After several more days and locations (Florence, Cinqueterre via Portovenere) I am left with one question: Why is it that even supposedly elegant European hotels charging many hundreds of Euros a night for a room are oblivious to the quality of their beds? I am getting tired of paying tons of cash for rooms with bed linens whose quality is measured in "grit" rather than "threadcount." The beds are uncomfortable and the pillows are awful. The blankets are sick polyester jokes that Motel 6 would be embarrassed to offer. For the price of just one night's room rent I could go to IKEA and outfit the rooms better. It's not like I am some spoiled princess-and-the-pea sleeper -- I stay in a lot of cheap hotels and I tent camp, for god sakes. My camping equipment is more comfortable than these beds. I routinely stay in $70 hotels in the US and never get beds or linens this bad. Do they not care, or is this what Europeans all sleep on at home?
OK, rant over. Florence was as great as it always is. There is way too much stuff to do there ever to get bored, all within just a few minutes walking. Unlike past visits, we entirely skipped the Uffizi and hit a lot of historic buildings we had missed before (e.g. Medici Palace). I enjoyed it but if you are on your first visit, the Uffizi is a must. Also saw a bit of above-average engineering, like this:
Seriously, I wonder if I could have -- without a) any kind of materials strength data base; b) no structural steel or modern concrete; c) no CAD facility -- designed and built such a thing in the 1400s, even with the Pantheon as a go-by to copy. Really remarkable.
In Florence, there is a famous bridge called the Ponte Vecchio which is actually covered in buildings:
You can't tell from this picture, but the bridge (open only to pedestrian traffic) is lined with at least 40 jewelry stores. Seriously, each storefront has bout 6 feet of space, and every one had a window with zillions of gold trinkets. It got me thinking about the paradox of choice. It's not hard to buy into the economic theory that too much choice may inhibit purchase while walking along this bridge, though I am told most of these folks do very well (I have never bought into the paradox of choice as social theory -- the one that says people would be happier with fewer choices. If this were true, we would all be emigrating to North Korea).
Speaking of pedestrian streets, one important takeaway from Italy has been that one should never assume a road is too narrow, even if it is no wider than your pantry door, for a vehicle to come racing through any second. The other day I was in a really narrow alley I thought was foot-traffic-only when a bus(!) came screaming down the lane like a piston through a cylinder. Only a well-located doorway got me out of the way, and even then the bus's mirror clipped my arm.
The last few days we have been staying at the port town of Portovenere on the Italian Riviera.
The town itself is attractive with a fair amount to explore for its size. I experimented some with night photography from my room
I have some other exposures that I want to try with HDR software to try to bring out a bit more of the buildings. The town was kind of fun on a Saturday night -- in addition to a couple of rowdy weddings, there were also a lot of BIG boats that came in for dinner in the evening. Very nice (except for my bed).
Portovenere is a convenient gateway to the Cinqueterre, five absurdly picturesque downs laid down in about 1100 AD by Walt Disney to attract American tourists. You may have not heard their names, but you have likely seen one or all of them the last time you were at an art fair in one of the photo exhibits -- here is one example (though they had the patience to wait for a time of day where the lighting was better, presumably in the early morning).
More than the towns, I enjoyed the walking trail in between, which is an attraction in and of itself. It winds through wilderness and vineyards along the coast. All through the vineyards I kept seeing what looked like a guide rail for some sort of gear-driven device. The rail wound up and down the hills and through the vineyards. I had assumed that it was some sort of irrigation system where the sprinkler moved along the rail (though I could not figure out how the water supply would work). Then I found this absolutely awesome piece of steampunk-style tech:
It is hard to tell, but its a little one-person monorail that rides on the rail and pulls a couple of carts behind the "engine." This is why I could not find any roads or really many trails in the vineyards -- they use these cool things to move about, do maintenance, and bring in the crop presumably. And the rail does not run on the ground, but 4-5 feet in the air, so one can see over all the vines and brush. Totally awesome. And not a seatbelt to be found on it, which made me love it all the more. I loved it so much, here is another shot head-on (sorry it is overexposed, I don't have the energy to edit it right now).