The Fresh Florence Air

After spending the morning inside museums, Hubby and I were ready for some fresh air, even if that meant cold fresh air that tried to lift your skirts. (Tell me again…why do grown men wear kilts in windy Ireland? It makes no sense.)

Leaving the Bargello, we wandered over to the Loggia dei Lanzi with: yep, more statues. You can circle Hercules as he wrestles a centaur. Admire the Medici lions. Wonder why women are cast as victims. (Until you remember “Florence Triumphant Over Pisa” and maintain constant respect for your hostess.) And yes – I told you so! – there is Perseus himself, holding the head of Medusa. No wonder this place is full of statues, she’s the beginning and the end of the whole place. Percy stands in the Loggia, at the edge of the Piazza della Signoria, where we decided to take our afternoon tea break.

Sitting in the terrace, I poured a proper cup of loose leaf darjeeling – it cost seven euros – while newlyweds passed us in a horse-drawn carriage. Neptune’s fountain was across the way, undergoing renovations. A tourist in a green-striped shirt walked by, wrestling with his gelato cone. A small child held his parent’s hand, toting a Mickey Mouse pack on his back.

If there’s one thing I know for certain, this was no fake Neverland.

Florence never faked a thing in her life, thank you very much.

To continue our stroll towards the Arno River, we passed between the Uffizi Galleries, a final set of museums that we would have no hope of seeing at this late hour. Inside, Florence kept her painters: Botticelli, Rembrandt, da Vinci, Titian, Raphael, Michelangelo, the list goes on. It is, perhaps, the heart of Florence. Her poetry. I imagine I would be lost in the first frame, listening to the eloquent genius pulsing from it.

We emerged onto the glittering waterfront, shaking off the shadows of Uffizi and picking up the energetic  bustle of tourists heading towards the Ponte Vecchio. This famous bridge is not quite what I had imagined after all the hoopla, but it had it’s charm. Padlocks are strung along the railing, in the tradition of “love locks”: names of sweethearts and/or dates are etched onto the locks, the locks are attached to the bridge and the key thrown into the river. Apparently, this only began in the early 2000’s after a book depicted the idea and it spread world-wide. It represents an unbreakable love.

Where I come from, it represents vandalism. Good grief, get a tattoo and save the fish.

Florence threw out 5,500 love locks from the Ponte Vecchio in 2006 alone. There is a strict fine for attaching one, but let me just show you this:

Ahem, Benvenuto Cellini does not approve.

I’ve dubbed Ponte Vecchio the “Yellow Brick Road” because, per the1593 edict of the Medici Grand Dukes, all they sell is gold jewelry there. The windows glow. Let me just show you this:

But I wasn’t in the market. We grabbed a gelato and got going.

At the sun began to settle, we worked our way over the Arno and up a side street. We wanted to view the sunset on our last day in Florence from the Piazza Michelangelo, a large raised plateau. It was the first thing farther than we expected it to be and did not anticipate the amount of steep steps it took to reach the top.

We arrived hot and bothered but the view was worth it. I understand the sunset here changes all during the year, Florence turning this way and that, catching the light and playing it over her curves. Her mood tonight was subtle, blushing over the river, softening rooftops, reducing the wind to a soft warm sigh.

A bronze copy of David enjoyed the sight with us. It’s fitting that they surrounded him with permanent green groupies. After seeing the real deal, nothing less is interesting.

We bought souvenirs there on the piazza, because at this point, the street vendors seemed like old friends. A couple of T-shirts later, an apron, a scarf, we returned down the steps and back into town in search of pizza for dinner.

Hubby by now had strict pizza rules: ten flavors is not adequate, but twenty choices means business. It must say “Pizzeria” on the door and offer outside seating in an actual lane of traffic. The prices must be reasonable, using the Costco standard. It must have “atmosphere” if at all possible.

Florence knew just the place. Which was great, because by now I was ready to kill him.

I had a nice big glass of red wine when we were seated, which means I had a half a pizza in a take-away box when we left for our hotel. I can eat or I can drink, not both. We wandered down the first narrow street that headed in the right direction and ran smack into the college district.

All of Florence’s twenty-somethings were enjoying the pubs along this particular street, standing in groups, chatting and enjoying the evening. We walked at least a mile and never saw a single person drunk, rowdy, or raising a voice. Florence kept it cosmopolitan classy.

“We should have eaten here!” Hubby said.

“Well, considering that we have been married longer than these kids have been alive,” I pointed out, “I feel we chose wisely.”

I took his hand.

If I had to choose being single and twenty-anything in Florence, hanging out with the cool people, or being fabulous five-oh in Florence, hanging out with my beloved on the world’s most amazing 30th Anniversary trip to Actual Italy….there’s no competition.

I wouldn’t trade this night for anything.

Abridged Florence When you’re a pizza snob. Looking back towards the tea. Duck! That’s gotta hurt.

Exploring the Closets in Florence

Piazza di San Giovanni lies between the Santa Maria del Fiori, the third largest church in Europe, and it’s famous golden-doored Baptistry. We stood in this little piazza on our last day in Florence, Italy, wondering how she could be so sunshiny and yet blow with such a stiff, cold, steady wind.

It was first thing in the morning and Hubby and I were not prepared for it.

Brunelleschi’s massive egg-shaped duomo, the crown of Florence, was our immediate goal but this time, our luck did not hold. Timed entry tickets were sold out for the day. We shivered in the square and decided to attack the campanile instead.

This tower is only twenty feet shorter than the dome and as we circled around and up to each staircase level, small rectangular air shafts framed beautiful views of the city, the orange-tiled dome across the way, and the cathedral decked in stripes of green, white, and pink Tuscan marble. 414 steps later, we were treated to a view of Florence from atop her scepter.

The campanile empties out into the Piazza del Duomo. The endless line waiting to enter the cathedral on the west side meant there was almost no one in the square with us, enjoying the slowly-warming southern side. A small caffe on the corner winked at us, then gave us a peek at her pastry case, tucked discretely behind orchids. You guys. We are only human. We sat right in the front window and had a decadent breakfast.

Be still my heart.

I want to believe that if you fill someone up with enough sugar and espresso, the very next thing they see will appear as golden, floating, surrounded by alien aura. But probably the Baptistry really is. My photos indicate that we actually walked through gold doors, under a gold ceiling, and stood in sunbeams that gave us halos. The baptismal font sounds like an angel choir when you hold it up to your ear.

Once the caffeine wore off, we walked completely around the cathedral, hoping to find the end of the entry line. People were frozen, hunched resolutely against the cold, sculpted by the wind.

You can admire the statues or become the statues. Easy choice.

We bypassed it once again, heading instead into the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, a museum dedicated to the history of the duomo. It contains the original Baptistry doors. A great many statues, including Donatello’s St. John and another pieta by Michelangelo are in there, as well as paintings, mosaics, textiles, choir stalls and books, gold-work, and a display of tools and designs used by Brunelleschi for his dome.

St John, by Donatelli Abraham and Isaac Real deal doors.

The Museo Nazionale del Bargello is three blocks straight down Via del Proconsolo. I ask you: can you go into too many museums in one day? No you can’t, don’t be silly. And the Bargello is worthy of your time. There was plenty of sculpture for statue buffs like myself, and a frightening amount of ancient armor and weaponry, right down to hunting hawks’ hoods. Coins, cannon, cloth. No less than three different Davids with the head of Goliath rolling around their ankles.

Caught a fish. Heavy metal. My name is Inigo Montoya… Mercury says there’s more upstairs….

Sighing with contentment, I tucked my camera phone away and declared that it was, finally, tea time.

Legend says that when the contest for who would build the Duomo of the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore was held, a great many engineers and architects argued around the table about ways to accomplish it. Finally, it was Brunelleschi’s turn to speak. He passed an egg around the table and asked everyone to try standing it on it’s end. No one could. He took the egg back, and smashed it lightly onto the table. The end broke, the egg stood: a perfect dome.

“This,” he said, “is what we need to create.” He got the job.

The story of  Brunelleschi and the largest masonry dome in the world can be enjoyed here. It was an engineering nightmare that he pulled off seamlessly and he died without leaving a trace of notes explaining how he did it.

Welcome to Florence, Italy

Our introduction was polite, cultured. Florence sat on an embroidered stool, hands folded into her skirts, chin high. Her inviting smile was genuine. She was quality and royalty and she did not need to prove it. “Look into all my closets and cupboards if you like,” she invited, “Make yourselves at home.” Once you have played hostess to Michelangelo, Masaccio, Brunelleschi, da Vinci, Boccaccio, Dante, Botticelli, and – did you know? – Florence Nightingale, let alone the Medici family, I guess we were small potatoes.

Florence was in the midst of tidying up when we arrived on the train. Exiting the station, we were greeted with welcoming sunshine and a brisk wind that was looking into every corner for a speck of dust that may have escaped her. It was the cleanest city we’ve ever seen.

The taxi line was significant and our hotel, per the map, was a bit of a walk away, but by now Hubby and I were seasoned travelers and with a shrug we toted our luggage down the steps and set off. We followed the slant of the sun, knowing that once we reached the Arno, we could follow it four bridges east, to our hotel.

The next thing we noticed was the cobblestones. Or lack thereof.

“Cobblestone is a fun word,” I thought, “It makes me think of a cobbler who has to fix the shoe you broke on the cobblestones.”

I hoisted my suitcase over a curb.

“Also, a cobbler is a delicious dessert. So there’s that.”

There were larger flagstones along some sidewalks, but most of Florence was paved with asphalt. I couldn’t decide if this was good or bad.

Apparently, neither can Italians. Riotous cobblestones rule the roads in Rome, but Florence (because rattling the spinner-wheels on your luggage as you truck down the street is not very lady-like) smoothed it and encouraged us to look up instead of down.

Our hotel room had a little balcony that overlooked the trolley turn-about, the sound of which eventually became background noise and not a problem. The trolley turned out to be our compass and we followed those tracks between our hotel and downtown thereafter.

Our hotel also had a rooftop pool that was closed due to the high winds, but gave us our first overview of the city. There was Florence, waving to us. We had missed lunch (hence my thoughts on cobbles), so per routine, went out to discover what she had made us for supper.

The afternoon was slowing to a saunter, as we crossed bridges, wandering the riverfront. Florence was softer than Rome, quieter than Sorrento, and larger than both, her skirts rippled out in shades of green, gold, and pink.

She offered us many options for dinner. We paused at a little spot along the Arno, where the last two patrons were finishing up. The menu held variety, the seats had a view, food remnants left on the plates looked promising.

Bending over to retrieve a napkin was a waitress. Just as she touched the napkin, a distracted patron shifted her chair and the leg came down squarely onto the waitress.

We watched the waitress stifle a shriek and hold her hand tightly so that it wouldn’t accidentally fly at the patron, who was overflowing with apologies and rapidly paying the tab.

The waitress turned and saw us. I stared into hot eyes, topped with turquoise eye shadow, a red mouth pulled tightly in a straight line. I watched her make the conscious decision to continue her job instead of quitting. Her hair was equally hot and bothered and was also in the midst of either fleeing or quitting. It was a moment of suspended animation and all I could think was, “She is Italian but not Italian. Who is this?”

Deborah from Miami Beach, Florida…and her attitude screamed the truth of it.

She, in the same instant, had sized me up and either my face of sympathy or my look of co-conspiracy led her decision to seat us at a table.

“They are rude,” she waved at the retreating tourists, “But I give you my house specialty, yes?”

Deborah proceeded to schmooze and entertain us for the next three hours. We were her only company. She talked us into an antipasto platter of olives, cheeses, fig jam, onion jam, greens, and oh glory be, it was yummy.

We shared the biscetta platter with roast potato wedges and beautiful porcini and onions.

“Cinque bambini!” she keep exclaiming, once she found out why we were in Italy.

Just as we finished the last of our wine, Florence spoke up.

Calling out over the river to us was the most luxurious sunset I have ever watched.

Deborah and the chef came out for a smoke then made themselves some pasta and joined us on the patio. They were used to Florence showing off. They were ready to pack it in.

Later, Hubby and I walked to the local laundromat and ran some Italian laundry, just like locals, the other tourists and Florence offered to dry everything nicely for us, back at the hotel.

Which is why I felt so guilty the next morning. We snuck out of the hotel, trying not to wake her up. Sarah (a Tribe Member) wanted me to bring her back a hunk and I knew just the guy.

Florence would not approve my stealing her man. But for Sarah, I had to try.

We were going to crash a museum.

After missing the Borghese in Rome, I wasn’t about to muck this one up. We arrived an hour early for the Accedemia. There were two little doors facing the road and we found three people already standing at the “Walk Up” one. They looked as sleepy as we were, but at least they had thought to bring a banana. Stomach growling, we stood there as slowly over the hour, our line grew and grew. By the time we went in, it had reached the corner, and by the time we left, it went around the building, down the road, and out of sight. Some things are worth hustling for.

We went in promptly at opening time, and moved easily ahead of the groups of prepaid “skip the line” tours. We went straight to the apple of Florence’s eye: David in all of his seventeen foot tall glory. I took my time admiring him from every angle, photographing until I was sure that Sarah would be satisfied.

Helloooo Handsome!

We still had plenty of time to revel in the rest of the museum. It includes paintings, other works by Michelangelo, a plaster cast room full of statuary, and the Musical Instrument Museum, full of antique instruments. What a beautiful place.

The next stop was the Museo delle Cappelle Medicee nearby. Inside are more statues, works by Michelangelo, and the Chapel of Princes, containing the Treasure of San Lorenzo, many with intricate miniature metal work. Some of this stuff is pretty creepy, I’m not gonna lie. Floors, however, along with toes, are something I was constantly photographing all over Italy. The stonework here took on the appearance of carpeting on the floors and tapestry on the walls.

On our way back we wandered around the train station, trying to find out where our tour was supposed to meet. It was time to leave Florence for the evening, to meet her relatives in Siena and enjoy the Chianti of her cleverly won vineyards. We kept our manners.

Florence is a delightful hostess. Just don’t touch her man.

“Michelangiolo” by Daniele da Volterra


When a statue is trying to be born…


Plaster cast room full of concepts


Nice Stradivari, 1716


Getting down with their Bad Selves.


Does the Pope wear a funny hat? That depends who you ask, I suppose…


Wafer-thin, scrolling stonework.