Waking up in Florence, in our private B&B, was a weird experience. We knew we wanted to make the most of the day (we’d planed our route the night before) so again we got up early (not as early as yesterday, however, we learnt from that mistake) and showered and packed all without seeing another person (and in fact, the other two rooms on our floor were demonstrably empty). As we were leaving, though, a door opened downstairs and our host sleepily stumbled out, asking for payment. I proffered my bank card and was asked for cash. Two hotels booked through Booking.com and two hotels asked for cash after requiring a credit card for booking purposes. Inconvenient to be sure. The other thing to remember about Italy – they charge you a tax for existing. There is a city tax per person per night at each hotel and most restaurants add in a per person fee for the pleasure of dining in. Additionally, something I didn’t know, but if you stand at the bar and drink your beverage, you’ll pay significantly less than if you take a seat at a table. Important tips.
Regardless, we were out of the hotel and onto the streets of Firenze early enough to actually beat the opening times of places we wanted to visit. One of my desired destinations here was the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore. I’d wanted to see this place for years, ever since I read Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture. It’s an amazing book and certainly well worth the read if you have any interest at all in medieval architecture. Honestly, back when I read the
book I’d never thought I’d actually see the place so yeah, it was high on my list. Unfortunately, we got there around 9:30 and it didn’t open until 10. So much for our carefully structured route for the day. Instead, we went to see number two on the list: Galleria dell’Accademia to see Michelangelo‘s sculpture David. Inside the galleria there were a number of great pieces. The original plaster of the Rape of the Sabine Women is there (with cobwebs wending through the uppermost outstretched hand) and a number of Michelangelo’s unfinished works. Elsewhere in the gallery was a room of plaster models for other marble pieces, which was interesting to see the process in action. As in most museums and galleries of this sort, there were a number of religious works, but one in particular struck me as fascinating for its depiction of the figures, I swear, as zombies. Terrifying really but their parlor and demeanor left me no choice but to understand they were, in fact, members of the undead.
I also discovered an interesting fascination with the bare feet represented in these paintings. In a number of circumstances, the painting would be handled relatively realistically, but the feet ended up looking like Hanna/Barbera extremities. I was puzzled. And again, thought about taking an art history class in the near future. By the time we turned the corner in the small museum and saw the sculpture we were there to see, we were completely awestruck. Yes, I know there’s a copy in Vegas, but it’s so not the same. There’s a power and resonance in this sculpture which has to be seen to be understood. When I worked in a rare book store, the idea of the the original edition was something we had to explain to customers. Seeing David didn’t require any explanation. You just felt the hands of the artist, you saw the work and devotion. It helped that the piece was at the end of a short hallway filled with unfinished pieces by the master so you walked through the rough stone and at the end, the masterpiece. It really affected me (unknowingly, this was to be a day of that).
Leaving there, we stopped for our brioche and coffee breakfast and discussed a plan to leave Florence early. While I knew there was a lot to see here, the two main things we’d get taken care of and then maybe be able to hit Bologna (our next destination) a bit early in order to shave time off the back end and then hit Venice earlier than anticipated. We’d been told Bologna was a city to spend some time in and so we were preparing. We were going to hit the Basilica next then see about going on our way.
We did. Well part of it, anyway.
The Basilica, Duomo, Cattedrale, whatever you want to call it, is an impressive piece of work seen up close. It’s a massive building and again, part of a larger complex. Entrance into the main building itself was free, but if you wanted to clime to the top of the dome, that was gonna cost you. There was no question I was going to climb, but then Rasa surprised me and said she would climb, too! So we bought our tickets and headed towards the entrance. There were about 460 steps ahead of us, with various rest stops and balconies overlooking the interior of the church as well as offering closer views of the amazing frescoes adoring the inside of the dome. Since we had our backpacks with us, it was a little slower going and the steps certainly weren’t easy, especially nearer the top when the passageways got narrow and, at times, accommodated two way traffic. At the top, though, you can see all of Florence. It’s a view worth the leg pain and shortness of breath.
For Rasa, the heights were a bit of an issue and she didn’t get close to the edge but she really enjoyed the view of the landscape without looking directly down. After spending enough time enjoying the air and the sights, we started down. Going down was worse for Rasa than going up, as being able to see down the stairs brought about her fear a little stronger. But she soldiered through brilliantly. I would go ahead and wait for her and slowly, we made our way to the bottom. The only hiccough came about half-way when a low ceiling caught me and I bumped my head. I was able to get a warning out in time, though, so Rasa didn’t suffer the same fate. On the ground, our dome ticket allowed entry into other parts of the complex so we went to the baptistry and decided against climbing a second tower.
This was the time when we had originally considered heading on, but I had been seeing copies of The Birth of Venus in the various souvenir stands, so like our finding of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers at the National in London, I figured that particular painting was in town and it would be a damn shame to leave without seeing it. A quick internet check proved me right and so our plans changed and we headed off to the Uffizi Gallery.
On the way, we passed the Loggia dei Lanzi (which is next to the Uffizi and part of the Piazza della Signoria) where, among other pieces, was the marble version of the Rape of the Sabine Women (adding a descriptive panel to solidify the title and reference, something the artist, Giambologna, hadn’t had in mind when he originally sculpted the piece). Also, to my horror, chagrin and embarrassment… we bought a selfie-stick. I gotta say, though, it’s a handy little device, no matter how much of a douche you look like when you’re using it.
The Uffizi itself is an old museum, with construction starting about 450 years ago. A number of the pieces inside were original artworks owned (or commissioned) by the Medici family. The collection is outstanding. While the entire place is worthy of a visit (and wow am I glad we didn’t skip this) a couple of pieces are worth special mention. Caravaggio‘s Medusa, a rendering on a ceremonial shield is inspiring. And then there’s Sandro Botticelli.
Honestly, I had no idea how much I liked Botticelli. I knew I wanted to see The Birth of Venus and when I did I was blown away. There’s so much going on with it. I probably spent more time looking at this piece than almost any other single thing the entire trip. That said, though, I was impressed with everything I saw by Botticelli. The Adoration of the Magi, with his haughty self-portrait, is brilliant. Primavera is another wonderful piece, as is Pallas and the Centaur. But the piece which really blew my mind (after Venus, of course) was Calumny of Apelles. Again, there are multitudes contained within the 24x36in piece. It’s literal and figurative and could be biblical and mythological. Just an outstanding piece of art.
From there, the Ponte Vecchio awaited. Yes, it was touristy, and yes it was filled with expensive jewelry shops, but when in Florence… We walked across and strolled the other side of the Arno River. By this time, it was getting late in the day and we really did need to catch a train to our next stop in Bologna, so we headed back to the station. Our initial train was sold out so we got tickets for the next available and tried to see some sights nearby. Naturally, everything was closed already so we decided to grab a bit of late lunch at Burger King (it was close and open and inexpensive). While we were eating I rubbed my head and realized that my “little bump” at the Duomo had actually done some damage and I was bleeding a bit. This was great for garnering sympathy – and knowing I left a little piece of myself in Florence.
Even as we boarded the train, I knew Florence would be a place I wanted to return to. There was just too much left to see there. But now we were on to our next adventure, Bologna. The train there was one of the newer models, very fancy and very fast. Sure, there were still a bunch of tunnels to get through, but we made it in no time at all. Finding our hotel was easy and this time there were no problems (except it was on the third floor and after all the walking we’d done that day, three flights felt like Everest). The room was nice and we had our own bathroom. This was a proper hotel. Since we had rough plans for the next day, we thought we’d get a jump on things – the Tourist Information office was (according to our slightly out of date guidebook) still open and if we could get down there soon, we could get a map and have some questions answered. We hopped a bus to the Old Town and found the office, got a map and found out a bit more about our future travel arrangements then just walked around.
Eventually we found ourselves in a cafe/bookstore which had free wifi so we could check schedules (and I bought a copy of The Adventures of Pinocchio because the author, Carlo Collodi, was from Florence and I didn’t want to let go just yet. When we were ready to go, we crossed the street to where the bus should pick us up. Except there was construction happening and the bus schedule and stops were a bit screwed. We asked several people but like anywhere, most locals have no clue about bus schedules/stops so we got conflicting information (as well as wonderful directions, I’m sure, in Italian which we couldn’t really follow) but we knew roughly which way we had come so we started walking the 2+ km back. We ended up beating the bus, which at some point rejoined our route, and found ourselves exhausted and safely ensconced in bed relatively early in the evening.
Another long day was coming up.