Wednesday, May 13, 2015

#396 Florence (Finally!)

After a lengthy hiatus, I am finally back on track.  Julie even complained to me that she and one of her friends were re-living the trip with my blog.  Sorry!  So here we go.  This one is a bit longer, but we stayed in Florence longer so there is much more to write about.  Hopefully you remember where i left off...

Also, I will just touch on the highlights from now on and won't go day-by-day.  We arrived the evening of September 26 and left the morning of September 30.

We couldn’t leave Cinque Terre without some kind of drama, right?  We wanted to catch an early train out of Corniglia and no one came to get us at 8:30 a.m. as we had requested.  I saw an older man with an old, dirty jeep outside so I asked him for a ride.  Older Italians most likely equal “don’t speak much English.”  After much discussion between him and the woman who worked the breakfast area, he agreed to drive us.  It turns out he is the family patriarch, Carlos.  His son, Ivan, is the man who now runs the restaurant and the farm house.  Julie squeezed herself into the back of the jeep and later told me she almost passed out from lack of air back there.  Despite Carlos’ limited English, he turned out to be pleasant and even drove us right to the train station instead of dropping us off at the bus stop.  As we left him, we gave him money for petrol and I kissed him on both cheeks.  I think I shocked the heck out of him, but he seemed to like it. 

On our way to Florence we stopped in Lucca, thanks to a tip from a friend.  We stored our luggage at a tourist shop and rented bikes to ride around the top of the city wall (two miles – we rented them for an hour).  Very cool!  After that we walked around the city and had pizza for lunch.  I had to have Lucca Pizza (although the restaurant in the States spells it wrong).  Best pizza of the trip!  Lucca also has a nice market.  It's a lovely town.  I would love to come back and spend more time. 

I know - no helmet.  When in Lucca!  

We arrived in Florence around 6 p.m.  Hotel Monica was clean, but otherwise ok.  We laughed because the neon sign outside the door listed it as two stars.  Only the best!  It did have a nice rooftop patio where we ate breakfast.  We basically could look into other people’s windows, but it had nice plants and the sun was out each morning, so was a nice way to start the day.  Breakfast did not have the variety of the others but was still good.  I settled on rolls with sliced ham and cheese, and cereal. 

After reading some of the touring books, we noticed that they all recommended “doing as the Italians do” and ordering a first and second course. Apparently it would be frowned upon if you didn’t.  In Florence I succumbed to the pressure at our first dinner.  My first course was spaghetti with oil and chili spice, and my second course was chicken and mashed potatoes.  The first course was the size of a main course.  I ate every bite of everything and didn't even feel full!  What I did feel was a lighter pocketbook - I spent close to $30 on dinner.  Enough of that!  My next dinner in Florence was lasagna and a salad.  Still tasty but a more manageable size and price. 

Florence has markets and street vendors everywhere.  Purses, scarves, leather coats.  I’m glad I got Megan’s purse in Venice as things are more expensive here.  They did have good deals on silk ties so we both bought ties for the men in our families.  We also found an inside market - Mercato Centrale Firenze.  Amazing!  We spent about two hours wandering around looking at all the meats, cheeses, vegetables, etc.  I highly recommend a stop at this market. 

I took so many pictures of the market.  One doesn't do it justice!

The Duomo here looks like a mirage.  Or a pencil sketch.  The exterior is made up of pink, green and white marble.  It’s massive.  We stood in line to get in and Julie was initially denied because her shorts were too…well, short.  Other women wearing skirts shorter than her shorts were let in so it made no sense.  She finally unrolled the cuffs of her shorts so they were close to her knees and they let her in. 

The inside of the Duomo dome.  

After the Duomo itself, we walked up the 414 steps of the campanille (tower) next to the Duomo.  People go up and down the same, narrow, winding staircase.  It was not fun, but we were rewarded with a wonderful view of the city.  It usually costs extra to walk up these towers.  I felt like it was worth it.  Plus it was good cardio! 

Yes, we walked up to the top of this!  
And got to see this!

And this!
Ponte Vecchio is a famous bridge filled with high end jewelry shops.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  So much sparkle!  The bridge is so jam-packed with people you feel like a herd of cattle crossing it.  I found a shop just off of the bridge that had a tiny silver fleur-de-lis necklace charm for six euros.  I can afford that!  We did come back at night and all was quiet.  The shops have heavy wood doors/walls that cover all the glass for protection.

The outside of the bridge seen from the river.  

So shiny!

Ponte Vecchio at night.  Locked tight.  

While crossing the bridge I saw a man out of the corner of my eye – he pulled down the pants of his young daughter (maybe 3 or 4 years old), lifted her legs up so her behind was away from him (and she was partly upside down), and she started to pee.  A nice, steady stream came out of her.  Wow.  I have never seen that before! 

Before seeing the real Michelangelo, we took a long walk to the outskirts of town to the Piazza di Michelangelo to see the fake one.  Lots more steps, but again, the view was worth it and we got to see some other cool things along the way, like a gelato shop where Paul Newman had visited (Gelateria Vivaldi – they had photos on the wall), and a German Lutheran church (my mother would be so happy!).  We sat on a bench enjoying our gelato and looking across the Arno River.    

One of my fav photos of the trip.  This was on the way up to the Piazza di Michelangelo.  

Florence was the only place we really did the museum thing.  The first museum was the Accademia, which is where the “real” David lives.  What an amazing statue!  

David stands 14’3”.  (Definitely meets my height requirement!)  I read in a Rick Steves book that the statue was made disproportionate on purpose.  The upper body and head are larger than the bottom.  It was originally made to be seen from far away and from below (it was supposed to be on top of a cathedral).  And I read that his right hand is larger than his left because in the Middle Ages David was said to be of “manu fortis” – strong of hand.  Regardless, it’s just an amazing piece of art.  We looked at him for quite a while.  “That’s David!”  The rest of the museum was a lot of plaster casts, other statues and some other art.
"That's David! "
While standing in line to see David, we did see some amusing souvenirs for sale that related to him.  It’s all about the penis!  Penis calendars, boxers and aprons.  I was tempted to buy the boxers but didn’t really have anyone to give them to.  I certainly wouldn’t wear them!

The next museum we hit was the Uffizi Gallery, which is one of the oldest and most famous art museums of Europe and the world.  It’s really big and has lots of statues.  We were in there around 1 ½ hours but it felt like longer.  I do appreciate looking at all of the amazing art but I can only take so much at one time.   I do have to show one (two, really) paintings from the Uffizi.  The one is the front of a dwarf named Morgante.  The other is the backside.  Too funny!  

Our last museum in Florence was the Ferragamo Museum.  As in Salvatore Ferragamo, the famous shoe designer.  Actually, he was more than just a designer.  He studied human anatomy, chemical engineering and mathematics, all to make the most comfortable shoe possible.  The museum was downstairs from the actual store so we took some time to browse the store afterward.  I was tempted to buy a pair of shoes, but with them starting at 350 euros (over $400), I decided not to splurge.  This time.  Julie could afford to buy a postcard for one euro but was “shamed”.  She went to one counter to pay, but was told it was a special shoe counter.  She went to the other counter to pay with a 5, and the woman didn’t have any change in her drawer.  I had some change and helped her out, then we got out. 

Again, too many photos of this museum!  All the shoes on the back wall are from celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, Audrey Hepburn, etc.  
After Ferragamo we happened to go into the Fendi store.  I loved the little “keychain" hanging in the window.  Julie told me it looked like me at night when I have my sleep mask on.  The saleswoman was very friendly and walked with us upstairs, where she promptly put a coat on Julie.  (People were always putting coats on Julie.  Probably because they knew they wouldn’t fit me.)  It was a beautiful winter coat and fit her perfectly.  It was also 3,500 euros (around $4,300).  Yowza!  We got out of there fast too.

This was not the coat Julie tried on.  This is my little mini me with the sleep mask.  
As we walked down the street we saw two men talking.  One was dressed all in white, with an off-white scarf.  Very stylish!  When he saw us he said he loved tall people and that he was a designer.  His name was Fillipo and his friend was Nicholas.  Nicholas turned out to be an American who now lives in Florence.  Fillipo told us we looked European, which by his definition meant that we were not fat.  He invited us to his store, so, of course, we followed him.  Along the way I told Julie that if we turned into an alley we would run away from them!  We walked and talked – his shop was along the river.  It was very nice and after we arrived he offered us wine.  Sure!  Fillipo disappeared into the back of the store so Nicholas turned on his sales charm.  (He was very cute and fairly tall, but married.)  Of course, he brought out a leather coat for Julie to try on.  It was lightweight, reversible leather.  Beautiful!  It was also over 2,000 euros.  Gulp.  He offered a discount but it was still pricey.  We finally had to tell him that we couldn’t afford anything in the store.  Goodbye Fillipo and Nicholas.  And goodbye wine. 

Our one extra “excursion” while in Florence was a Tuscany wine tour.  We walked to the train station and had to meet our tour bus at 2:30 p.m.  We got there at 1:45 p.m.  Always the planner, I wanted to get our train tickets for the next day ahead of time.  I tried to buy them at the kiosk but the machine wouldn’t take our credit cards.  I took a ticket at the window to buy from a person – No. 898.  They were only on a number in the 700s.  Agh!! We found out where to meet our bus and Julie stood there to make sure they didn’t leave me.  I decided to stay at the ticket area to see if I could beat the clock.  My eyes darted constantly from Julie at the bus (I could see her through the glass doors) to the clock on the wall, then to the scrolling ticket numbers.  I felt like I was gambling!  “C’mon No. 898!”  What seemed impossible at first then started to get exciting.  The numbers started flipping faster.  Here we go!  C’mon 898!  At around 2:25 p.m. my number came up!  YESSS!  I ran to the window and blurted out my ticket request.  I did it!  Julie just shook her head when I got to the bus.  We got on and sat next to a side door.  The seat in front of us was pushed up so people could get on.  We didn’t push it back and had so much leg room.  Awesome!  Hey, it's all about the legroom people.    

Our first stop on the wine tour was the Poggio Amorelli Winery.  We had a full wine tasting of Sangiovese grapes (one white and three reds), olive oil, 12-to 20-year-old balsamic vinegar and truffle oil.  We also had some bread and cheese.  The wine was very good.  I usually don’t like wine and therefore, rarely drink it.  With the amount I drank in a short period of time I felt a little happy when we left!  We had sat outside in a covered area with our group of about 30 people.  We chatted with two ladies from New York, a couple from New Jersey and another couple from Napa who were on their honeymoon.  Before we boarded the bus we were able to take photos of the countryside.  Amazing!!!  I would definitely like to come back and spend more time in Tuscany. 

Next stop was the small, walled town of Monteriggioni.  How small?  Approximately 600 people live here.  The winery here was Vino Arte Artigiamato.  This one was a quicker tasting.  We stood in the cellar-type lower level and listened to the woman talk – she was very entertaining and interacted well with the group. 

Our last stop on the Tuscany tour was Siena, a much larger town.  We walked through town to the Piazza del Campo, where they hold a horse race, the Palio di Siena, around the edges of the piazza twice a year.  It is enormous!  I’ve never seen anything like it.  We had dinner at a restaurant in the piazza – meats, bruschetta, a huge pizza and gelato.  So much food!  We sat next to a couple from Quebec who are hot-spring hunters.  They go around the world to sit in natural hot springs.  We’ve met so many interesting people!  Our fabulous day ended back at the Florence train station at 10 p.m.  The next day we were off to Rome.  

When we first arrived in Florence I wasn't sure what I thought of it.  We had been in mostly small towns before this, and it was an adjustment to figure out where everything was.  Once we got the hang of it, it was much more enjoyable.  There's so much to do here!  I would definitely like to come back. 

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