Monday, June 29, 2009

Firenze (Florence)

On May 19th, we made our way from the beautiful Cinque Terre to the birthplace of the Renaissance - Firenze (Florence), Italy. It was hard not to like a city that sports a view like this:

On the far right you see the dome of the Florence Cathedral (Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore), which was the work of Filippo Brunelleschi. The brick dome was a monumental accomplishment at the time (1436) and served as a primary inspiration for Michaelangelo when designing St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Below is a picture of the Duomo's facade.

Florence is known for its museums, and we were not disappointed with the amazing works at the Uffizi Gallery and the Accademia. At the former, we were thrilled to see Botticelli's Birth of Venus. Meanwhile, at the Accademia, the main attractions are Michaelangelo's Prisoners, and more importantly, David. We've been disappointed with some famous pieces of art - the Mona Lisa, most notably - but David is more than deserving of the hype. It was magnificent.

Most of the finest artwork in Florence is now housed in museums, but there are a number of nice statutes - some of them originals - still dotting the city streets. Here you see a copy of David and across from him, Hercules and Cacus on the Piazza della Signoria.

Finally, here is a uniquely Florentine site: the Ponte Vecchio, or "Old Bridge." Its latest incarnation dates to 1345. It has always been a market of sorts, and it remains so to this day, with abundant leather and jewelry sellers.

At the end of WW II, the Nazis supposedly did not blow up the Ponte Vecchio - at a time when they were blowing up the rest of the bridges in Florence to slow Allied forces - simply because they recognized its historical worth. (They of course blocked the bridge via other means, like toppling buildings in front of it.)

Back to Italia

Things have been super busy here and we're waaayyyyy behind on our posts. We haven't finished talking about Italia yet - and since we left that wonderful land, nearly a month has passed and we've been to four other countries!

To refresh your memory (and mine), when we last left our heroes (in Italy), they were examining the antiquated underground pigeon farms of Orvieto. Orvieto was roughly the halfway point of our trip, which looked essentially like this:

  1. Pisa ☑ (A)
  2. La Spezia and The Cinque Terre ☑ (B-C)
  3. Florence (D)
  4. San Gimignano ☑ (E)
  5. Sienna ☑ (F)
  6. Orvieto ☑ (G)
  7. Rome (H)
  8. Sorrento, Almalfi Coast, Capri (I)
  9. Mt. Vesuvius (J)

View Larger Map

So it seems that the next city up is Florence!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Campus Renovations

The main stretch of TU Delft's campus has looked like a post-WW II disaster area pretty much since the day we arrived back in August. The long-running renovations (see video below, though note that they've left out the winter footage) have finally been completed. The heart of campus, Mekelweg Park, is finally looking much better.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Weather

Maybe the weather in the Netherlands isn't so bad after all...


The last of the Italian hill towns Laura and I visited during our vacation was Orvieto.

Like many other towns in Italy, Orvieto sports a fairly massive church, the Duomo di Orvieto. It was built in the 14th century specifically to house the Corporal of Bolsena, which without getting into all of the bizarre specifics, let's just call a miraculously bloody altar cloth. The memorable thing about the interior was a chapel containing some rather imaginative, intricate, and occasional disturbing depictions of the end times.

Orvieto's most unique feature is an extensive system of underground caves. In fact, pretty much everyone who lives in Orvieto owns their very own cave, or as they prefer to call it, wine cellar. The city is in possession of some of the outlying passages, which have been used for things like making olive oil, taking shelter from bombs, and - of course - raising pigeons for food. Below you see a wall from one of these underground caves filled with pigeon cubbies. It turns out that pigeons are particularly easy to farm because they fly away and feed themselves, only to return to their cubbies for nesting, and on one particular bad day to be a pigeon, harvesting. We were told they still raise pigeons for food in the area, just no longer in the caves.

Another interesting site in Orvieto is an Etruscan necropolis. The tombs were layed out in a grid as you can see below. Orvieto has been settled since Etruscan times and naturally its museums are packed with Etruscan stuff they've dug up.

There's nothing like peering inside of tombs to make a guy hungry. Luckily, spring in Italy means there's always something to eat hanging out of the trees. Below, you see me picking some cherries out of the necropolis cherry tree.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


BubbleShare: Share photos - Play some Online Games.

Matt and I goofing around in the Amsterdam letters set-up by the city tourist department.

The Heineken Experience

From the moment one first steps foot in the Netherlands, there's never any doubt that the "King of Beers" here is Heineken. Its roots are in Amsterdam, where in December 1863 Gerard Adriaan Heineken bought an old brewery in town and started the Heineken company. Like any good global beer brand in today's age, Heineken has a very nice propaganda experience in one of their original brewery buildings. It's entitled The Heineken Experience.

The experience was a mix of historical information, old brewery equipment, multimedia presentations, and beer drinking. Below you see Laura getting a good look at the inside of a "copper," which is where wort (the liquid that results from mixing barley and water) is boiled with hops.

Another cool part of the visit was the Brew You Ride, in which you see the brewing process from the beer's vantage point. This was less of a ride than a cool multimedia movie that participants watch from a shaker platform. So today Laura and I have been roasted, boiled, fermented, bottled, and poured. At the end of the ride, we emerged from a Heineken box on a warm, sunny beach somewhere that I'm guessing was not the Netherlands.

Maybe the coolest things - from a technology perspective, anyway - were the tables at the Heineken bar. They were digital screens that produced virtual coasters whenever a beer was set down. Better yet, the entire room gave a 360° view of several selected cityscapes and the tables displayed accompanying world maps. The map was interactive, but it would only respond to the Heineken glasses being placed in the right spots. Below you see the table and virtual coasters. Very cool.

The rest of our pictures from the Amsterdam outing can be found here.

Posted by Matt

Friday, June 19, 2009

"Siena! Oh, I love Siena!"

With a recommendation like that, how could we possibly skip the Tuscan town of Siena?

We hopped on a bus in San Gimignano and headed out for a day in the town known for its church and town square (or Il Campo). Il Campo is a huge, semi-circle, paved square that sits in front of the town hall and tower. The square is the perfect place to grab a bite to eat and do a bit of people watching. We sat on a lovely balcony just above Il Campo and enjoyed delicious sandwiches made with the best of Italian meats and cheeses. After lunch we wandered through the square and crowds of people while sipping on fresh lemon and strawberry granitas.

City Tower
Matt in front of the Fountain of Joy

After lunch we headed off to the religious center of Siena and visited the Duomo, the Baptistery, and the Duomo museum. We were treated to works by Donatello, Pisano, Bernini, and Ghiberit in situ. Both the Duomo and the Baptistery have beautiful, intricate inlaid marble floors that are an artistic treat all by themselves.

Baptismal Font at the Baptristry by Ghiberti and Donatello
Marble Floor from the Duomo
Donatello's St. John the Baptist at the Duomo

My favorite part was the Piccolomini Library in the Duomo. It is a sumptuous room that is decorated with with bright frescoes and a beautiful ceiling. The real treat for me was the intricately decorated illuminated manuscripts and music scores that are displayed around the room.

Ceiling of the Piccolomini Library

The rest of our Siena pictures can be found here.

Monday, June 15, 2009

San Gimignano

San Gimignano was our fourth stop on our tour of Italy (1st - Pisa, 2nd - Cinque Terre, 3rd - Florence). It is a beautiful Tuscan hill town with 14 of its original 70 towers still standing. We enjoyed walking through the winding cobblestoned streets, eating gelato at the town well, picnicking outside the city walls, and popping in and out of the little shops.The views of the Tuscan countryside are breathtaking from the town and we couldn't stop taking pictures.At the top of the town there is a nice park with olive trees, roses, and a few grapes vines. We took a break from site seeing to enjoy a tasting of the local Vernaccia wines.We even got to enjoy the a beautiful sunset from the park at the top of the hill town.

More photos from the beautiful town can be found here.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Roman Aquaducts

One morning we left the center of Rome to visit the suburbs and the aqueduct park. Everyone learns about the aqueducts in school and how the are a feat of Roman engineering. But I don't think they can be truly appreciated until you are standing up close and personal with the mammoth architectural feats.
Upon arriving at the park, I was completely blown away by the size and beauty of the aqueducts. Standing next to the endless arches, you can almost imagine them crisscrossing the Roman Empire bringing water to the city centers.
Special thanks to Ron in Rome, whose blog shared with us this great site in Rome.

The rest of our aqueduct photos can be found here.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Hiking the Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre is one of Italy's beautiful, coastal gems. We were lucky enough to spend three days in the national park hiking along the coastal cliffs and sunbathing on almost-private beaches. The weather was beautiful and the flowers were in full bloom; I don't think it could have been any prettier.

The first morning we hiked between four of the towns and ended up at the Lemon Festival in Monterosso. We started the day in Manarola, the second town. From here we took the flat, 45 minute hike and killer switch-back stairs to Corniglia.After exploring the town of Corniglia, we headed out on the hour and half walk to Vernazza. The views coming up on Vernazza are breathtaking and make you want to pick-up and move the Cinque Terre.
We grab slices of pizza and enjoyed a harbor side picnic. After lunch, we started the up and down and up and down hike to Monterosso, the last of the five towns. Just before arriving in town we bought lemons from terrace farmer; you would never believe how sweet and delicious a lemon can be after a long hike. The Lemon Festival was in full swing when we arrived into town a few moments later.After enjoying some lemoncello, fresh-squeezed lemonade, and sweet lemons, we spent the afternoon sunning on the rocks just off the beach.
We ended the day by taking the Via Dell'Amore stroll from Manarola to Riomaggiore to watch the sun set over the Ligurian Sea. We climbed down off the path and watch the sunset from some rocks in the water.

And, of course, you can find more pictures of this beautiful place here.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Photos of Pisa

The first stop on our Italy vacation was the town of Pisa and the Field of Miracles. The Field of Miracles (or Campo die Miracoli) is Pisa's religious center and contains four white marble buildings spread out on a green lawn.

The Duomo (or Cathedral)The Camposanto Cemetery
The Baptistery
And, of course, the Leaning Tower of Pisa
Which is actually the bell tower for the Duomo

Okay, Okay. Our first stop was actually a gelato stand, where we enjoyed delicious cones of limoncello, orange, and coconut gelato. How else can one start an Italian vacation but with a few scoops of the Italian delicacy?But as soon as we finished our cones, we headed straight for the most famous building in Italy. A few minutes on the beautiful lawn told us the sweaters we packed would not be needed and we were in for a wonderful, sunny vacation.

The rest of our pictures, including the interiors of the buildings, can be found here.