy game called Warhammer that was similar but more involved than the old Dungeons and Dragons. Aidan and Nev got an introduction and were both very interested. It’s very rare that they like the same thing and so we immediately grabbed a starter set.

We spent more than an hour watching a street artist near the Mercato Nuovo. She was pretty amazing. She used pastels on the large black stones forming the street to create a Renaissance style piece of street art. Only in Italy.

Firenze

Firenze

Street artist

We had to go touch Il Porcellino nearby, of course. The legend is that if you touch the nose of Tacca’s sculpture then you will return to Firenze one day. It’s a fitting thought for our last city in our last few days of our year-long adventure.

Il Porcellino, Firenze

Il Porcellino, Firenze

Il Porcellino

It’s sad to see our adventure end. But, really, it isn’t the end of our adventure. It’s just the end of the year we took off. We love doing and trying new things. There are so many things yet to do both in unschooling and in the area where we will be returning – Seattle. We’ll simply move from culture, language, art, history, and religion now to math and science. There are a ton of adventures awaiting us there!

As Deb and I drive north with all our luggage, our dogs, and our new cat, we are taking back more than just “stuff.” We are all returning with experiences and memories that are far more valuable. We are bringing home some of the cultures we lived in for awhile. And in the end, that’s more than we could hope for. Pura vida.

PS: More pictures – culled from several hundred if you can imagine!

Firenze

Firenze

Cuppola of the Medici Chapel, Firenze

Cuppola of the Medici Chapel, Firenze

Medici Chapel, FIrenze

Medici Chapel, FIrenze

Michelangelo Sculpture, Medici Chapel, Firenze

Michelangelo Sculpture, Medici Chapel, Firenze

Sculpture, Medici Chapel, Firenze

Sculpture, Medici Chapel, Firenze

Firenze

Firenze

Piazza della Republica, Firenze

Piazza della Republica, Firenze

Firenze

Firenze

Uffizi, Firenze

Uffizi, Firenze

Piazza della Signoria, Firenze

Piazza della Signoria, Firenze

Uffizi, Firenze

Uffizi, Firenze

Deb, Piazza Signoria, Firenze

Deb, Piazza della Signoria, Firenze

Piazza della Signoria, Firenze

Piazza della Signoria, Firenze

Duomo, Firenze

Duomo, Firenze

Aidan in the Duomo Crypts Looking Assassin's Creed

Aidan in the Duomo Crypts Looking Assassin’s Creed

Duomo Angel Support Statue

Duomo Angel Support Statue

Duomo Cupola

Duomo Cupola

Machiavelli, Uffizi, Firenze

Machiavelli, Uffizi, Firenze

 

Orvieto City Gate

Orvieto City Gate

 

Barcelona

We are officially off now on the second stage of our new adventure – Europe for 5 weeks of fun, unschooling and new experiences. Our first stop on this journey is the city of Barcelona.

We had a long, two-legged flight to get here which included a full dash between two very far gates at Schipol airport in Amsterdam. It started our travel journey and warmed up the young adults to five weeks of travel. Fortunately we settled into our nice apartment in Barcelona and recovered fairly well from jet lag.

Getting to our apartment, we got a reminder of how important security is here with all of our stuff. We had 4 locks on the door, three of which were multiple bar deadbolts. Barcelona, like many cities, has a number of opportunistic thieves as well as regular break-ins of uninhabited apartments.

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Our Apartment’s Door Locks

This prompted two of the first key discussions with the young adults about travelling. The first was how important it was to always keep your bag (backpack) in sight and even if you are sitting with it, to wrap a strap around your ankle. They got that one down pretty quickly. The other one, which they are still working on, is that in travelling, everyone is responsible for their own bag and their own stuff. So, for example, I won’t magically know where someone’s socks are. J

We spent the first few days recovering and exploring the city and its wonderful restaurants. Barcelona is an amazing city – a fusion of old world Europe and modern Europe. We stayed most of our stay in the older area known as El Born, which I highly recommend. The buildings were almost a century old and the narrow streets, fountains, and open spaces were wonderful.DSC00029

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cargile00099 cargile00043 Castel de Tres Dragons

Some Elements in El Born

Tapas are a highlight of Barcelona and “Chef” Aidan was very interested in trying all of the different tapas. We started with Double Zero, a sushi tapas place. It turned out to be one of the best places we’ve tried and where we had the most incredible, and well-deserved, dessert medley. This prompted Aidan to come up with an idea of creating a dessert tapas restaurant. We think it’s a good one!

Asian Albondingas Double Zero Dessert Sampler

Double Zero and its Amazing Tapas

We had another memorable experience at an Argentine grill.

Squid Ink Risotto

Our Argentine Grill Experience

I personally was very excited to rediscover Patxaran. It is this wonderful liqueur that is distinctly Basque. I had a good friend from Barcelona who once brought me a bottle. He said it was very hard to find outside Northern Spain and extremely rare in the US (at least a few decades ago). I had tried to find it a few times without success. Somehow I managed to remember the name (and exotic spelling) and found it here! Everywhere. What a treat. Patxaran is a liqueur created with various herbs blended with anise.

The Spanish timetable was very different from Costa Rica. Everyone seems to get up later. Most shops don’t open until noon and when they are not open, they all have these roll-down panels that are covered with graffiti. All of the graffiti has a creative flair and some are spectacular from an artistic perspective. Here’s just one example (some better ones didn’t make it).

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Graffiti on a Shop Roll-Down Door

At night, it is almost as if you are in a different city. The shops open after noon but stay open until very late. All of these roll-down steel doors turn into fantastic shop windows, restaurants, pubs and heladerias (ice cream shops). The streets become a hive of activity. There are lots of people wandering around and the energy is palpable. They city stays this way late into the night. The most crowded dinner times are 9-10m and that’s when you see the peak of activity. We adapted fairly quickly to the Spanish way of life though – getting up later, eating late, and staying out late. This actually served Aidan and I well for a side adventure after Barcelona which I’ll tell you about another time: Portaventura.

One of our favorite things about Barcelona is the ability to get around. Without cars. Like most European cities, they have a good and well-organized metro system within the city and an excellent train system between cities and countries. It’s a dominant form of travel for Barcelonans. The bus system, which we did not try, seemed very ubiquitous and simple. The surprise though was the system of bikes. They have a whole “subscription” bike system that is somewhat similar to the various emerging “subscription” car systems in various US cities like Zipcar. They have “banks” of bikes at most major intersections and you swipe a card, grab a bike, and then return it to another bank. The bikes have special bars that “plug in” to a simple locking system. I’ve not seen a better version of this implemented.

Deb and I had several logistics-related things to do when we first got here (like getting Eurail passes validated, getting train tickets, trying out the metro, etc.) and so Aidan and Nev had more time to hang in the apartment and “study up” a bit on Spanish history, the city of Barcelona, Gaudi and Montserrat – all things we planned to include in our Barcelona “curriculum.”

What became clear to us pretty quickly, though we should have anticipated this based on Nev and Aidan’s history/religion project this summer, was that like most kids and young adults, reading about history was boring for them. Indeed, that’s why we wanted to come here – to see some of the incredible historical places of Spain and Italy. It was a bit like digging a deep splinter out trying to get Aidan to read about Sagrada Familia and other places we would explore. Deb and I would be in lines for tickets and Aidan would text us about how much more he had to read.

We settled on having him find some YouTube videos while we were away. He tends to learn better when he can hear and see vs. read. What was pleasantly surprising, though, was that both Nev and Aidan liked it better when we would tell them things about history orally.

We had some great discussions about religion, especially Catholicism, organized religion, and even what a saint is. I noted for the record that Brazil is rightly affronted because they only have two saints and tens more in the queue for review.

We also had some great related discussions about why people value gold (which is a tough one to really get into as it is not obvious indeed), why currencies are based on it, and also supply and demand economics. These weren’t incredibly deep or thorough by any means. But they were engaging and that was more important to us. Nev even said that one of Deb’s descriptions of Roman history was clearer and better than anything anyone could read in a boring textbook.

In the end, we all have been learning a lot about learning history here, but more importantly, I think we and the young adults are learning about how to learn about history. Nev and Aidan are clearly digital native. They learn differently and have different experiences of learning based on the technology and other tools they are exposed to. We even had a great discussion in a cab about this.

I basically said that if they have kids, their kids will probably be experiencing holographic information and “shows” the way they watch YouTube and Deb and I watched TV in our day. They noted that we are tech savvy and “get” YouTube, but I pointed out that even so, one tends to fall back on what’s comfortable – the media one grows up with. It was a surprisingly insightful conversation, like one we might have at a tech conference. This all “counts” as unschooling in our book, by the way.

After a day of logistics, Deb and I stopped at a Catalan wine festival. We love wine, especially Spanish wines, and so it was wonderful to experience Catalan wines. We had some amazing, and generously-poured, wines and some incredible cheese. It was a fantastic date night.

Catalan Wine Festival

The Catalan Wine Festival

Arc de Triomf (Barcelona)

Arc de Triomf (Barcelona-Style)

This brings up another interesting thing about Barcelona, the heart of Catalonia. As you may know, Catalan wines, like much of Catalonia, is similar but very distinct from Spain. The Catalonians take very definite pride in this. Catalan, as a language, is similar to Spanish, but then again about as different as Portuguese and Italian are from Spanish.

When we arrived, all of the signs had as a primary language Catalan. The secondary languages were Spanish or English. Everyone speaks Catalan first and many seem to prefer English to Spanish. It took us a bit to adjust but we can begin to read Catalan now. Mostly. As we travel to Seville, I expect our Spanish will be more useful.

What’s pretty amazing about Barcelona and Catalonia is the intense national pride – Catalonian, not Spanish. You see Catalan flags everywhere, hanging from balconies, on cars, and on futbol jerseys. Of course, FC Barcelona is here and you really can’t go anywhere without seeing a store or a person sporting FC Barcelona clothing. While very European, and certainly similar to Spain, Barcelona definitely feels like a different country. We may be wrong; we’ll see shortly as we adventure to Seville.

We took a wonderful little trip to Güell Park in Barcelona. It is a work of Antoni Gaudi, the famous architect of La Sagrada Familia which I’ll get to later. Tickets to the sculpture park were sadly sold out, but we took a stroll through the grounds which he also designed. It was an enchanting experience. We sat and listened to harp music and then explored the structures he created. It gives you some insight to the way he integrated nature into his architecture.

Guell Park Debbie at Guell Park Guell Park

Güell Park

After the young adults had studied up a bit, we took a day trip to Montserrat, the famous monastery up in the mountains. Wow. The monastery and mountains were incredible. I’ve never seen that type of topography before.

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Montserrat

Monserrat

The trip to Monserrat involved a train, a tram, and a funicular. It was a bit of a trip, but well worth it. I’m not sure if I was stunned more by the mountains or the monastery. The monastery was beautifully minimal from the outside. True to most Catholic churches, it was beautiful and opulent inside.

Montserrat Basilica cargile00145

Montserrat Monastery

The mountains were mesmerizing to me. They were so natural and yet so alien given the sedimentary rock composition and the very organic forms the mountains took. The architect Gaudi, whom I’ll mention more in a bit, must have been inspired by these mountains, especially as he was an aficionado of nature. I could have spent all day just in those mountains taking pictures.

Montserrat Mountains cargile00260

Montserrat Mountains

On our final day in Barcelona we visited one of the most magical places I have ever been – La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s masterpiece. That is saying a lot given that it is a church and given that I have had the fortune to see many magical places.

I truly don’t know where to begin, so I will begin with Gaudi. He started this architectural feat in 1882 when he was 30. He died in 1926 and had several generations of craftsman following his legacy since then to complete this great church. It should be complete mid-century. When you see the images, you’ll not only see why it has taken so long, but also what a genius he was, particularly given that this was started in the 1800’s.

La Sagrada Familia

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La Sagrada Familia

construction construction

Constant Construction

I was certainly impressed with the architecture, which took inspiration from nature as you can easily see.

Tower Stairway

Tower Stairway

Columns Inspired by Trees

Columns Inspired by Trees

Interior Columns

Interior Columns

Natural Inspiration

I was even more impressed with Gaudi’s command of math and geometry, which is also nature at its best. Imagine the columns in components ranging from 6 to 12 vertices. Now twist each of these components (e.g., an extruded – or “3D’ – dodecagon) 30 degrees. Now create a mirror image of it and superimpose the two. That gives you the geometry of one section of column.

The stained glass (a Barcelonan artists created these), statues (a Barcelonan sculptress created these), architectural details (such as the tree of life or the apostolic symbols), were all incredible. I could have spent days wandering and exploring here.

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Seal of Marc

Seal of Marc

Tree of Life

Tree of Life

Turtle "Gargoyle" Sculpture

Turtle “Gargoyle” Sculpture

Architectural Elements

I was never a huge architecture geek. I was never ever moved by architecture or much else created by people. I was here.

La Sagrada Familia was a perfect end to our Barcelona adventure. Thousands of miles away we started our journey in Costa Rica, where the locals have the term “pura vida” which I’ve mentioned often. I get the sense Gaudi would appreciate that sentiment. As would much of Catalonia I expect. Pura vida.

PS: In case you like photos, I’ve included a lot more below, especially of La Sagrada Familia, Montserrat and the mountains.

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Montserrat Basilica

Montserrat Basilica

Montserrat

Montserrat

Montserrat

Montserrat

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St George

St George

Looking Down a Tower

Looking Down a Tower

Turtle Column Pedastel

Turtle Column Pedestal

Spire Tops

Spire Tops

View of Barcelona construction DSC00572

Guell Park

Guell Park

Gaudi's House

Gaudi’s House in Guell Park

Guell Park

Guell Park

The Passion Facade

The Passion Facade