Travels in Italy: Tuscany – Florence (May 28-29, 2015)

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Map of Tuscany (Tuscana) region of Italy (courtesy of Google Images)

Map of Tuscany (Tuscana) region of Italy (courtesy of Google Images)

Attractions:

  • Galleria dell’Academia
  • Duomo
  • Piazza della Signoria
  • Piazzale Michelangelo
  • Ponte Vecchio
  • Palazzo Pitti (Palatine Gallery)
  • Uffizi

Upon our arrival to Florence, our tour director took us to the Galleria dell’Academia, where we met our local guide. Founded in 1563, the Academia was the first school of drawing, painting, and sculpture in Europe. Today, it houses several Renaissance pieces by Florentine artists, including Michelangelo’s David and Boticelli’s Madonna del Mare. After hearing and reading about these famous works, it was a breathtaking experience to walk and gaze up at the magnificent works of art made by the local Florentine artists.

Galleria dell’Accademia - David

Afterwards, we were taken to the Duomo (Santa Maria del Fiore)—the iconic cathedral of the city—and briefed on the history of the cathedral but we did not go inside. Then we were allowed to spend the rest of the time on our own.

Brunelleschi's Dome

We explored the streets of Florence and visited the Piazza della Signoria, where the David was originally placed before being moved to the Academia for safekeeping. It now exhibits sculptures of Roman emperors. For dinner, we tried the famous Florentine steak at Ristorante Boccadama in located in the Piazza di Santa Croce. It was seasoned perfectly! Continue reading

Travels in Italy: Lombardy – Milan (May 26, 2015)

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Map of the Lombardy region of Italy. Courtesy of Google Maps

Map of the Lombardy region of Italy. Courtesy of Google Maps

Attractions:

  • Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
  • Duomo
  • Teatro alla Scala (La Scala Opera House)
  • Castello Sforzesco (Sofrenza Palace) with Pietà

Milan is the capital of the Lombardy region of Italy—the region begins at the Alps near the Switzerland border and goes down to the River Po. The Lombards, a Germanic tribe, resided in the area in 6th century AD were adept at trade and commerce, giving rise to the fame of the region. Today, Milan is still the financial and fashion center of Italy.

We only spent half the day in Milan, so we were only able to visit a few places with the local tour guide. We met our guide at the Palazzo Marino, which is central to the main attractions in the city.

Then we walked to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II—an ornate shopping center built in the shape of a Latin cross with mosaics representing the four continents of the world. Filled with designer brands, the Galleria is a shopping paradise for the wealthy.

Galleria

As we exited the Galleria, we entered the Piazza del Duomo, where we had a grand view of the Duomo of Milan.

Piazza del Duomo

The Duomo is one of the largest Gothic cathedrals in the world and originated from the 14th century.

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The outside of the cathedral is made of pink and white marble; the façade is elaborately decorated with several spires and statues. Admission costs 2 euros per person to the cathedral and crypt. We were allowed free time to explore on our own. Continue reading

Travels in Belgium: Gent (June 6, 2014)

Ghent

Attractions:

  • St. Bavo’s Cathedral and Van Eyck’s Adoration of the Lamb
  • City Hall
  • City Pavilion

During our travels in Belgium, we had a brief interlude in Ghent before we approached the capital, Brussels. As one of the largest cities located in the Flanders region of Belgium, Ghent is an important port and center of the flower export trade. Its medieval buildings and St. Bavo’s Cathedral are the main highlights.

City Pavilion, Ghent

On our way towards the cathedral, we passed by the City Pavilion—a relatively new structure of wood and glass that is used for concerts, dance performances, and markets. There is also a hidden café that is underneath the structure called the “Belfort Stadscafé en Stadsrestaurant.” Continue reading

Travels in Holland: Haarlem (May 29, 2014)

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Attractions:

  • Grote Markt
  • Frans Hals Museum
  • Molen de Adriaan
  • Kathedrale Basiliek St. Bavo [St. Bavo’s Cathedral]
The brave maid and her companion, Haarlem, Holland

The brave maid and her companion, Haarlem, Holland

In the early morning, the town of Haarlem awaits us. We arrive in the quaint town passing by a memorial commemorating the brave maid and her proud companion. Following the lazily, winding cobbled stone paths, we watch as store vendors clean their shop and creative restaurant artists doodle caricatures on the store windows. Then, we enter the heart of Haarlem—the Grote Markt (Big Market). From there, we take in the sights and sounds before choosing our next destination.

Haarlem is a short journey by train from Amsterdam (about 20 minutes) and is easily navigated by foot. Following the main street from the train station, several shops and small restaurants line both sides of the street as one goes toward the town center—the Grote Markt.

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The Grote Markt is the main square with the most important buildings of the town, including the town hall (see below), Grote Kerk (leftmost building in above image), and many restaurants for a savvy adventurer to try. On certain days, there are market days selling clothing and other goods. Unfortunately, the church was closed the day we visited so we could not explore the interior.
DSC05930 Continue reading