Welcome! Friday, Jan 15 2010 

This blog is for anyone interested in learning more about the University of Washington’s Exploration Seminar to Florence and Venice in Summer 2013.

Read about previous programs in Italy — get a sense of the pace, the places and the entire Tuscan experience. This year, we will spend the final week of the program in Venice, home of the Biennale.

We’re almost ready to begin — daily updates will be posted beginning August 27. Follow along!


Palazzo Davanzati and Santa Croce. Oh, and kebabs. Wednesday, Sep 11 2013 

Only a few days left in Florence, so we kicked it up a notch and planned two site visits (plus a group lunch) for the day.

Our first stop, the Palazzo Davanzati. This museum is one of the best deals in town — only 2 euros. The palazzo is one of the best examples of Renaissance domestic architecture (and furnishings) with an interesting history. Originally built for the Davizzi family (who made their fortune in banking, specifically to the Pope in Avignon during the schism), it was later purchased by the Davanzati and remained their home for 2 1/2 centuries. It then fell into a state of disrepair and was broken up into offices and family housing for the poor. An antiquities dealer refurbished it in the early part of the 20th-century and it opened to the public in the 1950’s.

Next, a walk past Zecchi, the oldest art supply store in Florence. Then, on to lunch at Mavi, one of the best Donner Kebab shops in town.

Finally, a visit to Santa Croce, the Franciscan church sponsored by the Medici and other important Florentine families. Known for its tombs (Gallileo, Michelangeo, Dante’s cenotaph, Machiavelli), it also has a fine museum with the beautiful Crucifix of Cimabue.



Small group conferences and a hurkin’ big market. Tuesday, Sep 10 2013 

We set today aside for Scarperia recovery and small group conferences. Students were encouraged to take advantage of a “Choose Your Own Adventure” opportunity: visit a museum or other cultural site and get your entrance reimbursed.  Several took us up on the offer and re-visited the Belvedere and a first time visit to the Medici Chapel at San Lorenzo.

However, to start the day, a small group ventured out to the Cascine Park for the Tuesday morning market. This turned out to be the mother ship of all markets with stalls extending for what seemed to be more than a mile. Purchases were made, food was eaten (sausage panini, fried polenta — yum) and a few good hours were spent checking out the merch.

The afternoon was dedicated to small group conferences, a chance to check-in and get feedback on the program at the halfway point. Good insights and suggestions. All in all, a positive response to the pace and activities thus far.

Casa d’Erci, bread-making and a country retreat Monday, Sep 9 2013 

After the dramatic events of the previous evening, it was a beautiful counterpoint to board our charter bus the next morning for a trip to the countryside.

Our first stop: Pagliaccio. This is a working farm on the Via del Latte (yes, that would be the Milk Route) in which sheep, cows and goats are milked to produce some of the most incredibly dairy products (milk, cheeses — pecorino romano, ricotta, parmesano reggiano — and even gelato!) We picked up prosciutto, salami, and several kinds of cheeses for a picnic lunch later in the day.) There, we also connected with Matilde who would serve as our translator at the Casa d’Erci (Museum of the Peasant).

Since our last visit, the Casa d’Erci has added a new “laboratory” — a brand new structure for baking bread in a traditional wood-fired oven. Luciano, one of the volunteers who staffs the museum, explained the concepts of share-cropping ( a practice in which families worked for the landowner and, in theory, could keep half of the materials that they produced (with the other half going to the landowner).   It was a difficult life and every single thing they needed had to be made and repaired by hand, with whatever materials were available.

We then into the “lab” to form loaves of bread and set them aside to rise. They would later be put in the oven as we made our way up the hill to the museum. A house (originally that of the landowner) is now filled with all of the articles of an earlier time — everything from kitchen utensils to farm equipment, wine-making accoutrements to anvils for forging iron.

We then picnicked on fresh focaccia and the meats and cheeses we had purchased earlier. Luciano gave out pieces of bread to feed the farm animals (goats, sheep, etc.).

Back to Florence, which now seems more like home than ever!

Scaperia, Part II Sunday, Sep 8 2013 

One of the highlights of the program: a return to the city of Scarperia and the Palio. This is the culminating event of Diotto in which four neighborhoods, through multiple previous elimination rounds, enter the tribunal (the piazza of the Palazzo del Vicaro) to compete in medieval games.


We boarded the public bus at 1:00 and found ourselves in Scarperia shortly after 2:00. After checking in to the Residence Mugello, we were free until 7:00 when we would meet for dinner at Il Tiorione (“the big tower”) for dinner. Our good friend, Caterina, was able to persuade the city council to allow us to attend the Palio and we were offered possibly the best seats in the house.


Dinner was fantastic: antipasti, salad, two types of pasta and pizza! At 9:00, we heard the beat of drums, so headed for the tribunal and took our seats in the piazza. Bandieri (banner carriers), drummers, and trumpeters ushered in the court made up of women in beautiful Renaissance dresses and men in, wait for it, tights. The rest of the tribunal was divided into the four neighborhoods who had earned the right to compete: Neri (black), Marone (maroon), Bianchi (white), and Rosso (pink). Bianchi were the winners in 2012, Neri were the favored, but Marone definitely had the rowdiest fans (and an overabundance of smoke devices.)


Events include knife throwing (in which Tomasso’s cousin was by far the best), tug-of-war, barrel-racing, and pole-climbing. Neri, as predicted, was victorious. After the games, two amazing events:

  1. Alex climbed the pole to within a few feet from the top (who knew?)
  2. An immense lightening and thunderstorm arrived just as we reached the hotel. One bolt came as close as to scare the dickens out of all of us and we lost electricity in several of the rooms.

Scarperia never disappoints

The Uffizi Thursday, Sep 5 2013 

With a timed visit, the stress of waiting in line for Italy’s greatest collection of painting was lessened considerably. Instead, we were able to arrive and enter the museum directly.

The Uffizi has gone through a renovation (still ongoing) of the first floor and has a big expansion planned that will increase the gallery space by 60,000 square feet. The ability to display more of the collection (and to bring in additional special exhibitions) will be a direct result.

As it is, the Uffizi (like the Louvre or other major museums) is hard to handle in a single visit. Several students experienced the brain explosion that results from such intense visual stimulation. The Botticelli gallery is enough to push one over the edge!

Several hours later, in small groups, we emerged. Now, the weekend begins. Rome and Cinquterra appear to be the destinations this week.

For those remaining in town today, we offered an optional trip to the Marino Marini museum. Primarily a sculpture, Marini lived near Florence and a deconsecrated church was refurbished as a museum solely focused on his work (which also includes paintings, drawing and prints.)

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Siena Wednesday, Sep 4 2013 

We boarded the 9:10 train to Siena at Santa Maria Novella, a leisurely 90-minute trip that afforded some additional naptime for many. Upon arriving, we debarked and followed the signs to the relatively new “mall” across the street and, for the first time, took the escalator from the train station up the hill to the city gate. This saved about 10 minutes and an uphill climb in the direct sun.

Upon entering the city, it was clear that it was completely filled with tourists such as ourselves. Parts of the streets were nearly impassable between pedestrians and the poor Sienese in vehicles, just trying to get their business done. We made our way to the campo, one of the most beautiful in Italy and an important historical site of civic government (as well as the Palio, the semi-annual horse race that takes place there).

Our first mission: to climb the Torre di Mangia. Despite some confusion with the tickets (which allowed us time to grab a slice of pizza marguerita and a drink), we mad our way up the 300+ steps to the top of this second tallest tower in Italy (it also holds the title of the highest secular tower). Many photo ops of the surrounding city and country hillside.

Once back on the ground, we went to the Duomo (Santa Maria Assunta) and obtained combination tickets for the cathedral, the museo del duomo (including another panoramic view from the terrace of the unfinished nave), the crypt and baptistery.  The students had their individual return train tickets, so could find their way back to Florence at their own leisure. Some waited to meet us back at the campo and to travel back together. Once in Florence, there was a flurry of ticket-buying for those planning a weekend t Several rip to Roma.

Tomorrow morning, la Galleria Uffizi.

The Accademia. Tuesday, Sep 3 2013 


Students report goosebumps as they entered the gallery In which the colossus stands, light and shadows from the translucent rotunda above animating marble flesh.

The Accademia also houses other sculptures by Michelangelo, including the Prisoners originally destined for the Boboli Gardens and an unfinished Pieta’. 16th-century paintings and plaster models created by students from the Universita dei Belli Arti are also on display. A special exhibition of Florentine civic art contained some work from Scarperia, including a fresco from the Palazzo dei Vicari that we had just visited on Sunday

The students were tasked to draw an interpretation of the David as today’s assignment. The rest of the day will be open studio time to finish works in process. All assignments thus far will be due tomorrow before we head out for Siena and a day trip to this marvelous medieval city.

San Mineas’ race to the top. Derek, Ryan and Nick not far behind. Monday, Sep 2 2013 

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A leisurely start to the day after the strenuous time travel of yesterday, we ate breakfast and then gathered in the studio for an intensive introduction to linear perspective, drawing devices and color theory in preparation for a visit to San Mineato al Monte later this afternoon. We also reviewed the calendar for the week which includes two big hits: the Accademia and the Uffizi as well as a day trip to Siena.

After a lunch break (and laundry for some) we congregated again at 3:00 to hike up to San Mineato al Monte. The stair climb to the first stage, Piazzale Michelangelo, was turned into a race by three energetic team members. After another ten minutes ascent, we arrived at the courtyard of San Mineato.

Mineas was a third century Armenian who served as a Roman soldier. He converted to Christianity and as punishment was thrown to panthers in the amphitheater. When the animals refused to eat him, he was beheaded in front of the emperor. Mineas then picked up his head and ran to this mountain where an earlier church existed in the ninth century. The current church was begun in 1013, the facade in 1090, financed by the cloth merchants guild (calimala) whose patron saint was John (the eagle is a prominent feature throughout the structure). Adjacent to the church is the monastery (Olivetan order of monks).

The church is similar in style to the baptistery of Santa Maria dei Fiori (Tuscan Romanesque). Inside are several unique and interesting features:

  • Patterned floor includes zodiacal design
  • Interior mosaic of Christ between Virgin and Mineas (whose bones are reportedly in the crypt)
  • Tomb of the Cardinal of Portugal
  • Raised choir

We then went outside (thankfully, cloud cover kept us out of the direct sun for part of the time) and the students were given two sheets of paper for drawing the facade (and trying out one-point perspective) and a panoramic drawing of the Florence skyline. A quick tour of the cemetery was an option between drawings and, for some of the group, a quiet 30-minutes of Gregorian chants as the Olivetan brothers prayed at vespers. We popped into the shop of jeweler Alessandro Dari to check out some of his incredible creations.

Off to Scarperia and a taste of Renaissance life… Sunday, Sep 1 2013 

The first Sunday of September marks the first of our annual trips to Scarperia, a small town in the Mugello (area north of Florence) and home to the Renaissance Village. As mentioned in previous posts, the town of Scarperia celebrates the ascension of their vicar (major) to pulbic office for a term of one year. Why such a short term? The vicar actually had to move into the palace and stay their the entire time, isolated and without his family. He conducted the work of the village protected from any unwanted influences that might “corrupt” his tenure. Diotto (the 8th of September) marks this event which began in 1306. That’s right: this is the 707th anniversary!

Our travel plan included several modes of transportation: a walk to the Santa Maria Novella train station, a train to San Piero a Sieve, and then purportedly a public bus to Scarperia. Unfortunately, that last piece of the journey didn’t go as planned, so we quickly ordered a mini-van with driver (mini-van + pulmanini or “small pullman” in Italian) which shuttled us in two trips the last 4 km of our journey.

Scarperia (population, 6000) transforms its historic center (and its local population) into a Renaissance style village. Straw covers the streets and traditional products and crafts are displayed by people in historic dress. Knife-throwing and archery can be experienced, falcons and other birds of prey are ready for a photo op, and most importantly, a traditional meal is available for lunch. Because we arrived a little later than expected, we went straight to lunch with choices ranging from veal, sausage or pork legs (we call the latter “roast leg of beast”), roasted onions, peas, bruschetta, papa al pomodoro (tomato porridge) and sweet cake.

The students were then given a postcard assignment (create two drawings from Scarperia, one to keep and one to trade) and we agreed to meet back at the Palazzo dei Vicari for a tour of the structure and the knife museum associated with it (Scarperia is one of nine major knife-making centers in Italy). Alberto, a native Scarperean, was our guide as we learned about the history of the town and its relationship to Florence. Then, a quick walk to the bus stop for our journey back home. We successfully connected with our train (standing room only) and ended our journey at 6:00.

Next Sunday, we return for the Palio (medieval games)!

What a way to end the day… Friday, Aug 30 2013 

This week (and next), Friday is our Saturday and the beginning of the weekend. Some have departed for a little travel (Paris, Rome and Barcelona, to be exact), so for those who choose to remain in our “home town,” there’s still plenty to do.


We started with a tour of Florence’s markets, beginning with San’Ambrosio. A smaller and less touristy version of the Mercato Centrale, it provides fresh produce stands under awnings on the exterior of the building, along with clothing, household products, jewelry, shoes, etc. Inside, there is everything from cecce (garbanzo beans) to tripe. Clearly, this is where the Florentines shop.


Next, a stop at the Straw Market near Orsanmichele. Lots of leather (primarily purses and wallets). For leather jackets, the best market is San Lorenzo, our final stop on our tour.


Later in the afternoon, five intrepid students joined us for a walk up to the Forte Belvedere. This military structure was meant to protect Firenze from its hillside position, but it’s not exactly clear whether it really accomplished much (or met with any attacks.) The Belvedere was turned over to the commune of Florence as a historic site and was an exhibition space until six years ago, when it was abruptly closed due to the unfortunate death of a visitor who fell from one of the walls. It has just reopened in July of this year with a fantastic exhibition by the Chinese contemporary artist, Zhang Huan.


A rather steep hill climb was rewarded by an amazing show. Monumental sculptures by Zhang explore Christianity and Buddhism through images of Confucious and Christ. Materials such as aluminum, copper, and ash from the incense burned in temple throughout China, contributed to the unique quality of each work. We spent a great deal of time at the Belvedere which also provided another panoramic view of the Florence skyline, dominated by the cupola. Jenille, Marijke, Lac, Alex, and Claire each put in seven miles of walking with us today!

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