Friday, April 20, 2012

Florence

--Firenze, Florence, Florencia...Land of Leather--

Day 1 in Florence - April 4, 2012

Dad and I arrived in Florence, hopped off the high speed train at Santa Maria Novella Station, and headed for our hotel to drop our suitcases off before lunch...at a lovely, Japanese restaurant.  What can I say?  We were hungry, and it was there.

The first thing we actually did in Florence, or Firenze, as it's called in Italian, was go to the Galleria Accademia to see Michelangelo's David.  After waiting half an eternity in line, we rushed into the museum, and browsed the halls filled with old Stradivarius instruments in search of the David.



The picture doesn't even compare
to the sculpture.
The museum has quite an impressive collection of instruments and paintings, but the highlight by far, is Michelangelo's masterpiece.  Carved from a single block of marble, the David is perfectly proportioned, graceful, and realistic.  His face is calm and confident, and his eyes stare directly at a definite point in space.  His hands are so perfectly sculpted that they look like real hands, and he even has veins visible in his arms.  The David's feet, at the eye level of the visitor, seem rather large, but then again, the entire sculpture is about 13 feet tall.  So really, his feet are the correct size.  Of course, he has wide feet.  The perfect David has escaped the foot curse.  Surprise, surprise... His incredibly detailed, marble hairdo isn't at all frizzy either.  I guess perfect really is perfect.


Best Postcard Ever
Next to the hall where the David is kept, there's another room filled with sculptures of people, which aren't nearly as incredible as the David.  Nothing even comes close.  Sure, they're graceful, proportionate, and look like people, but the detail just lacks in comparison.  Actually, the way the room is set up draws the visitor's attention to the difference in quality even before looking at the individual sculptures.  The sculptures are cluttered together as if they were unfinished pieces in a workshop.  And the David is just really perfect.



 
Eventually, Dad and I left the Galleria Accademia.  We wandered around the outside of the incredible Duomo, the cathedral of Florence, and took a few photos.  The outside of the cathedral, to me looks very distinct from the other cathedrals I've seen.  The cathedral was closed, so we couldn't go in.  The few cathedrals that stand out in my mind are: La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Notre Dame in Paris, the cathedral in Siena, and this one.    These four catch my eye because they have some particular feature (Gaudí's work, gargoyles, stripes, etc.) that make them markedly different from other cathedrals I've checked out while traveling.

I really like the color scheme on the outside of the Duomo in Florence.  The pale green, marble gray, rusty red, and flecks of white appear in different patterns and shapes all over the cathedral.




The Duomo in Florence - Front Facade

After we left the cathedral and had snack (some cute pastries), we decided to check out some of the leather shops.  Florence is famous for high quality leather coats, purses, gloves, shoes, belts, etc.  Wherever you
Belts for Sale
turn, you will find a shop selling leather coats, a kiosk with belts, and more.  In one coat shop, we were told that antelope leather is the highest quality, and that it's quite expensive.  The next best quality is lamb, then cow or calf, and finally pig leather, which we were told has a much rougher texture.  Of course, the leather's finish on the individual piece also makes a difference in the quality.  We also learned that the higher quality items are made from larger pieces of leather instead of sewn together from many little scrap pieces, which makes sense.  Of course, since leather is literally skin, it is fairly normal to find some imperfections in large pieces.  We were told that leather is water proof and fireproof, and that the best way to care for it is by putting a bit of hand lotion on it.  It was an educational afternoon.  Before today, I had no idea Dad had such potential as a shopping buddy!  Once we were properly outfitted, we asked one of the shop owners for a dinner recommendation.  We found that asking local people where to eat often yielded better results than stopping into a random restaurant just because it looks cute.
Leather Gloves for Sale at San Lorenzo Market
Tagliatelle at Mamma Gina
The shop owner sent us on a short walk to a restaurant called "Mamma Gina," which we absolutely loved.  The food was fantastic, the service was excellent, and we looked dynamite in our new coats.  Success!  We weren't quite sure what to order, so we asked the server what he would recommend.  The leather shop owner recommended that we split a steak, and the server suggested we also split a pasta dish and a starter, so we ended up splitting the best spinach I've ever tasted, a plate of tagliatelle in a house sauce, and a delicious, Florentine steak.  Dinner was so great that we decided to split a few cream puffs for dessert.  Overall, our first day in Florence was pretty fantastic; we saw the best sculpture ever, were wearing the best coats ever, and ate the best dinner ever.  Later that evening, it occurred to me that this was the first steak I had eaten since I had been home last summer, partially because the oven in my apartment in Madrid is miniature, and partially because I'm not quite sure how to cook a steak.  So, this was quite nice.

Florentine Steak at Mamma Gina
Day 2 in Florence - April 5, 2012

We actually weren't in Florence very much on April 5th.  We booked a enjoyable, twelve-hour tour called, "The Best of Tuscany," on viator.com.  On this lovely tour, we visited Siena, San Gimignano, and Pisa.  Between tasting a few Tuscan wines, sampling some cheeses, and holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa (as all tourists do), we had another really fun day.  To keep this post shorter, I wrote about the tour through Tuscany in a separate blog post called, "Siena, San Gimignano, & Pisa".  I'd also like to mention that on this tour, we drove past Volterra, home of Stephenie Meyer's "Volturri," and did not get eaten by vampires.  #travelpros

Day 3 in Florence - April 6, 2012


Uffizi Gallery
On our last day in Florence, and last day in Italy, Dad and I decided to visit the Uffizi Gallery and the San Lorenzo Market.  We waited in line for about two hours to get into the Uffizi Gallery.  The line wasn't really that long.  The problem is simply that they don't admit a constant stream of visitors.  Instead, unless you have a pre-paid ticket, they leave you standing there until they feel like letting you into the museum.  It's quite an inefficient system, but it seems that this is how all the museums in Italy work.  So, it's unlikely that this will change.  It's not as bad as waiting in line for tickets to the Alhambra in Granada at 4:00 am, but I suggest you buy your tickets ahead of time.  Same for the Galleria Accademia.

Anyhow, we finally got into the museum, were absolutely elated to find out there are no student discounts on tickets, and wandered away from the unpleasant ticket booth to go see the art.  There's one painting on the top floor, that I remembered seeing with the orchestra in 2004 that was also in my World History textbook in my freshmen year at Stevenson.  I remember thinking it was so cool to actually see the real painting.  Seriously, a class called World History should have field trips.  Amazing field trips.  Lucky for me, the orchestra picked up where World History left off.  And now, here I was once more, gazing at that same painting.  I have no idea who painted it or what's called (World History wasn't really my best subject.), but I always recognize it.
Uffizi Gallery
One of the most famous paintings in the museum is The Birth of Venus.  I remember seeing it in 2004, since we visited the museum with a guide, but I honestly can't remember if Dad and I saw it this time.  I think we did, but I really don't remember.  Our feet were tired, and it just wasn't a super-cultured moment.  It happens.

One part of the museum we particularly enjoyed was the tapestry collection.  As usual, the tapestries had come from the finest weavers in Belgium, the thread count was pretty high, and gold and silver threads had been woven into the scenes to add some sparkle.  We marveled at the detailed scenes weavers had planned and constructed.  It was particularly interesting to learn about the restoration process for tapestries.  When enough colors fade, or threads break in a particular tapestry, the museum begins a donor-funded restoration project.  We saw several tapestries in need of restoration, and several brightly colored, clear tapestries, which had recently been restored.
Snack Time!

After leaving the museum, Dad and I had lunch, or a snack, or maybe both, and continued onto the San Lorenzo Market to do some shopping.  Back in 2004, I bought a "Ciao Bella," Coca-Cola t-shirt, that I somehow managed to lose, and so I was really happy to be back and purchase another one this year.

"Ciao Bella - Coca-Cola"
Saying, "ciao, bella," to someone is a pretty normal thing in Italy.  It would be like saying, "hola, guapa," in Spain.  Culturally, it seems to be a totally acceptable thing to say out here.  No one gets offended if you call them this; rather, they get offended if you don't.  In Rome, the street vendors call out, "Ciao, bella.  Which scarf do you want to buy?  How about a bracelet/necklace/belt/purse?  Try it on!".  Contrarily, in English, if you were to walk up to someone and say, "hey, babe," or, "hey, beautiful," it would be pretty creepy.  I'm fairly certain that holds true in both the US and the UK.




Dreams really do come true!
Still shopping we wandered past a shoe store, and something amazing happened.  Seriously, I'm not exaggerating.  Amazing.  As you may have sensed from my past blog posts, I'm rather pessimistic about shoe shopping because nothing ever fits.  Still, I like shoes, so I torture myself by looking at all the cute shoes in the shops.  I was dismissively doing this when I noticed a pair of chocolate brown, leather sandals on which all the straps were adjustable.  Adjustable, as in, I could make the shoes as narrow as I wanted.  Amazing.  Thank you, Florence, thank you.  Still they were bit too wide, but the cool thing about these shoe stores in Italy is that they just put more holes in each strap so you can buckle the sandals tighter.  The guy in the shop was so nice, and he added holes to every single strap on the shoe for me...and I got a pair of shoes!!!  For the rest of the afternoon, I rambled on about how excited I was, and said to my dad, "Have you ever shopped with someone with such difficult feet?"  Obviously he replied, "Yes, actually I have.  Mom."  Oh right, we have the same feet.  So, it's like we both got a pair of new shoes today - even better!

Ponte Vecchio at Sunset
We stopped for another snack when our feet were tired, and had our last bit of gelato, which by now we had gotten used to.  What we didn't expect to find in this gelateria was an enormous jar of nutella.  I love nutella and all of it's chocolaty, hazelnut deliciousness, and was pretty excited to find this jar, even though it was empty. (Photo above)










Later in the day, we bought some scarves, a purse for Mom, a "Ciao Bella" t-shirt for Marissa, and decided to go back to Mamma Gina for dinner.  On the way to the restaurant, we stopped at Ponte Vecchio, the old and famous bridge, to watch the sunset.  As the darkness descended and the air became chillier, we continued onto the restaurant, where we were delighted to find that they remembered us from the other night.  We ordered the exact same meal and added a small serving of Mamma Gina's house wine, which went great with our food.  I had read somewhere that the house wine is often the best to try in Italy.  Neither of us is a wine connoisseur, but we enjoyed it.

Our trip ended on a well-fed, stylish, high note, and Dad and I had a fantastic time traveling together.  I'm so glad he came to Europe to visit me!  After dinner, we went back to our hotel and packed our bags.  In the morning we would be traveling on the high speed train back to Rome, and then flying from Rome back to Madrid.  It was quite a day: breakfast in Florence, lunch in Rome, and tapas for dinner in Madrid.

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