Tuesday, May 12, 2015

An Italian Holiday -- Part 2 Firenze

The second stop on our Italian holiday was the Renaissance City of Florence or, in Italian, Firenze.  We met up with our daughter and her boyfriend at the train station.  Italian trains are cheap, convenient, comfortable and amazingly, on time.  You could spend a lifetime exploring this wonderful city but we had a mere three days.  Over Skype, from Seattle, the four of us had coordinated an itinerary that included visits to two of the more famous art institutes and the Boboli gardens plus plenty of time to walk around, shop and eat.  I basically love walking; from my perspective it is both good exercise and the best way to experience the architecture, the parks, the trees, the (spring) flowers and the people in a new place.  The first afternoon, we reserved tickets for the Galleria dell’Accademia, home since 1873 to Michelangelo’s most famous sculpture, David.  Since we could not check into our apartment until 5 pm we opted to walk to the art gallery with our luggage (thank goodness for the invention of wheelie suitcases and backpacks) and then take a cab directly to the apartment.

Florence is a whirl of tourists and commerce.  Everywhere you look a different store tempts you.  More than half the shops are selling leather – pelle vera – real leather, and the other half are selling designer clothes and hand painted ceramics.  You would have to be the most restrained consumer in the world not to go on a shopping spree in Florence and even more self-controlled not to end up buying something made of leather.  It doesn’t really matter what your budget is.  There is something in every price range.  

Endless leather trinkets compete with luxury jackets, wallets, purses, you name it.  As we walked towards the Galleria, along the narrow streets and past what seemed like hundreds of tempting stores, we tried to keep our focus on finding  lunch, promising ourselves that later in afternoon we would shop!  Unlike in Venice, where the streets are crowded only with pedestrians, in Florence we competed with scooters and motorcycles, cars and trucks.  We stopped at the window of a little street-side sandwich shop and ordered Panini to go.  I chose braceola – dried beef – with a creamy cheese and arugula.  We were so hungry we just ate standing on the sidewalk.  It didn’t matter.  The sandwiches were delicious.  Tummies full, we walked the last block to the museum with plenty of time to change our pre-booked reservation for tickets.  Given the length of the un-reserved ticket lines, I was very happy we had made reservations in advance.

A friend had told me that her first sight of Michelangelo’s David, at the end of the purpose-built hall, was breathtaking.  She was right.  There, at the end of the long hall stood the magnificent David – luminous and triumphant from defeating Goliath, his slingshot still slung over his shoulder, his nostrils flared from the exertion of battle.  The Galleria was built to house David in the late nineteenth century – after air pollution in his original outdoor home, the Piazza delle Signori, threatened to damage the marble.  Now a replica stands in the Piazza while the original glows inside.  David is giant, taller than I imagined, more striking than I expected.  I circled the statue, looking at every detail, noticing the toes of an athlete, the veins popping in his neck, the strength of musculature beneath the taut surface.  You certainly don’t need me to tell you this is a brilliant piece of work.  Go and see it if you possibly can.  It’s worth your effort.

Later, we walked to a nearby taxi stand, and drove to our apartment.  We crossed the Arno River, climbed up past the Piazza Michelangelo, and circled back down a winding parkway to our neighborhood, close to the Boboli Gardens.  While I waited for the greeter, the rest of my family went to buy necessities, coffee, milk, and bread, and of course, wine.  They returned with all the fixings for caprese salad as well.  We opened the wine and toasted our first day in Florence.  

That night we walked through our quiet neighborhood to a small family-oriented trattoria where my daughter and husband shared Bistecca Fiorentina and artichokes.  I ate an extremely tasty Tuscan Ribollita – a bit different than the one I make but absolutely delicious.  Next time I make a ribollita I will incorporate a couple of innovations from Florence – using less liquid to make the dish more like a stew; integrating the kale by breaking it into smaller pieces and using all the croutons in the bowl as opposed to as a garnish.  That said I was happy to find that the dish I make is very similar to the authentic Tuscan fare.  Just for fun, back home in the United States on Mother’s Day, my husband made Bistecca Fiorentina with fresh rosemary from our Seattle garden.  It wasn’t exactly the same as in Florence but it was pretty darn tasty.

The next morning we woke up, polished off some strong espresso and left our apartment.  We had a full schedule to accomplish – a visit to the Uffizi; a leather buying expedition; aperitifs and a 7:30 pm dinner reservation at a highly recommended restaurant in our neighborhood.   Being a tourist can be hard work!  It was Sunday morning and as we walked towards the Ponte Vecchio, the Via Romana was suddenly full of runners!  It was an organized charity run for breast cancer!  We threaded our way through the runners, cheering them on for their important cause. 

The Uffizi is well worth the price of admission.  One of the older art galleries in the world, it is, in the words of my guidebook, a visit with the Renaissance.  The Botticelli gallery alone is breathtaking, my two favorites of course, the crowd pleasing Birth of Venus and Primavera.  The museum is full of blockbusters.  Another favorite was Michelangelo’s Holy Family, shining out from its frame as if lit from behind in three dimensions.  For someone who did not like painting and thought it a second-class pursuit to the “more challenging” three dimensionality of sculpture, Michelangelo did a pretty good job of painting!  The Uffizi houses so many extraordinary paintings and sculptures it is hard to absorb it all.  After a couple of hours you feel full, visually and intellectually stuffed. We definitely needed a break for a cappuccino in the middle of our visit! 

Later, we left the museum and wandered the streets, now in full consumer mode.  I didn’t know I needed one but in the end I bought a leather jacket.  So did two of the three others in my party.  And why not?  I didn’t own a leather jacket and now I do and, best of all it is yellow, not bright like a daffodil but gold like the color of burnished wheat.  Furthermore it has zippy pockets to store things in safely AND they gave us a family discount.  Bargaining is part of the fun.  After finishing our purchases it was clearly time for aperitifs…and what else but Aperol spritz, the current, most popular Italian drink.  At the recommendation of the waiter we ordered a selection of Tuscan antipasto – bruschetta; patés; olives; fungi; and a small omelet with fresh truffle cream – all delicious and rapidly consumed!  Plus we still had a long walk to our dinner spot....

On our last day, we lazed around our lovely apartment in the morning, sitting on the pretty terrace working while our laundry dried in the bright sunshine.  Soon we ventured out to finish shopping, buy our train tickets and stroll through the beautiful Boboli gardens.  I had been to the gardens before but the tree covered pathways and timeless statuary were as peaceful as I remembered.  I was interested to find a few modern sculptures set in the garden with the older more traditional ones.  It was a warm sunny day and the gardens were full of people, like us, enjoying the spring sunshine.  We stopped on the way home for a final Aperol spritz and to buy pasta and greens for dinner.  There is so much to see in Florence but I was excited to get on the train to my daughter’s home near Genoa.  I’ll have to go back to Florence another time. 

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