Some random photos from San Francisco, all taken using the 25mm (50mm eqiv.) lens.
In somewhat of a Christmas Miracle, both my cousin and I were in the same town just after New Year's. Seeing that we're both foodies and gluttons, what better way to celebrate both our birthdays, the new year, Christmas and just seeing each other after such a long while.... than to have some delicious food!
First though we spent the day doing some touristy spots in Seattle. We went to the aquarium to see some cute sea critters (before we were due to eat some delicious sea critters later that night).
We ended up all ordering the sushi omakase. It was so much food! First course of white fish, then some delicious matsutake soup in a tea pot and a cold appetizer of grilled salmon belly. Then it was three more pieces of sushi, various cuts of salmon. Then delicious tuna and seared chutoro, and a slightly old fashioned nigiri where the tuna was aged and marinated a bit.
Then it was finished by a large plate of various sushi: anego, uni ikura, amaebi, geoduck, saba, cucumber and umeboshi roll, and salmon roll. And the most impressive piece on the plate: the tamagoyaki that had the texture of a dense Castella cake. It was sweet, eggy and unbelievably delicious and unlike any tamagoyaki I ever had.
It took some real effort to finish all that food! I was full until well past the next morning. Each piece was super yummy and each piece was just the right size. Even looking at the pictures now I'm starting to drool...
I started off the first day in Florence by lining up at the Uffizi museum bright and early. You can buy line skipping tickets for a few euros extra online which I highly recommend for the summer. But if it's not the high tourist season and you start the day early, I would suggest waiting the 30-45 min and use the money towards some delicious trippa for lunch. No pictures are allowed inside!
I suggest waking up early either way because Florence has lovely street scenes. The ruddy orange hues of the buildings are beautiful in the soft light of the early morning.
The Uffizi houses a vase collection of works originating from the Medici family collection. They were donated by the last heiress of the family, with the explicit condition that none of the artwork was to leave Florence. Depending on how fast you view art, how much of the exhibition halls are open at a time, and whether or not you choose to rent an audio-tour, the Uffizi will likely take around two to four hours.
There’s too many famous artwork in the Uffizi to cover here. There should be a few pieces familiar to most people, including Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” and “La Primavera”. Of course there’s the works of Leonardo da Vinci and Caravaggio, and of Michelangelo, Raphael, and other great artists of the Italian Renaissance. I was personally excited about Titian’s “Venus of Urbino” as I had written a short paper on Titian in high school. This Venus is considered to be from his “middle period” in terms of style and is striking in the bold stare of the Venus towards the viewer as she reclines in full nudity, the effect more so in person.
When I saw an artwork I had studied, I would excitedly look for the important artistic and historical details, the symbolism, the use of colours and shadows that I had learned about all those years ago. (I will admit I prattled off facts like a child returning from a particularly exciting school-lesson.) For artwork I was unfamiliar with, I simply enjoyed the beauty and tried to infer a little bit about it from the subject matter and what styles or symbolism I could recognize. One of the joys of the Uffizi, in addition to the paintings on display in the individual salons, is the hallways hung with portraits, the ceiling painted with all manner of birds and pastoral themes and statues littering along the sides.
(Now that I’ve thoroughly bored you with my words, time for some pictures.)
The bridge Ponte Vecchio is just a few steps away from the Uffizi. If you’re a photography buff, I recommend visiting in the late afternoon to early evening for the best light. I took just a few random shots since the weather wasn’t too good. I think the bridge should be also of some professional interest to any structural engineers, planners or architects.
The stores on the bridge sell mostly fine jewellery. I would say the main draw here is actually the closed stores, where you can see the traditional store front and the metal detailing.
Through the help of a poor restaurant waiter who was trying to gather business, I got directions to a food cart selling the Florentine street food trippa (tripe.) I got it in a container, as opposed to the sandwich, in the tomato broth it’s cooked in and topped with a bit of salsa verde. Trippa and lampredotto (fourth stomach) are typically around 4.5 euros for the sandwich and 7 euros for a bowl.
The food cart was near the back of the market, Mercato Nuovo, famous for the Fontana del Porcellino. Rubbing the nose of the bronze statue of a wild boar is said to bring you back to Florence in the future. The piglet has a very shiny nose indeed. (Very difficult to get a good picture due to the tourists crowded around.)
Next up was Loggia dei Lanzi and Piazza della Signoria, home to the replica of Michelangelo’s “David” and other well-known statues. It was around then that it started raining so I went for some gelato and to hide from the rain for a bit. Oh and I also passed by some churches along the way.
Not the same church. Second one pictured also had very nice stained glass windows (less common in Italy than in France I noticed) and statues around the outside walls. Unfortunately none of my pictures turned out very well.
This is one of the famous gelato stores you’ll find in guidebooks, as you can see from the crowd milling about. A bit of (industrial) engineering geekiness: they have a really efficient system where you pay for the cup size first and then go in front of the glass display to point out your flavours. They had one guy working the till and two at serving ice cream.
After some delicious gelato, the heavens cleared up and I started the climb to Piazzale Michelangelo. I encountered an amusing little statue crossing one of the many bridges spanning the river. Quite a confident gait; I wonder what the artist is suggesting…
As I was walking through the streets of Florence, I had noticed some street signs with amusing stickers placed over them. Continuing on by the river side, heading towards Piazzale Michelangelo, I started seeing more and more… until I accidently stumbled upon the artist’s shop! Unfortunately it was closed, but I did take a few sneaky pictures through the window. After that I paid extra attention in hopes of catching some more humorously defaced signs.
The artist is Clet Abraham, French but living in Florence for the better part of 20 years. You can search online for more of his works. (Facebook page: https://fr-fr.facebook.com/pages/CLET/108974755823172)
On the way up a set of shallow stone steps, a hidden garden was tucked into the wall. Run by the local Lions Club, the garden is freely open to the public year round and contains a myriad of roses, lemon trees, wisteria and other plants. It also offers a great view of the hilly outskirts of Florence and the old city walls. (It also happens to be a great place for taking pretty pictures of oneself.)
(Leave it to an engineer to purposely leave a crane in frame in a photo.)
The steps have a series of crosses on small piled up stone pyramids along the right-hand side: the fourteen Stations of the Cross. The final one is by the entrance of a church after you climb the stairs to the top.
Piazzale Michelangelo offers some breathtaking views of Florence. The actual piazza holds some bronze replicas of Michelangelo statues. As a side note, you will find a rather clean and free public washroom just underneath the steps of the piazza, a rare treat in Italy
I was ready for a hearty meal after all those stairs and an entire day of walking. Dinner was at the famous Il Latini. Be warned that they do require a reservation. If you’re particularly lucky, you may get a table without a reservation if you have a small party and go early enough, as in my case. The restaurant has a warm rustic feel. Wine bottles line the walls and (real!) prosciutto legs hang from the ceiling.
Florentine steaks are made with high grade beef and sold by weight. Generally half a kilogram is the least amount they will sell at a time. The friendly waiter (more like a jolly uncle) recommended about 500g per person with some appetizers and local vegetables on the side. If you have more of an appetite, get some regional pasta (pici) and some thick tomato soup (pappa al pomodoro). And don’t forget the table wine!
Steak is 50 euros per kilogram. Wine is about 12 euros a litre. You pour yourself and the waiter will estimate the price when he comes around to do the bill based on how much of the bottle you drank. Prices are around average for a nice sit down restaurant. Website here: http://www.illatini.com/?lang=en. Mark the location on your cellphone map using wifi before you leave the hotel, Italian roads can be difficult to navigate with address alone.
Dinner was finished off with some free Tuscan biscotti and a small glass of Vin Santo (sweet liquor). And off I wandered, slightly inebriated with both wine and food, into the cool night air of Firenze.