Monday, July 18, 2011

Day of Culture in Florence

Friday, May 20, 2011:

Sharon and I went for a short walk on yet another glorious sunny morning in Florence and then made a stop at the cafe on our corner to sample the apple strudel and peach flavored iced tea. We all then set out to locate the Uffizi Gallery at Loggiato degli Uffizi and discovered that if you haven't purchased your tickets in advance, you can still go there and acquire a ticket for 15 Euro and not have to wait in a line. You also choose the time for beginning your tour. A regular ticket, which places you in a very long queue, is 11 Euro. The extra 4 Euro was well worth it to avoid standing in line, and it also enabled us to explore the surrounding area and return at our designated tour time. Tickets were cash only. We strolled around the adjacent area for a short time before our tour and encountered a mime with a sense of humor. Marianne is wearing those adorable turquoise sandals that she purchased on our first Florence shopping spree while Laura is sporting a lovely scarf. Sharon and I are just hanging for dear life to our handbags!

At the Uffizi, headsets are available for an extra fee for a self-guided walk through the enormous gallery. Additionally, it is possible for two people to share, as you can rent a remote that is attached to a headset and an extra corded ear device is included. What you have to remember, however, is to walk together and do not stray in order to prevent yanking the other person across the room. We learned this the hard way.

Each room is numbered, so on the remote, you press the number of the room you are in and the "play" button to listen to the commentary. We enjoyed hearing some of the background and history relative to the artists and their works, but soon found that by the time we spotted which painting was being discussed on the recording, the commentator had already moved on well in advance of our ability to follow. Some of the paintings were enormous and their frames so intricately constructed.

We toured many of the forty-five rooms, which are arranged in chronological order from the 13th to the 18th centuries. We eventually gave up on the commentary, instead choosing to read any information that was displayed. It was easier! We saw the paintings, one of Adam and one of Eve, by Lukas Cranach Il Vecchio from 1528, which Laura pointed out is the same Eve displayed at the beginning of Desperate Housewives. Good catch, Laura! There were also ancient Roman sculptures to behold.

We stayed in the complex for lunch, dining on a second floor patio and soaking up the pristine fresh air setting. Once again, only cash was accepted at this location. Bottles of water were 3 Euro and a small personal cheese pizza was 5,50 Euro. We weren't allowed to have the tops to our water bottles to take with us, as everything had to be consumed in the restaurant. We found the restrooms on the second floor level to be quite crowded with another very long line, but there was a first floor ladies' room that was clean and had no line. A welcome discovery!

The Uffizi Gallery was amazing, and we could have stayed there all day just looking at the ceilings in the hallways. This is a location that requires unhurried days to explore and absorb the history. We learned that the Michelangelo statue of David--the real one--the one which is kept indoors and photography is not permitted--is actually not located at this gallery. David lives at Galleria della Academia on Via Ricasoli, so Laura retrieved her trusty map and navigated us in the direction of that site. Once again...walking, walking, walking.

During our trek to Galleria della Academia, we encountered the filming of three Jersey Shore guys. It was easy to recognize "The Situation" from Dancing with the Stars. I wondered how much time he spends working out because he does have quite the muscular physique! There was a gang of screaming young girls literally running after the Jersey Shore boys, and the body guards were trying to silence them. Not an easy task. They were truly on a mission of some sort.

Arriving at Academia, we paid our 6,50 Euro and entered the museum doors after waiting in a short line. We were in awe as we gazed at the enormity of Michelangelo's marble statue of David, reported to be 16 feet tall. In 1873, he was moved into the gallery from his outdoor location at Piazza della Signoria to preserve him from weather conditions, vandalism, and any other maladies he might experience while being exposed (pardon the pun) to the elements 24/7. A smaller copy stands in front of Museo di Palazzo Vecchio, as noted in the photo below.

We were particularly astounded at the detail of the original statue, including the prominent veins in his hands and arms. Okay, I realize he is naked, but his hands and arms were what we were concentrating on. Photos of the original David are not allowed inside Galleria della Academia, but several people were spotted sneaking a shot or two with their cell phones and cameras until the guards would sternly chastise them. Did anyone in our group break the rules and take photos? We will not offer any admission of guilt, and whatever happens in Florence stays in Florence.

One guard told me that it took Michelangelo five years to create David. I have read a variety of time frames for this job, but perhaps the guard knows best. This gallery houses works of other artists including Botticelli, as well as the "Luigi Cherubini" Conservatory of Music musical instrument museum, which displayed many old musical instruments including a venerable harpsichord. We could almost visualize men with powdered wigs and women with long, puffy dresses dancing the minuet to the music.

Thinking that it was definitely time for me to check email, I had noticed an Internet, fax, copy, phone card store across the street from our hotel in the underground mall area and proceeded to dive into my neglected email following our return from our day of culture. In this store, the clerk looks at your identification, gives you a pass code to type in, and assigns you to a particular computer. The charge was 1 Euro for 15 minutes and 1,50 Euro for 30 minutes. Time begins to tick as soon as you enter the pass code. I truly believe that the keyboard was adjusted to prevent rapid typing. I decided that this is definitely done by design because in the interim, that clock is tick, tick, ticking away. It warns when you are close to timing out, and I've always read that it is important to actually sign out from where you are on public computers in order to clear everything that needs to be removed. If there was unused time left on that pass code, they could actually enter it and be exactly where you were in your email or whatever task you were performing if you weren't completely signed out.

This was our final full day in Florence, and we considered our thoughts on this location. The population of Florence is approximately 450,000, but it is a relatively easy city to navigate once you have your bearings. We laughed at recalling that on one of our numerous long walks, there was a store with orange luggage displayed in the window, and this was our landmark to turn onto a street that would take us back to our hotel. This particular evening, we walked past that piece of luggage and continued marching for what seemed like miles and miles, only to spot that same store with that lousy piece of luggage looking back at us. How on earth did that happen? We had been walking for a very, very long time and ended up right back at that same store again. There was sort of a "v" of streets at that location and we had chosen the incorrect section of the "v," making a complete circle and being astounded to come face to face with that orange luggage. Once we determined our error, we proceeded along the correct section of the "v" and found our hotel.

Our weather in Florence had been extremely pleasant with temperatures in the 70's and 80's, mostly sunny except for two brief late afternoon showers, with the sun quickly returning.

We agreed that we all felt safe, that it was incredible to experience all of the historical works and the architecture, that it was fascinating to see the strikingly well-dressed, gorgeous Italian people including guys in impeccable suits, and that it was enjoyable to be re-introduced to accessorizing with scarves. Laura had an excellent suggestion to use two-sided fabric tape to hold a scarf in place, as they do tend to shift. Marianne felt that the police uniforms were really sharp. Sharon noted that in our hotel, no iron and ironing board were present and we had been told that they were not permitted in the rooms. We thought it was interesting that we never felt rushed over a meal. As Marianne mentioned, we were encouraged to linger and fully enjoy the dining experience.

This was our final night in Florence, and we had planned to dine at a restaurant recommended by my friend, Sandi, but unfortunately, I had forgotten to bring the address with me. I had emailed her to ask for it once again, but was unable to retrieve the message in time for us to experience her suggestion. We decided to dress up for our last Florentine dinner and to return to the restaurant where we dined on our first night--Ristorante Coccodrillo.

Our waiter, Donnie, recognized us and seated us in a lovely rear outdoor courtyard where he treated us like royalty. He brought us champagne, a platter of cheeses, meats, bruschetta, mushrooms and honey bread, along with a platter of focaccia bread. Patrons at the next table wanted the same thing, but he told them it wasn't on the menu! He topped off our meal with Limoncello and gave each of us a big hug when we said goodnight.

Tomorrow we will do some last minute shopping and then forge on to Sorrento!

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