Amsterdam and Florence

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Amsterdam and Florence

This trip was a last minute holiday set up to follow leadership training I received at Duin & Kruidberg in Santpoort south of Amsterdam (yes, this is my fifth business trip to Amsterdam this year – you can look at other pages in the travelogue to see where I’ve been). ABN AMRO employees call Duin & Kruidberg “the castle” – its an old manor house sitting beside a forest preserve. The main house dates back to the 1700’s – there’s a new wing (that’s where my room was) off to the side. They sell a book on the history of the castle but its only in Dutch (and I’m not nearly that good yet!).

The leadership training was very good. I think it was a bit less introspective than the Center for Creative Leadership’s Leadership Development Program that I took a few years ago, but that’s because this training used fewer feedback instruments. It did, however, have a lot of physical stuff packed into one day – that was hard on my legs (I’m still sore three days later as I write this section, and Aviva discovered a big bruise behind my right knee). As I’ve come to learn and expect, the people that work for ABN AMRO Bank are incredible; I can see why clients like working with our team. It was especially good to spend time with people from other business units and other nations. The diversity of the people this week was really wonderful. But, all good things come to an end, and I left Amsterdam Schiphol airport for Florence Friday evening (the cab driver said that Schiphol means “skip in a hole” – a skip is a fishing boat – when they were building the airport, it was for a while a very big hole filled with water; I’ve since been corrected by a colleague at work that Schipol means “ship’s hell” – guess you can’t always trust cab drivers). The flight left about an hour late and, after a somewhat harrowing ride in a taxi to the hotel, I met up with Aviva at Hotel Calzaiuoli, Via Calzaiuoli 6.

We got going pretty early Saturday morning, walking across the Ponte Vecchio and then past the Palazzo Pitti to La Specola.

La Specola is one of the largest zoological museums in Europe, founded by at least 1775. Its up four flights of concrete and marble steps, so take your time. There are a tremendous number of stuffed animals from all over the world, and in some cases specimans kept in fluid under glass. The end of the exhibit is a large collection of anatomical wax models of humans disected in various ways and in component parts. In addition, there are drawings of the anatomy around the walls. One of the coolest models is of a pregnant woman showing how the baby is positioned and how much the uteris stretches to accomodate – birth is quite an amazing thing!

We ate lunch at a pizzaria and then went into the Palazzo Pitti. This Palazzo was built by Luca Pitti, a rich and powerful merchant who was a competitor to the Medicis. Eventually the Medicis came to live in this palace. Its huge – there are two museums and the ? Gardens on the grounds! And its opulent. There is a large collection of art hung salon-style in the right hand side museum; the featured artist for us was Raphael.

After we walked through the Palazzo Pitti, we stopped in the bookstores (don’t miss the one down and across the square from the museum) and then walked down the Via de’ Guicciardini to Santa Felicita. We stopped here on a previous Italian holiday, so I’ll just point you to that page here (there’s a very special fresco by Pontormo here, don’t miss it if you’re in Florence).

We stopped in a number of shops, particularly ceramics as both Aviva and I love Tuscan clay arts. We talked for a while with an old man that ran a small ceramics shop; most of that work comes from artisans just outside of Florence. We compared notes on the cost of living in Chicago and Florence. We continued on to Santa Spirito; mass was going on so we could only stand near the entrance for a while – luckily we had also visited this church on a previous trip.

We ate dinner at wild boar restaurant, Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco at Borgo S. Jacopo, 43 r.; they serve a few dishes made from wild boar, which is a speciality in Florence. I of course had to try one since I’d never had such a thing, and it was quite good, similar to a beef stew or brisket. We then walked back to the hotel, eating gellato along the way (our third today, no wonder we’re overweight!). My legs still ache from the physical exercises Wednesday, and Aviva’s bad ankle is swelling quite a bit, so we need to slow down tomorrow, which is hard for us I think.

Sunday morning after breakfast Aviva and I used the automatic machine to get train tickets to Lucca, a small town west of Florence. The train ride was easy and uneventful. It was very warm (in the 90’s F and 30’s C) with bright sunshine. Lucca is famous for its walls – they are largely intact and wide and tall enough that you can walk and ride bikes along the top. That’s because they a brick faced with dirt behind them – the town is essentially built in a raised surround.

We walked through one of the Portas through the wall and ended up behind the Duomo.

It was the third Sunday of June and so the streets were full of antique sellers. The wares were very nice but also very expensive.

We walked through the tables and went to S. Giovanni e S. Reparata; the original church, S. Reparata, was build in the 500s AD, and the current church was built over the old church – excavations are visible under the floor showing the original church.

We walked along some more and stopped in St. Michael’s, which has a very special top part of its facade.

After a cold snack at a bar, we went over to S. Frediano, who is a local saint – his remains are buried under the church. It was first built in the 600’s AD and the interior redone in the 12th century (and the interior was reoriented 180 degrees). A wedding started while we were inside – when the bride came down the aisle, everyone stood and clapped – it was quite wonderful! One member of the wedding party was wearing a very short black dress – seemed a bit improper but then this is Italy after all!

The train ride home was painful – no air conditioning and only two small opening windows.

But, we survived and found dinner in a trattoria near the Santa Maria Novella, Trattoria Antellesi at Via Faenza 9 – the food was very good and the staff very friendly, I would go back again (so I’m using this page to remember!); also, they bank with Antonveneta, which ABN AMRO Bank is trying to buy. Then, while we were walking home we found a small trattoria Aviva has visited often – we hope to have lunch there tomorrow!

On Monday we searched out a wonderful little mask shop run by a true artist; the masks are a bit expensive, but they are art, not just cheap tourist stuff. We got to talk with the artist and his daughter – they are both very nice. We grabbed a quick lunch and then walked to the Florence Synagogue – what an amazing place! It was built in the late 1800’s and I’m surprised it survived the war. One torah is on display – it was damaged during the big flood in 1966 and rendered non-Kosher. The interior is decorated in a set of very Florentine patterns. Its an Orthodox Synagogue, so there’s a women’s area upstairs. Then we walked back to the hotel to rest a bit, the only day we did that. And then we went out again to purchase a nice grotesque pattern plate and have a great dinner at Trattoria Anita on Via Vinegia near the Palazzo Vechio; this restaurant was recommended to Aviva by a man that owns a print shop where she bought a print – if you connect with someone when travelling, you should ask for suggestions of where to eat, such suggestions are often better than travel book suggestions. After a gellato we packed and went to sleep.

Ticket for the Florence Synagogue

Ticket for the Florence Synagogue

We’re up early, eat breakfast and finished packing. We checked out – very nice hotel, definitely the best we’ve stayed in Florence (and Aviva has been here four times). We walked past the Bapistry, but it was closed. We went inside the Palazzo Vecchio for a while.

We happened on the bronze statue of the Boar – if you touch his nose you’ll return one day to Florence.

Then we took our lives in our hands and took a taxi to the airport. The flight to Amsterdam from Florence left late of course, but we arrived nearly on time, got our bags, checked into the Sheraton at the airport (glad I got a Starwood membership, as they gave us a free upgrade to a nicer room), slept, ate, packed and got our flights home. And not too soon – its always great to go somewhere and always just as wonderful to arrive at home again.

Sunset from our window at the Sheraton at Schiphol Airport

Sunset from our window at the Sheraton at Schiphol Airport

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