Sarah’s Travels in Florence

Day 2 – Sarah Does Florence

img_04991The new travel alarm worked and woke us up at 7:00 am (Tim needs to be up early for the conference and this proved to have its advantages). I was sure that today was the day I had tickets for the Boboli Gardens, and instead ofchecking, I went blithely ahead with the plan I’d made & headed out to the Mercado Centrale to acquire some things for an al fresco lunch. It was raining lightly, but the morning was very fresh and pleasant.

Mercado Centrale is what it sounds like, it’s the central market of Old Florence. The main building holds all kinds of food merchants. I was able to get salami (Salami de Milan), bread, cheese and strawberries for a fraction of what a meal in a trattori would cost. It turned out to be enough food for the day, when supplemented with cups of coffee and bottles of water.

Got back to the B&B for breakfast. V. nice. Fresh baked, slightly sweet croissants (found out later that what I was seeing as a croissant was actually a brioche, which explained the sweetness), cereal, yogurt, coffee, intensely orange orange juice. Only then did I pull out my ticket and find I’d gotten the day wrong. Garden ticket was for tomorrow. I’d sensibly not scheduled myself anything for the first day in case I was so wiped from the trip I didn’t feel like doing much.

‘Sokay. No biggie. Today I would take myself out and see Florence. And so I did.

I started out with the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiori, otherwise known as “Il Duomo” after it’s huge dome. This building is probably the second most famous sight in Florence.

img_0492I barely know how to describe this structure. I don’t know how it measure it as a monument to God, but as a monument to human skill, it is astounding. It’s facade is white marble, with pink and dark green marble inlaid between in such a way that when you first see it the cathedral literally seems to be made of white lace. The building is massive and every inch is carved, decorated, inlaid or guilded. I walked all the way around it and just when I’d think I’d seen all the bes, I’d come to a new little nook and there’s be another beautiful relief or marble statue.

So, after feasting my eyes there and dodging the ameoba-like tour groups that thronged the piazza, I turned my footsteps in the general direction of the Ponte Vecchio (the Old Bridge).

I have decided that Florence rewards the early bird. The weather was remarkably temperate & humidity free. The crowds were not bad at all as (I was to find) opposed to later in the day. In September anyway, Florence gets _really_ hot between about 2 and 5. Good time for a siesta, or climate control.

There is something about Florence though that seriously messes with my internal compass, such as it is. Maybe it’s because all the streest are not only at irregular angles to each other, but they are all narrow and lines with tall buildings so the place really is labyrinthine. Whatever the cause, I wound up going in the wrong direction a whole lot. But that was okay. I had all day, no fixed itinerary and a good enough map that I could always find my lost self.

Florence is a city of nooks & crannies. Shops are tucked down dark, narrow side streets. Resteraunts spill down hallways and out into courtyards. It is a place of old and magnificent bones strong enough to carry the modern and sometimes tacky facade it wears.

Some notes for the traveler to Florence. Don’t be in a hurry to buy from the markets. Every single piazza is a market place and a lot of the goods are the same from stall to stall. Be as sure as you can of the quality of what youbuy. A lot of the stuff is really cheap and I don’t mean this in a good way.

The guy carrying the pale blue plastic bag who greets you in a friendly fashion wants to sell you something and it’s not going to be worth buying.

Trattori are cheaper than restaraunts, cafes are cheaper than trattori and there is gelato everywhere. You will not go without. If you are on a budget, avoid any of the above when situated directly on a named piazza. Prices rise and quality of service drops.

What there are not is public bathrooms, but pretty much every cafe’s got one, which you can use for the price of a drink to go, which was okay wiht me. Keeping hydrated on my treck was one of my big challenges.

The food is good,but by American standards it is really expensive. Don’t be shocked.

img_0507Anyway. In my wanderings I found myself in the Piazza della Signoria, which is one of the nifty free sights of Florence. It is a lovely, wide plaza with a lot of significant sculptures including an imposing Cosimo de Medici, and an outdoor gallery of beautiful Roman marbles, a elaborate Neptune fountain and the very fine reproduction of the David standing on the site of the original. I sat in their shadows and ate my bread and salami and drank it all in.

From there, I walked past the Uffizi, one of the most famous galleries, but not open on Monday. But the statues outside of famous Renaissance masters are worth seeing. The expression on the face of Niccolo Machiavelli is…well, it makes you hope nobody ever looks at you with that particular kind of thoughtfulness.

From there, I at last managed to find the Ponte Vecchio, which is indeed old, and picturesque and solidly lined, both sides with jewelry shops, both new and antique.

O.M.G!!! The sparklies! The sparklies! Want an amythist the size of an infant’s fist? No problem. Cameo the size of a goose egg? Gotcha covered. How about a necklace of spun gold? Or an 18 carat gold octopus for your shoulder? I have absolutely no idea why anyone would want an 18 carat gold octopus for their shoulder but they had them available in several different sizes.

This is actually where my diary ends. My day, however did not end there.

Note: Interesting little piece of street theater. As I was approaching Ponte Vecchio, under an arched colonnade, I saw a group of…youths, hanging out, and my bells went off. I don’t know wny , but they didn’t look to me like they were just pretending to be toughs, if you know what I mean. I had my hand on my purse, was wondering if I was over reacting, when a pair of police officers strolled along, and all the youths got up from the wall where they were lounging and started down the sidewalk. And the cops strolled after them. And they crossed the main street and headed down the side street. And the cops strolled after them. Whaddaya know. I wasn’t overreacting.

Across the Ponte Vecchio are many fine shops full of many fine things to purchase. I picked up a pair of silk-lined leather gloves for Kala as a present for helping take care of Alexander. I then decided to turn around and head back across the river, where the highest concentration of really cool sights seemed to be, according to my map.

By now, I was getting tuckered out. I had a cup of okay coffee in the Piazza de Republica for the price of bad service and a good view and was lost again. I stopped in front of an old building to try to get myself oriented, and sat on the ledge that ran conveniently around the edge of said very old building just the right height for resting the weary traveller, or petitioner, I soon realized. I had found the Palazzo Medici-Reggio (sp?).

Now, before I left I had started reading about the Medici and had started to get really facinated by them. So, I determined I would concentrate on Medici centric sights. This one wasn’t on my short list, but here I was, and it held a very famous chapel, the Chapel of the Magi. And there did not seem to be a line at the ticket booth.

So, for the price of 5 Euros, I went into the Medici’s first great palace.

img_0529There are two linked courtyards, one shaded, one in full sun for the lime trees. Both are beautifully ornaments, the shaded one with statures and plaster reliefs, the sunny one with fountains and patterend cobble walk ways. It’s grand and impressive and restful at the same time. But the real treasure is upstairs. Way upstairs. The people of the Italian Renaissance were not in better shape than us because they ate less. They were in better shape because they climbed all these bleedin’ stairs every day. But at the top is the Chapel of the Magi, which is quite small, but is painted on all its four walls with a magnificent fresco that is purported to be the procession of the Magi toward Bethlehem. It’s not. It’s a Medici hunting party in all its pomp and glory. There are actual portraits of the Medici, their friends and, incidently the artist, in there. This is an internal, windowless room, so the colors have not been touched by the sun. These are not the colors of life. These are the colors of myth and archetype. These colors glow brighter than the gilding laid over them. You can all but feel the contrasting temperatures raidiating from the walls. And then there’s the floor of inlaid marble, and the amazingly beautiful inlaid woodwork of the family pews. It was enough to make me dizzy.

img_0531Travellers note: The chapel is very small, and they only admit 7 people at a time. I timed it right I guess and got right in, but if you want to do this, I’d do it in the morning before the tour groups get there.

After that, it was back to the B&B to rhendezvous with Tim, and we went out to dinner. We decided to try somewhere different and wound up at a pizzaria near the Cappelle Medici, which is where the Medici tombs are. More on them later.

Now, pizza is not a native Tuscan dish, but they know that all the tourists expect it, so it is available just about everywhere. What NOT to eat: The stuff in the window of the gelaterias that is sold by weight and has been, trust me, sitting under heat lamps for hours. However, there are plenty and then some, places with wood fired ovens who will make you a lovely fresh pie which will be quite tasty as long as you don’t expect it to taste like the seperate species that North American pizza has evolved into. In Florence, it’s all about the crust, which is thin and crispy and really, really flavorful. The only problem with this meal was the head waiter kept trying to hit on all the girls walking by and listening to him got really old after awhile.

Then, back to the B&B for a foot rub and sleep.

Oh, forgot about the mask shop. Will get to that later.

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