Saturday, October 29, 2011


After our brief visit to France at Toulon we were headed to Florence, Italy. There was so much to see in Florence and so little time. As much as possible, we had everything laid out in Rick Steves guide book. We had it planned that we would have an early breakfast, get to the train station as early as possible which should get us to Florence just after 9:00AM with a change of trains in Pisa. That was the plan but that was not how it turned out.

We left the ship just after 7:00AM as soon as it was possible to leave the ship. We walked as far as the end of the ship where we were stopped by security. They told us that we could not go any further because it was not safe, we would have to take a taxi to the train station which, of course, would be at a ridiculously exorbitant rate. We argued but they would not budge. We were soon joined by two other couples who were as irate as we were. As it turned out the husband of one of the couples was an Italian who grew up in Montreal but still spoke fluent Italian. he struck up a conversation with one of the taxi drivers who offered to drive all six of us to Florence for a mere 55 Euros each. It was a bargain. We all readily agreed and we were on our way. As he drove the driver gave us a running commentary on everything. He said that he would also drive us to Pisa at no extra charge. This was shaping up to be a great day!

The driver parked and let us off directly opposite the cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore with the dome that was completed by Fillipo Brunellischi. The dome of this church is truly one of the engineering wonders of the world. No one had done what Brunellischi had done. He had to invent the machines and technology that he needed to build the dome of the church.

For me, Lorenzo Ghiberti's bronze doors in front of the Florence Baptistery were truly wonderful. I do not know how long I stood there but I could have spent hours studying these magnificent bronze doors.

It was incredible what Ghiberti did in such a small space. He created perspective in a panel that was not much more than a few inches thick.

  After I tore myself away from Ghiberti's Bronze doors we toured the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo. Even though it was still early in the day It was a small museum but it had an amazing collection of sculpture, mostly from the Renaissance. There were Donatello's

A pieta by Michelangelo.

Vincenzo Danti - The Execution of  St. John

After the museum we walked through the streets visiting various sites.

We ate lunch  in front of Santa Maria Novella. It has a beautiful facade.

We would have gone inside to look at the art but we were on a tight schedule and we still wanted to see the sculpture at the Loggia della Signoria..

After lunch we made our way back to the Duomo. It was amazing! When we had first arrived at the Duomo in the morning there were not that many people around. At noon the square was completely packed with tourists. We made our way across the square as quickly as possible holding on to all our belongings because the area was known to be rife with pickpockets. It took us about five or ten minutes to get to the Loggia della Signoria.

On the way to the Loggia della Signoria we stopped at the church of Orsanmichele.

The outside of the Orsanmichele displays many outstanding works of art.

We went into the church and sat for a short time but we had to keep going to get to the Loggia which was our main goal. The Loggia is literally two minutes away from Orsanmichele. I was amazed at the quality and variety of sculpture there. Two of my favorites were The Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna and Perseus with the head of Medusa by Benvenuto Cellini. Of course there was so much more but this post is getting too long already.

After we quenched our artistic thirst at the Loggia we stopped at a gelateria for gelato. No matter where you go in Italy the gelato was always outstanding.

We hurried back to our meeting spot near Santa Maria del Fiore to meet our driver. When everyone returned he took us to Michelangelo Park where there were some fantastic views of Florence.

To finish the day off, the driver took us to Pisa on the way back to the boat. We had not planned to go to Pisa because we did not think that there would be enough time.

I hate to say it but once you see the leaning tower of Pisa and perhaps the adjoining baptistery there is not a whole lot to see in Pisa. We were glad that we only planned to stay an hour.

All in all, we had a fantastic day in Florence and Pisa. We were all back on the boat by 5:00PM. I cannot say enough good things about our day in Florence. Sometimes, you just have to take a risk and take advantage of the opportunity that is presented to you.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Isaac Newton

I just finished reading a biography about Isaac Newton. It was written by James Gleick who written a number of successful and  interesting books, mainly about science and technology. What I liked about this biography is that fact that it looked at Isaac Newton as a complete person and not just at Isaac Newton the scientific genius. Unlike other books about Newton it is not a hagiography. In fact, Gleick goes out of his way to include Newton's foibles as well as his genius. This presents a more realistic and human portrait of Newton than I have ever seen before.

What I really found interesting about Newton was that he was not a scientist in the sense of most scientist today in which he strictly followed the scientific experimental method and ignored or discounted things that we would consider to be pseudo-scientific or non-scientific. As it turns out, Newton was the greatest and most accomplished alchemist of his day. he spent at least twenty years of his life in futile attempts to transform lead into gold. In the mean time, he exposed himself to many hazardous chemicals such as Mercury which he handled frequently.

Newton also spent many years writing about religion, interpreting the bible and engaging in biblical prophesy. Activities that many today would consider quaint, odd or even appropriate for a scientist.

Of course, Gleick goes into great detail regarding Newton's personal development and discoveries in the fields of optics, mathematics and physics. Issac invented the mathematics of Calculus so that he could calculate the mathematics that supported the new science that he developed. Until Einstein developed the theory of relativity, Newton's explanation of the physical world was the most complete. Even today, Newton's description of the physical world still holds true. He truly saw further than anyone else, even if he stood on the shoulders of giants.

In later life, Newton devoted a good deal of attention to the Royal Society in London and he eventually became the Master of the Mint, a position that he took quite seriously and performed diligently for the remainder of his long life.