Monday, August 8, 2011

August 8 - Florence (written by Jenny)

So far the Florence hotel the loveliest one yet on our trip, if not the most functional. The beds were pretty hard and the shower was one of the deals where you must hold the sprayer. Yet the view was amazing. Our windows opened over the street, and there was a ledge big enough for sitting. I know because I sat on it while waiting for Andy to drop off the car. Our window actually had three thick layers: outside shutters that slide into the wall; the glass windows itself, which opened like French doors, and inner shutters. The curtains were yellow with blue, ornate swirly patterns, and the high ceiling featured detailed molding and yellow trim. We reached our room with a glass elevator that is surrounded by a wrapping staircase bounded by black iron decorative railings. So beautiful!

After yesterday’s ordeal of getting to our hotel, we were ready to change our attitude about this town. We started with breakfast on our floor, right next door. Here we met our hostess who helped us with some car rental issues, and we enjoyed a light meal before heading out. Andy said he’d heard that Florence was like an outdoor art gallery, and he was right on. Everywhere we walked, there were Roman gods, famous Italian citizens or religious figures.

In front of the Palazzo Vecchio saw a life-sized copy of David. We had a vague hope of seeing the real one, but the Academia where it is housed wasn’t open during the day we visited. So we enjoyed the copy as much as we could. We also enjoyed the nearby Loggia dei Lanzi, which is full of other large statues, including one of Perseus decapitating Medusa and one depicting The Rape of Polyxena. It was so violent, but it was moving too. It is amazing how a master sculptor can forge such passion from stone.

We saw more of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore right near our hotel. The line to get in stretched about a block, so we didn’t even try to get in. We didn’t mind. Walking around the huge edifice was amazing enough. We also wandered the streets just looking at the architecture, artwork, and shops along the way. We made our way to Church of Santa Croce so that Andy could see Machiavelli’s tomb. I’ve never quite understood Andy’s fascination with that guy; The Prince just seems like a guide to manipulating and gaining power. But Andy appreciates Machiavelli’s daring clarity of purpose.

When we got to the Church of Santa Croce, we found much more inside than just Machiavelli’s resting place. There were several other sepulchers and memorials to famous people, including Galileo and Dante. We also saw many works of art, including sculptures by Donatello. One large sculpture, a lady dressed in robes, looked quite familiar. She holds a laurel wreath in one hand and a broken chain in the other; the inscription explained that she is called the Statue of Liberty. Her face and her robes were similar to our Lady Liberty, but she evoked more of a soft, feminine feeling.

As we walked through the cathedral, we saw more paintings, sculptures, and pieces of stained glass. One set of paintings depicted stories of the Virgin Mary; others related the Virgin to Mary Magdalene. I found it interesting that they would put these two women together into one work. Another gorgeous painting depicted Christ Descending into Limbo, depicting Christ’s compassion for sinners with warm, rich color. If we had more time and money I’d love to spend more time in Florence, seeing all that artwork that I’ve only seen in books.

Walking through the marketplace, we saw lots of leather, jewelry, and trinkets, and lots of miniatures of Italian landmarks. I collect miniatures, but only if I’ve seen what they represent personally. So I bought one of the Duomo near our hotel. I’ve bought so many miniatures during this trip that we’ll have to add another shelf in our living room!

We decided to keep lunch simple, so we grabbed sandwiches at a local café/gelateria. These little places are everywhere, selling gelato, of course, but also glass counters full of sandwiches, salads, and other desserts. They’re fairly cheap and easy. We sat and ate near the fake David, and I fed pigeons bread from my sandwich. Andy was just getting a few pictures when a local polizia scolded me: “Senora, [something in Italian… Italian …Italian]." OK, I know I’m not supposed to feed the birds, but they were so cute. I think Andy got one or two shots in beforehand, though.

We continued to wander around through the afternoon. It’s probably our favorite thing to do in these cities. We reveled through the day about how we didn’t have to drive anywhere. One of our frequent stops was the Ponte Vecchio. It’s just a pedestrian bridge, but with jewelry shops that stretch across the river. From a distance, the bridge resembles a giant house with windows and different sizes and colors. It was Andy’s favorite photographic subject [along with the street art], so we went by several times through the day. Crossing the bridge we found more winding roads and lovely things to see.

Late in the afternoon, I saw that we were near the Piazzale Michelangelo. Our hotel’s hostess had suggested we check it out. It’s best in morning light, but we only had time to see it in evening. The walk would be mostly uphill, but we’d gotten used to the exertion. So we set off through narrow streets toward the hill. As we got near the top, we saw people enjoying the view from a restaurant, waiting for the sunset. The scene was amazing. You could the panorama of Florence, with the river snaking through a town dotted with cathedrals that glowed orange under the sun. Of all the views we’ve seen, I think this was the most lovely. We took several pictures and then sat down on the steps with the other tourists. We probably didn’t intend to stay for the sunset, but it was just too beautiful to leave.

In the light that remained, we began to search for a good place for dinner – nothing too expensive but something with good food and a nice atmosphere. We found what we were looking for in “Il Gatto e La Volpe” (The Cat and the Wolf). It was the neon sign that first caught our eye and the ambiance inside that hooked us. It was a casual bar and grill type atmosphere, with long tables where couples would be formed into larger groups. Andy got his usual Italian dish (pizza) while I ordered gnocci with four cheeses. Yum! It was a delightful meal and the place had a lot of character.

Afterward we wandered just a bit more before heading back to our hotel. Tomorrow we would be driving off early toward Pisa, so we wanted to sleep well to prepare. We enjoyed one last evening in our posh, old hotel room, where I noticed again the high ceiling and the yellow and blue décor. Florence had redeemed itself. We’d fallen in love with another European city.

Day 16 | Day 18

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