Wandering and Wondering

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Spring Break

The end of exams last week signaled the start of spring break, where we have a week free of study. Most of the other students left Italy and headed to other parts of Europe such as Greece, France and Spain, but I decided to spend the week relaxing and getting to know Florence better.

The first weekend of Spring Break saw Florence play host to a number of different festivals. On Friday I went to Danza in Fiera, which is a huge dance festival that took place at the Fortezza da Basso conference centre. After getting my ticket and heading in the general direction where everyone else seemed to be going, I found myself in the main exhibition hall where exhibitors had on display anything and everything related to dancing, from clothes and shoes to actual dance floors. After wandering around for a bit I headed downstairs to the “Le Nazioni” stage where they were running the “Esibizione Scuole” – an exhibition of performances by school groups:

Esibizione Scuole at Danza in Fiera


Next stop was the “La Ronda” stage where I watched some ballet:

Ballet at Danza in Fiera


After about half an hour I headed next door to the “Rastriglia” stage where they were hosting the “Musical Day” competition. This was a national competition between dance groups from all across Italy, and the performances were condensed versions of famous musicals lasting around 15 minutes each. In the one and a half hours or so that I was there I got to see performances of Phantom of the Opera, Romeo and Juliet, Fame, Cats, Dracula and Chicago.

Performance of Cats for the Musical Day competition at Danza in FieraPerformance of Chicago for the Musical Day competition at Danza in Fiera


The Musical Day competition finally came to an end, and I headed over to the “Cavaniglia” stage to watch the “Maratona Danze Caraibiche”. This was an open event where couples competed against each other in a Latin dance-off. When I arrived the dance floor was full with about 30 couples and as the evening progressed couples were slowly eliminated by the judges until only 3 remained. There was one particular couple who I took by far the most photos of because they clearly stood out from the others. The judges obviously agreed because they ended up winning the entire competition. They must have been extremely fit, because they were on the dance floor for over 2 hours without a break and they never seemed to be lacking in energy.

Winning couple at the Latin dance-off at Danza in FieraDancing on the sidelines at the Latin dance-off at Danza in Fiera


The next day, Saturday, was St Patrick’s day. During the day I went for a wander around town with my camera to do some people watching. I snapped this picture in Piazza Santa Croce:

Guitar player in Piazza Santa Croce


In the evening I went to an Irish pub called “Finnigins” where I had met a few people the previous Tuesday for a Pub Trivia night. It is the kind of pub where everyone knows everyone else, and by the end of my second visit I was already on a first name basis with most of the bar staff and a few of the regulars. The photo below, which was taken at the Pub Trivia night, shows me together with Pasquale, Toby and Chris. I also met an Aussie girl named Sarah who grew up in Mandurah. Being the first Australian I’ve met here, we chatted for most of the night.

3rd place in the Pub Quiz at Finnigins


On Sunday after recovering from a slight hangover I headed to the Taste Fair at Stazione Leopolda, which Sarah had recommended. Food and wine vendors had stalls setup where you could taste their produce. There was lots of cheese, biscuits, wine, olive oil, jam, honey and chocolate. By the end of 2 hours my stomach was beginning to protest so I decided I had better not eat anything more.

Honey tasting at the Taste Fair


During the middle of the week, I decided that it was about time that I went and visited the Academia and Uffizi art galleries. The main thing that had been putting me off visiting them up until now was the long queues to actually get inside, but I figured that the queues are only going to get longer as we move further into Spring. The photo below gives you an idea of how many people there are milling about the streets in the centre of the city. I can’t imagine what it is going to be like in the peak tourist season around June.

Crowded street


I first visited the Academia gallery which houses the world’s most famous marble sculpture: Michelangelo’s David. Even though I had to wait in the queue for half an hour, it was definitely worth the visit. I had previously seen the David when I was in Florence in 2003, but back then I didn’t really appreciate it. Recently, however, I’ve been reading Irving Stone’s biographical novel on Michelangelo titled “The Agony and the Ecstasy”, and this gave me a much greater insight into both the statue and Michelangelo’s life. It took Michelangelo over 2 years to create, and he poured all of his passion and knowledge of the human body into it. The only downside is that now whenever I see other sculptures and paintings, they all look mediocre when compared to the David. Even when I visited the Uffizi gallery the next day, which supposedly houses one of the greatest collections of renaissance art in the world, I wasn’t all that impressed. Maybe I just need to study the history a bit more, but to me many of the paintings in the Uffizi seemed quite unoriginal and uninspiring: almost every second painting was of the same scene (the virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus) and differed very little in style from the others. The thing I admire about Michelangelo is that he strove for originality and perfection in his artwork. I just finished reading the part of his biography where he spent 4 years painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, so I’m looking forward to having another look at this the next time I visit Rome.

Uffizi Gallery at night


You could live in Florence for 10 years and still not see all of its galleries and museums, but as fascinating a city as it is, after 2 months I’ve decided that I need a bit of a change and want to see some of the Tuscan countryside and surrounding areas instead of spending all my time in the city centre. To achieve this I’ve bought myself an 18-speed bike, with a guarantee that the shop will buy it back from me at the end of my stay. On Friday I made the first use of it and rode up to the small town of Fiesole in the hills above Florence. It was an exhausting ride but the views back towards Florence and the Arno valley were worth it. In Fiesole itself I visited the archeological area which contains some ancient Roman and Etruscan ruins. The sun was shining and together with the wildflowers growing amongst the ruins and the Tuscan hills in the background it made for a very nice setting.

View from Fiesole towards FlorenceEtruscan Temple Ruins


Today, Sunday, is the last day of Spring Break. After I finish writing this blog post I plan on heading to Piazza Santissima Maria Annunziata for the Annunciation Day festivities. Annunciation Day commemorates Archangel Gabriel’s announcement to the Virgin Mary that she would give birth to the Christ child. Traditionally, Florentines considered this day to be the first day of the year. On that note, I’ll wish everyone a “happy new year”. Ciao.

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