Florence (Day 1)

And here we are in Florence. I don’t think I mentioned that our journey from Boston was on Swiss. Excellent airline. Great flights, nice modern planes. I was not paid to say that!

Flying in from Zurich meant we landed at the little regional airport (Vespucci) rather than the larger international one (Galileo Galilei). This was a little confusing, because we stepped right off the plane and found ourselves on the curb. It just felt a little too… easy. We found a bus heading into the train station and hopped on. In no time at all, we were in the city, walking to our hotel.

We stayed at Hotel Il Guelfo Bianco, which I am endorsing just as wholeheartedly as the airline. Extremely reasonably priced, very cute little room (with a view of the Duomo from our bedroom!), extremely friendly staff, delicious breakfast, and perhaps the most important part, located a short walk from everything we wanted to see. We will definitely stay again next time we’re in Florence, and again hope for a room on the fourth floor so we can always take the stairs and burn off a few calories (and amuse the front desk staff).

But enough about the journey and the accommodations. We had some sightseeing to do.

Here I am. I’m in Florence! I am neither jet lagged nor rumpled – at least not more than usual.

Florence is the sort of city where you can’t turn around without seeing something beautiful. The challenge is finding little secret squares like this one that aren’t too full of tourists. We had come during the off season, but that definitely didn’t mean we had the place to ourselves. A lot of American parents seemed to be taking advantage of Thanksgiving to visit students studying abroad. As we heard this more and more, I told Yen that I feel sometimes that I squandered my study abroad on boring old England (sorry, English!). But of course I was just a kid – what did I know about adventure? Wish I could study abroad now. Why are there no work exchange programs for web marketing specialists?

Here it is. Our first important glimpse of the main attraction in Florence. Well, if you don’t count David. And Perseus. And Ponte Vecchio. Ok, the largest attraction in Florence. It took us a very, very long time to proceed down this street because Yen was impressed by the view and stopped for a photo with every step. I have saved you from having to look at every single one of them. You’re welcome.

When you finally come into the main square and are confronted with the cathedral, there’s no word for it but dominating. You simply can’t notice anything else because this enormous thing is in front of you. Every inch of it is decorated, either with carefully patterned marble, or with a saint of some sort. It’s absolutely massive.

Check me out for scale here.

Across from the cathedral is a little building that looks as if it came from the same set (“And we’ll throw in the baptistery for free – today only!”). Its claim to fame are these incredible gold doors. The gold is impressive, sure, but the carvings on them are what’s really important. They leap off the surface and get more beautiful as the light changes and shadows highlight the relief.

Here I am being scale again.

Eventually I grabbed Yen and dragged him away from the religious spectacle and into the streets. It was Sunday morning, and everyone in town was out, eating gelato, shopping, and just seeing each other. Which means there were also a lot of people hoping to make a little money by showing their talents.

There are carvings everywhere you look. I suppose there is some system of meaning for it all. We saw this sheep a lot. Maybe it goes back to feudal times and heraldry. Or maybe people just like sheep.

You can see by the shine on this boar’s nose (and I could see by the actions of all the other tourists) that you’re supposed to rub his nose. I’m not sure whether it has brought me any luck.

This isn’t David. It’s a copy that replaced the real thing when he was moved inside to protect his delicate bits from the seasons.

He’s placed in a big piazza that has a lot of different statues, most of them originals. This one is Perseus, who is quite sassy after killing Medusa.

This guy looks as if he was in the act of dispensing justice when an onlooker started talking and distracted him. Or that’s what I think, anyway.

Next to the statue-filled piazza is… crap. I don’t remember what it is. Someone’s palace, no doubt. We couldn’t go in because it’s now a museum and requires tickets. But we did hang around the entryway for a little while.

Ah, this is a great shot of the piazza. See all of those statues? And they’re just out in the open for anyone to see and enjoy? It’s wonderful. It has this incredibly democratic feeling to it – as if art is for everyone, not just people who have the time and money to wander through a museum. You should be able to see great works of art as you rush to work in the morning. Maybe it inspires you as you go about your day. Maybe you make better web marketing decisions as a result.

Ah ha! This is no statue! This is a Galileo impersonator having fun with the crowd.

I like this guy’s boot. He’s unashamed.

I’m standing here in the courtyard of the Uffizi. It’s a collection of art begun by the Medicis. We had tickets in a few days, but wandered the courtyard anyway as we sorted out the geography of the city.

This is Machiavelli looking pretty machiavellian.

I’m sure you’ve been expecting this one. It’s Ponte Vecchio. It’s covered in jewelry stores. I’d stay off the crazy thing. Incredibly packed with people. But nice to see from a distance.

We left the main street then and began to wind our way through the warren of alleys away from most of the tourists.

That ultimately dumped us in Santa Croce. We’ll come back and visit it later.

You know what you get if you walk all over the place for hours and hours? You get to sit down and eat. We chose this restaurant at random, and it was delicious. I started with a plate of pasta dressed simply and perfectly with just olive oil and garlic. Yen had a typical Tuscan bean soup. What you can see me about to dig into here is a lovely grilled pork chop. Yen is having tripe.

About halfway through the meal, Yen suddenly realized that we had tickets to Accademia in 20 minutes. And crap! I had left the reservation notice in the hotel! We asked for the check, which profoundly confused our waiter. “No dessert?” he asked. “Are you sure?” I love a culture that is truly baffled that someone wouldn’t want dessert after a meal with two full courses. But no, we explained, we needed to go. And then we ran.

There are no photos allowed inside Accademia, so you won’t get to see David in all his real splendor. It really is an incredible sculpture. He looks as if he will breathe at any moment. The gallery is quite small – we probably spent only 45 minutes inside. As you make your way through to the inevitable gift shop, you pass a little patio with another David, this one a little more… festive. I think every person giggled when they saw him.

You think that’s a full day? Well, you don’t know me and Yen very well, do you? Let’s go climb a bell tower! It’s only 406 steps!

Here I am climbing down again. Yen and I agree that we need to keep traveling now while we are fit enough to do so. There is so much climbing and seeing what’s around the next bend. You simply can’t put off traveling until retirement. Go now! Go while your knees still work!

We couldn’t resist one more look at the bridge before dinner.

And dinner? Another huge affair, this time at a place called ZaZa. Definitely touristy, but there’s something to be said for being able to read the menu. And the food was terrific. I had pasta (yes, again) and a beef carpaccio. I suddenly can’t remember when Yen had – sorry!

And then we collapsed into bed. Next up: day two.