All Aboard – Off to Florence

Florence, what a wonderful place. The train ride in was uneventful, which was nice. We took the express train so it was just an hour and a half ride. The weather was gray but not too bad. When we arrived we said no to the taxi cabs and walked away from the train station and got out the map – which way now? Our hotel was right next to the Ponte Vecchio so it shouldn’t be too hard to find. Still, the roads here, like Rome, zig zagged and only some had street signs. The next time we pulled out the map, a young woman asked if we needed help and gave us directions. A very nice welcome that was.

It was an amazing place, very medieval and very charming. It was full of people but not overcrowded. It was not too long a walk to the hotel, and the signs for the major sights were posed throughout the city so we had no trouble finding our way once we got the initial directions. We passed several outside markets – it was Saturday so I wasn’t sure if that was just on weekends that they were there. Walking through the Ponte Vecchio the first time was fun. Teaming with people and the gold in the jewelry store windows shone so brightly in the lights that it had a magical quality.

It was about 3:00 when we checked in so we dropped off our suitcases, I changed my shoes, I had worn my new boots for the trip to Florence, and headed for the Pitti Palace, down the street. The Pitti Palaces was built to compete with the Medici’s. The problem was the Pitti’s went broke and the Medicic’s wound up with it anyhow. The building itself is pretty ugly, but the artwork inside was amazing. And of course, once we entered, there they were – THE STAIRS! Once again a huge staircase awaited. Well, when the ceilings are 20 feet high, you get a lot of stairs.

 
How does anyone, or any family own such a collection of artwork, yes it was hundreds of years in the collecting, but still the question did come to mind. Our tour of Medici holdings didn’t end there. There was the Medici Palace and the Uffizi, all filled with paintings and sculptures belonging to the Medici family at some point. The interesting part was the palace was part museum and part city offices. I loved that, though is was confusing when we exited one exhibit area and wound up at the door of the police station. The last Medici donated all of it to the city of Florence. 

Beyond the Medici throw in the Acadieme Galleria where the original David is and the Bargello Museum where there are more Michelangelo and Donatello sculptures and you’ve got yourself an unbelievable place – all within walking distance of one another. Still, I liked seeing the fake David in the Piazza Della Signoria where it once lived, along with the other giant sculptures.  Just imagine living in a place where such grandeur is parked in the city center, outside town hall. 


It got to be rather comical keeping it straight, which were real and which were fakes since the Academia Gallery had roomful of of sculptures saying things like the original is in the Uffizi or the Bargello.  Most of the times when we were in museums there were groups of school children, it being during the week and winter. At one point as a group passed us I turned to Rick and asked if he thought they knew how lucky they were “Not a chance”, he answered. The fun part was watching how teachers and students responded to one another – there was no language barrier watching that. 

Going to the Medici Chapel was especially exciting – I had brought a page I had ripped out of my sketchbook with me that I was aching to be able to use.  A couple of months before we were to leave, I had taken a workshop to strengthen my drawing skills. The instructor made some mention of Michelangelo as we approached our break. I told him we were going to Italy, Florence in February. He told me he’d studied there for 3 months and it wasn’t enough time. – but he also told me there was a room in the Medici Chapel where they had locked up Michelangelo during an invasion to keep him safe. During his stay there Michelangelo had drawn all over the walls and it was an amazing place. He wrote down in my sketchbook the Italian for this place. He told me to ask a guard if I could see it.  After going through the chapel, which was undergoing major renovations, I took out my slip of paper and showed it to a guard. “no, no” she shook her head. She was a little startled, as in, how do you know about that? There was no way she’d let us in – wherever it was, and didn’t seem to have the authority anyhow. But it was very clear, she knew about it. I would have loved to have seen it, but the look on her face was very telling all by itself. I was also glad to see the chapel for Lorenzo d’ Medici, Michelangelo’s first patron. Michelangelo never quite finished what he’s started for Lorenzo, but I was glad to see the special relationship honored.


You can’t speak of Florence and not talk about the Duomo and Santa Maria del Fiori. It was spectacular. Covered in white, green and red marble, with mosaics and with soaring heights, it is beautiful and glorious. Throw in when it was built and it defies imagination.

Jaw dropping art was one reason to love Florence, the people were another. Our first night we went to Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco for dinner, it was right down the street from our hotel and had received good reviews from TripAdvisor.com. It was a great choice and we continued to eat there two more nights. We had “our table” and the wait staff was wonderful with us. The first night I had wild boar stew, what a treat. For so many years I had been reading books based in the middle ages and always they were eating wild boar – and now I got to have some. I also had the pumpkin ravioli. The best was on night 2 when Rick and I shared a Florentine steak. It was the best steak we’d ever had – including in Wyoming! With that being so good I had sliced sirloin with arugala, shaved parmesean and diced tomatoes. They gave us lemincello as a complimentary cordial the last night along with a little gift, a little clay dish bearing the wild boar insignia. 

The other treat was the stationary store near the duomo. We stopped in to see some of the famous paper made in Florence. The man was so nice, he gave us a demonstration of how they make marbled paper. He then dried the paper and gave it to me. It really was a great day.