03.03.2000 - 09.03.2000 15 °C
It will be hard to remember this trip going back seven years now! Between the two of us, we’ll piece together an accurate narrative! Steve was recovering from his knee surgery that previous September and was a real trooper about all the walking, but we did try to keep it at a minimum. In Milan, Steve set off the metal detector with the hardware in his knee. This was actually a laid back trip. We weren’t running a lot. We did a lot of wandering and relaxing, actually.
March 3-4,2000: We first flew into Milan from Newark and then took a puddle-jumper to Florence. We arrived at the airport in at about 7 a.m., so it was fairly quiet. This was a trip that we really neither researched much, nor planned much! So we had no idea how we were going to get into town. In retrospect, I should have found out where the airport was and if there was public transport or if not, how much the average cab fare was. Anyway, we stepped out of the airport and into a taxi stand. It was really exciting to be in such an amazing place! Soon, an old man in a taxi pulled up and asked us if we needed a ride into town. He talked to us about Florence during our short ride to the hotel. He gave us his business card so we could call him for a return to the airport. So it all worked out.
We booked an inexpensive hotel/air package and secured a stay at the Porta Rossa, “an " eccentric and inexpensive hotel in Florence ". http://www.hotelportarossa.com/english/index.htm.
My mom and dad were also in Italy. This was their last day but they were in the country to return to meet us for dinner. Incidentally, they were booked in the same room as we were! The Porta Rossa was within walking distance to everything and was very rustic. It was an inn in the 1300s, making it the oldest hotel in Florence. When we checked in, the clerk told us we won a free dinner at a trattoria nearby. We were surprised and decided to have the free dinner on our last night. We squeezed into this uncomfortably tiny and rickety elevator and got to our room. We walked through a marble floored room with a hodgepodge of very old wooden furniture before approaching the door to our room. The room was quite spacious with tile floors, an old wooden wardrobe, high ceilings and a cool bathroom with wooden shutters when opened, peering out onto the terra cotta rooftops of the medieval city.
We were sooooo tired, so we relaxed and met up with my parents in the late afternoon. We were all surprised to find out that they had our room and incidentally, my mom forgot to reset the code for the safe, so it was a good thing we were in there! My dad was able to relay the combo for the safe to Steve.
They gave us some tips on Italy having just spent their week there. We decided on Ristorante La Gotta Guelfa. It was popular with the locals and my folks dined there. So here is a picture of us jet lagged at dinner with my folks…..
After dinner we all went to an Irish pub…..yes…..and Irish pub in Florence! It was crowded and cozy and congenial. After wandering around outside a bit, we said our goodbyes and my folks were off to the airport. It was so cool to meet people we knew (let alone my own parents!) in the middle of this foreign place!
At night, we were awoken by these yells and cheers from outside. In the morning we went out to the street in search of the source of the sounds and discovered an off-track-betting establishment almost under our bedroom window! That was funny.
An observation I made about Italy, was that the people really care about beauty. They have a passion for living. They are attentive to their appearance, their city’s appearance, their food, everything. It is a beautiful, passionate place! I’d love to go back!
March 5: On this day we wandered around town. There was a carousel down the street from our hotel and as we walked by we saw a street performer on stilts delighting the children. That was fun. We were not far from the Arno River so we walked along the river and went to the Ponte Vecchio (“old bridge”). The Ponte Vecchio is believed to have been first built in Roman times, it was originally made of wood. After being destroyed by a flood in 1333 it was rebuilt in 1345. It has always hosted shops and merchants. The old bridge was flooded with merchants, patrons, and jewelry shops. Steve even had me try on an engagement ring….until we found out how much it cost…. Still, we were able to manage a beautiful delicate little gold bracelet. I wanted something I couldn’t get anywhere else and this was pretty unique. It looks like tiny little cubes linked together.
So we sat in the arcades of the Uffizi Gallery admiring the little bracelet and just talking about this place and our lives, as little birds flew around by our feet.
There were tons of artists in this historic town, and I enjoyed looking at their work, and making a few purchases! It was fun to look through all the paintings deciding which I liked best and which family and friends would enjoy as gifts. Steve liked an air brusher. He was quite talented! One night, we decided to buy one of his pieces. It was like this celestial piece. The guy before us paid the artist, not in lire, but in joints instead. That was an interesting method of payment!
We really enjoyed local food! We ate a lot of pizza, which is very different from pizza here. It’s like square shaped thin crust with all kinds of goodies on top (and never with marinara). I have never had anything like it since. Another thing I miss is their gelato! I have never had gelato like that since Italy. I remember in one gelato place, I mistakenly said “gracias” instead of “gratzie” and the clerk laughed and was endeared by my attempt. Another thing we did was buy fresh bread and fresh meats and cheeses and ate outside. The food was certainly memorable. We hadn’t had a sit down dinner like our first night, instead we got a lot of small things like cheeses and pizzas and stuff.
We stumbled upon the Palazzo Medici-Ricciardi, which was a Medici home for over 100 years! We entered the beautiful courtyard and were the only people there. Besides school groups, the place was not inundated with tourists in March. There was so much history and architecture. We observed torch holders on buildings and the most beautiful door knockers.
A stop we couldn’t resist was Galleria dell’Accademia (The Academy). It was founded in 1561. We marveled at Michelangelo’s David. There he was right in front of us! It was amazing. My photo isn’t so great, since no flash photography was permitted to preserve the art. Also there were works by Botticelli, Gentellischi, and Vasari. It was a magical place.
I had admired this textile shop with cool tapestries, throw pillows and trims. My mom pointed it out to me and unbeknownst to me bought me a beautiful little mirror from there. It was an awesome shop. It was fun to wander around the dimly lit cobblestone medieval streets hand in hand at night. I would peer into the beautifully decorated shop windows. That actually is one of the things I remember most. On the first night of our wandering, a little gypsy child came over to us with an armful of roses. Steve bought me one. Later in the trip, the gypsies relentlessly wanted us to buy flowers and it became a nuisance. But that night, it was endearing.
March 6: Well I am not certain whether the events of March 5th were actually on the 6th or vice versa, but for argument’s sake, we’ll assume this was all done on the 6th! Of course a visit to Florence wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Duomo and the Baptistry and the “Gates of Paradise”. The architecture and force of these structures was majestic! There were no photos allowed in the church, but we were able to take photos from outside.
From aboutflorence.com: “The CATHEDRAL ("Duomo") is dedicated to Santa Maria del Fiore and is typical of Italian Gothic architecture. The present building was designed by Arnolfo di Cambio (1245-1302), one of the greatest architect-sculptors of his age. Finished in around 1367 it was completely covered with coloured marbles like the earlier Baptistery, earlier Baptistery, although the uncompleted facade was given its covering in the nineteenth century.”
From Yahoo Travel: “Although the Baptistery's precise origins remain unclear, its foundations are known to date back to Roman times. The central doors are stunning works of art, depicting scenes from the Old and New Testament and they have been called “The Gates of Paradise.” Lorenzo Ghiberti who worked on them from 1403 to 1424 designed these ornate doors.” It was awe-inspiring to be here.
An inexpensive alternative to indoor museums are the multitude of free open air museums in the piazzas! A piazza we spent a lot of time at was the Piazza della Signioria. There, is the Fontana di Nettuno (Neptune). It was built in 1565. It is said that the statue of a powerful Neptune symbolizes the Medici intention to make Florence a naval power. Sitting in the piazza, we spied a group of nuns enjoying the outdoors. Also in Signioria is Marzocco, Florence’s lion bearing a shield. The lion [Donatello - 15th century ], is the symbol of the Florentine Army in the Middle Age
From wikipedia “The Palazzo Vecchio is the town hall of Florence. This massive, Tuscan Gothic fortress-palace is among the most impressive town halls of Tuscany.. Overlooking the Piazza della Signoria with its famous copy of Michelangelo's David statue as well the gallery of statues in the adjacent Loggia dei Lanzi, it is one of the most significant public places in Italy.”
March 7: I had been looking forward to going to the huge Boboli Gardens and this day would be the day we spent there. They are part of the Pitti Palace, but instead of visiting the inside if the palace we toured its grounds. The palace was enormous and overlooked Florence from a hill.
FromYahooTravel “Head south of the river Arno to the calming and charming environs of the Boboli Gardens. This wonderful retreat was laid out by the Medici after they bought the Palazzo Pitti in 1549 and they were opened to the public in 1766. As well as formal gardens there are wilder groves of cypress and ilex and many fine statues. At the summit of the Forte di Belvedere there is an open area where you can sun yourself and relax whilst enjoying the stunning views of the city and Tuscan countryside.”
It was actually pretty quiet in the vast gardens. We never knew what lay around each shady corner. It is one of my most favorite places!
There was a 17th century amphitheater. I wondered what it must have been like there 400 years ago. It was the site of extravagant entertainments and houses classical statues. We saw statues, fountains, and a grove of bare birch trees – that was cool! From epinions.com: “Everyone's favorite statue is the Nano Morgante by Baleria Cioli, a fat naked dwarf ("political correctness" wasn't such a big deal then!) riding a tortoise, an allegory of business and wisdom. It's hysterically funny!”
We approached this beautiful tucked away grotto (there were signs there indicating that there was an archeological dig going on there so areas were cordoned off). It was beautiful.
From Yahoo Travel ” Inside this garden lies the Buontalenti grotto (1583-1593).
Decorated with mannerist-style scenes from Greek and Roman mythology, the grotto includes copies of Michelangelo's famous "Slave" series. In the 17th century, the garden was extended as far as the Porta Romana, adding the Vasca d'Isola (pond) at the centre with a fountain and a statue of Neptune.”
I took a photo of a beautiful angel residing in the pedestal of Daci’s “Prisoners” (2nd Century, AD). I thought she was more interesting then the main subject.
Toward the end of our day in the gardens, we came upon this magnificent fountain called “Vasca dell’isola”. It was at this fountain that the garden’s resident cats came wandering out and introduced themselves to us!
On our way back into town we stopped in the “Mercato Nuovo” or “New” Market (1547 is “new”?). I admired the artistry of handmade textiles and we rubbed the snout of the bronze boar in the market. Legend has it that a rub will yield a return to Florence.
March 8: On this day we rented a car and toured the Tuscan countryside. Getting out of Florence took some doing. We had a slipshod map that did not indicate one-way streets, and there were plenty of them! There are no lanes for traffic. It’s a free-for-all of cars, scooters and cyclists! At one point we nearly drove into a piazza before being stopped by Italian police. We sheepishly held up our American passports (there was a language barrier between us) and they waved us in the other direction. Once we made our way out of the town, it seemed like the landscape just opened up to us.
We ambled along the road which hugged cypress trees and vineyards. It was like we were in a movie! We were on our way to Siena.
From wikipedia: “Siena, like many other Tuscan hill towns, was first settled in the time of the Etruscans (c. 900 BC to 400 BC).“
As we got into town, we parked the car and explored. We walked past a little park and then made our way up some steep, winding streets. At one point I saw some light peeking from a courtyard and we wandered in. Once back on the steep, crowded little road, we made our way to the top and looked down into this glorious piazza! Piazza Il Campo has been declared by UNESCO a World Heritage Site. The streets seem to wind around this massive square. There is the Fountain of Joy on the northern edge of the square and its reliefs depict the "Virtues", "Adam and Eve", and the "Madonna and Child". The fountain's water is still supplied by a 500 year old aqueduct! We decided to have lunch in this majestic square. It was well worth it to sit outside and enjoy Italian food and culture and people watching!
We meandered and shopped a bit. I found an inexpensive shop with beautiful scarves, so I picked up two. Next, I found a shop with beautiful Murano glass charms. I painstakingly decided on a few for gifts, neglecting to buy one for myself. Years later, Steve ordered me one shipped from Venice. I cherish that charm!
So we were back on the road and we really enjoyed the sights, sounds and smells of the Chianti region of Tuscany. One little town in particular, I believe it was San Gimignano caught my attention, so we stopped in and explored the little Tuscan village. It was so quaint, and beautiful…..and ! The olive and grape trees seemed to smile at us as we drove back to Florence.
This would be our last night in Florence. I wouldn’t miss the creaky elevator to our room, but had made a home for ourselves at the medieval inn. It was so rustic and beautiful. As we expected, we were broke on our last night, so we cashed in our free dinner at Trattoria Nella, valued at, (if I remember correctly) $40 USD. Incidentally the place has since been recommended by Rick Steves! Today, they have their own website: http://www.trattorianella.com/
So we poured over the menu aiming to order as much as we possibly could while still having enough to cover tax (luckily we had a FEW lire for tip in our pockets). So we sit down to order and our waiter is an energetic older man. When I expressed horror at seeing “rabbit” on the menu, he amusingly tried to assure me that it was not a little rabbit, as he’s motioning his hands petting a furry creature, but rather a “raaaaaaabit” he says as he holds his arms out wide.
We filled up on dinner and walked it off saying goodbye to the very streets and piazzas we had come to know and love. We had a flight in the morning back to Newark (which incidentally lent beautiful views of the Alps). It was time to say goodbye to such a deeply beautiful, passionate place. One day we will return……..but we won’t be ordering rabbit!