Monday, December 18, 2017

It's Christmastime In The City

In 1986, I was running errands in my neighborhood at that time, Nanuet, NY, and saw a huge tree being carted away on a flatbed truck.  I didn't know until the annually televised tree lighting that the tree I saw was the one.  I couldn't believe how awesome it felt when I realized how close I was to the tree that was going to make history!  People come from all over the world to ice skate at Rockefeller Center and to see the lighting of the magnificent (and soon to be historic) tree.  I don't know if there is another city in America that can rival the holiday displays and festivities of New York City.

New York City


I live in North Carolina now and just recently went to our city's tree lighting.  Although Leland's wasn't as grand as the one in Manhattan, they did have guest singers singing Christmas carols and Santa Claus made an appearance.  We were offered free coffee, hot chocolate and cookies which was really nice.  No, it didn't come close to NYC but we did have a fun night!  

Leland, NC

I haven't been to too many cities, though, at Christmastime and I'm sure that most towns across the United States have their tree lighting evenings, festivities and holiday displays.  So since our Christmas tree and decorations were up and most of the presents were bought, I decided to plan a road trip or two to check out some holiday decor.  I was on a quest to find and enjoy the best holiday displays in as many cities as I could get to in the two weeks before Christmas.

Week 1

The first stop of this adventure, would be the nearest city to us, Wilmington, NC.  Me and Soko headed downtown to see the huge tree that I knew was there somewhere.  I was hoping, and was pretty sure, that there would other things to see.  And, yes, there was lots of festive decor all over the city to enjoy.

Wilmington, NC

Lots of the restaurants and shops downtown had holiday displays and this one even used the tree in front of their business to put Wilmington in a festive mood.

On our stroll down the Wilmington Riverwalk, was where we found the tree in front of the court house.

And the menorah...

And where we found the horse drawn carriage, lampposts and many other things shouting "It's Christmastime In The City!"


Our final stop here in downtown Wilmington was Front St. to see if the historic homes on this block were decorated for the holidays.  There were and they were gorgeous.  

We will definitely try to get downtown at another time to check out the other historic homes in the area but it was time to get ready for my next stop to find Christmastime in the city.

Charleston, SC

Early the next morning, me and my daughter, Lisa, hopped into the car and settled in for our four hour drive to meet some friends in Charleston, SC.  I was very excited for this road trip as I had been to Charleston and it was such a charming old town and I was sure it would be even more delightful at Christmastime.

Charleston, on a gorgeous winter day with my best friends and favorite daughter.  I can't think of a better way to enjoy the holiday displays of a beautiful city!

The first place we wanted to check out was the Charleston City Market...  

 which was right where the city put their tree.

Then a stroll around the town where we admired the creativity of this building...

and where we enjoyed the many other decked out buildings, and homes that filled their window flower boxes with festive plants and decor.  We noticed that almost every building had a wreath hanging on it, either on a door or window, one prettier than the next.

A visit to Charleston wouldn't be complete without a walk down Rainbow Row.  

Me and Lisa had a great time in Charleston, especially because we got to spend the day with good friends.  The city was as we imagined and more.  Now it was time to head back home but not before stopping for something to eat at one of Lisa's favorite places, Broadway at the Beach in Myrtle Beach, SC.

Myrtle Beach, SC

Not only did we enjoy dinner here, but we were treated to some really beautiful and festive decorations!  Christmas lights are really special at night and this stop had one of the prettiest displays I had seen so far.

And, just when we thought this day could not get any better, we saw the tree, spectacular and glowing with hundreds of colorful lights!

Week 2 takes us six hours west to see what we can find in the mountains of North Carolina and into Tennessee.  To be continued...

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Monday, December 4, 2017

Must See In Florence, Italy - Preparing For Our Mediterranean Cruise

The third stop of our Mediterranean cruise is Livorno.  It is in the Tuscany region of Italy.  Although Livorno is a charming city it is not where you can find Tuscan highlights like Michelangelo's David or Pisa's Leaning Tower.   We will definitely be venturing out of the port city but hopefully we will have time when we get back to look around Livorno for a bit.  We have booked an excursion to board a bus at 8:10 am that will take us to Florence where we will have 4 hours to explore on our own.  After Florence, we will be driven to Pisa where we spend 1 hour before the bus takes us back to the port.  We will also be given a smart device to use to navigate through the two cities.

Port 3 - Livorna (Florence), Italy

Florence - There is so much to see in Florence and we only have 4 hours!   At the top of our "must see" list is Accademia.   If we want to have any hope of seeing Michaelangelo's David here I will have to buy our tickets in advance online before our cruise.  Undoubtedly the main draw at the Accademia is David.  Michaelangelo, at 26 years old,  carved the biblical shepherd boy who stepped forward, with only a sling, to take on the giant Goliath.  Some believe that Michaelangelo has captured David moments after he has slain the giant.  Others see in David's expression, a boy who is sizing up his enemy with extreme confidence.  And what is he holding in his hand?  Is it the sling or the pouch he carried it in.   We can't wait to come to our own conclusions after we see the magnificent statue.

After visiting the Accademia we will do Rick Steve's Renaissance Walk.  But before the walk we'll have lunch at Mercato Centrale (Central Market).  There's a fresh food market on the ground floor with food courts above.  We will definitely want to try a slice of pizza while we are in Italy.  I heard we can find a slice here!

Renaissance Walk - This walk will take us past most of Florence's top sights.  We should have enough time to do this walk as long as we don't spend any time going into any of the buildings.  That's an option we have, though, if we do have the time.  The sites on this walk are:
The Duomo and Its Dome - Florence's cathedral was built in the Middle Ages.  The architects at that time had envisioned a grand dome to top off the building but didn't have the technology at that time to create it.  They were confident that if they left a big hole in the roof someone would come along and finish the Duomo.  That someone was architect Filippo Brunelleschi.  He was commissioned in the 1400's to finish the job.  The dome he created was the inspiration for the builders of the US Capital.  The dome is so large that it is visible from anywhere in the city.  
Campanile (Giotto's Tower) - is the bell tower of the cathedral.  It is easier to climb to the top, and less crowded than the Duomo, but doesn't have as good a view.  I hope that Soko will climb the bell tower and enjoy the view but I got claustrophobic just looking at the pictures of my friends climbing the dome which I think is a bigger space than the bell tower.  I will admire Giotto's work from the outside!
Baptistery and Ghiberti's Bronze Doors - Up until the 19th century, the Baptistery was where all catholics of Florence were baptized.   I would love to go inside to see all the story-telling ceiling mosaics in the Baptistery if we have time.  The "must see" here though are Ghiberti's bronze doors.  Michaelangelo described these doors as being fit to be the gates of paradise.   If we want to see the original doors we have to go to the Duomo Museum where they are now housed.  We will have to be happy with seeing the replicas that replaced the original doors of the Baptistery if we don't have time to go to the museum. 
Via de' Calzaiuoli - is a pedestrian only street that is filled with designer shops, souvenir shops,  restaurants, bars, hotels, bakeries and gelato!  Besides for the gelato we will be keeping an eye out for an arch on Via degli Speziali.  This symbol celebrates the unification of Italy in 1870.  
Orsanmichele Church - was originally a grain warehouse.  In the warehouse was a column that had the image of the Blessed Mother (Madonna).  This image was given credit for several miracles.  The original image was destroyed in a fire in the 1200's and a new image was painted by Bernardo Daddi and the miracles continued.  People started to flock to the warehouse to visit and pray and so it was decided that the building should be turned into a church.  Daddi's painting is the center of the gorgeous tabernacle inside the church.  We are definitely putting this on our "must see" list.  Also, there were 14 statues of saints in  niches around the church.  Some of the niches are empty now and some of them have replicas of the saint that occupied it.  Some of the original statutes still remain and are in the museum which occupies the 2 and 3 floors of the church.  The museum and church are free to get in.  
Piazza della Signoria - is the main civic center of Florence and where David once stood.  A replica now stands in the statue's place.  This is where we will find the Uffizi Gallery which we will probably have to pass on and Palazzo Vecchio, Florence's Town Hall.  There is lot of history, art and architecture in this palace to admire for an entrance fee, but there are fountains, statues and frescoes in the courtyards that are free to enjoy.  Because of time constraints and because we love free things as it is easier on our retirement budget, we will pass on going inside but hoping to look around the courtyard.
Loggia de Lanzi a.k.a Loggia della Signoria - is an open-air sculpture gallery.   It is free to enjoy the many sculptures that are on display here.  I will be keeping my eye out for Perseus holding Medusa's decapitated head!
Savonarola Plaque - We will look for this plague, near the fountain of Neptune, that is placed where Girolamo Savonarola was hanged and burned.  Savonarola was a monk who briefly overthrew the power from the Medici family.  He asked his followers to throw their riches; paintings, etc. into huge bonfires.  The Florentines finally fought back after they were encouraged to do so by the pope.
Uffizi Courtyard - is filled with souvenir shops and artists waiting to paint portraits.  It is also where we can find statues of the well known Renaissance artists, scientists, writers, etc.  We'll be looking for Michaelangelo and Galileo among other great figures of that time.
Ponte Vecchio - is Florence's most famous bridge and the last stop on the Renaissance Walk.  It is lined with jewelers selling very elegant and expensive gold and silver creations.  We will go to see the statue of master goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini and get a picture perfect view of the Arno River.  I'm sure our wallets will stay in our pockets as we cross over this bridge.

Pisa - From Florence we will be bused to Pisa, specifically to the Field of Miracles square.  Here is where we will find the Leaning Tower.  We can't wait to see this building.  We will take one of those cheesy holding up the tower pictures here for sure!  The other buildings in this grass-covered square  include the Duomo.  The Leaning Tower is actually the bell tower for this cathedral.  Although it is free to enter, it is very crowded and will probably take more time than we have to look around the interior.  We will definitely want to find the bronze back doors here though.  They were designed by Bonanno Pisano and have 24 different panels each telling the story of Christ.  The round Baptistery found here is the biggest in Italy.  There are two museums here and Camposanto Cemetery.  I think one hour should be plenty of time to walk around the field and maybe the cemetery but not enough time to go inside any of the museums.  

The highlight of Pisa for us is the Leaning Tower and with lots more to see in Florence I think the excursion we reserved will work perfectly for us.   

We are getting more and more excited about our cruise the more we research.  I checked today - only 295 more days!