Saturday, November 06, 2010

Day 5 & 6 Florence

We took the high speed Eurorail train, the Eurostar, from Rome to Florence. The trip through the countryside was uneventful, mostly. Judy didn’t feel well and so I went to the bar car to get her a soda. When I returned the stewards were serving complimentary drinks of soda. As a result, we drank a lot of soda on the train.

The countryside along the way was beautiful. Rolling hills and plains with villas dotted along the way. Built onto the tops of the hills were small villages that overlooked the land. It was very picturesque and peaceful looking.

About an hour and a half after leaving Rome we arrived in Florence. I thought I might feel self-conscious about rolling luggage from the train station to the bed & breakfast we were staying in but in reality we just joined the bands of travelers lugging their luggage to various destinations.

It took us about a half hour to get to where we were staying and, when we got there, at about 1 p.m., we read the sign that said it was closed between 12:30 and 3. Of course it would be, almost everything closes during lunch, except the lunch places. So we lugged our luggage around the block and had lunch. We sat in a street-side plexi-glass booth with three tables. You step off the curb right into the little enclosure. It was closed-in on three sides and had a roof over it; a sort of semi-private public outdoor dining area that was self-serve.

We got back to the B&B closer to 2:30 p.m. and, fortunately, the concierge returned early and let us in. At any rate, after we checked in and got squared away, most of the day was gone and so what we had had planned to do was abbreviated. What we did do was stop at a pharmacy so I could get a band-aid for the blister on my foot and then head out to the downtown area to walk around and get some supper, all of which we did successfully.

In the morning we headed out to the Piazza Vecchio and took a tour of what turned out to be City Hall. City Hall was formerly the home of Cosmo Medici, who in the 1500’s took it from the city of Florence after the City had made it into a castle for its own protection and made it into his private home. Medici expanded it, making it longer, wider and higher. He hired Leonardo DaVinci to design and raise the new ceiling.

Our tour of it took us into the secret rooms of Cosmo, the father, and Ferdinando, his son. The son was very big time involved in alchemy, science, art, and nature. Cosmo had been into banking and had made, as the Medici name implies, a ton of money. The son’s secret room was built like a treasure chest. It was horizontal and had a rounded ceiling, just like the top of a treasure chest. Inside it were paintings, lots of paintings, which represented his interests. In secret panels behind some of the paintings were spaces where he kept his even more secret treasures. Behind other paintings were secret staircases. We took one of them up to the father’s secret room. From the artwork of both the father and son you could get a taste of their private interests but the things they kept in their rooms have been lost to time and replaced by conjecture.

The tour also took us to the underside of the roof of the building where we got a chance to see how it was constructed. The tour guide explained to us that the trusses used were for settling, earthquakes and the like. We were told that olive pits had been found in spaces that indicated they were used as grease, sort of, to lubricate the trusses.

From there we went over to the Duomo, a basilica. The Duomo was older than the Vatican and was probably a rival of the Vatican. Florence, after all, had originally been the capital city of Italy. When Rome became the center and the Vatican was being built, it had to be built bigger than the Duomo. Nevertheless, the Duomo is very impressive. It is built of horizontal slabs of black and white marble. Soaring well over a hundred feet high and taking up a square city block, the Duomo stands out. For 8 euros you could walk to the top of it and get a panoramic view of Florence. We walked up all 486 narrow marble steps. It was worth having quivering thighs, aching hamstrings and getting out of breath to do it. The 360 degree sky-high view of Florence on a sunny, cloudless day was magnificent.

Our next stop was the Ueffizi Museum in which there was a collection of art pre-perspective. They were flat paintings, mostly of people in scenes of life. Masterpieces all by such artists as Botticelli, Caravaggio and some by DaVinci. The museum was horseshoe shaped and didn’t allow photographs. Judy and I, after the Duomo climb, were exhausted and sat as much as we walked. Also, since we weren’t art history buffs, much of the works were lost on us. I did remember one painting of a woman reading another woman’s palm. We missed the painting of the Venus DeMedici.

We then walked over to and over the Ponte Vecchio, the bridge over the Arno river. The Ponte Vecchio, so the story goes, was once filled with common folk selling fruits, vegetables and other ordinary stuff. Cosmo Medici thought it didn’t look good, that it was dirty and, well, ordinary, so he had all the businesses replaced with jewelers. To this day, the bridge is replete with high-end retail jewelry stores. Gold and silver, precious and semi- precious stones made into beautiful, and expensive, jewelry.

Judy wanted to find the Piazzi Pitti. She had been told of a restaurant, the Four Lions, located somewhere near the Piazzi that had excellent food only she didn’t know where it was. As we were walking along I saw a little sign that said Artisan studios with an arrow pointing down a dark, narrow alleyway. This was just after the ceramics store we stopped in that happened to have been where Michelangelo had lived.

Judy looked down that dark alleyway in the dusk of evening and said “I don’t know about this.” Come on, I said, it’ll be an adventure. So we plunged in and found ourselves in a neighborhood full of art studios, art schools, jewelry-making schools, art painting frame makers and restorers, furniture makers and restorers and, biggest find of all, the Four Lions Ristorante.

We had a supper that couldn’t be beat. Judy had ravioli and I had chicken. To say it that way doesn’t do justice, in the least, to its preparation and taste. The house wine was the best ever. The menu was only in Italian and the ristorante was in a building that looked like it was about 500 years old.

As other customers came in and the place began to fill up, we found that the people sitting next to us were Texans who had retired to Costa Rica. We had a lovely conversation with them about retiring in Costa Rica, how great and cheap and wonderful it was to live there and how, six years later, if they had it to do all over again, they would still live in Costa Rica. They were in Italy for a vacation and then headed back to their new found retirement country.

We traded email addresses with them and then headed back to the ranch. When we returned, I sat in the tub for a long time soaking my feet and lower back. It was a good day. I don’t know if I would want to climb to the top of the Duomo again but the experience, like the view, was a lifetime memory.

Tomorrow we’re heading to Bologna for the day to see Pamela. On Saturday we’re going to take the train to Oriveto, rent a car and poke around in the Tuscan countryside for a couple days. Where we’ll go and where we’ll stay and what we’ll see is up in the air and will be the next great adventure.


Post a Comment

<< Home