florence - may 27 - may 31
getting there ...
Our travel agent (Marian Schumacherof Town & Country Travel in San Mateo, a saint) left little to chance. She booked us hotels, a rental car and even arranged first class train tickets from Venice to Florence. We water taxied to the Venice train station and easily found our train on Binario / track #2. Finding the first class car was a bit of a trick but we managed after only one false boarding. There isn't much difference that we could see between first and second class except the first class seats seemed a little more commodious. The train left on time but ran slowly and was behind schedule from almost the beginning. Seemed to be an issue of track repair and ongoing maintenance….like highway repair but on the main line.
There are far fewer photos of Florence and none that we took from the galleries because cameras and backpacks are not permitted into many of the historical buildings. Be prepared to check your backpack and if you don't want to check it, then leave it in your hotel room.
You can bypass the hours-long ticket line at the Uffizi Galleries by reserving a ticket and an entry time in advance by calling Firenze Musei.
You can also reserve for the Accademia Gallery (another interminable line), to see David, as well as the Galleria Palatina in the Pitti Palace, the Bargello, and several others.
Do NOT try to do the Accademia Gallery and the Uffizi Gallery on the same day. You will end up short-changing yourself at one or the other or both galleries.
So what you say. Why worry? Slow down you said. Smell the flowers. This is Italy! Yes, well, but we needed to transfer trains in Bologna and there was only a 17 minute layover. As we trained along through such towns as Padua (the university town) the train progressively lost time. The staff of TrenItalia were in some profusion aboard our car. They are nattily dressed in green blazers and military caps (Italians really like uniforms….the weatherman on TV was dressed in a military uniform.... we thought he was Captain Kangaroo doing weather but we learned later that the Italian weather service is a branch of their military....) and a young woman train person who was very friendly came to sit beside me. Her English was not great but (as always) it put my Italian to shame as I told her her mother was beautiful, and we discussed what would happen if we missed our next train. It wasn’t pretty. And it wasn’t entirely clear, either.
As a consequence of our train from Venice being late in arriving at Bologna, we spent a good part of the afternoon in Bologna Centrale, notable for its fine pay toilet. And finally we boarded a train for one of the two train stations in Florence. Two stations?? Hmm.... that’s news. Two. Well, what the hell. Pick one and go for it. We did. But the train was packed and our first class tickets didn’t mean dick. We ended up standing in the aisle way for the 80 minute trip. But that was actually OK because we had windows to ourselves and could enjoy the scenery which was our first view of the northern Tuscan countryside and beautiful it was. Really beautiful. And hilly. And green. And not crowded. Nice place, rural Tuscany. We’re gonna like it.
We arrived at Florence without incident and stood in the Taxi area for a few minutes waiting for a cab. That’s when I saw, amidst a swarm of scooters and dwarf automobiles, my first Ferrari on its home turf. A glorious sight! I only saw one other Ferrari on the entire trip. No Maseratis. No Lambos. Occasional Porsche. Virtually no American cars. Not one Hummer or Suburban! They wouldn’t fit. The most noteworthy vehicle we encountered was the ‘Smart’, a runty roller skate of a car just big enough for two non-obese people with a wheel base no longer than its width immediately raising stability questions. They are very popular. So are electrically powered vehicles, peddle and wind-up cars. But then: the roads are really narrow (except for the Autostrade), the parking spaces small and few in number and fuel costs 1.35€ / Litre. Given that, only an American fool on holiday would opt for a Suburban. Get Smart!
dining in florence ...
Florence was as or more crowded than Venice or seemed so to me and it admitted cars. Pedestrians do NOT have any rights whatsoever, much less the right of way. Same deal with the restaurants however….one on every corner and often on the sidewalk in the middle of the block. We stopped at several. One, a pizza place was in the shadow of the Duomo, the gigantic church in the center of town. About halfway through our lunch of pizza and wine the chef came out with the most gloriously artistic pizza I have ever seen. It was about 18 inches in diameter and sculpted in cheese, salumi, tomatoes, herbs and some flowers. He put it on a small table on the sidewalk and it was impossible to walk by and not see it. Bait! It was bait for the hungry and, truly, everyone who passed by stopped to look and several took tables. What a guy, that chef! A marketing genius. Hats off, I say.... Bravo!!
We ate one or two nights in the restaurant at the hotel and had a couple of superb meals.
florence art ...
The artwork we had seen in Venice was remarkable but nothing to compare to the wonders of the Uffizi Gallery and the Galleria dell'Accademia. We made the tactical error of having tickets to the former at 10:30 and the latter at 4:30 on the same day. No way that can happen if you pay attention to anything, there is just too much to see. Way too much. By the end of the day if I never saw another Madonna & Child painting it’d have been too soon. Not being Catholic or much religious for that matter, a lot of the religious paintings left me cold as to subject though the works themselves were remarkable. One does have to wonder what Italian masters would have done for themes had there been no Catholic church. And, while we’re wondering, what about the absolutely huge gap between the haves and the have nots four hundred years ago? In Florence, this meant between the Medici and everyone else, pretty much. To their credit, the ruling families spent a lot of time and money on the arts but it had to have been at the cost of hundreds of thousands of poor artisans and workers. I’m sounding like a Democrat…..sorry.
Seeing masterworks such as Sandro Botticelli's The Birth of Venus and, at the Accademia, Michelangelo’s David is, I think good for the soul. Exactly how it is good, I am not quite sure but I am certain it is. I felt better. And then I felt worse thinking of how we could invite our Italian friends to come visit us and spend the day showing them our area’s finest museums and objects d’ art.... Sutter’s Fort. Whoopee! But take them to Yosemite and we’re back to an even ball game. It’s relative. (Don’t know exactly what that means at this point but it sounds correct.)
Martye thinks that the next time we go to Italy we need to bring the garage creeper. That’s the flat board on wheels that mechanics use to slide under automobiles. Its purpose in Italy would be to allow one to lie on one’s back and propel the creeper through the galleries looking up at the absolutely remarkable ceilings. They often go unnoticed, I fear.
One of the best things we did in Florence was visit the Boboli Gardens and the Pitti Palace. They are eclipsed by the Uffizi and the Accademia in terms of celebrity artwork but are well worth a day even in the rain (which it proceeded to do enthusiastically, the day we were there). They were one of the residences of the Medici Clan. The splendor and riches of the Medici were beyond imagination. We also got more off the beaten path with a hike up the hill to the Church of San Miniato which Michelangelo had had a hand in redecorating when the local abbot decided it was looking a mite shabby. It is a very pleasant little church but is on a hill overlooking the city and has the most wonderful panoramic view of Florence.