Friday, September 23, 2016

Honeymoon: Florence Part I


Wednesday, September 21

We had an early morning in Venice, catching the Vaporetto to the train station. It was our one and only trip up the Grand Canal, so we got to enjoy it with al the children and their parents heading to school. Our train was at 9am to Venice, and it turned out we had plenty of time because our train was an hour late. It was a fast train once we were on it, but it meant we arrived in Florence an hour and a half late.

We had a museum gauntlet planned, since we basically had 42 hours to see the museums. When we come back on Monday for the afternoon, many of them are closed. So we had decided to save the churches til Monday.

Our hotel was easy to find, and it was just as perfect as the photos on the website indicated. We got the best room: facing the Duomo, double paned glass, four poster bed, a bathtub with jets, a table for our morning breakfast, and room to breathe and walk around. London and Venice had been good rooms, but teeny tiny.

We dropped off stuff, settled in, and then went to hunt down lunch. We found a great restaurant right near our place, and came back online after our travel morning.

The original plan for Full Florence Art Immersion was to buy the Florence pass at the Bargello and see it, followed by the Uffizi. But the Bargello credit card machine didn't work, so we went to the Palazzo Vecchio to buy it instead, thinking the line to buy it would be quicker. But their credit card machine was slow, i.e. Dial up slow, so it took 20 minutes for us to get through the short line.

Finally, Florence card in hand, we hit our first stop, the Uffizi. We might not have spent so much time in there, but it was impossible to get around the large tour groups that would crowd around one piece and then move like an amorphous blob down the hallway. So we ambled around, took breaks, and tried to find humor in art pieces. I remembered how after my year in Europe in 1994-1995, I knew all the saints by their art iconography. Now I mostly pass by all that early church art with glazed eyes.

Don't get me wrong, we have seen some beautiful church art. Michelangelo's Holy Family in the Uffizi, and many of the photos with angels that have gorgeous colorful and textured wings. Amazing.

We made our way to the Botticelli and enjoyed the various works in that room. We saw the Ponte Vecchio from the Windows, and we were dumped in the cafe terrace. I like me a good drink with a view, so we sat on the terrace with views of the Duomo and Palazzo, giving our feet a break. We met a chatty American woman who was enjoying a glass of red while her husband took in the art at a slower pace (he take a photo of every.single.piece, she said, so I told him I'd meet him here.

We were ready to exit, so we meandered down what we thought what was the exit staircase. But noooo, it was the exit via another 20 rooms. Oh, we closed down the museum with all the tour groups heading out. Todd aptly pronounced that another level of Dante's hell could be through the Uffizi with tour groups.

We finally detangled ourselves from the Uffizi and scampered back to our four poster bed and tub. We bought some fuzzy bath bombs at a natural store on our way and took turns soaking our slightly achy bodies. Then, Todd was on a mission to take me to a vegan restaurant mentioned in the guidebook, so off we went. It turned into an unexpected culinary adventure since that restaurant was closed.

We found a nearby hopping square and menu hopped around the restaurants, none of them floating out boats. We saw a small restaurant with a few tables under an arch that seemed pretty busy. They had a menu of the day handwritten in the menu. This just had to be a good sign. In my mangy Italian I asked a waitress if they could do Vegan. I understood about half of what she said, but she knew what pasta didn't have eggs and rattled off a host of veggies they could use. That was good enough for me. Todd was also happy to have an adventure, so we sat.

The restaurant was a delicious surprise. First, the older cook brought us an unordered surprise, a thick wheat pancake made out of water and pepper. We ordered bruschetta and fried zucchini blossoms for appetizers. Both were miraculous. Yes, you can say this when both are melt in your mouth good. I could have ordered a whole second plate of blossoms. I ordered pasta with artichokes and lemon, and Todd ordered pasta with duck. Mine was delicious. The artichokes were chopped finely with red onion and maybe some garlic and sautéed to perfection and doused with pasta and olive oil. Todd's pasta was like a bolognese  and in his words: scrumptious! Best meal of the trip so far.

We meandered home, stopped for a gelato and a spin around the Duomo, before heading home to crash.

Thursday, September 22

We ordered our breakfast in our room for 7:30 just in case we were feeling ambitious to get to the Accademia and its David when it opened at 8:15. We slept really well, so we were up early before the cart rumbled down the hall to our room. Nothing says honeymoon like breakfast in your room. This was the only hotel that said they could do a vegan breakfast. There were little vegan pastries, soy milk, and for Todd a huge croissant with Nutella.  Two espressos, of course, followed up by our own tea. It was blissful and a perfect start to the day.

We then began Art Immersion Day 2. We arrived at the Accademia at 8:30 to already long lines. There were signs everywhere that the museum didn't open until 10am due to a staff meeting, so we didn't bother waiting in line.

Instead, we went to the Museum of San Marco to see the Fra Angelico paintings, frescoes, and other art works. What a beautiful and quiet way to start the day. There was hardly anyone there, so we could meander through easily, actually enjoying the church art and appreciating the detail. The best part about them museum is the area upstairs where all the monks once slept. Each cell has a Fra Angelico mural on the wall, and even the spurting blood crucifixes are interesting in their own way. Todd was especially curious about the surrealist like nature of many of them, complete with floating heads and objects. We truly enjoyed it.

We then headed back to the Accademia, where the line was much longer, but we had the Florence card to speed up the process. We still had to wait an hour to get in, so I can only imagine how long the wait was if you didn't have tickets or the Florence card.

I remember being very moved by Michelangelo's David when I first saw it in 2004. The museum first places you in a room with a few other paintings to enjoy, and then you enter the hallway where He awaits under the big dome, all lit up with natural light. But before you get there, you walk through Michelangelo's "Prisoners," a set of rough statues with figures straining to break free from the stone.

Then, you are in front of David with a few hundred other people. He's gorgeous, and not because he is naked. His muscles are taut, his gaze both confident and wary, and it's the perfect moment before he beats Goliath. I took a ton of photos around him, as did Todd. We didn't rush ourselves, but eventually we felt done and made our way out through three final rooms.

When we were in the gift shop, Todd asked me if I had taken any black and whites, which I hadn't. In true bossy husband mode, he told me to get back in there and take some. So I did. A lot. He found some good spots and bossed me around some more. He has a good eye, which I appreciate. He never seems to tire of me taking photos.

We left the Accademia and found a quick falafel place. It was a nice easy meal before we hit museum #3: the Medici chapels. There is a fairly ostentatious dark marble room full of large monuments, with a few rooms of reliquaries (which I find so creepy). The main jewel is the Michelangelo room, where he sculpted the Medici tombs. Having spent much of his life with he family, they commissioned him to do many things for them. It's a simply colored room with a bright dome lighting up the gorgeous white statues.

Our feet needed a rest, so we made our way back home, past the Duomo and the hoards of people. We took a nap and enjoyed the vacation moment when we didn't have to push ourselves too hard.

I had hoped we would get to the Pitti Palace, as I'd never been, but the trek across the river seemed too much walking.  I was definitely feeling the push to get the most out of our Florence card, so we compromised by visiting the Duomo museum just a half a block from our room.

This museum has the original doors from the Baptistry, the famous Donatello Mary Magdalene, and Michelangelo's final Pieta. In addition, they have pieces of the original facade of the Duomo before it was redone to look like it does today. The created a large fake facade and placed the statues where they would have been. It was pretty cool.

Our stomachs were pronouncing it was time for dinner, so we made our way home, dressed for dinner, and chose a restaurant from our guidebook. It was a great meal with a new dish for both of us. It didn't rival our dinner from last night, but it was very good and very affordable.

After dinner, we meandered to the Palazzo Vecchio to look through the Loggia of statues, and went to the Arno river to see the Ponte Vecchio. It was a busy night in Florence, so we just enjoyed the beautiful weather and meandered our way back. We will be back Monday night for a night.

Next stop: Vernazza in the Cinque Terra!

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